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?



Monday, March 3, 2014

Dining Room Remodel Project: Part 1

What is the room in your house that you are unhappy with?  It's been nearly two years since we've moved and there was one room in our house that I was itching to redo:  our dining room.  It sits right off of our entryway and is open to the house.  The paint color from the previous owners was faded and not very pleasant to the eye and I wanted it gone.  We spent a lot of time pondering what color to paint that room.  After several months of brainstorming we finally decided we wanted navy.  We brought home several of the paint sample cards from the store and ended up choosing a dark blue.  While probably not considered navy, it is by far the darkest, boldest paint choice we've made.  When I shared our choice with some of my family members and friends, I think they were a little taken aback.  The final result, however, was a hit (at least that's what they tell us!).

We chose the color Mesmerize by Behr.  It truly has been mesmerizing.  Oh, what a difference a paint color makes.  Our drab dining room became a room I was drawn to.  I still find myself looking in there thinking, "We nailed the color."  I love it!  Once the color was on the wall, we needed to pick some accent colors.  The winners were gray and lime green.  Once again, I am in love.  We don't have all our accessories yet, but what we do have has really popped in our new dining room.

Lime Green and Gray Accents
Lime Green Serving Tray on Hutch
One of our big projects was to make a wall hanging to replicate one I found on Pinterest.  I understand that not all things we find on Pinterest turn out well (have I mentioned how much I love the 'nailed it' clips on Facebook?), but this turned out better than I could have hoped.  My dear friend sent me a picture of a headboard she found at Goodwill for $8!  I gave her the okay and she kindly brought it home for us.  We were looking for something with a decorative accent and she found a treasure.  After sawing off the legs, we chose a light gray color and my husband got to work painting.  One day while looking around for accents at Hobby Lobby, I came across some lime green knobs that I thought would give a little flare to the piece.  It turned out great!  Eventually I would like to find a decal that says, "Give us this day, our daily bread" and split it between the two sides, but for now it's perfect.

What Once Was a Headboard, Is Now a Decorative Wall Hanging

We're still piecing together the patterns and textures that we're bringing into the room.  I'll share more on that once we finish the details!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Preparing for Lent

For the majority of my life I've considered myself to be a good Catholic.  Through the years I've pretty regularly gone to church, completed all of my sacraments, participated in mass using my musical talents, and contributed financially.  My husband and I have baptized our children and taught them about God and Jesus since they were little.  We've shared Bible stories with them, taught them a special bedtime prayer, encouraged them to share their own special bedtime prayers, and recently begun singing (yes, singing) a mealtime prayer.  Our faith is important to us.  On the surface, it seems like we're on the right path, but upon digging a little deeper, I've realized we have some room for improvement.   

Last year I began reading some books by Christian authors and started to realize that while I was doing the "right" things, there were many ways that I could improve my spiritual life. Several of the books I have read were written by women; many of them mothers.  I have found myself feeling like I could relate to these women in so many ways, but the strength of their faith was far greater than mine.  It was a refreshing change of pace and I was left wanting more when I finished them.  

The past few months I have really been focusing on my spiritual life.  Some simple changes have already made a big impact.  I have a little more patience, am yelling less, and generally feel more calm.  It seems so simple that a few books could change the way I view life, but it's true.  Recently I have come together with a group of moms to discuss a book I've shared with you before:  Desperate:  Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe.  We are beginning to explore our roles as mothers, our relationship with God, and how it all ties together.  I am looking forward to this journey we are taking together and am counting down the days until our next gathering.    

With Lent beginning this week, I feel like it's the perfect time to focus on this part of my life even more.  Traditionally people give something up during this time and while I may do that, too, my aspiration for Lent is to learn to let go of past discretions, strengthen my relationship with God, and help guide my children to grow in faith, too.  My current reading material (You're Made for a God-Sized Dream and Desperate:  Hope for the Mom That Needs to Breathe) are filled with opportunities for reflection and to answer some tough questions.  I truly feel that this will help me in so many ways and I am looking forward to reading more books of this type.  If you feel like you could use some inspiration, are feeling a little down, or you want to deepen your faith, I would recommend picking up a book by these authors:  Holley Gerth, Jen Hatmaker, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Mae, Bob Goff, and Christine Caine to name a few.    

I picked up a few books to read with my kids, too.  Every Day a  Blessing and The Usborne Children's Bible are on our end table ready to go!  While the children's bible is out of print, there is the Usborne Little Book of Stories From the Old Testament available.  They are a great addition to your spiritual library, as they are durable, small (but not too small) and have nice colorful pictures. 

What are your Lenten goals this year?