Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff

Finding yourself short on time and needing an easy dinner recipe?  I've got a new one we tried last night and loved!  I typically make beef stroganoff on the stove, but this recipe was similar with a few extras that made it a hit with both the adults and (almost) all of the kids!

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff
Source:  Campbell's Soup

2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1/4 cup water
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 package sliced white mushrooms
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped (I omitted)
3 cloves garlic, minced (I used 1 1/2 t. garlic from jar)
1/2 t. black pepper
2 pounds boneless beef round steak, sliced into thin chunks
1 cup sour cream
12 ounces medium egg noodles, cooked and drained

Stir the first 7 ingredients together in the crockpot.  Add meat and make sure it is coated.  Cook on low for 8-9 hours or until beef is fork-tender.  Stir in the sour cream while mixture is still in the crockpot.  Serve over noodles.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Let the magical month of December begin.  With it comes shopping for the perfect gift, baking our favorite Christmas cookies, special activities with the kids, and listening to our beloved Christmas CD's.  Some parts of the holiday season, at least for me, are a little more stressful.  Staying within a budget (I really try...really), trying to not to stress about the cute ideas I had but didn't have time to complete, and making a Christmas list for myself.

If you're struggling with your list, too, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite things with you.  Think Oprah-except not nearly as extravagant and for a busy mom with very little time for herself!  To make it easy, I've divided it up into sections.

Kitchen Must-Haves

-A Griddle.  I got this last year and it has made my breakfast for dinner meals so much easier!
-A Ninja.  We love smoothies and this little machine is awesome.  Also works for chopping veggies!
-Airbake cookie sheets WITH parchment paper.  I've had a lot of luck baking with these forever!

Things to Wear

-I am in love with these fleece tops (I wear a pretty standard mom uniform!).  They run a bit small.
-I also love these jackets.  Practical and wear well.
-I love the Nike Flex running shoes.  When I was running (it's been awhile), they were my go-to shoe.
-I like my North Face jacket a lot.  It sheds, but it's warm!

Things to Read

This section is easy.  I love to read and could go on forever!  I'll spare you and just put a few.

-The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst
-Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
-Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch
-You're Made for a God-Sized Dream by Holley Gerth
-Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider
-Any book by Kristin Hannah, Sarah Jio, Jane Green, Emily Giffin, and Jodi Picoult

-I have enjoyed keeping journals for my kids over the years.  Admittedly, my eldest son's journal is much better than the others, but each kid has a book full of treasures.
-I love my small planner to jot appointments and other engagements down in.  Small and compact.
-If all else fails, ask for chocolate.

Best of luck with your lists!  Each year I find it more difficult to come up with anything.  My request this year?  Money for the travel fund.  Happy list-making!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Best Gift

There is a Care Bears commercial on television that drives me absolutely bonkers!  Their catchy little slogan?  "How could you choose just one?  When you've got more bears you've got more fun."  This commercial runs nearly every half an hour on Nickelodeon Junior, which happens to be the favorite channel in our house.  Each time it comes on I cringe and I just want to turn it off.  The message they are conveying to my young impressionable children is certainly not what my husband and I try to instill in them.

Our goal this year is to simplify and reduce the amount of "stuff" our children receive.  While the marketing campaigns geared towards our children are trying to relay a completely different message, we are working hard to encourage them to choose a few things to put on their lists.  Over the course of the past few weeks, I've encouraged them to choose their top three.  While they typically change, there are a few items that seem to come up more often than others.  In years past, we may have been inclined to purchase those most coveted items, but this year we are purchasing some and passing on the other ideas to grandparents.  It is our hope this will decrease the amount of gifts they receive and instead of being overwhelmed with too many new things, they'll be able to enjoy what they really wanted the most.

In my heart, I think this is the best gift we can give our children.  To teach them that more is not better.  To teach them to really think about their needs and wants and narrow their wants down to what they truly desire the most.  This may be a lot to ask of children so young, but the sooner we can teach this lesson the better.  We live in a society of excess.  Our social influences are encouraging us to want more.  To not settle for just one.  To have the best even if we have a perfectly functioning item that's simply not the latest model.  Never being satisfied is not a pleasant way to live.

When will we decide this enough?  When will our society, as a whole, be content with what we have instead of always desiring more?  Never?  Perhaps, but we are going to do our best to teach our children to appreciate what they have.  To be grateful for what they receive and not disappointed because they didn't get everything they may have wanted.  To realize there are children who have little to nothing and they are blessed in so very many ways.

To encourage this way of thinking, our children need to be given age-appropriate opportunities to serve.  They need to experience the gratifying feeling of giving.  Our charity, From Cover to Cover, is doing a month-long book drive to reach a goal of 500 new books for children in need.  This week my kids were asked to choose some books they thought other children may enjoy.  When I first asked them to share what books they thought we should purchase, they were pretty adamant I should be purchasing books for them.  We had a small discussion about the amount of books in our home and how some children have none.  I could tell they were mulling this over in their heads and soon they were sharing some wonderful ideas.  We purchased several books and they seemed very proud and pleased with their decisions.  It is a simple act of service, one they can relate to, that will continue to shape them into children with servant hearts.    

I may be a little behind the times, but I've recently seen this little quote on several sites about Christmas for our children.  I love it and wanted to share it with you.  Not only is this great for our children, but it would also be awesome for a child in need.  What a great family service project!  I think it would be wonderful to encourage our children to purchase one of the wants off of their own Christmas list to be donated to Toys for Tots.  While it may be hard for them to do, it would be a powerful experience to donate something they want themselves.  

Perhaps the best gift we will give our children this Christmas won't actually be a material possession. It might be the wonderful feelings that come from doing good for others or the lifelong lesson that less really is more.    


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Stepping Up

Today I had a meeting with our pilot school, Monroe Elementary, to discuss our Family Literacy Night event coming up in November.  This project for our charity, From Cover to Cover, has become my fifth baby.  I truly cannot tell you how important it is for our communities to realize how much these kids need us.  Not just the Monroe students.  The children at-risk in communities nationwide.  I have found my purpose.  Raising awareness about the striking correlation between literacy and poverty and doing something about it.

Proficient literacy skills are a one-way ticket out of the generational poverty many of these children come from.  It may seem like a daunting task, but it is quite possible to help some of these kids break free.  This is why we have expanded our project to include sponsored literacy nights.  It is why, each day, we spend time working to raise funds, gather volunteers, and make important community connections to spread the word about this huge need that lies right in our own neighborhoods.

What do these children need?  Books.  They need home libraries.  How can you further develop your reading skills if you have nothing to read at home?  Having fewer than 25 printed materials at home is considered living below the poverty level.  This is the biggest area I feel so many of us take for granted.  Our children are abundantly blessed.  Most of us have at least 25 books lying on a table or a book shelf in our living rooms.  Combine that with those found in bedrooms, play rooms, and diaper bags and I am sure most of us are well into the hundreds.  Could you imagine not having a single book for your child to read?  It is a shame, yet a reality for so many.

What do these families need?  They need to be empowered.  If a parent cannot read themselves, that does not mean they cannot help their child to become a better reader.  We are going to work with all of the parents and guardians that come to our events and teach them strategies they can use, regardless of ability, while reading with their children.  We are going to share the importance of reading together each night and walk them through how to ask questions and utilize pictures to further develop the skills of their child.

What do these schools need?  They need volunteers.  More specifically, volunteer readers.  There are many mentoring programs that do not require a significant amount of your time, yet they can make a huge difference in the life of a child.  The more these children are surrounded by people encouraging them to read and reading with them, the more confidence they will build and, in turn, their desire to read will increase.  They also need books.  Quality, engaging, interesting books.  We want kids to look at their classroom libraries and be excited about reading.  Old, worn, outdated books just don't illicit the same amount of excitement as new(er), colorful, eye-catching books.

I challenge all of you to find a local school in your community and help them fulfill one of these needs.  If you live in the QC, I encourage you to join us in our mission.  When I drove away from the school today and passed the lines at the shelters and soup kitchens, it really hit me how important our efforts truly are.  We know we aren't going to save the world, but if we can change the world for a handful of kids, we have made a difference.  You can make a difference, too.  The question is, will you step forward and try?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Letting Go

"Busy."  This seems to be the word most of us use to describe our lives.  As a society we seem to wear our busyness with pride, but have we paused a moment to really examine what is truly making us so "busy?"  Are these busy lives we are creating for ourselves and our families truly something to be proud of?  We complain about how we don't have any time for homework, how we don't have time to cook and have a family meal, how we don't have time to...the list goes on.   Our kids attend school all day, we pick them up and begin the evening rush, putting the very things we complain about not having time for on the back-burner.  

As parents, we have been entrusted with the responsibility of shaping the next generation.  Impressionable eyes are watching us.  Little ears are listening.  These children are looking to us for guidance and it is our job to lead by example.  What are we teaching our children by being so busy we don't have time to eat as a family?  How are we teaching them to value education and be responsible when their homework is finished as they're running out the door because we were running from activity to activity the night before?  How are we teaching them to be grateful for their blessings and serve others in their community when we are too busy to volunteer ourselves?  The hard truth? We're not.

The buzz on the street is we're raising an entitled generation of kids.  While it's hard to hear, can many of you disagree?  We have succumbed to the idea that our kids' happiness is measured by all of the "stuff" we provide for them.  Activities, play dates, material items, the latest and greatest technology...ugh, the list goes on and on.  They get what they want and then they ask for more.  They are searching for a feeling of satisfaction that will never come because there will always be something better behind the next door.  Oh, America, what are we doing?

It is time to take a step back and truly evaluate our lives.  If you are too busy for homework, family dinners, and nightly reading then perhaps it is time to make a change.  Our children are depending on us to set limits and create a home environment that isn't so busy.  Sure, it may be hard to say no to whatever it is they are "dying" to do next, but in the end, after the tears have dried and the tantrum has ceased, how refreshing will it feel to not be so overwhelmed and, you got it, busy?  Let go of the guilt.  There is no disservice in saying no.  In time your children will thank you.  

I have always found that serving others leaves me feeling much more satisfied than any material item ever could.  This is the feeling I want my children to experience:  to realize that it is so much more fulfilling to give than to receive.  It is my hope that by example I am teaching them to make time for others, to realize life isn't always about them.  I want them to understand that as a family we are not too busy to serve.

My eyes have been opened in the past year.  While there are many, many people so willing to give of their time and talents, there are so many more who are simply too busy.  So many programs rely on volunteers to fulfill their mission and sadly those programs will cease to exist if no one steps up.  Everyone has been blessed with talent.  It would be a shame to not use this gift to help others, be it your school community, local homeless shelter, youth program, you name it.  You never how your contribution, whether big or small, may change the course of someone else's life. There is an opportunity awaiting everyone.  Let's all band together, get a little less busy, and teach our children well.  Make an impression that will last and not be lost on those little eyes and ears.

We all given the same amount of time each week.  It is up to us what we do with it.


Thursday, September 4, 2014


There's this song on K-Love by Big Daddy Weave called "Overwhelmed."  My interpretation (take it for what it's worth) is someone being overwhelmed by God's love, beauty, and grace.  This song runs through my brain morning, noon, and night and I can't help but feel I'm being spoken to.  Lately my life has been so terribly busy, I am left feeling overwhelmed.  Obviously this is not the true interpretation of the song, but when "I'm overwhelmed, I'm overwhelmed by you" runs through your head on repeat, perhaps it's time to listen!

I may have bitten off more than I can chew.  When I committed to our fall PTA fundraiser I had no idea how much time it would involve.  Add in several upcoming engagements for From Cover to Cover, grant writing, and, oh, taking care of my family and house, I am left feeling incredibly overwhelmed by day's end.  It is so hard to unwind and turn off my brain.  I am overwhelmed.

I have had little time to engage in hobbies I love and find relaxing.  Reading, writing, and baking have taken a back seat to donation requests, typing up informational sheets, and writing long, tedious grants.  My screen time is ridiculous right now and I am counting down the days where I can sit back with a good book and relax!  Coincidentally, I have a book on the way called The Best Yes: Making Wise Decision in the Midst of Endless Demands.  The irony is not lost upon me.

Are you overwhelmed?  How do we get ourselves in these predicaments people?!

Monday, August 25, 2014

4 Years

Today my little guy turned four.  We had the best two days celebrating this strong-willed little boy.  He had so much fun and pretty much had a permanent smile on his face the entire time.  We heard polite "thank you's," witnessed some sweet moments of sharing his new toys, and best of all, listened to his excitement and stories about his birthday.

It is hard to believe that four years have passed since we welcomed him into our family.  After a brief hospital stay, we brought home this tiny little boy and started our life as a family of five.  While we have had many moments of joy and happiness, we have also had many of despair.  For weeks our sweet little boy cried and cried in pain.  Eventually we found dairy to be the culprit and things began to look up.  We (who are we kidding here, I) spent night after night up with this little boy who did not want to sleep.  Exhausted did not even put a dent in how I felt caring for three little kiddos.  We endured 18 ear infections between him and his sister before both had tubes put in.  Life was hard and all of this happened before he was even ten months old!

We also witnessed three kiddos become the best of friends.  We've seen them grow and watch out for each other.  They spend their fair share fighting as siblings do, but for the most part, they get along great.  There is never a dull moment.  We've also seen sweet gestures of kindness.  Today our oldest daughter gave her partner in crime three gifts:  a picture she colored especially for him, a bookmark, and a quarter from her money jar.  She wrapped them carefully in one of her blankets and brought it upstairs to give her brother.  Precious.

My oldest son does his best to not rock the boat.  Our little guy is going through a phase where he wants to be first to do everything.  He also doesn't like to lose.  His older brother, with the sweetest of intentions, does what he can to please him.  He is smart.  He doesn't want to listen to the temper tantrum that will ensue if his little brother feels put out!

I will be the first to admit there have been many times I was sure we were drowning.  These four years have been hard.  Sleep is a luxury and we have had few nights in the past four years where we have slept uninterrupted.  Our little pack outnumbers us and at times their antics get the best of us.  They are just kids having fun, but they can be a force to be reckoned with.  Who knew words like butt, banana, and burp could elicit such laughter and craziness from these little people?

Four years ago our lives changed dramatically.  Through the ups and the downs one thing has remained:  these kids are my everything.  I look at them and thank God I have been blessed with four beautiful, healthy children who are the best of friends.  I know these years will not be easy, but in the blink of an eye they will be gone.

Happiest of birthdays to our sweet little guy.  Your zest for life and energy are abundant.  You give the best hugs and kisses and your smile shines through your eyes.  I love you, sweet boy, and hope the next four years don't go quite so quickly!


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Today's the Big Day!

Back to school week is here.  I am not sure how I feel about having three kids in school this year!  Two full-time and one part.  Hmmm...most of you would probably think I would be relieved to have a "break" in the action.  There are messy days around here when I think the same, but once this becomes our everyday routine and the novelty wears off, I think there's going to be some sadness.

Nearly four years ago we welcomed our third child.  Our oldest was only 3 1/2 at the time, so to say life has been busy ever since would be an understatement.  While it has been challenging and exhausting, every second of the chaos has been worth it.  Our children have grown to the be the best of buds and though there are times this heavily works against our favor, I love seeing my big family grow so close together.

We often say our middle children, just sixteen months apart, speak some sort of twin language.  They are two peas in a pod and get into plenty of mischief together, but the just adore each other.  My little guy is going to struggle with his big sister and playmate gone all day every day.  Luckily he will have preschool four afternoons a week to fill the void and step out on his own, but I can imagine after school and weekends will be filled with as much playtime together as possible.

People always tell you the days are long but the years are short.  In the middle of the chaos it is hard to believe, but in the blink of an eye they are school-aged.  Those innocent early childhood years where their biggest dilemma is what to play with on any given day are coming to an end.  The time has come to head off to school to learn, make new friends, and experience the joys and heartache that will come with those friendships.

Today I send my second baby off to kindergarten.  Lately the tears have come in the late hours of the night or early hours of the morning.  My sweet girl is off to face the real world and I pray she finds acceptance, kindness, and joy in her days at school.  I hope we have taught her well and she, in turn, does her best to be kind and accepting of others.

Another milestone reached.  They seem to be coming all too quickly...Blessings on your first day sweet girl!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Fear of the Unknown is Paralyzing

Lately I have been feeling a tremendous amount of anxiety.  Generally speaking I am a "take charge" person:  an idea pops into my head, and without too much thought, I run with it.  This has not always be the best option and I have not always been successful when taking this route, but it is the way my mind is programmed.  At least that's how it's been programmed in the past.  Now I find myself confused:  questioning the next move and hesitant to take the plunge when the next big idea pops into my head.  I find my indecisiveness to be paralyzing.  Do I move forward with hope and optimism or do I retreat out of fear and doubt?  These days I seem to be stuck somewhere in between.  Non-committal, full of questions, and in limbo.

This shift in thinking and decision-making has been challenging.  I find myself singing lyrics from songs I hear on K-Love: "I lift my hands and pray," "I want to live with abandon," "We were made to thrive," and my new favorite "What if the trials in your life are mercies in disguise."  I pray for clarity, some sort of a sign, the courage to move forward.  I just know one of these days the vision will be clear.  It is just so very hard to wait.

Yesterday I heard this verse and it resonated deep inside of me.  It is much easier said than done, but I am going to do my best to trust in Him and take the first step in this unknown journey.  Fear and worry simply cannot be an option anymore.  When it is all said and done, standing on the sidelines is safe and unproductive.  I want to be in the game feeling the exhilaration of hitting the winning shot at the buzzer.  I want to live with abandon.  It is time to take the plunge... 


Monday, June 23, 2014

Stuffed S'Mores Bars

We had some friends over yesterday to for a little "Go USA!" soccer party.  We are not big soccer fans, but it was a good excuse for a party and fun to watch.  Our original plan was to have a BBQ, but with a sketchy weather forecast, I switched it to a Mexican theme combined with some Americana-inspired food.  What is more American than chocolate chip cookies or s'mores?  Why not combine them?  That's what I did today:  stuffed S'mores bars.

I had only made this once before, so I was a little nervous they weren't going to turn out...but they did!  These are easier to make than the cookies, so if you're pressed for time, I'd try this route.  I would recommend spreading a layer of cookie dough on the bottom of your pan and letting both that and the rest of the dough chill.  It was much easier to work the dough for the top because it was not quite so sticky.  Enjoy!

Stuffed S'Mores Bars

2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
1 T. vanilla
3 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. Kosher salt (do no substitute other types of salt; the coarseness makes it great!)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Graham crackers (break sheets in half)
3 Hershey chocolate bars (broken into chunks of three pieces)
Large marshmallows (cut in half with a wet, sharp knife)

Combine butter and sugars with a mixer until smooth and creamy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix until well blended.  Add one cup of flour, soda, and salt.  Mix.  Continue mixing in flour one cup at a time until all 3 1/2 cups have been added.  (It makes very stiff dough!).  Mix in chocolate chips.  Layer bottom of a 9x9 pan with half of the dough and refrigerate.  Chill other half of dough.  Once chilled, layer a sheet of graham crackers throughout pan.  It does not completely cover it, so I broke sheets in half for the bottom row.  Place Hershey bars on top of each sheet. Add a marshmallow and top with another sheet of graham cracker.  Flatten balls of cookie dough and place on top of the graham crackers doing your best to cover entirely.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.  Serve warm.

Layer on bottom

All done!

A warm, gooey, delicious dessert!


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saying "Yes!"

This past year I have begun to follow many Christian blogs and they have made a tremendous impact on my life.  Many of the bloggers I follow are also published authors and I have chosen to read many of their books.  I must say, I have felt truly inspired by many of them.  Today I finished Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch.  Her blog, We are THAT family is very well written and I agree with her parenting philosophy, so I assumed I would enjoy reading her book.

Wow.  Did I ever.  She encompasses much of what I aspire to do in life:  be a good mother, live a faith-centered life, serve others where God sees fit, and to share my story.  I admire those who have been able to be successful and achieve their goals, while continuing to be a "normal" mother raising her family.  The book turned out to be the pep-talk I've been so desperately craving.

Lately I've lost steam.  I have my hands in a lot of pots, but I'm going to take the advice of the author and focus on my "one."  Rather than spreading myself too thin and giving a less-than-all effort, I am going to focus my service in an area I feel passionate about:  education and literacy. I am so thankful this is also a project my entire family can assist with and relate to as well.

The charity I co-founded just one year ago exceeded our expectations in our first year and we are looking forward to impacting even more children next year, but there is a lot of work to be done. We have received many blessings during the inaugural year of From Cover to Cover, but it has been a challenge to build this from the ground up with my partner and dear friend.  We have a solid vision, feel our mission is important, and have seen first-hand the impact the gift we provide these children has.  We know we can make a tremendous difference right here in our community. The hardest part is sharing our mission and convincing others how truly important this project is.

As with all non-profits, we rely on donations and volunteers to achieve our goals.  Fundraising, awareness activities, and coordinating events requires a lot of time and dedication.  We have received tremendous support, but we need to grow our supportive base and it is hard to do!  I know we just have to keep believing He will provide, but there are days when I feel like we have an impossible mountain to climb.  We will continue to move forward and I pray soon we will have more help to achieve our goals!  This is my "one."  This is my "yes!"

Are you feeling the pull towards something and afraid to say, "Yes!"  If you need a little inspiration, I highly recommend reading the book.  Maybe you just need a little nudge to take that first small step.  Whatever the case, now is the time!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Our First Family Road Trip

This summer we took to the open highway on our first family road trip.  We headed to the east coast to relax on the beach for a week.  We were all super excited, but leading up to our departure my husband and I got a bit nervous about the 17 hour car ride (one way!) we were about to embark on.  We had high hopes for a successful trip so this can become our way of travel.  Buying plane tickets for our whole family is expensive, but I think hauling all of our stuff around an airport and keeping track of the kids is more painful!

The planning for our long ride began a few weeks before we left.  I found many great ideas I hoped would keep the kids occupied in the van online and came up with a few of my own, too.  I was excited to see what was a hit and prayed our kids would enjoy the trek across the U.S!

To help with the big countdown, I had the kids make a paper chain.  Each morning one of them got to take off a link.  They really enjoyed watching it get smaller and smaller!

Making a paper chain
I began collecting special items for each kiddo as our trip drew nearer.  Most were inexpensive gems found at the dollar spot at Target or books I purchased from my Usborne business or Scholastic.  I enjoyed packing them into surprise bags for each of the kids and prayed they would provide some much-needed entertainment on our long drive.  I found some awesome lap desks at Gordman's on clearance as well, so they each had their own little multi-purpose desk to work at.

Surprise Bag
Lap Desks With a Light
I also packed a backpack for each kiddo with some of their favorite books, coloring books, and a special folder or binder with age-appropriate activities.  I found many great printable pages for scavenger hunts, license plate games, and tic-tac-toe which I included in them.  For my oldest son, I printed out an outline of each state we were going to drive through and a map of the U.S. The goal was for him to color in each state as we passed through on the large map and then write about what each state looked like or any other tidbit of information he found interesting in the outlined states.  It didn't turn out quite as I had hoped, but it's the thought that counts, right?!

My youngest son loves cars.  Using a cookie sheet from The Dollar Tree, I created this road (and train track on the opposite side) so he could drive magnetic vehicles and trains as we were driving down the road.  It worked out pretty well!

His other favorite activity was my sticker book stash I purchased from Usborne.  He is three, and can have a difficult time sticking with anything for long, but these are a favorite.  Several times throughout the trip he pleaded for his "homework."  I truly cannot recommend these enough!

The Coveted Sticker Book!
When it was all said and done, our first family road trip was a huge success.  The kids were entertained, had fun with their activities, and were able to see the sights on our trek across the U.S.  We made sure to stop about every three hours and let them run around, stretch out, and just get some fresh air.  I packed a little sack with bubbles and whiffle balls to provide some fun during our stops.  We also traveled with a fully stocked cooler of drinks, snacks, and lunch or dinner items for a picnic to save money and time.  Additionally, I prepared a snack bag full of goodies I could easily access during the drive and some small baggies to put them in.  It worked out great! 

Lastly, I packed a small bin I kept behind my seat with the following items:
-a roll of toilet paper and paper towels
-a box of Kleenex
-gallon Ziploc bags (for car sickness)
-a few old rags
-a bag of batteries and little screwdrivers (for toys needed help!)
-an atlas

My goal was to be prepared for most anything that came our way unexpectedly.  This trip was pretty uneventful.  I am looking forward to more road trips in our future and using some of these ideas again!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Do You Know Your Neighbors? What Better Time than Now?

Last fall I was talking with some neighborhood friends about having a block party.  They suggested I take the lead and put one together and without hesitation I did.  I quickly had a great group of people to assist and we began planning.  The goal was to create a laid-back, casual event to give people living within our subdivision the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon/evening together with their neighbors.  It would not be anything over-the-top:  simplicity was the key.

We live in such a busy time many of us do not even know who lives a few doors down.  Isn't it a shame we may be missing out on some wonderful friendships for ourselves and our children because we're too busy to take the time to reach out and introduce ourselves to our neighbors? Some of us may feel intimidated or shy to say a simple "hello" or afraid of feeling uncomfortable. Whatever your reason, put it aside, make the first move, and get to know the people living around you!

I am thrilled we put this event together and encouraged many of my neighbors connected with others they had never met (our family included!).  The days of the Welcome Wagon, casseroles, and random rings of the doorbell seem to be gone, but we can swim against the tide.  Take a chance!  Perhaps you will be the answer to a stay-at-home mom's prayer for companionship or your child will find a lifelong friend just down the street.  You may be able to offer help to someone who is struggling, be a welcome friendly face to someone who is sad about what they have left behind, or able to provide a connection they have been searching for.  Whatever the outcome, sitting idly on the sidelines will certainly leave the door closed.

This is a great lesson for our children in hospitality and being a good neighbor and a simple one at that!  If you're still feeling hesitant, turn it into a family event:  bake something yummy and drop it off at the new neighbor's house.  In the end, you'll be glad you did!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Acknowledging the Need for Help

Why is it we find asking for help to be so difficult?  Whether it be help around the house from our spouse, from friends and neighbors to help you out in a pinch, or to seek out professional help when you feel you've lost your way.  As a mother, why is it so difficult to speak up, to put our own needs first for a change?  We do a phenomenal job noticing when our kids or spouse may need some help and are usually quick to jump in to try to make everything right.  Why do we wait hours, days, months, years to finally speak up on our own behalf; to take notice and realize that perhaps we simply need some help?

If I had to suggest a theory, I would say it's because we're parenting in a competitive, self-sufficient, image-conscious era.  We want everyone to believe we have it together, that we can manage whatever is thrown our direction and manage it well.  We may feel if we ask our friends and neighbors for help, they may view us as a mother who is in over her head.  If we ask our spouse to help unbury us from the pile of household tasks we may fear being viewed as incapable of caring for the kids and managing the house, or worse, just lazy.  If we seek counseling from a professional, we may fear being viewed as weak.  As mothers, we try to steer clear of feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, and shame.  If we are trying to avoid these feelings, asking for help is certainly out of the question, right?

Wrong.  At least it shouldn't be.  I struggle to seek out help, but lately I've tried to accept those invitations from others who have offered!  As a person who likes to feel independent and self-sufficient this is difficult.  I like to believe I can manage everything on my own and will be just fine, but truth be told I can't.  The sooner I embrace this, the better.  The sooner we as mothers let go of our need to appear to have it all together, to be Pinterest-perfect, the better off we will all be.

Being a mother is the toughest job we'll ever have.  It is an exhausting, exhilarating, emotional roller coaster ride.  Our "work" is to raise a part of the next generation and ensure we are providing a laundry list of important life experiences, values, and plenty of guidance.  This is a pretty big undertaking and to think we can do it only in conjunction with their other parent, with little help from others, is absurd.  There is a reason why it takes a village.  Let's make sure we are accepting the help the village is willing to provide.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Gentle Reminder

Our faith is important to us and we do our best to attend church every Sunday.  This is no easy feat with our four kiddos, but we have tried to make the best of it.  Our church does not have a nursery, but even if it did, we have strong feelings about attending mass together as a family.   We often joke about our reasons for attending, since some Sundays it is hard to focus at all on what's being taught.  A few years ago we may have taken some "time off," but now we just forge ahead.

At times we may question how much any of us are getting out of mass, but there are moments I find myself completely amazed at how much our children are absorbing.  Today my youngest son came up the stairs holding a bright yellow plastic golf club raised up high.  When I asked what he was doing he replied, "This is my cross!  I am walking it up."

This was followed up with chairs being turned over so the legs could be candles, a blue stacking cup being used as a cup with "the drink" and then serving as the holder for "the chips."  I was instructed to walk up and get a chip and a drink, scolded for not saying, "In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in time with him, and informed he was "God" (until I asked if he was pretending to be Father Joe, which he was, so we talked about him being a priest, not God!).

Church would not be complete without playing the piano and singing at the top of his lungs, an animated story about Jesus Christ, and of course, putting out the candles once he was done with mass.  Clearly this was my sign:  our kids, though they may not appear to be, are paying attention. It was a gentle reminder:  our children are watching.  This isn't just about church, but life in general. Our kids may not appear to be attentive, but they are watching with open eyes and listening with open ears.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Food Challenge: You Can Make These Easy Staples!

Are you trying the food challenge?  Today I'm going to share three simple staples you can make from scratch:  Sloppy Joe's, Taco Seasoning, and BBQ Sauce.  Read the ingredients on the labels of these items at the store and compare it to the following recipes.  Don't you want to know what's in your food?  It's not hard to make these...I promise!

Sloppy Joe's

1 lb. ground beef
1/4 c. chopped onion (if desired)
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. prepared yellow mustard
3/4 c. ketchup (preferable organic)
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. salt (less if you desire less sodium)

Brown ground beef in a skillet.  Add in remaining ingredients and mix around allowing to heat through.  About ten minutes.  Serve!

Taco Seasoning

1 T. chili powder
1 t. paprika
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. oregano
1/4 t. to 3/4 t. cayenne pepper (adjust to your desire; we use none!)
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. onion powder
1 t. salt (reduce or omit if desired)
1 t. ground pepper

Mix together and store in an airtight container.  Use 2 T. per pound of meat and add 1/2 to 3/4 c. of water.  Works best to triple or quadruple the recipe and store it!

BBQ Sauce

2 c. ketchup (preferable organic)
1 c. water
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
5 T. light brown sugar
5 T. sugar
1/2 t. fresh ground pepper
1/2 onion powder
1/2 t. ground mustard
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. Worcestershire sauce

In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and cover.  Bring to a boil.  Turn down and simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes uncovered, stirring frequently.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Food Challenge: A Better Snack Choice

Are you up for the food challenge?  Perhaps you're not ready to go all in, but maybe you'll start small and choose a few things to change.  Whatever route you take, whether big or small, will move you one step closer to teaching your children to make healthy food choices as well as improving the health of your entire family.  Once you get the ball rolling, it's easy to keep it going!

Today we are going to tackle the ever-important topic of snacks (at least to the kids!).  I'll list some of our favorite snacks and give you a few ideas how to spice up snack time around your house.  I would like to preface this post by saying I am not a die-hard real food follower.  Our entire diet is not organic or GMO free, but I would say close to 80 to 90% of it is.  This has been a slow transition over many years, but I am happy to say we have made it work!  I understand all organic is not made equal and there may be better sources out there, but finding food to work with our peanut and tree nut free requirements can limit our choices at times.  All of the suggestions I have for you fall into the nut-free category!

Alright, let's get to it.  Kids love snacks.  I'm pretty sure they love snacks more than meals!  I have some kiddos who eat like birds at mealtime, so I want to make sure their snacks have nutritious benefits and some substance.  Food manufacturers would like us to believe we should be feeding our kids Goldfish crackers by the handful and packets of sugary crap for lack of a better term.  I bought into this way of eating for awhile.  I used to stock up on all sorts of these foods, but no more!  It may be tough at first, but in time your kids will adapt.  It's junk....filled with dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives, and offers very little nutrition and a pile of empty calories.  It's time for some new options!  Next time it is your child's turn to bring snack to school, think about choosing a healthy option!  All of my suggestions are free of food dye and are GMO-free and/or organic.  I find all of these items at Target unless otherwise noted.

Pre-packaged Ideas:

  • Cascadian Farm Chewy Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin Granola Bars
  • KIND Dark Chocolate Chunk or oats and honey Granola Bars
  • The Daily Crave Veggie Straws of Chips (Marshall's or TJ Maxx)
  • Annie's Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks
  • Annie's Homegrown Organic Graham Crackers
  • Annie's Homegrown Organic Cheddar or Graham Bunnies
Dairy Ideas:
  • Horizon (Hy-Vee) or Stoneyfield Farm Squeeze Yogurt
  • Horizon String Cheese
  • Applegate Farms Cheese Slices (Hy-Vee)
  • Stoneyfield Farm Greek or Regular Yogurt
  • Organic Lifeway Kefir
Alternative Candy Options:  (Hy-vee, Marshall's, or TJ Maxx)
  • Yum Earth Organics Lollipops
  • Yum Earth Organics Sour Beans
  • Yum Earth Organics Gummy Bears or Worms
Snack Ideas:
  • Fresh fruit (organic if possible)
  • Fresh veggies
    • Ants on a log (celery, Sunbutter, and raisins)
    • Veggies and Annie's Homegrown Organic Cowgirl Ranch Dressing
  • Air popped organic popcorn (Hy-Vee) topped with organic unsalted butter paired with organic apples
  • Yogurt parfaits (Stoneyfield Farm vanilla yogurt topped with Cascadian Farm Oats and Honey granola; you can also add fresh berries in layers, too!
  • Muir Glen or Archer Farms organic salsa and organic blue corn or white corn chips (Simply Balanced found at Target)

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Challenge to Change

I'm going to go out on a limb here and write about a topic near and dear to me:  food.  Especially the food we are feeding our children.  It may ruffle a few feathers, but I'm okay with that.  I would like to encourage you to be open-minded and just consider entertaining implementing some of these ideas.  By no means am I a food savant, but I feel pretty strongly about what I'm about to share with you.

I think we can all agree, to some extent, there are environmental factors contributing to the rise in food allergies, serious illnesses, and the overall decline in the health of Americans.  In my opinion, the biggest culprit is our food.  The rise of childhood cancer, food allergies, and autism are frightening.  As a society, we are always questioning why this is.  I truly feel at least part of the equation is the food we consume. Over time, our sources of food have changed, genetically modified organisms have been introduced, and processed food has taken over the market.  As a mother of a child with a life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergy, I have found studies correlating the rise in food allergies with the introduction of GMO's to be very disturbing.

Over the course of the past five years, we have significantly changed our diet.  We primarily buy organic and non-GMO food and avoid food dye, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, among many other additives.  You may feel like it's a little over the top, but I've seen with my own eyes the effect food dye has on two of my children.  One is at home with me all day and one goes to preschool.  Since we keep it out of their diets at home, my son rarely consumes food dye anymore, while my daughter does if she has a snack that contains dye at preschool.  It takes me all of about ten minutes after pick up to know if she's had it or not.  She is hyper, out of control, and very hard to calm down.  My son used to be the same way, but has greatly improved since we have eliminated food dye from his diet.

You may be wondering where I'm going with this.  Well, let's cut to the chase.  I would like to encourage you to open up your pantries and read what is in your food.  Is it full of words you can't pronounce?  Does it contain food dye (there are so many foods, like Kraft marshmallows, that do)?  How much of it is healthy versus a filler, an unhealthy choice?  You may feel like it's not a big deal, but you are your child's first teacher and their role model.  What message are you conveying to them about food?

WHAT YOU FEED YOUR CHILD IS IMPORTANT!  Ultimately, we control what food is brought into our homes and what our children eat.  Say goodbye to the junk.  The food that provides very little nutrition, but plenty of empty calories.  At first it may be a challenge, but eventually it becomes second nature.  My kids still request Fruit Loops and Goldfish crackers, but I gently tell them no and tell them why we don't eat those foods.  It's okay to say no.

Think it costs too much to eat organic?  While it can be more expensive, your budget won't change much if you cut out the sugary snacks, frozen meals, and processed foods.  Think you don't have the time to cook?  Meal planning, prepping ahead, and/or making crockpot meals can greatly reduce your time in the kitchen in the evening.  Afraid your family will revolt?  They might at first, but over time they'll adapt.

My kids have grown to love fruit smoothies, fresh fruit, or air popped popcorn for a snack.  We enjoy trying new recipes for dinner and special treats.  It may not always be fast or convenient, but at the end of the day, it feels good to know you are putting the health of your family at the top of the priority list.

Stay tuned for some fun, easy ideas for snacks that don't come out of a box or a plastic bag!


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Toss Away Those Mother's Day Expectations

I must admit, for some of my mothering years I had great expectations for Mother's Day and often times felt let down once the day came to an end.  I would vow to not clean a thing, cook, or engage in any other activity requiring effort to keep up the house.  I envisioned my children behaving like angels and an opportunity to relax and have some time to myself.  It's a bit embarrassing to admit, but it's true. This year I have mentally taken a different approach to this day and I must say, it has been a refreshing change.  I set no expectations in my mind and have been so surprised by and appreciative of the sweet gestures of love from my not-so-little family. I've even done a load of laundry...gasp!

Today we are honored because we are mothers.  We spend each day doing our best to ensure our family is well taken care of on all fronts.  Each day we wake and serve our families and we do this for two reasons:  out of love for our family and because God has called us to do so.  Our purpose is to teach, guide, and nurture the children we have been blessed with.  It requires a lifetime commitment, an abundance of patience, and the ability to keep moving forward even when we want to curl up and sleep for days due to the pure exhaustion of raising our family.

Let us never forget how lucky we are.  It could be very different.  So many women long to be mothers, but don't get the opportunity.  Some women must leave their families long before they are ready.  Some women mourn the child they have lost.  Some women wonder about the child they gave up for a chance at a better life.

On this Mother's Day, let us take the opportunity to be grateful for our blessings, embrace this club we are so privileged to be a part of, and appreciate the gestures of love our families have graced us with today.  I hope you all have had a wonderful day!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Enjoying the Game

My oldest is 7.  He's always been very creative, detailed, and into sports.  Nearly every day for 4 years he's played some sort of a sports game:  baseball outside, basketball inside, or with one of his several sets of "guys" (hockey, baseball, football, and basketball to be exact!) he loves to play with.  While he loves his friends, he loves to play alone and get lost in his games.  He is an introvert at heart.

In his room you will find jerseys from all of his favorite teams in home and away colors.  Each day he comes home from school with his schedule showing the game for the afternoon.  Some days he even brings home tickets he's made for the stuffed animals that will make up his crowd. If he's going to play a game, he'll change into his uniform, set up a stadium, bring the fans to the game, and get the music prepared.  If he's going to play with his guys, he'll complete all of these steps except for changing!  For as long as I can remember, he has just loved sports...period.

At times, I admit, I find this frustrating.  He enjoys this part of his life so much and gets so into it, we run into disappointment, and often some tantrums, if we can't fit a game in on any given day. These games can take hours.  He loves to report to us who has scored, how the game is going, and any other little details he finds important.  There are days when I get annoyed with the reports every few minutes.  I struggle with feelings of guilt because I don't sit and watch them like I used to.  It's such a big part of his life and I know that someday it will abruptly stop and I will think to myself, "I wish I would have taken the time to watch him."

When it comes down to it, I think it's just his way of dreaming of things yet to come.  It's his creative outlet and a way for him to put all of the sports knowledge swimming around in his brain to good use.  Today I caught a glimpse of how much he wants someone to pay attention to his game.  How important it is to him to be noticed.  It was the seventh inning of his baseball game and I realized soon it would be time to sing the 7th Inning Stretch:  "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."  His voice got louder as he approached the third out in the top half of the inning and he looked around to see if anyone would watch what was to come.  I've seen this hundreds of times over, but it still brings a smile to my face.  I can still see this sweet little boy playing his games in the backyard when he was just a preschooler.  The little boy who sang the "National Anthem" to start his games, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the middle, and if we were lucky, "Go Cubs Go" on a winning game day.

These will be the memories that will be engrained in my mind when I think of my oldest son growing up.  I often wonder what he'll be when he grows up:  a baseball player, a sports announcer, a sports writer.  If his profession has nothing to do with sports I will be shocked!

I love my little boy and his imagination.  I just need to remind myself to stop and soak in some of the games while they last.  All too soon the sounds from the stands will be gone...

2014-7 years old!

2012-5 years old!

2010-3 years old!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nostalgia: Birthdays Are Hard...

Birthdays are always hard for me.  Some days seem to last forever, but in the blink of an eye another year has rolled around.  This year I am struggling even more than normal.  You see, my girls' birthdays are just a day apart.  Last year I was impatiently awaiting the arrival of our little surprise bundle of joy and now I am preparing to celebrate a fifth and first birthday.

Five seems so old, after all she will head to kindergarten in the fall.  No more carefree days at home relatively shielded from the reality of the real world and the not-so-pleasant experiences she will more than likely encounter.  Oh, I know it's not all bad, there are plenty of wonderful experiences and opportunities that go along with heading off to school, but there are also tough, sad moments along the way, too.  My daughter is a sweet, sensitive, imaginative little beauty.  She is so excited to grow up and her mommy would just love for her to stay innocent forever.  It's so hard to watch them grow and leave the nest, if only for awhile.  Sigh...

My sweet little baby is turning one.  That first year is one I'd love to be able to freeze forever.  I've struggled with all of my baby's first birthdays, but this one is even more difficult.  There is a good possibility this is the last first birthday celebration we will have.  The last baby of my own that I will hold so close.  The last firsts we will experience.  The last sweet snuggles.  I love, love, love babies.  I may be hours and hours behind on sleep and yearning for a bit of me time, but I wouldn't trade these years for anything.  For as long as I can remember I dreamt of having a lot of kids.  I was never certain how many, but I knew I would love a big family.  We are fortunate this has been our reality.  I'm just not so sure how I could already be at this juncture in my life.  I had dinner with some ladies this past weekend and one of them put it so simply, "I think we always thought about having children, we just never thought about being done having children.  It's so final."  

It is so final.  I'm just not ready to close the door just yet.  Ah, it is just so hard.  

This weekend I will do my best to hide the tears I know will come.  I've felt so emotional and anxious since the calendar switched to April.  I will celebrate all we have been blessed with and count my lucky stars that I get to be "Mom" to these four sweet little kiddos.  I'll also do my best to imprint these memories in my mind and remind myself on the days when I feel like I'm going to go crazy that I wouldn't want my life to be any different.

Happy Birthday to my sweet little daughters.  Your mommy loves you so!

Princess #1

Princess #2

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Quest for a Simpler Life: Being Okay with Swimming Upstream

Intentional living.  Recently a friend sent me a blog post about a newly released book called Notes From a Blue Bike:  Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider.  I knew I wanted to read it and am so happy I did.  For me and for my family, it is time to quiet the noise.  To sift through all of life's distractions and decide what is truly beneficial and what needs to go.  To live simply in a way which reflects our values, priorities, and purpose.  To be okay with swimming upstream.

Our society encourages us to fill our days to the brim.  The busier the better.  Young, old, or in between; no one is immune.  We are encouraged to buy, buy, buy.  To fill our homes with so much "stuff" we find it difficult to appreciate what we have.  Work follows us home and we are accessible all.of.the.time.  In our culture, less is definitely not more.  Family time is spent on the go and so often our children are robbed of the opportunity to simply be kids.  We're all chasing this idea that our worth is defined by our achievements and to achieve great things we must go, go, go.  Work more, sleep less, enroll in an abundance of extracurricular activities, always say yes.  How far from the truth is this way of thinking?  Far, very far.

By nature, I am an organizer and a busy body.  I enjoy being involved in my community, working on projects at home, and keeping up with my kids.  I have a hard time sitting down and just relaxing.  I feel like I am doing my best to balance my role as a mom with the need to be an individual too.  I spend the majority of my time at home with my family, but need to do a better job of quieting some of the noise that distracts me from my purpose for this season:  being a mom to four impressionable young children.  Saying no to the opportunities outside of the home that aren't a priority, limiting social media, and ignoring the pressure to keep up with the Jones'.

In our home, family will always be number one.  It is time to focus on our priorities in many different areas of our life (examples taken from the book:  food, education, travel, entertainment, and work).  The decisions we make each day should coincide with these priorities.  Our children may not be pleased when we tell them no, but there are times when it needs to happen.  For our family, time for free play, eating dinner together, and early bedtimes mean we limit our extracurricular activities and schedule them to work with these priorities.  Limited screen time may mean saying no to the technology that may interfere with reading, cultivating creativity, and outdoor play.  Taking a family vacation may mean saying no to costly local entertainment in order to save up for a bigger adventure.  

Slowing down may seem like such a challenge.  Ridding our homes of excess "stuff" may seem impossible.  Living simply takes work.  Our decisions may be different than our neighbors, friends, or extended family and that's okay.  The key point to remember: to be confident in our decisions and keep our priorities at the center of our decision making process.  Slow down.  Quiet the noise.  Remember our priorities.  While we may be swimming upstream, we are putting our family first and holding true to our beliefs.  You just have to own it and carry on.  As the old saying goes, "To each his own."      




Thursday, March 27, 2014

Marinated Pork Tenderloin and Sauteed Asparagus

What we eat is so important to us.  We do our best to cook using organic, dye-free, and Non-GMO products, so we've been trying new recipes to replace the pre-made marinades and sauces you can purchase at the store.  Thus far we have had great success and I am looking forward to grilling season to try even more!  I wanted to share a few great recipes we made for dinner a few weeks ago:  marinated pork tenderloin and garlic asparagus.  Making your own marinades is so quick and easy, not to mention more cost effective.  I encourage you to try some out!  I know I feel much better about what I'm serving my family when I know precisely what ingredients are used and avoiding all of the artificial dyes and fillers that go into these products.  Enjoy!

Marinated Pork Tenderloin

1/4 c. olive oil*
1/4 c. soy sauce*
1 clove, garlic minced
3 T. dijon honey mustard
salt and pepper to taste
1 (2 lb.) boneless pork tenderloin

*We used organic products that can be found at Target or in the health aisle at your local grocery store.

Whisk together all of the marinade ingredients.  Place the tenderloin in a Ziploc bag and pour marinade into bag.  Seal it up and give it a shake.  Marinade at least one hour (longer if possible).

Place tenderloin in baking dish and pour marinade over it.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to one hour, until center is no longer pink.

Sauteed Garlic Asparagus

3 T. organic butter
1 bunch asparagus
3 cloves garlic, chopped

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and asparagus.  Cover and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally until asparagus is tender.  If you like it more well done, continue to cook until desired tenderness.

*We also used this recipe to saute the mushrooms and zucchini shown in the picture.  Yum!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Oven Fried Chicken Drumsticks

My oldest son has recently discovered that he loves fried chicken.  I decided to test out a recipe for oven fried chicken to see if it would pass the test, as buying a bucket of it from the grocery store is quite expensive!  After searching for a bit, I found a recipe for "Better-Than-KFC" chicken and decided to give it a try.  The end result?  It passed the test, though we all wished it were a bit crispier.  I will admit, though, my house did smell like KFC, but the chicken tasted better!

Better-Than-KFC Oven Fried Chicken
Recipe from:  Adapted from Clarks Condensed

1/2 c. butter
8-12 drumsticks
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. pepper
2 t. paprika
1 1/2 c. milk

Soak chicken in milk for at least 30 minutes.  Longer, up to 3 hours, is better.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice the butter into 8-10 pieces and place around a 9x13 dish.  Melt in oven while preparing the chicken.  Mix together flour, pepper, and paprika in a large bowl.  Take a drumstick, shake off excess milk, and dredge in flour mixture.  Bake for 20 minutes, flip each piece, and bake for another 20 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Young Children and Lent

Lent has begun and we are doing our best to make it more meaningful for the kiddos this year.  While I decided to give up dessert and my daily chocolate consumption (let me tell you, this was a lot of chocolate!), my husband and I thought our kiddos were a bit young to partake in giving anything up.  Instead we have decided to bring out our kindness jar again and focus on kind acts both in and out of our home.

While this takes some extra effort on our part to "catch" those moments, it is well worth the journey for all of us.  At times I feel like I notice more of the undesired behavior than the desired, kind behavior my kids demonstrate.  This may be because when my kids are not kind to each other there is a lot of crying, screaming, and fighting involved and when they are getting along it's so peaceful.  Well, as peaceful as it can get with four young children!  I am hoping that this will help me to truly appreciate all of the good that they do and not get so caught up in the misbehavior.

What are we looking for?  Playing nicely together, using their manners, helping each other out, and simple nice gestures are just a few examples of a way they can earn a pom for the jar.  Thus far our oldest has read to his sister and made her a get well picture, as they're both feeling under the weather.  My middles played a peaceful game of Memory together and have used polite table manners.  While I certainly can't catch everything, I am doing my best to notice the small, everyday moments that are wrapped in kindness.

We are also participating in the rice bowl campaign.  Our kids do simple chores around the house for a little allowance.  During Lent, when they receive their allowance we are asking them to decide how much they will keep and how much they will contribute to the rice bowl.  Thus far they've been quite generous!  We're just trying to keep it simple and teach a few lessons along the way.  We hope that they take something away some valuable lesson this year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Standardized Test: These Words Disgust Me

Standardized test.  These two words paired together just get under my skin and I find them quite disgusting.  Creating an educational system where these two words are the focus of our children's learning is a crying shame.  While there is no doubt the educational system in our country is in need of an overhaul, putting more emphasis on testing, completely revamping the content that our children are taught, and creating new, ridiculously complicated ways to teach skills (simple subtraction, for example) is like driving the car the wrong way on a one-way street.  It's wrong, and quite frankly, should also be in violation of the law.

I firmly believe our schools began to suffer when No Child Left Behind was introduced.  It happened to be my first year teaching, and while I wasn't directly impacted because I was teaching early childhood special education, I heard the teachers in my building talking about tests...a lot.  Their instructional content seemed to become more restricted and, unfortunately, teachers felt pressured to "teach to the test."  Now it seems with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative the noose has been tightened even more.  Not only are we tightening the grip on the content being taught, but the strategies that are being implemented to teach skills, especially in math, are time-consuming, confusing, and, in my opinion, unnecessary.   

I fully understand that children need to be assessed and our teachers need to be accountable for student learning.  It is imperative to see the strengths and areas that need improvement, but why does the government not value utilizing additional ways to assess student learning other than requiring them to sit down at a specific time, several days in a row filling in the bubbles (or, from what I understand, clicking the mouse in the near-future) to give us a true, well-rounded picture of each child?  

The emphasis put on these results is absurd.  Our children are not robots and there are too many outside factors (anxiety, lack of sleep, hunger, special needs, socioeconomic status, primary language, disturbances at home, etc.) affecting test performance to solely rely on these results to demonstrate academic understanding.  The fact that this snippet of information is used to determine a teacher's proficiency, as well as funding for our schools, is equally absurd.  

As a parent, I don't want my children's "self-worth" to be determined by how they have performed on a standardized test.  I value creativity, thinking out of the box, and exploring personal interests to make learning more meaningful.  I don't find it necessary for my son to break down a problem into five steps to complete a simple subtraction problem he could compute in less than 5 seconds.  I know I am not the only parent who feels this way. 

In my eyes, however, there is one more missing piece to this puzzle that cannot be easily assessed:  parental involvement. These test scores are used to hold our teachers accountable, but we, as parents, need to be held accountable, too.  It is our job to make education the priority in our children's lives.  It seems we have wandered away from this way of thinking and it is our kids who are suffering.  There are so many distractions, from extracurricular activities to video games and everything in between, that we have forgotten what is truly important.  Our children need down time.  They need to have time for unstructured play, to sit at a table and eat as a family more often than not, to have the opportunity to speak and be heard, and to get their rest.  As parents we need to emphasize the importance of completing homework, reading, and providing opportunities for our kids to explore their personal interests.  It surely doesn't have to be boring.  Get creative at home and make learning fun!  As a community, we need to help those around us who may not have these opportunities.  Safe after school programs offering homework assistance, family math and literacy nights in our schools, and volunteer tutoring are great ways to reach kids who may need extra help.  Donating used books to shelters or schools who may need them can help get books in the hands of children in need.  Supporting programs that help children who are at-risk may make a difference in the lives of many as well .  Don't be afraid to get your family involved!  Raising empathetic, caring kids can make such a positive impact in our communities.

The government may feel the pressure to "compete successfully in the global economy," but I, as a parent, do not feel that the solution they have imposed upon our children is in their best interest.  I am not willing to idly sit by and do nothing, are you?  We each have a voice, and although it may not always be heard, we do have a voice.  Write your legislators or sign a state and national petition to eliminate the Common Core.  Take a stand for your children and the future of our educational system.  What have you got to lose?