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Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 6 - Precious Free Time

Ems here:

Do you all remember those days? The days before children, maybe even before husband or wife? The only responsibilities were work and bills. Maybe you spent most of your paycheck on eating out (yes, me) or cute clothes or mixed drinks...or all of the above. Maybe you never minded, not really, staying late hours at the job. Maybe the weekends were blank slates waiting to be filled.

Maybe you had so much free time that you didn't appreciate it and you took naps all the time and were frequently bored!

What is boredom these days, right? I mean some people (who aren't moms and dads) might see parenting as a virtually thankless vocation of tiresome repetition punctuated by frequent tantrums. Well, okay, that's kinda what it is. However, that leaves out the one small fact that the center of your universe shifts once that baby is put into your arms. Paychecks are spent on actual groceries, any clothes purchased are pint-sized, and the only mixed drink we're talking is powdered formula. And we wouldn't go back to the way things were, not for anything.

Perhaps being a parent somehow enables us to see the value of time. Looking at our oldest child and how much he has grown, we can appreciate the babe-in-arms and see that it is just a stage, that time is fleeting. We can also appreciate the few moments of precious free time that we get...usually only when the children are abed. Sigh. Relief. Replenish time. Because it is one hard job.

I don't think parents ever get "bored." There's always something to clean, at the very least. How we choose to spend our valuable free time says a lot about us and our mental state, as seen in this official study:* Please take the following short quiz to see where YOU stand:

*This study and questionnaire are fake and may have been made up by Ems for the purpose of this post.


1. You are at the grocery store and realize you are five dollars under budget! What will you spend it on?

A. Oreos. And Redbox.
B. Ooh! Ben and Jerry's has a new flavor!
C. Chips and salsa. Maybe dip. Maybe guacamole...yum.
D. Dishwasher detergent. The good stuff, in the little packets.


2.  Your spouse let's you choose a date night activity this Friday! What do you do?

A. Let's light candles on the coffee table and watch old episodes of Veronica Mars, honey!
B. Coffeehouse with a live band...sounds romantic!
C. Let's meet up with friends and go for drinks at that new place!
D. We have a gift card to Olive Garden...now's our chance!


3. Choose an outfit to change into on Saturday morning:

A. Um, why change from my footie pajamas?
B. Sweater, loose cords, flats
C. Skinny jeans, boots
D. Sweatshirt, jeans, sneakers


4. What does your living room look like at this very moment?

A. Toys. Laundry. Crumbs.
B. Crayons and paint and lots of glitter.
C. Some toys. Magazines. iPhone.
D. Couch. Rug. Tabletop. I can see surfaces.


5. Choose a movie to watch without kid or spouse:

A. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2.  Hunger Games.
B. The Notebook or Steel Magnolias or The Vow
C. Tangled. When in Rome. The Avengers
D. Gone with the Wind. The Queen.


Simply count how many of each letter you chose and see what category you fall into!

A. Sally Spud: Netflix, spouse-cuddling, and sleep. You replenish through escapist fare and mentally "checking out" at the end of a hard day. Letting someone on TV live the drama is such a blessed relief.  Suggested hobbies: Word games; Learn a language; Light reading; blogging

B. Artsy Annie: You find your peace and passion in the creative. Beauty renews the soul! Find an outlet that allows you to express your uniqueness. Suggested hobbies: Watercolor painting; sewing; cake decorating.

C. Chatty Cathy: Renewal via social interaction is the name of your game. You are fun and outgoing and your hobbies need to reflect your energy. Suggested hobbies: Host game nights with friends; take cool classes at a local community college or online; read the classic novels.

D. Practical Prudence: You go, Momma! Your free time is spent is practical pursuits.  Cleaning and organization is second nature.  Suggested hobbies: scrapbooking; sewing or knitting; plan crafts for your kids (a la Pinterest)


Well, I hope that you enjoyed that important quiz.

Here is an app plug now. I have been learning Spanish via this cool iPhone app called Duolingo. It's fun and pretty simple and I'm learning a lot. 13 days in, and I can say things like: Las mujers beben una cerveza (The women drink a beer).




Also, I found this in my bag of spinach:



Yes, that's a grasshopper. Perhaps I prefer hidden additives to this organic stuff, because that's a bit extreme, man....


Easy Rule #21330: Maybe: Quizzes are fun?

Day 5 - Survival-Mode Parenting

Jules here-

Similar to my friend, Tanya, our family has been cursed with the stomach bug this week as well.  My week started with our first sleepover (to help out our #1 fan Chrissy out), which inspired my second-ever e-card:


Luckily my youngest daughter simply vomited on her side of the bed (down to the mattress), and did not awaken the "big girls" as they slept through the laundry, showering, and teeth brushing debacle.  Then, as soon as I got ready for bed on Tuesday night, I felt queasy and awoke with crippling pain.  After 12 hours of excruciating pain, vomiting, and overall suffering, I ended up going to the doctor for medications.  How could I care for children when I was in such pain? Well, this time I was blessed with my mother coming to my rescue, but in the past I have had to survive on my own. 

When I went into labor with my son on Halloween of 2011 (anyone in New England remember that Halloween-- snowtober? No power for 8 days....), I had no distractions from early-labor pains and I had to huddle with my 3 year old and 18 month old by the fire while my husband searched for a generator for 5 hours.  I had to invent some pretty time-consuming games to survive.


Here are some survival tips and ideas for when you are too tired to be a parent.....

  • Ask for help if you can.  If you don't have something contagious, ask a friend/neighbor to come and watch them.  If you are blessed with family-- they are sometimes willing to risk their own health for you!
  • Screen time.  Obviously when I am incapacitated, TV time definitely increases, but I try to use it towards the end of the day when I'm thoroughly exhausted.

  • Mommy spa.  I used this one while I awaited my son's arrival.  I lay on the floor by the fire and the kids painted (yes, with little paint brushes) my body with lotion. Sound ridiculous? They LOVED it and did it for over 2 hours. I was well-moisturized and I dozed in and out.  They also used a spray bottle and bows all over my hair... I looked awesome.
  • Simon Says- Simon gets to sit while children can be lead on a rigorous exercise regime.
  • Storylineonline.net.   O.k., this is kind of screen time-- but with real books! And actors! Great way to pass the time and really get "reading time" in.

      
    Storylineonline.net
  • Play doctor- you are the patient. Get out your doctor kit and have your kids diagnose you. You barely have to move, and lying down is required.
      
  • Little helpers. Ask your kids to fetch you water, crackers, help with the setting up the youngest with toys, etc.  My older girls love the responsibility and it eases some of the burdens.
  • Be a judge.  Sitting on your couch, you can become a presiding judge of sorts: host coloring contests dance-offs, singing contests, etc.  The children will become occupied while they prepare for the judging and all you have to do is create a verdict (that doesn't cause arguments... I have many categories for winners "Best Staying-in-the-Lines", "Best-Use of the-Color-Red", "Most Creative", etc.)
  • Reserve toys for these days. Sometimes at Christmas, I secretly abscond with some toys (my kids are still young enough not to notice). I reserve some of these toys (blocks, a new game, etc.) for when we are house-bound.  Bring out some puzzles or other items that are not usually in the "toy-rotation".  I keep new crayons, markers, and coloring books in a stash under my bed for just this type of situation.
        

  • Keep meals simple.  Order in, have breakfast for dinner, give them cereal, let them eat cake-- it's only a day or two-- no worries on healthfulness when Mommy is sick!
  • Change rooms.  So you are trapped in the house all day, can you relocate to the basement? Or a kid's room? Sometimes the change of scenery from "Mommy-hasn't-moved-from-that-couch-in-two-hours" to one of the kid's room can help decrease the squirminess of the kiddos. 
  • Forget some rules.  Is taking the couch cushions off the couch and jumping on them forbidden in your home? Who cares today.  No snacking before lunch? Let them sneak the cheerios box. And definitely make it a "pajama day" for your kids.

Let them make a mess! Who cares today!

Have any other lie on your back and survive the day tips?  I'd love to hear them as I am still going to the bathroom every 10 minutes....

Easy Rule #80100- There is no such thing as a sick day for Mommies, but you can survive one if you are creative and have a little help!

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Day 4 - Top Ten Drop-Dead Tired Euphemisms

Ems here--

As mothers we learn to function despite being in a near-constant state of fatigue. Sometimes, however, those periods are more intense--newborn awakenings, ill children, etc.  Last night, for example, Simona and I discovered that she in incapable of sleeping when her nose is congested. We spent the entire night hanging out together. Good times.

With that fresh inspiration in mind, here are a Top Ten of Tired Mom euphemisms...and what they really mean:


10.  "Breakfast time!"-- a few handfuls of M&Ms seems perfectly reasonable...nay, essential, for a morning jumpstart.  Nothing says "good morning" like chocolate, is what I always say.




9. "Getting Dressed for the Day" -- Blue or Pink? Nothing says "fetching" like fleece.



8.  "Let's Play at the Park" -- Don't fall off mommy's bed, children. Be careful. No feet on my pillows. (All spoken quietly from the couch a floor below)



7. "Please listen before Mommy loses her temper!"-- Momzilla is coming and she's truly psychotic.




6. "Working Out" -- It's just like yoga.



5.  "Lunch" -- A little more sugar does the body good.



4.  "Okay, you can watch another show." -- Don't you dare turn off that TV till Mom tells you to.



3.  "Mommy's not feeling well."  -- Immune. System. Crashing.



2. "Dinner" -- Gee, I hope there's enough pizza for the rest of you fools. Must. Have. Fourths.



`
1. "Gosh, I need a vacation." Someday, Lunesta and I will be very happy.





Easy Rule #3880: Moms give new meaning to tired excuses. But cheer up! I heard that someday we'll miss these treasured years. At least we're not sleeping them away....






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Day 3- Top Ten Pinterest Pointers

Jules here-

I have alluded before that I am a bit of a pinterest nut; I could not design my curriculum, cook dinner or entertain kids without it.





Honestly, most of my fantastic recipes and ideas have originated from Pinterest and here are the top ten ideas that I could not do without:

10.  The Bean Bag Stuffed Animal Storage-- About the time I read this post on Pinterest, my middle one was potty-training, which is the equivalent of having a puppy run loose in your home. After the second "nude-escape" after bath time, the "beans" on the inside of the bean bag chair had seen (and smelled) better days.  And as any parent knows, when you leave two stuffed animals in a closet-- they secretly multiply....  It's a bit lumpy but we still sit and read stories in it and the stuffed animals have a place to go!

http://pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com/2012/04/kid-friendly-stuffed-animal-storage.html

9.  The "Pop-Pop" Stool.   Having my first-born be in the 3rd percentile for height does not bode well for independent hand-washing in our pedestal sink.  When I sent my father this link to the plans, I hoped he would make it... and he did!  It seriously changed our life.  At the time, I had one independent potty-girl, one potty-trainer, and one nursing little guy.  To have my children be able to wash up before meals, fill up water cups, and even see themselves in the mirror saved me so much time.  We use it for cooking and sink play too!

 
http://ana-white.com/2010/12/helping-tower.html

8. Bathtub Paint.  This is so easy, cheap, and quick. If I need an extended bath time (translation: Dear Lord get these kids occupied until bed time), I will whip up a batch of the paint (simply shaving cream and food dye). It washes off easily and they love cleaning it up too!





7. Yogurt Bites. Such a simply, healthful, and yummy summer snack for kids. It's just frozen yogurt dotted on wax paper. 

http://www.onegoodthingbyjillee.com/2012/03/frozen-yogurt-dots.html


6.  Food Shaping. This is more of a generalization... pinterest inspired me to attempt many lunches to look (sort of) like animals, cars, robots, etc.  None of my creations are worthy of a photo, but the kids love them and they spice up a normal day with a bit of fun.  

http://www.minieco.co.uk/

5. Storing my batteries.  Since I have an avid fisherman for a husband, finding an empty tackle storage box was easy for this project.  Now we always know where "fresh" batteries are and I can see when our supply is dwindling.

http://todaysmama.com/2012/01/battery-storage-organization/


4. Life organization.  After seeing this project on pinterest, I had to organize my calendar. Each Sunday I write our schedule for the week including meals and "to do" items.   Using dollar store frames and craft paper-- the project was quite affordable too!  It has saved a lot of time/effort for quick access to our plans.



3. Apple Chips--and other healthful snacks. Super yummy snack that the kids devour! Along with Kale Chips, granola bars, and roasted chick peas... thank you, pinterest, for an alternative to the goldfish :)



2.  Pancake Mix. I've mentioned before how many pancakes I make-- but without my homemade pancake mix I'd be spending a fortune or wasting my time making them "the long way" every day.  They are delicious, easy and the kids love to decorate them!

http://www.food.com/recipe/homemade-bisquick-mix-69051

1. Homemade bread--30 minute rolls. Have unexpected guests for dinner? Forgot to whip up a side? In 30 minutes (well, it takes me closer to 45 min), you can have a yummy dinner roll to go with that soup!  If you've never made bread, it's honestly not that hard especially if you have a bread machine and/or a mixer.

http://www.yourhomebasedmom.com/30-minute-rolls/

I have done so many dinners, side dishes, and desserts from pinterest that it was very hard to choose my favorite meals! 


Easy Rule #4245-- Dinner's getting boring? Can't find a quick way to do a home improvement project? Need some decorating advice? Hop on pinterest for a minute! (ha ha ha... just kidding... hours, you'll spend hours....)







Day 2 - Kiddie Tech Talk

Ems here:

A few weeks ago, I took two of my children in for their yearly well-child checkups (ages 6 and 8). The young male doctor, new to the practice, was very detailed and very thorough. I could tell he paid close attention in medical school and was hip to the latest and greatest kid medical information. He was essentially grilling me on my parenting skills, and I freely admit to being a bit nervous! Especially when my annoying kids were giving the kind of answers that implicated me negatively:

Doctor: "Do you go to the dentist?"
Child A: "Yes, sometimes, but Mom says it's too expensive."

Doctor: "What's your phone number?"
Children A and B: " Uhhhhh......"   Crickets chirping. Doctor looking displeased.

And yes, we do go to the dentist regularly. Not sure about the phone number problem, but I'll use the old "homeschool" defense. They are home all the time, why know their number?

Finally, the doctor threw me one last curve ball: "How much time do your children spend in front of a computer or TV? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours of screen time per day."

Uh oh.

Before I go on, I want to assure all readers that I am fully on board with Jules' Lenten Phone Free Friday. I think it very important that we all "plug in" with each other sans the comfort of devices.

However, I pose this question: Is 2 hours a day of screen time truly practical in today's world?


7 kids, 1 iPad. Daddy put on a World War I historical video. If you play it, they will come.


Now, I appreciate what the AAP is trying to do, encouraging parents not to park kids in front of Disney Junior for 8 hours a day followed by a rousing game of Plants vs. Zombies chased by Angry Birds. But for most of us (fairly, usually) conscientious parents, holding that 2 hour deadline over our heads could easily lead to paranoia and major guilt.

Here are my specific objections:

1. Online school. We work at the computer frequently for school. Now, probably not nearly as much as folks assume when I say we attend a Virtual Academy, but definitely there is some computer time involved. At the 5th grade level it looks a little like this:

Math: 50% online
Lit, Grammar, Writing, Vocab, Spelling: 10% online
History: 50%
Science: 90%

2. Kindle books. The kids love reading books on the computer. The variety and availability is virtually endless. Of course, we also have an actual bookshelf. Isn't it lovely?



3. Internet for Information. With supervision (i.e. computer in the living room), the internet is a fabulous way for kids to learn and explore their interests. Theo, for example, is an ocean fanatic at the moment and loves to view marine life and aquariums online. He and Matt have also been known to look up various football and soccer statistics. Additionally, reading about hurricanes and other natural disasters is also a family (okay, a morbid boy) hobby.

4. Learning Games and Apps.  Before the other children begin school, Tad (age 4) is allowed to get on the website fun4thebrain.com.  This site has been so valuable for all my children in learning and practicing the dreaded Math Facts! Tad, having started young, has nearly all his addition facts memorized and a good portion of his subtraction facts locked down too.  He enjoys the games enormously and associates math with fun. He is off to a much better start than I! Gabe (age 2) loves to play puzzle games on my Kindle during his computer game time. Nate and Theo are learning to program computer code via this innovative website: http://scratch.mit.edu/.  There are many amazing resources out there.

5. Free Play. At the end of a hardworking school day and on the weekends, screen time for fun is allowed. Whether they are choosing to play soccer on the Wii, Minecraft on the laptop, or PBSKids, the kids enjoy a bit of downtime. Of course, we have time limits.  Another upside of allowing "fun" screen time is the delightful leverage it gives us parents as a means of discipline. It's the first thing to go if the kids are mouthy or lazy or otherwise troublesome.


The fact is, in this digital age, our children will be exposed to more and more screen time.  How many of us work at a computer all day? And then for our downtime, we play on our phone, kindle, or watch the TV? It's a part of our life, for better or for worse.

We can (and should) give our kids limits and balance, as in all things. We need to make sure they are playing soccer and board games and dress-up and Legos and getting to the park and interacting with friends. If we incorporate all these things into our children's lives, I don't think we have to have the black cloud of Two-Hour Screen Time Guilt hanging over our long-suffering parental heads.

Unless your baby is obsessed with the iPod like this:



And then makes this face when it is taken away:



Easy Rule #3589: Shoot for balance and put technology to work for you and your family.

Easy Rule #4110: Taking a techie timeout is a reminder to us all that we don't just view life through a screen...we are the stars of our own adventure!


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Monday, February 24, 2014

Day 1- Phone-Free Fridays for Lent

Jules here--

At the commencement of our "posting every day" week, I'd like to reflect on the impact of technology on our homes and family.  Now, I do recognize the irony of denouncing the very technology that one is reading this blog on: PC, phone, laptop, tablet; but, I am mentally preparing for the Lenten season starting next week.
Glued to a video on the laptop

As I type this, I have the television on, my kindle on the arm of the couch, and the baby monitor telling me that my 2 year-old is just waking up.....so obviously I love technology, but sometimes I savor simpler times.  Luckily, I have resisted the urge to get a smartphone; most of my friends seem mentally attached to theirs and I like that I usually forget where my cell phone is. However, I do have a Kindle Fire that soothes my scrabble addiction and e-mail-checking problem.  We also use technology to placate children, fill silences, and avoid in-person interactions--not that that's necessarily wrong but I think we should have an awareness of how we use technology.

So my proposal for Lent is:



Am I proposing we throw the televisions out the window and rid the world of internet access? Heck, no. BUT, I like the idea of challenging myself to do without certain technologies for simply one day a week--- AND I'm going to take my family with me on this magical journey.

So far my list for the "Phone-Free Friday" includes:

  • Phone calls
  • Texting
  • Home phone
  • Television
  • Word games
  • Facebook
  • Computer time

The obvious exceptions to my list are:
  • Communicating for urgent needs: If I am meeting a friend I need to know when/where etc; work-related calls, and bills, etc.
  • School-related activities. Much of my homeschooling is done online and I print out A LOT of material.
  • Music-- since I don't have any radio in my house, I would like to put on the internet radio for the kids to dance to!
  • In case of vomit, the above list will be null and void (I cannot survive a day of sick children without the placation of television).

Why should you try to give up technology for just one day a week? Well, I plan to do a post on the Catholic concept of sacrifice for the spiritual side of Lent, but I also think it's so easy to get addicted to that constant access.  Disconnecting for even one day may open your eyes to your family's needs and to see if your children are also too reliant on that quick stimulation rather than their own imagination. Obviously I am quite reliant on technology as the 45 minutes of "screen time" every day are very precious to me, but I don't like it when my 2 year old starts demanding "I want play on Kindle!" as soon as breakfast's over.  So a little technology-purging will be refreshing!


So 9 days left until Lent--- am I ready to try this? Will I survive? Will you join me?  

Easy Rule #5690- Don't wait for a power outage to see if you could survive an Internet-free existence- try and free up some time and mental energy now!


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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Coming Soon

To a Blog Near You...

Seven Posts in Seven Days.
Starting Monday.


Get Ready.




Because we sure aren't.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Winner Winner Pancake Dinner and Other Yummy Stuff

Ems here:

Milestone reached: my children made dinner tonight! Nate, with sous chef Theo, requested they make pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, and orange julius (I helped with the beverage).  They did a fabulous job! So any of you moms out there in the trenches with just little tiny people, take hope! Someday your kids, too, will make dinner whilst you (sorta, kinda, maybe) relax.



And following on the heels of Jules' soup post, I thought I would share a newly discovered soup favorite too! Everyone in my family loves it (no small thing) and it is super affordable and healthful (double yay). I got the original recipe from All Recipes.

But here's how it all starts:

1. Buy yourself a nice whole chicken (I usually get a 5-6 pounder). Now you have a choice on cooking it--either find a good crockpot chicken recipe, or oven roast it. I prefer the taste of an oven-baked chicken personally.

2. Serve your family a great chicken dinner--but make sure they save all their bones! When all the children are tucked into their beds, scrape the pan you cooked the chicken in and put ALL the leftover chicken parts into the crockpot. (If you have lots of meat left on the chicken, remove it first for sandwiches!).

3. Into the crockpot, throw in a halved onion, some carrot, some celery (if you have any). Then fill the whole crockpot to the near-top with water. Season with whatever you like your stock to taste like--salt, pepper, celery seed, bay leaf, etc.

4. Put on low overnight. In the morning, you've got yourself a beautiful chicken stock, and base for the soup you will make tonight!



Now, time to get your Wedding Soup* on! All you need are the following ingredients:

1 lb ground beef
1 package thawed spinach
carrots
small noodles (mini shells or small elbows work well)
Parmesan cheese

1. Make your meatballs. This takes the longest time because they have to be cute-sized (3/4 inch). Mix the ground beef with 2 eggs, breadcrumbs, 2 T Parm cheese, 1 tsp dried basil, 2 tsp onion powder.

2. Chop some carrots into rounds.

3. Thinly slice spinach.

4. Strain your chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Season it liberally to taste--it always needs more salt!

5. Add in meatballs, carrots, spinach, and noodles (however many you like, usually 1-2 cups). Cook at a slow boil for 10 minutes.

6. Serve with Parmesan cheese on top and of course, with homemade bread!

*Recipe adapted from Mama's Italian Wedding Soup submitted by Lalena on All Recipes.com.


Here's a picture, but it's not that great of one. It's taken the next day, and noodles have puffed up to obscene proportions. But you can get the idea. DELICIOUS!



Easy Rule #1098: Winter + Soup= Comfort

Easy Rule #1294: Allow your kids some kitchen freedom. They may be future chefs! Or at least will be able to make more than Ramen noodles.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Contest-Winning Recipes

Jules here-

As an avid fan of Top Chef and Iron Chef, I have longed to compete against a master chef (o.k., maybe not compete--- but to eat with one... that would be great....).  Well, my desire came true on Saturday night when my fantastic-foodie friend, Don, and I competed for "Top Soup of New Hampshire" (well...at least on our street...)

I scoured the internet for recipe ideas, and I came across several options for the classic New England clam chowder.  I combined several different recipes to create the ultimate contest-winning recipe:


Ingredients:
For the Chowder
1/4# Bacon (turkey or regular)
1 medium onion, diced (about 1 Cup)
2 TBS butter
1/4 Cup flour
2 stalks celery, chopped (about 1 Cup)
14 oz can of clam stock
1# peeled and diced (about 1" cubes) potatoes (about 4 cups, chopped)
3 6.5oz cans of chopped clams (reserve juice)
2 Cups Half & Half (or half milk/heavy cream or combination)
1 can drained whole kernel corn

For the Croutons 
1/2 Loaf of baguette, cubed
2-3 TBS butter
2 TBS chopped fresh parsley
salt & pepper

Melt butter in pan. Add bread cubes and toss until coated and toasted.  Toss salt, pepper and parsley and turn off heat.

Directions:
1. Chop and cook bacon in large stock pot. Cook until almost crisped, remove from pot.
2. Add celery, onions & 2 TBS butter to pot. Saute vegetables until softened (about 4-5 minutes).
3. Add clam juice from the clam cans and add flour with whisk until blended.
4. Add clam stock and potatoes.  If potatoes aren't covered in liquid, add water (less than 1 cup)
5. Simmer for 20 minutes until potatoes are softened, but not too soft.
6. Add 2 cups half & half, clams, and corn.
7. Simmer additional 5-6 minutes until heated through.
8. Serve with croutons and enjoy!

Serves about 6-8---depending on how hungry everyone is.

Now, I shall not leave you with just one recipe-- the night was a delight for our tummies... and we had TWO delicious soups to experience. Don's soup was fantastic and the judges were divided; unfortunately for him the three child-judges did not have such a refined palate for spices.  I swept the children's vote, but I honestly am quite partial to this fantastic soup.  This originates on foodnetwork.com and Don added a few tweaks (like using roasted corn) that made this fantastic.



Mexican Chicken Stew


Ingredients
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
3 cups shredded cooked chicken
Few dashes Worcestershire sauce
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
1 lime
1 cup cooked white rice
Kosher salt
Sour cream, for garnish
Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

Directions

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno and sweat until soft and translucent. Add spices and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant and aromatic. Add tomatoes, chicken, Worcestershire, and stock.

Bring to a simmer and cook 20 minutes.

Cut the lime in half, squeeze juice into the pot, and then add the juiced halves as well.

Add white rice and cook 5 minutes longer to warm rice through. Season, to taste, with salt.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream and cilantro.

© 2014 Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved.

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/dave-lieberman/mexican-chicken-stew-recipe.print.html?oc=linkback


Easy Rule #4241 Spice up the winter season by starting new traditions with neighbors and friends!



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Valentine's Day- Jules Version

Jules here,

Similar to Ems, I wanted to make Valentine's Day special for the kids. Every year I make hand-made cards (just like our mom used to do!) and inside them I write a list of all the reasons why I love them.


I had already done some after-Christmas shopping, so I had some small items already picked out for Valentine's day gifts.  I had found a bathtub-Spiderman basketball hoop set for James on clearance-- and I knew he would love anything sports related.  So my day started with such hope and joy for a loving, cuddly day.....

Some background though- two of my three kids have been suffering from the Neverending Cold; James has awoken several times at night for the past 10 days (I am having empathy for our youngest sister with her newborn-- how easy it is to forget what lack of consistent sleep feels like.) Anyway, after another restless night, James still had his seal-cough at breakfast.  He was THRILLED to get his hoop--however, I did not have good foresight into the, "Let's give James a toy that he can ONLY use at bath time in the tub....and let's give it to him first think in the morning."   And so the Day of Tantrums begins...

Now, the girls were thrilled with their gifts and heart-shaped pancakes (and I use the term "heart-shaped" very loosely when describing my pancake shaping skills):



 We have also have over 2 feet of snow on the ground with a fresh 9 inches on Valentine's Day---so we have a bit of cabin fever on top of the ACTUAL fevers...

My husband (because of the incredible fresh powder snow) had the urge to go skiing way up north; however he made a much more reasonable decision to stay local and ski for a few hours.  Here's an excerpt of our conversation:

Me: "Wouldn't it be crazy if I was in one of those Lifetime Movies where the man has a secret family and you didn't even actually know how to ski?"
Him: "Yeah, and I didn't know how to fish either and I was just really good at photo-shopping fish pics to convince you I had hobbies?"
Me (laughing): "How could those men juggle both families like that?"
Him: "I would never have a secret family.  [he paused to reflect for a moment] I would want a secret apartment though, without any family there. You know, with a big TV and video games....."
 Me: "I get the point."

Thanks, hon, Happy Valentine's Day to you too... :)

The kids and I embarked on a day of crafting, snow-play, and candy...

Making Valentines
The above scene lasted 3 minutes until James spilled glue and glittered his chair.  Grace, on the contrary, lasted 2 hours meticulously making Valentines-- for everyone.   I decided to bundled them up and build a snowman--- in 2 feet of snow. My children are BARELY over 2 feet tall and as it took over 25 minutes to assemble them into snow gear, we played outside for 12 minutes.  As the wind blew the icy snow into our faces, James stood in his little snow pile yelling, "INSIDE! INSIDE!"  I built the world's smallest snowman in 4 minutes.... (And why, might you ask, do I not have a picture?... Um, there's two feet of snow on my front yard... I am not traipsing out there to show you my pitiful sculpture display.)

Besides the failed snow expedition, here are some other highlights from my long, long Valentine's Day:

1. John calling to say he was picking up a special dinner for us (yeah! No cooking!)---however, by "us" he meant for the grown-ups after the kids went to bed.... which means I had to scrounge together some fantastic scrambled eggs and smoothies for dinner for the kids :)

Granted--the fondue after dark was fantastic:





 2.  Cementing the fact that mother's often feel like slaves-- Lissie asked me after running around the house, "I am so hot mommy! Can you just sit here and fan me for awhile?"

3. James decided not to nap. At all. And during the nap "attempt" he decided to "work out" on his bed and remove all the books from his bookshelf.

4. Finally we reached bath time and James loved his basketball hoop--which of course lead to the most epic "I don't to get out of bath or get dressed" tantrum ever ---but we survived....




Easy Rule #21414- Holidays are so much more fun with children, but sometimes they are a bit more work too.

Easy Rule #21514- Embrace the difficult days knowing that bed time will come, and tomorrow is a fresh start with the little ones!

ADDENDUM:  The next morning I heard James open his door, but not come downstairs--- at 6:15 AM I found him in the bathtub playing with his hoop....