Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

As a Christian parent, I am aware that educating our children according to our faith is not always easy.  Time is a scarcity for many families.  If you have children of varying ages, it can be hard to find ways to communicate on everyone's level.  And, sometimes, parents aren't even sure where to start.

Over the summer, I came upon the book of Proverbs in my daily reading and, as I made my way through the book, couldn't help but notice how much of the book was easily applicable to children.  The plan that resulted was simple.  I made note of all the verses that I felt could easily be explained and applied to a child and then copied each verse on a 3x5 card.  A hole punch in each corner and a binder ring and I now have a  set of Proverbs for my kids.

I use these in the morning as we wait for the bus.  We drive to the bus stop and often wait for a few minutes.  I read one proverb each morning and let each child comment - then we discuss what it means and how we can apply it to our day.

Consider a "stack of Proverbs" for the new year.  Even if you don't think of yourself as "religious" or very spiritually motivated, consider taking your child through the book of Proverbs.  It is a great introduction to the Bible, and the wisdom found in it is universal.  You just might learn something, too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

I guess this tip is more of a recipe... but it falls in the "tip" category if you have kids that you are forever trying to feed without using the same old tired food options.

Personally, I refuse to indulge picky eaters.  I married one, and 12 years later, he has learned to not only eat but to enjoy foods that he always said he'd never touch.  And, occasionally, he thanks me for broadening his culinary horizons - and he also agrees that our children's whims regarding taste and texture only sets them up for bigger issues in the future.  So, our kids are learning to eat just about anything.  Yes, they each have their preferences, which we keep in mind (ie, Chloe doesn't like nuts in her food - so we won't make her eat desserts with nuts, but we also don't make extra desserts.  With that in mind, she has discovered that, if she really wants to eat something, the nuts don't bother her that much.  Hmm...)

For all of those reasons, I'm not a big fan of "kid friendly foods" in place of "real food."  I don't make a separate meal for the kids at dinner.  But, when I find a recipe that incorporates a kid-favorite, it makes a nice compromise.

Mac N Cheese Lasagna is one such compromise.

I like this recipe because it's simple.  It uses boxed macaroni and cheese (not my personal favorite, but the kids always think they're getting a treat).  It feels like a real meal.

recipe... for a 9x9 or 8x8 casserole / baker
1 pkg macaroni and cheese (Kraft or otherwise...), prepared according to directions
1 1/2 cu. spaghetti sauce
1/2 lb cooked ground beef
1 cu. shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tbsp. parmesan cheese

Quite simply, you prepare the mac n cheese, brown the beef and mix with the sauce, layer the two ingredients two times (starting w/ a bit of sauce on the bottom of the pan), then top with the cheeses.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until heated through.

For an even more grown-up version, add peppers and onions to your sauce and try using more meat (or sausage!).

Try it... they'll like it :)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

Today, I offer a timely and oh-so-important tip.  This tip was requested a month or so ago when I put out an APB for ideas, and I thought it was a great one.

Gift ideas for teachers...

Now, please believe me when I tell you that my recent return to the classroom has nothing to do with this topic.  Actually, my husband - the other teacher - has fueled this conversation for years.  And every year, we laugh about the gifts that teachers get.

Being a teacher, being married to a teacher, and hanging out with teachers, I've gathered quite a few opinions on what makes a good teacher gift.  And, truthfully, every teacher is different, but there are a few tips that may help.  You may want to consider these as you do your holiday shopping :)

- Just because a teacher has a particular hobby or interest (ie, a sports team, a particular animal) does not mean that they want every object imaginable within that particular theme.  For real.  The worst bit of trivia that ever got into the hands of Chuck's students is the fact that he likes the Steelers.  Along with the hateful banter, he has received every Steelers Christmas ornament that has ever been made.  Seriously.  I finally told him to stop bringing them home - which is why he has a Christmas tree in his classroom that is totally decorated with Steelers ornaments.

- Full time teachers have more than just one classroom full of students.  Even on the elementary level, the students often switch teachers for their various subjects.  So, each teacher could possibly receive gifts from 60 - 100 students.  Yes, this ends up being a fun and incredibly generous out-pouring from students... but it can also be a lot.  Keep your gifts simple!

- Food gifts are nice because they are consumable.  But you don't need to send a large tin of said food item, because, as I mentioned, it can add up to a lot of food.  Small samples are nice, though.

- A framed picture of your child may seem very sweet and sentimental.  But remember - your child is one of many, and each teacher gets a new crop of students every year.  There is only so much shelf space.

- Teacher knick-knacks are fun and oh-so-easy to use as gifts.  They are especially good gifts for first year teachers.  However, those who have been teaching for a while already have a lot of that stuff - just take a look around their classroom!

- Find out what your teacher uses and help replenish their supply.  Does she use felt-tip markers for grading?  Does he use motivational stickers or stamps on papers?  Is she a post-it junkie?  These are great gift ideas that will most definitely be used and will save the teacher money.

- Don't give scented gifts unless you know that it is a scent the teacher likes!  Apple cinnamon candles are an incredibly popular gift for teachers, but I had one on my desk while I was pregnant with Patrick, and - to this day can not stand to be anywhere near one.  Besides, you need to know if your teacher has allergies or gets headaches from strong smells.  By the way, most schools do not allow teachers to burn candles.

- My sister, who is also a teacher, has shared stories of parents who admittedly could not afford a gift but sent her a nice card instead, sharing how much they valued her as their child's teacher.  She says that those cards are worth more than the token gifts that the parents would have given.

- If you really want to purchase a gift that is specific to your teacher, find out what they need / want.  Room moms often collect money for one large class gift and even ask the teacher at the beginning of the year if there is something significant that she is saving for (for the classroom or for herself).

- Consider giving your gift before the class party.  Students' gifts to teachers are always fun and very generous, but it's hard to appreciate them individually when they come all at once.  Chuck has often said he doesn't have time to open them, so he does it at home, but he loves it when the kids bring in gifts the week or two before Christmas.  It helps him to make more of a connection between the child and the gift, and it also spreads out the fun of the holidays just a bit more.

- When in doubt, give a gift card!  I know that people often don't like gift cards because they are impersonal (and because they make it very clear how much you spent...) - but a $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card is sometimes a better gift than the "teacher mug" that cost you $10.  Not to mention, those $5 gift cards can really add up... :)

- That being said, don't be too specific with your gift card unless you know the teacher's tastes (a DD card won't work for a non-coffee drinker).  Target, bookstore, and teacher supply store gift cards are always a hit!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

from here on, i'm thinking "tuesday's tips" may be in name only.  for the record.

this seems to me like a tip that may not need to be shared, but someone once enlightened me with its use, so i am guessing that someone out there may benefit from it.

i hate to find this when i'm cleaning up after a meal.

it happens to all of us - no matter how nonstick a pan is (or was) it just happens.  but, rather than soaking and scrubbing and soaking again, there is an easier way!

add water.  that's it.  just add a little water to your messy pan.
then turn the heat back on.  way on.

as the water  heats up (and starts simmering), use your appropriate utensil to stir up the gunk that has adhered to your pan.  i always use nylon or wood/bamboo to preserve mine...

once all the stuff has been dislodged (it should only take a few seconds), pour the water from your pan, and find this...

you just saved yourself (or your husband or designated child) quite a bit of elbow grease :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

in a nutshell...

i've been meaning to do an update post for awhile... but was too busy living life to actually write about it.  here goes nothing...

this fall has been much more hectic for our household.  we added soccer to our schedule - something new for patrick and chloe.  it has been a lot of fun, but having practice two nights a week plus a mid week church service really filled up our evenings.  saturday morning games have been great, though, and i am very grateful to the family members who have filled in for me or chuck when we weren't available to get somebody somewhere.

on top of soccer, chuck and i attended 3 weddings in a one month span - the third being my youngest sister's.  plotting out babysitting and scheduling to make it all happen was interesting but we made it through, and had a great time at each one.

in addition to back-to-school, soccer season, weddings, and church life, chuck is also in the process of completing his masters.  this semester he is completing 2 grad courses and a practicum.  he will be so glad when it's all over - he is so busy, and consequently, so am i.  we're trying to focus on the end result - no more grad work and a completed masters in educational administration.  yay!

last weekend, on top of halloween / fall party activities, we celebrated chloe's 8th birthday.  she had 17 girls over friday evening for a party (fun - LOUD - but fun...).  in the midst of that 4-party weekend, my cousin called me with a job opportunity at the local Christian school where she works.  although i wasn't looking for a job, i have been thinking about what i'm "going to do" next year when all 4 of my kids are in school.  this particular job completely fit my availability and need for where i am right now - part time (3 afternoons a week) in a Christian school (meaning my current educational status is sufficient) located 7 minutes from my house (so i am still accessible to my children should they need me).  and, although, tucker is still home, several friends and family members have been incredibly gracious to "hang out" with him in the afternoons that i work.

so, that's it.  i signed my contract yesterday and i start teaching this afternoon.  here we go...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

ok, so this doesn't count as a new tip - but, blogger finally decided to let me post pictures.  so, since i was a slacker and did not post yesterday (honestly, i didn't even realize it was tuesday til i crawled my way into bed - but more to come on all that later), i've opted to repost last week's tip with the missing pictures.  thanks for being merciful :)

loved, loved, loved the suggestions i got from everyone last week.  keep 'em coming.  i'm looking forward to writing about each... or discovering a tip to share.

today's tip builds on an exisiting, fabulous tip from sarah over at short stop.  and because it involves food and saves time and money, it's one of my favorites.

a while back, sarah posted a recipe for homemade beer bread.  it is a super easy recipe, based on the boxed bread mixes you can buy at specialty stores and from certain home-party food retailers.  when you buy pre-made bread mixes, you are paying for convenience as much as taste and name, and while i am a big fan of convenience, i am not always willing to pay the price.  caring for a family of six on one school teacher's salary doesn't allow for convenience with a price tag.  so, when sarah taught us all how to make homemade beer bread (skip the $8 a box cost and fancy packaging and skip right to mm mmm good), i was happy to try it.  

not surprisingly, it was delicious and fast and cheap.  seriously, the 6 ingredients required you will always have on hand, and although the recipe calls for beer, it is equally good with any type of soda (i've tried coke, ginger ale, and sprite).  i love being able to make bread from scratch for an every day meal.  

so, you may not be surprised that i decided to make it even easier.  i thought, "if a manufacturer can box these dry ingredients, why can't i?"

i lined up all FOUR dry ingredients,...

put them in a bowl,...

and then poured it in a ziploc bag.  tough, huh? then i repeated this process a few more times.

as a result, i now have four bags of beer bread mix in my pantry, ready for the next time i want fresh bread with dinner.

one little step i added was to sift the ingredients.  i did this, simply, by placing my small strainer / sifter inside the large ziploc bag and pouring the ingredients into the strainer and sifting it right inside the bag.

no mess, no hassle.  now it's really ready to go.

oh, and don't forget to write any extra steps / ingredients on the bag.  that will save you the step of finding the recipe when you're ready to throw it in the oven.

enjoy :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

yes, i took last week off (wow - to those who noticed)...

although i do have a tip in mind for this week, i first have a request.  my creative well is running dry (although in an effort to streamline everything, my life sometimes looks like one big tip - and that is not necessarily a good thing), soooo... i am asking you for inspiration!

what is an area of life / home where you could use a tip?  yes, i realize i'm opening myself up for all sorts of mockery and jokes, but i know there are legitimate requests out there.  i'm not promising i have an answer, but i love doing the research to find the answers.  i'll keep a running list of your questions and try to work my way through them.  

and.... go!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

as promised, here is the recipe for the mashed potatoes to accompany last week's meatloaf.

my family loves mashed potatoes.  i like them.  but because i don't love them like chuck and the kids do, i just don't think to make them as often (besides, there is all that peeling and chopping... and instant does not fly in this house).  last week, however, i made mashed potatoes that made my family smile.

some also felt compelled to show me what they were enjoying so much.  (sorry for that...)

they love seeing this on the table...

and this on their plate...

and after they gobbled up their potatoes and emptied the serving bowl (no leftovers that night), i finally had to tell them.  

"i tried a new recipe for the mashed potatoes.  what did you think?" i asked.
"Great!" "we loved it!" "make them again!" is what i heard in return.  even chuck agreed.
"well, i'm glad you liked them... but i should tell you.  they weren't potatoes," i confessed.
 - silence - 
"those mashed potatoes were actually cauliflower."

they looked amazed and impressed and a little betrayed all at the same time.  but they gave me permission to fool them again.  

the idea to substitute cauliflower for mashed potatoes came from my mother.  she had heard it somewhere and tried it - and fooled my sister and father in the process.  so, i decided to give it a go.

here is how i did it...
it is surprisingly just like making mashed potatoes.  however, instead of cleaning and peeling and chopping potatoes, i just broke up a head of cauliflower.  then i boiled it until it was soft (like if you were to serve it as a vegetable.)

the only real difference from here on is that i prepared the mashed potatoes in the food processor instead of the mixer.  it makes the final product much smoother, thus hiding any tell-tale chunks of cauliflower.

i added the same ingredients that i typically add to my mashed potatoes, with a few exceptions.

i always add milk or cream as i go (instead of using a set amount).  same with butter.  
but i also added some parmesan cheese (for great flavor).  
and, per my mother's suggestion, i added 1 egg.
then, for the sake of texture, i also added a cup of instant mashed potato flakes.  now, i'm not sure that was necessary, but i didn't want to completely shock my family if the finished product didn't turn out as i expected.
and, although the picture does not say so, i added salt and pepper.

once the mashed potatoes were creamy and blended, i poured them in a casserole dish and topped them with shredded cheese and bacon bits (i usually finish my mashed potatoes this way when i don't have gravy to accompany them).  then, i placed them in the oven (350-ish) for about 20 minutes.  this helped them to "set up" and take on a more "mashed potato" consistency.  

well, it worked.  
even i, knowing full well what i was eating, thought it tasted remarkably like mashed potatoes.  
and it was a vegetable!

my husband was completely impressed, and the kids thought the whole thing was pretty funny.  we're looking forward to trying it again.  

as we were cleaning up dinner, patrick was finishing up and commented that he liked the bread (a store-bought, nothing special, loaf of bread).  
"thanks," i answered.  "it's cauliflower."

they'll never trust me again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

i love meatloaf.

i never realized til i was an adult how odd this was, as i've learned that most people don't use "love" and "meatloaf" in the same sentence.  but my experience has only been positive, so i love to make meatloaf... especially for people who say they don't like it.

as a bonus, i'm including my recipe for meatloaf (the tip will follow towards the end).
the reason i think most people are not meatloaf fans is because they've only ever had dry, flavorless meatloaf.  the reason i love it is because i grew up with a mom who knew how to make it... and now my kids will tell anyone that meatloaf is one of their favorite meals.

here is how i make it:

2 - 2 1/2 lbs of ground meat.  i suggest using half lean ground beef, half ground turkey.  do not use all ground turkey as it does not "set up" well; and all ground beef tends to come out too dry.
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
1 beaten egg
2 TBSP ketchup
onion powder

Meatloaf Topping
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp ground mustard (although, in a pinch, i've used dijon mustard)

- combine milk and bread crumbs and set aside until the bread crumbs have absorbed all of the milk
- combine meat, egg, ketchup, and bread crumb mixture.  use your hands!  they are truly the best tool, although the pampered chef mix n chop works well, too.
- add about 2 tsp of onion powder (or more if you like).
- salt and pepper like you mean it
- shape in the form of a loaf and place in shallow greased dish (13x9 works well) or follow my tip below
- add topping (which has been mixed well)

bake at 350 for 45 minutes - 1 hour (depending on how large your meatloaf is)

i promise this meatloaf will be moist and flavorful... no need for gravy!

however,... here is something to make it a bit different.
every now and again (or if i'm short on time and don't want to wait an hour for dinner to cook), i cook my meatloaf in muffin tins!

here are the meatloaf muffins before they went in the oven.

i only show them pre-baked, so you can see that they come out of the oven much the same size (another reason lean meat is the way to go).

not only does cooking meatloaf this way speed up the whole dinner process (they are out of the oven in about 20 - 25 minutes), it adds a fun presentation to the table.  for kids, they are the perfect serving size.  it also ensures just the right amount of topping for everyone's portion (something we don't take lightly in our house).

try it!  maybe you love meatloaf, too.

ps) next week's tip is this week's side dish - amazing mashed potatoes you'll want to try.

they do grow up fast

yes, the kids do.  but today i'm talking about the dog.

on september 11, parsley had her first birthday.  you may be disappointed (or relieved, depending on your perspective) to hear that we did nothing to celebrate.  i love pets and, specifically, love my dog - but certain lines are most definitely drawn.  

still, we are very happy to enjoy the addition she is to our family.

and we like to think that she is happy with us.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

i didn't forget... i just didn't mention it

i've been dealt a hefty dose of mom guilt over the last month.  don't get me wrong, i'm the one dishing it out... to myself.  but still.  ugh.

case in point,  - i did not mention my oldest's birthday!  no, no, no,... we celebrated it.  but i never got around to documenting it.  here goes...

patrick joseph turned 9 on september 6th.  it's still hard for me to consider that.  have i really been a mom for nine years?  has he really gotten that tall and mature and smart?

patrick is in 3rd grade this year and has come face to face with personal responsibility.  there are days that this is not so pretty.  but i'm proud of his attitude - "i can do this mom.  this is so different from last year, but i can do this."  i can remember him making similar statements when he was learning to finish his dinner, learning to read, learning to tie his shoes...

as a nine year old, patrick is a man of few interests - but those interests are intense and run deep.  he is always reading, always building, always drawing, and always writing - something.  currently, he's in the process of developing characters and plot for another story - maybe this time he'll push past a story and turn it into a book.  

one thing that patrick has never been is athletic.  he was always too busy with books.  but, in the past year, he noticed that all of his friends were always playing something, and he finally announced to us, "i don't really care about soccer, but if i'm gonna play with my friends, i'm gonna need to learn how to play soccer."  so, he asked us to put him in soccer camp and on a soccer team.  i was a little apprehensive - i mean, he was ready to go up against kids who have been playing since they were 4 - but he was sure that he wanted to do this.  he is currently halfway through his first soccer season and loving it.  i'm so proud of him for pushing himself to do something that was not comfortable or easy - simply for the purpose of challenging himself.  he's really growing up.

but most days, he's still just this little face.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

don't bother planting a vegetable garden unless you're gonna do something about the deer.

it will end up looking like this...

the scraggly things on the left used to be tomatoes.  the scraggly things on the right used to be bell peppers. the leafy, yet fruitless, things in the middle are eggplant.  apparently, deer are not big fans of eggplant.  they'll eat the blooms but not the fruit.  i had one little ripening eggplant and this is how i found it...

teeth marks! little baby deer teeth marks on my little baby eggplant.  ridiculous.  
this is just one of the culprits...

yeah, yeah, he's cute and all.  but he's not the only one.  he is only one in a larger party of deer - all varying in size (to which all the poop in my yard can attest).  apparently, they thought it would be a good idea to eat all of our produce and then leave the remains of said meal scattered throughout our yard.  graciously, i've not saved you a picture of that.  

now that there are no veggies to eat (and since they've eaten all the promising buds off all of grandma's mums - she was not a happy camper), they've since moved on to eat all the fallen acorns and hickory nuts -giving the squirrels some much needed competition.  don't even get me started on the squirrels.

chuck and i are working on a strategy for better protecting next year's garden.  but, to those of you who are eagerly awaiting the first day of deer season, i say "happy hunting."  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

in search of

that's all i've got.  i know i'm looking for something.  i have no idea what it is.

life is good here.  i could complain, but i won't.  there's always stuff, but stuff isn't always bad.  it just is.

i've been caring for my 18 month old nephew while his parents are away for their anniversary.  he is happy and beautiful and fun.  but he needs me in ways that my four surprisingly independent children do not.  although it is a change of pace, i do not mind this.  it reminds me that people have needs.  that even my children, who can wipe their own noses and get themselves dressed and take their own showers, still have needs.  and it's made me stop to consider what those needs might be.  as a mother, have i allowed my role to be defined by a list of physical needs that must be met?  am i meeting their emotional, mental, and spiritual needs?  am i even aware of what those needs might be?

my awareness of my children's needs only leads me to question my proficiency at meeting my husband's needs.  like any other person, those needs change from week to week, month to month, year to year.  it's not hard to slip into auto-pilot when it comes to him either - to meet those needs that i'm aware of - but to overlook the more subtle, changing needs that i haven't bothered to notice.

of course, assuming i am aware of and striving towards being a need-meeter at home, i am led to ask, "what about others?"  most of my friends are busy need-meeters in their own homes... but that doesn't change the fact that they, themselves, have needs.

and, then, there is extended family.

and church.


i can't have this conversation with myself without coming face to face with my tragic flaw of always seeing stuff instead of people.  i see the people... but i see them in terms of what they need from me... what i need to do for them,... what need they have that i have not yet met.  and, so i feel stuck.

but it's all good.  these things remind me that life is about more than just me.
seeing the needs of others keeps things in perspective.
and still there is a nose to wipe, lunches to make, a bathroom to clean, an email to send.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

this breezy 70 degree weather makes me ready for fall (i won't even pretend like it is fall, because i know that there's a sultry 90 degree day out there waiting to bite me in the butt sometime in october)  still, fall feelings make me think of fall food - and nothing says fall food like sweet potatoes.

i love to eat sweet potatoes, but i'll admit that there was a time when i avoided them simply because i hated the thought of preparing them.  for some reason, peeling sweet potatoes is incredibly challenging.  but then i learned a little trick that changed all of that.

scrub your sweet potatoes and cut them into big chunks (seriously, bigger is better).  then boil them (leave the skins on) until they are cooked - about 20 minutes.  once they are done, strain them in a colander and allow them to cool for a bit.  once you can handle them, simply pull the skins off - they will basically fall right off in your hand.  simple! 

now that you have a pot of cooked sweet potatoes, might as well whip up a batch of Sarah Short's sweet potato casserole.  you'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

we can only get so far into "back-to-school" before someone starts sniffling or aching and needs to stay home.  with four kids, it's the way it goes.  i've been blessed with very healthy children, but we still have our occasional sick days.  when patrick started kindergarten (4 years ago...) the parents had to attend a meeting where we learned the ins and outs of the school.  at that meeting, the school nurse shared an interesting piece of advice - one that has served us well - and i thought i'd pass it along.

because some children tend to interepret sick days as a day off, it is important that children who stay home sick don't have too much fun.

ok, that doesn't sound quite right.  but it's true.  i'm not talking about a child who has a raging fever or violent stomach bug - clearly, that child needs to be home and as comfortable as possible.  but you know how your kid wakes up one morning and they are a little sniffly and a little achy and a little moody - but not out and out sick and you just aren't sure what to do?  unless i know my little darling is attempting to pull a fast one, i tend to give them the benefit of the doubt - with the condition that staying home sick means staying home.  sick.  in bed.  resting.  all day.
yes, i feed them.
yes, they have a toy or two.
yes, they can read.

but - no tv, movies, running around with their little brother.
if you're too sick to be in school, you need to be in bed and get better!
and... if you're too sick to go to school, you're too sick for that evening's activity (soccer practice, birthday party, etc).

sometimes, that reminder is enough for that same little darling to make an impressive recovery and grab her book bag.  and sometimes they agree to my terms.  usually, i'm glad i've kept them home - as a fever sneaks in or the child dozes off and on all day proving that they really did need the rest.  but there have been times when the sick child spends the greater part of the day begging to get up and play... or, better yet, begging to be taken to school (that always makes me laugh).

either way, making a sick day truly a day for resting and recovering will usually prevent a child from feigning illness in an attempt to stay home.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

this is not a flashy, fun tip.  but the beginning of the school year always beckons me to greater organization and efficiency as i end up pulled in multiple directions.  and, as much as fall is my favorite time to be in the kitchen baking, i don't like to feel trapped at meal time.  here are a few tips to make dinner time a little easier on you.

buy in bulk but freeze in smaller quantities.  a big package of 24 chicken thighs is a great idea until they are all frozen into a solid chunk and you only need 6 of them.  divide up your meat into family sized portions when you return from the grocery store, so that when it's time to prepare your meals, you don't have to thaw out large quantities of meat.  this works especially well with ground meat.

before you freeze, marinate.  this takes the above tip one step further.  as you divide up your chicken into freezer bags, pour in some marinade.  not only will your meat be divided in appropriate portions, it will also be pre-seasoned and ready to go.

cook meat, then freeze.  if you have the time and inclination, the next time you buy 5 lbs of ground beef, brown it all (even mix it with onions / garlic / peppers, etc) and then divide it up into however large a portion you would usually use for your family's meals (think chili, spaghetti sauce, tacos, etc).  once the meat is thawed, you won't need to worry about cooking or seasoning it - just add it to the recipe at hand.

cook meat, then freeze.  part 2.  for a while, i found myself avoiding recipes that required cooked, cut up chicken because i never had any on hand... and i never had the time to prepare the chicken and the meal.  of course, leftover chicken works for this.  but my favorite thing to do is to buy a chicken, cook it in the crock pot, bone it, and portion and freeze the boned / shredded chicken in freezer bags.  a small chicken will yield several cups of chicken - usually enough for 2 casseroles / meals.  you can take it one step further and save the broth that is left in the crock pot.  put it in a large bowl in the fridge until the fat congeals on top (sorry... that sounds so gross).  then carefully scrape the fat off and you'll be left with virtually fat-free chicken broth.  again - dump it in a freezer bag and you've got one more common ingredient waiting for you in the freezer.

prepare and freeze veggies.  of course, i've mentioned this before.  but beyond tomatoes and peppers, you can shred carrots and zucchini and squash and freeze them for baking purposes.  you could also chop and saute onions and garlic so that they are instantly ready to be added to your meals.

make and freeze meals.  this is the most obvious tip... one that many people already do.  but there are days when the knowledge of a casserole in the freezer can rescue you from the brink of insanity... or make your weekend just a bit more relaxing.

do you have any tips to add to this list?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

somewhere between valium and a scented candle

i begin writing this knowing that there is a very good chance i won't get to finish.  that's why i haven't gotten much further than my weekly Tuesday's Tip.  regrettably, life doesn't slow down for my need to write about it.  neither do my kids.

blogging went from being a mystery to a guilty pleasure, but now it is an illusive luxury - something i wonder if i'll ever get to enjoy again.  when i actually take the time to sit and write, i don't often finish my thoughts because my "audience" has simply broadened too much.  venting isn't an option when too many people may read with the ever-popular "is she talking about me?" question lurking in the back of their minds.  (the answer, btw, is no, i'm not.  i never am.)  of course, what began as a sahm's ramblings is now open to male readers, which i'm fine with... but it occurs to me that men don't want to know about pms and other such stuff that i wouldn't mind getting off my chest.  (see,... "chest" - maybe i shouldn't have written that).  honesty isn't always the best policy.

but, i've never been one for writing fiction... and my life doesn't always play out as a self-help piece, either.  whining isn't an option, because, as you may know, whining-blogs top my list of pet-peeves.  so, here i am.

i spoke with my doctor last year about that feeling of insanity that hits me once a month (sorry, guys...).  i'm sure she meant to be helpful, but she wasn't.
"maybe you could light a candle and try to relax?" she offered.  really?  are you kidding me?  on some days, i'd be more likely to light the house on fire...
"well, some women take valium."  ok, clearly we're not connecting here.  

so, here i stay.  somewhere between valium and a scented candle.  i need to write about it but am not sure i can put it out there without feeling like i shouldn't have.  really, i have nothing to hide.  but, in real life, people find out what they want by getting to know me.  what they don't know about me remains a mystery because they've chosen to keep their distance.

blogging has changed that world, though...
now we can lurk without a trail.
read without commenting.
collect information to disclose without the guilt of gossip.
it's amazing how technology has fully opened up lines of communication all while allowing us the comfort of our firmly built walls.  i never thought i'd mind.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

this summer has not been my garden's finest hour.  last year, i was up to my eyeballs in tomatoes and zucchini.  this year, not so much.  we have been blessed by the abundance of others' produce, though, and i'm grateful.

one of the biggest food challenges of summertime is using up all the fresh foods before they go bad.  here's what i do with my peppers when they start to look a little "iffy."

as you can see, these bell peppers have seen better days.  i could either throw them away or find a way to incorporate them into that day's dinner...

instead, i cut out the bad parts...

then i chop everything up to "recipe size"

and place it all in a freezer bag.

not only does this prevent me from having to throw away the veggies that i forgot to use, but it also helps me keep a recipe necessity ready and on-hand in my freezer.

this also works with tomatoes (i believe...)  and just yesterday i chopped up several jalapenos for the same purpose (although i should have worn gloves because my fingers are still tingling).

give it a try - store a bit of summer in your freezer :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

i'm still enjoying my sand / shell art.  this week's tip continues the sea shell theme.

part of the fun of going to the beach, i think, is all the stuff on display there.  this year, we saw tons of jelly fish as well as lots of crabs, fish, horseshoe crabs... we even found a blowfish.  the dolphin swim by in large groups and the pelicans are always fun to watch.

this year, as i mentioned last week, was also great for shells.  it just seemed that the tides brought in an abundant variety of shapes and sizes.  of course, the kids and i had fun collecting buckets full.  but this year, i decided to snap photos of them, as well.

now, seriously, i'm no photographer.  i don't even aspire to become one.  i wouldn't even go so far as to say that it's my hobby.  i don't have multiple lenses.  i couldn't tell you which camera i own unless i quickly glanced at the front of mine.  that being said, my camera is always close by, always charged, and always emptied of recent pics to make room for more.  i have a digital that i love and i've taken the time to really figure out what it can do and how to best use it (admittedly, i have lots left to learn).

so, when i saw all that the beach had to offer this summer, i quickly switched to the "macro" setting on my trusty digital and went to town.

just changing the angle of the camera can create some interesting shots, too...

and the water, itself, is interesting enough...

i'm not sure that i'll do anything with these pictures...  but i could!  printed in large sizes, they would look nice framed.  they would also serve well when making fun photo gifts (think calendars, mugs, etc.) for the beach lover.  i could go on... i could show you more photos.  but i'll stop.

my final "use" for shells this year is a little outside the box, but one that works just as well.  year after year, inevitably, the treasures my kids collect get pitched at some point because, as you may guess, i can only fill so many vases.  this year, i gave my kids the assigment of collecting shells that we could send to some friends in the midwest whose kids have not yet seen the ocean.  my friend amanda lives in arkansas, has 3 young children (and is expecting 2 more!), and a beach vacation is not on her horizon.  we are sending a package to her kids filled with shells, rocks, and sand, along with notes and pictures from my kids explaining what the beach is like.  we are hoping they have fun with the stuff we found... and can enjoy something we are "finished" with.  

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tuesday's Tip

i feel like it's been forever.  two weeks off from anything can do that to you.  we enjoyed our beach vacation, but even while away, my mind was working.  and one day, while walking along the surf collecting shells, a friend asked, "so, do you have any tuesday's tips for what to do with sea shells?"  funny you should ask.  this one's for you, bethany...

depending on which beach you visit, shells can be a rarity.  this year, they absolutely littered the coastline.

last year, i made it a point to only collect shells with a bit of purple on them.  this year, my goal was to find perfect shells - unbroken and classic. 

i brought home 2 large ziploc bags filled with treasures.  then, as an afterthought, i had my sister bring back a few bags filled with sand.  

i rinsed my shells...

i also cleaned them.  (call me compulsive, but i don't want the odor of decomposing sea creatures emanating from my center piece.  i'm just sayin...)

they dried completely...

and then i got to work.  
chances are, you have lots of decorative glass containers around your house.  most people have vases or even mason jars that will gladly serve double duty for decorative purposes.  if you don't, however, check out the dollar store.  or, if you're fortunate enough to live near an Ikea, stop by.  seriously,  you haven't lived, if you haven't browsed that store at least once.  this project gave me a great excuse to visit my nearby Ikea (thank the good Lord for placing one a mere ten minutes away).  

now, i realize there are a ton of artistic ways to use sea shells.  i mentioned last year's collection of purple shells.  this picture doesn't justify their color, but i like the idea of a color theme when using shells.  it works.

because this year's shells were more about their shape and form, i wanted to showcase them a little bit differently.  here's what i came up with...

with the exception of my trip to Ikea (which was really an unnecessary indulgence for me), this was free art.  i love taking full advantage of what nature has to offer... without bordering on overkill.  using sea shells, subtly, adds a neutral touch of class to your home while reminding you of your fun on the beach.  

i love the idea of using all of what the beach has to offer so much that this tuesday's tip will continue next week...