Thursday, March 31, 2011

Super-Easy Calzones

photo credit: tvol
If you're looking for a Friday-night winner, this one gets BIG POINTS from my kids.  And it's easy, so I like it, too.  Rolling out the dough is a little time consuming, but other than that:  easy as pie.


  • Frozen pizza dough (I find that 1 lb usually makes 4 calzones)
  • Contadina pizza sauce (or your fav)
  • Shredded mozzarella
  • Favorite toppings: my kids like italian sausage & pepperoni; you could use anything you like on pizza

Take the dough out of the fridge in the morning so it has several hours to thaw.  It will grow a little, so take it out of the bag!

When you're ready:  Preheat the oven to 450.

Slice the dough into 4 equal pieces.  Sprinkle counter with flour and roll each piece out into a circle.  Place the circle of dough onto a cookie sheet before you add anything else or you will have a mess on your hands.  Trust me, this is the voice of experience.

Spoon a layer of sauce onto half of the dough circle.  Leave a margin around the edge with no sauce.  Add toppings - sausage, green pepper, whatever you like.  Don't make it TOO full!  Sprinkle mozzarella over the toppings, and close the calzone into a semicircle.  Fold the edges together and use a fork to seal the dough together and create the edge.

Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes.  Voila!

Serve with salad and enjoy your Friday night!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

So Ready for Summer!

For more Wordless Wednesday, check here and at 5 Minutes for Mom.w

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I didn't have any expectations when I opened the first page of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  I'd heard of it, sure, but I didn't know a thing about it.

And that name.  It's just weird.  I wasn't sure what to make of it.

The book begins with a letter.

Hmmm, I thought.  I still wasn't intrigued.

But then I read the letter.  And the next one.  And the next.  And all through the book I found myself being drawn into these lives.  I saw the places, I felt the feelings.  Like many good books, it took me to a place I'd never been and made me feel as if I'd been there and would welcome a return.

The story centers around Julie Ashton, a London-based writer who leaves the city to visit Geurnsey farmers who've been writing to her.  As she gets to know these strangers who've endured Germany's occupation, she learns about them, and she learns about herself.  I admit:  the story pulled me in.

Although this isn't the kind of book I tend to gravitate towards (East of Eden, A Fine Balance), I really enjoyed it.  Thumbs up, friends.  Give it a read!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Docking Station

If your child is a toddler, you may--and I repeat may--not yet have entered the age of the iPod.  However, I have seen many a wee one tap tap tapping away at some sort of iPod game, so I'm guessing we've got a few young owners out there.

Here's the thing:  when they're toddlers, you can hand them the iPod when it's convenient for you, and take it back when it's not.

One day, they'll be older.  Wiser.  Smarter.  And, boy, will they want their Rights!

Here's my tip of the day, in hopes that other parents may experience the same peaceful atmosphere we have after implementing this rule.  And avoid that difficult time before-the-rule.

First:  buy a docking station.  They're everywhere.  We got one at Bed Bath and Beyond but look around.  They even have wireless chargers now--just set your iPod on this baby and it charges right up!

The Rule?  Get off the bus, come on in, and dock your stuff people.  Cell phone, iPod, whatever it is you're carrying, plug it in.  Right there.  Right now.  Do not check it unless you ask.  If you ask, we will usually say 'yes.'  If your homework is done.  At least, mostly.

The Other Rule?  Leave it there all night.  No checking after 9:00.  It can wait, I promise.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

good bedtime reading

Every night we read to our kids as part of our bedtime routine.  A couple of my favorites to read with my younger ones are Good Night Gorilla & Pajama Time. 
My 20 month old twins just love it.  My little E is the most into it, he loves to find the banana with each turn of the page, and gets excited to see the all black pages with just the wife's eye balls. Just the other night my little A noticed the yawning gorilla so we now do an exaggerated yawn.  So much fun and different things to notice each time in the last 6 years since we got this book.

Pajama Time is such a fun book too.  One that was given to my older kids from their nanny (a now 2nd grade teacher.)  I sing it to a tune and we do movements and then I love the "Hop into bed.  Turn out the lights...."  After this book is over we say good night to our books as we put them away.  I turn out the lights and then place them in their cribs.

Reading is one of my favorite bonding times.   Have fun reading to your kids.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I'm struggling! There I said it. It's true. I usually don't feel this way for more than a week but this time it's been for a couple months.  I'm struggling with being the mom I want to be. I'm struggling with being the owner of a growing business! I'm struggling with being the wife I want to be, with running my household the way I'd like, with the amount of sleep I want to get, the fact that one to four of my kids has been sick since Feb. 1 or with the fact that spring isn't coming soon enough. Mostly, I'm struggling with the fact that I'm struggling.

I can't seem to remember Thursday is media for my kids and I should send along their library books to return and pick out a new one. While they've never complained, I'm now writing it in my calendar.  I also can't seem to remember it's my week to blog here, sorry for the delay. 

I've been feeling this way for a while, but it seems to have come to fruitation and now I must resolve it.  I need to find the work life balance that I'm seeking.  My husband even does the majority of the cleaning, dishes, baths and some laundry. 

I'm torn between being a mom and building a business.  I started my business so I could spend more time with my kids!  Will there ever be true balance?

I admit I am struggling and it is so hard for me to say.  Does anyone else feel this way? 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Bear Snores On

This is my youngest son's favorite book. There is a great cadence to the text and Owen picks up quickly and starts to "read" along. Of course, his favorite is when the "Bear Snores On!"

It is a fast, sweet read that shows the value of community.

New York state of mind

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

rounding up the details

I don't travel much for work, but each year I help chaperone a journalism trip to New York. Of course it takes me out of four days of school, which means it isn't easy to arrange childcare because Randy works nights. Last year his parents kindly came up to help. This year my mom came to watch the boys.

It is always so hard to get excited about the trip because of all the details. People keep asking if I am excited, and I am, deep down, but until we have all the kids safely strapped into their seats, I don't think about it. With sub plans, copies, rosters, seating charts, and then daily details to fill in for the household stuff, I just don't have the time, or take the time to think about it. This year we have conferences the night before we leave, so considering if the trip will be fun or not isn't at the top of my list.

I look forward to learning at the conference and looking for the perfect gift for each of the boys back home. I love the energy of New York, and am excited to check out another new area. So yes, I am excited, but man, getting all the details lined up before I go takes up all the brainwave power I have.

Monday, March 14, 2011


The biggies are the ones we prepare for - the first time they smile, giggle, roll over, rock on all fours, crawl, walk, cut a tooth, lose a tooth, go to school, sleep over, or go on a trip. What I find, though, is the small firsts are the ones that make me catch my breath. The first time he gets his own snack. The first time he makes his own bed. The first time he walks into the school by himself.

These small firsts make me smile with pride at my boy growing up, but as soon as I smile I grab at my chest - he is growing up. He pours his own milk, makes his own toast, and cleans his room (sometimes) without asking or assistance. He walks Duncan down to the corner and back.

I love my little dude, but he will not be little for much longer - in fact, he would grimace if he ever thought I called him little, but then he will smile, give me a hug, and snuggle into my side to listen to a story - so I still have that for another blink of an eye.

It makes me want to pay attention more to the small, little details of Drew and Owen's lives. I want to notice the first time they solve a riddle, the first time they hit the ball, kick the goal, or hold another's hand. I want to pay attention to their heart firsts, and allow the big firsts to roll on up on the heels of all the little waves of firsts that precede.

Friday, March 11, 2011

That Infamous No-Knead Bread Recipe everyone's been going on and on about

You know the recipe I'm talking about. You must know about it. According to urban legend out there on the web, it's the most emailed recipe out there. I can believe it because I've had it sent to me no less than five times. And at least two people have actively campaigned to try to get me to try and make it. What's that? You say you don't know which recipe I'm talking about? Why, no-knead bread. Bread that's supposed to taste exactly like the fabulous kind you tried in Europe with cheese and wine. Bread that you can never find in the US unless you go to a super duper bakery and pay big bucks for it (I can only find it for $10+ at my local bakery).

I think it was the New York Times that published the recipe that first began the frenzy. I received a version of the recipe via a facebook post by a friend in upstate New York that convinced me to finally try it. It was a great explanation of the process and step by step recipe published at Mother Earth News. You can find the recipe and directions here. I'll reproduce them here step by step, with photos of my first attempt. See, when I thought about doing this and blogging about it, I figured that whether it was a success or a complete flop, it would still be entertaining.

Here goes.

The idea is you take four basic ingredients -- active dry yeast, warm water, all-purpose flour, and salt -- add some interesting flour for dusting (I used yellow cornmeal), and you get a rustic loaf of bread -- crunchy, thick crust encasing a moist, chewy, yeasty, and slightly sweet inside. Lovely. Other than the ingredients, you need some kind of big, heavy, dutch oven that will retain moisture. I used my Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker. (No, I am not a consultant, I just have a lot of friends who are. So I have a lot of the stuff.)

Start by dissolving 1/4 tsp yeast in 1 1/2 cups of warm water in a large bowl. (Yes, that's my Pampered Chef Classic Batter Bowl.)

Add the flour and salt, stirring until blended.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at least 8 hours, preferably 12-18 hours at warm room temperature. (I let mine rest for about 20 hours and my indoor house temperature during Michigan winter was warm enough.)

The dough is ready when it's surface is dotted with bubbles.

Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it.

Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently shape it into a ball. Generously coat a clean dish towel with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal. (Again, I used cornmeal. And my laptop to see the recipe.)

Put the seam side of the dough down on the towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal.

Cover with another towel and let rise for about 1 to 2 hours. (I let it rise for 2 hours.) When it's ready, the dough will have doubled in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least 20 minutes before the dough is ready, heat oven to 475 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot in the oven as it heats.

When the dough it ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven and lift off the lid. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. the dough will lose its shape a bit in the process, but that's OK. give the pan a firm shake or two to help distribute the dough evenly, but don't worry if it's not perfect; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid...

...and bake another 15 to 20 minutes (I baked it another 15 minutes), until the loaf is beautifully browned. Remove the bread from the Dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.

Then, you can slice it and enjoy it :-)

This was by far the easiest experience I have ever had making yeast bread, including using a bread machine. And this was my first attempt. I'd say give it a try; you won't regret it. I sure didn't.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Your kid can change the world

We've begun our foray into the college world. My oldest is a teenager with ADD and an aversion to academics. Yet, she wants to go to college and study. She used to want to be a Broadway actress. Now she wants to study special education.

I remember her first day of "real" school, the first day of preschool where she came to the classroom and the teacher said hello and told her where to hang her backpack and tuck away her lunch box. It felt strange. My baby was only four years old; clearly she wasn't ready for a classroom yet. When I asked how my daughter had done on the entrance exam, the teacher who had conducted the exam skirted the question, saying something about every student developing at different paces. I went to work and cried, because my baby was starting school, and because I didn't know what her future held.

By the time she was in second grade, it was clearly event that she was not going to be the class valedictorian. I had run out of circumstantial explanations for her classroom performance. The teachers called for more than a parent-teacher conference. I tried to be rational and mature.

I came home from that first assessment meeting and cried. I couldn't get my thoughts straight. I just kept trying to come up with a way to understand it all. She seemed perfectly nice and sweet. Why was it so hard for her to just follow her teacher's directions? Pay attention for one minute during ballet class? Sit and read a book with me without being frustrated after 15 seconds? Notice that the ball was coming for her and kick it during a soccer game, instead of letting it sail past while her teammates yelled at her?

One morning before school, when she was in third grade, we were both particularly on edge. She stated flatly that she didn't want to go to school anymore. She was crying. And I was crying. And the school bus was coming. And I didn't have the luxury of missing work that day or driving her to school that day. I turned her towards me and said (roughly):
"Grace, there are two kinds of people in this world. There are people who use up the world and all it has, leaving it to waste. And then there are people who decide to give what they have and change the world and make it a better place. You have something to give to the world, but if you don't go to school and try, you'll never be able to make the world a better place. So go to school now!"
And then I pushed her out the front door, into the snow-covered day, running for the bus. She was still upset. So was I. I really hoped the words I had just spoken held some validity.

There has been a lot of tumultuous water under the bridge between that snowy and tearful morning and now. A couple weeks ago, we went to Michigan State for the day. It was our first official trip to a college. I wasn't sure what to expect. I told Grace to dress a little better than average and behave as if it were a job interview. We arrived in time to grab bad Mexican in the Union for lunch and then trudged up two floors to find about fifty families waiting quietly for a welcome presentation by an admissions counselor.

She started with this video:

And as it played, I felt myself start to cry. I held it back because I was pretty sure Grace would die of embarrassment if her mother started bawling in front of all these people. By this point in her life, I've figured out how to hold back my tears in until I'm in private.

It's the idea that my kid could change the world. She's not a kid anymore; she's going to go off into the world and make her own way. Make her own decisions. Influence her environment the way she wants to.

Hopefully the words I gave to her half her life ago were not just wishful thinking. Maybe, just maybe, it's possible that one person can change the world for the better. That if one girl makes up her mind to do good, she will do good.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday wine goodness: Carnival Time

As I mentioned yesterday, it's time to get in a carnival mindset, because it's Mardi Gras time.

Here's a little something I didn't mention: When searching for pictures of Mardi Gras, google verrrrry carefully. Like, make sure the kids aren't around, unless you want to spend the rest of the afternoon explaining that Mardi Gras is not really just about boob flashing and beads.

Tonight is our elementary school's PTO Carnival fundraiser. I guess they set the timing of this event to coincide with Mardi Gras. This is...not my favorite event ever. First of all, I've already discussed my cookie baking failure today over at We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Toto. Second of all, I just really don't like school carnivals. I have some claustrophobia issues, so I don't like big crowds of people. And then I have issues with losing track of my kids in a building that has multiple exits and no security (since it's an evening event, not a school hours event.)
THEY HAVE A PIXIE STRAW MAKING MACHINE, PEOPLE. How is that ever a good thing?

But I digress.

So, tonight is the carnival. There is no wine at this carnival, since it's a school district sponsored event, but don't you know they'd make a ton more money if there was wine? Or at least a keg? But no. Just sugary bake sale items. And giant pixie straws.

You know who does have their own wine? Carnival Cruise Lines. But they only sell it on the ships. I could use a cruise right about now. Could you?
image found here.

I wish I had my own wine. Maybe someday I will. It will be called Mommy's Little Helper. Or maybe Mommy's Time Out.

Oh Wait.

Nevermind. Anything will do.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mardi Gras is upon us.

I work at a church, so around these parts, the oncoming Spring season means we're getting ready for the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, the day people go to noon services during their lunch hour and return to the office with a greasy, ashy cross drawn on their forehead and attempt to spend the rest of their afternoon in meetings pretending people aren't staring at them.

But the party girl in me can't help but also be thinking that this is the time of Mardi Gras, leading up to Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. The day before we begin to withhold pleasure for 40 days on the road to being a more studious, prayerful Christian, we party like rock stars for one more day. And we eat cake.

image links to the Carnival New Orleans blog, where it lives. Click it! It's fun.

Because I am all about cake, and I am all about celebrating before depravation. It's the same as partying on New Year's Even and making New Year's resolutions when you think about it, only there are more rituals and rules that going along with the whole thing. But let's get back to the cake, shall we?

Because I grew up in a Methodist household and not a Catholic one, (and a fair-weather one at that, at the time,) I didn't know anything about King cakes and Fat Tuesday and ash crosses on foreheads until I was out of college and in the workforce. I went to lunch one day and returned to find almost all my officemates had this crazy, nasty looking black soot spread above their eyebrows. But it was at that same time I first learned about King cakes, and the babies and the coins and wow, this celebrating your religion thing is kind of fun, huh? Who knew.

So now I teach my kids about Mardi Gras, and King cakes, and the meaning of Ash Wednesday, and the meaning of the season of Lent. And it dovetails nicely with our plans to visit New Orleans on a mission trip this summer, to participate in rebuilding from Katrina. Yes, there is still so much to be done.

How do you celebrate the Spring season?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Spring begins to show.

my little Saucer Magnolia, sometimes called a Tulip Tree, is getting ready to bloom in a couple more weeks. I'm hoping it doesn't get snapped by one more bad freeze.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Running Away.

When I was a kid, I remember my little brother stomping around the house in his cowboy boots and pajamas, angry about something. He announced he was going to run away. My mother, ever the calm presence, said, "Well. Okay. Let me help you pack."

I was a little taken aback by that, as was he. But she very calmly pulled out a little suitcase and laid it on his bed, and laid in a clean pair of pajamas and Underoos (I think he was in a pajamas only stage, I guess? It was a long time ago.) She asked if he would like to take a snack, he might get hungry while walking. He nodded, still angry but a little confused, and so she dropped some cookies into a zip bag and laid them into the suitcase. She zipped it up, walked him to the front door and handed him his suitcase to carry (not a rollaway, we didn't have those in the seventies, you know,) kissed him on the head and said she would miss him indeed. He walked out the front door and down the sidewalk, his two little arms lifting his suitcase up, getting tired almost as soon as he was out the door.

At this point, I was a little beside myself, that my mother would let her six year old son walk out the front door to run away, much less help him pack. She didn't even try to convince him to stay! But then I heard her go to phone and call the neighbor down the street and tell her what was going on. And then I understood.

Sure enough, the neighbor leaned out her front door and invited him in to share some milk and cookies. He stayed for a couple of hours, watching cartoons on her TV while she piddled around the house, and then she announced that they would be having brussel sprouts for dinner. My brother didn't like brussel sprouts (and rightly so, they are food of the devil, as far as I'm concerned.) Ooh, that's too bad, the neighbor responded. I hear they're having spaghetti, down at your house.

And so he came trudging back up the walk shortly before my dad got home from work, and never a word was spoken in our house about the entire episode.

I often wonder how my mother knew how to deal with that situation, I guess I should ask her. Not only to allow him to follow through on his threat, but to never bring it up and try to drive home a lesson in it, allowing his little ego to stay intact (at least until he was an adult and we all teased him about it.) As a parent, I planned for how I would carry out the exact same technique with my own two stubborn boys, but oddly, the moment has never come.

Instead, sometimes I'm the one dreaming of running away. Sometimes my frustration with working and mothering and being a spouse and a housekeeper and a cook and a chauffeur get to me, and I can't seem to care about any of it anymore.

Sometimes when I get on the highway to go somewhere, I wonder what would happen if I just keep on driving instead of taking my exit. But I never seem to have enough gas in the tank to get very far, or any cookies should I get hungry.

And so I sigh a big sigh, and turn around and go home, knowing tomorrow will be a better day.

Or at least planning to stash some snacks in the car for next time.