Jul 27, 2015

"What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?" Is it the Right Thing to Ask?

"What do you want to be when you grow up?" It's a question children are asked regularly, but my 9 year old daughter hesitated before answering. She looked down at the ground. Then she looked up, cleared her throat, and her words flowed: "A missionary and a singer and an actress and an astronaut and a mechanic and a scientist..." Some kids may have a pat answer that pleases adults, but not my girl.

I smiled. We've talked about this before, she and I. "There's no reason you can't be an astronaut and a scientist and mechanic. In fact, astronauts have to do a lot of science and need to be able to fix machines. Then maybe you could sing and act for fun - as a hobby. It could even be part of your missionary work. You might have to do that on vacations..." Who am I to squash her dreams?

But you know one question I've never heard anyone ask her?

"What does God want you to be when you grow up?"

Oh, I'm not talking about general character traits like being honest or loving - though of course God wants us to have those traits. No, I mean something far more specific: What are God's plans for your life? What is he going to do with you?

I recently asked my daughter this, and from her puzzled expression, I could see it was something she'd never considered.

I didn't try to answer the question for her. That's between her and God. And just asking the question will have her thinking about it for some time, no doubt. And perhaps that's enough. Too many of us just don't think about what God's plans for us are. Perhaps it's an American trait - part of the idea that as Americans, we can do anything we put our mind to. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. But as Christians, we have a bigger purpose.

Trouble starts, however, when we decide for ourselves what God wants us to do. Like Jonah, who didn't want to minister to his enemies. Or like Phil Vischer, creator of Veggie Tails, who explains this trouble in his book Me, Myself, and Bob. Once Veggie Tales was taken away from Bischer, he began to realize that he'd never asked God what He wanted to do with his life. He never asked God if he should start Veggie Tales, or any other endeavor. That's why the Veggie Tales empire that Vischer imagined was swept out from under him. Ask God first, Vischer, now older and wiser, stresses.

Of course, if you ask your child what God wants to do with her life, your child will inevitably ask how God will make this clear to her. There is no pat answer. He might speak to your child audibly, as he did young Samuel in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 3). He might put a thought in her head or a feeling in her heart - something that aligns with the Bible. He might speak to her through His Word, making a certain verse or passage stick with her. Or he might just put her in situations that make it obvious - or not - that she should be doing a certain thing. (At his construction job, my brother once injured the fingers on one hand, and had to have them sewn back on. A few months later, doing similar work, he nearly severed the fingers off the opposite hand. He said, "I think God is trying to tell me something." Soon after, he went into ministry.)

We just don't know how God will speak to us. Which means we have to be attentive. We have to actively listen for him, and pay attention when he's calling.

But to do that, children first need to know they should be listening. And that God will use them...if they are willing.

Jul 25, 2015

Weekend Links - with an update on our Tiny House Motor Home

Making progress with our move!
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

 * The House votes to ban states from labeling GMO foods.

* Many parents are aware that artificial food dyes can lead to behavior problems. But did you know certain natural food colorings can also be a problem?

* How to tell if your fresh garlic is from China and treated with bleach and other chemicals.

* Meet 38 companies that donate to Planned Parenthood.

* I recently posted an interview with author Tricia Goyer. Now check out my review of Tricia's newest book "Prayers That Changed History".

* For those of you not familiar with the many facets of Common Core, this is a good introduction. Something you might not have known, for example, is that the "sex ed" information given at every grade level is mixed in with other curriculum, so parents can't chose to opt out of it. 

* QUICK TIP: Love stuffed sweet peppers but hate how long they have to bake in the oven? Try this easy method, which requires only about 5 minutes of baking! Cut the tops off the sweet peppers and de-seed them. Bring a pot of water to a boil and carefully add the pepper bottoms. As soon as the peppers hit the water, start timing 5 minutes. Remove peppers with tongs and set aside to cool slightly. Fill with cooked stuffing. (We like cooked ground beef; sauteed onions, sweet bell pepper, and garlic; cooked rice, canned green chilies; shredded cheese; finely chopped canned tomatoes (without the liquid. Warm up before stuffing the peppers); and salt, pepper, and oregano.) Sprinkle cheese on top. Place in a baking dish in a preheated 350 degree F. oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the stuffing is heated - about 5 minutes.

* UPDATE on our Little House in the Big Woods: Our shipping container has been delivered! The delivery guy drove it to the top of the rural road, and my hubby moved it deeper into the woods with a backhoe, along a rocky, narrow driveway. This weekend, he figures out whether we're going to hire someone to install spray insulation, or whether he will do it himself, using another method. So many steps to getting our little house in the big woods!

Jul 24, 2015

My Experiment with "Survival Food" - plus a coupon code

It's not uncommon for companies to contact bloggers and offer samples of their products, hoping writers like me will enjoy them and write about them. Most often I decline because the products aren't something I'm personally interested in, or they just aren't appropriate for this blog. But recently, a company that makes freeze dried "survival food" contacted me. I was intrigued. This is not the sort of product I have hanging around. Yet...did you know the U.S. Federal government advises all citizens to have food and water on hand in case of emergency? (In fact, they have an entire website devoted to helping us do this.) So, this time I said yes.

Government Guidelines for Emergency Food

When it comes to food, the government suggests we all have at least a three day supply on hand at all times, in case of natural disasters or similar emergencies. But I'm sure we all remember how hard it was for FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) to reach the victims of Katrina with food, water, and shelter; therefore, most experts instead recommend having at least three weeks of food stored for emergencies. (And hey, this would make feeding your family easier, too, since you could dip into your stored food when you can't run to the grocery store, or money is short at the end of the month.)

The most common way to build up an emergency supply of food is simply to buy extra of shelf stable foods you're already purchasing. These foods generally last at least a year in your pantry, but you should still eat and replace them regularly. If the idea of rotating food seems like a pain, or if you just want some light weight food you could easily take along in an evacuation (or while camping), freeze dried food is a good option. 

Valley Vs. The Other Guys

Now, I have tried some freeze dried food before, and let me tell you, the trouble is:
  • It's usually pricey.
  • It can taste really awful. Really. Awful.
  • It can spoil before the manufacturer claims it will.
  • It's usually full of nasty, chemically ingredients. Ugh.
These are some of the reasons I've never bought freeze dried meals for my family. But when Valley Food Storage contacted me about their survival meals in a bag, I was intrigued for several reasons:
  • The owners were inspired to begin their business after buying some supposedly long term freeze dried food that went rancid a few years later. They determined the oils in the food were to blame and thought they could create something better than what was already on the market.
  • Their food has ingredient lists you can read! This is huge! No artificial preservatives, sweeteners, or MSG.
  • Their food is GMO-free. Again, this is huge.
  • They use sea salt, not processed salt, which is linked to autoimmune disorders.
  • There are no trans fats or cholesterol in their food.
  • They have gluten-free options, which is a big deal since so many freeze dried foods contain pasta or other wheat products. They also have dairy-free options.
  • Each bag is sealed in a hefty Mylar bag - the air removed with nitrogen.

The first meal I tried was Irish Pub Cheddar Potato Soup. It, like all of the samples Valley Food Storage sent me, was packaged in a tough Mylar bag. The ingredient list was easy to read, as was the nutritional information and cooking instructions. Following those instructions, I measured out several cups of water, added the contents of the bag (I had to cut the bag open; the packaging was too tough for me to tear), and let it boil gently. The instructions didn't say to stir the mixture, but I did stir it periodically to prevent it from sticking to the pan. In 20 minutes, the cooking time was up and I removed the mixture from the pan. It didn't look at all like the photo of the food on the website. But that was about to change.

The finished soup, without my green onion garnish.
Next, I let the food sit in the pan for seven minutes, as instructed on the packaging. Actually, I let it sit longer than that, because my husband was late for dinner. But by the time I spooned the soup into bowls and served it, it was thick and delicious-looking, just like on the Valley Food Storage website. To add some extra appeal, I grabbed some green onions (scallions) I had in the garden, chopped them, and sprinkled them on top.

And how did it taste? It didn't taste chemically or overly salty, like so many freeze dried foods. It didn't taste like boxed grocery store food, even. It actually tasted home made! We were really impressed and both my husband and I agree that we'd eat that meal any time.

The finished soup with my green onion garnish.
My only (small) gripe? The package said it contained five servings, but if you're eating the soup by itself, with nothing else, I think it will feed about 3 people with modest appetites. But then again, because of all the cheese and potatoes in this meal, it's fairly high calorie (perhaps a good thing in an emergency situation). It was also extremely filling.


We also ate other Valley Food Storage offerings, and thought they were excellent, too...All rather a shock to me, since I thought I was agreeing to try food that would be something I'd only want to eat if I was starving.

And I don't think their prices are bad, either. For example, a 30 day supply of food is $1.87 per serving (although, again, those servings might be smallish). A single packet of Irish Pub Cheddar Potato Soup is $11.95; that may seem like a lot, but it's not a bad price for a freeze dried meal. Even the cheap, chemical laden, yucky tasting types sold for camping cost at least that, and often more.

So, if you're considering buying freeze dried food for emergencies, I highly recommend Valley Food Storage's stuff. Currently, you can visit their website and request a free sample.

You can also get 10% off anything on their site by using the coupon code Proverbs 31.

Be sure to check back in with me and tell us all what you think!

Jul 22, 2015

100s of Free Audio Books for Kids

My kids love audio dramas and books. They think they are just plain fun. I know they are better for their imaginations than TV. It's a win-win thing. And if I can find audio for them that's FREE...so much the better!

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time at LibriVox, where there are currently 473 children's fiction audio books...and more are added regularly. Best of all, they are classics. There's non-fiction for kids, too. And did I mention all the audio books are free?

Sometimes I download the audio books onto my computer and the kids listen to them from there, but more often, I burn the files onto a CD and the kids listen to them at bedtime, on the road, or while doing quiet activities like coloring.

Some of our favorites include:

This Country of Ours (an awesome way to learn American history!)
The Railway Children
Reddy Fox
Jimmy Skunk
The Story of the Treasure Seekers

You'll also find more familiar books like:

Pinocchio (much different from the Disney classic!)
Tom Sawyer
Aesop's Fables
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Anne of Green Gables
Black Beauty
The Children's Shakespeare
The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

and much, much more.

There are also hundreds (maybe thousands) of free audio books for adults, too.

Check it out!

Jul 20, 2015

How We Homeschool on a Shoestring Budget

Wishing you could start homeschooling but are aghast at the cost of curriculum? Or are you worried that you can't continue homeschooling because of the high cost associated with it? Well, let me introduce you to my world, where homeschooling costs are much, much less. I'm not saying you must homeschool this way - but if money is keeping you from homeschooling, or if reducing homeschooling costs would be a blessing for your family, read on.

The Robinson Curriculum

I knew almost from the beginning that I wanted to homeschool our children. But when I looked at the cost of curriculum, I had sticker shock. How on earth was I going to spend hundreds of dollars each year on curriculum? Happily, my sis-in-law, who was also grappling with that question, discovered The Robinson Curriculum. It's a real life saver for those who need to homeschool on a shoestring. (There are also other strong reasons to use this curriculum, which I'll mention momentarily.)
The Robinson Curriculum comes on CDs.

The Robinson Curriculum, which is good for kids from 1st grade through high school, is $195 (new). In addition to that, you you'll need to buy math books - and if you don't have a Kindle, you'll either want to purchase a one for the reading materials, or you'll want an efficient printer to print out the reading material included on discs in the curriculum. I've found that most of the reading material is available free in digital format from Amazon or Project Gutenberg, so my daughter uses an old black and white Kindle (that can't go onto the Internet and doesn't have all the fancy bells and whistles) for reading. I buy the math books at reduced cost (More on that in a moment.)

Once the curriculum CDs are purchased, we pay about $60 - $80 a year for curriculum. Yesssss!

If you are really pinching pennies, I recommend buying the Robinson Curriculum CDs used...but make sure the discs that comprise the curriculum are compatible with your computer. Some desperate families read the guidelines for the curriculum online, find the reading list elsewhere online, and don't buy the curriculum at all. What are they missing? A much more thorough explanation of the curriculum and how it works, plus digital access to an encyclopedia, dictionary, and grammar book; printable math fact flash cards; vocabulary cards; and exams for many of the reading materials.

While the inexpensive nature of the curriculum is awesome, so is the curriculum itself. It's an old timey philosophy, focusing on math, reading, and writing. All other subjects are taught through reading. And did I mention that (with the exception of very young students), the kids self-teach? The Robinson philosophy really works, and is incredibly freeing for parents, while teaching children valuable skills for life.

I will add that I do like to supplement the Robinson Curriculum with artsy projects, science "experiments," and other stuff that isn't necessary. I save this "extra curricular" stuff for the end of the day, as a reward for completing the main course of study. I get ideas (and sometimes free printables) for these things online, at many of the sources mentioned below.

A tiny sampling of some curriculum I've purchased used.
Used Curriculum

You can save an incredible amount of money by purchasing curriculum used. (In our case, we're only buying math books.) I typically buy used curriculum on eBay. To make this less time consuming, I save the search terms I'm using and have eBay send me emails whenever something matching those terms appears on their site. (To do this, do a normal search. On the results page, just above the results of the search, there are green letters saying "follow this search." Click on that phrase.)

There are also websites that focus on selling used curriculum; you might also try Amazon and Craigslist. In addition, I buy a lot of reading materials and extra curricular workbooks and such at thrift stores. St. Vincent DePaul's is our favorite because they organize their books like a bookstore does (by author and topic - they even have a special homeschool and curriculum section, and their "I Can Read!" books are separate, too); their prices are unbeatable.

Oh, and a bonus of using used curriculum? Older materials are usually of a higher academic standard!

Saving Curriculum

Instead of buying new curriculum for each child, we save curriculum, buying it only once, but using it repeatedly. That means that instead of writing in workbooks, I make photocopies of workbook pages for actual use. (My printer, a Brother HL-22800W, is very cost effective when you refill the cartridges yourself, and has a copy feature.) I have also sometimes covered workbook pages with a sheet protector and had my children use a dry erase markers to complete the worksheet - but my kids find this a bit cumbersome.

And if you do this with all your children, you'll be able to sell the curriculum when you're done with it. Score!

Teachers Pay Teachers

This is a fantastic website where teachers create materials, then sell them to other teachers (including homeschool parents). I've purchased some materials from this site, but mostly, I love the freebies. I signed up for the site's newsletter, which highlights a handful of freebies in each issue. You can also find freebies on the site in the following way:

In the left hand menu, select a grade level. Then select the price range ("Free" - also in the left hand menu). To further narrow things down, sort by "Rating." (You'll find this option just above the search results.) Hint: I recommend only using this method when you have plenty of free time. There are TONS of freebies on this site!

Homeschool Commons

If you love older books, and if you have a Kindle or other ebook reader, you'll love Homeschool Commons. This site contains links to Kindle and other free ebooks that are in the public domain and may be useful for homeschooling. I've found some really delightful books on this site.

The Crafty Classroom

Here you'll find all kinds of free printables and ideas to use in homeschool, including science projects, planners, reading helps, math helps, and yes, crafts.


At this website, there are lots of free ideas and printables for gradeschool kids.


Truly, this is one of my favorite sources for homeschool ideas. Try searching by grade, then by subject, too, if you desire.

A Note About Preschool and Kindergarten 

Teaching preschool and kindergarten doesn't require curriculum. You may choose to use curriculum, but it's definitely not necessary - and depending upon your child, may actually cause more harm than good.

These grades should be about learning very basic things. Preschoolers can learn to use scissors, to count, and to recognize shapes, colors, and at least some letters and numbers. None of this requires curriculum. (Though you should read as many good picture books to your child as he or she will let you!)

In Kindergarten, your child can more thoroughly learn the letters and basic phonics. He can also learn to count to higher numbers, begin memorizing addition math facts, and learn how to write letters and numbers - and, if your child is ready, perhaps start reading a bit. (Not convinced kindergarten should be this simple? Read this post by Creekside Learning.) Again, none of this requires curriculum.

But...if you child likes worksheets, a simple addition to your homeschool is an inexpensive workbook from a store like Target or Walmart. For more on how and when to use such workbooks, please click here.

If your child is ready to start reading, I suggest phonic-based books for beginning readers. (My children have used Hooked on Phonics books and Bob books; I'm not a huge fan of the Bob books, though, because they look hand printed, and my kids sometimes found that confusing compared to the machine printed books we're used to.) Libraries often have phonic readers, so you might not need to buy any. If not, buy them used!

From there, I recommend the leveled "I Can Read!" books, which I also buy used.

Your child will be ready to start using the Robinson Curriculum once he or she knows her addition and subtraction facts and can easily read level 3 "I Can Read!" books.

Jul 18, 2015

Weekend Links

Image courtesy Francesco Perito and Wikimedia Commons.
In which I share my favorite posts from this blog's Facebook page.

* Facebook has a new way to make sure you see what you want to see...including Proverbs 31 Woman posts! Check it out.

Gut health seems to affect mental health, too.

* 9 lies about fat.

* It never occurred to me that store bought garlic was coming from China. But here in the U.S., most of it is. This article details a few reasons to be concerned.

* GMO potatoes are now on the market. This article is a bit hyped, but the info appears correct. Remember, the best way to avoid GMOs is to grow your own or to buy organic.

* Healthy seaweed that tastes like bacon. Would you eat it?

* Kindness meters. An interesting idea.

Jul 17, 2015

Lacto Fermented Pickled Carrots

Once I began reading up on all the benefits of fermented food,* I knew they were something I needed
to serve my family on a regular basis. I love my homemade kombucha, but I found it difficult to eat other fermented foods - even sauerkraut (in anything other than tiny portions). Tiny portions are okay (one bite of fermented food contains 100 times more pro-biotics than the best pro biotic pill), but I wanted to learn to love fermented food. So I looked all over Pinterest, trying to find fermented foods that were recommended for children. After all, children are often picky eaters; if kids loved it, maybe I would, too. That's when I discovered lacto-fermented carrots. At first, I wasn't sure I liked them...but by the time I was at the end of my first batch, I found myself craving more.Yummy!

If you love pickles, you'll likely love these lacto-fermented pickled carrots. And if you're less excited about the flavor of fermented foods, I encourage you to give these a try. They are easy - and super healthy!

How to Make Lacto-Fermented Pickled Carrots

Carrots (about 1 1/2 lbs.)
2 - 3 cloves garlic
2 cups of non-chlorinated water (I use tap water that's filtered)
2 tablespoons sea salt**

Quart canning jar (or similar sized glass jar)
Lid (preferably plastic***) or cheesecloth and a rubber band or piece of twine 
Cutting board 

1.Start by cleaning everything you'll use (the jar, lid, cutting board, knife) in hot soapy water - or run them through the dishwasher. Wash your hands thoroughly, too. This will help prevent any bad bacteria from forming in your ferment.

2. Make the brine by stirring the salt into the water until the salt is completely dissolved and the water looks clear. (If you're using Himalayan pink salt, as I did for this batch, the water may still look pinkish once the salt is dissolved.) If the water is cold, you may need to heat it on the stove while you stir, or the salt might not fully dissolve. Set the brine aside and allow it to come to room temperature.

Combine salt and water to make a brine.
3. In the meantime, cut up the carrots. They need to be short enough that, once they are in the jar, they reach a little below the first screw band rings. (In other words, the carrots must be about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 inch below the top of the jar.) I generally cut my carrots in half, then cut each piece into quarters. If you have especially fat carrots, you may wish to cut them into thinner pieces. All pieces should be approximately the same width.
Carrots must be the right length for the jar, and quartered.
4. Peel the garlic cloves and put them into the bottom of the jar.

5. Pack the cut carrots into the jar, lengthwise. Fit them in snugly, since that will prevent them from rising to the top of the jar, which could potentially lead to badly contaminated food. (In fermenting, it's vital to keep the food beneath the surface of the brine.)
Pack carrots into jar.
6. Pour the cooled brine over the carrots. It should cover them completely; leave one inch of headspace (the amount of room between the top of the liquid and the lid of the jar). If the liquid doesn't fully cover the carrots, add a little more water. Place the lid loosely on the jar (or cover the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band or piece of string). It's important that the lid be loose; gas can build up in fermenting foods and if the lid is tight, it could potentially cause the jar to burst. If the lid is loose, however, there is no danger of this. Place the jar on the counter, away from direct sunlight or drafts.
Pour the brine over the carrots, immersing them completely.
Cover loosely with plastic lid or cheesecloth.

After seven days, taste one of the carrots. If it tastes great to you, refrigerate. If not, allow it to sit on the counter for a few more days, then taste again. How long counter top fermentation lasts depends upon the temperature in the room and your personal tastes. Once you refrigerate the carrots, eat them up within a month or so.

* Fermented foods increase mineral absorption, improve brain function, may help you loose weight, boost your immune system, may reduce the risk of some cancers, and heal "leaky gut" - a condition that's at epidemic levels in the United States and leads to a myriad of health complaints, from fatigue to diarrhea and stomach troubles.

** It used to be canning or kosher salt was recommended most for pickling, but now we know processed salt is linked to autoimmune disorders. Sea salt will make the brine cloudy, but is much more healthy. I used Himalayan pink sea salt, but you can use any type of pure (nothing added) sea salt. I used coarse salt, but it's okay to use the same amount of fine salt.

*** Most experts advise against using ordinary metal lids or canning jar lids with rings. This is because metal can react negatively with the brine.

Jul 15, 2015

Organizing DVDs and CDs for Small Spaces

There is still much to do before we move into our tiny house motor home, but slowly, slowly, we are making progress. Hubby bought the shipping container - finally! (But now he has to insulate it to keep our books, family photos, etc. nice and dry.) And I'm trying to start packing and get rid of 14+ years of clutter that we've somehow accumulated. Among those items that we want to keep, but which take up quite a bit of room, are DVDs and CDs. The question was: How do we keep them easily accessible when we're living in 180 sq. ft.?

The only solution was to get rid of the DVD and CD cases and use some sort of compact storage system. I looked high and low for ideas and considered everything from ordinary binders with CD sleeves to these acrylic boxes. But this ready-to-go "wallet" is what I finally decided upon. It's such a great price and is better made than any of the other CD and DVD wallets or binders I've seen in local stores.

So a couple of days ago, I started packing DVDs into it.

I admit, initially it was hard for me to throw out all those DVD cases. I'm not really sure why. It wasn't that I was worried about selling the DVDs at a later date. (I haven't found that selling our used DVDs is really worth the effort, with the exception of young children's educational DVDs). And it certainly wasn't that we ever spend much time looking at the cases. Happily, as the project progressed, I found dumping all those cases into the trash can felt wonderfully freeing! I'm glad the cases are gone.
Into the trash with DVD cases!
I chose to put the DVDs in the same order we've had them for years: Somewhat alphabetically (all the titles that begin with "A" together, all the titles that start with "B" together, and so on), with a separate section for the kids' movies. Some people prefer to put DVDs in general categories (like "Romance," "Action," etc.) because it makes adding new DVDs to the collection a wee bit easier. But I really wasn't feeling up to totally reorganizing hundreds of DVDs. (Yes, hundreds! This project made me wonder why we have so many DVDs when we mostly watch Netflix...and I pared down our collection - a bit.)
The DVDs are actually now much handier than they were before.
When I was done, I'd cleared 5 shelves and 2 storage ottomans of DVDs. And as you can see in the photo below, the wallet takes up the same amount of space as just 10 DVDs in their cases. It's an amazing space saver! I should have done this years ago.

The wallet holds 336 DVDs or CDs and takes up the same amount of shelf room as 10 DVDs in their cases.