Author Archives: Jeni

It’s a Salsa Party!

It is possible that there are better things in life than fresh, homemade salsa.  Possible, but unlikely.

You might think that Southern California is the land of beaches and movie stars, but really, it is the land of burritos and salsa bars.  It is all about the salsa around here.  I’ve had some amazing salsa at some amazing places, but none compare to my dad’s grilled salsa…  None.  I think he got the recipe from a friend way back, and ever since he has perfected the wonderful tomato-ey, spicy, warm, tangy, cilantro-ey flavor that makes the perfect, perfect salsa.

I am a gardener, and I have a friend, Bruce, who is a KILLER gardener who grows a bazillion pounds of tomatoes every summer (I grow a moderate amount).  So when the tomatoes are ripe, we all get together with my parents and have an annual salsa making party.  Well, this was the second annual, but who’s counting?

It is a super fun time, with lots of margaritas and mariachi music (essential, but unlisted ingredients in any serious salsa recipe).

Here are a few pics, and of course, the recipe.

Most of our tomatoes were home grown.  The tomatoes were Early Girl, and Magnum tomatoes.  We used jalapeño, habañero, serrano, poblaño, and anaheim chiles.

This is my dad- Gary of Gary’s Grilled Salsa- I think he’s squeezing a lime here.

Here I am, hard at work.

Our assembly for the salsa- small batch by small batch my dad added ingredients in the blender, and combined it all- in the (well scrubbed) outdoor sink!

We had I think 80-90 pounds of tomatoes! The gas grill was joined by the old Weber.

The finished product. Now that’s spicy.

Gary’s Grilled Salsa

30 lbs of tomatoes for 8 to 10 quarts of salsa.

12 habañero peppers
12 jalapeños
16 mild relleno peppers (about 2 per quart)
10 – 12 tomatillos
2-4 bunches of cilantro
3 yellow or white onions (raw)
20 good size garlic cloves – raw (about 2 to 3 per quart)
10 limes
Lots of kosher salt
Roast or grill the tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers until they’re really cooked and the skin is black… but don’t let the peppers burn up.
Make it as you go, filling each blender full like a  batch of salsa.  Add grilled tomatoes, peppers, raw cilantro, onions, garlic and squeeze 2 lime halves in each blender full.  Salt each batch to taste while it’s blending.  Pour all the batches together into one large bowl, and stir it all together and taste for seasoning.
Depending upon how spicy you want it you can use more or less havañero peppers and jalapeño peppers.
This recipe is a guideline- and is a flexible, but great start to making grilled salsa.

Enjoy!
-Jeni
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Thoughts on helping your kids to love reading

Reading in the Car

I have kids who are passionate about reading.  I get asked about it all of the time, and would like to share what I did to get my kids started on the path toward loving to read. It is not so complicated.  It starts with sitting down and reading a book.

Books have a lot of competition, how do we help our kids fall in love with them?

It is difficult to make reading to your kids a priority, yet nothing can replace reading aloud to your child.  Not reading computer games, not reading Leap Pads, not educational TV shows.  It comes down to making reading to your child special, something you can both look forward to, and choosing great books.

Make reading to your kids a part of your daily routine.  Bedtime is an obvious time to read to your child.  It helps soothe them, and can be very relaxing for them.  It also helps establish a bedtime routine.  It is great for kids to have their dads read aloud as well, so this is something he can do.  As they get older- say 4 years old, you can move towards more advanced chapter books, such as Charlotte’s Web or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  My husband often has the kids summarize what they read the night before, which they love.  You can and should continue to do this, even after they are reading to themselves.  My kids are 8, 10, and 12, and Brett still reads to them at least a few times a week.  They are currently going through the Fablehaven series.

Reading to Jonah and Baby Abbey

I found that I was often too tired to read to the kids at that time of day, so when I had preschoolers I would read to them after breakfast.  I started really young, at around 18 months, and expected them to stay focused all the way through a book.  Young kids tend to want to turn the pages really fast, but make them wait until you are done reading all of the words, and then let them have the job of turning the page.  Don’t just summarize.  Read every word, the same way every time.  This helps build their vocabulary, and they start to learn the words themselves.

Make your reading time fun and special  My youngest loved to play with her books.  One time I found her putting her books around the edge of the coffee table, and we started calling it her “circle of books”.  She loved to make her “circle of books” every morning, and then we would light a candle, put on some soothing music, and read as much of the circle as we could.  It was a very special time we had together when her older siblings were at school.

Elie and her Circle of Books

Kids love repetition, and getting to know their books very well.  You will find that they want to read the same books dozens and dozens of times. They will often memorize their favorites.  As they get older, let them “help” you read.  I would often read most of a phrase, and let them fill in the blanks.  They almost always knew the words I left out.   As they get older, you can have them “read” every other word.  It is amazing how well they know the books.  This gives them a lot of confidence towards reading for themselves, especially when you get very excited about what “good readers they are”.  Another game you can play while reading is changing certain words or names in their favorite books, making them crazy and outrageous.

Read with animation.  Kids really love it when you read with a lot of inflection.  If you want to go there, you can add silly voices for different characters- but be prepared for them to ask for it every time.  Sometimes, when you are tired, you will find that you have read an entire page and don’t remember reading it!  I almost fell asleep many times while reading aloud.  I don’t think the kids even noticed.  Stay engaged with what you read as much as you can.

Every child is different, but find ways to make reading aloud relaxing, cuddly, and fun.  Your kids will start to really love that time with you and associate reading with positive, cozy feelings.

Brett reading to the kids

As a parent, you have control over what your child is doing for entertainment.  Put books everywhere that your child has access to them.  Turn off the DVD in the car.  Take books with you when you go out rather than Nintendo DS.  Try books on CD for the car.  You can find these at the public library.  Put books in the bathroom.  By the bed.  Give them every opportunity to become exposed to books.

Abbey reading to her sister

A lot of frustrated parents tell me that their kids don’t like to read.  It is kind of like a magic switch- sparking that love of reading.  It can take a while, but I believe with encouragement, every child can find it.  As a parent, it is your job to do your research.  Find out about great, recommended books for their age.  Get involved.  Ask them what books they have liked.  Look for books that are similar.  Ask your school librarian for ideas.  If they haven’t liked much of what they have tried, try different genres.  A lot of kids love mysteries.  Boys tend to like fantasy.  Try a non-fiction book.  Try something funny.  Comics like Calvin & Hobbes are great for getting into reading.  A lot of kids love the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Some kids love Greek Mythology.  Talk to other parents about what their kids have liked.  Take your kids to the public library and spend time there just looking at books.  There are often wonderful, knowledgeable children’s librarians who will have great ideas for new series to try.  We utilize that resource often.

The kids at the Getty museum gift shop- of course, reading

Read a chapter book with them.  This can help with the intimidation factor.  Have them read a chapter, and then you read it after they go to bed.  The next day discuss it with them.  Kids love when you engage with them and show interest in them.  This is as important, or more important, than attending their sport games.  You can also try reading aloud every other chapter with them to encourage reading to themselves.  A friend of mine tried that recently and it helped get her daughter over the hump.

Turn off the TV, and read yourself.  Kids learn from example.

Last, but not least, here is the biggest one, and I cannot emphasize this enough:  limit video game and TV time.  Make video games and TV something they earn.  I have my kids clean their rooms, do homework, reading, exercise, and piano, before they can even think about video games and TV or any handheld electronic device.  However, reading has always been free.  For boys, video games are probably the number one thing that draws them away from books.  It is more immediate, and exciting, and also addictive.  If used as a motivator, then there isn’t as much frustration on your part, if they have done the things you want them to do first.

Jonah reading with some old friends

Happy, happy, reading is what I wish for your kids!

-Jeni

Here is a short list of some of our book favorites:

Board books:

Sandra Boyton books
Good Night Gorilla- Peggy Rathmann
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, The Very Hungry Caterpillar- Eric Carle
Good Night, Little Bear-Richard Scarry
Good Night Moon- Margaret Wise Brown

Picture Books:

Corduroy- Don Freeman
Blueberries for Sal- Robert McCloskey
Ferdinand the Bull- Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
Eloise Wilkin Stories
The Best Mistake Ever, Bedtime Stories, Please and Thank You Book- Richard Scarry
Beatrix Potter, The Complete Tales
Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin- Paul O. Zelinsky (beautiful illustrations)
The Best Nest- P.D. Eastman

Early Chapter Books (great for traveling):

Little Bear (series)- Elsa Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak
Frog and Toad (series)- Arnold Lobel

Favorite chapter books and book series:

Fablehaven Series- Brandon Mull

D’aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths-  Ingri d’Aulaire

The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales- Brothers Grimm

Warriors Series- Erin Hunter

The Complete Chronicle’s of Narnia- C.S. Lewis

The Complete Little House Set- Laura Ingalls Wilder

Hans Christian Andersen Complete Set- Hans Christian Andersen

Anne of Green Gables Series-  L.M. Montgomery

Harry Potter Complete Set- J.K. Rowling

Betsy-Tacy Series- Maud Hart Lovelace

The Secret Garden- Frances Hodgson Burnett

Percy Jackson Series- Rick Riordon

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New Favorite Ventura Shop: Superbuzzy

Sometimes I get in a crafty mood.  It comes and goes- but I need a reason, and an inspiration.  Well, in our little town of Ventura, we have a new resource for fabric crafty greatness.  It is called Superbuzzy.  It is a new storefront for the popular online store that features Japanese fabrics and notions.

Last week I visited for the first time and discovered that it is filled with beautiful, inspiring fabrics, awesome Bento boxes, Japanese erasers, notions, and great patterns.

Here is the result of that visit: an Amy Butler Cosmo Bag that I made for my sister.

Can’t wait to make another visit to Superbuzzy.

-Jeni

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Happy Birthday Krista

It is difficult to define or describe my friendship with Krista.  Anne Shirley and Diana Barry of ‘Anne of Green Gables’ come to mind.  Quick and immediate bosom friends.  Well, maybe kindred spirits is a better term…  Krista and I met the first day of college freshman orientation.  She was shy and reserved (hard to imagine now), and I was also shy, but with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder.  Somehow we found each other.  It took us about a day to become joined at the hip, and that was it.  The times we had together during those years were epic- the stories I could tell are endless (Running with Sticks, Lip-synching the Carpenters,  Crazy Roommates from Hell…), but that is for another blog post.  Krista and I went from section mates, to suite mates, to roommates to cottage mates, to bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, and now to writing this blog together.  I always say that the one person I am most happy to be able to connect with via social media is Krista.  By joining this Mostly Mommyhood adventure, I have been able to “virtually” hang out all of the time with her- and that makes me happy.

Today is Krista’s birthday, and I wanted to take a moment to say something about her, to her, on our blog.

Krista, I admire you more than you know.  I have seen you grow from a young girl who barely knew herself, to an amazing, confident, gracious woman.  You have been a loyal friend to me, even though I know I am not the easiest friend, and for that I am very thankful.  You have encouraged me through many times of anxiety and worry, and have shown me what it means to be diplomatic, yet truthful (it can be done!).  One of the things I love most about you is how you view life as being full of possibilities.  You are constantly looking at what you can bring to make things better, brighter, more beautiful, and more interesting. Guess what?  You do all of those things.  Don’t ever change that.

Lots of love always, my friend,

Jeni

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Oh, How I Love Penzeys Spices

Ah Penzeys, you had me at the Maharajah Curry.  It came to me in a little brown gift box, surrounded by fragrant bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and whole nutmeg, nestled between the Tandoori Seasoning, Rogan Josh, and Garam Masala.  All it took was opening that first jar, taking in the lovely golden color and the spicy sweet aroma and I KNEW- this was something special.

“Wait until you try the cinnamon,” my sister-in-law told me.  “There will be no turning back.”  She was right.

Penzeys Spices is this lovely little catalog business that has transformed my cooking world.  After that first box set of curry, I have been addicted.

The catalog alone is pure culinary wonder.  Before I placed my first order I spent days poring over the descriptions of the herbs, salts, spices, mixes- their origins, the ways in which they can be used- it was fascinating.  How to choose?  Seriously, they are all so good, I don’t have room in my spice cupboard.

Here is a list of my favorite Penzeys Spices and mixes in no particular order.  I encourage everyone to try them-  they are fantastic.

1.  Yes, the Cinnamon is amazing.  Penzeys has about 4 different varieties (they devote an entire page in their catalog to them), and they all seem perfectly wonderful.  I stick with the Penzeys Cinnamon variety, which is, as they describe it, “Hand-mixed from:  China cinnamon, Vietnamese cinnamon, Korintje cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon.”  How cool is that?

2.  Another essential is their Cumin.  As I learned from the catalog, cumin is the world’s second most popular spice, after black pepper.  Who knew?  Penzeys cumin is fresh and much better than you can get in those little bags in the Mexican section at the grocery store.

3.  Family favorite:  Fox Point Seasoning.  It is a little pricey, but oh my goodness.  It is so yummy- it has this lovely mix of shallots, garlic, onion, salt and parsley that will transform your garlic bread into something unbelievable.  They describe it as being “good on all the foods we are supposed to be eating more of, from fish to vegetables.”  It kind of makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

4.  New favorite salt free mix:  Mural of Flavor.  Penzey’s has a lot of great salt free mixes, and they all have great flavor.  We love this mix on popcorn.  It is tangy and peppery and delicious.

5.  Favorite salad dressing mix:  Buttermilk Ranch.  Alright, I don’t know if I am alone here, but I have issues with store bought ranch dressings.  Most of them have super scary ingredient lists, and I don’t like the creepy creamy texture.  I am not really a vinaigrette person- so this is a perfect option. This is a flexible seasoning works well with Greek yogurt or regular mayonnaise, so it is easy to control your ingredients.  All of their salad dressing mixes are great- but I love this one.  It makes a great dip for veggies too.

6.  Chicken soup base.  I am too cheap to always go buy the boxes of chicken soup base, but I don’t like the msg stuff you find in bouillon bases.  This is a great tasting base, and it lasts a me a long time.

7.  Toasted Onions- minced and powdered.  My kids don’t love onions- so this gives me the flavor without the yucky texture (I’m not a big squishy onion lover either).  The toasted flavor is, well, super deliciously toasty.

8.  Greek Seasoning.  We love to use this on grilled everything.  Veggies, chicken, lamb.  It makes dinner a special occasion.

9.  Kosher Flake Salt.  I love this simple, flaky salt.  It has a lot of flavor, so you don’t need to use as much as regular table salt, and has a clean, pure, tangy flavor.

10.  Last but not least- their curries.  All of them are fantastic.  Especially the Maharajah Curry.  Mmm….

  Click on the photo and TRY Penzeys (or visit a storefront near you)!

As they say at Penzeys.  Love people.  Cook them tasty food.

-Jeni

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Lost Goggles = Anger Issues

I’m thinking I need to take out stock on Speedo, because in the past year I have bought over 15 pairs of goggles.  Three kids on swim team- 15 pairs of goggles.  You do the math.  Granted, 5 of those pairs were just purchased this past week IN BULK, because I was just so tired of rushed trips to Big 5 on the way to practice when the offending child realizes the goggles are missing – again.  Now I have a stash of goggle and swim cap supplies.  $13 dollars a pair of goggles.  $10 dollars per swim cap.  Pay up or do those flip turns blind.

So yes, I’m frustrated, even though I make the kids pay to replace them, I just feel hopeless that they will EVER get responsible.

We have it down at school.  I’ve made it a policy from day 1 of kindergarten to never take them the things they forget.  If they forget their homework, better to learn in 2nd grade that mom is not going to come to your rescue.  No sweatshirt- if it is cold, well, they remember the next day.  Totally works.  I’m all about tough love I guess- in the case of responsibility I want them to have it down by middle school.  No nagging, nothing.  Done.

That had all been going great… and then came swim team.  We had never really done a sport before (music people here), so the gear thing is new to us.  Do all sports require a lot of gear?  I don’t know.  With swimming there are a lot of small things to remember.  You’ve got the goggles, swimsuit, towel, cap, shampoo, conditioner, and flip-flops.  We have lost at least 2 to 3 of  all of these items- and it is killing me.  It is almost as bad as my irrational “problem” with table spills (another blog post in the making)- I know that logically, these things happen, but my emotional response is completely, outrageously, noisy and long and I definitely say things I regret.

I am wondering if I should just chill.  Lost your flip-flops?  Cool, no worries.  Goggles?  Awesome.  Swim cap?  That was a lame color anyway.  Maybe that would work.  Making them pay me back, lecturing, acting disappointed, and having major anger issues towards swimming pools just is not working.

It’s hard being a mom sometimes.

-Jeni

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Thoughts on Teaching Manners

One afternoon, years ago, we were driving in the car, and my two year old daughter was in a particularly obstinate mood and decided to throw her blankie down on the floor in a great toddler rage.  She proceeded to scream at me to pick it up and give it to her.  There was no way I was going to give in to this toddler test, so I calmly turned back to her from the passenger seat and told her that I would be glad to pick it up for her if she asked me nicely, saying something along the lines of, “You need to ask Mommy to pick up the blanket, ‘please’.”  I would like to say that she asked nicely right away, but unfortunately for all of us, this was not the case.  She screamed and cried heartily for at least five minutes for me to pick it up.  I kept turning back and saying, “Ask mommy nicely.  You need to say please.  I can’t hear your demanding voice,”  etc..  She would not be swayed and it was brutal.  Even my son was begging me to pick it up.  After what seemed like a lifetime, she finally grudgingly said, “Mommy, will you pick up the blanket for me, PLEASE.”  I handed it to her and gave her a smile.

My daughter grabbed the blanket, looked me in the eye, and promptly threw it back on the ground.  We went through it all again, the demanding, the screaming, all of it.

Teaching my children manners has been like running the world’s longest marathon.  It has been exhausting, frustrating, overwhelming- but completely worth it.

I think like all parents, I started my parenting journey without a real parenting plan.  I kind of expected it would all come to me naturally, so I just tried to go with the flow.  Suddenly (it seemed), I found myself with a tyrannical 2 year old and a baby, and my son was ruling the house.  I had read a few tips here and there in parenting magazines about letting your kids come to good manners on their own- as if they will learn from osmosis.  I specifically remember reading that parents forcing their children to say “please” and “thank you” will stifle their self-esteem and make them feel controlled.  This seemed really off to me- but it made me pause.  I didn’t want to stifle my child!  I didn’t want to make him feel ruled and controlled!

I got over it.  By the time Jonah was 2 years old, I had made a lot of mistakes and had to do a lot of back tracking.  I know tantrums are normal, I know running away in the mall is normal, and I know demanding things is normal- but it is a nightmare to live with, and my job as a parent is to teach my kids that these things are not actually OK in the long term.

So how did I start?  My husband and I looked at our son and tried to picture his teenage and young adult self, and tried to project our hopes for how he would be behaving towards authority at those ages, and went from there.  Did I want him to be allowed to talk back and sass off?  Of course not, so why should I let him at two years old?  Did I want him to complain about the food placed in front of him at dinner?  Definitely not.  Did I want him to expect things to be given to him when he demanded it without asking nicely or responding with gratitude?  No.  Did I want him to whine when he didn’t get to do what he wanted or (big one) get what he wanted at the store?  No.

Se we focused on these things, and formulated a plan.

Sassing and talking back- zero tolerance.  This was probably the biggest one for me.  If I allow my kids to disrespect me or my husband, I am showing my kids that I don’t value and respect myself.  There is no room for it, no place for it.  If they don’t like something, they can deal with it.  If the kids said no to us, we disciplined them.  Period.  From very young.  I think as parents this is really, really hard to do, because we want our kids to be able to express themselves, and it is hard to get a grasp on why it is important.  For each of our kids, they kind of had to reach a breaking point- and it was equally painful each time.  By nature, as humans we do not want to bow to authority- I think it is a survival instinct, and our sin nature.  Children definitely do not want to admit that they are not Lord Of Everything.  They believe it, and when that is tested, and really, torn down, it can be heart breaking.  For each of our kids, it took time, a lot of tears, and a lot of needed reassurance from us as their parents.  We had to explain that if they do not learn to respect and obey us, they will not know how to obey their teachers, their bosses, and “Mr. Policeman” someday.  They won’t know how to be good spouses or friends.  It starts with the first and most important authority figures in their lives- their parents.

One of the things we tried to make very clear, is that we did want to hear our kids’ opinions, just not at the moment of obedience.  Obey first, ask questions later.  For example, if I ask one kid to pick up the living room, even if it wasn’t all their toys, I want them to do it, when I ask them.  They can explain later that it isn’t all theirs- that’s fine.  Do it first, then we can talk about it.  Sometimes we would even practice- kind of gave them a chance for a “do-over”.  It really helps kids to practice how to do it the right way, not in the heat of the moment.  Another thing that has really helped us in this area is my husband and I always try to back each other.  If one of the kids is disrespectful to our spouse- we don’t stand for it.  I think it shows an important respect for each other that the kids need to see- and reinforces the importance of it.

Food complaining.  Big pet peeve.  Table manners are a huge thing, and have taken FOREVER for us to get together.  What did we do to alleviate gripes and complaining about food?  Pretty simple.  You complain, you don’t eat.  We warned them, explained that it is rude to complain about food that is prepared for you, and told them if they say rude things, or make nasty faces, their plate gets taken away, and they don’t eat.  It works- I promise.  Don’t bend or give snacks later, no matter how much they cry.  They will survive.  We also explained some kind things you can say if you don’t like everything on your plate- such as, thanking the person for the things you did like, and then politely mentioning that maybe this wasn’t your favorite thing ever.  It is cute to hear your kids try to explain nicely that they really didn’t like the split pea soup, but they liked the bread a lot (they still mention that soup).  Time at the table is a really great time to work on manners in general.

Please and thank you- simple, basic, gratitude.  I would like to conduct a study at Costco sometime, just counting how many people actually say thank you when they take a sample from those nice people preparing the little cups of juice or lasagna.  Seriously- I never hear anybody say thank you, and it is SAD.  So yes, I make my kids say it.  I expect it, I remind them- and I also try to model it.  Every day for years when I walked the kids to school I would make a point to thank the crossing guard.  I didn’t ask the kids to do it, but now they do it without my asking.  I love it.  One of the things I have noticed about kids who say thank you, is that it shows a level of respect and confidence that really cannot be measured.  As an adult you are immediately warmed to them.  It sets them apart, and is a very important gift we can give our kids.

The other big manners issue is whining and demanding.  The simplest thing that worked for us is to tell them that we couldn’t hear their demanding or whining voice- and made them try again (and again, and again, and again).  I think this has been the hardest for me to be consistent with.  Three kids can be overwhelming, and we easily fall back into old habits in this area.  Our youngest has struggled the most with whining.  With her we wound up having to take away things when she whined.  A stuffed animal per whine is what we did (if you know her, you know how much she loves her stuffed animals).  This actually worked pretty well- but it has been a tough road.  But boy- long term, this is a big one.  As I say to my kids, NOBODY likes a whiner or a demanding person.

Teaching our kids to be respectful, well mannered human beings is one of the best gifts we can ever give them.  We are not loving them well if we are not strict with them.  Maybe that makes me old fashioned,  I don’t know.  If it does, so be it.

If looking for resources, I recommend:  Parenting with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  Hebrews 12:11

A harvest of righteousness and peace- that is what I’m after.

-Jeni

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