Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cafe Thursday - Skillet Chicken Stew

I raised some picky eaters. And my punishment for this? I am condemned to high frustration and endless complaining every night around 6 pm. My dear sister-in-law did this right, she had her kids eating veggies and fruits from the time they were small and now she actually has a child that loves tomatoes and broccoli. Me, I have children who love bread and sugar. I think I am going to have to learn to be more cleaver if I am going to get my kids to eat better. Time to pick-up a copy of the book Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food.

I know I almost never find recipes that all 4 of us will agree on, but if I can hit 3 out of 4, I am pretty happy. For that reason, I am adding Rachel Ray's Skillet Chicken Stew to my bi-weekly line up of dinner menus.

This recipe is right up there with our chicken pot pie, chicken alfredo, and salmon nights. I also have a taco night, a frozen pizza night, and usually a spaghetti night. For Sundays, I try to get a bit more fancy and will try to make either a homemade soup, pot roast, or pork chops.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Happy Hump Day - Shopping at Cafepress

My daughter and I have found a site that we just love. We can buy clothes and mugs and pins and bags that say just about anything we want.

Cafepress is really a great idea for anyone interested in designing and selling promotional type products, or anyone just interested in buying them. Their slogan is "shop, create or sell what's on your mind," and we sure do. I really like the motorcycle stuff, and DD loves all of the flute and band shirts. And while the boys in the house are not real big shoppers, DH and DS spent a couple of hours one night designing their own picture to place on the front of a T-shirt.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Netflix Feature to Check Out

The forcasters predicted a snowy, chilly weekend, and Chicago did not disappoint. With the weather outside so unfriendly, we needed some ideas to keep us occupied inside so of course we looked to the internet for a solution.

I had heard about the new instant movie viewer from Netflix a few months ago, but hadn't had a chance to try it out. We tried it over the weekend and were quite pleased with it. Not only is it easy to setup and use, the quality is great, and with most Netflix subsciptions it is free. You can't beat that.

We were able to watch both The First Howie Mandel Special and The Italian Job. My kids didn't even know that Howie Mandel got his start as a standup comic and sadly, they had never seen Bobby's World either. I was able to enlighten them and provide hours of laughter as well.

If you haven't seen The Italian Job, I highly recommend it. There is only a bit of violence, no gratuitous sex, and just a few "bad" words sprinkled in. If you are a fan of the "Ocean's" films, you will like this one as well. I have been a Mark Wahlberg fan since his Calvin Klein ads in the 80's . . . what, I'm human.

Don't you just miss the 80's?!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Cafe Thursday - Easy Chicken Alfredo

We had a cheap, easy, delicious meal last night, so I thought I would share it here.

Easy Chicken Alfredo
2 cups chicken cubes
1 Tbls Olive Oil
1/2 tsp Emeril's Essence seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
1 jar of Alfredo Sauce (I have tried them all, Bertolli is my favorite)
1 pkg of linguine, cooked (Dreamfields is the best tasting, low carb option out there)

Cook pasta to desired consistency. In the meantime, in a skillet, heat oil, then add chicken chunks and seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook chicken until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. To the skillet, add the jar of alfredo sauce and let simmer. When the pasta is done, drain and add to the sauce.
Add a veggie and a salad for a half-way healthy meal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Any Speed Racer Fans?

I guess I lived under a rock growing up, because I didn't get introduced to Speed Racer until I met my husband when I was in my 20's. My kids, however, love Speed Racer just like their Dad. And my young nephews and their Grandpa all seem to love this strange cartoon as well. Proof of that was that there were lots of Speed Racer themed presents under the tree at my in-laws house this year. So it must be that with the recent surge in popularity of NASCAR there is a whole new generation of fans for all things speedy.

For that reason, I thought that I would include this link to a picture of the Mach 5, which is on display at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. I know my kids and DH will want to see it, and I will have to forward it to my nephews also. I got this link on the Kim & Jason site, so thanks Kim!

I also am super hyped myself now that I have watched the trailer for the upcoming live action version of Speed Racer. It looks amazing, and it was done by The Wachowski Brothers, the directors of The Matrix trilogy so it should not only be fantastic quality, but may just stretch the limits of film making. Keep in mind, it was this duo that first made popular the "bullet time" visual effect that has been copied in everything from Michael Jordan to the Max to Shrek. And while I try to never approach a new movie with too many expectations, least I be disappointed, I am hopeful that this movie will again stretch our imaginations.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More Game Reviews

Before Christmas I recommended some board games, and that post was so popular, that I thought I would add some more recommendations here.

First, let me say that conversations with my kids may not always be easy, but I find if we play board games and laugh together, we have an eaiser week than if we don't spend time bonding somehow.

We have played two games in the past couple of weeks that we adore, one a board game, and one a family Xbox game.

1. Quelf - This is an awesome game! I can honestly say that my DD and I laughed so hard we had to excuse ourselves from the table, if you get my meaning. Be warned, this is not your typical, average, passive board game. You will get up and move, and do things, but I promise the investment is worth it. Learning to play is easy and straightforward, winning is anything but.

2. SceneIt for Xbox - Now this is how a play at home game should be. Have you ever played the family fued home game or the jeapordy home game and been disappointed because you realized that without the buzzer the game just doesn't work? Well the guys over at Xbox have changed all of that. This game comes with a game and 4 controlers so you can buzz in. We have had more fun with this game than any other console game out there. If you have an Xbox, get this game. If you don't have an Xbox, get one for this game, really, it is that much fun. Of course, if you don't watch movies, you may not like this game, but watch for others like it to come out soon.

Monday, January 21, 2008

MLK Day 2008 - Have we made progress?

I attended a church service yesterday where we reflected on this question. . . How far have we come?

Not far enough was the answer my minister gave. His argument was that basically, it is in education where there is still a huge rift between the races. White students get a better education, due mostly to funding, than African American students do.

I don't know if this is true, I believe it is, but I know almost nothing about this argument. What I do know is that I am in a working-class neighborhood with more African American neighbors than white ones, and our school is on probration and about to undergo restructuring due to poor test scores.

The population of their school breaks down this way: 85% African American, 10% white, and 5% Hispanic. I don't think that the education they are getting is equal to that of kids in more afluent neighborhoods, but I am not sure I understand why that is, how that is, how it happend, and how it can be fixed.

We constantly struggle at our school to keep programs running. The band program is so underfunded that each year band parents have to pay $600 for their children to participate. I am told that many teachers have taken pay cuts, and I know that activities have been cut.

WHY? I will be looking into this over the coming weeks and plan to blog about it here. I have many questions and few answers right now. I am hoping to change that.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beginning Runner

I stared running daily recently, and thought I would share some helpful links and tips for starting a running routine.

1. Start small and slow. I am running at a slow speed for 20 minutes at least 5 days a week right now. I don't expect to loose weight or be able to run a marathon anytime soon, but I am doing something good for myself that will payoff eventually. Right now, I can run/jog for 20 minutes so that is what I am doing. I did find another plan that I would use if I wasn't already well on my way with my own workout at the Cool Running website.

2. Warm-up! I didn't do any warm-ups (I know, I know, very bad) the first two days I was running, and my back quickly reminded me that I am not in my 20s anymore. I was able to find a routine that does work on my sore areas.

3. I check the Runners World website regularly for inspiration. I would someday like to run a race or something, but for now, I will just read about others who do and enjoy their stories and use them to inspire me to keep it up. It is also a great place for finding running gear and the latest gadgets.

4. I read my Women's Health Magazine religiously. This is a great magazine, really. It has great articles, recipes and tips. There is a new workout each month that you can do right at home, and there are also great articles on ways to be more healthy. Check out their website to get a pretty good feel for the types of articles and tips they have.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Music Monday - Kevin Max

The Blood by Kevin Max is the first solo music I have heard from him. I have to admit that I was not looking for this album, and it is probably not for everyone. However, any album that starts with "The Old Rugged Cross" can't be too bad.

Kevin Max, formerly of DC Talk, has some really different music that fits together for a great listen with a theme centered on the blood of Christ. There are lots of flavors here including some folk-like songs, some soul, some rock n roll and even a hymn thrown in.

There are also some really great guest appearances from DC Talk, Erica Campbell of Mary Mary, Amy Grant and Vince Gill, and there is a nice little song with Joanne Cash. My personal favorite is the remix "People Get Ready" with Erica Campbell.

As someone whose music tastes run a bit on the eclectic side, I found this album to be just diverse enough to hold my attention. I would guess that anyone who enjoyed the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack would also enjoy this compilation.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Quick Friday Update

Here are just a couple of pictures of our week. Mom and Dad are still my most devoted readers, so this if for them.

Sunday night at the choir concert DD got to do a bit of acting and some singing. Not too bad for her first go. All of them did really well and it was a very nice program.

After a long week, DS had a swim meet last night and he also did quite well. He did 1 medley, the 20 lap free style (forget what that is called) he did the 200 meter breast stroke and another relay at the end. He was tired, but kept going, much like the Energizer Bunny. He loves it when I say that.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

What's 4 Dinner - 4 Quick Tips

This HAS to be my least favorite question. I think my DD calls me at least 4 times a week just to ask me this question before I get home from work.

My usual response is, I don't know. Now, this is not entirely true, I do try to shop for one week at a time and I never go to the grocery store without a list, or, at least, a general idea of what we need. This includes some rough form of what I am planning to make for the next week for that ever important evening meal.

One lifesaver in the past few weeks has been the FoodNetwork website. I like that I can do a search at the top of their page for parts (like I did one yesterday to use up some chicken thighs that I had on hand) and get a big list of recipes using those parts.

I also purchased a book a few weeks back called Saving Dinner: The Menus, Recipes and Shopping Lists to Bring Your Family Back to the Table by Leanne Ely that I find moderately helpful. Some of her recipes are a hit, and some are not. My family is very picky, so in all fairness, this is probably a really great recipe book, and you can go online and get actual shopping lists if you want to follow her weekly dinner plan. I don't, I pick and choose and then make my own list.

I also love Every Day with Rachel Ray for this as well. Each month she has a pull out section that gives you 7 recipes and then shopping lists for them. Again, because of my picky eaters I usually have to pick just a couple of recipes that we will try and not use the full planner, but every little bit does help.

And finally, a tool I found recently when searching for organization tips is a free little newsletter that comes everyday with a recipe. The Change Your Life Challenge is mostly about organization, but there are a few newsletters on this page, including The Daily Rush, which is the one that includes the daily recipe.

Got any great tips on where to find fun, easy, quick, and yummy dinner ideas?? Please share!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

5 New Healthy Changes for 2008

Not really a New Year's Resolution, but my family and I are trying very hard to be healthier.

1. We definitely want to stay away from hydrogenated oils. If you have not read anything about this, I recommend that you do. I am not sure I really think that it is the root of all evil, as some claim, but I do think it is an artificial substance that I can keep my family away from without too much trouble.

2. We are also trying very hard to snack on and eat lots of pure fruits and vegetables. This is not quite as easy in Chicago in the middle of winter as it is in the spring and summer, but it can be done.

3. We are moving from drinking soda to drinking water, and the occasional healthy (100 % pure) juice. I have never been a big water lover, and so neither of my children are either, but we are trying to change that this year.

4. No more artificial sweeteners. I don't really care if they are the best thing since sliced bread or if they really are killing us, they are not natural and therefore we will stop consuming them. I do know that if I have them, I get a certain stomach discomfort that I would rather avoid, and if DD consumes them, she gets headaches. It could be all in our heads, but we feel better without them.

5. Finally, we are gonna move. My DD and I have pedometer and we are going to do at least 10,000 steps 5 days a week. I am also hoping that some of those steps will eventually be at a running pace, but we are starting slow and just walking for now.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Finally Friday Fun - On Saturday

Friday came and went and I didn't update the blog. I was too busy.

I am knitting! Anyone who knows me knows that this is not something that I would normally do, but I am actually enjoying it.

I included on my bucket list a couple of days ago that I wanted to learn to sew, and I do. But in order for me to learn to sew, I am going to have to run into the local JoAnn Fabric Store and take some actual lessons or someone (most likely me) could really get seriously injured. It looks like February will be my month to learn to sew, as that is when the night classes are. However, if I get too into this knitting thing, I may just be too busy to making matching hats, mittens and scarves to sew until a bit later in the year.

This all started when I was shopping for stocking stuffers over at the Escape Adulthood site and saw this cute scarf kit and thought my DD may like it. She was less than impressed, and not wanting the kit to go to waste, I thought I may as well dig in. Worse thing that can happen is I get a funny looking new scarf.

I think this kit is a good one, but I did need to visit two other very helpful sites to get some videos of just what I needed to do with my hands and needles to make the scarf. First, I was able to do a Long Tail Cast-On by watching the featured video at, and then I was able to continue with the knit stitch by watching this video over at VideoJug. What fun.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Decluttering My Mind

My theme for this year as I have noted, is declutter. While there can be little doubt my top priority here needs to be my house, I realize today that a declutter of my mind couldn't hurt much either.

What do I mean? Well, I realize that often I feel sad or depressed, or even worry about things that I really don't even need to be thinking about. I fill my mind with lots of garbage like TV, Talk Radio and even meaningless conversations at work. I think this needs to stop, and I need to be more discerning about what I let into my mind. I think I need to clear some of this mental clutter and just sit and listen for a change.

Listen to what you ask? First I want to listen to the silence, and find in it the voice of God. I think I should then listen to DH, he always has such interesting things to say when I choose to listen. Next, I think I will listen to DD and DS and see what they are really trying to say, and geez, what a blessing that they are still interested in talking to Mom at all at this point. Then I want to move on and begin to really listen to those I come in contact with everyday. What are my friends and co-workers really saying, and what do they need, and how can I help?

Perhaps as I clear my mind and focus more on what others are saying and needing, I will find less time to be disgruntled and worried about everything.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My Bucket List

They keep advertising this new movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Feeman called The Bucket List. Basically, a bucket list is one you make of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. I think this is a fantastic idea, and I don't want to wait another minute to make mine. . .a list of silly and not so silly things I want to do before I go. Of course, this assumes I have ample time and money to get to them all, but a list can't hurt.

I want to learn to sew

I want to learn to play the piano

I want to take my kids on an East Coast tour

I want to visit Europe

I want to take a long trip with my husband on our motorcycles

I want to relearn to play the trumpet and then play it in church

I want to write a book, even if no one ever reads it

I want to find a friend or two and love them like sisters

I want to learn to love other people for who they are. . .warts and all

That is all I have come up with for today, but I will be adding to this list as I go. I encourage you to make list or some goals, and if you do, drop me a note, I would love to see some other lists and add more to my own.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

In the New Year, I will Declutter

I am a regular reader of Christine Kane's blog, and have been encouraged by her posts on many occasions. I am especially excited to take her challenge to pick a word to guide me through the year. My word this next year will be Declutter. I would really like to declutter much of my life, starting with my house.

I bought a book about 10 years ago I think, called The Messies Manual: The Procrastinator's Guide to Good Housekeeping by Sandra Felton and realized quickly that I was indeed a messy, but did not resolve anything, as I procrastinated finishing the book. So, over the past couple of years I have tried to fix things in my house, I have tried different ways to keep things picked up, but it times of great busyness or stress at home, my house always falls into disarray.

I blogged recently about finding the Flylady and putting her system into play in our home, and in this system, I have found some tangible steps that I can take to reach my goal. I do often get a bit discouraged by how long it is taking for everything to be completely decluttered, The Flylady does warn about how those of us who are unorganized tend toward trying for perfection, and thus constantly fail so I need to head her wise words and continue taking the baby steps to declutter.