How to Make Coconut Milk Kefir

Lately I have been exploring in the world of coconut milk kefir! Our family has been consuming regular raw milk kefir for a few years now, but recently, we lost our frugal milk source, and I was forced to rethink and consider some other nutritious options. Enter…coconut milk kefir!

Kefir is typically made from cow’s milk that is fermented with kefir cultures. It is similar in taste and texture to a drinkable plain yogurt with a bit of a tangy flavor to it. It is known for many health benefits including boosting the immune system, stimulating digestion, protecting against the spread of harmful yeast overgrowth, lowering cholesterol, and guarding against cancer. It is a powerful probiotic that helps beneficial bacteria to thrive in the body.

Coconut milk is naturally rich in medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Two of the primary MCFAs found in coconut milk, lauric and capric acid, are known for supporting the body’s immune system. Coconut products contains monolaurin, a fatty acid found in human mother’s milk, which has proven antiviral, antibacterial, and fungal properties that support natural immunity. It has a creamy taste and texture that’s similar to cream (with half the fat and calories) or milk (when diluted). It tastes on the flavor of what you mix it with, making it ideal for both sweet and savory recipes. It is completely dairy, gluten, and soy free, making it the most nutritious option and alternative for the dairy intolerant.

When I searched online for information to make coconut milk kefir, I was surprised to see the serious lack of information on this topic. There appears to be two different options. Coconut water kefir and coconut milk kefir. I wanted to make coconut kefir with coconut milk because it is cheaper and easier. I am all for simplicity. Most of my searching and emailing different companies (Weston A Price & Body Ecology) came up with no responses, so I had to venture out on my own with some help from Julie at Cultures for Health.

Coconut milk kefir works beautifully with milk kefir grains yielding a thick and creamy coconut cream topping for your coffee, ice cream, smoothies, or curries with all the healthy bacterial benefits! Check out Healthy Cooking Coaches recipes for Strawberry & Vanilla ice cream using coconut kefir. You can use it as whipped cream substitute on top of pancakes or waffles (sweetening as desired) or use it in replacement of buttermilk or water in many baked goods recipes. There are no end to the ideas for its usage.

For a tutorial on making coconut water kefir, visit The Nourishing Gourmet or Body Ecology Diet.

Coconut Milk Kefir

1 quart glass jar
2 Tbsp milk kefir grains (available through Cultures for Health)
2 cans unsweetened undiluted coconut milk  or 1 quart So Delicious Coconut Milk (It has been confirmed that Native Forest Coconut Milk is canned in a BPA-free can)

Directions:

  1. Place the milk kefir grains in the quart size glass jar and cover with coconut milk. Carefully mix together with a non-metal spoon (please forgive my forgetfulness on this point in the video!).
  2. Cover loosely with a towel or cloth napkin and allow the coconut kefir to culture on the countertop for 12-36 hours.
  3. After 12 hours, check the coconut kefir every few hours so you can remove the kefir grains as soon as it reaches the desired consistency. If you let it sit too long it will become more sour and very thick, making removal of the grains more difficult.
  4. Remove grains and store them covered with a small amount of milk in refrigerator between batches or follow up immediately with another batch.
  5. Place a lid over the remaining coconut milk kefir in the jar and store in the refrigerator. Note that it will get significantly thicker in the refrigerator as it cools, so it is a perfect consistency to use as whipping cream and such.

Cultures for Health suggests that it may take a batch or two for the milk kefir grains to adapt to coconut milk but if the milk doesn’t kefir properly during the adjustment period, it is still safe to cook with. They do recommend returning the grains to cow or goat milk periodically to refresh them (and they can adapt back to making raw cow/goat milk kefir).

Here’s my little video tutorial:

Can I use kefir packets to make coconut milk kefir? What if I am dairy intolerant?

I originally thought that kefir packets would be a better alternative than grains for those with dairy allergies. I asked Julie at Cultures for Health about her opinion and this is what she shared: Powdered packets should work with coconut milk but since they are in a dairy carrier, they’re not really going to be an improvement on the grains and it’s questionable how well they will re-culture (using a small amount from the previous batch to make the next batch) making them potentially a costly option.  It might actually be less costly to occasionally buy more kefir grains than to buy lots of packets of kefir starter. We’ve taken to trying to steer the dairy intolerant to water kefir for their probiotics for this reason. Plus kefir packets aren’t really a natural culture and contain less than 10 probiotic strains compared to the 30 or so contained in kefir made with grains.

So there are options to try and experiment with, but the best option might be to stick with water kefir grains and the coconut juice method if you have dairy allergies. Packets can be used if you do not have allergies but the best results will come from using grains and rotating back and forth from culturing in coconut milk to cow/goat’s milk.

Can I dilute the coconut milk to make it stretch further?

Unfortunately you don’t want to dilute the coconut milk since that would leave less sugar for the kefir grains to eat and potentially damage the grains.

Can I make coconut milk kefir with water kefir grains?

Julie at Cultures for Health shares, Dom’s kefir site claims you can acclimate water kefir grains to milk (but I don’t believe he mentions anything about coconut milk) but I personally haven’t tried it and never heard from anyone who has.  If you happen to have a significant surplus of water kefir grains though, it might be worth trying.  It certainly would be great for people with dairy allergies—normally if someone has an allergy we just steer them to water kefir.”

Is there any benefit of making coconut water/juice kefir over coconut milk kefir?

Julie again shares, “Both coconut water kefir and coconut milk kefir would contain basically the same probiotic benefits so at that point I think it would just be a matter of the nutritional differences in the original liquids.  Coconut water is more of an electrolyte type beverage (I keep some around for when we get sick but beyond that we don’t drink very much) whereas coconut milk is a very concentrated source of healthy fats.  Both are perfectly healthy but I think they just ultimately have different purposes.”

Can I used powdered coconut milk?

A few readers suggested below that powdered coconut milk is a cheaper alternative. I understand that powdered milk products are best to be avoided. “It is manufactured through a spray drying process of raw unsweetened coconut cream. This is very different from the more widely available and coarser desiccated coconut which is made by grating machines that shred the white coconut flesh.

When coconut milk powder is spray dried, this has the effect of mixing oxygen (from the air) into the powder, under very hot drying conditions. As a consequence, coconut milk powder is “oxidized” and will go rancid quite quickly if not refrigerated and consumed within one or two days. This process also has the effect of increasing nitrate levels in powdered milk, whether it be dairy or coconut powdered milk. High levels of nitrates can increase the risk of cancer.” (The Incredible Coconut Book)

Coconut kefir does exist on the market now thanks to the efforts of So Delicious, but it cannot be compared with the homemade variety! Read more about that here. Making it yourself can always save you money and produce the highest nutrient content!

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February at Our Home

Welcome back for my monthly chronicle of life at the Edmonds. I am taking a picture of our family each month and record all that God is doing in our lives, plus my book reads for the month.

There has been one significant change taking place at our house this month. The Lord has been so good to us in more ways than one. After being self-employed for several years, the Lord opened up an amazing job opportunity for Aaron at Lacrosse Footwear (a local high quality boot manufacturer) as a web developer. It was totally and completely the Lord’s provision for us. We enjoyed the benefits of being self-employed but there were many challenges that we did not really possess the skills necessary to thrive in that self-directed environment. It is hard work! Now that he is working fulltime for this company, he is truly thriving like I have never seen him before. He loves his work, his co-workers, and the corporate environment.

In the meantime, I am learning to enjoy the limitations of only having one vehicle and staying at home more now. It was a struggle at first, but I am finding the limitations to be very beneficial. For one, I have to be real strategic about coordinating all my errands and grocery shopping for my once a month run. Previously, I would make short more frequent outings which usually leads to increased spending. ;) It has helped me get more organized in my homemaking/planning notebook which I look forward to sharing more with you all. I am able to focus more on my children and cultivating the relationships there. And lastly, it gives me opportunity to invite others into my home for visits. Tea anyone? Taking regular walks with the kids has been a great means of encouraging and strengthening my spirit when I become weary. It is doing a good work in my heart, and I am thankful for that.

Karis and Titus are continuing to grow and develop into two adorable loveable munckins! Titus will turn 1 year old this coming Thursday (March 4th), and it seems just yesterday when he was born. He started to do a full crawl this past week (after doing his own invented crawl, getting up on his hands and knees and then diving forward – we called it the “Ty dive”), matching Karis’ record in learning to crawl one week before their first birthdays. I found that truly hilarious.

Karis has become quite the mommy’s helper lately. She loves pulling up a chair and washing dishes, grating cheese, or stirring up ingredients in a bowl. It has been quite adorable to watch her blossom in this way. She is counting to ten, learning her alphabet and loving reading a wealth of library books together. One silly thing lately has been her confusion with the following two questions. When asked, “how are you?” she responds “2″, and to “how old are you?” she responds “good”. A little backwards but it has provided us with a good many laughs. We are working on it.

What was I reading this month?

One Million Arrows: Raising Your Children to Change the World is a new release by Julie Ferwerda and what a wonderful challenging call drawing our attention to this thought-provoking question: Will the world change our children…or will our children change the world? The truth is…time is short and lives are at stake. Right now, God is inviting our families to become part of a bigger story—a vision that will engage hearts to make a radical difference. One Million Arrows is an inspirational call to raise our kids to impact their culture, community, and world for Christ. One powerful quote that stood out to me was this thought:

I’ve realized that, in the grand scheme of life, more than just raising my kids to ‘keep the faith,’ I want to raise my kids to save lives. I want to raise firemen. Not necessarily the earthly fire-fighting kind, but the heavenly fire-fighting kind. Kids who are well-trained and ready to help save as many lives as possible. Kids who grow up, remembering at the forefront of everything they do, that time is short and lives are at state, and who will one day be seen as spiritual heroes for helping many lives to safety. I want to raise kids who love like Jesus.”

I found this book to be similar in message to Family Driven Faith by Voddie Bachum Jr, but it takes a more focused direction on stirring up the vision of preparing our children to be world-changers and cultivating a heart for orphans around the world. It did lack in the area of practical examples and steps from the author’s own personal experience (as her children are practically grown before she caught this vision), but she drew a lot of suggestions and tips from several real life families in our time, their stories which are shared throughout this book.

As Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife Ministries says, “This is not the time for peace, it’s time for war. Raise your kids to become arrows for war.” A must read for every Christian family! You can download the first chapter for free here.

Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of Their Husbands by Gary Thomas is definitely by far the best book for wives I have ever read! So many truths that I have been learning lately (i.e. letting go of unrealistic expectations) were so powerfully shared in this book in a fresh and beautiful approach. Yes, written by a man that understands men and what they need, every wife needs to read this book to transform their understanding of the purpose of marriage and how you can powerfully shape and influence your husband to be the man God wants him to be. I love how he began by showing the glory and beauty of a godly woman and how she can take an active powerful role in her marriage.

I cannot sing the praises of this book enough! This book has been challenging me to see that men need affirmation and I am the first to admit that I have lacked in giving my husband the admiration, love and respect that he deserves. Men rise to praise. That is where lasting change can take place. If we think negatively it will only increase dissatisfaction, but if we affirm his strengths we will likely “reinforce and build up those areas you cherish and motivate him to pursue excellence of character in others…To move a man, you have to learn to appreciate him for who he is and for what he has done…Rule number one for influencing your man is this: stop taking your husband for granted.”

“A good marriage doesn’t happen by accident, and a good marriage isn’t maintained by accident. This endeavor requires deliberate choices and much perseverance. When you start acting instead of merely wishing, when you begin taking initiative instead of simply feeling sorry for yourself, you become an active woman, and active women mirror the active God who made them.” – Quotes from Gary Thomas

I am only halfway through this book to date, but I have already grown in more ways than one. Read this book with a humble teachable spirit and God will use it mightily!

May God richly bless you all this month!

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Enviro Cloth: A Simple, Frugal & Natural Cleaning Tool

If you have been around here for long, you know that I love simplicity, multi-purposing, and natural living all-in-one. I love finding items that will help simplify my homemaking to help preserve time and energy, but also good for our health and the environment as much as possible, on top of accomplishing these things without breaking the bank. It is a tall order. So you would imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Enviro Cloth…and it appears to be the ultimate in meeting these criteria.

The Enviro Cloth is produced by Norwex, a company committed to preserving quality of life while reducing chemical expose in the home and on the body. It is made out of microfiber cloth with an innovative design that uses anti-bacterial silver particles integrated into the synthetic microfiber, ensure (according to their website):

• Single-celled micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, yeast, and viruses cannot survive or adapt in silver exposure
• Surface-to-surface cross-contamination is eliminated
• Rapidly drying cloths prevent bacteria growth in the cloth itself

This material can hold up to 7x its weight in water.  Unlike many other types of cloth that smear dirt across the surface you are trying to clean, the MicroFiber cloths act like bionic sponges removing dirt and bacteria, to leave a highly polished and clean surface. And all this can be accomplished with just the simple use of water. You don’t need any other all-purpose sprays, window cleaners, etc. Sound too good to be true? It sure did to me. According to the company, Laboratory tests have proven that Norwex antibacterial microfiber reduced bacteria by 99.99% in 24 hours! With this simple tool, which can be used dry or damp, you can clean walls, tiles, bathtubs, counters, metal surfaces, car interiors and more. Dry for dusting and damp for all other uses.
I purchased the Basic Cleaning Package which included one Enviro Cloth and one Window Cloth (pictured left). I have used the Enviro Cloth for all my basic cleaning. I even had success spot cleaning carpets with it. I have loved it! The Window Cloth (which is smoother in texture to the Enviro Cloth) especially blew my husband and I away. It produced a beautiful lint-free and clean window with just water!
To clean, simply spray a little water on the surface and polish with a dry window cloth. I found it most effective to wipe down a surface with the damp Enviro Cloth and then dry and polish it with the Window Cloth, especially for windows, mirrors, stainless steel appliances, etc. I never imagined I could get such clean polished streak-free windows. There is absolutely no residue remaining. We have used it successfully for all our windows, mirrors, laptop screens, piano surface, and windows in the car. Pretty impressive for one little cloth. So these basic clothes can replace practically all your cleaning supplies. Simplicity in action! I loved just taking one damp Enviro Cloth and wiping down all our household surfaces so easily and know that they were clean. The only thing I need beyond these closes is a toilet brush and some oxygen bleach for the toilet bowl.

How to clean them?

Clean these cloths by simply wringing them out and hanging to dry. Very fast drying. For slightly dirty cloths, hand wash with a little dish detergent under warm running water. Wring and hang to dry. They also may be laundered with other lint-free laundry. Washing with other items will destroy their lint-free properties.

Where to Buy?

Norwex is a multi-level company, so unfortunately they can not be purchased in store, so you have to purchase through independent consultants.  I recommend purchasing through The Urban Homemaker, a Christian family run business.
At just $14.50 per cloth that can be reused indefinitely, this cleaning tool could save you a lot of money! Norwex offers many other cleaning solutions from mopping, to innovative toilet cleaning tool, in addition to natural body care products. Check it out! All their products come with a 60 day money back guarantee and have a two year warranty. I’m tempted to host a party to see more of these products in action.

Any one else tried these clothes yet?
Comments { 47 }

Joovy Caboose Double Stroller Review

Karis & Titus in our Joovy Caboose

When we were preparing to welcome our little Ty man (#2), I was debating within myself whether I should pursue finding a double stroller. I went back and forth, back and forth. I personally disliked those large caravan type double strollers that took up the entire trunk of the car and was difficult to maneuver in tight places. I also didn’t prefer the idea of a side by side stroller that couldn’t make it through doorways without difficulty, if at all. But I had two little ones, close in age, and we love walking! I could put one in a carrier and the other in a single stroller, but that could only last so long before my back started to break. So, here I am today with a double stroller and one that we love! I did a lot of research and decided to go with a sit and stand stroller. We chose the Joovy Caboose Ultralight Stand On Tandem Stroller and we absolutely love it and cannot recommend it more highly. Why?

1. It is compact. It is easy to fold down, takes up hardly any space in the back of our car, and is lightweight. As a mother, I didn’t want to haul around a huge stroller that would kill my back to take in and out of the car. This stroller has been the perfect solution.

2. It opens easily with one hand. With a baby on the hip, this stroller can be opened easily with one hand. It does require two hands to close, but is very simple to do.

3. It fits 2 or more children comfortably. Baby can sit in the front with the car seat adapter compatibility which can be easily graduated to a seat at a later date. The older child can sit or stand on the foot tray behind the baby. The foot tray is large enough that one child could actually sit while another could stand or both stand together. We have used this stroller for three munckins in this manner and it works wonderfully.

Ty man enjoying his ride up front

4. An older toddler can get on or off easily. The older child can easily stand or get down and walk next to the stroller as desired. No fussing about lifting the child in and out or buckling or unbuckling (although there is a seat belt that is easy to use). The padded handles for the toddler to hold are perfect for sitting or for holding on to while walking beside the stroller.

5. It is a lightweight and easy to maneuver. At just 21 pounds, this stroller is lightweight!

6. Large size basket that is accessible! The toddler seat slides forward and backward easily opening up access to the basket underneath.

7. Offers a parent organizer. While this was not essential, it is a nice feature to hold our water bottles, cell phone and keys for easy access.

8. Easy to clean. The nylon fabric is very easy to wipe down for a quick clean.

Honestly, the only thing I don’t really care for on this stroller is the over sized canopy. Yes, it is large but it can only cover one child sufficiently at a time. I don’t think there really is a solution to this, but the canopy can easily be removed. I guess this is where the rain cover would come in handy. ;) Considering we bought ours used and the previous owners had already used it for two children, and it still remains in excellent condition, this stroller will serve us well for many years to come!

Although I think all sit and stand strollers are wonderful alternatives to the standard double stroller, I especially like the Joovy Caboose Ultralight because it is so light and yet incredibly sturdy! The original Joovy Caboose definitely is cheaper and was my first choice apart from the Lord providing a Ultralight for us at a great price off Craigslist. The Ultralight’s only superior feature is the decreased weight. The larger canopy is a take it or leave it feature as is the parent organizer. All other features remain the same. So if you are on a tighter budget, check out the original Joovy Caboose. You can always buy the parent organizer separately.

We also love having a small umbrella stroller for those quick trips here and there. This is especially useful when I might just have one of the kids with me, or if we are in a tight shopping center, etc. That was another awesome $5 craigslist find!

Karis enjoys her ride in the back

I guess its turning out to be a product review week on Passionate Homemaking!

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2010 Goal: Cultivating a Radically Thankful Heart

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“Gratitude is truly my life preserver. Even in the most turbulent waters, choosing gratitude rescues me from myself and my runaway emotions. It buoys me on the grace of God and keeps me from drowning in what otherwise would be my natural bent toward doubt, negativity, discouragement, and anxiety. Over time, choosing gratitude means choosing joy…” – Nancy Leigh Demoss

We live in the most prosperous nation on the earth. The average family is drowning in abundance, and yet we remain the unhappiest of people. A church leader was visiting the United States from India who had come to the States to study. A gentleman asked what he thought of Americans, to which his guest responded – in polite, Asian style – “Do you want me to be honest?” “Yes, I do,” responded the gentleman. But who could really be ready for this: “You have no idea how much you have,” the man said, “and yet you always complain.”

This has hit home to me as I have recently read it retold in Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh Demoss. Through my recent struggles with insomnia, God has been teaching me many lessons. This has been one of them. I confess…I am a whiner. I complain when I am tired, when the children don’t behave, when my husband doesn’t arrive on time from work and dinner gets cold. It is so easy to focus on the problems, the struggles, the challenges in our lives, rather than actively striving to choose gratitude. It does not happen by chance. It is not acquired in a moment. It is the fruit of a thousand choices.

Why is it important to cultivate an atmosphere of thankfulness in our families?

I love what Barbara Rainey shares: “Because God commands it and we need it. Gratitude takes our eyes off of ourselves and puts them back on the giver of all good things, even those things we perceive as bad or unpleasant. Most American families are drowning in abundance and as a result we have the most self absorbed culture ever. The gift of prosperity does not usher in the response of gratitude as one would imagine. Instead it feeds the roots of narcissism and entitlement. Children who tend to be selfish anyway must be trained in giving thanks. We as adults must discipline ourselves in gratitude. It is not natural. But it is necessary as believers if we are to please God and make any kind of impact on our culture. It is the antidote to insanity. It is the pathway to peace. It is the key to a gracious life. It is the doorway by which even unbelievers cope with the fragility of life because it acknowledges faith in the one who rules.”

Throughout Scripture we see the command issued again and again. “And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”(Eph. 5:20-21). “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).

In every situation...prayer + thanksgiving = peace. Thankfulness results in joy! When we wake up in the morning after a rough night of sleep, children that kept us up, or a long to-do list that bombards our minds for the day, we have one choice to make. We can whine or we can worship! Whining results in self-centered discouragement and depression. Worship results in finding true joy in our Savior!

My Goal:

My prayer and goal for my spiritual life this year: to become a radically thankful woman. I want to be known as a woman who is joyful, peacefully rested in my Savior, and always expressing thankfulness to others. I want to be filled every day with His joy, so that others who see me would have a glimpse of God – in my words, in my affection, in my writing, in disappointments and trials, and even in everyday tasks.

How will I make this a habit in my life?

  • Complete the 30 Day Gratitude Challenge each month (listed in the back of Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh Demoss or available for download here). You cannot have too much repetition when it comes to this!
  • Write 1-2 handwritten thank you notes each week. This is a means of cultivating thankfulness and ministering to others at the same time. Who in your family, church, or even your past have blessed your life for which you have never expressed thankfulness?
  • Begin each day by adding 5 things to my “Blessings” List (also could be two lists titled ‘Gifts from God’ and ‘Gifts from Others’), and thanking the Lord for them. I have this list in my journal to which I refer each day. Once you get started there is no end to the numerous blessings we are recipients of daily.
  • Memorize Psalms 103. Meditating on this passage has brought such encouragement to my life.

Will you join me in cultivating a thankful joyful heart? I believe this is key to strengthening and blessing our families and those around us. Can you see your marriage blossom when you express your thankfulness to your man giving him the respect he desperately needs? Can you see children that desire to follow hard after Christ because their mama has found her satisfaction in Him first? Can you see neighborhoods transformed because they see your joyful countenance and cannot help but ask what makes you smile?

Sally Clarkson, in her new book, Dancing with My Father: How God Leads Us into a Life of Grace and Joy, says it so well in defining the goal: “I renewed my decision…that joy would be my goal, that I would look everywhere I go for God’s touch, his shadow, his signature. I would celebrate the inner reality of his spirit, rather than live as a victim of circumstances in my outward reality.”

Sally’s book is another great title on this subject that I am just diving into and loving already!

“Thankfulness puts us in God’s living room. It paves the way to His presence.” - Nancy Leigh Demoss

“A joyful heart is good medicine, But a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).

Things to Be Thankful For

Originally published at Revive Our Hearts

  • Be thankful for the clothes that fit a little too snug, because it means you have enough to eat.
  • Be thankful for the mess you clean up after a party, because it means you have been surrounded by friends.
  • Be thankful for the taxes you pay, because it means you’re employed.
  • Be thankful that your lawn needs mowing and your windows need fixing, because it means you have a home.
  • Be thankful for your heating bill, because it means you are warm.
  • Be thankful for the laundry, because it means you have clothes to wear.
  • Be thankful for the space you find at the far end of the parking lot, because it means you can walk.
  • Be thankful for the lady who sings off-key behind you in church, because it means you can hear.
  • Be thankful when people complain about the government, because it means we have freedom of speech.
  • Be thankful for the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours, because it means you’re alive.

Further Resources:

A Week of Thanksgiving – Developing the habit of thankfulness may require some practice! Here are some practical suggestions for devoting one week to practicing thankfulness.
Blessings of Thorns: Family Devotional Plan – This creative family devotional plan corresponds with the “Blessings of Thorns” radio series and CD drama, and will provide your family with an unforgettable Thanksgiving experience together.
Growing in Gratitude: A 30 Day Challenge – Cultivate a heart of gratitude through this 30 Day challenge. Awesome resource to accompany your devotions.

Comments { 46 }

The Family that Reads Together: Recommended Read Alouds

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“The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” - Becoming A Nation of Readers

Families reading together is one of the most splendid traditions and habits you can cultivate as a family. You may find it common to read to your little ones throughout the day, but have you considered scheduling family reading time together? I recall snuggling up around a warm fire and listening to a fun story my Papa would read to all eight of us children when I was a child. These were some of my favorite memories! When you read together:

  • You build family relationships in a unique way. You are sharing an experience of entering the world of the story teller, stirring the imagination as you enter the lives of the characters in the story.
  • You grow together as a family. You can interact together, discuss the contents of your readings, and encourage a learning environment in this way.
  • You share a fun, profitable and frugal activity. Many in our generation consider expensive family vacations as necessary to spend time together, but miss out on the day by day opportunities to invest quality time in a free activity. These are far more significant.
  • Your family strengthens reading, vocabulary and pronunciation skills. Taking turns reading aloud will also help strengthen vocabulary and pronunciation. We would do this in our morning devotions as well. Each person would read 5 verses and then make a comment. It built reading skills but also logic, speech and articulation skills. You can even encourage fun modulation and variation in your voices for varying characters which builds confidence and speech skills.
  • Your family will become better writers. Practically every individual in my family loves writing. It is well known that the more you read the better you will be able to write. Reading the classics is especially important for this.
  • Your family will become lifelong readers. Cultivating a love for reading in your childrens’ youth will last a lifetime.

If you don’t have time to take such adventures together, you need to re-evaluate your schedule. Reading together should be a regular part of the events at your home. Set aside an evening each week for family reading together. Turn off the technology gadgets around your home and snuggle up, and you will not regret it!

I wanted to share a collection of recommended books that are excellent for such times of families snuggling up together and enjoying a good book. This list is compiled because it is highly suitable for all ages.

Little Britches- a series of eight stories based upon the life of Ralph Moody. It begins with Ralph at eight years old in 1906 when his family moved from New Hampshire to a Colorado ranch. Through his eyes we experience the pleasures and perils of ranching there early in the twentieth century. Auctions and roundups, family picnics, irrigation wars, tornadoes and wind storms give authentic color to Little Britches. So do adventures, wonderfully told, that equip Ralph to take his father’s place when it becomes necessary. 

Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance & Tales of Restoration by David Mains – This three volume set is a powerful allegorical story set around the Enchanted City.  Each volume consists of twelve fantasy short stories, set in a city ruled by an evil Enchanter who has usurped the throne from the true King. They draw on the imagery of the kingdom that Jesus Christ Himself taught in His ministry. Under the influence of the evil Enchanter, the people of the Enchanted City prefer darkness to the light, and so sleep during the day and work at night. But the King is at work delivering the city and rescuing the poor and needy and bringing them to the Great Park. Great for meaningful dialog!

Freddy The Pig Series by Walter Brooks – for some fun family reading, you must check out Freddy the Pig. This series of stories follows the life and adventures of Freddy and his fellow farm animals. Freddy is a detective, explorer, and adventurer taking the animals all over the place in their explorations. These stories are hilarious and will definitely keep your family laughing together. Classic stories written from 1927-1958 includes 26 volumes. Reading level is ages 9-12, but I believe all levels will enjoy these.

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Adventures from the life of a family living on the Prairie in early American. Delightful!

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis - who cannot include this wonderful allegorical series in this list? Need I say more?

Lamplighter Publishing- Lamplighter has republished classic character building stories that have stood the test of time. Many were written in the 1800′s and have powerful moral stories that are well worth reading again and again. They are all beautifully hardcover books. Two of my favorites include: Basket of Flowers & Robbers’ Cave – beautiful amazing stories your kids will be sitting on the edge of their seats especially with Robbers’ Cave. These are my all time favorite family reading materials, but are also great gifts for your children. Many of this collection is available through Vision Forum Ministries.

YWAM’s Christian Heros: Then & Now Series - an awesome inspiring series of stories on historical figures and missionaries. Each inspiring true story of a man or woman who answered God’s call is a testimony to a real-life adventure of faith and determination. I remember devouring these as a child and I believe they had a lasting impact in shaping my life with a heart for missions. These are excellent reading for all ages! These books are also available through Amazon.

I will also add that listening to books on tape/CD is a wonderful pastime for car travel as a family. We listened to many classic stories during our trips around the country and it was a great way to spend the time. Focus on the Family Radio Theater was a huge favorite for this! Les Miserables, Narnia & Anne of Green Gables were classics!

Further Resources:

Why Read Aloud? – Chapter One from Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook
The DO’S and DON’Ts of Read-Aloud – Chapter Four from Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook
Hints for Reading Out Loud – A page from Madame Esme’s Website
Reading Aloud: Tips for Parents and Teachers

What favorite titles do you recommend for family reading?

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January at Our Home

I am re-introducing a monthly update post that I used to maintain regularly…I cannot remember the last time I did one, but I want to use this report to share all that God is doing in our lives as a testimony to His grace. I will also be highlighting the books I have read each month here and chronicling process on our 2010 goals.

God has been so good to us! How richly blessed I have been over the past few weeks to enjoy good rest and sleep. A small glass of wine before bed has really assisted getting my sleep patterns back on track (and it has helped increase my milk supply too or maybe just getting sleep has!), in addition to cutting back and simplifying our lifestyle quite a bit. I stopped teaching piano, backed down from a few leadership/organization positions I was maintaining, and refocused my priorities on three things: my relationship with the Lord, loving my husband, and training and nurturing my children.

Aaron moved his web developing business out of the house this month and began renting an office space. This has been a very good adjustment for our family. I am no longer tempted to bother him throughout the day. We have both increased our productivity. The children and I could distract him so easily because he loves us so. This move has also helped us establish our morning routine. We are now waking up by 6:00am and how wonderful it has been. We treasure our times together so much more… absence makes the heart grow fonder! It also means we get to figure out how to live with one car!

Karis and I have begun using the Before Five in a Row curriculum for some fun learning activities using classic children’s books. It is designed for 2-4 year olds. Some of it is beyond Karis’ abilities at 2 1/2 years old, but it is also fun having a little structured learning time each day. We sit down for 30 minutes or so and read and discuss the book and materials. We also are using Learning for Littles, which is a fun little ebook from Graham Family Ministries, teaching basic numbers, letters, days, months, etc. Karis loves the colorful pictures and making her own preschool notebook! Beyond this, she has a lot of creative play time, including sand play, painting, and play dough.

Ty man is growing like a weed. Ty is rolling around and getting up on his hands and knees and diving forward, but has yet to start actually crawling.

We began hosting a community group at our home once a week. This is a small group of sorts that is focused on reaching out into our community together. Everyone that attends lives within a 5 mile radius of us and we are eagerly praying, planning, and working together to be salt and light to our neighborhoods. We eagerly anticipate all that God will do in and through us. We are using The Story of God, a powerful evangelistic tool chronically the Bible from start to finish in simple stories that encourage awesome dialog. They even have a Story of God for children that would be a great tool to use for family devotions, if you are looking for something like that. These tools are free for download here.

I am participating in the Bookin’ It Challenge over at Life as Mom for the accountability and fun in sharing all that I am reading this year. You can check out my 2010 Book List for my full reading goal. Here are my January reads:

The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life. Aaron and I read this book and found it very helpful in learning how to manage your time effectively, focusing on your priorities, establishing your three most important tasks, and learning how to establish and accomplish goals. I found it very practical although slightly repetitive.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters by Tim Keller was a powerfully convicting book. He helped open my eyes through the use of Scripture to see the hidden idols we set up in our lives, things from which we strive to gain our satisfaction and security. He had incredible insight into the lives of Abraham (and his idolatry with his son Isaac), Jacob (and his idolatry of Rachel) and Jonah. I believe this is one I will need to read again and again.

The Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle is an awesome book for Biblical parenting. It is a short, easy read (just 51 pages), and yet so rich in solid biblical parenting advice that has withstood the test of time. Aaron and I read this together and found it very convicting. It is no longer in print but you can purchase an e-book version from Graham Family Ministries for just $3.95. When the Mahaney girls at GirlTalk said this was their favorite book on parenting, I knew we had to read it and now I am so thankful we have!

Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy by Nancy Leigh Demoss was a life-changing read for me. I have come to realize how quickly and easily I complain through the struggles and trials of life without first reflecting on the glorious mercies of Christ in my life. Choosing Gratitude was a challenge to change from “whining to worshiping” in all areas of life. Have I considered thanking Him for all the little gifts He has provided for me in addition to all that He has protected me from? I made a “blessings list” through her challenge and each day I am seeking to add 5 things to that list and to thank the Lord out loud for those gifts. It has greatly enriched my walk with the Lord. She has an awesome 30-day devotional challenge in the back of the book that I have been working through and plan to repeat several times throughout this year as I seek to become a radically thankful woman this year. More to come on this book and goal…

Thank you all for your wonderful support, encouragement and prayers during this season. The Lord has used this trial of insomnia to teach me so many things, including identifying idols in my heart as previously discussed in regards to my marriage and pursuit of natural living. It has been so rich! Blessings upon you all!

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Letting Go of Unrealistic Expectations

Photo credit

Aaron and I will be celebrating our fourth anniversary this May, and I believe my love for him has grown twice as much in the last six months as it did in the previous 3 1/2 years. How could it possibly have flourished so significantly in such a short time? It is because God has been teaching me two huge important lessons…let go of the unrealistic expectations and focus on the positives.

It must be a feminine trait connected with our emotional inclinations for love and romance that would incline me as a woman to expect that my husband should surprise me with occasional gifting of flowers, mushy cards, arranging surprise special dates and outings. I desperately wanted him to demonstrate love to me in this practical way. I just wanted him to know what I wanted without even communicating my desires. Have you ever had those moments when he asked you what you wanted to do and you did not respond? You just wanted him to know? How silly of me to expect him to know my every whim and fancy. He is a man. He thinks differently than a woman. I was holding unrealistic expectations over his head that he ought to be creative, only to be disappointed.

Expectations creeped in for him to play his part around the house, to take out the garbage for me, or help with the dishes occasionally. I was focusing on all that I was contributing without considering all the laborious hours of work that he was offering up on my behalf that we might be well provided for. There was a deeper issue in my heart that the Lord had to weed out. I was so desirous of this practical service that I became bitter towards my husband time and time again. It was becoming idolatrous. Ultimately, deep down I wanted him to be consumed with me and my needs. I would hold these little oversights in my heart until they would come out like a floodgate of tears and frustration. I was focusing on the shortcomings.

Did I ever take thought to his needs? He had to do one thing for 8 hours in the day, while I was able to chose a variety of activities to do around my home. Have I ever been thankful for that?

In preparation for my birthday this past year, I originally hoped he would plan this wonderful surprise outing for me. But God began to show me my foolish expectations. Instead, I simply shared what I would enjoy doing for the day. I delight in exploring new places, walking, and enjoying the blessings of nature. I wanted to take the day and enjoy downtown Portland. Walking around, having coffee, touring used book stores, and enjoying a local new restaurant was my ideal. My birthday ended up being one of the best days of my life. Why? Because we were together, enjoying life. I let go of the expectations.

Over these last six months, thanks in part to Revive Our Hearts 30 Day Husband Encouragement Challenge, I have learned and continue to grow in my appreciation for the way God designed my man to be. My husband is amazingly steady, devoted to providing for our family, and that is the way that he naturally shows love to me. I know without a shadow of a doubt that he would rather die that stop providing for me. He is so devoted and loyal. He loves the Lord and delights to serve His church.

Once I started to change my focus away from his shortcomings, I began to see more and more of the beautiful gifts he has. I started praising him more for those qualities. I started cheering him on. When he did take out the trash without my nagging, I would give him a big huge and express my love and appreciation. I learned that even if I had to pick up after him occasionally, this was a way that I was being his helper. God fashioned and designed me for my man and he needs me. Yes, he can pick up after himself, but this is not worth holding over him. I changed my focus to see this as an opportunity to serve and help my husband.

What has been the result? Focusing on the good qualities has caused our love to blossom. Not only that, but my husband started taking more initiative. Just this past week, he totally surprised me with a beautiful boutique of flowers! He started serving me in so many practical ways around house, and caring for the children. It has been so awesome! When I thank him and praise him more for these actions, our love continues to grow.

This is our story…your story will likely look different…but might there be some unrealistic expectations that you are harboring?

We cannot change our man, but we can influence him for the better. We can take the plank out of our own eye first, and then, by God’s grace and wisdom, we will be able to see and help assist removing the plank in our husband’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5). Many times we will see that it is only a small stone that may in fact vanish when we focus first on our own hearts and actions.

In a nutshell…

  • Keep your trust first and foremost in the Lord.
  • Communication is key.
  • Don’t harbor bitter thoughts. See them for what they really are. Idols!
  • Write out your expectations. Lay them out before the Lord. Some expectations are certainly biblical (that he is to be faithful, provide, etc), while others (as witnessed above) are not. Prayerfully evaluate them.
  • Start praying for your man. Pray that He might grow into the man God would have him be, and not the way you would have him be.
  • Communicate with your husband. Share your desires and leave it at that. Let the Lord work in his heart.
  • Focus on his quality character traits. Take 30 days and each day try to express vocally one thing you admire about your husband to him and others.
  • True joy comes in the service of others, especially your husband. (Matthew 23:11)

Get behind your man, dear sisters. He needs you! He is so much more productive when you get behind him, trust him, and believe in him. But ultimately, keep your trust in the Lord first and foremost, as the holy women of old…

This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They trusted in God and accepted the authority of their husbands. For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do.” (1 Peter 3:5-6).

Resources:

Praying for Your Man – 31 Days of Prayer – a free helpful tool for praying for your husband.
30 Day Husband Encouragement Challenge - take the challenge! It’s worth it. God can transform your marriage too!

NOTE: My husband has reviewed and approved this post. ;)

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10 Reasons Why I Recommend the Blendtec

I was totally blessed to receive a Blendtec Home Total Blender for my birthday this past year from my wonderful hubby, as it’s been on my wishlist for some time. I must admit that the price tag turned me off for the longest time, but this purchase was made in response to three questions. Will this tool help simplify my cooking processes, saving me time in the kitchen? Will this tool accomplish multiple tasks? Is this tool durable and high quality? All these questions have been answered in the affirmative with the Blendtec Blender. After killing a standard Oster blender, and sending $70 down the drain, I knew it would be wise to invest in a machine that could handle the strain and stress I would put it under with all our fruit smoothies, grain grinding, etc. It is now the most useful kitchen tool in my home. I use it at least twice a day. It has helped simplify my food preparations 100 times over. I feel without it I might not have been able to continue making things from scratch with the responsibilies of a growing family and health issues.

Top 10 Reasons I Love the Blendtec:

It is easy to clean. Because of the wide square base of this blender, cleaning is a breeze. Throw it in the dishwasher or add a little soap and water and pulse a few times, rinse, and it will be clean.

Nothing goes to waste. With it’s wide square shape, you can be assured that nothing will get stuck around the base, as in a typical blender. All food ingredients come out easily with a spatula.

Food processor functionality. I can throw in some onions, carrots, etc. and pulse for a few moments and I have a nice chopped product. This makes soup making very simple.

Grinds grain. I was blown away by the excellent job this machine did with grinding whole grains. I had to admit that the quality was just as fine as my Nutrimill. You are limit to about 2 cups of grain at a time, so not ideal for huge bread baking projects, but for every day flour needs, this will do the job nicely.

Makes amazing smoothies. We love green kefir smoothies at our house, and this machine can handle it all. Frozen fruit and greens come out so smooth, you cannot tell any texture difference. I can throw in whole raw seeds (flax seeds, etc) and they are completely grinded without any problems.

Makes homemade raw sauces with ease. I love how I can throw in a few apples, cinnamon, and water and in a few moments I have raw applesauce, plus you get the nutritional benefits of the peel in there too. You only have to quarter the apple, de-coring if desired. I also have made spaghetti sauce/tomato sauce from whole tomatoes, pear sauce from whole pears, fresh salsa, and other sauces in a matter of minutes.

Turns off by itself. Push your desired setting and let the machine go to work. You don’t have to stand there and hold the lid down or wait to turn it off. The Blendtec has specific digital touchpad settings for every job and it will turn off automatically when the task is down. The ideal multi-task machine! I can start the smoothie and let it go while I clean up, make something else, etc.

Is compact and yet powerful. This machine has a 1560 watt with a 3 HP direct-drive motor and yet doesn’t require any additional counterspace for its powerful engine.

Functionality with the press of a button. The digital touchpad makes it simple to use and perfectly arranged to meet every task.

Durable and professional. This machine is used in the majority of professional businesses, such as coffee shops, juice shops, etc. It is known for its quality and durability.

Simplicity in action. As the description states: You can replace up to nine other kitchen appliances with this easy-to-use countertop blender–no need for a separate grain mill, juicer, bread machine, ice-cream maker, smoothie maker, blender, milkshake maker, coffee grinder, or ice crusher. The all-in-one appliance makes smoothies, fresh juice, ice cream, milkshakes, cappuccinos, margaritas, soups, sauces, breads, dressings, salsas, and more. It can even turn ice to snow and comes with an ice-crushing guarantee.

That is what I call simplicity in action!  I hate kitchen gadgets that increase clutter.

In addition to this list, the Blendtec can make ice cream, fondues (wonderfully delicious), peanut butter, in addition to kneading bread dough and preparing and heating soups. It can knead one loaf of bread, a dozen muffins, or a loaf of sweet bread at a time. The machine also comes with a great cookbook with instructions and tons of recipes.

I just have a few simple complaints with this machine:

- It doesn’t have a adjustable timer. It runs for 90 seconds for most of the settings and then turns off. So in the case that I want to run the blender longer, I have to push the button again to run the cycle again. Not a big problem, just a bit annoying.

- It is loud. Yes, this is a high powered blender and can make some noise.

- I don’t like the ice cream. With the requirements of adding ice in order to make ice cream, the results are a very icy consistency. I received the same results with the Vitamix. I prefer my Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker because it does not require ice and results in a very creamy consistency.

Why I choose a Blendtec over a Vitamix?

Vitamix is a similar machine to Blendtec and more commonly known because it has been marketed better to the public, but Blendtec is the choice among professionals. First, the Blendtec fits under your countertop. The jar that comes with the Vitamix is too tall to store under the average countertop. You have to store it separately or purchase the additional smaller jar that Vitamix offers. One jar with the Blendtec does it all. The Vitamix has two different jars to accomplish all these tasks. The Vitamix does not turn off by itself and has two different switches that have to be adjusted carefully during the preparation process. I know because my mom has one and it is definitely a pain.

The only disadvantage I found was that the Vitamix had a superior warranty to the Blendtec (7 years as compared to Blendtec’s 3 year warranty on motor base, 1 year on jar, and a lifetime on blade and coupling).

For a thorough visual comparison of the Blendtec vs. Vitamix, watch this video.

When you consider the cost of purchasing all nine of those kitchen items that this Blender can replace…you can save a significant amount of money with one simple machine! A grinder alone costs upwards of $250 dollars.

In conclusion, if you were to invest in one machine that would help you transition to a whole foods lifestyle, this would be the item I would recommend! If you cannot afford a separate grain mill, go with the simplicity of this blender. This is quality in action.

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Zuppa Tuscana Soup

Recently a dear friend inspired me with the idea of creating a mock Zuppa Tuscana recipe from the classic soup at Olive Garden. This has definitely been my favorite item on their menu for the occasions when we visited this restaurant. After experimenting with making it at home, and experiencing such wonderful results, I just had to share the recipe with you. I am sure there are many variations on the web, but this was our adaption. It is my favorite soup of all time, and my husband was quite impressed. It is a new regular on the menu now! Even with bacon (which is special occasion item at our house) and sausage, this dish cost less than $1 per serving, making it very frugal. Deliciously creamy, rich, and full of flavor, I am sure every family member will love it! Top with shredded parmesan cheese and you will be in heaven! ;)

1/2 lb bacon (preferably natural, nitrate free)
1/2 lb chicken Italian sausage or bulk sausage of your choice
4-6 potatoes, diced
1 onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minsed
6 cups chicken stock (you can easily replace some with water as you have available – I used 4 cups stock, 2 cups water)
2 cups whole milk, half & half, or raw cream
1 head of kale (5-6 leaves, as desired), chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese

In a small pan, cook the bacon. Save bacon grease, if desired. Cool and finely chop. In a large pot, cook the sausage, onions, and garlic (in bacon grease, if desired) until the sausage has browned. Crumble sausage as you cook it. Add the potatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Once it has reached a boil, turn it down to low and simmer for 20 minutes or so, just until the potatoes are tender. Add the milk, kale, and bacon and allow to cook for 5-10 minutes. Season to taste. Top with parmesan cheese for extra flavor! Enjoy! Makes 6-8 servings. Freezes well.

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