Friday, June 27, 2014

Pasta Pronto!!! {When you need dinner in a hurry}

There are times in the life of a family for a luxurious meal around the table with a nice main dish flanked by side dishes of various shape and color. The meal takes nearly as long to consume as it does to prepare, and those seated around the table are at their leisure to enjoy the food set before them. Silverware clanking and voices mingling over good food and happy hearts.


There are also times in the life of a family where ball practices and youth events and street hockey and theater camp toss a wrench into the lovely family dinner ideal...and that's ok if your family is prepared.  It is NOT ok if you have forgotten about an event and have made no plan for dinner and have to go flying about the kitchen hoping that the dinner genie has something special waiting in the freezer for you to microwave at the last minute.

Obviously, I've been in this situation very recently, not the prepared situation, I can run with that, but instead the completely-at-a-loss-feel-like-I've-never-before-in-my-life-fixed-a-meal-what-am-I-gonna-do-now-the-game-is-in-an-hour situation. My gang gets peanut butter and pretzels on those days. Later we drag into the house after the game is over and after the post-game ice cream has been consumed and we find ourselves fairly ravenous at which point we inhale whatever exists of our cereal and milk supply and hope that the dinner genie has alerted the breakfast genie via a text in ALL CAPITALS that she'll need to haul my buggy outta the fire in the morning because who's had time to go to the store to buy yogurt or bagels and who has the energy after weeks of a frenzied schedule to bake oatmeal or cookies or treats?

Today on the family schedule we have multiple trips to theater camp 20 minutes away, a softball tournament 15 minutes down the road and vacation bible school {happily} two minutes across the street. Clearly, dinner will be a frenzied affair here's what I'm serving...

Vodka pasta...yes for the Baptist preacher's family. Haaaaa!  We live on a sharp edge over here, yes we do! The sauce for the dish does have vodka in it but I need not show my ID to the grocery cashier when purchasing it. Processed so that only the taste is left, the sauce is available in many brands...

...our preferred brand is Newman's Own but it was not on the shelf on shopping day so I settled on Emeril. (note: if you do not think this style of sauce is to your liking, just substitute a pasta sauce of your choice and all will be well.)

You'll also need a one pound box of pasta. Any short shape will do, but we really like the bow tie or shell shape for this dish. Finally, you'll need three cups of shredded mozzarella cheese and an optional 1/2 cup of Parmesan. That's it! From here it's just incredibly easy, you'll be on the ball field or at the theater or in the pews for VBS opening in no time!

Vodka Pasta Baptist Style
Adapted slightly from The Mom 100 Cookbook, one of my favorites!
{Printable Recipe Here}

What you'll need:
1 1 lb. box of pasta (we like bow tie or shells for this)
1 24 oz jar of vodka sauce
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional but highly recommended)

What to do:
Preheat oven to 350˚.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt to the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions and drain. 

Return cooked pasta to the pot ...

...and add entire jar of vodka sauce,

 ...and the cheese. 

Stir well and pour into a sprayed 3 quart baking dish.

 Top, if desired, with parmesan cheese and bake in a 350˚ oven for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and just beginning to brown on top. 

Serve with a green salad or steamed broccoli if you've got time for such things and enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Writing: Can we make it less painful?!

It's nearing the end of June and I'm just now getting settled into a cozy/crazy summer but the realist in me knows that school planning is just around the corner. Today, Nikolas Baron from Grammarly is guest posting with some suggestions and tips to lend a hand as we encourage young writers to achieve new heights.

Written work can be a problem for many students, including homeschoolers. You’ve gone to great lengths to create a fun, life-learning, homeschool environment, right? Forcing your child to sit down and churn out essays can then feel like a step backwards—particularly if they have existing negative experiences concerning their abilities to write the typical school “show what you know” assignments.

Pick ‘n’ mix methods

The Internet is a fantastic source of writing tools for homeschoolers. Gone are the days when the only options were laboriously copying sentences and answering complicated grammar questions without any real understanding of what they meant. Gone are the days when the only options were the laborious copying of sentences and complicated grammar questions without any real understanding of what they meant. There’s a huge drive to make writing a natural part of every child’s education in a way that makes sense for each individual. If one method doesn’t work, just try another!

Spark creativity and imagination

Consider the approach used by writing prompt sites. Kids are encouraged to be creative, writing their own stories with the help of artwork that’s designed to stimulate the imagination and prompt ideas. It not only engages them but also simplifies the process by providing them with a “puzzle-solving” approach to writing. The stories are already there, and kids enjoy the satisfaction of “finding” them. The ease with which they can create something they’re proud of is often the incentive they need to keep writing. 
As a bonus, many of these sites have “share” features which allow the writer to embed their stories on blogs, e-mail them to relatives, or receive feedback in a safe, monitored forum. All are surefire ways to build confidence and encourage more writing! There’s a plethora of sites like this, and a bit of Googling is sure to hook you up with at least one or two that suit your own young writer (or anti-writer!). 

To criticize, or not to criticize?

Major obstacles to overcome are criticism and correction. Is it better to let the child write freely with minimal correction, and thus build confidence and avoid discouragement, or to have a strict “red pen” approach right from the start to make sure they don’t develop bad habits that will be difficult to undo? It depends on the child to a large extent, but it’s safe to say that you need a bit of both. Rare is the student who is encouraged by pages filled with critique and error. Motivation and confidence are paramount when it comes to something as subjective as writing. 
A good tip is to let the child take responsibility for correcting their own work. There are plenty of spell-check and grammar check programs available online - with varying degrees of success. It’s important for kids to know not just that their sentence is grammatically incorrect but why it’s incorrect. Find an online grammar check tool that you can use alongside your own teaching. Sites like Grammarly offer proofreading and correction with useful explanations, hints, and suggestions. This approach can be invaluable when it comes to striking the careful balance between encouragement and accuracy, as it gives the writer a chance to identify and understand their errors in their work before presenting it for evaluation. It is like having a personal, online writing tutor and is infinitely more useful than standard spell-check software.

Go with what works

Some kids love creating stories from prompts. Some prefer using graphic organizer tools (check out Writing Fun as a well-developed example) to help them gather their ideas and put them into writing. Some young writers need interactive and practical instruction to help them with the technicalities of grammar and structure. Whatever your child’s struggle with writing may be, there’s help to be found! Find the method that works for you, and roll with it! Make it relevant, make it personal, and make it fun. 
By Nikolas Baron  

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Father's Day to my Man!

It seems that every year by the time Father's Day arrives, summer is at a fevered pitch and the celebrating of my Man as a father is given, at most, a passing nod.  He deserves better.  He's a great Daddy.  I've loved him for what seems like forever, but on the day my Man became a Father, my love for him deepened exponentially.  To see a man, my Man, "doing the dad things" was to see him truly in his element.  On that day...

...this day...
my Man began taking care of our family and he has been doing so for over a decade now.  I am all the crazier about him as I have watched him grow as a Daddy. 
 As the years have gone by, my Man wasn't the only thing growing.  Our family, of course has grown a bit too, and each time I see this...

(Darrin dressing Megan in the first outfit he had ever purchased for her.) heart beats a few beats fonder.

As babies number three and four joined us, his experience as a dad only made him more fun to watch.  He was an "old hand" at C-sections and was the first of us to hold each scrunched-up, gooey little life.

Hello Kate!

Molly weighing in!

What's wonderful is that when we got home from the hospital each time, Darrin worked just as hard as I did taking care of our family--most times, harder.  He didn't just leave it all to me, thank goodness! 



"A woman can tell a lot about a guy by the kind of dad he is.  When I see you being a parent, many of the things I appreciate most about you...your patience, your kindness, your fun sense of up so clearly.  You obviously love being a dad, and I love that about you.  You are a wonderful man and an amazing father who really deserves this day week..."
~Quoted from my Man's Father's Day card~

We all love you so!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

All was Right in My World...and Then Some

My Man had been gone for what would eventually seem like eternity. 

I was feeling his absence and the kids were feeling it. The hiccups in our family rhythm caused by the void seemed to get more powerful and disrupting as the days wore on. "It was sorta fun and different when Dad first left," Meg observed, "but now the adventure of it all is over and I'm ready for him to be home."


It wasn't all gloom and grief though. This year, like last, those of us left behind knitted ourselves a little more tightly to one another and that renewed bond was balm to my heart which was at turns anxious and excited and blue and blessed. We shared news, laughter, an adventure or two, and most notably an evening of ice cream that we'd been looking forward to for nearly a year. 

And then we shared in the safe return of our loved ones who had accomplished so much on their journey. 

We packed them up into our cars and gathered them back into our homes and

all was once again right in our worlds...

...more than right really, for in the moments and days we were without our loved ones, they were affecting the worlds of others in such fashion that the millions of small ways that we missed them, now seem like a very small price to pay.  

Click {HERE} to view a 5 minute video of the 2014 Honduras Mission Team in action.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The You-May-Now-Kiss-The-Bride Guy

The children were at their grandparents and my Man and I were headed to a wedding out of town. I received a text from Megan telling me of a conversation she'd just had with Molly...

Says Megan...
I told Molly you and Dad were going to a wedding today. She said, "Oh, is Mama gonna be a bridesmaid?" 
I said, "No, Daddy is the preacher who does the wedding and Mommy is just going to watch."
Molly responds, "So, he [Daddy] is the guy who says You may now kiss the bride?
I told her, "Yes."
Molly said, "Ooooohhhhhh THAT will be hilarious! Everybody will see his haircut and laugh!!"
My poor Man. Its been over a month since he changed hairstyles and ole Molly hasn't let up one bit. She's still waiting on him to let it go back to "normal". Whether she ever gets used to her "new Daddy" or not, the folks at the sweet wedding we attended didn't seem to mind his hair one bit.

As is often the case, the you-may-now-kiss-the-bride man is hardly noticed in the ceremony except by the wedding attendee whom he had married nearly twenty years ago... me!

Molly, inspired by the outdoor wedding pictures, decided to have her own outdoor soirée...

“The real act of marriage takes place in the heart, not in the ballroom or church or synagogue. It's a choice you make not just on your wedding day, but over and over again and that choice is reflected in the way you treat your husband or wife." ~B. DeAngelis

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