Sunday, February 28, 2016

Mights and Won'ts and Wills and Don'ts

Hey, look up here!
Up in the tree!
Have you ever once seen 
a better place you could be?

But, wait! There is risk!
A wrong step I might take.
And with a slip from up here
one of my bones I could break.

I might get dust in my eye
or a bruise on my shin
or fall in the dirt
with a scrape on my chin.

And if you say "Don't!" 
I won't risk, I won't dare.
I won't learn what I'm made of
while I'm climbing up there.

I won't build my muscles
or learn how to balance
or find out if climbing 
is one of my talents.

Say yes and I'll grin.
Oh, how I will climb.
I will stretch and I'll pull
And be up in no time.

Above the heights I once feared
On high limbs I'll sit.
I will shout from the branches
"Hey world! look at me! I did it!' 

I ask all you grownups,
please, please don't hover.
How can a girl grow
with helicopters above her?

Please don't tell me "Be careful!"
"Don't take risks or get dirty!" 
Should I also stay home
at least till I'm thirty?

Let me make choices,
I need room to be free.
Let me stand up and say
To the world "I am me!"

Friday, February 26, 2016

I've Been Watching You, Dad, Ain't That Cool?

Let's get one thing straight: I don't like country music. In fact, if you told me I had to choose between walking across hot coals and listening to nothing but country music for a year, I'd tell you to get out the lighter fluid.

Sometimes, though, music hits you just right. Rodney Atkins wrote this song, Watching You, that takes place mostly between his pickup truck and his barn. It talks about his son watching him all the time and learning from him how to act. 

I've Been Watching You, Dad, Ain't That Cool?
I'm your buckaroo, I want to be like you.

The lyrics are dead on.

Dads, your kids are watching you. All. The. Time. (Ain't that cool?)

They watch how you treat their mom (or other dad. I don't judge), if you pick up after yourself and whether or not you hold the door for the person behind you at the store. They watch how you act around other adults like you and people not like you, ones that are very old or very young, have a disability or handicap, and people of other races and nationalities.

Your actions teach more than your words. In watching you, they learn the definitions of honesty, integrity, and honor. They learn how to respond when they're upset--whether they can stay calm in the face of adversity and disappointment or end up telling their school counselor they have anger issues. What they see inside you and what you do--not necessarily what you tell them to do--is the type of person they're likely to grow into. 

As the wise old adage goes, monkey see, monkey do. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Adventures in STEM


Besides being one of the latest in a long, long line of hot terms in education, what is it? The STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education movement focuses on building critical thinking skills and applying them. There are whole schools dedicated to STEM, but the concepts are also meant to be incorporated into other subjects. 

Why STEM education? 

In case you missed it, the vast majority of manufacturing jobs have been sent overseas. That itself took millions of jobs away from American workers. There's a bigger problem, though: the factory model, where people worked from the early 1900s to just a few decades ago, is what our schools are preparing kids for: a job where they have a role, are told what to do, and do it over and over. No thinking outside the box needed. Many of theose jobs are gone. Replacing them is a high-tech field requiring the ability to think critically. This is where STEM education comes in. Many jobs now are in STEM fields and I imagine the field will keep growing. 

Less than 1 in 4 workers in STEM fields are women, which makes it all the more awesome that Norah told us she was making a list of all the things she wanted to learn on our way to the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. She loved the place and stayed excited the whole time. Definitely a great place to take kids in Nashville.

Encourage your kids to ask questions. Even the dreaded "Why?" I admit it makes me want to bang my head against a window when Norah asks why incessantly. One thing I'm trying is telling her we ask questions to learn things. If you already know the answer, you don't really need to ask.

Foster their innate curiosity. Believe it or not kids want to learn. They just want to do it on their own terms and at their own pace. Have patience. If you've got the time, let them look under rocks or try to float random objects down the stream or do whatever it is they're interested in in that moment.

Bottom line is, if you have the time you should let and encourage kids to pursue their curiosities, particularly if it involves figuring something out. This applies to any age, really. For these little ones, plant the seed that will become a love of learning and a base for critical thinking. In older kids, have them find the answers to their own questions and share what they've found. Their smartphone could be good for something, after all. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Pizza Made by Little Hands

Some of the best recipes are the kinds our kids came make with little to no help from a grown up. Or that we could make as poor college students with no money and just a few things left in the refrigerator. This recipe fits the bill. Both toddlers and college kids can feel a certain sense of accomplishment after creating their very own pizza.

* One of the top rules for cooking on a budget is to use the same ingredient for multiple meals. 

The Ingredients
  1. Pizza or pasta sauce. We're a pasta-loving family, so either in a full jar in the cabinet or a half of one in the fridge, red sauce is almost always around.
  2. Mozzarella cheese. Whether for salads or lasagna, shredded cheese usually here. 
  3. Tortilla wraps. Tacos, peanut butter sandwiches, fajitas, salad wraps. The possibilities are endless.
Of course you can add any topping you'd like. For a bit of a different taste you can use salsa instead of red sauce and switch to cheddar cheese.  

 Here's How it Went

I poured some pasta sauce into a bowl and did the same with a large handful of shredded cheese. I gave these to Norah, along with the tortilla on a plate. 

She was free to spread the sauce around on her own... 

 ...sprinkle the cheese all over...

...steal some tastes...

  me slide it carefully into the 450 degree oven... 


...and gobble up the finished pizza.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Be Her Valentine

     The findings are in:

Involved, active fathers have a profound effect on the development of their children.

     Actually, the findings have been in for quite some time (Father Involvement Research Institute: Effects of Father Involvement.pdf). Studies show that children of involved fathers are:
  • Less likely to end up in jail.
  • Less likely to become pregnant as a teenager.
  • More likely to get good grades.
  • Less likely to be obese.
  • Less likely to live in poverty.
  • More likely to have positive social and emotional skills.
  • Less likely to have behavior issues.
  • More likely to have a higher vocabulary as toddlers.
  • More likely to have higher IQs.
  • Less likely to have emotional/psychological issues.
  • and on and on...
     Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe kids can grow up perfectly well adjusted while being parented by a single mom or lesbian couple. Even if it isn't dad, the involvement of a positive father figure is such a big protective factor.

     Fathers (and father figures): Doing your best is usually enough. 

     Your son will learn how to act. Be his idol. 

     Your daughter learn what to expect from a man. Be her Valentine. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Easiest Chicken Tacos in the World

     Not that I've tried out every chicken taco recipe there is, but I feel quite confident in saying that these chicken tacos could be the easiest in the world to make. One might even say the easiest in the history of the world, but that's taking it pretty far.

     But it just might be true.

     The ingredients:
  1. Your favorite salsa (or whatever kind happens to be in the fridge)
  2. Chicken breasts (boneless and skinless. We typically don't thaw the chicken before putting it into the Crockpot. From what I understand, this is safe to do as long as you're cooking on high. Use your own judgment.)
  3. Tortilla shells (I like the kind from the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store without any preservatives. I once had a package of the Mexican food aisle kind get knocked into the corner behind the microwave in my kitchen. I estimate it was there for a month or so before being recovered. The shells were still as soft and blemish free as the day they were purchased. That can't be natural.)
     Two ingredients plus the tortilla. I've seen this made with canned black beans as well. Just make sure you rinse and drain them before dumping it all into the slow cooker. 

     The directions:

  1. Put enough chicken breast into your slow cooker to feed everyone. 
  2. Pour in just enough salsa to cover the chicken. 
  3. Cook on high for about four hours, until the meat shreds easily with a fork. 
  4. About a half hour before serving, tear up the chicken while it's still in the slow cooker. TIP: There will probably be a lot of liquid. If you don't like soggy tortilla wraps, I suggest using a ladle to scoop some water out. 
     And you're done. It's hard to get much easier than that. Sour cream is a great topping. So is that melted white cheese you dip your chips in at the Mexican restaurant. Usually it's next to the refrigerated tortilla shells at the grocery store. 



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Kentucky Snow Day

     Sometimes snow days are legitimate, like the one a few weeks ago that stranded cars in traffic 35 miles deep. Most Kentucky snow days, though, are a bit questionable. Maybe it's because the government here isn't up to snuff on their ability to take on snowy roads. Maybe it's because people around here aren't used to driving in the snow. Whatever the reason, this most recent snowmageddon, which left a devastating 1/4 to 1/2 inch of snow on the ground, has closed nearly every school in our part of the state. If you can't get out on the road after a blizzard of this magnitude hits, then what can you do? I'm glad you asked. Here are a few ideas:

  • Clear the porch and steps of snow...with a broom.
  • If your kids are little like mine, watch their faces glow with excitement, even though the snow only goes halfway up the soles of their shoes.
  • If your kids are older, smile at their angry faces when they realize the snow doesn't even go halfway up the soles of their shoes.
  • Groan when you see these same angels tear up the lawn with their sleds.
  • Build six inch snowmen.
  • Stay in and bake something with your kids.
  • If you work at a school, like I do, thank the snow gods for a day off and stay in your pajamas until lunchtime. Or all day. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sausage Subs

     Super Bowl 50 is just a couple of hours away and it's time to get dinner going. Tonight: super easy Sausage Subs. 

The ingredients:

  1. Sausages. I'm using sweet Italian sausages from Riverbend Family Farms, a locally-owned farm. Last time I made these sandwiches I used spicy sausages from the same farm. It was awesome.
  2. Marinara or spaghetti sauce. I'm partial to Classico because I like the low sugar content.  
  3. Bell pepper
  4. Onion
  5. Sub rolls
     That's it. Five ingredients. The beer's just an added bonus. Today's choice is an oatmeal porter from Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, North Carolina.


     First, cook the sausage in the pan. While it's cooking, slice up your bell pepper and onions. When the sausage is done, drain the grease from the pan and toss in the onions and peppers for just a minute, until the edges brown up a bit.  


     Cover everything with your red sauce of choice. Pour a little more than you think you'd need--it will thicken up some.

     Let it simmer, covered, for at least an hour so the tastes of the sausage, pepper, and onion get into the sauce. Uncover and simmer for a little while longer until it reduces to the consistency you want. 

     Easy. Delicious. 


Little man here woke up from his nap to the sound of
sizzling sausage. Pretty sure he's hoping for a sandwich.