Thursday, March 30, 2006

Finding Family Fun

You really should leave your house once in awhile--and bring your kids with. But where will you go?

Your community is probably filled with family-oriented activities, and many might even be free!

*Look in the local newspaper (more local than the Chicago Tribune--be specific to your town or neighborhood) or free weekly newspapers. Especially in the summer, there may be some great festivals to go to.
*Our favorite spot for free, family fun....the library. Many offer 'baby time' once a week and other programs for people of all ages.
*Check out your local park district. Many offer programs for families at low-costs (or offer some kind of funding) as well as special free events for families (like an Easter egg hunt, touch-a-truck day, concerts).
*If you live near a college or university, check out their calendar of events. Large universities usually offer open houses and free programs as well as free sporting events.
*Join a Parent Group--Mothers and More or La Leche League are good groups to join to meet other parents with small children. Many of these groups list their meeting times in the local papers.
*Enjoy nature!! Its springtime now so enjoy your local parks, take a walk, go to a nature preserve, visit local arboretums, explore the urban jungle (your kids may enjoy window shopping as much as you do!).

Below are some links for my community:
News Gazette
Weekly Buzz
Champaign County
Champaign Public Library
Urbana Public Library
Champaign Park District
Urbana Park District
University of Illinois
Parkland College

Mothers and More
La Leche League

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Waste Not

Being a stay-home mom, our budget is very tight. Therefore, I don't waste a thing in our house, if I can. We always have bananas that no one will eat once any brown appears. So we eat a lot of banana bread and muffins as well as smoothies.

Dont' have time? Peel bananas, chop roughly, place in ziplock, and throw in freezer. Label the amount on bag. (You can also freeze any berries or peaches that get forgotten)

Here are our favorite recipes.

This is fiber-packed and a great morning snack.

Chunky Monkey Muffins
1 cup sugar (you can do 1/2 white, 1/2 brown)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 eggs
4 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup buttermilk (or milk with 1/2 tsp vinegar)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1 cup chocolate chips, optional
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins, optional

Heat oven to 350F. Cream butter, sugar, and 2 bananas together. Add buttermilk. Add flours, soda, salt, and cinnamon. Fold in oatmeal, nuts, chocolate, fruit, and remaining 2 bananas (chopped). Spoon into muffin tins sprayed with cooking spray. Makes 24 large muffins (bake 20-30 min) or 48 mini-muffins (bake 15-20 min) or 2 bread loaves (bake 45-60 min).

*Using a mixer, this is easy to make while holding the baby. Use an ice cream scoop to fill baking cups.
**Kids can help pick out ingredients and taste them (please be aware of choking hazards).

Fruit Smoothies
1 cup frozen or fresh fruit
1/2 cup juice, milk, soy milk or water
1/4 cup yogurt, optional
1/2 cup ice, optional

1 banana
1-2 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup milk or soy milk
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup, optional

Place in blender and blend until desired consistency.

We also have leftover pasta and rice often. Here is a great recipe to use it up.
Speghetti Pie or Rice Casserole
1 cup veggies--leftover or fresh (onions, carrots, squash, whatever)
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk or broth
1 cup tomato sauce
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained (throw in the microwave for 3 mins and squeeze out in paper towels)
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2-2 cups leftover pasta or rice
1/2 cup shredded cheese

Heat oven 350F. In large skillet, heat butter or oil. Add veggies, sautee 5 minutes. Add flour and stir. Cook 1-2 minutes. Add milk, stir. Bring to boil. Add tomato sauce and spinach. Add pasta or rice and egg. Top with cheese. Mix until well combined. Pour into 9x9 pan, sprayed with cooking spray. Bake 15 minutes. While baking, make a salad or veggie (try making frozen green beans with a handful of dried cranberries).

*You can make this ahead of time and put it in the oven when you get home (cook for 45 minutes).

Learning from Lasagna

Its been awhile, I know. But that's what happens in families. Kids get sick, teething, soccer practice, and all the sudden weeks have gone by and you didn't even notice. But in the chaos we call parenthood, I did manage to get some good food on the table.

Here is a great lasagna to learn with....

Learning Lasagna
1 package no-cook lasagna noodles
1 package italian blend shredded cheese (or 2 cups grated mozerella)
2-3 cups tomato sauce (see recipe below or use store-bought)
2 portions of lasagna fillings (see below)
Heat oven to 350F. Prepare sauce and fillings as desired. Coat bottom of 9x9 pan with sauce. Add one layer of noodles (about 3 noodles--you will probably have to break them up to fit). Cover with sauce. Add one layer of filling. Add layer of noodles. Cover with sauce. Cover with layer of shredded cheese. Add another layer of filling. Add layer of noodles. Cover with sauce. Cover with remaining shredded cheese. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Take foil off and bake additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes.
(This freezes well. Line the pan with two layers of foil, then assemble. Cover with foil. Freeze in pan. Once frozen, take out of pan and wrap with plastic wrap. You can bake from frozen, add 20 minutes).
Lasagna Fillings
1. Mix one small container of ricotta cheese with one clove finely minced garlic, 1/4 tsp basil, salt and pepper. (You can also add one package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained well).
2. Brown 1 lb. ground beef or italian sausage. Drain excess fat. Add one cup tomato sauce.
3. Sautee fresh veggies in pan with garlic and basil. You want about 1-2 cups when finished. I suggest mushrooms, zuchinni, carrots, spinach, peppers, or any mix (leftover veggies work well too!). Add one cup tomato sauce.
4. Grill or sautee one eggplant--sliced thin.

Easy Tomato Sauce
(its better and WAY cheaper than jarred sauce)
1 large can crushed tomatoes or about 5-10 fresh tomatoes, chopped and seeded
1 medium onion, chopped
at least 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried basil or a bunch of fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
(you can also pump up the veggie in-take by adding 2 chopped carrots, 2 chopped ribs celery, 1 chopped bell pepper, or fresh or frozen spinach)

Heat a medium pot on high. Add olive oil, onions (and any other veggies except spinach), and garlic. Sautee for five minutes. Add basil, tomatoes, and salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer ten minutes. (Add spinach at end).
*I sometimes puree the sauce--to hide the veggies.
What the Kids Can Do!
*Select fillings (one kid can pick one, another can pick another)
*Break noodles into 1/2 Can you make this noodle into 2? This piece is called 1 half. How many halves do you have now?
*Count noodles
*Measure ingredients Let's scoop 1 cup of sauce into pan.
*Spread sauce and cheese
*Help make the pattern of the lasagne Sauce, noodles, filling...what comes next?
*Cut veggies (older children only!)
*Put foil on top
*Measure different pans to select right one
*Identify shapes for right pan We need a square pan, which of these is square?
*Count corners on pan How many corners are on this pan? We need one with 4 corners.
*Grate cheese (older children only!)
*Identify colors of food What color is the tomato sauce? How about this noodle?
*Taste different ingredients Do you like that taste? Does it taste sweet or sour?
*Mix sauce or fillings
*Read recipe Identify title, words, sentences, number, fractions, symbols.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Who are you?

If you are reading this blog, let me know!!

Introduce yourself!

Please let me know what you think or what you would like to hear about? Any questions I can answer? Looking for a good recipe?

Email me at:

Keeping Up with the World

With the passing of the Oscars last night, award season is now over. This year I was at the point where I only really knew the nominees in the children's categories (e.g. best children's album, best animated film). Thank goodness for the Daytime Emmy's--at least I have seen those shows at least once. Being a stay-home mom, especially in the Midwest where its supercold in the winer and hot in the summer, we spend a lot of time inside--not even talking to other people outside the immediate family. Some days I feel so out of touch, that I can't believe what's happened to me. But I have found some ways to combat this isolation and feel like other adults in the world.

--The Latest News
First, I keep up with the news. I try to watch the local news at least a couple times a week. I also check on the daily news online. Even if I only read the headlines, at least I know there is something happening. I check the national and local websites once a day.

I like and (as well as

--The Gift of Gossip
Secondly, I give myself the gift of celebrity gossip. I subscribe to People Magazine. Its a bit expensive, since it is published weekly but you could share the subscription with a girlfriend. Or I read Us Weekly at the gym. And I even check once in awhile. In our American world right now, celebrity news is as almost as important as 'real' news, so if you are in the know you can relate to other adults--should you come in contact with any.
(at least the crossword in the back should keep your brain working!)

--See Adult Movies
We try to see 'adult' movies at least once a month. I don't mean porn--although there is nothing wrong with that, if you like. I mean movies made for people over 13 years old. Movies are expensive to go to--especially on a date with your honey (dinner, movie, popcorn, babysitter=$100 easy).
Here are some tips:
(1) go to a weekend matinee--some theaters reduce the price even more from 4-6pm. Sitters are easier to find since they don't have to devote their whole evening to babysitting.
(2) rent a DVD--there are only $3-4 which is half of one ticket at the theater. Pop some popcorn at home for another $1. Too tired at the end of the day? Pop it in your laptop and watch it in bed or watch half one day and half another.
(3) Pay-per-view. It can be the same price as renting and you don't have to return it.
(4) Rent from the library. Our library is getting movies faster than before and you can borrow them for a week for a small fee (ours is $1).
(5) If you really watch a lot of DVD's, try a service such as Netflix or Blockbuster Online. They mail them to your door. If you are really going to watch a lot, it is definately worth it economically. You could also share a membership with a friend.
Also, since you probably won't be able to see every movie out there. Make the experience worth it, glance at reviews ( is great, you can see how a movie rates without reading through all the reviews and ruining the surprise endings) or ask friends for reviews.

--Read a Book or Watch TV.
I also love to read. After being in grad school, I longed to read anything that wasn't a textbook or research article. So, I became a library junky. I find a series of books or a particular author and read as much as I can. Right now I am reading books by Sue Grafton (her alphabet series, A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar...). They are great with a super female lead. Check it out at
(**Also, by seeing you read, your children will see the importance of reading for themselves!)
By the time we get all the kids to bed and clean up a bit, its late and we are tired. Sometimes, I am just too tired to read coherently. So, I try to watch one 'adult' television show each week. I make the time. Usually, I prefer CSI but if I miss the beginning, I opt for ER. Something about watching something without dance numbers makes me feel like an adult again.

--Eat like an Adult
It is so easy to find yourself munching on macaroni and cheese with a side of chicken nuggets. But once in awhile, you need to eat gourmet. Make a separate meal for you and your honey (if the kids are having chicken nuggets, make a big salad with spinach, greens, veggies, apples, cranberries, nuts. Then slice up the chickken nuggets and add it to your salad). We also like to keep some of our favorite restaurants kid-free, meaning we only go there alone. It becomes a special place that we can feel like adults and not parents for a hour or two. Eat slowly and stay late for dessert and coffee.

--Get Out of the House!!
Finally, get yourself out of the house (and not to the grocery store!). I find that to only places I go are the grocery store and the gym. Although, I use the gym as my retreat, I also need time to go something alone and not practical. You don't always have to multi-task. Go to the movies, have coffee with friends, go out and talk on the phone for an hour--without interruption, read in the park, shop for clothes for yourself, treat yourself to lunch, go for a walk. Do something without the kids or even your sweetie and try not to think about them--as hard as that is. You probably have a cell phone, so if they are truly in need of you, they can call.

It is so easy to fall into the seculsion of your house and role as a mother or father. But you have to remember that you are also a woman or man, wife or husband. Take the time to be that adult. It will allow you to be a better parent.
Happy person=Happy parent!!!