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A few weeks ago…

A few weeks ago two things happened to me that helped set the course for my upcoming year.  I encountered a stranger, who was either lacking in command of semantics or was a master, and I also took my children to the Omaha zoo. It is hard to imagine how these two events could come together to form some kind of palpable teaching moment but I am amazingly adept and connecting seemingly unrelated things.

One: The Stranger

The weather has been unseasonably warm in Nebraska this last month which prompted a family bike ride one Thursday morning. While we were stopped for a water and trail mix break (where my kids pick out all the M&M’s so I am left with only the healthy raisins and peanuts to eat) a woman comes by walking her dogs. We make some small talk about the weather and other “safe” subjects when she asks me if we are on spring break. I told her that we home school so, no, we aren’t on break. Her reply, “Oh, so school is always out for you.” I must admit this comment kind of got under my skin mostly because my philosophy on education is that, especially for us, school is always in. I try to never let a learning opportunity pass by without involving my boys in some critical thinking so it kind of irks me that someone would assume that our day involves mostly field trips to zoos and theme parks and, when not doing that, we are just watching TV (educational, of course!). Not even close.

Fast forward to our trip to the zoo (I know how it looks!)

Two: Henry Doorly Zoo

If you have never been the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE, is really quite amazing. We bought a membership this year so on a Friday we loaded up to head to Omaha to see what we could see. I, by nature, am a shameless eavesdropper. I can’t help it! I have supersonic mom hearing and part of listening in is how I keep constantly aware of my surroundings (this is what I tell myself anyway but I digress). Besides, I am completely convinced that the zoo is one of the top places where the ignorance of the American public is very blatant. Case in point, we are standing at the fence of a lovely African animal, namely the Okapi. An animal that most people are not aware of if not for an American zoo, in fact. With a brown upper body and zebra stripes down the back haunches its a striking and interesting creation. We are standing next to a mom with young children, not so different from myself, who is questioning out loud what kind of animal they are looking at. “I have never seen one of those before. I am not sure what it is. It must be some sort of hybrid animal…it looks like maybe a deer mixed with a zebra. It definitely has to be part zebra, look at its stripes.” This mostly one sided dialog with her child went on for quite some time, too long, in fact. It seems to me that it takes more of an effort to fabricate a story about the origins of an unidentified animal than to back up 15ft and read the very information sign that the zoo provides at every animal exhibit. But maybe she wasn’t headed in the way of the sign. Too bad, it is a treasure trove of knowledge.

Then, a little later in our zoo outing, we come to an exhibit that contains reptiles from the swamp in the American south: alligators, gar, a variety of turtles, etc. In one corner of the tank, up against the viewing glass, two alligators are biting at a turtle…barely. A woman in the crowd is in hysterics, looking up the zoo telephone number to report it and trying to usher her children out of the building so they won’t witness anything “horrific”. She did stick around for a few minutes, though, commenting to anyone who would listen that, “They are eating him!” (To which my five year old is countering, “No, the aren’t! It would be way more exciting if they were”) and “I can’t believe they would put animals together that could eat each other” (To which I am countering, “Why not? Nature does all the time”) By the time she got out of there we had quite an audience listening to our inadvertent comedy routine!

So there is a point, right? Barely.

After the barbed comment on home school and zoo experiences I really started thinking about education. Although I am a proponent for home school and really love how it works for our family, I don’t view it as superior to educating your child outside the home. What I really think is critical is how parents are involved in their childrens education. Do they actively “teach” when opportunities arise? Or do they completely delegate that responsiblity to an outside institution? More than memorization of facts are we teaching our children how to think critically and how to find information they don’t know? The mother at the okapi exhibit doesn’t have me convinced. Are we nurturing curiousity so that learning something new about our world is fun and exciting or are we shielding them from anything we can’t, or won’t, explain? The mother who had obviously never seen an episode of Wild Explorer doesn’t give me much confidence.

For me, raising critical thinkers who try to seek out logical progressions and new information when they want to know about something is more important than being able to answer ten questions on a multiple choice standardized test correctly. In that week, the zoo and a stranger confirmed for me that I want to take on homeschooling for another year because I really don’t think that someone else could do it better than me at this point. This is true for ALL parents, no one is more effective at teaching your child than you! Don’t let the formative years pass by while you wait for them to be “school age”. There are always opportunities to learn something new and if you don’t take them you will end up in someone’s blog or as a facebook status. Just saying.

Stepping off soap box now…..

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Simple and delicious bierocks

Growing up in SW Kansas there is a staple food that everyone knows: bierocks. These hand-sized pockets of meat and cabbage were a favorite (and still are!) in our family. My grandmother would buy them from the local organizations or personal friends and serve them hot on any kind of occasion that warranted feeding a lot of people but not being held slave in your own kitchen.

Now, ten years since moving from the Sunflower State, I regularly make them in mass quantities to feed my family and to freeze for a quick, pop in the oven, kind of meal. Here in Nebraska I have heard them called runza or “cabbage burgers” but until I live as many years here as I ever did in Kansas I can’t think of them as anything but bierocks!

Many people ask me what recipe I use and even though I don’t really post recipes to my blog I thought I would archive some photos (harder than I expected as I was cooking solo with flour-y hands and trying to weild a camera) and actually write something down to share the love of bierocks with those I know!

Bierocks
Before starting I preheat my oven to 350 degrees, both to cook the bierocks and to warm up my kitchen to make the yeast happy.
The amounts below will yield about a dozen bierocks.


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For the dough you will need:
This yields enough dough to make about a dozen bierocks.

2 packages yeast
1/2 cup warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees to activate yeast)
1 cup warm milk
1/3 cup butter, softened
4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar
*If using unsalted butter add 1 tsp. salt
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1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water. Set in a warm place.
2. Add warm milk, butter and salt (if needed) to the yeast mixture; let stand for 10 minutes.
3. Add flour and sugar. Mix until just blended. Cover bowl with saran wrap and let double for 50 to 70 min, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

Filling:
1 lb ground beef (I use lean beef. You will have to drain the grease if using a fattier meat)
1 med onion, finely chopped
1 cup of sauerkraut (I love the Bubbies brand!)
1 TBSP caraway seeds (0r to taste)
Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
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Cook your hamburger and onions. Adding seasonings as they cook, unless you will be draining or rinsing your meat then wait until after that step. Add the kraut after meat is cooked through, mixing thoroughly. Set filling aside until the dough is ready.

Constructing your bierock:

1.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times, adding flour if too sticky. Let sit for about 15 min to relax the dough.

2. Once ready take about a handful, roughly smaller than a baseball. Press with your palm into a circle of use a rolling pin, whatever is easier.
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3. Turn and flip your dough, rolling or pressing until your circle is about the size of your hand.
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4. Spoon about a 1/2 cup of filling into the center of your dough circle. Use discretion here as to what will fit. If you overfill your bierock it will bust open when baking, under filling just leaves you with a lot of dough!
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5. Fold and tuck the edges of the dough to encapsulate the filling. Making a pocket!
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6. Place the bierock folded side down on a parchment lined baking sheet.
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7. Bake your bierocks for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.
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8. When golden and brown remove from oven and let cool. Transferring to baking racks. Enjoy right away or put into freezer bags and save for later.
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If heating from frozen, place in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes until warmed through.

The best part of this recipe is that if you have leftover dough, which I always try to make happen, you can scramble some eggs with cheese, maybe a little bacon or sausage and make a breakfast version! So delicious!

Simple and easy for a weeknight meal. Enjoy with spicy mustard, salsa, ketchup; whatever suits your fancy!

MMXIII

The week between Christmas and New Years usually feels like no man’s land to me. The festivities have ended, the tree is down, and I am so over sugar and carbs I can’t even think of eating one more in celebration of something. We aren’t big New Years eve people, either. I loved it when we lived in Mountain time because I could watch the ball drop in New York and be in bed just after 10pm. In fact, even before we had children my husband and I have set the alarm for midnight just for one sleepy kiss and then back to bed. Even though it is not a date I ring in with over the top festivity I still get excited for the beginning of something new. I can set new, big goals, put them freshly on a list for posterity’s sake, and reflect back on things that have been accomplished and examine myself, thus setting the standard for things to come.

1. In 2012 my goal was to write and post something to my blog at least once a week. It wasn’t a complete failure. I had 21 posts (almost two per month!), not too shabby. The biggest thing I take from this is that I would like to refine what is posted and how I format content. Having a blog that thousands of strangers read is an incredible amount of work and I am sure that I don’t have the time or the drive to seek that out at this point in my life. For now I am happy if my family members and few Facebook friends stop by to read every once in a while.

2. I focused a lot last year on finding ways to enjoy my children more. We made some incredible memories with a road trip, saw amazing things in our home school journey and I also am learning to know them individually and learning to manage my time so that each one gets individual time and attention. This spring we are adding our fourth boy which will make this particular goal challenging in several aspects. I will be divided by four instead of three. Except I don’t think divided is the most accurate word because it implies equality and the demands of a newborn will inevitably take some precedence over the needs of the other siblings in the equation, at least for a time. I am, truthfully, apprehensive about this especially as I feel that I can spin a bit after the birth of a baby. I just don’t really feel like myself and it can take me a while to get back to normal. I plan to be more aware of this and try to keep some balance in my life this time around. It is incredibly trying when it catches you off guard.

3. In my attempt to build this relationship with our children it has also come to my attention that at times the dynamic of my marriage becomes a hazy background, losing ground to the everyday demands of children and life. I wish I could say that I can do this all on my own volition but the hard truth is that I am a wretched sinner and my husband is as well and together (without Christ) we would be an incredible train wreck. There are some practical things I am seeking to change (this blog has a great 30 day challenge for wives). Ultimately, though, I am laying down my own self, knowing I will fail every time I try on my own and I pray that God will keep tilling up the soil of my heart and showing me areas where He wants control. One thing I know for certain is that we are committed to this marriage, our family and to God and that we will succeed because of that no matter the trials we create for ourselves or are called to endure.

4. Personally I am still working on the BBC’s Top 100 book list. Last January I had read 64 books and right now I am on number 77! I am determined to keep at this list until its completion. We shall see if this happens in 2013. There are some great picks on this list and I encourage reading for everyone so this might be your year to pick one up as well.

5. And last, but certainly not least, I am putting the weight loss cliché resolution on my list. I want to lose the baby weight I am so amply putting on and be ready for a sprint triathlon, a 5k or even just a really long walk by the fall. Since I didn’t have any kind of big blowout for my 30th birthday this last year I am making it count for my 31st by getting back into shape and having a much deserved glass of champagne! Even better an old friend is volunteering to do this with me which makes me so happy because I have loved seeing our friendship rekindled and growing through the last year and, hopefully, into the future.

I am anticipating a new year. It brings some big things for our family some that I can fully disclose like a new baby and some that are waiting to be revealed. Shhh! I always try to remember, though, that aside from these big things it is the daily commitment to pick up my cross and die to myself that is really what is important (Matthew 16:24). To apply what Paul says in Acts 17:11, searching the scripture daily like the Bereans to see if what is being taught is the truth of the Word. And the God would keep my heart soft, guarding it from complacency that I might fully live for His Kingdom and not my own. Here goes. With grace and peace and love, Happy New Year!

Premier Celebration of Advent

Since having children I have searched, mostly in vain, to find Christmas traditions that will last in our family. These things have included how we do presents and actually celebrate Christmas. My goal has always been to stay within the bounds of what we believe, which is that this is a time of year to rejoice in the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that being with our family and giving to those who have true need is the best way to do this.

In years past I have tried to set some guidelines in place in an effort to ward off the Mammon-palooza that is the secular Christmas. We have given only three gifts to each child as a reflection of the three gifts that were brought to Jesus by the Magi. However, last year even that small number felt excessive. I changed up the guidelines this year and each of my boys is getting one gift. Yes, that is right, just one. We have a some books and activities in our nights of Advent and that counts as two. For the third we “get” to give. This year we gave to an organization called Samaritan’s Purse. They have a catalog full of ways to give in the most practical ways while also sharing the love of Christ. Our boys loved some of the unique ways we could give by buying livestock, or blankets, or a bible. (For more information go to www.samaritanspurse.org)

This year I also decided to do an Advent Calendar. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus and means “coming”. During Advent we celebrate the anticipation of the coming of Christ. This year my calendar was pretty basic. I had a snowball garland in my box of seasonal items so I took white envelopes, filled them with scripture, a treat and an event for each day. It was pretty primitive but it worked and as we took down envelopes I hung up the Christmas cards we had received in the mail. Next year I would like to make something more permanent and aesthetically pleasing that I can pull out annually.

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The most amazing part of doing Advent is seeing the excitement in my children as we gather together as a family in the evenings to open up a new envelope. Most of the things we do are very simple and cost little or no money:

  • Reading a book together (I bought about 10 books just as gifts for our library and some nights the boys were able to pick one to read.)
  • Pairing a Christmas book with a movie or just a movie (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Carol, The Polar Express, Velveteen Rabbit, Elf). We sometimes added treats that went with the book, too.
  • Make and decorate Christmas cookies
  • Attend a community (read free) Christmas concert
  • For Christmas Eve we are reading the events of Christ’s birth as told in Luke
  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Drive around in our pajamas and look at Christmas lights
  • Sing Christmas carols (my husband plays along on the guitar)

It doesn’t really matter what it is we are doing, the point is that we are doing it together and that is something I want our children to hold onto and remember and, ideally, pass down to our grandchildren. I feel like this year we have found a good place between getting and giving but I anticipate that in the future as we grow in Christ we will have the desire to give of ourselves more and more. At least that is what my hope is.

Patience is a virtue

When my first son was born I never felt overwhelmed at the task of being a mom. Caring for an infant seemed practically foolproof: love them, feed them, change their diapers, let them sleep. Pretty straightforward. I always felt sympathy for the moms who second guessed every move they made when faced with the daily routine set by their newborns but I couldn’t really relate. Well, the anxiety and the feelings of doubt that accompany raising children have come crashing down into my reality as of late. Turns out the likelihood of really screwing things up with your children increases as they get older and their memories get better and they can recall every single time mommy boarded the crazy train, with a seemingly one-way ticket, instead of employing all the rational parenting techniques she read about in the lobby of her OB/GYN’s office while waiting to be seen during  pregnancy.

 I happen to live in a house with three young boys who are rowdy and loud more often than not. They are, in fact, so high energy, that in comparison, most other children look to have the activity levels of hermit crabs. I have become a yeller mostly just to be heard but it easily bleeds over into yelling from frustration or anger (insert mom guilt). I just read that one can experience a “yelling hangover,” a combination of losing your cool and the ensuing guilt from doing so. Been there–and now I know it has a name, and not a very desirable on, either. This has led me to make many proclamations about how things are going to change around here. Mostly that I would have more patience or the next time I feel like I need to yell I will whisper instead because that is more effective at getting your children’s attention (Note on whispering: when one’s child is screaming and throwing dog food down the stairs, the other is trying to pee in the corner trumpeting his ability to “potty” and the other is in the next room discovering he CAN get the lids off the paint, whispering is not the answer, locking yourself in the bathroom with a pound bag of m&m’s, or a bottle of wine, or both, is much more effective if one is trying to refrain from yelling.) It feels like patience is never within my reach when I really need it, when things get chaotic I have a hard time backing off the edge of crazy. I cannot, although not for the lack of trying, figure out how to grasp something so elusive.

“But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

I have read this verse many times but it recently has been more impactful in two ways. One, it contains the attributes I desire as a parent, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. The things I feel are forgotten in my frustration or in my selfishness as a sinful human who is trying to raise other sinful humans. Two, I am humbly reminded that no matter how hard I try or how much I steel my resolve to do and be better I am still coming back to myself. The fruits laid out in scripture come from the Spirit and the only way I can grow in these is to lay down my self and pick up Christ. No book is going to tell me how to be a better mother or wife (although, some may have some great practical tips) the real change is going to come when I am transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. I have to continually remind myself of this when I am torn up inside about my impatience or sharp words or anger and frustration, that I, too, am continually being sanctified. All I can really do is pray that God will show me how to be obedient in parenting and I am so thankful for one more day with my children and that in my growth I can show them, practically, what it looks like to be under the grace of God.

What no one told me about childbirth. Number one: Depends

The other day I was watching some tv, which is a huge luxury for any adult in our house, when a commercial came on for Depends. What was being advertised was that they now come in a subtle peach color instead of ultra-sterile white. This commercial grabbed my attention because I love Depends! Seriously! We all know childbirth is messy but usually one is in a hospital and a nurse is cleaning and discreetly putting things into trash bins so this reality isn’t always evident to a mother in labor.

What really comes as a surprise is how messy postpartum is (please stop reading if this is something you either care not to know or won’t be able to handle.) There is a lot of blood, fluids, and if you are extra lucky you won’t be able to control your bladder as a fun side effect of pushing out a baby. The first time I did this I was frustrated by the mesh underwear that you get in the hospital with the oversized pads that stay in place only by some providential intervention. Then you go home and your bed doesn’t come with plastic sheets or an in-home nurse to do laundry. I knew there had to be something better. So when baby number two was on his way I heard of another mom using Depends. They are super easy, stay in place and are disposable. I never thought I would love wearing a diaper so much! Baby number two also caused me a significant loss of the sensation to pee, which means that I would regularly pee myself. No problem though, right? Because I was wearing an adult diaper. Until the day I thought I was good and didn’t wear one.

My second born was about 5 weeks old when I went to visit my brother and his wife in Fort Sill, OK, with my dad. They have  a very nice little zoo so we went there to check out the animals. The facility had a huge grey goose that roamed free and as we were walking down the path we can see that the creature was becoming visibly agitated and setting its sites on my two-year old son. So my sister-in-law has the baby, my brother picks up my oldest and we start to make a wide path around the goose and that is when the goose comes after my dad. Flogging his wings and pecking, literally, right at his crotch. It was a funny thing to see and we were all laughing when I realize that laughter was not going to be a good thing for bladder control. I turned away from the scene and tell my SIL, “I’m going to pee my pants…” She says, “Me, too.” “No really, I am going to pee my pants.” That is when I made the mistake of looking back, I apparently learned nothing from Lot’s wife. My father, who is still being harassed by the goose, grabs it by the neck with one hand and scoops under his tail with the other and launches it about 25 feet through the air. That is when I peed my pants. At first warm it quickly became uncomfortably cold as I stood outside in the Oklahoma winter. I had to admit to my family what happened so they could take me home to change clothes. My SIL was very sympathetic, my dad didn’t say much (really, what could you say at this point?) and my brother didn’t understand how I could just “pee”. He even made me sit on a plastic grocery sack in their car for the ride home.

So there is my story and now you can see why I would be so excited about a flesh-colored, more discreet adult diaper. It could have saved me from this story! Besides it is the best thing I have ever used postpartum. Some of you have even received this gift from me when having babies. Luckily, with time, you can graduate from the adult diaper as long as you avoid trampolines and sneezing with a full bladder (enjoy the respite because someday you may be back in them involuntarily).

Really this would include two things no one told me about childbirth. One is depends, two is that you will lose all self-respect and post embarrassing things online for all to see. Oh well, there it is.

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