A little bit of this and then some of that

I feel like I should apologize for my frequent food posts the past few months. My life sort of revolves around food right now. I have been eating. A lot.

I have had a lot on my mind lately and many potential blog posts running through my head. Some of them are kind of serious, though, and after a month of recipes, I’m afraid I will drive away all of my readers.

So, here are some other things happening at the everydayHouse.

1. Little everydayBaby is starting to sleep five to six hours in a row at night! Just a week ago, I was convinced the girl had colic because she would cry so much in the evening. Suddenly, over the past few days, she has been giving me some long stretches of sleep. Of course, this requires me to go to bed around 8 or 9 p.m. if I want to sleep when she does. But we’re making progress!

2. My husband loves bees. I’m not sure when it happened, but he stumbled across a story or a book about the bee crisis in America. The bees seem to be going through some kind of an insect panic attack and huge crops (flocks, herds, swarms… yes swarms) of them have been dying by the thousands. This is creating a huge problem because farmers and orchard owners need bees to pollinate pretty much every type of food they grow. We would secretly (OK, no longer a secret) like to move to the south and become bee farmers. Well, bee farmers who raise bees who don’t have stingers and don’t suddenly die by the thousands for unexplainable reasons. So, maybe not. But we would like to move to the south.

3. The kids and I are getting ready to learn about the Iditarod race across Alaska. We joined a Yahoo group that will help us map the race, choose our favorite musher and follow along during the race.

4. I haven’t been doing a very good job this year teaching my kids geography. So to make up for it, I was thinking we should drive across the country to get a first-hand view of the United States. We are actually planning a drive from Illinois to Florida. We are thinking of renting a house and doing school there for a week or so. If you know of any good sights to see along the route, let me know. We are getting ready to plan our journey.

5. The kids are taking “recorder karate” this spring at their home-school co-op. They learn to play little songs on the recorder and they can earn colored ribbons, sort of like karate belts. So far, they haven’t become confused and tried to use their recorders in a fancy karate chop move, but I won’t be surprised if they try it soon. They are really excited about learning to play the recorders. They want to practice. All the time. I sort of forgot they would need to practice or maybe I wouldn’t have signed them up for the class.

6. It’s time for me to make lunch. And I’m quite sure you aren’t interested in what I’m about to cook. So, I’ll just move on.

What’s going on with you?? I would love to hear any random news in your life this week!

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WFMW: Backward meal plan

I don’t know about you, but the hardest part for me about cooking dinner has nothing to do with cooking.

It’s simply coming up with the ideas for what to cook.

I go through spurts with my meal-planning efforts. Sometimes I plan out meals for a month. Other times, I do Sunday planning sessions for the next week. And then there are many, many days when I’m just hoping to come up with an idea by 5 p.m.

When Jan. 1 rolled around, we were still adjusting to our new life with four children and getting into a routine with a newborn. I definitely wasn’t in the mood to think of meals for the month. But the pressure was on. Our string of wonderful meals that had been showing up at our door in the hands of smiling, caring friends was about to run dry.

So, I decided to plan my meals in reverse. In other words, when Feb. 1 rolled around, I wanted to be able to look back at the meals we had in January to use as my foundation for the month.

Each night, I would try my best to come up with a decent dinner idea for my family and write it in my planner. I wanted to make something different each night. By the end of the month, I should have at least 20 dinner ideas I could use in February.

I used lots of family favorites. I tried some new recipes. I mixed in some super simple ideas. And usually on Friday or Saturday night, we ordered pizza.

If you are in need of meal-planning ideas, here’s what we have been eating for the last month:

  • Pork roast with carrots and potatoes
  • Italian beef (made in crock pot)
  • Vegetable soup, made with leftover meat from the pork roast. I simply put the meat in the crock pot and added one can of each of the following: beef broth, diced tomatoes, green beans, corn, as well as some chopped carrots and a potato.
  • Manicotti (when I made the manicotti, I doubled the recipe, then divided it into four small pans. I froze the other three pans for a quick meal another day.)
  • Kluski noodles cooked in chicken broth with diced chicken and carrots
  • Chicken enchiladas
  • Biscuits and gravy
  • Potato soup with sausage (a friend brought this one)
  • Frito tacos (this is taco meat and toppings served with Fritos instead of taco shells)
  • Homemade waffles
  • Lunch meat sandwiches with chips and dip and pasta salad
  • Chicken patties (from the frozen aisle) with sides of corn and fruit
  • Cornbread chili
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • BBQ chicken thighs (I buy a big package of chicken thighs and cook them in the crock pot on low all day with a bottle of BBQ sauce.)
  • Hot dogs, baked beans, chips
  • Crepes with cream cheese filling
  • Spaghetti with homemade meatballs
  • Pasta with bacon and chicken

I have a few new recipes that I want to try later this week. And I’m hoping to look for some healthier meals next month.

Will you help me come up with some new ideas for February? What is your family’s absolute favorite meal?

My backward meal plan worked for me! For more great ideas, head on over to Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

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Haiti on my mind

On Friday, someone from my church posted a message on Facebook that more than 60 orphans from Haiti would be arriving at O’Hare International Airport and they needed places to stay.

My first reaction was, “My house would be way too small to help.”

I’ve been a little consumed lately with the idea we need a bigger house. When we moved here nine years ago, our three-bedroom home seemed perfect for my husband and I and our infant son. We both thought we would live here a few years and then move on.

Now that the housing market has crashed, the six of us living in a three-bedroom home makes it seem so much smaller. So, I’ve been daydreaming about a place with a big yard and a guest bedroom and a full-size basement. Oh, and a room for home-schooling and a three-car garage.

Then I started looking at some photos on the Internet of children sleeping together on a mat out in the open in Haiti.
And I realized those kids probably wouldn’t think my house was too small. They probably would be happy to sleep on our sleeper sofa. And maybe we could put a few more on the queen-sized bed in the basement. And even the couch in the living room might seem comfortable enough.

Because, really, it’s all about perspective, isn’t it? Sometimes I want to smack myself in the head for having such an American perspective. We are so blessed in this country that we easily lose touch with the reality of the real hardships faced by people in so many other nations.

This weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about Haiti.

I was getting kind of grumbly because our 7-week-old goes through little spurts where she cries and cries when I put her in her crib to sleep.
I eventually give in and put her beside me in bed and nurse her to sleep. Then I whine because I didn’t get enough sleep.

In my king-sized bed. With the big comforter and all of the pillows.

Because she wouldn’t sleep in her crib, which is in our room. Her very own crib with the nice soft blankets.

And sometimes when she needs those extra feedings every few hours all night long, I feel exhausted, and I get extra hungry myself. And poor me. I have to walk downstairs in the middle of the night and get a snack.

I have been thinking about the moms in Haiti. The ones who are sleeping outside in tent-like structures with their newborns. They don’t have a crib or even a clean place to lay their babies.

I think about how they probably give any morsel of food they can find to their children. And how they probably get so malnourished themselves that their milk runs dry.

I can’t even imagine that helpless feeling of devastation of trying to feed my baby and having no milk. And so much worse than starving to death, watching my baby cry because she’s hungry. These are harsh, difficult mental images, but they are absolutely true for another mom who doesn’t live that far from the United States.

This weekend, we cleaned out all of our cabinets and took stock of all of our food.
I want to use up some of the things that have been sitting in our cabinets for a while. We had a big container of individual-sized pudding and applesauce cups that were left over from last year’s hot lunch program.

I put them in a bowl and told the kids to eat as many as they wanted, any time they wanted.

“So this is FREE food?!” they kept asking. They meant “free” as in, “we don’t have to ask first.”

A little later, I was reading a blog where they were asking for doctors and nurses to go to Haiti. They warned them that they should be prepared to eat only snack food for weeks on end. They would need to pack snacks in their luggage, and they might not eat a meal the whole time they were there.

Each time I looked at our bowl of “free food” I kept seeing it in such a different light. What if that was all we had to eat, instead of just our bonus bowl of food that I’m trying to get rid of because it’s taking up space in my cabinet?

The only first-hand experience I have with living in an impoverished nation was the 12 weeks I spent in Zambia, Africa, after college.
I had seen so many pictures of Africa and had read a lot about it. But nothing could prepare me for the smell.

There is nothing like the smell of a nation that lacks running water. Here in America, we might think less of someone who doesn’t take a shower everyday or use deodorant.

But in a nation where people have to get up before dawn and walk for miles to a water source and then carry a huge bucket of water on their heads back to their compound, it seems ridiculous to take a bath. Why would you waste water that way? Add in the fact that it’s hot and dusty and people walk for miles just to do what they do in a day.

I don’t say this in a demeaning way at all or to be critical. But it’s just a smell that Americans aren’t used to. And I hope I never forget it. Because it’s such a reminder of the things we take for granted in America. Water and soap.

One day I was out walking to get some exercise.
Now, this idea alone is so American because in Africa you don’t go for a walk for exercise. Each day is filled with so much walking just to get through the day that no one needs to walk for exercise.

Anyway, I was wearing my Nike tennis shoes and my Walkman (remember those?) and carrying my camera. I suddenly realized that the value of what I was wearing on my body was more than the average yearly wage of $300 in Zambia at that time.

I started to fear for my safety as I tried to get back home. But (from my experience), people in places like Zambia don’t commit crimes for the same reasons they do in America.

Here it seems that people commit crimes because they are filled with hatred. They are mentally ill. They want to hurt someone. Or they are greedy.

In Africa, when we heard of people committing crimes, it was because they were hungry. They were usually trying to get some food to feed their families. They don’t really need a Walkman because what would they do with it? Who would they sell it to?

I look at the photos of the men with guns guarding the caved-in grocery stores in Haiti. I see the pictures of men looting the stores and running away with canned good under their arms.

Then I think of my husband who runs to the store every other day to get a couple more gallons of milk. I can only imagine the feeling of desperation for those fathers who are going through the rubble to find something for their children to eat. We can’t even imagine what it would be like to have to fight for food. To do anything to feed our children.

I don’t know what I can do for Haiti.
I have heard missionaries who are there simply begging us to pray for them. That’s something I can do.

It’s hard to think about Haiti. I would prefer to put it out of my mind. And yet, I don’t want to stop thinking about it either. I don’t want to be so consumed in my American way of thinking. I want to smack myself over the head and remember to be thankful for what I have.

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Chili in a pan, chili in a bowl, chili on the blog

Last night, I served my kids one of my favorite comfort food recipes. It’s officially called “Meat and Corn Bread Squares”. But I think we will rename it Corn Bread Chili, since it’s basically chili mixed with corn bread in a pan.
I wasn’t sure if my kids would eat it, but all three reported, “Wow, Mom! This tastes good!” I’m so glad they have learned that sometimes food tastes better than it looks.
The second recipe in this post is for my friend Lisa’s Award Winning Chili. (She won the award from me and all of our other friends who have tried it.)
This recipe makes a huge quantity. The next time I make it, I’m going to try putting together all of the ingredients and freezing it before I cook it. Then, I can pull it out of the freezer and cook it the day we plan to eat it.
Corn Bread Chili
1 pound ground beef
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1 16-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 4-ounce can diced green chili peppers, drained
1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix, plus the ingredients to make the mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
Cook the ground beef and add the cornstarch, chili powder, garlic salt, diced tomatoes and peppers.
Mix up the muffin mix and add the cheddar cheese.
Spread half of the batter into a greased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Spoon meat mixture atop. Top with remaining batter.
Bake in a 375 degree oven about 30 minutes.
Lisa’s Award Winning Chili
3 lbs. hamburger
1/2 cup onion
1 cup celery
4-5 tsps. chili powder
chili beans (2 40 0z cans of Brooks)
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained
2 large cans tomato juice
2 to 3 cans tomato soup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
Dice celery and onion.
Brown hamburger, onion, celery, part of chili powder, salt and pepper.
Drain most of the grease; leave some to taste.
Put meat mixture in pot and start adding liquids, tomatoes and beans.
Salt and pepper to taste. Add rest of chili powder. Add sugar.
Simmer 3-4 hours. Stir often.

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WFMW: Spelling for right-brained learners

My son has a hard time with spelling words. So, in the past I did what any good mom would do. I would make him practice writing troublesome words over and over again.

And over.
And over.

But this year, we are trying something new. Instead of writing the words, I let him do what he loves best. I ask him to draw the words.

Before I explain, I have to say that this idea isn’t mine. In fact, it’s the farthest thing from my left-brained way of thinking.

I went to a seminar this summer by this woman who gave me lots of great ideas for teaching my right-brained learner.

I’ve always loved the subjects my son dreads: math facts, spelling words and grammar. Left-brained learners like me excel at memorizing data, lists and rules.

But my son sees the world in pictures. His favorite subjects are history, science and Bible. While I struggle with these subjects, he can visualize the stories we read and re-tell them in great detail.

Did you know that half of all children learn best with their right brain? I also learned that if your first born is a right-brained learner, your second born probably will learn best with his left brain. Kids who have a learning glitch often are right-brained learners, making it even more difficult to thrive in a traditional classroom if it emphasizes memorizing data.

I learned that the right brain is where we store long-term memories. So, I’m trying to help my son visualize his spelling words and math facts so he can plant them in his right brain — the more creative side of the brain — and store them long term.

The first step we use is to separate troublesome words into colors, so that the part of the word that he tends to misspell stands out from the rest of the word.

In this example, he kept forgetting the “p” in empty, the “e” in pretty (he substituted an “i”), and the “a” in heavy.

If he continues to misspell a word, I ask him to draw a picture of it. I don’t set any limitations on his drawing. I want him to feel the freedom to use his creativity, so that hopefully, it will help him remember what he wrote.

This is his picture of “pretty”:

We also purchased these cards that we use for familiar words. They each come with a story on the back that explains the drawing. On the cards pictured below, the top one is a story about a boy who threw the ball over “there”. The bottom one is about a family with a dog. “Their” dog is very big.

We use the same concept for math facts that he misses repeatedly. Each of these cards has an elaborate story to explain the picture. On the one below, an 8-year-old boy was afraid of a 7-year-old bully. Even though the 8-year-old was older, the 7-year-old was much bigger in size. To protect himself, the 8-year-old got a big dog, named “56”, who scared the 7-year-old away.

To help him memorize this way, I ask him to look at the card for a few minutes. I then put it down and ask him to tell me the whole story on the card. When he comes across that math fact later, I ask him to tell me about the picture that he memorized, which helps him recall the answer.

We still have a long way to go, but I have seen progress using this method. I’m hoping it will Work For Me!

For more great tips, check out Works For Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

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