The Rodeo: Online Schooling in the Time of Covid-19

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Malaka Gharib of the NPR blog Goats and Soda has created a comic that explains COVID-19 in simple terms for children. Gharib is the creator of I Was Their American Dream, a graphic memoir about her upbringing as an immigrant with parents from Egypt and the Philippines; the book was chosen as one of SLJ’s Best Graphic Novels of 2019.

The day came. Quietly, unlooked for, relatively unannounced—at least not preemptively announced at my High School. I left school on a Friday afternoon in March, set to pick up sick-work for my own elementary school student at his school. (No, he didn’t have SARS Co-V2. He had strep throat.) As I pulled into Midway elementary, my husband called, “Did you see the text from the school district?” he asked. “Nope,” was my brief reply.

“They’ve instructed elementary students to take their devices home this weekend,” he explained. “Ah, good to know. I’m here at the school now, and I can pick up both devices for the boys,” I returned. “I’ll call you back in 15 minutes, okay?” And that was the beginning of the new reality which most of us face.

Thirty minutes later our Governor announced a “soft-closure” of school. Two weeks later, a May 1st extension, and after two more weeks, it was announced that our schools will be closed for the rest of the school year.

We—the community, the parents, the teachers, the students, the administrators, the staff, individual states, the nation—let each new wave of distance sink in. (While some were desperately unable to gain distance because of their circumstances, and I’ll address this harsh reality later.) But sometimes the tide has risen so quickly, as each new day dawns on our brave new world of online schooling, we’re still caught off-guard, brought to turmoil, left (some) in tears.

For those of you who are struggling—and, yes, I’m pretty sure I’m speaking to a universal WE—TAKE HEART! I know that this road has been constantly changing, ever updating, inundated with crashing breaker upon crashing breaker of the new, the not-normal, the unknown. Yes, it has felt like a dystopian reality has been thrust upon many of us; and yes, I understand that holding the education of your own children in your own purview has got to be scary.

I spent the entire first weekend after the school closure working. When I say working, I mean that I put in two solid twelve-hour days. Scouring my lesson plans, shifting my expectations, creating a video welcome, expeditiously scanning text into PDF, drafting a parent email, assuring my students that their current assignments were still due, grading my current assignment load, and scrupulously re-designing my instructional rubric to fit our new reality—online schooling.

I’m a teacher. I share this not because you didn’t read the last paragraph where I explained all of the hard work and effort that went into shifting my classes to online models, but because I want you to understand that I feel you, parents, when you describe the hardship of schooling all of your people at home. Wednesday of the following week I entered upon an educational arena that I will hence forth and forever refer to as “The Rodeo.” We’re god-fearing cow and sheep folk here where I live, and I can only describe that those first few days of EVERYONE online, everyone collapsed into one space, one classroom, one life was a POOP-SHOW to behold.

My husband on a conference call with the East-coast. Myself on a Zoom meeting with my teaching team. My sons on a host of platforms, apps, and technological learning tools that left my head spinning, and my heart overflowing with passwords that I hopelessly cast into the soft-shod muck of my working memory.

Holy cow. We were failing. We were failing, and we were going to fail. It took my breath away. This instant shift, and equally instant knowledge– that while I felt aptly, even confidently, prepared to transition (with a 24 hours-worth of weekend-work) to teach eleventh graders both the art and science of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking with the flip of a switch– my own little family, my own pride-and-joy, my own little think tank was going to fall flat on its face in the mutton-busting, teeth brown with animal crap and tears, and there was nothing I could do about it!

Then Thursday dawned, and we were all okay. The kinks were there. You better believe there were kinks, and still are some. But we began to piece together our new reality. My second grader, who is bright, and silly, and a handful to be around for eight hours at a stretch, was completely overwhelmed just to see the “to-do” list his teachers posted. “Thirteen pages of math, MOM!” he yelled. As I tried to explain that those 13 pages were really just slides– on a Power Point, or a Nearpod, or a … you fill in blank with the app your student is using to ingest and then submit work—which meant that there were only THIRTEEN PROBLEMS. In total. Much less than he had done for his homework the week before.

So it has gone in our home. Sometimes we are able to re-visualize, re-imagine, re-calibrate our thinking about school. We’re riding high and feeling the adrenaline of success for every one of those eight seconds. My oldest son has quietly gone about his work, day-in and day-out, nary a hiccup. But we had some good old-fashioned ride-the-bull sessions when he couldn’t explain to me why his work was left “unsubmitted” on some of his assignments. We’re working it out. Sometimes we still get bucked off the bull.

But it is also very obvious to me that my children’s teachers got the news about school closures, went out to their own virtual rodeo arenas, got on the saddle bronc assigned to them, and WENT. TO. TOWN! (Go Wranglers!) We came back, to online school, to a system that was ready to deliver learning– targeted, essential learning– to each of my children in practically the eight seconds it takes to ride a saddle bronc. The execution, the preparedness, the effort, the instructional stability, the stamina, and the standards were astounding. Their style, their grace, their precise timing was everything. My children weren’t going to sit out this pandemic twiddling their thumbs. They were going to be learning. Truly gaining in knowledge, education, and standards-based instruction for their grade-level. It was and IS remarkable.

I also want parents, students, community members, and administrators to know that MY STUDENTS ARE SHOWING UP! My students are here. They are in their classrooms. Some of them in record displays of participation. It is so easy to give High School students a bad rap. To label them with some derogatory generational disparagement. But I want you to know that my students have been there for me as much as I have been there for them. They are writing, they are reading, they are thinking, they are responding to online discussions, and submitting FlipGrids full of poems, and rocking this brave new world in a way that I could not possibly have imagined.

This online learning platform IS accessible, IS relevant, IS possible, IS working. And, no, in my opinion, it is not the best there is to offer. I am an eternal advocate for the face-to-face classroom. I love the people. There will always be outliers. There will be those whose situations, livelihoods, family environments, and living situations have been thrown into such chaos by this change that they will not be able to either succeed or survive in this online learning platform. We should begin to plan for their recovery now. How will we offer make-up credit, re-teaching, re-assessment, and re-vitalization of those whose educational opportunities really did go down the tube when social distancing became a reality.

But above all, I want us to remember, and I believe that this moment in education has re-taught us, the incredible resiliency of the human spirit. We are all experiencing this rodeo together and yet separately. Almost all lived human experiences are like that—individual and collective. My hope is that we’ll continue to reach out with that human spirit of support and core care. I hope we will ban together in care and community-interest not just blast our latest emotion into the social media echo chamber. But take up the banner of education because it is one that we all must bear. Here’s to that next great ride of Old Glory around the rodeo arena in real-time. As the horse picks up speed, and the wind takes that banner of freedom into endless ripples of hard work, good will, and committed effort, may we remember learning and pedagogy are built upon the backs of those educational bronc riders—past, present, and future. You’re one of them now. We are all in this together.

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Winter Adventure: Packing List

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While on winter break, we’re headed North to catch some extra snowflakes. I know that many of my readers are native to four-season climates, but it’s always helpful to have a go-to packing list for winter weather and winter adventures regardless of whether you’re out in the cold on the regular or a sun-baby leaving the palm trees for the slopes!

One thing that I’ve learned over my many cold-weather packing experiences is that it can sometimes be hard to pare down your choices when it comes to frozen conditions and that the frigid elements make what you put in your bag even more important.

My short list is– two to three sweaters, two flannel shirts, two pair of jeans, two base layers, one pair of snow pants, two pair of boots, two coats, one pair of gloves, one winter hat, one buff (or neck gaiter), five to seven pairs of socks, and one pair of pajamas.

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Sweaters x 3

First up, my very favorite piece of clothing—The Sweater. Sweaters really are a necessary part of packing for winter travel and adventure. My all-time favorite travel sweater is this gray merino sweater from Patagonia. It’s a men’s sweater from a few years ago, and I have gotten more wear out of it than any other sweater I own. If you know me, that is saying a lot because I am a sweater horse and have a collection that is well-loved and well-worn.

The key to a good sweater for adventure is to invest in some real wool. I could sing the praises of wool all. day. long. The important thing about wool is that it traps and keeps water and wetness away from your skins, dries quickly, and maintains warmth, so while you may be wet and even sweaty you’re much more likely to stay warm and toasty in wool. Cotton is the opposite, it keeps water next to your skin, is very heavy when wet, and takes a very long time to dry. The best option for snow shoeing, skiing, and snow biking is wool, hands down.

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Flannel x 2

Though flannel is often made from cotton, I have one thick Woolrich button-up that’s also made from wool and I bring this on every winter excursion. I will also break my no cotton rule for flannel as they are comfy extras and can easily be layered under a sweater, coat or other heartier piece of outerwear. I have several favorites from Madewell including this option.

Jeans x 2 + Snow Pants

I bring jeans for days or times that I don’t plan on being active like a nice dinner out after a day of skiing, or our plans to ring in the New Year with friends in Sun Valley. Jeans are great for long travel days in a plane or a car so I always pack a couple pair. My current faves are a high-rise pair from Madewell with a button fly.

I also love this ponte pair from James Jeans. Because these are old and sold out I’ve scoped out two other pairs you might want to look at, HERE, HERE, and HERE. They are the perfect blend of refined because they have back pockets like jeans, but they are made of poly so they feel and wear more like a legging.

Base Layers x 2

Crucial to all winter travel, especially if you are mixing in outdoor adventures are base layers. I also recommend wool base layers and it’s good to do your homework in this area because there are so many different variety of wool under-layers. For temperate climates I love this light weight Smartwool underlayer. But for a thicker, substantive pair you might want to try the new Patagonia capeline air base layer. They’re made from a merino-poly blend and the reviews are tops!

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Gloves x Hat x Buff

Also very necessary to keeping warm and wonderful is protecting all of your extremities. I have been wearing a pair of Gordini gloves for several years now. Partially this is because I don’t downhill ski and partially it’s because I haven’t needed anything warmer. This year my sweet hubby bought me a sweet pair of Hestra gloves and my life has forever changed. Gone are the days of frozen flanges. I couldn’t be more stoked.

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The hat I’ll bring is this fun red beanie. Pick something warm and why not go for a puff-ball on top if you’re feeling winter-festive? And let’s not forget that neck. I wear a neck gaiter nearly every time I head out into the frost. They are a must have if the wind picks up, and it is always nice to warm up your lips on long slogs.

Socks x 5

You can never have too many pairs of socks. Well… I guess if your sock stash caused you to have to bring another carry-on you may have over-done-it! I like to bring five to seven pair of socks. Here’s the thing, if your feet are cold add a pair of socks. Doubling up on socks has saved me on more snow shoeing expeditions than I can count.

Our favorite sock fetish right now is definitely Stance. However most of the ones I’ll bring are actually these wool cycling socks that I like to steal from my hubby. They are plush! Your feet will be nice and roasted when you’re finished.

Boots x 2

I’ll bring three pair of boots with me on this little adventure– my Sorel Joan of Arctics, my Asolo hiking boots, and a pair of more fashionable booties, THESE if you are interested. If we weren’t traveling by car, I would need to rethink my shoe choices and stick to two pair of boots. I am also toying with throwing in my favorite winter slippers by Haflinger. These babies keep out the cold on any frozen floor.

Coats x 3

For a trip that consists of space saving measures I would bring a packable down coat, and my wool winter coat. Because we are in our own rig I’m bringing my Gortex shell as well. I just updated to the Patagonia Powder Bowl jacket, but I had my last Gortex shell for almost fifteen years. The fact of the matter is if you buy quality your cost per wear often plummets.

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7 Ideas to Update Your Family Smartphone Habits

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Christmas is upon us! As we skate through the holiday season I wanted to share some of the ways that I have found to both evaluate and update smart phone usage in your home. After all, the Holidays are a time to connect with our families, enjoy time spent with friends, and remember with gratitude the blessings of the past year.

In the age of digital-everything, I’ve found that while I might have a desire to be on my phone scrolling and rolling my way across the internet, my propensity to pick up my phone doesn’t always bring me what I’m looking for– JOY! In fact, the more I spend precious weekend minutes (and hours) on my phone the more bothered, bugged, and dissatisfied I become.

Engaging in an era of constant technological reinvention can feel exhausting. However, as we realize that smartphones are tools– tools that have a very functional, serviceable purpose, yes– the better we will be able to stave off the smartphone toll– disconnection, dissatisfaction, and disappointment.

My phone can call up my latest dinner recipe, play my favorite song-set, cue my most recent to-do list, and give me access to my current yoga routine. To me, these are all winning ways to use my phone. I can also admit that I’ve used my phone as a babysitter (hello most recent trip to the salon), and I’ve used it as a kid-entertainer (hello date night for mom and dad). We call this the “cell phone trick”, but as parents we always need to check ourselves in terms of how much screen-time we’re allowing. Kids can’t and shouldn’t be responsible to either enable or limit their own media consumption. That job still rests on the shoulders of thoughtful parents.

Getting your Instagram fix is fine, but if you find yourself scrolling mindlessly through your feed over and over you might want to choose a few other activities that keep your attention and bring human interaction.

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Add an app to track your usage

One of the best ways to find out how much you really use your phone is with an app to track your usage. With a recent iOS update, my phone began giving me a weekly “Screen Time” report. Now whether this was always available on my phone and I didn’t use it, or whether this is a recent Apple installment, this weekly Screen Time report is a great way to get a picture of your phone use!

I’ve really liked knowing how much time I’m spending on my screen, and it enables me to see how much time is spent on the individual sites on the internet as well as on apps that my kids use like Minecraft. For example, last week I spent a total of 20 hours on my phone. To me that sounded like A LOT. But when I saw how much I spent on my meal planning website, the clock that I use as a timer in my class each day, and the time that my kids played on various apps (about 5 hours total). I felt as though I was a more aware user. For me this awareness brings the opportunity to evaluate, re-set if necessary, and scaffold my phone use for the next week!

Put your phone away at dinner. Period.

This hard and fast rule has really changed the atmosphere in our home. I’ll give my husband and I a pat on the back for continuing to honor family dinner, and I’ve written about the power and importance of this daily ritual here on Refined + Rugged. But making sure that family dinner doesn’t devolve into a family internet surf has really helped to make the precious moments of the day we get to spend together even more meaningful.

A lot of families have cell phone use rules, and I hope that yours is one of them. My philosophy is that having rules and usage guidelines that apply to EVERYONE in a family helps to communicate to ourselves and to our kids that the human is in charge of the phone not vice versa.

As we have set specific times that phones are not allowed or not present, I have watched the way that our interactions with one another grow in meaningful ways. We spend more time outside, we spend more time talking and laughing together, we spend more time reading, playing instruments, getting in a workout, doing homework, participating in activities in our community. As our cell phone usage goes down, our engagement with one another invariable increases, and our happiness quotient generally rises. Win!

Create Times when Phones are Acceptable

Along with being sure that you have hard and fast rules for putting away your phone, it is also wise to make sure that you have times when phones are appropriate. For example, we really do take dates in our small town and leave our boys at home to play games on the phone, watch TV, or generally have screen-time. Because we are only a few blocks away, it feels like getting more bang for our buck to have the smartphone act as our babysitter.

We also have a weekly Minecraft club at our library. I was originally reticent to sign the boys up for an hour of game time each week. However, instead of causing MORE screen-time later in the week, it has allowed us the freedom to play and game and the freedom to say, “No, you had your screen-time on Wednesday.”

Saturday morning is another time we allow our kids time on the smartphone or smart-device. Hard working parents need breaks, but I have found that it is best to have these as scheduled times. If my people know that Saturday morning is one time they will be able to watch television, play Minecraft, and use apps like “The Elements”, we all have this screen-time to look forward to rather than allowing it to rule every minute of our lives or make a fight when one isn’t needed.

Remember that Small People are Watching

The more our world engages in the digital universe the more we may find ourself interfacing with technology. Remember that individuals, partners, families really can make a difference in digital citizenship by evaluating and then limiting smartphone and smart-device usage.

As I look at the way I use my smartphone, I have been reminded that in most cases when I am on my phone some small set of eyes is watching. Try this for an afternoon or a day. Turn off your phone. Put it in a drawer or in a desk and then go out with the purpose of observing the way that other people use their phones.

Think about the fact that for most children the ideas, images, examples, and trend-setters for smartphone use are the adults in their life. For the most part they walk about without phones watching the way the the world around them chooses to interact with technology. What would the smartphone world look like to you if you were a child?

For example, we have strongly encouraged reading in our household. A few nights ago my boys were soaking in the warmth of their good reads in front of a glowing fire. I have been guilty, in these moments of silence when my children are engaged, to take the time to peruse my phone. In other words, my children are engaged in the real world, they are learning, reading, growing and expanding their sweet minds, and I am taking my “phone time”.

How does this look to them? Because as much as I may pretend to limit my smartphone usage, there are certainly times when I should make the executive decision to TURN IT OFF. I made the choice then and there to grab a book, highly recommended to me by our school librarian, and read.

Make a list of all of the activities you like to do without your smartphone

Maybe you’re not an avid reader so picking up a book isn’t appealing to you. Instead of a book, what you should look for is an enterprise that excites you that is not linked to your phone! While writing this post, I was encouraged to make a list of all of the activities, projects, and endeavors I can opt into before I pick up my phone.

While your list may look different from mine, the idea is the same– make the time and take the opportunity to do things that don’t involve digital isolation. Even when you are commenting a friend’s Facebook post or latest Instagram update you do so in a vacuum in that very moment. You are all alone. What are other things you can do to keep your spirits high and your outlook positive in the coming year?

When you’re stuck scrolling, just turn it off!

In the end, if you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone on a Friday evening– STOP! One of the most powerful realizations about your phone is that you are in charge. So if you do end up in the internet’s web far out into the galaxy of google searches, it might be best for all to simply put the phone down and walk away.

Take Stock of your Situation

Just as you might look at the Screen Time stats on your phone, take the time to evaluate your phone usage over time. Sometimes we take a couple steps forward and then a couple of steps back. I am advocating a constant analysis of the ways which smartphones can be corralled, limited, and controlled as a mode of human convenience rather than a time-sucking monster.

My ultimate concern is that we model for our little humans the kind of digital citizens we hope that they will be one day, and that we leave the rising generation with the skills to realize that they are the masters of the digital world, not vice versa.

I hope your Holiday really is merry and bright. I hope that the love and connection you create transcends technology. I hope that reigning in your phone will put you back in the driver’s seat of your sleigh. Sending you love and well wishes from an average human fighting the good fight to unplug, unwind, and fully enjoy this special time of year. Happy Friday, friends.

XX, Megan

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Oregon: Road Trip Part II

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To the Coast

Portland to Crater Lake, Crater Lake to Bend the beginning of our road trip is posted in Oregon Road Trip: Part I (here). After a few days in Bend it was time to move on in our journey. We packed up the van and headed to the coast where we planned to spend the rest of our trip.

The Oregon coast is one of the most breathtaking places to visit. Rocky and craggy, moody and weather beaten, the weather can be warm (rarely), but it is almost always characterized by hoary morning hazes and sometimes torrents of rain even in the summer months. Our first stop was Wax Myrtle State Park (pictured above and below).

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Oregon: Road Trip Part I

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Embracing Van Life

This summer we headed out on an epic Oregon road trip in Olive, our 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia Weekender. Over the life of Refined + Rugged I’ve shared some of our other camping, hiking, biking adventures, and road trips,  and I wanted to add this trip to the list of fabulous vacations that practically anyone could re-create. This entire trip could also be scheduled for fall through this gorgeous state. Hint, hint, get behind the wheel and live!

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New Balance: Five Things I’m Doing To Renew Daily Equilibrium

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With the beginning of my second year of teaching I’ve encountered the reoccurring matter of balance. We have on-boarded a lot of activities and obligations to our family life. In addition to working full-time I will also be taking college courses as part of professional development for my teaching licensure over the next two years.

Here are five things I’m doing to renew balance in the eternal quest for equilibrium.

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Garlic Shrimp with Cherry Tomatoes

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This reciep posted last week, and I admit that it went to press completely unedited– no pictures, no commentary, nothing other than the recipe. I am updating it now because it really is SUCH a wonderful meal. I thought about taking the post down. I’ve never let anything publish on my blog that wasn’t written and edited before.

But this time I thought, “You know what, this is real life. Real time.” I.e. NO TIME! 🙂 And I let the article stay put. Now, a week later, I am showing up to add the appropriate photos, links, and this little blurb about my whoops!

This dinner was another Six O’clock Scramble* win? It was enjoyed by one and all. If I were to make it again, I might try it with the parmesan, as that would take it to a whole new delicious level. Beyond this dinner, thank you for reading, following, commenting, and supporting my little blog. I am still very much enjoying my tiny corner of the internet! Have a great Monday!!

XX, Megan

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. large shrimp (preferably US or Canadian farmed or wild shrimp), peeled and deveined, thoroughly dried
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, (4 – 6 cloves)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved and seeded (poke out seeds with your thumb after halving)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper, or to taste
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, or use basil
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
 Directions:

In a large heavy skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. When the butter is bubbling, add the shrimp in a single layer and sauté them for about 2 minutes per side until they are pink and opaque throughout. (Meanwhile, prepare the green beans, if you are serving them.)

Add the garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook everything for 2 – 3 more minutes, until the tomatoes start to soften. Stir in the parsley (or basil), Parmesan cheese (optional), and toss until the shrimp and tomatoes are nicely coated. Serve immediately.

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*The Six O’Clock Scramble is a meal planning service to which you can subscribe here. For a fantastic price you will receive 8 weekly meals which means 8 recipes (main course plus a side dish), complete grocery list, the ability to tweak the number of people you are making for, and full nutrition facts.

PLUS tips as to how best to PREP your meal beforehand, add a punch of FLAVOR, and how to SLOW COOK almost every recipe if you’re especially slammed that night. This wonderful service really does live up to it’s name. You can come home at 6 p.m. and be sitting down to a DELICIOUS, HEALTHY, HOME COOKED meal by 6:30 p.m. most nights.

Meatloaf Muffins

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I read an article today titled “The home-cooked family dinner: Yes, it’s a burden for moms but is it worthwhile?” from the Washington Post. The article isn’t new, dated 2014, but all of the questions may still be asked contemporarily. Do we really need family dinner? Is family dinner a burden that we, primarily women, should carry? Do the benefits outweigh the inherent struggle?

For me, the answer is undoubtedly yes, to all three. The takeaway, and I realize that I may be preaching to the choir here, was that family dinner is an integral part of working toward increasing the health of your family– not just physically, but mentally as well. Research shows that kids who eat family dinner five or more times a week are proven to do better in school, to be more adverse to drug and alcohol abuse, less prone to depression, and more likely to avoid eating disorders.

The more I learn about and experience family dinner, the more sold I’ve become. I really do need to give credit where credit is due and recognize Aviva Goldfarb and her meal planning service The Six O’clock Scramble because she and her team are the reason that our family dinners have succeeded.

I’ve written about The Scramble, and sung its praises here on Refined + Rugged more than once, but I really do credit the simple, straigtforward menus, easy grocery lists, and customizable meal plans that The Scramble offers for keeping us on the family dinner wagon for SO LONG- going on seven years now, I believe. You know it’s good when you’ll recommend it to every person you meet, call a radio talk show just to drop the name, and write Instagram love letters to the founder because you life has been so changed! 🙂

To my mother and close friends I’ve joked that it only took me eight years of being home to figure out how to make a home-cooked meal, but the reality is that there will be some trial and error if you do decide to jump on the train and begin family dinners.

However, an equally important reality offered in the article was that of dinnertime flexibility. Anne Kruger, former editor-in-chief at Parenting magazine explains, “I remember as a working mom dragging my kids to Arby’s after picking them up from day-care and kindergarten because I was just too tired to cook when my husband was out of town.” She continues, “I’d let them watch ‘The Simpsons’ in Arby’s and pray that nobody I knew would see me because of [my position] I should have been ‘doing better.’ Which is ridiculous, because we’re all doing the best we can.”

That is the ultimate truism. So this Thursday, friends, I hope you find yourselves in the kitchen, or find yourselves grabbing dinner at some fast food joint. I hope that you feel good about it either way! If you’re home, this meal was SIMPLE, DELICIOUS, and HEALTHY. All things I’ve come to expect from The Six O’clock Scramble which is still the biggest family dinner silver bullet I’ve found.

XX, Megan

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Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic, (1 – 2 cloves)
  • 1 1/2 lbs. lean ground beef, turkey or chicken, or use 24 oz. meatless crumbles
  • 3/4 cup ketchup, or use tomato sauce
  • 1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs (use wheat/gluten-free if needed),  I used almond flour with 1 1/2 Tbsp. Italian seasoning added
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (use wheat/gluten-free if needed)
  • 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onions, carrots, oregano and garlic for 3 – 5 minutes until the vegetables are tender (if using meatless crumbles, add them now too and cook for 3 – 4 extra minutes).  Remove them from the heat and let them cool for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients, then add the onion and carrot mixture, and stir thoroughly.

Spray a 12-cup muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. Spoon the meat mixture into the cups, dividing evenly — each mini meatloaf should completely fill a muffin cup but won’t go much over the top of it.  Bake the meatloaf muffins for 30 minutes.  (Meanwhile, prepare the carrots and the potatoes, if you are serving them.)  Remove the muffins from the oven and let them sit for 5 minutes before serving, or refrigerate them for up to 2 days or freeze them for up to 3 months.

*The Six O’Clock Scramble is a meal planning service to which you can subscribe here. For a fantastic price you will receive 8 weekly meals which means 8 recipes (main course plus a side dish), complete grocery list, the ability to tweak the number of people you are making for, and full nutrition facts.

PLUS tips as to how best to PREP your meal beforehand, add a punch of FLAVOR, and how to SLOW COOK almost every recipe if you’re especially slammed that night. This wonderful service really does live up to it’s name. You can come home at 6 p.m. and be sitting down to a DELICIOUS, HEALTHY, HOME COOKED meal by 6:30 p.m. most nights.

Chicken Pesto Vegetable Soup

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The following post is a bit lengthy, as I describe my experience on the Whole 30 this time around. If you didn’t come here for insight into the aforementioned diet, skip to the bottom of the post for the DELICIOUS recipe details for Chicken Pesto Vegetable Soup which I got from The Scramble*!!!

Whole 30 complete! In full disclosure. I did not accomplish the Whole 30. I had far too many slip-ups to call it such. The rules of the Whole 30 are that if you have a “mistake”– any sugar, any grain, any dairy– and you are to restart your 30 day countdown. That’s right, back to zero.

I didn’t restart. I just kept going. If I were to quantify how much clean eating I accomplished versus how many taboo ingredients I consumed, I’d say I ate clean 98% of the time. So the 2% was my downfall. These “mistakes” were all on the weekend, all with friends, all social missteps from my diet. I don’t intend to justify my fall off the wagon on the weekend.

The triumph for me in my not-a-Whole-30 has been that during what has been a super-busy, super-stressful, super-time scarce moment in my life I was STILL ABLE TO EAT CLEAN. I was still able to meal prep every day. I was still able prove to myself that it is possible to set and keep healthy eating habits even during times when food may not have normally been the focus. For that reality, I AM STOKED!

So the following are some of my take-aways from this round of the Whole 30. First of all, I am always so glad that clean eating shows me the quiet dietary extras I sometimes allow to get out of hand. It starts with breakfast. When I’m not Whole 30ing I almost always have Greek yogurt and a few tablespoons of granola for breakfast. These are my go-tos out of ease. It’s easy to grab a packaged container of yogurt and store a bag of granola in my desk at school.

But what is the nutritional value of yogurt and granola? If I am honest with myself, it isn’t very high. 150 calories with 13 grams of sugar and 12 grams of protein. Augmented by 230 milligrams of potassium. However, the calcium is minimal, the vitamin content nonexistent. Don’t stop eating Greek yogurt on my account. I’m sure I won’t. But there are better choices for breakfast.

On the Whole 30 I ate half of a roasted sweet potato, two eggs, and one sausage most mornings. I haven’t calculated the nutritional content, but I know for a fact that the sugar content in that meal is WAY lower in my Whole 30 breakfast meals than it is in a pile of yogurt and granola.

The Whole 30 also helps me to evaluate my snacking. I am prone to pick up handfuls of high carb, low nutritional content munch several times a day. While those bites might not add up to much in one palm-full, they do equate to more empty calories overall, everyday. Over time, those bites and bits at times become binges, and herein is where the problem really lies.

Whole 30 always reminds me that WHOLE food, REAL food, has the ability to satiate not only my appetite, but actually all of my body’s cravings. If a donut and an avocado had the same affect on my body, I could eat a donut a day for the rest of my days. The reality is that constant intake of processed sugars and fats equates to unwanted after-effects on my body each time I consume them. This reminder is key to eating clean and staying clean. It doesn’t mean I’ll never eat a donut again, but it does mean that I’d rather eat an avocado. Truth!

I always see the positive affects of the Whole 30, not only in my diet, but the eating habits of my entire family. My kiddos end up eating a whole lot LESS of the processed crap I sometimes allow to sneak up on the table and into their mouths (yes, this is the stuff they are eating whilst I am being apathetic). I love that we dispense with desert in favor of a piece of fruit. I love that the treats that sometimes linger on the shelves are absent because I’m not buying the for myself or for anyone else. I am pleased when my chicken little tells me that the pesto soup I made (the recipe below) ROCKED his socks off.

To me, these are all positive affects of the Whole 30. Including things like increased intake of ALL vegetables. Learning and remembering that flavor can come from herbs, spices, garlic, and the like is a dream come true for my taste buds. And speaking of taste buds, I feel as though my mouth always undergoes this shift where at some point in the Whole 30 I start to notice that my taste buds are really alive again, as I have previously saturated them with so much sugar that they fail to respond properly to whole foods!

So while my Whole 30 cannot rightfully be called a Whole 30 this time around, it is most certainly they way that I want to continue to eat on a daily basis. In fact, that is another thing that I was reminded of during this not-a-Whole-30. As I neared day 30 for the second time, I remembered my first Whole 30– how excited I was to eat a sandwich, how I couldn’t wait to bite into an ice cream cone, how tempting a donut sounded until the bitter end. This time I started to think about how I didn’t want my diet to change and shift and morph into something else. I still want to eat sweet potato hash and eggs. I still want to consume more vegetables and lean protein. I still want to be able to say that I went the entire week without desert. Not because I forced or convinced myself I didn’t need sugar, but because I didn’t even WANT it!

One indulgent meal once and a while will not keep me from my health goals, but allowing myself simple sugars, and over-processed food day-in and day-out will eventually derail my health and fitness goals. My plan is to complete a mistake-free Whole 30 when we return from vacation in April. At this point, I feel confident in my ability to stay on the train without looking back! On with the recipe! (And your day, if you really hung in here for the entire play-by-play!) Happy Thursday!

XX, Megan

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 4 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 15 oz. extra-firm tofu, drained and diced, or use 1 lb. chicken breast, diced
  • 28 oz. diced tomatoes, with their liquid
  • 32 oz. reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. basil pesto, or more to taste

Directions:

 Heat a large saucepan or stockpot over medium to medium-high heat, and add the oil. When it is hot, add the carrots, celery and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tofu (if using chicken add it about 6 – 8 minutes before the soup is done), tomatoes and broth, cover it and bring it to a boil.
Remove the cover and simmer the soup for 15 – 20 minutes until the vegetables are very tender. Stir in the parsley and pesto and let the flavors meld for about 1 minute before removing from the heat. Serve it immediately or refrigerate it for up to 3 days.
This recipe’s original side was a loaf of Italian bread. Instead of bread, I opted for Roasted Spicy Sweet Potato Bites.
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cut into one, two, or even three inch cubes
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp rosemary (or you can use thyme or basil or parsley)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
Preheat your oven to 450. Chop the sweet potatoes and put them into a medium sized bowl. Add the olive oil. Mix the dry ingredients together. Toss the sweet potatoes with the olive oil and herbs. Bake for 35-45 minutes turning once halfway through baking. Enjoy!!
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*The Six O’Clock Scramble is a meal planning service to which you can subscribe here. For a fantastic price you will receive 8 weekly meals which means 8 recipes (main course plus a side dish), complete grocery list, the ability to tweak the number of people you are making for, and full nutrition facts.

PLUS tips as to how best to PREP your meal beforehand, add a punch of FLAVOR, and how to SLOW COOK almost every recipe if you’re especially slammed that night. This wonderful service really does live up to it’s name. You can come home at 6 p.m. and be sitting down to a DELICIOUS, HEALTHY, HOME COOKED meal by 6:30 p.m. most nights.