So this piece really has no direct correlation to parenting, but since I am quite the little food junkie I felt the need to dedicate an entire blog post to my favorite slab of meat:  the chuck roast.  Why?  Because it’s awesome.  Well if you eat red meat of course, which we do in my family.

As a full-time working mom I make great use of my crock pot all year long, not just in the winter.  And a chuck roast is quite simply one of the most versatile things you can prepare in the slow cooker.  It’s almost impossible to screw up, can take as little or as much seasoning as you want, and can be used in a thousand different ways.

So why the sudden urge to write about my friend Chuck?  When I think about the coming week and what dinners will fit into our busy schedules, I often look for things that I can cook once and use twice.  So yesterday I plopped a chuck roast into the crock pot with some onions, carrots, seasoning, and a little broth, with the intention of having a vintage pot roast dinner.  It turned out perfectly and I served the tender meat with rice, some quick homemade gravy (using the reserved broth), broccoli, and the carrots that cooked alongside the meat.  I felt like June Cleaver serving Ward and the Beaver (minus the patent leather heels), and it was delicious.  But the best part was seeing a big plate of leftover beef, knowing that dinner is covered tonight.  Because I chose to season the meat simply, it’s once again a blank canvas for tonight’s meal, which will be hot beef and cheddar sandwiches.  Nothing is simpler on a weeknight than a hearty sandwich, and this one rocks because the main component is already done.  And since I know it’s a quick fix tonight, I’m hitting the gym after work.  Score.

So here’s the skinny on all the different ways I use this versatile, inexpensive, delicious cut of meat.  I usually try to find a 3-ish pound roast with some good marbling; you need a little fat to ensure it stays moist as it cooks, and trust me, it breaks down completely after 8 hours (on low) in the crock pot.  I typically season it very simply so I can use it more than once in different dishes; salt, pepper, some cut up onions and garlic, and any other “universal” ingredient you want to toss in for flavor.  My arsenal:

  1. Traditional pot roast like I describe above. Add in some carrots and potatoes, serve with rice and gravy and you’ll be a 50’s housewife in no time.
  2. Tacos/burritos/enchiladas. Season the meat with cumin, chili powder, and hot sauce, and use it for your favorite Mexican-style dish.  It’s so flavorful and goes great with traditional taco fixins.  It’s like your own version of Chipotle.
  3. Beef stroganoff.  I love beef stroganoff in the winter.  I’ve made it a dozen different ways, using everything from high quality steak to hamburger, but the shredded crock pot beef is by far my favorite.  When I get home from work all I have to do is shred the meat, combine it with some of the broth (thickened), mushrooms, sour cream, a few herbs, and egg noodles.  So good on a cold night.
  4. Chili.  My husband loves chili made with chunks of beef versus ground beef.  It’s a nice twist on a traditional red chili with beans, and the chuck roast has more flavor than hamburger.
  5. Soup.  Beef and barley, beef vegetable, steak and potato.  Envision the soup aisle at the store and easily recreate it at home.
  6. Sandwiches.  French dip, beef and cheddar, sliders, you name it.  If you slow cook the meat with onions they are soft and sweet and so good on the beefy sandwiches.  Play around with different breads, cheeses, and condiments like horseradish sauce and honey mustard.  I almost always make sandwiches with leftover chuck roast.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.  Want to know what’s even BETTER?  If you don’t want to eat beef two days in a row, it freezes perfectly.  So you can put it away and have it ready a month later when you get the craving.  The same goes for slow roasted pork roast, but that’s a blog for another day…

Chuck, I love ya.  I just wrote an entire blog post about you.

Summers Then & Now

September 2, 2014

Even though it’s back-to-school time, I’ve been thinking about my summers growing up.  When I was a kid the last day of school was epic.  Knowing that I didn’t have to do homework or read textbooks or wake up early for a couple of months was the best feeling.  I also felt excitement for the start of a new school year.  Not necessarily the homework and early wake-up calls, but shopping for a few new outfits, picking out school supplies, learning who my teachers were – all of that mid-August fanfare.

My mom stayed at home for a big chunk of our school years, or at most worked part time.  We were a modest middle-class family, happy and well provided for.  Not a ton of frills, but that was fine with us.  My older brother was wheelchair-bound, which is one of the main reasons my mom stayed at home when we were younger.  But as we all got older we were more than capable of fending for ourselves when she went back to work part time.

I remember my summers as a kid, before I was old enough to have a part time job to keep me busy.  The first week at home was a lot of sleeping in, watching TV, and running around outside with the neighborhood kids.  We’d pop home and eat a sandwich, then head back out until dinner time when we’d return sweaty and dirty and exhausted.  Some days my mom would drop me off at the neighborhood pool to meet up with friends, or stick me with my little brother if he was bored.  There was always one week at the beach, a week of day camp like Vacation Bible School, or an overnight camp when we got older.  It was fun and simple and got mind-numbingly boring by the time August rolled around. 

Sometimes I find myself a little bummed that Junior won’t get to experience that kind of carefree summer.  I work full time and don’t see an end in sight, so he won’t really have a chance to deviate from his regular school year schedule.  He’ll still be up early so I can drop him off at daycare and he’ll stay there until I pick him up after work.  When he gets older they call daycare “summer camp” since that’s pretty much what it is for the school-aged kids.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fun environment with stuff planned every day and I’m grateful he’ll have the opportunity to be there.  But there’s a part of me that wishes he could have a less scheduled summer, running around the neighborhood until dark, sleeping in, vegging out in front of the TV on a rainy day. 

Admittedly, I’ve worked full time since Junior was 10 weeks old, and I really have no experience with that stay-at-home lifestyle.  Would I be satisfied planning activities for my kids?  Being the chauffeur?  Hearing the griping when they’re bored at the end of the summer?  I’m not sure.  I have very fond memories of my summers at home and the bookends of excitement around summer’s start and summer’s end.  Does my mom have the same fond memories?  Hahaha maybe I should ask her…   Any way you slice it, times are different now.  We want more “stuff” which means we need more income.  Even the kids who do stay home all summer are in so many activities.  I’m not sure it’s even possible to recreate the summer vacations of the 80’s and 90’s.  One day I’d like to give it a try though, even for just a little while. 

Happy back-to-school season everyone.  I can still remember the great feeling of satisfaction when I found the perfect Trapper Keeper and coordinating folders.  Can you smell the vinyl?  Can you hear the Velcro?  I can…

Ye Ole Noggin

July 24, 2014

Today I’ve been thinking about my kid’s head.   It’s a nice head – full of unmanageable blonde hair and a little big compared to the rest of his body, but overall it’s a keeper.  It also takes a beating.  I don’t know if it’s a boy thing or if all kids bang up their heads on a regular basis, but Junior’s a pro.

I remember his very first substantial knot; he was maybe a year and a half old.  I was helping him step out of his pants and into his jammies when he got tripped up and smacked the back of his sweet head on the knob of his dresser drawer.  A walnut sized lump popped out immediately; he wailed and I was traumatized.  I was right there but somehow I couldn’t grab him before he hit the deck.  I rushed downstairs looking for frozen peas, crying because I was such an awful, irresponsible mother.  He recovered quickly and I beat myself up for hours.

And they kept coming.  There’s that time we were heading out to catch a ride on the Christmas trolley…  He was walking along when he hit an uneven section of sidewalk; since his hands were in his pockets the only way he could break his fall was with his face, right into a brick wall.  Oh.  My.  God.  The howling, the purple goose egg on his forehead, the bloodied lip, the trolley passengers staring…  Fortunately a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer sighting was a well-timed distraction.  What a weekend.  Needless to say our Christmas pictures were not as attractive that year.

Whether it’s a forehead to the wall, a tumble off his bike, or most recently a golf club to the face, it’s clear that young kids’ heads are made of concrete.  Somehow his mishaps have only result in bumps and bruises, no open wounds or stitches (how’s that for jinxing myself?).  And even though I’ve become somewhat immune to it now, there’s always that initial “oh shit” gasp before I slow down and gain my composure.  You know the feeling — the internal struggle of “do I apply frozen vegetables or take him to urgent care?”

Peas, cuddles, and a juice box usually do the trick for him, but I always spend a few minutes berating myself for being a sucky parent.  Why can’t I protect my sweet boy from walls and sidewalks and sports equipment?  What’s wrong with me?  Fortunately it’s not too long before I see a post on Facebook about another kid’s stitches or a busted tooth or a broken arm and I realize that we’re all experiencing the same adventures.  I guess a hard-headed kid isn’t such a bad thing after all…

The blog drought is over, for now at least.  How long has it been since I posted something?  There’s no real reason for the hiatus; the crappy winter resulted in nothing interesting to write, so I didn’t waste my time or yours.  What’s fun about a weekly blog on parent/toddler arguments?  Nothing, so I’ll just sum it up real quick.

tantrum

This is not my child… Photo courtesy of theconfidentmom.com.

Age 3 has been much more of a parenting challenge for me than 2 ever was.  Between 3 and 3½ I got a hard and fast lesson on stubbornness, defiance, backtalk, and crankiness.  I know it’s all part of Junior’s growing up, learning how to express himself,  having an opinion,  yada yada yada, but some mornings I contemplated walking out of the house and going to work in my bath robe just to escape it.

The funny thing is, Junior is only a grumpasaurus at home; he’s an absolute prince when we’re together with friends and playing with other kids.  So my friends literally don’t believe me when I tell them that he throws tantrums, swats at me, and loses privileges on a fairly regular basis.  A little junior Jekyll & Hyde I suppose.  I’ve taken the liberty of creating a top-10 list of Junior’s greatest (and most illogical) anger-inducing situations.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy experiencing them.

10. Syrup placement:  God forbid I drizzle syrup ON his pancake instead of on the side for dipping.

09. Get dressed before we come downstairs for breakfast?  Hellz no!

08. What?  No cartoons during dinner?  Mommy should be deported.

07. Runny nose = tissue only.  Toilet paper, napkins, hankies and any other absorbent items are contraband.

06. “Junior, please pick up your shoes.”  “No YOU do it mommy!”  Uhhhh, what?

05.  “Junior, I need to wash your hair because it smells like a trash can.”  (SCREAMING) “I WANT to smell like a trash can!”  This bathtub episode was great – I got it on video.

04. When and where I blow dry my hair can be a major issue on any given morning.  Tread lightly…

03. Daddy does the occasional morning daycare run.  LOOK OUT.

02. Well let’s face it…  Daddy tries to do any of the usual Mommy stuff (excluding wrestling, tickling, and watching vintage Muppets shows online) and there’s backlash.

01. SOFT PANTS.  Dear Lord, the child wants to wear some form of sweat/jersey/athletic pants every day and doggone it I want him to wear khakis every once in a while.  So we finally came to a mutual agreement that seems to work:  soft pants on Mondays and Fridays, and “handsome” clothes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  DEAL.

I’m laughing as I write this because the conflicts we have are so ridiculous.  Fortunately as he approaches 4 he is definitely easing up on some of those idiosyncrasies.  But even if we start the day arguing about sweatpants it’s good to know that the nights usually end with snuggles and story time and bedtime prayers.  Not always, but usually.  He’s an opinionated guy, what can I say?  He’s particular about the order of things; he appreciates a process.  He also falls down and bumps into things a lot, so I’m guessing my DNA is really taking charge in there.  Poor guy – I know how hard it is to be a klutzy type-A person who wishes she could wear sweatpants every day.

This Post Has No Age Limit

December 17, 2013

I can’t believe I’m about to do this, but here it goes.  I am republishing a prior blog post for the 3rd time.  No, it’s not because I’m lazy.  It’s not because I can’t think of anything else to write.  It’s because there are no other words in my life that are more relevant right now.  Today I contemplated changing my son’s name to Chardonnay or Zinfandel because every time he starts whining I crack open a bottle of wine.  Well, not at 6:30 AM but you get my drift…

Grammar Lesson (originally posted 7/16/2012)

hom·o·phone  [hom-uh-fohn]:  A word pronounced the same as another but differing in meaning, whether spelled the same way or not.  Courtesy:  www.dictionary.com.

Back in middle school we were given some common examples to illustrate this phonetic term:  “carat” and “carrot”; “two” and “too”; “there” and “their”, to name a few.  I’d like to introduce a new, more relevant example that is applicable in my adult life:  “wine” and “whine”.

Wine is a delicious beverage that often encourages feelings of happiness and relaxation.  It can be red, white, or pink, but careful consideration must be given to the pink variety as it can be tricky…  Wine can vary greatly in price, but my experience typically falls in the “$10 or less” category.  Wine is a bright spot in one’s day; the more wine, the brighter the day becomes, until things turn hazy and that means there’s been too much.

Oh how things change when you add one single letter – h – to that lovely word:  wine becomes whine.  Whine is also a regular occurrence in my life, yet it does not lead to feelings of happiness or relaxation.  It comes in one variety only:  annoying.  If I could pay to make it stop I would definitely branch out of the “$10 or less” bucket.  But unfortunately it is a free service provided by my toddler, one from which I cannot unsubscribe, much like junk mail and the Yellow Pages book that still shows up on my doorstep.

It should be noted that there is a distinct cause-and-effect element in play.  Whine (the bad kind) very often leads to wine (the good kind).  Unfortunately that’s not appropriate at 7:45 on a Monday morning, but sometimes I wish it was.  In the evenings, however, a good dose of whine may be matched by a good dose of wine.  And that’s what makes homophones fun.

Birthday Perspectives

October 30, 2013

Just over a month ago my baby boy turned 3.  We decided it was time to give him a real birthday party at the house with friends, a bounce house, cake and ice cream, and all of the chaos that comes with it.  It was a blast, and I told my husband that I think I had more fun planning his party than I did planning our wedding.  I have a little Martha Stewart buried deep inside of me and it comes out in full force when I know people are coming over, even people under the age of 4.

Junior is a pirate fanatic at the moment, so naturally we had a pirate-themed party.  A pirate bounce house, pirate tablecloths, super cute bandanna hats, eye patches, a homemade treasure chest birthday cake, and buried treasure for the kiddos to take home.  I found a great website for all of the decorations and favors, www.purepirate.com, so if you have a pirate-obsessed child and need some swag you should check it out.  At first I was worried that it was a site dedicated to adults with a weird pirate fetish – and maybe it is – but they had party favors so I went with it…

pirate bounce

A 3-year old’s dream come true…

So fun to make!  It's not really leaning to the left; I'm just a bad photographer.

So fun to make! It’s not really leaning to the left; I’m just a bad photographer.

After a long, beautiful, fun fall day of bouncing, running, laughing, eating, and post sugar high crashing, Junior started planning out his life’s adventures when he turns 4.  “When I turn FOUR I can yada yada yada…”  Wow.  Do you remember how much fun it was to turn a year older?  So many things to look forward to…  Starting kindergarten, being “double digits” when you turn 10, becoming a teenager at 13, drivers license at 16, being able to say “well I’m an adult now and I don’t have to listen to you anymore” when you turn 18 and argue with your parents, drinking (legally) when you’re 21, car insurance rates dropping at 25…

Like many people, that stopped for me at some point.  My birthday is exactly 2 weeks after Junior’s and I turned the big 3-5.  I don’t really have an issue with getting older, but I certainly don’t feel excitement about it.  I wonder what it would be like to happily say “when I turn THIRTY SIX I can do this and that and this and that…”  I started my 35th birthday by dusting the wood blinds downstairs.  And since it was raining Junior and I took a nice trip to Wal-Mart to pick up some necessities.  I’ve never been that person who celebrates a “birthday week” and expects a lot of fanfare and grandeur, and maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I should show a little more excitement about the day I entered this world instead of being so neutral about it.  I should take some cues from Junior who is so excited about what’s ahead for him in the coming year, and how much better life will be when he hits his next age milestone – 4.

Maybe I’ll get a bounce house for my 36th birthday.

We’ve all had those periods of time when life seems out of control.  For me, it’s leading a pseudo-single mom life while my husband’s job keeps him away from home most days during the week.  It’s my precious toddler, just shy of his 3rd birthday, who thinks everything is his way or the highway right now.  If he doesn’t get M&Ms after dinner he hops out of his booster chair and swats at me.  Bedtime means nothing; he’s up 2 or 3 times with every excuse imaginable from “monsters in my room” to “I have to poop.”

I don’t know about you, but eventually I hit my wall.  Granted I’m not the most patient person in general, but I do try to temper it when it comes to Junior.  Tonight I actually told him that if he got out of bed one more time I was going to cancel his birthday party next month.  To a kid so damned excited about turning 3 that he can barely contain himself, that was pretty mean of me.  He did stay in bed after that though.  So as I cleaned up one of a thousand messes tonight, I stopped to reflect on how I react to things and realized that I should actually try to be grateful for the crap that drives me nuts.

In the last year or so I’ve become acquainted with a great company that gives people an easy platform to raise money for any cause that’s important to them.  Since there are no limitations on what someone can fundraise for, you see a diverse range of campaigns.  Everything from church mission trips, to Susan G. Komen, to pet rescue groups, and they’re all fantastic.  The ones that really strike a chord with me though, are the ones that center on families – families just like mine – trying to raise money for their children.  Expensive cancer treatments, stem cell therapy, adoption, wheelchairs, you name it.   Yet these are things I never have to think about.

Everybody has problems and frustrations, things to complain about.  Nobody’s life is peaches and cream all the time.  But I think it’s important to put things into perspective; to recognize that some of the things you gripe about could be a blessing to somebody else.  My son has the ability to crawl out of bed and roam the hall upstairs, but there are other kids his age that can’t.  Does this mean I should feel guilty?  Absolutely not.  But when I get particularly crabby it does cross my mind.

At the end of the day every family has its own definition of “normal.”  I grew up with an older brother who was confined to a wheelchair from a young age due to Muscular Dystrophy.  Others may have looked at our family with sadness or pity, but to us it was normal.  I hopped on the handicapped school bus with him every day for a number of years and didn’t think twice about it.  My parents were active with the Muscular Dystrophy Association and we were granted a Disney trip from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  I’m sure my parents felt more stress than they let on, and as a child I was certainly oblivious to it, but I know that they found great joy in their less-than-picture-perfect lifestyle.  And I know that the families behind the fundraisers I just described also feel great joy, even if their lives appear less than ideal from the outside looking in.

So tomorrow morning I will look at my sleepy boy with crazy bed head and tell him his birthday party is not in jeopardy.  When he swats at me like a brat I will discipline him, but also feel grateful that he’s able to swing that hand.  When he sasses at the dinner table I will correct him but remember that I am lucky that he communicates so well.  The next time he loses his mind in a fit of rage I’ll remind myself that his presence alone is a blessing.  But in all fairness I’ll still be annoyed and wonder why my life has to be so crazy sometimes.  That’s normal isn’t it?

*For more information about the fundraising company and its active campaigns, visit http://www.bonfirefunds.com.

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