The black widow

black widow

Last year it was all about garden snakes at our house. The cats couldn’t get enough of bringing them into the house at all hours and then taunting and playing with them. Needless to say, I started feeling more like a snake handler than a new mama! I was happy when things started calming down, and that same snake – or family of snakes – decided it was a good idea to find someone else’s house to live under.

Or, the cats just got tired and wanted something new.

Either way, it’s been nice not man-handling a snake during the wee hours of the night while everyone else is slumbering (and the cats are licking their lips).

So, the other day when the weather had finally decided to be warm, the wee tot and I figured it was time to head outdoors and enjoy the wonders of nature. We have an indoor outdoor kind-o-room that is our safe-haven from the heat during the summer months, and as soon as the babe and I opened up the room , I noticed something lurking in the corner.

Something BIG.

I’d heard of them, thought I’d seen them in the past, but, at that very moment, I was frozen like stone.

I KNEW it was a BLACK WIDOW.

My life turned into a total action hero movie as I moved to quickly wrap myself around the wee tot sheltering her from any black widow shooting venom or special spidey abilities. In slow-mo, we deftly twisted and turned away from the gigantic black mass and barely squeaked out the door before being violently attacked.

Well, not really.

Black widow spiders are actually quite common in warm areas of the United States. Yes, they can pack a mighty bite, but like all small things, aren’t really excited to tango with something bigger. Often, black widows prefer dark, cool spots, and won’t bother you unless you mess with their territory. They are a force to be reckoned with – and totally deserve your respect. That translates to back away from the spider and determine your choice of action.

Yeah, I would have loved to have been able to call an extermination, but I’m on a budget. I also wanted to be somewhat understanding that this is a special creature and I’d prefer NOT to kill it, but I have a small child, an unable-to-deal-with-spiders husband, and pets.

Sadly, that spider had to go.

After asking around and doing some basic research, I decided that a quick and humane death was in order. I got out the wasp/bee killer spray, gathered my favorite bug whacking implement (a flip-flop) and prepared for battle. By the time I built up my courage, that spider had hidden itself. It took me quite some determined concentration to find it lurking in a yet-to-be-encloesed gap in the drywall of that downstairs playroom (shudder).

As uniquely beautiful and special that spider was, it was truly gratifying taking care of it.

I think I’ll sleep tonight.

Brain food and your child

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

You are what you eat, and what you eat helps your body grow and develop in amazing ways. Even adults can continue developing and growing, especially when it comes to your brain. Several foods are extremely beneficial in aiding the brain to develop healthfully from birth through adulthood, and also assist with the aging brain, too.

The brain thrives on several elements, mainly glucose, vitamins, minerals, and other essential chemicals, with glucose, or a simple sugar that is one of the main components in carbohydrates, being the most essential. Glucose encourages the brain to create new connections and add myelin, or the fatty sheath to axons. Axons are long thread like parts of nerve cells where impulses are conducted from cell body to other cells. If the brain receives too much of one component or not enough of another, it is not able to function properly or create new connections.

Brain Development

From birth, the brain is ready for rich nutrients to aid in the healthy development of the central nervous system. At birth, the brain contains 100 billion neurons, the most the brain will ever have. Along with all those neurons, synapses, or connections between brain cells, are also rapidly developing. And, once born, infant’s that are breast-fed have a slight cognitive advantage over formula-fed babies. Diet is not the only thing essential to an infant’s developing brain. Those raw brain cells are ready to soak up as much information as possible, and engaging in interactive play and providing lots of physical affection aides in healthy development, too.

Once a child hits adolescence, the brain undergoes another big growth spurt – correlating with the body’s development. During these essential years, the teenager begins making more and more decisions for herself, including what she likes and dislikes eating. Through MRI research, it has been found the teenager’s brain goes through a “use-it-or-lose-it” phase where if certain neurons have not been exercised they are lost. The frontal lobe goes through great developments during this time and encouraging healthy eating habits aides in the brain’s development as well as the teenager’s day-to-day functioning.  There are even fun ways to sneak those healthy foods into school lunches that will not cause teens to toss their lunch but actually enjoying eating brain-boosting foods.

In older adulthood, memory can be boosted through various exercises, even meditation, but is greatly enhanced through proper diet. The adult brain continues to grow and develop and is greatly expanded by outside stimuli. Participating in new and different activities, staying social, getting a good night sleep, and exercising play a role. But, eating a healthy diet and maintaining proper hydration is what keeps the brain ticking. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be a main part of any adult’s diet.

Brain-Food Diet

No matter what your age, there are simple ways to change your diet to include brain-boosting foods the whole family will love. As adults, enjoying fresh fruits and vegetables models positive eating behaviors to children and encourages them to try new things. Other foods rich in healthy brain boosters include:

-Salmon: Not only is this fish full of flavor, it is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which helps brain cells function at their best. Tuna and sardines are also fishy options high in omega-3. Adding salmon into a family meal is as easy as broiling fillets, or adding canned salmon to your favorite pasta.

-Blueberries: These small sweet and tart berries are full of antioxidants and are rich in Vitamins C and E. Antioxidants fight aging as well as the effects of free radicals, which are unstable molecules found in everyday items and are also created in the human body during metabolism. Without antioxidants to fight them, free radicals can reek havoc on the body and speed the aging process. Adding blueberries to your morning cereal or even to a fresh salad adds a touch of sweetness as well as lots of brain-boosting power.

-Nuts: Along with seeds, nuts are full of fiber and lots of beneficial fats. A handful of nuts or seeds provides the body with long-term energy through their high concentration of complex carbohydrates and Vitamin E. The healthy carbohydrates found in nuts boost the brain productivity and alertness. Offering nuts or seeds as a snack keeps hunger away and is a healthy option instead of chips. Almonds are the best choice, with peanuts offering the least amount of healthy fat than any other type of nut.

-Green vegetables: Although not everyone’s favorite, green, leafy veggies are an essential component for a brain-boosting diet. Fresh vegetables are full of antioxidants, which along with fighting free radicals also reduce the risk of developing cognitive impairments. The best bets are spinach, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. Even if you are not a fan, adding chopped fresh spinach to pasta creates a healthy meal, and creating a purée of steamed broccoli makes a fun and different side dish for any meal.

So, what are you waiting for? Start adding some healthy brain-boosting foods to your diet today.

 

*This is an article I originally wrote for Funderstanding.com, a great site with a wealth of information for educators, students, and parents – go check them out!

 

Sunday Spectacular: A rant (but a good one)

This rainy season was hard on me. There were a couple of deaths, one of my wonderful friends moved away, and I recently received not the bestest news about a loved family member. It has all left me with an aching feeling from holding hands, being strong, keeping a smile on my face – partly for the wee tot who doesn’t understand loss yet, and partly to keep myself from breaking down.

But, most of all, I’ve decided it is time to take charge. To be me. To stop and really smell the roses.

Let me interject right here that if you know me, you are aware I’m not a big touchy-feely loving person. I care, I share, I love, but I’m not as giving physically as I would like to be. Hey, I’m not perfect. I’m working on it. I’m working on hugging more, saying kind words more, being “me” more.

When my friend recently moved I hugged her and kissed her as hard as I could. I let the tears fall and didn’t feel shame or embarrassment. In a way, I was letting it all out – letting myself FEEL.

And. It felt good.

I mean, it didn’t feel good she was moving away, but it DID feel GOOD to be EMOTIONAL.

As I sit on my spa deck enjoying a drink this evening (after creating a man-cave for the hubs in the garage – UGH), I am hugging and kissing my family and sending big hugs and kisses to all of you reading this.

Yes. YOU. Because it’s been a long, hard rainy season and the sun is finally shining. I can’t deal with any more loss, bottled up tension or emotion.

I really think you should stop whatever you are doing (reading this) and go give some hugs and kisses, too.

Seriously.

Do it now.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

 

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

California white barbecue sauce

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Since joining the Dannon Live Your Active Culture program, the hubs and I made exercise goals to combat our total-lack-o-stuff happening in that area. The husband dedicated himself to playing ultimate frisbee with some locals every Sunday, and I vowed to walk places (instead of driving) that were less than a mile from our house.

We haven’t been able to do either for almost a month due to the freakishly June-uary weather we’ve been having up here in Northern California.

Bah.

But then, miraculously, the clouds parted. The sun filled the sky, leaving us all blinded by the light — and a bit lazy. We needed a big kick in the butt to get back at it, and stick to our goals!

Joining the Dannon Live Your Active Culture program has given me that extra encouragement to lose those 10 pounds that have been hanging around. The idea of traipsing around in shorts makes me shudder. A bathing suit? Ahhhh, nope. Not the way things are all jiggly-wiggly right now.

So we loaded up the stroller and headed out on an adventure. We walked into town and re-acquainted ourselves with the local shops, who was doing what for the summer, and then headed back home with growling tummies.

I grabbed some chicken breasts and cranked the grill. I was just about to reach for the barbecue sauce when some Dannon Greek yogurt bumped into me. My daughter can’t get enough of the single servings – and I’m kinda hooked, too! Why not use it to make a white barbecue sauce? After doing a bit of research, I discovered there actually is such a thing, which originated in Alabama, and the main ingredient is MAYONNAISE.

I figured the yogurt would work just as well. And, you know what? It totally rocked the world out of our chicken! So, here’s my nutritious version…

California White Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients

2-cups plain Dannon Greek nonfat yogurt

1 Tbsp salt

1 Tbsp pepper

¼-cup apple cider vinegar

¼- cup lemon juice

3 Tbsp sugar

It’s as simple as dumping all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and giving a good whisk. The thing about using the Greek style yogurt is you get a nice fresh flavor plus the same rich creamy-thick texture just like mayo, but with no fat. YUP – NO FAT!

Now you can taste-test and adjust the seasonings as you wish. I added a dash of paprika and a bit more sugar to give things a smokey-sweet touch.

Then I brushed my pounded chicken breasts with olive oil, a light coating of the California white barbecue sauce, and popped those babies on the grill! I gave the chicken another brushing before giving a final turn, and served on a bed of fresh spinach with extra sauce on the side.

YUM.

I had everything whipped up and on the grill in less than 10-minutes. And our meal was served in under 30. How’s that for summer-time tasty dinner happiness?

Happy grilling!

Here are a couple of other fantastic Dannon recipes to check out:

http://www.dannon.com/liveyouractiveculture/HealthyLifestyle

And, while you’re there, take the pledge and enter to win the sweepstakes daily! You might win something – and you’re helping California State Parks!

Want to gab about gardening and more awesome outdoor activities? Be sure to join me at MomsLikeMe in the Healthy & Active Families Group, and over at www.dannon.com/liveyouractiveculture in the Blogger Spotlight section. They were nice enough to sponsor this post, so go check them out!

Manly-man chocolate covered ice cream sandwiches for Father’s Day

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Father’s Day is fast approaching and I’m having a really hard time figuring something out for the hubs. And, I’m crafty like that. So, for me to be at a loss for something the wee tot and I can create as the perfect, “I love you Dad” treat, it’s a bit overwhelming. I looked to others for advice, even asked some daddies on twitter, but discovered dads are just like moms. When it comes to special recognition days, they want to be loved and pampered, and maybe fed some good food, too.

Our daughter is just over two, so she’s not well-versed in the whole gift-giving thing. But, I do want to instill the idea that sharing is caring and everything isn’t always just for her (MINE!), and when you give someone something special (NO!), they give love and appreciation (NONONONO, MINE!) in return.

My husband isn’t really a sweets kind of person, but I figured this Fathers Day, some manly-man treats were in order. With our daughter’s new-found love of chocolate (rabbit), I knew we could concoct something together that her Dada would love. And, with some other fun and festive ideas from Motherboard, I knew we could make the day a special one. Needless to say, the wee tot and I had a great time creating this very manly-man dessert, perfect to top off his Fathers Day!

Chocolate covered graham cracker ice cream sandwiches.

Yeah, you heard me right.

And they are so easy the kids can make them!

What’s needed

Ice cream – use your manly-man’s favorite

Graham crackers

Chocolate chips

Skewers

Easy as pie instructions

Get out the ice cream and let it sit on the counter for a couple of minutes, which will make it easier to spread on your graham crackers. Once things are just starting to get a bit melty, you can break your graham crackers in half and start spreading.

Load that graham cracker half with about a 1/2 inch of ice cream. Now top the ice cream with another graham cracker and gently smoosh together.

Keep spreading and smooshing until you have as many ice cream sandwiches as you’d like. I made six, which was enough for us to really pig out!

Now place the ice cream sandwiches on a plate and pop in the freezer for a few hours, or even better overnight, so everything sets up and gets ready for the chocolate hot tub.

Start melting the chocolate using a double boiler – or a metal or glass bowl placed on top of a simmering saucepan of water. Things don’t have to get real hot for that chocolate to melt, so just stir the chocolate chips for about a minute until the chocolate is smooth. You can use a microwave for this step, too. I used just about an entire bag of chocolate chips to cover my six sandwiches.

Go ahead and remove the cold ice cream sandwiches from the freezer and get ready for coating! Take the bowl off the heat and place on your work surface. Ladle some of the chocolate into a measuring cup with a lipped edge and get yourself set up to pour chocolate. Position four skewers in a criss-cross position on top of the bowl and place one of the ice cream sandwiches on top.

Now slowly pour the chocolate over the sandwich trying to coat the entire thing evenly. Let the sandwich hang out for a moment before removing. You can use a knife to help smooth that chocolate over the top. Then keep pouring and coating until all your ice cream sandwiches are covered. You can re-heat the chocolate as needed.

Put those manly-man treats in the freezer to harden up for a couple of hours – or as long as you can stand it before taste testing!

Now you can wrap the sandwiches in parchment or waxed paper and serve to your favorite dad after a wonderful Father’s Day – enjoy!

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Yum.

Happy Father’s Day!

Gifted

I already knew things were going to go perfectly. I had rehearsed and rehearsed and did that whole “visualization” thing in my head. I mean, come on. I was going to be perfect AND everyone was going to be looking at me. Okay, yeah, sure, I was nervous, but seriously. This wasn’t going to be hard, not hard at all. I mean doing those timed math tests were HARD. Playing the piano in front of the whole school was nothing.

I could totally do this.

While I waited my turn I imagined how things would go again. Visions of leather bomber jackets and aviator glasses filled my head as I amazingly and romantically played the most beautiful song in the entire world. Entire. World. I could smell my new hairspray, which stated it was made just for permed hair. I checked that my gold chain wasn’t clasp down and re-pegged my jeans. And, for some extra shimmer, a quick application of lip gloss finished the look.

It was my turn.

I was going to rock my school’s world.

While sauntering up to that piano as well as any sixth-grader could, I tried not to trip, because that would be really bad. Totally worse than banging out a couple of wrong notes. Yeah, my piano teacher told me I’d never be as good as my sister. Really, she had actually wrapped my knuckles a couple of time. But, whatever. I could do this.

As I sat at the bench and adjusted my piano book in place (even though I didn’t need it because I had the song memorized, of course), I took one last deep breath and then put myself into the music.

I was going to play Take My Breath Away like no one’s business, and when I was finished, this school would never be the same. Heck, this was my moment – my time to shine. This was the best thing that I had ever done and nothing could ever beat it. Yeah, whatever if those second graders had no idea what Top Gun was, they would find out later and totally remember this moment.

Totally.

Just a few hours prior I had run around that sweat smelling gym/multipurpose room playing a rousing game of dodge ball while listening to Another One Bites the Dust. As I tried to evade that boy who had a crush on me, I day-dreamed about what was going to happen later. I wondered if I should’ve worn the Guess sweater I had picked up at the mall in Milwaukee just a couple of weeks ago. Oh well. I was rocking that oversized Abercrombie & Fitch sweatshirt – I mean, no one had ever heard of the place. Not only would I be playing the best song ever from the best movie made ever, but wearing totally style-changing clothing.

Seriously.

As I got closer to the end of the song, I snuck a quick side-eye look at the front row. I saw that boy who had a crush on me and he was grinning from ear to ear.

I figured he wasn’t so bad – even though he listened to that death metal crap.

I let my fingers hang on the keys for an extra bit of dramatic effect before getting up, bowing, and walking off.

I’m not sure if there was any applause. I was too busy floating.

 

*This week’s prompt was all about a happy ending….

 

 

Fine Art for Kids: Balancing with Calder

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The other day the tot got in my craft drawer and found some wire. Before I knew it she was all wrapped up – and giggling like crazy! Instead of getting upset or frustrated with her fun exploration, I figured it would be a great opportunity for creating something awesome! An Alexander Calder balanced mobile!

What’s great about Calder is he made these small and uber-large sculptures that moved (yes, a mobile) that were kinetic. This means the environment interacted with his creations, helping them to move and float. I love Calder’s mobiles and actually had the chance to see some up-close and personal in a vault located in a museum I used to work for. And, let me tell you, that was all kinds of awesomeness.

So, Calder has a special place in my heart, and I wanted to share his cool art with my daughter. After I un-wire-wrapped her, we took a look at his mobiles and she loved pointing out the colors she found. Then, we got to work!

All you need to do this art activity with your child are two different gauges of craft wire (I used 28 and 20), scraps of paper, and some patience! You and your child can take another look at Calder’s work and how he used shapes and line to create exciting, balanced, kinetic creations.

Craft wire is a fun, but feisty, thing. It can be sharp when cut, so this project is geared for the older set, let’s say 3rd grade and up. You could do the project with younger kids using string and sticks, and it would still be cool!

Invite your child to cut a length of the heavier gauge wire to use for the base for the mobile. Now she can search for interesting bits of paper to use for her cut-out shapes. I had some pieces of patterned paper that worked wonderfully. Encourage her to cut organic shapes, which means flowing un-edged shapes, to use for her mobile.

Now she can use a hole punch to make holes in each of her shape and then string with the lighter gauged craft wire. Sometimes working with the lighter gauge craft wire can get a bit finicky. It’s thin and has a mind of its own, but encourage your child to keep at it finding where to twist the hanging shapes on the base wire to create a balanced mobile. My wee tot helped by threading the wire through the holes!

If your child is feeling up for the challenge, she can even suspend an additional length of the heavier gauge craft wire along with more shapes hanging from it!

Help your child find the perfect place to hang her finished Calder inspired mobile where it can move and be admired!

*What I learned while doing this project? I’m not as patient as I used to be with craft wire, probably because I had a wee tot that really wanted to use it, too (MINE!), and taking a good picture of a mobile is really hard!

 

Mango lemon marmalade

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

The other day we went out for breakfast and the child just about devoured an itty-bitty jelly container of lemon marmalade. I sat watching in amazement as she licked the little plastic thing clean. I mean, I know she likes lemons. It started awhile ago when we did some lemon prints and she spent more time sucking on the lemon than stamping with it.

So when we arrived home I figured we should make some marmalade, but we only had a couple of those yellow things hanging about. I did, on the other hand, have a ton of mangos! I had picked some up because they were super on sale at the store thinking the wee tot was going to LOVE them – and she didn’t.

Why not combine the lemon with the mango for our own marmalade combination?

I also couldn’t stop singing Lady Marmalade. I know you want to, too. Go ahead, take a time out and watch…

When I went searching for marmalade recipes, I came across stuff with lots of steps. I really didn’t feel like putting that much effort into it – I just wanted to use those mangos and also make something the wee tot would like. So, I created my own combination and cooking method that worked out just fine for me, and passed the food tyrant test! This mango lemon marmalade hasn’t touched the floor!

Ingredients

2 lemons sliced thin and pitted

4 cups diced mango (about 5-6 mangos)

2 cups sugar

3 cups water

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt

Dash of cinnamon

What to do

I made the process super simple by slicing the lemons thin, removing any seeds, and then cutting them into triangles. Then I cut up the mangos and added them to the pot, too.

Once everyone’s in the pot, I added the rest of the ingredients and then started the pot-a-simmering. I’m not so big on sweet stuff in the morning, so I used less sugar than some might suggest. But, the mango adds a nice sweetness, and the lemon offers that perfect tang and bitterness to the party.

Now, some might tell you to boil until things get to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, but, if you don’t have a candy thermometer, you won’t know when you’ve gotten there. So, here’s the deal, simmer the stuff for about an hour, giving the mixture a stir every once in a while.

After about an hour, take a closer look at your pot. The mangos will have broken up and the lemons should be transparent and falling apart, too. I got out my potato masher and helped break up some of the big chunks hanging about.

I let my marmalade simmer for another 20-minutes or so because I wanted it to be really thick, but you can take it off the heat whenever you are ready.

Now carefully ladle the stuff into sealable jars and cap. Let them come to room temperature before keeping in the fridge. These are safe to keep in the fridge for 4-5 months or so, but you’ll probably eat it all before then!

I ran out of jars while making this batch, so put some in small cups and containers, perfect for a morning serving on an english muffin!

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

 

Sunday Spectacular: Rainy day

I was so excited to get outdoors last weekend, and then this weekend, the weather was horrid. We had to find ways to keep us all occupied. Thanks to Auntie Heather, the tot enjoyed a fun painting project, the husband found us a fantastic rug at our local consignment store, and I had fun in the kitchen…

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

My just-about-free teepee!

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer! Between the crazy weather, trying to potty train the babe, and keeping up with the cooking, cleaning, cooking, cleaning, and cleaning, I’ve got my sights set on some exciting and fun family stuff. In just a couple of weeks the preschool the wee tot has been attending – and I’ve been helping out at – is closing up shop for the summer. I’m looking forward to a bit more free time, but know my daughter will miss her friends – and all the cool stuff at the school.

I’m not looking forward to the loss of that bit-o-income. With less work comes less money.

Sigh.

I needed some inspirational free activity ideas quick. We have been spending tons of time working outdoors turning the yard into more than just a dirt lot (which it REALLY was) and  fixing up that dry, barren spa deck. But the tot was going to need more than bubbles and popsicles to fill her days.

Yeah, there’s lots of free family fun out there like going on a nature walk or taking a bike ride, but I needed something that would hold the wee tot’s attention – something that would last more than a couple of minutes. The Motherboard offered inventive suggestions from moms all over facing the same budget-tight summer situation, which helped me feel less at a loss over my empty pockets, and ready for the challenges of summer.

My real mommy-moment of ingenuity happened when I came across the idea of putting a tent out back and heading outdoors into the always exciting wonders of the yard – maybe even for the night! Well, I’m just not sure if I’m ready for the overnight thing, but we could set something up perfect for play-time!

TEEPEE!

For less than twenty smackers, I put together a fun and whimsical teepee perfect for the toddler. She can take her books in there, entice me to sit with her, and cook up some dirt concoctions.

All you need to create your own just-about-free teepee are four or five 6-foot garden or tree stakes (1×2’s work great, too), and a 6-by (at least) 4-foot wide length of outdoor shade cloth, which you can find at your local garden center. Stakes or 1×2’s run around $1.50 each and the shade cloth I picked up cost about $10, so materials added up to less than $20!

Select a nice level spot for your teepee, grab the hammer, and pound those stakes in at a slight angle in a circle formation. You want the stakes to criss-cross and meet at the top of the teepee. My tot was more than excited (insistent) to offer a helping hand, which made the creation of the base of our teepee somewhat (NOT) easier. If your ground is a bit hard, let a sprinkler run in the area for 10-minutes or so, and then try tapping the stakes in again.

Help secure your teepee by tying the tops of the stakes together with a length of colorful string or some twine where they criss-cross.

Now cover your teepee base with the shade cloth and, with the help of a staple gun, hold everything tightly together. I started by wrapping one end of the fabric around a stake and stapling, and kept working all the way around the teepee. Then I used a scissors to cut away any excess fabric, leaving a bit extra at one end to act as a door flap.

Finished!

I used four old redwood 1×2’s for my teepee that were hiding under the house. Lengths of bamboo would great, too! And, if you don’t feel like splurging on sun cloth, burlap, an old sheet, or even a blanket would cover your teepee wonderfully!

© Sarah Lipoff 2011