I’m Afraid I’m Becoming One of Those Moms…

You know, the mom that procrastinates planning the birthday party of her almost five year old for so long that he asks her on MONDAY night where his party will be on Saturday.

I’m the mom who dyes Easter eggs on Saturday night, if at all.

I’m the mom who forgot to buy treats for her seven year old to take to school for his birthday until the last minute, and had to make a late night run for Twinkies.

I’ve not always been this way. When I had only one child, I planned elaborate birthday parities with decorations and favors and homemade cakes. When I had two kids, I pulled off much of the same. Four kids must be my tipping point.

I’m fairly certain that I am still an adequate mother. My kids are loved beyond measure, fed and clothed, and well behaved.

What I’m wondering is whether the mark of a good mother is themed birthday parties and perfectly frosted cupcakes for school celebrations; coordinated Easter outfits (which I also used to do, but I’m certain the almost 13 year old would bristle at), and a well decorated home that changes with the seasons; cute foods on holidays; and decorator bedrooms. Because if this is what I have to be…I’m a complete, utter, total failure. This is what the magazines tell me I should be. Oh, and let’s not forget that I should be endlessly creative and apparently never sleep so that I can come up with new, fun ideas to do with my kids tomorrow so that they do not need to rely on video games and Legos for entertainment.

So why do we, as mothers, look to these outside “professionals” to tell us how to mother? What makes these magazine editors and so-called parenting experts any better than those of us down here in the trenches, getting our hands dirty, walking around with bleach stains on our sleeves and going to the grocery store with one pant leg accidentally tucked into a sweat sock? Why do we torture ourselves so?

Because, you know what moms? You have a tough job. You have a job description that gets tougher as the years progress. You work for little bosses who will never give you as high marks on your quarterly review as you think, you KNOW, that you deserve. But, at the end of the race, maybe, just maybe, you will have shaped a little human that can go off and do something even better than you ever were able to do. Of course, you may also shape someone who still lives under your roof and complains about the meals that you cook at age 40. Either way, they are your kids, and in the end, you have as much control over them as you had on deciding which day that they would be born.

I take comfort in the fact that while I am an imperfect parent, raised by imperfect parents, and raising imperfect kids, I have a Heavenly Father who is perfect, and who sees me as absolutely perfect because of the perfect sacrifice of His one and only Son. And that makes me feel a whole lot better. I pray that it can do the same for you.

Frugal Meals for a Crowd

It has happened. It used to be that I could prepare a meal for the Rev. and I and we could stretch it out over two or three days, without any effort on my part. Our kids ate way less than any human serving size and we could serve them off of our plates without going hungry ourselves. The times, they are a changing!

Now, when I prepare a meal, I am preparing a meal for six people. With the appetites of my healthy, growing boys, I am preparing meals for the equivalent of 6 very hungry sumo wrestlers. And if one of the boys from down the street is over, sweet talking me with gratuitous compliments about the aromas of my food, or my creative expertise in the kitchen…I may have even more hungry sumo wrestlers to feed! (The funny thing is if you were to look at a picture of all of these hearty eaters together…counting ribs…you would wonder if I ever feed them!)

Anyone who has spoken to me for more than about five minutes knows that I am frugal. Really frugal. Borderline cheapskate. But I also have another side of me, that does not seem to mesh with my frugality. I am a foodie. I am not just any foodie, I’m a food snob on a health food kick with a secret, or not so secret, love for Coca Cola. I detest, despise, and abhor fake food (unless we are talking gummy bears or kettle cooked jalepeno chips). I want my food to be healthy, high quality, tasty, genuine, and cheap. I’m probably the worst kind of foodie.

I have spoiled kids too. They have eaten, and enjoyed Eggo waffles. Then, I bought a waffle maker, and Saturday morning became waffle day. And I found that I could sneak wheat germ into the waffles with only the Rev. noticing and complaining (which is against the Thompson family dinner rules…more on those later). Now, my waffles dominate over Eggo. My oldest will turn up his nose over the boxed up variety. And my version is cheaper. Go figure.

You see, when you are feeding oodles of hungry people, it really cannot pay to eat prepackaged food. A box of 10 corn syrup laced pre-made, frozen waffles, does not even begin to satisfy my crowd. We would need at least two boxes, which even with coupons and on sale would cost us well over $4… which is not terrible…but considering the amount of fake stuff present in the food, is a bit like selling my family out. Some flour and milk and eggs and a few tablespoons of oil along with my wheat germ spike costs me about $2, and fills up the hungry hordes, and earns me gratuitous compliments as well, placing me back on top of the family pecking order (right under the Rev. of course).

These cheap-o cutbacks that I make on using fresh ingredients and not using many pre-made mixes (though any cookies that come out of my oven are strictly place and bake…Dakotapam does not bake!) allow me to splurge on some of my foodie indulgences, like really good spices for making my food taste good, cans of artichoke hearts, tropical fruits bought out of season to remind me that it is summer somewhere…

I’ll share more on this in the future. I’d like to hear how some other large families eat healthy, and cheaply!

Kids and Responsibility

I’m going to have to make a confession here. I’ve let my kids off way too easy.

Back in the days of only having one preschooler, or a preschooler and an infant, it was far easier to clean up the playroom by myself, rather than cajole a three year old into picking up. It was far easier to set clothing out for children each night, than have to send them back to their rooms in the morning to change into matching garb. It was easier, quicker, and more effective for me to clean up the dinner mess, rather than hear two tweens fight over who is doing more work…and still coming into the room an hour later to a whirlwind.

Let’s face it, we moms do a better job than our kids at cleaning up, and getting things done!

The problem is, as our homes fill up with little people, who only get bigger and get more stuff, and eat more food and create more laundry, things get pretty hard for a mom to handle on her own. One of two things will happen, the house will disintegrate into a rotting, stinking mess of dirty clothes and sticky dishes, or the house will remain moderately clean and Mom is frustrated, and in need of more Calgon that can be found under the bathroom sink.

There has got to be a balance. This balance is found in giving the children in your home some responsibilities! Now, if you are reading this, and your children are quite young, you will have an easier time of it than I am having, as my boys are 12, 9, 7 and 4.

If you, like me, have found that giving your kids responsibility has failed in the past, and are starting again, take heart…it really can be done!

Here are my tips for getting the whole family to pitch in:

1. Get Everyone on Board We have dinner as a family every night which is a good time for us to discuss family issues. Chose this time, or set up a family meeting, or, if your children are very young just make a joint decision between you and your spouse. However you do it, let the family know that you are going to begin tackling household chores as a family.

2. Assign Tasks Kids need to know what is expected of them, so lay out what their chores and responsibilities will be at the outset. Keep in mind your child’s personality and abilities, and start small. For a very young child, you may just ask him to put his toys in his toy box and his dirty clothes in a laundry basket. Somewhat older children may be responsible for their entire room, and school age children can usually take on at least one chore outside of caring for his own belongings.

3. Guide and Correct Your child will not do his assigned tasks perfectly the first time, or even the tenth time. As a matter of fact, when you first begin delegating responsibilities to your children it will take much longer than doing the work on your own. The first few times you will have to work directly along side your child, and pull away as time goes on. It is important though to keep checking on progress and pointing out where improvements can be made. Try not to make this sound like harping though, no one likes to be hen pecked. Keep things positive.

4. Reward and Encourage No one wants to work for free. Sure a clean house may be its own reward…for you. From my experience, children do not seem to notice the condition your house is in, house pride develops much later in life. Choose a reward system, and be consistent. We have allowances for our older children who can handle money well, and non tangible rewards, like outings and video game time for the younger set. Depending on your family philosophy of allowances and rewards, you will be able to come up with a good system. Some families like chore carts with stickers and set goals, some work on a cash basis, and others reward work well done with a family game or movie night. Find something that works for you, and motivates your kids, and stick with it.

5. Review and Revise It is important as a parent, to be constantly looking at the systems in your home and finding ways to make things work better. For instance, I found that there was way too much fighting in the kitchen when I had the two older boys handle dinner dishes, so I switched it to the two middle boys and gave the oldest some other duties. There is still arguing, but it is quiet and there is a better division of labor. Eventually, we may find that a better system would work.

6. Keep It Fun You can make household responsibilities fun if you set evening clean up to music, make it a contest for competitive types, or have a race with a special treat at the end for the victor.

Remember, not only are you doing yourself a favor by teaching your kids responsibility, you are giving them a life skill that will serve them for many years to come.

Italian Wedding Soup for a Crowd

Italian Wedding soup

Tonight is our turn to serve supper after church. I’m sharing one of my favorite soups out of my soup nazi stash…and I have even managed to make it super easy. Some days I like to do it all from scratch…but not when I am making a large batch.

So, here is my recipe for Italian Wedding soup for a crowd!

Saute a pound of finely diced carrots, a pound of finely diced celery and a pound of finely diced onion in some Olive Oil. Wait until it all looks soft. Then add about three gallons of water, and a jar of Orrington Farms Gourmet Chicken Soup Base (This stuff is awesome and is the closest I have found to homemade chicken stock. Chicken is the first ingredient and it is MSG free). I bring the whole mixture to a low boil, add about four cloves of crushed garlic, and then plop in a pound of Acini di Pepe pasta. Let it simmer for a bit so the pasta can cook, then add a bag of frozen Italian Style meatballs. Simeks is my favorite brand, they have good flavor and just the right shape and size. Simmer for a bit to heat the meatballs through, then add a bag or two of frozen whole leaf spinach. Heat through. Serve, topped with fresh grated parmesan and some crusty bread!

I’ll post some pictures tonight after the soup is cooked. I can almost taste it now!

Chicken Pasta Soup

This is the soup I made for my family on Monday evening. It is from a new cookbook that I picked up at the book fair, called Keeping Good Company . This cookbook is full of down to earth, non-gourmet, wholesome family foods. I chose the Chicken Pasta Soup because, as many of you know, I am the Soup Nazi of Bismarck, and I am constantly searching for a new soup to tweak. This is a nice change from my classic chicken noodle and I am impressed by the volume of vegetables I could sneak in. This is not a quick and easy soup. It took me well over an hour to prepare. It is also not low fat,  but if you ever saw the boys in bathing suits you would see that I am not needing to restrict their fat intake any time soon. I did redeem it somewhat by using whole wheat penne as the pasta…and not one of them noticed the switcheroo! So, without further ado:

Chicken Pasta Soup
6-8 Chicken breast tenders (I used 20 ounces of fancy free range vegetarian fed chicken thighs that I got on major sale)
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
4 T. Olive Oil
1/2 cup butter (divided in half)
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks celery, sliced thin, crosswise
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup flour
2 (14 oz) cans chicken broth
ground red pepper to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp dried basil
2 cups half and half (I was out so I used whole milk)
4 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup sugar snap peas (I was out, and used frozen peas instead)
1 T. sugar
6-8  oz. Penne Pasta
Sprinkle chicken with seasoned salt. Saute in olive oil over medium heat for about six minutes per side or until done. Remove chicken and set aside to cool.
In the same pan , melt 1/4 cup butter. Over medium heat cook onion, celery and carrot until limp. Add flour, stirring until smooth.
Gradually add chicken broth, stirring constantly. Turn heat to low. 
Slice chicken into thin strips, add to broth along with red and black pepper and basil. Slowly add half and half, stir and heat through.
Melt remaining butter in a large, shallow bowl int he microwave. Combine mushrooms, peas and sugar and cook on high for three minutes, stirring once, midway. Fold this into soup mixture on the stove and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile prepare pasta according to package directions. Drain well and add immediately to soup.
 A complete meal when served with hot, crusty bread.
Serves 10-12 ( if all of your family and friends eat recommended serving sizes…feeds 6 Thompsons with some left-over).
This soup also created a kitchen full of dishes to wash…a sign of a good recipe for sure…I gave the boys the night off and I tackled the kitchen, which was made more pleasant now that I have an iPod and an adapter to hook it to my undercounter radio.
The Rev. and I think that it tastes like chicken pot pie and next time I will make it with crusty biscuits to float on top.
This meal redeemed me from a few weeks of yuck, sprinkled with fast food…even good cooks lose their Mojo sometimes!
Enjoy! And let me know if you try this recipe!