Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween Nightmare

I made this hat.
This is significant for two reasons:
A. I am not crafty.
B. it is completed two whole days before my little girl needed it.

It is a part of her Halloween costume.

Can you guess what it is?

If I am not crafty why would I ever torture myself with homemade costumes you're thinking to yourself? Well because I am cheep, er, thrifty and because I refuse to overpay for something I could do myself.
Do it well? No.
Create it easily? Um, definitely not.

This hat for little Madeline was made out of:
2 cereal boxes
$6 worth of felt
A belt from one of my shirts
And a needle and thread.

Not kidding.

The little blue petticoat to go with the hat was dug out of the basement as my oldest daughter wore it ten years ago. Unfortunately I didn't save the hat.

Halloween is a nightmare for crafty sensibilities like mine and my budget. Nevertheless, on the eve of Halloween .... I'm ready!

For once in my parenting career I am ready!

Well, except we haven't carved pumpkins yet, or bought the candy or ....

What!? It's all good!

Please feel free to comment .... are you suffering from Pinterst envy as well? Do you make crappy Halloween costumes too?

-Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 29, 2012

Menu Monday - (w New Recipes!!)

I've missed cooking. So this week's menu includes lots of new recipes and time in the kitchen. You see, I like to cook when I have free time. It's my way of expressing my creativity. It also represents an un-hurried life. When I have time to try new recipes it's like I have time to explore new options, create them and (hopefully) savor them! So I have a few links below that were new recipes to our house! Some of them we may even add to the rotation!

SUNDAY - brunch
Cheesy Scrambled Eggs, Sausage Links, Bacon Cheese Pull Apart Bread & PotatoCakes

MONDAY - Swiss Baked Chicken with Crockpot Mashed Potatoes & Green Bean Casserole (we love, love this meal!)

TUESDAY-Crock Pot Macaroni & Cheese
(it's Paula Dean's recipe y'all, so it's gottobe good!)


THURSDAY - Pizza Subs w Perfect French Fries  (seriously, these fries are perfect! and with the prep/fry time involved it is a recipe to make when you have time!)

FRIDAY - Tator Tot Casserole
(my hubby's fav-OH-rite! there are a ga-zillion ways to make this but my recipe is simple and super kid friendly)

Pumpkin Doughnuts (again work but totally worth the effort!)

Pioneer Woman Apple Pie (yum-o!) (this pie is a slice of heaven)

S'more Bars (my kids loved this. I adapted (as I do almost every recipe) because I only had about 5 regular size Hershey bars. But c'mon chocolate is chocolate, no?)

Cinnamon Roll Waffles (this recipe comes from a website blogger called "Lady Behind the Curtain" !! isn't that an awesome name! ha! I only have a Belgium waffle maker so we used 2 Grands at a time and spiraled them around each other so we had one HUGE cinnamon roll)

I'm always looking for new recipes! Please add yours or a link to yours in the comment section below! Happy cooking! xo Steph

Crock Pot Mashed Potatoes

You know how you LOVE mashed potatoes but never serve it because it leaves you standing in the kitchen when you want to be doing other things? I found a crockpot recipe! Now I can have mashed potatoes on busy nights or even for company and I'm not all tied up in the kitchen. I know, you can thank me later after you try it out!

5# potatoes
1 c butter chunked
1 T salt
2t garlic powder
1 t pepper

Add all to crockpot and cook 4 hour on high. Do not drain. When ready add 1 1/3 c warm milk and mash. Enjoy.

Tater Tot Casserole

Tater Tot Casserole
(my hubby's fav-OH-rite! there are a ga-zillion ways to make this but my recipe is simple and super kid friendly)

Bake tator tots according to package until super crispy.
Meanwhile fry up hamburger ((add onions if you like. I like))
Drain meat and add 1 can condensed cream of cheese soup and 1/2 can of milk and mix up with meat. When tots are done put in 9x9 greased dish and fill bottom but save some for the top.
Then layer meat/cheese mixture, cover in shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle remaining tots on the top.
Add extra cheese for extra goodness and heat through in the oven.
Then accept applause from your children.

FYI I love this with Ketchup but my kids love it with Ranch dressing aka STAPLES in our house!

Pizza Subs

Get your favorite sub bun or hoagie roll.
Layer in it:
Crumbled, cooked sausage
(and anything else you like on a pizza)
top it off with Mozzarella &/or Provolone Cheese
and pizza sauce.

Wrap it in foil and warm it in the oven. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Modern Parenting

Each generation has its own set of gaps. My daughter, just like I did, thinks her parents are embarrassingly outdated and totally lame.

Wait, do kids these days say "lame" anymore?

Yet no matter how difficult I and my siblings were to our parents, my mom and dad had it easy compared to modern day parents like me. How do I know? Because we had a family phone.

When I was a kid and I wanted to talk to my friends they had to call my house where my mother would answer the phone and ask, "Who's calling?" It was impossible to have a telephone conversation with my friends outside of my nosey parents' realm of authority. Sure I'd stretch the cord (remember when telephones were connected to the wall?) into the hallway and try and get out of earshot but even then no conversation was private. That lack of privacy meant I edited my conversations. I didn't cuss or lie or gossip for fear of being overheard. If I had my mother would have yanked the phone out of my ear and hung up on my friend or worse, picked up the other line to listen in!

Today kids don't use house phones; they have cell phones. Which means it is virtually impossible for parents to eavesdrop. Which means kids don't have to use their filter. Which means there is an awful lot of inappropriateness going on.

For starters, because my child doesn't have to go through me anymore to have phone or text conversations, I really have no idea who she is talking to, when and how much. My mom used to enforce a 'no phone calls after 9:00 p.m' rule. She'd even answer the phone and tell my friends who called too late that I was unavailable. The best I can do now is confiscate my child's phone. And trust me I do. I paid for that phone, I pay for the ongoing service to that phone, I will therefore have 24/7 access to the phone.

So technically I can see whenever I want who my kid is talking to by opening her inbox and going through her calls but those tricky teenagers are smarter and quicker than they look. As soon as I ask for the cell phone she's magically deleted off all the texts in the nano second it takes to land in the palm of my hand.

This concerns me for two reasons. First, it means my child is spending more time trying to undo what has already been said rather than focusing on what she should do and worse, I wonder what she is hiding.

It gets even more complicated when we talk about smart phones. These Internet accessible phones post updates and pictures to social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. If I can barely supervise my child's personal conversations how am I to be expected to supervise her entire online persona?

Parenting a child in this modern day of social media and personal devices is a challenge. Most of us barely know how to operate our own cell phones; it is overwhelming to us to think we need to take the time to learn our children's devices as well. But our uncomfortability with the advancement of technology cannot deter us from our responsibilities as parents. Just like I supervise my daughter in real life, I am responsible to chaperon her virtual world as well. 

I get that I am not a policeman. I don’t have time for all that investigating anyway but a parent I will always be. I do however have one piece of advice for any of my daughter's potential suitors. If you want to date my kid don’t expect an invitation for dinner or a meet and greet with the family. I'll just take a quick peek of the boy’s Twitter feed. It will tell me all I need to know about what sort of gentleman he is, or isn't. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so. That's why!

I'd love to hear from you: do you monitor your child's telephone usage & online feeds? 

(This article originally appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series for The Monmouth Daily Review Atlas, a GateHouse Media company).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ask for Help!

Buried deep in the heart of every mother is an unspoken question; Is my baby ok?
Young, old, new or experienced, each and every mother has had the experience of wondering if their child is normal. It's a very difficult question to ask. Most of us keep it hidden in the recesses of our mind as if giving a voice to the fear will make a problem materialize.

Instead we lie awake at night, stare at the ceiling, tie our stomachs into knots and hide our tears. We secretly compare our child's vocabulary with our nieces and nephews. We observe other families in restaurants and silently compare our child's skills with what we see. We even eaves drop on conversations at the library or video store all the while making mental comparisons about what we see in other kids versus what we know about our own.
And it's exhausting.

Is her kid better behaved than mine? Do they seem more advanced? Are they potty trained? Is my child speaking clearer than that?

If only there were a user's manual. Wouldn't it be nice to hear, "Congratulations! It's a boy, here’s his owners guide."? Instead we are on our own. No one is leading us through the different ages and stages. If you've never parented before (and even if you have) you have to learn to how to go with the flow and give yourself a ton of mercy.

Parents must learn to rely on our own skillset and gut observations; an action many of us are uncomfortable with. And why shouldn't we be? Parenting is a hands-on learning process with high consequences. Screw this up and your child will no doubt send you their therapist bill.

There is nothing wrong with admitting you or your child may need help. Nothing. In fact, it is a complete act of valor when a parent bravely raises their hand for help. Facing your deepest worries and fears is totally paralyzing but it is good and necessary.

As it is with any physical ailment, the quicker the sickness is identified the easier the remedy. It is the same way with developmental delays. A child who isn't walking by 18 months is easier to help than if his parent were to wait until age five to reach out for help. The earlier the intervention the greater the prognosis.

Delaying help however can be quite harmful. Children learn skills in stages that build upon each other. Ignoring an undeveloped skill doesn't help. Thinking it will get better with time isn't ideal. Instead, if there is a delay, addressing the problem now helps all future skills develop at a more normal rate. If intervention is delayed you risk causing wider gaps in delays as the child grows older.

Don't believe me? Observe a high school senior who never learned to read in first grade. How well to you think he or she is doing today?

I know it's hard to admit something might be wrong. I know the feeling when your heart sinks so low in your chest that you'd rather die than face an issue. But believe me when I tell you concerns are almost always better to address sooner rather than later. There's always the chance your concerns are unmerited and your doctor can confirm that all is well and developing normally. Wouldn't that piece of mind be better than the sleepless nights and terrible imaginations?
Don't get caught in the awful cycle of wondering, comparing and worrying. Ask for help. Raise your hand. Talk to your doctor or early childhood specialist. The sooner your concerns are addressed the better it will be for your heart and your child's future. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

This article appears as a part of my Practical Parenting series for The Monmouth Daily Review Atlas a GateHouse Media company. Stephanie Sikorski is a Parenting Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville CUSD and can be reached for questions and consultations at

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Menu Monday (on Tuesday)

You don't mind, right? If my menu is on Tuesday rather than Monday? I mean a menu is a menu is a menu? Either way, we have to eat. The Tribe gets restless every night around 5 p.m. and I get asked "What's for dinner?' over and over and over
and ...

Good thing I know ahead of time what we're having!

Rachel Ray's Baked Potato Soup & Grilled Cheese with Apple Crisp (fall makes me want soup! what can I say? the kids don't love soup though so that's a problem but this reheats well and makes a yummy lunch!) p.s. sometimes I use precooked bacon. 

Cornbread Pizza (Hubby put this meal together for me because I was delayed coming home! He hit it out of the park! He said "it was easy!" Now THAT's a winner recipe!)

Lauren R's Pasta Italian Casserole bake (truth is hubby loves this more that the kids. if you don't love cream cheese I recommend cutting back a little. I doubled the recipe and shared a pan with a friend. I hope her family liked it :) )


Taste of Home's Cheeseburger Soup (seriously, this is worth every minute it takes to make it. this batch I left out the celery and carrots because I didn't have any AND I always double the Velveeta. because cheesier IS better, no?) p.s. I made this with homemade bread. don't be impressed it's the frozen dough you set out all day. it rises on it's own and all you do is pop it in the oven. your friends will be impressed!

Pillsbury's Chalupa (That's not what it's REALLY called and FYI my kids don't know this is a biscuit shell! If they did they would have snubbed it. - thus I make up my own name for recipes! Also, I always have taco meat in the fridge as I always make too much for this exact reason!)

Sunday brunch - Buttermilk Pancakes
(These are nothing - NOTHING - like biscuit mix pancakes. They are oh so good! I even keep the dry ingredients mixed up in a baggie so that I can whip them up in 3 minutes on school mornings!)

p.s. I love recipes! Please add your favorite meal below and maybe I can work it into one of my MENUs! Thanks!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mission Monday

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have shared my upcoming trip with my friends at Immanuel Church this weekend and the wonderful support they offered! In case you're interested, here's a peek at my presentation for the Parent Education trip I'm taking next month:

7 years ago my husband was invited to travel with UK based organization, Next Level International, and a team of pastors to go into the unreached communities of central Europe and help train church planters. When we think of the unchurched it's hard for us to imagine that anyone living in the world today (unless they live in a jungle) doesn't know the story of Jesus. But it's true!

One one trip in particular Aaron was settling into his seat on an airplane when a conversation was struck with a young man sitting next to him. The young man asked what an American like Aaron would be doing going to his country. Aaron answered. "I help plant churches." The young man asked, "What's a church, I don't understand this word."

Over the years we've continued to travel to Slovakia & the Czech Republic, trained leaders, spoke at conferences and literally helped train the men & women who are spreading the good news of the gospel in the most amazing, divine ways.

This summer, part of our team was invited to help a church plant in the Czech Republic in a small obscure town that is still reeling in the aftermath of living under the rule of communism. In July a team from America & Canada went to partner with the church to do a community outreach.

First the team cleaned up an area where  trash was accumulating not far from the football field where children gather to play. 

Jesus says this is not ok. Our love for God compels us to pick the trash up off the ground, restore the land, feed the people and tell them they are better than trash. They are precious. And God loves them.

It was a wildly successful outreach and the church has had an open door to share the
gospel free-er than ever.

As the church reached out to the Romani Gypsy families they couldn't ignore the abject poverty these beautiful, dark skinned people were living. And the believers began to ask, "What can we do to end the cycle of poverty in their lives?"

After much prayer and strategic planning it was discovered that these families are raising environmentally disabled children. Children that because they have no toys, no books, no paper, no crayons, no preschool, no opportunity to learn they had no future. No chance to change their stars. Romani children are entering school delayed not because they have medical or genetic deficiencies but because no one has ever read with them, stacked blocks with them or gave them a bright start.

Our research shows that with these delays the children are failing to learn before they even get the chance. The children are enrolled in "special schools" and failing and dropping out. In fact, many of the girls who drop out later get caught up in sex trade rings.

Again, I'm sure Jesus is not ok with this.

"If only we knew someone who could help teach these parents" the church in Czech said to our team leader.
"We do!" he said.

For 18 years I've been working in Early Childhood Development and Parenting Education. It's my "JOB" to teach parents, lead playgroups, provide home visits and help families develop a love for reading. And I am going to take all the knowledge and life experience to the Romani Gypsy families and I am going to help them give their children a better start.

I am thrilled, as I am sure you are as well that one of your congregants, Karen, has agreed to go on this trip with me. At the last minute we had a spot open up on our team and I didn't hesitate for a second to invite her to go. Karen's combined experience in working with at-risk families as our PreK secretary and her massively impressive administration skills are going to be a HUGE assets on the team.

Your support is crucial and we don't take it for granted. Knowing that your behind the project, that you support us in prayer is imperative. It is just a confirmation that the whole trip is divinely orchestrated. I can't thank you enough for your interest. Thank you for supporting Karen as she is brave on this, her first mission trip.

If our Parent Education is successful (and we will do the workshop twice) once in Czech and once in Slovakia, it is our dream that we could develop the entire project into a reproducible program. It is our hope that we can train others to continue to the work all over Central Europe.

You see, here in the states if You wanted to learn about a baby's brain development you'd go to your smart phone or computer and Google it. But what do you do if you don't have a computer? Heck, the places that we are going some of the families we'll be working with live in such abject poverty they have no running water. There is no Google. There are no pediatricians to telephone. No library with books. No toys to play with.

So part of our trip will be to present every Roma family that completes the training a TOOLBOX:

That is a collection of items that are imperative to a child's growth and development: A Curriculum in their own language, Balls, Blocks, Crayons, Markers, Paper, Music Sticks ....

This is what you are doing. I know Karen and I are the ones physically going but this is what WE are doing. TOGETHER. I am honored for your interest in the trip and I thank you for your love, support and prayers.

If you are interested in sending a Parenting Toolbox to a Romani family in Slovakia or the Czech Republic you may do so by contacting me at starski(at) and we can make arrangements for a safe, online, tax deductible gift.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I have been in a constant state of pain since June.
I've written before about my retail job. What began as a side job to earn some Christmas money last year and here I am coming up on my 1 year anniversary at the store. I never would have thought I'd still be there.
Nonetheless I am and it's caused me great pain.
In more ways than one but I mean literal pain.
In my foot.
At first it was an ache.
Then it was annoying.
Then it was debilitating and I had come to the point where I began to fantasize about amputation.  I'm not kidding. My foot hurt so bad I became insanely convinced cutting it off would be more comfortable.
Initially, I complained about my foot around the house. I hobbled and cried, iced my foot, took medicine and complained some more. Nothing changed. No improvement. In fact, so much time went by with such little improvement that it sorta became the new norm. And I was so NOT OK with that. My kids stopped asking me, "What's wrong, Mom?" My husband no longer offered sympathy. It wasn't getting better and I began to believe I was doomed.
Thankfully I haven't been scheduled at the store much and staying off my foot as much as possible was ideal. Not realistic but ideal.
I invested in shoe inserts.
I bought new shoes.
I bought anti-inflamatory medicine.
I scoured the Internet for solutions.
I even prayed for my foot.
And one day when I was limping down the hall at school I saw a coworker approaching. My instinct was to stop limping and walk as normal as possible. I faked it. I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I didn't want anyone to see me weak and injured. I wanted to look strong. So ... I faked it.
And it got me thinking ... if I'm misrepresenting myself, what are the chances you are too?
How many of us, when in pain, pretend we are not? How often do we hide?
And why aren't we willing to 'be real'?
I think I know the answer.
Because 'real' is ugly.
And we don't want people, especially those who's affection we long for, to see our ugly. Me included. But how healthy is that, really?
Should we hide?
Should we be ashamed of our pain?
When I had reached the end of my rope and began to entertain amputation I knew I had let my pain go too long. I decided to reach out and I asked for help. For me, I got a boot that helped my foot pain INSTANTLY. I borrowed it from a friend.
I took a risk, revealed my pain and asked for help.
Now my foot is recovering and I think I'll be able to keep it.
I also think I learned a very important lesson; it's not worth it ... living isolated and in pain. Reaching out for help, especially to a good friend, is often precisely what we need. Don't hide in your pain, shame and fear. And I'm not talking about just physical pain. Don't hide. Faking it is rarely the best course of action if healing is what you desire.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Things can change instantly.
For the better or for the worst.
With one phone call.
With a single decision.
Out of the blue.
A second ago you were headed left and suddenly you find you are going right.

I complained recently about the woes of small town living in an obscure tweet. I was passed over for an opportunity because (I believe) of a previous incident I had with another mother. She helped my child do something I had forbidden (and was incidentally illegal). It wasn't an ugly encounter but nonetheless I had approached her and asked her not to "help" my kid like that again.

Unbeknownst to me, this was the same woman sat on the decision making committee. It was decided I was not to be included.

Like I said, small town.

However, later that same day I was thankful for the small town bubble.

I had literally just walked in the door. I had been gone all day. I spent my day working at school only to  come home long enough to change my clothes, grab a jacket and head off to my son's game. When we arrived home near bed time I was beat. I still had my shoes on and hadn't even set down my bag when the phone rang.

Does it ever ring at a convenient time?

The caller ID was from a local number with a name I recognized but didn't really know. Because small town living is like that. You can know who someone is but not ever exchange a word with them or even have a relationship. I know who runs the bank, his family and where they live but have never had a genuine interaction with him. I know a lot of things about a lot of people because that's the way it is in a small town. People probably know a lot about me and my family too. It's the price we all pay for choosing to live here. Some locals enjoy knowing the gossip and thrive on it. Others take it with a grain of salt. While some never get used to the crushing weight of 'being known' and usually those types don't last long in this environment.

All that to say, I knew the name of who was calling me but I couldn't fathom why. I answered the phone as I set down my bag and kicked off my shoes fully expecting the voice on the other end to apologize for dialing the wrong number.

Instead he said, "Stephanie?"
"Speaking" I answered.
"Are you sitting down?" he said.
"Um ... no" I replied with great hesitation. My mind was trying to process whether I was about to receive bad news. I remember thinking no one tells you to sit down unless they have something bad to tell you. I didn't sit down. I didn't want to. I didn't want bad news. I thought if I didn't sit down then he couldn't tell me anything bad.
"Why are you calling me Mr. Blackman?" I asked with great hesitancy.
"I want you to write a book for me" he answered.

In one day I both cursed my small town and thanked heaven for it. In the same day I was rejected because someone knew me and within hours of feeling defeated I was chosen because someone knew me.

Small town living.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mission Monday

Roma kids from my 1st trip!
In exactly 26 Days I'll be off on my next mission!

I am thrilled!

It has always been my heart's desire to be a part of something bigger than myself. I was invited on my first overseas trip five years ago and I've been taking the annual trek annually ever since.

On that first trip in 2008 I - to be completely honest - wasn't sure why I was going. I doubted I had anything to contribute. And not in that Golly-gee-Humble-me kind of way. I legitimately didn't think I had a purpose on the team.

I didn't know it at the time but that trip wrecked me.
It wrecked what I thought about the world.
It revealed my selfish nature.
It dismantled some of my core values
and it made me uncomfortable pushing me against my own limits.

Turns out I am capable of so much more. And so much better.

I formed valuable relationships.
I have friends all over the world.
I've been a part of shaping lives.
I've been shaped, stripped back and molded myself.

It's been terrible. It's been wonderful.

It's time for me to go again.

In November I, and Karen Grant, will be flying to Central Europe to be a part of a team bring transformation into the lives of the highly discriminated against Roma Gypsies of Slovakia and Czech Republic. We are bringing the pilot Parent Education Curriculum to two communities in effort to teach and train them in some basic child development issues.

Our hope is that this training will bring the beginning to an end of developmentally delayed Roma children. Currently, these children are entering school at a drastically delayed rate and are subsequently put into "special schools" where they lack decent and appropriate education opportunities. Thus, statistically speaking, the children fail or worse drop out of school and the cycles of abject poverty continues in their lives.

This is not OK.

Seeing as how I've dedicated the last eighteen years of my life teaching and training parents in my hometown I feel like this is a trip literally destined for me.

I'd appreciate it if you kept Karen & I in your thoughts and prayers ... my family too. It takes a great amount of sacrifice on my husband and children to let me go. They will manage fine without me! They are stellar like that but still ....

As every trip is a self funded trip (that is I raise my own funds to go) I couldn't do it with out the generous support of those who love me and believe in me. If you're one of those peeps I say a heartfelt "Thank You!" All that's left to raise are the kits we are leaving with the Roma parents.

To each parent who attends our 2 day intensive seminar we will leave with them a Parenting Toolbox Kit which includes a curriculumn, crayons, markers, paper, index cards, rhythm sticks, stickers, blocks, balls and books. This may be the only toys some of these families have ever received.

You can sponsor a Parenting Toolbox Kit for $25 US dollars. It would make all the difference to a child in Europe. Save and convenient, tax deductible online giving can be done through this link or contact me directly at starski(at)

(be sure to click PLAY on the video in the center below)

p.s. I NEED EMPTY TEA BOXES for the trip! We are going to use them to make teaching tools! If you have any empty tea boxes may I please have them? by NOVEMBER 9? thanks!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Menu Monday - Oct 15

Oh yeah! You asked for it, you got it!
Menu Monday is baaaaacckk!

Ok whatever. That's a little over the top. But still, like 4 people asked me to get back to Menu Mondays so in response to my "fans" ... here it is!

Go ahead, give me some lovin!

Sunday Brunch
OverNight Apple French Toast
perfect perfect perfect for fall!

Pasta Bake with Bread Sticks
My family loves Pizza Hut's Pasta Bake. I figured ... I can do that better! 'Course Pizza Hut delivers and keeps my kitchen clean .....

Walking Tacos Tailgate (in honor of Ebay's bday) I made the taco meat ahead of time, warmed it up in the crockpot the day of and took individual bags of Doritos, tons of lettuce and cheese along with salsa and ranch! The boys could pile up their bags however they wanted and I had zero mess to clean up. Atta-girl!

Campbell's Creamy Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas
Seriously, this has become a staple at our house!

Crockpot Chicken n Dumplings
This was my first go at this recipe and I liked it....the kids were eh! but you can't beat the ease and convenience!

Please use real butter and real cheese. Please. It is so good,

Chili and Hot Dogs with Tortilla Chips and Queso Dip
Truth is ... the hot dogs are for the kids. In fact, they don't even eat chili. But this way we are all happy!

If you like my blog today would you please tweet, like or Pinit? Thanks!

Better than Pizza Hut Pasta Bake

1 box Rotini or Penne noodles (cooked according to directions & rinsed in cool water)
2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce
1 pound sausage (cooked & grease drained)
2 T Sugar
2 cups of your favorite Italian Cheese (we love mozzarella & provolone)

Spray a 2 quart casserole pan with nonstick spray and put in enough sauce to cover bottom of pan. Then pour in the noodles. Scatter sausage on that. Pour on the more sauce. Sprinkle the cheese. Bake. Bake till bubbly and yummy. 350 for 24 minutes or so! Let set before you dish up to avoid excessive runny-ness!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

That's What Boys Are Made Of.

The amount of joy that rushed through my veins the moment the doctor announced "It's a boy" is indescribable. It was fourteen years ago that I heard those blessed words. As I swaddled my little fella, nursed him and gazed into his chocolate brown eyes I pictured a future together of slugs and snails and puppy dog tails.

Because that's what little boys are made of.

Or not.

I could have used a little heads up over here.

Why didn't anyone warn me about all the non-nursery rhyme and semidisgusting things about boys? Have you smelled one lately? Their odor can be offensive and I fear that smell is embedded in my son's room. It reminds me of what I imagine musty-meets-B.O. smells like and despite an open window, a running fan or constant spray of room deodorizer, the smell is never really eliminated.

This is very disconcerting to me because A. I'm a girl and I not only enjoy fragrance, I work very hard to smell good myself. And B. this is my house. Odors yield to me, not the other way around. Our home is like a living commercial for every fragrant device invented. This is a big deal considering all the dinners I've burnt, an overflowing laundry room and a dog. The fact that I cannot eliminate boy-smell is not ok with me.

Which makes me wonder, are these smells permanent or will they travel with him when he moves out? Like the odor from a pet accident; will I have to replace the carpet and wallpaper and if so, shouldn't that come out of his pocket? His odor, his decorating bill?

And why can't he smell himself? Seriously! If everyone in the room catches a whiff of him before he even enters how is it he doesn't notice his own offense? Is something wrong with nasal cavity?
Or maybe he can't smell it under that layer of ten-dollar body spray he wears.

Thank goodness he's a typical boy in that he is completely grossed out by me. You know, since I'm a girl and all. Ever since he turned eight I haven't gotten an unsolicited hug or public display of affection. Instead, these days when I want a little tenderness I make sure he's fresh from the shower. But even that was a little iffy for a while. Apparently the use of soap isn't as obvious as you would think. We had many lectures on how getting wet in the shower wasn't the same as getting clean.

Listen, I love my son. I'd have to in order to endure football games in the rain and long hot weekends of tournaments in overcrowded gyms. I do all that for him because at least he'll know that I am his biggest cheerleader. I am sure someday even that job will be replaced by some ponytail wearing, pom-pom girl on the sidelines. When that day comes, which I am sure will happen only after he gets serious about his personal hygiene, she'll have all the sweet smelling days and I'll be left in the dust of my foul odored memories.

I won't complain though because I will have loved him first. I will also have loved him best. Despite the smelly socks and endless loads of filthy uniforms I love that big lug. Someday he'll be gone and all that will be left is his lingering odor.

On that day I'll ask my husband if he wants to replace the carpet in that room with a navy or grey plush. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!

(This article appears as a part of my weekly Practical Parenting series for The Monmouth Daily Review Atlas) - Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, October 5, 2012

Why I Haven't Quit - Finance Friday

Jeff Goins, Wrecked

Have you ever read just what you needed to hear when you needed to hear it?
I've been struggling with whether or not to quit my retail job.

I took
the job last November to help with Christmas.

I kept
the job to raise my own money for my next overseas trip.

I quit
the job when the new school year started as I had raised the money I needed and with the onset of a new school year I know my family schedule gets insane

my resignation was not accepted.

The manager wanted me to stay on at a one-day-a-week rate."We want to keep our best employees", she said (funny I didn't know you felt that way until I quit ... just sayin').

I belabored the decision but in the end decided to stay on at the store.
They've been very true to their word and have not worked me but one day every week or two
and for that I am very thankful.

With a job, 5 kids, hubby in school with an evening job and
soccer and
soccer and
swim team
and football
I barely have time to wash me hair let alone work more!

Also, and here's the hard reality ...
I'm really in no financial position to turn down work in this season in our lives.
When they didn't accept my resignation I took it as a sign to stay on.

ALLTHEWHILE I admit I think about quitting constantly.

Even though I should be grateful for a job.
Even though it's minimum wage.
Even though its way under my skill set.
Even though it has terrible hours.
Even though its torture on my feet and hips.
Even though ... I really need every dollar I can get.

That's when I picked up Jeff Goins book, Wrecked:
"Sticking it out in a job that is a struggle may be the best thing for your character,"

I guess I'll stop looking for a chance to quit and instead look for what the bigger picture could be in my life. And hope and pray with all my might this experience is preparing me for whatever it is that may be on my horizon next.

On a side note: one of the great things about retail work is the employee discount
I get 15% on clothes, shoes and accessories.
It's clearance time at our store.
I looked through the jewelry and scarves section
and scored two $3.50 scarves
one $4 tshirt and
a $4 charm bracelet with a watch.

It is Finance Friday on my blog ... the day I dedicate to documenting our family's journey into statistical poverty, our struggle to live with less and making ends meet. Thank you for reading and please tweet or like if you enjoyed To Write a Better Story!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mission Monday

I'm pleased to report I've recruited a good friend and long time supporter to accompany me on my next mission trip. (But saving a spot for you time!)

In November she and I will travel to Czech and Slovakia to be a part of a team bringing parent education to two Roma Gypsy communities.

Why is this important?
Roma children, who suffer from extreme discrimination, are entering school developmentally delayed and therefore put into "special" classes.

Roma children who are not given an equal opportunity at education are much more likely to perpetuate the abject poverty in which these families live. A good education is the foundation for finding employment and sustainability.

And you're helping how?
We've partnered with locals in each community who want to help end the discrimination against these children and proactively assist Roma families end the cycle of poverty in their lives. If parents have tools and information on how important the first years of a child's life are then studies show that with proper training the children will spend the first acedemic years learning rather than catching up.

How will that help?
If an infant is never sung or read to, if they've never stacked a block or heard a nursery rhyme how, when it's time to sit at a desk, listen to a story or work a math problem will they even begin? A parent, no matter what country you live in, is their child's first and most important teacher. Parents teach their children how to speak, how to behave or how to interact with others. Cooking together teaches children how to follow direction and perform basic math skills. There are a lot of things we can show parents that they can do now, from home, that will engage their child's brain.

We can't change a families income but we can give them the information and tools to utilize the first few years of their child's life so that their children have the necessary building blocks present for the education system to build upon.

But if they don't have toys ....
We'll give them some. Our team plans to put together "Parenting Tool Box Kits" full of materials necessary to create successful learning experiences at home. You'd be amazed what crayons and a stack of index cards can teach. It is our goal to identify a few 'neccessities' that we can leave with each family so they can be playing together in new and exciting ways that are actually helping their children's brain growth and development.

Get on board...
This trip in November is just the beginning. It is our hopes that the trip can be the flagship conference for developing an actual parent education curriculum for the Czech and Slovak people. We believe we can transform peoples lives with information and tools. Won't you help give a family a Parenting Toolbox ?

The trip is just over a month away. Don't delay and give now!
Please leave a comment below if you'd like me to get in touch with you or
mail your gift (any amount is appreciated) to
NLI, USA Office
PO Box 10148
South Bend IN 46680
email me directly for an online, tax deductible link I can share with you

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