Friday, April 20, 2012

Easy Homemade Yogurt in the Crock Pot - Flavored!

"6 Quart Set'N Forget Programmable Slow Cooker"
Make Homemade Yogurt in the Slow Cooker, And Flavor It Without Making It Runny

My three sons eat an enormous amount of yogurt, and I was literally spending over $10 per week on yogurt.  Yogurt!  And the stuff I was buying had quite a bit more sugar than I wanted, even if it was organic.  Luckily, I came across an easy crock pot recipe for yogurt that saves me a lot of money and lets me control how much sugar goes into it.

Here it is:

8 cups of milk (lowfat or whole, doesn’t matter)
½ cup of plain yogurt (after you make your first batch, you can use your homemade yogurt as starter for the next batches)
1 packet of unflavored gelatin

In the late afternoon, pour 8 cups of milk into the slow cooker, cover, and cook on low for 2 ½ hours.  Then unplug it and leave it covered for 3 hours.  Once that time has passed, mix 1 packet of unflavored gelatin with ½ cup of yogurt and whisk well.  Scoop out 2 cups of the milk from the crock pot and mix the yogurt/gelatin mixture into it.  Pour it all back into the slow cooker and mix well.  Replace the cover, and wrap in a thick towel or blanket.  Go to bed and let it set for 8 hours.

In the morning…voila! Yogurt!

At this point, you can either pour the plain yogurt into containers to store it, or you can separate it into flavored individual serving containers.  I usually store some plain for recipes, and to serve as a starter for the next batch.  And some I flavor and pour into individual serving containers.

To make flavored yogurt, I use the following guidelines:

Strawberry, Raspberry, or Blueberry:
Mix 1 tbsp desired jam with 1 cup yogurt

Mix 1 tsp lemon juice and 1 tsp sugar with 1 cup yogurt

Quickly toss peeled, diced apple pieces with cinnamon in an oiled skillet for a few minutes to soften.  Mix with 1 cup yogurt and sweeten to taste.

Dice fresh pineapple and toss into yogurt and sweeten to taste with sugar.

There are a myriad of other flavors you can experiment with, such as cinnamon raisin, peaches and ginger, or mango.  Enjoy!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Survive Staying Home for Baby's 1st Year

Do you remember sitting at work, rubbing your expanded belly, and dreaming happily about the days when your baby would be here?  Do you recall how excitedly you looked forward to staying home, free to love and cuddle the little darling to your heart’s content?  Yeah, me too.

And then, reality hit. 

All of those free moments when you planned to paint your nails, read some good books, or delve into a soap opera or two while the little one napped disappeared.  Somehow piles of dirty dishes and overwhelming loads of laundry took their place…second only to the full 30 seconds that you stole to sneak in a shower.   Remember how you then told yourself that in just a few short weeks, you’d have some freedom back when naps would become predictable…and long?  Yup, been there, done that.

It’s a funny thing how life just never works out like you imagined it would.  Oh the naps do develop into lengthy stretches, and they do become rather predictable.  But by the time that happens, you’ve lost the romance that you once associated with motherhood.  Instead of feeling fulfilled and peaceful with your life at home with the baby, you feel anything but.  Days aren’t filled with purposeful teaching moments or easy rhythmic childhood banter.  They are filled instead with moments of self-doubt, internal debates, and the occasional bit of self-loathing.

Underneath the layers of spit up and tousled hair is still that woman with the lofty ideals of raising her child the best way that she can.  And if staying home with your baby is the way that makes you feel you are doing it best, then take heart – it can be done.  It isn’t easy, but life never is.  However, it is possible.

Throw Your Expectations out the Window

In order to survive the first year at home, you have to accept the fact that this is your life for the time being.  Nope, it isn’t enchanting, relaxing, or even all that fun.  But it is what it is, and it is also what you make it.  No one is going to fault you for putting on a diaper backwards a time or two in a sleepy haze, nor are they going to even know if you skip the baby’s bath once or twice. 

Let It Go

Your job during those first few weeks and months of Baby’s life is to take care of your baby.  It isn’t to keep your home in tip-top shape or to cook chef-inspired meals from scratch.  So stop putting so much pressure on yourself to do it all.  And stop berating yourself for the laundry that you didn’t get to…it will still be there tomorrow.

Ask For Help

Repeat after me… ‘I don’t have to do it alone’.  Chances are there are neighbors and family that would LOVE to cuddle your little miracle while you soak in a bath, catch some shut-eye, or just eat a meal before it turns ice cold.  So stop being so independent and invite some help over.  It will refresh you and remind you that you really can do this!

Change Your Mind

No, really.  Sometimes all it takes is a fresh look at the world and a change in mindset to remind yourself why you are staying home.  Make a list of why you chose to stay home and read it as many times as it takes.  Be thankful that you get to witness all of your little one’s ‘firsts’.  Remind yourself that every time your little one snuggles up next to you, he’s thanking you for being there.  Repeat. 

If you are determined to be home for the first year of your little one’s life, then it is altogether possible.  Just remember to pat yourself on the back for your successes, enjoy the first giggle as much as the first tantrum, and most of all…breathe.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Welfare Reform vs. Gender Reform

There was recently an article posted on The College Conservative that lauded attention from Mainers fed up with the welfare system in the state.  Within a matter of days, it circulated throughout social media outlets and drew attention from local papers as well.

The article, titled "My Time at Walmart: Why We Need Serious Welfare Reform", and posted at, recounts the young author's experience as a cashier at Walmart.  She bluntly recalls the abuse of the system she encountered and brazenly describes the attitudes of the customers using food stamps or vouchers.  She ends her article with a loud cry for reform and stomps madly at the abuse that runs rampant.

Far be it from me to be any sort of welfare system expert.  In fact, admittedly, I initially joined the droves of fans applauding the article after my first read.  Times are tough, and people are cutting every day necessities from their to read about those that we are helping support using our hard earned money for iphones, video games, etc is downright maddening.

But then I started thinking about the bigger picture.  The majority of people using the welfare system are women and their children.  This is a given.  But since we're discussing abuse of the system, then perhaps we should also discuss why the people who are on the system are on it to begin with.

It is 2012, and women are STILL paid only a portion of what men are paid.  Yup, its true.  And while the masses may roll their eyes and insist the fight for equal rights was buried when women were given the right to vote eons ago - the truth is, it isn't.  Were the fight over, then mothers wouldn't be expected to care for their children to any greater extent than fathers, women wouldn't be expected to both work and care for the home simultaneously (when was the last time you noticed a messy house and instantly blamed the man for neglecting his housework???), and women would be given equal opportunities in the workplace and equal pay.  And thus, because the tables are not weighted equally, women find themselves not only clamoring to get by on less money than their male counterparts but also struggling to support their children.

I am not going to insist that the welfare system in Maine does not need reform.  On the contrary, the "My Time at Walmart..." article points out glaring flaws in the fabric that need attention.  However, my point is that fixing the welfare system is simply a band aid in a much larger issue...the absence of gender equality.  If we start at the beginning by leveling the workforce pay scales, then the majority of people using the system may be better able to support themselves.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sweet Surprises

In between changing diapers, wiping dirty faces, and making sandwiches three different ways for three different kids, it suddenly hits you...this is your life.  Really, it isn't as glamorous as you thought it might be.  The immaculate house with stunning cathedral ceilings, dramatic foyer, and the perfectly manicured lawn outlined by an equally flawless picket fence that you’d envisioned raising a family in, doesn't really match the one you actually own.  And the two doe-eyed, well-mannered children who’d scamper eagerly to your side when you called are a far cry from the three grubby-kneed, outspoken offspring that only occasionally glance up after you’ve screamed their names – first, middle and last - five times each.

Sometimes, most times, the vision we have for our future doesn’t materialize.  The best part about not having the ability to plan the rest of our lives is that we still are able to fully appreciate a good surprise.  For instance, I planned to take my two youngest children with me on a long road trip and had carefully scheduled the drive to coincide with nap time so that I could enjoy a quiet, relaxing ride.  Surprise!  Both children whined and fussed for nearly the entire ride until we got within earshot of our destination - at which time they both promptly fell fast asleep. 

Perhaps the best surprises of all were when my plans for children went so completely awry.  While I hadn’t actually picked out the names of my son and daughter before I even met my husband-to-be, I could precisely describe their golden locks, button noses, and striking blue eyes.  When the ultrasound for our first child revealed a bouncing boy, I was ecstatic!  How fantastic that our next child – a daughter, no doubt – would have an older brother to watch out for her.  When my second ultrasound exposed male genitalia, followed by a third with the same results, I was, um….surprised.

While I hadn’t even entertained the idea of having three young men in my life, I now can’t imagine my life any other way.  I may not get the chance to mull over which prom dress they look most stunning in, or help them paint their toenails on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but I am undoubtedly learning all there is to know about toads and frogs, how to get out grass stains, and which football plays are the most fun to execute.   The best part of all is that I am learning to step way outside my comfort zone on a daily basis, and I love every second of it.
My house is not spotless at any given moment, smelling of fresh baked pies and spring clean linens, nor is it a pricey colonial in the suburbs located in between Helpful Neighbor and Available Babysitter.  It happens to be the opposite of the images I conjured up as an 8 year old…contentedly messy, tucked off the beaten path next to nowhere, and absolutely perfect for family life.

The best laid plans thankfully rarely play out the way we intend for them to.  The reason for this is that life is not a road to be mapped and then plodded along.  It is a journey, full of unexpected curves and knolls that we must continually adjust and recalculate for.  Life keeps us on our toes, it keeps us from getting complacent…it keeps us surprised.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Real Estate Seasons

It is that time of year when many of you may be wondering whether it is a good time to sell your house or not. Spring has sprung, so to speak, and your imagination has come out of hibernation to sprout images of you exploring a larger, rambling house or maybe downsizing to a more manageable one-level home. Before you can realize your relocation dreams, though, you have to first sell the home that you're in.

The economists on television keep harping about the market and how it is so depressed and hard on sellers. The message is dreadful: Don't sell unless you want to lose your shirt in the process! In reality, the outlook really isn't all that gloomy...even if you aren't a pathological optimist.

True, the values of homes are not at the same level they were a few years ago; but chances are that the home you are looking to buy isn't going to carry as hefty a price tag as it would have during the real estate boom either. Buyers aren't as plentiful as they were a few years back, and they are a bit more selective in their home search. The good news is that this will bode well for your in your quest for your new home, as it eliminates some competition...and it can also be very valuable when the right buyer comes along for your home.

A discriminating buyer interested in scooping up your home will most likely have looked at several other homes already, will be pre-approved for financing, and will be committed to actually buying a home. There are far fewer tire-kickers browsing through the various houses now than in a less challenging market, so the showings that you do have will be more likely to produce a real offer.

In addition to timing of the market, the spring season is also advantageous for selling your home and buying a new one. The arrival of better weather will increase the traffic through your home, while still giving you plenty of time to search for your new home before snow flies. The green grass, budding flowers, and plentiful sunshine will highlight your homes best features, and will also allow you to see the entire landscape of a home you want to buy. So call a great real estate agent (like me!), and take the first steps toward swapping your house for the one you really want!