Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kid Birthday Parties

I am in the midst of planning a birthday party for Big Sis, and so far so good.  After doing a few of these, I think I've hit on the simplest one yet.  I did have a lot of fun with Lil Sis' last birthday, but I definitely over spent on things (hint: DO NOT go on etsy to "just look for ideas").

I have just partially read a book called The Tightwad Gazette, and the author had a lot to say about kid birthday parties.  She never spent more than 25 dollars or some such amount, including food and gift.  What?!  How is that possible?  Oh, right, no food allergies in her family for starters, and super creative with what she had on hand, and Pinterest and etsy did not exist yet.  Well, darn.

At any rate, it inspired me to try harder with being thrifty and creative in planning and executing a birthday party.  For starters, I had the birthday girl choose a theme (ballerinas), and choose a color or two.  She chose three, naturally.  We went to the store to get party supplies in those colors, and I will come up with some kind of ballerina art or decoration.  We will supply tutus for dress up, and play classical music for the kids to dance to.  I suppose some kind of ballerina craft would be good as well.

For the food we will be keeping it very simple.  In The Tightwad Gazette, she suggests just a cake be served to cut down on cost, but we are a family of food lovers, so serving food is a must.  The standard chips and dip is easy, especially if you just buy prepared dips.  We will be getting salsa and tortilla chips, and make our own guacamole.  An assortment of fresh veggies with homemade dips and spreads is an easy make ahead menu item, and you can just use the veggies you like.  Because, really, who wants to eat raw broccoli?  Um, nobody!

I have yet to figure out what else we will be serving, but I do know that some suds are in order, and that I will leave to the Hubby, resident beer expert.  I will provide the non-alcoholic drinks.  As in, water.  Ha, ha, okay, maybe some homemade iced tea or cucumber fizzy water.

After the last birthday party for Lil Sis, I realized that even though it was fun to run with the party theme in all aspects of the party, it can cost you a lot more, especially with the food.  Her party had a pink and orange mermaid theme, so we had a lot of orange foods, as well as foods that related to underwater, things from the sea, etc.  It was super fun to do and I really loved coming up with the menu, but it was a lot of work!  With Big Sis having her birthday so soon after Christmas, I am just not mentally ready to tackle something like that.  And I don't know if I ever will again.

Kids don't really remember those things about a party. They remember who was there, and the fun games they played.  They remember getting sung to by a room full of friends and family and how special it made them feel.  They remember blowing out the candles and getting to lick the frosting from their fingers.  They remember ripping open all the gifts and being so excited and exhausted at the end of it all.  That is what I remember, too, from all those childhood birthdays.

It is times like these that I am so glad I never login to Pinterest, and that I purposefully never search online for party ideas.  Just keep it simple, and concentrate on being present during the event and making the guests comfortable and happy, and that the birthday girl is having a good time, and that is totally good enough!

What do you remember from your birthdays as a kid?  Did you have a special birthday tradition?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Balsamic Tuna Salad

I'm sure you just read the title of this post and were not so sure about the flavor combo, but let me tell you something:  We are a dairy free and egg free house (among other things) and so tuna salad took a back burner for awhile.  Until I had the genius idea of adding vinegar to a can of fancy olive oil packed tuna.  Taste explosion!  It amazes me now that my kids will polish off a can of tuna each when I make this for them, and I think it is darn tasty, too.  Now all I have to do is find fancy olive oil packed tuna that isn't 3.29 a can!

Balsamic Tuna Salad

Serves two adults, or one adult and two kids, or two hungry kids.  Good thing it's easy to double!

2 cans (6 ounce size) tuna fish, packed in olive oil.  Trader Joe's carries a couple options and I have found one Italian import option at my local grocery store.
1 Tablespoon Dijon or yellow mustard
About 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar, or more/less
salt and pepper to taste

Open cans of tuna and dump into a medium bowl, being sure to scrape out all the olive oil, too.  Break up chunks of fish with the back of a fork.  Add in the vinegar and mustard and combine lightly with the fork.  Taste for seasoning (This is the kids favorite part.  They love sprinkling in the salt and pepper and telling me to add more of this or that), and add salt and pepper to taste, and more vinegar if desired.

                                                    Big Sis helping make lunch

It is delicious in lettuce wraps, or on top of a salad with diced green apple, or scooped up with cucumber slices.  I serve it with all of those as well as black or green olives and carrot sticks, and cherry tomatoes if we have them.  The oldest only eats the tuna, the youngest eats (almost) everything.  This is absolutely something the kids help me make, they are more likely to eat it that way, too.

             I put some fresh chives and capers in mine, and had it with homemade crackers.  Yum!

This is so easy it almost isn't a recipe, but that is how we cook most of the time at our house; makes life easier!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Teaching Kids Where Meat Comes From...Am I Doing it Right?

Over the last year or so I have been thinking off and on about how to teach my kids about where that pork chop on their plate comes from.  I'm not sure if I am taking the "right" approach, or what, but I do know I want them to know that meat is from animals that used to be alive on a farm somewhere.  I am glad that I have started teaching them this early on, as it makes it a "matter of fact" topic, not a surprise later on that turns them into little vegetarians, the thought of cute farm animals becoming dinner turning them forever from proper nutrition.  (Now, when I say proper nutrition I mean exactly that:  clean meat from quality sources is an essential part of the human diet.  Maybe that doesn't work for you.  That's fine!  To each his own.)

I had my brief stint as a vegetarian, like so many teenage girls do, in high school.  I'm not sure how I really managed it, and I think it wasn't for a very long period of time (I recently asked my mom if she remembered that time:  "yeah, that was annoying", she said.  I agree!  Ha ha ha!).  I still ate chicken, eggs and fish and called myself an "ovo-lacto" vegetarian.  It sounded so cool!  Ridiculous to me now, but hey, that is what peer pressure does to a kid.  I think the thought of animals being treated cruelly and then eating them grossed me out, and I didn't have a good connection of where food (meat) actually came from as a small child.  So I was squeamish about touching raw meat to cook it, and this was an embarrassing quality in a culinary student.

Yep, I was in a culinary arts class for two of my years at high school, and then went on to a year of culinary school.  Guess how long vegetarianism lasted for me in culinary school?  Not very long!  Less than 4 weeks.  The first red meat I ate in over a year was a bacon cheeseburger; all of it made from scratch at the school.  Oh, it was heaven!  Something about that burger and is magical qualities still make me swoon.

Butchery classes in school were very very hard for me, but I was determined to not be too much of a wussy and forced myself to hack up the carcasses along with everyone else, without complaint.  I was there to learn, after all, and it wasn't free.  I recall the number one rule about trying food and tasting food in school was "try it at least twice".  The reason being of course that you needed to know what the food tasted like, in order to become a good cook.  So, you do actually need to at least taste that rabbit fricassee so you understand what rabbit tastes like and how to cook it properly.  Otherwise...what on earth are you doing in culinary school?

I have a couple of very inquisitive kids who ask questions all the time, so teaching them about where meat comes from hasn't been too hard.  My eldest has asked me outright where bacon comes from, so I told her.  She still thinks it is delicious "pig meat".  I will do the same for every meat and fish and fowl that they ask about, and we will probably someday visit a farm, to purchase a whole or half cow or pig, maybe some fresh chicken.  Then they will start to get a better idea.  They are 3 and almost 5 years old now, so we have plenty of time to teach them.

I think it is becoming more clear to many people that most Americans are not mentally connected with the food chain and how we humans are involved in it.  Our role in the food chain is becoming more clear to a lot of people, as evidenced by the many farmers selling pastured meats and poultry at farmer's markets, as well as natural grocery stores and the paleo and WAPF (Weston A. Price Foundation) food movement. If you have ever watched a documentary about the food industry, you know what I am talking about.  (Food Inc., Forks Over Knives, etc.)  I think it is important to be involved in knowing where your food comes from, how it was handled or treated, what was used to feed or nourish it, and how it was processed or slaughtered.  We are what we eat, and if we eat sick, malnourished and mistreated animals, we are not going to be healthy either.  This is at times an overwhelming topic, I know, but if you just take it one thing at a time it is possible to educate yourself, and to take steps to change your purchasing habits.

While teaching your kids about where the meat on their plate comes from seems pretty daunting at times, I have found just taking it one question at a time, and taking advantage of teaching opportunities as they come up to be a good way to go.  If your kids don't ask, or have never asked you about it, being able to bring it up in conversation at appropriate times will still work.  Probably not while you are at the dinner table, if you suspect your kids might get a little upset about eating a cute farm animal.

Do you remember learning about where meat came from as a child?  How connected are you to your food sources?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Day in the Life

Those of you with small children, or if you are a stay at home parent will relate to this post.  Those who don't or aren't, well, if you have ever wondered about what a normal day looks like of a stay at home parent, enjoy, and maybe you will look at that frazzled parent in the coffee shop with a little more sympathy next time, as the kids run circles around the cafe, giggling hysterically.  As I like to say, we pick our battles over here.

8:23 PM:  Kids finally in bed, time to relax!  Just kidding.  Time to finish up the dinner dishes, because nothing sucks the day's motivation out of you in the morning like a pile of dirty dishes staring you in the face.

8:50 PM:  If it's Sunday, time to watch Downton Abbey.  If not, go to bed with a good book and try not to stay up too late reading.

10:37 PM:  Go to sleep doofus!  Kids wait for no one to sleep in!

Some time during the night somebody/everybody wakes up for no reason/every reason ever possibly imagined.  After settling the kids, and crawling back in to bed, you sleep for another hour when somebody/everybody wakes up again for no apparent reason.  Well, actually it's because they didn't eat dinner.  More on that later.  You purposely never look at the time when you get up in the middle of the night, so you will not despair at the ungodly hour.

6:15 AM, 7:45 AM if you are lucky that day:  The younger one wakes up and crawls into bed with you.  This would be totally fine if she didn't squirm so much and talk loudly about how hungry she is.  Feeling sorry for your husband who worked late and is moaning about his sleep being interrupted, you get up and collect the noisy kids to go make breakfast.

7:00 AM:  Breakfast, where one kid eats happily and the other just eats bananas and apples.  You gave up caring about that long ago.  At least she is eating.

7:30  AM:  Dispense vitamins, turn on the TV so you can wash up breakfast dishes.  You secretly have a love/hate relationship with the TV.  It enables you to be alone for extended periods, but you feel guilty every time you turn it on.

8:30  AM:  Husband comes down for breakfast and relates how he needs to be at work early today, which means he is already late and can you please please please make his lunch and coffee while he packs his bag?  He is taking the car to work today, and the laptop.  Great.  Stuck home all day with no internet besides on your phone.  Not really true since you can easily walk to the park or visit a neighbor to pass the time; it is just easier to stay home and do the woe is me bit.

8:45 AM:  You finally make your way upstairs to get dressed but are distracted by an alert on your phone.  You spiral down the rabbit hole of Facebook for 45 minutes, then get disgusted with the time you are wasting.  Go get dressed!

9:04 AM:  Get a load of laundry going and sit down with a notepad to make a to-do list for the day, though it feels like the day is half over already.

9:06 AM:  The kid who ate fruit for breakfast comes to tell you she is hungry and needs a snack.  You think "well duh, all you ate this morning was an apple".  She wants to eat raisins on the couch.  And now so does the other one.  Fine, just leave me alone so I can make this pointless to-do list!

10:15 AM:  Switch over the laundry, and start negotiations to turn off the TV so you can stop feeling like a failure of a mom.

10:16 AM:  Negotiations failed.

10:38 AM:  You lay down Mommy Law and turn off the TV, then spend the next 30 minutes comforting them with promises of more TV later and cookie baking.

11:15 AM:  You are baking cookies together (look!  fun family learning time!), which is fun and nerve-wracking all at the same time.  Baking with a 3 and 4 1/2 year old is an exercise in patience that stretches your patience limits to the max.  Well, not every time, but a lot of the time.  They beg for cups of chocolate chips to eat, which you grant so they won't have a tantrum about it.  While the cookies are baking they whine about how badly they want a cookie.

12:03 PM:  You let them eat more cookies then they should, but don't care today because they are eating something, so that's good, right?  Right? 

12:04 PM:  You start to make lunch since you are in the kitchen anyway, and they don't want to eat it or eat very little because they already had cookies.  Well, lunch in solitude is great anyway.

1:00 PM:  In order to make the day not feel like a total waste you decide to sweep the entire house and vacuum all the rugs and carpet, too.  It would be a good idea to mop, too, but let's be honest here; you have mopped these floors a total of two times in 5 years, so that ain't happenin' today.

2:15 PM:  Kids are whiny and awful from hunger.  You serve them what you made for lunch and they throw themselves on the freshly swept floors and cry about how they hate tuna salad/chicken/ham.  You sweeten the deal by adding in raisins to the offering which helps, but then the older one asks if she can just have some more cookies.  You try really hard this time to not yell at her, but it is hard.

3:00 PM:  In an attempt to be a loving, nurturing, engaged parent, you cuddle on the couch and read books with the kids.  It is going very well except for all the yawning you are doing, and they just want to look at/"read" the photo books you have made over the years.  Sounds nice doesn't it?  Well, "reading" the same 2 photo albums over and over is more like mind numbing.  Reading that horrible Barbie in the Pink Shoes book almost sounds better.  Almost.

3:38 PM:  Some coffee sounds so good right now, but you've given up coffee since suspecting it is partly responsible for how often you used to yell at the kids.  Coffee makes you grouchy and jumpy.  Even decaf.  Sigh.

4:01 PM:  You have given in and allowed the kids to watch a movie.  They want you to watch, too, but there is no way you are sitting through Meet the Fairies ever. again.

4:40 PM:  You have just lost 39 minutes of time getting lost in email and Facebook again, and you scramble to get a start on dinner.  Having no idea when husband will be home, you try to time dinner to be ready by 5:45 ish.  Most likely he will be home after you have eaten.

5:23 PM:  Somehow you convince the kids to stop watching TV so you can feed them.  It is too early, but better to head off the inevitable whinys with an early dinner.  You are hungry, too, anyway.

6:00 PM:  Partially clean up the kitchen, then half-heartedly play with the kids because all you can think about is how it is almost bedtime and husband should be home any minute and thank gawd this day is almost over.

6:17 PM:  Hurray, he is home!  Reprieve!  Kids go bananas and climb all over him.  If he had a good day and had a beer before coming home he will be feeling good and will play with them for a while so you can escape to another room and tidy up.  Otherwise, he is short-tempered and just wants to eat dinner with nobody touching him.  A tall order around here.

6:50 PM:  The husband and yourself start the "who is doing bedtime tonight" negotiations.  It is determined by how many nights he is working and the task falls to you anyway, and who is more stressed out and frazzled.  Today it falls to you.  Bummer.

7:00 PM:  Herd children upstairs to a bath while husband washes dishes and then collapses on the couch with a beer.

7:25 PM:  Get kids out of bath, brush and floss teeth, brush hair, pajamas on, read books, say prayers, more water to drink, need to pee, fix my blanket it isn't flat, I need to lay on the middle of my pillow mom, and can I have one more hug?  Yes yes yes, now goodnight love you see you in the morning.  Whew!

8:15 PM:  Blissful quiet.  Husband wants to watch TV with you.  You hate watching TV at night because it is hard for you to sleep afterwards.  But it is his favorite evening activity to do with you (well...second favorite.  TMI!) and he knows you hate it but he still asks and of course you relent because you miss him when he is at work and want to spend time with him.

10:15 PM:  Gawd you need to get to bed!  Those kids get up early and judging from the number of items crossed off the to-do list today you have plenty to pretend to do tomorrow.

11:00 PM:  Sleeping. Cue kid crying.  Sigh.

What about you?  Does this sound familiar?  Thanks for stopping by!