Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tech Tuesday: Getting Ready for HSTI

So my husband, Don - who is SUPER techy - and I have our own little company called Schools Without Walls and we focus on providing educators with training to integrate technology in their classrooms.  We have our own little fall conference in Hot Springs, AR.  Small potatoes...

...but in the summer, Don directs a BIG tech conference that serves educators across the state and region.  It's called the Hot Springs Technology Institute (HSTI for short) and this is the 20th anniversary show.  This is our very favorite week of the year because we get to interact with people from around the nation who are experts on technology intergration and we always learn a ton from everyone who attends.

This year, we have a big line up of keynote presenters (including School House Rock!), as well as fabulous presenters from around the State of Arkansas.  I am personally teaching a couple of one day workshops on iPad Basics.  I've taught the workshop a few times and it is one of my favorites to present on because I usually have an audience full of teachers who have limited experiences with the devices.  It is so much fun to see them interact with new technology for the first time and watch the wheels turn as they brainstorm and share ideas for implementation for the next school year. 

Registration is still open on the HSTI Website so you can still sign up for my workshop...registration includes the device :)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Mexican Food CAN Be Healthy!

I was craving Mexican food sooo bad this weekend, but I knew better than to go out to have some.  They always serve the all-you-can-eat chips and salsa while you wait and by the time you get your food, you've consumed 1000 plus calories...and that's not counting the beer and margaritas!  So you are MUCH better off making your own Mexican food at home.

I had an 8 pound Boston butt (shoulder roast) in the freezer taking up space so I decided to try my hand at carnitas (pulled, seasoned pork).  I've made tamales (damn good ones), in the past, so I knew this would be easy.  I searched the Web and found several versions that I liked and then tossed them all out and made up my own recipe using what I had on hand.  It goes like this:

Pork Carnitas

  1. Preheat your over to 400 degrees.  Spray a large Dutch oven with nonstick spray.  Peel and quarter two (2) medium onions and place in bottom of pot.  Wash and quarter two medium oranges and throw them in the bottom too.
  2. Wash your butt and pat it dry (you guys have dirty minds :)...your pork shoulder, that is.  Rub down with Kosher salt and black pepper.  Place in the dutch oven, fat side up, on top of the onions and oranges.
  3. Add one bottle of beer of your choice.  I used a Sam Adams porter left over from the Christmas variety case.  Add the following seasonings to the liquid around the butt:
    • 1/2 cup brown sugar
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 1 T garlic powder
    • 2 T lime juice
    • 2 T cumin
    • 2 T coriander
    • 2 T dried oregano
    • 2 T dried cilantro
    • 1 t cinnamon (trust me, it works in this recipe)
  4. Put the cover on the Dutch oven and set the timer for one hour.  After an hour, reduce the over temperature to 200 degrees.  Cook the butt for approximately 2 hours per pound OR until a meat thermometer indicates an internal temp of 205 degrees OR until the meat breaks apart when you poke it with a fork.
  5. When you are certain the butt is done, remove it from the Dutch oven with a slotted spoon or tongs (it should be falling apart) and place the meat in a large baking or Pirex dish.  Shred the meat with a fork.    Discard the excess fat (scrape that s**t off!), orange peel, bay leaves, and excess liquid. Turn off the oven, but returned the shredded meat to the "off" oven to allow it to dry out a bit before serving.
  6. Serve with Mission Carb Balance tortillas (only 3 net carbs & 3 grams of protein).  I have found that the best way to heat them is to throw them directly on a gas burner (turned to the lowest setting) and flip them with a fork after a few seconds. 

Healthy Sides

My side items for this meal included:

  • Homemade quacamole (three mashed avacados, 1/2 chopped red onion, 4 small diced tomatoes, lime juice, garlic sauce, black pepper, and dried cilantro).

  • Cilantro slaw (2 bags of pre-shredded coleslaw, 1/2 diced green pepper, 2 T Hellman's Canola Mayo, 3 T of Fage Greek Yogurt, 1/2 cup Splenda, salt, black pepper, ceyenne pepper, and dried cilantro to taste.
  • Black beans and fiesta corn (all from cans, that I seasoned to taste).

This meal was far better than anything that I could have ordered at one of our local Mexican restaurants.  The best thing about this meal is that I controlled the fat and carbs during the cooking and eating phases and I wasn't tempted to order or eat anything that I would regret later.  Wait, the best thing is that I have a ton of leftovers waiting for me when I get home today :)
Do you have any good Mexican recipes you'd like to share?  Maybe I can help you make a skinny version!  Post below.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I'm married to the "Technology Leader of the Year"

Today, my husband was honored at the Arkansas Association of Instructional Media Conference for his contributions to technology in P-16 schools. This is amazing considering that he still hasn't mastered the washing machine or dishwasher :) I joke about him often, but I am proud of his work and accomplishments in our state and the region. He has worked hard to improve technology in schools and to educate educators on its value to our students. Kudos to Don Benton today :)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Teaching Bike Riding 101 - My Reviews Suck


The little one turned 5 on Sunday and received a bicycle for her birthday...a beautiful pink princess bike with a basket for dolls (and band-aids, as she suggested).  So, we've spent a lot of time outside trying to master riding the thing this week - amid tears and tantrums (on my part, not hers).  I admit, I am not very patient or good at teaching kids to ride bikes.
I remember trying to teach Skyler to ride her bike.  She was content keeping her training wheels attached forever, but when she turned 10, I removed them and started working with her daily to ride without them.  She absolutely HATED practicing.  She screamed and cried and refused to pedal.  I screamed and cried and threatened to spank her.  This continued for approximately one month.  I finally surrendered. My sister-in-law (at the time) volunteered to work with Skyler and was successful the first day they tried. I felt like a complete failure, but I was relieved to have this stage behind us.

The video posted above shows Maddie trying out her bike on her birthday – and doing a fine job. However, once she started pedaling, things began to get dicey. Maddie likes to look at her feet while she pedals. She also likes to lean on the pedal she is pushing, which results in a trip-over. She doesn’t “like to use the brakes” so we’ve had a couple of pretty good crashes, so she now insists on wearing her helmet. The neighbors have witnessed me chasing her down the hills in our neighborhood and have started sitting in their lawnchairs each evening for their entertainment. Apparently, they find my instruction amusing.

Maddie's bike has training wheels so I think we are going to be okay...until it's time to take them off. When that time gets here, I think I am going to ask for a volunteer to teach Maddie, or make Don do it. However, he has about as much patience as I do, so we probably need to find a volunteer. Do you want to do it? I don't think my nerves can take it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Roller Skating Momma - A Blast From the Past!

So back in the day - like 20 something years ago - I could really rock a pair of roller skates.  My mom would drop us off at the local skating rink on Saturday night with $5.00 and that money would get us in, pay for skate rental, some nachos and Dr. Pepper, AND a couple of big-hair-band songs on the juke box.  Man!  Those were the good ol' days.

Yesterday was Maddie's 5th birthday and she wanted to have her party at the roller rink, so I called and made the arrangements, never planning to lace up a pair on my own feet.  A friend-of-a-friend just fell skating and broke both arms.  This freaked me out so I decided that under no circumstances would I dare try skating after all these years...but then my own momma put on a pair and started making slow circles with the kids.  That tempted me.  However, when my sister-in-law Debbie hit the floor like an old pro, I had to join in!

I was a little rusty at first, but like riding a bike, it came back to me.  I was skating like a 16 year old within ten minutes (all the other moms at the birthday party were jealous - I could tell :)  I never managed to skate at my old level going backwards, but I pulled off a few spins and other cool moves.

At the end of the party, I was exhaused, but I had such a great time.  I forgot to ask Maddie if she had a good time because I was so busy having fun.  Now, I want a pair of skates (preferably with some cool socks and a pair of matching pom poms for my laces).  I am seriously considering having my own birthday party there this year...but wait, they don't serve alcohol so that won't work...

Anyway, I highly recommend that you get out there and give skating a try if you were ever good at it...or biking...or swimming...or any other activity that you enjoyed as a kid.  I am still smiling today :)

Have you revisited an old activity lately and had as much fun as I did?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Protein Product Recommendations Needed!

I am so worried.  For many years, I have been eating Premier Protein bars and drinking their shakes and I absolutely love them.  They have 30 grams of protein and are low sugar, low in calories, and low in carbs.  Even more importantly, they are yummy!  Well, in Arkansas, you can only buy them in one place, Sam's Club.  This is fine because I am usually in Sam's at least once a week.  However, during the past few months, I have not always been able to find them because they've been out-of-stock.  There can only be two reasons for this: (1) they are popular, or (2) Sam's is not keeping enough of them in stock or re-ordering on a regular schedule.

They do fly off the shelves - I've watched it happen...but I think that the department manager is just not re-ordering.  I had a little talk with him two weeks ago after making three trips to Sam's and finding an empty spot where my bars should have been.  He assured me that they had been ordered.  I finally found them back in stock last week, but he had only ordered two cases (10 boxes each).  I bought two of them (they are around $16 for 14 bars).  Maddie said, "Mommy, why don't you just buy them all?"  Well, I thought about it, but I didn't want to be stingy. 

If they continue to be so scarce, I am going to have to find a replacement or order them online.  The latter is not really an option because shipping is too expensive.  Does anyone have a suggestion for a high protein shake and/or bar?  This is important.  We're talking about the basic components of my breakfasts and lunches here! 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Growing My Own

You really can't beat the taste of fresh herbs.  I have been growing my own for several years.  Most people don't realize that most herbs are perennials, so once you plant your herb garden, they come back year after year.  The only problem is that they die-down during the winter and you can't enjoy them anytime you'd like.

My parents found a solution for me.  For Christmas two years ago, they gave me an AeroGarden - a dirt-free indoor garden.  For two years, it stayed in the box.  It was intimidating and I couldn't figure out where to put it in the house to keep the cats and kids away.  This spring, I decided to assemble it and plant a pack of the pods that came with it.  My parents gave me a variety of pod sets, but the one I wanted to try first was an herb kit.

It took me about 10 minutes to assemble my garden, which I placed in a large jelly roll pan to prevent water damage to my dining room buffet.  I popped in the six pods in the set, added water and a nutrient plant, and then plugged it in.  It started gurgling and in less than a week, the small plants had already started growing.  When I peeked inside the water reservoir, I could see little roots growing, as well.

Within one month, I had raised the light to its full height and had produced (with little effort) full grown herbs in my house.  I am growing three kinds of basil, oregano, thyme (which I struggle with in my outside garden), and a "holiday" hybrid herb with is similar to thyme.  Now, I have access to fresh herbs year round!

I must say that this is one of the best gifts I've ever received.  Not only is the garden useful, it is pretty to look at.  I love my AeroGarden!

By the way, the herbs were used in my Portabello Pizza recipe.  I used all three kinds of basil and some oregano.  Yum!

Out-of-This World Portabello Pizzas

I have been craving Italian food lately, but most of these dishes are so full of carbs and fat!  I've been resisting, but last night I had to find a way to get in some Italian flavors.  I came up with the recipe below, which uses portabello mushroom caps instead of crust.  Did you know that these mushrooms are low in calories and only have 1 net carb each?  These pizzas are also vegetarian and low fat.  The only fat added is the 5 grams in the cheese (which is low-carb and low-cal), and the pizza sauce, which has 6 net carbs per 1/4 cup.   There is nothing special about the ingredient list, but these little portabello mushroom pizzas turned out to be delicious.  I will be making them again, and again, and again!


  • 4 large portabello mushroom caps
(Note: Remove the stems and gills with a knife, and then wipe clean with a damp paper towel - Do NOT rinse them!)
  1. Pizza sauce (use pesto instead, if you have it)
  2. Fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced
  3. Whole mozzarella, thinly sliced
  4. Fresh basil and oregano
  5. Olive oil spray
  6. Salt & pepper to taste

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. After you have prepped the mushroom caps, spray both sides with olive oil spray and then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Bake mushroom caps for 20 minutes, flipping over half-way through.
  4. Remove caps from over and reduce heat to 375 degrees.
  5. Add 1 tablespoon or sauce or presto to each cap.
  6. Add tomatoes (or any topping of your choice - spinach would be good!)
  7. Add mozzarella cheese.
  8. Return to oven and bake until bubbly.  You can also broil them for a couple of minutes if you want them brown.
  9. Remove from oven and add fresh herbs.  Let the pizzas sit until the herbs have wilted.
  10. Enjoy!


Monday, April 8, 2013

Southern Reality

I adore Southern Living magazine.  I eagerly await each issue and devour every article from cover to back over the course of several evenings.  Why?  Because I love everything about the South and about being Southern.  Those of us raised below the Mason-Dixon (or sweet tea) Line possess unique characteristics and skills, a shared dialect and vocabulary, and a well-understood set of manners and etiquette that elude most outsiders.  These traits are beautiful and not easily emulated by those trying to assimilate into southern society  (as intended) because we Southerners have collectively compiled a set of rigid rules (or "secrets" as an article in the Southern Living, March 2013 edition refers to these elusive behaviors) that are near impossible for most humans, including many of our own) to adhere.  I read each of the 35 secrets, which fall into several categories, and thought to myself, "good idea," "I never think to do that," and "I don't know anyone who does that."  Then, I began to think that I must have a little Yankee in me or I must be living in a different part of the South where charm has gone by the wayside.  But then I thought, "No, I know some very charming ladies - my grandmother, Billie Jean Harding, for one - who practices many of the secrets, but even she might be baffled by the senselessness of a few of these.  So this blog is inspired by this article and will evaluate some of the "secrets to Southern charm" revealed in the current edition of my favorite mag.

The first section of the article describes/instructs (this is key, because it indicates to me that not everyone knows these things) on party etiquette.  Now, if there is one thing we southern women DO know how to do, it is entertain.  A big part of this section is dedicated to table etiquette. You know, how to set a proper table and set up a buffet meal.  In reality, many southern families are huge and these two ideas are contradictory.  First, if you must set up food on a buffet table, you can't be worried about setting a nice table because there will be too many people to sit at it.  During our parties and family gatherings, we have people crowded at the formal table, the kitchen table, the bar, in the living room watching football, and frequently open up the garage with long folding tables.  By the way, we can't afford too many monogrammed napkins so we substitute paper napkins and they work just fine.  By the way, by grandmother and friend Dr. Anne Gentry are the only two people I know who still consistently offer cloth napkins (I think they both originate from South Florida).

There are a couple of secrets that I liked in this section and they both involved drinking - something most Southerners enjoy, albeit many do it in private.  One said that Southern ladies should always be ready with a toast.  I agree with this, and few things bring me more merriment than the clinking sound of a wine glasses or beer bottles accommanied by a clever salute.  Another piece of advice suggested that every Southerner should have a signature cocktail.  Agreed, but the signature cocktail should vary with the season.  For example, while boating or floating, one should sip 9-2-1s (also known as "f*%k or fight," cause you're going to want to do one or the other after having a few).  This delicious concoction is composed of 9 ounces of vodka, 2 beers of your choice, and 1 small frozen limeade concentrate.  A word of wisdom, drink in moderation if you decide to make them.  Everyone also needs a good holiday punch (a cranberry white wine spritzer works well) and Mardi Gras cocktail (my husband is famous for his Hurricane O'Donalds).  A good bottle of wine and bourbon will suffice for most other occasions. 

The second section is entitled, "The Gracious Home."  Let me say, I have never been extended the hospitality expected on these pages, nor have I offered it.  If you visit me, you will not get beverage service.  You can walk downstairs and make yourself a cup of coffee or tea.  Our closets are already full, so expect to live out of your suitcase for the duration of your stay.  Don't expect a gift.  Afterall, I just saved you some cash by allowing you to stay in our guest bedroom instead of the Motel 6.  Thank you.  You're welcome.

I could go on, but you get my point.  Read the article.  It is ROMANTIC and all Southern gals would like to live these rules...but reality dictates and most of these rules are outdated and unrealistic.  Maybe a better title for this article would have been the "35 Forgotten Secrets to Southern Charm."  Southern Living can keep it's secrets this month.

It's About Time...

It's about time.  Time to start spring running.  In Arkansas, running outside during winter is not always possible.  It rains a lot here (we live in a subtropical climate zone, believe it or not), and the winter can be just nasty.  That's my number one excuse for taking a running hiatus each winter.  Excuse number two is a good one. My doctor said I needed to cut back or risk stopping all together.  My knees and hips have seen better days.  I am an old mommy, after all.

I usually start running again during the week we are out of school for Spring Break, so around mid-March.  This year, we were out of town so I didn't get to start.  I also got sick with the flu and then norovirus.  Additionally, the weather is unpredictable here and has not cooperated.  I planned to start this week, but Hubby is out of town and I can't very well leave the baby at home unattended.  Excuses!  Excuses!

I am going to start running later this week.  I have a new stun gun that I am dying to try out on a very mean German shepherd.  Mace no longer deters him, but I think the stun gun might do the trick.  I will be the hero of the running community!  This week...I WILL find a way to run this week...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Taking a Virtual Vacation...Everyday

I know this is going to sound INSANE, but I take a virtual vacation almost everyday.  What is a virtual vacation, you might be wondering?  Well, for me, it is taking a little trip to somewhere on this awesome planet via the World Wide Web or through some cool app I've just discovered, for just a few minutes.  It can also entail the simple act of checking out a cool travel app, checking flight deals, or reading travel reviews.  I know it sounds crazy, but this practice is very therapeutic and helps me make it through the day, week, month, or any span of time that needs to pass until my next trip.  Today, I want to share my (current) five favorite "travel portals" or iPad apps for my mini vacas.

Viator - It's been around for awhile, but it is still my very favorite travel app because it gives me a little bit of background information on any city or site, and then it also provides tour information and allows me to book directly through them (which they also insure).  Users can contribute photos, videos, and write reviews.  You can plan an entire trip using the resources on this app or their Website (which is also awesome).  The app is free!  You can also download the Viator Ultimate Experience Guide app for free, which focuses on the world's top 100 cities.  These are beautiful, rich apps for those who love to travel, dream about travel, or plan a future trip.

Triposo - This app lets you pick a destination, like Italy, and then drill down by city.  Once you make your desired travel selections, you can view Triposo's travel guides, which are really good.  They also include maps, so there is no need to buy a travel guide or map before you go.  Just carry your iPad along and you can access the same information on Triposo.  The app also includes a "travel log" that allows you to document your own trip to a destination, share your travel tips, add photos and check-ins.  Love it!

Hipmunk - This must be THE cutest travel app out there.  I love the way the chipmonk moves his hips while he searchs for you!  This app allows you to check and book hotels and flights at the lowest advertised price.  How does it work?  You enter you destination and date range, and Hipmunk does the searching for you.  If you are searching for a hotel, a large map (a really good map that I often use for other purposes because I like the graphics that much) and a list of lodging options displays.  For flights, your options will load.  Select the hotel or flight that you like.  Unlike other aggregators, Hipmunk only displays ONE price - the cheapest one advertised!  Click the "book" link and you can book with the cheapest advertisor (Kayak, Getaroom, etc.)  The app also integrates with Trip Advisor to provide hotel reviews.
TripAdvisor - This app functions in much the same way as the TripAdvisor website, but in my opinion, it is better organized and cleaner.  All of the ads have been removed so what you have left is an uncluttered app that is perfect for reading reviews on any place you wish to visit, restaurant in which you wish to dine, or tour that you'd like to take.  The app also offers suggestions on things to do while in a selected city and allows you to participate in discussion forums (or just read them) on any travel topic you desire.  Of course, you can also find flights and hotels - TripAdvisor needs to make money somehow!

Google Earth - You can do so much with this app, but I love being able to "visit" a place before I get there and check out the surroundings.  For example, I always check out the neighborhood when I book a hotel in an unfamiliar city.  This was very helpful last month when a student shared with me the "deal" she got on a hotel near the airport in New Orleans.  The price was too good to be true so I Google Earth-ed it for her.  It was in the hood and was constructed directly in front of a housing project.  To the right, was a pretty scary trailer park.  The individuals in the satellite images were also pretty intimidating.  She cancelled her reservation.  Google Earth will let you snoop around before you get there and I like that.