Friday, November 20, 2015

Congratulations to the winner of my Radio Theatre giveaway: Rebecca D.!  Thanks to all who entered.  Stay tuned for a second Radio Theatre giveaway coming soon!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Create a Thanksgiving Tree

I sort of dropped the ball this year when it comes to great fall projects.  We always do autumn crafts and art activities and we try to venture out for pumpkin-picking and other fall fun.

But this autumn was packed with more weddings and funerals, travel and sickness, and overall BUSYNESS than we usually have to deal with this time of year.  Now it's nearly Thanksgiving and I'm left with this sad feeling that the season has passed me by and I missed it!  I never even got my front porch decorated for fall!  Oh, the regret...

But I'm complaining.  And complaining isn't thankfulness.  And though we should have a thankful heart year-round, OF COURSE we should have one as Thanksgiving approaches!

Which gave me an idea for a perfect, late-autumn project!

Building on the idea of a Jesse Tree, something we've done often at Christmas time, this is our family Thanksgiving Tree, a little reminder of all those things we have to be thankful for.

 It's simple, inexpensive to make, and very... fallish.  (Is that a word?)  Best of all, as long as it sits on our table it is a constant reminder of God's goodness.

To make your own, send the kids out to hunt small tree branches while you dig out a mason jar.  Use as many or as few sticks as you want and trim them to be as long or as short as you want.  This is supposed to be a rustic-looking tree, so it doesn't have to be perfect.

Fill your jar with walnuts, mixed nuts, dried beans, or even candy corn.

Then of course you need construction paper in fall colors.  I was fortunate enough to have a leaf-shaped punch, which was perfect for this project...

But you can easily make leaves on your own without a lot of complicated cutting.  How hard is it to just do this...?

But you could even use real leaves, provided they're not too dry and brittle.

When you've accumulated a pile of leaves, add a hole with a hole punch.

Thread string, yarn, or fishing line through the holes.  I used jute twine.

Then let the kids be thankful!  Let them write anything and everything they're thankful for, from Jesus and their family and friends to their favorite toys and video games.  If you have littles who aren't quite up to writing what they're thankful for just yet, allow them to draw those things instead.  (Note:  If you use real leaves, you'll probably need permanent markers instead of pens.)  But make LOTS of leaves!  You might be surprised how many things your kids can think of to be thankful for!

Good answer, kiddo!

Yes, that says Wi-Fi.  

Might not hurt Mom and Dad to throw in some examples there, too...

The older I get, the more I come to appreciate some things...

Tie them all to your tree, scattering the colors to suit your fancy.  Or do a tree in a solid color if you prefer.  My tree was a little full, so scattering a few on the "ground" seemed appropriate.

Add a bow or knot of jute string or burlap and you're all done!

Our Thanksgiving Tree is working as our table centerpiece for the time being.  And I love the way it reminds us of God's overwhelming blessings upon our family.

So what are YOU thankful for?

You'll find this post linked up with some of these wonderful blogs:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Four Reasons to Love Audio Dramas {Plus a Radio Theatre Giveaway!}

I've mentioned before my absolute LOVE for good quality Christian audio dramas.  Adventures in Odyssey is probably my family's all-time favorite, but we love Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, Heirloom Audio Productions, and Lamplight Theatre stories as well.

So why do I think them worth your investment of time and money?  Let me give you a few reasons.  And continue to the end to learn about a giveaway, just in time for Christmas gift-giving!  (Of course, if you decide to keep it for yourself, that's okay, too!  I won't tell anybody.)

  • Audio dramas are wholesome and family-oriented.

Audio theater teaches lessons and reinforces the kind of principles I strive to instill in my children, and they do it in an entertaining, engaging way.  And there's no foul language, indecent or inappropriate situations, and no disturbing or violent images to leave an imprint on my children's minds.  Plus a good audio drama is perfect for family time, quiet time, homeschooling, or passing those long, dull hours during

  • Audio dramas offer entertainment without a SCREEN!

We live in such a visual society, and while I don't think that's necessarily all bad, it's also true most kids get far more visual stimulation than they could ever need.  Audio dramas inspire their minds in other amazing ways.  Which takes me to my next point...

  • Audio dramas stir the imagination.

Whether it's a garden setting, a battle scene, or a journey on the high seas, audio theater takes place completely within the imagination, which is bigger and more wonderful and more limitless than any visual media could ever be.  I love anything that encourages the exercise of my children's imagination.

Listening to your standard book on audio is a wonderful thing, but dramatizing that same book brings it alive for a child (or adult!) in unbelievable ways.  Books, particularly classics, can look so heavy and imposing on a bookshelf, and their challenging language may prevent kids from giving them much of a chance.  But when those same books are dramatized, suddenly kids begin to see there is far more wonder and excitement in those stuffy classics than they ever dreamed possible!


Now I've mentioned before my LOVE for Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre.  If you're not familiar with their productions, let me assure you they are of the highest quality; beautifully written, true-to-the-book stories with amazing sound effects and musical scores that bring the tales to life.

And I have some to give away!  In fact, I'm giving away TWO of my favorites.  (Plus a 3rd, perhaps my VERY favorite, in another week or two.  Stay tuned...)

First of all...

The Secret Garden -- I loved this book as a kid and the Radio Theatre production is filled with good lessons for children, (and adults,) like the importance of humility, contentment, and patience, and the altering power of hope.  Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel about a little girl who finds a garden that transforms and heals a family is beautifully retold in this audio drama.  The production is approximately 135 minutes long and it is a sweet story for kids of all ages.

Les Miserables -- This Victor Hugo classic is probably one of the most beautiful stories ever written.  The message of redemption and mercy is so powerful and the plot is filled with interesting twists and turns.  But be warned:  If you're the tearful sort, you WILL cry.  Trust me.  I will never forget the first time I heard this particular Radio Theatre Production. I was painting my bathroom and I remember sobbing so hard it was all I could do to see the walls!  It was such an incredibly moving story.  And it's amazing how much more quickly the painting went when I was so absorbed in the tale of Jean Valjean!

Les Miserables is approximately 169 minutes long.  And make note that Radio Theatre does not recommend this story for children under 8 years old.  It is dark at points and very intense, though I think the particularly weighty scenes are handled very delicately.  Still, use your own discretion.

So on to the giveaway, right? Be sure to check out the terms and conditions, and get to entering!  The giveaway ends November 19 at 12:00 a.m., so be sure to share with friends and family!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Easy Thanksgiving Day Cider

In our family we have a few steadfast Thanksgiving Day traditions.  

Like spending the day with my husband's family and eating delicious finger foods all day long before we get to Thanksgiving dinner, at which point we decide to really eat, after which we'll have dessert followed by continual grazing until people just start collapsing from delicious exhaustion.  (Really.  That's a thing.  At least on Thanksgiving it is.)

Somewhere between the dessert and the grazing everybody starts longing for a good, hot beverage.  Coffee is usually my drink of choice, but my children always beg for this hot apple cider.

So let me share a little Thanksgiving Day tradition of ours with you!    

Trust me, this could not be any easier to throw together.  It has just FOUR ingredients.  And if hot apple cider isn't exactly your cup-of-tea, try the iced version!  I'll tell you about that in a minute...

So here you go.  You need:

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 1/2 - 1 cup red cinnamon candies
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon

Pour your cider in a large dutch oven or stockpot.  

Add 1/2 - 1 cup cinnamon candies.  The more you add, of course, the stronger the cinnamon taste.  I usually add in the 2/3 - 3/4 cup range, but stop and taste-test every few minutes to get the perfect flavor for you.

Cut your orange and lemon in thin slices...

And add them to your pot.

Simmer your cider over medium heat for 35 - 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cinnamon candies are melted and your cider is good and hot.  Then ladle and serve!  (You'll get around 16 servings.  My kids can put this stuff away, so you might need to start with a couple of gallons if you're serving a crowd!)

And not only is it delicious, it makes the house smell WONDERFUL while it's simmering!

For COLD cider:

But maybe you prefer cold drinks to hot ones.  If so, allow your cider to cool and then fill a glass half-full with ice and cider.  Pour club soda over the top and gently stir.  A cold, fizzy cider might be more your cup-of-tea!  (Or cider.  Whatever.)  I promise, it's delicious!

So have you started planning for your Thanksgiving meal yet?  If so, you might want to start a new apple cider tradition this Thanksgiving Day! 

There are certain foods and drinks that are required fare at our Thanksgiving dinners.  Does your family have some of the same?  Please share in the comments below!  I may be on the hunt for some new recipes before it's over with!

You'll find this post linked up with some of these wonderful blogs:

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Help! My Child Hates Reading!

I love books.  I love big, thick novels penned by wordy English writers and footnote-heavy volumes by American historians.  I usually have at least two or three books in the works at any one time, but usually of different genres, so I don't get confused.  Or bored.

And because people know I love reading, and because I write about homeschooling, I often hear from moms who are distraught, (or at least concerned,) because their children just don't like books.  

And I bite down on a smile and gently reassure that mom that all hope is not lost.

Because there was a time when I didn't like books either.

I did well in school.  I made good grades.  I was a smart kid.

But I didn't like reading.

Or let me amend that to say I didn't like book reading.  I always had an interest in American history, (some things never change,) and I could spend hours flipping through history books and encyclopedias.  I was intrigued by current events and politics, too, and would pour over my parents' news magazines from cover to cover.

But books?  No.  I liked thumbing through them and reading excerpts and picture captions, but I rarely ever read a book through.  I wanted to -- I could fill a notebook with a list of the titles I started and never finished -- but it was rare that I ever got through a book.  And if I liked one enough to actually finish it, I was likely to read it again at least three more times in the weeks that followed.

There are so many things I realize now inhibited my reading of books.  I try very hard to apply the little lessons I've learned in the way I teach and encourage my children to read.  Trust me, moms, your 8 year old isn't doomed to academic failure because they don't like reading.  Your 10 (or 12, 14 or even 18) year old has not closed the door on lifelong learning just because they haven't yet developed a deep love for books.

Believe it or not, I was married before I really, truly fell in love with books.  In fact, I credit nursing with driving a love of books within me!  Reading generally requires sitting and, unless I'm writing, sitting isn't easy for me to do.  Nursing, however, FORCED me to sit, which helped develop that habit of reading that has carried on for years now.

So you have a child who hates reading.  Well may I share a few suggestions?

Remember that reading is reading, even if it doesn't include books.

I still call myself an ADD reader.  I am easily distracted and quickly lose interest, which is part of why I think I prefer reading several books at once.  If one gets a little slow, I can always switch to another!

For some kids, particularly those with shorter attention spans, one long, continuous story line may be overwhelming.  The same child may love short stories or they may enjoy brief articles about subjects that interest them.  While your child may not read stacks and stacks of books, they may devour magazine articles or blog posts.  See if your son or daughter enjoys reading more if they can do it in smaller doses.

Don't rush reading.

Honestly, this was one of the greatest reasons I didn't develop a deep love for books until I was older.  I just am not a fast reader.  In fact, I can't enjoy a book at all if I'm not able to slowly and carefully digest it.  Especially given the way I read multiple books at once, it can sometimes take me weeks to finish a book.

And that's okay. 

In public school I was often required to read thick books in a ridiculously short amount of time.  For me, it was an impossible task, so I would read as much as I could and count on my good writing skills to cover for me in the event of a test.  My senior year of high school we were expected to read one book per month from a list of the 100 greatest books of all time.  Even though many of those books were incredibly thick volumes, a month's worth of time was probably reasonable for most kids, but I still couldn't do it!  Thank heavens for the plays on the list!  Had it not been for Shakespeare and Thornton Wilder, I never could have completed the assignment.

My point is, give kids time.  Let them read in little chunks and enjoy a book at their own pace, not yours or even your homeschooling curriculum's.

Give reading its own window of time in your home.

I would have read more as a child and teen had time been intentionally carved out of my day for it.  I'm not opposed to forcing reading, (with some kids it may be necessary,) but YOU should make a time for it rather than expecting your child to find a time for it.

Set a certain amount of time for reading during school, right after, or maybe just before bed.  When it becomes established as a habit in your home or becomes like another school subject that must be completed before the day's work is done, you may find your kids acclimate to the custom of reading so well they keep reading even when you tell them they can stop!

Let your child choose their own reading material.

I know you have to use some wisdom here, and of course we all want to encourage our kids toward the best books, but it's okay to let our children have a say in what they read.

We dropped by a Barnes and Noble on our recent vacation and my daughters wanted books more than any other souvenirs.  (How do you say no to that?)  My youngest, who is dyslexic, was intrigued by this lovely classic.

I was hesitant to buy it, both because it was unquestionably the thickest book she had ever attempted to read and because it had more challenging language than she has tackled before, but she wanted it so badly I gave in.  And it has been a wonderful purchase.  The book is a collection of fairy tales, which fascinates my daughter to begin with, but then the individual stories are each relatively short, which helps make the book far less overwhelming for a child who struggles with a reading disability that keeps many kids from being able to enjoy reading at all!

Be discerning of course, but let kids pick their own books at the library or bookstore as often as you can.  Even if you have particular books you insist they read, allow them some books of their own choosing as well and even allow them to alternate reading between the two.  Believe me, they are far more likely to remain interested in a book they have chosen for themselves, and getting occasional breaks from assigned books can help them remain interested in those books as well.

Be wary of boring, mundane assignments to coincide with reading.

If you want to make reading a drudgery, tie incredibly dull and pointless writing assignments to it!

Especially when a child is not particularly enthusiastic about reading in the first place, boring, tedious assignments related to it will likely do nothing but turn it into even more of a chore.  I've stated before my opinions on book reports, but lengthy essay tests and quizzes can be just as bad or worse.  And who wants to leave a child forever associating something as wonderful as reading with something as awful as dull busywork?

If you must assign writing to go with reading, be creative with it!  (And don't feel like you have to come up with all these brilliant ideas on your own.   You might be surprised how many fun and unique writing assignment ideas you can find with a quick Google search!)


Sometimes, as with my own daughter, there are reading disabilities that can hamper a child's love for books.  

But sometimes kids are just late bloomers where reading is concerned.  And that's okay!  By no means is it an indicator of future academic problems or learning issues.  

Every child is different.  So don't despair if yours hasn't yet developed a real love of reading!

You'll find this post linked up with some of these wonderful blogs:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

7 Tips for Raising Kids to Reject the Christian Faith

Yeah, I'm a Christian and, yes, you read that title right.

You see, aside from what the Bible tells us clearly, I can't offer great insight into what it takes to raise devoted, lifelong followers of Christ.  I don't even have my own kids raised yet, so fool-proof advice from me on how to bring up God-fearing children would probably be a little premature.

But, then again, I'm no stranger to working with kids.  In fact, I've been working with children and youth for over 25 years now, since I was barely more than a child myself!  I've had plenty of opportunity to observe the natural course of things, and if there's anything I've learned along the way, it's some of what NOT to do if I hope to raise devoted servants of Christ.

In other words, if I wanted to raise my children to walk away from their Christian faith, I would be sure to do the following things.  I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones that stick out in my mind and memory the most.  I've seen these specific actions by parents successfully drive children away from God and the church time and time again:

Tip #1:  Never make spiritual things a priority in your home and schedule.

You're too busy for things like daily Bible reading and study and personal prayer.  That's what church is for!  Of course, you can't help that your daughter's cheerleading practice sometimes falls on Sunday, or that friends from school keep scheduling birthday parties during church times.  But everybody knows going to church doesn't save anybody anyway, so missing a lot occasionally shouldn't be a problem.  Your kids will somehow figure out that you love Jesus and that they should, too, even if you don't really emphasize worship, personal devotion, Biblical study, or service to God in any way.

Tip #2:  Talk religiously often, but don't live it out.

Use lots of Christian terms and phrases around your children.  Be very emotional in church and cry when you talk about Jesus, but then cuss out the store employee who won't let you make that exchange or casually lie to your sister-in-law about why you can't babysit her kids on Saturday.  Children don't pay attention to stuff like that anyway.

Tip #3:  Leave all the biblical teaching to the church.

You didn't go to Bible college, so you can't be expected to read the Bible to your kids!  All that stuff in the scriptures about parents teaching their children the things of God would work great if we were living in a perfect world, but since we're not...

And that's what children's church and youth group are there for anyway, right?  Those people have the burden for that sort of thing, so you're free of that responsibility.  Plus if your kid's faith ends up shipwrecked, it's kind of nice to have somebody else to blame for it.

Tip #4:  Don't answer your child's tough questions.  Instead make them feel like they've sinned just by asking. 

Faith is supposed to be blind, right?  Like we just accept what we're told and daring to question it is nothing short of rebellion.

Never mind that Christianity is logical, that there are actually answers to even the toughest biblical/life questions!  Finding and expressing them can sometimes require time and effort, and we don't have that to offer.  (Refer to #s 1 and 3.)  Condemning sincere questions is far easier, cutting off all communication on the matter and driving the questions deeper where they develop into robust doubt and disbelief that is sure to resurface later.

Tip #5:  Always criticize church leadership in front of your children.

There's nothing like tearing down the authority within the church to give kids a good dose of reality and help drive their rebellion.  It doesn't matter that church leaders are often criticized for things they don't even realize they have done or said, or that they agonize over decisions they know will not please everyone.  Nor does it matter that church leaders are human and sometimes make mistakes just like everybody else.  Criticizing them mercilessly, always within earshot of your children, keeps those in leadership in their place and helps ensure your child never fully respects or trusts the very ones placed there for their care and guidance in the faith.

Tip #6:  Point out the sins and shortcomings of every Christian as often as possible.

(Though similar to #5, this tip applies to ALL believers, not just those in leadership positions.)

Every failing, every hypocrisy, every misspoken word or questionable deed done by a Christian, (with the exception of yourself, of course,) should be duly noted and the offender verbally abused in conversation before your children.  Demanding perfection of other Christians is very effective in doing one of two things:  It can either, A.) build a strong sense of self-righteousness, in which case the real need of a Savior is never fully recognized, or it can, B.) encourage the idea that salvation is earned, not freely given, which almost always leads to hopeless despair when kids naturally discover their complete inability to ever be good enough.  So why even try, right?

Tip #7:  Take your child's side in conflict.  Every. Single. Time.

Turn your kids into victims at an early age and years' worth of perceived injustice and hurt feelings will drive them to depart the church at an early age as well.  At some point someone in the church is sure to hurt your child.  Never, EVER tolerate it by listening to the other side of the story.  Defend your child's every word and action and blame everyone else when they are not noticed, praised, and promoted to your liking.

So your daughter misses 3/4 of the children's choir practices.  That shouldn't keep her from having regular solo parts.  After all, she's obviously the most talented singer.

And so what if the pastor's kid already has all the lines memorized for the Christmas play!  Your child deserves the lead part.  The youth pastor's wife even kind-of-sort-of-almost-implied that the part was already his anyway.  If it wasn't the pastor's kid, would we even be talking about this?  Obviously it's favoritism and your kid can't get a fair shake.

And so what if the boy who said those mean things to your child comes from a fatherless home?  So what if he comes to church with his grandparents because his mother is usually in bed with a hangover on Sunday mornings?  None of that matters so much as your darlings' feelings, so be sure to rake those grandparents over the coals, and maybe even give the drunken mother a call as well.  No doubt a good tongue-lashing will show her the error of her ways and draw her to your church where she can hear the gospel.  Lord knows she needs to!


In my experience, none of these have encouraged children to continue in the faith.  Will avoiding them automatically produce lifelong devotees to Christ?  I can't really answer that question.    

But I know a few things I'm trying hard NOT to do in the raising of my children.  

You'll find this post linked up with some of these wonderful blogs:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

PUMPKIN! 10 Great Recipes to Try this Fall

Fall is here!

Now I am a summer-loving gal through and through:  I love short sleeves and bare feet and long, sunshiny days.

But there's a certain magic, (for lack of a better word,) to autumn.  I start feeling it in the air somewhere around the middle of September, just the slightest sense of something beginning to change.  The air has a different smell.  The sun has a different cast.  The breeze is...different somehow.  And then there are a few cool mornings and I start to notice the slightest change in the colors of the trees and it becomes official...fall is upon us!

And fall means PUMPKINS!

My grandmother made the best pumpkin pie I've ever eaten.  Hers was not exactly traditional -- it was a large, flat pie, often baked in an iron skillet and thinly spread with a pumpkin mixture -- so you could pick it up and eat it with your fingers like a cookie.  Few things made me happier as a child than arriving at my grandparent's house to find Mammaw had made one of her pumpkin pies!

I still love a good pumpkin pie, but there are so many wonderful ways to use this autumn jewel!  Here are a few pumpkin recipes you might want to add to your cooking plans in the next few weeks...

I've made this Yummy Pumpkin Pie Dip from Handmade in the Heartland multiple times and it is super easy and SO GOOD.  Serve it with graham crackers or ginger snaps, or even with pear or apple slices   It goes a long way, so it's perfect for a fall get-together.

After years of gentle, (and sometimes not-so-gentle,) nudgings from my husband, I have FINALLY purchased a waffle maker, meaning I have to try these Pumpkin Waffles  from No. 2 Pencil.  I have a feeling they will be a huge success on an autumn breakfast table.  Or a supper one...whatever.

Confession:  I've never tried pumpkin butter.  People tell me I'm really missing out on something and so I'm intrigued.  This recipe from Tasty Yummies for Crock Pot Pumpkin Butter sounds like it couldn't be much easier.  And you can freeze it to enjoy all winter long!  I HAVE to try this this autumn.

Cheesecake has to be one of the most delectable sweet creations known to man.  Mix it with pumpkin and wow.  Just...WOW.  Check out this Pumpkin Cheesecake from Natasha's Kitchen.  Topped with the caramel sauce, it's sure to reduce your taste buds to happy tears.

If you're in the mood for a cookie, (describes me most of the time,) you might want to try these Pumpkin Snickerdoodles from Cooking Classy.  Snickerdoodles are fabulous cookies anyway.  Add pumpkin and they're sure to be amazing.

Quick, 3-4 ingredient homemade ice cream treats have become some of our favorite late-night snacks.  Now I'm ready to try this Clean Eating Pumpkin Ice Cream from The Gracious Pantry.  I have no doubt it will be a hit with my family!

Caramel is one of my favorite sweets and it pairs beautifully with pumpkin.  The Salted Caramel Pumpkin Parfaits from Love Grows Wild are pretty as well as delicious.  I love the idea of serving them in half-pint jars.

Pumpkin coffee drinks are all the rage in October.  If you prefer a cold drink, (particularly one without all the fat and calories,) try the Skinny Pumpkin Frappuccino from Sally's Baking Addiction.  If hot coffee is more your cup-of-tea, check out this Crock Pot Pumpkin Spiced Latte from Thriving Home.  It makes enough for a small crowd, but is super easy to prepare.

Maybe your taste for pumpkin is more savory than sweet.  I'm really anxious to try this Pumpkin Tortilla Soup from Mama Miss.  The creaminess of the pumpkin mixed with smooth avocado HAS TO BE delicious, besides the fact it contains all the other wonderful ingredients of a hearty Mexican soup.


So have you pulled out your old pumpkin recipes yet?  If not, maybe this will give you a new place to start.  The hardest part for me is deciding which recipe to go with first!