Monthly Archives: February 2011

Serene Saturdays #7

Today I am at home writing.  My family is out of the house.  The two older kids went on a spiritual retreat for the weekend, my younger son is at a Boy Scout merit badge activity, and my husband and littlest are out for breakfast together.  They are all beautifully occupied, and I am beautifully quiet.  It is rare the that house is mine.  I am resisting the temptation to clean or to finish up our taxes, but instead, doing what I know will get me ready to face head-on another week.

Earlier this week we went on a big trip.  It was only to Philadelphia (about 3 1/2 hours), but it was a big trip for us because we, as a family, visited the college my eldest will probably attend.  She has been accepted already, but needed to audition for their dance program.  While she was only intending to have dance be a minor, after the audition, the faculty asked if she would consider making dance a major for her – with the offer of scholarship money.  The trip went great, answered a lot of questions, and brought us one step closer to helping her find her fit in this educational world. 

As I reflect back over another week, I am so grateful.   I am thankful for…
Yet another doctor’s visit revealing nothing serious.
A child who survived the stomach flu with patience and strength. 

Five other family members who did NOT go through the stomach flu.

A great little family vacation to the Philadelphia area. 

Incredible favor over a dance audition.   

Life is not perfect, but we sure are blessed.   I’m hoping that you find a little solitary time, many moments of gratitude, and the activities that you need to be replenished for the week to come.

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Parenting – Surety

There are so many times that I feel ill-equipped to parent my kids.  I become discouraged by the path things are taking.  I see things in them that worry me.  I recognize that I only have them in my home for a few more years, and see the developmental and spiritual grounds that we have to cover.  I feel helpless.

Recently I discovered the word “surety”.    This word is an old English term, not commonly used in today’s speech.  However, it was an important concept in Biblical times.  It meant the act of making oneself responsible for another, sometimes in reference to a debt.  A guarantor, a warranter. 

Genesis 43:8,9 “And Judah said to unto Israel his father, ‘Send the lad with me…I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him.'”  (KJV)

Or in other words:

Genesis 43:8,9 ” I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.” (NIV)

These were the words of Judah to his father, Jacob, when he tried to persuade his father to send Benjamin to Egypt with him.   

To give a very brief background, as a young boy, Joseph’s brothers had betrayed him by selling him into slavery; but while in slavery, he was promoted by God to being 2nd only to Pharoah in Egypt.  At this time, he was overseeing the stored grain during a time of severe famine.  His brothers traveled to Egypt to buy grain for their family, only to encounter Joseph without knowing it was him.  As the brothers were leaving, Joseph demanded of them that, if they were to return, they must bring their youngest brother, Benjamin.  This demand grieved Jacob terribly, thus Judah offered himself as a slave in his brother’s place. 

When the governor of Egypt had commanded that Benjamin should be kept as a slave, Judah at once came forward as a substitute.  Everything gave way to the thought, “My father entrusted him to me, and I am surety for the boy.” 

Genesis 44:32 – 34  “Thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father…For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me?”

I have the gift and ability to be surety for my kids.  I can stand on their behalf, before the Father, to pray for their safety and for their spiritual journey.   I am NOT enough for them.  But I can stand in their stead before the Father, who IS enough for them.  I can wrestle in prayer over the battles that they are facing.

It isn’t very popular in today’s culture, but I believe that there is a strong element of self-sacrifice required of every parent to whom God commits the care of a child on his dangerous journey through life.  We have the ability/responsibility to spiritually wrestle on behalf of our children – to be their advocates before God. 

In the story of Joseph and his brothers, the end result of Judah being surety for Benjamin was that Joseph revealed himself to his family, and they were moved from poverty to a place of honor.  Of course, there are no guarantees, but it is worth the battle to stand on behalf of your children to see God’s purpose accomplished in their lives.  

If you don’t have children, you can still stand with children that you care about.   Pray for the parents.  Pray for the kids.   Let’s battle together!


Filed under Family and faith, Parenting

Recipe – Mexican Rice Soup

In 2010, my aunt collected recipes from our family and compiled them in a cookbook.  It was so well done, and was SUCH a gift to our family.  I can’t imagine the hours she put in to collect all of the recipes and to organize them into a book that is lovely and represents the heart of our family.  It is a collection of great food, but it is also a gathering place for sweet memories spent at Grandma’s kitchen table, a guide on how to recreate sights and smells from my childhood, and a time capsule of treasures from the past

One of the recipes that I submitted to her is one of my go-to soup recipes.  I thought I’d share it with you.  I hope you like it!

Mexican Rice Soup
1/4 c. olive oil
1 med. onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 c. low-sodium vegetable broth (can use boillon cubes)
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 T. grated lime zest
2 whole thyme sprigs
1/2 c. arborio rice
2 small tomatoes, seeded and diced or 1 can of diced tomatoes
(if using diced tomato can, strain extra liquid out first)
1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn
salt & pepper
1 avocado, diced
1/2 c. chopped cilantro

Heat oil in a stockpot over medium heat; add onion and saute 5 – 7 minutes.  Add garlic and saute 1 minute more.  Add broth, bay leaf, oregano, lime zest and thyme sprigs.  Bring to boil, cover, and reduce heat to low.  Simmer 10 minutes.  (All of the above steps are to season the broth). 
Strain broth, discard solids and return to stockpot.  Add rice to broth.  Bring to simmer over medium-low heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes.  Stir in tomatoes and corn and season with salt and pepper.  Simmer 10 more minutes.  Simmer 10 more minutes.  Place avocado and cilantro in bowls and ladle soup on top.

This should feed 4 people. 
I always add more corn and rice – however, the arborio rice really soaks up the broth, so if you add too much, you might have to add a little vegetable broth to thin it out a bit.


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Serene Saturdays #6

I became obsessed with melting this week.  The snow piles that have remained because of above-freezing weather met their doom this past week.  We had two days over 50 degrees.  On any given moment, you could find me outside throwing snow into the street or onto our sidewalk to allow more of the surface to melt.  I had my spade out picking at stubborn ice and heaving snow on any warm surface.  It worked!  The ice piles near our cars are gone, and if we were to have another large snow, we’d finally have some place to shovel it. 

At the same time, I was inside purchasing seeds for this spring’s plant.  At one point, so immersed in photos of full grown veggie plants and sunny days, I walked to my back door to see where I could steal some more land to make another raised bed, fully expecting to see grass.   However, when I got there, I laughed out loud as I remembered that, instead of seeing grass, I could only see snow.  I forgot for a moment…I guess I am eager for Spring. 

This week I am thankful for…

Warm days in the middle of a cold winter.

The ability to rebound after severe disappointment.

The potential and hope of organic seed packets arriving in the mail.

Being spoiled on Valentine’s Day.

Getting to sit in on dance classes to watch my lovely daughters dance.


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Where Are Your Gauges?

A game of hide and seek was planned. 

Participants:  3 teenagers, 1 almost teen
                             All siblings.

Location:  IKEA. 

These hide and seek games in that huge of a space can take over an hour.  The plans were made.  The walkie talkies charged.  The seekers and hiders assigned.  It is one of the sibling’ favorite activities – usually.

But today, everyone was a little off.  Someone only wanted to be the seeker, and to have that role by themselves.  Someone else only wanted to hide.  Another one didn’t want to hide, but only wanted to seek with someone else.  And someone else wasn’t excited about any role within the game at all.

Agreements were made and then gone back on.  Feelings were hurt because hopes were disappointed.  The whole thing was about to be derailed.

It was at this point that emotions and frustrations were at their highest that I stepped in.  I really didn’t care if the whole activity was scrapped – there was plenty to do at home – but I looked into the depth of disappointment in one of my kid’s eyes, sensed the betrayal in his heart, and knew that I had to intervene.

I’ve spoken before of moments where I can visually see chaos swirling around me, the pressure pushing in, and the oxygen with which I have to inhale depleting.  Moments where I feel quite ill-equipped to handle the split-second decisions that are hurled at me, and the tremendous noise of emotion and conflict that careen onto my path are overwhelming.  This was one of those moments. 

Some days it seems like all that I experience are those kinds of moments.  There are definitely days where laughter, comradery, and playfulness dominate, but if I rely on the possibility of those moments occuring to find fulfillment in my day, I will emerge on the other end of a week completely depleted.   

That place of finding a consistent level of fulfillment was discovered by finding balance in some key areas.  I was able to put words to what I was experimenting with by using the images of the gauges in an automobile.  Each gauge tells the level of a different function in your vehicle.  One is the speed, the other the gas level, the other oil, tire pressure, etc. 

In your life you have different gauges, and these gauges measure different facets of your health.  If one of these is out of commission, your whole system doesn’t run as smoothly.

These gauges are:  emotional health, physical health, spiritual health and relational health.  

Emotional:  It is vital that your mental/emotional health is being monitored.  Different activities can quickly drain (or refill) your emotional tank, and being aware of where you’re at is extremely important.  For each of us these activities are going to be different – but we must study ourselves enough to know when we are functioning on a consistently empty emotional tank.  We also need to be aware of what activities/people are replenishing to us so that we can immerse ourselves in them when we need to refill. 

Physical:  Are you current on your doctor/dentist appointments?  Is there an ache/pain/issue that is weighing on you and needs to be discussed?  These issues can greatly effect your overall health and plague your well-being. 
I have two friends with different auto-immune diseases.  I have learned amazing insights from watching them read their bodies, know what social/physical events are on their calendars, and react accordingly.  They know when sleep is essential, and when they simply need to say “no” to even the seemingly great events.  We need to learn how to read our body’s signals to keep ourselves in balance.

Spiritual:  Discipleship, journaling, meditating, fasting, reading, accountability, sacrifice, and having a life-giving community surrounding you all fan the fire of your spiritual health.  It is imperative that you interact with God on a regular basis to keep your spiritual life active and intimate.

Relational:  If the most important relationships in your life aren’t solid, everything can waiver.  Spending the energy and time necessary to nurture the ones you love and the ones to whom you are committed is essential.  If you’d like some suggestions, read my series on Romance.  🙂

As I stepped into the mix of my discontented, hurt, disappointed, and angry kidlets, I recognized serious depletion potential.  There are some times that exhausting events are unavoidable, and maybe even beneficial.  However, we all have to then schedule the activities that will replenish our systems so that we am at our best for those we love, and for ourselves.


Filed under Family and faith, Parenting

Reading to Kids – For Vocabulary Building

I believe that reading to kids is one of the greatest gifts you can give them.  This act facilitates many opportunities for growth in your kids and in your relationship with them.  While I’ll discuss in a later post several of the other advantages gained by reading to children, in this post I’ll discuss the vocabulary benefits. 

According to Jim Trelease in his book, The Read Aloud Handbook,
There is one skill that matters above all others, because it is the prime predictor of school success or failure:  the child’s vocabulary upon entering school.  Yes, the child goes to school to learn new words, but the words he or she already knows determine how much of what the teacher says will be understood.  And since most instruction for the first four years of school is oral, the child who already has the largest vocabulary will understand the most, while the child with the smallest vocabulary grasps the least.

Before kids have the ability to speak, they have the ability to understand words.  This is called receptive language

* The receptive language is what allows your toddler to perform tasks and understand questions that they would never be able to communicate themselves. 
“Go get the diaper for mommy.”
“Would you like more milk?”
* And the receptive language is what allows us to understand a foreign language before we feel comfortable speaking it. 

It is this receptive language that allows a baby/toddler/early reader to comprehend books that are well above their reading level.  And it is for this reason that I recommend books that are way more challenging for an age level that you might think possible.  While children are listening, they are learning new vocabulary.  Every time a new word is introduced, they are filling their reservoir for use at a later time.  The more words introduced, the better understanding, and the better understaning, the better their reading comprehension will be.  Listening comprehension feeds reading comprehension. 

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am a bit of a snob when it comes to children’s literature.  If one of my goals for reading to my kids is to develop their vocabulary, then I certainly don’t want to read to them books that either have a limited vocabulary or are poorly written.  For the most part, there are a limited number of plots – after that, books are all about how the author used and crafted words. 

I have attached a suggested book list.  (I will also post it under the “Favorite Things” section of my home page so that you can access it without having to find this post.)  I’m sure I’ve left some of my favorites out, but it is a good start.   I’ve listed books under general age groups, all of the way up to Senior High.  I believe that the longer that you read to your kids, the more words they are introduced to, and the bigger their vocabulary will be. 

I hope this gets you started reading! 

Preschool/Kindergarten/First Grade

Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban
Billy and Blaze, by C.W. Anderson
Curious George, by H.A. Rey
Frog and Toad All Year, by Arnold Lobel
Frog and Toad are Friends, by Arnold Lobel
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion
Little Bear, by Else Homelund Minarik
The Little Engine that Could, by Watty Piper
The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton
Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans
Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
The Ox-Cart Man, Donald Hall
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown
Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjery Williams
Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six, House on Pooh Corner, and When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

Early Elementary

The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner
A Child’s Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith)
The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh
Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit
The Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit
Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, etc, by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
Caddie Woodlawn, by Carol Ryrie Brink
Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White
Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter
Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan
Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims, by Clyde Robert Bulla
Story of Dr. Doolittle, by Hugh Lofting
Stuart Little, by E.B. White
Trumpet of the Swan, by E.B. White

Middle Elementary

Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, by Howard Pyle
The Secret Garden, by F. H Burnett
Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery
Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
Old Yeller, by Fred Gipson
Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe
The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Where the Red Fern Grows, by L. Rawls

Late Elementary

Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis
The Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter
Freckles, by Gene Stratton Porter
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling
Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
The Lord of the Rings (Trilogy), by J.R.R. Tolkien

Junior High

Animal Farm, by George Orwell
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
Christy, by Catherine Marshall
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
Emma, by Jane Austen
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemmingway
Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
The Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan
Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
The Prince and the Pauper, by Mark Twain
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
1984, by George Orwell

Senior High

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Guilliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift
Hinds’ Feet on High Places, by Hannah Hurnard
The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
Silas Marner, by George Eliot
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee


Filed under Education at Home, Parenting

Serene Saturdays #5

After so many days of the inconvenience of piles and piles of snow covered in ice, I am so encouraged by a little bit of melting this week, and the prospect of way-above freezing temps this coming week.  I think my sweet family gets a little impatient with my extreme caution on slippery surfaces.  I am sure that I am too cautious, but navigating getting into my van with my driveway still lined with so much snow/ice that you can’t get the doors fully open, let alone trying to reach the doors on the hurdles of ice, it seems like heaven to imagine a week full of melting. 

Besides a rousing Super Bowl party to begin this week off, we also experienced a Court of Honor for my boys in Boy Scouts.  My oldest put in the hours of work it requires to get the level of Life.  From this point on, every merit badge and project is directed toward getting Eagle Scout, the highest rank.  My younger son got 4 merit badges and is really close to getting Life.  Taking the time to honor and give awards facilitates moments of reflection on how time is passing, and on who these young men are.  I am so proud of my boys – they are thoughtful, respectful and godly young men.

We also began making Valentine’s Day cards.  And while they wanted handmade original cards again, this year, they designed and made them themselves.  I just sat back and watched. 


This week I am thankful for:

Super Bowl celebrations with great friends.

Melting snow.


Valentine preparations filled with excitement and love for others.

Quiet mornings filled with the noise of reflection, gratitude, and anticipation.

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