Tag Archives: family

Thanksgiving and Beyond: Easy Entertaining Tips

10 Nov


My mom made it look so easy.

She’d whip up a four-course Thanksgiving dinner with the bird thoroughly cooked and yet not dry, gravy with nary a lump and nothing scorched.

Alas, not so with her only child. I sweat, swear and singe my way through the biggest meal of the year. When it’s over, I want to take a 6-hour nap.

But my mom’s failing health has meant the mantle (or, rather, oven mitt) has been passed. In this terrifying new world, I decide the menu, buy the ingredients and cook like crazy.

I’m getting better, too, if only for having three successful Thanksgiving Meals under my belt. But I’m always looking for shortcuts and quick tips. Check out these…and please say a quick prayer for me the morning of November 24!

Make a plan

Take some time to really plan out the event. How many are coming? What’s on the menu? How should the house look? Make a to-do list and set deadlines. Doing as much as possible in advance will make the day of the party that much easier.

Gather your tools

Once the menu is set, review your tableware, serving dishes and cookware to make sure you have what you need. Borrow or purchase what you’re missing. Among today’s options is a growing array of cookware designed to go seamlessly and beautifully from oven or stovetop to even the most formal table, saving time, money and clean-up.

Make the most of your space

The size of the meal may expand during the holidays, but cooking and serving space doesn’t. A countertop toaster oven or high-wattage double burner can be a lifesaver for expanding oven and stovetop capacity. On the buffet table, tiered servers hold appetizers and desserts vertically, rather than horizontally, saving valuable space and creating an attractive display.

Decorate for the senses

Involve all the senses in your decorating scheme. Enlist a spouse or older child to come up with a holiday music playlist or CD. Be sure to include instrumental pieces to play during dinner so it won’t impede conversation.

Fill the house with holiday scents, such as cinnamon, mulberry or evergreen. Scented candles are an easy and attractive way to provide fragrance and a warm glow to any room, and candlelight makes your guests (and one weary hostess!) look 10 years younger.

Enjoy the results

Don’t be so busy playing hostess that you forget to enjoy yourself. Forget about perfection and keep the focus on what matters – family and friends. You may find yours is the party that people look forward to throughout the year.

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Cops & Robbers

27 Oct

Now that it’s fall, my children and I are able to spend more time outdoors again.  This summer was so hot that we wound up spending most of our time indoors.  Oddly enough, even the pool was too hot this year.

I love being outdoors.  When I was a kid, you could always find me outside somewhere, playing with neighborhood kids, swimming at the neighborhood pool, riding my bike, climbing a tree, having an acorn fight, judging a talent show, or making a hideout in the bushes.  My siblings and I did not go in until it was time for dinner.

Back in those days, we used our imagination to entertain ourselves.  Over the past few years, I have been trying to instill the same love for outdoors and innovation!

This weekend, a neighbor boy came over and I taught the kids how to play cops and robbers.  You split the kids into two teams.  Half are cops half are robbers.  You designate a “jail” and conversely, a robber “hideout”.  From there, the robbers pretend to steal (we pocketed leaves from the yard).

If the robbers are spotted stealing, the cops try and catch them.  If the cops catch the robbers, the robbers are escorted to jail.  The robbers can stay in jail for a minimum time limit (we made it two minutes, so the kids would not get bored).

If the robbers get away with the theft, they can bring the monies back to their hideout and stash it.  The robber hideout is “base”.  Robbers can also bust their partners or teammates out of the jail.  If no police are guarding the jail, one robber can save another robber.

The cops win if all of the robbers are jailed.  The robbers win if they confiscate “x” number of fake money (we did 20 leaves).  If you can find an enthusiastic group of kids, they might even help you keep the brown leaves off your lawn and they wouldn’t even know it; less raking for the grown ups!

Fall Activities Around Arlington

4 Oct

HOLY SCARECROW, BATMAN!!  There’s SO much to do around here this month!  Here are a few – click on the links for more info.

State Fair of Texas (through October 23)

Dallas Arboretum – Autumn at the Arboretum (daily in October)

Pumpkin picking and scarecrow building at Gnismer Farms (Wednesday, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in October)

Studio Movie Grill – Spookley the Square Pumpkin (weekends in October)

Halloween Crafts at Michael’s stores (various dates through October)

Green Meadows Petting Farm in Grand Prairie (daily from October 6 – November 1; closed October 8-9)

After Dark in the Park at River Legacy (October 7-9)

Harvest Fair at the Grand Prairie Farmers Market (October 15)

Log Cabin Village – Frontier Fall Fest (October 15)

Fort Worth Zoo – Boo at the Zoo (October 21-23 & 28-30)

Fort Worth Botanic Garden – Fall Festival in the Japanese Garden (October 22 & 23)

Halloween Nights at the Dallas Zoo (October 27-29)

National Suicide Prevention Week

31 Aug

Two years ago, on a sunny August afternoon, I was leaving a LLL meeting and got a call from my cousin Brian’s girlfriend, Jessica.  It was an unexpected call I was not prepared to handle.  It was a call about which every detail has been etched into my memory.  That call would forever alter my personal path here on Earth and the paths of many of my family and close friends.

Jessica called to tell me that Brian, my cousin and close friend, had taken his own life.  In the moment, I was completely stunned.  All of the breath was knocked out of me by some unknown force.  Miley Cyrus’ “It’s a Party in the USA” was playing in my car, oddly enough.  That song will forever remind me of that fateful moment in time.

Before Brian’s death, I didn’t know much about suicide and I didn’t know anyone personally who had made that choice.  Depression runs deeply through the veins of my family and so I had been through attempts with various family members, which in themselves were agonizing.  It’s an entirely different agony when someone you love actually completes suicide.

Brian’s death propelled Jessica (and I in her wake) to do something about suicide prevention.  She started attending Survivor of Suicide (SOS) groups on a regular basis.  She gathered the family together to walk in November at the annual SOS event.  She created The Jack Eight Remembrance Fund (www.jackeightfund.com).  She orchestrates a benefit fundraiser for different charities each year which promote healing for those who are left behind in the event of suicide, “survivors” we are termed.

September 4th through 10th is Annual National Suicide Prevention Week.  It’s hosted each year by the American Association of Suicidology (http://www.suicidology.org/web/guest/about-aas/nspw).   I find the statistics on suicide to be staggering.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2007, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  There were 34,598 deaths by suicide reported that year, which means the overall rate was approximately 11 deaths per 100,000 people.  It is estimated that 11 attempts occur for every death by suicide.  (It’s ridiculous that the most current statistics are as old as 2007!)

The National Institute of Mental Health has a comprehensive list of whom to call, what to do, and how to prevent suicide:  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/suicide-in-the-us-statistics-and-prevention/index.shtml.

We also have a great list of resources posted on the Jack Eight Remembrance Fund website:  http://www.jackeightfund.com/survivor-of-suicide-resources.

This November, we will be hosting the 2nd Annual Jack 8 Poker/Bingo Tournament to benefit the Alliance of Hope: http://www.forsuicidesurvivors.org/.  More details to come.  Right now, we are seeking donations for the silent auction.  If you have something you’d like to donate, please send an e-mail to lori@morethanmothers.com.

Chew on This

27 Jul

Not too long ago, my husband and I took the children away for the weekend.  While family babysat the kids, my husband and I stole away for a jet ski ride on the lake.  As we were floating around, something caught our eye.

We moved in and upon closer inspection, observed two dead fish, forever connected.  One larger fish had attempted to ingest another fish that turned out to be too big.  The larger one had the other one in its mouth, belly up.  It had apparently choked while trying to eat the other fish.  It was the ultimate depiction of the old saying, “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”  I immediately thought “Darwinism.”

Then my husband and I were both kicking ourselves for not having a camera.  We always have our phones, and yet this time, were left unable to show everyone what we had seen.  It would have been an epic picture for the fail blog (http://failblog.org/)!

Because I don’t believe in coincidences, I was left for days pondering the purpose of witnessing that display.  I meditated about it: nothing.  I talked about it: nothing.  I journaled about it: nothing.  Then one day when I was nursing the baby, BAM it hit me.  It was the perfect metaphor for what I’m trying to get away from in my life: taking on too much; always saying yes even when I want to say no; having a tendency to bite off more than I can chew.

My whole goal this year has been to simplify my life.  I got laid off.  I saw it as a blessing.  I cut down on activities for the kids.  I started meal planning.  I started clipping coupons.  I’ve cut back on my volunteer work.  I’m no longer the first one to offer to do something.  I have made a conscientious effort to be more active and playful with my children.  I meditate and practice reiki daily.  I started a garden and planted some fruit trees.  I started staying home more and spending less.  I started trying to live a more simple, sustainable life.

When I reflected honestly about my current life, I realized I still had room for improvement.  I was checking social networking sites all the time.  I was answering my cell phone anytime it rang; sending and receiving texts all the time.  I wasn’t always “present” with the people I love who were right in front of me.  I actually had a vision of what was to come.  I saw my girls sitting around the dinner table.  My life had slowed down considerably, and theirs had sped up.  While I wanted to have a quiet, peaceful dinner, they were wanting to text on their phones and were completely distracted.  I didn’t like seeing my kids like that and it occurred to me that what I am doing now is no different.  Kids emulate the behaviors they see.  When it comes to being present, I’m not always setting a good example.

I am still biting off more than I can chew.  Sometimes it takes an act of Nature to get us to realize what’s right in front of our faces.  I’m just grateful that I have the awareness to learn the lessons being presented.  I’m grateful for those small helpful reminders that put me back on the right path!

That Bites! Pet Safety

20 Jul

A good friend’s son recently got a nasty bite on the hand from his Nana’s pooch, a typically well-behaved creature that weighs all of 9 lbs.  The bite required four stitches—and the nurse practitioner who stitched the kid up said he was lucky.

It makes you think.  My 5-year-old likes dogs.  We have a 16-lb. Shiba Inu (a puny relative of the Husky and Akita) who’s had her tail pulled, her ears tugged and been teased.  She’s nipped Chip a couple of times—and I can hardly say I blame her for it!  None of the bites has occurred in a vacuum; each can be traced to something my son’s done.

Then I read this story from UT Southwestern Medical Center, which includes Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.  And now I’m worried:

Dog bites occur more often than pet owners might realize.  An estimated 4.7 million people are bitten each year.  Children are the most common victims, and summer is the most common season for these incidents.

“It’s surprising how many times it occurs, and the majority of dog bites aren’t from strays,” says Dr. Ron Hoxworth, a plastic surgeon at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

He said dogs by nature remain territorial, especially when eating, and young children are both unpredictable in their actions and less able to protect themselves.

Children are often bitten on the face, which can result in severe lacerations, infection and permanent scarring.  In 2010, most of the nearly 33,000 reconstructive procedures from dog bites were performed on children.

Dr. Hoxworth recommends the following precautions:

• Watch your children carefully around dogs, even family pets.

• Make sure kids avoid getting close to a pet when it is eating.

• Keep children’s immunizations and pet vaccinations up to date.

• Don’t delay treatment if a bite occurs.  If severe bleeding results, take your child to a hospital emergency room immediately.

I am open to suggestions on how to approach pet safety—at home and out in the community!  It’s a discussion our household needs to have asap!

52 FEATS – NUMBER 27 (Winging It)

7 Jul

For the original 52 FEATS blog entry, click here.

UPDATE (Thursday):

This Feat is going along perfectly with my summer attitude.  Fun, relaxed, and just enjoying the heck out of my kids before school starts.

On the first morning of this Feat, I told my kids that we could do whatever they wanted that day – they could pick.  They both immediately shouted, “Summer Fun Bowl!”  Of course, they quarreled about who got to pick (and stupid me, I couldn’t remember whose turn it was), so I let them each pick something out of the bowl.

I wasn’t prepared for the fact that my daughter didn’t like what she picked, “Explore outside with a magnifying glass.”  I thought about making a rule that we HAVE to do what we draw out of the bowl, but then I figured that sort of defeated the whole purpose.  So I let her pick again, and she drew “Go see a movie,” which brought shouts of delights from both my kids.  (And me, too – two hours in cool darkness is fine by me.)

My son picked “Angry Birds water balloon and sidewalk chalk game.”  (See here for details.)  He was excited, because he’d been wanting to do that for quite a while.  I really didn’t want to go sit outside filling up water balloons, but much like my week of Playing (see Feat Number 25 here), this Feat also feels like an exercise in saying YES to my kids – something I’m sure I don’t do nearly enough.

The movie was funny and the Angry Birds game quickly turned into a water balloon free-for-all fight in which we all got soaked.  After at least a dozen deep-down belly laughs with my kids, I knew I was right where I needed to be.

ABOUT FEAT NUMBER 27:

I’m a planner.  A planner and a worrier.  If I could manage it, I’d love – LOVE! – to have a detailed schedule that organized every moment of my day, from craft time with the kids to doing laundry and yes, even down time.  I just crave that kind of organization.  I haven’t (yet) reached that level of control over my daily existence, but I do have my week fairly well planned most of the time.

But what a drag that can be for my kids!  I think they’re getting sick of all the “stuff” I have planned.

When Lori posted her great boredom-buster blog (see it here), I followed up with my list, too (here).  I made a comment to Lori that I thought about making a list of all those fun things and just letting the kids pick one every day.  I liked the idea, but then I realized a couple of problems.  First of all, the kids would pick their favorites right off the bat, and then when only a few items remained, they might moan and groan about what’s left.  Furthermore, I’m sure they would NEVER agree on anything!

So instead, I typed all those fun things up, cut them into little strips of paper, folded them up, and put them into a fishbowl.  Voila – our Summer Fun Bowl!  I told the kids that whenever we can’t think of something to do, we’ll just draw something from the bowl.  They get to take turns drawing.  And they think it’s the coolest thing ever!  Every day they want to choose something from the bowl, and so far, there’s been no grumbling about it.  (They do understand that sometimes what we draw may not be possible to do that day, like when my daughter picked “Go roller skating” last week on a day when the rink was closed.  When that happens, it just goes back into the bowl for another shot on a different day.)

For this week, I’m going to throw scheduling out the window as much as I can.  Each day, I’ll let my kids pick what they want to do for the day – whatever that may be.  (Within reason, of course – no 24-hour TV allowed!)  They may want to choose from the bowl, or maybe something will just pop into their heads.  Either way, I’m game!

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