Friday, July 10, 2009

Frugal Friday

I don't do much grocery shopping these days and we don't have a newspaper subscription so therefore I don't have access to many coupons except those online, but I've seen some nice money saving opportunities lately that were appealing to me. I'll include the links...
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---Chic-fil-A - Annual Cow Appreciation Day TODAY - more information here
---Giant - $5 off $15 meat purchase or $2 off $5 produce - see here and here (there are also coupons for Save-a-Lot and Martin's)
---McDonalds - Mocha Mondays - details here
---Kelloggs rebate - could make money on this one - see here
---Free Lipton Tea - through this link
---"The Holiness of God" by RC Sproul - from Ligionier Ministries through this link
---Target Deals for this week (specifically Kashi Cereal, A1 sauce) - listing here
---Starbucks Ice Cream - details here

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Gorgeous Summer Day

It was a beautiful summer day yesterday. I searched the internet and found a nearby orchard and decided to go pick sour cherries. This is where I went - only about 20 minutes away from campus toward Harrisburg. Pick your own sour cherries were $.95/lb which I thought was a good price. I also bought some peas and new potatoes which I hulled and cooked for dinner, and some transparent apples for applesauce, which was good but not as good as our apple tree back home. I absolutely loved that I could get out and enjoy the summer day and some fresh produce and still be at home in the evening during "work" time.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Our New Family Friendly Activity

I had heard of geocaching but didn't know much about it. I thought it sounded like something that we could get the kids involved with but didn't know exactly what equipment was necessary. A couple weekends ago, Mike's sister and brother-in-law took us to a few spots in Dubois to try it out. You can learn more about what it is on the official website here. This past week we tried it ourselves in Hershey and then took a group of students and other houseparents a couple nights ago. I have yet to find one myself, but it is pretty neat and it is a great activity to do with the students. Here's a picture of our first solo experience and Mike holding up his first geocache (it's the thing in his right hand that's the size of a pen cap).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Our Fourth of July

We didn't have any students on Saturday evening, so we decided to go to Lititz for the Fourth of July celebration. We had a wonderful evening with Uncle Jim, Aunt Mary Ann, Kristi and Kimberly. We enjoyed some good music, food, fireworks and conversation. The park was beautiful with the candles all lit but it was too hard to get a picture to come out. It only took us about 30 minutes to get out of our parking spot...I think next time we'll park further away and walk...but, that's our fault because we were warned... video

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What To Do On a Summer Day in Hershey...

The campus is back to the regular summer schedule this week. We have 4 boys (4th graders) this week for summer camps and we have been doing some fun things with them in the evenings. We (as well as the students) get free admission to Hershey Park with our IDs so Mike and I decided to head there on our off duty time during the day to "get acquainted" with the Park. We have been there 4 times now in the last week and we have decided that it is pretty neat to be able to go over for as long or short as we want and not have to pay admission. (My philosophy is that all of the walking around is good exercise too) The first day Mike and I just walked around for a little while to check things out (I've never been to Hershey Park before), and one day we went over for a couple hours and just relaxed in the new wave pool and lazy river. On Tuesday, we enjoyed the kiddie rides with our "out-of-town guests"... I love this one. It looks like Caleb is bored but really he is taking his ride seriously and he loved every minute of it... And then, last evening we took the MHS boys since they hadn't been to the new water rides yet (Mike has a video and more pictures on his blog).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Cause for Recognition That Went By Unmentioned

I didn't get to mention this at the appropriate time because of our crazy hectic schedule, but still wanted to acknowledge my super husband for his hard work in completing his second master's degree! Although he actually finished classes in March, the formal graduation for his Master of Divity degree was June 6th which of course we could not attend because of our new job. The graduation ceremony is still available for viewing (click here) but unless you want to sit through all 2 hours of the program, you can move the video to 89:30 to hear Mike's name announced (Michael L Catanzarito, Honors, In absentia).
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I'm sorry we couldn't have been in Ashland to celebrate, Honey...I'm proud of you for all you've accomplished!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Meal Planner Monday: Macaroni and Cheese

(Sorry, no picture...we are at a student home and don't have the camara with us...)
I tested this recipe on Mike tonight and he said it tasted good, so I'm going to try it on the kids sometime. I found it several weeks ago on the Food Network website when I was looking for healthy versions of recipes that kids might like. It isn't necessarily the best ever Macaroni and Cheese recipe but it's not too bad. (Is this the first time that you've ever eaten squash, Mike?)
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I measured roughly, used the microwave and used cheeses that were already here. I think the idea to using the squash and not having the flavor come through is to use sharp cheese and the pepper and hot sauce.
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1/2 lb (2 cups) macaroni noodles
1 package frozen pureed winter squash
1 cup milk
3/4 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/4 tsp pepper
Several dashes of hot sauce
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Preheat oven to 375. Cook macaroni al dente. Meanwhile, defrost squash in a greased casserole dish in the microwave, then add remaining ingredients and cook in microwave until cheeses are melted together. Drain macaroni and mix into cheese sauce. Add bread crumb topping if you like (2 Tbsp bread crumbs, 2 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, 1 tsp olive oil). Bake for 20 minutes and then broil for 3 minutes if you used the bread crumb topping. Makes about 6-8 servings.
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The original recipe is here

Friday, June 19, 2009

Celebrations of Birth-days - Sweet Moments with Family

We are so thankful to have had a quick visit with my sister, her family, my mom and dad and our new nephew, Aaron, last week before this swine flu virus hit campus. We made a quick trip to my sister's house during our daytime off-time. We certainly enjoyed our visit and I was blessed my a homemade cookie cake, cupcakes and ice cream for my birthday made special by my mom and sister with special added touches from the kids'decorating. This was as we were leaving...they were making fun faces at us and we made them laugh with the rubber chicken in the car window (if you click on the picture you can see their faces better)... Then on their way home, mom and dad stopped in Hershey for the "grand tour" of campus - again just a short visit during our off-time.

The Other Side of Things

I never would have guessed that just a few months after leaving my job as a public health nurse who spent hours on the phone giving advice in communicable disease outbreak situations and had participated in those pandemic flu drills, that I would be so close to the novel H1N1 "swine flu" virus pandemic. The school has been dealing with an outbreak of swine flu on campus for the past week. It has been under control for a few days now, but scheduling for the summer is not to resume for another week. We have been essentially "on-call" for the last week but I will say that it has been a such a blessing that we had a couple days without kids to finally relax a little bit and sleep in this week although I still don't know if I will ever be caught up on sleep or not. We are also very thankful that this outbreak has not placed anyone in the hospital and that so far we have stayed healthy even though we have been in and out of homes where there has been illness.

The cow

We have been very busy - it is hard to do anything other than work and sleep! In fact we have been "on duty" technically 24/7 since last Sunday and will continue to be on duty until next weekend because of the swine flu outbreak, although we have been able to stay at our training apartment off and on this week. I started this post a couple weeks ago, but am finally adding the picture and posting it. It seems that each day there is something new to learn and there is the MHS jargon to learn as well. One of the things that is unique to the student homes which I thought would be fun to share is "the cow." It is the milk cooler that holds the 5 gallon bags of milk. I do remember these at college, but I've never needed to know anything about them, and of course, even though we had 5 weeks of training, knowing how to take care of the "cow" is one of the many skills that you just learn as you go on the job. Fortunately, the kids know how to do change the big milk bags (which are very heavy by the way), so we just let them "show" us how its done with a little help from us.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Update

We were off this weekend (finally!). We have one more week of training to go. Please continue to keep us in your prayers. Our lives seem to be consumed with work and (at least for me) I am feeling pretty overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted right now. This weekend is going by way to quickly. Looking ahead - our schedule is that we will have only 2 days (one weekend) off between now and the end of June. We were able to try a new church today and that was refreshing. There is not much else going on other than really looking forward to having another little niece or nephew in the next couple weeks. I wish that I had time to do more blogging (we are not allowed to use a flashdrive or upload anything onto a computer and it will be a long time before we can get internet on our own computer so we can't post pictures either)...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Internet Withdrawal & Other Changes

We moved in to our temporary residence last week. We are still trying to track down all of our mail and getting other details of relocation straightened out, but in general, things are going well. Today (our first day of training) was a very long and overwhelming day, but that was to be expected. We are both excited about all of this, but we are going to be consumed for awhile in our new job - trying to learn and take in as much as we can. We know that this is going to be a difficult challenge, but we are trusting that God has us where he wants us and that we will eventually see a harvest...There are big changes and lots of little changes...One of the "little" things is that we do not have internet access in our apartment. We may have internet access at home in a few days but until then we are still only able to access internet at the local library. We are so accustomed to sitting down at the computer several times a day to check email and search, so it is like we are in withdrawal right now without it. It also makes it very difficult to post anything especially pictures on the blog because it is a public use computer. So, that is what is going on here. I'm ready to go home and try to relax because tomorrow we are up to start shadowing at 6 am (and there is less than 10 minutes left on our account)...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Meal Planner Monday: Breakfast & Brunch - Overnight Whole-Wheat Pancakes

I recently found this recipe on the internet (here). I wanted to try them out because I thought it would be a great way to save a little time in the morning when we make a hot breakfast during the school week. Well, it did save the prep time, but I definitely need to find a more efficient way of cooking them - maybe we will shop around for a large griddle. Anyway, they turned out pretty yummy and very healthy because I also made a "Triple Berry Sauce" for them (which I totally just put together the recipe myself), which was delicious. Even Mike liked it! (Does that sound like the old Life cereal commercials...He likes it..Mikey likes it?) I think they would be perfect with a dallop of homemade, old-fashioned, real whipped cream on top (we just used Cool Whip)!
Overnight Pancakes
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup whole wheat flour (or you could substitute with all all-purpose flour)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
2 cups buttermilk (I cheated by adding 1 Tbsp white vinegar per 1 cup milk)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water; let stand for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Then beat in eggs, buttermilk, yeast mixture and oil. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
To make pancakes, pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a greased hot griddle; turn when bubbles form on top of pancakes. Cook until second side is golden brown. Makes about 20 pancakes - probably 6-8 servings.
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Triple Berry Sauce
*No Added Sugar, Fat-free, All Natural and loaded with anti-oxidants!
Puree together about 6 oz each of frozen or fresh blueberries, blackberries and strawberries until you have a thick sauce. (I think Aldi has a bag of frozen mixed berries with a similar combination (blackberries, blueberries, raspberries) - at least they used to.) You could add sugar if you prefer, but I think it is pretty good without any sugar. I did add a little bit of orange juice, but I don't think it changed the taste at all. Heat sauce on stovetop or microwave. Serve as topping to pancakes, waffles, ice cream, angel food cake, etc. Makes about 4-6 servings.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Frugal Friday: Saving on Greeting Cards

Do you think that greeting cards are over-priced? At $3-$5 each, that can really add up quickly! I started making my own greeting cards a few years ago at a fraction of the price. Mike would argue that I have not saved any money because of the all of the money that I have spent on the supplies that fill several large boxes in our spare bedroom, but I would argue that most of those supplies could be resold if I wanted to (especially the Stampin Up stamps which I would probably be able to sell on ebay for the same amount or more than what I paid for them). The internet and computer are great resources when you are making your own cards. I often go to www.splitcoaststampers.com to get ideas for my cards by looking at other people's card designs. I also just do a google search on the internet when I need some help with sentiments or poems. Mike has made cards for me, too, even though he is certainly not into crafts (He quotes Proverbs 12:2 to be funny when I want to shop at JoAnns or Pat Catans and try to get him to come in with me.) He has printed off cards for me that were made with just clipart on the computer and they are just as meaningful.
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I enjoy making my cards, but it can take a good amount of time and right now that is not practical in the middle of our move. I confess that it is becoming a trend - I have been very bad about getting cards mailed out over the last several months. So, if you are not crafty or just don't have the time to put into homemade greeting cards, there are still a few alternatives to spending $3-$5 on a single card.
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1) Right now, Hallmark is offering a free personallized greeting card and they will even mail it for you. (Go here for more details.)
2) There are occasionally other promotions where you can get cards very inexpensively or even free at stores like CVS. Watch for promotions on photo cards at these stores too.
3) Use your judgement on this one, but the receiver may appreciate a phone call for the special occasion just as well as a card.
4) Electronic e-mail cards are free and can be just as touching and personal (again, that wouldn't work for everyone).
5) Multi-packs of blank note cards (or all occasion cards) are an option for a lot less than what you would pay for single cards. Just be careful about the "All Occasion" boxes - you may end up with some useless cards that don't really fit what you are looking for and end up sitting around in the box therefore not really saving you any money.
6) Buy seasonal cards (Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, etc) after the holiday when they are discounted and save them for the following year.
7) There may be other ways to use your creativity and show thoughtfulness in place of a traditional greeting card - for example, a hand-written note or poem.
8) If you really want to spend the money on single cards at the Hallmark store, at least get a Hallmark Gold Crown card. (Hallmark stores are becoming an endangered species, though - maybe because people don't like paying the prices or prefer "one stop shopping".)
9) You may be able to find some at yard sales (ebay doesn't really work very well for this type of thing).
10) If you do have some time and enjoy crafts, another thing to try is to make some homemade stationary paper from paper scraps that you have around the house (directions here and here) and add your own sentiment (This is a great way to recycle paper and a good craft for kids to get involved with!). There may be some up-front cost involved in getting started with the paper-making kit, but after that, it could be essentially free, depending on how fancy you want to get with your paper. You would be surprised at how much scrap paper you can accumulate for this project from colored envelopes from the cards that you receive, and other things, even junk mail.
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Finally, keep in mind, it's the thought that counts and it's more likely that the person recieving the card will appreciate whatever is written in your handwriting as much or more than what is pre-printed on the card itself!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Preparing to Move

We are back from our fantastic 2-week vacation to Florida (Amelia Island/Disney World). We are now full force into packing. Our move date is April 13th, which is less than 2 weeks away! So...I may or may not have very many posts until we get settled in after the move. I'll be taking a break from the "Eating Healthy" series at least until I am confident that we are all ready for our move. Mike is continuing to blog (link at bottom of the page) and has been able to work on posting videos of our vacation, so I'll let him take over on keeping everyone updated for a little while. I'll probably have a little time to squeeze in a few short posts over the next couple weeks though, so keep checking back...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Frugal Friday: Saving on prescription eyeglasses

If you or someone in the family needs a new pair of eyeglasses & you know the prescription, I think it is definitely worth checking out this website. You can read more about Zenni Optical, including some personal experience with ordering from them here and here.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Meal Planner Monday: Green Smoothies

Since Joni posted about her smoothies last week and since St. Patrick's Day is tomorrow and everyone wants to turn something green, I thought it would be a great time to post this recipe (click here) that I found (I have not yet tried).
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Recently I participated in a contest at my chiropractor's office (a spin-off of the Biggest Loser) and I tried one of the Naked green machine juices. It was definitely different - not necessarily my favorite drink, but I felt that I was getting a huge boost of anti-oxidants in the drink. The down side to the Naked Juices is that they are kind of expensive. This recipe is probably something similar at a fraction of the cost. Move over shamrock shakes, here comes the green smoothie!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Meal Planner Monday: Mexican - Tex Mex Lasagna

I am trying to work through our cupboards to use some of the stocked-up staples and I found this recipe for Tex Mex Lasagna on the box of lasagna noodles. I thought it sounded pretty good, so I tried it and we really liked it. It's easy, low-fat/healthy and rather inexpensive because it does not take any meat. I am definitely going to save it for future use in Hershey. It would also be a good one for a potluck or if you are fixing a meal to take in to someone after having a baby, surgery, etc because you prepare it in the morning and let it set for 6 hours before you bake it...
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Tex Mex Lasagna (Prepare in the morning, and cook at night)
1 box Lasagna noodles (the recipe says 9)
3 cups chunky spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
1 can (15 1/2 oz) pinto beans, drained (I used black beans)
1 package (10 oz) frozen corn, thawed (I used canned corn, drained)
1 package chili seasoning mix
2 cups ricotta cheese or cottage cheese
1 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
In medium bowl (I used my Pampered chef batter bowl), stir together spaghetti sauce, water, beans, corn and chili seasoning. On the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish, spread 1 cup sauce mixture. Arrange lasagna noodles over sauce. Cover with 1 cup sauce. Spread 1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese on top. Arrange another layer of lasagna noodles over cheese. Repeat with 1 cup sauce, 1 cup ricotta or cottage cheese, lasasna noodles. Cover with remaining sauce. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least 6 hours. Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake covered, 45 minutes. Uncover lasagna sprinkle with Monterey Jack cheese on top and bake another 15 minutes, uncovered. Let stand 15 minutes. Serves 8.
I want to try it with more beans and additional veggies to make it even healthier.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Eating Healthy: Part 6 - Moo-ving on to the Dairy Group

The USDA's Food Pyramid (click here) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (click here) both stress the importance of consuming 3 servings (for most children and adults) from the "Milk" or "Dairy" group each day. Milk and foods from the dairy group provide Calcium and Vitamin D - two very important nutrients. Prevention magazine calls vitamin D the new supervitamin (see here) and a lot of us (especially 'round these parts) are vitamin D deficient. In a study published here on the American Heart Association website, dietary intake of dairy products reduced the risk of developing high blood pressure whereas calcium and vitamin D supplements alone did not produce the same benefit .
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However, as I was doing my research I discovered that drinking milk (especially cow's milk) in adulthood is not universal to all cultures. (see here) In fact, in many cultures including those renowned to be the healthiest in the world, (a couple are mentioned here in this article) people do not consume milk past infancy and do not consume large amounts of cow's milk as we do in the US. So, is consuming milk the best way to obtain these nutrients and prevent diseases such as osteoporosis? Does milk really "do the body good"? In "Staying Health with Nutrition" (2006) (click here) the author recommends decreasing dairy intake from what is recommended on the Food Pyramid. Even the Harvard School of Public Health (in this article) is not convinced that consuming 3 servings of milk a day is best.
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Others have agreed that dairy consumption is overemphasized in the North American diet and on the USDA Food Pyramid. Many physicians would agree that some children and adults would benefit by altering their diets to limit or exclude dairy products. There is anecdotal evidence that eliminating casein (milk protein) from the diet may significantly improve behavior in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Scientific research is looking into that link.
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Other children and adults are unable to digest and absorb lactose (milk sugar) due to deficiency of the lactase enzyme which results in gastrointestinal symptoms. According to medicinenet.com, "The most common cause of lactase deficiency is a decrease in the amount of lactase that occurs after childhood and persists into adulthood, referred to as adult-type hypolactasia. This decrease is genetically programmed, and the prevalence of this type of lactase deficiency among different ethnic groups is highly variable. Thus, among Asian populations it is almost 100%, among American Indians it is 80%, and among blacks it is 70%; however, among American Caucasians the prevalence of lactase deficiency is only 20%."
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Others believe that the amount of calcium and vitamin D that an individual requires (therefore the importance of dairy) may depend on factors such as protein intake (high protein diets require higher calcium intake) and sun exposure (which is important for the synthesis of vitamin D). See this link again for more about osteoporosis in different cultures. Maybe factors such as these would explain why people in certain cultures can be very healthy while consuming very little or no milk.
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So what can we make of all of this? I will say that personally I love milk. I would usually prefer a glass of milk over a glass of water. And without consciously planning out a diet plan, I would have no problem drinking milk and meeting the 3 servings of dairy a day (I like yogurt also). However, lately, I have been leaning toward making sure that I do not have more than 3 servings a day (preferably only 2) for a few reasons.... First off, I am not completely comfortable with the way that milk is produced. In "Staying Healthy with Nutrition" the author explains his concern that cattle are commonly injected with estrogen to speed up growth and antibiotics are also often added to their feed. We can be exposed to these drugs and hormones in this way. And, as mentioned in the link to the Harvard School of Public Health site, "Some researchers have hypothesized, however, that modern industrial milk production practices have changed milk's hormone composition in ways that could increase the risk of ovarian and other hormone-related cancers. (16) More research is needed."
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Secondly, while there appears to be some evidence that drinking milk and eating yogurt regularly can help in weight loss, milk and other dairy products do contain calories and may contain significant levels of saturated fat. This chart illustrates the difference in calories in whole milk vs. low-fat vs. skim.
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Thirdly, symptoms of mild milk intolerance may be mild and include but not limited to symptoms such as abdominal bloating, excessive intestinal gas, excessive rumbling, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal cramping. From my understanding, it appears there are degrees of lactose intolerance and even a person who has significant lactase enzyme to digest milk may have symptoms if large amounts or "too much" dairy is consumed.
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In the last couple months, I have discovered that vanilla rice milk is very delicious. Others have preference for soy milk or almond milk, but I like the taste of rice milk the best and I felt rice milk may be the best choice for me due to the "estrogen factor". Rice milk does not contain casein or lactose and is lower in phosphorus than cow's milk. (Too much or too little phosphorus may play a role in development of osteoporosis.) So, my decision to try to decrease cow's milk by alternating it with rice milk and yogurt and other vegetable sources of calcium, is really because I think researchers and medical doctors are still trying to figure all of this out. And, until then, by varying foods, I think that diversifies the nutrients that are being consumed to hopefully lessen the chances of an excess or deficiency in any one particular nutrient. And, not that I had any reason to suspect lactose intolerance, but I wanted to see if I noticed any change in mild symptoms that are often hard to pinpoint (basically just generally feeling better) when I limited my consumption of cow's milk to only 1-2 servings a day rather than what was sometimes probably more than 3 (I am not saying to just avoid dairy all together unless you have discussed this with a physician and dietician - I still usually consume 2-3 servings of dairy all together each day just not all as cow's milk). I am still trying to decide if there is any difference, but I think possibly I do feel better (maybe it is related to something else though?).
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So, in conclusion...getting nutrients such as calcium and vitamin D is very important. Three servings of milk and dairy may be the best way to get those nutrients for most people in the US - that is what the USDA Food Pyramid recommends (that is exactly 3 servings however, not a minimum recommendation like when we were talking about fruits and vegetables). Three servings of milk/dairy products may be especially important for growing children and teenagers. But, if you have any undiagnosed symptoms, high risk for osteoporosis or certain diagnosed disorders, there may be better alternatives, and you should discuss these with a physician or dietician to develop a nutritional plan. Don't try to diagnose yourself or make major dietary changes like excluding a food group without talking with a physician or dietician. Hopefully, research will continue to look at the role of milk/dairy products in the diet and we will have more answers to some of these questions in the future...

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Meal Planner Monday: Vegetables - Garlic-Roasted Asparagus

This is one of the easiest recipes ever! Lay the asparagus flat in a baking pan or baking sheet. (I cut the spears in half.) Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and minced garlic. Season with salt and pepper if you like. Bake at 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. It is so good especially right now when it's too cold to grill outside(and healthy as long as you don't go overboard on the oil). And, I learned that asparagus is "in season" right now in the grocery stores... I had it the other night with just plain chicken breast and mashed potatoes...and another night with pork pieces seasoned lightly with soy sauce over rice...and another night with tuna steak and baked sweet potato...yum!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Frugal Friday: Forever Postage

Did you know that postage was going up again? The price for 1st class mail will go up to 44 cents on May 11. Buying a few extra books of "Forever" stamps now would probably be worthwhile... I know...it's only a few cents...but, at 2 cents per stamp that is a difference of 40 cents per book of twenty stamps after May 11 - that could add up to some "dollars" over 1-2 years depending on how many stamps you normally buy throughout the year for Christmas cards and everything...and right now...that's a better investment rate of return than our 401k!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Eating Healthy - Part 5: Nutrition 101

Before we go on to the next food group, I thought it would be helpful to pull out my nutrition textbook and do an overview of some basic nutrition information so that you know exactly what I am referring to when I use words like "sugar" "carbohydrates" "fat" "vitamins" "anti-oxidants" etc. I think understanding the information will also help things make sense when I get into how to read product labels... A nutrient is a substance obtained from food and used in the body to promote growth, maintenance or repair. There are six classes of nutrients: water, carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Three of these six nutrients (carbohydrate, fat, protein) provide energy to the body through metabolism. Metabolism refers to all of the chemical reactions that are going on in the body - both the buildup and breakdown of substances. Vitamins and minerals facilitate the release of energy. Water is the medium in which all of the body's processes take place. A calorie (actually the correct term is kcalorie) is a measure of the amount of energy in a food. Carbohydrates yield 4 kcalories of energy from each gram of carbs. Protein the same - 4 kcalories per gram of protein. Fat yields 9 kcalories per gram of fat. While foods may be higher in one nutrient or another, most foods contain some amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat - the exceptions would be things like white sugar (which is pure carbohydrate) or vegetable oil (which is pure fat). I think this is important to understand so that you can see why certain popular diets are unhealthy. The body needs protein, carbohydrate AND fat in an appropriate balance in order to function properly. We'll get into more of that later... So, as an example: if 1 cup of milk contains 13 g of carbohydrates (4 x 13), 8 g of protein (4 x 8) and 2.5 g of fat (9 x 2.5), then that cup of milk would contain 106.5 calories - the Nutrition label on the gallon of milk rounds it off to 100 or 110 calories, but you can see now where these numbers are coming from. (Don't ask me how they figure out how many grams of carbohydrates are in the milk. That is all done in a chemistry lab somewhere and is way beyond the scope of this post.)
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Carbohydrates are classified as single sugars (monosaccharides), double sugars (disaccharides) and complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides). Fibers are the constituents of carbohydrates that humans cannot digest. Fibers may be soluble or insoluble in water. Fibers are not a source of energy but they benefit health in many ways, so it is important to have the recommended amount in the diet (and most of us fall short).
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Fats, also called lipids or fatty acids, are classified by chain length (having to do with the length of the molecule) and saturation (having to do with whether or not the hydrogen atoms are missing on the fatty acid chain). Lipids are classified as saturated fatty acids or unsaturated fatty acids - more specifically monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) (one hydrogen atom missing) or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) (more than one hydrogen atom missing). Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of fatty acids in which the endmost double bond is three carbons back from the end of its carbon chain. An omega-6 fatty acid is one with its endmost double bond six carbons back from the end of its carbon chain. A "trans-fat" is an unsaturated fatty acid with a rare or unatural configuration of the hydrogen atoms around a double bond, often a product of the hydrogenation process. Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen atoms to unsaturated fat to make it more solid and resistant to chemical change.
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A protein is composed of amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids and each amino acid is unique. These amino acids can bond together to form a peptide chain which folds together into a three-dimensional shape which is also called a protein molecule. You don't really need to know all of this except that some of these amino acids are marketed as supplements to those wanting to build muscle mass. You are probably also familiar with the amino acid called tryptophan - which has been blamed for the drowsiness that typically occurs after Thanksgiving turkey dinner, although it is probably not really the cause (read here).
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A free radical is a highly reactive chemical form that can cause destructive changes in nearby compounds, sometimes setting up a chain reaction. If left uncontrolled these chain reactions can damage cell structures and impair cell functions. Free radicals occur in normal metabolism but are also thought to play a role in the inflammatory process, cancer and heart disease as well as aging and other disease processes. Anti-oxidants ("against oxidation") are compounds that protect other compounds from attack by oxygen by themselves reacting with oxygen.
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Fruits and vegetables, as I stated in Part 2 and 3, are high in anti-oxidants. So, in addition to being low in calories (which will help to maintain a healthy body weight), fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and anti-oxidants (go back to this link if you are interested in the specifics), which helps to decrease inflammatory and disease processes, or in other words help to keep our bodies functioning properly so that we can be as healthy as possible and feel well. The research on anti-oxidants is that they are generally "good" but it is a very complex thing and anti-oxidants are not always beneficial - I would summarize by saying that too much of a good thing (high doses in supplements) is probably no longer a good thing. Thus, once again stressing the importance of a balanced diet. This is not surprising, since we know that we are all aging as a result of The Fall in the Garden of Eden. Our lives on this earth are limited and there is nothing, nor will there ever be anything, that can completely prevent that process.
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I know...that was a lot of biochemistry!! I essentially condensed about 5 chapters or more into this one post. But, I think you will see how understanding this makes identifying healthier food choices easier. Also, the terms "anti-oxidants," "carbs," "omega-3 fatty acids," and "trans-fats" have gotten a lot of publicity so I thought it would be helpful to explain what these terms actually mean.
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Any questions???

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meal Planner Monday: Soups - Ravioli

This is one of Mom's recipes, but, Mom, I didn't realize that you are a famous chef... I did a google search to see if I could find the recipe already typed out and a pretty picture...and, by golly, this (click here) is what I found!
Here's the recipe with just a couple of my minor adaptations and a picture...
Ingredients
8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
1 teaspoon garlic powder (I use 1 clove minced garlic)
4 cups water and 4 tablespoons dry chicken broth (granules or powder) (I use 1 carton of the all natural chicken stock which is 4 cups in place of the granules and water.)
9 ounces frozen miniature cheese ravioli
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes (My recipe says crushed?)
1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans
1/4 cup brown mustard
1/2 teaspoon oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach
Parmesan cheese, grated
Instructions
Brown the sausage. Add the garlic, and cook it for 1 minute with the sausage. Crumble the sausage, drain the grease, and set aside. Heat the water with the chicken broth granules. When it boils, add the ravioli, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until tender. In a small bowl, stir the flour into the diced tomatoes until the lumps are gone. Add the tomato mixture, beans, mustard, oregano, and pepper to the broth. Heat through until thick. Stir in the spinach, and cook just until wilted, about 1 minute. Serve immediately topped with lots of Parmesan cheese. (I kind of like it without the grated cheese to save on calories, but I know that's your favorite part.)
Yield: 8 servings
Also, I think that serving garlic bread on the side goes well.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Frugal Friday: Voice over Internet Phone Calls

Did you know that you can make unlimited free phone calls and video calls to anywhere in the world any time of day over the internet? It is very easy to set up. Our family is all set up now to call each other over the internet using Skype or Yahoo Instant Messaging. And, we can even set up conference calls.
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Mike and I have not had a land line phone in almost 5 years now - we just use our cell phones. But, the neat thing about making phone calls through the internet using Skype or Yahoo Instant Messaging is that you can set up a Webcam and see who you are talking to. (We got a great deal on webcams off woot.com this week, so that will get Joni/Ron and us set up with webcams too.) The webcams are very fun to use, especially with the kids. It is also nice when I am talking to Mom and Dad because we usually have them on speaker phone and I think the quality over the internet is better than using the cell phones.
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So, how do you get started? Signing up for an account with Skype is free if you are only using the computer-to-computer calling (go to their website here for more information and set up an account). (Or, if you prefer Yahoo - this is the website). Note that both parties will need to be using the same program. You will also need a headset/microphone or webcam - those range in price just like any computer hardware but can be as inexpensive as $7. And that's all there is to it!
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Depending on your needs, VOIP has potential to save you lots of money by virtually eliminating long distance calls on your land line or decrease the amount of minutes that you need to carry on your cell phone plan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Eating Healthy - Part 4: Sneaking in Fruits and Vegetables for Picky Eaters

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If you do a google search on this, you will find ways to "sneak" pureed fruits and vegetables into casseroles, cakes, spaghetti sauce, pizza, muffins, etc. There are cookbooks that specialize in this. Recipes include things like pureed squash or sweet potatoes mixed into macaroni and cheese. Supposedly the taste of the "favorite food" is not altered that much and the color is unchanged also. Personally, I think that sounds like a lot of pureeing in order to get the full servings of vegetables.
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While the short term goal of getting vitamins and nutrients into a picky eater may be met with this approach, it does not address the long term goal of developing lifelong healthy habits or nutritional food preferences. If you are going to try those ideas for hiding vegetables in a recipe, I would suggest having another vegetable on the plate in it's natural recognizable state. Here are some of my suggestions to encourage the development of lifelong healthy eating habits in your children (or other picky eaters in your household)...
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1.) Start with baby steps. If they only eat 3 itty bitty green beans the first attempt, well, it's better than nothing. Next time, try for 4 or 5. The worst thing you can do is force a child to eat a bowl full of vegetables, causing them to throw up and now they have developed a taste aversion to that vegetable.
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2.) Don't puree them to make them completely disappear but allow the kids to mix the vegetables into something else to make it more palatable, for example, have them take a bite of green beans with mashed potatoes. Or, make a cheesy brocolli rice side dish. (This seems to come naturally for parents, so I'm sure you've already done this.)
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3.) Add extra vegetables into casseroles, stir fry, and pizza.
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4.) Add vegetables (lettuce, tomato, onion, sprouts, cucumbers, peppers, spinach) to sandwiches...think Subway.
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5.) Homemade vegetable soups...beef vegetable...lima bean chowder...cabbage soup, etc.
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6.) Change the shape or texture to something that is appealing to kids...sweet potato french fries, for example. Or if they love mashed potatoes, try mashed cauliflower or mashed sweet potatoes. Cut watermelon into hearts or star shapes with a cookie cutter.
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7.) Make it fun and interesting...ants on a log (celery stick, peanut butter with raisins lined up on top). There are other recipes on the internet and in cookbooks for kids.
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8.) Dip it. Raw celery sticks, carrot sticks, cauliflower, brocolli, zucchini sticks, cucumers, cherry tomatoes in ranch dressing or hummus dip.
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9.) Choose recipes for pancakes, muffins and sweet breads that contain carrots, raisins, zucchini, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, bananas, applesauce, blueberries, cranberries, etc in the ingredients over plain pancakes or muffins.
10.) Make fruit smoothies.
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11.) Make fresh-squeezed juice with a juicer. You'll have lots of options and ways to combine fruits and vegetables. (I'm thinking of investing in one after we move.)
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12.) Make a fruit parfait in a parfait glass. (Yogurt, fresh fruit, granola topping)
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13.) Top pancakes, waffles, ice cream with homemade fruit syrup or just fresh fruit instead of maple syrup or hot fudge.
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14.) Try a pumpkin pie shake (recipe here).
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15.) It's not the best option, but pumpkin pies and fruit cobblers do count toward the servings of fruits and vegetables.
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16.) Serve with variety in mind. Make trying new foods a routine and start young - when you are introducing baby foods. I notice that I often get in a rut and have a preference for something unhealthy when we have a streak where we are eating unhealthy. I am guessing that a child who is used to eating hot dogs and macaroni and cheese everyday is going to be more resistant toward trying new foods (including fruits and vegetables) than another child who is used to having new foods (including fruits and vegetables) presented to them on a regular basis.
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17.) Be positive and set a good example. Praise good eating habits.
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18.) Tell them why eating fruits and vegetables is good for them (in an age-appropriate kind of way, of course). If possible, get them involved in the growing or food preparation of the fruits and vegetables. I thought this article "First-grade gardeners more likely to taste vegetables" was very interesting. Even if you don't have a garden, you could go pick strawberries or apples together.
19.) Have raw fruits and vegetables readily available for snack options.
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20.) Keep trying. Don't give up. There is evidence that it takes 10-15 times of trying a new food to develop more positive preferences toward that food.
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So, is my lack of parenting experience showing? Is it harder than I think to get a picky child to try new foods and eat fruits and vegetables? Do you have any other suggestions? I think Mike is making progress - he even asked for a few green beans for dinner the other night and had a couple bites of asparagus tonight!
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Stay tuned for some of these recipe ideas on Meal Planner Mondays...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Milton Hershey School Choir at AU tomorrow

The Milton Hershey School Choir is on tour this week and they will be performing here in Ashland at AU tomorrow morning at 10:30 - how cool is that?

Happy Valentine's Day

Here's a picture of the flowers that my wonderful husband had delivered to me at work on Thursday... ...a beautiful surprise!!!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Frugal Friday: Inexpensive Dates and Valentine Gifts for Your Spouse

I started this post before Mike surprised me today with a heart-shaped bouquet of flowers and I love getting surprised with flowers from my husband (thank you, sweetie!), but if your budget is too tight for the typical Valentine's Day celebration, you don't have to break your budget to show your spouse that you love them. In fact, some of the best dates/gifts are free. Here are some ideas for thoughtful, fun, and romantic inexpensive dates and Valentine's Day gifts for your spouse...
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1.) Go out for just dessert or gourmet coffee at the local coffee shop - even split one.
2.) Go dancing. I wish we were in Pittsburgh so that we could go Swing Dancing at the Wittman School in Squirrel Hill (see here) - a little more expensive ($16-20 for the night) but it's not only fun, it's good exercise too. For those in the Ashland area, there are the Malabar Farm barn dances through the summertime (free).
3.) Give each other a nice long backrub.
4.) Write a poem or song together or for each other instead of buying a card.
5.) Write the story of how you met, add pictures if you have them, and publish it in a photo book (there are often deals on these) or if you have Movie Maker on your computer you could create a video (this is what Mike did for me last Valentine's Day and I loved it!)
6.) Cook a nice dinner by candlelight at home, play soft music and dress up like you were eating at a four-star restaurant. If you have a favorite restaurant entree you may be able to find the recipe online (like I did with the Olive Garden's Tuscan Chicken from this week's Meal Planner Monday) - even splurging on a steak dinner or fancy dinner at home is usually much cheaper than ordering the same thing at a restaurant. Print out a menu in a fancy font and use linen tablecloths and a create a centerpiece from what you already have at home. If you don't want to do a whole dinner just make a special dessert such as cherry cheesecake.
7.) Take a class on photography if one is available inexpensively or teach yourself. Then, have a photo shoot of each other or ask someone to come along and take pictures of the two of you together - make it funny or romantic - be creative.
8.) Take a book on wildflowers or birds (visit the library for one) and go on a nature walk. Be sure to take pictures along the way. They will be great framed for decorations at home.
9.) Swap babysitting with another family or plan your date during the lunchtime or afternoon when the kids are in school.
10.) Play a board game together.
11.) Go to the park - pack a picnic, feed the ducks, hold hands, find a quiet place to cuddle on a blanket.
12.) Ride a bike - if it is available rent a bicycle-for-two for something unique.
13.) Attend a free outdoor concert if there are any where you live.
14.) Attend a play or sporting event at the local high school or college.
15.) Go stargazing - Take an astronomy book and see if you can identify the constellations in the night sky.
16.) Go bowling or play goofy golf.
17.) Go to the mall and people-watch.
18.) Pull out an old photo album or reminesce about your first dates.
19.) Depending on the cost - visit the local museum, zoo, art gallery, or historical sites. Check to see if there are discounts.
20.) For inexpensive group dates with other couples, plan a progressive dinner or scavenger hunt (like the "Amazing Race").
21.) Make a heart-shaped pizza.
22.) Go camping in the backyard.
23.) Make chocolate fondue and feed each other.
24.) Write out all the things that you love about your spouse on little pieces of paper and put them in a decorative container or heart-shaped box.
25.) Write a love letter to your spouse. Put it in a bottle and float it in a bathtub filled with bubble bath.
26.) Check out a movie from the local library (free).
27.) Read from the Song of Solomon aloud to each other.
28.) Go for a stroll at sunset. Watch the sun set over water.
29.) Go for a moonlit walk.
30.) Try something new - a new ethnic food, a new hobby, etc. Try something such as geocaching if you know anyone that has the equipment.
31.) Do something together that you haven't done in a really long time or maybe since you were dating (for example we went snow tubing on our first date). And if it's reasonable, go to that same place where you had the original date.
32.) Buy one of not-too-expensive scratch-off lottery tickets and write a romantic note that says "I hit the jackpot when I met you."
33.) Play romantic music and slow dance in your living room.
34.) Hide love notes for your spouse to find...in his wallet, on the mirror, etc.
35.) Plan a "mystery" date or surprise weekend. Leave notes or clues leading up your special time together.
36.) Come up with your own variation of the "Love Dare" book from the Fireproof movie - make up 40 days of special ways to show your love.
37.) Take an old medicine bottle and type out a label for a "Prescription for Love"
38.) The Love Jar Activity (see more on this link to Focus on the Family)
39.) Give your spouse a book of "love coupons." These are coupons for something extra-special to be used later. Try to target your spouse's love language. They can include anything you want, but some ideas are: a day of rest and no nagging (even if that means sitting and watching football all afternoon), a massage, 100 spoken "I Love Yous," a chore that your spouse does not like to do, an evening together to just talk, etc.
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Also...
I have enjoyed listening to parts of several "Valentine's Day" Christian radio broadcasts this week (when I have a chance to work at my desk), including a 2-part series on "Romancing Your Spouse" on FamilyLife Today with CJ and Carolyn Mahaney (see link here), and "Experiencing God's Dream for Your Marriage" on Living on the Edge with Chip Ingram (see link here).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Eating Healthy - Part 3: Taste the Rainbow

I chose this as one of my first topics because there really is no disagreement on the idea that if we want to eat healthy then we should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Isn't it wonderful how God gave us so many different fruits and vegetables to enjoy! (I know that hybridization and domestication of these plants has taken place since when they were created by God. But, still, I am thankful that we have so many different colorful and tasty fruits and vegetables available. He could have just given us something like manna, you know?)...
Red - Apples, Strawberries, Red Peppers, Pomegranates, Watermelon, Tomatoes, Raspberries
Orange - Squash, Oranges, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, Carrots, Peaches
Yellow - Bananas, Lemons, Grapefruit (well, I guess they are more pink), Pears, Pineapple
White - Cauliflower, Mushrooms, Onions, Leeks, Potatoes
Green - Broccoli, Green Peppers, Asparagus, Spinach, Lettuce, Green Beans
Purple/Blue - Eggplant, Red Cabbage, Blueberries, Blackberries, Grapes, Plums
...just to name a few. I like this article here(except when they start talking about supplements and drink mixes)because it lists the different nutrients that are found in each color of fruits and vegetables.
I am guessing that most all of us should be eating more fruits and vegetables. The CDC, National Cancer Institute, USDA, and American Cancer Society (along with some other agencies) teamed up in 1991 to promote an awareness campaign called "Five a Day." The idea is that we should consume at least 5 fruits or vegetables a day.
The USDA's food pyramid is much more specific and separates fruits and vegetables. (Check out the food pyramid here.) The food pyramid also classifies vegetables into the following groups: Dark greens, Orange Vegetables, Beans, Starchy Vegetables, and Other. You can see the recommended amounts based on age and gender on a chart on their site. This is very similar to the recommendations from the November 2008 issue of Prevention magazine (p. 177) which you can read here, which say to aim for 14 cups of vegetables a week...Dark Greens: 2 cups per week, Orange Vegetables: 1 1/2 cups per week, Beans: 2 1/2 cups per week, Starchy Vegetables: 2 1/2 cups per week, Other: 5 1/2 cups per week.
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Because vegetables contain so few calories (except starchy vegetables and beans you'll want to keep track of those), there almost is no upper limit to the rest. I have yet to meet someone who eats too many vegetables!
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Fruits are counted separately. The food pyramid recommends 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit a day for adults. Note that servings vary for whole fruits and 1/4 cup dried fruit counts as 1/2 cup fruit. Fruits are a little more calorie-dense and contain natural sugars, so we can't say that the sky is the limit. 100% juice is good, but it is still pretty concentrated in calories and contains natural sugar, so watch how much you or your children are drinking and dilute it with water if they are big juice drinkers. Try squeezing an orange to make fresh orange juice and see how little you get compared to just pouring it out of a carton. Be careful that juice is not being used as the predominant and unlimited fluid in the diet - it should not be a substitute for water.
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So, what about "superfoods"? A "superfood" is one that is claimed to have especially high nutritious health benefits, such as blueberries, for example. The problem is that this term is not clearly defined and almost implies that if you eat it daily, then you will be free from disease. Although, the foods that have been named as "superfoods" have been shown to be very nutritious, the principle of variety applies here. Eating a variety of these nutrient-dense "superfoods" ensures that you will get a balance of vitamins and anti-oxidants - that's why I like the classifications on the food pyramid.
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One final word of caution related to fruits and vegetables which I need to be sure to state - and this applies to anyone with a medical condition or who takes medications...Never change your diet or medications or supplements without first talking to your doctor!!! Although fruits and vegetables are clearly "good" "healthy" foods, certain ones do interact with some medications or medical conditions...A good example is anyone on Coumadin should carefully watch their vitamin K intake. Large amounts of vitamin K are found in foods such as liver, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, Swiss chard, coriander, collards, cabbage, and other green leafy vegetables. Do not change the amount of these foods in your diet without first talking to your doctor. Also anyone on Coumadin should avoid eating cranberries, drinking cranberry juice, or taking cranberry herbal products. Another example is someone with kidney disease. They will be probably be advised by the doctor to follow a strict diet which includes a fluid restriction and does not allow foods like peas or beans, just to name a few.
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So, today's principle is (unless you have been advised by a physician to follow a strict diet): Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and aim for variety!. (If this is overwhelming because it sounds like a lot of fruits and vegetables, start by choosing at least 1 fruit or vegetable from each color group during your next grocery trip and then start adding a fruit or vegetable to each meal. I'll talk more about ideas on how to "sneak" fruits and vegetables into your meals on another post since this one is getting a little long (hmmm, I wonder what ever made me research that??)