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Friday, July 29, 2011

Talking Sex with Teens

I believe that a constant, steady stream of communication with my kids is the best way to go.  I want them to clearly understand my expectations of them when it comes to things like drugs, alcohol, dating, sex, boys, etc.  So whenever I get the opportunity to share with them or open the lines of communication I jump at it!  This week I stumbled upon this slide show which I promptly e-mailed to my daughter.  I love that it shows that contrary to what the media shows us, even in Hollywood people aren't always hopping into bed at the drop of the hat (ok, so some are but there are some who are not!) 


Thursday, July 28, 2011

More Websites I Love

I have a few more websites I love that I want to share:


This site allows you to look up a movie and find out why it got the rating it did.  It will give you a score on a scale of 1-10 in three areas -- sex/nudity, violence/gore, language.  Then it will go through in detail why they gave it that score.  For example it might say that a woman's dress is low cut and shows cleavage or it will say that there were three scatological terms used.  It also lets you know if there is substance abuse in the movie and it gives you some discussion topics.  I LOVE this site!  I use it before I let my girls see any movie that is rated PG 13.  Last week they wanted to see Transformers which had a 5 for sex/nudity.  I put the kabash on that for my little one but let them see Captain America which had a 3 for sex/nudity.  Every family will have their trigger points.  For my girls I'll allow a 5 or 6 for violence but only 3 or 4 for sex/nudity.  Profanity I'll allow a 4 or 5 (I tend to have a bit of a potty mouth myself.) 


This website allows you to search for dinner reservations in your city (or the city you are visiting) based on a time and size of party.  It then lets you quickly look at customer's reviews of the restaurants and see their menu on line.  I love going out to a nice dinner but I am not going to stand around 2 hours waiting to be seated!  I found some great new restaurants using this site too.  They have a point program where you earn points by dining but I've never earned enough to get anything.  I just love the convenience!


This is new to me and was sent to me by a friend who knows I am always organizing something.  I just used it for the first time this week to organize a funeral dinner and I LOVE IT!!!  It is such a great way to get people signed up for things without worrying about duplicates or too much salad and not enough desserts.  It is pretty easy to use but make sure you "update" along the way.  I put in about 140 email addresses and hit preview without updating and lost everything!  I think I'll be using this a lot in the future.

Happy surfing!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to Clean Your Wooden Cutting Board

A few days ago I told you to go out and make an investment in some great kitchen knives.  Once you've done that you'll want to buy a good wooden cutting board.  These are the best surfaces for your knives.  Of course you'll also need to have a plastic board for cutting meat that you can throw in the dishwasher.  The only problem with the wooden cutting board is that it cannot be put in the dishwasher.  I wash mine with hot soapy water after every use but when the watermelon tastes like onion it is time for something more.  Here's what I do:

Wash your wooden board really good with hot, soapy water.  While it is still damp sprinkle it with kosher salt.  Then cut a lemon in half and use the cut lemon grind the salt into the board.  The lemon juice and salt will become like a paste, keep working it around.  Rinse with hot water and then dry.  You should then condition it with food quality mineral oil -- you can find this in your grocery store. 

Do this every couple weeks and your cutting board will never make your watermelon taste like onion.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's for dinner tonight??? Stromboli

Things have been so crazy in our lives this past few days that I haven't been thinking about what to serve my family for dinner until its time for dinner.  Tonight I walked in at 6:15 and had no clue what to make but in 30 minutes we had a yummy dinner on the table.  Here's what I did.

First I sliced up 2 small yellow onions and threw them in a pan to saute with some olive oil.  Turned the oven onto 400 degrees to preheat.  While those things are happening I rolled out a tube of pre-made pizza dough but you can also use a tube of french bread dough.  I spread a thin layer of dijon mustard all over the dough and then added a layer of Swiss cheese.  On top of the Swiss cheese I threw on the sauteed onions and then some deli smoked turkey.  Roll it up the long way, cut a few slits in the top and bake it for about 20 minutes.  Throw together a salad and you have a great meal. 

The best part is you can make this a bunch of different ways.  I have done it with pizza sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni.  Ham, spicy brown mustard & cheddar cheese.  I've done the turkey/Swiss version with sliced green onions instead of sauteed onions.  This is really a "clean out the fridge" kind of dish.  And the kids love it every time!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another Use for the Sausage

A few days ago I gave you a dinner idea for the chicken sausages from Sams (or Costco or Walmart).  Well these little sausages have become a staple in our house.  A few nights ago I prepared them a different way.  I don't have any pictures but it was so yummy and reheated for lunch yesterday really well.

In a large skillet heat some olive oil then saute 5 or 6 large mushrooms, sliced (you can use white or baby bellas) and 1/2 a yellow or red onion sliced.  The slice one package of the flavored chicken sausage (I used the asiago spinach) in half length-wise and then in slices to make little half moon shapes.  Add to pan with sausage and mushrooms and saute until browned.  Add a jar of your favorite pasta sauce and simmer with lid until pasta is ready.

Boil 16 oz. of Penne pasta according to package directions.  Drain and while it is still hot dump it into a 9x13 casserole dish.  Then top the hot pasta with an 8 oz bag of shredded mozzarella cheese and then with the hot meat sauce.  The pasta and the sauce will melt the cheese for you.  Top with some grated parm and you've got a yummy dinner.

Serve with a salad and you've got a whole meal!


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's for dinner tonight??? Fajita Burgers!

We love burgers at our house but sometimes like a little twist so we came up with this recipe:

1.5 lbs. ground beef
1 packet fajita seasoning
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
10-12 dashes Chipotle Tabasco
5 slices pepper jack cheese
5 hamburger buns
homemade guacamole
1 red or green pepper
1-2 yellow onions

Mix ground beef, fajita seasoning, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco.  Form into 5 - 5 oz. patties.  Set aside.

Slice pepper and yellow onions.  Saute in a little olive oil until tender but not over cooked.

Make homemade guacamole using my recipe from June 24th.

Grill the burgers over med-high grill 4-5 minutes per side for medium doneness. At the last minute top each burger with a slice of pepper jack cheese.  When serving put each burger on a bun, top with grill peppers and onions and a dollop of guacamole.  So yummy!  Make sure to make extra guac for dipping!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kitchen Must Have -- GOOD Knives

If you have aspirations of becoming a better cook or love to cook but have never invested in a good knife, please do so immediately!  They are expensive but you don't have to buy a whole set, just a few basics.  I would highly recommend Wusthof knives.  You can buy them at Bed, Bath and Beyond (they are exempt from the BB&B coupons) and most department stores.  Halls runs a 20% off sale about every 6 months.  Here is what I suggest buying:

From left to right -- 3.5" paring knife, 8" chef's knife, 7" Santoku knife, serrated knife, steel, scissors

The small knife on the left is a paring knife, the next one in is an 8" chef's knife.  They sell these 2 together in a kit for about $140.  I would start with these 2 pieces and a steel (the second from right) for sharpening (actually it more straightens than sharpens but that's a whole Alton Brown episode.)  Next I would add the 7" Santoku.  That is actually my go-to knife most of the time.  The serrated knife is great to have but I would definitely add it last and the shears are cheap, like $25 so easy to add on.  A few tips:

1.  Never put them in the dishwasher.  I do put my scissors in the dishwasher but never the others.
2.  Halls runs a Wusthof event every 6 months, 20% off the knives and FREE sharpening!  Take advantage.  Wrap up all your knives in a kitchen towel and take them down there.
3.  If your knife doesn't glide through your food use the steel to sharpen it up at home.  On the steel packaging it has detailed directions but if you buy the knife from Halls they can give you instruction on the proper way to do it.

I promise, once you have these knifes your cutting skills will improve greatly and you can purge from your kitchen most of those cutting gadgets (egg slicer, chopper, etc.)!  So make the investment one time and they will last you a life time.  I actually TRAVEL with these knives.  If we are going on vacation to a lake or beach house and I will have to cook the steel and my 7" Santoku come with me.  If I'm going to someones house and will need to do some cutting at the last minute for whatever contribution I'm bringing, the knife goes with me.  That's how much better they are than your run of the mill knives.  Once you have one you'll never be able to go back.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's For Dinner Tonight??? Southwest Chicken Salad

This is one of our favorite summer recipes and a great way to use up left overs.  You can make it with leftover chicken fajita meat and throw in any number of veggies you have on hand.  Tonight I grilled chicken which I'd marinated in Lawry's Baja Chipotle Marinade.  The salad ingredients:

Red Onion
Red Pepper
Canned Corn (drained -- about 1/2 can)
Canned Black Beans (rinsed and drained - about 1/2 can)
Avocado -- diced

The dressing is a mixture of 1 part salsa to 1 part bottled Ranch dressing.  The other toppings -- shredded cheddar cheese and crunched up tortilla chips!  Yummy! 

Other salad toppings:  black olives, jalepenos, taco meat instead of chicken, fajita steak meat, fajita shrimp, any color peppers, green onions, tomatoes.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Traveling Mom

My job requires some travel, overall not an excessive amount, only about 4 nights per month on average.  However, occasionally a trip will send me far from home for an extended period of time (the longest I've been gone is 2 weeks!)  Additionally, I feel very strongly about having a couple trip with my hubby each year as well as my mother-daughter trip.  As my kids have gotten older these trips and separations have gotten easier on them but I still have some tips for making it easier at any age.

1.  SKYPE!  If you are not familiar with Skype it is a free application that you can download to your computer (www.skype.com) which allows for free video calls.  We have 4 Skype accounts in our house.  Each of my girls have one, I have one and we have one for the family.  The beauty of this is when I'm away on my work computer I can video chat with any of the family members back home for free.  We can even video conference!  It is awesome.  Jeff and I have used it with the girls when we were in Mexico too.

2.  COUNT DOWN!  When I had to be away in China for 2 weeks I made each of my girls a count down box.  I took a shoe box and filled it with 14 individually wrapped gifts.  Not big items, a pack of gum, a cute pair of earrings, a box of tic tacs, some stickers.  Each day they unwrapped one item and when the box was empty I would be home.  They both loved it and for Olivia who was only 7 at the time it really helped define the time in a visual way she could understand.

3.  EMAIL!  Now that my kids are older I like to e-mail them each individually.  Most recently I was in Germany so the 7 hour time difference meant that each morning I could send them an e-mail that they would get in their morning.  I included a few pictures each day just to show them what I was seeing.  I kept every e-mail they sent back to me too.

4.  MAKE THEM IN CHARGE!  Give them some responsibility while you are gone.  Have them help with cooking dinners or give them a project that will take a little time each day.  Especially in the summer this helps make the time pass faster while you are away.

5.  SHOW THEM YOU CARE!  I know that with two girls who are 10 and 14 who are very independent and with a husband at home they are perfectly capable of cooking for themselves but it is still nice to leave something behind that shows you were thinking of them.  Sometimes I'll throw together a lasagna or casserole before I leave that they can cook one night.  When school is in session, I'll throw something in the crock pot the morning I leave so they come home to a dinner home cooked by me.  This time I just prepped some veggies that they can use for salads and sandwiches while I'm away.  They are little things but show I'm thinking of them.

6.  SCOUT VACATION SPOTS!  I am always on the look out for new vacation spots so whenever I am out of town without my family I look for things to do there should I decide to go back.  Last year Jeff and I spent a week at an all inclusive in Cancun.  We loved it so much and thought the girls would too so this year we are going back with them.

7.  GIFTS ARE ALWAYS GOOD!  Since I travel so frequently I don't always bring them something home but if I go somewhere really cool or new or particularly exotic I like to pick something up that is specific to that area.

8.  CONSIDER BLOGGING!  When I went to China for 2 weeks I created a blog.  Because of the 12 hour time difference, as my day was ending each night the girls were in school so I could update my blog and when they got home from school they could check it out.  They could also share it with other friends and family members.

Its tough being away sometimes but I know that being a working mom makes me a better mom and I know that I need my marriage to be strong and that I need to nurture my mother-sister-daughter bonds as well.  For these reasons this trips are important to me.  These tips help make them a little easier on the kiddos.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Never Forget Your Vacation Memories

I'm a scrap-booker and a few years ago I was on a scrap book weekend with a girl friend and I noticed she was looking a post cards as she worked.  I asked her what she was doing and she said that since she usually doesn't get around to scrapbooking her vacation for several months she makes notes on what they did each day on postcards so she can refer back to them.  A light bulb went off in my head!  Journaling your vacations!  What a great idea.

I started with our very next trip.  I bought a journal from an office supply store and wrote down every thing we did, I even used one page to track our expenses.  Every evening I would literally dump everything onto paper -- what we did, where we went, what we ate, funny things that happened or the kids said.  Now 4 years later we are on our 3rd journal.  I've written about big trips (like 3 Disney World vacations) and little trips (like a weekend road trip to Omaha for the zoo.) 

It is a great tool for scrap-booking.  Right now I'm working on our Disney trip from 2009 and love having the notes to refer back to.  But the best thing is my kids love reading the journals.  Olivia was only 6 when I started these and she loves to read them.   I think that these books will be cherished by my family for years to come and they can share them with their kids.

Thanks to Laurie for the spark that started this tradition!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Christmas in July

Yes, it is going to be sunny and 90 degrees tomorrow but I wanted to share with you what I consider to be one of the most brilliant ideas I have ever had.  It involves Christmas but it takes some planning (I love my planning :) so I wanted to plant this little nugget in your brain several months in advance of the Christmas season.....

So I'm a "Black Friday" Shopper.  Yes, I get up at the crazy early hour of about 3:30 to hit the stores with my mom and sister.  We have been doing this for about 12 years and it is really one of my favorite traditions.  This story starts at about 4:00 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving in the Shawnee Wal-Mart in 2005.  In our house Santa only brings the girls one big gift and also fills each stocking.  The gift he brings is the biggest and best gift.  When the girls were little this was so easy, toy kitchen, mini-jeep, Barbie mansion.....etc.  In 2005 my girls were 5 and 8 and I was stumped.  What in the world was Santa going to bring this year????  I ended up deciding on a PlayStation 2 with Dance Dance Revolution and Kareoke Revolution. 

Christmas morning comes and they see the gift from Santa and I think they like it, we play with it quite a bit over Christmas Break. Then a few weeks later my Aunt Barb comes to visit.  "What was your favorite Christmas gift?"  she asks my girls.  And what do they both say????  Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in a plastic candy cane.  What?????  $4.99 lip balms vs. $300 game system?????  There is something wrong here.  It has only been a few weeks and honestly they have already forgotten half of what they got for Christmas.  Something had to change.

By March Jeff and I were tossing around the idea of having Santa bring a TRIP instead of gift.  We weren't sure how the girls would react, but we were committed to giving it a try. 

That first year, Christmas 2006, Santa brought us a trip to Disney World.  In the place near the tree where normally a big gift would be we placed a letter from Santa (on his letterhead no less).  The letter explained that they had been so good this year they were getting a trip to see Mickey and friends.  Santa also left matching Disney t-shirts for all 4 of us and a couple of new Disney DVDs.  The trip began just 7 short days later on January 1st.  They seemed excited about the trip and honestly with all the gifts they had opened the night before from grandma and grandpa and aunt Carrie they didn't seem to be short on new toys.  The trip was amazing, we made such great memories and to this day they can still tell you that they received a trip to Disney from Santa. 

Since then Santa has brought us a "memory maker" instead of gifts.  The second year he brought us 2 nights at the Great Wolf Lodge during Christmas break in one of the cabin rooms.  The next year it was a cruise in mid-January.  2009 brought us season tickets to Worlds of Fun and last year it was a week over Easter in Washington DC.

I think in order for this to be successful for young kids the gratification has to be almost immediate.  The first few years when the girls were young the trips happened within a couple of weeks of Christmas.  The last two years we have had to wait until April for Worlds of Fun and DC and while they are old enough to wait I like it better when it is closer to the holiday.  Another perk, saving money!  I mean the fact is we are going to pay for vacations anyway, this way you combine your vacation and Christmas budgets :-) 

If you think your kids get too many material possessions for Christmas or if your kids can't begin to tell you what they got last year, consider this option.  I cannot begin to tell you all the wonderful memories we have made with these gifts but the best part is MY KIDS CAN!!!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What's for dinner tonight??? Italian Sausage Sandwiches!

I'm going to start a feature called "What's for Dinner Tonight?" with easy, quick to get on the table meal ideas.  I am a working mom but I still manage to serve a home cooked dinner to my family (or at least a few of them, depending on who's home!) 4 or 5 nights per week.  Its not always gourmet, sometimes it as simple as bacon and eggs, but I love sitting down together and catching up over the dinner table.  I think it is so important for building a strong family and keeping the lines of communication open with your kids.

Tonight I made Italian Sausage Sandwiches but they were HEALTHY!!!  I used the chicken sausage from Sam's Club (I've been told Costco has a similar product).  We usually buy the spinach Asiago ones but this week we bought Italian with mozzarella cheese in them.  These things have a ton of protein and only 110 calories per link!!!!

I started by slicing up a green pepper and a huge yellow onion.  I sauteed these in a skillet with a little olive oil over medium heat.  Next I sliced hoagie buns and put them in a 350 oven to warm.  I had Jeff throw the sausages on the grill and I poured some bottled spaghetti sauce into the microwave just to warm it up.  When the sausages came in from the grill I put one on each bun, topped them with the sauteed peppers and onions, spooned a little sauce over each and them topped with some shredded mozzarella and put them back in the oven to melt the cheese.  Yummy!

Okay, so this stone is well used (or well seasoned to be exact!)  But nothing beats a very well seasoned cooking stone.  They don't look pretty but they are great for non-stick cooking!

Hope you'll try this little dinner idea.  Literally was on the table about 20 minutes after I walked in the door. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Extreme Couponer???? Not so much!

Most of my friends and family know that I love getting good deals.  I get such a thrill on saving money or getting a great deal.  With the hot new show on TLC, Extreme Couponing, I've had people ask me if I can do that.  The answer is NO.  For several reasons.  First, with Dillons exiting the KC area a couple of years ago we no longer have a store that doubles coupons as generously as some of the stores on this show.  Hen House says they double but the rules are crazy.  Second, I am NOT going dumpster diving to get extra coupons, I don't subscribe to one paper, let alone 20 and I'm not going to go door to door to get my neighbors' papers.  Third, I don't have the 30 hours per week that these people claim they spend on couponing.  And last, I think the next show these people will be on is Hoarders!  Come on, who needs 92 bottles of hot sauce????  One bottle will last the average family a year! 

That being said I do have some tricks to saving money on my groceries.

1.  AD MATCH!!!!  This is my favorite.  I grocery shop at Wal-Mart and their every day prices are quite a bit lower than most grocery stores but I still like to capitalize on the loss leaders (these are the really good deals that stores run on the first page of their ad, sometimes they are losing money on the deal but they do it to get people in the store) that other stores advertise.  Wal-Mart will match these prices!!!  Today I went to Wal-Mart and bought 3 bags of Lay's chips.  Their price was $2.50 but Price Chopper was running them for $1.77.  No problem, they matched it.  I bought 2 containers of Breyer's -- Wal-Mart price $3.48, Price Chopper ad $2.47.  So there I saved almost $5 and I didn't have to do anything except show the cashier the ad.  The catch is they can't match things they don't sell so if HyVee has their store brand on sale you'll have to go there. 

2.  STOCK UP -- I'm not talking Hoarders stocking up but if you see one of your staples go on sale, buy a few months worth.  I have a semi photographic memory so I know off the top of my head the price of my staple items.  If you don't, make a note next time you are shopping and watch the ads.  For us, we use a lot of shredded cheese.  The regular price at Wal-Mart is $2.25 for an 8 oz bag.  Price Chopper and HyVee will run these on sale for $1 or $1.25 per bag every 6 weeks or so.  When they do, I buy about 10 bags, which is about a 2 month supply for us.  Iron Kids bread is $2.78, when they run it on sale for $1.69 I buy 3 or 4 loaves and freeze them.  So get to know the price of your staple items and don't be afraid to do a little stock piling when they are a deal.

3.  FARMER'S MARKET -- In the summer you can get in season fruits and veggies super cheap at the Farmer's Market.  Plus it is fun.  In Kansas City you can make the trek down to the River Market which is huge and great but Overland Park also has a great, smaller market.

4.  COUPONS -- I do clip some coupons.  If I happen to be at my mom's on Sunday I'll grab her paper and clip the coupons.  I don't have a big organizing system, I just put them in an envelope.  I don't worry about matching them to an advertised sale.  I look for brands and things I already buy and when I have a coupon, I use it.  Not much work, saves me a few bucks. 

5.  GROUPON -- so this is more for eating out rather than buying groceries but I love www.groupon.com.  If you are not familiar check it out.  You sign up for your town and/or neighborhood and they send you a deal each day.  Most recently I got 810 Zone $20 certificate for $10.  It is a great way to save money when you eat out. 

6.  BUY A COW -- another thing to consider is purchasing a cow, half a cow or even a quarter a cow.  We purchase a quarter cow for about $2.70 per pound hanging weight.  That ends up being about $500.  It provides us with enough meat to last about 6 months.  It is so much cheaper than grocery store meat and yummier too in my opinion.  We can fit all the meat into 1/2 of our inside freezer and 1/2 of our outside freezer (both standard fridge freezers, we don't have a deep freeze.)

So those are the ways I save money on groceries.  I manage to feed my family of 4 for about $600 a month including all dining out, which I think it pretty reasonable. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Embrace Your Opportunities

As I'm wrapping up my business trip to Germany I want to address something I hear a lot.  I have a lot of ladies (and a few men) say they don't know how I go to all these cities by myself and explore and see things and do things...all on my own.  Honestly, I went from living with my sorority sisters to living with my husband so doing things alone was not my strong suit.  Then I got this job where I travel and the first few trips I went where I had to go, did room service or take out when I didn't have dinner plans and then a light bulb came on!  I need to embrace these opportunities.  Bayer wants to send me to China for 2 weeks?  I may never come back to China again in my life.  So I did stuff.  I saw The Great Wall.  I went to a traditional tea ceremony.  I got a massage (or 3 :-)  Now whenever I go anywhere for work I always embrace the opportunity.  If I'm in New Jersey I take the train to the city and see a show.  I'm in Germany so I tack on a couple of days and get some sight-seeing in.  Later this month I have to go to Nashville, I've never been so I'm thinking I'll visit the Grand Ole Opry. 

The life lesson I have learned......when life (or your work) gives you travel, make the most of it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Favorite New Author -- New to Me, anyway

So I consider this a travel tip because for me traveling and reading go hand and hand.  A co-worker has turned me on to a fabulously funny author named Jen Lancaster.  She is laugh out loud funny.  Seriously a great, easy read.  Perfect for your vacation!

So far I have read 2.5 of her books:  I've read Bitter is the New Black, Bright Lights, Big Ass and I'm currently laughing my way through Such a Pretty Fat.  She has 3 more books out -- Pretty in Plaid and My Fair Lazy are both memoirs like the first three but her newest book If You Were Here is a novel.  They are all on my to-read list on www.goodreads.com. 

So if you are hitting the road or catching a plane or just need a poolside read, check them out.  I think you'll laugh out loud too.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beach Bucks

Another travel tip! 

Have your kids earn their souvenir money for the trip by doing tasks around the house before you go.  If they can help you get ready for the trip even better.  Let them clean all the trash out of the family car (if yours looks anything like mine this is worth a few bucks but let's be honest about who makes the mess!), let them help with sorting or folding laundry, have them organize the tuperware cupboard, there are all kinds of ways they can help around the house on top of their regular chores to earn some bucks.

Then if they are little, instead of giving them real money give them Beach Bucks!  Use your computer to make up cute fake money.  The first time I did this I made Beach Bucks because we were going to the beach, duh!  But in the years since I have made State Fair Bucks, Chicago Bucks, Arch Bucks (for St. Louis).  The point is you give them fake money so you don't have to worry about them losing the real stuff.  But it still gives them a visual to understand how much they are spending and how much they have left.  When they want to buy something they dole out the appropriate # of beach bucks, which you swap for real bucks.  It is a great way for kids to learn about money without the risk.

If you don't want to go to the time or energy to make your own money you can buy play money at the store or rob from a rarely used Monopoly set, chances are you'll be able to put most of it back when you get home.