Thursday, November 20, 2014

Writing for Rolos

Tomorrow we finish a semester of our homeschool co-op for the semester. Three of my kids have essays to turn in and are eager to do so because it marks the completion of challenging assignments.

Yesterday I heard Meg trash talking her writing assignment: 

"Only one more decoration to add to this paragraph...BRING IT ON!!" My girl loves a good writing challenge. Kate is finishing three paragraphs on the leadership of Abraham Lincoln and Cole is working on an assignment similar to Meg's but, to my knowledge, has not yet resorted to yelling at his work.

The class that I teach at co-op will also be turning in their final essays for the semester and I'm looking forward to reading them. In exchange for their work I'll be offering jumbo chocolate chip cookies and these...

I call them the easiest loveliest snack EVER. Others call them Rolo Pretzel Delights. They are salty and sweet, and if you add a pecan on top they are just a teensy bit sophisticated. 

All you need is a bag of Rolo candies and a bag of pretzels, the ones in the picture are actually bigger than they need to be. The smaller twists in this same shape are ideal as are the pretzels that are in the shape of a grid. 

Preheat oven to 350˚. Either on a foil or parchment paper lined baking sheet, lay 49 (the number of Rolos in the bag) pretzels.'s the hardest part, remove the foil from the 49 Rolos. Place a Rolo on the top of each pretzel and carefully place in the oven for 3 minutes. 

The Rolos will get very soft and melty. Remove from the oven and top with another pretzel OR with a pecan half OR with an M&M candy (think orange and yellow and red for Thanksgiving or red and green for Christmas). Work quickly pressing what ever the topping is down into the Rolo slightly flattening it.

Allow to cool completely before removing to the serving platter. 

That's it. All done. 

You'll be the hero and you didn't even have to measure any flour or soften any butter.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cold Weather = A Big Pot of Warm and Yummy

One of my favorite fall recipes is Japanese Style Beef and Potatoes from the fantastic cookbook Keepers. I've adapted the ingredients slightly to better suit my crowd and I thought I'd share a dish that makes my family grin when they see the cookbook opened to that chicken stock splattered page.

You'll need to make a 15 minute investment to chop the potatoes and onions and other ingredients, but I'm confident you'll find ample reward for your time. Once you've gotten everything chopped, all you have to do is add it to the skillet and you have a one pot wonder that both warms and fills you.

Meat & Potatoes with a Twist
{Slightly adapted from the Keepers cookbook, one of my FAVORITES}
{Printable HERE}
Here's what you need to serve 6:

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound ground beef
1 yellow onion, cut in half and then into wedges
3 carrots cut on the diagonal into 1 1/2 inch chunks
1 1/2 tablespoons minced and peeled ginger (see note below...this is an easy ingredient...really)
1/4 cup white cooking wine
2-3 white potatoes, washed and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes
2-3 sweet potatoes, washed and cut into approximately 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce

Here's what to do:

Chop, chop, chop. Cut, chop, and slice the onions, carrots, and potatoes.

While you chop, defrost your homemade chicken stock if you have it.

To a large skillet or dutch oven, add the oil and heat it for a few minutes over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and a small pinch of salt. Cook while breaking it up until there is no more pink.

Guard your chopped veggies from fierce predators while the meat cooks!

Let's talk ginger. You can find it in the produce section of any grocery store. It looks like this...

...not a thing of beauty, but it can really make your food special. Scrape the thin papery brown peel off as much as need for the recipe (about an inch) with a vegetable peeler or the edge of a spoon to expose the firm fragrant yellow flesh. 

After that, cut off the piece and then you will need to cut it into very small pieces (mince) which together will equal 1 1/2 tablespoons. If you choose you can use a grater to get the correct amount. Either place the wrapped remainder of the ginger root in the freezer (where it will keep for many many months) or the fridge where it should last a few weeks. 

Add the onions, carrots and ginger to the pan and cook until the onions get a little bit soft and you begin to smell the ginger. Add the cooking wine and let it simmer while you scrape up any of the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the wine has nearly evaporated, add the white potatoes and the sweet potatoes.

{Though a double batch is pictured, quantities given in this recipe are for a single batch.}

Add the brown sugar, the soy sauce, 

the water and the chicken stock.

Stir to combine, the liquid will not quite cover the vegetables. 

Bring to a boil then stir occasionally while dish simmers with the pot lid tilted  ...

...until the potatoes and carrots are soft. Taste to check the seasoning as dish cooks and adjust seasoning if necessary. (If too salty, add more chicken stock. If not salty enough...add more salt ;-)

The dish will probably need to cook for 30-40 minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice or noodles or maybe just a bit of applesauce or green beans. 

Or...since you've already got vegetable, starch and protein you could serve it all by itself and enjoy!!

Here's to warm bellies, big smiles and empty bowls!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dropping Like Flies...

I was mid-run when I got a text from a kid who was supposed to be reading his history assignment. It seemed that a "situation" had developed at home in my absence.

Here's the text...

He returned a "ha ha" text and I finished my run, happy that the Cool Guy club had served my parenting purposes once again, when I got home Molly was fresh and ready to tackle the rest of her school day. 

A few days later, the other Cool Guy who was in charge of the remote controls during the vital moments of Football Saturday abandoned his mission...

...The Cool Guys are dropping like flies around here!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Gentle Book for Your November

"Where's my book? I just laid it down!"

"Your son hid it from you."


"It's hidden between Bibles on your dresser."


I was 40 pages from the end and I wanted to finish it. The rich words had been causing me to wonder about the end of the story for a day and a half. Marilynne Robinson is a writer of deep truth tucked into simple story. This book, released in October is already on the short list for the National Book Award as well as a few others. The plot is gentle and soft, the characters are complete and lasting. I read Robinson's Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead last year and was completely smitten. Lila, the book I completed last night didn't disappoint and is a beauty for the bookshelf as well.

I began another of Marilynne Robinson's books over the summer but abandoned it to finish another book. I will circle back and finish it soon as well as the other of her award winners Home. Robinson's books are simply lovely. They will not make your heart thump from suspense but her words will absolutely warm your heart as you follow her characters through their circumstances.

There is discussion among the readers of Robinson's books about which book to read first. My opinion is that Gilead will have been helpful to have read before picking up Lila...but it is not vital. Lila can easily be enjoyed on its own for sure, but you are likely to love it a little more if you've got Gilead snugged into your heart first.

I read Lila slowly and purposefully because I didn't want it to end. I'd like to pause my reading for a few days to absorb all of the goodness that was Lila ...


There's a kid in my home who's hot on my heels in our annual book race (and is hiding my books so that I cannot finish them!) and so I'll have to quickly change gears from the lovely Lila to my next selections ASAP!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Days of the Week

The "feels like" temp outside when I woke up this morning was 25˚. The scene outside my window is full of color. My home is warm and cozy and smells of coffee.

It is a Monday however and a whole week lies ahead, stuffed with activity. The little girls chatter away as they eat their breakfast, happily unaware of all that their week holds. To them this week is just like last week which in turn, is to them just like most of the other weeks before:

Daddy's Day Off is the first day of the week which is followed by...

Family Night which usually involves dessert and a TV show to finish the day...

Awana Day is how they speak of Wednesday and it is the centerpiece of our week until...

Co-op Day meets us first thing on Thursdays. We're up and out of the house early on this day and Daddy is rarely home for dinner on these evenings.

Monk Day is Friday and we used to count on an entire evening of back-to-back episodes of our favorite show. However, our big kids aren't home much anymore on Monk nights and Monk himself has been missing from the channel line up, so our Friday may soon experience a make over.

Football Day is what we call Saturdays with all of the expected fun and food and hollering you'd imagine and then lots of preparation and activity preparing for our next day that you might not imagine...

Church Day is our Sunday which is often full to bursting with plans and people and most important worship with our church family both in the morning at worship service and in the evening as we sit in various classes and learn more and interact more with our folks. We put in a full day and so when Mondays rolls back around we are all so happy that it's once again Daddy's Day Off!

This week we've got extra activities before Family Night, before and instead of Awana Night, we are all going separate ways on Monk day, and though Football Day looks pretty good, there's some extra activity to be accomplished as well.

I woke up knowing in my heart that though my days are a flurry of activity and full of change and adjustment, my God remains constant and steady and I'm praising Him for that!

Blessings on your Daddy's Day Off er...your Monday!

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
~ James 1:17 ~

Friday, October 31, 2014

Nourish ~ The Little Works

Welcome to Nourish: 31 Days of Family, Food, and Faith. This is Day 31! We've made it to the end. To see the rest of the series click here.

We were reading the story about the feeding of the 5,000 in the Jesus Storybook Bible yesterday morning when we got to the paragraph that read:
“What food do you have?” Jesus asked. “Go and see."  
Now, there was a little boy in the crowd. He had brought a lunch that his mother had made for him that morning. He looked at his five loaves and two fish. It wasn’t much— not nearly enough for 5,000— but it was all he had.  
“I have some,” he said.

We continued reading and came across some more lovely words which said:

     But Jesus knew the One who made all the fish in the oceans. And Jesus knew the One who in the very beginning had made everything out of nothing at all. How hard would something like this be for Someone like that?

I just adore that little Storybook Bible. It got me thinking and I asked the kids… 

"Who in this story besides Jesus, secondary to Jesus, might also be considered a hero?” 

“The little boy!”

“Because he gave up his lunch?”

“Yes but he gained even more lunch than he’d come with. Who else?”

“The disciples?”

“Mmmmm, not who I’m thinking of.”

“We give up.”

“Well,” said I, “who fixed the lunch for the little boy?”

“Oh!” said they, “the MOM!”

“Why, yes, yes indeed! The Mom.”

Have you ever thought about that before? In the crowd of 5,000 food was found in the hands of one little boy whose mom thought ahead a little. The gospel accounts of this story do not mention the boy's mother like our Storybook Bible does,  but can we, for now, assume that the boy's lunch was a result of his mother's action and then that she probably made him lunch every single day and that day, the one on which he wanted to go hear from Jesus, was just like all the other days she’d made his lunch except that day she just had to pack it up for him. And so she did. 

She made sure that her son had something to nourish him as he went along his way. That thing that she did every single day whether she felt like it or not, whether she received recognition for it or not, whether she felt valued in her task or not…that very packing of a lunch for her own son, became nourishment for 5,000 others. 

Would that I, that we all, would see the potential in the little works of nourishment that are ours to perform faithfully. Let me not think that providing nourishment in whatever form is a small task in the hands of the One who nourishes us best so that we may best nourish others.

The End.

{This post marks the end of the 31 Days of Nourishment series. Thanks so much for reading all of these words, some carefully chosen and others jotted in a fit of haste. I’m grateful for the encouragement that has been so generously offered by old friends and new, by my kids and my family, and especially by my Man, as the days of October have danced by.  November, here we come!}

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Nourish ~ Hide It In Your Heart

Welcome to Nourish: 31 Days of Family, Food, and Faith. This is Day 30! To see the rest of the series click here.

I have always been a great memorizer. As a child I remember learning lines in plays with relative ease. I memorized science definitions and French verb derivations. I memorized boys phone numbers, the cable line up for our local TV…just like you did, I’m sure. 

These days I’m still memorizing BUT IT’S SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT!! Somewhere along the way I’ve picked up a handicap or two in the memorizing arena and I’m pretty sure I can name those handicaps “AGE” and “LIFE.” Still, some things are easier to tuck into the folds of my brain than others, recipes stick well because something in me knows that a recipe put to mind reaps wonderful benefits of speed, planning, and execution. The church secretary at our former church (which had a membership of well over 600) knew by heart every phone number of every member. She too was working against age and life, yet the need for that particular set of information in her daily work made it second nature to her. 

I make my children memorize all sorts of things. Right now we are working on various poems and Romans 8 and the little girls work each week on a set of verses for AWANA at our church. 

One might ask why in this world of immediately available information does anyone need to memorize anything? Why not just rely on Google? Can’t we just look it up instead of spending all that time memorizing? 

My answer is: “Yes indeed. Look up all of the information you want. Google till you’ve flattened your fingerprints…but also…memorize stuff please.” 

Much information has been gathered about the benefits of memorization both to the brain and to the soul. 

There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patterns. Although rote memorization and recitation went out of vogue when the great god of Creativity began to dominate ideology in the Schools of Education, it has stood for centuries, even millennia, as the most powerful way to teach, to learn, to develop skills, and to preserve knowledge. By memorizing and reciting, you practically fuse neurons into permanent language storage patterns. Those patterns are then ready to be used, combined, adapted, and applied to express ideas in a myriad of ways. ~Andrew Pudewa, One  Myth, Two Truths

When we memorize the brain is strengthened. When we memorize we fill our heart with beauty and goodness and we gain confidence in our mind. When we memorize, we keep the brain that God gave us in the best shape possible and with that fit mind we can better serve Him…much better serve Him!  

Everyone has his or her own way of going about getting words from the page to the brain. My favorite way is to place what I’m trying to memorize in front of me while I’m doing brainless activity…I have Romans 8 hanging in my shower and I have written it on my mirror in the bathroom with a wet erase marker. The former works great, the latter tends to fade with the steam from the shower! 

I know in moments of great stress or at times when I can’t get my mind to calm and move on to a “better place” I’m always glad to have some of the Word in there because the mere calling of it to my mind does great things to calm and nourish my soul. 

For more information about the benefits and some "how to" tips memorization check out the following links:

Famous Poet Billy Collins tells how a poem committed to memory saved his sanity during an MRI...
I’m not a claustrophobe, but you don’t need to be to feel claustrophobic inside an MRI. It’s like being buried alive. I lay there with my eyes closed, and pulled “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” up in my memory. I pulled the whole poem up before me in my mind. Slowly, I started reciting it. And then more slowly. After saying it straight through a number of times, I used the poem as a kind of diagram to focus on. I said just the rhyme words: tree / made, bee / glade, slow / sing, glow / wing, like that. Then I tried to say every other line. By the time the MRI was over, I was in the process of saying it backwards. And the poem—like a good companion—had saved me from really freaking out. {The rest of the article HERE.}
 Ann Voskamp has an excellent primer here at A Holy Experience.
World Magazine weighs in with this short pieceFour Score and Seven Reasons why Memorization is I
John Piper at Desiring God has lots to say about memorization: The Why and How; and a three minute video 
     here that is wonderful.
Finally, Ten Reasons to Memorize Big Chunks of the Bible

Nourish your heart friends. Feed it words from its Creator.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nourish ~ Create Something...Anything!

Welcome to Nourish: 31 Days of Family, Food, and Faith. This is Day 29! To see the rest of the series click here.

My last few days were nose-to-the-grindstone, get’er-done-and-get-to-the-next-thing sort of days. There were a few moments throughout that might qualify as nourishing, but the largest part of my days was far from what I’ve been describing in these October posts. As a result, my insides were tight and tired. 

The kids and I are on a short fall break which began yesterday and ends today, so I had the luxury of holding very still today and doing whatever I pleased. The problem was that I could not for the life of me figure out what “whatever I pleased” looked like. 

I read a few paragraphs of a book and put it down to save it for later, I picked up a book from a different genre and it didn’t hold my attention. I didn’t have the endurance today to force my attention into sentence after sentence until I was into a good reading pace. 

Sometimes when such a mood strikes, baking a batch of cookies is just the cure. There is something soothing in doling out spoonful after spoonful of sandy colored, chocolate studded cookie dough. There were already cookies in my kitchen. Chopping vegetables for a big pot of soup can help to lift my listlessness, but there was already a pot of soup in the fridge. 

I was outside on my porch when my plan to read went south on me and I looked up to see a hedge between our yard and our neighbor's yard that was full of little navy blue berries, and further down in my yard was another bush with flaming orange berries. 

Leaves in surrounding trees were all bursting with fall colors and all of it mixed with what has to have been the last of the warm air of fall helped bring my mind to a picture I’d seen of a simple arrangement of sticks and leaves and perhaps berries…

Still in my pjs, I grabbed my kitchen scissors and a branch clipper and spent the late morning like I’d spent many as a kid, playing in the yard with the stuff that grows there. After some time had passed, I had a jar full of sticks and berries and two very rustic wreaths to place around my barely-decorated-for-fall home. 

More important though, I also had the refreshed spirit of one who’d been gifted the time and the beautiful warm day to just play.

Creation is exciting, nourishing, calming to your soul, and happily stimulating!  I see it as an energy that wants to live and can only do so through an act of creation whether it be a project, a painting, a song, a meal, or a letter. ~ Jasjit Rai

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