Friday, April 29, 2011

recipe: broccolini with figs, garlic and pine nuts

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon "Vegan Planet" at our local library. Though I'm not vegan, I do try to have our family eat healthy and when I became lactose intolerant I also wanted to find yummy recipes that didn't require dairy (they do exist!). (.27.12 update: I'm vegan now :) )   After trying out several recipes from the book, I ended up buying a copy of my own.

The other week I tried out the "Broccoli Rabe with Figs, Garlic and Pine Nuts" - I ended up using broccolini - I'm not sure if this is the same as broccoli rabe, but it looked good and was different that using broccoli, though you could use that too). Anyway here's the recipe with a few of my modifications and a picture of the results while it was still on the stove.

2-3 bunches broccolini, coarsley chopped
a little bit of water
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1/3 coarsely chopped dried calimyrna figs (these are the best kind)
1/4 c pine nuts
salt and pepper

Add water to the pot pot and saute garlic until fragrant. Add figs and pine nuts and cook until the pine nuts are lightly toasted. Add broccolini, salt and pepper to taste, and cook about 5 minutes until broccolini is crunchy but tender. Do not put the lid on the pot (it makes green veggies take on a sickly greeny gray color). Serve and enjoy.

Besides the yummy flavors, the best part about this recipe is that it takes only about 10 minutes to prepare and cook, start to finish. The funny thing (for me) is that my children who love broccoli did not give a thumbs up to this, but my son who does not like broccoli did eat it. Go figure!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

hair care

"Scriitch....scriiittch." That was the sound of what I assumed was a hair clip being applied to my hair by my middle son as he was playing with my hair this morning. Turns out, it was the sound of nail scissors being used to cut my hair. Yep. You read that right. Luke decided he'd try his hand at the home hair cutting business...on me. Fortunately, it was only a few small strands (at least I couldn't see any odd patches of missing hair!).

Maybe it's only natural for him to assume I, too, would want him to cut my hair since we often cut our own children's hair. Thus far, we've, rather, I've, had only one major goof up in that department. Enter exhibit A from more than a year ago (the picture is of Ben and Luke - Ben's "hair" was natural, Luke's...not so much. I don't have a picture of Reese to document the hair mass-a-cree of 2009 as Dave likes to refer to it):

Dave and my sister had to shave the boys hair that closely because there wasn't any other option. My mom's expression when she saw the boys was priceless. I was just grateful the boys were too young to care how they looked or understand how, umm, startling, their appearance was.

I think next time, I'll be sure to check out the hair "accessories" before closing my eyes and savoring one of these special bonding times with my children. ;)

BTW...if anyone has any good tips or resources on how to get a good haircut with a home razor kit, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

red, white and, hopefully, blue

 ***Update*** I just got the letter today (the Saturday following this post) to make an appearance at the naturalization oath ceremony. The big day is May 20th. This is the last step in the process to becoming red, white and blue! Yeah Jesus!

Deciding to become a U.S. citizen was a tough one. After all, it's hard to say you are going to revoke your allegiance to the country of your birth, especially when you visit said county often, have relatives living there and experience only subtle degrees of cultural differences when moving from one country to the other. It's also hard to commit to citizenship when part of the agreement is that you are willing to bare arms if so called upon.

But last year, I felt God nudging me to reconsider the citizenship question. So in prayer, I wrestled with Him over the fact that I would have to renounce my ties to Canada and asked Him to give me an undivided heart in my desire to be a U.S. citizen. It took awhile, but He finally got me to see I was the one holding myself to a contract/pledge/promise He never asked me to sign. He gave me peace about letting the ties go to my past and the country of my birth. He got me to see how tightly I hold onto the things that were instead of embracing the here and now.

Finally, I felt the freedom to say "yes," that with an undivided heart, I was willing to give up my ties to Canada in exchange for the rights and privileges of becoming a US citizen.

The "baring arms" question was easier to resolve - there is a provision in the naturalization process that allows you to abstain from baring arms for religious reasons (but you have to demonstrate that it's from a recognizable religion and not one you make up on your own :) ).

Yesterday, I had my interview for becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States. I passed the parts of the tests and review of the documentation I submitted. My interviewer recommended I be approved for citizenship. The next step is receiving a letter for the ceremony of becoming a citizen. I'm praying nothing like the fingerprint incident comes up and that I will be officially naturalized in a month or so.

For fun, if you want to see the questions from the citizenship test, here's a link to a PDF at You need to get 6 out of 10 questions right to pass at the interview.

What are you wrestling with now? Is there anything you are holding onto that God is calling you to let go of? Ask Him to help you release it and immerse yourself in His unsurpassed peace as you give yourself over to Him.

Monday, April 18, 2011

swimbikerun panic

I had a moment of panic this morning when my initial plans for working out were foiled by a case of the sniffles for Ben. Immediately, I was overwhelmed by thoughts of "there's no way you can possibly do this," "you'll never get all the training in to complete the race" and, "you might as well give up now so you don't waste your time over the next few months." For a moment, I gave in to the enemy's lies and tried not to give in to a full wave of tears of frustration.

It probably didn't help that yesterday my husband was able to show me (and describe in detail) just what I could expect on the biking part of the course. Originally, I was thinking the bike portion would be the least daunting of the three disciplines. After seeing the amount of uphill and knowing the wind off the lake can blow something fierce, suddenly I'm not so sure.

Then God stepped in and again, gently reminded me, that this whole race is not about what I can do, or think I can do, in my own strength. It is about learning to trust Him to see me through it.

Somehow, I think a good portion of this training will be about learning to lean on God and discovering that He know how much I need to train and when and how and where. And reminding me that He'll send the help I need. Like today, when my mom was able to watch the boys so I could go for a run. 

Here's something else I discovered today to add to the pre-race day to-do list: cut my toenails. I don't know why writing that feels kinda gross. It's a reality we all live with. Anyway, with so much on the go, I tend to neglect this a little in the winter when my toes are sheathed in two layers of socks. Bad idea when you're running and the friction causes your toes to rub against one another. Maybe that's why someone invented FiveFinger(R) shoes.

recipe: chocolate earth ball

yummy "chocolate earth balls"

placed in a box,

wrapped, and ready to

I made these with my children for my mom's birthday this past weekend. It's a recipe I came across at Whole Foods Market awhile back. Check out their great recipe selection.

Here's the recipe:

Chocolate Earth Balls
1 c. of all-natural unsalted peanut butter (or any nut butter)
1/3 c. liquid honey
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 c. raisins (this time I used dried cherries - any dried fruit would probably work well)
1/4 c. unsweetened coconut (usually found at health food stores)
1/2 c. chocolate chips
additional coconut or finely chopped nuts

Mix all but the last ingredients together. It's helpful to refrigerate the mixture for at least a 1/2 hour if the peanut butter is runny. Scoop out the mixture in spoonfuls, roll into balls and coat in the additional coconut or chopped nuts. Place on a plate. Refrigerate until ready to eat (I think they eat better when they are firm).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

swim. and fly

Yesterday was my first time in the pool in training for the triathlon. I didn't have any set goal in mind (though I was praying I could make it at least four lengths without collapsing in exhaustion). It was more of an experiment to see just how far I could go.

I felt nauseous in the morning before heading to the pool, and remember asking myself why I would be feeling that way (and knowing it wasn't "morning sickness"). Reflecting back, I think I was more nervous about this endeavor than I really cared to think about.

To my surprise and delight, it went much better than I anticipated. Maybe doing some weight lifting for several months now helped along with my recent return to running. Maybe lifting and chasing around children for almost eight years contributed. But I suspect it has more to do with the kindness of our God. He is merciful.

Since I'm not officially training yet - I'm using the 12-week plan that you can find here - I still have a couple more weeks of "playing" before the hard work really begins.

And on a completely different element...watching the eagle parents in Decorah, Iowa, is completely humbling. As I type this, one of the bedraggled parents is sitting on the nest, protecting its three babies from an onslaught of wind and snow (yesterday, it was raining). I am in awe of the sacrifice these avian parents needs to make to protect their young. Perhaps that is why God is likened to an eagle or why Jesus longs to be a "hen gathering her chicks." How awesome is our God is watches over and protects us, taking the brunt of the storm, watching for predators, feeding us. Thank you, Lord.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

on wings

Today, my husband sent me this link to a ustream video of bald eagle's nest in Decorah, Iowa. The parents currently are tending three hatchlings and you can tune in to see what they are up to on a 24/7 basis. This morning, my children and I got to watch the babies have their was hard to tell what was on the menu but the babies seemed to like it.

After watching the mom for a while, Reese turns to me and asks, "Mom, do you ever wish you could turn your head all the way around." Yes, Reese, I do. :) Ironic, that the child who keeps me the most on my toes would ask me this question.

The video reminded me of the many passages in the Bible which liken God to an eagle or bird. Here are a few (taken from the NIV) in case you want to meditate on them as you witness one of His beautiful acts of creation. May we all rest as securely in His presence as these baby birds.

Keep me as the apple of Your eye, hide me in the shadow of Your wings. Psalm 17:8

I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Psalm 61:3-5

He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4

...but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint. Isaiah 40:30-31

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

He whispers: dig deep

Lately, every time I open this drawer:

I get a little jolt of pleasure. It's funny how something so simple, can be so satisfying, but as I pondered why a clutter-free, neatly arranged drawer could be pleasing, I began to see the spiritual applications as well.

What you can't tell from this picture is what it looked like before (I'm horrible at remembering to take the before pictures as I tend to jump right into the project because I'm so excited to get to the final product...oh, just spotted another spiritual app!).

Since I don't have the visual, I'll try to describe it in less than a thousand words: It was a MESS! Filled with kitchen tools, rubber bands, twist ties, plastic tabs that keep bread bags closed, jumbled cookie cutters, baboo skewers, crayons, lego, used matches, matches yet to be used, aluminum foil/parchment paper/wax paper boxes, several pairs of rubber gloves from the weeks of trying to regrow my fingerprints, bandaids and moist towelettes. Oh yeah, and mouse poop. Gross, I know. But it's what finally got me to clean the drawer. Very thoroughly.

After tossing out anything that couldn't be washed, pitching items I would never miss and repurposing a basket and soy butter container to corral some items, you can see the "after" results in the picture above.

Now back to the application...

I wonder if the little jolt of pleasure I get when I open the drawer is akin to what God feels when He sees us clearing out the junk in our lives? Think about it...

When we get rid of the things we no longer need, but were hanging onto we night need them, we are saying to God, "I trust You to provide me with the things I need, when I need them. You are my security."

When we toss out the garbage which has collected in tucked away places, we are saying to Him, "I no longer desire to have this in my life. I want to make room for the good things You have in store for me."

When we encounter sources of contamination and take the steps needed to clean it down to the microscopic level we are saying to our Holy Lord, "I recognize that which makes me unclean. Because you have purified me by your blood, I want me life to reflect Your holiness."

You can apply these questions to your home, but also consider applying them to your heart:
  • Is there anything you are hanging onto which is inhibiting you from trusting God as your provider? 
  • Can you identify any "garbage" which has come into your life but you been reluctant to throw out...perhaps because of guilt, or a sense of "duty," out of avoidance of the pain that may come with it?
  • Here's the tougher one to root out...Is there anything that has crept into your life, something God may be awakening in you, an awareness of something which is polluting your soul, making you less than the beautiful person He created you to be?
  • And when you identify the things which must be gotten rid of, do you plow full steam ahead, so focused on getting to the finish line that you forget to ask God's help and design in reshaping, molding, purifying you in the way He desires?

So go forth and clear out those drawers. Maybe you need to start with an area in your house before you can tackle an area in your heart. But when it is cleaned, stop for a minute and listen for God's exclamation of joy.

Monday, April 11, 2011

on a Sunday

On a Sunday six years ago (yesterday), a little man made it into the world and completely alleviated all my uncertainties about "what I'd ever do with a boy" (I grew up with two sisters and only one boy cousin on each side of my family). He is the epitome of his name - Reese Matthew means "enthusiastic gift of God" and he continues to keep us on our toes.

Yesterday, we celebrated with some:

rocket stompin'
"the harder you stomp, the higher it flies"

new-to-two wheels bike riding, whirlygig bubble-blowing helicopters, watergun squirting, a family dinner,
Reese & Luke coming in for cake after getting soaked from the superssoakers
playing with a cousin
I love this picture of Ben and Jack. It looks like Jack "You can't fool me Ben...I see what you're up to"

lollipop* eating
I actually took this picture this morning - Reese was very generous with his treats and gave Ben one this morning

late night phone calls to Gramma to thank her for her gift and last minute snuggles with Dad and Mom.

The best gift though was from God - the first shorts-and-t-shirts weather of the year, made for playing outside and giving us hope that summer is just around corner.

*My sister bought these lollipops at our local natural foods store. The testimonial on the back of the package says, "The best lollipop I've ever tasted." It seriously is. And the best part is that it's made from fruit and veggie derived ingredients. Judging by this post-birthday empty package, I think we'll be buying Yummy Earth's "Organic Vitamin C Pops" soon and often.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

making a round bottom bag with Reese

After seeing his sister get to use my sewing machine (and being attracted to anything mechanical), Reese, asked if he could do a sewing project with me.

When the plastic container which held our wooden blocks broke, it provided me with the perfect sewing project to work on with him...a new bag to contain the blocks. Originally I was going to sew a hobo-style bag until I examined the canvas bag which stores our colored blocks and discovered it had a round bottom. This was a little more daunting as sewing a round bottom would require a greater deal of precision (a skill I'm trying to improve upon...patience in the process is not my strong suit :) ). But I was up for the challenge and here's a pictorial review of the fruits of our labor:

Since Reese is a hair shy of six, I ended up doing most of the work, but he was able to help with the ironing and liked being able to operate the pedal while I did the stitching on the machine. I tried having him feed the material as well, but his legs are a little on the short side of being able to work that and the pedal. This worked well as a beginner project since it had simple step and enabled me to explain some of the essential parts of the sewing machine and a sewing project.

I used our other block bag as a model and kind of guessed at the steps needed to put it together. If you'd like to make a bag of this type for yourself, here are a couple of  links to round-bottom-bag tutorials (there has got to be a snappier name for these things!). If you end up sewing one, I'd love to see how yours turns out. :)
  • From Cotton & Cloud  (I love t he bag she made!)
  • From ehow (no pictures but the instructions are thorough)

Friday, April 8, 2011

intro to Mexico: decoupage and watercolor map activity

Last week, we started a unit study on Mexico as part of our social studies curriculum - a subject which I piece together on my own vs. following a pre-purchased curriculum.

I found some great ideas, resource ideas and links on Homeschool Creations, and some coloring pages at Rainbow Kids, Home Education Resources and ABC Teach.

Our first stop in learning about Mexico was coloring the flag and map. However, I didn't feel like coloring a 2D map provided a good feel for the diversity and unique characteristics of the Mexican landscape. Since a trip to Mexico (at least in the near future) is way out of the question, I settled on a hands on activity to help the kids identify features of Mexico - created a 3D map.

Here's what we did:

Using a scrap piece of poster board, I freehand drew the county in pencil, and sketched in the placement of the mountain ranges (the maps found at World Atlas were an excellent guide) Next, we tore and crumbled up small pieces of newspaper, covered them in white glue and pasted them to the map. Brianna, my second grader, was able to do much of this herself with some guidance from me. Reese and Luke weren't that interested in this part. I forgot to photograph those first two steps.

Then, I diluted white glue with water and decoupaged packing paper over the entire area of our map. Brianna
also helped with this and Reese tried to but became more interested in squashing the mountain ranges.

After letting it dry overnight, I retraced our pencil lines and created a paint-by-number plan so the kids could paint the map without it become an abstract art piece. Note: next time I do this, I'll make my original pencil lines much darker as some of them were hard to see through the decoupaged paper.

Then the kids began filling in the color using watercolor paints. This was my favorite step since Luke (4 1/2), Reese (6) and Brianna all could participate and enjoy it. I had to help Luke a little and added some finishing touches, but most of the work was done by the kids.

After the paint dried, I traced over the pencil lines with a black sharpie marker.Finally, I typed out major landform marks and had the kids identify where they belonged and then we glued them on.

I would definitely do this type of project again for other countries we study, perhaps even adding other materials such as sand or greenery where appropriate. It was a lot of fun, and I hope, will help the kids better remember Mexico's landscape and important geographical features which surround the country.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

curriculum review: math

When you enter the homeschooling arena, you quickly realize the overwhelming amount of material available to you. This is the first in a series of reviews for curriculum I've used for the first two years of my homeschooling experience. I have a daughter in second grade and son in kindergarten. I hope these notes will help you as you plan for your school year.

I've researched and readjusted our math curriculum many times this year in the quest to find a good fit for my children). I'm quickly learning that there is probably not a perfect fit and that any math curriculum will need to be supplemented in some way to suit the needs of your child. Here's an overview of what we used with details of my findings listed in the same order below:
  • Shiller Math Kit 1
  • Singapore Math
  • Dorling Kindersley 

Shiller Math
Consider using if: you know your children likes manipulating items to understand a concept, budget is not an issue, you have the time and desire to do an entire math lesson daily with your child side-by-side

Last year, which was our first foray into homeschooling, I purchased the Shiller Math Kit for ages 4-8. Though it was expensive, when I priced it out over the 3-4 years I expected to use it, it came out comparable to other strong math programs. (In reality, I believe this is closer to a 2-year program if you spend 20-30 minutes, 5 days per week on math). I also anticipated being able to use it for all four of our children since it is Montessori-based and takes in different learning styles. And I liked the idea of using manipulatives to bring the theory of math into the real world.

It worked well enough for us last year, but I found myself repeatedly frustrated with it this year. Perhaps because it seemed to have a wide spiral (it took awhile to reintroduce previously taught concepts), did not have enough practice to reinforce learned concepts and because this program is heavily teacher dependent - a challenge when you are trying to teach more than one child. The other son did not like the program - he seemed frustrated by the use of the manipulatives and preferred using pencil on paper. Go figure!

I abandoned this program half way through this year - we were almost finished with it and I wanted to find a program for my daughter to work on more independently from me. However, I will try this again with our other two boys as it does have valuable ways to introduce pie-in-the-sky math concepts to little ones.

Singapore Math
Consider using if: your child quickly grasps math concepts, prefers learning pencil-to-paper style, you want an accelerated math program

He whispers: reclaim your joy

When I first read through the Bible in my infancy in Christ, my first thought after completing the Old Testament was,"Whew! Following Christ will be a breeze compared to following all those rules." I think I pictured dancing through the rest of my life, unhindered by rules and regulations, free to enjoy life's pleasures as I followed Jesus toward the sunset of my time on earth.

Then the honeymoon period ended and God made it clear He had some work to do in me, to get rid of those things that would hinder me from following Him wholeheartedly.

Somewhere along this way of dying to self, I also killed my joy - or at least part of it. You see, legalism is a spiritual bondage that runs in our family and I struggled with how to follow Jesus without some hard and fast rules to live by. Like in the Old Testament. In fact, I even prayed many times for God to send me some guidelines I could follow so I would know if I was living in the right way. I ached over the fact that Christians today have no festivals or rituals to perform to get them right in God's sight. I had no concept of what it meant to have freedom in Christ.

Somehow, I began agreeing with the enemy to very careful about how I was living and started believing that enjoying life, having fun, would plant my feet firmly on the path to destruction.

Thankfully, God was not about to leave me in that valley and He began putting the desire within my spirit to experience the fullness of joy in Him. I am only at the beginning of this new journey in Him and it may be many years before I know what it means to live daily in the joy and freedom of Jesus. But I look forward to learning what it means to reclaim joy.

How about you? Have you struggled in this area too? Are you now on the other side experiencing joy daily? Please share your experiences that we might all be encouraged. :)

If, too, are in that valley of little joy, here are a couple Scriptures lift your spirits:
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galations 5:1 NIV)

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galations 5:22-23 NIV, emphasis mine)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My training program was derailed this past month as I went a couple rounds with, what I suspect, were not one, but two, vicious cold viruses. The virus(es) were winning until I finally gave in to Dave's admonitions to take the antibiotics prescribed by my doctor. Last night, for the first time in almost a month, I finally felt ready to work out again.

I'm quickly, realizing however, that "winging it" might not be the best way to prepare for something that will seriously test my endurance. Especially since it's recommended to workout 4-6 days a week. Yikes! Something tells me "training for a triathlon" will become part of our homeschooling curriculum. ;)

Any one else considering running a triathlon for the first time? Leave a comment with the date of your race and we can encourage one another along the way. The race my husband and I are participating in is the first Sunday in August. are some links to training ideas for first time
Training for Your First Triathlon
Beginner Triathlon Training
What a Beginner Woman Triathlete Needs to Know
12-week Plan for Completing a Sprint Triathlon
Training Tips for Busy Mom

Monday, April 4, 2011

recipe: date crunch

This has become a family favorite ever since I made it for my sister's birthday a few years ago after happening upon it in a "Cooking for your Vegetarian Kids" cookbook. I just made it again this past weekend when we had a gathering for one of our neighbors who will be moving in a couple of weeks. Although the recipe originally calls for it to be made in a square pan, I found they are extra appealing when put into cupcake holders. See...

(also on display are rice krispy treats - made with brown rice cereal - and strawberry and banana kababs...simply, beautiful finger food for a party)

And here's the recipe for
"Date Crunch"
8 oz Annie's bunny grahams
1/2 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. raisins
2 Tbsp honey
6 Tbsp butter or soy butter
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Crush the bunny grahams with a rolling pin. Finely chop dates and add to crushed cookies along with the raisins. Melt butter with the honey in a microwave or over the stove. Pour over cookie mixture and stir until well combined. Either put cookie mixture into a 8x8 square pan or spoon into muffin tins lined with paper cupcake holders. Melt chocolate. (I usually microwave the chocolate 1 min on high, stir, then microwave for another minute). Spoon chocolate over cookie mixture and refrigerate until set.