Monthly Archives: March 2016

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Modeling Good Relationships

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about mommy guilt and the things I have it around. One place in particular is getting frustrated with Cam and showing it. She’s dragging her feet about brushing hair or putting on socks and I just get so frustrated I hurry her along and get short with her. I snap at her or wrestle her into the socks. 

In thinking about these interactions, though, I’ve come to believe that it’s important for Cam to see that this happens. We all have emotions and sometimes we aren’t great about regulating them, even in adulthood. Instead of feeling guilty that it happened- a less than useful emotion in the situation- I need to jump in and do damage control almost immediately. First I apologize, then I explain why I got frustrated, then ask for her help either to finish the task or in the future. Sometimes I explain that it wasn’t really her, it was something else bothering me and I unfairly took it out on her. I also promise to try my best next time not to react that way and, if it was something she was struggling with and I didn’t notice, to check in before getting upset.  

The thing is, no relationship is perfect. Everyone fights- with their spouse, with their friends, with their coworkers. We’re all different people with different needs and ideas and tolerances. The point is not that we are all calm and collected all the time. In fact, the perfectly serene countenance, to me, seems eerily close to the happily-ever-after of fairy tales and the don’t-make-waves standard we like to hold women and girls to. A standard that is both unrealistic and probably unattainable and often held only for girls and women. 

Let’s be clear this is not free license to yell and scream at kids, belittle them with your words, and especially not get physical with them. I think we’re all guilty at one point or another of simply losing our shit and yelling. We shouldn’t, but it does happen. And when it does there is a lot more repair work that needs to be done than when we get mad and curt. 

These frustrations, though, provide us with a teachable moment. We can model for our children how to repair things with someone we care about when we’ve slipped up. I would infinitely prefer Cam knew that she didn’t have to be perfect in every relationship (an ideal that would ultimately lead to her repressing her feelings and emotions and constantly subordinating them to someone else’s), but that she can apologize. I want her to know that disagreeing is normal and that you don’t have to agree to love someone or be friends with them, you just need to be kind and thoughtful when you do disagree. Again this is a standard I most often see being applied to girls and women, and I want her to break away from it. I also want her to know that one small spat or disagreement does not spell the end of a relationship. Modeling that when I’m frustrated is the perfect opportunity to show her what a good relationship looks like. 

Letters!

A few weeks ago, maybe even a month ago now, Cam suddenly took an interest in letters- learning their names, their sounds and writing them. She was carefully watching me one evening as I filled in a crossword puzzle in a puzzle magazine I had just bought. I can’t remember the exact question she asked, but I responded that one day when she learned her letters she would be able to do puzzles like mine. She went back to whatever it was she was doing. She must have been chewing that over in her mind because a few minutes later she got out some index cards and a pencil (or grabbed them off the table, I can’t remember) and started to write what looked like capital “e”s. After a few attempts she turned to me and asked if I would help her write letters. 

From there I began showing her a picture of the letter and how to form it and she would then copy the letter onto the page. She’s been a letter and word fiend ever since, asking to write names and words. While I think this is great practice I also thought she might benefit from being able to form words less laboriously (it takes a lot for her to write any given letter since she has to really think about how it’s formed and what it looks like, not to mention keeping the letters all about the same size and in a line).

IMG_2992I pulled out a cookie sheet I had bought at Wal-Mart several years ago for just this purpose. I also got out our magnetic letters which until this point she hasn’t been overly interested in. Now she tells me words she wants to spell and I tell her the letters in order. She finds them in the bin and arranges them on the tray. I ended up having to buy more letters because the set we had didn’t have nearly enough letters for her to keep a few words on the tray while spelling more. 

I also have some letter cards that have the upper case letter nice and big on the back. They are awesome for showing her what each letter looks like. On the back there is a labeled picture for each letter and both the upper and lower case letter. Thankfully they have appropriate pictures for the letter sounds (I HATE it when alphabets have, say, a giraffe for the “g” since that really reinforces the “j” sound not the hard “g” sound which is too much information for a child just learning the letters). I only wish these cards didn’t have the picture label spelled out in lower case. 

I did make a conscious choice to do only capital or upper case letters. They have a lot more straight lines and it seemed a little easier for her to form. Plus I didn’t want to quash her enthusiasm by making it more a of school lesson than something driven by her own interests. Requiring her to learn both upper and lower case letters was probably going to derail her. 

It took about two weeks, but she has learned to correctly identify each of the letters and say the sound they make. Plus she’s applying those skills to writing words. In another few weeks I suspect she will be sounding out words. Which of course will eventually lead to her reading and that’s pretty exciting for her!

On the Menu: Enchiladas

I am sure this is a bastardization of what real enchiladas are, but they are the enchiladas of my white, middle-class, suburban childhood. They are also incredibly simple and come together in about 30 minutes. 

Menu

Cheese Enchiladas

Rice & Beans

Peppers & Onions

Shopping List

You may have any or all of this in your pantry. Many of the ingredients will keep in your pantry and can be used on multiple occasions. 

  • tortillas
  • jack cheese (feel free to buy pre-grated if that makes your life easier)
  • red enchilada sauce
  • Spanish or yellow rice packet (you could do homemade if you prefer)
  • can of pinto beans 
  • 2-3 bell peppers, any color
  • 1 large onion
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Equipment List

  • 8×8 baking dish (can be an aluminum pan or a glass one; for enchiladas)
  • can opener (for enchiladas and beans)
  • cheese grater (for enchiladas)
  • saucepan large enough for your tortillas to be dipped in (for enchiladas and onions & peppers)
  • rice cooker or small pot (for rice, obviously)

 

Enchiladas
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For the enchiladas
  1. 8 oz. jack cheese, grated
  2. 1/2 large can red enchilada sauce (or 1 14 oz can)
  3. 6-10 corn tortillas (the number will depend on how much cheese you fill them with and their size)
For the rice and beans
  1. 1 package Spanish or yellow rice
  2. 1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
For the peppers and onions
  1. 2-3 bell peppers, sliced
  2. 1 large onion, sliced
  3. olive oil
  4. salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Prep all your ingredients. Chop the onions and peppers, open the cans, grate the cheese, put out your fillings around a work surface, drain and rinse beans. Set out your baking dish and put the pan on the stove.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350.
  3. Pour the enchilada sauce into the pan and warm over medium-low heat.
  4. Place the rice packet into the rice cooker or pot and cook according to package directions.
  5. Once sauce is warm, begin to dip tortillas into the sauce. Let them become coated and warm (this will only take a few seconds).
  6. Place saucy tortilla onto work surface and spread a handful of cheese and any other toppings down the middle.
  7. Wrap the ends around the cheese making a tube. Place with the open ends down in the baking dish. To keep the first few tortillas from popping open in the pan I use a can or cup to hold them tightly in place.
  8. Fill as many tortillas as you can, leaving a bit of cheese to sprinkle on top. You may really have to cram the last one or two in.
  9. Once the baking dish is full, pour the remaining warm enchilada sauce over the top of the enchiladas. (This is why you don't need to use a whole large can.) Sprinkle the cheese over the top and place in the oven.
  10. After dumping the sauce wipe out your skillet and put in the olive oil- enough to coat the bottom. Heat the olive oil over medium high heat.
  11. Once warm, toss in the onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sautee until turning soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the peppers and sautee longer until they are starting to soften and brown, another 5 minutes or so. If you like them crunchy, just give them a few minutes.
  12. When the rice is done, mix in the beans. Close the lid of the rice cooker or replace the lid on the pot to allow them to warm up.
  13. Check the oven. The enchilada sauce should be a bit bubbly and the cheese melty. If not, give it a few more minutes (this should only take 20 minutes tops).
  14. Remove from oven and serve with scoops of rice and onions and peppers.
Notes
  1. The dipping may seem like an unnecessary step, but with corn tortillas it will prevent them from splitting on the top when you roll them up. You can skip it, but it might be kind of annoying. See the hacks section for tips on using flour tortillas.
Atomic Bee Ranch http://atomicbeeranch.com/

Recipe Hacks

Here are a few ways to change up the recipe. You can use them if you don’t like the original recipe or if you want to make it a little differently from the last time.

This is where this recipe shines. There is so much that you can do with it.

  • Change up the cheese. You can do a mix of jack and cheddar, all cheddar. Buy the pre-shredded Mexican blend (what does that even mean?).
  • We prefer corn tortillas, but if you like the flour go for those. I find they can get soggy so I recommend toasting them either over an open flame or on a hot cast iron skillet first and NOT dipping them. But experiment with it and see what works best for your tastes. 
  • If you prefer green enchilada sauce to red, use that instead. I suggest sprinkling in a tiny bit of ranch dressing powder if you are using green enchilada sauce. It gives it a little extra oomph. 
  • My dad always added some softened red potatoes to our enchiladas. Sounds weird, but it’s delicious. Cut them into matchsticks and microwave them with a splash of water for a few minutes until soft. Then roll them into the enchiladas with the cheese. 
  • Add meat. Shredded chicken is great. Shredded beef. Ground beef. Ground turkey. Ground chicken. Just be sure it’s cooked already. 
  • Add olives and/or chopped green chilies. Add sliced pickled jalapenos. The sky is the limit with additions here. Just take into account everyone’s preferences for spicy. 
  • I suspect, although I have never tried this, you could make this more like a layered casserole. Try layering the sauce the tortillas (cut them up first), the cheese, and any other additions in the pan instead or rolling them up. If you try this and it works, leave a comment please!
  • For the rice and beans
  • So, feel free to make any of the elements of this from scratch. I haven’t found a great recipe for red enchilada sauce yet and sometimes it’s just easier, if not cheaper, to use canned beans. I know packaged rice is awfully salty, but we don’t eat it very often so I splurge and make it. If you don’t want to go whole hog and make Spanish rice from scratch make white rice (or brown if you prefer) with broth instead of water. It will be more flavorful, without being more work. 

Include Your Child

I frequently use dinner prep as a time to decompress and enjoy myself and find adding in my daughter makes it stressful and a lot more messy. That being said, I know it’s good for her to help out and she often wants to. So, here are some easy ways to include your child when making this dinner. No guarantee that they won’t be a bit messy, though. 

  • Assuming they wear an apron, kids do a great job spreading cheese and rolling the enchiladas up. Beware of red sauce it does stain hence the apron. They can also get the rice going in the pot or rice cooker.
  • If you are confident in their ability, your child can also grate the cheese. This might make the recipe take closer to an hour, though, so use your judgement. 

Friday Five: Books for Spring

I know spring may be slow in other parts of the country, but it’s here in California. My garden is getting going and the chickens are laying again. Plus the days are noticeably longer. Here’s a list of five books to help you welcome Spring in. For more books about spring check out this list on Goodreads. Many are about the four seasons and their circle, but many are specifically about spring. 

FloatFloat illustrated by Daniel Miyares

From Goodreads: A little boy takes a boat made of newspaper out for a rainy-day adventure. The boy and his boat dance in the downpour and play in the puddles, but when the boy sends his boat floating down a gutter stream, it quickly gets away from him. So of course the little boy goes on the hunt for his beloved boat, and when the rain lets up, he finds himself on a new adventure altogether.

This is such a beautiful book that celebrates those rainy spring days. Don’t discount wordless picture books. They give your child a lot of freedom to tell the story and add in their own details. Float contains a lot of interesting details within it’s illustrations that give you clues about what is going on and what will happen next. Those provide a good opportunity for you to draw your child’s attention to them as you notice them by asking questions and having them make predictions and really read the pictures. These skills then translate over into reading harder, longer books. But really, just curl up on the sofa with this one on a rainy day and then head out to make your own newspaper boat. 

Happy DayThe Happy Day written by Ruth Krauss, illustrated by Marc Simont

From Goodreads: The woodland animals awake from their deep winter’s sleep to discover the first sign of spring: a flower blooming in the snow.

This story builds up beautifully as the animals of the forest wake up one early, early spring day. They rush off to see a sight which is not revealed until the final page. It’s the first flower of spring, a herald of the season to come. Even though our first flowers pop up in late January we understand the anticipation of spring. The feeling of a breath finally being let out after being held for so long. I love how it celebrates that joy of the very first sign of the end of winter. 

Rabbits and RaindropsRabbits and Raindrops written and illustrated by Jim Arnosky

From Goodreads: It’s the first day outside the nest for Mother rabbit’s five babies, and all sorts of new creatures and adventures await them. But when a sudden rain shower sends the rabbits scurrying for shelter under the hedge, the other wild animals come to visit them!

Another story that celebrates the rainy season. The illustrations in this are glorious. There are some small details to notice in them, but it’s the colors that will draw you in and the incredible ability of Arnosky to render such accurate and realistic scenes. The focus on the babies and their wonder at all that is new to them I think mirrors the wonder of children and childhood and is very relatable to young children. 

SpringSpring illustrated by Gerda Muller

I think I plug these every time I do a season post, but they really are great books. As with Float, this one is wordless. This time around there is less of a story being told and more vignettes that show various activities through the season. I will say they skew pretty European (thatching the roof?!) and Christian, but they are very beautiful and certainly capture the magic of the season. My daughter loves to look at these during quiet time and remember times she has dyed eggs or played outside in the spring which is a nice way to make a connection between real life and books.  

 


PancakesPancakes for Supper
written by Anne Issacs, illustrated by Mark Teague

From Goodreads: When her family’s wagon hits a bump, golden-haired Toby Littlewood is hurled into the sky and lands deep in the snowy forest. There she meets a prickly porcupine, an enormous bear, and a hungry cougar, among other fearsome creatures. Cleverly, she talks each one out of eating her by offering up her fancy clothes. In the end, in a competition to be the grandest beast, the vain animals chase each other around and around a maple tree, where they turn into maple syrup!

This one is set during the early spring just as the snow is melting, it also ties in nicely with Fat Tuesday if you celebrate that. The story itself is a retelling of Little Black Sambo, a deeply deeply racist story. Thankfully this one is not and does a good job of updating the story and making it funny. I highly recommend reading it and then having pancakes for supper. The “information” about maple syrup isn’t quite accurate, but you could talk about how maple syrup is made after reading this too.