Friday, February 26, 2010

Oh-So-Cheesy Mostaccioli

I wouldn't lie to you. This mostaccioli is a tasty, easy, dish that I have served to everyone I know. AND NO ONE HAS EVER NOT LIKED IT.

Prepare to be famous.

You need:
1lb ground beef (my mom makes it with mild sausage, pick your poison)
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I use Prego Heart Smart Mushroom)
2 cloves garlic
1 box mostaccioli noodles (penne will do)
1 can cheddar cheese soup
2 cups shredded mexican cheese
basil and oregano to taste

Preheat oven to 350.

1. Brown meat, tossing in the garlic (minced), basil, and oregano. While that's getting it's party on, boil your noodles about 80% done (fairly al dente).

2. In a large, oven safe bowl (I use this one, which has since been discontinued), mix the browned, drained beef, the cooked noodles, the cheese soup, and 1 1/2 cup cheese. Cover with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

3. Bake @ 350 for 45 minutes. You could also toss it in the crock pot. Or freeze it before baking. Or give it to a neighbor who just had a new baby or chemo. It's versatile like that.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sing an Artful Song

It's well known that Hubs and I are deeply in love with books. When we were pregnant with Noise, our first, my sister-in-law threw us a "Book Shower." Friends and family each gifted us with their best-loved titles, and kick started our children's library with their love and thoughtfulness.

One of the best books we received was this book, Go In and Out The Window, An Illustrated Songbook for Young People. Published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is a gorgeous tome of folk, hymn, and children's songs, illustrated by famous paintings from the MOMA collections. "Amazing Grace" is illustrated by Gauguin's la Orana Maria, making the song not just a beautiful listening experience, but a stimulating visual one as well:
"Hush Little Baby" is handsomely captured in the painting "Just Moved" by American artist Henry Mosler:
And my own state song, "Home on the Range," is captured perfectly in Bierstadt's The Rocky Mountains, Lander's Peak:
There are a few songs in the book I had never heard of, and some I knew well. My husband and I are probably two of the five people in the world who now know every verse of "Clementine," and this book is the reason-- Noise loved that one as a baby.

Other books have come and gone, but Noise will still, at nearly 6, sit down in our laps and sing every song, looking at the art for hours. In addition to the art itself, there are small informational paragraphs about the artists, the art, the song, or the era of the song. I really think that as our kids get older, their enjoyment of this book will only increase.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

(Kinda) Wordless Wednesday: Proud Grandpa

Grandpa Pair, watching his granddaughter turn 4

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We've Got Nerve

In our house, we've got two living areas-- a front room, that is the first thing you see when you come in the door, and a back room, which is where we really live. Our front room has been a sitting area, then a dining area (where we rarely ever dined), and is now a sitting area again for reading, visiting, and getting out the door in the morning.

When we had the large dining table in there, we rarely ever invited people to come into our home. A large reason for this was that our 6' dining table was constantly covered in the stuff of life-- books to go to the library, paperwork from my husband's work, kids' artwork, diaper bags, my purse, gloves, hats, scarves... blech. Just thinking back on that gives me the heebie jeebies.

About a year ago, we decided that since we were adding a child to our family, and therefore reducing the space for our visitors to stay, we would remove the dining table and get a fold-out couch for the front room. Thus, it was converted BACK into a sitting area.

Once the switch was made, however, we had a serious problem.

Where would we put all that crud?!

Over time, we've come up with a solution that works well for our family: cubbies!

Nearly everything that used to clutter that big table has a home now, in this area that is located just inside our front door.

The actual cubbies themselves were born out of a furniture storage problem as much as a stuff storage problem-- we put the big kids in bunk beds, and the cubbies you see here were Noise's old headboard! I put them behind a storage chest we already had, and voila! Family nerve center!

Each family member has their own cubby, identified by pictures of ourselves as children.We have small children, and two of the three of them cannot read-- so this was a fun alternative. The kids love the pictures of me and Daddy as little kids.

From the sides of the headboard, we hung over-the-door hooks for coats and backpacks. Inside the chest are extra kid shoes (dress shoes, boots, etc) and out-of-season stuff that needs storing. The chest is also a great place to sit down and put on your shoes each morning.

I can't say enough about how this nerve center has helped our family function. We haven't spent much time this winter hunting around for matching gloves-- the kids love to put their stuff away in the cubbies. They beg to help put away the baby's shoes, which are stored in his cubby. My husband hasn't even lost his winter hat this year!

When winter fades, the cubbies will hold baseball hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses-- I can't wait to see how much easier things will be.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Carrying A Torch

It's the Winter Olympics, of course, which means that our TV is on 200% more than it usually is. We're Olympics junkies over at Chez Pair, and we're not picky about sport or season-- we're happy to watch curling or gymnastics, slalom or basketball.

This is the first year my kids have really gotten into it, and it's been fun to watch. Every imaginary game they play is about them competing in the Olympics-- albeit with sometimes strange sports.

This morning the Ninja Olympics were held in my family room. This involved wearing all black and executing the best "HI-YAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

Yesterday were the Skidding-across-the-floor-in-socks Olympics. My son won this event, only because halfway through the competition it was discovered that my daughter had on skid-proof socks.

I love to watch their imaginations bloom, and I love the way that the Olympics has sparked both their play and their senses of self-worth. They see no reason why they may not someday be Olympians, and no reason why Sock Skating could not be a sport.

(Who can blame them, ever since Trampoline was admitted into Summer Games?)

It's times like these when I learn so much from my children about the virtue of possibility. Of COURSE they can be Olympians, in sports that don't exist. The same way my son can be both a professional football player and a concert violinist, as he plans. The same way that my daughter wants to drive a tractor, be an astronaut, and have four children.

Anything is possible with them, and it is inspiring.

I feel no need to tell my son that he's unlikely to even play football in high school, given his smallish stature. I can't see the benefit in telling my daughter that the US has given up on the moon.

I simply tell them that if they work hard, do the work, and have passion, anything is possible.

(And then I remind myself.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel

I have loved Frog and Toad since they hopped around my bookshelves when I was a little girl. Frog and Toad walk together through many seasons, both literal and figurative.  As a child, I didn’t always understand Toad’s pessimism but I fully understood that his friend Frog was always there for him. And who doesn’t want a friend like that?

Not only are the stories—which originated way back in 1970—fun to read with your kids, but these books are good beginning readers when they start sounding out syllables on their own.  My first two sons flew threw them and were onto longer chapter books right out of the gates.  My third son, who learned to read in Spanish first, has taken his time enjoying each word on these pages.  When he reads them, he is accomplished.  He feels capable.  Like his big brothers, he can read.

Each book contains five stories, some funny, some poignant.  Of them, the very first, Frog and Toad are Friends (1970), remains my favorite.  The stories I like best in this book: A Lost Button and The Letter.  The Swim always made me sort of sad and is one of those vignettes that opens up deeper conversations for my children and me.

Two of my other favorite stories, Ice Cream and Christmas Eve, appear in Frog and Toad All Year (1976).

The other two books are Frog and Toad Together (1972) and Days with Frog and Toad (1979).

You can buy them individually, or buy a compilation.  Barnes & Noble published the Adventures of Frog and Toad (2008), which includes Frog and Toad are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, and Days with Frog and Toad.

And I suppose I should mention that some of these books are award winners, as well. Frog and Toad are Friends received a Caldecott Honor award and Frog and Toad Together Newberry Honor award winner. 

Award winners or not, these are wonderful books to grace your children's shelves.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Best Chili Ever...

...if I say so myself.

On Super Bowl Sunday, most normal people of my friends cherish the time alone to go shopping or get some crowd-free errands done.  I, on the other hand, can't think of much I'd rather do than watch the game with my family, and enjoy a good bowl of chili with a cold, dark beer. 

Also, you should know that I'm not really a fan of the Crock pot.  The idea of the Crock pot, I love.  But I never seem to have much success with things that come out of it actually tasting good.  Having owned a Crockpot for 18 years now (yep, wedding gift, replaced once), you'd think I could've mastered this thing.  Ah, perhaps interest has something to do with it.  At any rate, there are two--yes two--things I've ever made in the Crock pot that I wanted to make again.  The first is a recipe for Pulled Pork which I just found recently.  Fantastic!  The second is my father-in-law's chili recipe, which I'll share here with you.  Tweak as you see fit, of course.  I, for one, add a whopping amount of Tabasco.

Rich's Rockin' Chili
2 lbs ground beef
3 cans kidney beans (We substitute 1 can with Mexican beans.)
28 oz can whole tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 - 1 1/2 large green pepper, diced
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
1 t sugar
2-3 T chili powder
2 packet of chili seasoning
3 T Grey Poupon mustard
few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
few shakes of Tobasco sauce
salt & pepper to taste

Brown ground beef in a saute pan.  Drain & add to Crock pot.  Crush whole tomatoes with hands and pour over ground beef (along with juices from can).  Add beans, tomato paste, green pepper, garlic and onion.  Mix well.  Add all seasonings and mix again.  Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low all day.

You can prepare this the night before and leave the removable stoneware in the fridge.  Just pop it into the Crock pot base in the morning & you're all set.

When the chili is ready, sprinkle it with some Vermont cheddar and pour yourself a drink.  Perfect!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Number One House Cleaning Tip

Hire someone to come every day.


Ha, ha, ha, ha.  That’s a good one, isn’t it?

In the world I actually inhabit, a daily housekeeper isn’t feasible.  However, it’s not a job I save a lot of time for.  Between writing, speaking, being a mother, friend, and wife, if I have two hours free, mopping is not at the top of my list of things to do.

Plus, it’s seriously valuable for kids to learn these tasks early, right?

It took me years to come up with a plan that worked, but I finally did.

It’s as simple as a deck of cards.

What you’ll need:
Poster board
List of tasks
Clear Contact to “laminate” your tasks

What you’ll do:
Think about every cleaning job you do and break them down into tasks. Think do-able jobs for kids.  “Clean the bathroom,” for example, will not get you a clean bathroom.  I guarantee it.  Instead, you might break that job down into these tasks: clean the bathtub and shower, scrub the toilet, scrub the sink, clean the mirror, dust, and mop the floor.

Once you have your list, if your kids are uninitiated, you need to show them exactly what each task entails.  How do you want them to clean the toilet?  What, precisely, do you want them to dust.  Skip this step and live with the dirty results. This, too, I can promise.

Once everyone understands the tasks, it’s time to make the cards.  Use a pencil to mark off rectangles on a colorful piece of poster board.  In each rectangle, write or draw one task with a Sharpie.  (I do a crude drawing along with a short description.)  Cut out the rectangles and use the clear Contact paper to laminate each one.

On the days of your choice, hand each child the cards with their tasks for the day.  I found that my kids were much more receptive to this “game”:  Place all of the cards face down on the table and let them take turns choosing cards.  The drawback to this approach is that you can’t try to keep things even.  The same child might draw "scrub the bathtub" and "dust the living room. " It’s the price of fun, I suppose.

To keep things interesting, you can add a few cards like “Free Pass: Give mom one of your jobs,” or “Earn $1 by doing an extra job.”

Fair warning:  This will not go smoothly from the get-go.  It will take you just as long, maybe longer, to get the house clean as you help them learn.  But eventually, eventually they will learn. 

And that’s a day we can all celebrate!

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Coaching Surprise

When I first started playing basketball, I was in about the 4th or 5th grade and I wasn’t very good.  The teams were co-ed, then, and I spent more time thinking about my freckled, red-headed teammate Mike Fayard than listening to what the coach had to say.  It was, as my father has often said, more of a social event for me.

Several years passed before I showed much promise.  I think I was quick and fairly athletic, so they kept me around.  Eventually things began to sink in.

I’d forgotten this.  I’d forgotten how hard it was to learn this game.  I’ve played for so many years now that these concepts seem obvious.  Cut to the basket.  Come to the ball.  Pick and roll.  ROLL, people, ROLL.

I know, those words don’t mean anything to most of you but trust me, they’re fundamental parts of the game.  If your child ends up on a basketball team, these are things she or he will learn.

In all these years, I have played and practiced and cheered but I haven’t coached until now.  And, man, it is so much harder than I expected.  It’s so hard to teach the kids this basic stuff, this stuff they must learn if they’re going to continue to play the game: to take the baseline, square up to the hoop, keep the ball alive. 

And I love it.  I love almost everything about it.  I love helping them understand, I love watching them hustle, I love watching them watch themselves become players.

I still don’t like losing, but I’ll take a loss with good fundamentals as a positive step forward.  I don’t like that everyone can’t play all of the time.  That’s hard for me.  I’ve been a player and I know how it feels.  I don’t like watching kids get down on themselves when they still have so much time to learn and grow and perfect their skills.

But watching the camaraderie that develops between the boys is something I could do day after day.  Working, working, working with them to teach these concepts—I only wish I had more hours to give them.  Some of these boys may go on to be real ball players and others will likely move on to different interests.  But right now, for this season, I’m giving them everything I have.  And do you know what’s been my biggest surprise?  They’re giving me even more in return.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A little swimming and a little dinner

Back when I was a kid, a trip to the beach always included a packed lunch. My mother went through great pains to make sure we would have a fabulous feast at the seashore: hamburgers ready for grilling (plus all the fixings like perfectly cut, juicy tomato slices, lettuce, pickle relish, and cheese slices), potato salad and cole slaw, potato chips, fruit salad, and a whole cooler full of fresh lemonade. These days the closest I come to a packed lunch at the beach is a picnic meal at our neighborhood pool during the warmer days of summer. We arrive in the afternoon, past the time when the sun is at its peak in order to avoid sunburn. Around 5 or 6, it's clear we all are ready to refill. It's at that point that we open up the picnic.

I may have mentioned in previous posts that I'm not someone who likes to plan meals out. You can imagine then, a picnic lunch has the potential to torture me. I think I'm able to manage because it means that I'll get to relax at the pool during dinner and that I don't have to clean up the dishes after dinner. I can't believe I'm the only woman out there who has this same kind of disposition. Very well then, it seems I should share my formula so that like-minded women may benefit from my toils ;-)

- Get the medium-sized cooler you use as a family. Fill two quart-size freezer ziploc bags with ice cubes. Put them on the bottom of the cooler. In most midwest towns, this should be enough to keep your food cool enough for 2-3 hours.

- As for a menu, I keep it simple.
whole fruit (I've found apples & grapes work best for packing and surviving the cooler storage)
crackers or chips (just grab a whole box or other container to cut down on packing effort expended)
cheese cubes (we have these on hand in the fridge all summer long; I just grab a bunch while packing, enough to fill one ziploc bag)
some kind of sandwich (ham & cheese, turkey & swiss, or veggie wraps)

- For something to drink, bring along a water bottle for each family member. Sure, pop or some other sugary drink would be a bigger hit with the kids, but the water will keep them hydrated better. The bottles can also be refilled and encourage them to keep drinking water while playing.

- If you really want to get fancy, get yourself one of those "hot/cold" bags, the kind that are insulated and can keep things hot or cold. Unlike the beach, there are no grills at the pool. If you have one of these bags, you can bring something hot and it'll stay hot until you're ready to eat. I've grilled hot dogs and toasted buns in the toaster oven at home, assembled them and then wrapped them individually in foil before putting them in the insulated bag.

- I keep diner-style dispensers of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise in the fridge for easy use at meals. A nice side benefit is that the containers quickly and easily pack for a picnic.

- Lastly, and I think most importantly, include something that you crave. Something that you think is a decadent delight. Like chocolate truffles or creme puffs. Or maybe instead of sweets, you go for the savory treats like brie or caviar. Whatever your Achilles' heel is, make sure you remember to pack it, because I find that I enjoy it all the more when I have it relaxing at the poolside in the summer evening sunlight.

After these last couple weeks of snow, I can't wait until we get the chance for another picnic dinner.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gift From The Sea

More than 50 years ago, in 1955, the wife of Charles Lindbergh (yes, the one who flew across the Atlantic) took a few weeks away from her family (yes, the one that had lost a baby to a tragic kidnapping 20 years earlier) and traveled to Captiva Island on the Gulf Coast of Florida. By herself. There, she contemplated her identity, her place in the world, and her role as a woman in her family. More than 50 years later, the words she penned in eight short essays still ring true when I read them today. Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea has refreshed me during these past dreary weeks, deep in winter's grips. Her images of the sunny seashore account for some of this, but it is her treatment of woman's identity that grabs and holds my attention so that I can read the whole book in one sitting.

The Gulf Coast is filled, dare I say littered, with seashells. As Anne Morrow LIndbergh collects the shells that were no doubt plentiful all around her, she relates each of them to an essential part of her psyche. Solitude, simplicity, evolution. She considers her role as a women in a nuclear family, as wife and mother, while children are young and after they have left her alone. What she consistently comes back to is that woman should relish in her own self, rejuvenate herself daily, annually, and through each season of life. Remind herself that she is an individual, and yet eternally connected to her family and her world that is always around her.

I've been to a few of those old beachside bungalows. They usually have only two or three electrical sockets in the whole structure, simply wooden furniture, maybe an old television. The sink in the kitchenette is porcelain and stained, the floor is linoleum and covered with woven polyester place rugs, and the shelves are lined with ancient bleached shells and coral. As Lindbergh writes of her seashells on her desk and ruminates what significance they hold, I can't help but imagine what calm and peace she must have felt there on the Island, sitting in her quiet cabin listening to the sea, separated from all those who knew her intimately. The ability to relax and reflect must have enabled her to find pervasive truths of her life that ring so true in my own. I must not be the only woman ever to have responded this way as a result of reading the short book; it's now being published in its 50th anniversary edition.

What I find the most remarkable about the essays is their timeless quality. Lindbergh made her trek to the sea and wrote these words before the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960s, yet the identity issues that she grapples with still ring true with me today. Who am I if I don't take the time to be still and listen to myself? What does it mean for me to be in a relationship with my spouse and with each of my children? How much am I adversely affected by the clutter of unnecessary things and ideas around me? She certainly wasn't the first one to discuss these ideas, nor the last. But she succinctly discusses each one for just long enough to get the gears in my minds turning and then curtly stops in order to let my mind continue thinking.

Maybe I'll reread the book again next winter when I need to feel warm and refreshed again.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

At the seaside

Choctawhatchee Bay, Destin, FL

Cocoa Beach, FL

Lighthouse Point, FL

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lessons learned by the beachside

When my oldest daughter was 10 years old, she and I and my soon-to-be-and-now husband went on our first trip together. The three of us took a road trip south to Tybee Island, Georgia, a little beach town about 20 miles east of Savannah. One of my friends was getting married on the beach; I was the maid of honor. My daughter was the only child on the very short guest list of 25 or so.

There was a lot for me to contemplate in anticipation of that trip.

By the time we had arrived, settled into our hotel and met up with the bride and groom at their rented condo, I started grappling with how to get my daughter to behave like all these childless adults would expect a child to behave in such a setting: she would need to be out of sight and out of mind. Seen and not heard. Putting it simply, she would have to be perfect.

The bride had no such illusions in her mind. My friend welcomed her into the bridal suite of the rented condo, first showing her the luxurious bathroom and then the television with satellite access. My daughter contentedly sat down and watched satellite television to her heart's content. Sponge Bob and That's So Raven and so many other shows that I had never heard broadcast because I didn't have a television, much less satellite access.

I was slightly horrified. I thought it was somewhat impolite for my daughter to be taking over the suite of the bride and groom, not to mention that she was watching shows that I found to be annoying at best.

The next day was the wedding, all of us on the shore at nine in the morning. By ten, we were all back indoors eating brunch. My daughter decided she would like to go back to the beach. She wanted to go play with the bride's standard poodle. On the beach. My reluctance took a physical form as I started feeling panicked at her doing this by herself. But once again my friend stepped in. The bride not only gave my daughter permission to go to the beach with the dog, she encouraged her to run and wear the dog out. After my daughter left happily, my friend assured me that nothing would go wrong. The dog was well trained and would look after her. Besides, my daughter had a new cell phone, right? And we could watch her from the condo balcony.

Sure enough, nothing went wrong. I started to relax. I started to realize that maybe my daughter could handle this freedom and it would do us all good.

By the last morning we were there, my daughter asked if she could go out and play with the cats at the hotel. It made sense to let her go. We had to finish packing and also put together some breakfast. We would spend the rest of the day in the car. Best to let her get her energy out now, and best to start the day without a 'no.' My husband encouraged me to let her go since she had been so happy with the freedom we had granted her earlier in the weekend. So she left the room happily, promising not to go farther than we had told her to.

I'm naturally an overprotective mother, I know I am. I'm the kind of person who would rather be safe than sorry. But in my role as a mother, I have learned that there's a fine line between being protective and being smothering. That trip to the beach was my first glimpse of my daughter doing things independently, out of my reach, and trusting that she would be alright. I fear the worst could happen to my children, but the worst has never happened. It has never even come close to happening. I learned to let go of my daughter during that trip and to trust her. I think she had much more fun and enjoyed the beach much more freely because of it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I'm trying to get off on the right foot for vacation

Since moving to the midwest from the south, I've finally figured out the winter school schedule for the kids. You get a winter break, which is around Christmas time and two weeks long. You also get a spring break that starts before Holy Week and is roughly a week and a half. In addition to these breaks, you also get what is called around here, mid-winter break, another week off of school at the end of February. It's is mid-winter break when families take their winter vacations. This year we are going to travel during mid-winter break, to the south to see family.

It seems that as soon as we made the final decision to drive all the way from Michigan to Florida, the complications began. Was the car big enough for all of us? How long could we reasonably expect to drive before the baby expressed her discontent with the situation? How long could we reasonably expect to drive before the TEENAGER expressed her discontent with the situation? And underscoring every one of these questions was the big one: in the end, will all this effort be worth it or will we regret we even made the trip in the first place?

When I was a kid, my parents went to great lengths to make sure we saw most of our family every year. We drove 300 miles and 600 miles to visit both sets of my grandparents, we could drive another 400 and trek onward to Alabama to see my father's family. It didn't seem hectic; it felt relaxing. But as I try to plan and execute similar trips as an adult, I feel tense and stressed out.

For right now, our family's mid-winter trip to the south will not include a visit to my grandmother who lives on the beach in Florida's panhandle. It's a long story as to why, a story that, frankly, is too confusing and too frustrating to relate. Something inside of me wishes I could not only travel to the small beach town she lives in, but that I could travel back in time to those vacation days that were relaxing and refreshing.

When we visited, we spent hours outside, mostly at the beach. We'd swim and play on the sand in the morning, working up our appetite for lunch. Many times my mother and grandmother would bring lunch down to the dock and we would eat right there in the sunshine. By the end of the day after we had come back to the house and bathed and settled down, my body would feel untwisted, restful.

Now I'm realizing that this restfulness and carefree luxury was made possible by the adults in the scene who were perhaps tense or stressed out. The worries on their mind were similar to the ones I have now:

Will the girls get sunburned by spending too much time in the sun? Are they well-rested enough? I wish my parents would stop arguing so much. Do I bring along the children's tylenol because it seems like [insert child's name here] could use some. If I didn't bring it along, I going to have to drive all the way into town, find a drug store, and buy more. I wonder if [insert car problem here] is going to cause us problems later on this trip. I wonder if [insert relative's name here] is going to be happy when we arrive two hours late tomorrow in case car troubles arise.

As I'm looking back at my childhood vacations to the beach, I'm realizing that perhaps the best thing for me to do in this upcoming trip is to make sure these worries don't take up the forefront of my attention. I need a relaxing break and so do my husband and my girls. The only way to give them that chance to let go of the mundane every day responsibilities is to not let the every day stress get in the way.

So even though we won't actually visit the beach on this vacation, I'm going to try to remember how I approached each day when I was a child at the beach. Be flexible in each day's agenda and welcome its serendipitous moments. Let each problem come as it may and deal with them as blips on the radar, rather than letting them consume my thoughts from sun up to sun down. And remember to enjoy the company of those around me. This is my family, the ones I love, and the moments I have with them should be treasured. If I can achieve this state of mind, hopefully my girls will grow up and have memories of being carefree, just like I do.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Mashed Potato Bake

I first made this in high school for an easy meal. The great thing about it is that you can prepare the parts of it before you need it and refrigerate until you're ready to assemble your casserole (or whatever you want to call this).

8-10 servings of instant (or real) mashed potatoes, prepared
1 lb ground beef or ground turkey, browned
cheese (whatever kind you like in whatever amount you like)
I prepare this in a 9x13 baking dish. First, spray the dish with cooking spray to ease cleaning.
Layer the beef or turkey on the bottom. Sometimes I do a layer of bread crumbs first if I feel "fancy." (ha ha)
Next, using a rubber spatula, spread a layer of mashed potatoes on top of the ground meat. Use only about a half of your potatoes.
Add your layer of cheese. I usually use a few slices, and add some grated cheese and whatever I have around that I want to use up. The blocks of Velveeta work well for this.
Finally, cover the cheese with another layer of potatoes.

Bake at 350 for about 10-15 minutes and enjoy.

The kids always eat this and it is very easy to make.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Free Books For Kids

I remember hearing about the Dolly Parton Imagination Library when my son was born. He was a few months old by the time the word got out about the library and I remember signing up both of my kids for the library and waiting several months before the first books arrived.

Honestly I didn’t think that the library was real. Free books? Really?

But it is real. Your child can receive one free book per month from birth (if you sign your child up that early) through age 5.

My kids received a few of the same books over the years (K would get the same one M had gotten the previous year or something) but for the most part they’ve received different books. One of these days I’m going to go through all of our books and weed out duplicates to donate to our church or to the local literacy programs.

This program is an easy way to build up your child’s library and since they are free you can still give them to your toddler and you don’t feel quite as sick when she destroys it as you would if you’d shelled out $20 for it. (Not that I know any toddlers who do that sort of thing ::whistles and looks around innocently::)

The sign up is easy and quick, and can now even be accomplished right online, well worth the time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Helpful Tip Post That's Not All That Tippy

The Tuesday posts here at Midwest Parents are all tips and ideas for keeping family life running smoothly and happily. I have a lot of ideas that I've used with mostly success over the seven and a half short years of my parenting career but when I sat down to write this post I drew a blank.

I could tell you about how I bought plastic sandwich boxes for each of my school-age kids and make 6 sandwiches on Sunday so that I can send sandwiches in their lunch boxes 3 days of the week. I could tell you how I send a hot meal in a Funtainer one day a week and how they get to have a Lunchable as a treat on Fridays.

But then if I told you that I wouldn't know what else to say about that.

So I thought about what other things I do that I haven't already shared with you and I drew a blank.

Then I thought about how, from the start of first grade when my oldest first started getting homework I insisted she do it right away after school so it would be just done. And now, half-way through second grade when she gets homework every day she automatically gets out her pencil as soon as she's finished her after school snack and just does it.

And then I thought that tip won't be very helpful to those whose kids are past this stage already. But let me tell you this is a wonderful thing to not have to battle about doing homework.

What I really wanted to write about I can't do for you. You have to do it yourself. Every parent (every person) needs time to do what he or she needs to feel rejuvenated. Whatever that is...reading a book, watching a movie, exercising, a bubble doesn't have to be anything big or expensive. Watching a sunset or a sunrise doesn't cost a penny but it can center you and remind you how little annoyances don't really matter. Take care of yourself. If you don't, who will? If parents value themselves enough to take care of themselves, the kids will see that and value themselves as well.

I can't think of anything that helps keep a family running more smoothly than that.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rearranging for Baby

When you find out for the first time that you’re having a baby it is both exciting and terrifying. I remember also feeling a little bit of remorse for the life I was leaving behind.

Some people will tell you that your lives will be drastically different and others will tell you to just tell your child “no” and things will be fine. When I was pregnant with M, our house was filled with knick knacks. They were on low tables, medium tables, tall shelves. There were knick-knacks that, when I had a mobile toddler, I was sure she wouldn’t be able to reach. She reached. She climbed and reached those knick-knacks and as I approached her telling her “no no!” she’d smile, wind up, and LOB that precious Hummel figurine at me with glee.

Her behavior disturbed me. My mom was one of the people who told me that all I needed to do was tell my child “no” and that should be fine to stop her from touching things. I was frustrated beyond belief that my beautiful, spunky child so openly disregarded everything I said. I was at a loss. I figured I was failing as a parent less than two years into my new gig. To top it off I was pregnant with another child that I figured I would screw up just as much. I brought up my concern at the ECFE class that M and I were currently in and the facilitator gave me sage advice: put the knick-knacks away if you don’t want them broken.

It seemed a bit like admitting failure, but I packed away my precious Hummels and other decorative objects. I decided I’d rather enjoy my little girl than battle her to save my “things.” The day after I packed away those things my stress level dropped dramatically. I was no longer worried that my collectibles would be damaged. M was free to climb and explore and touch.

Seven and a half years later (and two more kids later) those knick-knacks I packed away are still packed away. I don’t really know what is in that box. I will bring those things back out when D is a bit older. I’ll have all my Hummels out again. I’ve acquired a few more things since then, some of which D has taken to climbing the sofa to touch. She is more patient with me though, and will hand me the object as I come to retrieve it rather than trying to take out my head.

I know the day will soon come that I can have breakables scattered on low tables and shelves and I will almost definitely prefer the need to have them packed away.