A new kind of mommy blog

Do you know what I'm doing right now?  I mean, right this very minute?

I'm searching the internet for a wise sage with advice on how to raise teenagers - you know, a mommy blog for those of us that are past the diapers and formula and snacks that don't have artificial colors in them.

I'm past that.

I've been trying to keep this blog up under the pretense of it being just like all the others - advice on raising normal human children, focusing on the toddler variety.   There's a huge problem with that...

None of my kids are toddlers anymore.  Plus, I was never really a typical mommy blogger- I just desperately wanted to fit in.  I know - reeks of desperation, doesn't it.  I hate myself for it too, honestly.

So, here it is - far from perfect.  No - we don't do workbooks over the summer (and the ones we did buy in the past - we got like four pages into before we (I) got bored with the whole thing.)... No, we don't eat perfectly balanced amazing meals for dinner each night - heck, tonight we'll be lucky if we get some frozen vegetables on the table.

What I can promise you is no more of this froo froo stuff.  This is me.  We are real.  The best I can hope to do is let you learn from my mistakes as we guide ourselves through this abyss of raising teenagers.

Yes, occasional recipes and other things will come - because sometimes I do get crafty and pieces of inspiration do strike and are fruitful.

Excuse me now, I'm going to try and find out what we have in the freezer that is still recognizable as possible dinner.

Summer Quinoa Salad

The problem with the summer time is the heat.

The problem with the heat is that I live in PHOENIX. 

Phoenix is a place where 8 months out of the year the weather is absolutely amazing. The other four months...it's just HOT.  And since it's hot, and we are all trapped in our houses like little lab mice (don't let the images of gorgeously tanned bodies that you see on travel magazines fool you - natives are not sun worshippers.  Nope.  Most of us stay inside as much as possible during the hot months.  We prefer to keep our skin on, in tact, and of the non-melted variety.) anyway - lab mice...we prefer to find ways to nourish our bodies without using the modern inventions of fire, or microwaves, or convection.  We like to eat things cold.

*Disclaimer...I do not speak for all Phoenicians...but if you were to take a gallup poll, you'd find most of us share the same sentiments on the heat.*

This year, I've been looking for recipes that I can prepare for my family that meet the "cold" requirement, but also require as little energy as possible to prepare.  Our electric company, you see, charges us something like 7 times more per kwH during the hours of 3-6 PM than they do at any other time of day.

So - to that end, I've been researching different cold dishes, or dishes I can prepare earlier in the day (if they require cooking) and eat in the evening.  I have to be honest, the only things I have been finding are Raw food recipes (sorry!  I like my meat, and fish, and other foods that were once living.) While I don't mind trying those out once or twice a week - none of them seem super "kid" (husband) friendly; well,  not in my house at least, where the main protein for that group of people would be Hot Dogs.

I've found a bunch of Quinoa Salads that looked promising, but nothing that totally jumped out as something that my kids might eat.  After some trial and error, this is the one I came up with - and you know what?  They LOVE it.  We are going to have it tonight with a side of grilled rosemary chicken.

Summer Quinoa Salad

2 cups quinoa - uncooked, but rinsed.
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or some other acid.  Lemon juice would be a nice fresh touch too.)
3 green onions, chopped
2 cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/4 cup purple onion, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced and cut into quarters
1 cup feta cheese  (This can be omitted if your family doesn't like Feta.)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

At least 2 hours prior to eating:

In 4 quart sauce pan, combine the chicken broth, water, and garlic and bring to a boil.  Add the quinoa (red, white, or brown will do), and bring back to boiling.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is translucent (about 15 minutes.) Remove from heat, and add the cider vinegar.  Fluff with a fork, and then add the green onions.  Chill.

Combine the tomatoes, purple onion, and cucumber in a separate bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.  Salt and pepper to taste, and toss lightly.  Add the feta cheese, and gently toss once more.  Cover and chill.

To serve:

Combine chilled quinoa mixture and vegetable mixture.  Serve.

You can also put a cup of quinoa on a plate and top with the vegetable mixture.

Also very yummy when topped with grilled salmon pieces, albacore tuna, or chicken.

I hope you enjoy!

They Won't Suspect A Thing...Summer Learning for Kids

It's the first full week of summer, and with five kids at home, you know we are working on finding things that keep them entertained that don't involve the words "X-box" "wii" or "Playstation."  While these activities are okay, the teacher inside of me wants to make sure that when they start school in the fall, they are just as ready for learning then as they are now.  And since we live in Arizona, where it's so hot outside that sending them out to play isn't always an option - fun activities that can be done inside the house are always in high demand.

So the question is, how do we make the activities educational, and yet fun enough that they still want to do them?  Here's a collection of a few of the things we do every summer, and so far, they've been kiddo pleasers.

1.) Summer Bridge Workbooks.
Admittedly, these aren't the funnest, or the first choice for the kids.  However, with a great reward program in place, they do them happily, and in most cases with little complaining.  Rewards we have in our house...a few pages will earn them 30 minutes worth of gaming system time.  A whole section and maybe we go out for ice cream or to a movie.  Giving them something to work toward gives them enough motivation to actually learn something while at home on their summer vacation.

2.) Writing letters and numbers in salt (or sugar).
This one is great for pre-k and Kindergarten to first grade students who are still working on writing their letters and numbers properly and clearly.  The kids think this is great fun, because you are letting them play in their food (and make a mess).  What they don't know is that this type of learning, kinesthetic learning, is making a connection in their brain between the tactile feeling of the salt on their fingers and actually seeing the numbers being drawn.  At first you can have a paper guide for them to follow and trace but as they get better at it, they can form the letters on their own.
3.) Tying a rag quilt.

At first glance, this may not seem like anything but an activity to keep little hands super busy (and out of trouble), and while that might actually be true, it's just a handy side effect.  While your youngster is working on this quilt, they are learning fine motor skills, patterns, reading directions, and in some cases, sharing.  Additionally, when the fine motor skills are fine tuned, it helps handwriting.

4.) Alphabet Cookies
I remember as a little kid, my mom used to make these from scratch out of sugar cookie dough.  While I did inherit the cookie cutters, I also found some pre-made cookies at my local grocery store.  We put them in a bowl and the kids pick out letters and spell words.  When they spell the word correctly, they can eat it.  They also have speed spelling competition games, poem and story competitions, and vowels vs consonants games.

5.) Kitchen sink science.
If you have a budding Bill Nye at home like I do, kitchen sink science projects are perfect for them.  There are a plethora of experiments that can be found on Youtube, Pinterest, and through a simple Google search.  As your child does the experiment, they can research why it happens the way it does.  The egg drop experiment - pictured to the left - demonstrates Newton's law of Inertia.  I'd explain it to you, but honestly, my 8 year old son understands it more than I do.

6.) Summer Reading Lists
If you ever watched Gilmore Girls in the 90's and early 2000's, you know who Rory Gilmore is, and you know of her love of reading.  Some super fan of the show has compiled the Rory Gilmore Reading List - a list of all the books she read or mentioned reading during the series.  It's a great place for any avid reader to start, and it definitely does not include anything that has to do with sparkling vampires or shirtless werewolves 

7.) As long as we are talking movies....

My oldest daughter (14) and I are actually doing this one now.  We read a book that is currently coming out in theatres as a movie.  Book first, then movie.  After watching it, we have a discussion - what was the same? What was different?  If you were making the movie, what would you have done differently? Currently we are reading The Great Gatsby.  Last winter it was Beautiful Creatures.  You can even do this with movies and books that have been done previously - The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Miserables, Ramona and Beezus, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess....And if your child is too young to read on their own - read it to them!  Tons of memories can be made this way.

That's just a few of the things we do around here.  What do you do at your house to keep your kiddos interested in learning during the summer?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Stamping on Metal Jewelry - Part One

So you've seen those really neat necklaces and bracelets and rings on etsy, right?  The ones that are personalized and stamped in sterling silver and cost lots and lots of dollars?

Yea, those.

I LOVED the idea of making my own mother's bracelet that fit my style, and I knew this is exactly how I wanted to do it so I started researching.  Stamping on Silver isn't that difficult, really, once you get the hang of it and once you know where to by the right supplies.  Here's a breakdown.

You will need:
1. Stamping block.  This is a small piece of steel that is approximately 1 inch thick and serves and a flat surface to lay your project on while you stamp.

2. Metal stamps.  You can buy these at any craft store, I've found anyway, but there are endless options online.  My favorite place to purchase them right now is www.beaducation.com.  She has a great supply, tons of things to choose from, and her silver blanks are of very high quality.

Stamping Blank
3. Stamping blanks. These are blank surfaces on which to stamp.  You can get rings, discs, bracelets, whatever your heart desires.  These can be found at every craft store, however, the only store I've found STERLING stamping supplies at is Hobby Lobby.  Even better when you can get them with your 40% off coupon.

4. Patina.  This is what colors the indentations so you can see them on your finished project.  Sharpie makes a permanent metal marker that works great on bracelet and necklace rounds.  For rings, you'll want to buy something like Silver Black or Liver of Sulpher- or Vintaj makes a patina that also works nicely. You rub it on and then polish off the excess.
Brass Hammer, 2 Pounds||HAM-456.205. A jewelry hammer. These have a fairly large head and smaller handles.  They are great for small hands.  The hammer I have been using is 8 oz.  For bigger stamps, you'll want to use a 2lb hammer for optimal results.

6. Patience. Seriously, the first few times I stamped, I couldn't get it straight or deep enough.

7. Anything you want to finish it off with.   I use Swarovski crystals, headpins, and other embellishments.

I am headed now to film a how-to on this topic, and will post pictures and video as soon as they are done. Check back soon for more details!


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