Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meals from books: Devouring a great story

Last night we made pancakes fried in butter for dinner--totally unhealthy (well, the pancakes were whole wheat, I guess), but YUM and completely fun, because it was a meal out of a wonderfully illustrated children's book we'd just read, The Story of Little Babaji (and coincidentally, a book I loved as a child). This is a small tradition that my kids and I have started: occasionally making meals out of books we read.

I still remember making Stone Soup after reading the book in elementary school, and it's just a great way to engage kids in reading and create memories. A school teacher once told my mom that reading facilitates learning simply by helping kids understand their reality: when they see an object or a place, they think, oh, I've read about one of these! Cooking these recipes does this immediately: I just read about this, and now I'm experiencing it!

Most of these books didn't come with their own recipes, so just get creative and type in the recipe to a Google browser (hint: sometimes adding the word "best" before your search terms will have better chances of yielding a recipe your kids will eat).

If you need some suggestions to get you started:
The Story of Little Babaji (pancakes in melted butter)

Stone Soup (stew with a couple of rocks on the bottom)

Surprise Soup (vegetable soup with a pinch of sugar thrown in; you'll want to talk with your kids about whether or not a brother should say some of the things this older brother says to the younger one)

An Apple Pie for Dinner (uh, apple pie)

The Boxcar Children (recipes from The Boxcar Children Cookbook)

Little House on the Prairie (recipes from The Little House Cookbook)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Breakfast, reduced-sugar style

My daughter was thrilled that we had snow cones for breakfast. Should I break the news that they're really called scones?!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


My oldest: "But I didn't hit her on the head! I missed!"

Yeah, I'm sure it isn't sin if you have bad aim, buddy.

Kids Cook: Homemade Granola

Until a friend suggested it to me, I didn't know how easy it would be to make our own granola, and the kids love it. Sometimes we mix in raisins or Craisins afterward, and it's great with milk or plain. Bet it would make a great trail mix, come to think of it.

This recipe is adapted slightly (for less sugar, less fat, and slightly less cost--we omit the coconut, too) from the classic cookbook More with Less, a Mennonite cookbook designed to help families eat healthier using less of the world's resources. That's when I got the idea to make my own Bisquick (though I use an even simpler recipe now, and substitute 1/2 whole wheat flour). Come to think of it, we're making our own taco seasoning, too. These have been easy ways to cut down on sodium and additives while slimming the ol' budget.

Simple Granola

2 c. whole wheat flour
6 c. rolled oats
1 c. coconut (I omit this)
1 c. wheat germ

Let the kids mix together (with appropriate construction site sound effects).

Combine separately:
3/4 c. oil (they suggest 1 c.)
3/4 c. water (they suggest 1/2 c.)
3/4 c. honey or corn syrup (they suggest 1 c.)
2 t. vanilla
2 t. salt (they suggest 1 T.)

Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix it up well. Spread on 2 cookie sheets and bake at 250 F for 1 hr., or until dry and golden. Store in sealed containers or a gallon ziploc. Makes about 8 cups.

And it was great in these homemade granola bars (see the notes on the side; we added chocolate chips...YUMMO).

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"Of Grace and Grit"

Had to share this moving piece from Betsy Childs of Ravi Zacharias ministries, published back in 2007--and still in my mind. --Janel

I started taking ballet lessons when I was four years old. I loved it. Not only did I get to wear a leotard, I got to dance around the room with a pastel-colored scarf. Then I turned five and moved up to the next class. In that class, they made us stretch. I hated it. My visions of being a ballerina did not include hard work and pain, so I quit.

I was reminded of my brief stint in the world of dance when I recently attended a performance of the Atlanta ballet. Watching the members of this professional dance company brought home to me just how wrong my childhood conception of ballet was. Those dancers had strong muscles, and although they made it look easy, it was clear that those leaps and turns were intensely athletic and were the result of years of hard work.

The thing that appealed to me about ballet was its gracefulness. I made the common mistake of believing that because gracefulness looks easy, that it is easy. In fact, it takes pain and perseverance to get to the point where exertion appears effortless.

I suspect that what is true of gracefulness may also be true of grace. Because we know that grace is free, we expect it to be easy. But "free" and "easy" are not synonyms. We do nothing to earn God's grace; grace, by definition, cannot be deserved. But that does not mean that the experience of grace is easy or without pain. The apostle Paul writes, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Corinthians 15:10).

There is an important difference in the idea of working for grace (a contradiction in terms) and the working out of grace in our lives. As the grace of God worked in the life of Paul, it felt like very hard work to him. The hard work was not the grounds of the grace; it was the effect.

Have you ever met someone who was so mature in the faith that they made it look easy? Trusting God appears to be second nature to them, and their instinctual response to temptation is to walk the other way. I expect that if you were to question them, however, you would find that in the beginning it was not any easier for them than it would be for any one of us. Stretching muscles you aren't accustomed to using hurts.

If you have prayed for God's grace in your life, do not expect obedience to become effortless. That is not usually the way God answers this prayer. Rather, He provides the strength so that you can make the effort and bear up under the trials that sanctify us. James writes, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).

The testing of our faith is like the exercise of our muscles. Though it is painful, the end result is faith that is strong enough to persevere. The ballerina's graceful dance is the end result of grueling practices that the audience never sees. But she considers it worth it. May we likewise set our sights on the gracefulness that will be ours as God works his grace in us.

Long, slow lessons

I was realizing the other night how different I am from the woman I was in high school, or college, or even the childless version of myself, or the kind of employee I was when I started working. It's strange--and comforting, though there are people to whom I wish I could say, "Look! I'm different now!" or even, "I'm sorry I hurt you."

From what I've experienced, some of God's greatest tools of change in my life have been suffering and waiting. But I'm now seeing that another powerful tool is long, slow obedience. Motherhood, for example, has been slowly changing my selfishness and impatience to perseverance and long-suffering. Ministry partner financial development brought courage from one of my biggest character deficits: fear of man. There are a lot of these tools that I'm now understanding, even in the midst of their pain and frustration.

It reminded me of an old story of a man who God asks to push a massive rock. The man pushes for hours, then days, then years...and to make a long story short, the rock doesn't move a millimeter. The man is anguished by his lack of progress, feeling foolish and angry. But then, God gestures to the man's new self in the mirror: After his daily labors, he is lean, muscular, perseverant, patient--strong. After all, the plan was less about the rock, and more about what God was doing in the man.

If you're in a long, slow obedience, may God lift your head today.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Faith for thought

Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Fast internet shopping

I'm slowly becoming my family's assigned "internet go-fer"; I guess I find internet shopping fairly painless, and I love the satisfaction of a great deal. At the risk of patronizing those of you already net-savvy shoppers, I wanted to pass on one of the most efficient processes I've picked up on in hopes that it will help some of you save a little moola this summer!

1. On http://www.google.com/, enter the item you're looking for--for example, "wooden toy box". But to get more results, you don't just want wooden--you'd want "wood", too. To gather words with any ending, type "wood* toy box".

2. Up in the left-hand corner, select "shopping".

3. You'll see a lot of results for what you were looking for, along with their prices. On the right hand side's drop-down menu, organize the results by "Price: low to high". In some cases, this will bring up a lot of irrelevant results to your search, so you'll want to go back to sorting by "Relevance". But the former will put your search results immediately showing the lowest price. As a hint--once you know the manufacturer's name for the precise item you're searching for, you'll be able to search for that specifically ("Kidkraft Austin Toybox"), and sort them by price quickly without irrelevant results.

4. When you click on an individual result, if more than one store offers that item, often you can sort by Price + tax and shipping.

5. Google offers related search terms at the bottom of the page (when I looked up 12" bicycle, it suggested "12 inch bicycle" as well). Don't forget to search with synonyms of what you're looking for. In this example, you'd want to look for "wood* toy chest", too. If you're looking for "bike", do another search using "bicycle".

If this is hard to follow, please submit your questions in the comments section! And I'd love your tips for easily locating the best deals online.

Summer "bridge" activities for kids

Wanted to pass on to you a few tips that other moms have been giving me on summer "bridge" activities that keep my kids' brains engaged! Hope it helps.

1. For the summer and the school year, I've found the reading lists in Sonlight's homeschooling curriculum to be great guidelines for books to check out from the library--usually with the help of interlibrary loan, which in our library system, is available online.

When possible, I get the books for reading to your children on audio books, and they'll start listening to them in the car (a captive audience) or when they're falling asleep...in theory...and I soon find them listening to them throughout the day, which they love to do while playing with building toys, like Legos.

2. I also get interlibrary loan ideas by looking in the kids' section at Barnes & Noble. I look for topics my oldest (our only independent reader right now) will love--the recent find was Hungry, Hungry Sharks. I also look for drawing books (great to increase small motor skills for boys' handwriting) and kids' cookbooks, to talk about math and science. A shout out to Barnes & Noble for their new educational toys section, which gives me all sorts of fun ideas for interactive learning. They have some cool at-home science kits, particularly.

3. As a loose schedule, in the morning--our best time for concentration--I have my son read out loud or independently for a certain number of pages or length of time. During the little kids' naptime, he draws a picture of something from the story and writes a summary sentence about what he's read. The idea is to verify comprehension, teach summarization skills, and work on basic grammar, spelling, and writing--in simple, relatively painless fashion.

Then he and his Pre-K little bro complete a few worksheets on their own. I like Hooked on Phonics' Super Workbooks, Brain Quest workbooks, FlashKids complete curriculum workbooks, and Get Ready for [grade level]! binder workbooks, because they're full color with interesting illustrations and not too many brain-numbing exercises per page.

We check out educational videos for use during naptime too: The Magic School Bus (great for science principles), Between the Lions, and Popular Mechanics for Kids are some of their favorites.

I've started to invest in about one new interesting educational computer game per semester/summer that fill up that hot, quiet afternoon. Scholastic's Math Missions is next on my list, but we've enjoyed Zoombinis' Logical Journey (there are other Zoombinis logic games that look great, and check out these Crazy Machines games), Reader Rabbit, and some of Scholastic's Clifford programs. My son is interested in the Typer Island Typing Instructor software I purchased and repeatedly comes back to it to try, but at this point, typing is still a little above his concentration levels! I also keep a "favorites" folder of educational websites.

We build storytimes into our day--each one picks a book for us all to read before naptime, and we've been reading Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and a Bible story before bed.

4. Summer's a great time for impromptu field trips: zoo passes, museum trips on discount days, children's theater trips, and all of those things families normally don't have time for! (Budget-wise, we're sticking to the zoo pass this year...)

5. Swimming lessons have been a fun way to ramp up into a little more discipline of character: trying new things, learning to trust and persevere...all sorts of character lessons, while learning a new skill.

6. My Pre-K'ers are lovin' a new post-nap activity: Popcorn Preschool. We make popcorn and then practice basic counting and addition. I'll write a super-simple addition problem on a white board, then they count out the popcorn, add 'em up, and write the number on the white board. Usually we'll follow with some basic reading skills until they lose interest.

7. For Scripture memory, my kids adore a series of CD's that I actually enjoy playing in the back and the front of our rockin' minivan: Seeds Family Worship. Sample our favorite one here, which also comes with a free CD to share with a friend (since it's the Power of Encouragement). I shared ours with my sister, who's now gone out and bought the rest!

I love that they're straight from Scripture--and that I don't want to bang my head against the wall when their tunes get stuck in there. I love that it makes me meditate on the verses, that my kids sing them around the house and play their imaginary instruments when they listen (my middle son plays the tuba, which isn't really in the band), and that it prompts great discussion.

Your turn to pass on more ideas! What bridge activities keep your kids engaged?