Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How I Taught Myself to Be an Amazing Cook

If you read my previous post, Confessions of a Kitchen-Challenged Mom, you have seen my struggles in the kitchen.  I just couldn't seem to get anything right, no matter how hard I tried.  I'm happy to report that things have changed.  Big time.  

I became a stay-at-home Mom about a year ago, and I decided that I was going to learn how to cook if it killed me.  And I did!  My husband says he now truly looks forward to coming home so he can see what we're having for dinner.  He brags about my cooking to family and friends.  And the kids have proclaimed me to be the best cook in the world!  Of course, I still have the disaster here and there.  I made pot roast a few weeks ago and my husband almost choked on it and said his gums were sore afterward because it was so hard to chew.  But overall, things have improved and here is how I turned things around:

  • I scour over every recipe.  I read it several times before I attempt it so that I don't realize half-way into it that I should have been marinating something hours ago (this used to be a problem)
  • I am always on the lookout for good recipes.  I click on links people post on FB, I search online forums like AllRecipes, I joined a recipe subscription site called The Scramble.
  • I throw out the recipes we didn't like so I don't forget and accidentally try to make them again.
  • I got the dog out of the kitchen while I'm cooking.  I used to trip over her constantly and felt bad locking her up, but now she's not allowed in there and it makes it much more fun to be in the kitchen.
  • I embraced spices.  I used to just leave them out, thinking they didn't matter.  They do!  And I love the spices from Penzey, they can make the entire difference between a blah meal and an amazing one.
  • I finally realized the real key is finding things I want to eat.  This sounds simple, but I truly used to find what looked the easiest, the fastest, or what my husband would like.  Now I look for ingredients that I enjoy, and even if it takes 15 minutes longer, it's worth it.
  • I try not to make anything I find online unless I can see reviews for it.  If the reviews are so/so, it usually comes out that way.  If the reviews are great, it usually is.  I also read the comments after any recipe, for tips and tricks on improving it to suit our tastes.
  • I do preparation before dinner, such as cutting vegetables, putting sauces together, etc., so that my life is easier at mealtimes.  That way, I can still enjoy family time but make a great meal too.
I hope these simple tricks have helped you!  Trust me, if I can improve, you can too!

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

5 Great Books to Motivate Kindergarteners to Love Reading

There are some really good books for kids out there...and there are some really awful ones.  We went through a streak where everything we got from the library was just terrible.  The kids and I were rapidly losing our enthusiasm for reading until one day it occurred to me that I should read them books that I would actually enjoy.  It felt like they weren't quite old enough for chapter books at ages 6 and 4, but I began doing some research and I learned that reading chapter books:

  • Enhances vocabulary in an extraordinary way
  • Models fluency from listening to a proficient reader
  • Develops listening skills
  • Enhances bonding
  • Most of all, chapter books MAKE CHILDREN LOVE READING
I found the last point to be especially true.  My kids are literally begging me to read to them morning, noon and night.  They get sad when we finish a book they love, and we have had some incredibly rich conversations as a result of reading.  We pull out the globe when the book refers to a different country, we talk about what words mean, and why characters do the things they do.  I have tried to read books that also have movies so that we can make a movie night of it after we are finished with the book, which is also fun and motivating to the kids.  

The following is a list of some of our favorite chapter books.  It is important to find books that will be interesting to kids, but keep an eye out for books that aren't too advanced or they will lose interest:

1.  This was our first chapter book.  There are actually dozens of these books, and they are all written for young children.  They often have a bit of a mystery and the kids find them very easy to follow.  

2.  This was a very fun book, with a wild and imaginative story.  It was also very short, so it is a great pick for a beginner chapter book.

3.  This book has a very fun story and the kids were really rooting for the characters.  It gave us lots of rich context to discuss, with the Indian and the Cowboy slant.  In addition, it is a fun movie!

4.  This book captivated my kids.  In addition, there are some great lessons in morality here that can be discussed, and of course, a it is a great movie for kids as well.

5.  Lastly, Harry Potter is and probably always will be the favorite.  We haven't venture to watch the movie yet, as I am afraid of nightmares, but the kids LOVED the book and were so sad when it ended.  There are so many characters that it did take awhile for them to get everyone straight, but it was a great lesson in listening skills.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

Geocaching and More! 3 Ways to Get the Kids Outside to Enjoy Nature

When we first moved to the mountains, I sort of pictured us living in The Sound of Music.  I thought my kids would scamper outside and pick leaves and twigs off the ground while singing a heart-warming tune.
The reality is that I have to drag the kids on hikes like a couple of teen-agers (even though they're 4 and 6).  They get tired, they get hungry, and they get bored.  My husband and I, on the other hand, love to hike and be outside, but we have found a few ways to get them to enjoy nature:
1.  Geocaching.  Have you ever heard of this?  It's basically like a free scavenger hunt, and you can do it anywhere in the world.  There are lots of ways to do it, but the best is to download the App from the popular site,  Then on your phone, you can "Find Nearby Geocaches" and it will show you all the treasures that have been hidden close to wherever you are.  You just use your phone to find the GPS coordinates and you will find a little box with hidden treasures!  The kids absolutely loved this.  They got to hold the phone and watch as our dot got closer to our treasure (It's very similar to using GPS for driving directions).  We eventually found the box (look where my hand is reaching, you can see a little box hidden inside the logs), and inside is a little notebook where you can record that you were there and found it, to really give the kids a sense of accomplishment.  Sometimes there are even little toys in them, so be sure to bring a few cheap pencils or bracelets so you can "get one and give one" to the cache community.  The best part about this???  It's free!!  (Other than the $10 app)
2.  Scavenger Hunt.  I made up a simple page and printed them out for each kid.  I gave them clipboards and pens and they had so much fun searching for all the things on the page.  I used Microsoft Word Clip Art and found photos of everything for their hunt.
3.  Lastly, our latest obsession is Dino Dan.  Dinosaurs are fascinating to them, so one hike we livened things up by pretending we were finding dinosaur teeth, bones, etc.  Every time they found one, we would exclaim how exciting it was that they found a T-Rex tooth!  We let them bring little bags to collect their treasures and it was even a little educational.
I hope you and your family can enjoy some of these fun outdoor adventures too!
For more ideas on engaging your children and keeping them busy, please consider buying my book, co-written by an amazing Kindergarten Teacher! The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble and Motivated to Learn.  
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Monday, July 7, 2014

3 Chores I Always Make My Kids Do

My daughter loves cleaning toilets.  I have no idea why, but it amuses me to no end that she is always begging me to let her clean our toilets.  She's like a real-life Cinderella.  And the good news is that there are so many benefits to making the kids do chores.  It really is good for their self-esteem, and my basic life's goal is not raise kids who aren't bratty or ego-centric.  I find that these little chores go a long way toward my life goal.
So, these are the three chores my four and five year old children can do:
1.  Put away their own laundry. Yes, I wash and fold, but when I'm done, I just stack it outside their door and they know that they have to put it away themselves.  
2.  Take over their plates.  This one isn't their favorite, especially because it seems like they usually have about three plates between the main course, the veggies, and the fruit, but despite their grumbling, they do take over their plates and I have seen them even take over their plates during play dates and at Grandma's house, which really warms my heart and seems to impress our hosts.
3.  Keep their rooms clean.  We had a hard time with this one until one day I overheard a neighbor tell her kids they couldn't come out to play because their rooms weren't clean.  I then witnessed those kids scramble up to their rooms, frantically clean, and then come running outside like they had won the lottery.  It was then that I realized the power of the desire to play with friends.  It is very strong and since then we adopted the same rule.  If they want to play outside with their buddies, their rooms have to be clean.  It works like a charm.
I have to say, I also love not having to do these chores myself for them.  And I know it is keeping them down to earth because one day at a restaurant Little Buddy said, "Mommy, restaurants are so awesome because I don't even have to take my plates over!"
His grin was infectious and I was so pleased to learn that he didn't feel like the world owed him trips to restaurants.  He truly appreciated it.  And that's all a parent can ask for.  
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