Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Last week, my favorite ex-Viking, Chris Kluwe, tweeted that he was making meatloaf for dinner. I teased him a bit, joking about meatloaf as a staple he learned in Minnesota, and claiming mine was better. (He took it in good grace, and by that I mean he didn't block me.)

But something he said to me about it got me thinking, and more than just about making it for dinner.

When I was growing up, every week we had meatloaf, pork chops (sometimes baked with cream of mushroom soup gravy, and, later, baked with sauerkraut), tuna casserole topped with potato chips, chicken (sometimes baked with rice), porcupine meatballs (a recipe I introduced from the Betty Crocker Kids' Cookbook, and a recipe my brother still makes), along with various casseroles. Saturday was leftovers night, and Sunday night was homemade potato soup and egg salad sandwiches.

We ate our meatloaf drowned in ketchup (no tomato sauce or brown gravy on this recipe!), and most often baked potatoes and canned green beans or carrots or scalloped corn. My mom baked it in an 8x8"pan, which seemed to make a pound of ground beef go a lot farther and easily feed five people with enough left over for sandwiches.

I loved meatloaf sandwiches, on white bread with Miracle Whip. We moved just before I entered the 3rd grade, and my elementary school didn't offer hot lunches; kids who had to eat at school brown bagged it, but there were only a few of them. Most of us walked to and from home for lunch, for grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, or bologna sandwiches and chicken noodle soup. But every once in a while, it was meatloaf.

Eventually I started sharing the cooking, and I learned to make it. The recipe my mom taught me was one she had learned from the mother-in-law of one of my grandmother's brothers, who was, by all accounts, the world's best cook. (Just ask my aunt.) All the best recipes in the family seem to come from her, and meatloaf is no exception. It's a simple recipe, much simpler than most recipes you will find, but anyone who tries it likes it; even people who think they don't like meatloaf.

I have changed how I make it over the years. The original recipe called for equal parts of ground beef, veal and pork. Growing up, we used ground beef; I most often now make it with a blend of ground beef, turkey and, once in a while, pork. Instead of bread crumbs, we would use crumbled saltines, fat free milk instead of whole milk.

But yet, no matter how I tweak it, it still tastes as good as it would on those cold, rainy evenings in our big, warm kitchen. If I close my eyes, I can still see us, sitting around the table with its vinyl tablecloth, and I can feel the love and contentment.

I make no promises, but if you want to try my meatloaf, here's the recipe. The amount of seasonings & bread crumbs can be adjusted to personal preference; meat can be increased by 1/2 pound, without changing the rest of the recipe, for more servings.

(preheat oven to 350F)

1 lb ground beef, veal & pork
   (substitute with: ground turkey or chicken)
1 egg
1/4 cup milk (fat free is fine)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
   (substitute with: 12 saltine squares, crushed finely)
1 small yellow onion, minced
   (substitute with: dehydrated minced onion; add to milk to soften)
1 Tbsp. ground poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground mustard (optional)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Beat together egg & milk.
Add onion, breadcrumbs & seasonings. Blend.
Mix in meat until completely blended.

Spread evenly in loaf pan or casserole.
Cover pan with aluminum foil.
Bake 55 minutes.
Remove foil, bake 10 minutes longer.
Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Wrap leftovers tightly in aluminum foil and store refrigerated.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What I Saw in Beverly Hills or I Will Never Be Able To Unsee That

This morning, we were at breakfast in our swanky hotel in Beverly Hills. It was our last day, and we were having breakfast in the rooftop restaurant. The kids had eaten and left, and my husband and I were just leaving as well, when a woman walked in looking for a table.

She was wearing uber-tight brown shiny leggings and some sort of flowered shirt that was stretched too tightly on her body. "She's my age," I murmured. "How do you know?" "Women my age are the ones who dress like that." Just at that moment she turned around, and we could see that she was in her 40s. "And they should never dress like that," I commented as we stepped on to the elevator.

Later, as we were sitting in our rental car in front of the hotel, getting ready to go to the airport, I looked out, and there she was again, climbing, or trying to climb into, an SUV. Her leggings, obviously too short in the rise, had slid down, and we saw butt crack. She stepped back on the ground, and stepped up again to haul herself in, exposing an unfortunate amount of her derriere. My husband exclaimed, "I will never be able to unsee that!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Why Every Mother Should Stop Talking About Catherine Middleton

The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge
In the past few days the press has been filled with the news that their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their first child. Every detail has been breathlessly reported, and everyone, it seems, has speculated on names. An Australian radio station even called the hospital, where Catherine has been staying because of acute morning sickness, convincing the poor nurse on duty that it was the Queen calling and tricking her into giving the kind of information that should only be told to the expectant parents.

Sound familiar? Every one of us who have gone through pregnancy have fallen under the same kind of scrutiny. Not, perhaps, to the degree that the future king and queen of England receive, of course. As prominent members of what most of us, even Americans, refer to as the Royal Family, they expect to live under a microscope. But do we really deserve a moment-to-moment description of Catherine's pregnancy?

Before any mother answers, "yes," think back to your own experience. Remember learning you were pregnant, who you told first, who you waited to tell, whether or not you had morning sickness. Also think about all the advice you got, the suggestions for names, and the detailed questions from people you thought you only knew casually. If you want to know what it's like to be a celebrity, get pregnant.

I remember my first pregnancy. My husband and I were thrilled, and wanted to tell people right away. As soon as people found out I was pregnant, I was inundated with advice. And baby names. And intimate questions. It is as if a woman, as soon as she is pregnant, stops being an individual and becomes a mere vessel, a curiosity for family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers to poke, prod, and examine. People I would never have expected tried to convince me that they knew the perfect name for our baby. Strangers would offer unsolicited advice, and sometimes even ask to touch my stomach. It was as if my personal space bubble had disappeared.

I shudder when I imagine what it is like for the Duke and Duchess. How many of us would have sent out a press release announcing our pregnancy? Or welcome long articles speculating about what boy names?

So, all you moms out there, let's give Kate a break. In spite of her title and position in the royal family, she's still a mother herself. Let's all remind people that, regardless of fancy titles, she's still a pregnant mother-to-be. Just remember what that was like.

So, all you fellow moms out there. Think back

Monday, December 03, 2012

Help! My Child Doesn't Want To Read!

As a parent, there are few things more discouraging than to have a reluctant reader for a child. We all learn to read at our own rate, and everyone "gets it" at a different age. From K-2, reading levels can range within the same grade from, well, K-2. Often reluctant readers are simply still in the "putting it together" stage, where "decoding" words and sounds is still work. (Like learning to drive -- how many of us were sure we would never know how to steer, check our mirrors, monitor our speed, watch the road, etc., all at once?)

But what happens when an emerging reader becomes a reluctant reader because they have become frustated by a teacher or learning system? You can have a child uninterested in reading, who sees it as a chore, or not worth the effort.

But here's the good news -- with the right kind of support, and the right book, reluctant readers can become interested readers.

The first thing is to keep doing what you are most likely already doing -- read daily with her. It is amazing what even 20 minutes a day of reading together can do to help build a confident reader. And any educator will tell you that the key in a student's learning is in a parent's interest and involvement in it.

There are many different ways of reading with an emerging reader, and they all work at different times. Don't be worried about following a specific way of doing it. Sit side by side, and both of you follow the test. Run your finger along the words, use a ruler or other marker to underline the sentence to make it easier to read, take turns reading by the word or by the sentence or by the page. Make it a game -- have him read all the words that begin with a certain letter, or assign her a word to read every time it appears in the text. Use your instinct! You will know very quickly what he responds to, and what is working.

Be relaxed, and try to avoid frustration. Your goal is to help your child enjoy reading, so make it fun. If she struggles to read a word, celebrate it when she gets it right, even when she sees the same word for the sixth time in the text. Congratulate her for working hard to use the skills she is learning to decode the words, and reinforce that you are thrilled every time she can do it on her own.

Model reading -- let your child see you read. Discuss what you have been reading. When you do this, you are showing him what comprehension is really all about -- understanding what you read and talking about it.  And it doesn't have to be just books -- news articles (age appropriate), non-fiction books, even cookbooks. Every time you talk about what you learned from something you read, it reinforces the "why" to reading.

Play reading games! I am currently recommending Erudition, a game that makes reading sight words fun. It can be tailored to different reading levels, can be played in several ways, and can be played by multiple reading levels simultaneously. And it is fun! The amazing teacher who recommended had her 4-year-old and 7-year-old playing it together, and they both had a great time.

Have an ereader or a tablet with an ereader app? Try reading on it instead of a traditional book. There are also some great books that have interactive apps, and there are some good free games that require the player to be able to read and answer questions to advance. I have used them with competitive, impatient readers, and seen them quickly master decoding and comprehension techniques they had struggled with. Make sure, though, that it is fun for you, too.

It is okay to read a book she liked when she was younger, or has read often. Favorite books are favorites for a reason -- they resonate with us. If your child wore out that Dora the Explorer book, suggest you read it together. Those are the books that will get him reading to you.

Finally, be creative in what you offer your child to read. Anything that sparks his interest should be your starting point. Within every reading level there are books that are sure to spark your child's interest. Star Wars? Barbie? The latest Disney princess? Ballet? Soccer? Great! Go find that book genre and say, "Let's read this."

Of course, finding a book to read that will capture the imagination can seem daunting. I turned to my own panel of experts, the amazing members of the Betsy-Tacy email list, for suggestions of books that spark the imagination in readers. They are librarians, teachers, authors, moms, and readers, who all make suggestions from their own experience.

If you try them all, and nothing works, let me know!! I will keep looking and suggesting as long as there are potential readers needing something to spark their imaginations.

Remember -- have fun! Sure, it's important for our children to master reading so they can suceed at their schoolwork, but reading a book for pleasure should also be valued as highly. When you read a book you enjoy with your child, they will feel that. Their "takeaway" will be that reading is a good thing, a desired thing.

Below is my list of some "try them" picture books. All of these can be found in libraries, and many of them may even be in your child's classroom. Have a great time!

Duck at the Door by Jackie Urbanovic
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and others in the series by Laura Numeroff
Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron
Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Baby Come Out and others by Fran Manushkin
She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl by Eloise Greenfield
One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Suess
Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Oliver and Amanda Pig series by Jean Van Leeuwen
Yoko Learns To Read by Rosemary Wells
Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel
Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik (illustrated by Maurice Sendak)
Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish
How Rocket Learned To Read by Tad Hills
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce