Striving to create a home strong in the foundations of love, respect, and God's truths ...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer Plans

For the past few years, as summer approaches, I start to make lists of all the fun and exciting things I want to do with the kids.  Some are family activities, many are things we'll squeeze in while Daddy's working, but the time flies by far too fast not to take advantage of all the fun things that don't normally fit into the schedule.  With the extra time and lazy days provided by summer, I want to take advantage of that extra fun time with the kids.

So here are the ideas on my list so far.  Many we'll do on the spur of the moment, and others we'll turn into day trips and combine with picnic lunches or other adventures for a full day of fun.

Others will be things that will benefit the whole family, but that will teach the kids important skills while allowing us to work together:

  • picking and freezing blueberries
  • husking and freezing corn
  • canning tomatoes (well, I want to do this - their involvement may be limited this year!)
What's on your summer fun list?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

GratiTueday - Time for Tennis

Our kids haven't belonged to sports teams yet.

It's the big thing to do here in town, but they seemed so young to start - and then along with the fun of the team comes the craziness of the schedule - practices, games, delays, missed family dinners, homework hectic-ness - we decided to wait until the kids were just a bit older before taking all of that on.

And then about two months ago our Big Helper found out that the local Parks and Rec department was going to offer tennis lessons to kids her age come May.  She really wanted to take them.

With only six kids per class and only six lessons stretched over a three-week period, my husband and I agreed that this would be a good introduction to sports, and she was super excited.  

Excited until she found out that one of the tennis-lesson nights would be Wednesday.  Youth group night.

The idea of having two activities on the same day stressed her.  How could she finish her homework?  Could she do all of that on the same day?  

My husband and I talked through it all with her but decided that the ultimate decision would be hers.  We were sure she could do it but were proud of the way that she stopped to consider every angle before making a commitment.  

Finally she decided that she would do Wednesday night's homework on Tuesday, thus allowing her to get everywhere she had to be.

She bought her own tennis raquet with a gift card she'd been saving since Christmas and was very excited to do so, and then she headed off to sign up for the class.  She got the last spot!

My Little Man and I took a blanket to the park each week and planned to watch and cheer her on ... and then storms struck ... she got pneumonia ... and the number of tennis lessons she could attend and we could watch shrunk drastically.

In the end, though disappointed at missing a few, My Big Helper was happy to go to tennis and can't wait to play more.  She practices her 'ups' and 'downs' often with her raquet and her tennis balls and is looking forward to playing with her daddy this summer.

I'm so glad that she decided to go for this opportunity.  So happy that she wasn't afraid to be the only girl in a whole class of boys ... that she wanted to be outside, sweating under the hot sun on the court, all the while learning something new .... that she's interested in having fun, taking chances, but also in counting the cost.  

I'm thankful for tennis lessons.  :-)

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lunch Box Love

My Big Helper is a lot like her daddy - she loves words.  Compliments really motivate her and make her feel loved, and since that is not my love language, I am intentional about making sure she gets the positive words that she needs.  

Since she's in public school and away from us for hours each day, I started looking for ways to encourage her while she's in school and surrounded by attitudes that may not always be positive.  I decided that her lunch box would make a great vessel for carrying words that she's sure to see each day.

Besides actually packing fun foods, foods that she particularly likes, and surprise lunches for her, these are our favorite forms of lunch box love:

1.  Word Searches.  On a smallish sheet of paper - or a blank notecard, as shown below - I use colored pens and markers to make up a word search.  On this one, since summer is approaching, I used summery, fun words.  I start by imagining a grid and then writing in the words I want her to find.  As I write down each one, I also write the word at the top for her to cross off when she finds it.  I add a short note to the front and back of the folded card -  and maybe some stickers - and tuck it into her lunch box with a fun pen or pencil.  

My Big Helper was super excited about this the first time I did it and told me later that she and her friends hunted for the words together.  She now asks for word searches on a regular basis!

2.  Top Five Quizzes  My Big Helper isn't old enough for any of those silly magazine quizzes that are so popular, but giggling groups of girls always love to take them - and mine isn't any different.  Instead of ways to catch a boy or the best shade of lip gloss, though, I make my own quizzes using fun colored pens, stickers, and rubber stamps on note cards like above.  I ask things like, "What's your favorite book?" or "Rank your best lunches from 1-5" and "Tell me the best thing about your day so far."  I keep the questions short and am sure to do both multiple choice and open answer questions so that she can freely answer without being overwhelmed.  With no more than 5 questions, she has time to answer and time to think about the answers, and again, she and her friends deliberate it together.  She always writes notes to me on the back and returns it to me when she gets home.

I've found out some neat things about my girl this way.  For example, we tend to eat the same thing for lunch most days.  That works for her brother and I, but like her daddy, she prefers a bit more variety - and even wants to try new foods in her lunchbox!  While this makes it more challenging for me to pack, she has more fun at lunch, and I enjoy talking about her new lunchbox experiences with her.  She's found a few new favorites this way.

3.  Banana Peel Love  Who knew you could carve in banana peels?  I've never seen that medium in a museum - but it works great.  Just take a toothpick or a really sharp, thin-bladed knife and carve right into your banana peel, trying not to go the whole way through.  It won't look any different right away, but by the time that lunch rolls around, the air will react with the peel and turn the carved edges brown - making your message of love and inspiration stand out.  The first time I did this, My Big Helper was so excited that she was determined to save the banana peel and brought it home to show me!

We've definitely enjoyed our more creative lunch box notes this year.  In fact, this banana peel isn't the only one that My Big Helper has tried to save - she's kept each one in a special place and is determined to turn them into a book this summer so that she can remember them.

Who knew that a few colorful words could be so important?

Do you do something to make your child's lunch box experience special?  I'd love some new ideas!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Everybody's Daughter" by Michael John Sullivan

Product Details

Michael Stewart is in love - with a woman living in Israel 2,000 years before his time.  He found himself visiting Jesus' time after walking through a mysterious tunnel in the basement of his church, but after a short visit returns to his own time, only to find that his teenage daughter Elizabeth followed him through the tunnel.  While Elizabeth battles a Roman soldier, can Michael find a way to reopen the tunnel in time to save his daughter?

You should note that Everybody's Daughter is the second in this series after Necessary Heartbreak, and with such a time-traveling plot and wide cast of characters, one might expect some confusion if you haven't read the first book; however, author Sullivan does a fantastic job of filling in the reader on the entire back story.

Everybody's Daughter is just plain fascinating.  Have you ever wondered just what it might be like to meet Jesus as a person of that time?  Would you walk up to Him?  Would you doubt His message, be like so many others of the time and believe that God couldn't possibly walking around in front of you?  Sullivan explores that possibility in this story in several periods throughout Jesus' life.  What might it be like to stand in front of Jesus, vulnerable, hurting, wanting to believe, but not knowing how to let go and trust?  Sullivan has created the perfect man to explore this concept in Michael Stewart, a man who struggles to survive the loss of his beloved wife and raise his daughter in a better home than he had himself.

I've always loved the concept of time travel, but strangely enough never would've claimed Bible times as a time I'd want to visit.  Everybody's Daughter made me think about that possibility, though, not because I expect to disappear from this century anytime soon, but because understanding the atmosphere and people of the time can help me put some of the events of the Bible into perspective.  I also really enjoyed contemplating how I might react if I were to meet Jesus today, face to face in person, with all of the pain and questions and preconceptions that I have now.

Sullivan has written not only a winner of a story that I couldn't put down, but a premise that makes you think.  My favorite books are those that make me seek out the next ones because I can't get the characters or the plot out of my head - and Everybody's Daughter shows no signs of leaving anytime soon.  Full of action and excitement spanning 2,000 years, this book is definitely a winner.

I received a free copy of Everybody's Daughter from the B&B Media Group in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

GratiTuesday - Friends & Fun

Our past week has been really, super crazy.  Between the car window being broken, both kids getting really sick, crazy weather, lots of company, life has just felt hectic for a while now - except for one day last week.

We spent the day at Duke Gardens with friends, and it was  so, so nice to just BE.  To spend time with friends, to explore at our leisure, with nothing broken, sick or rushed was wonderful.

And so we spent some time clowning around and snacking on a bridge, watching the geese.

We played in every fish pond, fountain, or spot of water we could find.

We got super excited whenever we found "nature."

If it didn't move, we climbed on it.

But most of all, we did everything with good friends.  That makes such a difference!

I'm so glad that God has given us such good friends - people with whom we can learn and share life.  Friends make everything more fun - and taking a break to enjoy them makes it that much better.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - May 21, 2012

I'm SO GLAD that last week is over!  Between the break-in, pneumonia, bronchitis, a trip, and some general craziness, it was a nutty week.  While some of the craziness was good, I'm hoping for a calmer week this week.  We're headed back to tennis lessons and busy afternoons, though, and I'm still working on my freezer challenge, so it's simple meals for us this week!


- blueberry yogurt, fresh fruit, and granola
- scrambled eggs, toast
- fruit smoothies

- Applesauce Muffins

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers or sandwiches with cheese or yogurt and sliced fruits and veggies.


- Black bean burgers, corn, salad, strawberry shortcake
- Grilled fish, baked potatoes, roasted Parmesan green beans

- Grilled steak tacos, baked corn

- Pizza Casserole, salad, fresh fruit
- Ham and cheese pockets, sliced carrots and cucumbers
- Grandma's biscuits with eggs, sausage, and cheese, fresh fruit
- Grab it and Growl

I think we're going to make a few batches of these cookies, too - some for the freezer to slice and bake as we'd like, and some to deliver to a nursing home.

What are you planning to eat this week?

For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Turtle Research & A Princess-in-Training - Part 2

So our day at Duke Gardens was loads of fun, and we all enjoyed time with the turtles.  

My Big Helper was super excited about wearing her new white dress, however, and she couldn't stop herself from twirling and playing with it all day.

She absolutely loved watching the skirt flair out!

While I want her to know that she's beautiful - because she just is, as far as I'm concerned, but mostly because she was made by the Master, I also want her to be comfortable in her own skin.  I don't want her to become so fussy that she's afraid to explore or try new things or to get dirty.  Since she was the only girl in our group of boys at the Garden, this was a great chance to practice being gracious and friendly in all situations.

In the past, she's usually played with this guy's older brother.  They're pretty good friends, but on this day, these two held hands and walked together all over the park.

She was a bit more interested in posing for pictures than the boys were ...

though they had their moments, too.

I love that they are such good friends!

But even though she was into the posing and the picture-taking, ...

she also had a grand time playing in all of the fountains, ponds, and pools.  The large goldfish in this one were fascinating to them all!

I was able to capture a few special things in our favorite magnolia, ...

but she was much more interested in being a monkey at this point.  Since it wasn't very long ago that she wasn't willing even to think about climbing a tree, I'm proud of her for being so brave and courageous!  Upon reaching the trunk, she kicked off her dressy sandals, held onto her skirt, and clambered right up.  She laughed and played and had a wonderful time with her friends.

I think princesses need to be well-rounded.  Though they must be modest and kind at all times, and we often think of them as being beautiful, that doesn't mean they have to be prissy, and today My Big Helper demonstrated that.  Her preening proved that she enjoyed both her outfit and her surroundings, but she was kind to those around her, eagerly shared the camera lens, and didn't allow her clothing to set the tone for the day.

It seems as if somewhere along the line we women stop feeling beautiful and start feeling as if we must do certain things to be accepted.  My Big Helper hasn't hasn't hit that place yet, and I hope she never does.  I pray that she maintains the innocence and purity and sheer joy in God's beauty that she showed me today.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Turtle Rescue & Princess-in-Training - Part One

Today we traveled to Duke Gardens for pictures, fun with friends, and some nature study time.  Although I always intend to do some specific study while we're there, we usually get so caught up in the beauty that we don't focus only on blooming flowers, crawling insects, or two-legged creatures.

Today, however, after marveling in God's creation for a few hours, this small turtle totally captured our attention.

One of our friends found it, but My Big Helper quickly scooped him up and assumed a leadership role in the turtle rescue.

She happily inspected its body and was quite happy to share her findings, like "He's got sharp claws, Mommy!"

She also held him still so that the other kids could check him out.  They agreed that his tummy was quite soft.

After thoroughly exploring him, we decided it might be best to move him closer to water than the middle-of-the-field where we found him.  We found some workers who knew quite a bit about turtles, and they offered to relocate him for us.  While they finished their current task, they got a bucket for him to swim around in.  

My Big Helper was quite sad to leave the turtle, and she talked about him the rest of the day.  While getting ready for bed, she announced that "I've never seen a turtle bottom before!"  When I laughed, she smiled wryly and assured me that she meant the underside of his shell.

After that she quietly snuck off to the playroom to make a list of all the information she wants to learn about turtles. She's hoping to learn how to take care of them so that the next time she finds a stray turtle, she can bring it home and make a turtle pet out of it.  (I can't convince her that this won't work yet, but I'm happy about the research part of it.) 

So, I think we'll be spending our weekend doing some research.  If you want to learn more about turtles, these websites seem to be a good starting point.

Come back tomorrow for our Princess-in-Training pictures!

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

Yes, I realize the days of soup are fading into the background, but My Little Man asked for this on a recent cool(er) day, so I thought I'd share with you....

I used to make chicken pot pie on Fridays during the winter.  The kids would watch a movie if they'd had a good week, and since my husband worked late, I could spend a bit more time on dinner.  After a while, though, although we all liked the dish, I wanted to make it faster.  I wanted it to be thicker, and I wanted to watch the movie with my kids instead of missing the cuddle time with them.

I'm also a big fan of soup.  That probably had something to do with it.

So my chicken pot pie morphed into this soup.  It has all the same elements, is still full of veggies, and has a great creamy, cheesy flavor.  Instead of a topping, we eat it over Grandma's Biscuits.  I don't make them often, so it makes this soup an extra special treat!

Here's what you need:

  • 2 c. shredded, cooked chicken
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 2-3 c. milk
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 c. veggies - I use frozen corn, peas, and green beans (red peppers are fun, too)
  • 3 handfuls of Sharp Cheddar, shredded
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
To make your soup:
  1. Cook your carrots in water.  If you are using other dense veggies, throw them in now, too.
  2. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a Dutch oven, saute the onions in butter until transparent.
  4. Stir in the flour to make a paste.
  5. Pour in the chicken stock, stirring constantly.  
  6. Add in the quick-cooking veggies and stir.
  7. Add the milk and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes.  Do not let it boil!
  8. When the sauce begins to thicken, add the cheese, stirring constantly.  This will thicken the soup considerably!
  9. Simmer over low heat until ready to serve.  
  10. Split open one of Grandma's Biscuits in a wide bowl and spoon soup over the top.  Yum!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whole Wheat Strawberry Shortcake

When I was a kid, I always dissected my shortcake.  I could never figure out why anyone would want to ruin perfectly good berries with cake - and vice versa.  Now, however, I love this combination!

This shortcake is easier than most, and it's pretty healthy, too.  The texture is not quite as light as one made with white flour and white sugar, but the flavor is all there.  It works incredibly well with the sweetness of the strawberries.  Whipped cream or ice cream would make a great topping, but my family often ate this in a bowl and just poured milk over the whole thing.  My Big Helper is pretty fond of that version!

  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 3 c. white-wheat flour
  • 4 t. baking powder
Here's how to make your shortcake:
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  
  2. Mix well.
  3. Pour into a greased 11 X 13" pan.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes at 375 degrees.
For my Big Helper's version, slice and place in a bowl.  Top with berries and a good splash of milk.

How do you like to eat shortcake?

Monday, May 14, 2012

GratiTuesday - A Letter to a Thief

Dear Thief,

I'd love to call you something else, but I know you from only one violent act.  One act that completely changed our day.  I hope that act changes all the rest of yours.

My Mother's Day began like many others probably did.  Flowers from the kids and breakfast made by my husband.  Worshipping in church with my family, and then packing and heading out for dinner together and a day of hiking and baseball at a park.

I agonized over which restaurant to choose.  I wanted us all to have fun, to eat healthy food, to have a memorable experience together.

You definitely gave us memorable, for when we returned to our car following the very last bite, arms happily loaded with puzzles and sunglasses given out by the wait staff to the kids, we saw this:

Looking further, we saw:

Glass everywhere.

In the car, out of the car, halfway back through the minivan, noticeably not in the window.

Suddenly it occurred to us to see what was missing, and despite the fact that there were a few dollars in the center console, nice sunglasses, the Sunday paper, etc., only one thing was missing.

My Bible bag.

Maybe you thought that bag was something special.  I doubt that you'll think so, but it is to me.  My husband and I shopped for it at Kohls' on a date.  We picked out the bright green-and-blue paisley print because it was cheerful and had lots of pockets.  I needed to put lots of stuff in that bag - stuff like Tic-tacs, highlighters, pens, tissues, and lip gloss.  It was to be the bag that I would carry in to church and Bible study each week.

So along with all of that small stuff, and a raggedy stash of old bulletins, there was only one other thing in that bag, and I doubt that you found this item financially beneficial, either.

My Bible.

The study Bible that my husband bought for me shortly after we were married.

The first Bible that I managed to read every day.

The Bible where I made notes during several women's conferences, during Sunday School and church services, during my morning quiet times with Jesus.

That's the Bible you took.

There was nothing in the car that you could have taken that would have upset me more.

Fortunately, my most important stuff wasn't in the car.

The kids were safely inside the restaurant, sharing a Baby Blossom and yeasty rolls with me, and they didn't sustain so much as a nick from a shard of glass.

My husband traded bites of steak and chicken with me, amazed that our Big Helper now likes fried onions, tucked away from your weapon of choice.

That same man worked for hours to clean all the shards of the car, bleeding from cuts on unseen glass, giving up a day of baseball with his family to make sure we had a safe vehicle in which to ride.  From cleaning and vacuuming over and over to scrubbing down even all of the hard surfaces inside, my car is now safe again - and it's never been so clean.

You scared my children, and that's rough - but after realizing that they were safe, they wanted to know about you: about why you would want to hurt us, why you would take my Bible, about whether you would ask Jesus to forgive you, about what makes you do bad things.

We had a great conversation about all of those hard questions, and they grew up a little bit Sunday.  In ways that no five- and seven-year-old should have to.

We talked about Romans 8:28:  "And we know that God causes everything to work together[a] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them."

My Big Helper asked if you knew that verse.

It's underlined for you.  I'd love for you to read it.  The book that you took will totally change your life if you let it.  Please read it.

I'd love for you to give the Bible back if you're not going to read it, but I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.  See, that verse above?  It's already proven true in lots of ways, including one that I didn't understand until yesterday.

God sent me a new study Bible a few weeks ago.  

When it came in the mail, I thought it just an extra blessing; after all, it is the same translation as the chronological daily Bible that I read every day.  How convenient this would be!

But apparently God had other plans for both of these Bibles.

So now I'm getting ready to break in the new one.

I hope you're finding your way around my old one.


A Nest in the Rocks

 For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Menu Plan Monday - May 14, 2012

We've got a fairly normal spring week ahead of us.  We're sticking pretty close to home until my car window is replaced, so that should allow us to keep up with school and meals and the house before we get company this weekend.  We're really looking forward to that!

The weather continues to be gorgeous, hovering in the high 70s and low 80s, with only a few storms on the way in the next few days.  I'm looking forward to using the grill this week!  I'll also still be pulling things out the freezer.  I didn't realize that we had packed so much food in there, but I want to keep using the berries and corn so that we have the space to freeze fresh ones this summer.

So here's the meal plan for the week:

- Cereal with fresh fruit

- Applesauce muffins

- Better-than-the-Bakery Blueberry Muffins

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers or sandwiches with sliced fruit or veggies and cheese or yogurt.

- Baked fish, rice, salad, baked corn, cantelope
- Baked ham, scalloped potatoes, lima beans, strawberry shortcake
- Black bean burgers, roasted Parmesan green beans, applesauce
- Baked potato bar with steamed broccoli, diced ham, cheese, and tomatoes

- Grilled pizza, salad, fruit
- Cookout! with hot dogs, mountain pies, and lemonade
- Grab it and Growl

I'm also looking forward to making some cookies to stash in the freezer that can be easily sliced and made for unexpected company.  :-)

For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chocolate-drizzled Strawberry Crepes

It's been a while since we ate crepes, and with an abundance of strawberries and a reader's suggestion, we made them for dinner the other night.  Now, we do not normally serve chocolate as part of our main course; we rarely even eat dessert, but with ganache in the fridge, this meal just screamed out for it.

Because my husband was away and a batch of crepe batter makes oodles of crepes, I made only half a batch, and that was barely enough.  I think my Big Helper would've happily eaten a few more.

"Mommy, these are DELICIOUS!"  she kept shouting.  "I need another one!"

So, with reviews like that, we might just have to have these a bit more often.

Here's how to pull together your own Chocolate-drizzled Strawberry Crepes.

You'll need fresh strawberries, washed and sliced; chocolate ganache, crepes, and whipped cream.

For the chocolate ganache, simply measure out equal parts of chocolate chips and heavy cream.  Put the chips in a heat-safe bowl and heat the cream on the stove until bubbles just begin to form - do not boil!  Whisk the cream into the chips into smooth.  Cool.

For the whipped cream, I put 1 c. of heavy cream into my KitchenAid with the whisk attachment and let it go to town.  It took less than 5 minutes to get seriously fluffy whipped cream - and the machine did all the work.

For the crepes, we made 1/2 batch of our Creative Crepe batter.  Just whisk the following together:

  • 1/2 c. flour
  • a few grains of Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 t. honey
  • 1 c. + 2 T. milk (I just eyeballed the tablespoon part.)
  • 1 T. melted butter
  • 1 egg
Over medium heat, butter a small non-stick frying pan and let it get hot.  Add a few tablespoons of the batter and rotate the pan until covered.  Pour the rest back into the bowl and let it cook until the top appears dry.  Flip with a rubber spatula.  The second side will cook in seconds.  Slide out of the pan and repeat until batter is gone.

To assemble the crepes, lay a crepe flat on a plate.  Spoon strawberries down the middle, fold the ends over, and top with ganache and whipped cream.  Or, as my French friend says is often done in France, simply fold the crepe into quarters and pile everything on top.  Either way, you can't go wrong with chocolate and strawberries.

See?  He liked it so much he dove right in.  ;-)

Shared with Gooseberry Patch and these fun blog hops: