Saturday, January 24, 2009

Learning a Second Language

I have spent more time speaking English in my lifetime than my native language, Portuguese. Although I speak Portuguese fluently, I don't get to use it much, and I really have trouble expressing myself with more in depth conversations (especially written). When I was growing up in Australia, we had a lot of Brazilian friends, so I was familiar with the language, but didn't speak it. At one point, my father decided we would speak to him only in Portuguese, but we would quickly get stuck on a word and he'd let us say it in English. It was quite entertaining hearing us talk to my mum because we (the kids) would speak English, while she would answer in Portuguese. We all understood one another. That consistent exposure was sufficient to help me learn for good once we moved back to Brazil (I was 13 by then).

Some of my friends in Brazil just told me about this website: I haven't joined yet because I already feel I'm spending too much time online, but it may be a good way for me to brush up on my Brazilian Portuguese. (So this isn't an endorsement, it's just an FYI.) If you have ever learned a language with a speaking partner, this website seems to expand that concept. You can even help others learn your language. Several languages are available.

On a related note, I also have two books checked out from the library about bilingualism. I would love for my kids to speak Portuguese, or at least have the same exposure as I did. I initially spoke only Portuguese with my son while I was alone with him, but that idea fell by the wayside by the time he was 2 months old. There are plenty of resources available for Spanish, but hardly anything for Portuguese. So there's no Dora/Diego stuff in this house, but it occurred to me that there is a Portuguese version of Dora in Brazil, where she speaks primarily Portuguese and then says some words in English. So I may get around to looking into that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Orange-Scented Roast Chicken

I have never been satisfied roasting a chicken until last week. It always seemed to come out bland or only some parts had flavor. That's when I came up with this recipe. The juices from the orange keep the bird very moist and infuses flavor throughout. I'm notorious for making something up only to forget how I made it. I didn't think I'd forget this one, but then after a few days I started wondering about quantities (not like I really paid attention the first time). So I made it again tonight to make sure it could be reproduced. I am pleased to announce that I was able to make it again and share it with you. This time, I actually doubled the recipe and roasted two chickens at a time. It takes the same amount of heat so I figured I'd make the most of it. You can either serve to a large group, give away one of the birds, or pull off and freeze leftover chicken for other uses.

Orange-Scented Roast Chicken

1 4-5 lb Chicken
1 Orange
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Red Onion, minced
2 tsp dried sage, plus extra sprigs to put in the cavity (I used dried sage from my garden. You can use other types, but adjust accordingly: fresh=more, powder=less)
1/4 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 tsp orange zest (can use peel from orange above)
1/2 tsp kosher salt (use 1/4 tsp if using regular salt)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
After removing the giblets in the body cavity, rinse chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut orange into quarters. Grate enough orange peel to make 1/4 tsp orange zest. In the body cavity, place two orange quarters, 1 tsp minced onion and extra sage sprigs. Slice the other two quarters and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients, (from sage to olive oil). Carefully loosen the skin underneath the chicken breast and drumsticks, and apply the sage rub. Insert orange slices under the breast skin.

Place chicken in a roasting pan breast side up. (If you want to dress the chicken i.e. tie the drumsticks and tuck the wings, this would be the time to do it. I skip that step)

Bake at 400 degrees for about 1hr, or until a thermometer in the meaty part of the thigh registers 180 degrees. Remove from oven, cover loosely with foil and let stand 10 minutes.

Note: Discard the orange and sage sprigs. You can use the oranges as a garnish, but they have an unpleasant bitter flavor if you try to eat it.

If you also want to make gravy...
I'm not very good at giving directions on how to make gravy. For gravy basics, you might want to read this description from

But this is what I did (kind of):

I simmered the giblets in chicken broth. Then I skimmed some of the oil from the drippings in the roasting pan (after removing the bird), then made a roux by adding 1-2 Tbsp flour to the drippings. I put my roasting pan directly over two stove burners on med/low heat (Be sure you can do this with your pan. I don't think this would work for glass or aluminum pans). I cooked the roux for a minute or so, scraping the pan to get the flavorful bits (and it makes for easier cleanup too), until thickened. I then added the giblet broth to the roux and let it thicken some more. Then I put it in a serving container.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chores for kids

I've been thinking about what are reasonable chores for my kids. The lovely thing about the internet is that other bloggers have asked this same question. So, here's a link to SimpleMom's post about chores for preschoolers.

I think I'm going to do a chart so they (and I) can keep track of their morning routine as well as (hopefully) reduce the whining at cleanup time. This is what they do to their room every single day:

You would think they would have gotten used to cleaning it up by now. Actually, it used to be easier, but now I am meeting more resistance.

If you have any wisdom to share, please do!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Making peace with motherhood

In the early days of this blog, I wrote some posts trying to the address some of the baggage that we bring with being a mom, specifically the concepts of being a good mom, as well as the higher calling myth (especially among Christian circles). I really didn't know how to address the issue to do it justice. But this week I heard a radio interview with two moms who also have been addressing some of these issues. For a few weeks now, I've been wanting to write about my own experiences, so what started out as a simple blog post about the broadcast I heard, has turned into a piece of my story.

My first child changed my world. From the moment my son was born, not only was I in love with my son, I was in love with being a mom. Even up to the day he was born, we had no idea how we would be able to make it without me going back to work. I was so enthusiastic about being able to stay home with him that someone told me I was an advertisement for motherhood (it took me a few seconds to realize she didn't mean I was a model for Motherhood Maternity store. lol!). Being a mother was a blessing and privilege. Sure enough, the trying toddler years came along, and I was faced with my own issues with anger and frustration. Honestly, if my second child weren't already born at that time, I would probably have bought into the idea that someone else could take care of him better than me and looked for a job where I could make a bigger difference. I wondered if our relationship would probably be better that way, you know... if we had some space from one another. One day, I was talking to a friend, telling her of my struggle and saying how I wished I could be more loving toward my child, how I wanted to have joy in raising him, how I wanted us to live peaceably, and how I wish I were more patient with him...
And then it occurred to me that I was listing off the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-25

At that moment, I realized that all that I desired was available to me through God's Holy Spirit. God Himself was the solution to my struggles. The next challenge was to learn to live and walk in the Spirit. As time progressed, I started to understand what it was like to rely on my flesh vs. God's Spirit. I still don't think I could articulate it well enough, but any good thing can easily lead to frustration when you are doing it all in the flesh. This doesn't just apply to the parenting dynamic either, like when we are frustrated with people because they don't understand an important spiritual truth, or when we get the overwhelming sense of there being so many great causes to support, but not knowing which one to choose. This very frustration and sense of being overwhelmed is living in the flesh, masked in our best intentions. It is at those times that we need to pause and ask for the Spirit's guidance, and let Him do the work. Not us. Not others. Remember, against such things (i.e. the fruit of the Spirit) there is no law. And where there is no law, there is no condemnation. A good book on this issue is Having a Mary Spirit by Joanna Weaver. Her book helped me further tease out these differences. So now family life is pure bliss! No more yelling and losing patience!

Yes, I am kidding.

But life is much better now. We're not perfect, but it is bliss to see and know that God is working in our lives. That He is ever faithful, and that I, who fail my own standards, have been made responsible for raising three children. And He has made it possible!

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7

As I have mentioned before, this is my first year of homeschooling. My husband and I had always considered homeschooling as our first option. Honestly, I didn't know how I could do it. Had I not faced the issue that my son and I clashed a lot, and questioned many, many times how this was going to work, I would not have learned so much about my son and how to get along with him. We still clash in several ways, but homeschooling (which is a part of parenting) isn't half as challenging as I thought it would be. It took some time for us to get used to one another, and that time also allowed us to mature in many ways. I also must say that having another son within 2 years helped me see where I was taking things too personally. My second child's personality is so different, and much easier for me to get along with, but I noticed he was just as crafty as the first (if you know what I mean). The more I was able to identify the problem was caused more by my personality, I was able to let God make the necessary changes in me. I'm not all done with the changes, but it is happening. This is not to say one needs to have more kids to get to this point, but it is one example that having more kids doesn't necessarily make life more difficult. I'm really glad I did not delegate the responsibility of caring for my child simply because I felt incapable of it.

We go into life carrying the baggage of "shoulds" and "oughts". I often have to remind myself that Christ was very patient with his disciples, and often would shake his head and say "how little faith you have". He continued to patiently teach and guide them. Even poor Thomas gets a bad rep for not believing the accounts of Christ's ressurection. Yet, that didn't keep Christ from going up to Thomas to show him the scars in His his hands. Christ met Thomas as he was, not as he "should" be.

If you are struggling with being a mom, hang in there. We all go through stages in life where we face struggles of all kinds. Being honest about it can be a good thing, but be watchful to make sure that honest statement doesn't turn into an occasion for whining. But even if it does turn into whining and even depression, take it to the Lord in prayer. Ask for strength, wisdom (James 1:5), not to mention forgiveness. God will not despise a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). Stay in His word. Although you may feel lonely, you are not alone.

And for moms who have overcome struggles, share it with a newer mom. Don't make anyone your "project", but be there for the newer moms.

Well, that's all I have the energy to write about now. Below are some reads that have encouraged me along the way.

Psalm 51:17
Psalm 139 (especially before they start sleeping through the night, which took forever with my kids)
Psalm 139:23-24
I John 3:18-24
Romans 8
2 Corinthians 5:7
Matthew 11:28-30
John 15
Galatians 5:22-25
Galatians 6:9
Ephesians 5:15-21
2 Corinthians 4:7
James 1:5

Relevant posts I didn't realize I had written so much about:
O, for grace to trust Him more. I didn't write this specifically to parenting, but definitely applies.
His life in my life. Again not just for parenting.
Settling in.
Unconditional love.
This Day.
Is motherhood a higher calling?
How do you define a good mother?
Some Life
What does God want from us anyway?

Other reads, podcasts, etc:
Keep a Quiet Heart - Elizabeth Elliott
Feminine Appeal - Carolyn Mahaney
Having a Mary Spirit. Joanna Weaver/Midday Connection
The Mommy Revolution. Midday Connection
This I believe - The things worth doing in life is hard. The Lactivist
Sucking it up and admitting you are not wonder woman. The Lactivist
Proof that I am not a supermom The Lactivist (the gem of this article is in Jennifer's comments)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Caution: Snow White is a Health Hazard!

Image Source: US Apple Association

I think the saying, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" is not going to stick with my 2 year old daughter.

While watching Snow White, my husband brings some apples to us for a snack. My daughter holds on to her piece while she continues to watch the movie. When Snow White takes a bite from the apple, I happen to glance at my daughter. She glances down at her apple, back at the screen, then back down at her apple.

She then says, "I don't want this!"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If you subscribe to me in a reader...

I am about to put my feed on feedburner. Because I don't know if it means that it will mess up the current feed, be on alert :-) So if you don't hear from me in a few days, check back here to see if I have updated.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What I ate today...

[updated to include recipes]

Monika (a.k.a hormonewoman) at the InCyst On The Best blog started a feature today about what she eats. InCyst is one of my favorite nutrition blogs, even though its focus is on PCOS, there is much for all to benefit from. Back to the feature, Monika writes:

"I'd like to bridge the gap between dietitians and people who are not, by using this feature to show what realistic eating consists of. [...]

I want you to see that my life isn't perfect, and therefore my eating is not either. I do my best, always try to do better, and hopefully, 80% of the time, I make good choices, which include foods I enjoy eating."

Incidentally, last night I came across another blog called Eat Like Me by another dietitian, Cristin Dillon-Jones. Cristin blogs about what she eats, so that people can see a real-life account of what a real person eats, and when you blog about something like that every day, you're not going to be able to put up a front and pretend life is perfect. (Well, I guess you could, but that's not what Cristin does).
Then I reflected upon what I ate today and realized how I fell short of my "ideal". And I have more of these days than I'd like to admit. My first thought was to wait for a "better" day, but then I thought you should know that even I am a work in progress.
First, I think it would help you to know what some of my lifestyle health ideals are:

  • To cook primarily from scratch
  • To avoid highly processed and refined foods
  • To eat more whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables
  • To purchase locally grown food, within reason. There's no way I'm gonna find bananas grown in NE Ohio ;-)
  • To eat more meatless meals
  • To enjoy physical activity as a lifestyle, not a task (I have the farthest to go on that one)
  • To get a full night's sleep -- if you haven't already noticed from my profile picture :-)

So this was how my day went:

I made myself get up at 7:15 am. My alarm went off at 6. I've been trying to get back into the habit of waking up earlier, especially now that my kids are sleeping through the night. It doesn't help when I go to sleep after 1 am.

Grits with cheese
A mix of goldfish pretzels and cheese crackers
Baked Beans (from a can) and rice
Chocolate animal crackers and some pretzels
Black bean and sweet potato quesadillas. The beans, sweet potatoes, and flour tortillas were cooked from scratch. The tortillas contained unbleached all-purpose flour and oil (not whole grain). I also made the salsa from canned diced tomatoes.

  • I drank either spring water or seltzer water throughout the day and with meals. I'd drink filtered water, but we can't get one installed and filling up pitchers is not as practical. We used to mix 100% juice with seltzer, but I opted to start buying fruit with our juice money.
  • I really have a hankering for some cookies, but I don't have any around (other than the animal crackers. They don't quite hit the spot for me). Christina's chocolate chip cookies would really hit the spot!
  • I think I took a multivitamin with half of the recommended amount (as opposed to 100% DV). I really can't remember if I took it. I tried taking Ginko for my memory once, but then I couldn't remember if I had taken it (lol!)
  • I didn't count calories or measure portions. I know when I overeat something :-)
  • What I ate was also served to my husband and children.

I wish I had...
  • Eaten some sliced fruit
  • Snacked on vegetables in addition to (or instead of) the refined-grain, highly processed snack foods
  • Added a salad at lunch or dinner
  • Baked some cookies :-)
  • Drank a glass of milk, or eaten some yogurt with berries
  • Gone to bed earlier
  • Been more physically active

...but I did cook dinner from scratch and all meals were meatless. I didn't fill up on juice, but drank water. So in the end I realized that I made some good choices. It just seems easier to focus on the things I didn't do.

Well, it's past my bedtime. Here's for a good night's sleep.

Homemade Flour Tortillas

Making homemade tortillas sounds like a lot of work, but it's not. When you start making your own, you'll have trouble going back to store bought. This is a fun and easy recipe I got from I use oil instead of shortening and sometimes just make them with all-purpose flour. I also make 16 tortillas instead of 18 in the original recipe. I have mixed the dough by hand, but I usually use my bread machine to mix the dough (although don't overmix or you will end up with really tough dough). And I don't worry about whether the tortillas are perfectly round.

1 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups boiling water
all-purpose flour for rolling

Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Slowly add boiling water and oil and stir until a dough forms. Split the dough into 16 balls, cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, then let rest for 1 to 8 hours.

Heat a griddle or large frying pan over high heat. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a tortilla to your preferred thickness. Fry one at a time. Place on the griddle for 10 seconds, as soon as you see a bubble on the top, flip the tortilla over. Let it cook for about 30 seconds, then flip and cook the other side for another 30 seconds. Roll out the next tortilla while you wait for that one to cook. Repeat until all of the balls have been cooked. Tortillas can be refrigerated or frozen.

[edited on 5/15/2011]
Below is a video I made over 2 years ago to go with this post. It's not perfect because I am doing it with my (then) two year old and videotaping at the same time. But this is the hardest it gets :-)

Quick and Easy Salsa

1/3 cup chopped red onion (about 1/4 small onion)
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped green peppers
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (or lime juice)
1/2 chipotle chile in adobo sauce (~1 tsp, or more if desired)
1/2 tsp salt
1 14-oz can diced tomato sauce, no salt added

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until mixed. Add diced tomatoes and pulse until mixed.

Makes 2 cups.

This salsa is quick and easy to make. A mini processor makes it easier, but the ingredients can be chopped by hand. It makes a mild salsa, so if you want it spicier, add more chipotle (jalapeno works too). What's great is that most ingredients can be chopped in advance, then frozen. Even the cilantro and garlic can be processed together as cilantro pistou and then put in the freezer. I didn't have any lime juice (which could also be frozen into ice cube trays), so I used balsamic vinegar with success. The measurements are approximate, so don't be afraid to adjust it to your tastes. Modified from One minute Salsa from Cook's Illustrated.

Cilantro Pistou

This is a great way to use up leftover cilantro.

1 bunch cilantro (~1 cup)
4-6 cloves garlic
Olive oil, up to 4 Tbsp

Process all ingredients until smooth.
Leftover pistou freezes well. Freeze in ice cube trays or by tablespoonfuls.

More information about pistou can be found here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The economy and portion sizes

I've seen a whole lot of different approaches to addressing the large portion sizes on the American plate. But I'm starting to think we missed something that could really work:

"The economy, stupid!"

With our current economic downturn, manufacturers are trying to maintain their profits while the cost of manufacturing increases. They know that if they simply hike up the costs, people will stop buying. So I have noticed more and more manufacturers resort to reducing the quantity of their product while trying to make it look like it's the same amount it's always been. (for some great examples, check out Restaurants are also doing the same. Today, my husband and I went to a pancake place and were quite surprised that the pancakes had shrunk at least an inch. Given we hadn't been in a few years, the difference was very noticeable. Nonetheless, most products I see this happening to are products we don't consume or need on a regular basis. Or, at least, they aren't products that contribute much to my health anyway. So less is more when less costs more.

I wonder how this, as well as the trend to eat more home-cooked meals, will impact food consumption in the overall population. And if this persists, I wonder if people will start getting used to eating less of these foods, and maybe (just maybe) they will take other steps toward healthier living.