Being a mom is the hardest thing I've ever done, but it has brought me so much joy! I want to encourage other moms on their journey, I'll share motherhood tricks, spotlight tips I've learned from friends, and I hope you will share your ideas. I will focus on secrets that help families stay balanced, healthy, frugal, creative, and closely knit. I will also share favorite fiction and nonfiction books that I have enjoyed. Many blessings to you on your mothering journey!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Kids in Service

I led another Volunteer Camp for fourteen 2nd-6th grade girls at Harpeth Hall School last week. It was so much fun! You could these ideas with your family, if you are looking for a way to get involved in your community. Children are so eager to make a difference in the world - and they have so much energy to do it! I'd love to hear if you use any of these ideas - or if you have your own ideas for family service. :)

Here's an excerpt from the letter I sent to parents, describing the week's events:

We will visit Warner Parks to learn about taking care of the environment and help do our part to keep the park a beautiful place. Then we'll make jewelry – from recycled materials – to take home with us. Come ready to explore and have a great time on the wild side of Nashville.

We will visit older adults in the daycare program at Senior Citizens Inc. You will fall in love with this sweet folks as we have summertime fun together. Then we will take time to thank the older adults in our lives that have been an encouragement to us.

We will visit Ronald McDonald House, learn how they serve others, help with house beautification projects, and encourage the residents with creative gifts of cards and homemade playdough. Then we'll think about ways we can help sick or hurting people in our own lives.

We will visit to the Williamson County Animal Shelter to play with the animals, learn about the Paws on Wheels Program (partners with Meals on Wheels), and what we can do to help our furry neighbors safe. Then we'll use recycled towels and tshirts to make toys for the animals at the shelter.

We will visit the Freedom Recovery Community, a safe place for women and children in crisis situations. We will learn about ways to support people in crisis and we will make special gifts for children in their center.

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Top 10 Tips for Improving Your Fuel Economy

Edited from a longer article by Tara Baukus Mello
It's full of practical advice without using a lot of mechanical jargon. I added thoughts in italics.

Follow the Recommended Maintenance
A vehicle that is well maintained means it will operate with greater efficiency. Fouled spark plugs, a dirty air filter or clogged fuel filter will all affect your fuel economy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), replacing a clogged air filter can increase your mileage by 10 percent, while replacing an oxygen sensor could result in an improvement as high as 40 percent.

Keep Your Tires Properly Inflated
Underinflated tires require more energy to roll, which translates into more frequent fill-ups. You can improve your fuel economy by about 3.3 percent if you keep your tires inflated properly, according to the DOE. The psi number noted on the sidewall of your tires is the maximum pressure of the tire and is not the proper inflation level for your car. Your vehicle manufacturer will list the recommended tire pressure in your owner's manual or a sticker on the doorjamb of the driver-side door. Buy a tire-pressure gauge and check your tires monthly, adding air as necessary. (I never realized the #s were different!!)

Take a Load Off
Heavier vehicles require more energy to move, so carrying around excess weight will also affect your mileage. Empty out your trunk (or even your backseat) of unnecessary items. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk will reduce your fuel economy by 1 to 2 percent in the typical vehicle. (So minivan moms, that probably means we should take out the extra seats we rarely use!)

Don't Drive Aggressively
We're not talking road rage here, but the type of driving many people do when they are in a rush. Mashing the accelerator pedal from a stoplight, braking hard and speeding all contribute to a decrease in fuel economy. Give yourself extra time to get to your destination and think "steady and smooth" as you drive. On surface streets, driving at the speed limit will give you mostly green lights, which improves your gas mileage as well as reduces the wear on your brakes. On the highway, the DOE says that every 5 mph you drive over 65 mph represents a 7-percent decrease in fuel economy.

Use Cruise Control — Selectively
Using cruise control can improve your gas mileage by helping you maintain a steady speed, but only if you are driving on mostly flat roads. If you are driving in hilly terrain, using cruise control typically causes your vehicle to speed up faster (to maintain the preset speed) than it would if you were operating the accelerator yourself. Before you push that cruise control button, think about the terrain ahead.

Think Clean
Keeping your car washed and waxed improves aerodynamics and therefore affects fuel economy. Engineer Tom Wagner, Jr. reported to (as in stretching your dollars) a 7-percent improvement in fuel economy, from 15 to 16 mpg, during a 1,600-mile road trip. (Oops - I'm in trouble here! I usually let mother nature 'wash' my car!)

Avoid Excessive Idling
When a car is idling, it is using fuel, yet not going anywhere. This translates to 0 mpg. When you leave your car running while you are waiting in line at the drive-thru, or as you wait outside your kids' school, you are wasting fuel. It is more efficient to turn the engine off while you wait and then restart the car. If that's not practical (like in the line at McDonald's), then park the car and go inside instead.

Think Before You Vent(ilate)
Running your air conditioner does cause your vehicle to consume more fuel, but driving with your windows rolled down can be even worse due to the increase of drag on the vehicle. If you are driving slowly, such as around town or in city traffic, then you are better off leaving your windows open, if at all possible. For highway driving, roll up the windows and turn the air conditioning on.

Combine Your Errands
A little planning can make a big difference in fuel economy. When your engine is cold, it uses more fuel than when it is warm. Combining errands can improve your gas mileage because your engine will be warm for more of the trip. It might also mean you travel less total miles. According to the DOE, several short trips all begun with a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a single, longer trip that covers the same distance. (That's a whole new reason to ask your neighbor if he needs anything from the grocery store when you're already going!)

Thanks for the tips Tara!


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Date Swap - for the Weekend!

We're having a great date swap weekend.

Last night, my sweetheart & I went on a 7th anniversary date to see a concert, to enjoy happy hour appetizers and a decadent dessert. Our friends kept the kids overnight, so we had an extra long date!

Today the friends brought our kids to our house, and stayed to visit for the day. We live 30 minutes away, so we don't see each other as often as we like. A day of visiting was quite a treat! We made lunch together, enjoyed a bit of leftover rum cake, and played chickenfoot dominoes. They even watched our two minute wedding video, in honor or our anniversary, and we had a great time laughing at the cake smashing. :)

They left their kids with us for the afternoon/evening, and we'll meet them at church with the kids tomorrow.

It has been relatively easy (5 kids make a big mess!) and lots of fun (the kids are similar ages and they love each other so much!), so I hope we'll make a tradition of our date swap weekend. It's financially smart, and it's a great way to spend more with the people (spouses and friends!) that we love. :)

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Easy Crockpot Meal - Italian Beef

4lb roast
2c water
2T Italian seasoning
1t each salt, dried oregano, dried basil, garlic powder, dried parsley and pepper
1 bay leaf
14 French rolls or tortillas

Cut roast in half; place in a slow cooker.
Combine the water and seasonings; pour over roast.
Cook on low for 8-10 hours or until meat is very tender.
Discard bay leaf and shred beef with a fork. Return to slow cooker to soak up more juices.
Serve on French rolls or serve with cheddar cheese in tortillas.


Gramma Mary's Rum Cake

My sweetheart's birthday is tomorrow, so we're making one of his favorite cakes. It's a rum cake that his grandmother (Betty Oliver) used to make. His mom just sent me the recipe, so I'm going to make it with the kids this afternoon. I can't wait to taste it!! And I love continuing the tradition of family recipes, so that will make the cake extra special!

Gramma Mary's Rum Cake

1 Duncan Hines Yellow Cake mix
4 eggs
1 C. water
1/2 can Eagle Brand condensed milk
1/2 C. softened butter
1 pkg. vanilla instant pudding
1 tsp. rum or rum flavoring

Grease bundt pan and dust lightly with flour. Add all ingredients except pudding mix and eggs. Add eggs one at a time. Beating after each egg is added. Add vanilla instant pudding and beat well. Pour into pan and bake until done. (About one hour.)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Scavenger Hunt for the Needy

My church is sponsoring a food drive for Charis Ministries this month. Our family is going to participate in several ways. We'll give food from our pantry, but the kids are also going to invite our neighbors to participate through an alternative scavenger hunt. I've done it with volunteer groups in the past, and it's always a lot of fun. Here are the directions:

Invite a few friends to participate and split into two or more teams. With an adult chapreone watching, knock on the door, and explain that you are collecting food for people that are hungry. You might say, "We're doing a scavenger hunt, to see how many food items we can collect. Would you like to help?" Show them the food list, and invite them to donate food. Thank them for their help (or kindly accept their answer of no), then visit your next neighbor. After 30 minutes, tally your points and see which team collected the most points. Treat both teams to ice cream and talk about the importance of helping needy people in our city.

We created our points list based on the most needed items for the agency making food boxes. You can use our list, or work with your local food bank to create a list that fits their needs.

Canned fruit 10
Canned soup 10
Canned vegetables 10
Pasta noodles 10
Soap/Toothpaste 10
Saltine crackers 10
Mac & cheese 10
Oatmeal 15
Dried beans 20
Canned tuna/meat 20
Rice 25
Peanut Butter 25

At the end of the food drive, we'll get together with other families to sort the food. It's a really cool way to get young children involved in helping the community. It meets a tangible need in the community, it's very age appropriate, and it's a fun way to spend time together!

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tex-Mex Layered Salad

My sister shared this recipe with me a few years ago - it's always a big hit at potlucks and picnics. I'm sharing it with you as part of Frugal Upstate's collection of Frugal Foods, where this week's focus is beans. Enjoy!

1 ½ cup ranch dressing
½ chopped fresh cilantro
1 teas. Ground cumin
2Tb. Fresh limejuice
2 cups chopped tomatoes
8 scallions, chopped
1 package- 10 oz. Iceberg lettuce salad
8 oz. Package shredded Mexican style cheese
15. Oz. Black beans, rinsed and drained
11. Oz. Mexi-corn, drained
4 cups crumbled Jiffy corn bread, cooked

Place the dressing, the cilantro, cumin and limejuice in a small mixing bowl. Wisk to combine and set aside.

Place the tomatoes and scallions in a mixing bowl and stir to combine.

Prepare the garnish: Set aside, in separate containers, ½ cup each of lettuce and cheese and ¼ cup each of beans, corn and tomato and scallion mixture. You’ll use these for garnish.

Make the salad: Place half the remaining lettuce in the bottom of your serving bowl. Then, scatter 2 cups of corn bread over the lettuce. Pour ½ cup of the salad dressing over the cornbread. Place half of the beans over that, then half the corn, then ½ the tomato mixture, and then ¾ cup of cheese over that. Repeat the layers again with the rest of the ingredients.

Garnish the salad by creating concentric circles of the set aside ingredients from step 3 on the top of the salad. Serve at once or cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Serves 8 as a hearty side dish


Saturday, June 21, 2008

10 Ideas for Water Balloon Fun

Gramma & Papa brought two bags full of water balloons when they came to visit last month.  Each bag ($1 from the Dollar section at Target) provided 90 minutes of fun for the kiddos.

They attached the water balloon funnel (which came in the water balloon package) to the outside hose, then sat down in patio chairs to fill balloons by the kiddie pool.  They let the extra water between balloons fall into the kiddie pool, so the pool slowly filled up along with the water balloons.  It took a long time to fill up the balloons, but the kids played in/around the assembly line the whole time.  Then playtime started.  

1.  My 3yr old liked dropping balloons on his feet - or the feet of anyone around him - to watch the splash.  (I've heard of having a balloon splash competition.  Everyone holds the balloon in front of his nose, then drops it to the ground - whomever's balloon leaves the biggest splash mark is the winner.)

2.  My 21 month old liked to pick up the balloons out of the pool and carry them to her cozy coupe car, where she stored balloons in the trunk.  It was like her own Easter Egg hunt, except she was using water balloons.

3.  My 6 year old had fun launching the balloons at me and Papa, but his favorite was water balloon baseball.  Papa pitched the balloons and D scored points when he busted a balloon by swinging the bat.  It was hysterical!

Other favorite water balloon games for older kids:

4.  Water balloon volleyball, catching water balloons in the belly of tshirts

5.  Water balloon egg relays, trying to balance small water balloons in soup spoons as you speedwalk to tag your teammate.

6.  Capture the Flag with water balloons, sending opponents to the freeze box when they are tagged with a water balloon.

7.  Pass the water balloon relays, trying to 'hand off' water balloons to your partner by holding the balloons under your chin (you can't touch the balloons with your hands) and passing it to your partner who will receive the balloon under his chin.

8.  Hot Potato with water balloons - gently toss the balloon around the circle.  If the balloon pops, the passer/receiver are out.  Continue eliminating players 'til you have a winner.

9.  Water balloon slingshots - put water balloons in slingshots and see how far they fly (this is a favorite from my husband's brothers)

10.  Water balloon clean-up - give each child a bucket and send them on a race to collect the most balloon pieces.  Whoever wins gets a prize - or give popsicles to everyone who collects a good number of balloon pieces.

Cheap & easy fun - especially when you have guests who don't mind helping to fill the water balloons!  Do YOU have favorite water balloon memories or gamess?

Labels: ,

Friday, June 20, 2008

Grilled Salmon

We grilled with this salmon recipe last night & loved it! It's super easy to prep & clean - my 3yr old enjoyed pouring the spices into the bag. And it's very yummy. We served it with couscous (on clearance at Big Lots) and broccoli.

4 small salmon fillets (I used the frozen pack from Aldi)
1t lemon pepper to taste
1t garlic powder to taste
1t salt to taste
1/3 cup light soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil

1. Mix everything but the salmon together in a large ziplock bag, until sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2. Preheat grill for medium heat and lightly oil the grate.
3. Place salmon on the preheated grill, and discard marinade.
4. Cook salmon for 6-8 minutes per side, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

We're trying to cook more fish, so if you have favorite fish recipes, I'd love to borrow them!


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Summer Fun - Four Squares

I've been thinking a lot about summer fun for kids, so I'm going to start posting ideas for spontaneous playtimes in the yard. Easy & fun kids games to play with supplies you have around the house.

Today's is an old school-yard game. Do you remember playing four square? I used to love it!

All you need to play is a bouncy ball and sidewalk chalk to mark out the boundary lines. Here are directions.

Let me know if YOU have a summer fun idea - you can write it as a comment or send me a link to your blog. :)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Blogging Fun

Thanks for Chocolate on My Cranium for helping me update my blog a little bit. She has great tutorials on:

Customizing Your Blog - Part 1 Gathering Patterns and Colors
Customizing Your Blog - Part 2 HTML Code
Customizing Your Blog - Part 3 Fonts
Customizing Your Blog - Part 4 Creating a New Header
Customizing Your Blog - Part 5 Adjusting Columns and Margins
Customizing Your Blog - Part 6 Adding a Signature and Personlizing Comments

I first found her 6th post, so it's the only one I've played with thusfar. I look forward to experimenting with her other tips.

All The Tiny Toys

Little tiny knick-knack toys (aka party favors and happy meal toys) drive me crazy! When I'm on a clean-the-clutter streak, I've been known to secretly bundle them up for goodwill or the trash. But Meredith pointed me to a great blog post with really good ideas for using these tiny toys. Check out these ideas from Zakka Life:

Awesome Flip Flops - I saw something like this in a fancy-shmancy store a few months ago, and I've been wanting to make them ever since.

Ice Treasures - I showed this to my kids & we immediately went to the kitchen to freeze some treasures.

The Attribute Game - I'm going to add this to my collection of kid's learning games.

I Spy Bottles - these could also make great gift-in-a-bottle ideas for far-away friends.

Toy Bowling - so cute, and it promotes hand-eye coordination!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Congregational Prayers

My church rarely has responsive prayers, but I've always loved them. My friend Susan shared this prayer from her church:

Leader: Let us join our hearts in prayer, responding in song: Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. I just want to thank you, Lord.
For the blessing of children—from newborn to almost grown, and for the sacred charge to nurture and protect them, let us lift our hearts to God:
People: Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. I just want to thank you, Lord.
Leader: For the love or parents, a love shown in its perfect form in God, let us pray:
People: Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Lord. I just want to thank you, Lord.
Leader: For the families who work hard yet struggle every day to make ends meet and provide for their families:
People: Bless them, Lord. Bless them, Lord. Bless them, Lord. Help us be a blessing, too.
Leader: For the children who are beaten down by poverty and homelessness and hunger and suffer in immeasurable ways:
People: Bless them, Lord. Bless them, Lord. Bless them, Lord. Help us be a blessing, too.
Leader: For the children who are abused and neglected, for those who are shuffled through the foster care system and those who wait longingly for permanent families:
People: Love them, Lord. Love them, Lord. Love them, Lord. Help us to love all of them, too.
Leader: For the children who are victims of violence and for the children who turn to the violence they see glorified in our culture:
People: Love them, Lord. Love them, Lord. Love them, Lord. Help us to love all of them, too.
Leader: For the leaders of our nation who have the choice to stand for the powerful or the powerless, the rich or the poor, to corporations of the children:
People: Guide them, Lord. Guide them, Lord. Guide them, Lord. Help us work to guide them, too.
Leader: For ourselves, that we find the vision, commitment, skills, and persistence to work for justice in our nation so that we truly leave no child behind:
People: Guide us, Lord. Guide us, Lord. Guide us, Lord. Help sustain and guide us now.
Leader: Amen.


Sunday, June 15, 2008


Our friends Scott and Amy came over for dinner last night. We had chicken enchilada casserole, then we played Sorry with the boys. After putting the boys to bed, they taught us to play Chickenfoot, a dominoes game. It was super easy to play - a game with a little bit of skill and a lot of luck. Fast-paced without requiring a lot of strategic thinking. It should be an easy game to play with elementary age kids up to adults.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 13, 2008

Orange Julius at Home

I've been craving sunrise smoothies from Sonic or Orange Julius smoothies for 2 days, so we made some for lunch today. This homemade recipe hit the spot perfectly!

1 cup milk (or powdered milk)
1 cup ice water
6 ounces of frozen OJ
12 cubes of ice (more ice = thicker shake)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 cup sugar or Splenda

Blend all ingredients until smooth.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Capturing Little Moments of Prayer

I found this article in the Focus on the Family magazine last month. I cut it out to share, because it has some great ideas for simple prayers. Not sit down & meditate for 20 minute prayers, but quick little conversations with God throughout the day. I especially like her suggestions for laundry, elevator and phone prayers. Thanks, Rhonda, for the great ideas!

Stick to It
Practical tips to unceasing prayer.
by Rhonda Maller

Bible verses about continual prayer typically gave me visions of robed men who pray night and day. I certainly didn't fit in that category. As a wife and mother, juggling home school, part-time work and active roles in my church and community, I found it hard to pray once a day. So I hid those verses in the "for other people" file.

But I soon realized that my "busy" schedule interferes with nurturing relationships. So acting upon my love for my family and God becomes a deliberate choice.

The Bible encourages me to pray continually and be faithful in prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12). When overload threatens devotional time or communion, I need a plan to make prayer integral to what I am already doing instead of seeing it as something to overwhelm me.

For those who wish to join me in the journey to pray continually, here are some ways to get started.

Post-it prayers. Write prayer requests on Post-it notes. Stick them to your mirror, fridge, computer, briefcase, back door, dashboard and diaper bag.

Gather 'round. Pray about meetings and for those who will attend. Seek His presence, wisdom and direction at the meeting.

Drive defensively. If you encounter aggravating drivers, pray for them. Your prayers not only bless them, but they also maintain your communion with the Savior and lower your blood pressure.

Hit the road. If you pass an abandoned car, traffic accident, emergency vehicle or someone detained by the police, intercede for those involved. If you get stuck behind a school bus, pray for the local school board, staff and students.

Get it on file. Purchase an accordion-style cardholder. When someone needs prayer, write the request and an appropriate Scripture on a blank card and insert it into your holder. If you get stuck in a waiting room or at an airport, open your file and talk to God.

Checkout. Cashiers are under pressure. Lines are long. Tempers are short. Pray for the store staff and the customers ahead of you. When your turn arrives, you will be calm and ready to bless the cashier with a pleasant smile and warm greeting.

Go up. Do you stare at the floor or the door when riding in an elevator? Glance at everyone's shoes, asking God to direct each step, lead each person into truth and open and shut doors for each occupant according to His will.

Sort laundry. As you fold clothes, thank God for each family member, sharing what you appreciate about each one.

Wait three rings. Let a ringing phone be your prayer signal. Before answering, ask God to guard your tongue, guide your thoughts and glorify His name through you. Do the same with e-mail.

Keep it quiet. Turn off the car radio. Pause between calls. Discover hidden, quiet moments to take a deep breath and let the Holy Spirit speak to you.

I've taken 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Romans 12:12 out of hiding. I am learning that continual prayer is not about reaching a higher spiritual plane. It is an attitude of the heart and a lifestyle of loving God.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 09, 2008

Another Glimpse into my Service-Learning World

I led a really cool Service-Learning Camp for Harpeth Hall School’s Summer Program last week. Fourteen girls in grades 2-6 signed up to volunteer each morning for five days.

Through direct service, activities and reflection games, we explored how we can make a difference in our communities – and we had a lot of fun doing it. Here is a sample of our schedule.

Monday - Educational Opportunities and Healthy child Development
We’ll be talking about the importance of providing a safe, nurturing and educational environment for all children, and we’ll be helping Preston Taylor Ministries get ready for their summer camp. Then we’ll talk about how we can encourage younger children in our lives with words and actions.

Tuesday - Care for the Sick and their Families
We will visit Ronald McDonald House, learn how they serve others, help with house beautification projects, and encourage the residents with creative and yummy gifts. Then we’ll think about ways we can help sick or hurting people in our own lives.

Wednesday – Community Gardening
We will spend the afternoon at the Nashville Urban Harvest Gardens, learning of the importance of community building and helping with the community garden. Then we’ll make jewelry – from recycled materials – to take home with us.

Thursday - Supporting Art and Green Spaces
We will talk about the importance of art and green spaces in our community, we’ll see the beautiful grounds at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens, and we’ll help prepare art materials for the Cheekwood children’s programs. Then we’ll make something to promote recycling in our own homes!

Friday - Providing for the needs of the Hungry
We will learn how they help the community and discuss the issue of hunger. We will be doing a scavenger hunt to collect food for the hungry in Nashville. We will also be making rice bags and cards to distribute in food boxes through Charis Ministries.

Susan Ragsdale and I enjoy planning service-learning opportunities for groups – whether directly leading young people or writing curriculum that youth workers/teachers can follow. If you know a group that would benefit from this kind of expertise, I hope you'll refer them to our work -

Labels: , ,

The Incredible Edible Egg

Frugal Upstate is hosting a carnival on Frugal Foods. Currently she is collecting egg-based recipes, because eggs average about 17 cents each. My favorite egg recipe is Breakfast Casserole. I often make it for company or for Bible study brunches. It's easy, quick & super yummy!

· 1 pound mild pork sausage
· 1 (8 ounce) package refrigerated crescent roll dough (or stale bread crumbs)
· 8 eggs, beaten
· 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
· 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
· 1 teaspoon dried oregano or italian seasoning

Brown sausage in a skillet. Drain, crumble, and set aside.

Line the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish with crescent roll dough, and sprinkle with crumbled sausage. In a large bowl, mix beaten eggs, mozzarella, and Cheddar. Season the mixture with oregano, and pour over the sausage and crescent rolls.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 325 degrees.


Sunday, June 08, 2008

63 Things to Do With Your Kids Before They Grow Up

This is an excerpt from a Southwest Airlines article that I loved. You can read the whole article full of fun ideas at Spirit Magazine.

2. Destroy a toaster. Next time you replace an appliance, give the old model to your kid. Together, you can dissect the machine and examine its parts. Don’t know much about circuitry? offers a primer.

11. Camp out.
Pitch a tent in the backyard, grab sleeping bags and flashlights, and spend a night under the stars.

13. Go guerrilla. Commit random, anonymous acts of kindness with your child, like leaving flowers in mailboxes, shoveling your neighbor’s driveway after a hard snow, or clapping in public.

14. Get lost in a snow globe. Not literally. Instead, make a homemade snow globe with a miniature winter scene starring your family. Find step-by-step instructions by searching for “snow globe” at

16. Explode a volcano. Baking-soda volcanoes are a staple of science fairs for a reason. They appeal to budding chemists, volcanologists, and general kaboom-ists everywhere. And the kids seem to like them, too. For a step-by-step guide to construction, visit and search for “volcano.” Soon you’ll be ankle-deep in lava.

18. Go puddle-jumping.
Grab a pair of water shoes and splash to your heart’s content.

21. Make pizza.

Tired of your kids picking toppings off their slices? Have them make their own. After enough pepperoni/chocolate sauce and peanut butter/meatball combos, they’ll never complain about a Hawaiian pie again.

27. Stuff a time capsule. Pick a selection of objects that represent this specific moment: today’s newspaper, a mix CD of music, this week’s TV Guide, your last grocery receipt, a stamp, an printout of the top-selling toys, and the like. Then write a note to your future selves describing what everyone likes to do and their plans for the future. Finally, make a prediction about what things will be like 10 years hence. Stuff everything, along with a family picture, inside a plastic storage bin, acid-free box, or other non-biodegradable container, and hide the capsule in a safe place. That could be the attic, the garage, the basement, a spare bedroom, an off-the-beaten-track closet—anywhere you can “bury” your capsule. Resist the urge to peek for at least a year.

30. Build an obstacle course in your backyard. Take full advantage of your natural resources. Have a tree with a sturdy branch? Hitch a rope to it and let your little athletes swing over a makeshift “moat,” complete with blue beach blanket and stuffed crocodiles. Short bushes become hurdles, porch steps platforms to pole vault onto, and fountains obstacles to dodge. Use empty boxes (to stack and crawl through) and spare lumber (to create a balance beam). Finally, set up stations throughout the course where the kids must perform an activity, such as jumping rope 10 times or throwing a football through a hanging hula-hoop.

36. Make mud pies. Just combine dirt and water.

37. Launch water balloons. Grab an old towel, several feet of surgical tubing, two small pieces of wood (about 6 inches long), duct tape, and scissors. Cut the towel into a 14-inch-by-14-inch square, then cut a 3-inch-by-3-inch square out of each of the four corners to create four tabs. (The cloth should now resemble a fat plus sign.) Fold one piece of wood into the top and bottom tabs, and use the duct tape to tightly seal the material in place. Fold the tubing in half, then lay it over the remaining tabs so that one line of tubing hits each piece. The cloth should evenly divide the remaining tubing, so you will have equal amounts of excess lying on either side. Fold the tabs over the tubing and seal them shut. Now you’re ready to launch. Tie the free end of the tubing to a tree, then hold the other side in your hand to provide tension. Have your kid place a water balloon in the pocket, pull back, and wait for the splat. For more detailed instructions, see

46. Make a mobile. Alexander Calder gave the form cred by infusing his works with something unknown to most modern art: fun. Find a Calder near you at, then let your kids create their own mobile with a hanger, string, and a little imagination.

49. Make a bird feeder. Grab some seeds, wire, a jar of peanut butter, and a pinecone. Twist the wire around the top of the cone to create a hanger, then let your kids spread peanut butter over the cone and sprinkle the seeds on top. Place your creation in the freezer for an hour. Hang the seed-covered cone in your backyard, and watch the birds come flocking. For an educational twist, have a copy of The Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher (Thunder Bay Press) on hand, or head to, to identify the birds that drop in for a snack.

56. Play with shadows.

Start with the flying bird (see above). Then work your way up to the art of Raymond Crowe. (Search YouTube for ‘hand shadow’ and enjoy the master’s wonderful world.)

57. Learn math. But with shaving cream—because chalk is so 2007. Instead, give your child a lap-sized dry-erase board, cover it with shaving cream, and let her work problems in the goo.

For maximum parenting enjoyment, please follow these directions: Take your child fishing, preferably someplace where the fish rarely bite. Prepare the tackle, cast the line, untangle the line, and cast again. Repeat until the child’s attention wanders (three to five minutes on average). By now he should be thoroughly absorbed in an activity that has nothing to do with fishing. Join in on this activity. Plunk rocks into the water, look for frogs, dig in the mud, lie on your bellies and stare at the minnows. Just remember that you are not the fun expert here. Your kid is. Whatever you end up doing will be enjoyable, so long as he leads the way. Just prepare to be surprised.

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Double Professions - Playing Hard

I thought I would give you a glimpse of my other professional life, since I usually just talk about the profession of motherhood.

I spent last night at the beautiful Barefoot Republic Camp in Kentucky with a group of 28 teens, college students and adults working to build unity among teens in Nashville through a series of worship events called Fusion. We had the best time singing, planning, and hanging out together.

My job was to create a sense of community among these volunteer leaders who will carry out 3 events for 200 teens this summer. They wanted me to lead games from our Great Group Games book because “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” (Plato)

So we played – lots! Our first session was focused on getting to know each other. We bounced, finger fenced, searched for commonalities, sang, played with balloons, and scavenged for treasure. We learned the stories behind the names of people from teammates around the world.

The second playtime was about leadership and community building. We played silly games that led to deeper conversations about change, empowerment, appreciating diversity, listening, using the group’s strengths, creative problem-solving and trust.

We laughed together for 24 hours and left with 28 new friends, ready to make waves of change in our city. I feel so blessed in my job

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Gas Buddy

My friend Mary called today, asking if I knew of a website where she could find the cheapest local gas. I laughed when she added, "I thought if any of my friends would know that kind of info, Ann would be the one to know!" I was excited to know the answer to her question.

GASBUDDY is a great website for comparing gas prices in your geographical region. You type in your zip code, and it gives you a list of local prices reported by readers along with the time they spotted the price.

It can be a great tool to keep you from getting gas station at the pump that is 10 cents higher than another pump on your daily route.

Labels: ,

Italian Breaded Pork Chops

I love! Here's the pork chop recipe we made for dinner tonight. How did we find it in the middle of 800 pork chop recipes? I typed in "baked pork chops", then asked the search engine to sort the recipes by rating (5 stars, then 4.5 stars, all the way down to 0 stars). I read through the first dozen recipes with high ratings & high review #s. With 316 4.5 star ratings, I guessed this would be a pretty good recipe! And it was - we all enjoyed it. :)

Labels: , ,

Monday, June 02, 2008

Brownie Pie

This recipe for Brownie Pie comes from an article Jeannie Murray (my sister's sweet mother-in-law) wrote for the Truth Seekers Fellowship newsletter. We made it for my husband's early birthday party last night. It was super easy and really good. We suggest serving it warm with vanilla ice cream.

2 beaten eggs
1c sugar
1/2 c flour
1/2 stick melted butter
3 1/2 squares of Bakers unsweeted cocoa
1t vanilla
1/8t salt

Melt butter and chocolate in a medium size bowl. Add other ingredients and mix together. Pour into a greased pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. It's really easy to make with kids!


Truth Seekers is an outstanding ministry, founded by the father of my brother-in-law. I am most impressed with their MilktoMeat discipleship curriculum, a phenomenal group resource that explores the basic tenants of Christian faith. Here are some other resources they highlight on their homepage:

>To find out more about Truth Seekers Fellowship, go here.
>To listen to their Summer Bible Study on the Gospel, go here.
>To listen to their current study of Revelation, go here.
>To discover why Jesus is central to all of life, go here.

Labels: ,

Teaching Children to Pray

I read a great article on quick prayers in Focus on the Family's magazine. When I was googling to find it online, I stumbled upon some interactive ideas for teaching children (or adults!) to pray. This website gives ideas for prayers individually, as families or with children. Here are their ideas for children's groups:

Passing the Bible : Gather the group into a circle. Pass a bible round the circle, starting and ending with a leader, who can open and close with a brief prayer. On receiving the bible, each group member has the option of saying a prayer aloud, saying a prayer silently, or passing the bible straight onto the next person. This can be done gathered around a lighted candle or some other focal point.

Praying Round the World Gather the group around a large atlas, or world map, with a arrow pointer made out of card. Encourage each group member before the session to find out somewhere in the world that needs our prayers, and to write a brief prayer. They then briefly explain the situation, point the arrow at the right place on the map and pray the prayer. Then it passes onto the next team member.

1 minute prayers : Gather the group in a circle, and each member has 1 minute each to pray (silently) for the person on their right, and the person on their left. Finally, they have 1 minute to pray for someone who is not in the room. This encouarages them to pray for one-another.

Prayer Box : Encourage each member of the group to write down a short prayer on a slip of paper and then post it in the box. The group can then be split up into threes and fours to pray through a random 3 or 4 of the slips of paper. This can be extended by passing on a set of pieces of paper to another group.

Praise Prayer : Read a praise psalm together (eg Psalm 150). Then encourage members to go on and praise God in their own words. One way of doing this is for each of them to think of one thing to praise God for and then after a count of 3 to shout it out together. This can be repeated with something to thank God for, and then again with someone that they want to pray for.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

White Bean Chili

My husband clipped this recipe for Chili King's White Bean Chili from a magazine. I can't remember which magazine to give credit, but I thought you would like this quick & easy & yummy chili recipe. I know it's getting a little hot for chili in some parts of the country, but maybe my northern friends can make it before it gets too hot. The rest of us can save the recipe for next year.

2 cans northern beans, drained
2 cans black beans, drained
1 can diced tomatoes (with juice)
3 cans chicken broth
1 can beer
2 4oz cans chiles (drained)
2-3lbs chicken tenderloins
1lb chorizo
olive oil
1 chopped white onion
8 cloves garlic, minced
1T cumin
1T chili
1/2t oregano
1T Cajun seasoning

optional: sour cream, tortilla chips, fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

Cut the chicken into small pieces and saute in the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Cook the chorizo in the same saucepan. Drain.

Put all other ingredients (including meats) in a large pot. Bring the chili to a boil and simmer for an hour.