Wednesday, October 21, 2015

School Lock-down Drill

Today both of my kids had 'lock-down' drills at their schools.  They told me about them on the ride home from gymnastics today.  They also included that they have not yet had a tornado drill yet.  When they told me that, all I could think is that it must be because the likelihood of having an armed intruder enter their school is higher than a tornado, and that literally made me sick to my stomach.

My children today practiced how to hide from armed assailants and 'hope' that they make it out okay.  Everything in me became angry that this is even a thing to be considered.  That this is a reality.  I used to be very pro-gun.  I grew up around guns, my Dad had them, they were never locked, we were taught to respect them.  After having kids, though, my views have changed.  My children's well being is more important than being able to have an arsenal in a home, and after living in England, well, there is scant gun violence there.  I felt safe there.  I NEVER worried about my kids at school, certainly not that there would be some crazy trying to get famous by killing kids while in school.  Living in England showed us that there is a more civilized way to live.

I am angry that gun violence is so prevalent in the city that I love and live so close to, Chicago.  Every week they have a tally of all the people injured or killed over the weekend and it is appalling.  My friends in England never understood how Americans could just let it go on and on.  Especially after the Sandy Hook shootings.  They wanted to know why we allow so many guns, and I realized how hard it was to explain...because we feel entitled to them...?

Our children should feel safe in their schools.  They shouldn't have to worry that some maniac, who is feeling thrown away and ignored, can come into their school and kill kids and teachers to become famous.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Parent Epiphany

While I was taking a shower this morning I had quite the epiphany (showering is usually when I have my best thoughts and ideas) about my Dad and his macaroni and cheese making.  Turns out, I could have been wrong about a few things...gasp!

A little trip back in time...

My Dad was the primary cook in our household growing up.  Typically things were great, though, like all of us home cooks, there could be some blunders here and there, his pies are a whole story in themselves for another time.  My Grandfather was also the primary cook in his house, that I can remember, and he made the best macaroni and cheese.  He would use spaghetti instead of noodles, and there was just something wonderful about it.  My Dad's mac and cheese was good, but it was never JUST mac and cheese.  He ALWAYS had to add something to it.  We would ask what was for dinner and he would say pork, mac and cheese...yada yada yada, and we would be ready for it, until we saw the macaroni and cheese which was decidedly a casserole.  He couldn't help himself.  He HAD to add something in, typically it would include green chilies, but there was always something.  We would groan and tease him that he was incapable of making JUST macaroni and cheese and he would take it, usually laughing along, sometimes getting his feelings hurt.

I could never understand his need to add more...until this morning's shower.

I do the same thing.  I feel a desperate need to make sure that I get lots of healthy goodness into my kids' dinner.  Veggies and more veggies, vitamins, minerals, they've all got to be there.  I feel the pull to add more goodness, sometimes where it doesn't belong.  I long for ways to sneak in spinach and kale to one pot meals.  Salads always have too much stuff in them.  And, then this morning while I was contemplating macaroni and cheese with dinner, I thought it...what can I add that will make it better, and WHAM, my inner hypocrite sounded it's warning  Wasn't that Dad?  Didn't I mercilessly tease him for not being able to leave the macaroni and cheese alone?  Here I was thinking what I could add to make it more wholesome, and perhaps a one pot meal, and I.  Was.  Him.

I get it now, and I feel like I kind of owe him an apology.  I can feel him chuckling under his breath, thinking I finally got it.  You know, one of those, "when you're older you'll understand" moments.  I am a little sad that I can't call him and tell him, and make him laugh, but I do feel that he is already.

Sorry Dad!

Now...what should I add to my macaroni and cheese?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Mom's visit to Chicago!

I'm so proud of my AWESOME Mom!  She is such an inspiration and definitely the strongest woman I know!  After Dad's passing, I admit that I thought she would be a little lost without him, and certainly there are times that she needs him and I know that she misses him every single moment of the day.  But, he would be so proud of her, making her life the one she wants to live, taking care of issues that arise, and enjoying her independence.

In July, Mom drove across country to visit family in Indiana and then proceeded to stay over a month with us.  She brought with her a magic that affected us all.  She inflated us with happines, she energized us and motivated us into getting projects done, and she was here when I had my hysterectomy.  She was a god-send!  So, when we were able to bring her back out here for a month in December/January, I was overjoyed with excitement!  Not only will she be here for the holidays, but for the kids' birthdays and their respective band and chorus performances.  I am so excited to see her again!

While she was here in July, we took a bit of a road trip down to Chicago and had loads of fun exploring the city right around the Millennium Park area.  It was an amazing day and I love that she enjoys exploring as much as we do!

At the new Millennium Park which is amazing, by the way!  Huge park and loads of fun things to climb on, slide down, or run around!

A fun little mirror garden.
Mom really loved being in downtown, and of course, any time spent with the kids is a great time for her.  
If you're in Chicago, you have to see the Bean, or as it's supposed to be known, Cloud Gate.

The kids had fun playing in the fountain.  Every so often the 'mouth' spits out a huge deluge of water and the kids all squeal in delight!

In a cute little side garden that we found and had really lush landscaping.

Hooge family photo, 2015

Famous Art Institute of Chicago's lions.

I thought this was a beautiful picture, a lovely place to relax and meditate!

I loved that they had an Urban Agriculture garden.  It was full of beautiful, bountiful food!

Buckingham Fountain.

We ate at an AMAZING Chinese restaurant in China Town.  Minghin had the most amazing Chinese food I've ever had.

As we were crossing the Millennium bridge we just happened to run into our very good friend from the UK, Simon.  I saw him walking in the opposite direction and turned to point him out to Jon, thinking surely it's not him, just when I turned, Jon called out his name.  It was like seeing someone from your hometown.  I miss England so much and to see one of our friends, it was a true blessing!
Chicago, IL July 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Happy Independence Day!

Oh, wait, am I a little late on that?  Sorry!  I have been slowly editing some of my more recent photos and decided to start here for July 4th.

Last year we spent the 4th at my cousin's house, she lives right on the parade route, in Lebanon, Indiana.  I love doing the 4th there.  It's an idyllic time.  Everyone wears red, white, and blue.  They drive around in decorated golf carts, the floats are original, and the parade always has lots of columbines and characters galore.

The family usually gathers and in days past had Uncle Perk's homemade ice cream, which is the most delicious ice cream ever!  Everyone chips in and brings the favorites like pulled pork, banana pudding, bean salad, etc.  The food is delish!

Originally, we had planned on travelling from Chicago down to Lebanon for the 4th, meeting my Mom there and then driving back up, with her, to our house.  We found out that our town has a pretty great parade, too, that literally comes as close as just a couple of houses away from us, so...we decided to stay and see what it was all about.  I still did miss Lebanon, though.

It was a fantastic parade, made even better that our house was so close.  It seems our parade is used to being shot at with water guns, and so when the watches spray them...they spray back.  We will definitely have to have our water guns ready for next year.  The kids had fun and it was a blast seeing neighbors we know and meeting new people from our area.

After the parade and a short walk home, we met our good friends for a July 4th BBQ.  The kids swam and met new friends.  We shot off little fireworks and the kids had sparklers.  And, again, it was fun meeting new people.

It was a great day to celebrate our Independence!

July 4th, 2015

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Day Trippin in May

I can't remember why we decided to take a quick day trip one weekend in May, but I think it had something to do with just doing something different and getting out of the house.  We traveled north into Wisconsin (not that far from us believe it or not) and up into Milwaukee.  After we arrived for a bit, it was decided that we would stop at a kite festival they were having right on the lake.  We stayed there a while and looked around and decided it was time for some lunch.  After getting turned around on the highway loop a couple of times, we found an amazing area filled with restaurants.  We decided, hopefully, on a cute little Mexican restaurant and were pleasantly surprised to find it the closest to what we were used to in Arizona.  It was awesome to have that little taste of home.  Afterward, we stopped on our way home at...The Cheese Castle.  Yes folks, a whole castle full of cheese and anything you could ever want to eat with cheese.  You can find more information here.  Then a short drive later we saw an A&W stand and decided the kids should have a proper rootbeer float.  Seriously, does anyone make them as good as they do?
It was a lovely, unexpected day, and hopefully one the kids will remember with a few smiles.

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Dan-Dan Noodles

Dan-Dan noodles have a long history in Jon's and my life together.  When we lived in Scottsdale, we found a little restaurant that had the best Dan-Dan noodles.  What are Dan-Dan noodles?  Well, Wikipedia says:

Dandan noodles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Dandan noodles or dandanmian (traditional Chinese: 擔擔麵, simplified Chinese: 担担面) is a noodle dish originating from Chinese Sichuan cuisine. It consists of a spicy sauce containing preserved vegetables (often including zha cai (榨菜), lower enlarged mustard stems, or ya cai (芽菜), upper mustard stems), chili oilSichuan pepper, minced pork, and scallions served over noodles.
Sesame paste and/or peanut butter is sometimes added, and occasionally replaces the spicy sauce, usually in the Taiwanese and American Chinese style of the dish.[1] In this case, dandanmian is considered as a variation of ma jiang mian (麻醬麵), sesame sauce noodles. In American Chinese cuisine, dandanmian is often sweeter, less spicy, and less soupy than its Sichuan counterpart.
Anyway, they've always been one of Jon's favorite dishes and whenever he would see them on the menu, he would typically order them.  
After we moved back to Arizona from England, Jon decided he was going to try and make them at home.  We learned, in England, that if we wanted some of our American style food then we would have to make it ourselves.  So in that spirit, Jon took on the Dan-Dan.
He did an AMAZING job and we all instantly voted it a family favorite.  Even Mom was excited to try and make it after we left for Illinois.
Fast forward to two nights ago.  Jon had planned to make the Dan-Dan before he left Sunday afternoon, but it just didn't work out, so I had to make it for dinner Monday night.  I was a little nervous that the kids wouldn't like mine at all.  I was partially right, the both said it was okay, but that Jon's was better.  Personally, I preferred mine as it was more a bit my style, and so that is the recipe I am posting here.  

Jen's Dan-Dan Noodles
1 1/2 Large chicken breasts
1/2  medium onion
3 garlic cloves
Chow mein noodles, dry.  (we typically use whatever noodle we have in the pantry which          can be rice noodles, wonton noodles...even ramen noodles)
1/2 Cup mushrooms, chopped
1 small can water chestnuts, chopped
1 packet of hot and spicy Szechwan seasoning mix
4 green onions, chopped
1 Tbs of vegetable oil (do not use olive oil)
1 Cup bean sprouts
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julianned.

Put on a pot of water to boil.  Make the seasoning pack if necessary (some packages include everything others have you add soy, etc)  Add the green onions to the sauce.
Put the onion and garlic in a food processor and pulse till chopped, not too small.  Cut up and add the chicken in large chunks, then the pepper.  Again pulse, but this time till the chicken gets to a ground chicken consistency.  
Get your wok on the stove on medium high.  Add vegetable oil.  When the oil starts to marble add in the chopped chicken mixture, mushrooms, and water chestnuts. After the chicken is cooked through add the sauce mixture.  Stir and coat.  This is where you need to taste.  Does it have enough spice or salt?  If you like it spicy add some Sriacha, if it needs a little salt, add a bit of soy sauce.  As soon as the sauce thickens, drop your noodles into the boiling water.  I do not salt this water as there is a lot of salt in the sauce already.  Typically the noodles will cook very quickly, make sure not to over cook your noodles.  Take the chicken mix off the stove until the noodles are done.
Build your plate.  Noodles, chicken mix, and then top with bean sprouts and cucumber.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The BEST Tuna Salad EVER!

I'm not a huge fan of tuna salad, or even just tuna in general.  However, when I saw Geoffrey Zakarian on one of my favorite cooking shows, The Kitchen, on the Food Network the other day, I thought I could give it a try.  I went to buy a can of tuna packed in olive oil, saw the price, and decided I just couldn't pay $4 for a can of tuna, even though Jon and I rarely buy the 'cheap' tuna, $4 a can was just too steep.  So, I bought our normal tuna steak packed in water, and it was absolutely delicious.  I guess, it could have been better with the tuna in olive oil, but I'm fine with what I had.  The recipe I did was tweaked just a bit to suit my tastes and my pantry.  I know it doesn't sound great, at first, but if you try this, you will love it!

Tuna with Celery and Walnuts

1 Can of tuna, drained
1 Celery stalk minced
3 Tbs walnuts, toasted and chopped
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp capers, drained
1 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbs mayo (optional, I added mine to bind all the rest)
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything well except the capers.  Add those last and fold in.  I liked mine refrigerated for a bit, but you can eat right away and it's great.  I ate mine on crackers.

Aside from the mayo, this is a fabulous way to get that good fat into your body that helps fight bad fat and helps your brain.  Let me know if you try it!

Want to see the original recipe?  Go here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cinnamon Apple Bread

I was looking to use up that one last apple that nobody ever seems to want to eat and turn it into something for breakfast for the kids.  I looked at my pins on Pinterest and found a recipe that I thought I'd try.  Turns out it was delicious!  Joseph loves it, and although I had to cajole Joci into trying it, she ended up liking it, too.  I doubled my recipe as the apple that I had was massive.  I was going to freeze one loaf, but the first went a lot faster than I ever thought.

homemadeapple bread

Cinnamon Apple Bread 

1/2 Cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 Cup AP flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 Cup milk
1 apple, peeled, chopped

Preheat oven to 350°.  Mix brown sugar and cinnamon together and set aside.  In mixing bowl cream sugar and butter, add eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla.  Add the flour, baking powder, and milk.  Mix well.  Pour half the batter in a greased loaf pan.  Top with half the apple, then sprinkle half the cinnamon and brown sugar mix over.  Pour remaining batter in and then the apples and sugar mix.  Bake for 50 minutes.

Used the recipe and photo found here, at The Happier Homemaker.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

My Son is a Football Player!

My son is a football player.  That's not something I thought I'd say again.  I know he played flag football A LOT when he was little, but he got so burnt out on it, I thought it was done.  Little did I know.

When we moved to Illinois, we decided to let Joe play football.  We asked the neighbors that we met in the summer where we should go to enroll him and they all said the Buffalo Grove Bills were the best.  They were right.  The BGB program is serious business.

After we spent a small fortune and gave Joe the requisite lectures about being serious, practicing, and not being able to quit, we let him go.  The first week, Jon was out of town and I went to Joe's practices while Joci played at the local park.  Joe fell and hurt his ankle.  He sat out for awhile and so I approached to see what was going on.  He was in pain, he started to cry.  I held it together and said that he had to try and work through the pain as there was no swelling, etc, his ankle looked okay.  One of the coaches walked up and asked if he could help.  He was very kind and I spilled that we had just moved, lost my Dad to cancer, and that this is a big change for Joe and I couldn't let him quit.  The coach told me that he didn't want Joe to hate football and that I should take him home for today and see how he would feel the next day.  He said that they would take care of Joe and teach him football.  Later, we found out that coach was to be Joe's coach.  Coach Krames.  Apparently, he had traded for Joe to be on his team and promised the other coach that he would mentor him, and he soooo did!

BEST COACH EVER!  Never mind that my kid hadn't really played, ran a little funny, was a bit slow, quiet, and let's face it, not very athletic.  He chose Joe because he was willing to do anything the coaches asked him to do and he had heart.  He turned Joe into a football player and taught him what it was to be a part of the team.  He even stepped in and gave him pep talks about getting his homework done and making the sacrifice that it takes to achieve excellence.  Did I tell you that I love Joe's coach?

I'm so proud of my son!  When he first came home with major bruises and I would get upset, he would beg me to let him play.  He was excited and involved.  He made lots of new friends, and he stuck it out even when he really didn't want to at times.  He's not the last one in the field run anymore, and he's really, really good at his position, which is Right Guard.  He still wears his BGB football jersey every Friday to school even though the season is over.  Heck, he still wears that thing 2-3 times a week.

In the end, after all the bruises, tears, hours of practice, and straight up attitude, Joe's team won their Superbowl.  I have never yelled and screamed so much in my life.  Our team party is this Sunday, and I think Joe has literally asked me 10 times to make sure that his jersey was clean for it!  
He's so proud of those bruises!

Joe with the Superbowl trophy.

Jon was a great Assistant Coach for Joe's team and so proud of Joe!

I love this picture of the team right after they won the Superbowl.  The only thing missing is Jon.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year Thanksgiving was quite different for us.  It was quiet and understated, and just perfect.  Normally, we have lots of family or friends for dinner.  It's usually a hectic day, and at some point I freak out and get overwhelmed, usually with some tears.  This year, I cooked Thanksgiving dinner in my pajama bottoms, blue flannel with snowflakes on them.  Everyone hung out and relaxed, the kids and I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade all the way through and LIVE.  Football was on the rest of the day.  Jon got to take a nap, Joe finished painting his volcano, and Jocelyn wrote a mystery novel.

Later, Joe set the table and it looked just lovely.  He also helped me put all the food on the table.  At dinner, we all talked about what we are thankful for.  Joe was thankful for his family and friends.  Joci was thankful for the whole world.  I was thankful for a husband that works hard to provide for his family, and for children that are so awesome.  Jon was thankful for the food on the table, the roof over our heads and his family.  We all agreed we were thankful for our Jarvis who, in turn, was thankful for all the turkey he got!  We are so blessed.

I did miss my family and thought about Dad a lot.  He would have liked to have had ham, and we didn't, we stuck with turkey this year.  Although, I made a booboo and forgot to take out the neck giblets, oops.

After all that, and to my grateful heart, Jon and the kids cleared the table and did the dishes, while I changed out the laundry.  Then we all gathered and watched Cause for Paws and talked about how happy we were that we rescued Jarvis.

It was the most chill Thanksgiving we have ever had and I really loved every minute of it.  So chill, in fact, that I didn't get any pictures, oh well.  I'll share these pictures, though, of last year's Thanksgiving.  I didn't blog about it as it was right after Dad passed and I was not in the mood for blogging.  But we did have a lovely Thanksgiving all together, which he would have really loved.

I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving as well.

Thanksgiving, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pilgrim Simulations in Jocelyn's Class

Today I was invited to help out in Jocelyn's classroom with their Pilgrim simulation.  Apparently, just about every day they work on their simulation talking about what it was really like to be a pilgrim and calculating how to build and keep homes, how many pilgrims died from hunger and disease, and how the living conditions were quite different from those that we live in now.  I loved how organized and truthful the details were and that the children had to make decisions for themselves, but also that fate was a big part of it all as well.

What I helped with today, however, was a tasting demonstration.  In order for the children to add crops to their simulation they had to try the majority of the items on their plates.  I helped set the plates out that had peas, sweet potatoes, corn, beets, and Lima beans on them.  To my happy surprise, most of the children ate everything on their plates.  There were a few that refused much of anything, but on the whole most of them liked it.  There was only one little girl who told me she liked chicken nuggets on Thanksgiving.

It is such a privilege to be able to help in the kids' classrooms and see how they are doing, interacting with others and absorbing their studies.  For now they still enjoy having me come in and help out, I'm pretty sure that will change soon enough.  As for me, I love it!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Split Pea and Ham Soup

Split Pea and Ham Soup

For my family, this is the best cold weather meal.  I love that it is full of veggie goodness, and even better that each person in my family like it.  It does help that I put lots of ham in ours to satisfy everyone, and that the dish starts off with a bit of bacon grease (you can substitute olive oil).

2 Tablespoons bacon grease (olive oil substitute)
1 medium onion diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon of minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2-3 Cups of cubed ham
1 bag of split peas
6 Cups chicken stock (can substitute with veggie or even pork stock)
2 bay dried bay leaves
1/2 Cup heavy cream

Saute the onion and carrots in the bacon grease until softened.  Add the garlic, red pepper, dried oregano, black pepper, ham and stir.  Add the split peas and let cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes to absorb the flavors.  Add the 6 Cups of stock, stir, and add the bay leaves.  Now you have to be patient.  Let simmer on stove, covered, for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.  If it gets too thick, you can add water, but keep in mind you will be adding the cream at the end, and that will loosen the soup up a bit, so don't let it get too thin.  Right before serving add the heavy cream.  This part IS optional, but I will tell you that it makes all the difference in the soup and gives it a lovely, velvety consistency as well.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Missing you, Dad

So, today is the day.  We 'lost' my Dad one year ago today.  It certainly doesn't feel like it's been a year, but the calendar says it has.  And yet, everything is still so fresh, so raw.  It's still so hard to talk about him without tears in my eyes or a big lump in my throat.  A hundred times a week I am reminded that my Dad is gone.  Mostly when something happens and I want to share it with someone, I think "I should skype with Dad", and then the realization that there is no Dad comes and hammers into me that I will never speak to him again.  I will never hears his laugh, or worse, feel his bear hugs.  My Dad was the one person in the whole world that knew sometimes all I needed was a hug and a reassuring word to feel better.

So it's been a year.  It's time for me to, what, move on?  I don't know how to put into words what I mean to do, except maybe just not be as sad anymore, or as raw.  Maybe smile more, cry less.  I don't really know, but I do know it's time.  Tonight I will cry and remember and know that no matter what, the love my Dad had for me and my children was real, lasting, forever.  I know that I will be okay without my Dad, although with him would have been better.  I will try to let go of the bitterness I feel at times when I see other Grandparents with their grandchildren.  Hopefully, the hole in my heart will heal a little more, though I know it will never go away completely.

November 11, 2014