Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Two Fabulous Desserts For a Rainy Day (Or Any Day)

Lots of rain means less time outside, but more time to experiment in the kitchen. The following dessert recipes are some that I made recently and loved. My husband and kids loved them too! In fact, my husband now wants carrot cake on his next birthday. Enjoy!

Carrot Cake

This dessert is time-consuming because of the large amount of grated carrots, but oh-so-worth-it! It is a perfect dessert for special occasions.

4 eggs
1 ¼ Cups vegetable oil
2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
3 cups grated carrots **
1 cup chopped pecans

½ cup butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan.

2. In large bowl, beat together eggs, oil, granulated sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Mix in flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in carrots. Fold in pecans. Pour into prepared pan.

3. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack (I leave mine in the pan instead) and cool completely.

4. To make frosting: In a medium bowl, combine butter, cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth. Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

**While grating the 3 cups of carrots, take time to count your blessings. Trust me, you will have plenty of time to come up with a very long list! Also, be careful with your hands during the grating. In other words, no grated fingernails allowed!!

Heavenly Chocolate Mousse

Hello, chocolate lovers! Have you ever heard of “heaven on a spoon”? Trust me, this is it!

8 squares  (1 oz each) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips)
½ cup water, divided
2 tablespoons butter (no substitutes)
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp. sugar
1 ¼ cups whipping cream, whipped and unsweetened**
Sweetened whipped cream ** and grated chocolate for topping

In a double boiler, heat chocolate, ¼ cup water, and butter until melted. Cool 10 minutes. In a small saucepan, whisk egg yolks, sugar, and remaining water. Cook and stir over low heat until mixture reaches 160 degrees F (use a candy thermometer). Remove from heat; whisk in chocolate mixture. Set saucepan in ice and stir until cooled, about 5-10 minutes. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon into dessert dishes. Refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream and grated chocolate.

** If you are wondering if you must use real whipped cream, I would have to answer in the affirmative since eating Cool Whip probably isn’t much better for you than eating plastic. Yes, whipping cream is high in fat, but at least it’s real food! Much has already been written about the Cool Whip atrocity, but if you want to see what resulted when one father left it out for several days, here’s a link for you:

Hopefully, the rain will soon stop and we will see lots of sun. Until then, look on the bright least we can have dessert!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Personal Reflections on the Resurrection

Easter is now officially over. You may have attended an Easter worship service that included special music and a meaningful sermon, followed by a nice lunch. Maybe you attended special events during the past week, including a passion play or an Easter egg hunt. Perhaps you enjoyed family traditions with your children, such as coloring eggs or baking cookies. But now it is all over. Or is it? How much of a difference does Christ’s resurrection really make in our daily lives? Does it determine our purpose throughout the entire year or do we forget to contemplate its significance after the Easter holiday is over?

Sometimes it is easy to become desensitized to the story of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection because we have heard it so many times before. Once a year we reflect on these events and then we push them into the background of our thoughts. We do not allow the truth of Christ’s resurrection to infiltrate every area of our lives, including our struggles, trials, and triumphs both great and small. But that is not how Christ wants us to live! It would be different if we worshiped mere idols that had no power, but that is not the case for us at all. Our Lord is RISEN and thus He is ALIVE! Accordingly, Jesus is personal, loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is more than enough for meeting our every need and fulfilling all of His promises to us. In reality, the resurrection should make an incredible difference to us every moment of our lives. Our thoughts, words, and actions should be a continual reflection of His life, love, and mercy in us.

Has anyone ever told you not to “sweat the small stuff”? Mothers are often notorious for sweating the small stuff. In order to avoid this, it is essential for us to develop a better grasp of who exactly it is that we serve. Jesus is the ruler of everything and is quite capable of handling all that comes our way, including the small stuff, the massive stuff, and all of the in-between stuff too. Giving all of our concerns to God becomes less difficult when we remember to meditate on all that He has done for us. His promises are available to us only because he is alive today. Because He lives, He knows us and loves us. Because He lives, we can know and love Him. Because He lives, He offers us grace and mercy that could never be earned. Because He lives, we have hope for the future. Because He lives, our place in eternity with Him is secure. Because He lives, we are able to love one another, including our families, our friends, and even those who detest us. Because He lives, we will experience peace that passes all understanding. Because He lives, His perfect love will cast away all of our fears. Because He lives, our sins are forgiven as far as the east is from the west. Because He lives, His power is made perfect in our weakness. Because He lives, we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Because He lives, ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE! So often I forget to live as though I believe those promises, but God’s Word is truth and His promises are applicable to our lives every single day!

 As women, we often feel overburdened by the unrealistic expectations of others. Please remember that we are not obligated to please anyone other than God. When we are serving Jesus and following His lead, our burdens are lighter and it becomes much easier to keep our priorities in line. We must let go of our anxiety regarding what others think of us or expect from us. God will always gives us the strength to do the things He has called us to do. Although we often stumble, He always loves us, always forgives us, and He will always sustain us. God already knows our insecurities and weaknesses; He has the power to work in our lives in spite of them. He is helping us to persevere and is continually covering us with His grace, even when we are unaware of it. The things we do to please or impress others lose their importance when we rest in God’s care, trust Him to supply our every need, and recognize that the most imperative battle of all has already been won!

As we begin our week, let’s be encouraged because we serve a risen Lord! Do not lose sight of the big picture. Allow it to define your purpose and give you a fresh perspective every day. It will make all of the difference in the world. Christ lives! Because He lives, He offers us new life and He even walks beside us through every step of the journey. Let us be thankful today and every day for all that Jesus has done for us!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Extracurricular Activities: How Much Is Too Much?

I drive my children to extracurricular activities every day of the week except Tuesday and Saturday. During seasonal soccer and baseball, Tuesday is the only day that we spend entirely at home. And I’ll be painfully honest: I’m a bit weary of  it. The struggle just to cook dinner or eat together because we are not home bothers me. And I don’t like the feeling that I am always in a hurry to get somewhere. Even more telling is that my children are complaining about it. It isn’t that they dislike extracurricular activities; the opposite is true. I am simply realizing more and more that my children WANT to be at home. And like me, they don’t enjoy the continual hurry from one place to another. Admittedly, one of the benefits of home education is that kids have more time to pursue their favorite interests. But how many supplementary activities can they be involved in before it becomes too stressful for the entire family? Where should we draw the line?

Following is a list of activities that one or more of my children has been involved in weekly throughout this school year:

Piano lessons
Art class
Drama class
Children’s choir
Awana clubs
Soccer (seasonally)
Baseball (seasonally)

Much has been written about “overscheduled children” and the psychological problems that can develop from too much activity. I would be bold enough to assert that most American children AND their parents are experiencing the effects of chronic overscheduling. And my children are living proof that homeschool families are not exempt. While it is true that such children spend a lot more time at home than their traditionally schooled peers, the principle still applies. After all, our lifestyle is called homeschooling, but there are days when many of us feel like we are "car schooling". At a meeting last fall, I listened to a speaker discuss this very topic. She suggested that parents purposefully leave “margins” in their family schedules, which simply means to make sure that plenty of time is set aside when no one in the family has to do anything or be anywhere outside the home. I thought it made a lot of sense, but apparently it is easier said than done. How well did I accomplish the goal of protecting margins of time this year? Two words: Epic failure. Please don’t misunderstand: I really don’t think that my children are particularly sad or overstressed. I simply feel that we would all be happier and function better if we were home more, particularly in the evenings.

A general rule that I have and do not plan to change is that my kids are required to follow through with something once they have committed to it. So even if my kids become bored with choir, they must persist until the upcoming performance is over because others are depending on them to participate. If they grow tired of soccer, they must tough it out for the remainder of the season because their teams and coaches are counting on them. This is a valid rule because personal responsibility and accountability are important throughout all of life and it is never too early to learn these principles. I do not allow my children to quit something whenever they want to, but I must have some rules in place before I ever begin scheduling their activities. I believe that such rules will protect them from becoming overtired and also help them to enjoy the activities that they are participating in all the more. The difficulty is that my children are interested in doing and learning a lot of different things and it is easy to get carried away! As the mother, I must set limits ahead of time and help them to prioritize their interests.

I think that some parents feel concerned about their children having too much free time. I have heard people say that it is good for their kids to stay very busy in order to “keep them out of trouble”. While I understand that there might be a bit of truth in this, I do not agree with it. Unstructured time for children does sometimes result in discipline issues.  I deal with this in my home in the forms of disobedience, sibling rivalry, and general rowdiness. Although it is never pleasant, my duty is to help the children learn to deal with conflict and frustration when such situations arise. They need to understand why it is  important to love one another and how to respond when angry or when they do not get their own way. I do not think it is good to keep our children overly busy with the purpose of avoiding conflict with them. These are teachable moments that are necessary and good. And think of the benefits of freeing up some of their time. They might enjoy spending the extra time in imaginative play or interacting with siblings and friends. Maybe they would be open to meaningful discourse with parents as a result of additional time spent together. Perhaps they would read more books or develop a new hobby. There might be time to play family board games or have movie and popcorn nights. Yes, these are some of the benefits of having more free time! A few naughty behaviors pale in comparison!

Next year I plan to allow each of my children to choose one evening activity at church and one evening activity outside of church that occur weekly. In addition, I will continue to allow both daughters to participate in homeschool drama because they love it, they can do it together, and best of all, regular rehearsals are always during the day! My oldest daughter might be allowed to participate in one additional activity because she has shown a fervent interest in the arts and I believe that it is appropriate to allow extra time for her to develop her abilities. My younger children, on the other hand, are still “testing the waters” to find the things that they like to do best. Most significantly, I will have a predetermined schedule that lists the evenings that we will stay home and the evenings that extracurricular activities will be allowed. If the children’s desired endeavors do not fit into that schedule, they will need to choose something else to be involved in for the year.

I know that I am not alone in my struggle with this. I certainly do not have all the answers, but I am prayerfully seeking the best for my family. Extracurricular activities serve a useful purpose for us, but it is not healthy for children to experience the stress of becoming involved in too many of them. I would honestly love to hear your tips on how to successfully manage family schedules. Please comment below because this is an area in which I need to learn from others. Perhaps we will benefit from supporting each other as we attempt to do a better job of protecting our margins!

Below are links to helpful articles about the harmful effects of overscheduling our children:

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Choose Homeschooling

Why Choose Homeschooling?

Because this is the first post on my new homeschool blog, it made sense to begin with the question of why I chose homeschooling in the first place. Homeschooling is unconventional, and I am too in many ways, but I don’t exactly fit the stereotype of a homeschool mom. For example, I don’t have goats, regularly bake bread for my family, tend an enormous garden, or even own a denim jumper. And most notably, I only have three children.  Even though there are families who are closer to fitting that image, and I actually admire those families very much, homeschoolers have broken away from the archetype, particularly in recent years.

There are many reasons to homeschool. For some, it is a choice that allows them to provide a religious education or moral instruction. Some wish to protect their children from the potential dangers of the public school environment. Others desire to customize an educational program to fit the academic abilities and learning styles of their children. Homeschooling allows families who travel a lot or who have an unusual work schedule to spend more time together. Many children with special needs benefit from the one-on-one interaction that homeschooling allows. There are additional reasons why people educate their children at home and the above list is a mere sampling of them. Regardless of the motivation, there are more than a few parents choosing to home educate. In fact, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 1.5 million American children were homeschooled in 2007. Although the reasons for homeschooling may be vastly different among those of us doing it, we all agree that the right of parents to teach their children at home should be vehemently defended and preserved. But I digress…that is another post for another day.

As I reflect on my personal reasons for homeschooling, I realize that God opened my heart to it very early on. Rewind to the year 2000, which was when I first experienced the love, thrill, delight, and yes, extreme fatigue, of motherhood. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to stay at home to raise my children. I have attempted to enter the workforce on a part-time basis a few times since my first child was born, but every time I went off to work, my heart remained at home. I eventually ended up leaving each position in order to be where my heart was. So from the beginning, I felt an overwhelming desire to care for my child full-time. I believe that homeschooling was born in my heart as a natural extension of that desire.

As my daughter grew a bit older, my nephew reached kindergarten age and his parents decided to homeschool him. I was so intrigued and happy about their decision. Never once did I worry that my nephew wouldn’t be properly socialized or that he would fail to make it in life in some other way. In fact, my innermost thoughts were, “I wish I could do that too.” My husband and I had already discussed our plans for our daughter’s schooling and we completely agreed that we wanted her to have a Christian education. Our plan, even though I was inwardly nurturing a desire to homeschool, was for me to return to work when she went to kindergarten in order to help pay for private school. It seemed like a reasonable plan. However, in 2003, along came our second baby girl! Thus, we would still have a child at home needing my care when it was time to send our oldest to kindergarten. We began to contemplate and discuss our options and I prayed fervently that the Lord would open my husband’s heart to homeschooling.

Meanwhile, as our older daughter was growing into a little girl that would soon be old enough to attend school, we had some concerns about her development and maturity level. Those concerns turned out to be the catalyst that opened my husband’s heart to homeschooling. He was afraid that she would not do well in a traditional classroom setting. Thankfully, we no longer have concerns over our daughter’s development and I know that God used our worries to bring Greg and I to a place of agreement.  In 2005, when our third child was born, our decision had already been made. The following month I began my life as a homeschool mom.

Over five years have passed since then and I have absolutely no regrets. I am still doing what I believe to be best for my children. My husband is now completely sold on homeschooling and he encourages me every day. For me, it is important to look back at where I began and to take notice of how far God has brought me. He has been with me through every step of the homeschooling journey and I know that He will continue to offer me help, hope, and encouragement throughout its entirety.

I would be delighted to hear about how and why YOU began homeschooling. Please feel free to post in the comments section below or to e-mail me because I would love to read your story.