Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Little Gem

I am, admittedly, not the best housekeeper that ever lived.  However, I do like things to be neat, tidy, and orderly.  Most of the time, I think I achieve this - well, as much as anyone with three kids can achieve it.  Whatever it is in my DNA that creates this desire for cleanliness and order, however, was most certainly not inherited by my middle daughter, Megan.  On the contrary, she seems to thrive in chaos.  She is a whirlwind of energy, silliness, and moodiness.  Her bedroom reflects this pandemonium and is in a perpetual state of bedlam.  On any given day, it is likely that, if you were to look into Megan's room, it would resemble the aftermath of a hurricane - sometimes a category 1; sometimes a category 5.  Once, when I asked "how can you stand your room like this?" she replied, "I like it this way."  I do periodically require her to clean her room.  Her version of clean, though, and my version are in diametric opposition of each other.   So, eventually, after more mess and minimal cleaning pile up (literally), I am compelled to go into the trenches myself and bring order to the mayhem.  Yesterday was that day.

After picking up toys, clothes, and papers from the floor, I knelt down and was confronted by the wasteland that lay beneath Megan's bed.  I saved it for last - the final frontier, if you will - between me and a clean room.  From under her bed, I pulled shoes, socks, clothes, books, markers, small toys, food wrappers, bathroom cups, and a multitude of papers.  All the while I was thinking, "Why does she do this?  We don't live like this.  Our house isn't cluttered like this.  Why?"

Then, I found this little gem.


  • I'll meet Taylor Swift.
  • Avery will like me.  (Avery is a boy in her class at school.)
  • I'll get my own horse.
  • I'll have the cutest purse in school.  (At first, I thought this said "puke."  I was really glad when I looked closer and realized it was "purse.")
  • I'll get my own puppy.
  • I'll be treated the way I want.
  • I'll have the best party.
  • I will be popular.
  • I will be an ambassador of honor.  (Kind of like the student council at their elementary school.)
  • I'll have a nice 5th grade teacher (She is currently in second grade.)
  • Dover - (I have no idea where she was going with this or what it means.)
  • the last one - # 12 - was blank
I love this.  I love that she did it in all different colors - reflective of her vibrant personality.  I love that, when one piece of paper wasn't big enough, she taped it together with another piece.  It shows her ingenuity.  I love that her hopes and dreams are a mixture of childlike (I want a puppy/horse) and too grown up for her own good (I'll be popular).  This is exactly how she is.  I love that she misspelled some of the words (treeted), again, a reminder of her innocence.  I love that it is incomplete - there is always room for more hopes and dreams.  Most of all, I love that I found this amidst the unruliness under her bed because it is a perfect analogy and summation of Megan.  As I said, she is a whirlwind.  She is high energy all the time.  Sometimes she is simply exhausting.  But, when she slows down for just a moment; when you can get underneath the crazy and really take her in, there is treasure to be found.

Megan - you keep me on my toes and, sometimes, you wear me out.  But, you ALWAYS amaze me and I love you bunches!!!! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Tightrope Walking

I was honestly scared to hit publish on this one.  It is difficult to admit when you make mistakes.  However, we are ALL human which means we ALL make mistakes.  Parenting is not easy; not for the faint of heart.  As you read, please keep that in mind and, if you comment, please be kind.

One evening last week, I was in the minivan with all three girls on the way to one of our many extracurricular activities.  As we were driving, we came upon a young man, probably around 13 or 14, riding a skateboard in the street.  As we passed him, one of my girls made a statement that was so incredibly judgmental and prejudiced that I literally gasped.  I, of course, sternly reprimanded her and was then left even more flabbergasted by her rebuttal, "But you and Daddy say it!"  After some super swift self-reflection, I tried earnestly to clarify any previous statements that she had, obviously, misunderstood.  This led to a quite poignant discussion of our freedom to hold beliefs and opinions; our freedom to express those beliefs and opinions; and our responsibility to be non-judgemental regardless of our own opinions.  We discussed that it was unfair and mean to assume things about others based solely on their appearance.  I think (and hope and pray) that I got my point across and that she understood her mistake.  This post is where I try to dissect my mistake that led her to make the statement in the first place.

While I am truly positive that neither my husband nor I have ever made such a narrow-minded, blanket statement, I was reminded that children take in EVERYTHING we say and do.  They take all these bits and pieces and put them together in their minds - like a puzzle - to form their view of the world.  Sometimes, the picture they create is not at all what we, the parents, intended.  Because of that, this parenting gig is a seriously slippery slope.  As parents it is our duty to teach our children what is moral and ethical; what is right and wrong.  Sometimes this is pretty cut and dry - it is wrong to steal; it is wrong to hit your sister.  Sometimes it is not that easy.  Sometimes imparting supposed wisdom involves sharing our opinions and our biases.  For example, my girls have asked our opinions on the current political race for President.  Is it possible to explain our beliefs and our stance without insulting or criticizing the "other side?"  Like all Americans, David I definitely lean in one particular direction politically, although we are closer to the middle that we are to either extreme end.  Is it how we were raised?  Yes - to some extent.  Is it based on our experiences and personal convictions?  Absolutely.  We have, however, been blessed with one daughter in particular who most certainly leans more toward the opposite end of the political spectrum than either of us.  It is very plain to see even at her young age.  Again, how do we impart what we as parents believe to be "right" without squelching her innate beliefs and convictions??  Are we doing it well?  I suppose time will tell.

I guess what it boils down to is this:  I most certainly want my children to be open-minded, accepting of  others, and not quick to judge.  However, David and I have our personal beliefs, our own opinions, and, truthfully, our own biases.  When these two concepts collide, parenting gets pretty sticky.

As I was typing this post, I wondered to myself (and out loud to David) whether it was wise to actually post it, fearing that I might offend someone or that someone would read between the lines coming to a mistaken conclusion or that there would be some other sort of backlash.  Therefore, I have been intentionally ambiguous which proved to be more difficult than I expected.  I took a break from writing it and went for a brisk morning walk which has become my almost daily routine now that the girls are all in school full-time.  As I walked accompanied by our dog, Sophie, the sounds of nature,  and plentiful sunshine, this analogy came to mind.  Regardless of our political beliefs, regardless of our personal experiences, and regardless of the personal opinions we are all entitled to hold, we are all parents performing a tricky balancing act reminiscent of a circus tightrope performance.  We are the tightrope walkers, precariously perched on a thin wire high above the ground struggling to balance a incredibly oversized pole as we walk forward.  Despite the absurdity of it, we repeat this act over and over again every single day.  Our parenting dilemmas are like weights on either end of the pole.  Sometimes they are lightweight and tipping in either direction is not terribly detrimental.  Pizza or tacos for dinner?  Paint the baby's room pink or purple?  Give them an extra five minutes to finish their game before bedtime?  At other times, it seems we are balancing the weight of the world on the ends of that pole and that even the slightest tip in either direction will end in disaster.  Protect them at all costs or let them spread their wings?  Impart our beliefs or let them form their own?  We tread oh so carefully, hoping to keep our balance.  But, we are human and we will make mistakes.  It is inevitable.  Hopefully, when we fall (fail) after letting the pole tip too far in one direction, we will find a safety net below.  That net is made of grace and forgiveness.  It affords us the opportunity to recognize our mistakes, then to get up and try again.

The innocence of children and the honesty of their words can frequently slap us in the face with our own mistakes and shortcomings.  Our children are a reflection of us, so what do we do when we don't like what is staring back at us??  I think our answer to that question may say as much about our parenting as anything else we do.  It is not easy to admit our mistakes, but sometimes they are undeniable.  At those times, we must re-evalutate, re-examine, and, occasionally, retract our previously imparted "wisdom."  We must find the safety net below, be grateful for the second chance, and seize the opportunity to correct what was previously tipped too far to one side or the other.  


Friday, September 14, 2012

Meatloaf Recipe

When I wrote this post back in July, I got several requests for my meatloaf recipe.  Well, here it is!!  I tried many meatloaf recipes over the years, but this is the one I plan to stick with.  The original recipe came from this website, but I modified it a bit to fit my family's tastes.


1 lb. ground turkey
1 lb lean ground beef
1/2 cup oatmeal (quick oats) or 1/2 bread crumbs
1/2 cup ketchup
1 small onion chopped
1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
1 egg

2 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients (except sauce items).  On a cookie sheet or broiler pan, form it into a loaf.  (I do not like to use a loaf pan because any grease from the meat collects in the bottom and makes the loaf mushy.)  Combine the sauce ingredients and spread it across the top.  Bake it at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.  When the meatloaf is finished, remove it from the oven and let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Skillet Pork Chops

Here's another quick, weeknight recipe for you that only requires 3 ingredients:

Skillet Pork Chops with gravy

4 boneless pork loin chops
1 can Campbells condensed cream of mushroom with roasted garlic soup
1/2 can water

Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper.  Heat a little oil in your skillet and brown the chops on both sides.

 Mix together the soup and water.  Once the chops are browned, pour the soup over them.  Put on a lid and let the chops simmer on low heat for 30-45 minutes.

Add a couple of veggie sides and serve them up!!  Easy!!!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Easy Fruit Salad

This is a recipe my mom used to make.  (She called it Five Cup Fruit Salad.  I added the cherries which makes it six cups.)  I always loved it and, now, it is a favorite among the Witherspoon crew as well.  It is so easy and so yummy!  Enjoy!

Easy Fruit Salad

1 can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 can (large) mandarin oranges, drained
1 jar maraschino cherries, drained
1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mini marshmallows (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

This is versatile, too.  You could add pecans or change up the fruit to your liking.  You can also you low fat or nonfat sour cream.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lasagna Recipe

There are probably a million different Lasagna recipes out there in the web world, but this is my recipe for it.  I have "perfected" it over the years and gotten compliments the last several times I made it.  Some people may think lasagna is difficult to make - it's not.  It does, however, take some time and requires several steps.  Last time I made it Megan and Emily helped and I broke it down for them in this way:  Lasagna has three components: sauce, cheese, and noodles.  You make each one and then put them together.  It goes like this:


1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound ground Italian sausage (mild or hot - whatever your preference)
1  1/2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce (I like Newman's Own Marinara)

Cheese Mixture:
15 oz Ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 egg
Italian seasoning (about 1/2 TBSP)
Garlic Powder (about 1/2 tsp)

1 box Lasagna noodles

First, begin heating water to cook the noodles.  When it is ready add your noodles and let them cook while you are working on the other steps.  Also, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Then, brown the ground beef and sausage in a large skillet.  (The sausage really is key - it gives it a great flavor.)  Once the meat is browned, add the sauce and let it simmer while you work on the cheese.

Next, put together the cheese mixture.  Mix the ricotta, 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, parmesan, egg, and seasonings in a large bowl.  (I just eyeball the seasonings, but I have given you approximate measurements.) 

If you're really lucky like me, you'll have an adorable "assistant" who can help you stir the cheese mixture all together! :-) 

By this time, your noodles should be finished boiling.  Drain them and rinse them with cold water.  (I know you usually don't rinse pasta, but your fingers will thank you for this when you begin the assembly, I promise!)

Now comes the fun part - Assembly!  Start by setting up your assembly line - something like this:

Spread some sauce in the bottom of your 13x9 pan - just enough to cover the bottom.
Add a layer of noodles.
Add some more sauce (about 1 cup).
Dollop on 1/3 of the cheese mixture.
It should look like this:

Repeat the layers: more sauce, more noodles, more cheese mixture.

Repeat the layers again: sauce, noodles, cheese.

Top that off with the remaining sauce, leftover mozzarella, and some extra parmesan if you have it.  The finished (uncooked) product should look something like this:

Put it in your preheated oven and bake it for 45-60 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to turn golden brown.

The finished product will look something like this.


A couple of tips I have learned over the years that really make a difference:
1) You need more than one jar of sauce, but DON"T just add water to thin it out.  This makes the lasagna watery and "mushy."  Use the extra sauce instead.
2) You can just use a pound of ground beef but, the sausage really does make a big difference.  If you go with ground beef only, add some chopped onion, red pepper flakes, etc. to flavor it up.
3) Don't forget to season the cheese mixture.  You can play with the seasoning - just use oregano or basil - whatever suits your taste.  But, the cheese is a great place to add a little extra oompf of flavor and you will miss it if you leave it out.
4) Finally, let the lasagna rest for 15-20 minutes before you cut into it.  Just like meatloaf, this helps to keep it from falling apart when you serve it.

Do you have any lasagna tips or similar recipe??  I would love to hear them!!

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Broccoli and Cheese Chicken Skillet

I haven't done any recipe posts in quite a while, but I have several that are cluttering up my "draft pile," so I thought I would do a series of recipe posts this week.  Enjoy!!!

With the kids back in school, I'm sure everyone can use a new recipe for a quick and easy weeknight meal, so I thought I would share one of mine.

Broccoli and Cheese Chicken Skillet
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 can condensed broccoli and cheese soup (I use Campbell's)
1/2 soup can of milk
1/4 soup can of water
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 broccoli crowns or 1 large bunch, chopped

Heat a little oil in a large skillet.  Season chicken pieces as desired (I use salt, pepper, garlic powder) and add it to the skillet to brown.

While the chicken is browning, chop your broccoli.

In a separate bowl, mix the soup, milk, water, and shredded cheese.

Once the chicken is brown, pour in the soup mixture and let it come to a bubble.

Then, add the broccoli right on top.

Finally, turn the heat down to medium and - this is important - put a lid on the skillet.  This allows the broccoli to steam.  Let it steam for 8-10 minutes.  Remove the lid and stir.

 Serve it over rice.  Yum!!

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Mornings are Tough

Today is the eighth day of school.  It still doesn't feel like we have gotten "in the groove" of school mornings yet.  I have told you before that my kids are sleepers.  Honestly, so am I.  Some people actually enjoy getting up early to exercise, or work, or meditate.  I am not one of those people and I think it's safe to say my kids aren't either.  This is great during summer vacation, but not so much on school mornings.

I begrudgingly roll out of bed at 6:30 (6:00 if David is out of town) and begin making my rounds.  Alarm off; dog out; coffee pot on - then I'm off to start waking the girls.  All of them have alarm clocks that go off at 6:30.  This year, for the first time, Rachel has been doing a great job of getting herself out of bed.  By the time I make it up to her room, she is dressed and in the bathroom "primping."  The alarm doesn't do anything for Megan, though.  Typically the earliest riser of the bunch, she rarely wakes up on her own on school mornings.  I have to rouse her - sometimes several times - turn on lights, etc. to get her out of bed.  Emily is really having a hard time adjusting to the new "big kid" schedule this year.  Every afternoon, she is just exhausted and mornings come way too early for her.  I really have to work to get her up and dressed.  Eventually, they all make it to the table for breakfast, but none are really hungry and they can't figure out what they want to eat.  This if often a stage that is perfectly set for bickering, arguing, and drama as well.  Then, I send them off to brush their teeth and get their shoes.  By the time they head out the door, they usually have smiles on their faces and are ready for the day.  Getting to that point, however, is tough.  It is a whirlwind to say the least.

Sometimes, I think that if I had a sunnier disposition myself in the mornings, things would be easier.  In fact, years ago, I used to get up at 5:00am to get my self ready, get CeCe (our former foster child ready), put her on the bus, and then drive myself half an hour to work.  Why does 6:30 seem so difficult now???  The two things I have to keep reminding myself of are these:

1) It will get easier.  When Rachel was in kindergarten, she we had more tears than smiles in the mornings.  Emily was a newborn, Megan was a toddler, I was terribly sleep-deprived, and her Kindergarten teacher was nightmare.  We all survived, though.  It has taken quite a while, but, finally this year - in 5th grade - she has become an independent person in the mornings.  It may take another 5 years, but eventually Megan and Emily will get there, too, and it will get easier.  (Middle and high school start later around here, as well.  Although, I think I might prefer our difficult early mornings to the "middle school" years!  Yikes!)

2) Regardless of how tough each morning might be - and some are worse than others - and no matter how grumpy or delirious I may be myself, I don't want to send the girls off on a sour note.  So, my last words are always "Have a good day and I love you!"  I hope they will remember those words more than they remember the chaos.

So, what are mornings like at your house??


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Why I Love Online Grocery Shopping

Written on July 26, 2012.

Sweet readers, have any of you ever tried online grocery shopping??  I started doing it just over five years ago when I was pregnant with Emily.  I had some monster varicose veins that made walking around the grocery store physically painful.  At a friend's suggestion, I hesitantly gave it a try and it was FABULOUS!!!  Basically, you go online and order your groceries.  Then, you specify a time for pick up, giving at least four hours notice.  At the requested time, you pull up to the drive through lane, use the call box to tell them you are there, and then the magic happens.  Soon, someone from the store will bring out your groceries - already pulled from the shelves, already bagged.  You just hand them a check or credit card and, then, they load them in the car for you.  You never have to go in the store or even get out of your car! You can order them from your couch at midnight if that's what fits your schedule.  Instead of spending an hour walking around the store, you spend fifteen minutes (tops) in the parking lot.  It is seriously the best invention for busy families since the creation of sliced bread or station wagons.

(My grocery store of choice around here is Harris Teeter.  Lowes Foods also offers this service at some locations.  There is a small fee.  At HT, it is $4.95 per order and it is TOTALLY worth it!)

There is one down side, though.  I am so used to grocery shopping online that I tend to forget just how miserable a trip to the store with all three children in tow can be.  Because of that, I occasionally lose my mind and take the kids with me on a grocery run.  Today was one of those days.

I knew they would not be too thrilled with this outing, so I tried to insert a little fun by taking them for frozen yogurt first.  All was going well until we actually arrived at the grocery store.  Like a light switch that was flipped into the "ON" position, the fighting began.  They argued over who was going to push the cart.  Then, they (mainly meaning the two oldest) did anything and everything they could to annoy one another - singing, stepping in front of the other, lurching for the cart anytime I took my hands off of it.    All this on top of the expected "Hey Mom!  Can we get these?  or these?  or that?"  We finally made it to the check out and then headed out to the car.  At that point, we were all completely out of patience which only perpetuated the bickering.  The ride ended with one child (who shall remain nameless - except to say it's not the one you might expect) hitting her sister with a baby doll and telling that same sister she wished she would grow up faster and die!!  (Seriously - where do they get this stuff?!?!)  It was all I could do to keep the minivan between the white lines when I heard that and, obviously, there was some heavy punishment doled out as a consequence for those horrible words.  Once we made it home, the punished child went to her room, one went outside to get away from it all, and the other headed out to the playroom.  Finally, as I was putting the groceries away, there were a few moments of silence in which I could do some deep breathing to lower my blood pressure and reflect on the events of our trek to the grocery store.  It was then that I remembered wholeheartedly why I love online grocery shopping so much.

Thank you Harris Teeter!!!  Thank you to the person who invented the internet and the person who came up with the idea of online grocery shopping!!! (I am convinced that it must have been a mother coming off a hellacious trip to the store with kids in tow.)  Most of all, thank you to my kids for the poignant reminder and for accompanying me on what will be our very last trip to the grocery store together EVER!!!  (Well, a girl can dream, can't she??)

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