Dream Shard Blog: The Scintillating Adventures of Our Household

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Jan '12

Healthier Dinners

So, in November I started cooking dinner for my family most nights of the week. Overall it’s been a wonderful positive experience, sitting down together most nights and sharing food. And sometimes when I’m eating the fruits of my labor, like homemade bread or delicious soup, I’m kind of proud.

(And, of course, I’m not mentioning the huge cost of time and labor involved in putting dinner on the table at night; between prep time, eating, and clean up time sometimes I feel chained to the kitchen for hours. But, yes, it’s a worthwhile sacrifice.)

I’ve been trying lots of new recipes to see what works for my family and what doesn’t. I haven’t been paying attention to the nutrition side of dinner; making dinner was work enough!

Now I’m making more effort to monitor what I eat, which includes keeping my daily calories at a reasonable level. I would like to aim to keep dinner in the 300-400 calorie range per serving (although I don’t care if John or the kids eat more).

This week’s challenge: To find food that my family might like that fits the healthier bill.

I’ve taken a couple things I’ve made and entered the ingredients into myfitnesspal.com to get a nutritional breakdown so I can see approximately how many calories are in each serving. Ideally you’d do this before making the dish so when you serve it you know how much you plan to eat.

Last night I made homemade tortillas (first time) with grilled chicken and black beans, and we had soft tacos.

(Oh, and YES you should click on the link for the black beans recipe because it was dang good. Best beans ever.)

This week I’m going to try some recipes courtesy of another mom I know who is very dedicated to living healthfully and feeding her family quality food.

Tonight: Hawaiian Haystack with Caulrice
Tomorrow: Chicken with Sweet Potatoes and Apples
Thursday: Turkey Taco Salad

All run around 300 calories per serving. And I’ve heard wondrous things about making caulrice (cooked crumbled cauliflower) instead of using regular rice. Excited to try it.

I made out my grocery list, and it is wonderfully heavy on fresh produce. It looks like this:

milk–whole (Carissa), 2% (Wes), 1% (me and John)
string cheese
lowfat cottage cheese
plain greek yogurt (for me)
regular yogurt (kids)
fat free sour cream

1 loaf wheat bread
corn tortillas
canister Quaker Oats oatmeal

snow peas
pineapple/mixed fruit

ground turkey breast (93% lean)
1 lb chicken breast

kidney beans
98% fat free cream of chicken soup
pineapple bits

taco seasoning
buttermilk ranch mix

fresh salsa
4 sweet potatoes

I love to see my cart loaded up with healthy things!

And as for the cost of eating healthier foods, it’s like I told one of my Zumba students last night who decided to start coming back to class after feeling down without it: “It’s cheaper than therapy later.”

Jan '12

Wes, Carissa, and the Passport Photo

Somebody got into the cookie jar.

Tonight Wes ate dinner like Carissa usually does, bib and all.

He is also mastering the skill of climbing.

Carissa is picking up on puzzles. She’s getting good at matching pictures and making the pieces fit.

I’m working on getting Carissa a passport. The specifications for a passport photo are very specific: normal head angle, neutral facial expression, clear image, white background, good lighting, etc. You can take the photo at home by yourself, but I thought it’d be easier to just take her to the store and have them both take and print the pictures on site. I took Wes in to this same store for his passport photo when he was about a year old, and it was easy.

This time, it was the opposite of easy.

The second we neared the photo department it was like Carissa smelled strange people (the two photo attendants) that were going to ask her to do strange things (like look at a camera and not cry), and she instantly made it clear that she wasn’t going to have any of it.

After a few minutes of me holding Carissa up to a white background and her crying profusely while the (male) photo attendant said over and over, “Can you calm her down?” I decided to call it quits. We went home and later in the afternoon I had John sit with her against one of our many white walls to photograph her myself.

It went much better. The passport website has a free tool that lets you resize your photo to the proper dimensions. I took it in to the store and they printed it for me.

Viola. And soon we can travel the world.

Jan '12

What We’ve Been Up To

Making forts (“tents”, as Wes calls them).

Reading books.

Eating crepes (Wesley’s favorite, especially with Nutella and bananas…or, really, just Nutella).

Falling asleep in the highchair.

Playing in snow (finally took the tags off the snow boots I bought them in November).

Making pizza and breadsticks, which I am getting surprisingly better at (thank you, Best Bites).

Snacking on breadsticks.

Reading. Here Wes is reading the dictionary. He was reading this for about 30 minutes. The other night he was reading a textbook, flipping through page by page until he came to each chapter heading, when he’d yell out the chapter number: “1!”, “2!” and so on. He’s good at reading AND counting.

Jan '12


On Saturday I usually plan out my dinner menu for the upcoming week, and then I get groceries for it. If I’m organized, I try to compose my grocery list by section: produce, dairy, cans, frozen, etc. Then I walk around the store with my list and pen in hand, crossing off each item when I put it my cart.

This weekend I couldn’t make it to the grocery store until 10:30 pm Saturday night. I went through each section, starting with the dairy and working my way around the store. Finally I had just two more stations to visit: meat and produce.

My week’s menu revolved around chicken: a fauxtisserie chicken (whole chicken cooked in the crock pot) for Sunday night, then using the leftover chicken in a white chili the next night. Later in the week I was planning to make chicken tacos with homemade tortillas.

Chicken was very important.

So when I showed up to the meat department at quarter to 11 at night with a nearly full cart and discovered that the store was completely out of fresh whole chickens and chicken breast, I was pretty put out. I wandered around for a little bit, trying to work out some way to adjust the menu in my hand to work without chicken, but it just wasn’t happening.

I finally settled on a bag of frozen chicken breasts to use for the chicken tacos, an already cooked rotisserie chicken to use for the chili, and, at the very bottom corner of the freezer case, I discovered a row of Cornish hens that I decided to try instead of the Fauxtisserie chicken.

I’ve only cooked a whole chicken once, and you know how that turned out. I hoped I could pull off Cornish hens all right.

I pulled them from their wrapping (and I have to say, they are so cute!) and wiped them with a damp cloth. I mixed a couple tablespoons of soft butter with 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, and a little dried rosemary and basil and then I smeared it over and inside the hens, trying to get it under the skin. I popped a little bit of chopped carrots and onions inside the cavity and rubbed the hens with a lot of salt and pepper. Then it cooked for a little over an hour at 350 degrees until the meat registered at over 170 degrees inside.

When it was time to eat John admitted he was nervous that the hen would be more like rooster, which he had too much of when he served a mission in Central America and didn’t care to ever taste again.

Which made me nervous, of course.

But, to my relief, the Cornish hen tasted exactly like a miniature chicken, all tender and garlicky and buttery and yummy.


This might not be the most flattering angle of the hens, but I had to document. (And, yes, I think I accidentally cooked the chicken upside down again.)


This is Carissa eating her own dinner. No qualms about messiness.


Carissa’s Bed Head

This is what happens when Carissa goes to sleep with damp hair after a bath.

Jan '12

All About Wes: His Progress Report

This week I got to sit down with Wesley’s preschool teacher and see how he’s doing. I don’t remember doing this last year, and I’m not sure why I didn’t. Parent-teacher conferences are optional unless your child is preparing to enter kindergarten, but I really wanted to talk with his teacher and know how he’s doing. I can tell Wes loves school and that he is progressing, but he can’t tell me what’s going on at school, and the pictures and crafts he brings home only say so much.

Wes is 4. It’s his second year of preschool and he has one more year to go after this. His birthday is right after the cut-off date for school, which is fine because I think he’ll benefit from being one of the oldest kids in his grade.

He attends a preschool at a nearby elementary school that is taught by a fantastic teacher who specializes in special ed. His classes are a mix of typical and and special needs kids.

First, his teacher gave me a sheet listing Wesley’s strengths and areas in need of more development:

* Names all colors and shapes
* Names all numeral and letters
* Counts 1-10
* Beginning cutting skills: snipping
* Beginning to trace his name
* Plays independently

* Tell personal info: full name, gender, age, parents’ full names, etc.
* Cut on a line and simple shape
* Write first name independently
* We are encouraging play and interaction with peers

Wes is doing so great with his letters, colors, shapes, and numbers. Every day in school they count one through twelve. I was surprised to learn that many kids can only count to five. His teacher said that sometimes if they’re counting and the kids are having trouble getting the numbers they’ll actually look to Wes because they know he knows his numbers.

I asked his teacher if she had ever heard Wes count to twenty. She said she hadn’t and was impressed that he can do it (although you have to use your imagination a little on the teen numbers…they all kind of sound the same when he says them).

Wes is always counting at home, everything he does. He’ll count out the crayons he’s putting away, or the light switches he’s turning off, or the blankets we pile on him at night. He loves to count.

He also loves his letters. Watching “Super Why!” on PBS helps. Every day at school they sing the alphabet song together, and his teacher said he belts it out. Wes loves the alphabet song.

I was watching videos of Wes from one year ago. He seems so different now. In the videos a year ago he used only a few words, like “no” and “more.” He used more signs. He even sounded more like a toddler than a boy. Now he is much more chatty and talks quite a lot. I have no idea what he’s talking about most of the time, but sometime I can pick out words I recognize.

Wes isn’t really conversational yet, but he is getting closer. You can ask him a question like, “Do you want more milk?” and he can say, “Yes” or “No.” This is great progress! He learned how to say “yes” and “no” sometime in the last year and it is so nice for me, because before I’d have to just guess. At school he learned how to say, “Hi” or “Hello” and “Bye, see you later!” It’s part of their routine when they get off the bus upon arrival and again as they load up to leave. I think it’s awesome to hear him come up to me and say, “Hi, Mom. How doin’?” I usually say, “I’m doing great! How are you doing?” He doesn’t say anything back yet, but maybe someday he will.

He is making phrases that resemble sentences, like “Issa seeping” (“Carrisa’s sleeping”). When he wants something he’ll still just use the single word: “Milk!” or “Pretzels!” We try to get him to say, “More milk, please” but he ends up just saying the last word we say: “Peese!”

I’m so happy he calls me Mom. It took a while; he probably started saying it sometime in the last year (Carissa is already calling me Mom, and she’s 16 months old). I try to remember how glad I am to hear it when he’s yelling at me from the other room to get my attention. My next big dream and hope: To hear him say, “I love you, Mom!”

His teacher asked me if I’d ever heard Wes say the Pledge of Allegiance. That one caught me off guard. No, I haven’t! She said that every day the kids stand, put their hand on their heart, and say the Pledge together. She’s been meaning to videotape it and send it to me, because apparently Wes does a really great job saying it! I’ll have to get us a flag so I can hear it in person at home.

We talked about how easy going Wesley is, and that sometimes that leads to being an easy target for bullying. His own sister beats up on him sometimes (hitting him) and he sits and takes it meekly. We’re trying to teach him to say, “No!” or “Stop!” or to run away, or something, and his teacher is doing the same at school. I think it will take some more time for him to get his self-defense skills more honed.

Wes is great at playing by himself. They want him to interact more with his peers. Right now he’s just starting what they call parallel play–he’ll take a toy and sit near another child, still playing independently but doing it next to someone else. So that’s progress.

His teacher said Wes likes to throw toys. I just laughed. (If you’ve met Wes, you know this about him.) He doesn’t throw them at people. He just likes to toss. She said that sometimes he’ll take a bin of toys and sit down with it, and she’ll look at him and say, “Now, don’t throw those toys, Wes.” Wes clearly understands what she’s saying and looks very humble. And then when she’s not looking he’ll carefully scoot around the corner where she can’t see him, and then she’ll hear the sound of toys being thrown. Sneaky kid. Does the same thing at home.

Wes loves singing time. He loves music, and lately I’ve noticed him actually singing along to songs. This is great progress! He used to just listen because he didn’t even talk much. Then after a while he started to repeat the last word of a phrase along with you as you sang. Now I’m noticing him in church singing along with hymns, even drawing out the sounds of words long when we’re holding a note. He’ll also kind of “scat” to instrumental songs–go “bah, bah, da dum” or something along with the sound of the music.

His teacher knows he loves music, too, because when they’re taking turns picking songs for singing time at school, if he’s not called on pretty quickly for a turn, he’ll point at himself and say, “WESLEY!” and then jump up to take his turn. His teacher will ask him to sit down, have quiet lips (he puts his finger over his lips), and to raise his hand. And THEN he gets his turn.

Wes is doing well overall. We can’t complain. His teacher loves him and he feels safe and welcomed at school. There was a period a while ago when Wes cried and didn’t want to get on the bus when it was time for school. It was weird. I thought maybe he was sick or something. After talking to his teacher I realized that this probably happened when there was a substitute filling in for his teacher, and her aides reported that the sub was pretty ornery with the kids. They told her that Wes, in particular, didn’t do well with the substitute. His teacher, to her credit, got that sub blacklisted from her classroom and is no longer allowed to teach her kids.

The teacher is a huge factor that determines whether a kid loves school, likes it, tolerates it, or hates it. We talked a little about Wesley’s future schooling experience. It will be different after preschool. He’ll probably be in a regular classroom with 25+ other kids. He’s so easy-going that both his teacher and I can see him getting lost in the shuffle easily. We’ll cross that bridge later, I guess. I hope he will always be in a good, safe, loving environment so he will like school and love learning. For now he is having a prime experience in school, and I am so glad.