Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Red Ribbon Week = Drug Cartel Awareness Week?

This is Seth's experience with his school's red ribbon week in his own words.

By: Seth R. Hawkins

Drug free, the way to be, right? At least, that's how I grew up learning about drugs during Red Ribbon Week. I'm not sure if that got lost in translation - it is South Texas after all - but our Red Ribbon assembly was anything but standard. The message of this Red Ribbon Week was, "Drug Free, the way to keep your fingers from being smashed in a vice by angry drug lords who are really only preparing to shoot you point blank in the head for stealing their drug money."

Yes, Red Ribbon Week is very different at the middle school I teach at. I remember Red Ribbon Week being more or less a waste of a week, complete with red plastic cups jammed between chain link fences, spelling out incomprehensible messages, and annoying red ribbons that students shredded to pieces before the end of the first day. Sure, there was probably some anti-drug message in all that, but hey, it's Utah, nobody does drugs, right? Maybe if the schools approached it the way my middle school did it today, the drug use rate in Utah would flat line.

The master of ceremonies of our assembly were two U.S. Border Patrol agents. Seeing as we're only a mile away from the border, it was surprising to hear the mixed reaction when the agents were announced. It was mostly cheers, but there were some boos. (Strangely enough, being a border patrol agent is a dream job for many of my students. Go figure.) I was expecting them to give your run-of-the-mill, "Don't do drugs because they can kill you speech." Instead, the first border patrol agent started talking about how drug cartels are big and powerful and they will come after you and they will kill you. Oh, but that's only after they kidnap you, take you to Matamoros, beat you senseless, chop off three of your fingers and mail them to your parents for a $50,000 ransom, all because you decided you were going to drug deal and then double-crossed them. The end result? Some guy in a ski mask shooting you in the head and dumping you in the river, but only after dousing your body in gasoline and lighting you on fire. And that's if you're lucky.

At first I couldn't tell if this guy was serious, but then he kept going on this beat for another 15 minutes. At this point, I was starting to get a little sick to my stomach. He wasn't holding anything back. He wasn't making anything up though. Drug cartels are big, they are powerful and they are vicious, but I was amazed with what boldness this border patrol agent shared these dark subjects with these 12-14 year old children.

From there, we watched a movie that was clearly designed to be so graphic and violent as to scare anybody from ever even thinking about taking over-the counter Tylenol. After the movie, the second officer got up and continued on the same path, sharing local drug cartel horror stories. By the end of the assembly, I was scared out of my mind. The kids cheered.

I'm not sure if any students were persuaded to stay drug free. I'm sure a few came away learning that drug dealers can make a lot of money. But if anybody was listening, the only message they came away with was: Drug dealers will hunt you down, they will beat you, they will hurt your family and you will die. So, drug-dealing free, the way to be.

As if I needed any more proof that I'm not quite in America and not quite in Mexico, this was it. South Texas is a world of its own.

Book Review- Alas, Babylon

What would happen to America after a nuclear war? Alas, Babylon gives us some idea with a 1950s perspective.

This book ripped me apart. I loved it but it terrified me. I found myself wanting to hoard food, water, sewing needles and just about everything else while I was reading this book.

The book, written in 1959, is about a group of people living in a small town in Florida after almost every major city in America has been destroyed by nuclear war. Russia and America are both destroyed and the scariest thing about it is that the war basically only lasted one day. This book shows the country go back to a bartering system. People are fishing and gardening to survive and there is no electricity.

This book made me realize how much of the stuff we have scrimped and saved for would be worthless to us if something like this were to happen. What good is your TV if there is no electricity or television broadcasting? In the book, all the diabetics die because there is no refrigeration for their insulin. It broke my heart to see so many people die. In the book America went from a society with fabulous medical technology and saving many lives, to survival of the fittest in just a matter of days.

Getting past the terror this book instilled in me, it was fabulous. I loved the characters and was sad when the books was over. I loved the small society that they set up and the things they did to make it through. I almost wanted to be a part of their society. Almost.

In some of the reviews I have read of this book, a lot of people hold the same complaint. One of the families in the book is African-American and some readers felt the other characters were racist towards them. I felt like they might have been in the beginning but as nuclear war levels the playing field they begin to realize that racial differences don't matter like they thought they did. Keep in mind the book was written in 1959, a period of racial struggle in America and I think you will understand some of the inferences better. I am not proud of some of the racial inequalities our country has had but I feel to take them out of our literature would be to forget it ever happen and allow it to happen again to someone else.

Who won the war? You are going to have to read it to find out but does it really matter? Both countries are destroyed and most of their populations have been killed, would it really matter who won?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Crockpot Cream Cheese Chicken

If you are looking for a good crock pot meal, this is it. Almost everyone I know has some sort of version of this but here is our take on it. We make it for new people all the time and always get rave reviews.

Cream Cheese Chicken

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 pkg. Italian salad dressing mix
  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning (spice)
  • 8 oz. package cream cheese
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning (spice)
  • 7-8 cups bow tie pasta (dry)

Clean Chicken. Melt butter. Pour into crock-pot. Add water, Italian salad dressing mix and 1 tsp. Italian Seasoning. Mix well. Add chicken and coat with mixture.
Put lid on and cook on low for 2 to 3 hours or until done.

Remove chicken and cut into bite-size pieces. Set chicken aside.
Soften cream cheese. Mix in soup, milk, and 2 tsp. Italian seasoning. Stir until smooth. (Warm in microwave for 2 minutes to help get mixture smooth) Add to the sauce that is in the crock-pot and mix well. Add chicken and stir. Cook 1 hour on low. Cook pasta and serve with the chicken sauce.

The recipe calls for four chicken breasts but you can do more or less if you want.  I have also used two cans of cream of chicken soup instead of one so the recipe feeds more people and it doesn't taste any different. So that part is up to you. You can serve this on any pasta but my husband is convinced that it isn't perfect unless it is on bowties. This is my 7-year-old's FAVORITE dinner!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays - Pumpkin Cake

My friend wanted this recipe, so I decided to share with all. This is fantastic. It is easily my favorite dessert of all time. It has less of a pumpkin flavor and more the flavor of just a general spice cake. Yummers.

Pumpkin Cake
4 eggs ( beat until fluffy)
1 and 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 16oz can pumpkin
Mix Well
2 cups f lour
2 t. baking powder
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda

Beat eggs until fluffy and add sugar, oil and pumpkin, mix really well then add then rest mixing as you go, Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Book Review- To Kill a Mockingbird

Everybody it seems had to read this book in high school. Everybody except me. I have made a list of books everyone else seems to have read except me and To Kill A Mockingbird was right at the very top.

I started the book several times. Starting this book sleepy will just make you fall asleep but reading the middle and end of this book before bed will just keep you awake. This book became real to me. I love and respected characters in it and I hated others. I found myself saying how horrible and mean a certain person was until I remembered he was just a character in a book I was reading.

To Kill a Mockingbird embodies everything that is so wonderful and awful about America all in one. At the end of it, you understand why America struggles. You understand that there are people who serve no interest but to make themselves feel better. They want to be the ones that can sleep at night even if it means the rest of the world burns. You also understand why America isn't continually burning with the contempt of these individuals because there are good people who genuinely care about other people who are trying to put out the fires.

I have read so many books that have touched but this one broke my heart. I felt heartbroken because I know that if To Kill a Mockingbird had happened in real life it would have played out very similarly as it did in the book. My one hope for this country is the knowledge that it if were to happen today with the exact same situation, lying witnesses and all, that there would have been a jury willing to stand up for someone telling the truth simply because they were telling the truth.

I loved to Kill a Mockingbird. Our country could sure use a more people like Atticus Finch right now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Heath Candy Bar Dip

If you want a little slice of Heaven on Earth, this is it. It has just the perfect combination of creaminess and toffee. I have to wait to make until I know other people are going to be around to help me eat it, or I know I will eat the entire think myself. My favorite thing to eat it with is Granny Smith apples, the tart apples pair perfectly with the sweet of this dip.

You will need: 

  • 1 block cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 bag Heath or Skor bits

Serve with cut apples, strawberries or any other fruit you think could use it.

Do you have a favorite candy bar dip?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tasty Tuesdays- Manicotti

I am starting a new segment, Tasty Tuesdays. I keep getting asked for my recipes, so I have decided to share them along with my tips for each one.

This is my version of Manicotti. It is super easy. It is my go to meal if I need something quick in a pinch. I will give you the complicated version and then the fast meal version.

A lot of people hate making Manicotti. I have never been able to figure it out. It is one of my favorite meals and I have always found it super easy. I discovered the hesitation a little while back. Don't buy the Manicotti pasta. They are super hard and frustrating to stuff. If you buy the jumbo shells, the process will be much faster and you won't end the meal with a head ache.

Complicated Version

What complicates this version is making homemade spaghetti sauce. This sauce takes a little while to be ready but it so worth it. Seth always raves about this sauce being the best he has ever tasted. It is not too hard to put together but must simmer for quite awhile. I often will make a huge batch of it and then freeze it. I will thaw just what I need for a certain meal.

Spaghetti Sauce

1 lb ground beef
1 Tablespoon dried onion
1/2 teaspoon dried garlic

fry together and drain

6-8 cans tomato sauce (8 ounces)
1-2 cans tomato paste
1-2 teaspoon Italian Seasoning

Add salt to taste.

Bring to a boil and simmer on low for 40 minutes

After you have your fabulous homemade sauce follow this receipe and you have great Manicotti.

3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg beaten
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley (fresh)
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1- 8 ounce package manicotti noodles

Cook noodles. Combine and fill manicotti and place in 9x13 pan with spaghetti sauce on the bottom arrange in a single layer cover with spaghetti sauce. Cover with foil and bake 25-30 minutes at 375 degrees uncover and sprinkle with additional 1 cup of mozzarella. Let stand 5 minuets.

Still want great Manicotti and you have less time of your hands?

Skip the homemade sauce. A bottle of Prego will do. Use the shells instead of the manicotti to skip some major hassle. It weirds Seth out to use an egg in Manicotti, so if I am in a major hurry I skip that as well. Skipping the egg cuts down on bake time because without it everything is already cooked you are just warming it up.

It is yummy either way. So make they way you like it. Gourmet or quick. I have uses for boths.