Sunday, February 28, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

Last week was a bit tricky. I put too many time consuming meals on the menu and ended up with several days when I didn't have the time (or energy) to do all the prep work.

How do you handle prep work in your house? Any great hints or suggestions that have worked for you?

Now on to the food for this week...

Menu for this week:
  • Monday -- Chicken tacos
  • Tuesday -- Roast Beef and Veggies
  • Wednesday -- Chinese Chicken & Cabbage
  • Thursday -- Loosemeat Sandwhiches - thanks Emily for the recipe
  • Friday -- Thai or Indian Curry
  • Saturday -- Beef and Cheddar Sandwiches
  • Sunday -- Chili and Cornbread

Check out more menu plan's at Organizing Junkie.

Happy Monday!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Itsy Bitsy Spider Game

At a charity shop last week, the kids spotted a colorful game on the kid's shelf. They were so excited that I could hardly turn down a learning game based on one of their favorite songs, "Itsy Bitsy Spider" (of coarse, here in the UK its "Insey Winsey Spider").

The kids love this game, especially when they can convince an adult to play with them.

The game consists of four colorful spiders (red, blue, green and yellow), with matching "water spout" game boards, a die and a weather spinner (rain and sun).

Each player gets a spider and a game board. At the start of your turn, you roll the die to see how many squares you get to move up the water spout. After you move your spider, you have to check the weather with a spin. Sunny, you get to say in your spout; rainy, your spider is washed out. Try again next time.

Joshua loves the weather spinner. He laughs so hard when spiders are washed out of the spouts. He also enjoys using it in all sorts of pretend play, allowing it to determine what kind of weather his other toys (cars, trains, construction vehicles, animals) get to face in their adventures.

Abigail, on the other hand, loves these little spiders. Her spider never really stays on the spout; instead he likes to run all over the place throughout the game. Eventually the spider finds his way back to the web at the top.

This is a great game for little kids. It has elements that both of my kids enjoy and learn from - counting, sequence of events, and taking turns. It also encourages they to repeat the song, teaching rhyming and rhythm.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

First Things First - Part 1

I have been pondering my prayer life lately. It is difficult as a mom of toddlers to spend significant, consistent time in prayer. And I have found, since our move to Scotland, that my current routine is not sufficient for the new challenges and stresses in my life.

I recently ran across a section on morning prayer in George Mueller's autobiography and was encouraged and inspired. About ten years into his ministry, God challenged him in his morning prayer routine. Mueller writes at length about "the immense spiritual profit and refreshment" he received because of it.

This post is the first post in a three part series on "the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day, to have my soul happy in the Lord."
The difference between my former practice and my present one is this. Formerly, when I rose, I began to pray as soon as possible, and generally spent all my time till breakfast in prayer, or almost all the time. At all events, I almost invariably began with prayer.... But what was the result? I often spent a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, or even an hour on my knees, before being conscious to myself of having derived comfort, encouragement, humbling of soul, etc.; and often after having suffered much from wandering of mind for the first ten minutes, or a quarter of an hour, or even half an hour, I only then began really to pray.

I scarcely ever suffer now in this way. For my heart being nourished by the truth, being brought into experimental fellowship with God, I speak to my Father, and to my Friend (vile though I am, and unworthy of it!) about the things that He has brought before me in His precious Word.
Do you ever suffer, as Mueller did, with a wandering mind as you come to prayer? Or do you often find that, even significantly into your prayer time, you have yet to receive the strength, encouragement, comfort, or humbling of heart that we desire in our fellowship with God?

Come back soon for part two of this series to find out more about the "new" practice God taught Mueller that made such a powerful impact on his life. Mueller goes on to say,
I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow-believers to ponder this matter. By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had from God to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I had ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials and the temptations of the day come upon us.
All quotes are from George Mueller's  autobiography.
All bold formatting was added by me for emphasis. The italics are original to Mueller's autobiography.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Making Shortbread

I decided it was time to explore the kitchen with the kids. It is actually a little easier to bake with small children, than it is to cook; seems a little safer ... not as much access to hot surfaces.

Our first baking project was shortbread biscuits, something we have all come to love since our move to Scotland. Did I mention that they have really good biscuits (cookies) here?

Joshua loves to roll the dough. It is a good thing that shortbread doesn't "toughen" with extra handling. He is getting pretty good with the rolling pin.

Abigail also took a turn at rolling, though it takes her a lot more work.

Doesn't she look so thrilled?! She loves to smile for the camera.

They both helped cut out cookies using the little orange cup you see there. We were sadly lacking cookie cutters, though I just picked some up on clearance at the store last week.

The cookies were not the best shortbread I have had, but it turned out pretty good for our first cooking attempt. What should we try next time?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Piggy Banks

Our kids received their first piggy banks for Abigail's birthday. These cute little piggies were for sale at the library and I had been considering them for a long time, but didn't purchase them in time for Christmas.

Abigail loves dropping coins into her bank. Her favorite seem to be the tuppence (two pence) coins, which are the largest coins here.

A few weeks ago Joshua found a 20p (pence) coin on the sidewalk. Now he loves these octagon-shaped coins. It is surprising how much money he has found on the street lately. His little piggy bank is getting quite heavy.

Neither of the kids has a very good understanding of money, but Joshua loves collecting and coins easily falls in his obsession realm.

Someday soon we will open up the banks and let them take their savings to the store. Maybe then they will see what money is for and how they can save to buy what they want.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Menu Plan Monday

This week we are attempting to eat out of our cupboards and freezer as much as possible. I am so bad at buying more than I need because of "bulk specials" and then we end up with too much food that sits in the back never being eaten.

My hubby is out of town on Wednesday. This the perfect time for the kids and I to enjoy a little winter vegetable soup (which my hubby does not like at all).

Menu for this week:

Check out more menu plan's at Organizing Junkie.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Simplifying Life

This year I am adopting a theme of simplicity. My focus is to simplify my life, and that of my family, to lower the demands I accept on myself and my time. One of the things I have finally admitted I needed to simplify was my blogging world.

As many of you know, I set up a second blog last year, Contemplative Mom, and have used it to post my personal thoughts on food, faith and motherhood. But in this new year, I find that I don't have time and energy to keep up both blogs. The family blog seems more important right now, to keep our friends and family involved in our lives "across the pond."

All that being said, I am closing my Contemplative Mom blog for now and will be moving any future posts that would have been on it (menu plans, book reviews, thoughts on motherhood, etc.) over to our family blog.

Hope you enjoy this new depth to our family site! And please be patient as I explore the best way to blend these two blogs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Joshua Starts School

Yesterday was Joshua's first day of school in Aberdeen. We waited a little while after we settled in here before signing him up for school. We wanted him to have time to adjust to the move and his new home.

He is so excited to be back in the classroom. Leaving Miss Bela's class in Princeton was the hardest thing for him in this move.

We went for a tour and to sign up before the new year, hoping he could start right after the holidays, but they had a waiting list and told us that they were expecting an opening in February. I received a call last week asking if we were still interested, and he started a week later.

This is Joshua's school. It is the local primary (elementary) school in the public school system. They provide nursery school (preschool) for three and four year old's in their public schools here (as space is available, as we learned from the two month wait). It is not mandatory at this age, but it is free (i.e. paid for by tax dollars).

We were wonderfully surprised on the first day when we walked in to class ... Joshua was assigned to the same class as Rebekah, our American neighbor. They were both excited to see each other and, of coarse Emily and I were thrilled. Both our little kids are OWLS! (they name all their classes by animal).

It seems to be a great class, and Joshua has loved every minute of it. They like to start the kids slowly, so they have time to adjust to the new environment and schedule. On Thursday, his first day, he was only in class for about 45 minutes. Today he spent an hour in class. On Monday he will come in at the start of class, but I will pick him up about 45 minutes early.

But on Tuesday he is thrilled to know that he will be starting at 12:45pm with all the rest of the children and not leaving until 15:15 (3:15pm) when all the other children leave. He can hardly wait to spend the entire session in his new class.

Congratulations, Joshua! My little boy is growing up!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Snow at King's College

We spent some snow days at King's College over the holidays. Everything was so beautiful covered in snow.

This is King's College at the University of Aberdeen where Darren goes to school.

And this is King's Chapel. It has been a place of worship on campus for over 500 years. I love these old buildings. They will always be a symbol for me of our time here in Aberdeen.

This was how we checked our email while our internet connection was down for three weeks. We would sit outside the college (the buildings were all locked down for the holidays) and use their wireless. Darren and I would take turns playing with the kids and briefly checking email.

Joshua insisted on wearing Abigail's hat in the snow this day. Crazy guy!

And Abigail is wearing Joshua's blue hat. Silly girl!

Darren sitting on the frozen rock wall quickly typing a few emails before his fingers go numb.

The kids love to play at this sculpture, clearing snow off the figures and rubbing the copper with wet gloves to see it change colors.

What fun days we had in the snow!
And what a beautiful place to live!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

One of our new friends here volunteered to make ginger bread houses with the kids during play group at Christmas time. What a wonderful idea! I would never have tried making ginger bread from scratch, not to mention making it into houses.

The kids loved it. Joshua was so excited to be able to roll his own dough. He must have rolled enough dough for at least three houses.

Abigail also wanted to try her hand at rolling, though she gave up a little sooner. It was still so fun!

She spent much of her time sampling the dough (very yummy) and watching Joshua hard at work.

Then came the decorating. Joshua was a little wary of the gooey frosting mix, but soon realized how fun this could be.

Abigail was thrilled with the frosting from the start and wanted to put all the candy on her house. She also did some sampling from the decoration dish.

The houses are done. Time to pose for a picture. Their friend is just about to start adding the decorative touches to her house.

This is Joshua's finished house. The people got broken on the way home, but mommy "glued" them back on with a little jam.

And here is Abigail's house. Abigail put her people safely on the sides so no one got hurt.

The kids loved having their houses on display on our mantle throughout the holiday season. However, after Christmas, daddy helped them smash the ginger bread and eat their hard work!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snow Days

The kids loved the higher-than-usual snowfalls this year in Aberdeen.

Abigail did not remember the snow she experienced last winter in Princeton. For her, she was learning about it for the first time. It took some convincing for her to hold a snow ball, but once she played for a few minutes she was thrilled anytime we went in the snow.

Joshua, on the other hand, remembered the snow of years gone by and could hardly wait to make snow balls. He loves to throw them at the wall and watch them splat.

I demonstrated a snow angel for the kids. Joshua refused to lay in the snow, even for a moment. But Abigail was so excited to make her own angel, and would ask for help making them at every opportunity.

The first snow fall in Aberdeen was perfect for making snow men. It held together so well, without being too wet. Daddy and Joshua worked hard to make the perfect snow man.

The college students living in the flat below us noticed our labors and donated a big, fat carrot for the nose. This carrot was a thrill and excitement for the kids. There were several mornings when we had to go back out in the snow to fix the carrot nose which had fallen in the night. When the snow finally melted, Joshua insisted on going to the back garden and finding the carrot to bring inside.

The snow stuck around for several weeks in December and early January, melting and refreezing, leaving lots of ice everywhere. The sidewalks were a mess and completely impassable with a buggy (stroller). We were snowed in. Mommy got a little grouchy about this, but the kids loved every minute of snow!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

"Can I Vacuum?"

Joshua has recently discovered how fun it can be to vacuum. Every day I hear the question, "Can I vacuum, Mom?"

He loves to start in the kitchen with the "small" attachment that easily slides over the hard floors. He works his way around the house, cleaning each room.

This picture captures how much he enjoys this activity! It's a good thing too, because Abigail loves to wander the apartment with crackers or Cheerios, leaving crumbs in her wake.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Crock Pot Rotisserie-Style Chicken

Afraid of a Chicken?

For most of my adult life, I have avoided trying to cook a whole chicken. As a kid, I remember watching my mom skin and cut chicken; I remember thinking that I was never going to do that myself. Crazy, I know!

Never say never! Having moved to Scotland earlier this year, with a higher cost of living, I am working on new ways to lower our food costs. And guess what ... whole chickens are less expensive.

Maybe you are like me and have never tried to tackle a whole chicken. Well, I'm hear to share my experience. It may encourage you to try it for yourself.

I was initially inspired by this recipe, Crock Pot Rotisserie Style Chicken, but had to make a few adjustments to fit my needs. I have now cooked chicken five or six times and have gained some level of confidence.

My crock pot is only 3.5 liters (about 3.75 quarts), so I needed a much smaller chicken than this recipe called for. Our local store carries 1.55 kilogram (3.4 pound) chickens at a great price, especially if I buy more than one. I normally cook one right away and freeze the other for a future date.

Here are the spices I use:
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp Italian seasoning
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

I pull out my chicken and all the ingredients, and after mixing the spices in my extra shaker, I prepare to tackle the chicken. Some people are much pickier about skinning their chicken. I don't like the idea of cooking the chicken in its skin all day, but I am not going to spend much time getting every bit of skin off.

I give myself about 5 minutes, and quickly remove all I can with a pair of scissors and a sharp knife. I skin the breast and the back first, then work on the legs if I still have time. I rarely skin the wings; it just never seems worth the effort.

You will also want to make sure you remove any innards and the neck that may be inside the chicken. Some stores put this stuff back in the chicken so you can use it. The chickens I buy normally only have the neck (though I did find a tail in the last one ... weird).

This chicken is ready to go into the crock pot. I put it in with the breast up so I can sprinkle and rub in the spices. The legs are still up so I can stuff it and turn it over for cooking.

I normally stuff one small onion (cut in quarters or eighths) and two or three peeled garlic cloves.

The chicken is cooked with the breast down, to keep the meat as moist as possible. For a chicken this size, I normally cook it about 6 hours on low or 3 hours on high.

I don't have any "finished product" pictures because the chicken literally fell off the bone. It makes for easy serving and de-boning, but doesn't look pretty for pictures.

My family loves eating this chicken with rice and broccoli. And even with this small chicken, there is always enough left for a few wraps for lunch and at least one other dinner recipe later in the week. I normally plan for some kind of soup or maybe chicken enchiladas to use up the rest.

A few more hints ... it is easiest to de-bone the chicken as soon as possible after cooking, although I have also refrigerated the leftovers and waited until the following day because of time constraints. If you do the latter, you will need to warm the chicken before trying to remove the bones.

The last two times I followed Keeper of the Home's lead and made broth with the left-overs. I even started a bag in our freezer for veggie scraps (carrot skins, onion ends, celery leaves, etc) to use in my broth. Making broth takes a little more work, but is especially good when I am making a soup with the remaining chicken. If I'm not using it right away, I simply freeze it in jars (or zip-lock bags, if space is an issue) and save it for another time. It thaws quickly and easily in the microwave.

So that was my journey of how I overcame my fear of chickens! Hope you are inspired by my story, or at least amused by my irrational fear!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Reckless and Careless Speech

Words That Heal - Chapter 4: "Don't Give It a Thought!"

"Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing"

(Proverbs 12:18)

It is so easy to be careless with our words. And too often those words hurt the people around us. I can't even count the number of times I have regretted hastily spoken words, and even worse, really hurt someone by being careless and reckless.

Mayhall talks about some of the times in life when we tend to be careless, including exaggeration and flattery. One of these examples that most captured my attention was when we casually give surface answers to deep problems and hurts, such as when someone is hurting and we rattle off reasons for pain and suffering.

Most of the time we are better off keeping our mouth shut and ask for wisdom for the right words and timing to speak. "I am convinced that daily, perhaps hourly, we need to ask God to help us bite our tongue... to help us think before we speak." We need to pray for quick sensitivity to the Spirit's leading.

"Lord, forgive me for my careless, reckless words. Show me where I have hurt those around me, and help me be quick to repent. Set a guard over my mouth. Keep me for speaking shallow cliches when people are hurting. Teach me to be silent until you give me words of wisdom that bring healing."

I am currently reading Words That Hurt, Words That Heal by Carole Mayhall.
Check out the other posts in this series.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reading List for 2010

Revised 01 FEB 2010

For 2010, I have again set a goal of reading 25 books. Last year I only made it through about 12, so this will be a big step up for me.

Below you will find a list of what I am currently reading and the books that I have finished reading. I will be updating this list throughout the year.

~ Currently reading:
~ Finished (most recent at the top):
  1. Words That Hurt, Words That Heal by Carole Mayhall.
  2. * check out my thoughts about this book.

~ Book Reviews

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Abigail Turns 2-Years-Old

On January 5, my sweet little girl turned two years old. We had a little family party that evening to celebrate the special occasion.

We had no cake mix and no internet access to look up a recipe from scratch, so we made shortbread cookies instead. I poked some holes in a stack of cookies to hold the candles.

Abigail, like the curious two year old she is, reached out and touched the burning candle before I could stop her. She has been quite fearful of fire ever since. She wouldn't even help blow out her candles.

Abigail got a cute little purse for her birthday.
She loves it and carries it around with her, collecting all sorts of odd things in it.

She also got this fun scarf (thanks, Jenna) and a cute little piggy bank,
which she is filling with pennies and tuppence (two pence coins).

But her favorite gift was this wonderful butterfly / princess costume.

In the last few months, Abigail has become obsessed with princesses and girly things. It is so fun to have a little girl. I just need to get some more skirts and dresses - she would wear them everyday if she could.

Toward the end of January we had a birthday party for her with all our friends. There are three little girls who all have birthdays close together. We decided to have one big party for all of them together. It was so nice to share the load of planning a party. I imagine this would not work as well if the girls had been older, but at 2 and 3 it was great fun.

All the little girls dressed up as princesses for the party.
Abigail loved this sweet little Tinkerbell dress.

Their party hats were these cute, princess halos.

Rachel (on the left) did an incredible job decorating her house for the party. Her daughter was one of the birthday girls as well. She is an incredible artist. I am so inspired by her creativity. She completely decorated her dining room, including a beautiful wall mural that she painted just for the occasion.

The guys mostly hung out in the living room,
talking theology and eating yummy brunch food.

Fun times, great fellowship! We are so thankful for our new community here!
Happy Birthday, Abigail!

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