27 June, 2011

Egyptian Kushari...Vegetarian Delight

I've now had Kushari made for me a few times, and each time seems to get better and better.  Kushari is an Egyptian dish, and is almost always vegetarian (even Vegan), but it's becoming more popular to add shawarma chicken to the dish or to cook the rice in a chicken broth.  You could essentially make it any way that appeals to your taste buds and your family.  The tomato based sauce on top can be made without spice or with an added kick.  I prefer the added kick!  Here's how to make this delicious dish.

What you'll need:
3 large onions
1/2 C. oil (add more if needed)
1 C. lentils
6 C. water (or chicken or vegetable stock)
1 1/2 C. long grain rice or Egyptian rice (uncooked)
1 1/2 C. elbow macaroni (uncooked)
8 oz. vermacelli (uncooked)
1-2 cloves of garlic
1T. cumin
Salt (to taste)
1 bottle hot sauce
2 tomatoes chopped
1 chicken broth cube

1.  Chop the onions into small pieces.  I like fine slices like caramelized onion style.  Reserve 1 T. for the sauce later.  Pour 3 T. vegetable oil into a pan over medium high heat and add onions.  Add the onions in batches, frying until they reach a nice brown and slightly crunchy.  Watch carefully as this step will happen quickly!  Drain onto paper towels and set aside.

2.  Bring to a boil lentils in 6 C. of water or stock, along with 1 clove of garlic (quartered) and 1 T. cumin, simmer for 25 min. until cooked...drain, reserve water.

3.  Fry vermacelli in a pan with some oil until brown.

4.  Add the rice to a pot with the reserved lentil water, along with rice and fried vermacelli, and cook until rice is tender.

5.  In another pot, boil macaroni in lightly salted water until tender, drain, and combine with lentils, vermacelli and rice.  Top with fried onions.

6.  For the sauce, put the hot sauce, tomatoes, garlic and chicken cubes in a blender.  Puree.  Then heat on the stove to let the mixture thin out.

7.To plate the food, first put the Kushari mix (lentils, rice, macaroni) in a bowl or on a platter.  Top with onions.  Add a small amount of the sauce on top (you can always add more later, but start slowly).  You are now ready to enjoy the meal!

Serves 6.

If you decide to try this dish I have come to love, let us know how you liked it!

22 June, 2011

Creating Stress Free Kids

I'm becoming more and more aware of over scheduled and highly stressed kids these days.  Dance lessons, soccer lessons, after school drama club, chores at home, homework, and let's not forget about the stresses of being a kid alone!  Kids might be dealing with school work frustrations, bullying fears, lack of friends or too much popularity...there's a lot going on in kids' lives, and we need to help them stop once in a while and give them a breather.  Recently I came across four great moms, all providing advice, services and products to help children relax, reflect and renew.  I personally believe that everyone needs some of this in their lives. 

The first mom I talked to is Heather, a LMT, from Utah.  Heather is starting a program within the Utah Valley, targeting children in schools.  This past year, she has worked with a group of 3rd graders, teaching meditation.  Thanks to the powerful response from her students and the news, this has potentially opened the door for meditation classes to become a part of the 6th & 7th grade curriculum next year!  Below you'll find parts of my interview with Heather, hopefully shedding light on how and when you can bring meditation into your children's lives.

Chickadee Prints: 
At what age do you think a child truly benefits from meditation? 

Heather:  I think the earlier it is introduced the better, for a number of reasons. First like yoga meditation is a practice. Each time you sit you learn to go deeper into a state of mind or space that allows for enlightenment. So the younger you start the longer your practice and the more you get out of it at an earlier age. It creates a good healthy habit.  The younger you are the less perceived ideas you have and this allows for the experience to be more pure.

Chickadee Prints:  Does there have to be a formal setting, or can a child/family do this anywhere?

Heather:  No formal setting is required. For some a particular setting may be helpful to minimize distractions, but truly you can experience this state of mind at anytime, even when doing dishes. One of the techniques we covered this year was walking meditation. The students learned to pull into a zone while walking that allowed them to stay in the current moment. We talked about how this can even be done at recess.

Chickadee Prints:  If a child meditation course is not offered in someone’s area, what do you suggest to help a family introduce it into their lives? 

Heather:  There is a plethora of books and websites with great information and ideas of different techniques to help you meditate, but the basic premises is to practice being in the absolute moment. 

Our next mother actively involved in bringing meditation to children is Lori Lite.  Lori developed the program Stress Free Kids, which includes a line of books and CDs designed to help children, teens and adults decrease stress, anxiety & anger.  Her program can be used at home or in school. 

Chickadee Prints:  At what age do you think a child truly benefits from meditation and relaxation? 

Lori: It is never too soon for a child to reap the benefits of relaxation and meditation. There are reports that state that stress levels during pregnancy can affect an unborn child. I used deep breathing throughout my last pregnancy and I believe that my newborn was easier to soothe when I focused on my breathing because of this. In general the age of 4 is when a child can start to participate in relaxation exercises, but I have seen children as young as 18 months copy breathing and positive statements. 

Chickadee Prints:  Does there have to be a formal setting, or can a child/family do this anywhere?

Lori:  I am an advocate of a more playful, matter of fact approach. Parents should use relaxation tools throughout their day.  Each day brings numerous opportunities for parents to apply stress management and healthy solutions. Blowing bubbles is a stress reducer and fun activity enjoyed by all ages. A mom or dad that practice meditation can invite their child to sit beside them or climb onto their lap with a toy or a book. Demonstrating is always the most powerful teaching tool. 

Chickadee Prints:  What are the major keys to successful meditation/relaxation, and what does that look like for a young child?  

Lori:  Just being able to stop the chatter or train your mind to focus on an image or thought for more than a few seconds is an accomplishment. The focus should be on introducing tools to children so that they can integrate practical tools like visualizing, breathing, and positive statements into their lives. Storytelling is an age-old method of passing along lessons. I created stories that incorporated research-based stress management techniques for my own children to learn to self-soothe. All of my stories can be found in my Indigo Dreams® Series .  

Chickadee Prints:  How do you suggest helping a family introduce it into their lives?  

Lori:   Show your children how you use relaxation throughout your day. Take deep breaths when you are driving or rushing to get out the door. Try a candlelight dinner or breakfast. See who can hold their gaze on the flame for 30 seconds. Introduce your family to relaxation music or classical music. Explain to your children that you are calming yourself down or use positive statements when you are feeling frustrated. With a little practice, relaxation techniques will become second nature to you and your children.  

Katie, another mother believing in the benefits of relaxation for children, uses Yoga in her own life and with her children.  "Yoga and pilates have always been a huge part of my adult life.  Even through my pregnancies and postpartum, I credit alternating both to keeping my mind and body fit!  It never occurred to me to to share my practice with my children, until I was going through yoga teacher training."

While in her training, Katie learned how much yoga and relaxation in general, could improve test scores, concentration, and sports...even behavioral issues.  Katie kindly shared with us some of the yoga poses and their benefits.  

Pranayama breathing reduces acidity in the body, increases VO2 max, is good for the respiratory system, and is energizing.  

Childs pose slows down the heart rate, quites the mind, creates full body rest & neutralizes the spine.  

Down dog calms the brain, helps relieve mild depression, decompresses the spinal column, is a total body stretch, relieves headache, backache, fatigue, insomnia & as an inversion can stimulate the brain.   

"I find yoga and meditation especially useful with my two boy's.  It helps calm them down and I find that they listen and focus better!  I do simple pranayama breathing , childs pose, cat/cow, down & up dog.  If I want to challenge them I add in a few simple sun salutations, and maybe a balancing series."

 Our last mother I had the pleasure of speaking with is Kristy.  She is the genius behind the all natural line of essential oils and other products called Sweet Knee.  "I decided to go back to my roots and turn to nature."  

In her line of products are Giggle, Snooze and Breathe oils, which we use in our own home.  The Snooze, Kristy states, "helps promote peaceful relaxation for mom and baby though natural plant essential oils that have sedative and nervine properties. These organic oils help relax and ease tension and are easy to use. Simply dilute them with distilled water in a spray bottle or put a few drops on your pillow or stuffed animal."  Giggle and Breathe also contain oils to help with the moods of your children (or YOU), in a natural way.

Hopefully you have been able to find some treasured tidbits of information that you could bring into your life for you and your children when you find things getting a little to tightly wound.


15 June, 2011

How Do You Work On YOU?

For the past two weeks, I've been a single working mom.  My husband flew back to the States, and I have been left in charge of the house, the dog, the chores, the errands, the working, and then the children when I get home.  It's A LOT to handle and so overwhelming at times.  I now have a new found appreciation for single working moms who do all of this every day.  I knew I needed to find some treasured moments of time to work on ME.  Some time to get away to build myself up.

Every day since my husband has been gone, I have been listening to lovely Mr. Jim Rohn in my car on the way to and home from school.  I get 15-20 minutes of nothing but positive going in my head.  I start my day on a high, and then give myself that winding down time at the end of the work day to find another high before joining the kids.  The one quote that has stuck out over the last 14 days has been..."The same wind blows on us all."  As Jim says, "It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go."  I needed this quote this week, and I needed to hear it over and over and over and over again.  I've had a wind blowing on me for two weeks that I didn't like, but I had to choose, each day, how to handle it and how to guide my boat of emotions.

I forgot how good it feels to surround myself with personal development on a daily basis.  To listen to positive words, encouraging words, and BELIEVE them.  My husband and I used to listen to Anthony Robbins, Zig Ziglar and Jim Rohn daily.  We'd read books nightly.  We soaked up anything and everything to help us become better, more positive, more goal oriented.  Over time, kids got in the way, work got in the way, TV got in the way...you name it, there was an excuse as to why we fell off the wagon.  We were not taking advantage of setting our sails in the right direction, and we lost sight of so much.  We've slowly been getting back on track lately, and now, over the past two weeks, I've really been taking advantage of some time during the day where I can focus on it.

It doesn't matter how or where you get your personal development.  Maybe you read the Bible, or just the proverbs.  Maybe you listen to other people I haven't mentioned.  Maybe it's just going to the park and reflecting.  Maybe you journal your thoughts, ideas and dreams.  Maybe you have a creative outlet such as dance, music or art.  Whatever it is, I hope you have something that builds you up inside.  Something that keeps you on the path to achieving your dreams.

How do you work on you?

If you'd like to know of some books to get you started, here are a few compiled from personal experience reading, and some from friends' recommendations that are on my list to read:

* How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
* The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
* What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Nelson Bolles
* Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki
* Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
* Watermelon Credo by Wally Amos
* Life On Purpose by Dr. Brad Swift

06 June, 2011

Our Alice in Wonderland Birthday Party

 Invitation by Chickadee Prints
These ADORABLE Tutu Tees were made by Tutu Mamas
Mission:  To host an Alice in Wonderland birthday party for my 3 & 5 year old girls...in the extreme heat of the Middle East.  Also, to do it on a budget and indoors.  I think we succeeded.

I'm always browsing online for birthday party ideas.  Much of what I see is very high end and expensive, or in some beautifully landscaped backyard...neither of which I have.  However, when I came across the Alice in Wonderland parties, I knew I had to have one for my Alice obsessed girls.  The only hitch was, I had to bring it indoors as it's reaching 116 on a regular basis now.  I hope this inspires you not-so-crafty moms out there to know you CAN do it.  Also, don't be intimidated to try it indoors and on a budget.

I'll start out with the tablescape.  Tables and chairs were not readily available since my situation is unique, so I had to rent.  However, if you have neighbors and friends with card tables, patio tables, etc...get creative!  Do different height tables and mismatched chairs for a true Mad Hatter feel!  Borrow what you can!  We kept it simple since we had ages 1-7 attending the party!  I had to keep breakables to a minimum!  I also needed to stay within a budget.  So, picture the Dollar Store of your area.  You will surely find table cloths, plates, napkins, forks, tea cups (of course...it's a tea party!), tea pots, straws, a mirror (the Looking Glass), and you might just be lucky enough to find a stuffed mouse or a bunny rabbit depending on the season.  There you go, your table at the Dollar Store.  I'm sure you could go to a place like Salvation Army and find tea cups for 25 cents...but new just seemed like the better option, at least for the party favor!  Easy Peasy. 
Get creative and have fun!  The simplest things make a statement!
The decorations were relatively easy as well.  It just took a little prep work to pull it off.  My husband made the tree.  Remember, we had to pull our tea party indoors, and the tree was a critical part of setting the theme!  So we covered a bookcase with brown wrapping paper (Kraft paper!), and purchased green crepe paper/tissue paper for the leaves...Dollar Store!  The signs were cut like the shapes from the movie (go back and watch for the Tulgey Forest scene...you'll see they aren't just arrows).  You'll also find what you need for the tissue paper flowers at the Dollar Store, as well as the lanterns.  For the flag banner, I thought of making my own, but time was an issue, so I luckily stumbled across this one from the Creative Hostess!  Just print, cut, string and hang!  Don't forget your Cheshire Cat smile in the tree!  To pull the area together, my son just happened to have a green shag carpet that we put in the middle to represent the grass.

You can do so much with a limited space. This was all in our living room!
Games are always the fun part of a party...or is it eating cake?  Well, the games we chose were a hit with the kids, and worked well for the age group we had.  We chose musical chairs, sugar cube tea cup race, and pin the smile on the Cheshire Cat.  For musical chairs, we had two circles of chairs, one for the younger babes and one for the older kiddos.  For the sugar cube tea cup race, we formed two teams and gave each a bowl of sugar cubes and a spoon.  They had to race to fill up the tea cup with sugar cubes.  Amazingly, we actually found sugar cubes in the shapes of hearts, spades, clubs and diamonds!  I thought that matched the Queen of Hearts idea perfectly!  And lastly, pin the smile on the Cheshire Cat...almost everyone knows SOMEONE who can draw.  Just draw, paint or color, and voila...a DIY game for your party.  So far, cheap but fun entertainment!

Remember, it's all about the fun.  Don't stress if something doesn't go as planned.
Ok, so now the yummy part, and what turned out to be the hit of the party!  Twirlie Whirlies made these wonderful pinwheel cupcake toppers to match my party colors and mis-matched theme.  I figured a splurge was worth it for the cake!  Little did I know the kids would go crazy for them!  It was so fun to watch them blow and blow and blow!

The last little treasure of the party was the adult room.  I needed a place for adults to go hang out while their kiddos played and had fun.  Let's face it, 18 itty bitties in my living room was quite eventful...I wanted to give the moms an option to "leave".  So, I had some snack foods, drinks and adult cupcakes in my dining room, along with my living room furniture that we moved in order to have an empty space for the party!  So, my dining room became a lounge.  We found white roses at the equivalent of the Dollar Store and the kids helped paint them red.  I had a friend paint the Kind and Queen of Hearts.  And the banner of characters was another fab find here online!

All in all, it was a lot of planning, but so worth it.  My girls LOVED every minute of the party, and are still talking about it.  I think I captured what they wanted.  The little guests had a wonderful time too...so many giggles to be heard.  I love a good party, but I love when it's all cleaned up too!