Monday, February 11, 2013

Where have I been? A Baseball (and Football and Basketball) Mom's Reflection

I'm back!  I can't believe that my last post was June 2012.  I did not intend to take such a long break from my blog, but this busy mom has had to save every little bit of extra energy just to make it through the past 8 months!  So what has changed?  Well, we entered a new phase of our sports' lives.  Big B began middle school summer baseball.  This was our first dive into the world of middle school sports.   At the same time, he was selected for little league 12-year-old All-Stars.  He decided to attempt to do both, but quickly changed his mind.  During his first middle school game, he realized what a detriment it was for him to continue youth baseball, which included a lighter bat, shorter bases, and a smaller outfield.  He needed to put all of his effort into learning to pitch a farther distance, swing a heavier bat, and defend a larger center field.  I was proud of him for coming to that decision on his own, especially when some of his friends and team-mates were actually missing middle school games so they could play All-Stars.  This baseball commitment was not very time-consuming, but when coupled with middle school football workouts in the mornings, it was enough to keep us busy with just Big B's sports.

We also encountered a new phase in Little B's baseball "career."  He was selected for 8-year-old All-Stars.  This was his first year to play highly competitive baseball.  We played over 10 multi-day tournaments during the course of the summer, with practice nearly every day we didn't have games.  The season culminated with a 5-day tournament in Arkansas, approximately 7 hours from our hometown in Mississippi.  We returned home with only a week to spare before we started back to school.  While it had been an exciting summer of baseball, it had also been an exhausting summer with little "down time." 

Before Little B's baseball ever ended, we were already focused hard on football season.  Big B had his first mandatory middle school football camp, and my husband's high school football season was in full swing.  He was coaching in a different school district than previously, and the added 35-40 minute commute meant huge changes for us.  I have always been responsible for the kids' sports without much help from him during football season; however, I no longer had the option of dropping the kids off at high school practice if I had something important I needed to do for myself or the family. (Yes, I went from July-October without a visit to the hair salon as a result of this change.)  Football coaches' families sacrifice a lot during the season.  But...I have been a coach's wife for almost 16 years.  I have learned how to adjust, and I always know that the thrill of Friday night football makes up for the everyday sacrifices.

Big B was the starting quarterback for the 7th grade team.  He worked hard to earn that position.  It wasn't very easy, and there were more losses than wins, but he LOVED every minute of it.  As usual, Little B did not want to play football.  My husband is not a big fan of peewee football, especially for kids in the younger grades.  Little B's All-Star baseball coaches wanted him to play on a travel team in the fall, but my husband and I made an executive decision that it simply wasn't feasible financially or logistically to play travel baseball during football season.  We had attempted it one year with Big B, and it had been a nightmare! 

My husband's team finished their regular season and headed to the playoffs just as middle school basketball season was beginning.  Big B had very little transition time from football to basketball.  Then, it was time for peewee basketball practices to begin for Little B.  He was only able to to practice for a short while before having his tonsils and adenoids removed AND having sinus surgery.  He missed the following three weeks of practice and his first game.  Following the second game of the season, he fell in P.E. class at school and got a mild concussion.  In the last two weeks, he's been able to enjoy basketball (his favorite sport) with no distractions or injuries.  Thank goodness!  Big B finished basketball two weeks ago.  His final basketball game was on a Thursday (the same night as the mandatory baseball parent meeting), and he began 5-day-a-week baseball practices the next Monday.  Little B is only halfway through his basketball season, but is already registered for baseball.  This transition is ALWAYS the hardest one of the year for us.

So, here we are.  I'm exhausted just writing about our lives for the last 8 months.  (And I haven't even mentioned church or school or work.)  I've done this for so long that it is almost second-nature for me.  I said to a friend just a few days ago that I will have to re-train myself on how to live once the boys are grown.  I've already picked out a few church and civic activities that I think I will enjoy one day, and I will definitely learn to quilt and knit.  For now, however, my three guys help to define who I am.  And that makes me happy.  I'm proud to be the football coach's wife and Big B's and Little B's mom.  I am, and always will be, their greatest fans! 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Diabetic-Friendly Chocolate Eclair Cake

My husband loves sweets - ice cream, cakes, pies - but he is diabetic, so I am always on the lookout for sugar-free treats!  One of my co-workers made a delicious eclair cake for the teachers on the last day of school.  When I learned the ingredients, I knew I could adapt this one to an almost sugar-free dessert.  I tried it earlier this week, and it was a huge hit at my house!  It makes a 9X13 cake, so there is plenty for the whole family (and any company that may show up) for days!!

one box honey graham crackers
2-8 oz. tubs of Cool Whip
1 small box sugar free instant chocolate pudding (& skim milk as directed on box)
1 small box sugar free instant vanilla pudding (& skim milk as directed on box)
1 tub sugar free chocolate icing

1.  Place a single layer of graham cracker squares on the bottom of a 9X13 cake dish.
2.  Prepare choclate pudding as directed on box.  Fold one tub of Cool Whip into the prepared pudding. (Do not use the mixer.  Folding retains the fluffiness.) Spread pudding mixture over the crackers.

3.  Add another layer of crackers.

4.  Prepare vanilla pudding as directed on box.  Fold the other tub of Cool Whip into the prepared vanilla pudding.  Spread pudding mixture over the crackers.

5.  Add another layer of crackers.

6.  Remove foil from choclate icing.  Heat in microwave for 30 seconds. Stir.  Repeat this process two more times so that icing can be easily spread over the last layer of crackers.  You must move quickly so that the icing doesn't begin to harden until you have a smooth top layer.
ENJOY with a glass of skim milk!  Yum!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

This recipe is one that a co-worker of mine shared with me during my first year teaching.  It is so, so easy, and my family loves it!  I've shared with you several "busy mom" options for preparing the chicken for the pie.  Enjoy!

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, COOKED
4 deep dish frozen pie shells (Thaw 2 of the shells for approx. 10 minutes.  These will serve as the top of your pies.)
16 oz. bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 large can cream of chicken soup
Tony Chachere's seasoning, to taste

Four Options:

BOILED CHICKEN:  If you have time, you can just boil the chicken before assembling the pie.  Cut into small pieces.  Mix with vegetables and cream of chicken soup.  Season to taste.  Fill two of the pie shells with the chicken mixture.  Cover with the two thawed shells.  Cut slits in the top and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until top crust is firm and golden brown.

CROCKPOT CHICKEN:  This is my favorite method.  In the morning, I place the chicken breasts in the crockpot with the can of cream of chicken soup.  Cook on low for 7-8 hours.  The chicken should easily tear apart before assembling the pie.  Add your vegetables and seasoning, and follow the above directions to create the pies.

CROCKPOT/FREEZER CHICKEN:  One of my blog followers suggested the following method for using pre-cooked chicken to create a fast, easy meal.   Cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts in bulk in the crockpot.  I use a can or two of chicken broth to keep them moist.  When they are fully cooked, cut or shred the meat, and separate it into meal-sized portions in freezer bags for later use.  Keep a supply of cooked chicken in the freezer at all times.  Thaw in refrigerator the night before you need the meat.  Assemble the pie  as described above.

DELI ROTISSERIE CHICKEN:  When you don't have time or forget to prepare for the meal in advance, you can run by your local grocery store on the way home from work and pick up a deli rotisserie chicken.  These usually cost between $5-$6.  Remove meat and follow the above directions to create the pies. 

These methods can be applied to any recipe that requires chicken!  It doesn't get any easier than this!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Busy Life of a Baseball Mom

It's been almost two weeks since my last blog post.  I've had intentions of writing every evening, and somehow I just never found the time.  (My list of "writing topics" grows everyday - just wish I had more time to actually write!)  My husband has taken a new football coaching job in a town about 30 miles from our home, and it's "spring training" so I have no help in the evenings with the boys' baseball schedule.  Not that this is unfamiliar territory: I've been carrying two little boys to their practices and games since the oldest was 4 years old.  My husband's work schedule usually prevents him from helping much on week nights, especially now that he's commuting.  So between baseball and football, life is pretty busy for our family right now.  AND it's the end of the school year.  There are standardized state tests, field days, awards programs, not to mention Big B's tryouts for middle school sports.  I have to brag for a moment on Big B.  He set a goal two years ago (yes, in 4th grade) that he would make all three teams - football, basketball, and baseball - when he got to middle school.  Yesterday, he finished meeting that goal.  He will be one of only two 7th graders (about 400 kids) to play on all three teams next year!  I love that at such a young age he learned to set a goal and work hard to achieve it.  His dad is such a hard-working, goal-oriented person; I'm glad he sets such a strong example for our boys. (And it doesn't hurt that they inherited his athleticism!) 

Our love for sports  ("Sports Mania") is what makes us a Busy Family and gives me the offical title of Busy Mom!  While I normally seem to manage our lives very well, there are times (like right now), that I absolutely stink at being a busy mom.  The laundry is piled up once again ("The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly"),  the bathrooms need scrubbing, the floor needs mopping, and the yard needs mowing.  Add to the mix that I am trying to cook healthy meals to manage my husband's diabetes ("She brings him good, not harm...") and to get myself back in shape ("My Battle").  A daunting task!  We are also trying to be frugal in our grocery and gas expenses, which requires lots of advanced preparation.  All of my good ideas (such as "Meal Shortcuts for Baseball Moms") aren't helping as much as I would like them to.  However, I can breathe easier knowing that there is an end in sight...summer!

Oh summer, how I love thee!  While there have been times in my career as a public school teacher that I have complained about low wages, long hours, difficult parents, and belligerent students, I do love my job.  One thing that makes all of the headaches okay is that every year, for two whole months, I get to be a stay-at-home mom!!  I love, love, love being home with my kids.  And I have to say that I am the perfect little homemaker during the summers.  My house is clean, projects are completed, scrapbooks are up-to-date, kids are happy, all is well.  I can pack my baseball bag and head to the ball park with no worries.  Can anyone truly understand the glory of summer without baseball?  I certainly can't!

Monday, April 23, 2012

She brings him good, not harm...

I had something of an epiphany over the weekend. It wasn't a sudden "AHA!" moment, but more of a gradual progression of ideas that led to a realization over a 24 hour period.  It all began as I was posting Meal Shortcuts for Baseball Moms Saturday morning.  As I linked recipes to each shortcut method, I began to think, "Whoa!  I sure do cook a lot of pasta!" and "Whoa!  I sure do use a lot of cheese!"  Now, I do believe firmly in my menu planning, shopping, and cooking methods, and I've always known that my meals are better alternatives than fast food, BUT I really started worrying Saturday if I am doing what is BEST for my family with the meals I prepare.

Later that afternoon, my husband began feeling "under the weather."  He was tired, with little energy and no desire to get out of the recliner.  In fact, he ended up napping on and off most of the evening.  These symptoms were certain indicators that his sugar was high.  You see, he was diagnosed with diabetes about three years ago.  He was told at the time of his diagnosis that he could manage the disease with proper diet and exercise.  Well, about a year ago, he began taking pills to control his blood sugar - still no need for insulin but in the direction he's headed, it may be just around the corner. 

Until now, I have stood firm in my belief that it isn't what he eats, but how much he eats that is the problem.  I further justified that it isn't my cooking's fault, instead it is his fault, because he doesn't exercise enough.  However, when he wasn't feeling well Saturday, my guilt began to grow.  Maybe there are things I can do.  I mean, I had already questioned my cooking earlier that day.  What if my meal choices are contributing to his downward spiral?

The slow progression toward my epiphany continued that night.  He was up watching a movie, and I went to bed.  I had trouble falling asleep, so I grabbed my Bible and decided to make my way through the book of Proverbs! (I'm a fast reader, and insomnia is sometimes my greatest enemy, so I made it through the entire book.)  When I got to Chapter 31, I took my time - carefully reading line by line.  I have read the passage of the "noble wife" every morning for years.  This time, I was led back to the first few lines about the "noble wife."

The wife of noble character, who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
Proverbs 31:10-12 NIV

That last line weighed heavily on me:  "Am I bringing my husband "good" or "harm" through the meals I prepare?"  As I thought about my good intentions, could I honestly say that our meals do him "good"?  The overwhelming answer to this question was a resounding "NO!"  I fell asleep in prayer, asking God for guidance. 

When I woke Sunday morning, I shared my revelation with my husband.  In his usual style, he had very little to say, but he seemed deep in thought.  What was he thinking?  Did he agree with my realization? That I too had to take some responsibility because of the food I bring into our home and set on our table?  We had several hours before time for church, so I pulled out my copy of "Diabetic Cookbook for Dummies" and began reading voraciously.  Two hours later, I had made it through the first five chapters.  Apparently, there is quite a bit that I can change!

So, here's the next phase in my Busy Mom's Menu for Life!  How can I adapt my meal preparation and, really, help the entire family with a significant lifestyle change under the constraints of our busy life?  Can I create yummy, quick-n-easy meals that will allow my husband's health to improve and keep him off the path to daily insulin shots?  I believe I can, and I will do everything in my power to make this happen, so that he can have full confidence in me - knowing that I bring him GOOD, not HARM every day of his life!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meal Shortcuts for Baseball Moms

Baseball season presents a struggle for busy moms in the area of menu planning.  With two boys playing Little League, our family may end up at the ballpark four nights a week.  This creates an issue getting a homecooked meal on the table each night.  Over the years, I have developed several methods to avoid fast food on those busy nights.  Try one or a combination of these to find what works best for your busy family.

  • SLOW COOKER MEALS - This is my favorite method!  Because of have a monthly menu already prepared, I know I have all of ingredients I need already on hand for the meal.  See Blog Beginnings: Menu Planning to learn more about creating a menu and shopping list.  I do all of the prep work the night before we need the meal.  All ingredients go into the removable pot and are refrigerated.  In the morning, place the pot into the slow cooker base, and turn it on!  A hot meal is ready when you walk in the door from work/school, and you can quickly eat, then head to the ballpark.  If there is no time to eat the meal before the games, pack healthy snacks to take to the ball park.  Put the slow cooker on "Keep Warm" and return home to a yummy meal.
               Try these slow cooker meals:
               Chicken Tortilla Soup
               Broccoli and Cheese Soup
               Chicken Alfredo
               Pork Chops and Gravy
               Chicken Quesidillas
               Meatball Subs
               Roast and Veggies

  • 30-MINUTE MEALS - The following meal ideas can be prepared from start to finish in 30 minutes or less.  These work well when you have a late evening game.  There's plenty of time to get in from work, prepare the meal, and eat before heading to a 6:30 or 7:00 game.
          Try these 30-minute meals:
          Quick and Easy Spaghetti
          Quick and Easy Pizza Puffs
          Red Beans and Rice
          Sloppy Roast Beef Po-Boys
          Quick and Easy Chili
          Beef Enchilada Casserole
          Baked Ziti Pasta

  • DELI ROTISSERIE CHICKEN - One shortcut to a quick meal is to buy pre-cooked meat.  The cheapest and yummiest way to do this is to buy a deli rotisserie chicken.  They can be found in most grocery store deli's and are relatively inexpensive (usually $5-6).  Almost any recipe that requires boiled, sauteed, or baked chicken can be adapted using this pre-cooked chicken. 
         Try this recipe:
         Chicken Salad
         Adapt these recipes using pre-cooked chicken:
         Spinach Fiesta Casserole
         Baked Chicken Spaghetti
        **I will post more ideas soon.  ANY recipe that calls for chicken can be shortened this way.

  • FREEZER MEALS:  Many of the above recipes can be prepared in advance in bulk portions, then frozen in disposable aluminum pans (before baking).  Take a pan out of the freezer the night before you need the meal.  Put it in the refrigerator to thaw over night.  That evening, bake the casserole/dish at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  Spinach fiesta casserole, baked chicken spaghetti, baked ziti pasta, and chili are a few that I have tried as frozen meals.  Most casseroles and soups can be frozen.  At one point, I was spending the first weekend of the month cooking and freezing meals.  Use this method in combination with the others to create variety in your menu.
With a little planning and advanced preparation, mealtime (even during baseball season) can be easy!

(For more "baseball mom" tips, visit my post on The Ultimate Baseball Mom's Survival Bag .)


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Southern Country Cooking...not!

Mississippi girl, I am!  Country girl, I am not!  My husband, however, grew up as a country boy, and my amazing mother-in-law was the ultimate country cook.  My style of cooking is best described as "quick and easy."  Between my full-time teaching career and my busy little athletes' sports schedules, I have no choice but "quick and easy" if I want to feed my kids something other than McDonald's.  And I'm proud of my cooking.  I know lots of shortcuts and tricks to getting a "home-cooked" meal on the table in 30 minutes or less.  Let me add that we do not eat frozen meals or boxed dinners.  If that's your style, great!  But all three of my boys (Dad, Big B, and Little B) like "mama's cooking," not something out of a box.

Where am I going with this?  Well, last night, I got ambitious.  I decided I wanted a country meal.  All day, I craved fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, and butter beans.  So when the rain cancelled our baseball games, I got busy cooking my southern meal.  Now, I still used a few shortcuts...instant mashed potatoes, gravy mix in a little envelope, and yummy Margaret Holmes canned butter beans.  However, there are no shortcuts to fried pork chops..none at all!  I've only fried pork chops once, ever!  So I don't know what made me think I could do this, but I tried anyway. 

When I called the family to the dinner table, I was the first to take a bite of the pork chops.  I chewed and chewed and chewed.  They were over-cooked and really tough.  I immediately told my boys, "You do not have to eat this.  It won't hurt my feelings if you don't like them."  Of course, my feelings were already hurt because I had set out to try something new and failed.  My guys, however, insisted that the pork chops were just fine, and they ate them with no complaining.  I let out a sigh of relief.  Either they really did like the pork chops, or they were doing an excellent job trying not to damage my self-esteem!   I got hugs and kisses and words of thanks following the meal.  Apparently, my guys love me and appreciate me no matter what.  Even when I feel like a big failure, I know that it's ultimately the effort that I make to nurture and care for them that matters most. 

When my babies are grown, I doubt that they will remember the leather-like pork chops, but I hope they will remember that everything their Busy Mom did for them was done out of love!