Cooking with Kids

By Tiffany MacKay

I love to cook. Baking, cooking, I enjoy anything to do with being in the kitchen. Food brings people together, and the kitchen is the heart of a home. It certainly is the heart of my home. Having two boys, I want to make sure that they know their way around the kitchen and I hope to pass on some of my love of creating food for the people around them.

Right now Iain is at that age where he either wants to help out with the chores around the house or do them himself. Since he is into helping, I have gotten into the habit of him helping me make our meals. This has become one of the highlights of my day and such a special moment in time to spend with him.  This past weekend we baked for the first time together. He was a fantastic helper and the best part is that when Iain helps make it, I can be sure he will eat it! Cooking and baking with a two and a half-year old does require some adjustment in your normal routine. Here are some things I have learned:

  1. Expect a bigger mess than normal; just remember it can always be cleaned up
  2. To keep you and your kids from getting frustrated, let them help at the level they’re able to.  For example, Iain helps me push buttons, pour ingredients into the bowl, or helps stir.  I do the measuring, cutting, and use the oven and stove.
  3. Safety first as always. Iain sometimes thinks that he can help with everything and I use these moments to remind him that stoves and ovens are hot and knives can be dangerous.
  4. Use it as a learning experience. We use this time to count and look at the letters on the different ingredients and see what we can identify. As Iain gets bigger cooking and baking will be a great way to learn fractions and other math concepts.

As Iain can start taking a bigger role in creating food with me I can’t wait to see what ideas and concoctions he will make. Next up, getting Rogan into the mix, I think I might have him help squish together the ingredients for Chicken Salad in Ziploc bag.

I am always looking for ways to have my kids help me in the kitchen, is there anything special that you do to have your kids help you?

Happy Mother’s Day

By Tiffany MacKay

Me and my mom

As Mother’s Day is fast approaching, I thought I would take a moment to salute all of the moms out there. There is no way to fully describe to someone who has not had the experience of being a mother what being a mother is. From the moment you find out that you are going to be a mother till you take your final breath you never stop being a mother, no matter where your children are. There are no words strong enough or descriptive enough to explain this state of being.

As a mother you learn what it really means to have a part of your heart and soul leave you and grow to be something entirely independent of you, but still a part of you. How do you describe the joys and sorrows of trying to raise a child and help them to become something wonderful? There are words that come close but I don’t know that they completely do the job.

Grandma with her first grandchild

For me, looking into my boys eyes, I see a physical manifestation of so many of my hopes and dreams. I see the hand of God working in my life and a gift that is so precious that it sometimes scares me that I might not be worthy of it. Yet somehow I know that I am.  That motherhood is something that I was meant to do and that these children that I have been given were meant only for me. They are my legacy, my light and my joy.

Me and my boys

Being a mother grounds you and gives you wings, it takes sacrifice and brings joy. As mothers we are teachers, mentors, cheerleaders, disciplinarians, peacekeepers and mediators. It is a job that I always knew I wanted, but could never understand until I was given it. I hope that every day is a Mother’s Day to you and your experience as a mom brings you as much joy and happiness as I have been blessed to feel in the short time that I have been a mother.

I would love to hear your own thoughts about how to best describe being a mom.  What does it mean to you?

Quick Recipes that are Kid and Husband Friendly

By Tiffany MacKay

Controlled chaos reigns supreme in my house right now. Because of that I am always looking for quick, kid/husband friendly recipes that take a minimal amount of time and that taste good for both the kids as well as mom and dad. Here are a couple that are on my list of favorites right now:

Pulled Pickled Beef Sandwiches with Cole Slaw

This is a recipe that I got from Paula Deen and adjusted to my family’s taste.

1 Chuck Roast

1 Jar of Pickle Spears

2 tablespoons of minced garlic

2 tablespoons of minced onion

1 package of shredded cabbage

½ bottle of Hidden Valley Cole Slaw Dressing

BBQ Sauce, we like to use Sweet Baby Rays

4-6 Buns (any kind will do)

Put the chuck roast in a crock pot, pour the entire jar of pickles (juice and all) in. Add the garlic and onion. Cook on low for 10 hours. Mix the cole slaw dressing and shredded cabbage together- I like to do it in the morning or the night before. When you are ready to eat, pull the beef out of the crock pot and shred. Split the bun add some BBQ sauce, a heaping tablespoon or two of cole slaw and add your desired amount of shredded beef. Put together and enjoy!

Yes I know it sounds weird, I got some funny looks from my husband but he tried it and he actually liked it.

Rotini in Alfredo Sauce with Turkey and Broccoli

1 package of Turkey Chops or Cutlets (approx. 1lb)

¼ cup of flour

2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

½ teaspoon of Garlic Salt

1 Family size package of Stouffers Creamy Alfredo pasta

1 bag of frozen broccoli in a steam bag

Cut up the turkey into bite-sized cubes.  Put turkey and flour in a zip lock bag and shake, lightly coating the turkey. Pour olive oil into a skillet and heat on high heat. When the oil is hot, shake the excess flour off the turkey and put it in the pan, sprinkle on the garlic salt. Cook the turkey until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes, and remove from heat when thoroughly cooked. Microwave the pasta following the directions on the box. When pasta is finished, cook the broccoli. Mix the turkey, pasta and broccoli together and serve.  The entire meal takes about 25 minutes to make, and it tastes great.

What quick meals have you made that are kid and spouse approved?

And Rogan Makes Four

By Tiffany MacKay

(Well five, if you count the dog).

Its Christmas time again and it’s hard to believe I have two little boys now.  The last time I sat down to write a post for MVMoms, I was 8 and a half months pregnant, and wondering what my world would be like with two little ones and a dog in the house.  Well, now I know.  It’s chaotic, tiring, exciting and a blessing all rolled into one.  I love being a mom to two boys; it is amazing how different two children who come from the same parents can be.  I love watching them interact; Iain has been a fantastic big brother.  He loves to share with Rogan and help mom and dad with the baby.  Before Rogan made his debut in August, we talked a lot about his baby brother and would show him the ultrasound pictures.  He loved hugging my belly and saying, “Hi baby” to it.  I think between all of the talk about the baby and his age it has been a pretty smooth transition, so far, from being the only child to the big brother.

Now that Rogan is almost four months and we are starting to get into a rhythm at home, I look back and see what made life easier and harder.  For example, I decided to make and freeze quite a few meals before I had Rogan.  Being able to pull something out, let it thaw, and throwing it into the oven or warming it up on the stove was a life saver.  Between those meals and take out, it made those first few weeks at home much easier.  Asking for help is another big one.  For those that know me well, they can attest that I am not one to ask for help easily.  It is in my nature to try to do it first even if I am pretty sure I can’t before I ask for help.  That went out the window within a few days.  Managing two kids right after having a baby, you need help.  Sleep and showers become infinitely more sacred.  I learned with my oldest what a special thing a shower is, and though I thought I couldn’t appreciate them anymore, I do.  I think another thing that I learned looking back is having zero expectations about how your oldest child is going to react to the new baby.  Be prepared for all reactions and just go with the flow. I have learned that kids surprise you; they get it more than we realize, and if we prepare them but do not push our preconceived expectations on them, they can do surprisingly well.  Two boys and a dog in one house equals a mess- there is just no way around it!  Add an extra half hour to trying to get out the door.  I am a little nutty about getting to places on time and even a couple of minutes early just to make sure I am really there.  Doing that with two young kids and a husband takes a bloody long time.  Even when I seem to put everything together that we are going to need, get outfits together, and prepare in every other way I can think of it still takes a bloody long time to get out of the house.  If I get out quickly then it is inevitable that I forgot something and that is usually something pretty important!

Yet all of the chaos and work another little one in the house creates completely evaporates when Rogan looks at me with a huge gummy smile and laughs or when Iain curls up on the couch next to me, grabs my cheeks in both hands, gives me a big kiss and says, “Hi mommy” because he hasn’t figured out “I love you” yet.  I feel amazingly blessed in my life and loved by those around me.

May your holidays and New Year be filled with joy, blessings, love and laughter.  See you all in 2012.


Another Addition to the Merrimack Valley Moms Family!

A hearty welcome to the newest family members of the Merrimack Valley Moms Blog! In addition to Tiffany’s new baby, Amy Dienta also welcome a baby boy on August 17th! We hope you’re both getting some rest.  When you catch your breath, we’d love to hear your insights on motherhood the second time around!

Is Facebook Bad for Kids?

By Tiffany MacKay

Time recently published an article titled “Kids who use facebook do worse in school” on its website that talks about how several recent studies regarding use of Facebook and other media were detrimental to students, both academically and from a mental health perspective.  Students who are connected to Facebook during study time tend to get lower grades in school, and separate studies showed that students who use other media and technology on a daily basis become more prone to anxiety and depression.  The article also stated that teens who use Facebook tend to have greater narcissistic tendencies than those who do not.

And young adults who are active with the social media site can display other psychological disorders.

Scary sounding stuff.
Yet, at the same time, on the opposite end of the spectrum studies have shown that students who use Facebook on a frequent basis are able to better demonstrate empathy to others, both virtually as well as in the real-world.

So what is a parent to do? In a world that’s media and technology driven, how do we find ways as parents to keep our kids safe, healthy and technically savvy at the same time?

I invite you to read the article: “Kids who use facebook do worse in school” and tell me what you think of the information.  Do you think it is exaggerating reality?  Or is it spot on?

For those parents out there with kids who are into using social media and other technologies, what advice would you give to parents with younger children that are just now starting to enter this world?

It really is a very Friendly Farm

By Tiffany MacKay

A couple of months ago, a friend at work told me about this place called Friendly Farm in Dublin, NH.  She raved about how her daughter, who is about 5 months younger than Iain, loved being able to pet and feed all of the animals, and how clean it was.  I decided a couple of weeks ago that I was tired of using my Fridays off to run errands and do household chores, and instead I wanted to play.  So with my mom and Iain in tow, we ventured off to our first visit to the Friendly Farm.

Dublin, NH is about an hour and 10 minutes from Lowell off of 101A.  The weather was beautiful and the drive up there was fantastic.  The farm itself was great fun and well worth the trip.  Admission into the farm is relatively inexpensive, adult admission costing $6.75 and children (ages 1-12) are $6.  They also have frequent admission cards that bring the cost of admission down to $4.50 a visit, as well as a junior farmer program.

Plus, if you keep your tickets from your last visit you can present them next time for $1 off admission!

The farm is very clean and the animals are incredibly friendly and gentle.  They have lots of animals including goats, sheep, rabbits, chickens, pigs, ducks and more!  Iain loved being around all of the goats and feeding them, petting the bunnies and holding the baby chicks.  It was a great environment for even the youngest ones to play and explore in relative safety.  The staff was incredibly friendly and Iain was even able to help bottle feed a baby goat.  You can also buy grain and chicken feed to feed the animals.  Iain, who is 20 months, loved having conversations with and feeding the animals, and with a little help from grandma and mom he fed just about every animal there.  All of the animals were very friendly towards the visitors and were very good with all of the children.  Even mom and grandma had a blast with the animals!

I wonder who had a better time, me or Iain?

We will be back soon and frequently for the next several years as Iain and number 2 grows.  Their website is and they also have a Facebook page.

Maybe we’ll see you at our next visit to The Friendly Farm!

Fashionista Tastes with a Walmart Budget

By Tiffany MacKay

Even though most people wouldn’t know it by looking at me, I am a fashionista at heart.  I love how clothing can enhance your assets and minimize your flaws.  It is a testament to human ingenuity that I can go and buy clothing that makes me look like I lost 10lbs or get a pair of jeans that gives an illusion of a butt where none exists!  This interest in fashion has become a minor obsession when it comes to dressing my son.  In some ways my fashion sense has taken over my common sense when it comes to him.  I cannot let him walk out of the house without looking put together.  I feel like I am doing him an injustice when I send him to school with just plain old jeans and some random t-shirt.  Crazy I know, not something that I ever thought I would become with my children, but there it is.  I have to deal with it and I am forcing myself to do it on a Walmart budget.

I may feel responsible for making sure that my son always looks coordinated and put together but I do not want to hurt my pocket book doing it.  Daycare already does that for me!  So here are some websites and tips I have found for making my little guy look as cute and as fashionable as I can without breaking the bank (too much!).

On-line and other stores I love to shop:

•, this is a website where high end products such as clothing, shoes, baby gear, as well as stuff for mom are marked down significantly.  The only catch is that you have to monitor the site regularly since the sales are of limited time, type and quantity.  When you find something you need or just have to have, the price does not make you hyperventilate like it would if you were to buy the product in a boutique.

•, this website is run by a woman out of Baltimore and the website has some really cool and unique clothing and accessories.  The clothes are a little more pricy than Walmart, but it is a great place to find unique pieces to add to your child’s wardrobe.  I bought Iain’s fedora from them and I still love it though his head has outgrown it.  I can’t wait for my next little guy to fit into it.

•, I love this site for myself and now my shoe fetish continues with shoes for my son as well.  They have just about every type of brand name imaginable and a wide array of shoe sizes and widths.  Their customer service is fantastic and their shipping is free not only to get the product but also if you have to return it.

•    Outlets – whether it is Carters, Osh Kosh B’Gosh, Children’s Place, Gap Kids, Tommy Hilfiger or Gymboree you can get your basics at a great price.  Right now I buy clothes for Iain about twice a year once for cooler weather and once for warmer weather.

•    Gently Used stores, there are several second time around stores in the area that have great clothes in fantastic condition that let your child look amazing without spending insane amounts of money.

Tips that help those clothes go a long way:

•    Keep a list of the clothing that you have gotten.  I try to keep a list of clothes that I have purchased so that I can keep track of what I still need and do not purchase too many pieces of similar type clothing.

•    Try to be able to mix and match as many pieces of clothing as you can.  I stay away from what I call “uni-outfits” clothes that will not go with anything else in my little guy’s wardrobe.  Granted there have been a few times where I just couldn’t help myself but the more I can mix and match the longer and more uses I get out of the clothes, the less money I have to spend.

•    Buy a few unique pieces to intersperse with your basics. I find that a great jacket or shirt that I can dress up or down and mix it with the basics allows me to get a great looking outfit that did not cost me as much as I would of spent if I had bought the entire thing at that boutique store.

•    Make sure your child will be comfortable in the clothes that you get.  I try and make sure that everything that I buy, Iain will be able to wear all day at daycare and be able to play and run around, without wanting to take off that really cute shirt I got him or those fantastic shoes.

•    Don’t discount the basics a simple polo or oxford and a nice pair of jeans complimented with deck shoes or a pair of casual dress shoes can make a great outfit and you don’t have to spend a fortune.

•    Plan outfits the night before.  I am usually rushing around the house in the morning with no time to think.  Granted you can only do this so long as your child does not want to dress themselves!

I am always looking for great places to find clothes for my son any suggestions?  Also, what tips would you give moms about dressing your little ones?  

A First Bike

By Tiffany MacKay

My son, like so many little ones, fell in love with bikes this winter.  He was entirely too small to ride one but that did not stop him from wanting to get on every one he saw. Trying to get him out of the bike department of our local toy store was like trying to get a guy out of Home Depot.

Seeing how fascinated he was with bikes, we decided to give him a very early birthday present and buy him his first bike.  We wanted him to have the summer to ride his tricycle before it had to be put away for the winter.  As I started looking into a tricycle for Iain, I was amazed at the amount of choice that was out there.  Knowing that my son, if given the ability, would take off like a shot I wanted a bike that I could somehow keep control of.  I also wanted something that was adjustable so that it could grow with him for a couple of years rather than being a one season bike.  Finally, I wanted a “traditional” looking tricycle.

I used online websites to find out what choices were out there, read reviews and find the best deal.  The choices were incredible. There were bikes that went from a stroller to a tricycle that you could put babies as young as six months in, and some tricycles looked they had come off an episode of Star Trek.  The prices were as varied as the bikes themselves, anywhere from $39 to $300.  It felt as overwhelming to pick my little boy’s first bike as it was to pick out his stroller!

We finally decided on a good old fashioned Radio Flyer tricycle but with a twist.  This particular tricycle has a bar that allows an adult to push the tricycle.  When the bar is engaged, it controls the steering and puts the pedals in neutral so you can completely control the bike.  We bought it at Target and of course with his new bike he also got a brand new helmet.  Iain loves his new bike and funny enough his helmet is just as important as his bike.  He doesn’t want to take it off even when he is not riding his bike.  Let’s hope that lasts!  Buying his first bike brought home how quickly he is growing up and though he has had an amazing amount of firsts there are so many more to come.  I am filled with anticipation seeing my little boy experience all of these firsts.  Being a mother and getting to experience all of these firsts is truly a gift.

When is my kid supposed to be doing that?

By Tiffany MacKay

I don’t know about other moms out there, but one of the things that I have struggled with is trying to understand if my child is where he should be at developmentally. As a first time mom I have been unsure through Iain’s first 19 months of when he is really supposed to be doing things.

He certainly did not come with a nice little chart that says things like

“If I am not rolling over by the time I am six months, please become concerned and address it with my doctor”

If only parenting were that easy.   I am not the type of mom that is worried that there may be something wrong with my child if they do not start walking at exactly a year or if they do not say 15 or more words at exactly 18 months. However, I am the type of mom that wants some sort of baseline or guidance to know approximately where my son should be. I wanted to find something that would give me a sense of where he should be, and if he is not there it allowed me to get a sense of when I should become more vigilant and when I need to discuss my concern with his doctor.

After researching, I have found a couple of quick reference charts that I like to look at occasionally when I start to wonder if Iain should be doing something at this point.  Babycenter has a chart that takes you from birth to age three. The thing I like about this is that it breaks out the skills by what should be mastered at that point by most kids, what are emerging skills which about half of children that age can do, and finally what are considered advanced skills which only a few child at that age can do.

The CDC also has information on developmental milestones that go from birth to age 17.  It is not as detailed as BabyCenter, but it gives you a sense of what should be happening each year of life and positive parenting tips and suggestions about what your child needs at that stage in life. One of the advantages of the CDC website is that if you do have concerns that your child is not meeting developmental milestones, it has a huge amount of information available to better educate yourself as a parent, discover resources to contact and, since it is from a source such as the CDC, you know that the information that you are getting was accurate at the time that it was published.

If you have toddler to pre-schooler, the Mayo Clinic has a nice chart that breaks out cognitive, language and other skills areas by age from 2 to 5 years old.

These are a few resources that I have found to help me understand where my child should be developmentally and what I can do to help them along.  Obviously all kids develop at different paces, mine included, but having a sense of what should be going on has given me a greater sense of empowerment in making sure that I am educated enough to be able advocate for my child if I believe there is something going on that should be addressed.

What information and resources have you found helpful as a parent?

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