Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Camp Plastico" comes to an end. Sort of.

Last week was our home camp... "Camp Plastico". I'm sure you're wondering where we came up with the name, right? Thought so. Let me tell you... My Baby Boy is very much into plastic army men. And lots of them. So his idea was to make 'homemade' army men. And since they're made out of plastic... yeah, there you go... "CAMP PLASTICO". 

And by the way... I have NO IDEA how to make your own army men. Just sayin'...

Well... Baby Girl wasn't easily convinced. Especially since she is quite the 'princess'. Her idea of camp was a bit different from his... but, since she loves hanging out with her brother, she was finally swayed. "Camp Plastico" it is.

The first day of home camp is always about the t-shirts. We each make our own 'camp' t-shirt that we wear when we do our camp activities at home or if we go out for activities. Keeps them from painting on their good clothes. The kids have fun thinking of a logo and what color paint we should use. Should we all match? Make our own logo with the same colors? Or the same logo with different colors? It usually differs each year, but always fun to do. The kids did a great job this year. It was amazing how much paint was actually on the t-shirts instead of the kitchen table! Yep. They're growing up fast.

So during the week we had many crafts for them. With the army men theme in mind, we went to Michael's and picked up several projects for them to do. My son really wanted to make a diorama. (Is that a word?) Anyway... that's what he wanted to do, so most of the smaller projects were things that would lead up to and tie-in to the diorama. That would be made on the last day of camp so they could use everything else they had made during the week. Well... most of it tied in.

We found some great little kits at Michael's... but after checking out the cost, I decided we could explore and see how we could create the same thing for less. They had a lot of little model kits for $1 each so they picked up 3 each. A jet, a cannon, fire engine, castles.  Out of everything we bought... I was most impressed with these because they were a nice size and they took about 1 1/2 hours to complete. Sand the wood, put together, glue, paint. And the kids could follow the directions themselves. Hey... for a buck... that's a lot of entertainment. AND... I only watched. I let them do them all on their own. If you knew me, you'd know how hard it was for me to sit and not offer my help.

Anyway... we also made posters, painted ceramics and wooden animal figures. We averaged 2 projects a day and still didn't finish them all. That was pretty good. For less than the price of sending just 1 of them to day-camp, we had a week full of fun and quality time spent together. It was relaxing. No set time. Just have fun and be creative. We even had a couple nights of  'camp food'. They like to choose meals that they don't normally have so it feels like 'camp'.  All in all it was a great week.

This summer we will have another camp week.. cooking camp. AKA "Camp Plastico: Part 2". I've found several kid friendly recipes for them to try and they are so excited. I can probably have them cook every day for a week... maybe 2 things a day... for around $20 using what I already have in my pantry. To send them to the 'cooking camp' offered by their school it would cost $99 each for only 6 sessions. Teaching them myself is not only cheaper but it let's me in on the fun too. You know... homemade really is better!

Thanks for reading,
Mary Ann :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Me. Little Boy. and The Drug.

Once upon a time, I had a Little Boy. And a beautiful Little Boy he was. He had a twinkle in his eye, a bright smile... and just a ton of energy. His hair was curly, he had cute little dimples and he was sort of a chunk... so adorable. I can still see his face and hear his excited little squeal.

When Little Boy was born, he was about 6 weeks premature. We never had the 'bonding' experience that most mothers have with their babies. Due to unexpected medical problems, the doctors took him from me immediately and he had to stay in the Neonatal Unit for a couple of weeks. I can still see the images in my mind of Little Boy when the doctor held up his little arm and it fell lifelessly to the table. I'll never forget.

When Little Boy was young, I had to work long hours. So many long hours that most of my memories of Little Boy are just a blur. You see... I was a single parent. Little Boy's dad was never involved in his life. One day though, Little Boy's dad returned... but that caused more harm than good. The 'dad' he had never known and really didn't know how to miss... suddenly had a face. So when 'dad' disappeared again after a short time... Little Boy was left wondering where he was. And that made Little Boy's mom very angry. She loved her Little Boy... and she would not let this 'dad' hurt him again. It would have to be all or nothing. So Little Boy's dad... chose nothing.

Sadly, Little Boy was not like other little boys. He needed much more attention. More encouragement. More affirmation than the average little boy. Some kids come out of divorce unscathed... but not Little Boy. He felt something missing. He needed a man's approval... he needed a dad. Unfortunately, I was both mother and father, and I worked so much that I was horribly exhausted on the days that I had off. I didn't have the time or energy to give Little Boy what he needed. And what I did have was shared with his siblings, errands and household duties.

So one day, I fell in love and remarried. Little Boy was so excited. I can still see his beaming face when he exclaimed "I can't believe I'm going to have a dad!" But once again... Little Boy's hopes were dashed as he came to realize that New Dad didn't really know how to be the dad he needed either. New Dad had never been a dad before and it didn't come easy to him. So once again... Little Boy felt rejected.

Regretfully, Little Boy didn't have the best mother, either. I wish I had known how to meet the emotional needs of my Little Boy back then. When it really mattered. I wish I could go back and hold him. Comfort him. Let him know everything would be alright. I wish I could just sit and spend time with my Little Boy. Listen to him. Let him know how much he is loved. Tell him that I worked so he could have a great life. Or maybe... just not work so much.

Well, somewhere during that time... The Drug came into Little Boy's life. The Drug came to fill the emptiness and to take away the pain. The Drug was a deceiver. But Little Boy was unaware. And I was naive. My Little Boy would never go along with The Drug. He told me so. And I believed him. It would be painful to Little Boy if I accused him wrongly. I'm going to stand by my Little Boy.

Now... after years of denial on my part... and countless lies from Little Boy... I finally began to realize that Little Boy wasn't Little Boy anymore. He just wasn't there. It was his voice. And I recognize his face. But nothing else was the same. I don't know who this is. I don't see Little Boy when I look into his eyes. Just a cold, dark emptiness. I don't hear Little Boy in the words that he is saying. He's saying what he thinks I want to hear... but it's not him. It's The Drug. My Little Boy's 'home' has been emptied and is now occupied by The Drug. It has kicked him out and taken over.

This unwelcome guest has held my Little Boy captive for years. The Drug has kept him in bondage. It's taken away all that he loves. It has broken him, taken away his pride and self worth. It's taken his self-respect and robbed him of his independence. The Drug has broken his relationships... it's hurt the people he loves... and those who love him.  It has kept him from an education and cost him every job he's ever had. It keeps him from those who would help him escape it's grip... and yet leads him to others who, like Little Boy, find comfort in it... and have fallen for it's deception. The Drug has taken Little Boy's future.

Now Little Boy only calls to ask for help. But... who is needing help? Little Boy? Or The Drug. It doesn't sound like Little Boy on the phone. I recognize the voice. It's The Drug... and it's just using him. It want's to live longer. It needs to live. It tells Little Boy to 'use' and manipulate everyone that loves him to keep it alive. It makes him do things that he never thought he'd do. The Drug wants Little Boy's life. And that's the worst part. Knowing that my Little Boy needs help... and yet, the very help I give will sustain the life of The Drug... or that every effort to kill The Drug, is like killing my Little Boy along with it... it's as if they are intertwined. It hurts when I help... and it hurts when I don't.

I have come to an end. I know that there is not one thing I can do. Not one thing I can say. No encouragement. No advice. Nothing. There is no action I can take. Nothing that hasn't been said or done many times before. I can't fix it. I can't save my Little Boy. I can't rescue him.


It's like watching my Little Boy 'drowning' in life. He's right before my eyes. He's sinking. He's being swallowed up. He's calling for my help from deep inside. But I can't get to him to save him... he's just beyond my reach. All I can do is stand there and watch... and shout out to him to fight. And for some reason... he's not fighting. He won't save himself. Why? Why won't he fight to live?

I miss him dearly. I miss my Little Boy. I miss his face. I miss his voice... his laugh. The jokes he tells. His personality. I miss the light in his eyes. I miss his life... the place he holds in our family. There's an emptiness where Little Boy used to be. It's been empty so long...

I see my Little Boy... so close, so capable, so deserving of the life he wants... and yet it's out of his grasp. The Drug keeps pulling him farther away. I want to help him take hold of life. But I can't. Only he can do it. Little Boy needs to run from The Drug and never look back. Yet he keeps running back for comfort. A false, deceiving comfort. It is a heart wrenching thing indeed.

Lord, please set my Little Boy free!
Mary Ann

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Affordable Fun for the Kids

With the kids home all summer, I try to find affordable activities. This is one you may already know about... but I thought is was worth sharing.

Regal Entertainment Group, offers the Free Family Film Festival. They show free G or PG movies every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10am. No... they aren't new releases. But if your kids are anything like mine... they will watch a movie several times and still enjoy it. Plus, there a few older ones that they never saw on the 'big screen'.

Also, check out AMC Entertainment. They offer movies for $1 every Tuesday morning at the AMC Summer Movie Camp. Check them out to see what's playing in your area.

And there you have my summer fun 'tip of the day'!  :)

Enjoy your summer!
Mary Ann

Friday, June 18, 2010

Another year... and counting.

Yesterday was my birthday. My 44th birthday. Wow... never thought of being in my 40's... but here I am. And I'm content. I have a wonderful life and a wonderful family that blesses me more and more every day!

It was a really great day. First, my husband took me to breakfast at Ihop. My kids all had work and camp during the day... so we got together in the afternoon. My baby girl had invited me to the YMCA. "You should come watch me swim for your birthday, Mom!" she tells me. So that's what we did. She's been so excited that she can now swim without her life jacket. It was fun to watch them. On the way home we stopped at Sonic for dinner so I could have the night off from cooking. Thanks hubby!

At home we had our traditional family party. Just us. Most of us. Cake. Ice cream. Yum! My SIL had bought me a birthday cake... how nice was that! You know, it's always better when you don't have to make it yourself. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen my name on a cake. Hmmm...

Anyway, I got some great gifts... tickets to Michael Buble, gift cards for dinner and for music, software to help me learn a career, a heart necklace from my baby girl (she's the little heart and I'm the big heart), and a movie and lunch date with my oldest daughter. Perfect for me. Just what I'll use. Just what I needed. Just what I like. Perfect.

You know... I'm thankful for being in my 40's and for what I've gone through to get here. I'm running my race. I would never want to start over. Age is not a bad thing. It's a reward. I've made it! I've been blessed to make it through things that I thought would be the end of me. Yet these are the very things that made me who I am. I wouldn't change a thing. And for that... I'm thankful. I'm happy to be here.

I love my life! I'm thankful for another year... and I can't wait to see what God has ahead for me!

Thanks for reading about my day! God bless!
Mary Ann :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The $5 Blessing

Ok. This may be small to you... but it's pretty big to me.

I was in the check-out line at Wal-Mart the other day, like many others, and I was just browsing the items sitting there vying for my attention. I ran across this little 'universal' remote for just under $5. I was just remembering that I couldn't find my bedroom remote earlier that day. Between me, my husband, and a few kids coming in and out of my room, it's pretty easy to misplace.

So, in my scheming little mind I thought I'd pick up a spare and hide it in my drawer for the next time the original turned up missing. Works perfectly! What a great idea... thank you very much! Ok... back on track. That's not the blessing part...

Here's where it blesses me so. My mother has quite a bit of hearing loss. She can't really hear much at all and what she does hear is pretty jumbled and she doesn't understand anyway. So she has to turn her tv pretty loud just to hear anything. She does have closed caption, but after a while it starts bothering her eyes.... they aren't so good either. And I think she just likes to have a little noise for comfort. Unfortunately it isn't comfortable for the rest of us.

So anyway, I used to have to sneak into her room to turn her tv down when she fell asleep. Sometimes she would fall asleep with the remote in her hands and I couldn't get to it, and other times I would sneak in and turn it down with the buttons... yes, it works without a remote... but I would often wake her up. Not that it's a horrible thing to wake her up. It's just that it makes her feel bad for having someone have to take care of her. She has enough to deal with as she has been diagnosed with memory loss. I know there's a word for it. I just hate to say it. It's hard enough to feel as if you can't fully take care of yourself anymore, so I don't want to add to it. That's where this little $5 remote becomes a blessing.

With this remote, I can turn her tv up, down, on, off... whatever I need to do from right outside her door. She doesn't even know I'm there. It brings me such peace to know that I can do this simple little thing for her - and us - and let her keep the independence she still has. No more apologizing for my having to come in and work the tv for her, or for not knowing it was to loud for everyone else when she didn't hear it. No more of her feeling bad for another thing that she forgot. No more feeling bad because she's lost her hearing. Peace for her, peace for my family again, and peace for me.

In the middle of chaos... a little peace goes a long way. And all from a $5 blessing.

God is so good!

Thanks for reading,
Mary Ann :)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Easy Freezer Alfredo Sauce

Here is another one of my favorite recipes to make ahead. I usually make a lot and freeze it in meal size portions. It's really easy for the (older) kids to warm up. And having more homemade foods on hand and ready to eat, really helps to cut back on junk foods and eating out.

This is a great stand-by for a quick dinner. It's really good with garlic powder added... a little or a lot, just add to taste. I found this recipe on the internet years ago and it has become a favorite. I can't remember where or I would give credit for it... it is good.

Freezer Alfredo Sauce

8 ounces cream cheese
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup milk
angel hair pasta
diced chicken breast
Sticky Chicken spice (see recipe)

Heat first 3 ingredients until smooth. Add milk - stir until smooth. If sauce is too thick add more milk until desired consistency.

We like to serve this over angel hair pasta. Sometimes plain and sometimes with broccoli or diced chicken or both. It is especially good if you put 'Sticky Chicken' spice on the chicken and broil it before adding to the pasta.

NOTES: This freezes very well. When reheating on stove top stir often or it will burn. You may need to add milk to thin it out a bit after being frozen. Reheating in the microwave works great also.

Pretty easy, huh? I hope you like it.

Happy Cooking!
Mary Ann  :)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Waiting for the prodigals...

Sorry for re-posting this. I posted it a about a week or so ago, and I took it down because I thought it was pretty terrible to tell people about how I really felt. I didn't want to be a bad witness. But... I don't want people to get the wrong idea about the Christian life. It isnt' perfect. We aren't perfect. And yes, sometimes we feel things or even do things that we wish we hadn't. We still have struggles. And that is exactly why we need a Savior. Not because we have it all together... but because we don't.

Luke 15:11-32 tells the story of the Prodigal Son. It is by far one of the most beloved stories in all of Scripture. Not only does it show an incredible picture of God's forgiveness... it also shows how God does not condemn or judge us when we return to Him. It is a story that tells of His amazing love for us.

Here is my prodigal story...
When I moved out at the age of 17... I took my mother with me, and she is still with me today. Wasn't my plan. But that's how it turned out. Now... Don't get me wrong. She spent many years babysitting for me. About 12 years. And believe me, that was not an easy task. As I look back now that I'm older, I see what a great sacrifice she made and how hard it was for her. But she would have never refused. Oh, how she loved me!

For the longest time, I couldn't say that. Sadly, my human side was in control for many years and I resented having to care for my mother. A horrible thing, I know. I was a spoiled, selfish, brat who only thought of herself. And at times I'm sure I thought she 'owed' me for taking care of her. But, oh.... how wrong I was. Had I been my own child I probably would have said 'No way!'

I spent many years trying to make my mother happy before I realized it would never happen, and it really wasn't my place to make her happy. (Another story, entirely!) Anyway, I think even then I was only trying to make her happy for me, not her. Does that make sense? Keeping her happy meant that I didn't have to deal with anything. But yet I did.

It's hard to admit, but I think I resented my brother and sisters as well. You see... she didn't live with them. She lived with me! I was the one who did everything for her. I was the one who drove her where she needed to go, I was the one who paid her doctor bills and took care of her. I was the one to deal with all of her moods. Me, me, me!!! (See how the selfish part kicks in?!)

I used to get so upset when she had extra time, money, or just stuff to give because the first ones she would think of were... yep... my brother and sisters. What was I? Wasn't I right in front of her? But yet she never thought of me. I felt as if she thought I didn't deserve it. I spent many years with hurt feelings. It was like nothing I did would ever be good enough. Yet my brother and sisters whom she never saw were always on her mind. And so came the many years of trying to please her.

Jump ahead a few years...

My oldest son has a hard time walking with the Lord. But it seems he has an easy time of going in the wrong direction. Over the last, maybe eight years, he has been the one who takes most of my thoughts, time, strength and energy. Well, he and my mother. But of all my children, he is the one I seem to think about, talk about and worry about the most. And it has come at a price. Ask any of my other children and I'm sure they will tell you that I spent most of my time concerned with my oldest son. I feel as if I've neglected my other children, deprived them in some way. And I have always felt guilty about that. Still do at times.

But God... (don't you just love those words?)... BUT GOD... in His wonderful mercy and grace, has brought healing in my heart. From the past and the present. The Prodigal Son is the story He used to show me. And this is how...

My mom has been to the doctors several times this month and it has caused me to really think of my life with her. I was worried she was very sick... she is quite fragile in her older age. And the thought of her preferring my siblings over me was heartbreaking. Not that I want to be preferred above them... I just want to be thought of as much as they are. I want to know that I matter to her. As I was praying for my mother before her doctor appointment, I was flooded with an overwhelming feeling of grief. What if something happens to her? Did she spend her whole life disapproving of me? How sad that at my age, I still have doubts of my mother's love for me. But God saw my heart. He heard the prayer that I could not pray. And He answered me.

All of a sudden... I knew! I knew! I finally knew why my mother's thoughts were always of my siblings. I finally knew why I spent so many years concerned with my oldest son. They were the Prodigals! And we were waiting for them to return! My mother didn't need to worry about me... I was right there in front of her. She knew I was safe. She knew I was cared for. She saw me every day and she KNEW. Just as I knew all of my other children were safe, and doing well, and making good choices. I KNEW they were ok... so I could take time to look for the one who wasn't there.

This was my heart before...

28"The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!'

Yep... that was me.

And this is what God showed me...

31" 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' "

How great is our God! There is nothing like family. I pray we all will keep looking and waiting for our prodigals to return.

Thanks for reading...
Mary Ann :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Back to the freezer... my favorite mashed potatoes.

I used to be really good at making meals ahead and just planning ahead in general. Lately, I've been quite the slacker. Partly due to unexpected circumstances and partly because I'm just plain tired. And tired of being busy. How sad to realize that I use more time when I don't keep ahead on the meal planning. It takes more out of me to cook every day and even more time to 'wonder' what I'm making for dinner.

Well, this is my attempt to get back on track. Freezer cooking and planning ahead saves me both time and money. Throw in saving my sanity... and I believe it is well worth the effort. Thanks to my niece for asking me for freezer recipes, I will begin to share my favorites along with any tips that I think may be helpful.

This recipe is adapted from The Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 Day Gourmet: A Month of Meals Made Easy. These are our family's favorite mashed potatoes. I like to make a lot and freeze them. Whenever potatoes go on sale, I buy as many as I can... or have time to make. I use Zip-lock quart size freezer bags and measure 1 lb. in each bag. (Or you can measure in cups... whatever suits your family.) Then, I can take out enough for 2 people or 10.

Make-Ahead Garlic Mashed Potatoes

5 pounds potatoes, peel and quarter
1 egg
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon salt
8 ounces cream cheese, softened

Place peeled and quartered potatoes in a sauce pan and cover completely with water. Bring to a boil then boil gently until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes well.

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, cream cheese, egg, garlic powder and salt. Mash well with an electric mixer or by hand if you don't have one. Spoon potatoes into a (Pam) spray treated or greased 3 quart casserole or a 9 x 13 pan.

Drizzle or brush melted butter over potatoes. Refrigerate for up to 2 days or label and freeze for later. Freeze in a Ziploc Bag.

To serve: thaw completely. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is golden.

Options: 1/4 cup crumbled crisp bacon may be stirred in for great flavor. Potatoes may also be topped with 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese.

If you like this recipe, you may like the others in the book The Freezer Cooking Manual from 30 Day Gourmet: A Month of Meals Made Easy by Tara Wohlenhaus and Nanci Slagle. It really is one of my favorites. It has main dishes, sides, a great marinade that I use for chicken tacos, and a lot more. What makes it nice is that it lays out all the plans for cooking ahead, as well as giving measurements for 1x, 2x, 3x's the recipe, etc. A great resource.

Thanks for reading and Happy Cooking!  :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Favorite Summer Meal... Chicken Caesar Wraps

The BlogHop question this week is "What is one of your favorite homemade dishes? Share your recipe!" This is my entry...

Summer in Las Vegas means cooking with as little heat as possible... and whenever we can, grill it outside. But we do a have a few family favorites that are quick and delicious. Well... at least we think so. Here's one that I make quite often this time of year. It's quick, easy, and pretty healthy.

Chicken Caesar Wraps

Diced cooked chicken
Romaine lettuce chopped for salad
Caesar salad dressing
Fresh, grated parmesan cheese
Croutons, smashed in a zip-lock bag
Black pepper
Flour tortillas

Basically, you assemble the chicken and salad ingredients and mix well. Toss in a burrito shell and wrap. Simple as that! You can make it even easier if you buy the ready-to-use bag salad from the store. Just add chicken.

I try to make just what my family will eat as these don't make for good leftovers. The salad dressing always leaves the salad wilted by the next morning.

My kids really like these... I hope you enjoy them too!

God bless!
Mary Ann :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Last day of school!

I'm so excited! It's finally here! THE LAST DAY OF SCHOOL! Wow... I guess you might think that I'm in school. Not so. But my kids will be out for the summer after today. Let me correct that. Two of my kids will be out for summer. One, my kinda 'middle' son, will be out forever. Yep. He's a senior.

I'm very excited for him. He's going to begin his adult life. Ok... now I want to cry. Did I mention it was bittersweet? I want to see him go off and be successful. Enjoy life. Live life to the fullest. I want him to be all that God has called him to be. And at the same time, I'm missing him. I know, he hasn't even let yet. But I miss him all the same. At least I know he'll be fine. He's a smart kid... uh, hem... man. Yes, he's a young man. He's smart, he's a hard worker, he's good to people, and he'll do great things. I have no reason to be sad, except for myself, and his younger siblings who will miss him greatly.

Yes... it's going to be a great summer. For those of us at home, and those who are going out into the world. We will each have adventures of our own.

Let's get started!

Mary Ann  :)


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