Thursday, August 28, 2014

Reading with the Kids & a Great Resource

Reading books aloud to our children has always been something that I've enjoyed.  Thankfully, they have each grown to love it as well.  Sitting on the floor with all four of them crowded around is one of the best parts of my day.

Isabella (5) and Mallory (4) have gotten to the point now where they love chapter books.  I think it was two years ago when we started the Little House on the Prairie series.  It astounded me how much they retained at such a young age, so I made it a point to continue to incorporate longer books into our reading times.  Since then we've finished that series, read Ballet Shoes, Charlotte's Web, and the Pippi Longstocking series

As I was researching curriculum for our schooling decision this year, one thing that I loved about so many curricula was the read aloud book list they had for each grade.  Even though we enrolled Isabella in school this year, I wanted to keep reading to the girls each day.  It can be a bit overwhelming trying to decide where to begin, so I just went off of Sonlight's book list for Kindergarten and First grades.

I made a list of all the books they recommended.  My mom told me about Thriftbooks, an online used bookstore.  There are lots of used book options out there, for sure, but I have enjoyed Thriftbooks because they have free shipping.  The books ship within 4-14 business days, so if you need something right away, this probably isn't your best option.  We have no time restraints, so it was worth it to me to wait awhile and save money on shipping.  They didn't have all of the books on the lists, so I have my running list and will continue to check back as time goes on.

Our books have all arrived over the past few days and the girls loved looking through them. They opted to read The House at Pooh Corner first.  We can't wait for the little two to go down for their naps so we can get lost in the Hundred Acre wood.

What are your favorite books to read to your kids?  Any recommendations for places to purchase used books?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Five Years

"Thou shalt not murder," the Pastor read as he began his sermon.

I sort of grunted under my breath, "Oh, good grief."  And Bradley kindly put his arm around me.

I didn't want to hear an entire sermon about murder.  I know how awful it is.  I know it's wrong.  And five years can't erase the sting of that very word.  A lifetime won't erase the pain.

I remember the call as if it was yesterday.  It was my Dad.  It was about 2:30 in the afternoon in CA, 5:30 where my Dad was.  I don't remember the exact words, but something like, "I have some bad news.  Your brother is dead.  He's been killed."

My brother, and his girlfriend, murdered.  No warning, no reasons, no answers, no going back.  They were gone forever.

Forever gone, but forever with Jesus.


Five years can't erase the power that is in this Name.  A lifetime won't remove the peace that comes from His presence.

Jesus, who willingly gave up His life to break the power of sin.

Jesus, who rose again in order that we might have life eternal.

Jesus, who gives grace to walk through life's most challenging days.

Jesus, who will one day come again in power and glory.

And as I sat through a sermon about murder and the sacredness of life, I cried, yes, because I miss my brother and it still hurts to have him gone.

But, I also rejoiced.  Because what is most powerful about death is not the pain that it can bring, but that Jesus has conquered it.

Take five minutes, if you would, and listen to this song, and be reminded of the great truth that Jesus has risen from the dead.  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nutella Bars

Right after graduating from college I moved to Jordan.  I was on my own for the first time, in a new country, learning how to cook, grocery shop, ride in taxis, communicate in a foreign language.  I loved it.  I loved finding my way around town and discovering new shops.  I loved watching people interact in a new culture.  I loved the food:  falafel, shawarma, hummus, and fresh pita.  Every time I did my shopping I would buy pita from my favorite bakery.  It was fresh out of the oven and oh so wonderful.  

And then I discovered Nutella.

Nutella spread on warm, fresh pita bread is delicious.  That bread doesn't stay fresh for very long, so I had to eat it quickly.  

Then I gained five pounds.

Even though I eventually had to rid my cabinets of this delectable treat, I have always had a love for it.  My kids, not surprisingly, have also come to enjoy it.  Sometimes we just have 'chocolate' sandwiches for lunch.

I purchased a jar of this in order to make these cookies from Pioneer Woman {which are really good}, but the recipe only called for 2 tablespoons.  What to do with the rest of the jar?  Pinterest has lots of recipes calling for Nutella, but none of them really stood out to me.  So, I decided to make up my own.

These are good.  And fairly healthy.  If you're like me, trying to stay healthy but have a sweet tooth, these are just what you need.  The honey gives it the perfect amount of sweetness, and the Nutella provides a bit of chocolate.  Oats give you fiber, that makes them healthy, right?  Cut them as big or small as you like.  I used raw almonds, but Bradley and I decided these would be incredible with salted cashews.  No need to bake, just mix and chill.  Enjoy!

Nutella Bars

1/2 cup Nutella
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup honey
3 cups instant oats
1/2 cup chopped raw almonds {or salted cashews}, optional

Melt Nutella, butter and honey in small saucepan, over medium-low heat.  Stir frequently so chocolate doesn't burn.  Remove from heat and stir in oats and chopped nuts, if using.  Spread into greased 8x11-inch pan.  Cover and refrigerate until hardened.  Slice and eat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Emotions I Didn't Anticipate

Tomorrow is the big day.  Kindergarten begins and Isabella will sit in a classroom with 27 other students, learning and experiencing things that I'll only know about from what she shares with me at the end of the day.

Sending my oldest child to school has stirred emotions in me that I didn't anticipate.  The sadness about her growing up, jealousy of the teacher who will get to watch her learn everyday, and fear of leaving her in an unknown place--these are things I was prepared for.

What I hadn't expected was feeling nervous for me.  I have no reservations about Isabella's ability to be a good student, make friends, or even feel comfortable in a new place.  When we went to the open house this past Sunday, she waltzed into the school, steps ahead of the rest of us, like she had been going there for years.  She smiled and did an unprompted dance when I asked to take her picture.  She's going to love it.

Me?  I'm feeling nervous and jittery over the whole thing.  I remember driving back to school at the end of each summer to start a new semester of college.  As soon as I would turn off onto the exit of my University, my stomach would tie up into knots.  That's how I feel right now.

Will I make her late for school?  What if I forget to have her do her homework?  Will the teacher like me?  Will I be sure to fill out all the forms, show up for parent-teacher conferences, and remember all the other important dates?  How do I do this school-Mom thing??

Maybe I'm the only Mom that feels this way, maybe not.  It's one thing to be responsible for your own schoolwork, it's another to know that you are helping your child to be responsible and accountable to another authority.  I don't want to let her down.  And I want to help her to succeed.

I guess it's the same way with our children and the Lord.  We teach them about God.  We strive to live out our faith before them in humility and zeal.   We long to see them embrace the truth of the gospel and follow hard after Jesus.

At times I struggle with wondering if I've explained truths in a way my children can understand.  Did they get the reason for Jesus' sacrifice?  Are they coming to know God and His character?  Do they understand what it means to be pleasing to the Lord?  How are they ever going to learn how to walk in the Spirit if I keep losing it over the slightest irritations?

We do our best to present them with the truth, but the Holy Spirit must draw, convict, and renew.  The outcome of their faith is ultimately out of my control.

There are countless areas in the development of my children that are out of my control:  abilities, hobbies, career, relationships, faith.

I don't know if I'll always remember to show up for meetings on time, I'm sure there will be days when we miss a homework assignment, and it's possible she'll be late for school now and then.

But, I'm going to strive to do my best.  Just as in every other area, striving to teach and train, praying for wisdom and strength, seeking to live out every area of my life in a way that pleases the Lord, and in each area pointing my children to Jesus, entrusting them to the Lord over and over again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Great Date Night

Date nights since having kids have been few and far between.  We've never had the privilege of living near family, so we've relied either upon the generosity of offers from friends or the occasional hired babysitter. I could probably count on both hands the number of times we've gone out on a date since Isabella was born, almost six years ago.  

Saturday night, one of Bradley's classmates offered to watch all four of the kids!  She is a Mom herself, attending school here, and her family was unable to accompany her.  She misses her family, and was longing for the opportunity to be with children.  I can't imagine being in her shoes, but I'm thankful that she was willing to hang out with our crew so we could have a much needed few hours to ourselves.  

It was a beautiful night, so we took the opportunity to try out a new restaurant that sits on one of the marinas in town.  We watched the boats coming in and out, dreamed of having our own yacht one day, speculated on the immense amount of wealth that this one little marina represented.

We sat in silence at times, reveling in the sheer wonder of it. 

We talked about the kids, about how this season of raising small children is hard but wonderful.  Time seems to be standing still in some ways, and we just want to capture every moment and hold onto these precious days.

We laughed about the fact that come Thursday, when Isabella starts school, our lives will forever be changed.  We agreed that it had been nice to not worry about education for the past five years.  And we secretly confessed our relief that someone else would be teaching her.  

We ate some good food.  Pommes frittes dipped in roasted red pepper aioli.  Filet mignon.  Fish tacos with mango salsa {my new-found favorite, and I've taken it upon myself to critique the fish tacos around town}.  The dessert menu wasn't what we wanted, so we paid our bill and found another restaurant for dessert.  Key Lime pie and Tiramisu.

During one of the moments of silence, Bradley turned to me and said, "I need this."  

The quiet, the break from the kids, being together just the two of us.  

That, in its most simplest form, is a great date night.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Snack for School :: Cheese Crackers

I remember my Mom making these things we called 'cheese straws' when I was a little girl.  I don't know how often we had them, not regularly for sure, but I distinctly remember always eating them while drinking Coke.   And maybe during football season?  There were certain snack foods for specific occasions:  teenie weenie hot dogs and nacho cheese dip when we decorated the Christmas tree each year, Ranch flavored Oyster crackers in the winter, while working on puzzles, and cheese straws....I can't remember when we ate this, but I loved them.

I came across a recipe called "Cheez-It -ish Crackers".  My kids love those square shaped cheese crackers, and since I'm on a kick to find homemade snacks, this was a perfect one to try.  These are great crackers to make because you can freeze the dough, slice and bake.  Simple and delicious--always a perfect combination.  And, they're great for adults and kids alike. These are a little different from the ones my Mom made years ago, but still delicious.  A few of these little crackers along with some grapes or an apple will be a perfect snack for Isabella come next week!!

Cheese Crackers

8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1/4 pound grated cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Using a pastry knife, blend butter and cheese together with salt in a medium mixing bowl.  Add flours and continue to blend until it comes together.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead it gently together.

Divide the dough into three parts, roll each into a log and wrap with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours -- or freeze them--, then slice into rounds 1/4-inch thick.  Place rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake at 350F for 14-17 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to one week.

*This can also be done in a food processor.  Pulse the butter, cheese and salt until the mixture forms small curds.  Add flour and pulse until the dough forms moist curds again, larger this time.  Continue as directed above.*

source:  slightly adapted from, Around my French Table, Dorie Greenspan

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Our Education Choice, for Now

Last summer we found out that we would be moving to Florida for Bradley to attend a six month long training.  We knew that this move would take place right before school started for Isabella, and that we would be moving again halfway through her Kindergarten year.  All year we would talk off and on about what to do for her education.  Public school?  Private school?  Homeschool?  There were, of course, pros and cons for each one, and we certainly tried our best to weigh all of the options, praying for wisdom as we made a decision.

Much of me wanted to homeschool.  The thought of pulling Isabella out of school halfway through to thrust her into a new school environment didn't thrill me.  If we homeschooled, we could be consistent for the whole year, and we'd be able to have a flexible schedule that would fit into our move this winter.

When we came to Florida in May to look for a place to live, Bradley and I visited a Christian school in the area that offered a half-day Kindergarten.  We observed a classroom of students and within about two minutes I knew that Isabella would thrive in that environment.

Isabella is the girl who will look for new people on the playground, make friends with them, and before we go home ask to have them over.  She waltzes into strange churches with confidence, longing to learn and participate in whatever everyone is doing.  Her love of learning and desire to make friends is a great combination.

I realized that my desire to homeschool this year was mostly about me.  My fears and my pride.

I was fearful of how she would handle a switch halfway through the year.  I was fearful that she wouldn't receive the kind of education I had always hoped.  If she went to school I wouldn't be able to 'control' her environment, her relationships or her experiences.

Deep down a big part of me wanted to homeschool so I could prove to myself that I could do it.  I could teach Latin, timelines, reading, do cool Science experiments and also take care of my other three non-school age children.  Somehow I felt like opting out of a homeschool education would make me a 'less-than' Mom.  I know that's not true, but I struggled with it.

I also worried about what some people would think of me if I didn't homeschool.  I feared judgment from all sides of the education opinion, not wanting anyone to think us foolish for choosing a particular educational route.  

Once I realized that I was making decisions based upon fears and pride, I was able to think more objectively about what was best for Isabella, and what was best for our family right now.

Right now we can afford the Christian school in our area.  I don't know if we will ever be able to again, but the cost of the school she's going to attend this year fits within our budget. 

I really like the idea of a half-day Kindergarten.  As much as I know Isabella is going to love school, I also think being away from home all day is going to be challenging for her.  Starting out with part of a day will help the transition.

If we had decided to homeschool I know I would have stuck with it and given it my best effort.  However, I also know myself and I know the needs of the rest of my children.  Providing Isabella with a good education right now would be challenging because of the immediate needs of my other children.  Our weeks are about to be filled with therapy sessions for Mason and we aren't able to choose the times for these appointments.  It's quite possible that we won't receive in-home therapy over the next few months, so having one less person to take will make it much easier.  Keeping to a regular schooling schedule may have been challenging, and ultimately frustrating for a routine person like me.

In short, I think Isabella's education would have seriously suffered if I tried to teach her this semester.  And, we have a great option that we're all excited about.

We won't know our next duty assignment until sometime late this fall, so we'll have to re-think the whole education thing again, and we may choose something different for next semester.

But for now, God has been so gracious to provide us with this option.  And I am so thankful.

It was a relief to put away the curriculum catalogs I had been pouring over for months.

I am rejoicing that I don't have to sit up at night looking over lesson plans, trying to figure out what to teach the next day.

I love that I'll be able to have a few hours in the morning with my three youngest.  Mallory is particularly excited about this, as she will be the oldest for a while, and I'm glad she has this opportunity.  It will be fun to see how all of our children develop over the next few months.

And, come 12PM every day, when we pick Isabella up from school, I can't wait to hear about her day, the friends she makes, and the ways that being in school will change her.

As we go through this big change for Isabella, and for all of us, we're continuing to pray for wisdom as I know there will be challenges along the way; this would be true no matter what type of education we chose.  

Our biggest prayer, though, is that we would continue on as parents who are training our children up in the fear of the Lord, and that Isabella would grow in her knowledge of God, believe the gospel, and have a deeply rooted faith that would bear much fruit.

All images via Callie Murray, Achor & Eden

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Snack for School :: Chewy Granola Bars

Breakfast has never been my favorite meal.  Growing up we had cereal almost everyday, and there wasn't a lot of variety in the types we had in the house at one time.  Soggy cereal grossed me out, so if I couldn't eat it quick enough I would be gagging by the end of the bowl.

As an adult I have the choice, obviously, of what to eat for breakfast, but I still struggle with the same cereal problems.  I'll eat it, but I'd much rather have eggs, bacon, and biscuits.  However, there's no way I'm going to cook that everyday.  Smoothies are great, but usually I'm hungry about an hour later.

This granola bar recipe is the perfect solution for my breakfasts.  I'm usually sitting between my two youngest feeding both of them oatmeal, so I give Jennavieve a bite, take a bite myself, then Mason, and repeat.  With a granola bar, I can eat it and it doesn't get soggy.  Or, I can munch on it easily while I clean up the kitchen.

The best part:  I ate these for a whole week and never got tired of them.  AND, I never felt hungry until lunchtime.  You don't need to turn on the oven and they keep in the refrigerator.  While I like these for breakfast, they would be a great healthy and filling snack option.

You could easily substitute almond butter for the peanut butter, coconut oil for the butter, and any 2-cup combination of nuts, dried fruit, or seeds would work (I even saw one recipe that used crisp rice cereal as part of the add-ins).

I've made this recipe twice now, and the second time tweaked the amounts a little bit to suit my tastes.  The original recipe called for 2/3 cup honey, but that was a bit sweet for me, so I cut it back to 1/2 cup.  I also added more oats than called for, which made them a bit firmer the second time around.  The fun thing with granola bars is that you can play around with the ingredients a little bit, making them your own, and you won't totally mess them up.  

Chewy Granola Bars

1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup butter
3 cups oats (I used Old Fashioned)
1 cup chopped raw almonds (big or small chunks are fine)
1/2 cup Craisins
1/2 cup shredded coconut

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine peanut butter, honey and butter until melted.  Remove from heat and add oats, almonds, Craisins and coconut.  Press into a greased 8x11 inch pan.  Cool until hardened.  Store in the refrigerator, either covered with saran wrap or in an airtight container.

source:  slightly adapted from Annapolis and Company

Friday, August 8, 2014

Re-Learning through the changing seasons of life

On Sunday my husband gave me one of the greatest gifts:  time.  To myself.  I basically walked into the house after getting home from church, mumbled something like, "Don't ask me, I'm not in charge," to my four year old's question, changed out of my dress and headed back out the door.

I was elated to finally have some alone time.  Should I go to the beach and read?  Shop?  Find a bathroom and use it just because I could without being interrupted?  Sit somewhere and enjoy being left alone?

I found myself at Panera, with my laptop open, a grilled chicken Caesar salad, and my thoughts.  But I couldn't even think straight.  As excited as I was to be on my own, I also felt completely lost.  This move has taken its toll on me.  My heart, my mind, my emotions, everything has been pushed to the limit and I am tired.

I forgot how much change affects me.  For a person who loves routine--maybe you could say I'm a bit OCD--even little changes, like when Bradley's schedule would shift from days to nights, it would be weeks before I felt like we were in a good rhythm.

The past eight weeks I've been navigating my way through a new town, a house that we don't love, sleepless nights due to a teething baby and older children who wet their beds, mice in the house{even had one in a drawer, and I touched its tail--gross}, loneliness, new routines.  In many ways I feel like I'm drowning in my thoughts and finding clarity in this newness has been hard.

Last year I wrote a post on feeling overwhelmed.  I just re-read it, and do you know what?  I was about to type out exactly what I had written last year.  Funny how we have to re-learn things as we go through the changing seasons of life.  We don't ever arrive.  And, I think that's a good thing.

If we came to the point of handling everything perfectly we would lose sight of the fact that we aren't the ones who are ever handling anything.

I can do nothing on my own.

I must continue to decrease so that Jesus can become greater (John 3:30).

And if me decreasing means that God gives me something that's a bit too hard for me to handle, then so be it.  Because my job as a follower of Christ is to feel more and more unable, not more and more capable.

It's when I feel weak that God is made strong (2 Corinthians 12:10)  In my inabilities He shines greater.  As I abide in Him, I can bear fruit because apart from Jesus I can do nothing (John 15:5).

Today, if we feel like we just can't handle it, we're right.

But, if we have been changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, then we have a power at work within us, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).

Linking up with:

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Snack for School :: Baked Granola Bars{Nut and Dairy Free}

Back in April we had the privilege of meeting some dear friends for a trip to the zoo.  When Bradley and I were first married and living in PA, we were blessed to be part of a small group of young couples.  I'm forever grateful for this group of friends!  One of the couples is now working with a church plant in Charlotte, NC, and when we were in GA, meeting at the zoo was a halfway point for us, so we got the kiddos together and enjoyed walking around and catching up on life and ministry.  

My friend made some delicious snacks that day, and I haven't stopped hearing about them ever since.  Last week she emailed me for our new address and Bradley replied that he would give it to her only if she gave us the recipe for the granola bars.  Then, he told me to make them the next day.  True story. 

Keep these in an airtight container; ours stayed good for a week, and everyone loved them. 

Baked Granola Bars {Nut and Dairy Free}

4 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut {I used sweetened}
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup chocolate chips, mini ones are best
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup canola oil {I used vegetable, and it worked fine}
1 teaspoon vanilla, the real kind
1/2 cup honey

Preheat oven to 325F.  Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl combine wet ingredients.  Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until well combined.  

Line a 9x13 inch pan with parchment paper or grease well.  Press mixture into pan.  Bake 25-30 minutes.  25 will produce a more chewy granola bar, 30 minutes will produce a more firm bar.  Cool completely before slicing.  

source:  a dear friend

Monday, August 4, 2014

These Two Couldn't Be Better For One Another

Jennavieve took her first steps the other night.  The pure delight on her face was priceless.  It's like she knew that her little legs were figuring something out and she nailed it.  She didn't go far, just a few steps a time, but that was enough for me.  We clapped, cheered, and squeezed her tight, reveling in her new found freedom.

Then, something amazing happened.  Mason scooted over to me, looked up at my face and I knew that he wanted to try.  I lifted him to his feet, helped him to get going and before we knew it he had walked across the whole room.

He had taken a few steps here and there, but never this far.  He just needed to see someone his size do it first.

Now, a few days later, they're both toddling all over the place.  Jennavieve is definitely stronger and getting closer to truly walking on her own.  But Mason is not far behind.  He delights in his little sister's accomplishments, and I think he really loves to watch her get around.  She gets going first and if he's able, he'll find something to pull up on and walk right along with her.  I can't wait to see them chasing each other, or better yet, holding hands walking together.

I had a lot of fears about having another baby so close in age to Mason.  Down syndrome causes developmental delays in children, and it's impossible to predict what those delays might be.  I wanted Mason to be his own person, reach milestones before his baby sister and truly be the big brother.

These two couldn't be better for one another.  Jennavieve pushes Mason to be stronger, more independent, and brave.  Although it's not exactly the way we would want her to communicate, Mason has taught Jennavieve how to get our attention, he is the one who showed her how to push their little cart.  He gives her kisses and hugs, waves to her from his crib in the morning and cares for her as only he can.  Mason is the big brother in every way.

I never thought I would sit and wonder at both of my children learning how to do things together.  But it's wonderful.  My heart bursts with pride and joy as I watch them learn and grow.

We don't always get an open window to see what God is doing, or has done.  Sometimes He keeps those things secret.  Every now and then, though, He gives us these glimpses to remind us that He is working something far more wonderful than we could ever imagine.