Thursday, December 31, 2009

End of Another Year

2009 is coming to a close. As with most years, there were good parts and bad parts. What's important is that we learn from our mistakes and strive to make ourselves better in the year ahead. It's important to own our attitudes and strive to make them better. It's important to look at missed opportunities and strive to take advantage of them in the year ahead. Many people make resolutions for the new year. I think resolutions often lead to disappointment; it may be more helpful to strive to grow into a better husband, father, person each day.

It's also important to remember all the good times. It's important to remember how God provided in the past year. It's important to see how God was present through everything. And it's important to remember that for the year ahead; no matter what comes your way, God will be there with you.

We often focus on our own reflections, but I haven't done much about it with my family before. I think it's a good opportunity to help our kids remember and learn. So, I'm going to go take a few minutes right now with my boys and reflect on the past year: starting Kindergarten, family trips, camping, outings, church events, friends from the neighborhood, etc.

Many blessings upon you and your family in 2010. May your find the rewards of parenting in the past year and strive to be an even more amazing parent in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Bakken

Yesterday the boys and I went to the library to grab a museum pass (after we had gotten the car's oil changed). We decided we'd try the Bakken Museum (knowing we could go to Como Park or somewhere else free if we didn't want to spend much time there).

The boys weren't necessarily interested in the history of electricity or electromagnetism, but there were enough hands-on exhibits that they had a lot of fun. And they did surprisingly well at behaving while we were there. That makes any outing worth it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Kid-Friendly Oil Change

We took my wife into work today so that we could have the car. The first item of business was an oil change. Since we don't have a decent garage to work in or all the tools I'd need (not to mention I'm not very good with cars), I take our car to where ever has a good deal on an oil change. Often that has been at the Quick Lube at my local Lupient Dealership across the road from us (I know--a dealership of all places--but they've been reliable in my experience and reasonably priced).

Today I had the boys with me when I went. I must say that it's a great place for kids if you have to wait for an oil change (my 2-year old and I have waited at other places with little to do besides sit and look at a car magazine). They have a windowed waiting room for kids, partitioned off from the regular waiting areas, with toys, books and magazines. Their waiting area has a case stocked with fresh doughnuts and cookies (my kids never get doughnuts, so it was a special treat), coffee and a soda fountain (as well as clean restrooms). My boys also like to look at the cars housed inside the building (especially the four older classics). As we were getting ready to go pay the cashier when our vehicle was done, one of the employees brought my boys paper bags filled with all sorts of little toys and trinkets. They've been playing with them ever since we got home a while ago. It's great to find a place that is affordable, reliable and family-friendly.

Let me know what you've found.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

May the gift of God's love be the greatest gift you receive, knowing He loves you as a perfect Heavenly Father (and covers up all the mistakes we make as earthly parents).

I hope you're able to develop wonderful Christmas traditions with your family as well. We're still working on them, but our morning consisted of eating Swedish pancakes, singing Christmas carols, reading the Christmas story and opening presents (yes, in that order--the kids were wonderful about waiting patiently).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Funny Faces

The company who created this website sent me the link to share on my blog. I don't always give into such fishing, but the boys and I played with it some and had some good laughs.

It's not an educational site, nor does it have much content, but it's good for a few minutes of play and a few laughs. At least I thought so.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Faux Toffee Bars

A friend requested this recipe, so I thought I'd post it here. My boys enjoy helping with it. My youngest likes to line the crackers in the pan. My oldest helps put the butter and brown sugar in the sauce pan and stir. And, obviously, they like to eat the finished by-product. Here's what you need:

Graham crackers (approx. 12)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line graham crackers to fill a cookie sheet.
Melt butter & brown sugar in a saucepan on the stove. Stir until bubbly. Pour over graham crackers. Spread evenly over crackers.
Put cookie sheet in oven. Bake until sugar/butter bubbles (just a few minutes--don't let it go too long).
Remove from oven, sprinkle chocolate chips over the top (won't take the whole bag). Spread melted chips evenly over the graham crackers. Let cool & serve.

Notes: some recipes call for soda crackers instead of graham crackers. Either can be used. Some recipes also call for 3/4 cup of butter and brown sugar. I usually use the 1/2 cup since there's plenty of sugar as it is. They can also be topped with chopped walnuts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Deena = Code for Clean Up

Since our firstborn was old enough to help pick up toys, we've sung the "Clean Up" song whenever we do it. You maybe know the one:
Clean-up, clean-up
Everybody do your share.
Clean-up, clean-up
Everybody, everywhere.
I don't know where the song comes from--perhaps some children's program that I would be chagrined to watch. But my wife sung it, and we've all been singing it ever since. Except that our firstborn used to sing, "Deena, deena" instead of "Clean-up." And so for almost five years now, we've all sung "Deena." I'm not sure if our 3-year old has ever heard the right words.

Our boys have actually moved beyond using it now. Now they say that they're "clean upping." The funny thing is that my wife and I still call it deena. "Boys, time to deena your room." "Let's deena before we do something new." I suppose each family has their own words like that--words their kids made up and everyone still uses. My wife and I even catch ourselves using it around other adults. It's probably just a phase--we'll grow out of it someday.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wintertime Outing (Our Best Kept Secret)

I hesitate to say this here for fear of my best kept secret being overrun, but I also know I don't have a huge readership, so I'm safe to share this. Our favorite place to go in the winter is the Como Park Zoo (especially since it's free--donations welcome). We get there more in the winter than we do in the summer. It's a great place to go on a cold afternoon that isn't hospitable for sledding. Most of the animals (with the exception of a few like the bison and reindeer) are inside buildings in the winter. And if you don't want to walk between buildings, you can spend a fair amount of time in the main center which houses the rain forest exhibit, a small are for kids to play and the conservatory (along with the gift shop and restaurant). The boys enjoy the plants, flowers and koi in the conservatory. Hopefully that won't change for a while. Thankfully, they haven't gotten tired of the exhibits yet. It helps that we don't drive over too often; I'm sure it would be a different story if we lived closer. Plus, the conservatory and rain forest usually are around 80 degrees inside (my glasses and camera always fog up), so you can get a little tropical warmth.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Snow Play

We finally had some warm weather since the last snow fall so that we could get outside and enjoy it. We put on snow pants and got the sled and snow board out of the garage and made our way to the park next door. Winter days like these are great. We get out of the house, we enjoy the snow and the boys get some exercise. This is what winter is about. There are things to make it manageable on days we have to be indoors, but it's so much more fun if we can be outside.

Now we just need a nice snowfall with warm temperatures so that we can build some snow forts.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Getting Out of the House

Our first big snow storm of the season hit. And temperatures dropped. Not a good combination. I don't mind snow at all, but I don't like when it's too cold to go out and play. Thankfully, the Rec. Center in our city opens up their banquet room three days a week. For $2 a child you can come play on their inflatable bouncy castles, use their toys and--most importantly--get out of the house. I know there are several similar options around the Twin Cities. I've also heard of a church that is opening up their gymnasium a few Saturdays during the winter for kids to come and play at no cost. Hopefully, you can find something like this near you--if not, see what options their may be: a an empty school gym, a church nursery, even a friend's basement are all options for getting out of the house for a new place space. Make the most of this winter and stay sane.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


Last night we took our boys downtown in Minneapolis to see the Holidazzle Parade. It was a cold night (as they tend to be in Minnesota in December). Our 3-year old didn't want to be there. It was too cold. He wanted to be home. Then the parade started. And he didn't want to leave. It's fun to go through the Christmas season through the eyes of a child.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dad Rap

This has gone around in stay-at-home dad circles, but this is a hilarious "gangsta rap" about being a stay-at-home dad. My boys sing along with it--which makes me laugh even more.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Slow Cooker Turkey Tetrazzini

This was a tasty way to use up leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. It was also handy to have another slow cooker recipe.

1 c hot water
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 c sliced mushrooms (or one can)
1/2 onion, diced
2 c diced cooked turkey
1 c shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tsp dried parsley flakes
2 c broken uncooked spaghetti

In a saucepan, saute the mushrooms and onion with a little butter.
Remove from heat and add the water and soup.
Stir in the turkey, cheese and seasoning (in addition to the parsley, I added some Italian seasoning; the recipe called for a dash of nutmeg). Add broken up spaghetti. Stir to combine and pour into crockpot. Cover and cook on LOW for 4 to 6 hours, until spaghetti is tender. Mix before serving.

I sprinkled grated Parmesan cheese on top a few minutes before it was ready to serve.

If you mix this up the night before, do not add the spaghetti--it will become mushy when cooked.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


We put our Christmas tree up tonight. I think this is one of the earliest times we've done it before (we tend to put it up later and keep it up through at least the "twelve days of Christmas"). We're still developing those holiday traditions as our children are getting older. Everybody gets at least one Christmas ornament each year, so we each have a box with our own things to hang on the tree. I noticed tonight that our tree has become more about what the kids want to hang on it than anything else (back in the years before kids we'd occasionally do themes with the ornaments).

Another tradition we started tonight as well was doing Advent devotions together each night. We're using Jesse Tree family devotions again this year (some years we've had books with stickers to put on a scene each night; the Jesse Tree has an picture to print out and color and hang up as a mobile to go with each night's devotion).

We also finished getting all the gifts we needed to fill our shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child today. We started doing this last year so the boys could see that it's more important to give to those who have nothing than to fill up their toy bins with more toys. We hope to be able to add some service projects to our Christmas routine at some point.

We try to build traditions that focus on the season--why we, as a family, celebrate Advent and Christmas. We do "fun" stuff, too--taking pajama rides to look at Christmas lights is a favorite, and making cookies for our neighbors--but through them all we try and remind the kids of what why we do all this. We try not to celebrate mindlessly, but to have some intent in all we do.

So what are some of your family's traditions?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Peanut Butter Soup

2 medium onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 T veg oil
1 can (28oz) crushed tomatoes
1 can (14oz) chicken broth
4 c water
2 large yams, peeled & cubed
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t salt
2 c cooked chicken pieces
1/2 c peanuts, crushed

In a soup pot, saute onions & garlic in oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes, broth (I used homemade chicken stock), water and yams (I used sweet potatoes).
Cook over medium-low heat for 25 minutes or until yams feel soft (smaller pieces will make this happen quicker).
Stir in the peanut butter, cayenne pepper, and salt; cool for 30 minutes.
Puree the soup in a food processor; pour back into the saucepan and warm.
Sprinkle with the chicken and peanuts.

I didn't bother with putting chicken on top, since there was protein in the peanuts. My Ghanaian friends serve it over soft rice balls--but their recipes are slightly different, too (maybe some of you can post some in the comments?). It wasn't as big a hit with our boys, who are big peanut butter fans, but we loved it & will try it with them again.

Side note: There is a difference between sweet potatoes and yams. They're not related. Yams are tubers like potatoes; sweet potatoes are roots like carrots. But yams are pretty rare in the US--though some sweet potatoes are labeled as yams.

Here's the Library of Congress's explanation: "In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No More Secrets

Those days of my wife and I being able to spell things in front of the kids and be able to keep it a secret are gone. Even though they haven't started working on words in Kindergarten yet, my kindergartner can get most of the words we spell anymore. And then he'll tell his brother what we're spelling. Pretty much we're only safe if we spell huge words or sentences, but then I tend to loose what my wife is saying as she spells it out. We'll either have to learn sign language or an obscure foreign language if we want to be able to converse openly without them understanding.

This past weekend the I got a Christmas present for my wife from the boys (they were with me to pick it out). On our way to the car, where my wife was waiting, I kept reminding them to keep the present a secret until Christmas. Our preschool got to the car and started telling her what they got her. Then he got angry when I reminded him that he wasn't supposed to tell her. I guess we just can't have secrets in our household anymore (which isn't all that bad).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tater Tot Casserole

I suppose I should call it "Hot Dish" since we're in Minnesota, but this is a family favorite.

1 lb. hamburger
1 small onion (or more depending on taste)
1 can corn
1 can green beans
1 carrot
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup (can also substitute another cr. of mushroom or celery)
1/2 can water
1 pkg cheese
1 pkg. tater tots

Preheat oven to 350. Brown hamburger and onion in saucepan. Grate carrot (again, my secret for sneaking more vitamins in the dish. Mix with corn, beans, both cans of soup and water in bowl. Combine everything into a 9x13in baking dish. Sprinkle cheese over top (I like a mix of Velveeta & cheddar, any kind could be used; use amount desired--I just make sure there's a thin layer over everything). Over everything place rows of tater tots (or if you're not so into tedious work, just throw them over top so they cover everything). Cook at 350 for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Variations: Use any sort of vegetables: peas, parsnips and rutabagas have all been used in our house at one point or another.

Holy Make-Believe, Batman

Anders was suffering from allergies terribly yesterday (we're thinking a little mold in the hay at the farm park on Saturday), and was home from school today (which was okay because some accident on the road near the school caused it not to have electricity today). So he's being creative with stuff around the house--earlier he and his little brother colored a cardboard box to make it into a school bus.

A few minutes ago Anders put a yellow blanket around him with a blue scarf around his chest like a sash and said, "Look, I'm God." I said, "Why, yes, you do look a little like Jesus" (trying to correct him subtly and avoid a lightning bolt of blasphemy). His next step was to look for a red marker to put on his hands and feet. He just had me come look at him in--he was standing on the edge of the tub in the bathroom. "Doesn't it look like I'm rising into Heaven?" (He's suffering from some allergies, so his eyes look like he's been through quite the ordeal. Currently he's drawing with a marker on a wrapping paper tube. I believe he just said, "I"m going to make it into a ninja stick," and, "Nils, go get my Ninja Turtle undies." (Did Jesus wear boxers or briefs?) I guess we'll just wait this one out and see where they go with it. It could be quite the afternoon . . .I guess it's better than him fighting with Nils. At least hopefully Jesus won't do that to his brother.

When he was younger, Anders would play "Joshua and the Battle of Jericho" in which he would walk around the couch seven times, make a loud noise and then pretend that the walls fell down. David and Goliath was another favorite thing to act out (I was usually Goliath). I guess when "Cowboys and Indians" are politically incorrect, the kids come up with something else to play.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Where Milk Comes From

Yesterday we enjoyed the warm weather by heading out of town to Gale Woods Farm, part of the local park district. I'd heard about it from a friend, so we took advantage of the day and went out to check it out. They show how sustainable agriculture can be done, presenting opportunities for kids to learn about where grocery store food really comes from. Meat, eggs, produce and wool are sold there as well.

The boys enjoyed the animals, but their favorite part was climbing and jumping on the big hay bales. They've been on plenty of farms before, so there weren't much new lessons out of it, but we got some fresh air and exercise which is always a good thing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Your Love Makes Me Sing

As Anders was getting ready for Kindergarten this morning, he put one of his kids' worship CDs in his player and started singing along. And dancing. Waving a blanket over his head kind of like those gymnasts with the ribbons. But cuter, of course.

And it brought a smile to my face and joy to my heart because he gets it. He gets the faith that we're bringing him up with for the most part (though I do wish he'd get that "honor your father and mother" part down better). When we read the devotional story at night, he's able to answer the questions. Sure, a lot of it comes down to being able to know when to say "Because Jesus loves us" or a similar catch phrase. But those aren't bad phrases for him to know.

It also brings me joy to see him enjoy it--that faith isn't a drudgery, but that it can be fun and exciting and personal and meaningful. Yes, he doesn't get all the lyrics right, but they're what he wants to sing. Which is so much better than some of the alternatives out there.

No matter what faith you're instilling in your child, you're probably doing it because you believe that your faith helps make us better people and makes the world a better place to live in. And it's joyful when your child embraces those good parts of it. I love that my son knows that God loves him, that Jesus died so that his sins (and he's got them, even at this young age) may be forgiven, and loving others is what we do. And I really love to hear him sing it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Last night, I had the boys in bed around 7:30. They were clearly overly tired, so I tried to make sure they got to bed right away. No matter how many reminders, though, they didn't fall asleep right away. Anders was up still around 9:00.

I usually wake them up around 7am so that Anders can be ready for school. They both were up before 6:30 this morning.

I know that at their age they need 11-12 hours of sleep each night (at least from the articles I've read). Nils probably would have taken a nap in the bike trailer yesterday, but Anders would not bike any more, so we were out of luck there. The down side is that in addition to their grumpiness, I get grumpy.

And here's some irony: as I'm typing this Nils is watching a little Sesame Street. A bunch of monsters are singing, "Take a nap, nap, nap, nap, nap, nappy Everybody nap." Do you think he'll listen to Telly Monster any better than he listens to me?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Finally, after being here 18 months, the boys have friends that they can have playdates with. Actually, they've had some for a while now, but the pool to draw from is expanding. We have two neighbors who each of kids around the boys' ages. We've been doing more with them in the last few months. Which is nice--we haven't had that for a while. One of the boys from Anders' class lives a block away. He was over today for a little while; Anders had been over to his house last week.

They do take extra time to work into the schedule--especially clean-up time--but they're worth it. They're good for the boys: they get do work on their social skills, manners and getting along with others. And they're good for me--especially because I get days where the boys are over at someone else's house for a while.

Monday, November 16, 2009

In the News

One of our local television stations ran a segment on stay-at-home dads last night (I missed it, but heard about it through the dad's email discussion group). The printed article focuses on how the recession and lay-offs have found more dads becoming the primary caregiver for families again (apparently there was a boom in 1991). While there is truth to the story, we shouldn't all be lumped into being in our position because we can't find work. We're not all unemployed. We're definitely not lazy. Our local area SAHD's directory shows that a big chunk of the men in the group are well-educated--many have doctorates. And while many of us may have ended up in our position because we were laid off or we couldn't find work, we're still doing this role because we chose to--and we like to do it. Many have set aside their careers to be with their children because that's the bigger priority to them. It's nice that the article gives us recognition--and doesn't just patronize us, giving us credit for being man enough to do "women's work." It's nice that they point out that it's a difficult decision for many dads to go back to work. I know it's seldom an easy decision for anyone. And yes, families can manage on one income. It takes some sacrifice in many instances, but it's doable. And very rewarding.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Make Believe

It's a good time of year to look for good sales on Halloween costumes. The Superman costume we picked up several years ago on clearance at Walmart. The Batman mask came from Once Upon a Child at some point. The boys love to pretend they're knights, pirates, superheroes or whatever they fancy at the moment. So check the stores and consignment shops. Its a good way for them to use that imagination and to spend a few hours on these upcoming wither afternoons.

It's always good to have superheroes around. Superman helped me get the green beans for the Tater Tot casserole I was making.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Want to Ride my Bicycle

We have had absolutely gorgeous weather lately for it being November in Minnesota. I'm trying to take advantage of it, but that doesn't always work out. Today I encouraged Anders to ride his bike to the Nature Center--and he went along with it, after a bit of coaxing. It was our first big bike ride (other than just going around the pond by our house) and the first one where I got to ride my bike with Nils in the trailer instead of having to walk along beside him.

He's still riding with training wheels, so I had to pedal particularly slow, but it was a lot of fun. I think he enjoyed it, too. I'm looking forward to the future when we can hit a bike trail as a family.

One of the frustrating parts of this past year has been trying to fit in exercise. The boys are big enough where they want to ride their own bikes/trikes instead of riding in a stroller, but they're also new enough at it that its slow and we stop a lot and we don't go very far. Which means I don't get much exercise out of the deal. Not that its all about me. But it is a bit--I do need the exercise for my physical and emotional health.

If there isn't time to fit in a walk or bike ride during the day (or some soccer play in the park with the boys), my main exercise outlet becomes turning on some good music and trying to "actively" clean the house. Or dance while I do dishes. It's quite a site, I know. But there's isn't room in the budget for a gym membership. It also becomes way too easy to make up excuses about not having money to exercise or time in the day. You've just got to find ways to make it happen. And I personally like the ways that don't cost anything so much more than buying a gym membership.

Next summer . . . there's hope for some good bike rides now. Hooray!

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's My Potty and I'll Cry if I Want To

Nils often goes to the bathroom by himself, but he calls us into wipe him when he's done. Today I heard him go in the bathroom, and a while later I heard the toilet flush. I went in to discover all the toilet paper missing from the roll (it was well over half full) and water on the floor. But his butt was clean. I guess we've got that part down at least. I'm a little nervous about how it happened, though. I guess I'll be monitoring those events a little more closely in the future.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fall Back

Two reflections on Fall:

1. We actually have it here today. It was the first day in a while that we were able to go out to the park (and we weren't alone in wanting to get out today). The boys and I spent some time in the park while the Hearty Bean Chowder was cooking on the stove this afternoon. Soccer provided some good aerobic exercise that I'd been lacking lately (other than a couple frosty mornings (without rain) that I got out for a walk. Then the boys got into playing with different kids who began filtering through the park.

2. Last weekend our clocks "fell back." Can I jsut say I hate the time change in general. Two days a year our household has to get thrown way off balance. I understand the original intent of daylight savings time, but we're beyond it being an economical move. It doesn't really make sense for standard time to only last four months of the year.

Sure, an extra hour of sleep sounds good in theory, but that's a far-off dream with children around. And I know there's concern around kids getting on or off the bus in the dark, but if children in Alaska can manage entire days of darkness, I think our kids can also manage a few hours of it. If any senators are reading this, please note that I vote in favor of eliminating daylight savings time.


Yesterday we had our first parent-teacher conferences. Beth and I were both able to go, and the neighbors watched the boys for us. Everything went well. She said Anders is doing great, is trustworthy--she can send him on an errand with a friend and count on him going straight there and back, and is a meticulous student. It was pretty much what we hoped to hear--though we weren't entirely sure how his behavior would be all the time at school. So it was a good report.

One of the things I like about the school is that they expect parents to be a part of the child's education (hmm, what a novel idea). The teach wrote down goals that she expects to achieve with Anders and had us come up with a set to work on at home. School should never become a dropping off place where we expect our job as parents to be finished. Education can't be solely in the teacher's hands (nor should we want it to be).

I know we can't all be involved in the schools or parent-teacher organizations, but we should all be involved with our children. Some people work extended hours to try and make life better for their children--and I understand the motivation - being a stay-at-home parent has been a big sacrifice for us financially--but we will never better the lives of our children if we are not a part of them. All we can do then is add more stuff to their lives. And stuff seldom has an impact that enhances. Quality time, as cliche as it has become at times, is the greatest gift we can give our children. It is also their greatest need from us.

PS. As you're going into parent-teacher conferences at your child's school, remember to thank them and not berate them. Yes, there may be some who are not doing their best or not understanding your child's specific needs, but all put in long hours of hard work (I've been on that side of the education system before). Don't hesitate to speak to your child's needs and your concerns, but make sure the teacher goes away with an acknowlegement of the appreciation you have for their work with your child.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book in a Bag

Anders brings home a book to read each day from his Kindergarten class (well, 4 out of 5 days). It comes in a plastic bag with the form for us to sign off on that he's read it. So they call it Book-in-a-Bag. It's all very clever.

I'm not sure that they've actually gotten to learning to read in the class yet--I know they're still working on learning to write the letters toward the end of the alphabet. So, it's meant for the parents to read it to the child at this point mainly, with the child starting to read with you and eventually they'll read on their own. Anders has mainly been reading with us (we'll help with the bigger words, but he reads most of it), but he's been able to do some of it on his own.

Today his book that was sent home was called "Snow." It went like this:
Page 1 - Title Page: Snow by Lisa Trumbauer, with a picture of some flowers in bloom surrounded by snow
Page 2 - a picture of a boy making a snowball, "Snow on my hands."
Page 3 - a picture of a girl on a sled with snowy boots pointing toward the camera, "Snow on my feet."
Page 4 - snow blanketed on sand dunes, "Snow on the sand."
Page 5 - people and cars on a snow city street, "Snow on the street."
Page 6 - a home with a snow-covered roof and yard, "Snow on the house."
Page 7 - an evergreen seedling poking through the snow, "Snow on the tree."
Page 8 - a boy sitting in snow, "Cold snow all over me."

Anders got through it pretty much on his own. He's doing well and enjoying reading, too. After he finished, Nils (who will be 3 next week) wanted to read it. And he did. Whether he actually recognized the words after watching Anders read them, or if he just remembered what each page said from the picture (the likely case), he totally remembered each word on every page (with the exception of the last page starting with "Cold" instead of "Snow" which also threw Anders off at first). Maybe I place too much emphasis on education, but I'm a bit proud of them both. I guess Nils' preschool time at home is working out just fine.

Slow-Cooker Lasagna

I'm a big fan of slow-cooker meals. Anything I can make up (potentially ahead of time) and let the crock pot take care of the rest of the details is a great meal in my book. This one came out of Kraft Food's Food & Family magazine. Here's my version:

1 lb. ground beef (I use slightly less than a pound of ground turkey)
1 jar (26oz) spaghetti sauce
1 cup water
1 container (15oz) ricotta cheese (I've only made it with cottage cheese, since that's what we have in the house)
1 pkg (7oz) shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (I forget the conversion for dried flakes--try 1 Tbsp, adjust according to your tastes)
6 lasagna noodles, uncooked

1. Brown meat (no reason not to add some onion if you like), drain
2. Stir in spaghetti sauce and water with meat
3. In a separate bowl mix ricotta, 1 1/2 cups of the Mozzarella, 2 Tbsp of the Parmesan, the egg and parsley
4. Layer (lasagna is Italian for layers--your language lesson for today) in the slow cooker:
  • 1 cup meat sauce
  • 3 noodles (break to fit)
  • half the cheese mixture
  • 2 cups meat sauce
  • 3 noodles
  • half the cheese mixture
  • the rest of the meat sauce
5. Cover and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours or until liquid is absorbed.
6. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

It's been enjoyed by our family every time it's been made--and they don't usually eat lasagna.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Carving Time

Our neighbor gave us some extra pumpkins for the boys this week. We decided instead of carving them to try something different. I grabbed a screwdriver and made a few strategic holes in the pumpkins. Then we brought out our tub of Mr. Potato Head parts. The fun part is that the can keep playing with them. They often end up with parts in odd places, but they enjoy it.

And if you're not roasting the pumpkin seeds afterward for a great snack, you're really missing out.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

And A Pile to Jump In

It's amazing how many hours of entertainment can be provided by a rake (and an autumnal tree).

Friday, October 16, 2009


Last night in our bedtime routine, Anders read the first 18 pages of Go Do, Go! I don't think they're at that point in Kindergarten yet of reading books, but he's able to do 3-letter words very well. We practice in the bathtub (they have foam letters that stick to the side); he requests it most times.

Having an English education major for my undergraduate degree, reading is important to me, of course. We read to the boys at the beginning of their rest time and before they go to bed at night. So they're learning their alphabet and reading skills a little early. Other things have been a priority, too (like bike riding and manners), but they don't seem to pick up on those as quickly. I guess they'll come. Parenthood has been a good lesson in building patience. Development is never on my terms.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Educational TV

Nils (my almost 3-year old) is watching SuperWhy on PBS as I type (I occasionally let him watch a couple PBS shows). He's identifying the letters before they're said on the show and even connecting what letters make what sounds. We've been working on that for a while, and it's good to see that he's getting it. I think some of the shows on PBS have helped--not that I advocate for letting kids watch TV all the time, but limited usage of the right shows do have an impact. Of course, without parental involvement it doesn't come together as well. Now that our 5-year old is off at Kindergarten, I don't get to see the fruits of my work with him as readily, so it's nice to see it coming along with Nils. At it's a good reminder to keep doing the work (and give him those moments to watch PBS kids once in a while--hey, if nothing else, its a half hour to get some cleaning done).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

5-Minute Bread

There are several recipes (all about the same out there) for 5-minute bread. It's an easy recipe that you make up the dough, refrigerate it and then pull of a chunk to bake when you need it. The dough doesn't require any kneading, so it really is a simple recipe. Quick and easy and nothing beats the taste of fresh, homemade bread.

Cheesy Chili Lentils

So we're trying to eat healthfully while on a budget. It's not usually easy to make meals that fall in those categories while being something the boys will eat. I came up with this recipe on a whim the other day. It turned out pretty well. My wife wanted me to write it down because she liked it. It was simple, too. I did it in the slow cooker so it could finish while I did other things. Of course, I didn't measure things out, so I'm guessing on amounts here.

1 1/2 c. lentils
1 1/2 c. water (add more as needed--the usual ratio is 1 c lentils to 1 1/2 c water)
1 can diced tomatoes (I used a can of chili-ready tomatoes from Aldi)
1/2 c. diced onion (as desired)
seasonings--chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne powder, cumin, oregano (whatever you like in your chili)
Add any other chili items you might have on hand: peppers, black olives (my kids like them at least), corn, etc. I stayed away from beans and meat since I was trying to go cheap and the lentils had protein anyway.

Place everything in a slow cooker on low for a couple hours at least.
Serve topped with cheese (I used a shredded Mexican mixture from Aldi) and cornbread (I made the recipe on the corn meal container).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Taco Lasagna

I made up this recipe last week (I'm sure there are real recipe versions of it out there) to use up some leftovers from a taco night a few days earlier.

Grab 1 package of tortillas and any taco-type foods you have on hand.
I used a stoneware pie pan to cook it in. Anything that's about the same diameter as a tortilla shell will do.

I started by spooning some enchilada sauce onto the bottom of the pan (salsa could also be used) to help keep the food from sticking.

Place one tortilla shell in the pan. Begin layering.
Here's how I did mine:
tortilla shell
taco meat & cheese
tortilla shell
refried beans & enchilada sauce
tortilla shell
mexican style tomatoes & corn
tortilla shell
enchilada sauce, black olives & cheese on top

Bake at 350 for about a half hour (until the cheese on top is melted nicely).
If desired, top with lettuce, sour cream, avocado slices, etc.

You can really make this however you desire. It turned out nicely and the whole family enjoyed it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Money, Budgets and Wrapping Paper

In Anders' folder in his backpack today his teacher sent home a packet with information on a fundraiser the school is going to be doing. I think it's to raise money for things that the budget doesn't cover--I didn't see any clear explanation in much of what I skimmed through. Our budget doesn't have room for $15 tubs of cookie dough right now. And if we could afford that, I think I'd rather just give money toward whatever project is needed, if it's something I'd support.

Pretty much anymore, the kids aren't really allowed to go out and sell things. It mostly falls in the parents lap. And if I were going to be selling things, well then, I guess we'd have a second income right now. Even if the kids were encouraged to go out and take ownership, I don't think a Kindergarten can really understand why and what they're doing.

So unless someone needs to renew a magazine subscription or is really interested in some Christmas wrapping paper or frozen garlic bread, we'll probably be sending the order form back blank. At least this year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recipe: Cheezies

This is a really simple recipe, but my kids usually enjoy it, and it's one they can be involved in making.

Take several slices of bread (as many as will be eaten). I prefer something other than sandwich bread: rye, Italian, artisan, whole wheat, etc. More than likely your kids will eat it, even if it's a bread they don't usually eat.

Cover each slice of bread with cheese. Sliced American is easy. But Swiss or cheddar are good. Go with whatever is on hand and will complement the bread well.

Take some toppings and create a work of art: black and green olive smiley faces, red and green bell pepper stripes, pepperoni polka dots, etc. Or just leave it with the cheese only.

Place in an oven/toaster and turn on the broiler. Watch carefully. It doesn't take long for these to be done (when the cheese is melted/browned to your desire).

An easy way to get some calcium & a little protein, as well as sneaking in a few veggies.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


The boys and I went to the St. Louis Park splash pad at Oak Hills Park this afternoon. It was the last day it's open this year, and the weather was nice enough for us to go and play for a while. These are great days. Fall is a wonderful season (though, we're technically not in it yet).

It also made me realize that it won't be long until we're relegated to being indoors most of the time. The boys and I enjoy being outside as much as possible--even in the winter. Fall will bring plenty of hikes and time in the park. Winter will bring sledding and playing in the snow.

Having a kids in Kindergarten in the mornings will change things as well. We have to be around when the bus arrives. So afternoons will be our main outing time. Thankfully there are the passes from the library; they really make things affordable to do.

Monday, September 7, 2009

To Motivate a Child

Some of my goals for the summer had been to help Anders learn to ride his bike without training wheels, to be able to do the monkey bars and to learn to swing by himself. He's kind of able to do the monkey bars when he's motivated, and he can pump on the swing when he doesn't get too focused because then he becomes frustrated. He won't let me help him on the bike if he's too scared to try, which is most of the time. I try to only use encouraging words and tell him that I believe in him. That doesn't seem to work. He's got to want to do it on his own, and apparently I can't motivate him to want that (well, maybe money or the promise of new Legos or Star Wars toys could work, but we're not going down the bribery road). So if you've got any pointers, I'd love to hear them. Until then, I'm working with my 2 1/2 year old. He wants to be able to do those things.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Recipe: Anders' Casserole

Here's the recipe that Anders asked for supper on his first day of school. My mom made it for me when I was young, and it's now the one that my boys almost always will eat. It's a pretty simple recipe, using stuff that's probably already in your home. It's easily modifiable. And leftovers are good.

Anders' Casserole (basic recipe)
1 lb. ground meat (hamburger or turkey)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 cup rice
1 can corn

Brown the meat in a saucepan. We typically use ground turkey for less fat, but hamburger is just as good. It can be browned with chopped onion, salt and pepper. I sometimes add Worcestershire sauce. Drain the fat.

Add the rice, soup and corn. Add one can of water. Heat on medium high until it starts boiling, then cover and reduce to low.

When the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender, serve it up (about a half hour to 45 minutes).

Variations: You can use different veggies. I often grate carrots into it to add a little extra veggie content. Green beans work. Presumably so do mixed veggies. Different cream soups can also be used. Different types of rice as well.

Any sort of spices can be experimented with. I have tried various mixtures of garlic, turmeric, chili powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, sage, thyme, basil, oregano, salt and pepper.

Cheese can be added. I've even put in mayo as well as enchilada sauce. My boys often like it with soy sauce.

This can also be done in the oven on 350 for about an hour.

Sending Our First-born off to School

Today we sent our eldest son off to school for the first time. He was ready. He didn't even balk when the bus pulled up--he just climbed right on board. No tears or fears. Not even from mom & dad (my wife happened to be working the closing shift today so she was here when he left and come home from school). A few from the little brother, but that was because he wanted to be going on the bus, too. He knows he'll be getting some schooling at home this year: we call it Pappa's School of Hard Knocks. He headed out with big brother this morning wearing his own backpack. But he was disappointed to find out that he didn't get to ride a bus to his school today and that his school was just the old desk in the corner of his bedroom. But he did get a field trip--to the grocery store.

Everyone had been asking us how we'll handle sending our first-born off to school. It really wasn't too big of a deal (though it may have been if we had given ourselves time to reflect on it this morning--especially about how time is flying by so quickly). I think this transition is going to be hardest on the little borther, not having his big brother around in the mornings. At least for a while. I think it's also going to make my job harder only having the 2 1/2 year old around now, since he'll be more in demand of my attention. He was talking nonstop the whole time in the car this morning as we were going to get groceries and run errands.

Our oldest is ready for school, though. I know some people understandably have a hard time sending their kids off to school. Some don't even do it, opting to home school, simply because they're afraid of their kids getting tainted. And that is a concern of ours--the things he will pick up from the older kids on the bus (thankfully it's only K-3rd grade). But that's why we're making having one stay-at-home parent a priority for our kids. We want to make sure they are brought up with the morals we want them to have. We want them to learn from us first and foremost. We want them to know that we're investing in them.

Our pastor Efrem Smith pointed out last Sunday, if we're investing in our children as parents and being good stewards with them, we have nothing to fear. Efrem said, "Why does peer pressure always have to be negative--that we're afraid of what the world is going to do to our kids? No. The world needs to be afraid of what our kids are going to do to them. That's positive peer pressure."

So maybe that's one of the best reasons to do this stay-at-home dad thing: I get to train my children up in the way they should go so that I don't have to worry about them when they're off on their own. There are still plenty of lessons to learn, but he'll do fine. He'll succeed. And he'll have us there to cheer him on the whole way.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

School's Coming

Today I took my 5-year old to school to meet his teacher and see his classroom. Information was given both ways and school supplies were taken. It was all for getting ready for Kindergarten, which starts in two days. He told his teacher that he's "half excited, half nervous." We're probably all in the same boat as far as that goes. Even his little brother, as you can see in the picture, is a bit excited. But I know he'll have some adjustment as he finds himself home alone in the mornings with just me and no brother around with whom to play. Anyway, changes are in store for our family this week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

School's Comin'

We got our letter from our district school today saying which teacher our 5-year old will have. This is new territory for us--sending our firstborn off to school. Kindergarten around here is only half day. Our son is in the morning class. So, it's not too big of a deal. Just a couple hours. He can handle it; we can handle it (or so we're assuring ourselves at this point). We had met both of the teacher potentials--one actually subbed for the coach of his soccer team--and both are good, so at this point it was just knowing. He'll most likely be in the same class as a girl from our neighborhood he knows (her sister had the same teacher last year, so they were requesting the same one). Either way, chances are good that he'll be in class with some kid he knows from the park. And there'll be plenty of new friends.

Next week he goes in to meet his teacher and see the classroom. We're going to miss his opportunity to meet his bus driver, but that'll be okay. And so with just around a week and a half until Kindergarten starts, we're mostly ready to embark on this new journey. Parents of a Kindergartener. It's going to change dynamics at home. His younger brother will get more focused attention for one thing. And so it begins.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rainy Days

My wife was off yesterday & it was a another rainy day in the Twin Cities. But I needed a change of scenery. So out we went.

First stop: The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Our 5-year old liked it. Egyptian mummy sarcophagus, swords, armor, African masks, sculptures, paintings. He wants to go back sometime with paper and pencil and draw, too. Our 2 1/2 year old wasn't as sold on the experience. He enjoyed some of it, but 20 minutes was about his tolerance level.

So we headed over to Como Park Zoo to see the butterflies once more before they leave for the summer (my wife hadn't seen them yet, either). We caught a break in the rain; there were no lines at the zoo and plenty of parking--which is a rarity in the summer. The boys were a bit worn out from late nights and no naps (not our fault--they just won't sleep), so we only saw the butterflies and the primate house. And that was enough. Enough to make it a nice day.

Some rainy days it's nice to be in the house and watch a movie or do an art project or bake some cookies; some rainy days its nice to be out and explore.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Watery Eyes

One of the many things I love about our five-year old is his sensitivity. At times he can be a bit overly dramatic, but there are times when he's quite sincere in displaying his emotions (which he definitely--and unfortunately--didn't learn from me). Tonight we were watching the movie Lilo & Stitch. Towards the end when Stitch and Lilo get separated, he started crying saying that he never wants to get lost (it may be connected to telling them the importance of always being right next to me when we were at the concert with 20-some thousand other people this weekend). One of the first movies he cried at was Iron Giant when the robot sacrifices itself to save humanity. There have been countless others in the last couple of years.

I know that I've been learning to be healthier recently by sharing my emotions rather than repressing them. I hope he never learns that it's wrong to cry (though we could loose a little of the drama at times). Plus, right now, at his age, it's a good excuse to get to hold him a little before he gets too big.

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Concert

My wife worked yesterday afternoon, so we dropped her off so we could have the car and go to a concert. It was a big outdoor venue with 7 artists over 7 hours (we weren't there for all of it) with skateboarders and other display areas. It was put on by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, so a few "altar calls" by Franklin Graham were part of it. It was only $10 for my ticket (the boys were free). We heard a few sets by DecembeRadio, SuperChick, Lecrae and Kirk Franklin. None were bands we knew well, but we'd heard some of their songs on the radio before. It was a long day and we didn't have extra money for food with (and didn't get to our cooler in the car until late), but the boys did well with it. I think they were a bit overwhelmed at times--there were several thousand people there. And we were so far away from the stage, it was hard for them to get energized with the crowd, but overall it was a good venue. It was a good first concert for them to attend. I didn't have to worry about much besides them getting lost (and I had my cell phone number "tatooed" on their arms), and they heard positive messages and saw vast diversity within the crowd (which is a positive for a "religious" gathering). Plus, I believe they had a good, memorable time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cooling Off

We haven't had many opportunities this summer to cool off in style on the few occasions that we've had hot, humid weather. Oak Hills Park in St. Louis Park has a nice (and free) splash pad. The boys enjoy cooling off there on hot days. It's not far away, but it's unfortunately too far for us to bike to; thankfully my parents took us down along with my niece this week.

Today my wife didn't work until late afternoon, so we packed a picnic and headed to Lake Calhoun to cool off from the heat and humidity. Can you really enjoy summer in Minnesota until you've done some swimming or hung out by the water? For the boys, sand castles were high on the list of things to do as well.

We can't afford a swimming pool pass right now, but thankfully there are plenty of other ways to cool off around here.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Our boys went away for a couple nights to my parents' farm. They're coming back late tonight. I know some parents can't handle that well. We're all in favor of it. This was this first time its happened in a couple years. But it sure won't be the last. It's good for the boys as well as us. Our oldest was a little worried about going without us--even though he's done it when he was younger.

It's good for us as parents, too. Yesterday was my wife's day off, so had a whole-day date (farmers market, a couple art museums, dinner with friends and a movie). We seldom get out by ourselves anymore, not having a big babysitting base, so it was good to have some time with just us as a couple. Which, in turn, is good for the boys. The better our relationship is as husband and wife, the better we parent. Plus, our marriage was our first commitment. We need to put into that first before being parents.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bus Ride

Last night our family went to the central school in town where all the new Kindergartners and their families were invited to learn about school bus safety and get a ride on a bus. Even our youngest sat well during the Winnie-the-Pooh bus safety video (with live actors in character costumes--a little scary, truth be told). And of course they loved the bus ride. Any big vehicle is good.

So in about a month, I'll be sending our firstborn off to school all by himself. I know that step can be hard for parents. But it's what we raise him to be able to do--live on his own someday, making the right decisions and following his faith. And we let them go a little at a time: the first sleep over away from home, the first bus ride to school, the first week away at camp . . . I don't want to think too much beyond that yet. But he can do it. And he'll do just fine. There may be some issues here and there to work through, but there always will be. As long as he remembers to stay seated and don't get too close to the bus after leaving, that's all we can ask.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Death of a Pet

Just over a couple of months ago, our boys were given a tiny painted turtle (at the time, they thought it was a mud turtle, so the boys named it Muddy) by a friend of ours. We had no intention of keeping it, really. We don't have room for a pet. But we quickly grew attached to it and Muddy became a fixture around our apartment.

This morning, I discovered Muddy wasn't moving in the water. He had been a bit lethargic lately, so we wondered if he was getting something. We had just discussed releasing him into a nearby lake so he could have the freedom he needs (but we weren't entirely ready to see him go). So it was a sad day. Our five-year old cried off and on through most of the morning.

We had a burial after lunch. I've never cried so much for a turtle--though it wasn't so much for the turtle as it was for my son. It was hard to see death through his eyes. There were some points of remembering my grandfather's and my father-in-law's funerals. So we talked a bit here and there about life & death and being sad and missing people.

And so we laid Muddy to rest. I dug a hole in the grass behind the apartment building. The boys picked some sticks to mark the grave. The boys said goodbye to Muddy (like they're going to see him again tomorrow--I don't think they grasp the finality of death--or maybe they just know there's more life to come). We said a prayer (the five-year old prayed that Muddy would get better). Then I covered up the hole, and we said good-bye one last time. Anders cried for a while more, but seems to have moved on--just as life goes on.

RIP Muddy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Concert & Picnic in the Park

The boys and I biked up to Golden Valley (it's nice that their main area for doing things in town is close to us) for a concert by The Flyers. The city had free popcorn and drink for the kids as well. The boys didn't know any of the songs, but they sat and enjoyed them, clapping when appropriate and joining in on choruses as they learned them. Plus, they were busy with their popcorn and the picnic I brought along. And there was plenty of playtime afterward on the playground. Thank you, Golden Valley, for another free outing for my kids.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Penny Carnival

The boys and I drove up to Golden Valley today for their penny carnival (we were going to bike, but the 5-year old was afraid it would rain more, so he insisted on taking the car). St. Louis Park has one in the summer as well. They're great fun for the kids--they get to learn about using money wisely and get small toys and candy at the same time. Every penny counts!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


My niece has started crawling recently. I'm still watching her 1-2 days a week (with potential for more coming). It changes things. We've baby-proofed before, of course, but we haven't done our apartment terribly well since we've been here. Our youngest was starting to be old enough to leave some things alone. We still have latches on most of the drawers, but we haven't been as careful about what we put on shelves and such. I found out she can unlatch the cover for the rolling file cabinet we have. I also have to make sure the boys put away their toys more often as they tend to play with things with smaller pieces now.
Since she's crawling, she doesn't lay down as well for naps, either. She tends to roll around and get up a bit. On at least three ocasions, she's fallen asleep like in the picture: hunched over her "Ellie" (stuffed elephant) while in a sitting position. It makes me laugh. Diaper changes are also interesting as she's constantly trying to roll over during them. Poopy diapers quickly become a nightmare if she's not restrained a bit. She's definitely keeping me on my toes!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


My oldest son just celebrated his 5th birthday. Last year we had just moved here, so he didn't know anyone, so we just had a family party. This year he got to have a friends party (one friend for each year in age is our rule of thumb right now). He chose an outer space theme.

I know some parents who spend hundreds of dollars on birthday parties. That's not in our budget. Or our ideology (though I can see how it could be nice to have someone else totally take care of the planning). We like to keep it simple, but fun.

The weather stayed nice, so we were outside for everything: first supper (pizza, carrots and fruit), then cake (my wife made a fabulous rocket cake--she'll admit that it's much more easy than it looks; simple decoration secrets make it), followed by games, playing on the slip-n-slide and presents. The games were all homemade. First we had alien bowling (cardboard aliens taped to juice bottles, bowled down by a playground ball). Next was Space Shuttle ring toss (card board rings and a blow up space shuttle from the $1 spot at Target--it had a large stabilizer fin to "ring"). Lastly was Feed-the-Alien. I had drawn an alien face on a cardboard box and cut some holes for the kids to throw bean bags through. We quickly moved on to water balloons, though, and the kids had a lot of fun with that. Honestly, though, we probably could have spent most of the game time just playing with squirt guns, water balloons and the slip-n-slide.

By the time the presents were open, the kids had a little time to change and then my son could hand his friends their take home favors (my wife had made some little "back-packs" with some astronomical fabric and put a few space themed toys from the $1 Spot at Target in them). In some ways, the hour and a half flew by pretty quickly. I get a bit nervous about entertaining the kids with games (even though I did that in my position as a camp program director for almost 5 years), but it doesn't take much for them to have a lot of fun. They get into simple, creative things.