Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Totally New Approach to Homework

Okay. Long-story short: you must un-learn what you have learned when it comes to homework. I want you to practice this phrase, "I've already passed the 'x' grade, but I would love to help you when you need it - at a reasonable hour." That's the crux of this - when they ASK for your help, you have been invited into their circle. We tend to force ourselves into their world and in so doing can rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow and be accountable for themselves and their work. And when they ask for help, we don't take it upon ourselves to teach but to model and figure things out together. The moment that helping with homework is no longer fun, you check-out.

My dad and I have a long-standing joke about math homework. I have NEVER enjoyed math and it has NEVER been my strong point. I can do what I need to effectively run my household (and I actually can even determine what my monthly payment on a car would be-if I pull out my old college math notes). Aside from that - FORGET IT! Writing on the other hand, I can do. And I have ALWAYS loved it. At any rate, math homework. I vividly remember shakily asking my father for help with math. Help with him always ended in tears and frustration - tears from me and frustration by him. He tells me that for some reason or another, my brain would magically disappear the second he sat down with me. He'd ask me really easy questions to make sure I was paying attention - "Two plus two is three, right?" I would obviously respond, "Yeahh?" Then he would start running his hands through his hair at a rapid rate, he'd start breathing heavy and his eyes would roll back into his head and I would guess that I answered incorrectly. I chuckle to myself remembering these moments. Regardless, I hated getting help with homework because I thought he was angry with me. He wasn't (for the most part - ha!), but it feels that way to the kid. Therefore, when the homework is no longer a pleasant experience, bail. If it isn't to begin with don't even go there -get a tutor. I've been down that road and homework was making me a villain and stressing our relationship; it isn't worth it.

Ultimately, everything we do as parents is about preserving the relationship. That doesn't mean we let our kids get away with murder because we want to be their friends - we ARE their parents and we lay down the law. Kids definitely need well-defined parameters in which to operate and you've got to love them enough to set limits and reign them in when there is a breach. It's all in your approach and making sure they know that what you do is out of love - not power or control or any other reason. And every kid is so different. My expectations for my teen are way different for my tween based on their abilities and personalities and I tailor my approach as necessary. Can you imagine being held to the same expectation or level as the brainiest and most responsible person in your class? Or the angel in your family? Or the naughty minion? We're all different and thank heavens there are brainiacs out there to handle all of the science and math issues in the world because the human race would die off if it's fate lay in the solving of a word problem. Seriously folks. Bad, bad news - I think I have PTSD from word problems. But I digress.

 Honestly, I admit, all conventional wisdom tells us to be highly involved when it comes to the homework load that belongs to our kids (but for some reason we take on for ourselves - like we don't have enough to do?). The level at which we DO involve ourselves depends on the responsibility and maturity level of our kiddos. Unfortunately for us parents with challenged kiddos, they may be lacking in both areas. All I can say is feel this one out and go with your gut. I personally, have done everything else BUT laying low on the homework scene so I have nothing to lose in going with it. In fact, I'll probably be a more pleasant person right off the bat and who won't benefit from that? Also, the price tag  for failure on homework at this point is relatively cheap as grade school grades have little to no impact on my kid's academic future. He can technically fail a class and there will be no lasting repercussions.

Here is the lynch pin to all of this that I didn't consider until now -no one is expected to be good at everything yet we put that out there when we expect straight A's. If your kid is getting a C in English and an A in math, good on them! They are good at math and they struggle with english. Play to there strength - help your kid find his personal strengths and work with that. Let go of the negatives; simply encourage and have hope with them that they can improve and find some understanding in the subjects they struggle with. As I listened to Foster Cline and Jim Fay talk about this on their audio disc for Love and Logic (love it!), they mentioned that adults that focus on their spouse's weaknesses in the end solve that problem by getting a divorce. Nobody wants to always be recognized for what they aren't good at; that fact doesn't change at any age. If you can build your kids self-concept and esteem and teach them to focus on their strengths, their weaknesses will naturally improve - guaranteed. We don't ignore their struggles, we just put the emphasis on the positive. I know with Preston, that his self-concept plays into his schoolwork on a monumental level. If Preston doesn't think he can do the work, he doesn't even bother trying because it will only make him feel like a greater failure and downright stupid - it hurts a lot less to avoid the path that you know is fraught with ticking time-bombs. And maybe that is a big reason why your kid doesn't like to do homework. Anxiety and depression all fall into this cyclical trap as well.

And ultimately, being a good model is going to have the greatest impact. My teen is big into World War II history because he listens to stories I tell, the excitement I have for aircraft from that era, etc. I'm going to guess if you love cars and enjoy fixing-up old cars, your kids know a thing or two about restoring old cars as well and maybe even have developed their own passions for cars along the way. I want my kids to see that I enjoy my tasks and jobs (whether I do or not because somebody's got to do it!) more pleasantness and harumphing. And then to puff up my feathers when I've done my job well; it's a good thing to recognize the fruits of our labors otherwise, why would we do them? That also builds self-concept and esteem - which is one big reason to have kids participate in chores. But that's a different discussion.

Employ and enjoy.  And please do let me know if you notice any big changes in your kids as you focus on their strengths and let them handle their homework loads. For more suggestions from the experts, google Jim Fay and Foster Cline and "Winning the Homework Battle."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Secret to My Dinner Success (Well, For Now At Least)

Can you tell it's been a long and taxing summer for me given the blogging break I took? Let's just say it was a glorious moment when I opened the door and wished them well for their first day of school. The hectic nature of our day still exists but the dynamic has changed for the better and now I just have to figure out how to keep them all happy for the few hours they are together. With all that being said, we had a huge victory last night in our household and it took place at no less, than the dinner table.

If you have been following along our journey for the last couple of years, you will know that my man Preston is a very picky eater. We have been the rounds with trying to expand this fellow's eating horizons; we've persuaded, forced, cajoled, insisted, pleaded, begged, argued, cried. Dinner time has been a thorn in all of our sides for several years; so sad when it is supposed to be the one thing that brings the family together! At any rate, after our last visit to the pediatrician he gave us some clear boundaries to set with all of the kids at the table as our toddler and once fabulous eater had become equally as picky. Since then, if we stick to the protocol, the family feast becomes much less stressful (for me at any rate, my husband sometimes has a difficult time just letting things take their course).

So, here's the scoop. Choices are offered at every meal, including snack time even if it is as simple as "would you like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and honey?" Dinner time however is non-negotiable and they eat what is presented to them; I make only one meal. Now, there is some fun in this in that at the beginning of each week I sometimes entertain special requests. Once at the table, they have the choice to sit and eat. If they are not interested, they may be excused. At first, I struggled with this idea, but in the end I decided that I have the right to enjoy my meal (which is also important for your digestive process) and therefore excuse them happily without continued argument. Now, they are allowed to come back and forth to 'graze' per say until a specific time when their plate will be cleared for the evening. A five minute warning should suffice. After that, dinner is done and plates are cleared.


Here's the clincher - I have within the last two weeks introduced a dessert option every evening. It's not my first choice but in the end, there are several benefits that outweigh the negatives including extra calories and dinner actually being finished. Last night, I made a vegan lentil loaf (veggie meatloaf) to shake things up a bit and in it were lentils, onions, garlic, carrots, apples, flax seed and several other very healthy ingredients. So when you cut into it, there is no hiding that it is all veggies and not much else (but very tasty if I do say so myself). I put some salad and lentil loaf on Preston's plate. He immediately started complaining about how unfair it was that he had no other options because this was just plain un-doable. I remained calm and empathized with him but then gave him the choice to eat or not eat. When he asked if there was dessert, I said absolutely! Ice cream or out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. This is the killer for me-he didn't complain. He gagged a couple of times and wandered back and forth to the table but in the end, he completed his whole plate. Granted, I didn't give him a huge serving, but I gave him plenty and he did it! I couldn't believe it!

You may be saying to yourself that this qualifies as a bribe and he should learn to eat without bribery. To this I say - nah, it's more like enticement. If the promise of dessert entices that kid to eat anything at all, I've hit pay dirt. For several months he wouldn't even eat dinner. Aside from the fact that I make delicious desserts that contain quality ingredients that I don't have to worry about giving to him or anyone in the family for that matter. It's all good.

Employ and enjoy.

Favorite Tried and True Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
1 Cup Spectrum Vegetable Shortening
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Evaporated Cane Juice Sugar
2 Eggs
1 1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt
2 1/2 Cups Unbleached Flour
2 Cups Semisweet or Milk Chocolate Chips

Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes. Optional, 1/2 scoop Vanilla Sun Warrior Protein powder. I find the protein powder makes the cookies puffier. Without it, just a titch flatter. I just threw it one night and nobody could tell the difference aside from they are just gorgeous cookies. I also only bake enough for people to eat fresh out of the oven and refrigerate the remaining dough to bake up fresh for after school the next day or post-dinner the next evening because cookies are best when they are still slightly gooey in the center. Am I making your mouth water yet?  I've tried this recipe with butter and I've found that butter just makes my cookies flat. I've given up on butter with the exception of a few particular recipes and the one cookie recipe that calls for a pound of butter - now those are good cookies. ;)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ah The Joys Of Summer!

Life is nuts isn't it? And we all know that it never really calms down - the challenges simply change. School's out. Yay!! (No - that's not me talking, that's my kids). My two youngest are fighting like the world might end tomorrow and they need to let each other know how annoying and despicable the other one thinks they are. The toddler manhandles Preston's Lego car and Preston throws it in anger yelling that the toddler ruined it - and not just the Lego car - his LIFE! "This is the worst day of my life!" Sigh. I suggest a simple and relaxing game of Candy Land. They show up to the game table with their best of poker faces and they are not going to let anyone or anything steal away their chance at sweet victory. Accusations of cheating and board-manipulation fly, all the while the toddler simply moves his piece from one spot to the next which is simply just too much to take for the real players. The game is over and nobody is ever playing again.

My mind starts racing to find the magical activity that will calm troubled souls while the boys brood in their rooms. I come up with getting them out of the house and taking them to a museum. It couldn't be more perfect! Apparently I picked the 'come out of the house and play in a public area with the worst cough you've ever had' day. Kids are hacking all over the place and the air is thick with viral microbes and hidden guilt from mother's being 'that' parent that brought their kid out of seclusion to infect everyone else. There is screaming and running and shoving and kids in their diapers sliding down the slide and bum-scooting their way across the play area where the rest of the kids have planted their faces and are licking the carpet because for some reason, kids just like laying down in the grossest area possible (airport or grocery store floors anyone?). I can only watch-on in abject horror; to terrified to move in.

And this is just the first day - I try to not to go into shock and somewhere deep inside muster up my inner-Superwoman. Deep breath in, deep breath out - pot on the stove boiling. Another deep breath in, deep breath out - toddler hits head on coffee table while wrestling with big brother - crying and finger-pointing ensue. Deep breath in - "Mom! I'm bored! This is the worst day of my life!" Deep breath out.

So, since I can't seem to change the fact that my two youngest are currently mortal enemies and my moody teenager continues to be, well, moody, I have to figure this out some other way. I'm always preaching about taking charge of yourself because it is the only person you can control, so I'm getting my head back in the game and doing just that. I'm not beating myself up because 1) anger and yelling only escalate the issues 2) I don't give in to my toddler's tantrums and he is consequenced for naughty behavior 3) I teach and train knowing they still have their own personalities and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to parenting and 3) I'm an imperfect gal and I'm doing the best I can with the knowledge I have.

Here is a little tidbit for you to help you stay relaxed and flexible; I received a great email yesterday based on the wit and wisdom of Mayou Angelou. I loved it and I'm sharing it with you in hopes that will help re-vamp your perspective as it did mine. I'm also recommending Louise Hay if you need a jump start in positive affirmations and simply changing your mindset - create what you want. Employ, enjoy and good luck mommies!

Mayou Angelou on life lessons:


I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on and it will be better tomorrow.
I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.
I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.
I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life.’
I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance (I’ll amend that though and say that it rarely doesn’t give second chances. You can change at any moment.)
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back.’
I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.
I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug or just a friendly pat on the back.
I’ve learned that I will always have something new to learn.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
 



Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Twist On Easter

So, this is mostly a re-post of last year's post but it's good to get up before Easter if any of y'all are looking for any ideas. If you recall, last year the Easter Bunny did not pay us a visit. Preston's old nuance of rummaging through the whole house in search of treats had re-surfaced not to mention that I was just plain tired of every holiday revolving around food - especially candy. Just walk the holiday aisle at your grocery store and there is candy made special for that event. Then I started to wonder where in the world the candy tradition for Easter came from anyway - the Easter Bunny and the resurrection of Christ don't seem to have a common thread. So I did a little research and it wasn't super insightful.

There really isn't a connection that I could find. I found that the origins of Easter MAY have started in 16th century Germany when the Oster Haws (hare) would bring colored eggs to the well-behaved children. I'm guessing this was the Christmas version of Christ's death and resurrection as Santa had a naughty and nice list for those kids during the season of Christ's birth. The eggs bit came from the symbolism of eggs for fertility and spring. So, I started searching online for Easter traditions that I could use to replace the candy garbage and focus more on Christ. Three traditions that I found and will be adding to my repertoire are as follows:

1) Placing a scrap of paper in an empty plastic Easter egg and each day reading a scripture pertaining to the death and resurrection of Christ. The twelfth egg will be empty signifying the empty tomb.
2) Easter egg hunt that consists of decorated eggs, plastic eggs with a five or ten dollar bill inside, a fluffy chick (fake of course), a packet of gummy bunnies, a game or small gift and an assortment of cookies, browines and homemade truffles. I figure they can take one of these treats to school in their lunch and it won't last the week.
3) Resurrection rolls. I found the recipe for these on pintrest and they were fun, easy and quite tasty. You start with a marshmallow that represents Christ. You dip the marshmallow first in butter and then in a cinnamon sugar mixture (3 T sugar, 2 T cinnamon) and this represents preparing Christ's body for burial as they used oil and spices. The marshmallow is then wrapped in a crescent roll triangle (pinching all the sides to make sure it is sealed) which represents the linens/shroud. Then into the oven (or tomb) and closing the entrance to the tomb (oven door) and waiting three days (or 12-14 minutes in this case) before opening the tomb. When you cut into the roll, the marshmallow is gone - He has risen! It was fun and kept all my kids engaged. We enjoyed the rolls with my delicious scrambled eggs and some bacon and Barnyard Cocktail (see recipes page).
4) And of course - the viewing of The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston - that's pretty much a must.

With moderation as my mantra, I felt like those were pretty decent substitutions without driving my kids into a either a sugar-induced coma or frothing-at-the-mouth-hyperactive-frenzy. Not to mention, a good focus on what Easter is really all about. Do you have any neat traditions that diverge from the norm?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Nachos - MODified For Good

I love nachos. Super nachos are even better - piled high with all sorts of decliciousness. However, unfortunately I don't usually indulge in said deliciousness because they have such a bad reputation - I would guess mostly due to the inordinate amounts of cheese. So, I decided to change things around a bit so I can have my nachos and eat them too. And so can you.

First, the nacho - You have more options than you think you do here. I've used the multi grain Chips from Costco that are made with flax and some good ingredients too. The Terra Chips that are made from beet root veggies are a brilliant option as well (although some of those chips are particularly crisp - like hard crisp). This round I felt even more brilliant just using Simple Truth Organic Sweet Potato Chips (and you could even make your own). Regardless, these chips are good way to go and I usually go by the serving size as far as amount goes which in this case was 17 chips.

Second, the salsa. Sometimes I like to put my salsa on the chip prior to broiling so it gets a little warmed-up. This time, I only broiled the chips and the organic cheese and added all other toppings after. The right kind of salsa is fabulous way to get some veggie on - tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapenos and cilantro are all great for you. You can also make your own. I happened to recently stumble upon an organic, raw pineapple mango salsa sold at one of my locally-owned health shops. And WOW - it is super amazing chalk-full of amazing stuff.

Additional toppings can include grilled chicken, guacamole, straight avocado, or plain greek yogurt to sub for the sour cream. I honestly can't tell the difference in taste between the two and I'm getting some good probiotics on top of some protein. I've been scaling back just a bit in the meats department so I've been passing on the chicken at the moment. I still get good and satisfied without it.

As for a little note on cheese - cheese is good in my book. Yes it is dairy and yes it has fat and extra calories. I've got to tell you though - I LOVE CHEESE. If there was one thing that would keep me from going vegan - it would be my love affair with cheese. This is simply one area where I get to exercise moderation. On the other hand it does have protein and it makes me happy. When buying cheese, organic is better and always watch out for cheeses that have Nytacin in them; it is a mold inhibitor but is an antibiotic derivative which will still kill off good bacteria in your body. We don't need more reason to make our bodies immune to antibiotics for when we really need them as well.

So, all in all, put your chips on a cookie sheet and top with some cheese and broil to the cheese is bubbly. I quickly remove and top with salsa, Fage yogurt, ready to go single serving guac (the fat in guac and avocado also helps counterbalance some of the carbs in your chips. Fat helps slow the absorption of sugars in the body which in turn helps our body to not have to store the sugars as fat). And finally, a go-around with freshly ground pepper and you have healthy, happy nachos without the guilt. Indulging without indulging. And they are amazingly filling. Employ and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Picky Eater Problem Solved - The 'To Eat or Not to Eat' Method

You are going to be so excited today because I have the solution for your picky eater problem.But then again, you might not like it. To be honest, I didn't like it at first either. It took some getting used to which is funny because it is terribly simple. Are you ready for it? The solution is this...

Let It Go.

That means no fighting, coercing, bartering, yelling, tears, tantrums (yours as the parent of course), forcing - none of it. You prepare the picky eater's plate the same way you do anyone else's plate. Then they simply have the option to eat, or not to eat - that is their question. Some people have the 'No Thank You' rule which is simply that they try a bite of everything on the plate and if they don't like it they may be done with their meal after a polite 'no thank you.' If dessert is being served that evening, anyone who finishes their meal may participate. Easy as that.

Now, I recently read an article about meal-time battles and the author argued against the old adage of 'cleaning your plate' simply because we want our kids to eat intuitively and stop when they are satisfied - not full. This sounds like a good philosophy to me (this well help them start to learn moderation for the sake of their health later on as well). So start small and seconds can be an option. We ourselves have also recently adopted the philosophy that seconds can be had once everyone at the table has enjoyed and finished their first serving (this is basic training for our ravenous teenager that shovels his food as if it were going to jump off his plate and run away; it is a horrific site to behold as the one sitting across from him - I shudder to imagine him on a date if he doesn't learn to slow down!).

I do encourage my picky eater to try what is on his plate and sometimes it works and it sometimes it doesn't. I've spent enough time in the dinner-time trenches that I no longer want it to interfere with my enjoyment (and digestion) of my meal as well as continue to create resentful feelings regarding dinner time for him. This 'eat or don't eat' method also means that as I am not a short order chef; I prepare one meal for the family and if you don't eat it, you are done for the night. This is okay I promise (I've talked to my pediatrician and therapist about this). This can be managed by finding snacks for them to enjoy throughout the day so they can still meet their caloric meals. You can also give them a night where they get to choose their favorite meal for dinner (and I say breakfast for dinner is a great way to go with my homemade pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs and a smoothie). Regardless of how you offset this, there are no snacks or anything else before bed. You simply say in accordance to their complaining, "I'm sorry you are hungry - I know how grumbly my tummy is when I miss a meal! I'll bet you are super excited for a yummy breakfast!"

Now I know you are worrying about their growth. Let me also share this with you - I myself wouldn't touch any fruits or vegetables (except apples with peanut butter or cinnamon) until I was in college. True story and my mother would attest to that. I would pick through her casseroles and leave bowls of soup untouched. Ironically, I'm trying to get my kiddo to adopt the art of 'picking' but he is also horribly adverse to sauces or slurries. Oh well. Amazingly enough in the last couple of months I've broken through some barriers by having a 'shake tasting' afternoon. I bought several sample packets of protein powders and meal replacements and we added things to get the taste right and we acted as if we were evaluators. Then I started making him smoothies for breakfast throwing in some fruits and veggies where I could (until then, a benign-tasting greens powder is a great way for them to get some greens into their diet). One morning I let him watch me throw some kale into his shake and he immediately started to panic. This just so happened to be the 'Grasshopper' shake and I asked him laughing, "Well, how do you expect it to get its green color?" And to my amazement, he drank it. And loved it.

Never stop experimenting and never stop offering. Have variety and always be a good model eater. And rest assured that they will probably turn out healthier than you in the end. My dear neighbor and friend mentioned that her son grew up on bologna sandwiches because he wouldn't eat her dinners; she offered that he could eat her meal or make his own. Now as an adult he eats everything and anything. As for me, I myself eat everything - including many a food most people haven't heard of before. It will work itself out in the end and at that point, at least you and your kiddo will still be friends. Why let food come between a good relationship?

Do you have a picky eater in your household?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Power of a Cookie

Ladies, when stress hits, nothing sounds better than a sweet treat, yes? There is actually some science behind this as stress triggers different areas of the body and brain which creates a deficit that needs to be filled. I couldn't tell you at the moment the exact process that happens without pulling out one of my books, but it is a natural reaction. So, you aren't just imagining that you are a stress-eater - most women are, it's a biological process. This makes it even tougher to turn down sweets when we are stressed and the big problem is that most of us face stress daily if not multiple times a day. This means that we need to consciously seek other means of managing the stress.

On this one particular day, however, I discovered the true power of a cookie.

Before I go further, it is always helpful to remember that we can counter-act the sugar we eat and its effects by having a healthy fat prior to consumption or a little garcinia cambogia to help inhibit the absorption of those naughty starches and fats (I like It Works! Fat Fighter).


First, in my non-professional opinion, there is only power in a treat that you would rank at a '10' on the 'Got To Have It' scale. Usually, cookies or a lot of store-bought treats including brownies and cupcakes - don't reach this realm of goodness for me; a perfect chocolate chip cookie is hard to find and usually are they only earth-shattering when they are just barely out of the oven. Kneaders and Paradise Bakery do well, but even still I can resist - I don't start salivating as they come into view. Chocolate cake with mounds of chocolate butter cream frosting (none of that whipped garbage) or my mother's home made chocolate mint brownies (again, with mounds of frosting) create a 'must have' effect for me - I'm not strong enough to turn that down if placed before me. Unfortunately (or fortunately I guess) I recently happened across the Whole Foods Vegan Chocolate Chip cookie. There aren't words to describe the heaven that comes with each fantastic bite. I know - how could anything vegan truly be that tempting? Well, honestly, clean-eating really isn't as bad as some people make it out be and these cookies really are something else. In fact, I went out of my way last week to buy a box and when I got there they were just taking them out of the oven - shazaam! Another woman was milling about as well just waiting for those cookies. I ended up buying two boxes and divided them out into a few Ziploc bags and hid them in the freezer for later consumption.

Well, let's revisit the Christmas break shall we? (despite the symptoms of PTSD that surface from that hellish nightmare that lasted for a full two weeks). From the moment the sun came-up till the sun went down I cursed the 'vacation' and wondered how in the world I survive summer. With all three of my kids home not knowing what to do with themselves aside from pick fights with each other, it was constant mayhem. I was tearing my hair out and on the verge of exploding. I instinctively went for the freezer and pulled out a cookie to thaw. I herded two of the kids into the car to run an errand and my breathing was shallow, heart-rate elevated and steam coming from my ears. I grabbed the cookie and took a bite forcing myself to focus solely on that and nothing else. I took a deep breath in enhancing the flavors and I considered the soft texture, the thickness, the sweet ingredients, the richness of the chocolate morsels. I chewed slowly and savored that bite. I forced a smile and an audible, 'mmmmmm.' I followed this procedure until the whole cookie was gone and when it was, I was totally fine. Heart rate and breathing had returned to normal and I actually felt good. I was calm, rational and happy. Behold, the power of a cookie!

This is actually considered a 'technique,' and is referred to as bridging which is simply 'coming to your senses.' I learned this from Stanley Block's book titled just that, "Coming to Your Senses." This is a phenomenal read and helpful in living your life by focusing on changing you by recognizing that you are the only person you can change. I couldn't control my kids attitudes and their energy over the break but I could mine. Breaking-up the band helped as did bridging with that cookie. This can be done anywhere at anytime by simply tuning into what you can hear, taste, touch, smell and see. As you focus on your senses you can calm yourself down to a rational state and then if you are really good, seek out your personal requirements that aren't being met (at the moment, I had the requirement that my kids be calm, quiet and play happily with each other. Ha! What world am I living in?) This practice has actually proven very effective for military men and women struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Simple, yet effective. I wouldn't recommend always turning to the cookie because eventually it will affect your waistline, but from time to time go for it. Otherwise, listen to the sound of the furnace, the tick of a clock, your dog's breathing (great for falling asleep at night), washing your hands, or even taking a few whiffs of almond or vanilla extract (which studies have shown also help alleviate hunger pangs).

Employ and enjoy and if you haven't yet tried Whole Foods Vegan Chocolate Chip cookie, drop everything and get a box. They will change your life. ;)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Learn and Evolve

So, here is the thought for the day - learn, embrace change and evolve. What I've found in my constant thirst for knowledge in all things healthy is that new information is constantly being brought to light. What was once good, may now actually do harm. There are two results for every study done and they often contradict each other; it makes it tough to sift through and find the truth sometimes, eh? That's when you go with your gut until you find something more definitive.

Let's take a look at the 'low-fat' or 'no-fat' craze. Fat is the culprit behind fat right? No. It would seem likely but not true. In all actuality, is fake and processed foods and overdosing on sugar that is making us fat and sick. I was going through a stack of old magazines and cutting out recipes and came across an article titled, "Live Wise."  It had five tips to kickstart your nutrition goals. The second tip was : Choose fat-free milk instead of whole milk. Ironically, whole milk has more enzymes, vitamins and nutrients that the body needs to process and utilize the milk. I laughed when I saw that because it is perpetuating the myth that low-fat is good. True, higher fat does mean more calories, but we can work that little bug out by following the moderation method.

But even dairy milk in general has its problems. Milk and many dairy products have been so highly processed that the body actually see's it as a foreign invader - hence the mucous (it's a protective mechanism). Not to mention that so much milk is tainted with hormones, antibiotics and who knows what other genetically-modified organisms. And thus my dairy evolution has settled on almond milk. Unsweetened almond milk has more calcium, vitamins and doesn't create problems for the GI. I haven't yet started making my own almond milk but I'm good with that. That's as far an embrace of change I have made.

All I'm getting at is to be open. Do your research and be okay to unlearn what you have learned and adapt. Your health depends on it.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I Survived the Break. Barely.

I admit, I've been putting off my blog - it's just been that 'one more thing' nagging at the back of my mind giving me anxiety. I've also just been working on calming my totally frayed nerves. I don't know how Christmas break was for all you parents but I personally almost didn't make it. I love all my kids and thinking about each one of them individually creates mostly happy thoughts and feelings. Together however, is a totally different state of existence. Let me put it to you this way - Preston is a carbonated canned beverage and my littlest man likes to shake, shake and throw the 'Preston soda' until he explodes and goes all over the place (and it didn't take much). And my toddler is a literal whirlwind of constant activity until he just collapses. I'm getting a headache just remembering the break. I can't believe I didn't take up some addiction or binge diet over the last two weeks; it's a miracle.

And now, here I am and I'm still overwhelmed. Luckily though it's only over food. I watched Forks Over Knives over the holiday and I've been taking health classes and picking people's opinionated brains and reading all manner of books and I can't find any one thing that resonates at the moment. There is conflicting science all over the place. What one doctor swears you should never use another doctor finds positives in. Forks Over Knives didn't completely freak me out but it has definitely given me food for thought (oh that was just too easy - sorry). The studies these farm boys conducted can't really be disputed - there is definitely something to it but I'm not sure I could totally give up meat. And while we're at it, cheese. I don't think I could ever really let go of cheese. My homemade enchiladas with white sauce and cheese are divine. Raclette on Christmas Eve was heavenly. Feta cheese! Need I say more? But honestly that seems to be the one thing that there is the most agreement on - dairy. Aside from the FDA, no one recommends dairy. It's the processing and purity of the cows that it comes from that cause such tumult in our guts. I get it. Still, I love my cheese.

So what's a health gal to do? My head is swimming! Well, I just wanted to check-in so y'all know I'm still here. I'm wading through a wealth of information and sorting through what makes sense to me. That's what I do. I love it, but it is still a lot to take in.

Words of wisdom? I'll be back.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Keeping My Focus in the Right Spot


Greetings my friends and happy holidays! Tis the season for insanity, late nights and short tempers (where's the Valium?!). I have been consumed with my family, carpools, book reports, mounds of dishes and laundry, gift-brainstorming, parties and cookery. That has been plenty to keep me riddled with anxiety and exhaustion and none of which has included any of the 'elf-on-the-shelf' antics or gingerbread house or snowflake crafts - that may have done me in. Living in the swirling vortex of Christmas and regular life has also inevitably pushed my blog and all my grandiose plans for it to the back burner (or more accurately to a Bunsen burner in the garage).


Well, I'm good with that. While we are on the subject of time, blogging and family, I have a few things to say. I love blogging and I love hearing from people that stumble upon my humble little site. It's nothing fancy, profound or professional; the photography among other elements attest to that. I'm good with that as well. My family will always be my first priority and in so doing I try to keep everything as simple as possible. I don't set-up the perfect shots of ingredients and the process I follow when in the kitchen nor do I use back-drops, different plates or other items for appeal or to incite excitement - I'm trying to just get the dang meal on the table to feed the masses! I hope in some way my lack of prowess in some areas of blogging will be a simple reminder to "keep it real" and I firmly believe that we have to model reality for our kids. In this day and age keeping ourselves rooted in reality has become more difficult and reality itself is becoming obscured. At the end of the day, I'd rather my family remember me as an involved and mostly happy mother as opposed to a woman who is frantic and aloof with attention focused everywhere else but where it should be - on the people in my life which is my greatest blessing.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sausage Rolls for Dinner

This recipe has to be an all-time, kid-winning favorite. This was the one meal my brother and I looked forward to the most; it probably had the most requests and disappeared the fastest from the table. I hadn't had sausage rolls in probably twenty years until a couple of months ago when I dug up the recipe from my mother and it was an instant success with my kids (and from the standpoint of ease in the kitchen for the chef, a hit for me as well).

There are two ways to make these and these days I opt for the healthy version because at most it takes only ten more minutes of my time. The way my mom used to do it was buy Rhodes frozen French dough loafs in the freezer section at the grocery store. To my chagrin, Rhodes hasn't jumped on the happy bandwagon and dumped the high fructose corn syrup in their recipe quite yet. I just can't bring myself to buy them with an obesogen being the third ingredient on the list. Bah. So, I attempted these making my own bread dough and they turn out just as fabulous. The bread dough takes ten minutes to prepare and require 2 hours to rise. The other items you will need are mozzarella cheese and Jimmy Dean All Natural Sausage (no nitrites, nitrates or MSG, yay!). If you choose to go the Rhodes route, simply get two loaves out 1 hour ahead of time, place on a greased cookie sheet and allow to thaw (not rise) in an unheated oven with a pan of hot water underneath.

Sausage Roll Goodness! Recipe
Mix 1 T active dry or bread machine yeast, 1 1/2 T Evaporated Cane Sugar and 1 1/2 cups warm water and allow to stand for ten minutes or until bubbly.

Then add 1 tsp. salt, 3 T oil (I use grapeseed oil), 1 egg yolk and 4-5 1/2 cups flour, divided. Start with three cups of flour and add until the dough is only slightly sticky to touch. Form into a ball (mine is never very pretty, so don't worry if it isn't smooth), cover with plastic and allow to rise 1 1/2 to two hours.

Punch down dough and pinch into two separate dough balls. I use pampered chef mats to roll the dough out into an oval. Don't roll out to flat.
 
 
Once the dough is rolled out, sprinkle down the middle with mozzarella cheese. I don't have an amount for you on this one - I just eyeball it based on how cheesy I want these puppies to be. Layer the cheese with one pound of cooked sausage. Top with more mozzarella cheese.
 
 
Once topped with cheese, fold the bottom edges in and tuck under the two sides. I have normally pinched the edges together in the past which worked fine but the last round I used a folding method that I felt worked better. As long as the sausage cheese are wrapped happily in the dough, you're good.
 
 
Grease a cookie sheet and flip the roll from the mat onto the cookie sheet. These mats made this process so simple. Anything you can use to flip the roll over placing the seam-side down will help you and your frustration level. :) Melt some butter and brush over the top of the dough. Sprinkle with just a touch of mozzarella cheese for appeal if you wish, but not necessary.
 
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown at 350 degrees. Slice like bread and serve with fresh fruit or a green salad. I've also served with Green Bean Casserole and that worked out good as well. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. These are easy and delicious!
 
As you will note, I rolled the center of this dough just a touch too thin so watch as you roll. Below are the pampered chef mats that are perfect for this recipe as they are flexible, light and the dough doesn't stick.
 
Add this to your quick-fix meal list and enjoy often!
 



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Angry Letter and Healthy Venting

It's four o'clock. My toddler has been happy and playing nicely all day. At 3:45pm MST, that all goes to hell. The door opens and Preston walks in - immediately the energy shifts and cue the circus music. It wasn't bad energy; Preston was quite happy actually. Those two boys just feed off of each other, one things leads to the next and then there is screaming and crying and mass hysteria. My head starts to throb and I start to panic realizing that it is only Monday. My husband had the day off and we spent the morning running some errands. At about 3:43pm he comes into the office and says that he is going to go for a bike ride; when he gets back he'll clean the windows and do some other stuff. I was good with the bike ride but as he started talking about his other chores and the screaming started two minutes later I held up my hands - "Really? You're going to wash the windows at 5:30 tonight?" His response in a very cheery tone: "Or you can do it some other day this week."

Grrrrrrrrrr. Now, my brain starts spinning story lines - something that we all do but don't think much about or pay much attention to. It looks something like this: "I can clean the windows? What, he thinks I don't have enough to do on my own? He thinks he needs to tack on one more thing to MY list? Just because he wants go for a bike ride right now and then make more busy work for himself tonight when all the kids are home and fighting and crazy and I'm trying to get dinner on the table and carpool and sh&* the windows will now become my chore? Right. Yes, pass the buck and let me do the windows because I don't have my own list of to-do's, none of which I accomplished today because I was spending time with you on your day-off doing your stuff!"

Usually it then morphs into other areas of frustration that you have been repressing (you don't spend enough time with the kids, you need be around more, you work too much, etc.) - you get the idea. Ever notice how arguments morph from one issue to another and by the time you are done you don't even know what started the problem in the first place? It's your internal storyline. The storyline is only a problem because we are creating a thought process for the other person that may or may not exist and it is almost always done when we are emotional and have requirements that are not being met. Most of the time comments get made with no malice or wrongful intent, they simply come out and our interpretation skews everything. I feel pretty confident (now) that he just didn't think through the timing, the consequences of 'circus hour' and the fact that he could do the windows later on in the week without such a dramatic impact - say Saturday morning. Just that one comment "you can do it" timed perfectly with the toddler screaming at Preston was just enough to prompt me to do the unspeakable - write the angry letter.

And I did. In this day and age, it's the angry email but whose keeping track. This is something I have gotten very good at because I enjoy writing and can communicate effectively through writing; it has always been an effective means of getting the monkey off my back. My biggest problem is that I usually push the 'send' button and my uncensored frustration safely arrives in the hands of my victim. Yes, this is bad. There are two ways to deal with negative emotions and that is either through expression or repression. I was recently in a class taught by a LCSW  who talked about the ills of venting and healthy ways of managing angry or negative emotion. She was very defensive of emotions in general - anger, sadness, frustration are all healthy and fine emotions to have, it's how we manage these emotions that can lead to problems. With that being said, the angry letter/email is great method for emotion management, you simply don't push the 'send' button and instead click 'delete.'  So here is the gist of it...

Expression puts that negative emotion on others and can damage the relationship. Expression usually is a verbal purging of emotional poison on another person. Repression is simply swallowing (hard) that negative emotional poison which damages you in various forms including, depression, displacement, anxiety, physical ills and acting-out. One way or another that emotion needs to be processed for our sake and for others. Writing a letter and then getting rid of it allows for expression without damaging the relationship or ourselves; get it out and get rid of it - consider it a catharsis.

It sounds ineffective and too easy right? Admittedly, I wrote my letter and almost pushed send because it made some really terrific points that I felt my husband should know about and when I was done I was still frustrated. Two points here: First, I remembered Dale Carnegie noting that you can never really win an argument. In this case, I thought I was right and that I knew better and my letter was simply an attempt to sway him to my side/perspective. Consider being on the receiving end... when someone has attacked you do you remain open in that moment or do you tend to defend yourself and stand your ground? As humans, our instincts are always to protect ourselves. When you give it a little time and humility, it is easier to see where that person is coming from. Those conversations are best handled when it is not reactionary and both parties are calm. I'm almost certain my husband would have apologized but also defended himself. We could have gone round about it circles taking turns expressing and defending.

Second, I looked at the situation and my own requirements. I recognized that my requirement was that he do his activities when it doesn't infringe on me and my activities and needs. With him leaving, I was left with the kids and the one major item I wanted to cross off my list today was work on my blog which I was not going to be able to do if I didn't want my kids screaming and eventually beating on each other. I also had the sense to recognize that he really didn't work through the big picture when he opened his mouth; he wasn't considering that help with the kids would be good. Always look at what requirement you are placing on the other person.

In the end, he came home and helped with dinner and the kids and it was okay. I wrote my letter, deleted it, and then focused my attention else where and my frustration did dissipate. By the time he got home, I was fine.

What methods do you use to diffuse anger and frustration positively?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Online Tutoring for Kids K-5 Review Announcement

I have parent teacher conferences next week at which point I will really get to find out how Preston is faring. Does anyone else get anxious for these brief fifteen minute meetings? Just me? Bah. I received (or rather found it in the depth's of Preston's backpack, crumpled and ripped) a preliminary 'report card' that has been newly refurbished using some number system. And they base the numbers off of how well the student is understanding the concept - not necessarily grades on their work. May I say that I'm not quite sure what I think about this? Do they make the number based from test scores? Do they grade the work that is turned in and base scores from this? Is it more standardized testing through Common Core? Regardless, let me say this - I was Honors and AP English throughout school. I bombed the AP test at the end of the year; I didn't get any college credit for taking the class and I had to take a placement test my freshmen year of college. I was put in a remedial writing class. I remember asking a question at one point during my remedial class and the teacher lost it with the rest of the students. "Why aren't any of YOU asking questions? We've got a student here that should be in Advanced Placement classes and she's the only one asking questions!!" Needless to say, he wrote me a glowing recommendation to take with me anywhere I needed and I aced the class. I aced all of my writing classes. I can't test. I don't know what happens whether my brain turns to sludge, I over-panic and over-think or what, but I don't do tests. Are they really a fair measurement of our progress and learnedness? Is that even a word? I seriously doubt it.

Anyway, stepping off my soap box, I am excited to announce that I will be doing an online tutoring service review. Preston will be utilizing the online tutoring service from K5 Learning. We'll be giving it a whirl for six weeks and our focus will be on reading and writing. The site offers help for kids aged kindergarten through fifth grade on math, reading and writing. They have free assessments and a 14-day free trial. I'll keep you posted!

You can find out more about them as on their website as well as their facebook page at the following addresses:

Website: http://www.k5learning.com
 
 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Letters To Communicate


I remember the days when my mom would drive me down the canyon to ballet class. For quite some time I really didn't like it. She made me stick with dance until a few years went by and I finally said I was done. Ironically, several months later, I realized how much I absolutely loved dance class and how much I was missing it. Wonderfully enough, she started taking me again and from that moment on I've had a passion for dance. On occasion she would stay and watch - which I'm sure she loved. I couldn't stand it! I wanted her out running errands - I guess I've never been one for focused attention. Preston however, who just started taking karate a month ago, loves it when I stay to watch. I try to stay for at least one class a week when either my husband or step-son can watch the toddler at home; I've tried to watch class with the toddler but even just saying that aloud is a joke; he just wants to be on the mat kicking and yelling like the big kids and it just doesn't work. On Tuesday this week I was able to watch Preston in action and I couldn't stop smiling with pride; I've never seen him so focused and determined.

This may sound terrible, but these proud moments don't happen as often as I would prefer. He's been one tough cookie and some days I wonder how I've survived thus far. Right now though, I am so profoundly impressed with him - he has made incredible strides over the last couple of years and even in the last couple of months. Karate has been such a force for good for him. Last week Preston volunteered to lead his peers in the repeating of the 'I Vow.' I inwardly cringed sure that he wouldn't be able to do it and would be down and frustrated after his attempt. Once he got going, he knew it, lead with confidence, received high-fives from his classmates and I was so impressed. At class this week the teacher would call out what move to do and Preston didn't hesitate - he was sharp and on task. He's also been determined to not be absent or tardy to class, participate in the Reflections competition and get above a B average so as to achieve his Distinguished Dragon award. He is also pursuing his Patriotic Award. And I'm astonished every morning when he appears for breakfast dressed and has already made his bed without me nagging three times about it. What the? Is that possible? Seemingly small feats I know but really quite huge in reality. He even showered before school this morning so he could have sharp-looking hair. For the kid who doesn't care about chocolate shake on his face and sporting the essence of 'bed-head' I tried to just roll with it without giving away my excitement (have you noticed that kids want to do the opposite of what you want?).

With all of these wonderful accomplishments swirling in my head, I sat down to write him a letter. This was the topic of conversation when I met last with his therapist. I asked her how I can communicate with him good or bad because he intrinsically shuts down when my mouth opens (ah, I remember those days myself). She suggested writing him letters. Keep them short, to the point, and don't re-state anything - those were my only parameters. That was the moment that I recalled the stash of letters that I kept from my father (yes mom, I have several of yours as well!). Most of the letters I got were from when I was in trouble but his words were so profound and I knew that he was right about everything he said; I kept them for future light reading - even twenty years into the future I still pull them out. I remember also a small post-it note he left on my desk one day after I went to a church canning assignment despite the fact that none of my friends that signed up to go went. I went because I had already committed to doing it and I remembered one of his letters about being a woman of my word. I was there with several older gals from my church and it wasn't the most fabulous four hours I've ever spent but it wasn't bad either. The note said something along the lines of, "I'm proud of you for honoring your commitment especially when you didn't really want to go and your friends ditched out."  I put the note under my bathroom sink and saw it every time I threw something out. I was recently disappointed to find that it had most likely been thrown out after a remodel. It was so simple but I had kept it and even sneaked peaks at it years after I had been married and moved out.

Good praise or bad news for them, in letters I've said what I need to say and they can go back to it again and again if they choose. It is also done in a neutral environment without warring words and egos which means chance of reception on their part is going to go up. What other means of communication have you used that have proven successful?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Our Life In Captions

Has anyone noticed how life is currently being lived through captions? When I see my neighbor my mind automatically recalls the last image she posted on facebook of her and her hubby at the biggest football game of the season and how tragic the loss was. When I see my friend I instinctively recall her picture-perfect trip to Maui complete with snorkeling, giant ice-cream sundaes, zip lines, helicopter rides and the most amazing sunset you've ever seen. And of course there are pictures of what Sally had for dinner last night, Joan's amazing bedroom re-model, the antics of that crazy little elf on the shelf, and little Lizzy's second birthday party complete with princesses, ponies and the cutest damn table decorating job you've ever seen. Oh, let's not forget the professional portraits of those personalized mini-cupcakes for each of the guests and a puppy in the party favor bag.

No wonder we are all on Xanax and anti-anxiety meds for trying to out-do the last amazing idea we re-pinned on pinterest and making every day look like a scene from Leave It to Beaver - complete with the perfect house, perfect kids and everything in place as it should be. We are truly living our lives 'out loud' for all to see posting the highlights of our creativity, cleanliness and poutiest pic we got in just the right amount of light for our profile page. And then of course we get to deliberate over the perfect tag line, hash tag, and tag the people you want most to admire your photos; not to mention then write the wittiest blurb about yourself and your activities since the Zucker Brothers got together and invented slap stick comedy. Or on the flip side, post the most touching, heartfelt videos and quotes that you find and write something inspiring and selfless that leaves your followers riveted and eagerly awaiting your next post.

It's a strange new way in this technological web to sell your identity to the world and a far easier way to keep your audience 'wowed.' There is a trap here to fall in to and that is that you aren't being enough. It's a killer to think about what we need to do to keep up with everybody else's awesomeness. The whole online fantasy and whimsical dream world we weave is nothing more than a smoke and mirrors parlor trick that perpetuates itself inevitably creating a state of 'never enough.'


"If you compare yourself with others you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself." Author Unknown (To me at least...)

"Dear Brittany,
How true if we create the definition of ourselves by how we compare to others. Then our own self image will be wavering constantly as it will be projected onto us by whoever we are with. We will have no core to life, no "I am me" center, no "this is my life,  I am who I am and I am a valuable human being and I choose to make my life extraordinary." But rather, "compared to you I am a heap o'trash (and by the way I hate your guts and hope your teeth rot and your face breaks out in warts)" or "compared to you I am not too bad."

The problem with this is several:
1) Our happiness is dependent on how we feel we compare to the people around us
2) We are projecting what we think the other person is thinking into their head and respond to life based on bull--it. I mean based on anything but reality.
3) When we are around people we act how we think they think we should act in order to be accepted by them. Then our lives are truly bunk. If we try to please everyone we become meaningless to everyone.

Develop your own inner strength so that your definition of self is from within rather than from what you think others may think of you." My Dad

Variety is the spice of life. Why do we feel the need to pigeonhole ourselves into something amazing 24-hours of our day and keep people posted about it? My favorite part of facebook is the blooper reel or the not-so-impressive moments of people's day-to-day rituals and doings. And how can we really appreciate all the good without the bad? I know those high moments with my kids are much more glorious when compared to the day before moment when one kid threatened to beat the other kid with a rubber garden hose just as the Flander's drove by singing happy church songs in their brand new black Escalade. Bah! Who the hell cares?

So, we could continue on our anti-depressant IV drips or shift our perspective and be excited for Sally's delectable dinner, remember some of Joan's great re-model ideas if you ever choose to demolish your own bedroom (or have no shame in hiring it out and not lending a single, inventive, amazing idea to brag about), give mad props to the moms who are clever enough to create incredulous and dangerous scenarios for their elf who really spends no time on the shelf, and be grateful that you didn't spend half as much as little Lizzy's mom on a princess and ponies party that your own toddler will have forgotten by 5pm that same day. If we look at everything through bitter eyes, everything is going to appear as a competition. If we choose to see everyone else's captions as fun moments to share with them or easy conversation starters next time you bump into them somewhere else besides cyber space, the world just become a more easy-going and happier place for you at least. If nothing else, you can cheer on everyone else that does seem to think it is all a competition.

Now excuse me, I've got to get back to my doily decorating and three dimensional sidewalk chalk murals.