Archive | September 2012

You Say Tomato…

By Karen Hendricks

It’s always a sad day when the last summer tomato is picked from the garden.  There are several foods that simply “taste” like summer:  watermelon, hamburgers straight from the grill, corn-on-the-cob, s’mores, fresh peaches and tomatoes straight from the garden.  As much as I love crisp fall days, part of me is always sad to see summer fade away.

When I worked full-time, my garden was either non-existent or neglected.  Luckily, if I was able to plant tomatoes, they didn’t mind the neglect and still produced lots of beautiful red fruit.  (Yes, tomatoes are actually classified as fruit!)

Being “off the merry-go-round” this summer, working from home, certainly helped my garden flourish.  What a wonderful way to supplement my family’s meals, with not only fresh tomatoes, but salad greens, radishes, onion, green beans and–also picked today–acorn squash.  (Although my husband gave me a funny look when I mentioned “acorn squash.”  Note to self:  make sure to include brown sugar and apples when baking the acorn squash.)

So today, I peeled, seeded and chopped up the final collection of Italian plum tomatoes from the garden and placed them in ziploc bags and small containers suitable for freezing.  I enjoy pulling these “tastes of summer” out of my freezer through the year, adding a burst of fresh flavor to numerous dishes:

  • Homemade spaghetti sauce, or as an enhancement to jarred/canned spaghetti sauce
  • Steaming pots of chili
  • Homemade tomato soup
  • Virtually any type of canned soup
  • Mexican dishes such as tacos

Along with a fresh taste of summertime, tomatoes pack a nutritious punch.  According to the USDA website, just half a cup of tomatoes provide 15% of the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A, 20% of daily recommended allowance of Vitamin C, and small amounts of iron and fiber.  Tomatoes have been the subject of recent men’s health reports linking the antioxident lycopene to protection against colon cancer.  So make sure the men in your life enjoy tomatoes!

One of my family’s favorite recipes calling for fresh tomatoes is Tomato and Wild Rice Soup.  Maybe the word “wild” adds to its appeal, for my kids (ha ha). Anyway, it’s from the cookbook The Six O’Clock Scramble:  Quick, Healthy and Delicious Dinner Recipes for Busy Families by Aviva Goldfarb.  Every time I feel stuck in a rut or can’t figure out what to make for dinner, this book saves me.  My kids have all picked out recipes from time-to-time and numerous friends have borrowed it for inspiration as well.  We have loved every recipe we’ve tried and have used them multiple times.

So if you still have fresh tomatoes, I encourage you to take the chill off these early fall days with a delicious pot of soup.  Or, substitute a can of crushed tomatoes for the fresh ones.  I think home-cooked, nutritious meals are one of the best gifts we can give to our growing and active families.  And soup?  It’s like a warm hug…

Tomato and Wild Rice Soup

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3/4 c. wild rice
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 3 pounds fresh tomatoes (6-8 tomatoes), chopped, or a can of crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 32 oz. chicken or vegetable broth

Wild rice is the key to this flavorful, hearty soup

In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, carrots and celery.  Cook them until they are softened, 6-8 minutes.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the rice and vegetables are tender.  Remove the bay leaves before serving.  If the soup is too thick, add more broth or water to thin it.

Makes 8 servings.  Nutritional analysis per serving:  Calories 150, Total Fat 4.5g, 7%, Saturated Fat 0.5g, 3%, Cholesterol 0mg, 0%, Sodium 420mg, 18%, Total Carbohydrate 26g, 9%, Dietary Fiber 5g, 20%, Protein 5g, Sugar 9g.

May we also recommend… the following links:

The Six O’Clock Scramble website including a link for a free trial to their subscription newsletter.

Soup-er Easy Black Bean and Corn Soup – a free recipe from the Six O’Clock Scramble website.  My family endorses this recipe as well!

Homemade Tomato Paste – this link will take you to my friend Jennifer’s website, Fiesta Kitchens.  She is an amazing cook and photographer (a powerful combination)!  And this is a surefire way to use the last of summer’s tomatoes.

Fun Facts About Vegetables – for the kids who love facts as much as my son!


How to Help Your Child Become a GREAT Reader

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

It is that time of year when we mommies are getting another school year underway. If you are like me, your little one is heading off to preschool for the first time; others of you may have the whole back-to-school thing mastered.

As parents we all want the best for our children throughout their school years – and beyond. Part of their success in life begins with a good education, the foundation of which is based on the ability to read well. I spent close to 10 years teaching reading in various elementary schools both as a classroom teacher and as a reading resource instructor, so I have a few tips I can share with you.

Whether you are completely “off the merry-go-round” as a stay-at-home mom, or still “on the merry-go-round” to some degree, these are tips that all parents can work into the daily routine.

Reading is a process and each child develops the skill at a different pace. Try to avoid comparing your child’s reading ability with other children – reading is so much more than being able to read words on a page. A “great reader” can also read with appropriate expression, demonstrate understanding by answering comprehension and higher-level thinking questions, and connect his/her reading to other text and to real-life experiences. So, let the reading process evolve naturally for your child, and enjoy watching (and hearing!) his/her success along the way.

Ideas to consider:

  • Introduce reading early – From birth is best; I know some mothers who have even read to their children while they were in the womb!
  • Begin and end each day with reading – Then, no matter what happens in between, you will have gotten in that precious time! Some mornings, my son will ask me to read him a book as soon as he gets out of bed. Reading and cuddling in his ‘reading nook’ is always a wonderful way to start our day.
  • “Squeeze” reading into unique times of the day – I keep a book basket stashed with some of my son’s favorite books next to the potty. During bath time, he likes me to read while he splashes in the bubbles.
  • Model reading – Let your child see you reading! I use breakfast and dinner as family chat times yet when my son and I are eating lunch, I put on a story cd for him while I scan an article in The Economist.
  • Put the focus on reading – Reading is much more beneficial to your child’s developing brain versus screen time.
  • “Act out” stories – This can simply be talking in a character’s “voice” or “mimicking” a character’s actions.
  • Read stories of interest – Grab your child’s attention and foster a love for reading by reading books about things your child enjoys.
  • Incorporate activities – Retelling a story, doing a related art project or craft, going on a scavenger hunt to find something from a book, taking a field trip to the book’s setting – anything counts! In Harold’s Circus, a lemonade stand is mentioned and since my son had never tasted lemonade, I let him take his first swig. My husband helped him build a crown and scepter out of Tinker Toys – just like the character Max has in Where the Wild Things Are.
  • Do “closed” reading – While reading familiar books pause once in awhile to let your child fill in the word that comes next.
  • Give hints – Help your child figure out unknown words through picture and context clues.
  • Ask questions to gauge understanding – Begin with literal questions (“What is the boy holding in his hand?”), then slowly progress to comprehension questions (“Why did the family move?”) and higher level thinking questions (“What do you think the girl will do next?”). Doing this with my son from a very early age has him already making predictions and connecting what he has read to other books, his life, and the world around him.
  • Reading from memory is reading – My mother always tells me, “You were reading from the time you were 2!” Yet I was “reading” from memory – I knew the text “by heart” from having the same stories read to me over and over. However, this is indeed the very foundation of reading. From about 20 months old, my son was reading text word for word and turning the pages to match. He has a strong aptitude for memorization and recitation, and I too consider him a “reader;” I just recognize that he is only at the beginning of that journey.
  • Share reading – Alternate between you and your child reading one page or paragraph.

The best way you can help your child become a great reader is to foster a love of reading. Teach your child that books are treasures. Help them learn to respect and care for their books. Then, when you are finished with them, pass them on! As Jen’s boys got older, she had a hard time parting with some of their most treasured childhood books so she gave them to my son. Now they have become an important part my family’s life. Reading is a process – one that develops slowly over time. Yet, if introduced early and nurtured carefully along the way, your child will not only become a “great” reader – he/she will enjoy it as a life-long gift.

For more tips, check this link to the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) website.  And please feel free to share your reading tips below as well!

Finding Family Fun–Off the Merry-Go-Round

Jen with “her guys.”

By Jen Ashenfelter

Riding the “career carousel” is a different experience for everyone; some love it, some loathe it…and a few ride somewhere in between. This is my story and I can tell you it’s ok to get off the merry-go-round and be happy…

One step through the gate…anticipation builds. The distant music is joyous and enchanting, quickly pulling you closer to its source. Anxiously you search, competing with the crowds and traveling with focused determination to reach your destination. At first sight, you fall helplessly in love with its breathtaking beauty and dazzling detail. With the giddy excitement of a child, you eagerly hop on full of energy and expectations. After close inspection, you carefully chose a horse—deciding whether to remain steady or add a bit of movement. The ride is slow at first so you enthusiastically wave to the crowds. Feeling the rush as the speed picks up, you firmly grasp the reins. Eventually, the crowds and the music become a blur and you grow tired of the monotonous motion. You think: What happened to this wondrous ride? I expected more than this one-trick pony moving in circles.

At home with my first baby, Nicholas, at 10-months-old, April 1999.

When the ride is over, it’s ok to get off.

Long before I decided on a career path, getting married and having a family was what I wanted most. That’s not to say developing a career and landing my dream job were not important. I married after college graduation and wanted to build a firm foundation with a resume full of experience to draw from in the future before starting a family. International travel, global publications, corporate initiatives, and management presentations—the ride was everything I dreamed it would be. And after 8 years, it was time to go. The day we knew our first child was on the way, I was prepared to get off the proverbial “merry-go-round.”

The option to take another ride on the merry-go-round always presents itself.

Several years later, I heard the music again. Knowing what to expect when I reached the carousel again, this journey was less deliberate and I searched for a slower ride. All the horses were attractive so I tried a few on for size. However, there was something about that last horse—adorned with lots of pretty ribbons and bells; it seemed innocent underneath. I hopped on and took off in a measured gait thinking I had this trot mastered. Each time around, the pace quickened so slightly I hardly recognized the change. The next thing I knew, the ribbons had unraveled and I was racing again.

My youngest, Christopher (in blue), is a joy to watch on the soccer field.

The second ride is not always as smooth as the first. These alluring and hypnotic attractions can easily create distraction from what we really desire.

By this time, my first born was now in middle school and my baby was in elementary school. Where did the time go? That horse was moving so fast I started missing these little boys step off the school bus, learn a new karate move or score a goal during a soccer match. I became frustrated when they got sick, and was cranky when they needed my attention. Despite the speed, I became restless at work, impatient at home and full of doubt that I could ever win the race.

Jumping off at full speed is scary, but you won’t fall.

Finally, tired of holding on for dear life and disappointed that I veered off course, I hated everything that about that horse. The reins snapped and I jumped. The fear of falling hard was immediately replaced with comforting relief and the promise of a new journey that would lead me back home to my family and focused on the career I established many years before.

Hopefully, our stories will inspire you to get “off the merry-go-round.”

Yep, I jumped off twice…and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. There are open, caring arms in that crowd around the carousel who understand the need to take that leap of faith. Our mission is to create a supportive community where women can share information and creative ideas that enrich our family life and celebrate…us.

WELCOME to Off the Merry-Go-Round!  Please share a comment below–thanks!

Nicholas earned his first-degree Black Belt, 2012, after 6 years of hard work! I am so thankful to be there for my family’s big moments… I cherish each one.