INFOGRAPHIC TUESDAY: Social Media May Be Giving Us ADD...Big Surprise!

Pin It Today, on the heels of my last post, I decided to try and search out any infographics related to stress level in children and over scheduling. I did not have much luck. But I did find this very interesting one about how social media is affecting, and retraining our brains. Studies are still preliminary, but the findings seem to be startling.

I always have said, social media, ironically, makes us more antisocial. There is nothing social about sitting by yourself in front of your computer at 2 a.m. next to your cat posting to Facebook because you can't sleep. It is a very lonely place to be. I know. I have been there. Unless you have a glass of wine or chocolate to help you out, it is kind of depressing.

I have had to learn social inside and out, for the sake of my blog as well as being in advertising. I thought it best to learn in the trenches so I could advise my clients how best to use social. I have found it to be a great creative outlet for me. I have rediscovered my love of writing. I have made many friends and made many connections on my blog journey. It has been amazing. I have reconnected with childhood friends that I would never have been able to do without Facebook. But I have noticed some disturbing things about myself over the past few months.

I addictively go to Pinterest to unwind at night for hours. I find it difficult to focus on specific projects if I am at my computer at work. My email and status updates continue to interrupt me. My brain seems to be "buzzing" all the time. It is very strange. Maybe there is something to all this, I don't know. But I recently ran a creative summit at work for my staff, and a lot of it revolved around actually unplugging and giving yourself quiet time to think. I will be posting a condensed version of my presentation to share with you all. It has to do with tactics to keep yourself creatively fresh in the frenzy of your day. Whether you are a foodie, a crafter, an artist or a writer, we all need time to allow our creative soul to play. I am not sure if social helps or not...the jury I guess is still out. But take a look at this and decide for yourself.

But I guess I will try and lay off Pinterest tonight!

The graphic was authored by assisted living today.


PARENTING: Our 4th Grade Lessons in Overscheduling & Overstimulation

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4th grade is not an easy grade, but I am wondering as of late if we adults make it even harder by adding unrealistic expectations of extracurricular activities on top of aggressive academics. It seems most schools have accelerated the curriculum that would have been a grade level higher for us when we went to school. My daughter is surely under pressure to keep up with her older classmates (she is on the younger side of 4th grade). But outside of classwork, my daughter has had a full plate of other activities. She seems to take after us! We over commit to everyone and want to have our hands in everything! The difference is, we are in our 40's. She is only 9 1/2. All those commitments have a level of stress that only a certain level of maturity can handle.

If it were up to my monkey-girl, she would be in everything. And shame on us, we let her try it all. At the start of the school year, she was in Girl Scouts, Book Club, karate and piano, and quickly added "Green Club". Three months into the school year, she wanted to add basketball to her plate. Then after two weeks of all of it, she came to me and said she felt the need to drop karate to stay in basketball. I was about to tell her the same thing! I was pleased that she actually beat me to the conversation and showed some maturity.

Then as the season progressed, basketball became all consuming. In our school league, it is a very serious sport. Practices changed in November to be twice a week, 1 1/2 hours each time. One of those practices landed on a Sunday from 4:30-6 p.m. And shockingly, as I left the gym with my tired daughter, the 5th grade girls showed up to practice until 7:30! I mean, this is a school night, right? Now add games on Saturday...sometimes a double header. Games are full court, and they do "press". There are also playoffs that take place in March. So not only were we as parents running around with the basketball schedule, but so were our kids. She was not having any down time at all. As she became grumpy about practices in December, I lectured her about commitments and not being a quitter. I pondered how there were children in her class that even were in band and choir on top of it all. Why couldn't she keep up? Why was she a frazzled mess?

So here was where our epiphany came. And God bless her, it came from our poor daughter's meltdown. Her last basketball practice, with 2 weeks left to the season, was a disaster. She just pretty much went on strike. The coach did not know what to do with her and my husband got an earful at pick up. She was also acting out in school that week as well. She was angry and frustrated. When I got home, she had been crying all afternoon. I laid into her and through tears she explained she did not want to disappoint me but basketball was too much. She had no down time anymore. She said if it was a nice day on a Saturday, she couldn't really enjoy it because she was running around to school gyms all day. She couldn't visit her best friend, her favorite cousins or my parents on Sunday anymore because of mandatory practice that night. All those things that bring joy and happiness to a child's life had been harder to fit in our schedule.

So I reluctantly agreed to let her drop it but I told her I needed her to meet me halfway. I needed to see improvements in her attitude, temper and behavior. As I sat that night with a cup of tea to "chill out" after the drama, I remembered a conversation with another mom at our school about the 4th grade class. She said, "What is up with this 4th grade? They are angry, belligerent and obnoxious! You usually don't see this behavior until 6th grade! It's so weird!" I laughed and said, "It is so good to hear I am not alone!" As I sipped my tea, it dawned on me. All the kids in my daughter's class are "overachievers". Many of them are in multiple activities that run the gamut from sports, music, church programs, scouting, and various clubs. And on top of it they have to deal with a growing amount of classwork and school responsibilities. I did not have that kind of load growing up until middle school. I think all I worried about in 4th grade was school and playing outside! I attended park district classes but they were only 6-8 week sessions and once a week at the most–no pressure to "make the play-offs" and nothing long enough to get sick of. Maybe we are all demanding too much from this age group? I am not sure. But I know my kid, and it seems she needs more down time and quiet time than other children. I have to do what is right for her and not worry about what other parents do. So, we cut out everything except piano and Girls Scouts. Our family refocused on school and behavior.

After a slightly better-but-still-rocky week after the "melt down", we had another epiphany. Our days as humans of this century are filled with a multi-media onslaught, especially for our children. So we decided to take other distractions off our daughter's plate as well. We cut out cartoon shows, video games, iPad and computer time (unless it is for school work) indefinitely. I wanted to see if we had a more focused, calmer child by cutting all this out, too.

And it has been a very interesting first week. I am not going to say it is easier on us. In fact, because she is an only child, it is a lot more work for us. It was a lot easier to just plop her on the computer for an hour and go do the laundry. But some really good things have been happening. She is occupying herself in other ways. She made a homemade puzzle/maze book. She has been working on a model airplane with her father. She made a list of chores (unprompted) with monetary values attached so that she could save up for a game to play when she finally gets her video game privileges back. She has been doing chores all this weekend. She wanted to learn how to do the laundry. She practiced her piano a lot more, unprompted. She has been loading the dishwasher, unprompted. She reorganized her closet. She made a donation pile of books for the upcoming book drive. She is playing with our cat and taking better care of her fish. She is reading more. She has had much better behavior reports this week from school. We still have our yelling jar, and she barely has to add money to it this week.

I told my husband I don't want to go back. We have allowed her this weekend to watch 1 hour of a movie with us as a family before bed. But I want to keep it to just that. We will have to see how long we keep the video games and computer at bay. Even if we do allow them back in her life, I think we will have them tightly regulated as far as time. But it will not be anytime soon. After all, I love help with the laundry, and I think our cat enjoys her new playmate!

RECIPE: Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup

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Today at my home it is a Happy Sunday!


First, a BIG Happy Birthday to my father! Today is his birthday, and even though we are officially celebrating next weekend, my daughter announced "We need to visit Nonno! We should bring brownies!" So any day visiting the P's is a good day indeed.

Secondly, it is sunny, which after our big "Thunder-Snow" incident this week, makes for a wet-yet-cheery day.

And thirdly, I get to share this lovely, hearty meal that you still have time to throw together in your slow cooker! It will make for a savory, home-spun meal this evening. I know, because we made it last Sunday. It is based off of a great cookbook from Cook's Illustrated called, The Best Slow and Easy Recipes. We love Cook's Illustrated. They really test recipes and explain the science behind cooking. It's like going to culinary school via a magazine. This book is great. I urge you to check out a copy from the library and see if you would enjoy it. So back to this recipe, I wanted to deepen the broth flavor by using "Better Than Bouillon". I also felt the recipe was light on vegetables, so I kicked up the carrots and added peas toward the end. I also kicked up the wine 'cause....you know, I'm Italian.

I love the slow cooker. You can buy inexpensive cuts and let them cook all day without a thought. And lets face it, Sundays can get busy. You have the week to prep for! Laundry, cleaning, shoveling (or gardening), errands, homework, the list is endless. Phew, I'm getting depressed thinking about it.

Good thing Nonna is cooking for us tonight!

Dust off your slow cooker and enjoy!

Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup


Ingredients:

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
3 Tbsp. canola oil
3 medium onions, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 Tbsp. minced, fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup red wine
2 cups beef stock (or see *note)
2 cups chicken stock (or see *note)
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2" pieces
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup pearl barley
2 lb. blade steak, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas


Directions:



In a food processor, puree the tomatoes with their juices until smooth. In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the onions until beginning to sweat. Then add the tomato paste, thyme and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring often, over medium heat. Once the vegetables begin to brown (about 10 minutes) add the red wine and scrape off any brown bits off the bottom as the mixture simmers.

Add the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the processed tomatoes and stir. Turn on low.

* note: If using "Better Than Bouillon", heat 4 cups of water until near boiling in the microwave. Divide water into 2 cups each. In one mix 2 tsp. of the chicken flavor until dissolved. In the other, mix 2 tsp. of the beef flavor. Add these stocks to the slow cooker. 

If using canned stock instead, add them to the tomato mixture in the slow cooker. Add the carrots, soy sauce and barley and stir.


Take the blade steaks, and trim off fat. Also, if the pieces are wide enough, cut horizontally as well to cut away the middle sinew. All pieces should be roughly around 1/2" in size. My blade steaks were cut pretty thin. So my soup was ready to eat around 7-8 hours. If your steaks are thicker, you may need more time. The meat should be fork tender, and even broken down in some cases to the point that tiny bits of meat are woven throughout the soup.

After your meat is trimmed and ready to go, add your cut up meat to the slow cooker. Nestle it deep into the liquid using a spoon. Cover and cook on low for 7 -10 hours (half the time if on high). The last hour of cooking, add the frozen peas, stir and cook until peas are tender. Serve warm with some crusty bread.

TUESDAY INFOGRAPHIC: Spring means Flowers, Warmer Weather and Pests!

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infographic from orkin.com


My gardening 6th sense is tingling these days in the Midwest. I think Spring is coming early. My daffodils are 2 inches out of the ground, and that means business!

That also means that the warmer it gets, the earlier things get hatching under ground. And I, for one, hate grubs and slugs. They trash my garden and lawn. Grubs will hatch the minute is gets up to 60˚F. Once they run rampant in your yard, they are hard to control. So in honor of the slightly warmer weather where I am at, I am sharing this great infographic on pests according to areas of the USA.

This is to not gross you out (although my daughter was quite upset I put this up on the blog, she hates bugs...worms to be exact). I hope to motivate you as well me to get on top of our yards sooner rather than later. The earlier you get on top of Spring yard care, the sooner you can enjoy a mint julep sitting in it!

RECIPE: Carrot Fritters

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You say you can't get your kid to eat any veggies? They just want buttered noodles? They cry at the sight of any color on their plate? They just want beige or brown colored foods?

I feel your pain, even though we are foodies over here! My daughter gobbles sushi and Thai food! But even she gives me a hard time with certain veggie sides.

There are many ways to sneak veggies into your child's meals. Sometimes, even a baked good can hide a good helping of vegetables. (Try my zucchini chocolate bread-known to be fought over by picky 4 year olds! My whoopie pies even hide pureed spinach!)

As far as lunch and dinner, fritters are an easy way to add a unique veggie side. These carrot fritters are very flavorful and an easy way to add "veggie-color" to your child's meal, even if you are giving them something simple like chicken nuggets. They will never know they are eating carrots, onions and celery in every bite. I serve these with plain Greek yogurt, but my daughter prefers them plain. I think Ranch dressing would be a great condiment for them as well.

One final note, I based this recipe off of the carrot fritter recipe in "Power Foods" cookbook from Whole Living Magazine. The cookbook is packed with super fresh and healthy recipes. Some of them are a little challenging for younger palates, so I adapt many of these for our family so there is less conflict at the dinner table! It's a great cookbook! Check it out!


Carrot Fritters


Ingredients

1 3/4 cup grated carrots
2 stalks finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely grated onion, squeezed through cheesecloth until liquid is dispelled and they are "dry"
1/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup shredded Grana Padano Paremsan Cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/2 cup low fat plain Greek yogurt or Ranch dressing

Directions


In a bowl, beat your two eggs. Add the carrots, onion, celery and mix to coat. Add the breadcrumbs, parsley and cheese and mix. Add the salt and pepper, and mix again.


In a large non-stick pan, heat the oil over medium heat. With your hands, shape the mixture into a 1 1/2 -2 inch patty and plop it into the pan, Continue until pan is filled, allowing about 2 inches of space between each patty. You will need room for flipping so don't overcrowd. I let the pan heat up again, then lower to a medium heat. You want to cook them until golden but you want them to cook through. It takes about 3-4 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter lined with paper towels to drain. Continue until all done! Serve warm with yogurt as a garnish.

RECIPE: MultiGrain Pine Nut "No Knead in No Time" Artisan Bread

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Recently I posted a very hearty "No Knead in No Time" artisan bread. Since then I have been playing with the recipe, adding various mix ins and grains. I wanted to try a Bob's Red Mill Grain mix to add some good grain options as a base without having to buy bags and bags of various grains to keep in the pantry. I love millet and flax, but if not used up quickly, will get stale. Then a cranky husband cleaning out the pantry mumbling as he is throwing away "money" ensues and it's just not a good scene. So you can say Bob's Red Mill saves marriages? No, maybe not that far. But close.

After all, nothing makes a man happier than warm, home made,  hearty bread from their wives. It's a June Cleaver thing...I think.

So, back to Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain bread mix... it makes amazing bread. This variation on the process is pitch perfect. It is my best one yet, and I think it was the abundance of olive oil with the pine nuts I mixed in. The pine nuts and oil a mellow, nutty flavor with a really moist crumb and chewy crust. I brought it to my Wine and Dinner Club and the wives packed up the leftovers before I could sneak it back in my bag to bring home for later! People fighting over your food means you did something right!

Multi Grain Pine Nut "No Knead in No Time" Artisan Bread

Ingredients


Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Bread Mix
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup roughly chopped pine nuts
3 1/4 cups lukewarm water
4 1/2 tsp. dry yeast (use some from the packet provided in the grain mix then add more)
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

extra olive oil for coating the dutch oven
cornmeal for sprinkling


Directions:

 In a mixing bowl mix salt, honey, sugar, olive oil and balsamic vinegar into the water. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Let sit for about 3 minutes, or until yeast is bubbling.


In another bowl, mix Bob's 10 grain mix, the whole wheat flour, the oats and the pine nuts. With a kneading hook attachment on the mixer, mix in the flour mixture into the yeast mixture and work the dough for about 7 minutes. The dough will pull away from the sides when ready in a workable ball (see above). If the dough is too wet, add more whole wheat flour a 1/4 cup at a time until the dough is workable.

Grease a large bowl with olive oil and plop the dough inside. Wet a lint-free towel until it is damp. Lay it over the bowl and place in a dark place. (I use the oven). Let it sit for 1-2 hours. (When pressed for time, 1 hour has worked fine.) The dough will have doubled in size. Take it out. Pull the dough from the sides and fold it over itself a few times. Cover with the towel again and let sit again for 1 more hour. It will rise again.

Coat a dutch oven with olive oil on all sides and even the bottom of the cover. Heat oven to 425˚, placing the Dutch oven bottom in there while preheating. The Dutch oven will create a crisp crust if it is hot.

When the oven is at 425˚, pull out the Dutch oven and sprinkle the insides with a handful of corn meal. Pull your dough away from the sides of the bowl again, fold it over a few times on itself, then plop into prepared Dutch oven. You can hear it sizzle as you plop it in, which means you have your pot hot enough. With a sharp knife or kitchen scissors, cut 3 slits along the top of the dough and cover with the oiled cover. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another ten minutes, or until crust is crisp and golden. Flip bread onto a cooling rack before cutting. Serve warm.

RECIPE: Whole Wheat Pecan Apple Crisp

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I had so many apples in my crisper a few weeks ago- they were like tribbles (shout-out to all you traditional Star Trek fans)! I am not sure why we had so many apples, but I blame my husband.

It's just easier that way.

Anyway, as my husband grumbled about how many apples we had and how they were going to get mealy if we did not do something fast, I began brainstorming some recipe ideas to clear out the apples. Well, the first idea I had was an easy one, an apple crisp. I tried to "grain it up" to make it healthier. It's easy and delicious warm. The best part is that you can clean out a crisper drawer of apples in no time. Well, unless it's OUR crisper drawer. I even had to make a crock pot apple cake to make a decent dent in our apple population.

But that's another recipe.

Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pecan Apple Crisp

Ingredients

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup regular flour
1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, softened

4 1/2 cups apples, peeled and sliced 1/4" thick
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water

Directions

In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the oats, pecans and sugar. Cut in the softened butter and mash with a fork until streusel topping is clumpy and crumbly. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the apples with cinnamon, cornstarch and brown sugar. Let macerate for 15 minutes or more.

Preheat oven to 375˚. Spray cooking spray in a 13 x 9 x 4 oblong casserole dish with a lid. Pour the apples evenly in the bottom of the dish. Pour the water over the apples. Evenly crumble the streusel topping over the apples. Bake on center rack for 30 minutes, uncovered. Then cover the dish and bake for another 15 minutes. The apples will start to become bubbly and thick. Uncover again for the final 5-10 minutes of cooking. Streusel should be a golden brown and the apples should be bubbling and syrupy. Let cool. Serve with whipped cream.


Mommyhood: The Importance of Reading Aloud

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I recently was asked by a wonderful organization called litworld to be one of their brand ambassadors for World Read Aloud Day on March 7th. I was excited and honored. I have been an avid reader my whole life. From when I read my first book by myself to this very day, reading is a therapeutic past time for me- and I love discussing what I read (thus my "mammaslibrary" book review blog). I am asked by other women how I can find time to read!? As busy and stressed as I am, I don't know how I couldn't. Reading is the only way I can wind down before bed, even if it's all of three pages, I have to do it. Reading to me is like a glass of warm milk.

But becoming a WRADvocate for litworld.org has forced me to evaluate my influences in reading from when I was very young. My obsession with books was something I took for granted about myself. When I really stopped and thought about it, however, my parents did not read to me when I was little. They had immigrated here from Italy in the mid 1960s, knowing practically no English. By the time they had me, they only spoke self-taught broken English. So reading to me like other American parents did every night was not happening in my home. So as I answered my WRADvocate profile questions, I became baffled. How did I become such a voracious reader and writer if my poor parents were struggling with the language themselves?

Well, when you hear it takes a village to raise a child, nothing could be more truthful then when it came to my upbringing. Looking back, I can tell you distinctly the first time I was given a book and had someone read aloud to me. It was my father's American cousin and his wife who arrived at our home with a Little Golden Book of Disney's Robin Hood. They read it to me in bed. I had to be 4 years old. It was wonderful and I was hooked. Though my parents' English improved through the years and bought countless books for my sister and I, they still only read to us rarely. It was the wonderful reading time with teachers and the school librarian that fed my hunger for reading. It was an escape for me as it is for all kids. Even as our class moved into chapter books, I remember my third and fourth grade teachers reading aloud to us. They would always stop at a cliffhanger, leaving us wanting more. It was such a great way to introduce us to the intrigue and rewarding perseverance that chapter books provide. It is something I struggle with at home now with my daughter. She finds long chapter books daunting. I am using the "few chapters a night" aloud approach right now to see if it works.

If it wasn't for my father's cousin, my wonderful public school teachers or an extensive local library, I am not sure who would have nurtured my reading skills. I won the school's Young Author's Contest in for both 4th and 5th grade levels! This, from a child whos parents still spoke broken English at home.

It is so very important to support programs to help children read. Children come from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds and reading support may not always come from home, no matter how good a parent's intentions are. It does take a village to keep kids reading and writing. And we need to help make sure those supporting literacy get the resources they need to help children. After all, we may have the next Hemingway out there!

Think about the children in your neighborhood, or around the globe. And especially your own children. Read to them often. Take them to the library with a big old tote bag to fill. Create your own family "book club" (see my post on this great idea). Urge your school or parish to run a book drive to support a local used book shop or library. Donate or raise funds as a community service project for organizations such as litworld.org.

And for litworld's World Read Aloud Day, plan a cool event at your local library, child's school, scouting troop or just at home with your family! Litworld.org has great downloads, ideas and kits to print and use to make that day reader-ific! Or simply, take ten minutes on March 7th with your kids, grab some books and read aloud. It's the best gift you can give them. I am living proof of that.

In honor of my father's cousin, Vito, who with his wife, was the first person to read aloud to me. We lost Vito to colon cancer on New Years 2012. He holds a special place in my heart, always.



About litworld

LitWorld is a 501C3 nonprofit organization led by Executive Director Pam Allyn, a renowned literacy educator and advocate. We work to cultivate literacy leaders worldwide through transformational literacy experiences that build connection, understanding, resilience and strength. LitWorld joins together with teachers, parents, community members, and children to support the development of sustainable literacy practices across the world.

Literacy is the foundation for emotional and physical well-being, intellectual growth, and economic security. The right to read and write is a fundamental human right and belongs to all people.

Worldwide at least 793 million people remain illiterate. Two-thirds of them are women. All over the world, children are hungry for learning and for the power it brings. Research shows that children learn to read and write best by writing and telling the stories of their own experiences. Yet it is rare to find safe spaces where children feel fully comfortable to do so.

LitWorld is changing that.
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