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.