Monday, January 31, 2011

Quick, but Homemade: school mornings' breakfasts

Growing up in Panama with very few ready-made food items at our disposal (like Eggos, Pop Tarts, Aunt Jemima, etc.), I grew very accustomed to eating homemade breakfasts almost every morning that were delicious and got us ready for school.  Aside from food being an item that provides "comfort", I think more importantly, it can communicate love and care to us which is why so many people have warm memories of cooking, baking, and sharing in meals with love ones over the years.  At least, this is true for me and the memories of my childhood.

So, when it comes to getting my girls ready for school in the morning, I try to give them a good, nutritious breakfast.  Some days this is nothing more than a bowl of oatmeal, or a bowl of yogurt and a piece of toast.  But, very frequently, I try to whip up something tasty to give the girls a good and cheery start to the morning.  Of course, my trusty and no-fail banana muffin recipe is high on the list of items I prepare, as are waffles.  Now that we have an electric griddle that can cook about 6 pancakes at once, pancakes are coming back with a storm because I can keep up with everyone's appetites more easily.  Scrambled eggs with toast or tortillas is another tasty and easy breakfast.  And then, I try and serve a fresh fruit to the girls each morning, as well.

This morning I made chocolate chip muffins which were a big hit.  Muffins tend to be one of my favorite fast morning recipes because they take such little time to mix up and bake quickly; and, if we are running late to school, then they are portable and can be eaten on the go.  The recipe that I made this morning is a real winner and it comes out of my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (which, in fact, isn't very new anymore; this version is copyrighted in 1976).  I found this cookbook in a thrift store the first year that we were married; I had been looking for a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 70's because that is what my mom had when I was growing up.  So, when I found the Better Homes and Garden version, I snapped it up.  They are comparable and have recipes for a lot of basics and all from scratch. 

Best-Ever Muffins

1 3/4 cups sifted (I never sift it) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 well-beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup oil

Sift dry ingredients into bowl (again, I don't sift and they turn out great); make well in center.  Combine egg, milk, and oil.  Add all at once to dry ingredients.  Stir quickly just till dry ingredients are moistened.  Fill greased muffin pans 2/3 full.  Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes (This may vary depending on your oven; about 17 1/2 minutes is perfect in my convection oven, but it is very efficient).  Makes 10 (or you can probably stretch it to 12).  


The great part about this recipe is that you can tweek it to make pretty much any variation you can think of.  Some ideas are:  1 cup of blueberries; 1/2 to 2/3 cup chocolate chips; raisins; dried cranberries; nuts; cinammon; orange zest; lemon zest; poppy seeds; you  name it.  Just get creative and play around a little. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Homework Success, or so I Think

#1 and her ancestry poster
Well, she did it!  Despite being home with the flu and being quite sick, she worked on her poster while she has spurts of feeling well and it is very nice.  I think the goal was accomplished - a student created and implemented poster with a few minor moments of help or suggestion from Mom (but not over-bearing, I hope).  It is always a learning process for us as parents with #1 because we are experiencing everything for the first time with her, hopefully not to her detriment.  I thank the Lord for the sweetie that she is!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Homework: Is it building independence or dependence?

Isabella, my oldest and a 2nd grader, has a project due at the end of the week at school; the project is a poster board that describes the student's ancestral background.  As I was discussing it with my hubby, my very first comment was that "homework like this is more of a task for the parents instead of the student".  Almost immediately, my hubby responds, "Then have Isabella do this project on her own" and elaborated that it doesn't need to look like a parent did it, but rather be informative and useful in the classroom when she returns to school with it.

Usually, I am the type of parent that refuses to give out answers to homework.  I expect my 2nd grader and kindergartener to sit down and attempt to figure out the answers for themselves.  I'm willing to look over the homework afterward and circle wrong answers, but then I still expect them to take another look at it without being spoon-fed the answers.  The same goes for playing with eachother and playing in general; if it isn't an emergency, then I want them to find a solution to their problems.  It seems to me that a few generations of children now have been raised with so much help and "support" from their parents that they lack the problem-solving skills to deal with everyday situations they will encounter in life when the parents aren't there to fix everything for them (this is a broad topic and a pet peeve of mine; I'm sure I'll return to it sooner or later).  Of course, I want to believe that I am avoiding this pitfall by and large by encouraging problem-solving in my children and discouraging an exaggerated level of dependence on me, their mother.

That being said, my immediate response to Isabella's big school project, I am loathe to admit, was one of needing to jump right in and "fix" it for her; I already had most of the poster board preliminarily planned out in my mind before she and I had even had a chance to begin the interview process where she asks me for our family history.  It made me stop and reflect and ask myself if I really am allowing my children to deal with their own problems (at least the small ones) and problem-solve in a meaningful way.  It is a good challenge and reminder to allow my children to do their own work; it won't look like my work, in fact I'm sure it will be more creative and more interesting than anything I could have invented for them.

So, this afternoon, was Take 2 on Mom's approach to the ancestor project.  I had Isabella interview me and write down her answers using her own system of organization in her notebook.  Then, I asked her to begin a preliminary sketch of her poster board on a notebook page to get an idea of what she wants the final product to look like.  She decided to have a tree drawn in the middle with her name and those of her family members all on it.  I mentioned to her that I had seen a project like this in the Martha Stewart magazine and we looked it up on the "Martha" website.  I showed her all the different ideas that are presented in the article so that she could get a visual picture of different ways to show a family tree and she asked to use a template with a tree and birds.  Now, of course, this in and of itself could be seen as interferring to much already by offering this type of input, and maybe it is.  It's a fine line to walk, but in the end I hope that it is Isabella's project that she owns and of which she can be proud.  I pray that I'll have the wisdom to know when it is better to keep my mouth shut and not offer any advice at all. 

Branching Out: New Takes on the Family Tree

Birds of a Feather Family Tree


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lessons I'm Learning from my Kids: Snackitis and It's Cure

Some days it seems like my girls never fill up.  They have had breakfast, a snack, lunch, and then are ready shortly thereafter for a snack, and then want another snack, and are extremely impatient for dinnertime to arrive.   Given, they do play hard and some days they burn a lot more calories than others and are truly hungry, but then there are those times that I am suspicious that they just have a particular not-so-healthy snack in mind.  It is at this juncture that I ask "The Question" to determine what the situation really is.  It goes something like this, "Well, if you are so hungry, then why don't you have a banana (or apple or carrot) to eat?".  If the answer is an enthusiastic "yes" or even given grudgingly, then I can be quite sure that she is actually hungry.  If the answer is, "I guess I'm not that hungry after all" and a turned up nose at the offered snack, then I can be quite sure that a less healthy snack was the true intent.  Now as most anyone who knows me can tell you, I love to bake and make my kids their fair share of treats, but I try to not give out too many right in a row on a given day.  So, "The Question" is definitely one solution to the constant barage of snack requests when if just happens to be "one of those days". 

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Year's Bible Reading Goal and Strange Reading along the Way

Every year at the end of December, starting back quite a few years ago, my hubby and I sit down and make goals for the new year and review how we've done with accomplishing the goals for last year.  Inevitably there are goals that are never reached, but at the same token many of them are also accomplished.  I prefer to refer to them as "goals" because in my mind this is something I can work towards instead of a "resolution" that I have to work hard not to break.  One of my goals a couple of years ago was to read through the Bible in a year - which I'm sorry to say did not happen.  So, this year, I decided to renew this goal and use an online tool to try and be more consistent with my reading - especially because I look at my e-mail several times a day and will see the new reading in my inbox.  I'm sure there are several sights like this, but I signed up for daily e-mails with

I'm reading through the Bible chronologically and so right now I am in Genesis.  As I read the beginning of Genesis 6, I saw something that I have seen before, but stood out to me once again as being so strange.  Here is the passage:

Genesis Chapter 6
1 When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years." 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-- and also afterward-- when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

I don't really know the theological explanation for this passage in which it seems to imply that angels and humans were married and having children, or something of the sort, or who the Nephilim are, but the last sentence is so reminiscent of Lord of the Rings that I'm sure it is a passage from which Tolkein took some inspiration ("They were the heroes of old, men of renown.")  Years ago now, I read many of Madeleine L'Engle's novels and one of them was Many Waters about children from our era being transported back to Noah's time before the Flood.  In this story, L'Engle has the Nephilim as fallen angels and then there are also angels present, as well.  Despite theological disagreements that many have with L'Engle and her Christian views, I personally find her fiction and her treatment of this topic fascinating.  She not only deals with and fully imagines how this passage in the Bible would be practically played out in the lives of her characters, but also shows the beauty of a God-given imagination and challenges us to think a bit outside the box.  This isn't a exactly a book review or a exposition on the imagination and Christianity or a my personal enjoyment of fantasy fiction, but these are all topics I will continue to touch on as time goes by.  For now, I'm inspired to go back and read commentary on the beginning of Genesis 6 and see what is said about it.  I'll be sure to check back in with y'all about it in the near future. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tickled Pink

Kids do the funniest things!  Almost every day, my girls do something that has me in stitches at some point or another, even on the most frustrating of days. 

On Friday morning, Livia had a shower and was wrapped up in a towel drying off.  The next thing I know, she has reappeared completely naked except for a pink beret on her head wielding a plastic sword and carrying a small stuffed cheetah purse.  This already has me laughing.  Then, I hear the dog downstairs barking a little and ask Livia if the dog is in her den (kennel) and she says "yes".  I ask her, "Did you put the dog in her den?" and she says "Yes.  Lilah naughty." and points to the purse (which presumably the dog had stolen from her).  By then I'm laughing even harder with the mental image of my naked 2-year-old getting the dog into her kennel by pointing a plastic sword at her, getting the cheetah purse back, and zipping up the kennel door - all while sporting a pink fleece beret that has a white rose on it.  Priceless!

And then this morning while re-entering our driveway after having dropped the sister off at school, I watched Arianna and it made me smile and realize how precious these years of their life are.  Arianna asks me to let her off at the top of the drive so that she can walk up to the house on her own as I follow along.  She starts trotting down the driveway, hair swinging, enjoying the morning sun.  I see a darling 4-year-old still in her pj's (the sleeper type with feet) and rainbow colored rainboots oblivious to the sight she makes just simply taking joy in the moment and what she is doing. 

These are those moments in time that I want to capture in my memory and go back to someday when, once again, I need a good laugh, or maybe a good sentimental cry. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Can I Laugh at Myself? I Certainly Hope So.

 I really like to blog.  It's basically an online journal that I share publicly (kind of a funny thought considering journaling has traditionally been such a private thing).  It's a nice way for me as a stay-at-home-mom to feel like I'm connecting with others throughout my day and a forum in which I can express my thoughts and ideas.  But, it's good to never take yourself too seriously.  When my hubby and I saw this demotivating poster, it gave me a good laugh.  Check out the link below to see it for yourself.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Kids' Christmas Decorations

My holiday decorating at this point in my life is decidedly less than glamorous, but I wouldn't trade it for all the glitzy and put-together grown-up decorations in the world.  Making holiday crafts with the girls and proudly displaying them in our home is one of the ways that the kids and I get into the holiday spirit.  It also allows them to be creative, have fun with art and craft supplies, and lets us spend fun time together when school is out.  And, I think that when we decorate the house with homemade items, it is a way for me to show the girls that I love them and their creations.  (I think most moms out there know what I'm talking about - from crayon drawings on the fridge, to school projects displayed around the house, etc.). 

This year the holidays have been a little more challenging for us, but no less enjoyable.  Still surrounded by boxes and a lack of organization, waiting for my stove to arrive (which took 3 weeks), finding multiple leaks in the garage and a few in the house while we waited out days of rain, and adjusting to a house without central air (and needing to wear more clothing indoors than before), we still took the time to spread out our craft supplies, hot glue gun, glitter, stickers, and markers and get down to business.  Albeit a little more frustrating to do holiday "fun" activities in this setting, I realized that time passes us by if we don't stop to take advantage of it.  Our house will get unpacked and in order eventually, but if we don't take time to have fun together, then how much of a home is it really, anyway?  And thanks to the hard work and persistance of my husband, thankfully my new range (that he had to convert to propane) was installed and ready to be used by Christmas day; the Christmas brunch that I had planned for the family was able to take place and was a success - of course, surrounded by the snowmen and snowflakes that the girls had decorated the house with.