She works with willing hands.

The Everyday Sex Talk

“Mommy, what is this?”  A few days ago my five-year-old son was rifling through an old diaper bag that he pulled out of his sister’s closet.  He noted the contents aloud, pulling out old baby socks, sunscreen, a few dollar bills, an umbrella (I knew I had one somewhere), and some miscellaneous granola bar wrappers and old tissues (I’m organized and tidy like that).  Finally, he pulled out a wrapped tampon, looked at it quizzically, and approached me for an explanation.  “Mommy, what is this thing?”

I took in a breath and gave myself a moment.

Then I told him: “That is called a tampon.  Women use it when they have their period.  A period is when a woman bleeds from her vagina.”  He gave me a brief, satisfied look and continued playing with the items strewn across the hallway.

You see, we have been having brief conversations just like this one since my son was a toddler.  I could have just as easily been explaining to him why water freezes when it drops to a certain temperature, or why dust accumulates on a surface that hasn’t been wiped recently.

My children look to me every day to explain the world to them – to frame it for them.  They know that they should be quiet in the library, that it’s good to try new foods, that we treat other people with kindness, that God uniquely made each of them, and that they have penises and their sister has a vulva.  They understand that they can touch their own penis, but they can’t touch anyone else’s penis or vulva.  They understand who can touch their private spots and under what circumstances (mommy or daddy – to help wash them, or the pediatrician – if they give permission first and mommy and daddy are in the room).  They would not understand these things intuitively, without guidance, explanation and direction.

You see, in our home we practice the everyday sex talk.  This doesn’t mean that we talk about sex every day or that our small children understand intercourse in graphic detail.  What it does mean is that no topic is off limits.  If my children ask me a question about sex – or a question about anything, really – I will give them an honest answer.

We also teach our children about sex in age-appropriate ways.  My boys (aged five and three) understand that babies are made when an egg inside of mommy’s body combines with a tiny piece of daddy’s body.  They understand that babies arrive into this world via the vagina and that breasts are used to feed babies.

When it comes to my children and their multitudinous questions, I want to be the authority.  I want them to know that no matter the topic, they can come ask mommy or daddy, and we will always tell them the truth.  It does not mean that it is always simple, or that clear and direct explanations slide off my tongue with ease.  Quite the opposite is often the case.  And I’m certain that their questions, and in turn my explanations, will only grow more challenging as my children grow.

But these are not awkward, uncomfortable moments.  They are part of the fabric of our family culture – part of the way we communicate.  They are moments that make me pause, consider the world from my child’s perspective, crouch down, look into an inquisitive pair of hazel eyes, and communicate the truth.

When my son asked about the tampon, I could have pulled it from his hand and told him “it’s something for mommy” or “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”  But I didn’t, and here is why:

1.  I want my kids to feel comfortable asking me anything.

2.  I want my kids to trust that I will tell them the truth.

3.  I want to frame the topic of sex for my children, rather than allowing the world to pervert it.

4.  I want to do my best to protect my children from sexual abuse.

An informed child is a deterrent to potential sexual offenders.  This does not mean that discussing sex with my small children will somehow guarantee that they will never be victimized, but it’s an important step towards protecting them.

For more information about equipping your children in an effort to protect them from sexual abuse, visit http://www.riseandshinemovement.org/.

And look where I found that tampon today.  He said he’s keeping it in a safe place for mommy, “in case of emergency.”

tampon

Tilapia Tacos and Simple Mango Salsa

I’m an unbored housewife and I like to keep it simple.  Yes, that pithy little saying is oft repeated because it rings true.  Take it easy on yourself – and keep it simple.

If I suddenly had an abundance of time for practicing my dicing skills, would I add three or four additional ingredients to this simple mango salsa?  Perhaps.  But methinks it’s not really necessary.  It tastes pretty darn yummy with only five ingredients (plus salt and pepper).  It’s simple stuff.

This meal is perhaps best enjoyed out on the deck in the warm shade of the late afternoon sun.  The fish is delish cooked on the grill.  But, alas, it is February here in Pennsylvania so cooking on the grill is a no-go.  Brrrrrrr.

grill

We can always pretend that our noses are sunkissed and we’re wearing strappy sandals.

Today I’ll cook my fish on the stove in a grill pan and it will turn out divine.

Here are the main ingredients:

tilapia tacos

Make the salsa first.  You don’t want your fish sitting around getting cold while you cut your mango.  Mangoes can be boogers to peel and dice.

Rinse your mango well.  Start by cutting the mango flesh off of the pit (the long, flat seed in the middle).  Hold your mango up on end and slice all the way down the flatter side of the mango, getting close to the pit but not cutting into it.  Repeat on the other side.

mango cut

Now you should have two large “cheeks” of mango.  Next, slice all the way down to remove the smaller sides of flesh.  Waste not…

mango cut2

Now score your mango cheeks by making shallow slices in the flesh, first lengthwise and then across.

mango

mango2

After scoring the flesh, push on the backside of the mango and voila!

mango3

Now use your fingers or a spoon and scrape off these pretty little hunks of yumminess.  I also chose to dice mine slightly smaller for little mouths.  Your choice.

Now don’t judge my knife skills…yours are probably far superior.  But, as the age-old saying goes – ain’t nobody got time for that.

Throw your diced mango into a small-ish bowl.

mango in bowl

Now, rinse a medium-sized red onion.  You’ll use about one-third of an onion this size for your salsa.

red onion

Finely dice your onion.  Rinse a large bell pepper and cut it in half.  Pull out the stem and seeds.  I used half of an orange bell pepper in my salsa.  You can also use a red, yellow or green bell pepper.  Let your taste buds guide you.  Red bell peppers are the sweetest, followed by yellow, orange and then green.  Green bell peppers have a slightly bitter taste and I typically prefer them in cooked dishes.

orange pepperDice your pepper and throw that in the bowl, too.

onion and pepper

Mince three to four jarred jalapeno slices and add them to the bowl.  You can also use fresh jalapeno for more color and kick.

jalapeno

Now juice a whole fresh lime and pour that citric-y deliciousness on top of your diced ingredients.

juiced lime

I took this picture with my nose because I had no available hands:

lime juice

Season with course sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

sea salt

Now stir to combine.  Isn’t that pretty?  And easy peasy.

final mango salsa

On to the fish.

Now, I know that some of you may have arguments against indulging in farm raised tilapia – some of them perhaps persuasive.  But this unbored housewife picks her battles.  Let’s save that discussion for another day, shall we?

I use individually sealed, frozen tilapia filets.  Easily stored and quickly defrosted, they keep it simple.

Rub each tilapia filet with canola oil.  Quarter a fresh lime and squeeze the lime wedges over the fish.

tilapia filet

Sprinkle generously with Adobo seasoning.

Can we just talk Adobo for a minute?  I was introduced to this stuff by some Puerto Rican friends and apparently every Spanish-speaking country has its own variety.  Although I don’t speak the language I’ve adopted Adobo as my own and if you don’t have any on hand you can make my Homemade Adobo Seasoning.

Today I used my homemade Adobo rather than the commercial variety because I think it’s tastier, but I’m biased, of course.

seasoned tilapia

Rub your grill pan with a little canola oil and heat it to medium-high heat.  Then throw on your fish, topping each filet with a small pat of butter.

tilapia grill pan

Cook the fish for three to four minutes per side, or until it flakes easily with a fork.

final tilapia1

To assemble your tacos, chunk up some fish and place it into flour tortillas.  I use the store bought variety.  If you’re fancy you can warm your tortillas in tinfoil in the oven, but this unbored housewife ain’t got time for that.

Top the fish with mango salsa and dig in.  Ignore the polar vortex or Siberian Express outside and pretend that you’re wearing a tank top.  Summer will be here before we know it, dear ones.

To complete the meal, serve this with my yummy Spanish Rice.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE SALSA:

1 large ripe mango

1/3 medium red onion

1/2 large orange bell pepper

3-4 slices jarred jalapeno

1 fresh lime

Course sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

FOR THE TILAPIA TACOS:

6 tilapia filets

Canola oil for coating the fish and grill pan

1 additional fresh lime

Homemade Adobo Seasoning (or commercial Adobo seasoning)

Butter

Flour tortillas

Pantry Meatballs

I’m an unbored housewife and I can’t just make a quick run to the grocery store when I forget an ingredient.  Grocery shopping with three tiny humans is much like attempting to appease a ferocious beast that grows increasingly savage the longer it is strapped into a ridiculously large shopping cart shaped like a car.  And can I just express my love/hate feelings towards said shopping carts?  I love them because they actually contain all three of my beasts…I mean children.  I loathe them because they are absurdly immense and difficult to steer.  Much like the large SUV that I drive, I’m always paranoid that someone is watching me attempt to maneuver my cart and thinking “she doesn’t know how to drive that thing.”

Today I have approximately a pound and a half of ground beef on hand and not much else in the way of fresh ingredients.  But I sure as heck don’t feel like loading said large SUV with my three beasts, driving to the grocery store and appeasing them to buy just a few ingredients.

So I’ll make my pantry meatballs!

These babies are easily made with just ingredients that you probably already have on hand.  If you don’t have these ingredients on hand, we should chat about appropriately stocking your kitchen – but we’ll save that conversation for another day.

Growing up I didn’t eat much Italian food, but my husband is a Jersey Boy.  Italian cuisine is as synonymous with New Jersey as hair gel, sweet corn and going “down the shore.”  So I learned to cook Italiano style.

For some real deal Italian cooking, I will feature some of my Italian friends’ recipes in the coming weeks.  It will be fun stuff.

But today we’re talking pantry meatballs.

Start with roughly one and a half pounds of ground beef.  This was frozen and I defrosted it in the refrigerator overnight.

defrosted

In order to feed the beasts, I buy my ground beef in family-sized packs and freeze it in smaller, one to two pound increments.  It’s economical, baby.

Break up your ground beef just a bit and toss it into a mixing bowl.  Crack two eggs into the bowl.

crack egg

Next add three-quarters of a cup of seasoned dry bread crumbs.

bread crumbs

Now go to the fridge and survey your parmesan cheese situation.  I have these two.

parm cheese

I’m going to use the shredded variety because it’s higher quality and tastier.  But if you don’t have it on hand, go for the grated cheese.  It will turn out just fine.  Add one-half cup of cheese to your mixing bowl.

cheese in bowl

Measure two tablespoons of dried parsley and add it to your ingredients.

dried parsley

Next add one half tablespoon of minced garlic.  I buy this jarred stuff and keep it in the fridge.  Some folks might turn their noses up at jarred minced garlic, but I’m okay with it.

minced garlic

Add one teaspoon of dried oregano.

oregano

Add salt and black pepper according to your taste preferences.  I go fairly light on both.  The parmesan cheese is salty.

Finally, add one-half cup of water.

Now take off your rings and get ready to squish some meat.  Use your hands to squish the meat and mix the ingredients.  But don’t overwork it!  Too much squishing compacts the meat and makes it too dense.  Lead meatballs are not so yummy.

squish

Find a nice-sized baking sheet and rub it with a little olive oil.  Now shape your meatballs.  I like mine on the medium-to-large side.  My Jersey Boy says these are a little larger than a golf ball.  I don’t golf, so I’ll take his word for it.

shaping

shaped balls

Now bake in a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through.  Cooking time of course depends on how large you shaped your meatballs.  Smaller meatballs will be done sooner.

Now pop open a jar of sauce or make your own if you’re so inclined.  Grandma will be assisting me today.

pasta sauce

Serve on crusty rolls for meatball sandwiches or with spaghetti, of course.

These meatballs also freeze well for later use.

Whew, grocery shopping avoided.  For today, at least.  I’ll appease the beasts another day.

final meatballs

INGREDIENTS

1 and 1/2 lb. ground beef

2 eggs

3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1/2 cup shredded or grated parmesan cheese

2 tbsp. dried parsley

1/2 tbsp. minced garlic

1 tsp. dried oregano

Salt and black pepper

1/2 cup water

Drizzle of olive oil

Bravely Dancing – Originally posted at Hello, Darling

Originally posted at Hello, Darling

http://www.mops.org/blog/bravely-dancing

I surveyed the women quickly filing in as I entered the cavernous gymnasium.  They were all ages, and to my relief represented a broad range of body shapes and sizes.  They were bedecked in varying styles of fitness attire, with many of the more stylish gals standing near the front of the gym.  Those girls up front made me nervous with their slick ponytails, name-brand yoga pants and neon shoes laces.  I looked down at my sneakers and pondered, “Are these even stylish?  I think they were a few years ago.”  I nervously tugged at my pre-baby black cropped pants, hitching them a few inches higher in an effort to tuck in my post-partum belly.  On top I wore a baggy Harvard t-shirt my husband brought back from a recent business trip to Boston.  I felt sloppy and disgusting, but I had to start somewhere.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away I had been a ballerina and a college cheerleader.  But the rigors of law school and later the grueling hours of practicing law at a large international law firm had taken their toll on my body – and that was before children.  After squeezing out three babies in just over four years, my body was in shambles and my fitness level poor.  Although a piece of me stood in awe of what my body had done by growing and then birthing my precious children, I also felt ashamed of my sagging belly and gigantic, milk-filled breasts.

The music started and I forced myself to make it through each song.  I felt clumsy and graceless.  My chest ached for a stronger sports bra, and I was terrified that at any moment I would pee myself.  Dancing used to be so effortless.  Why did this feel so hard?

Despite my discouragement I vowed to return, and I did.  Slowly, over time, as I learned the dance fitness routines, I started enjoying myself.

It’s been a year since first stepping foot in that gym.  Since starting the class I have lost 50 plus pounds and gained muscle tone and strength.  However, the true measure of what I have gained is much greater.  I am finding myself again.

I started my first dance class as a mere babe of two-years-old.  I studied various forms of dance for the first twenty years of my life before the demands of studies and building a career ended dance for me.  Each of my pregnancies brought significant weight gains (far in excess of medical recommendations) and my body became utilitarian.  I lost all sense of myself as graceful and fluid.  However, my fitness class reminded me of my great passion for dance.  It makes me feel alive and free.  For an hour a few times a week, I get to be a young girl again – moving, bending, stretching gracefully.

Now when I see a new woman sliding quietly into the back of the gym, nervously tugging on her pants, I give her a knowing smile and say hello.  I don’t want my slick ponytail and neon shoe laces to intimidate her.  I am her, after all – just more like myself.

Simple Red Beans and Rice

I’m an unbored housewife and I don’t have all day to craft gorgeous meals.  I’m typically cooking with a toddler clinging to my calves while my two preschoolers systematically destroy my house room by room.  I need a repertoire of meals that are easily prepared and consistently well received by my brood.  Enter red beans and rice.  Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I grew up eating them.

Much like your favorite pair of underwear, red beans and rice may not be the most glamorous thing to look at, but man are they comfortable.  You just keeping going back to them over and over again.

Did I just compare my family’s favorite meal to a pair of old underwear?  Why yes.  Yes I did.  It makes perfect sense in my head.

For some inexplicable reason, folks are intimidated by cooking with dried beans.  Let me assuage this fear, dear ones.  There is almost nothing easier to use in cooking.  However, dried beans take a bit of planning ahead.  They are definitely not for the 5:45 p.m. “oh crap what the hey am I going to feed these people” moment.

Oh, and it’s a cheap meal.  I’ve never calculated the total cost but smoked sausage is the most expensive ingredient at $3.99 from my local Wegmans.

Here are the main ingredients.  I told you it was simple.

red beans

I prefer Goya beans but any decent quality dried red bean will do.  You can also buy organic, of course.

Empty your beans into a large pot and quickly look through them, tossing out any grody-looking beans.  Cover your beans with a few inches of cool water.  Now you have a choice depending on your time frame.  Either:

(1) soak your beans at room temperature for at least eight hours or overnight; or

(2) bring your beans to a rapid boil and boil briskly for two to three minutes, turn off the heat, cover your beans and let them sit for at least an hour.

This is called soaking the beans and it both reduces cooking time and breaks down some of the indigestible sugars that make you fart.  Yes, I just said fart.  We’re talking about beans, okay?

After your beans are done soaking, drain the water out of your pot and re-cover the beans with a few inches of fresh water.

beans clean water

Dice one large onion (or two medium onions) and throw it in your pot.

onion

Cut your smoked sausage into bite-sized pieces and throw that in, too.

sausage

Add one tablespoon of minced garlic.  Fresh is best but for convenience you can use this, too.

garlic

Throw in a bay leaf.

bay leaf

Now salt and pepper.  As with all seasoning, your measurements are really a matter of taste but I typically add approximately one teaspoon of salt and one-quarter teaspoon of black pepper at this point.  Then I adjust after the beans are done by adding a little more salt to taste.  It’s always best to go light on the salt and add more later.

Now crank up your heat to a rapid boil and allow your ingredients to boil for two to three minutes.  Stir your beans (making sure none are stuck to the bottom of the pot) and turn down your burner to medium low.  Your beans should be at a simmer.  Place the lid ajar on your pot, permitting just a little steam to escape as your beans cook.

lid ajar

Periodically stir your beans and make sure they remain covered by water.  Add more warm water if necessary.  Cooking time will vary depending on how you soaked your beans, but generally red beans will be done in one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours.  You will know they are done when the beans are soft and slighty mushy.  Mash some of the beans to thicken up the texture.  The beans should be a soupy but not watery consistency.  You can cook them even longer (until they start to break down) if you prefer a thicker, creamier consistency.

Remove the bay leaf.

Serve over cooked white rice.  Sprinkle a little Tabasco on top if you’re feeling spicy.  (I prefer the green variety.)  Yum yum.  They’re comfy, I tell you, just like your favorite undies.

Go make some in honor Madi Gras!  Laissez les bons temps rouler!

INGREDIENTS

16 oz. dried red kidney beans

1 large or 2 medium onions, diced

14 oz. smoked sausage

1 tbsp. minced garlic

1 bay leaf

salt and black pepper

Spades and Charades – Poconos 2015

I’m an unbored housewife and I’m exhausted…but today I don’t mind one bit.  Our family just returned from our annual winter trip to the mountains.  Every year we rent a big house with two other families, pack up mounds of stuff, and schlep it all two and a half hours north.  We cook most of our meals at the house and let our kids run around like wild animals.

The first night of the trip we always endure the delight of trying to get nine kids – aged one to eight years old – to stay in their beds AND JUST GO TO SLEEP.  YOUR FRIENDS WILL STILL BE HERE WHEN YOU WAKE UP.  WE’RE STAYING HERE FOR DAYS.  YOU’LL HAVE PLENTY OF TIME TO PLAY TOGETHER.

Sorry.  I didn’t mean to yell at you.

During daylight hours the men folk take the kids for hikes through snow coated woods and of course we sled.  Mounds of snow, little kids, sleds, red cheeks and cold noses.  It really is magical.

V on sled

kids on hill

Sometimes I wish they would be like this always.

After long days full of sledding, game playing, laughter and the occasional tear, no convincing is necessary to get them to close their little eyes and go to sleep.  And then…ahh…the real fun begins.

The men drink beer and us ladies eat Girl Scout Cookies (wild, I know).  This year most of our competitive enthusiasm centered around the games of spades and charades.  There are few things more enjoyable than watching a grown man attempt to convey “cocktail dress” using only hand motions.  And although we know that our little ones will open their eyes during the 6 a.m. hour, we stay up late, playing and laughing.  Much like the kids, there is even the occasional tear.  It’s so good, though.  Good spending hours with friends who are also working through the joys, trials and monotony of parenthood.  Because that’s really what life is made of – joy, trials and monotony.  And I certainly don’t want to do it alone.

Our crew, 2011:

IMG_6874

Same crew, plus two, 2015:

2015 stairs

My oh my, how time does fly.