Teaching kids to clean up

Thursday, February 24, 2011
It happens all the time. You've just cleaned up a major mess only to find another one waiting nearby. Let's admit that we could spend every waking minute cleaning up after our kids. But it doesn't have to be that way. Cleaning up doesn't have to be a chore. There are plenty of ways to encourage your children to pitch in.

Head over to Meridian MomTourage to read my featured article on the above subject. I've included tips for empowering children to take the initiative to clean up after themselves. Trust me. You won't want to miss this one!


Chicken Soup with Orzo

Tuesday, February 22, 2011
In the throes of winter is there anything better than a piping hot bowl of soup? A good bowl of soup will warm your insides and make you happy. It really is good for the soul.

I adapted this recipe from one I found in Rachel Ray magazine. Her original recipe was a "stoup", a concoction somewhere between a soup and a stew. Since I prefer soup to stew, I added more broth to make it a soup.

Chicken Soup with Orzo (Serves 4)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 ribs celery, preferably the hearts, diced into 1/4" pieces
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/4" pieces
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper
1 rotisserie chicken or 1 lb. boneless/skinless chicken tenders or chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
1-32 ounce container of low-sodium chicken broth
2/3 cup uncooked orzo
Small handful of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

In a medium soup pot, heat the extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion, and chicken tender pieces (if using). Cook until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, about 6-8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the orzo according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

Add the chicken broth to the chicken and vegetable mixture and bring to a boil. If using rotisserie chicken, add pieces of breast meat to the boiling broth mixture. I generally use the meat from both breasts, but if you like less chicken, use the meat from only one.

Once the mixture has come to a boil and the chicken and vegetables are heated through, lower the heat to low. Add the cooked orzo, chopped fresh parsley, and grated lemon peel.

Serve immediately with crusty bread.


Vaseline Intensive Rescue Review

Monday, February 21, 2011
What goes hand in hand with winter? Dry, cracking skin. It can be painful, uncomfortable...and ugly. I hide my hands under my gloves. It's embarrassing. When I wear jeans, my skin itches beneath my jeans. It's annoying.

When I was asked to try Vaseline's Intensive Rescue lotion, the invitation couldn't have come at a better time. This winter has wrecked havoc on my skin. I can't remember a winter that has been colder and drier. It has not been kind to my skin.
I received Vaseline Intensive Rescue about a month ago. I began using it immediately. I desperately needed it. My skin was so dry. My hands looked like those of a ninety year old. It was bad.

One of the most effective properties of the Vaseline Intensive Rescue is that it delivers 24 hours of therapeutic moisture. Most other lotions quit after a few hours, leaving your skin looking dry. I like knowing that hours after I've applied the lotion, it is still working. And since you can't see your skin in the winter when it's hidden all those layers, it's nice to know that's it's still working long after it's been applied.

Within 3 days of beginning use of the lotion, the skin on my legs and hands was visibly smoother and more moisturized.

It's non-greasy. I've found baby oil to be effective at treating dry skin, but I don't like the greasy feeling. I love that Vaseline Intensive Rescue treats dry skin just as, if not more, effectively than baby oil, and there's no greasy residue.

It has a light, clean scent without being over-powering.

The retail cost is about $4.50 for a 10 fluid ounce bottle.

The lotion is not chemical-free. Although this is not a huge downside for me, I have been moving towards using more natural personal grooming products.

Vaseline has spent the winter on the road with the Dry Skin Patrol, a five-woman team who suffer from dry skin. The Dry Skin Patrol has ventured across the country to 4 destinations , such a Aspen and Duluth, where they have put their skin and Vaseline Intensive Rescue to the test. Check out the Dry Skin Patrol and enter to win an experience similar to the stops on the Mission tour at http://on.fb.me/bvsBHt.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary 10 fluid ounce bottle of Vaseline Intensive Rescue Fragrance-Free Repairing Moisture lotion to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed herein are specifically mine. I received no monetary compensation to write this post or endorse this product. To view my full Disclosure Policy, click here.

How Young is Too Young for Facebook?

Sunday, February 20, 2011
Our oldest daughter will be 9 in May, and although she hasn't yet asked, I fear the big question is looming in our near future. "Mom and Dad, when can I join Facebook?" She has already inquired about a cell phone. Is it really necessary for her to make calls to friends while not at home? She's always with me, and when she's not, she's either with the hubs or in school. She doesn't need a cell phone in either of those incidents.

Why are these kids so quick to rush childhood and grow up?

I think 9 is too young for Facebook, and so is 11, 13, and 15. Even 16 might be pushing it. One of my own Facebook friends has a daughter on Facebook. She's 7. Yes, 7. Her birth year is listed as 1988. If we can't and aren't going to be ourselves, why bother? She can't possibly have a large population of friends on Facebook. So why is she there? And more importantly, why did her parents allow her to create a profile (under an incredibly false pretense, nevertheless)?

I can't quite put my finger on why it bothers me to see such young children on Facebook. Even with strict privacy settings, there is still too much exposure for children. They should be putting puzzles together, playing sports, playing kitchen, riding bikes, and being kids. Not surfing Facebook. And from what I hear, there's a lot of drama amongst the teenage Facebookers. Those adolescent years are filled with enough drama. Adding Facebook to the mix doesn't help.

Have you had to handle this difficult situation yet? If so, how did you? Were you caught off-guard or were you anticipating it and prepared for a discussion? Please weigh in.


What's for Dinner: Black Beans and Rice

Wednesday, February 16, 2011
One of my favorite vegetarian dishes is black beans and rice. Since I don't eat a lot of meat, I've had to find creative ways to inject protein into my diet. Beans are an excellent source of protein, and black beans are definitely my favorite!

After trying many different variations of black beans and rice, I have finally found one that's a keeper. AND...my kids love it too!

BLACK BEANS and RICE (Serves 6)

1 cup uncooked white rice (prepared according to package directions)*
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 or 3 cloves minced garlic
2 16-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp white vinegar
A few dashes of Tabasco or hot sauce
1 heaping Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional, but highly recommended: Lime wedges and cilantro for garnish

*Note: Brown rice can be substituted for white
Heat oil in a large skillet on medium high. Sauté onions and bell peppers for 3-4 minutes, until just beginning to soften, then add garlic and sauté a minute more.

Add the black beans, vinegar and Tabasco or hot sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
Stir in rice and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy it! It's yummy.

Shop these kitchen tools that are ideal for preparing and serving black beans and rice.


The Monmouth Museum

Monday, February 14, 2011
A few weeks ago as our cabin fever was hitting an all-time high, we decided to venture out to somewhere we had never been. After hearing some good things about the Monmouth Museum, we wanted to check it out for ourselves.

Located on the campus of Brookdale Community College, the Monmouth Museum is a small museum that offers exhibits in art, science, nature, and cultural history. The exhibits are ever-changing, making the museum a dynamic place to visit frequently. The Monmouth Museum consists of the Main Gallery and the Nilson Gallery. The Main Gallery houses the science and nature exhibits. The Nilson Gallery houses the art and cultural history pieces and exhibits.

During our visit, we spent our time in the Main Gallery, which although small, offers plenty of exhibits for children. The current exhibits focus on weather, weather patterns and weather phenomena. Children can crawl through a wind tunnel, walk through a thunder and lightening storm, and "slide" into a tornado shelter. There is also a planetarium-type show about weather. We opted out of the show as we were told by museum personnel that it is not recommended for children under 7 due to loud noises and concepts that would not be easily understood by younger audiences.

The museum boasts the Dorothy V. Morehouse WonderWing. The WonderWing is an educational space offering a permanent exhibition on the sea and the creatures that make it their home. Children can explore a pirate ship, perform in a Tiki theater, climb a tree house and inside a lighthouse, slide through a whale, play in a kelp forest and listen to a real waterfall. The WonderWing is designed for early childhood education with elements that are attractive and age appropriate, and draw young visitors to experiment, imagine, explore and discover.

I apologize in advance for the quality of the photos. I forgot my DSLR and had to use my BlackBerry to take pictures. The clarity leaves much to be desired.

There was a cloud wall where you are able to walk in the clouds.

Only the bravest of pirates dare to cross this bridge!

Re-arrange the aquarium with magnetic fish.

Don't plan to spend an entire day at the museum. Because of its smaller scale, it's perfect for a morning or an afternoon outing, and it's great for younger children whose attention spans wane after an hour or so. The upside to the museum is that its cost is relatively low, making it a great choice for a family outing. The cost per person is $7, and children under 2 are admitted free.

For hours and additional information, visit the Monmouth Museum's Web site.


Valentine's Day: Outside the (Heart Shaped) Box

Tuesday, February 8, 2011
It's not too late to pull together a plan for a fabulously fool-proof Valentine's Day. Whether you'll be celebrating as a family or as a couple, I've got some off the beaten path ideas that will have your heart fluttering.

For the Family

Indoor Picnic
Get a roaring fire going and spread out a big blanket on the floor. An indoor picnic is the perfect option for any budget or number of people. Go high-end by serving a nice wine, gourmet cheeses and crackers, grapes, and fancy Belgian chocolates. Or for a more wallet and family-friendly picnic, serve heart-shaped PB&J sandwiches, fresh fruit, whole-grain crackers and pretzels, and a fun dessert. Cupcakes are a big hit with the kiddos. A picnic is perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It is a great way to celebrate with the family or alone and doesn't have to be expensive.

Celebrate with Breakfast
My husband and I stopped going out for Valentine's Day dinner a long time ago. The restaurants are over crowded, serve overpriced, prix fixe meals, and service is fair, at best. Once we had our children, we wanted to include them in the celebration. So, we started going out for breakfast or serving a special morning meal at home. Heart-shaped pancakes served with red fruits (strawberries and raspberries) are perfect for this occasion. Adults can enjoy mimosas (or other Champagne cocktails) while lingering over a relaxing meal. Celebrating early in the day with the kids allows time for mom and dad to have a quiet celebration after the kids have gone to bed.

For the Two of You

Spa Day
If pampering and relaxing with your Valentine are your thing, then check out a spa near you. Most now offer couples' packages for the day including a light lunch. Hmmm....sounds nice.

Wine Tasting
I've noticed this year, that many local New Jersey wineries are offering special Valentine's Day weekend tastings...complete with chocolate. Hello. Did someone say wine and chocolate in the same sentence?? If you are lucky enough to live within a reasonable driving distance to a winery, check it out. The tastings are very reasonably priced at about $10 per person and often include a tour of the cellar.

Trip down Memory Lane
Once you have children, it's often difficult to remember the couple you were before the kids came along. Put the the kids to bed. Crack open a bottle of wine and turn on your favorite channel on Sirius. It's time to chill with your Valentine and reminisce about why you fell in love in the first place. Recall details from your first date or when you first met or maybe even your first fight (lol). Break out the old pictures and remember special trips you've taken and special occasions. It's an opportunity to reconnect in our otherwise busy worlds.

However you choose to spend it, Valentine's Day doesn't have to be an over-commercialized holiday filled with cliches. It's never too late to start a Valentine's Day tradition by doing something new!


Reaching another milestone

Saturday, February 5, 2011
Ask any mother to recall a memorable milestone, and she's sure to say her baby's first tooth. I remember it well. Those white ridges popping through the gums, wiping away that big gummy grin that we immediately fell in love with at birth. Once that first tooth appears, it's only a matter of time before the mouth is filled with pearly whites.
Emma sporting her first two teeth

I can remember Emma's first trip to the dentist. I stressed over it. Would she cry, be terrified, ever return again? Would ear splitting shrieks cause everyone to evacuate the office? And now, years and no cavities later, it seems that all that stressing was for nought.

Until it was recommended by our pediatric dentist that we schedule a consult with an orthodontist. My mind came to a screeching halt. WHAT? Orthodontist? She'll never go for that. All that prying around in the mouth is not going to work for my daughter. Little did I know that Emma wanted to go to the orthodontist. After all, "all my friends are doing it", she told me.

Ahhhh, yes, peer pressure. This time it was on my side.

I was in denial. How could my Emma be old enough for the orthodontist? Not possible. But, several orthodontist visits later, here is my Emma being fitted for a palate expander, a precursor to braces.

I'm proud of her. She hops right into the chair, eager for treatment. Gone are the days of apprehension and fear. I have to wonder. What happened? Could it be, dare I say, that my daughter is growing up and maturing. Someone please hand me the tissues.


Get Your Red On

Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Did you know that every minute a woman dies of heart disease? According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women in the U.S. Although most of us are aware of heart disease, we don't think it will happen to us. I never understood the urgency of it. And then I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol several years ago. It was like a smack in the face. I had 2 of the 7 risk factors for heart disease, and I was scared. I am proof that women in their 30's as well as in their 50's, 60's, and 70's can have risk factors for heart disease.

Diet and exercise combined with prescription medications brought my blood pressure and cholesterol readings within normal ranges. But some women aren't so lucky.

On Friday, February 4th, the American Heart Association is hosting a nationwide event, "Wear Red Day" which encourages everyone to dress in red to raise awareness for heart disease. "Wear Red Day" is part of the "Go Red For Women" campaign, which provides education about heart disease risk factors for women, hosts community events, provides CPR kits, and raises money for heart disease research.

Looking for a red dress? Available now through March 20, women can purchase Macy's "Go Red" dress by INC ($99). Macy's will donate 5 percent of each sale to the American Heart Association.

Heart disease - which includes heart attacks, congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease and genetic defects - is no longer "your grandparent's disease". Don't let it become your disease. Lead a healthy lifestyle and know your numbers. If you haven't had your blood pressure or cholesterol checked recently, make an appointment today.

And don't forget to wear your red on Friday!