Saturday, January 29, 2011

Valentine Subway Art

I'm really into Subway Art these days. This is a version I did for the girls group I coordinate. I listed Biblical scripture references where it talks about these varying aspects of LOVE (you can download it here). I got the lumber from a scrap pile at a wood shop and had them cut it down into workable pieces. I adjusted the art dimensions to fit on the wood.
Here is what you need for this project:
A print out of the subway art, paint, wood, and Modge Podge.

Paint the boards any color for a background. It won't be seen much except the sides and back.

After the paint dries, MODGE PODGE the paper (printed on kraft colored cardstock or whatever you choose) to the wood. Brush over the paper with M.P. also. Let dry. Add a ribbon or other embellishments to the top.
Here is how it looks in my kitchen with my Valentine cluster:
**Extra Note: My friend told me that when she went to Modge Podge on this project, the ink ran. I am using a laser printer and did not have that problem. If you have an inkjet printer you may want to use a spray adhesive over the top and then Modge Podge. This spray glue comes in a spray paint type can and can be found at most stores. Be sure to let it dry completely.

Et Tu, Brute?

We don't always homeschool.... we love our local public school too.... but this year I'm homeschooling my boys and we are reading this book for history. We are at about 300 A.D. and have loved every page. My 9 year old son brought this as his book of choice on a weekend trip we took! That tells you something. It is written very intelligently, and also explains history in a clear and simple, yet captivating, manner. Every day I hear, "Mom, can we PLEASE read history today?" I sing back "YES!" because I love it as much as they do. Shoot -- I feel like I'm learning as much as they are! This book is a MUST HAVE for every family library! Order it here. Read it with your kids and be prepared to get drawn in.....history will come alive!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Apricot - Almond Biscotti

I've made several biscotti recipes, but this one is hands-down my favorite! I sometimes dip them in white chocolate when I'm done, sometimes I don't. They are delicious either way!
Start out by mixing the dry ingredients in a bowl, and the wet ingredients in a food processor.

Make a well in the flour, and add the wet ingredients.

Mix thoroughly, but don't go crazy and overmix.
Shape into loaves and refrigerate.
Bake. I like using the non-stick baking pads called Silpats, though you can also butter and flour your baking sheets and that tried and true method works also.
After baking the loaves, cut horizontally and lay them on their sides back on the baking sheets.

Flip them and bake again. This is what biscotti actually means: "twice baked."
Plan a coffee/biscotti morning with your friends, and prepare to be tackled for the rest of them before they all leave!

  • 2 ¼ c. all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ c. sugar
  • ½ c. unslated butter, chillded, cut into pieces
  • 2 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ginger, ground
  • c. white chocolate chips
  • 1 ⅔ c. blanched, slivered almonds, toasted
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ + 1 tbsp. cup apricot brandy
  • 2 tbsp. almond extract
  • 1 ½ c. dried apricots, diced

  • Combine flour, sugar, butter baking powder, salt and ginger in a food processor and process until a fine meal forms -- about 30 sec. Add chips and process until finely chopped, about 30 sec. Add almonds and chop coarsely, about 15 sec.

    Beat eggs, brandy, and extract in a large bowl until blended. Add flour mixture and apricots and stir until a moist dough forms.

    Line a cookie sheet with foil. Butter and flour foil (or use Silpat). Divide dough into thirds and place on the cookie sheet in three 12-inch strips. Moisten fingers and shape dough into 2 inch wide biscotti shaped logs. REFRIGERATE 30 MIN.

    Bake at 350 degrees for 35 min. Remove logs from the oven and cool. Cut each log into 3/4 in. slices and place each slice on its side on the baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 12 min. Turn biscotti and bake for an additional 12 min.

    Makes 4 dozen.

Pattern Blocks -- an oldie but a goodie

Pattern blocks keep my children occupied for hours. They are most often used to build math concepts like symmetry, order, counting, number operations, data collection, and estimation, but I also keep them out to keep little hands productive! If I leave the jar out on the counter, it isn't 5 minutes before someone is building something with them. I like them because they are educational and fun!

Pattern Blocks Help children:
* build visual-spatial skills
* increase pattern recognition
practice shape recognition
* visualize how shapes work together to create new shapes
* master color recognition
* learn beginning math concepts
* practice creativity

This is my daughter's shape. At 12, she still likes creating with these! The shapes included in the traditional pattern block sets are:
green triangles
orange squares
red trapezoids
blue rhombuses (or rhombi)
tan parallelograms
yellow octagons.

Give them a try!

Monday, January 24, 2011

You HAVE to see what they've done!!

This year is a milestone birthday..... and on Saturday night my family and friends threw a party for me! I walked in to find these lining the hall....
I was speechless and crying before I even walked in the door! My husband and sister had organized for some of my family and friends to make plates for me at a paint-your-own-pottery place. Isn't this the most creative, precious gift? Let me show you how they turned out!
My favorite is the one from Erik and the kids. My daughter wrote our family verse around the outside and each of my kids signed their name next to their handprint. I can't think of a better gift....this one REALLY made me cry!
Each one took so much thought, time, effort, and planning -- a real act of love! I see each person's personality come out in the plates. I will TREASURE these because of the people who made them! It is a perfect gift for me.... a mix of the heart, homemade, and practical!!
That is my dad's hand on the blue plate. He wrote "Daddy's little girl." I feel like I always will be no matter how old I get! One of my friends did a WORD FIND in her plate! Can you imagine how much time that took?? I love each for different reasons~

The pink one with the cross is from my dear Grandma who is 89. I cannot tell you how much I love having a plate from her....
40.... bring it!!!

Seen On:
Tip Junkie handmade projects

Monday, January 17, 2011

Jury duty turned cooking class....

Really. It was my first year of teaching high school in Beaverton, OR and low and behold, I was “summoned” to serve on jury duty. When you are called to the jury in Portland, you have to sit there all day, whether you are chosen for a case or not! I was newly married and had no idea how to cook. It was the perfect opportunity. I bought a copy of “The New Basics” cookbook, which is as big as a Bible, and I read it cover to cover. These two ladies schooled me in everything from pureeing soups to identifying beef cuts to whipping up a chocolate mousse. This new world fascinated me. How could there be so much information about COOKING?

I call this experience my domestic “awakening.” I opened that book and have never looked back. Since then, I have been a diligent student of cooking, crafts, gardening, and decorating. These are some of my “passions,” and I’m happy to say that my family mostly benefits from them.

It can sometimes feel like there is no time to explore new areas of interest. We barely keep up on the day to day (believe me, I can relate to this)! However, growth enriches our lives and keeps us energized. My new area of interest is photography. I've been talking for a while about learning more about it. It's time for a plan! Is there an area you would like to explore but haven’t had the time? or is there an area you would like to explore in greater depth?

Create an action plan below:

1. Identify on a piece of paper 1-3 areas you'd like to explore.

2. Find the "leading" books on these topics and order a couple. Websites like Amazon are wonderful for buying used books, and the reviews are helpful when making your selections.

3. Set aside time to learn about this new area. It could be an hour a week on a Saturday, or once a month. You may even luck out and get called to jury duty! If you do, you'll be ready! :)

4. Get some accountability! Find a friend who wants to explore the same area, or who will ask you about your progress.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Triple Stacked

We have 3 boys and 1 girl (who is the oldest). This proved to be somewhat problematic with the room situation in our house. While having plenty of square footage, the house is short on rooms (at least for our family). We explored many ideas for how to fit all of the boys in one area, and this one turned out to be the best! We already had the twin over full log bunk bed. All we needed to do was to add a bunk to make it a triple decker. We took it in to the local log furniture store, and they build the bunk to specifically fit on top of the twin. The boys LOVE, and I mean, LOVE their bunk bed. It is more like a fort than a bed and they tie ropes to the rails and shimmy to the top and "hide out." If you've got the tall ceilings, this is a fun solution.... even our daughter likes to join in!

TO-GO Burritos

  • My sister swears by homemade burritos, and I finally wised up and got on the band-wagon! These are super handy to have around. I make a bunch of them, freeze, and then place in a ziplock. My husband and kids pull them out for lunches, work, or for a heavy snack in between games.

  • 2 lb ground turkey
  • 2-3 c. pinto beans
  • 3 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • Refried Beans
  • ¼ c. chicken broth
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 onion
  • 1 jalepeno
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro leaves
  • 2 tsp. lime juice

Step 1: Soak the beans overnight, and then cook in the crock pot or on the stove for 2-6 hours until soft (or just get them from the can). When using a crock pot, I cook them in chicken broth with a couple of garlic cloves thrown in. After the beans are soft, puree 3/4 of the beans in a food processor with the broth, ground cumin, salt, onion, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice (and jalepeno if you like it spicy). Transfer to a bowl and add the rest of the beans to give it some texture.

Step 2: Cook the ground turkey and set aside.

Step 3: Shred the cheese in a food processor. I do not like the pre-shredded cheese at all. The food companies have to put emulsifiers in the pre-shredded to keep it separated and it changes the composition of the cheese. I HIGHLY encourage you to shred your own! It makes a big difference.

Step 4: Cook the tortillas as directed, or heat pre-made tortillas in the oven.

Step 5: Assemble the tortillas. Place the filling in the middle and wrap. Place each in a section of plastic wrap and place on a baking sheet. Freeze until firm. Transfer to a ziplock bag.

Step 6: These go straight from the bag to the microwave. Place them on high for 3 minutes and they are ready! You could also wrap them in foil (remove the plastic wrap) and heat in the oven.

As seen on:
Tip Junkie handmade projects


Early on, my husband and I designated each child a night of the week. The first question out of my kids' mouths at breakfast is, "who's night is it?" No matter that the child of the day has a few extra chores like unloading the dishwasher in the morning, or helping me with dinner, the real kicker is that he or she gets to stay up past everyone else to spend time with DAD (the superhero in our house). Usually the time is spent shooting hoops, running football plays, or playing a game. Other times it involves sitting by the campfire, or snuggling on the couch. It really doesn't matter what the activity, what matters is that it happens consistently week after week. On that particular day of the week, their dad pulls them aside and says with his time, "YOU matter, and YOU are important to me."

I've often said it is hands down one of the best things we do. Such a small thing, but something I believe will have a deep impact on our children.

Way Cool Workboxes

Many of you in the homeschool world have heard the buzzword.... workboxes! A very innovative homeschooling mom, Sue Patrick, came up with this system which allows students to be more independent, responsible learners. You can read about the whole system by following the link provided. Essentially, the student works through each subject in a separate workbox until he is all done. The teacher helps with certain boxes that contain a "teacher help" label on them; other than that, the student works as independently as possible. This also works great with special needs kids, in fact, that was the reason the whole system was created!

To make my workboxes I used shoe racks from Costco, clear bins from Fred Meyer, and cute sports ball clipart from Lettering Delights. Easy, space efficient, and cute! Voila!

My Favorite Simple Greek Salad

I first had Greek Salad in Athens when I was studying abroad in college and traveled to Greece. I still remember the darling, open-air cafe where I sat admiring the white washed buildings around me as my friend, Jill, and I ate lunch. I LOVED it and have ever since. The store-bought Greek salad always leaves much to be desired, however. It is so easy to make, and to me, the simpler the better.

Step 1: Seed cucumbers by halving and then scraping the middle out with a spoon. The seeds are what create all of the water in these vegetables, so taking them out will save your salad from drowning!

Step 2: Halve and seed the tomatoes with a spoon also.

Step 3: Add the feta cheese. I like the Greek feta that they now sell at Costco. Cut it up into small pieces and it will naturally crumble.

Step 4: Add the kalmata olives. Most companies now sell them pitted so be sure you get those kind. You don't have to halve the olives, but I like to.

3 cucumbers
5 roma tomatoes
1/2 block feta
15-20 kalamata olives
Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the salad
Salt and pepper to taste

These amounts are very subjective.
Add or subtract according to your own taste and preferences!

HOW-TO stuff a chicken breast

Step 1: Prepare the filling.
There are countless combinations you can use. Some of my favorite combinations are: pesto, pine nuts, and parmesan (sometimes I add sun-dried tomatoes); apples, gruyere, and toasted walnuts; brie, apples, and toasted pecans. Or to make it more savory, add sausage to the brie instead of apples and add another cheese like parmesan. I often make two different fillings and make an extra pan to freeze.
Step 2: Prepare the chicken breast by cutting off the tender (this is that little piece of the chicken breast that almost looks like a little finger). Pat the breasts dry with paper towels.
Step 3: Filet the breast with your knife, but do not cut all the way through. You are simply cutting the breast in half to open it up like a butterfly. Doing this will make it easier to flatten and roll.

Step 4: Pound the chicken breast with a kitchen meat tenderizer. I have the one from Williams-Sonoma. It is easiest to do this if you have plastic wrap or wax paper over the chicken breast, or if you put them in a ziplock bag. This prevents chicken juices from flying all over the room!

Step 5: Pat the chicken breasts dry again (if needed) and then place the filling in the middle of the chicken breast.

Step 6: Roll the chicken up over the filling and secure with toothpicks or kitchen twine. I tend to like using toothpicks because they are so easy to remove.
Step 7: You're done! Place the breasts in a baking dish, allowing enough space between each to let air circulate. I like to rub olive oil over each breast before cooking and sprinkle salt and pepper over the top.

The List.....

Do you ever find yourself repeating yourself over.....and over.....and over again? " Pick up your coat, put away your shoes, practice piano, bring down your laundry"... our verbal list goes on and on and yet our kids don't seem to hear any of it! Enter center stage.... the list! Kids work the best when there is something concrete. The list takes out all guess work -- no more repeating, explaining, or asking if it is done. I simply take a piece of scrap paper, write what I want that child to accomplish in the next hour or two, then wait as that child checks off the boxes one by one! We often forget to set our kids up for success. As parents we need to give them the right tools to succeed -- the list is one tool to put in your toolbox!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My LIFESAVER - Cooking Group

I once thought that once- a-month cooking meant one thing: casseroles! I am not a casserole kind of girl, and I thought that's what cooking groups made. Not so! Our version of "cooking group" makes incredible marinades, delicious, healthy sauces, and even gluten-free dishes! The time spent cooking together not only serves our families, but it builds our friendships, and saves us money to boot....lots of money! You just wouldn't believe how economical it is to cook this way! There are several ways to organize this kind of a group, but let me walk you through how we do ours:

1. Pick a group of 4-6 people who you enjoy being with and who like to cook -- or who at least want to learn to cook!
2. Designate a "buyer" for the month. In our group of 6, we shop in teams of 2. In my sister's group of 4, they plan and buy individually. The buyer(s) picks 10-12 recipes, then buys all of the ingredients for all of the families. In our group, we times each ingredient in each recipe by 6. The math takes some concentration, so I highly recommend you leave the kids at home, unless they are walking calculators! Usually the people planning also host the group that month at their house.
TIP: Costco will shop for you with a very detailed list if the order is over $500. This has been really helpful for me!
3. Pick a place in your house where you can organize all of the ingredients. For me, I use our dining room. I tape each recipe to the wall or to a chair, then I place the ingredients that go with that meal underneath the recipe. Common ingredients like olive oil, onions, salt, garlic, vinegar, etc. go on the middle table for all to use.

4. Each cook comes prepared with an apron, a cooler, a knife, cutting board, and mixing bowl (if needed). My sister's group cooks during the day while the kids are in school. My group starts cooking at 6pm. We line up our coolers on the front porch or in the garage.

5. Each cook takes a recipe from the wall or chair, and goes to work! The meals are either bagged in ziplocks or placed in aluminum pans. We label them with a Sharpe pen then place a meal in each cooler.

6. We pay the person who bought all of the groceries, then we go home with our coolers, 12 meals, and a sheet that lists each meal and the directions for cooking. I like to post this on my freezer where I store my meals so it doesn't get misplaced.

That's it! I HIGHLY encourage you to give this kind of cooking a try! We have to cook for our families anyway, why not make it fast, economical, and fun to do!

“Homemade is best” has become a common mantra around my home. My kids often say it as we are turning apples into applesauce, pressing pie dough into pans, or making zuchinni bread from the giant zuchinni that my son grew in his garden bed. There is something about homemade that gets to the heart of who we are. Somehow, in those small actions, life feels real, meaningful, and right.

We have become a society of convenience, but at what cost? There is less time spent with those we love most, more brokenness in relationships than ever before, and people who are unhealthy and stressed out. We wonder why there is so much depression, divorce, substance abuse, and loneliness, but fail to see that relational bankruptcy is a leading culprit.

I firmly believe that getting back to a “homemade” way of life will help cure many of these ailments in our lives. So, what does that mean to live life “homemade?” It can look very differently from one person to another, but ultimately it means living out our values and priorities, building relationships, spending time on those things that bring meaning, and getting back to some honest-to-goodness down home livin’! It is a lifestyle…. a way of weaving homemade into the day to day that leads to consistent, small, meaningful actions that make life full and the heart well.

For those of us who are parents, we have a unique and vital opportunity before us. We have the chance to create and define the definition of home to our children. This “home” for them shapes who they become, how they view the world, and is a foundation on which they stand for life. There is no greater way to impact the world than to influence children with whom you live on a day to day basis. Someday they will go beyond the home and take those lessons and leave their own mark in the world.

Children live homemade naturally, and this way of life feeds them as much as their daily bread. They love planting their own garden, baking their own cookies, and roasting the pumpkin seeds that they picked out themselves from the middle of the pumpkin. Children make it easy to live homemade if we allow the time necessary to make it happen!

So….why “renegade?” It rhymes and is catchy, but what does it mean? I am pushing back on the modern idea that homemade is reserved for days gone by or for people who live on farms. Simply put, the renegade part is going against the grain of our media-obssessed, fast food, consumer oriented, play station-nation culture.

In my blog you will see what this homemade lifestyle means for me and for our family. Most of what I do has purpose behind it. The purpose may be to build a relationship, serve others, to share an experience, to teach, or sometimes just to have fun, but there is purpose and intention. Life is too short not to live our days well!