Monday, February 29, 2016

Kids in the Kitchen: Cooking for Life

At any point in their lives my children will be able to cook themselves (and their kids, spouses, and maybe their incredible parents) a delicious home cooked meal. They will be able to look at ingredients at a farmers market or a sparse fridge and be able to whip up something filling. We think it is an important skill to have.

I have personally witnessed so many benefits from having my kids help in the kitchen. Food has taught them things I never even thought of.  I just thought they had fun rolling dough, shaping meatballs, and adding ingredients to the pot.

No. It has been so much more.

Both Troy and Athena are far more likely to try new foods.  Spawned from a very picky father, these two have a long list of "no way" foods. Athena's SPD (sensory processing disorder) helps that list gain length. We have taught them that tasting ingredients and your food as you cook is very important. They now taste new foods and enjoy eating the finished product...even when there is broccoli in it.

Troy has learned to focus and uses it in school to combat his ADHD. As with all kiddos (and adults) when Troy enjoys an activity, he tends to focus more. He concentrates while sliding his kid-safe knife through cheese and is using that skill with his math homework and handwriting. He even overcame one of his huge behavior triggers (writing) by concentrating and mastering it.

Athena is learning patience. Something that can be very difficult with Aspergerians. Waiting has never been easy with her.  When you make the pudding for a cream pie, you have to stir, and stir, and stir, and stir some more. And then a little more.  The stirring creates a rich, silky, smooth filling. Otherwise you get clumps and it just isn't the same. Learning that patience (and asking for help to switch off stirring shifts) would create an amazing dessert taught her that sometimes waiting is worth the  end result.

The allergy symptoms in the house have dropped drastically when we started cooking more from scratch rather than boxes and cans.  Everyone of is has an intolerance or allergy to something. Gluten, dairy, egg, soy, red dye, and MSG is the short list.

All of that, and the memories.

Every time I make sweet potatoes with the little marshmallows on top, I think of my grandmother.

When I bake Texas Cherry Bake (pie filling, pie crust and cobbler crumb concoction) I remember the first time my mom made it after finding it in a magazine. My dad was supposed to take it for work but ended up getting the  munchies and chowing down.

My special Stop Light Pepper Chicken brings back memories of the first recipe I ever thought up on my own and serving it at my first adult dinner parties.

And the cream pies. Oh the cream pies.

Every holiday from the time I was old enough to stir I would sit on the counter and continuously stir the delicious pudding that would fill our pies. I was so pride and would beg everyone to eat the pie...even before dinner was served.

Yes, it takes a little longer sometimes as you teach and demonstrate, but so worth it. Get your kids in the kitchen and you will have a blast as well.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Saturday 9: The Times of Your Life

I love the Saturday 9 meme!  It has been way too long since I have participated, and the questions are always really fun writing prompts for me.  So here we go :D

This week was inspired by Paul Anka -- which I will never be able to see the same again after binge watching Gilmore Girls and the episode where Lorelei names the dog Paul Anka.

1) This song is all about memories. How far back can you remember? What's your earliest memory?

I had a hard enough time remembering yesterday morning for question #2....I guess I was about 5 or 6 and riding in the front seat of my mom's Toyota Camry.  Don't freak out and call CPS.  It was 3 decades ago and a different time...I rode in the back of a pick up truck as well.  Anyway, I had this tiny porcelain squirrel that I was extraordinarily proud of.  I have no idea where I got it from, but I remember that I loved it and took it everywhere.  I held it up between my thumb and index finger trying to show the young guy in the truck next to us. 

 He pointed a gun.  I believe it was larger barrel 45 Colt type gun *I know very little about guns*

Now, I have no idea if he could somehow see that far and realize it was a tiny squirrel, or if he was just a major ass hat finding laughter in blindly pointing firearms at small children.  Either way, I was scared, hunkered down, and remembered that moment the rest of my life.  

2) The first line is "Good morning, yesterday." What do you remember about yesterday morning?

I woke up with a searing pain in my gut.  Last night I mistakenly drank a few Red's Apple Ale thinking that they were a cider.  It was a really stupid mistake and then I voluntarily enjoyed some pizza as well.  Damn gluten.

3) This song was originally a 60-second jingle, featured in a commercial for Kodak film. Do you ever use film? Or are all your pictures digital?

I learned the art of photography and developing film in middle school.  It was fascinating!  It was kind of a let down when I worked the Photo and Video counter at King Soopers in high school and all we did was load the film into a machine while the lights were turned off.   Now, everything is digital.  But I still love using prints in scrapbooks.

4) Who took the most recent photo of you?

Besides the awesome Snapchat filters I was playing with yesterday?  It would be one of my favorite bartenders taking a selfie of herself and me in the background making faces at my phone using my Snapchat...Wow...that sounds very "high school".  As for a posed picture, I have no idea.  I purposely act like a dope in pics because I hate pictures of myself.  
5) This week's featured artist, Paul Anka, was born in Canada and enjoyed appearing in a made-for-TV Perry Mason movie with fellow Canadian, Raymond Burr. Do you enjoy courtroom dramas?

Nope.  I was pre-law my first attempt at college.  I hate that they break all the rules and I will acctually yell at the TV "objection! Approaching the witness!" the same way my soon to be hubby yells at the fumble made by whatever sports team he is watching.  
6) At 15, Anka won a supermarket contest by collecting the most Campbell soup can wrappers. The prize was a trip to New York. Do you enter contests and sweepstakes? Play the lottery? 

I do love my scratch tickets.  I have only ever purchased a few Powerball or Mega Millions tickets, but I have exact plans for all that money if I ever do win. 
7) This year Paul Anka performed throughout Florida (Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Clearwater and Fort Myers). The Sunshine State is a popular vacation destination. Do you have a favorite spot in Florida?

My parents took my brother and I to Disney World when I was 13 or so.  Only place I have been in the state.  I don't think it is fair to issue it "favorite status" just yet.

8) In 1976, the year this song was on the charts, an earthquake hit China. Have you ever experienced an earthquake?

I have not.  Thankfully. 
9) Random question: Do you know CPR?

I would love to say that I do, but I am not I can.  I learned CPR many moons ago, but if anything were to ever happen, I am not sure that the skill would come back to me.  Perhaps I should just sign up for a class and refresh myself.

The Time Has Come, The Time is Now. Mommy the Maid needs to Start Writing NOW.

I love to write.  I love to blog.  I constantly think about all the awesome things I could blog and even write rough drafts in my head...but that is where the process typically ends.  I try to tell myself that I am just too busy to keep up with all my ideas... but that is a bold-faced lie.  I only work 24 hours a week at the bar and I have been slacking on housework.  My kids are doing so well in school and the once daily meetings have been reduced to the typical mid-year parent/teacher conferences.  I have time to lounge in my bed watching the X-Files or Telenovela with my new Xfinity on Demand.

So why am I not following through?

I want to share my trips to the Denver Zoo, school projects, awesome recipes I have tried, my thoughts on family and love, and even how crazy my cats get when I give them catnip.  What about the time the lizard got loose from the cage?  Or when the baby learned to say "peacock" in the most accidental hilarious way?  I need to finish (or start actually) the letter to the little's step-mom.  All of it swims around in my head.  Why can't I get it to "paper"...okay...screen...

Maybe Facebook has something to do with it.  I can jump on my phone and write a quick sentence to share the cute tidbits of my day.  I can take an entire blog post that is circling in my head and cut it down to 140 characters and an emoji.

Maybe because we only have one computer (for 6 of us) and I am not nearly tech savvy enough to figure out how to use the voice feature on my phone to record some notes.  I can't get the Blogger app to download on my phone, and what if I wanted my own domain again?

I am not looking to blog for money, although I was once VERY successful at it, nor am I looking for any kind of blog fame -it exists- I just want to write and share.

So, what am I going to do about it?  I am not sure I have figured that out beyond the "I should just blog more" idea.  Do I give myself a challenge?  Maybe try to write a certain amount of words or posts and not burn myself out like I did with the Blog-a-Thon from many years ago.  Perhaps challenge myself to one or even *gasp* TWO posts a week.  Maybe I need some kind of accountability...although it saddens me that I need to be held accountable for something I like to do.  Perhaps I can join a few of those blog hops that I love so much.  I could even use writing prompts.

Whatever I decide, I will be writing more.  I won't allow myself to go an entire month between posts again.  I want to record my life and do it with a mixture of pictures and words.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Facebook Friends

Dear Facebook Friends,

I want to thank each and every one of you.  If you are on my friends list, there is a reason.  Maybe I see you at work or at occasional get-togethers.  Maybe I only get to see your smiling face in your selfies.  Perhaps we met in high school and reconnected on Facebook.  Maybe we met at work, a bar, a moms group, or a knitting group.  Some of you I have never met in person, but you are family to my friends and you make laugh.  There are also some of my favorite bartenders on my list, or maybe I am yours.  Each and everyone you is a unique story to me and I love that I get to read a little more of it everyday on my "Facebook breaks" - which are commonly in the bathroom at case you wanted to know.

I have tried very hard to keep the constantly negative people away from my Facebook.  I have taken active steps to banish the racist, sexist, and otherwise hurtful people.  It hurt sometimes, but I don't have time for that nonsense.  The friends who have survived this "editing" of my friends list are you.

There is a reason you are there.

I love seeing your selifes, your kids, pets, and even your dinner.  I love to read about your accomplishments, your acts of kindness and charities, and your date nights or fun events.  I smile looking at pictures and videos of cute kiddos and silly pets.  Thank you for updating me on your current illness or surgeries and including me in your remembrance of loved ones who have passed away.  You inspire me with your crafty creations and delicious dinners. I laugh with you when you share funny stories about something that happened to you that day. You talk about your job and it makes me happy to know that you are doing something that you enjoy.  I get to see you talk about the things you are passionate about - animals, education, even breastfeeding support- and I get to see you walk that walk.

Thank you for being Dr. Facebook and giving me advice (without judgement) on many facets of my life.  I appreciate all of your support when it comes to the challenges I've had and still face.  You encourage me and my children and I have learned a lot from you.  Thank you for inspiration when it comes to cooking, crafting, working, parenting, and general adulting.

In this day of modern age and technology we spend a LOT of time of the internet.  While I agree that is good to disconnect and pay attention to life in the moment, I feel that there is a balance.  I use Facebook to get together (in real life!) with the people I love.  Facebook is my village.  It is my little community.   You have all shaped me and my family in some way.

So, thank you for making my day a little brighter.  Thank you for making my "Facebook Break" more enjoyable...although we only have one stall and hopefully no one is waiting outside for the restroom...they may not thank you.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

This week's Menu

My first trip to the grocery store after quitting my second job was terrifying.  I had carefully planned out meals for the week, accounted for after-school snacks, and stocked up on lunch meats for sandwiches. I had made the mistake of grabbing the smaller cart out of habit.  I filled it up so full that I could feel the laughter of employees and other shoppers...or it was all in my head...either way, I felt silly.  I approached the counter with trepidation.  I am pretty sure the cashier smirked a little at my WAY overly full cart.  She began ringing up my groceries one by one.  I started to put them in bags.

Then the total came.  It was just over $200.  Even with a few coupons.

My heart stopped a little.  I hadn't meant to spend that much. I NEVER spend that much.

After thinking about it, I rationalized that I had enough food for dinner at home every night, lunches at home every day, snacks, and a few necessities because no household should live without dish soap or toilet paper.  

Then I thought about it a little more.  I usually spent about $40-$80 when I went to the store, but I usually went 3 or 4 times a week!  I also spent money at the gas station for snacks, at McDonald's for coffee and hash browns, and restaurants for dinner.  I was also spending about $10 a meal at work (2 meals a day sometimes) when I had to eat there.

I had actually SAVED us a ton of money!  And everything we ate that week was delicious.  This is our menu this week and I am super excited for each and every meal (especially date night.)  Except Dad's choice.  I won't be home and I am sure it will be filled with gluten.

I purchased this board at Gordman's for about $20.

The kids love knowing what is for dinner and they love knowing that we have two deserts planned as well.

I admit, it took me a little bit of planning.  I looked at the store ads for deals, asked the kids what they wanted to eat this eat and checked for existing ingredients in the pantry, made the menu and the shopping list, and then wrote it on the board.  It took less than 30 minutes and was SOOOO worth it.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Perri's Little Boyfriend

My youngest daughter, Persephone (a.k.a. Perri, 21 months old) already has a boyfriend.  A friend of mine and I took our kiddos to Little Monkey Business a few weeks ago.  We spent $10 each and let them run wild for about an hour.  We got a bit of a work out chasing them.  Bouncy houses, slides, and all sorts of climbing opportunities presented the kids with endless fun.  They played together, mowed each other over on the slides, and even held hands when finding the next place to play.

Both of our kiddos are very loving little individuals and when it was time to say goodbye, they gave each other a hug.  Then, Perri went in for a kiss.

It was super cute.  So we decided to meet up again at Little Monkey Business for more fun - and let's face it, us mommies needed some time to chat and catch up too - and a little lunch afterwords.  The kids played well (even after being bullied by asshole kids) and had tons of fun.  We went to lunch where they shared crackers, their meals, and even their balloons.  Mommy had a beer.

When it was time to walk back to the car, the babies held hands, babbled to each other, and even tried to get into shenanigans with the snow.  They gave each other (and the mommies) a hug and expressed to us that they didn't want to part.  SO CUTE!!

I hope Perri has this little friend for a long time to come.  I hope that she keeps her loving and sharing nature.

And that mommy can capture most of the moments on camera.



Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Exploding Kittens - Fun for the Whole Family


 My little brother gave my family one of the coolest Christmas gifts that we received this last holiday season.  He always seems to pick out something that we will love and that we need.  Last year he gifted us a vacuum cleaner as our Dirt Devil vacuum bit the dust.  The year before we received a gift card to Olive Garden as well as a gift card to Build A Bear and a really fun family day was had.

This year, however, was even better.  He gave us a card game called Exploding Kittens.

 I know what you are thinking, but it really is aimed for family fun.  With the rising popularity of card games like Cards Against Humanity and Loaded Questions, few games have been aimed at families.  Apples to Apples had a brief stint at our house, but it lacked the strange sense of humor we have passed on to our children.  Exploding Kittens embraces it.

 The game is very easy to learn and quick to play.  My 7 year old son struggles with dyslexia and autism, and this game was no challenge for him.  The cards are easy -and funny- to read and he has decided it is his new favorite game.  There are exploding kitten cards hidden in the deck and if you draw one, you either have to play a defuse card or you are out.  Other cards include attacks, skips, saying no to other player's actions, and seeing the top three cards on the deck.  There are also silly cats dressed in bikinis and tacos or being worn as a beard that you can play pairs of to steal another player's card.

You get all the fun of the silly cards and the suspense of drawing that exploding kitten.   Family game night fun is even further guaranteed with the "not safe for work" version that the adults can play after bed time.

 A few of the cards in the game.

Recipe Review: Tasty's taco Stuffed Bell Peppers

I am in the beginning of a personal journey that involves a lot of changes in my life. One of those changes is to prepare homemade meals more often.  I didn't have the time to be home and cook wholesome meals for my family.  Far too often we were eating from a drive thru window or delivered pizza.  If we did cook at home, it was usually a frozen meal or something from a box.  After I decided to quit one of my jobs. I saw this video from Tasty on You Tube for Taco Stuffed Bell Peppers and decided that I needed to try it out.  It looked amazing and seemed delicious.



I started out with a very short shopping list and a trip to the clearance produce.  I found a bag of 3 delicious yellow peppers for only 99 cents.  I purchased a can of Kroger brand black beans and a half a pound of ground chuck from the deli counter.  I had everything else in the pantry already (except the guacamole), so it was a fairly inexpensive meal for two adults and a baby.


 I followed the recipe and instructions almost exactly.  I forgot to cook rice and didn't have any instant rice on hand, so I left that out.  It would have been better with it.  I also used some cotija cheese along with the cheddar and added some cilantro since I received a bunch in my Door to Door Organics box.   I started by preparing the peppers and baking them.  Then I added the ground beef, Wild Tree Taco Seasoning, onions, and a little cilantro to my oiled pan.  I made a well in the pan and added the black beans, corn, and some Smokey and Salsa brand salsa.   Then I put in about 3/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 1/4 cup of the cotija cheese.  I put my baked peppers into individual ramekins as I was unable to find my bread pans (next organizing project perhaps?) and stuffed them with the taco filling.  I topped them off with shredded cheddar and cotija cheeses and put them in the oven.  After 15 minutes I added some tortilla chips on the top as I forgot about the guacamole when at the store.                

20151229_181216_HDR Absolutely delicious! Even the almost two year old loved them and asked for more.   I would have loved to have added the rice to the mixture and the guacamole on the top, so that will happen next time when I am more organized. I am glad we only used half of the ingredients as there was enough filling for 3 more peppers left in the pan.  We added a salad and some fresh fruit to the meal to fill us up, but could have just had another pepper each.  The tortilla chips on the top added a little crunch that I feel might have been missing without it.  This meal will be happening again as it was delicious and a very quick dinner recipe.   Thank you Tasty for the great recipe!      

New Year New Me - I Quit My Job!

I recently shared my New Years Resolution to make big changes in my life.  I want to spend more time with my family and friends, my home, and my hobbies.  I want to document my journey to keep me focused and so that I can look back and see how far I've come.  
I made my first  big decision on New Years Eve. 

 I quit my job.

When my ex-husband and I divorced, I reentered the work force.  I had a full schedule with college courses including online college classes and a full time job as a bartender and waitress.  It is what I had to do to keep my family clothed and fed.  I met my fiancee a few years ago and we both kept a full schedule.  We still had time for date night and family game nights.  My hobbies suffered a little, but I was still able to crochet blankets, hem my children's clothing, and keep my closets organized.  When we were surprised by a little bundle of joy, we went into overdrive.  We reorganized our house to make a nursery and homework areas for each of the older kids all while managing complications with the pregnancy.  Those complications led to a hospitalization the night my midterms for my online courses were due and I had to drop the classes.  Once our little bundle of joy arrived, life became even busier.  My two older children were attending a school that was no longer able to accommodate their special needs (even with 504 and IEP plans in place) any longer and my fiance and I were both working 40 or more hours a week.  I was breastfeeding on demand, pumping at work, and trying to gather enough sleep at night to not fall over at the almost daily parent-teacher meetings or phone calls.  Life became chaotic.  

Then something happened that neither my fiancee or I saw coming.  The restaurant where we both worked and were very successful at decided overnight to close it's doors forever.  We were both unemployed a mere 5 weeks before Christmas.  We were mostly caught up on bills after some unexpected medical bills, but our savings were depleted.  I found very part-time employment at my favorite local bar within a week.  The next week I found a second job at a swanky wine bar.  Then, my fiance found a job a week later.  We were still struggling.  The wine bar wasn't bringing in money and I found another job at an Irish Pub and the local bar offered me more hours.  I took both opportunities and during the holiday season I was working over 60 hours a week.  

I was exhausted. 

My health suffered and my mental health began to plummet.  My house became an unfinished game of Jumanji and my family and friends never heard from me.  I couldn't find my keys, work clothes, the baby's shoes, or anything else because of the chaotic condition of my house.  I would load the dishwasher after getting home from work at 3 a.m. while counting how many hours of sleep I could get before going to my other job at 8 a.m.  I felt like a robot.  My relationship with my fiance suffered.  It seemed as though I was living in a surreal dream.  I was lost.

But, I kept going.  I continued to work both jobs and bring home the money.  It payed off as my kiddos had a wonderful Christmas full of giving and receiving.  The bills were still behind, but we were making headway.  We were on an upward slope to remove debt from our lives.  However, the light in my kitchen has been out for a week, the baby ran out of diapers which meant a trip to the grocery store with 3 children at 7 o'clock at night, and McDonalds or Pizza Hut became a nightly dinner decision.  I am convinced that this all happened because I was never home.  On the rare occasion that I didn't work a double shift or both jobs and I was home, my fiancee was at work and all moms know how hard it can be to get everything done with toddlers running around.  I needed more time at the house.  I needed to work less.

It became very clear to me what I needed in life when my boss sat me down one day to talk.  He wanted to know why I was late to work that day.  He wanted to know why I seemed "negative" and the only answer I had (other than his REALLY poor management skills) was that I was tired.  I went home that day and made a decision.  If I was going to make a New Years resolution for 2016 to be happier and spend more time with my family, house, health, and hobbies, I needed to quit my job.

So I did.  I quit.  New Years Day was my first day off in 5 weeks.  It was great.  A day full of optimism, laughter with my children, love with my fiance, and even productivity around the house.  I still work at the local bar and I really enjoy the 2 short days and 1 long day that I am there.  

My first big step.  Now what?   

To be continued...

My Journey Back to Myself

I feel that I have strayed from myself. I work too much.  I spend too much.  The cycle is slowly killing me.  I am so busy that when I have the chance to do something that I enjoy, I end up parking myself in front of the computer or the TV.  I turn down dance parties with the kids and the chance to make penguin cupcakes because my feet hurt, I'm tired, I work early tomorrow, or countless other excuses.  My house is so unorganized and cluttered that I let my 20 month old color on my math notebook from my online college course - from four years ago - so that I could attempt to match the beach tote full of unpaired socks.  I think that bag is going to find the trash, but I digress.
Life has become chaotic and spontaneous in all the ways that I don't want.  I spend at lest 5 minutes every morning looking for my shoes, my work pants, my keys, the kid's mittens, or the baby's stuffed rabbit.  When I do make it out the door, I have forgotten to eat breakfast and left my coffee on top of the car.  I am frazzled.  I never used to be like this, but then again, I never tried to work two jobs with 3 small children at home and one heading to college in a semester.  
There are so many things that I want to do.  I want to go back to school, write a novel, finish a quilt for my mom, publish a cookbook, resume my Project Life book, take the kids to Disney World, foster animals, sell my cute handmade items on Etsy again, and maybe try out some of those make-up tutorials on YouTube.  These are all things that I could do, if I made the time for them.  Ever since getting divorced, going back to school, and re-entering the work force I feel that I have completely stopped most of the things I used to do.  I used to be Mommy the Maid with a successful blog titled "Mommy the Maid."  I wrote sponsored posts about being a mom and housewife, shared recipes from my grandmother's cookbook, and shared my successes and failures being an entrepreneur with my own Etsy store.  My blog contained my life with excerpts and photos of my recipes, short stories, handmade goods, and family vacations.  I organized my closets and posted pictures and tips for others to read.  I miss those those closets.  Now I have to wear a hard hat to enter my bedroom closet.  But I digress...again.
My New Years Resolution for 2016 is to make big changes and I plan to document these changes on Daily Two Cents.  I will share my progress, my set-backs, and my successes with the Daily Two Cents community.  Follow along with me as I pour out my personal journey into words for all the world to see.  I take these steps boldly, yet cautiously.  Here we go!