Sunday, September 1, 2013

6 Weeks of School Lunches Without Peanut Butter

My children do not have food allergies of any kind, but a lot of their friends and classmates do. Our school has combated that by banning peanut products anywhere on school property. As I learned on Facebook, this is apparently very controversial. Here's my personal opinion- I don't need a child's death on my conscience. Period. And certainly not for something as frivolous as peanut butter.
With school coming up again I'm on the search for school lunch ideas because a child can only eat so many turkey sandwiches in a week without going on a hunger strike. And who could blame them?! I found hundreds of lists of school lunches and fully half of them contain peanut butter. I found a list of 25 and each and every single one had peanut butter. These lists are not helpful for me so I decided to make my own. I don't know how many of these ideas will work for every family, or child's palate, or lunch box set-up, but these ones work for us.
A few disclaimers- I make our bread, granola (bars) and chips by hand. I know mine don't contain any peanut products or any products made in the same place as peanut containing products. I have NO IDEA if any of them in the stores do. However, I'd be more than happy to share my recipes for those things with you if you'd like. I don't make anything that takes a lot of time or skill in a kitchen. Plus, I do all of my cooking (breakfast, lunch and dinner) on the weekend and then freeze it all until later in the week, so most of these can be frozen. If they can't be, I pop them in the fridge and we eat them first. I don't know about the rest of the parents out there, who are probably better at this whole mom thing than I am, but after the kids go to bed I am OFF DUTY and expecting me to do something productive before school starts.. well, good luck with that one, buddy.
So, here we go. 6 weeks of school lunch ideas-

1. Pizza roll-ups. (My kids are bringing this on their first day)
    Put shredded cheese on a tortilla and melt it. Place your pepperoni, or child's favorite pizza toppings, on your tortilla. Roll up and set aside to cool. Cut into rounds. Simple enough, right?

2. BLTs
    Does this need instructions? Make a sandwich with bacon, tomato and lettuce. Or skip one of those and add cheese instead.

3. Other sandwiches.
    Turkey, ham, cheese, hummus and tomatoes...

4. Hummus with veggies and/or crackers.
    Hummus is super easy to make! Drain a can of chickpeas into a bowl. You're going to use the liquid in a minute. Put chickpeas in a blender. Add 1 clove garlic (smashed, diced, whatever you like), 2 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp salt and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Blend until smooth while adding liquid a little at a time until you reach your desired consistency. I usually have a little left over, but you might not. It all works. Once you get that down, you can add things your child likes- tomatoes, more garlic, spinach, pretty much anything will work.

5. Fruit with dip.
    I have two fruit dip recipes that are both really easy.
    Dip A- 1 cup vanilla yogurt, 1 Tbsp honey, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp lemon zest. Put that all in a bowl and stir.
    Dip B- 4 oz cream cheese, 1/2 cup sour cream, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/3- 1/2 cup sugar to taste
    Bonus- Dip B with some grapes stirred into it makes an awesome fruit salad. I think my kids could live on it happily for the rest of their lives.

6. Remember that pickle tray at every family party ever? Olives, pickles and cheese? Well, those fit in a tupperware...

7. Red Ants on a Birch Log. Just like the ants on a log with peanut butter and raisins, but with cream cheese and dried cranberries instead.

8. Bagels. Spread them with cream cheese or make a sandwich with them. Sometimes just a different type of bread will update a sandwich enough that my kids will eat it and not complain.

9. English muffin sandwiches. My kids like them toasted first, but whatever works for you is great. Here again. Same sandwich with a different bread will often trick my kids into eating it again.

10. Muffins. Blueberry, cranberry, use oatmeal instead of flour.. whatever works for you. Seriously, do a google search of 'muffin recipes' and you can read new ones for days. The possibilities are endless!

11. Turkey cheese roll ups. Ham and cheese roll ups. Tortillas, meat and cheese.. rolled up. You can probably figure it out, huh?

12. English muffin pizzas. English muffins, sauce, pizza toppings, bake until cheese is melted. Done.

13. Corn dog muffins. Use a package of corn muffin mix or your own recipe, fill muffin tins, add pieces of cut up hot dogs and bake for the instructions your mix/recipe call for. Voila!

14. Pasta salads. Veggies, pasta, meats, Italian dressing based, mayo based.. Here again, endless possibilities!

15. Potato salads. Same deal as above. Google searches are amazingly empowering things, my friends.

16. Lettuce salads. If you're packing one, put the dressing on the bottom and the lettuce and toppings over top. When it's time to eat, just shake it up. This helps keep the lettuce from getting all wilted and gross.

17. Yogurt parfaits. My kids like theirs with fruit.

18. Chicken wings. Easily done in a crockpot and refrigerated or frozen until you're ready to eat them.

19. Veggies with ranch.

20. Tuna salad. Either in sandwich form or with crackers.

21. Chicken salad, however you want to serve it.

22. Deviled eggs. I found out that those flat lunchmeat containers fit deviled eggs in perfectly and they won't move around or tip over.

23. Tortilla chips with salsa and/or guacamole and/or 7 layer salad.

24. Kebobs. Various fruit OR meat and cheese. If you don't want to send your kids to school with a sharp skewer, a thin popsicle stick would also work.

25. Pigs in a blanket. Hot dogs or smokylinks wrapped in crescent rolls or bread dough and baked.

26. Stuffed tomatoes. I like cherry tomatoes and I use a melon baller to scoop them out. Our favorite filling is bacon and cream cheese, but you can do whatever works best for your kiddo. If you're using the bacon and cream cheese, remember to mix those two things together the day before you're going to eat them, or if you're going to wait at least a day to eat the tomatoes you'll be ok. The bacon just needs about 24 hours to soften up so it doesn't slice up your mouth when you're chewing.

27. Crackers and cheese plate. Healthier and more filling than the ones you can find in stores.

28. (from a Facebook follower) Leftovers in a thermos- chili, mac and cheese, soup, pasta..

29.  Fruit quesadillas. 1/2 cup chopped, dried apricots, 1 tsp grated orange peel, 6 Tbsp orange juice, 2 cups ricotta cheese, 6 Tbsp honey (or more if you're a fan), 1 tsp coriander, 12 tortillas, 3 cups pineapple chunks, drained well... In a bowl, combine apricots, orange peel and orange juice. Set aside for 10 minutes. In a blender combine apricot mixture, ricotta, honey and coriander. Blend until it's all smooth. Spread 6 tortillas with your mixture and top with pineapple. Then, top with another tortilla. Bake at 450* for 7-9 minutes. I'm thinking there's pretty much no reason you couldn't use one tortilla and just fold it in half so it fits in a lunch box a little better. I'll be testing that soon.

30. Taco salad.

If you just can't live without a classic pb&j, maybe some sunflower butter, or other substitute, would work. However, for me, I'm thinking this list will get me started and more things will come to me in time. Or after 6 weeks, we'll just repeat this list. At this point I'm good with either way. I hope you found a few things that'll work for you. If not, you can just toss this aside with all the lists I found.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Don't Tell The Neighbors

I think every family has secrets, ours is no exception. However, sometimes those secrets get a little out of control and can bring you to a breaking point. I'm there. If I'm honest with myself, I broke a long time ago. In an attempt to make sense of what's going on I'm going to write it out. Please don't expect this to make sense or be clear or in any kind of order.
Our family has been hit pretty hard with a few things lately, and by family I mean mostly my son and I, but we thoughtfully share our crazy with everyone.
We're not sure where it comes from and we're not sure what to do about it because everything we thought would fix it didn't and now we're kinda floundering around, lost. My son is not an easy child, that much everyone knows, but what we don't tell the neighbors is how bad it really is. My son lives in a constant state of unprovoked, uncontrollable rage. He is violent, all day every day. He attacks every member of our family, two and four legged. Some of these attacks have left the victim needing medical attention. I live in fear. I'm deathly afraid of a six year old. I have been afraid of him for months now. I cry and shake when I know he's coming home from school. I spend my weekends walking on egg shells. I can't sleep because I'm afraid he's going to attack someone in the middle of the night. I have all of our knives out of reach and anything else that could be used as a weapon. He is unstable, he is dangerous, he is not "normal" and we can't fix it. We have come to the realization that we're going to have to drug the child. This is not something we take lightly. Both of us stand steadfast against turning children into zombies. However, I don't know what else to do. We've done the classes, he's in therapy, we've tried all the books, the programs, the punishments.. nothing helps. We've been doing all of this for three years and it just keeps getting worse. It just pisses him off. They say it gets worse before it gets better, they say it in all the programs, but he's gonna kill one of us someday and I can't sit back and wait for it to happen. I have waited long enough and I feel like I'm playing Russian roulette. Who's it gonna be? Four year old Pita? The dog? Maybe it'll be me. Who knows.
This is of course very stressful for all of us, but for some reason I've internalized it. I'm a horrible mom, I've failed my child, my child has no future because I can't help him, I'm drugging him for god's sake! I can't do this job, I shouldn't have signed up for it, he'd be better off without me. Someone else could do this, someone else would've stopped this before it got this bad, someone else would know what to do, someone else wouldn't be shaking and crying every day, someone else wouldn't be having panic attacks multiple times a week. Someone else, but not me. I'm a mess. I'm fucking insane. I can't do anything right. I'm weak, I'm stupid, I have no idea what the hell I'm doing over here. But please don't tell the neighbors. The neighbors think I'm Mary Sunshine with the clean house, the smart kids, the homeschooling, knitting, baking, amazing, selfless mom. They can't know what happens here. They can't know what goes on inside this house, inside of my head. If they knew they'd be horrified and the only thing I'm clinging to are those moments when I can stand on the porch and pretend to be normal. I can pretend to be happy and I can pretend to be a good mom. Maybe if I pretend long enough or hard enough, maybe it can be true for just a few minutes. Just a couple moments of good in the middle of hell. Something, anything good even if it's fleeting. Even if it's fake, it's better than not having it at all.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

My Job as Mom

Last month we let our seven year old daughter get her hair chemically straightened. As you can imagine this caused some serious debate, and even name calling, among our family and friends. I didn't choose to address it right away because I was far too stung by the actions and words of people who love us, but now that I'm calmed down I'd like to take a second to express how and why this happened.
My daughter had some serious curly hair. Picture Shirley Temple without the personal hairdresser. It caused her to scream in pain every morning when we brushed it. It frizzed straight out from her head and defied every shampoo, conditioner, leave in conditioner, anti-frizz oil, detangler spray and curl gel that man has made. She spent every second she could with a blanket tied tightly around her head, ashamed. She hated herself. I saw her in the mirror, more than once, poke at her hair, pull on it, and then tear up. Everywhere we went strangers would compliment her hair. At the mention of her curls, her head would drop and she'd go silent. All smiles were gone, all rays of sunshiny happiness disappeared.
She had been asking me for well over a year if I would straighten her hair. We started using a flat iron and doing it on the weekends, but I told her that without a doubt she would never have chemicals dumped on her head when she was still so little. Then one day, it happened. She came to me and said, "Momma, why do my brother and sister get to pick their own haircut and do whatever they want to their hair and I don't? That's not fair." Well, what could I say to that? I tried explaining chemicals, toxicity and brain function. I even went so far as to tell her that when you put chemicals on your head it burns and stings and hurts you. But in the end she knew that that wasn't an answer to her question. I discussed it with my husband and I told him how I felt about the dangers of dousing her virgin scalp in dangerous chemicals and do you know what he did? He put his arm around me and said, "I agree. It's far better to dump five chemicals on it every morning instead." Well, what the hell, man? Now I was stuck and I was quite obviously the odd man out in this situation.
I still didn't cave right away. I am nothing if not stubborn, especially when I think I'm right. I'll stand up against everyone I've ever met and never back down if I'm sure of myself. So I said no and that was that.
The next few months I started looking at my parenting. I think I'm doing a stellar job of it, by the way, but here's the thing. In my regular day to day parenting, I don't tell my kids what to do. I know, right! You're thinking that I must, that's my job. You're wrong. I don't feel that is my job at all. I feel that I am most effective at my job when I view it as a partnership- like helping with homework. I don't sit there and tell them the answer. I ask questions. I guide and lead, but I never tell the answer or the equation needed to find it. I make them remember that on their own and then I become a reassuring presence. "I have to take 5 away from 7 right? Cause there was 7 and then they gave 5 away?".. "Yes, honey, I think that's right." Or, "Why is your sister crying? Did something hurt her?.. How did that happen?.. Do we want to hurt each other?.. What could we change next time? What should we do now?" I am not where my kids go to find answers, I am where they come to double check the answers they already have. They seek confirmation, they seek acceptance of their decisions, but they never seek answers. And quite frankly, that's how I want it. I am here behind them as a support, but they walk on their own, and someday I'll be gone and they'll fly solo without my support, without my reassuring smile.
So, why then, was this whole hair situation so different??
I still don't know, but I knew there was only one thing to do. I had to help her find information. I asked her what she thought about it, if she had any concerns or questions and what information she already had. The only information she already had was that it used dangerous chemicals and would make her hair straight. That is certainly not enough knowledge to make an informed decision and I had to fix that. We headed to the salon for a consultation and sat down with the hairdresser and my daughter asked a million questions. On the way home I asked her what she thought and she said that, although it had been interesting, she wanted to mull it over for a little while before she finalized anything. I thought to myself, 'Way to go, kiddo!!' and I still foolishly thought that she'd see how very right I was and make the decision that I deemed to be correct. I was wrong.
Two weeks later she came to me and said that she still wanted it done. I couldn't back out now. Not without being a liar, not without showing my child that I didn't believe in her ability to know what was best for her and I do trust her, she does make good decisions and so I made the call and scheduled her appointment and off I went, debit card in hand, to smile through my disdain.
It's been a month and I have no doubt that I was wrong. My daughter is a beam of sunshine again. A giggly, happy, carefree little girl. She doesn't hide under blankets, she doesn't tear up in the mirror and she doesn't miss the compliments. What I failed to realize is that she wasn't doing this out of a thought that she had to be something else, she was doing this only for herself. If it had been for everyone else, she would've kept the curls that strangers coveted.
My children fly higher when I don't hover over them, hogging their air space. They're happiest when they do things for themselves, just like they were when they were toddlers and I let them get the juice out of the refrigerator. My outlook on parenting may not be yours, it might not even work in your house, but it's the only thing that works in mine and that's ok. And yours is ok, even if it isn't mine. There's no need to be displeased, no need to call names, only a need to love and support each other. I'm ok, you're ok, our kids are ok and everything's gonna turn out for the best in the end, even if we don't take the same paths to get there.
So, if you see one of your friends doing something with their kids that you don't agree with this week- step back, take a deep breath, and just love them through it. If you are right, there will be plenty of time for I-told-you-so when they fall and come to you. Alienate them now and you won't be their first call in times of need, robbing yourself of that ego boost you apparently so desperately need.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January 2013, My Month of Begging

Oh, friends. I didn't share any of this, but now that it's over and I am so grateful I am moved to tears, I think it's time.
I'm not sure why I didn't say anything at first. Shame? Fear? We'll never know. Much like a lot of other things I do on a daily basis, my motive will remain a mystery.
First, we're gonna start with the part you DO know about. My hubby, The Makeshift Dad (MD), had a truly horrible job that took him away from us for months at a time with no warning and around Christmas he decided to switch jobs so he could be home more often. That part has gone exactly as planned. He's working and he's home and it's all perfectly boring, which is exactly what we were hoping for. Well, ya know how when you start a new job you have to wait awhile for your checks to kick in? We all know that happens, so our family had planned accordingly and paid all of our bills with his last check from The Job From HELL. Then, with my check, we were going to cover rent and groceries. Things would be tight for a few weeks, but we had it all planned out and we were gonna be fine. F.I.N.E.

You know what they say about the best laid plans...

So then came the big surprise- My check never showed up!! It is two weeks late. It sent our entire household into a panic for awhile. We were running out of food, rent wasn't paid; it was a catastrophic mess. We had to go to the food pantry last weekend and have someone else provide for our kids. A few words come to mind regarding that- humiliating, humbling and grateful to name a few. We'd been keeping our apartment complex in the loop about what was going on and they were playing nicely with us, but they can only wait for so long before their boss gets a little angry about why we aren't paying rent and why they aren't evicting us. We were given until 8 am tomorrow to come up with money OR to have something in writing from the people who sign my check about where it is, whether it's going to be reissued, just what is the plan exactly.
I had been calling my paycheck signers for a week and nobody ever answered. I wasn't even allowed to leave a message because every voicemail in the entire building was full. I had emailed them a few times, no response. Things were not looking good. For over a week now we'd been tucking the kids in at night and then sitting on the couch and sobbing. And packing. And trying to find somewhere to store our stuff, someone to watch our dog, trying to figure out what kind of crackers we were gonna have for breakfast. We had contacted the homeless shelter, certain that we'd be there this upcoming weekend.
*Side note- At our shelter, if you're legally married and you have kids, you don't have to sleep in the huge room of bunk beds, they let you have a little "apartment", which pretty much looked like a hotel room with an efficiency kitchen. Still, I was trying to be happy that I wouldn't have to have my kids in the big, scary room.

Well, today I finally got ahold of someone in my office. Turns out that the computer systems were switched over Jan. 1st to get ready for the new tax changes in 2013. (On paper, I don't work for the same place anymore, although nothing changes about what I do or who I answer to. Unfortunately, they forgot to inform any of us that this change would be taking place.) When they switched programs someone royally screwed up and nobody's contact information transferred with their name. Therefore, they had an office full of checks and nowhere to send them. I couldn't leave messages or talk to anyone because they were so unbelievably busy trying to catch up with the ensuing madness. They faxed our apartment complex telling them what was going on so we don't get sent to the attorney's office tomorrow morning and they're sending out my check and I should have it in 7-10 days. I thought that was where my good news was going to end, but NO. A little while after I got off the phone with the office, one of the churches we had been to for food called us. It seems that the deacons had a meeting and were so touched by our story that they've adopted our family this month and they will be paying our rent. They also offered to take care of any bills we had, but we didn't need them for that, and they are providing us with more food this weekend. There were tears again at my house this afternoon. Tears of happiness, gratitude, surprise. Tears that come when strangers step in and literally save your life.
I have been rescued and the kindness of strangers has really touched my heart. I know we do a lot of talking on the Facebook page about kindness and being positive, but I have to confess that although my kindness did not slack, my positivity was next to nil.
When 2013 started, MD and I decided that this was going to be our year of giving. We had noticed that our children were becoming very entitled, and dare I say it, downright bratty. We really wanted them to see how lucky we were to have what we have and how rare it is to be as fortunate as we are. How insanely blessed we are to be able to have a mom who can be home all the time, more clothes per person than will fit in a dresser and a closet and food to eat on a whim, even when we're just bored and not hungry at all. We all wanted to have humble hearts. Boy, are we ever humbled now! Funny how things work like that. In the end, we got exactly what we wanted, just not in the way we had envisioned. Which is ok, I think. Next time though, I'm gonna be a little more precise in my requests.