Thursday, December 31, 2009

3 Kid-friendly New Year’s Drinks

I don’t know if I admire or pity parents who let their kids stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve. Frankly, about 9:30pm, I just tell my kids, “close enough,” and have them head to bed. It’s not that I’m a party pooper—well, maybe it is—but the kids don’t really care whether it’s midnight or ten as long as they get to stay up a little later. And my kids get a bad case of the crankies (and yeah, maybe I do too) if they stay up too late, so I keep to a decent bedtime, even on New Year’s Eve.

That’s not to say I don’t celebrate the passing of another year with my kids. We love to hang out with friends, play games and watch movies. This year, I’m even putting my kids in charge of a few of the drinks to share with friends. I have a drink for each of my kids to mix up. For the youngest, it’s something really simple—a pitcher and a big spoon is all the equipment she’ll need. My middle child can handle something a bit more complex, so she’ll get to break out the mixer. And my oldest, she’ll need to taste-test her concoction to get it just right. So if you’re looking to get your kids more involved in the New Year’s Eve preparations, why not let them mix up one of these three drinks. I’ve listed them from easiest to hardest. Tell me which one was your favorite!

Easy Sparkling Fruit Drink
3 to 4, 8-ounce cans fruit drink (my favorite is the Jumex kind, Strawberry & pineapple make an excellent combo)
1 2-liter bottle seltzer water (NOT tonic water)
Frozen fruit, optional

In a large pitcher (preferably plastic) mix the fruit drinks and the seltzer. Let your child use a wooden spoon to mix. To add a decorative twist (and so that the drink doesn’t get watered down) I use whole, frozen fruit as ice cubes. You can have your child put a couple of fruit pieces in each cup.

Purple Paradise
1 half gallon heavy cream or whipping cream
1 carton purple, seedless grapes (NOT red grapes)
*Other fruit can be substituted

A good neighbor made this drink for me once and my youngest child has requested it ever since. The only ingredients are fresh fruit and cream—what’s not to like?! She purchased the large, purple grapes at Sam’s Club, but if you can’t find them, no worries. Any fruit will do, even a combination. You can even throw ice cubes into the blender if you want the drink icy and thick. Personally, the intense purple color is unusual—not to mention tasty, so I highly recommend the grapes. You can toss ‘em in whole. Also, thin the drink with some regular milk for a lighter taste. If you like your drinks a little sweeter, you might even need to add a bit of sugar.

2 cans coconut milk
1 10-ounce bag frozen strawberries (or fresh!)
1 10-ounce can pineapple chunks
honey (about 2 Tablespoons)
cinnamon (about 1 ½ teaspoons)

My husband came back from a business trip and described this amazing drink he’d had. He asked the waiter for the ingredients so we could try it at home. The waiter mentioned it’s a traditional Argentine drink. I have no idea of the drink’s origins, just that the unusual combination of coconut milk, cinnamon, honey and fruit is a hit with my kids. (You can use light coconut milk too.) All of the ingredients listed are really up to your taste preferences—not a real pineapple fan? Don’t add ‘em. Love cinnamon? Add plenty. Want a chunkier mixture? Add more strawberries. The final combination is amazing and surprisingly satisfying. Put all the ingredients in a sturdy blender and give it a whirl. Tweak the honey and cinnamon at the end.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Resolution Not to Have a Resolution

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. I know, I know, knocking resolutions at this time of year is a bit like saying "Bah, humbug," at Christmastime. But it seems that the idea of "resolutions" have become commercialized in much the same way the big red guy has overtaken December. Don’t believe me? Just check out the ads in your local newspaper Sunday—tell me if every grocery store ad doesn’t feature Lean Cuisine on the first page, on sale, with something along the lines of “Eat healthier in 2010” in bold letters. It’s almost like Kroger is telling me my New Year’s resolutions better be to lose weight, exercise more and take a daily vitamin. Sure, all good ideas, but do you ever keep a resolution that’s handed to you in the Sunday paper? Me neither. Instead, I like to make gradual, doable changes in my every day life versus trying to change everything, all at once…starting January 1.

So this year I’ve resolved to not make any New Year’s resolutions. Anyone else care to join me?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Crispy, Chewy, Yeasted Waffles

If you’re looking for something easy and yummy on Christmas morning or for a special breakfast any time over the holidays—here you go. Yeasted waffles offer a more complex, rich flavor than your standard mix-it-and-cook-it variety. This will take some planning ahead on your part, but it’s easy work. The results are something between a funnel cake at the amusement park and a quality Belgian waffle. (I’ve tweaked this from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.) This is what we’ll be having Christmas morning, how about you?


½ teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon wheat germ (opt)
Zest of one orange or lemon (opt)

The night before the big breakfast mix up your dry ingredients and then whisk in the milk and butter. A few lumps are just fine. Cover and place at room temperature. Yes, ROOM temperature for at least 8 hours.

The next morning: Heat your waffle iron. Crack the eggs carefully adding the yolks to the overnight mixture and putting the whites in a separate bowl. Whip the egg whites until they become stiff and then gently fold them into the other batter. Slowly fold in the zest, if desired or dried blueberries or any other dried fruit.

Serve right away with syrup and a dusting of powered sugar.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rethinking the Santa Question

I ruined Santa Claus for my oldest when she was just five. I was a newbie parent at that point. I remember vividly driving in the car with my daughter strapped in her booster seat in the back when she asked, “Mom, is the Easter Bunny real?” I debated in my mind what to say. I kept thinking that for a five-year-old the idea of some large, furry animal coming into your house and leaving you a basket—even if it was full of goodies—had to be scary. It conjured up all sorts of horrifying amusement park clowns for me. So I spilled. “Well…the Easter Bunny is something fun that mom and dad do for kids.” Proud of myself for such a simple—yet loving and age appropriate answer—I kept driving.

Then came the follow-up. “So, if the Easter Bunny isn’t real what about Santa?” It never occurred to me that my daughter might link the two. Large, furry bunny—large, furry old guy. I shoulda figured. Stumbling through an answer, I mentioned something about, If you don’t believe then you won’t get any presents, or something similarly terrible, confusing and stupid.

With my other two children I haven’t made the same mistake when it comes to the Santa question. I just smile, and say, “What do you think?” When the time is right, they seem to just know and understand the whole magic that comes with keeping the Santa idea going. Turns out what parents have sensed for years has some scientific merit. That’s right—the Santa myth we sometimes feel guilty about perpetuating—is a part of a child’s normal, healthy cognitive development. Tied in to developing empathy and a host of other emotions, a strong sense of imagination (Santa included) can help children become caring, well-rounded adults. Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t do Santa at your house you’re some sort of bad parent. Not at all. Just that parents can feel good about keeping Santa alive and well--whether you want to justify it with some sort of scientific study, or you just enjoy embracing Santa as much as your kids do.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

THE best bread you'll ever make

Raise of hands—who thinks they can’t make bread? Don’t worry, no one’s watching. Admit it, the thought of using yeast in baked goods scares you almost as much as the upcoming SpongeBob marathon on Nickelodeon.

I once thought I couldn’t make bread either—turns out, it is all about the recipe. My good friend Melissa made this bread for me when she invited my family over for dinner one night. “I wish I could make bread like this,” I told her. “You should try this recipe. It’s really easy,” she said. Sure it is, I thought sarcastically. I didn’t believe her at all. Still, I dutifully copied down the recipe fully intending to throw it away once I got home but instead decided to give it a try. I’ve been making loaves at least once a week ever since.

And the best part about making this bread is it’s a stress reliever. Seriously, follow me on this: Once the dough is mixed, you have to (or rather, get to) punch it down every 10 minutes. My middle child calls it “beater” bread. Now I’m no food science expert, so I’ve no idea why the punching makes this bread so good (probably has something to do with the two tablespoons of yeast in it), but I can tell you it does do wonders for the bread and your psyche. Give it a try—even my brother-in-law made perfect loaves the first time with this recipe.

Ready for your house to smell like baking bread over the holidays? It’s good to the last crumb (if you can find one!).


2 ½ cups warm water
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil
6 cups flour
2 Tablespoons yeast

Fill a measuring cup with the warm water and then add the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for three to five minutes (bubbles should form, letting you know that the yeast is active). There are a couple different ways to mix up the dough. Sometimes, I beat half the flour with the wet ingredients with my handheld mixer. The dough will get a little unruly after you add the full 6 cups and you’ll spend more time kneading, but the end result is still perfect. Lately, I’ve been using my food processor to mix up the dough. If you have a large upright mixer, that will work well too. In a large bowl, or the food processor bowl, add six cups of flour and the salt. Mix. Add the oil to the wet ingredients and then gradually pour in the yeasted liquid to the flour (again, if you’re using a handheld mixer you should only use half the flour at first, then add in the rest until the mixer won’t mix any longer). Pull the dough out onto a lightly floured cutting board and briefly knead until smooth. Place the dough into a large, oiled mixing bowl (I spray mine with cooking spray) and cover with a slightly moist kitchen towel.

Now, for the fun part! For the next 50 minutes, you’re going to punch down the dough every 10 minutes (so, four punching rounds). Set a timer at each ten minutes then punch away--you may need to dust your fist with flour. After the last punching session, let the dough rise for 10 minutes. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and separate it into two balls (or three, or four, depending on the size of loaf you want). Let the dough rest for about five minutes before kneading it and rolling it out to a thick rectangle (about one-inch), then roll up the loaf tightly as you would a jelly roll. Place the loaf onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover with the kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes (I once forgot about the bread rising and it went for nearly 90 minutes without any problems). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Flying Christmas trees

By the time I turned ten, I no longer believed in Santa Claus or red-nosed reindeer--but I did believe in holiday magic because I knew that Christmas trees could fly.

Christmas came early for our family in 1985. In the holiday rush, my mom decided to forego our family tradition of taking whole family to retrieve the perfect tree in favor of dad taking the two youngest girls, my sister and me, to find whatever was left over. No measuring to ensure the ideal height or endlessly circling the tree to find one without any unsightly gaps. That year we walked with dad right to the section with the red tags marked “6-foot trees, strong, short needles.” We didn’t care if it was Evergreen or Douglas Fir, just that it didn’t shed too much on the carpet when we forgot to water it.

It took two minutes for dad to decide on a tree, my sister and I complaining the whole time that we were freezing. It was two weeks into December and we were both in our preteens, which meant buying a Christmas tree had long ago lost its appeal.

We went to the same tree lot every year. The lot would appear a few days after Thanksgiving with little white lights all round it. The staff was always eager to sell the tree, but customer service stopped there. They didn’t even attempt to help you put it on your car—or secure it. Dad wouldn’t have accepted help anyway. “Let me just get this on top,” dad said, struggling through grunts, cracking tree branches and scratching paint as he hoisted, or rather dragged the tree onto the top of the car. For dad there was no need to put tarp on the top of the car to put the tree on, just like there was no need to put gloves on your hands—“It’s not snowing.”

With the tree on top, my dad got in the car. I lost the race to say, “Shotgun” first, so I had to sit in the back of the car. Dad rolled down my sister’s window and mine. “Kayla, you grab the front part, Kris, you’ve got the back,” dad said as he turned the key and started the engine.

“You’re not going to put ropes on?” my sister asked in disbelief. She already had been dragged into Christmas tree buying duty and now she was going to have to embarrass herself further by hanging out the car holding the tree. Me, I’d gotten used to dad’s logic. It seemed like a waste of time to rope the tree down to the car, I mean wouldn’t gravity kick in and hold it down? I was no physics brainchild.

I hung dutifully out the back window not giving a second thought to our ridiculous scene. One twelve-year-old hanging out the front window, gloveless, clinging to the top branches of an evergreen and an ten-year-old on the other side stretching out the back window holding the fuller parts of the tree. Come to think out it, I’m glad I lost the Shotgun race—it was much easier to hold the back of the tree instead of the front.

We’d made it less than a mile before our tree blew off the side of the car. Dad wasn’t angry—not even irritated. He stopped the car just past the median in the middle of the road, put the hazard lights on and headed across two lanes of traffic holding out one hand. The cars stopped for him as he dragged the tree back to our station wagon and hoisted it on yet again, scuffing up more paint as it went and leaving a path of broken branches.

Our house lay a few miles away in quiet neighborhood, but dad didn’t bother with the route with the small hill—it took longer. Instead, we headed right up the big hill, past the middle school, while our tree headed down. This time dad pulled into one of the hill’s side streets and headed back into the street, hand outstretched. No anger or irritation. By this time, my sister was refusing to hold the tree so dad stepped in and drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other out the window of the car. I switched sides to balance our tree on top of the car. It was getting harder to find a decent-sized branch to hold onto on the bottom of the tree but I wrapped my fingers around a few needles and hoped we’d make it home soon. Dad must have had a better grip on it than my sister and we made it home without anymore flights by our well-traveled tree. (I think it also had to do with dad driving slower once one hand was stuck out the window.)

When we got home my sister rolled her eyes as she stepped out of the car, “Dad, we should have used ropes. I’m not doing that again.” My dad said nothing. He carried the tree into the house like a fisherman carries in a prized trout. At this point, I was coming to understand that the pride in his smile came not from the tree, which was now missing branches and shedding to the point of balding. Dad was proud that he was right—he didn’t need ropes, just faith that the laws of nature didn’t apply to him. And that he could run fast enough to catch a flying Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Simple Goodies Teachers Love

Okay, who else cringes every December when your child comes home and says: “Mom, can we give cookies to Mrs. ‘My-Favorite-Teacher’ for Christmas”? Then here’s the clincher, “And can I help you make them?”

With everything else going on in December--from the end of basketball season (x2!), holiday concerts, making/buying/wrapping/sending presents to family far away, shopping for family and friends nearby—I’d rather pay my few dollars toward a group gift for a teacher and be done with it. But when your 8-year-old comes to you asking for something special for her teacher it’s hard to turn her down (without feeling guilty, right?).

In the past, I’ve had my kids do something easy, like put the bow on the plate of goodies, but more recently I’ve stumbled on holiday cookies that are not only easy to make, but your kids can actually HELP you make them. And they really will be HELPING, not making a bigger mess that you’ll have to clean up later. Ah, now I’ve got your attention. Let me add more interest—the cookies have inexpensive ingredients, make dozens in minutes and they travel well. That’s right, when your kid crams them in her backpack, even after you’ve told her not to, the treats will still arrive in tact at school (as long as she doesn’t sit on them in the bus).

No, I don’t send my child off to the Kroger pastry shop for an afternoon with a baker there, instead I follow in the steps of the semi-homemade diva Sandra Lee and add some dazzle to store-bought cookies. I can’t believe I’m about to reveal my go-to cookie dish (seriously, I made them this weekend for a holiday get-together and everyone kept asking my recipe. I just smiled and changed the subject). Here goes. I find coconut cookies at the dollar store. (Yes, Dollar Tree. Sometimes they don’t have them so I resort to Oreo’s, but the coconut cookies really are key.) The cookies come in packs of three dozen, rectangular bars.

At home, I melt white candy coating and let my kids dip the cookies into the coating, then the coconut. (I’ve tried to make the cookies fancier by using real white chocolate—trust me, it just doesn’t melt as well and tastes awful.) If you want to get really festive you can color the coconut with green food coloring, but I think they look best white—and it’s easier. Lay them out on waxed paper to firm up and you’re done. I can make three-dozen cookies in 15 minutes start to finish. That’s enough for three or four teachers! Plus, added cool-mom points, my children helped me!

Note: If your kids hate coconut, you can try the double-dip method with just about any store-bought cookie—Chips Ahoy! paired with holiday sprinkles or lemon shortbread with dried ginger or coconut. They’re all good to the last crumb!


This particular recipe is embarrassingly simple, but irresistibly good. Don’t worry, you don’t have to tell anybody that it took you only minutes to make them!

Store-bought cookies (coconut preferred, see picture as a reference)
White, candy coating
Shredded coconut
Holiday sprinkles (opt)

Lay out sheets of waxed paper. Melt four squares of white chocolate in small, glass or ceramic, microwave-safe bowls. I use eight-ounce sized ramekins. You can also use two bowls instead of one if you want your child to have her own bowl and for you to have your own. I usually set the microwave for two minutes at half power. While the chocolate melts, lay out a plate with the shredded coconut. Stir the melted coating with a fork. Dip ¼ to ½ of the cookie into the coating and then into the coconut. Lay the cookie on the waxed paper to set. You can dip the cookie completely in the coating (meaning both sides), but you’ll go through more chocolate this way. I dip so that only one-half of one-side gets submerged. The coconut-topped coating should set within two to three minutes--then you’re ready to load the holiday plates. That’s it!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

All I want for Christmas...

Every year I ask for the same thing for Christmas...socks.

Now I know that socks aren't as glamorous as, say, a diamond necklace. Okay, the Kay's Jewelers commercial might not be so catchy if it ended with "Every Kiss Begins with Socks." But it would work at my house.

The way I see it, holiday gifts should be all about those items you wouldn't normally buy for yourself--and high-quality socks top my list. Admittedly, most of the items on my wish-list for Santa this year are entirely practical. While I'd like to blame the economy for my fetish for unglamorous gifts, I've always asked for the unconventional at Christmastime.

Now you know my top request from Santa, what's yours?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cereal and Christmas Trees--Announcing the contest winner

We have a winner...

If you haven't had a chance to go through the entries to the LeapFrog Tag Jr. contest, you should take a look. Sarah E. Ludwig the mom/voice behind ParentingByTrialandError was the guest judge.

In the end, she decided on Fokxxy's story of joy at finding food under the Christmas tree. Let me explain: As a child in a family of six, Christmases were often lean. One year, most of the gifts under the tree were wrapped packages of food. Not candy or chocolate, but everyday items like jars of pickles and cereal. For a child who often had to share her cereal, receiving her own box--with her name on it that no one else could touch--was the perfect gift. I believe Fokxxy's story resonated with many of us. I know our family's Christmas tree won't be crowded with nearly as many presents this year as last. Reading Fokxxy's thoughts, however, is a reminder that kids don't need a pile of presents to feel loved.

So this year I'm taking a lesson from reading all your stories (including CBear's, which was a close second!): Christmas is all about creating memories, not just pretty packages. More to come...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Creamy Bacon-Potato Chowder

Digging out the last Thanksgiving leftover from the plastic container at the back of the fridge, I must admit I’m done with making big meals for a few weeks (and with turkey!). Once I’ve had my fill of turkey sandwiches, followed by turkey nachos, and of course a day of pumpkin pie for breakfast, I crave different flavors and meals that require minimal cleanup (not like the mountain of dishes I went through on 11/27 and we were only taking a few side dishes to my brother’s house, not doing the whole shabang).

For easy meals that make the whole house smell good and warm me up I like to make a big pot of soup. Sorry, I mean chowder. See, if I tell my family we’re having soup they think it’s an appetizer—not the entree. But if I say we’re having “chowder,” then it makes for a meal.

Usually, when I’m making a soup (did I say soup? I mean chowder…or stew), I break out the crockpot. But for this particular recipe, cook it over the stovetop using one pot. Sometimes to make sure the potatoes get tender, I’ll use a couple pans, but I promise it’s easy cleanup.

Another added plus with chowders: your ingredients don’t have to be exact and neither do the cooking times. You’ll notice that I do offer both here, but if you have some extra chicken or diced, cooked carrots on hand, throw ‘em in!

So if you’re looking for a simple meal with all the comfort food favorites—like potatoes, bacon and corn—you’ll love this creamy combo. Don’t forget to make some warm muffins or toast bread to go along with your chowder.

Here’s the recipe:

Creamy Potato-Bacon Chowder

6-8 slices of bacon
4 medium-sized potatoes (I prefer red ones, but any variety will do)
1 medium onion
1 ½ cups milk (or more if you want the chowder thinner)
1 can cream of chicken soup (or mushroom)
1 can of corn
¾ cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheddar cheese, grated (optional)

In the original recipe, you fry the raw, diced potatoes in the bacon until they become tender. After years of trying, I’ve never found that the potatoes get soft enough so I add another step. Trust me, it’s worth one additional easy-to-clean pan. I’ve streamlined this recipe so that start to finish your meal should be ready in about 30 minutes.

First, add a medium-sized pot of salted water to the stovetop. Peel and dice your potatoes until they’re about the size of a kernel of corn. If you can’t get them that small, don’t worry, just remember that it will take more time for them to cook in the boiling water. The smaller the potato the faster they’ll cook. I boil the potatoes until they’re tender when pierced with a fork.

While your potatoes are boiling, dice the onion and cut the bacon into 1/4 –inch strips. I usually just cut them with my kitchen scissors. Once your potatoes are halfway cooked (in the other pan), add bacon to a large, heavy bottomed pan. Cook the bacon until almost crisp, then add your onions. Keep your eye on the potatoes; drain them once they’re tender. With the bacon cooked through and the onions sautéed until they’re translucent, you’re ready to add the potatoes. Cook those as you would hash browns--stirring frequently and allowing the sides to brown. Add salt and pepper as you sauté the potatoes.

Add the milk and cream soup to the bacon-potato mixture. Bring to a gentle boil and stir. Drain the corn and then toss it in. Reduce the heat and bring the chowder to a slow simmer. Stir in the sour cream. That’s it! I like to top each serving with shredded cheese. Also, you can make this chowder a day ahead—it reheats beautifully.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ghirardelli cookie disappointment--call for recipes!

I know, I know, I should have known better. In my search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, I tried the recipe off the back of the Ghirardelli bag. This would be the 3.5-pound, super-sized bag of Double Chocolate chippers sold at Costco only around the holidays. If you've been reading my weekly Friday (sometimes Saturday!) cookie posts, you know I'm a fan (well, fanatic) of Ghirardelli chocolate chips. For some reason I thought that by merely being on the back of the shiny gold and brown package the recipe would somehow be better than other back-of-the-bag offerings. I mean, it had to be, this is Ghirardelli were talking about here.

As I made the recipe, I knew I was in trouble--standard cookie recipe/technique. Cream the butter, sugars (equal parts brown, granulated). Add the dry ingredients. The batter wasn't stiff enough so I put it in the refrigerator for an hour or so, hoping some chill time would hold the cookies together in the oven. Nope. As I feared, the cookies spread apart in the heat and came out thin and lifeless. What a waste of two whole cups of delectable chocolate chips!

I love making cookies, but I've never found that go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. The kind of cookie that's slightly crisp on the outside, chewy and thick on the inside (yes I've tried the Mrs. Field's recipe with some success but with that much oatmeal, it's just not traditional in my book). So I'm wondering if RM readers could pass along their favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes for me to try. Please, help me find the best chocolate chip cookie recipe so my kids can actually dip them into their milk glasses without them falling apart...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Is TIME the best medicine for kids?

At a recent sick visit to the doctor with my youngest we made several trips to the potty. The goal was for her to give a urine sample for testing. (Wish I would have known that before she used the bathroom on the way to the office!)

Of course, the bathroom was on the opposite side of the office as our exam room. We’d pass by the staff desks on our way—the nurses looking up to smile and cheer my daughter on. The first time it was encouraging—by the third, not so much. As we spent several minutes in the potty (all told we were at the doctor’s office for two and a half hours), I got to know each wall—my daughter didn’t want me “looking” while she peed (or rather, didn’t!). There were several posters on the walls. One describing how to get a clean urine sample—I memorized that one first. And the other picturing a young boy, about five, dressed as a superhero, cape around his neck. The tagline read something along the lines of “keep superbugs at bay, don’t use antibiotics unnecessarily.”

I’m usually the last mom to request a quick fix for my kids when they're sick (not that antibiotics would have helped in our situation anyway), but with all the illnesses running through my kids’ school lately, I wish there were a pill for all their ills. My youngest has been battling two back-to-back bouts with stomach flu. Swine flu was nothing compared to this!

Before our run-in with the tummy bug, I’d read an article describing how time is often the antidote to illness. My daughter’s bug was viral, no doubt, so the doctor’s advice—essentially antacids, rest, and TIME. (Through several pokes, prods and a blood test when my daughter’s scream broke the sound barrier as the nurse inserted the needle, the doc ruled out more serious illnesses.)

According the article, “Parents are often extremely eager to ‘do something’ for children who complain of sniffles, stomach aches, scrapes and fevers. Yet kids are generally very resilient.” That describes our situation well. I’d love to ‘do something,’ or ‘give something’ to my daughter to make her tummy ills go away, but our prescription is time. And maybe that’s the best medicine anyway…

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Best Ever Banana Muffins

Cookie Friday had to be put on hold this week—sick kids in the house. The request from my youngest? Banana muffins, without chocolate chips or nuts. That’s when I knew she wasn’t feeling good. So soothing banana muffins it is.

I know everyone has a favorite banana muffin or bread recipe. This one has withstood the test of time in my recipe collection. It’s fast and easy—one bowl!

3 large bananas
¾ cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour (I use half whole wheat)
1/3 cup melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375. In a medium-sized bowl mash the bananas. I often freeze bananas that are getting ripe. When I’m ready to cook, I simply let them thaw slightly on the counter, cut off the top then squish them into the bowl.

Add the sugar and mix well with a blender. Mix in the egg, followed by the butter and finally the dry ingredients. That’s it! (You can add chopped walnuts or chocolate chips to the batter.) I often sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on the top of the muffins. Spoon the batter into muffin cups; fill until they’re 2/3 of the way full. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until just slightly golden.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

10 Best Things About a Snow Day

Snow day! That's right within the last 24 hours or so our area received about 3 feet of snow (it's still coming down). All three of my kids were home--what a fun day. Here's my top ten favorite things about our snow day. What are yours?

10)Snow angels.

9)Uno marathons.

8)Playing Webkinz--If you haven't tried Polar Plunge, you need to.

6)Warm cookies--we made oatmeal today.

5)Snowball fights.

4)Snuggling up together to watch Harry Potter. (My favorite is #3)

3)Sleeping in!

2)Hot cocoa after playing outside.

1)Down time with the kids.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

5 Meals Under $5

With the temperatures getting cooler now, I'm happily spending more time in the kitchen. But just because you're cooking, doesn't mean you have to spend extra $$ on your meals. Here's some easy, inexpensive meal ideas from our house. (Each recipe designed to serve four.)

Saver tip: Cook once, eat twice. At our house, we call them “planned-overs” instead of leftovers. Cook extra meat or pasta from one dinner to use as the base for your next meal. Try these two dinners as an example of what you can do.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Ingredients: Pork loin (2-3 pounds), barbecue sauce, hamburger buns, coleslaw mix (in the produce section).

Directions: Place the pork on HIGH in a crockpot and add 1 to 2 cups of water. Add salt and pepper. You can also toss in other spices or ingredients you may already have on hand such as garlic, onions, or peppers to add flavor. Cook until tender (5 to 7 hours). Shred the pork in a bowl using two forks. Separate half the pork and place into a plastic container for the next meal. With the other half, mix the barbeque sauce with the pork. Place on the hamburger buns. Serve the coleslaw on the side.

Shredded Pork Quesadillas
Ingredients: Remaining pork from the previous recipe, flour tortillas, shredded cheese (such as Monterrey Jack), canned black or pinto beans.

Directions: Warm a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. Meanwhile, place the quesadilla fixings in bowls to easily put together your quesadillas. Put one tortilla on the hot pan; sprinkle with shredded pork, cheese, beans, and a little more cheese. Once the cheese just starts to melt add another flour tortilla. Flip the tortilla once it’s golden brown. Remove quesadilla once the tortillas are golden on each side. Cut with a pizza cutter and serve with salsa.

Saver tip: Choose flavorful ingredients. Still think that ground beef is the cheapest meat available? Not always. You can find good deals on more satisfying meats like pork loin, round steak even chicken breasts. Look for Italian sausage on sale at buy one get one free or half-off. Packages often come with 5 or 6 links per package. Use half the sausages for another meal.

Penne in a Rich, Ragu
Ingredients: box of penne pasta, 3 Italian sausage links, 1 can or jar spaghetti sauce

Directions: Cook your pasta according to the package instructions. Cook the sausage until golden in a medium-sized, heavy bottomed pan. Add the spaghetti sauce to the sausage and cook until heated through. Serve the sausage sauce over the penne.

Saver tip: Pass on the meat. Welcome to vegetarian night! Try cutting out the meat for at least one meal each week.

Scrambled Burritos
Ingredients: Eggs, cheese, flour tortillas, (hash browns, optional).

Directions: Depending on the number of servings, whisk 4 to 6 eggs. Add a tablespoon of butter to a medium-sized, heavy bottom pan at medium heat. Once the butter has melted add the whisked eggs. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook. Warm the tortillas in the microwave. Place scrambled eggs and cheese on the tortilla. Fold two opposite sides toward the middle of the tortilla. Using the unfolded sides roll the tortilla. Serve with salsa. You can also add in hash browns, or if you miss the meat, ham or bacon.

Saver tip: Freeze the savings. When grocery staples like meat or cheese go on sale, stock up. Make sure to store the meat in freezer-ready bags. Shredded cheeses like mozzarella freeze well.

Pasta salad
Ingredients: Penne pasta, cubed chicken, cubed ham or bacon, cubed cheese, ranch dressing and barbecue sauce.

Directions: Reinvent your leftovers with this tasty sauce. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Add the cubed chicken, ham and cheese. For the sauce, mix equal parts ranch dressing and barbecue sauce. Toss the sauce and the other ingredients together. Enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dreamy Cream Cheese Brownies

Ah, the weekend. That means it’s time to reward myself--and my kids--for surviving the week. Hey, everyone actually got all their homework done and in on time, that’s reason to celebrate with some brownies.

I stumbled on this brownie recipe leafing through Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I have all of 15 cookbooks in my kitchen—this is one of them. If you want a good resource, and plenty of fabulous recipes you should give Bittman’s tome a try (seriously, it’s about 3 inches thick). Of course, one of my favorite sections is cookies, brownies and cakes. Next to chocolate and peanut butter, my kids’ next favorite dessert combo is chocolate and cream cheese. So let’s get cooking.

4 ounces chocolate, roughly chopped
5 tablespoons butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
½ cup chopped nuts
½ teaspoon almond extract

Turn up the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch baking pan.

You’re going to need four bowls to make these brownies—one for the dry ingredients, one for the melted chocolate, a third to fluff your cream cheese and a fourth for the brownie batter. Don’t worry, getting to lick the brownie bowl clean is worth the dish duty later.

To start putting together your brownies, Bittman suggests melting the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over a low-heat burner. Here’s where I differ from Bittman, I don’t believe in melting chocolate over the stovetop; same goes for double boilers (it’s too many extra pans to clean up). I’m patient enough to melt my chocolate in the microwave. One key is using a glass dish so the heat gets evenly distributed AND heating at a low power then mixing vigorously afterwards. Melt your butter and chocolate in a large glass mixing bowl at low temperature in your microwave (around 1-2 minutes at half power). I have to say, I tried out milk chocolate recently and the flavor just wasn’t intense enough for my taste, so I’d stick with semi-sweet or dark varieties. Let the mixture cool while you put together the cream cheese.

Beat your cream cheese and ¼ cup of the sugar in your second bowl. Add one egg and then stir in the lemon juice, ½ teaspoon vanilla and 1tablespoon flour. I’ve tried some substitutes for the lemon juice like fresh orange juice and zest and even a dash of vinegar. My advice: if you don’t have a fresh lemon for juice just omit the ingredient; I haven’t noticed a real difference in the finished flavor.

In another mixing bowl beat the remaining 2 eggs together with the left over (3/4 cup) sugar until it forms ribbons when you pull the mixer away from the bowl. In yet another bowl mix your dry ingredients together. Gently stir together the melted chocolate, the egg/sugar mix and your dry ingredients (and don’t forget that last teaspoon of vanilla). Add the almond extract. Usually, I’m all for nuts in desserts, but they seem a distraction in this recipe so I omit those.

To put the batter together, Bittman suggests pouring half your chocolate brownie batter into the pan, then all of the cream cheese then finally the rest of the chocolate batter. I like my cream cheese and brownie flavors to remain more separate, so I pour all the chocolate batter in first, followed by the cream cheese mixture. Next, using a table knife, make swirls in the batter for a marble effect. Bake the brownies for 25 to 30 minutes or until just golden brown. These are one set of brownies that taste better after they’ve had time to sit. In fact, we keep them in the fridge at our house. If you’re serving these for company, swirl some warmed raspberry jam on the bottom of the plate then top with the chilled brownie and whipped cream. Yummy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

H1N1 Hits Our House

Like many parents, last week I debated whether to send my elementary school aged daughter to school. She spiked a fever and came down with a hoarse cough after a day of school and a playdate with a friend. I wasn’t sure whether she was genuinely sick or just exhausted from a full schedule.

Even before the start of the school year, the principal had sent home a notice informing parents not to send potentially sick children to school. With fears of transmitting H1N1 through a school full of kids who are more likely to wipe their noses on shirtsleeves than a tissue, the chance of contagious illnesses spreading quickly student-to-student is enormous. In fact, many states have already been identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as having “widespread” outbreaks of H1N1 since the school year began.

In my daughter’s elementary, I’d heard many students had been out for a week or more with swine flu-like symptoms. And yet, with physicians urging parents to keep kids home, versus coming into the office or visiting the ER (where they could pick up another illness in the waiting room), it’s difficult to know exactly how sick your child may or may not be. In our case, I had previously scheduled my daughter’s seasonal flu shot the day after she’d become sick. Instead of receiving her vaccination, the physician swabbed my daughter’s mouth and confirmed H1N1.

I was startled by the diagnosis--my daughter didn’t seem very ill and over-the-counter medication brought her fever under control easily. The pediatrician advised that I continue with the medication, considering that the most popular prescription for treating H1N1, Tamiflu, wasn’t available in our area (the pharmacies were all out of doses for children). She explained that relatively healthy children, without a history of serious illnesses or potential complications like ear infections or asthma, would probably recover on their own. Rest and relaxation were the cure, according to her doctor. Still, I wondered, did I need to come back into the office before she could go back to school? Her advice: as long as my daughter was fever-free without the help of Tylenol for 24 hours, she could return to school.

My decision about whether to send my daughter to school or not was relatively easy; most school districts would rather have your child miss a day—or two—versus having him spread an illness that might infect the whole classroom. And, since I work from home I could let my daughter stay at home with me without having to call in and explain to a boss that I needed to take a personal day. Even though she was well after a weekend on the couch watching countless episodes of SpongeBob, I kept her home an extra day before sending her back to school. Afterall, I didn’t want her to pick up another illness while her body was still recovering.

For other parents encountering the same quandary about whether to send their child to school, the decision isn’t always so simple. You may have exhausted all your personal and sick days at work, or your boss may be unwilling to let you miss, leaving you to contact friends or nearby family to help out. Add to the confusion, many media outlets are reporting mild swine flu symptoms next to stories of fatalities due to the virus. If you have any concerns about your child’s health, the first step to take is to call your child’s pediatrician, who can tell you whether the illness has been making the rounds in your area and offer additional medical expertise. Maybe the next call should be the school attendance line.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Apple Muffins your kids will eat--promise!

I made two--count em two--batches of these muffins this week. My inspiration came from some apples that had been sitting a little too long in my fruit drawer. They weren't bad...yet...but they wouldn't be great for eating. This recipe has nearly as many apples as batter but it still manages to stay together. My middle daughter took two muffins to school each day this week (one for lunch and one for a snack) after eating two for breakfast.

I have no idea where I got this recipe originally, I wrote it down as a kid and have been making it ever since. I've made some tweaks and improvements through the years. For example, I like to throw in ground flax for a little healthy boost.

Ovens ready? Here's the recipe:

Apple Cinnamon Muffins
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, beatan
1 cup buttermilk* see note
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups diced apples
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground flax, optional
chopped walnuts, optional

*I've never used the buttermilk. Instead I squeeze a good tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice into the milk and let it set while I dice the apples. Also, I leave the extra lemon in my diced apples so they don't turn color and to add a little zing to the apples.

Cream softened butter with the sugar and egg in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl mix all of the remaining dry ingredients. And the buttermilk to the butter/egg mixture then fold in the dry ingredients and the diced apples. Mix in the walnuts. (I save a few to put on top of each muffin.) Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Becoming the Deflector--Good for Tantrums, Arguments, Crying...

Every mom has her own technique for dealing with kids on those difficult days. I'm not sure if it was the sudden change in weather (the temperature dropped almost 30 degrees from yesterday) or that my kids have been getting to bed a little later than they should, but today they were just snapping at each other all afternoon. I knew simply getting upset at them wouldn't solve anything, so instead I relied on my standby mom coping strategy I like to call deflecting.

Follow this scenario:

Youngest: "Mom she's making too much noise, I can't do my homework. Mom, make her stop."

RM:"Hey, you told me you got an award in class today, what was that for again?"

Youngest: Forgets her sister's infraction and start telling me all about her coloring award.

Perhaps I do it too often and my kids are destined to have some sort of parent-triggered ADD, but for me a little distraction can pull a kid out of just about anything. What do you do when a simple, stop, doesn't suffice?

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Best Peanut Butter Cookies—Ever

Cookie Friday again. Today I made my husband’s all-time fav, PB cookies. Don't worry, these cookies aren't like the typical hard, greasy ones you find at school bake sales. The original recipe comes from an old back issue of Cook’s Illustrated, but you can also find it in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

I like to make a few tweaks to the cookies to suit my family’s tastes. I toss out the iconic fork print on the top in favor of adding chunky chocolate chips to the batter. You can’t beat peanut butter and chocolate. So if you’re looking for a cookie packed with peanuts, chocolate and some whole wheat for at least a little bit of a health boost, ready the glass of milk!

2 1/2 cups flour (I use half King Arthur White Whole Wheat, half all-purpose)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
16 tablespoons butter, softened (margarine is fine)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup crunch peanut butter (creamy works too)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup salted peanuts, ground fine (I use a food processor)
Chocolate chips or chunks

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. This is the one cookie recipe I’ve found that doesn’t need time for the dough to sit in the fridge to create a softer, firmer cookie. It doesn’t improve the texture of the dough to bake these cookies right after mixing. Beat the butter and the sugars together in a large bowl. Mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

Add the peanut butter to the sugared butter and mix until creamy. Mix in the vanilla and the eggs (the recipe calls for you to mix in the eggs one at a time, but I haven’t noticed any difference if you just toss them in all at once). With the mixer on low speed add the dry ingredients in slowly. Mix just until incorporated. Add the ground peanuts. Toss in chocolate chips; as always, my preference is Ghirardelli. Bake the cookies on lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets for 10 to 12 minutes or until just golden brown.

A note on peanut butter: According to the Test Kitchen tasters, Skippy Peanut Butter was a standout. Around our house we go for the store brand for a couple reasons: first, it doesn’t cost as much and second, I find that it’s less sweet than the name brands. I don’t like overly sweet desserts, especially with these cookies where the star really is the peanutty flavor.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Having Your Child's Cavity Filled: A Survival Story

My youngest doesn’t just hate going to the dentist--she loathes it. So at her regularly schedule cleaning when the dentist said she needed to have a cavity filled, I just laughed. “Good luck,” I told him.

“No, it’ll be fine, I’m really good with needles,” he explained. “We don’t use gas here, I just give her a quick injection to numb the area and then she’ll be fine.”

I knew better. I tapped into all my inner mom readiness strategies to prepare for the big day. I bought an inexpensive new stuffed animal to bring along, then I promised myself I wouldn’t mention the shot until after the fact. Normally, I’m all about explaining to my kids exactly what’s going to happen. But with my youngest I knew if I told her about the shot there was no way she’d step into the dentist’s office...ever.

I’m not sure exactly what triggered her fear of dentists. At one of her regular doctor’s visits there was some sort of backlog on her vaccinations and she ended up getting three shots in each leg. Ouch. Understandably, she’s been sore about visiting any kind of doctor since. But this time, I planned to bribe her into submission—if she could make it through her cavity filling, she could have her stuffed animal.

Well, when we arrived at the dentist’s, as promised he was quick with the numbing shot. But not quite fast enough. My youngest hollered and nearly shaved one finger off his right hand. To be fair he was really good at explaining what would happen in a fun, kid-friendly way, “We have to go in and chase out all the little monsters that are eating away at your teeth.” He described five levels of "little meanies" that he’d have to drill out. Before he could get through one level (I think he said they had wings)--my youngest would have none of it. She started to cry uncontrollably. You know, those fits where once your child enters into that cry zone it’s nearly impossible to shake them out of it. I tried everything to bring her out of her fit--mentioned her favorite books, movies, stuffed animals, family vacations, anything to get her mind off the drill.

The dentist suggested coming back another day. I knew I’d be hard pressed to ever get my youngest to enter the office again. Now or never. I think he saw the resolve in my eyes. He called for another assistant. She distracted my youngest with the overhead lamp while I made her stuffed animal do dances above the dentist’s head. He moved fast and filled the cavity. Whew! The dentist didn’t say much after he was done; I wasn’t much for conversation either. My youngest, however, bounced back quickly. “Do I still get to pick something from the treasure box even though I cried?” she asked, her face filled with red splotches.

“Sure,” I said. “But make sure to brush your teeth better so that we don’t have to do this again, okay?”

And maybe that’s our silver lining, since her filling, my youngest has been meticulous about keeping her teeth clean. No more arguments about brushing! She's even flossing.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Literacy Triggers—What Book Turned Your Kid On to Reading?

My oldest child hasn’t been without a book to read since she first cracked open Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. For her (and I suspect millions of other kids), Harry Potter was what I call a literacy trigger. A story that became so fused with her imagination that it let her become part of another world, a chapter at a time. She enjoyed the experience so much she didn’t want it to end once she was through with all the Harry Potter books. She moved on to The Series of Unfortunate Events, The Last Olympian Series, The Twilight Series, Cressida Cowell’s Heroic Misadventures of Hiccup Horrendous series, and every Eva Ibbotson book she could lay her hands on.

I was sure my middle child would have a similar literacy trigger as my first—that the boy wizard would draw her into the reading. Not so. In fact, I’ve had a much more difficult time finding a book that will help her graduate from children’s books to chapter books. So far, she’s tolerated the Magic Treehouse series, but she’d much rather hang out with Olivia. I’m trying a new method this week, however, partly because I want to make sure she does develop a love of learning and maybe even more, because I love reading out loud the adventures of Hiccup Horrendous, one of the funniest Vikings around.

My youngest is still too young to have had her true literacy trigger. But I’m already convinced she’ll be a reader. She insists I read a book to her each night. And on those rare occasions where we miss bedtime and it’s too late for a story, she cries like I’ve thrown out her favorite teddy bear.

How about your kids? Have you discovered their literacy triggers?

And don’t forget to enter ReadyMom’s LeapFrog Tag Reading System giveaway.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Reading Tip: Writing Journals

My middle child had a tough time reading. In fact, given a choice she’d probably still rather pick up a sketchpad and pencil versus a book. I tried to tap into her love of writing by doing a joint journal. You can find, like I did, $1 notebooks at Target to start your “journal.” I ask her simple questions about her day, like, “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” or “What was your favorite thing you did today.”

Usually, I slip the journal under her pillow with a pen tucked inside. She answers my questions and usually finds an equally stealth spot to pass back the journal. We went a few weeks going back and forth with our little journal entries. I got a peek into what she was really thinking about; and she had a chance to form stories and ideas herself instead of just struggling to understand them while reading through a book.

I wish I could say we’ve kept up our journal every day, but usually I just dust it off when I feel like she’s slacking off on her reading practice. How about you? Do you ever use writing to get your child more interested in reading?

Don't forget to enter the Reading Giveaway!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Saving Money Going Green with Your Kid's Lunchbox

This year my kids’ lunchboxes are undergoing a redesign. No, I’m not talking about swapping out the smiling High School Musical crew for a Hello Kitty box, I’m rethinking what I’m packing on the inside in an effort to make their lunches more eco-friendly. My efforts are not wholly altruistic. Turns out, going green is not only good for the environment, but it’s easier on your budget too.

Forget the juice boxes. Opt for a sturdy water bottle that your child can use the whole year instead of daily juice boxes. Not only will you be cutting out extra sugar (and trash!), but you’ll be saving on your grocery bill too.

Buy reusable, plastic containers. Look for a variety of sizes to pack up sandwiches, chips, cut up fruit and veggies, even good-for-them desserts like calcium-rich pudding or yogurt. Leah Ingram, author of the upcoming book Suddenly Frugal, says she bought plastic sandwich keepers for each of her kids’ lunches. “It wasn’t cheap,” explains Ingram who also blogs about green living. “But the containers can last two or three years, meaning I get my money’s worth out of it and it creates no trash, unless of course my daughter doesn’t eat the crusts.”

Create your own convenience packs. It’s easy to throw a bag of chips, a box of raisins or other prepackaged goods into your kids' lunches. But by spending a little time packaging snacks yourself you can save money. At the beginning of the week, have your children help create snack boxes of their own with favorites like raisins, pretzels, or even individual yogurt cups, then use them to fill lunches throughout the week.

Stash your trash. Ingram trained her two children to bring home their lunch trash instead of tossing it. Leftover food scraps go into the family compost pile while any paper goods or plastic goes into the recycle bin.

Choose local produce. Look for farmer’s markets or locally grown produce at your neighborhood grocers instead of buying fruit and veggies that have been flown in from far-off locales. For example, Ingram picks apples at a nearby orchard to include in her kids’ lunches.

Label everything! All your recycling/reusing efforts will go to waste (literally!) if you don’t write your child’s name in permanent ink on her lunch containers — so don’t forget to label and to remind your child to bring home everything.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Avoiding Hungry Bus Kid Syndrome

This morning my middle child posed a strange question, "Mom, if I have any leftovers from my lunch, do you mind if I give them to the hungry girls?" I followed up on this, "What do you mean hungry girls?" My daughter's explanation: apparently there are a couple of girls that go kid-to-kid on the bus asking for food. "They'll even eat the stuff you drop," offered my daughter. Lovely.

We're not talking malnourished girls here, just energetic elementary schoolers whose last meal was before recess at 11:30am. The situation got me thinking about how to pack my kids' lunches not only for lunch, but also for potential bus hunger pangs later. As a result my kids’ lunches underwent a bit of a redesign.

Pack in layers. Just like you dress in layers on breezy days to be prepared for a variety of weather, pack for a variety of hunger levels. Some days your kids will be ravenous, other days they’ll have problems finishing a mini-bagel. You don’t want them to waste food so offer some fillers that can last through the week. If they don’t eat it Monday, it’ll still be good on Friday. Granola bars work well.

Put in plastic. Instead of baggies, stash snacks in small plastic containers. That way, if your son doesn’t finish his Goldfish, they won’t be crushed by the time he’s hungry for them later.

Go for snacks with longevity. Pretzels, baby carrots, Twizzlers, Fiber One bars (I’m told that’s a “hungry girl” fav) won’t go bad if your kids don’t eat them right away.

I’m not encouraging eating on the bus (which I’m told isn’t allowed--but the bus driver doesn’t mind), just that I want my kids to have enough food at school to keep their energy up throughout the day. And I don't want them combing the ground on the bus floor for snacks!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Baby butterflies: Newborn smarts

Could it be that babies are smarter than adults give them credit for? That's the gist of a recent opinion essay from Alison Gopnik, which appeared in New Scientist. Now I'm no scientist myself, but I'm amazed that by the age a child reaches 3, she's gone from not knowing how to walk, talk or eat solids to a fully functional (for the most part) little person. I've been working off and on for a decade to learn a new language and I can barely crank out a decent hello in Spanish, yet children not only learn a spoken language but so much more.

Beyond just what babies are learning, Gopnik explores how they learn--through creativity. A kind of creativity that gradually wanes as we become adults. Says Gopnik: "Babies are brilliant learners but terrible planners, with fantastically creative and visionary imaginations but absolutely no executive capacity. They are the R&D department of the human species, the blue-sky guys, while we adults are production and marketing."

So is human development really a matter of reverse metamorphosis? Gopnik seems to think so, "with babies as exploratory, bright butterflies while the adults are caterpillars, inching along their narrower paths." I hope I can learn (and relearn) from my children how to stay a little younger at heart by letting my imagination and creativity get a little more childlike every once in awhile.

--mom in the marketing department

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Keeping Busy on a Rainy Day: Hello, WebKinz!

Okay, okay, I know I mentioned WebKinz in my last post, but the weather kept my kids inside and stir-crazy all day. After we’d exhausted all our other options—five rounds of Uno, one stack of library books and one lame Nickolodeon movie, my kids uttered, “I’m bored.”

There’s one place online we love to visit together, yup, WebKinz. I try to stay away from game sites as a rule--I just get sucked in. Every since Nintendo’s Tetris, I know how easily I get pulled into games (probably why I’m not as vigilant with my Facebook status as I should be). So, if you dare, visit WebKinz with your kids or wait til there in bed and go on by yourself.

If you’re a WebKinz newbie, here’s how it works. You buy the stuffed animal at your local kids’ clothing store—I find the best deals at Justice for Girls. The stuffed animal has a tag with a code on it. WARNING: Be careful, don’t let your son/daughter/hubby/significant other/dog rip the tag off the stuffed animal—you’ll need it. Enter the code online to “register” your animal. You’ll find an online version of your stuffed animal with a room to decorate and all sorts of activities to explore. I go straight for the arcade (under the Things to Do tab)—so should you.

Here’s my favorite games:
1)Polar Plunge: I’ve never made it to the end despite hours of trying. You’re a little polar bear on skis trying to make it past igloos, trees and such.

2)Zingoz Pie Throw: Like the title says, you just chuck pies at this little cartoon character. Silly, but therapeutic.

3)Quizzy’s Word Challenge: Hey, look the kids are learning how to spell! With this game you have to spell out as many words as you can with the letter tiles provided.

PS, anytime the system is slow loading my kids are convinced it’s a conspiracy on the part of the folks who man Neopets!

Okay, I’ve admitted my game addiction, what’s yours?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Summertime Smarts for Kids

Yup, I’m one of those mean moms who makes my kids do homework—in the summer! Frankly, I like sitting around our kitchen table and spending a few minutes remembering the capital of South Dakota (Pierre) and figuring out fractions. I try, try, to have my kids do “lessons” every day, but I’ll admit it doesn’t always happen. It helps to have someone else put all the worksheets (and answers!) together for you. Here’s what my kids are working on:


Summer Bridge Activities. (my two oldest kids) I like how these books are organized. One page (front and back) per day is manageable. Plus, the kids complete a goal/reward page before they start. There’s three reward periods during the summer, each lasts around 10 lessons. My middle daughter is working toward a WebKinz (to add to her expanding collection).


Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. A friend recommended this book to me when my middle child began to struggle with reading in 1st grade. I’ve already started my youngest on the program. I like the emphasis on simple phonics and easy instructions. My youngest is on lesson! Our story today was about a cat licking a kitten. A cat can kiss a kitten. A cow can not kiss. A cow can lick…

Saturday, June 27, 2009

8 Mistakes Every Mother Should Make

So I’m not a perfect mom, that’s no news flash. But I must admit I sometimes fall prey to that idea of being close—you know, the mom that volunteers every week in her child’s classroom, works part-time, mows the lawn, reads to her kids every night, plans amazing meals. Sometimes when I forget a permission slip, or miss a deadline for a class sign-up, I have to remind myself, we all make mistakes. Some mothering mistakes are worth making, keep reading for eight you really should try!


Letting your kids eat junk food.

Now I’m not saying you should let your kids eat Cheetos and brownies for every meal. But the occasional bowl of rocky road ice cream and King-size Hershey bars doesn’t guarantee your child will have heart disease when he’s 50. Food creates memories at our house, so bring on the brownies.


Forgetting deadlines to register your child for activities.

Often at the beginning of the school year I get so excited about all of the classes and activities offered afterschool that I make plans to sign up my kids for too much. Luckily, I often miss the enrollment deadlines. Children need freetime (so do moms!) so every once in a while don’t turn in the soccer/pottery class/Spanish camp form.


Bribing your kids to be good.

We’ve all heard you’re not supposed to bribe kids to get them to do something, right? But I dare you to find a 3-year-old that doesn’t respond to doing whatever you say—like cleaning up her room--for a Dum-dum (I guess that’s a mistake double-whammy, bribery and candy).


Giving kids too much TV time.

We have a designated movie night every Friday. We eat dinner in front of the TV and watch movies. I’ve given up feeling bad about our TV habit. Instead, I look forward to sharing some of my favorite flicks with my kids. We’ve watched some classics, like every episode of Scooby-Doo, and some clunkers. But watching them together has given us a common language to talk about things.


Leaving your house a mess.

I like to have my house clean—who doesn’t? Yet when it comes to kids some messes are worth leaving alone or else you’re going to drive yourself crazy cleaning all day.


Moving in on your kid’s space.

There are plenty of terms out there for moms who are deemed overly involved in their kids’ lives—helicopter parent, hovering parent. But I’ve found the more I know what’s going on in my children’s lives, the better I can help guide them through the tough times and celebrate with them the good times.


The mistake list could go on—and on. The truth is sometimes as moms we’re too hard on ourselves. And often what might be considered a mothering blunder can turn into a real blessing.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Swim Meet Survival Pack

Ah, the smell of chlorine at 6:30am! Must mean its swim meet time. This June you’ll find me and my crew at swim meets every Saturday morning. But having a successful meet is about more than just what your kids’ times are at their events.


Yup, swim meets are all about the snack bag. When I was little, I loaded up on sugary snacks for meets (remember Razzles?). But with my kids I’ve noticed that keeping them on a constant sugar buzz isn’t fun for anyone—especially mom. Now that’s not to say there’s not a place for a little candy on a Saturday morning, but if you want to keep your kids sane, pack a little protein in your grab bag.


Here’s a peek at what I’m packing up for this Saturday:

Water bottlesx5—one for everyone. I’ve tried to skimp in the past (I just didn’t want to lug something else) and that meant I was the one parched by the end!

•Frozen muffins. I buy or bake chocolate chip muffins so my kids feel like they’re getting a treat while they’re still getting their tummies filled. Freeze ‘em so they’re less messy and tasty while you’re sitting in the sun.

•String Cheese. For a shot of protein that’s also fun to eat, bring one for each of your kids.

•Chips. There’s something so satisfying about eating salty potato chips or tortilla chips in the sun.

•Sandwiches. On the ride home from meets my kids used to get snippy (even I did). Turns out we were just hungry. I pack a ham and cheese sandwich for everyone. Last time I only packed a couple and sure enough I was the one going without. Can you say, cranky mom?!

•Airheads. No, not the kids [insert courtesy laugh here]. Airheads are the perfect candy—takes the kids awhile to eat ‘em and they’re not so sticky that you’ll be running for paper towels.

•Ice pack. Don’t forget to keep your treats cool!


Here’s what I won’t be packing:

•SunnyD. I brought these drinks to the last meet only to end up with sticky orange gunk all over the bottom of our bag. Stick with water—easy clean-up.

•Ringpops. I’m no fan of these sticky, sugar pacifiers. My kids always beg me for them, finish half then hand me the rest with the fingers nearly glued together. Yuck!


What do you bring in your snack bag?