Archive for April, 2011

We used to love the Everything On It Bagels back when we could have wheat, so I was determined to find a way to recreate that flavor with gluten free breads.  When I saw the recipe for cheese bread on the side of the Pamela’s Bread Mix bag, I decided to tweak the recipe and try to bring back our old favorite.  The result is a moist, flavorful roll that tastes great with Challenge Tuscan Butter, which is a blend of butter, olive oil, garlic and herbs.  I also use this recipe to make hamburger buns and sandwich rolls for French Dip or my mother-in-law’s wonderful hot ham and cheese sandwich recipe.

1 19 oz. bag Pamela’s Gluten Free Bread Mix
2 eggs
1/4 c. oil
1 c. finely shredded cheddar cheese
4 T. butter, divided
Poppy Seeds
Dried minced onion
Shredded (not grated) Parmesan cheese

Prepare bread mix according to package directions.  After the dough has been in the mixer for two minutes, add 1 T. melted butter and cheddar cheese.  Continue mixing for 1 minute.

Rolls: Preheat oven to 200 degrees.  Grease muffin tins and use an ice cream scoop to drop mounds of dough in muffin cups.  (This recipe makes about 16 rolls, but I usually make 1 dozen rolls and 2 hamburger buns.)  With a wet spatula, smooth any rough edges, since the rolls will maintain whatever surface is present after they’re baked.  Melt remaining 3 T. butter in the microwave.  Sprinkle rolls with poppy seeds and dried minced onion.  Spoon melted butter over top.  Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan.

Turn off oven and place rolls inside to rise for 50 minutes.  Remove from oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake rolls for 25 minutes.

Buns: To make hamburger buns or large rolls for sandwiches, I use 12.5 oz. chicken cans (from Costco) that have been washed in the dishwasher and had the label removed.  (My can opener does not leave any jagged edges, so if yours does, you may need to file them down or go over the edge again with the can opener.)  Spray 8 cans with nonstick spray and divide batter evenly among cans.  Using the back of a wet spatula, spread out the dough and smooth the top so that there are no ridges.  Follow roll directions above.

Hot Ham and Cheese Sandwiches

Onion, poppy seed, cheese buns (or rolls, for mini sandwiches)
Thin sliced deli ham (we prefer Hormel Natural, which is nitrate free)
Sliced cheddar cheese
Butter or Challenge Tuscan Butter with herbs
Garlic salt (omit if using Tuscan Butter)

Carefully slice rolls horizontally, since the toppings tend to fall off each time these buns are handled.  Spread mayonnaise on the bottom half of bun.  Top with 4 or more rolled up slices of ham.  Place a cheese slice on top of ham.  Carefully butter the top half and sprinkle with garlic salt, if using.  Place top half on sandwich.  Wrap in foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Both the rolls, buns, and sandwiches freeze well.  If freezing sandwiches, cut in half first, and add another 10 minutes to baking time.

Read Full Post »

Last week, my whole family participated in the dramatization of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.  Seven nights in a row, I watched as Jesus (portrayed by a godly man in our church) was crucified.  I sang about the tomb being empty, and gave praise to God for his gift of eternal life.  After repeatedly participating in this story, I read these words this week in my daily Bible reading from 2 Corinthians 4:10:

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

What does it mean to carry around in my body the death of Jesus?  As I watched Jesus hang on the cross each night, I noticed that he:

  • Resisted the taunts of the criminal next to him who was mocking him
  • Reached out to a sinner who hoped that he could be forgiven
  • Took care of his mother by asking one of his disciples to take her into his home
  • Interceded on behalf of those who were crucifying him, and asked God to forgive them
  • Cried out to God in agony
  • Finished the work God sent him to do

It struck me this week that for me to carry around in my body the death of Jesus, it means I must:

  • Stand firm in my faith, even when Christianity is unpopular or under attack
  • Show the love of Christ to those in my community who are in need of hope, no matter who they are or what they’ve done
  • Honor my family by putting their needs first above my own – even if I’ve got a great excuse to be selfish that day
  • Love my enemies and pray for those who are unkind toward me
  • Cry out to God, seeking him with all my heart, even when he feels distant from me
  • Finish the work which he has called me to do

How do we do this?  The second half of the verse tells us that we do this so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  He is alive!  Death has been defeated.  We can persevere, love, honor, trust in God when life seems unfair, and live out his calling in our lives because we carry in our bodies the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!  We sacrifice our will, placing it at the foot of the cross, so that we can live according to God’s will, which is abundant life in Christ.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Praise the Lord!

Read Full Post »

I recently needed to make some cookies that were free of gluten, dairy and soy for some folks with multiple allergies.  So I turned to an old favorite that can be easily modified.  I was even able to lower the sugar content without noticing a difference.  My son was able to make most of the recipe on his own, since this is also a very kid friendly recipe.  These cookies are delicious and come together in a snap!

1-1/2 c. sugar (or 2 c. sugar, for sweeter cookies)
1/2 c. + 2 T. butter, margarine, or coconut oil (if using oil, add 1/4 tsp. of salt)
1/4 c. + 2 T. cocoa powder
1/2 c. milk or rice milk
2/3 c. creamy peanut butter (Skippy Natural is soy free)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 c. GF oats (like Bob’s Red Mill)
2 T. ground flax (optional)

In a large saucepan, mix the sugar, butter or oil, cocoa and milk.  Bring to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and stir in peanut butter until melted.  Mix in vanilla and oats (and flax, if using).  While still hot, use a cookie scoop or tablespoon and drop mounds onto a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet.  Allow to cool and harden (or if you’re impatient, like me, put the cookies in the fridge to cool).

Depending on the size of your cookies, this recipe makes 3-1/2 to 4 dozen cookies.  These also freeze well, if you can manage to resist eating them all at once!

Read Full Post »

One of the ways we try to inspire our kids to learn is through mini unit studies based on the animal, geographic location, or historical period explored in the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne.  If you’re not familiar with this wonderful series, the books are about a brother and sister (close in age to my kids) who discover a magic tree house that will take them to any place that is pictured in a book.  Because of the variety of locations (the time of the dinosaurs, a Medieval castle, the American Revolution, the moon, etc.), these books provide an opportunity to introduce kids to a variety of topics.  If something piques their curiosity, we check out lots of resources from the library and delve even deeper into the topic.  Some units are easier to expand than others, but from time to time I’ll share units in this blog that are particularly fun and interesting for us, in case you want to try these at home.

Last week we read book #13, “Vacation Under the Volcano,” which is about Pompeii. I happened to have found an earth science book on the new release shelf at the library, so I decided to incorporate some earth science into our study.  Here’s what we did for last week’s Magic Tree House Adventure.

DAY 1:

  1. Earth Science Study – The Earth’s Layers.  Read about the earth’s layers in, “Explore Rocks and Minerals!” by Cynthia Light Brown and Nick Brown.  Also read about shifting plates and how they cause earthquakes, mountains, and volcanic activity.
  2. Activity – Earth Candies.  To illustrate the different layers of the earth, make Earth Candies.  I first made my Peanut Butter Ball recipeand rolled some into balls.  I cut the balls in half, made an indentation in the center of each half, then invited the kids to make the rest.   We put some caramel in the indentations, then put a chocolate chip in the caramel on one half, and pressed the two halves together.  We then dipped them in melted chocolate, and sprinkled chopped nuts on top.  While waiting for the chocolate to harden on these delicious candies, we reviewed what each layer represented:
    • Chocolate chip – Inner, solid core
    • Caramel – Outer, liquid core
    • Peanut butter ball – Mantle
    • Outer chocolate layer – Crust
    • Chopped nuts – Soil and plants (although we thought they looked like mountains)
  3. Historical Book – “You Wouldn’t Want to Live in Pompeii!” by John Malam.  The “You Wouldn’t Want to…” series are wonderful books for kids!  You can find them on just about every topic.  My son loves them, since they are definitely written to appeal to 9-year-old boys (and their parents).  They go into detail about what it was like to live in different time periods and cultures, and tell stories with funny illustrations.
  4. Geography – Italy.  Get out the globe and find where we live on the globe first.  Then travel with your finger to Italy, where Pompeii is located.

DAY 2:

  1. Begin Magic Tree House Book, “Vacation Under the Volcano.”  We like to start reading in the upper level of our jungle gym outside when the weather is nice, since each book begins with the main characters going to the tree house which spins around and takes them to a new place.  When it’s cold, the kids go in our tiny kids tent to begin their adventure.  Now that my daughter has finished her first grade reading curriculum, she and my son take turns reading the chapters.  I let them read as far as they want to, then pick up with more the next day.

DAY 3:

  1. Earth Science Study – Volcanoes.  Read about volcanoes in “Our World” by Usborne.  (We love anything by Usborne, Eyewitness Books, or DK for kids!)
  2. Activity – Types of Lava.  Read about types of lava in “Explore Rocks and Minerals,” then do an activity to demonstrate what happens when gas is under pressure:
    • Open a can of soda and pour some into a glass.  Let sit for an hour or two.  Explain that lava has dissolved gas in it, just like soda.  Thin lava rises slowly, leaving lots of time for the gas to escape, so it pours out onto the surface without much fizz, like the flat soda.
    • OUTSIDE, shake up a second can of soda and carefully open it.  When a lot of gas stays trapped in pasty, thick lava, it acts like the shaken soda when the pressure is finally released.
  3. Read more of “Vacation Under the Volcano.”

DAY 4:

  1. Finish “Vacation Under the Volcano.”
  2. Let kids look through the Earth science books and decide if there’s anything else they want to study.

DAY 5:

  1. Movie – Watch National Geographic’s “Volcano: Nature’s Inferno” on Netflix streaming.*
  2. Snack – Discuss benefits we receive from volcanoes, like rich soil for growing food.  Serve some fresh pineapple from the Hawaiian islands (the pineapple in our grocery store comes from Hawaii), which were formed from volcanoes.
  3. Activity – Make a volcano from a science kit (my son got one a year ago, and we’d been saving it for this week!) or follow the instructions for a homemade vinegar and baking soda volcano in the Usborne “Our World” book (p. 61).

*Depending on the age and sensitivity of your kids, you may want to preview the volcano movie before showing it.  My sensitive, 6-year-old daughter watched it, and definitely was bothered by the scenes of devastation and reports of lost lives due to volcanic activity.  However, since my children lead fairly sheltered lives, I took advantage of the opportunity to discuss some important realities with them:

  • Even though our lives are fairly secure, we live in a world where disasters happen.  We should be upset when we see people losing their homes or lives.  And if there’s something we can do to help, we should be God’s hands and feet to reach out to hurting people.
  • We don’t need to live in fear of something bad happening to us.  In our country, geologists monitor volcanoes and seismic activity, and the emergency broadcast system is in place to warn people of impending danger.  When we are afraid, we can pray and ask others for help.
  • We should have a healthy fear and respect of the powerful forces at work in nature.  If government officials tell you to leave an area for your safety, you should listen to them.  The volcanologists who died in the movie did so because they lost their fear of volcanoes and unnecessarily risked their lives because they didn’t respect the power and unpredictability of nature.

The kids responded well to this discussion, and they now have a greater understanding of the awesome forces at work in nature.  Most of the resources I used were inexpensive or came from the library, so unit studies can be fun and interesting without costing a lot of money.

Read Full Post »

These are one of my family’s favorite Christmastime treats.  I posted the peanut butter filling as an option for fondue, and I’ve also used this recipe to make Earth Candies, as a way of showing the layers of the earth.  However you make these, you can’t go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate!

1-1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. butter or dairy free margarine, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
1 lb. powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, mix peanut butter, butter, and vanilla.  Stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time.  Roll into small balls and freeze one hour or until hard.

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 squares almond bark chocolate
4 T. shortening

Melt chocolate and shortening in a microwave safe bowl on 70% power until smooth, stirring every 30 seconds.  Dip peanut butter balls in chocolate and place on waxed paper to harden.

Earth Candies:

If you don’t want to make a huge batch of the peanut butter ball dough, you can use the amounts below.

1/4 c. + 2 T. peanut butter
2 T. butter or margarine, softened
1/4 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. powdered sugar, plus enough to make it firm but not crumbly
3 squares almond bark chocolate
16 – 20 chocolate chips
Caramel ice cream topping (I used a McDonald’s caramel dipping sauce)
Chopped nuts (I used a McDonald’s hot fudge sundae nut topping bag)

Follow directions above to make peanut butter balls.  Freeze for about 30 minutes.  Cut open balls and press the tip of a baby spoon in the center of each half.  Fill halves with caramel sauce.  Fill one half with a chocolate chip, then replace the other half and pinch edges to seal.  Re-roll, if necessary.  Dip balls in melted chocolate and place on waxed paper.  Sprinkle with chopped nuts.

My post, “Unit Study: Volcanoes, Pompeii, and Earth Candies,” contains the explanation of the different layers.

Read Full Post »

I feel compelled today to share our story of how gluten intolerance affected our family, and how the gluten free diet has helped us enjoy better health and a happier home.  I also want to share hope for parents who may be dealing with unpleasant behavioral side affects in their young children, like rage for no apparent reason, lack of body control, and a mental haze that inhibits social development.  More and more people are aware of gluten intolerance, thanks to major manufacturers displaying the “gluten free” stamp on their products.  But most people still don’t know how to recognize the symptoms associated with gluten intolerance.

Gluten intolerance (also known as Celiac disease, which is a severe form of gluten intolerance) is an autoimmune disorder, which simply means that your immune system recognizes the gluten protein – which is in wheat, barley, and rye – as a foreign invader, and the lining of the intestine ends up being destroyed as the body attacks itself.  Because of the destruction in the intestine which affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, many sufferers experience problems with cramping, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, anemia, fatigue, depression, migraines, infertility, or stunted growth in children.  These are some of the obvious symptoms that cause people to seek treatment and discover their gluten intolerance, but there are a whole host of neurological side effects that can be less obvious, and some people with gluten intolerance have no obvious symptoms at all. (This article is not intended to provide an in-depth medical explanation, but rather a summary of our experience.  If you need more information, please seek out a medical site like celiac.org.)

Our Story
When my son was a toddler, he was the sweetest, most good-natured child.  He woke up in a pleasant mood, and was a delight to be around.  As he approached the age of 3, the “terrible twos” set in, which we knew was normal.  What’s not normal, however, is for tantrums and rage to extend to “freaky fours” and “frightening fives.”  What frightened us was that my son would fly into a rage over something for no apparent reason.  It was as if someone just flipped a switch, and once the switch was on, it was almost impossible to calm him down.  He also had body control issues.  His arms or legs would invade your personal space, and even if you brought it to his attention, it was obvious that he couldn’t help it.  He also seemed to be in a fog most of the time.  You could call his name and he wouldn’t answer – and I’m not talking about ignoring mom and dad, or tuning others out when deep in thought.  Kids at school would say hi to him, and he wouldn’t notice.  He was perpetually distracted and often disruptive in groups of kids.

As you can imagine, this led to much anxiety and questions of where to cast the blame.  My parents thought it was a discipline issue, and gave us Dobson’s “Dare to Discipline.”  His preschool teacher thought he had ADD, but he could concentrate for hours on some projects, and did not behave consistently from day to day (and ADD or ADHD sufferers are supposed to display the same behaviors consistently at home and school).  Others threw out Aspergers as a possible explanation, but our son did not match enough of the criteria for that syndrome either.  What really drove us – and his teachers – crazy was his inconsistency.  He would have good days and bad days.  Some days he could listen, control his body, participate in school and family life without any problems.  Other days, he was destructive, angry, or just spacey.  We even wondered, at one point, if he could be bi-polar because of his ups and downs.

The Diagnosis
When my son was in first grade, my husband’s sister was diagnosed as gluten intolerant.  Because this is a genetic disorder, my husband’s family was encouraged to get tested.  I began doing research on the internet to understand both the symptoms and treatment of gluten intolerance.  In the course of my investigation, I came across a medical site that was outlining the behavioral effects caused by a child’s neurological system essentially going haywire from the autoimmune response to gluten.  In this article, the doctor described how the brain in gluten sensitive kids can get overloaded and cause them to act out for no obvious reason (other than that they had a waffle for breakfast), as if someone just flipped a switch.  These kids can seem moody and cranky because they just don’t feel good, even though they can’t tell you why.  The symptoms can be misdiagnosed as ADD and mimic those of autism because the same neurological problem that makes them cranky, also makes it difficult to concentrate.   The symptoms often come and go, and the neurological symptoms can be present even if no gastrointestinal symptoms are present.

As you can imagine, I nearly cried as I read that article.  The doctor was describing my son.  Could it be that my sweet little boy was struggling against his own body that was sabotaging him?  We had our son tested immediately, and got his diagnosis one week before Christmas (which is not the best time to think about giving up your favorite breads, cookies, and desserts – but more on that later).  We decided to wait until the day after Christmas to eliminate gluten from his diet, which gave me time to undergo a crash course on how to completely overhaul our diet, and took some of the holiday pressure off.  I cried a lot of tears during that time.  Some were from sadness, as I grieved the loss of a “normal” childhood filled with pizza parties and birthday cupcakes.  Some were tears of relief that there was something we could finally do to help him.  And some were tears of joy, as I thanked God for his providence that brought me together with a dear friend 16 years earlier, whose family was also in their first year of dealing with gluten intolerance, and who helped me get through those first few difficult months.

The Difference
Almost immediately after eliminating gluten from his diet, we noticed behavior changes in my son.  I used to dread sitting by him on the couch during a family movie because he would rock back and put his legs in the air, and flop all over the place no matter how many times we told him to sit still.  Two days after eliminating gluten, we started watching the 3 1/2 – 4-hr. movies in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  To our amazement, my son sat still and in control of his body the whole time.  The rage episodes disappeared.  I asked his teacher a few months later if he was doing any better at school, and she said the biggest change she’d observed is that he suddenly seemed to notice the kids around him, and was becoming more social.  We noticed, too, that what we now refer to as the “gluten fog” had lifted.  We could give him two or three-step instructions, and he could now follow through without us needing to check up on him.

Fast forward two years later to today, and I’m pleased to tell you that I have my sweet, good-natured little boy back.  Yes, he has some quirks like all of us do, but the extremes are gone.  He is a delight to be with, and I believe that the sacrifices we make to be gluten free are a small price to pay for helping my little boy become the wonderful person God created him to be.  My husband and daughter also tested positive for gluten intolerance, and even though the results aren’t quite as dramatic, we’ve still noticed a difference.  My husband used to often complain that he just couldn’t seem to concentrate, which we now attribute to the “gluten fog.”  He hasn’t made that complaint since going off of gluten.  He also was finally able to lose weight, after trying without success for years, and you can read more about his story here.

Life Without Gluten
The gluten free lifestyle is not easy, but it’s also not the end of the world.  In fact, if you have a child with behavioral issues caused by an autoimmune response to gluten, it can be an opportunity to uncover a wonderful treasure that’s been trapped inside a destructive host.  If you’re new to the gluten free lifestyle, I’ve posted my Gluten Free Survival Guide on the tab above just for you.  Every recipe on this site is gluten free, including muffins and desserts!  I’ve also posted my gluten free flour blend that has allowed me to make those favorite Christmas goodies we thought we’d never have again (and they taste exactly the same).  There’s a reason why this article is categorized as “joyful family” and my gluten free recipes are under “joyful food.”  Being gluten free has brought more joy to my family than any pizza or cookie ever could.

2013 Update: I’m so moved by the responses I’ve received from so many of you.  This post receives more views daily than any other, and I believe it’s because there’s so little information out there to guide parents who suspect there’s something wrong with their child’s diet.  I’ve recently had to hunt down information on the internet and diagnose yet another health issue related to diet for my son (which was eventually confirmed by his doctor), and the experience has given me fresh motivation to reach out to my readers who are on this difficult journey.  I’ve also added a series of recipes called, “Gluten Free Kid Favorites,” that I hope will encourage you as you try to find a “new normal’ for your family.  

Check out these yummy recipes:


Read Full Post »

“Mom, can I spend my dollar on Brussels sprouts?” my 9-year-old son asked at Wal-Mart this week, while I nervously glanced around to see if anyone overheard this bizarre question.  Whenever the kids go grocery shopping with me, I like to give them a dollar to spend in the produce section, mostly in an effort to get them to cooperate and not drive me crazy.  This has led to several discoveries of fruits and veggies that aren’t on my regular shopping list (pluets, tangelos, Peter Pan squash – I still don’t know what you do with that one) since my son, in particular, loves to try new things.  But the passionate declaration that he wanted Brussels sprouts came from our recent discovery that they – like most veggies – taste wonderful roasted!

I have bad memories of Brussels sprouts from when I was a kid because I (like most of us, probably) grew up eating boiled veggies.  While some veggies are still best boiled, like peas or corn, our family prefers most other veggies either raw (like spinach as a salad leaf) or roasted.  If you’ve never tried roasting veggies, you’re missing out!  Roasting brings out different flavors in vegetables, and they don’t require lots of fussing or fancy sauces.  We would never have thought we’d love Brussels sprouts or broccoli.  But instead of complaining about having to eat their veggies, my kids’ only complaint nowadays is that I didn’t make enough for seconds!

If you’re interested in climbing on board the roasted veggie train, I’ve got even more good news for you.  First, you don’t have to wait for fresh veggies to be in season or come down in price.  I have my sister-in-law to thank for showing us that you can use frozen veggies, and they work perfectly well.  The fresh Brussels sprouts my son saw in the produce department cost $3, but a bag of frozen Brussels sprouts only cost $1.50.  To use frozen veggies, simply cook them a little longer.  There’s no need to thaw them first.

The other good news is that it’s still cool enough to use your oven at high temperatures without affecting your air-conditioning bill, but it’s starting to warm up enough, where we live, to occasionally use the grill outside.  Since the one downside of roasting is that it’s difficult to find a main dish that can cook alongside your veggies at the high temperatures required for roasting, the availability of the grill means there are now more choices for a main dish to accompany the roasted veggies.  (That’s right, I said the main dish accompanies our vegetables!)  So here are the basic instructions for roasting, along with a few menu suggestions.

Roasted Vegetables

Olive oil – extra virgin oil loses its benefits at high heat, so use the cheap stuff
Coarse salt,  regular salt, or garlic salt (we prefer coarse salt)
Fresh ground pepper, regular pepper, or lemon pepper
Fresh or frozen veggies – if using more than one type, cut longer-cooking varieties in smaller chunks

Here are some of our favorite combinations:

  • Asparagus with coarse salt, lemon pepper
  • Brussels sprouts with coarse salt, fresh ground pepper
  • Broccoli spears or cauliflower with coarse salt or garlic salt, pepper
  • Sliced yellow squash and zucchini with chopped onions & bell peppers, salt or garlic salt, pepper
  • Potatoes with Lowry’s seasoned salt, garlic salt, pepper
  • Cranberry Orange Yams

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a jellyroll pan with foil and spray with nonstick spray.  Place fresh or frozen veggies on pan and drizzle with oil.  Gently toss to coat by rolling veggies around in oil.   (You can do this in a bowl, but why wash extra dishes?)  Sprinkle generously with seasonings.

When you’re first starting out, try roasting just one variety at a time, until you’re comfortable with how long that particular veggie (depending on size of cut) takes to cook.  My rule of thumb is about 15-20 minutes at 450 degrees for fresh veggies, like asparagus or squash.  Frozen veggies take 20-30 minutes, depending on size.  I like to roast potatoes in small chunks for 30-40 minutes at 425 degrees.  You can roast veggies at 400 – 425 degrees if you’re cooking them alongside another meat, but you’ll need to add more cooking time.  You want to roast them until the veggies are soft and some look slightly charred on the edges (but be prepared to thumb-wrestle your husband for the yummy, crispy asparagus tips!).

Once you have a feel for roasting times, you can experiment with different blends.  I’ve even roasted frozen stir fry veggie blends from store bought packages (my favorite being a roasted asparagus, yellow squash, mushroom, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, and red pepper blend).  Prepackaged blends are handy because the vegetables are typically cut in the right size for you already.  Plus, if your kids don’t like a particular vegetable, they can pick out that one and eat the rest.  My kids used to hate summer squash, but we kept making veggie medleys with squash and allowed them to eat as little squash as they wanted, as long as they ate the other veggies.  They now like squash.

Menu Suggestions
Here are a few of our favorite menu ideas and recipes to get you started (as always, everything is naturally gluten free):

  • Grilled Jamaican Jerk Chicken with Sweet Potato Fries and Roasted Asparagus (the sweet potatoes and asparagus can roast together in the oven).  As long as you’re grilling the chicken, throw on some fresh pineapple slices (the directions are at the bottom of the chicken recipe) for a delicious treat!
  • Herb Crusted Grilled Pork, Rice or Lundberg Creamy Parmesan Risotto (a GF boxed mix with natural ingredients), and Roasted Zucchini or Yellow Squash (with red peppers, onions, and garlic or garlic salt).   You can find frozen chopped peppers and onions, and toss those in with your squash (even if you’re using fresh squash).  Be sure you have a large enough pan so the squash isn’t crowded, because squash is full of liquid that will come out as it cooks, so you want to leave enough room for the liquid to evaporate.  (I tried roasting zucchini with potatoes once, and the potatoes ended up completely soggy instead of nicely browned.)
  • Smothered Chicken with Roasted Broccoli and Mashed Potatoes.  If you prefer, you can make roasted potatoes to cook alongside the broccoli while the chicken cooks on the stove.
  • Chicken Scallopini with Roasted Potatoes – if you haven’t tried this yet, what are you waiting for?!!
  • Grilled Shrimp (brushed with garlic butter) with Linguine (tossed with minced garlic and olive oil – we like Ancient Harvest GF quinoa pasta) and Roasted Asparagus Stir-Fry Veggie Blend (frozen package).
  • Herb Grilled Chicken with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Quinoa or Cranberry Orange Yams.  The recipe link is for a rosemary herb chicken, which works well with the cranberry orange yams.  Another option, that I recently served with Brussels sprouts and quinoa, is chicken that’s drizzled in olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkled with salt, pepper, and oregano.  If desired, top with Feta cheese.
  • Crock Pot “Lazy” Barbecue Ribs or Chicken with a Loaded Baked Potato and Roasted Anything!

Read Full Post »

As I look outside my window I can see the first daffodils blooming in the backyard.  Planting them was hard work a few years ago, and several months passed before I was able to enjoy the benefit of my labor.  But now, every spring, I’m blessed with the reward of cheerful little flowers that brighten up the drab, rainy, spring days.  I’ve been reminded this week that parenting, like planting a garden, is an investment that requires a lot of hard work and patience as we wait for years to see the results. It would be a whole lot easier to avoid some parenting challenges, and just let the weeds grow.  But what would happen in our country if everyone did this?

Earlier this week I read a chapter from “A Thomas Jefferson Education Home Companion,” in which Oliver DeMille paints a not-so-flattering picture of our culture’s avoidance of anything that isn’t fun or immediately rewarding:

“Indeed, the lesson seems to be that everything should be fun.  The worst criticism of our time is that something is boring, as if that made it less true or less important or less right.  There is nothing wrong with fun, but there is everything wrong with a society whose primary objective is to seek entertainment. In American society, particularly among those under forty, the love of fun is the root of all evil.  This is the legacy of the sixties – seeking fun has become a national pastime.  Fun is simply not a legitimate measure of value.  Things should be judged by whether or not they are good, true, wholesome, important or right.  Commercialistic society judges things by whether or not they are profitable, and even socialism judges whether something is fair or equitable.  But what kind of a people makes “fun” the baseline value or major criteria for its actions and choices?”

Uncomfortable yet?  But wait, there’s more! 

“There are very few things in life as fun as real learning, but we must earn it.  And this kind of fun always comes after the hard work is completed.  No nation which believes that learning should be fun in the unearned sense is likely to do much hard studying, so not much learning will occur.  And without that learning the nation will not remain free.  Nor will people stay moral, since righteousness is hard work and just doesn’t seem nearly as fun as some of the alternatives.  No nation focused on unearned fun will pay the price to fight a revolutionary war for their freedoms, or cross the plains and build a new nation, or sacrifice to free the slaves or rescue Europe from Hitler, or put a man on the moon.  We got where we are because we did a lot of things that weren’t fun.  Americans today believe that it is their right to have fun.  Every day they expect to do something fun, and they expect nearly everything they do to be fun.”

Ouch!  I don’t know about you, but those last two lines hit a little too close to home.  It’s hard to not go along with our culture that says, “Do whatever sounds fun, and when something stops being fun, quit.”  But this kind of attitude has disastrous consequences, so it’s worth the work of teaching our kids (and demonstrating through our own actions) that real fun is earned, just like a good marriage is earned through commitment and continual effort to make it better.

My husband and I discussed whether or not we, as parents, are demonstrating this kind of commitment to hard work before play.  Do we make our choices of how we spend our time based on what sounds fun, or based on what we believe is “good, true, wholesome, important or right”? This question, and the discussion we had with the kids after reading the chapter to them, led to some changes in our daily routine.

  1. If we’re going to make choices based on what is good, true, wholesome, important, and right, we have to include daily Bible reading with our kids. We decided to commit to reading a passage each morning from the “Day By Day Kid’s Bible,” which is a child-friendly Bible that is written in chronological order and divided into one year of daily readings.  The language is both easy to read and understand for young kids.   We also read one of Jesus’ parables from another early reader children’s Bible series, and the Proverb from my own daily Bible reading, since Proverbs are great discussion starters with kids.  (As always, you can find this week’s Daily Bible Reading Schedule, which includes Proverbs, on the Faith tab above.)
  2. We decided that the best way we can illustrate the concept of “earned fun” is to institute daily chore time after lunch. Each child is paired with a parent partner, and works on whatever daily chores need to be accomplished (dishes, cleaning up the kitchen, wiping off the table), as well as one weekly chore (dusting, laundry, cleaning a bathroom).  Every two weeks, the kids trade parent partners.  We all pitch in and do a little cleaning after lunch before going off to play, and so far nobody has grumbled.  The kids seem to enjoy being our apprentices as they learn how to take care of our home.   And I have to admit, I like cleaning as a family so much more than working by myself, so it’s helping my attitude toward housework, as well.  For more on this subject, there’s a great article at Simple Homeschool about the valuable life lessons our kids learn from doing housework.
  3. After reading a subsequent chapter about how wrong our concept of “balance” is – because the media has convinced us all that we need daily entertainment in order to be balanced – my husband and I decided to cut back on the amount of entertainment (i.e. TV) we make available to ourselves and the kids.  We still have family movie night on the weekends, but weeknights are now filled with family reading time instead.  We’re currently on our third book in the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series.  While my husband reads, the kids sit and color or do crafts.  I have to say, there’s something that just feels so wholesome and “Little House on the Prairie” about reading together as a family at night.  The kids enjoy it, too.  If this seems like a daunting commitment, try it for one week during National Screen Free Week, April 18-24.  Here are a few ideas from Simple Organic for other things you can do as a family to replace screen time.

We can prepare the soil in our children’s lives by providing the right balance of work and earned fun.  We can plant the seeds of right living by teaching and modeling good choices.  We can nurture our children’s growth with God’s light and living water flowing through us.  And if we’re willing to do the not-so-fun task of pruning undesirable behaviors and pulling weeds of selfish attitudes, our children will grow into the wonderful creation God made them to be.  Parenting is not always fun or immediately rewarding, but our investment today will make a difference tomorrow.

How about you?  What do you think about the statement, “Americans today believe that it is their right to have fun”?

Read Full Post »

I realize that I haven’t blogged much lately, and that’s been somewhat intentional.  We’re on “spring break” this week, and have been busy going on family outings and organizing playdates for the kids with their friends and cousins.  While I enjoy writing about food and family, I’ve been busy “doing” instead of just writing about it!  But matters of faith are still worth making the time to write about, no matter how busy our family is.

Today marks 6 months since my husband lost his job.  We’ve had several job opportunities that raised our hopes, but didn’t work out.  We still have a few possibilities for the distant future, but nothing immediate yet, and we haven’t heard whether or not we qualify for extended unemployment benefits when ours runs out in two weeks.  We are officially in a wilderness period of our lives right now.  It’s a wide open space with no shelter, comfort, or security.  The wilderness can seem overwhelming and frightening when you feel exposed to and unprotected from the dangers of the world.  Yet in scripture, I see a purpose for the wilderness experience in two different examples: the 40 years of wandering in the desert for the rebellious children of Israel, and the 40 day, spirit-led temptation of Christ in the wilderness.  In my last post on Fighting Discouragement with Scripture, I mentioned that there are God-ordained times when we must fight temptation with the power of God’s word, as Jesus did in the desert, in order to become spiritually mature.  So in this post, I’d like to focus on a different kind of wilderness experience.

The children of Israel grew weary of waiting on Moses while he was receiving God’s instructions for them on Mt. Sinai, and decided to invent their own god to worship instead.  As a result of their unbelief and grumbling toward God, an entire generation had to die in the wilderness before their children could move on to the Promised Land.  It’s tempting to think, “Oh, those naughty Israelites,” until we ask the question, “When have I grown impatient with God and decided to take matters into my own hands?  When have I grumbled against God because I wanted steak instead of manna?”

Sometimes we are in the wilderness for a time of growth, as we learn to wait upon the Lord and more fully understand his commands.  In order to grow, we must be pruned and rid of the dead branches in the same way we prepare our garden for new growth each spring.  My lily plant in the front yard looks terrible right now because I keep forgetting to remove the dead leaves from last year.  The new growth is struggling to emerge, but the plant will remain ugly and dead-looking until the old leaves are stripped away.  Sometimes we are in the wilderness so our dead leaves – false beliefs, self-centered behaviors, spiritual immaturity that relies on signs and wonders instead of deeply rooted faith – can be removed. When we cooperate with the work of the Gardener, the wilderness time progresses to the Promised Land.  But God will not take us to the Promised Land until his work is finished, until the old ways of thinking or acting have died.  I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing in my life worth holding onto if it means being stuck in the wilderness because of disobedience.

Yet even in the times of pruning and waiting, God is still near and working on our behalf.  In Isaiah 43, God promises, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” No wilderness experience is a waste of time, if it produces Christlike character and perseverance. We can come through the flood, the fire and the wilderness even stronger than when we went in because God is with us and working all things together for our benefit.  I may wish for more choices and options in the wilderness, but if I continue to be grateful for God’s sustaining manna, in time the blessings of milk and honey will come (if I’m willing to accept that they may be spiritual blessings, and not physical blessings).

The key to waiting in the wilderness, I believe, is to “wait on the Lord,” which is very different from simply waiting.  Waiting, other than offering an exercise in developing patience, can seem pointless.  But waiting on the Lord carries with it a promise: “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).  When we wait on the Lord, instead of rushing ahead with our own plans or solutions, he gives us strength to endure anything that comes our way in the wilderness.  Waiting doesn’t mean sitting around and twiddling your thumbs.  Waiting on the Lord means actively seeking God through his word and prayer, obeying his commands, and continuing to live out his call on your life until he changes it. For me, personally, this kind of waiting means that I continue homeschooling my children and serving my family instead of looking for a job, because I have continued to look to God for my purpose and calling instead of looking to my circumstances to determine it.  Just because my husband’s job has changed, doesn’t mean mine has.  Until God tells me otherwise, I will wait patiently on him and not try to foolishly “fix” our problems with my own solutions, the way the Israelites did by creating an idol.  It is in the wilderness that we find out whom we serve: God or ourselves. We can’t do both.

If you’re currently in the wilderness, take comfort from Hosea 2:14, “I will lead her into the dessert and speak tenderly to her.” While the desert may feel harsh, God’s tenderness and care are often more evident during times of trials than at any other time.  Only in the wilderness did God provide manna from heaven and water from a rock.  Only after Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness did God send angels to attend to Jesus.  God is with us in the fire, and carries us on eagles wings when we wait on him.  My response need only be, “Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done.”

Read Full Post »