Friday, October 28, 2011

Witches Hats: a costume or a snack?

Today was the kindergarten Halloween party! I signed up for snacks thinking I could provide some cheese or pretzels or something (read: I am short on time & I want something easy). The party coordinator mom had a different idea. Suddenly the snack turned into: "come up with one snack they assemble and eat and one they assemble & take home." Really? So much for easy! 
For the snack the kids assemble & eat I made witches hats that the kids could decorate. I briefly saw a picture of this in a magazine at someone else's house & thought it looked really cute. Unfortunately I couldn't find it online (or instructions on how to do it) so I was on my own. I was looking for chocolate covered graham crackers to work as the base, or bottom of the hat and chocolate covered sugar cones that I could turn upside-down as the top part of the hat. A little frosting to make them connect & there you have it!
I finally found chocolate covered graham crackers that were large enough. I really shouldn't read the list of ingredients for stuff like this, but I did. TBHQ (a relative of the harmful preservative BHT), yellow dye #bad & red dye #bad. Ugh! I just couldn't bring myself to buy it. And why would there be dye in this stuff anyway? Weird. Plus, I couldn't find chocolate covered sugar cones. Then it hits me: I can buy regular graham crackers & cones & coat them in chocolate myself! 
I did it & it turned out fairly cute & it ended up being SO easy! Here's what I did: I bought milk chocolate chocolate chips & melted them. You have to make a double-boiler so you don't burn the chocolate. Do this by boiling a little water in a larger pan & putting a smaller pan in that water with the chocolate chips in it. After it was melted, I removed the top pan & carefully dipped the graham crackers in the chocolate (be careful not to burn your fingers). Then I rolled the cones in it & stuck them on the graham crackers. To decorate: I did break down & buy frosting. I would totally prefer to make my own, but the consistency of the store-bought is perfect for kids spreading on things like this & I just haven't managed to figure out the trick of getting it just right at home. I bought white & I colored one can purple using the juice from blueberries. It's the first time I've tried dying without actual food coloring & though it was really more violet than purple, I was proud! 

A couple notes: I wouldn't make them more than a day ahead, but they do need a number of hours to harden & dry so you also can't wait until the last minute. The chocolate in my finished picture looks a little 'off' because I put that hat in the fridge after assembling.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Greater Good...coming to a city near you

The other day I took my "big" guy (he's starting to get sensitive about being called 'little') to the doctor for a cold. I was being anal in taking him. I felt like a first-time mom, but it was Friday & his cough was starting to sound like croup. I didn't want to be at urgent care over the weekend. And, there's nothing wrong with being a first-time mom anyway! Always better to be cautious. Turns out it was just a cold, nothing to do but wait & crank on the humidifier. Just so happens: I am obsessed with humidifiers. I own at least 4: 2 warm-air & 2 cold-air. I am convinced they shorten the length of colds when you do get them & reduce the number of colds. I keep them going all winter!

In the waiting room a super-cute little guy came out with crocodile tears. He had the face of a boy trying to be very brave. It hit me that he must have just gotten a shot. Then I thought, "what if we're wrong about shots? Nothing more, just 'what if'?" Can you imagine? It's absolutely torment as a parent to hold your child down so the nurse can give him a shot in the arm or leg. You do whatever you can to make it better (Tylenol before, cuddling & rewards after). We think we're doing what's in the best interest of our kid, but what if we aren't?

I just learned about a new documentary on vaccines. It's called "The Greater Good". It hasn't been fully released yet, but they have had screenings in various cities. This Friday & Sunday it will be shown in Wichita. In November it will be in NY & Dallas. I am anxious to see it. Here's the link to the homepage and the trailer: I would love to hear reviews from anyone who has the chance to see it!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pumpkins...if you can't carve 'em, eat 'em

This year, for the first time, we are actually going to try carving a couple pumpkins. I recall how hard this seemed for my mom when I was growing up & I've therefore never attempted it. I am (perhaps wrongly?) thinking that sharp knives might be the trick.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE going to the pumpkin patch. So cute & fun to let the little guys pick out a perfect pumpkin & they get a little farm experience. So, what have we done with pumpkins you might ask? We eat them! They are so easy to roast. Just cut the top off (like you would to make a jack-o-latern), scoop out the "junk", put the top back on, put on a pan & put in the oven at 350 for about an hour. You know its done when it is soft-like squash. When it is cool enough, the "pumpkin" will very easily scoop right out of the skin. You can stick it in the food processor to puree (just to make it all smooth) and use it or freeze it. If it seems a bit watery (compare to canned pumpkin), you can put it in a sauce pan & cook it down a bit, but I rarely need to do this.

Cooking ideas: pumpkin pie, pumpkin dip (below) and sometimes, I just "hide" a 1/4 cup or so in something I know my family won't notice (chili, spaghetti sauce, etc.) in order to get a few extra vitamins in them. Note that it doesn't hide well in dishes that don't have a decently strong flavor of their own.

Also, the pumpkin seeds are supposed to be very nutritious! After you scoop them out of the pumpkin, get off as much of the "junk" as you can, put them on an ungreased pan in a single layer, salt with kosher salt & place in the oven on 325 for 20 minutes. Stir halfway through. Let them roast a few more minutes if you like them crispy. Add more salt at the end. These things need salt to be tasty!

Pumpkin Dip 
(This makes a lot! Unless you are serving a huge group, I recommend cutting in half.)
8 oz. softened cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
15 oz pumpkin
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger

In a medium bowl, blend cream cheese & sugar until smooth. Mix in the pumpkin. Stir in the spices. Chill until ready to serve.

I've served this with pretzels for dipping & graham cracker sticks. Yum!

Friday, October 7, 2011

It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men

Last night I started reading my latest magazine from Compassion International & there were some statistics that really stood out--and then some profound (or so I think) thoughts occurred to me. Here it is: 1 in every 3 girls and 1 in every 6 boys is sexually abused before their 18th birthday*. Get this: IN THE UNITED STATES! My first thought was thank goodness my kids stand a slightly better chance since they are boys. My second thought was that my kids are practically going to grow up in a prison because I don't want them to ever have to deal with something of this nature. But of course, will that really work since most of the perpetrators are known & trusted by the family? I'm sure everyone reading this has had these thoughts.

Then I recall my husband once had a client who was sexually abused at the age of 14. Also when she was a preschooler someone walked into their apartment at night & she woke up to someone fondling her. He ran out when she screamed & they never figured out who it was. Using this as an example, I'd say (and I think its been proven) that some people are more vulnerable than others. Of course that's not the case with all victims. But, if you could pick apart the statistics, what would the difference be between the "haves" and "have-nots"? I don't think money buys you safety. I do think that people without money have to rely more on others to help take care of their kids and they have less time and resources to help their kids build confidence and other characteristics that help keep them out of more vulnerable situations. My gut tells me that the stats in my school district are significantly better than the stats in a more urban school district.

The magazine then goes into articles on the sex trade and there are more staggering numbers. It's overwhelming. How do you fix it? Where do you start? Here's a quote: "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." -Frederick Douglass

So my thoughts resonate with the idea that we have to build up our kids and do things to support them & their families. Another excerpt from the article:
"But for a girl to be enslaved in a Bangkok brothel, an awful lot of things had to have been wrong upstream in her young life, and we at Compassion believe there is an equally compelling, powerfully strategic approach called prevention."
Sponsoring a kid through Compassion or supporting one of their other programs certainly helps build hope for their futures and helps them with necessities today. But, there are also obviously kids in the U.S. who need help too. I have a good friend who started a charity called Baby Grace that provides free baby & kid items to teenage moms. They also have Bible studies and other activities designed to show them the love of Christ. I donate all our old things to them, even if its something I could make a decent buck selling. Why? Because they are still in the category of children we can build. They haven't entered broken yet. Maybe I should be asking why I'm not doing more? There are lots of other great programs out there, to include mentoring programs. Please feel free to comment on this post & provide other ideas of ways one person can make a difference, no matter how small. It all matters! If we all work together we can build strong kids and put a stop to predators.

*Statistics: Free the Slaves & Survivors Healing Center

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Influencers

My uncle passed away recently & the funeral was this weekend. I feel compelled to tell everyone what a great influence he & my aunt were in my life. The fact is: I wouldn't be who I am without them. A few years ago I had an "ah-ha" moment during a lunch discussion with some other women at a conference, where I came to realize that my aunt & uncle were the people I was striving to be. During my younger days that gave me hope & something to work towards. Now it provides an example of the type of person I hope I can someday be for someone else--and how important it is to take time to mentor others. You never know how the little things you do are making an impact on someone else.

I grew up with a single mom. My aunt & uncle went above the call of duty to do what they could for me & be an example of Christ in my life. At 15 I had a job about a mile from my house. My uncle owned his own business on the other side of town, but if it was raining, he would drive across town & take me to work. I'm sure he was busy, but he never complained & he was happy to do it. It was one way he could be there for me. They took me shopping for school clothes every year. They took me to the lake on weekends and taught me how to ski. Also, they tried to get me involved in the "right" crowd by bringing me to their church groups every week. I never felt like I fit in & I definitely had a bit of a rebellious streak. Often when I did do things I shouldn't, I would think, "what would Phyllis & Don think if they knew". It mattered to me that I not disappoint them. They knew some of what I did, but they never gave up on me. My whole life they were planting little seeds along the way. I grew up knowing Christ & wrong from right. I haven't experienced that single moment like some where I suddenly gave my life to the Lord. He was there all the time & gradually I let Him in a little more & more. If you fully immerse yourself in it, the love of God will change you. There's nothing like it. It's awesome! I'm so thankful I've had people like Don & Phyllis in my life to plant the little seeds along the way & I hope He uses me to do for others what they did for me.

Also: Phyllis was an awesome cook! She made EVERYTHING from scratch & she was not satisfied until you stuffed your face at her house. If I wasn't striving to be more like her I may have never tried to do more than boil pasta. But here I am, cooking from scratch & blogging about it!