30 November 2013

Back-to-School Project

This year, I have been fortunate enough to work with an amazing group of people and be a part of a local Back-to-School Project through the Outreach Committee at my church in Methuen. The project was started a few years ago when two people from First Church, Congregational got together and joined forces with the Methuen Arlington Neighborhood, Inc. The project provides a complete back to school outfit, backpack and school supplies to 150 of Methuen’s students who are most in need of assistance.
The project is now in its third year and still going strong with the help of local businesses and people in the church and community, who are working together to make it a success. We were able to work with Old Navy and Payless Shoe to receive a significant discount on the clothing and shoes we needed to purchase for the project. Our partnerships with the Methuen School Faculty and Staff, the John Hancock Masonic Lodge, Lawrence General Hospital and Holy Family Hospital continue to flourish. Donations and support through these and other Methuen and Greater Lawrence businesses/organizations, as well as from generous private citizens and parishioners allows us to continue with this project each year.

Recipients Giving Back
This year we are offering the recipients an opportunity to experience the joy of giving. On Shopping Day, the volunteers will be helping the children with origami and craft projects to be mailed to Support our Troops.
Donate to the Back-to-School Clothes Project
You can help the children in our community who can’t afford the basic clothing and school supplies needed to start the school year off right. If you would like to make a donation, send your check, payable to the Back to School Clothes Project, to First Church, 26 Pleasant Street, Methuen MA 01844
If you are employed or a member of a professional organization that would like to get involved, please contact me at FirstChurchEvents@gmail.com for more information.
———————————————————————————–
Thank you for taking the time to learn about this important outreach project in my community. Please share with others who may wish to get involved. I would love to hear about outreach projects going on in your community and how others are getting involved.
~Cheri

Boston Children's Museum - Target $1 night

After being rained out of our day time plans in Boston, we decided to take the kids to the Boston Children’s Museum and take advantage of $1 admission night courtesy of Target. Every Friday night from 5-9 Target sponsors $1 admission. As it was raining, we drove into Boston and parked at the lot across the street, which is $15 after 5. Not a bad price for anyone who knows how costly parking can be in the city. On a nice day, if I was looking for a cheaper parking option, I might drive around the area and find street parking or look into which T line to take.

If you’re thinking that it might not be worth dealing with the crowd due to the great price, I would think again. At least on the rainy days, the past two times we have gone, it really hasn’t been too crowded. Maybe because a lot of people take public transportation and don’t like to be walking in the rain.

The kids had a blast, which is important! We also saved a lot of money, which is necessary when you are working on a tight budget. Stay tuned for more posts on things to do with kids while saving money. I’d love to here your ideas of how you save money and still have fun with the family…leave me a comment below.
~Cheri

Just Your Average Day...

Every day seems to have something interesting going on when you have 3 & 5 year-old boys at home. One should be concerned about what they might flush down the toilet each time they are in the bathroom. They seem to think it is an indoor whirlpool that the toys want to swim down – according to my sons. The 3 year old has informed me that crumbs are supposed to be on the floor, so that his friends, the ants, have something to eat. Apparently making puddles on the floor in the bathroom, is so we can get fish and have plenty of places for them to swim.



Today, the 3 year-old decided that the vitamin water had a splinter.
Needless to say, their imaginations are in great shape and I don’t have to worry about having a boring day anytime soon. Now if only I could get them to do more of the cleaning of their own messes, it would allow me to keep up with the rest of the never-ending housework, like dishes and laundry.
I’d love to hear your stories of what “creative” things your kids get themselves into…leave me a comment below.
~Cheri

Learning to Focus...

Learning to Focus and Finding Balance are two things that you’ll probably here from me often. They are two of the things, that I am constantly striving to do. It always seems like my daily schedule with the kids, housework, and my own work – that I am constantly moving in several different directions and trying to do it all at once. Some days I feel like my head is constantly spinning and I am just waiting for it to stop.
What is FocusFocus is defined (for this particular use) as:
FOCUS (Dictionary.com)
v. pay particular attention to
For me focus means freeing myself from distractions, in order to complete the tasks I need to get done. Paying attention to each task until it is complete and not letting myself get side-tracked. Which I find to be very difficult these days with the kids and there love of chaos – or at least they seem to love chaos. I keep trying to get them organized, but every time I organize, they find a way to destroy another room. What I need to do is find a way to help them focus on things I need and want them to do, so that I can focus on my own tasks.
Right now I am in the beginning stages of figuring out how to do this. I do look forward to the older ones going back to school. I think having only one home, may help me to get more done, and also help him to learn to do more things by himself without his older brothers trying to tell him what to do. My task over the next couple of weeks, is to prioritize my tasks and schedule and focus my energy on accomplishing the most important things on that list.
How do you focus? Is this something you are also working on? I’d love to hear your stories, tips, ideas…share them with me in a comment below.
~Cheri

Finding Balance...

When you look up the definition of Balance it seems like it would be such a simple thing to achieve.
BALANCE (Dictionary.com)
n. mental steadiness or emotional stability; habit of calm behavior, judgment, etc.
synonyms: poise, composure
If we lived an ideal world where we weren’t always rushing around trying to get things done, then I suppose it would be easy to find balance and keep it. Throw kids in the mix and you are now in a constant state of chaos. You not only have your own schedule and needs to meet, you now have at least one other person, someone who is now dependent on you to help them in their everyday lives. Some days it feels like a roller coaster ride or performing a balancing act on a tightrope.
My goal is to find ways to maintain balance between my own needs and those of my family, throughout our chaotic ever changing schedules. Finding ways during the chaos to find calm and patience to deal with it rationally.
How do you achieve balance in your life? I’d love to hear your stories…feel free to comment below.
~Cheri

Balsamic Crockpot Chicken

Yesterday, I decided to breakout the crockpot and save some time and dishes. I decided to make a very easy Balsamic Crockpot Chicken. I decided to wing it and create my own recipe.
Ingredients:
  • 1.5 lbs Boneless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 bottle of Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • 1 lg vidalia onion – diced
  • 6 cloves garlic – diced
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 1 bunch scallions – chopped
  • 16 oz package of sliced portobello mushrooms
  • 9 mini red, yellow & orange sweet peppers – sliced
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 6-9 fresh basil leaves
  • shredded cheese (optional for garnish – I used 3 cheese Italian blend)
Peppers & Mushrooms
The first thing I did was to cut the boneless chicken breast into cubes, similar to what you would do for making a soup or stew. I like to cut my chicken so it really absorbs the flavoring. I then poured about 1/2 of the bottle of Balsamic Vinaigrette into the crockpot and added the chicken. I set the crockpot to high for 6 hours and let the chicken start to cook.

I like to saute my onions and garlic when I have time, so I added about 1 tbsp of canola oil to a saucepan (enough to coat the pan) and cooked up the diced onions and garlic for about 5 minutes, just enough to brown them up a bit. I then added the onions and garlic to the chicken in the crockpot. Add the remainder of the ingredients: chopped scallions, sliced mushrooms, peppers, oregano, tarragon, and fresh chopped basil.

Enjoy as a soup or drain & put over lettuce, pasta or rice!
It was very easy to make…I’d love to hear from you in a comment below. Do you have recipes you like to share? What types of dishes do you make in your crockpot?
~Cheri

Caprese Lasagna Rollups

I love caprese salad! Basically anything I’ve tried with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil has been delicious. When I came across this recipe for Caprese Lasagna Rollups, I couldn’t wait to try it. Now having made it, I am so happy I did. I found the recipe on Facebook through a friend sharing it, a great advantage to social media.
The original recipe is from Cooking Classy and can be viewed here:
http://www.cookingclassy.com/2012/10/caprese-lasagna-roll-ups/
Ingredients
  • 8 lasagna noodles, uncooked
  • 14 oz freshly shredded, low-moisture part skim Mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup Ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/3 cup freshly, finely shredded Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/4 oz)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 – 4 medium Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced (about 1/6 inch thick slices)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 cup marinara sauce, recipe follows
Simple Marinara Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta according to directions listed on package to al dente. Drain pasta (DO NOT rinse with water) and align lasagna noodles in a single layer on a large sheet of parchment or wax paper.
  • For filling, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together ricotta cheese and egg white until well blended. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Mix in 12 oz. of the Mozzarella cheese and season with black pepper to taste (I wouldn’t recommend seasoning with salt just because the cheeses already have plenty of salt).
  • Place 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture over each lasagna noodle and spread into an even layer, going from one end of the lasagna to the other. Align 4 thin tomato slices over cheese mixture then sprinkle fresh basil over top. Snugly roll lasagna noodles to opposite end. Spread about 1/4 cup pasta sauce in the bottom of an 11 x 7 inch baking dish. Align lasagna roll ups, seam side down in dish. Top each roll up with about 2 Tbsp of the pasta sauce (covering edges of pasta so they don’t dry out while baking). Sprinkle top with remaining 2 oz. shredded Mozzarella. Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes. Remove from oven, plate pasta and garnish with plenty of basil ribbons. Serve warm.
Simple Marinara Sauce
  • Heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add onions to hot oil and saute about 3 minutes until soft, adding garlic during last minute of sauteing. Pour in crushed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture just to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and allow sauce to cook for about 25 – 30 minutes (which will allow some of the water in crushed tomatoes to evaporate) while you prepare pasta and lasagna filling (you can freeze or refrigerate left over sauce in a small airtight container for later use, adding fresh basil if desired).

I did make a few alterations, instead of using the shredded parmesan, I used a shredded 3 cheese Italian blend. I also added a lot more shredded cheese over the top of the caprese rollups. As I said I really love mozzarella cheese, and different types of cheese in general. I paired the Caprese Lasagna Rollups with my recipes for Garlic Shrimp & Grilled Asparagus, which can be found here as well, just click on the titles.

As a variation I also plan to try this recipe in stuffed shells. What do you think of this dish? What would you do differently? Are you a caprese fan too? I’d love to hear from you in a comment below.
~Cheri