Friday, January 27, 2017

Bookmarks: Africa Children's Books

I might not be able to visit the sunny plains, vast deserts, or dusty roads of Africa but through books, I can take my children on an African safari. I love that books help my children see life through the eyes of another child. A library card is much cheaper than plane tickets.

Here a list of some of our favorite children's books set in Africa. Except for the last book on this list, these are all picture books.

Babu’s Song by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, illustrated by Aaron Boyd
Bernardi longs to go to school where he can play soccer every day, but he and his grandfather have no money for school. When an unexpected source for money appears, Bernardi has to choose how to use it. A sweet tale of family love set in Tanzania.

Where Are You Going Manyoni? written and illustrated by Catherine Stock
Colorful water-color paintings take you on a journey in the Zimbabwe bush as you follow Manyoni through the African veld on her way to school. Excellent examples of the camouflage that animals use to hide.

Handa's Surprise, written and illustrated by Eileen Browne
Handa prepares some fruit for her friend, but along the way Kenyan animals help themselves. A fun story for young children introducing both African fruit and animals with delightful illustrations.

Planting the Trees of Kenya:The Story of Wangari Maathai, written and illustrated by Claire A. Nivola Wangari was appalled at the destruction of trees in Kenya and started the Green Belt Movement. This is the true story, told with watercolors, of the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the Crossroads, written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
Our fathers are coming home,” sing the children as they wait at the crossroads. But when will they arrive? From the segregated townships of South Africa comes the story of family reunions after long months of separation.

Rain School, written and illustrated by James Rumford
Thomas can't wait to go to school and learn to read, but first the school has to be built. Vibrant illustrations take you to the African country of Chad where children work hard for the privilege of attending school.

Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Catherine Stock
Seven-year-old Kondi wants to make his own galimoto and through perseverance, and the help of his neighbors in his Malawi village, he makes his own toy.

Beatrice's Goat by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter
In small Ugandan village, Beatrice tends her goat, the goat who has given her a new house and a chance for education. A sweet story with bright paintings that demonstrate how the gift of an animal can help lift a family out of poverty.

The Soccer Fence by Phil Bildner, illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson
Hector loves to play soccer, but because of the apartheid in South Africa, he can't play with the white boys in the other part of the city. A gentle story which tells the story of the 1990s and how soccer brought the people of South Africa together.

Akimbo and the Crocodile Man by Alexander McCall Smith

Life is never boring for Akimbo since his father is a ranger at a wildlife preserve in Kenya. But when Akimbo volunteers to help a crocodile scientist, he gets more adventure than he expects. This, and the other books in the Akimbo series, have short chapters, perfect for beginning readers who want to learn about Africa's wildlife through exciting stories.

Where are you traveling through books this winter? 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Question: Adapting a Sourdough Starter

I'm often asked some variation of the following question.

A friend gave me a sourdough starter. It is fed with sugar and potato flakes. I like how your starter is fed with only water and flour. Can I adapt my starter to be fed with water and flour? Or is my kind of starter different than yours? Can I use your bread recipe with my starter? - a reader

My answer to this question: "I don't know." I never tried it, and though I'm tempted to do some experiments myself, I don't have a potato-flake starter to do some trials.

So I'm throwing the question out to all of you. Have any of you adapted a sourdough starter from being fed with potato flakes to just flour? Were you successful? Have you used a potato-flake starter in the sourdough recipes I share here?

I'd love to hear about any experience - good or bad, yummy or bleh. If you would rather not let a comment here, you can email me. Thanks.

Looking for general sourdough advice? You can find what I DO know about sourdough at the sourdough page.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Spinach Dip

As you might have guessed, I'm sharing some of the recipes that were stashed on my kitchen counter over the holidays. I always wish I had more time to blog in December since there are so many great foods to write about - but this year I decided I'm sharing some of those favorite recipes in January.

A friend shared this spinach dip with us in the fall and it is my new favorite. I know, I know, it is green. And it has spinach boldly in the name. That is enough to scare most from even tasting it.

But I like this dip so much I can eat it straight out of the bowl with a spoon. Except that my children love it too so either I have to hide it or eat fast before it is licked clean. All that cheese masks any spinach flavor, but I can still pretend I'm eating my green vegetables.

And did I mention it is super simple? As long as I have the ingredients in my fridge I can mix it up in minutes.

Spinach Dip

8 oz spinach
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese 
1 T mayonnaise
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Steam spinach and drain. Place  hot spinach with all other ingredients in food processor and mix well. Serve warm with crackers.

We accidentally ran out of crackers and found this makes a perfect sandwich spread too.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How to Spend Two Days in Colonial Williamsburg

...And Have to Go Back.

Every January we talk about our plans for the year. At a recent meal, we asked the children what they would like to learn, or do, or visit this year. I was surprised at some of their answers. But they gave some great suggestions and we'll probably be making some plans this year that reflect their ideas.

Last fall I briefly mentioned our trip to Colonial Williamsburg and promised to give a full report. So in case you are planning your family trip this year, here is more than you ever wanted to know about our visit.

Every time we travel through Virginia to see Ed's sister Jean in North Carolina, we see the signs to Williamsburg. "Some day," we would say. "Someday, when the children are a little older, we are coming to Colonial Williamsburg."

This year we are studying early American history and decided it was the perfect time. We made plans to visit during one of Williamsburg's homeschool weeks in September. (Tickets to Colonial Williamsburg is not cheap, but they give great homeschool discounts all year long. In the spring and fall they hold special weeks for homeschoolers. We were able to get two-day tickets for our family for less than $100.00)

But how long should we stay? We talked to friends that had visited Williamsburg recently. Some friends told us one day would be plenty of time, other stated that we needed two days. With young children, we knew we would move slowly so planned two days, but hoped we wouldn't get bored.

Soon after arriving we ran into some homeschool acquaintances. “We came last year for two days," they said, "and enjoyed it so much we are back for two more days.”

So how do you spend two days in Colonial Williamsburg and need to come back?

Well, being a history fanatic helps. I loved seeing the places that we read about in our history books - the streets that Thomas Jefferson traveled to the House of Burgesses, the tavern where Patrick Henry may have shared heated discussions, and the town where George Washington met his wife Martha.

We began our visit with a tour of the Governor's Palace. Our boys' eyes popped at the display of guns and swords in the front hall. 

 We were taught how to make a proper curtsy or bow in the ballroom, ran through the maze in the palace garden, and enjoyed the fragrance of food cooking in the hearth in the kitchen.  

We emerged from the palace in time to watch a demonstration of the storming of the palace by the Virginia militia and a speech by Governor Dunmore. Being in a crowd of irate townspeople help bring to life the frustrations of that time period. Throughout our visit we would watch for the costumed reenactors who depict life in Williamsburg. Whether it was an auction on a house steps, a harpist playing in the market square, or an officer's passionate call for men to join the militia to help defend Virginia, we never knew what we would see next.  

We did not plan well that first day and found ourselves criss-crossing Williamsburg. 

We'd be chatting in the apothecary or watching the blacksmith when we'd look at the schedule and realize that in five minutes we wanted to see the firing of the noon guns and off we'd rush. 

We listened to the cannons (very loud), a Punch-and-Judy puppet show (very silly), and joined a bucket brigade (very wet) to fill an ancient fire engine with water.

If we would have just looked at our schedule at the beginning of the day, maybe we could put fewer steps on our sneakers, but then, action is good when you have young-uns.  

Thankfully both little girls fell asleep so the rest of us could enjoy the courthouse tour where the audience volunteered to take part in several court cases. Our daughter was drafted to play the part of a 12-year-old young lady who was signing her apprenticeship papers to the town seamstress. History becomes more real when the judge gave her just one more night with her family before starting a seven year indentionship.

Late Thursday afternoon we followed the shrill sound of the fife-and-drum to watch the local militia drill. I missed watching the cannons since I was huddled behind the courthouse with the little girls who were NOT impressed by the noise, but it was a highlight for the older children.

The free shuttle from the visitor's center to Colonial Williamsburg runs all evening so after a break for supper, we headed back to Williamsburg, this time to visit the Bruton Parish church. We listened to a beautiful concert from the old pipe organ, but escaped during the intermission because we feared that our children's good behavior might end. The evening was so lovely, that we walked the quiet streets of Williamsburg, lit only with dim lights from the windows and a full moon before finally catching the shuttle to get our weary children to their beds. Ed's phone said that we walked over six miles on Thursday.

We began Friday morning at the Great Hopes plantation beside the visitor's center and right outside Colonial Williamburg. This small farm depicts rural Virginia life and we enjoyed this view of the life of the common people.

The children dipped water from the well in wooden buckets to fill a trough.

We chatted with the carpenters at work on a post-and-beam building and hand making cedar shingles.

After leaving the farm and returning to Williamsburg, we listened to Lafeyette share his story of the American revolution. Throughout our stay we could have met Martha Washington, Patrick Henry, James Madison, and more, but we just didn't have time.

Then we visited the coffeeshop where the children were delighted to be offered chocolate instead of coffee and Ed chatted with an Native American who was in town to trade his furs.  

Silversmith, milliner, cobbler, cooper, tinsmith – each tradesman (or woman) patiently showed us their craft. My favorite? The wig-maker with her slow southern drawl combined with witty remarks. I wanted to sit in the corner of her shop, hold my sides, and roar. We didn't discover until Friday that not all the shops are open every day. I suppose even basketmakers need a day off. We'll have to see the printer, tailor, and joiner on our next visit.

At the Randolph house the tutor taught our children how to write on a slate while Ed and Paige watched the milking of the Dexter cow. We enjoyed the house tours, but it seemed that halfway through, a little person would need a potty break so we skipped most of the house tours. Next time.

I loved the little gardens behind the houses. When Haven needed fed, I'd stroll through a gate and find a quiet garden bench. Williamsburg was suffering a drought and the gardens were showing the stress. I'd like to come back in the spring since I've heard the tulips are lovely.

The secret to cheerful children during long days and many miles are frequent stops. Our stroller was well-stocked with water bottles, lunch, and snacks, but by Friday afternoon the even frequent snacks were not keeping our children energized so we took a break at the Geddy house where a staff member taught the children a colonial game. 

We would have enjoyed watching the fife-and-drums again, but we decided to head back for a siesta and supper. But we couldn't resist. Back we returned for another moonlit walk around town - giving us close to six miles on our second day as well.

Colonial Williamsburg: one of our best family vacations . . . and we want to go back.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Cranberry Orange Cheese Ball

I love all sorts of dips and spreads, but this one makes me drool just thinking of it. My sister-in-law shared this Cranberry Orange Cheese Ball with me this fall and I knew I wanted to make it at Christmas. As I guessed, it was a popular everywhere I shared it.

I'm sharing the recipe here so I don't lose it for next Christmas, though who says I have to wait that long?

Cranberry Orange Cheese Ball

16 oz cream cheese (2 packs) softened
1 cup craisins
2 tsp orange zest
1 T orange juice
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup chopped candied pecans
1/2 cup craisins
1 T orange zest

Stir cream cheese until smooth. Stir in craisins, orange zest, orange juice, and powdered sugar until combined. Place in fridge for ten minutes or more to get firm enough to shape into a ball. After shaping, place back in fridge for another ten minutes. Combine coating ingredients on plate. Roll cheese ball in coating. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Enjoy with crackers - and invite me!


Saturday, January 7, 2017

16 Favorite Read-Aloud Books in 2016

We read so many great books together in 2016. Ed and I both enjoy reading to the  children so we can have two or three books going at the same time.

Sharing books is one of our favorite activities. I discovered the Read-Aloud Revival podcast this past year and, even though I did not need encouragement to read to my children, it was nice knowing that I'm doing the right thing, especially as my children get older.

Here is a list of some of our favorite read-alouds this year. Many of these doubled as great historical fiction and excellent additions to our study of American history this year. And others we read just because they were good reads.

And here is hope for all  you moms with young children. You may be quite bored of the hundredeth rereading of Curious George and Richard Scarry (I know, those are two books we wore out.) But keep reading to your children and soon you'll be enjoying great books like these.

Skippack School by Marguerite de Angeli
Eli and his family have just arrived in their new home in Pennsylvania. Eli would rather help his dad than go to school, but his new teacher Christopher Dock might change his mind. We love de Angeli's books with their wonderful illustrations and also enjoyed Elin's Amerika.

Cabin on Trouble Creek by Jean Van Leeuwen
Daniel and Will are finishing the cabin in the Ohio wilderness while Pa goes back to Pennsylvania to bring the rest of the family. Their dad must return soon since they only have enough food for a few weeks.

Orphan Samuel Collier dreams of picking up gold in the new colony of Virginia. But food begins to run low and his master, John Smith, will need to teach Samuel how to cooperate with the other colonists. Note: Contains some gritty details

Otter hunters have come to Karana's beautiful island off the California coast. But when her people decide to leave and Karana is left behind, she will need to survive alone on the island. 

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
Nathaniel came from a long line of sea captains, but he is too small to go to sea. He is a whiz at math but poverty forces him to leave school to be indentured for nine years. An amazing man told in a warm style.

And the Word Came With Power: How God Met and Changed a People Forever by Joanne Shetler
My top favorite missionary story and I have been looking forward to sharing this story from the Philippines with my children. It did not disappoint. We were all enthralled by the story of a dedicated young woman, a mountain people enslaved to the spirits, and how the Word of God transformed them both.

I, Juan dePareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino

Juan longs to paint, but can't because he is a slave. Will his secret paintings be discovered? Juan tells the story of his life as a slave of the famous painter Velazquez in the court of Spain's king.  

Storm Warriors by Elisa Carbone
Nathan dreams of becoming a surfman, rescuing sailors from storms on Outer Banks, NC. But with every other black boy in town having the same dream, does he have a chance? A historical fiction about the only life-saving station with black staff in the late 1800's.

Home Ranch by Ralph Moody
Not sure if Ed or the children enjoyed this read-aloud the best. Another fine tale from Moody's childhood with daring adventures during his summer out on the ranch. Note: Contains "cowboy" language which Ed is good at editing out as he reads.

Old Yeller by Fred Gibson
This is one of those stories that I've been waiting for years for my children to get old enough to enjoy it. I'm not a huge fan of dog stories, but this story of a boy and his dog in Texas-hill country was as wonderful as I remembered. And since Ed read it out loud, I didn't have to sob my way through the sad parts.  

Miss Arabella longs to give ten orphan children a chance for a bright future and hatches a bold plan to homestead in Australia's bush. We've read so many books about American pioneers that it was good to read about pioneer life in early Austrailia's settlements.

Goonney Bird Greene by Lois Lowry
The second-grade class is fascinated by the new girl's style and lunches but, most of all, her stories. A fun way to teach children that all of us have a story to tell.

An old diary written by a fifteen-year-old boy inspired Sloane to follow a pioneer family through a year of working their land. Sloane's meticulous research and detailed pen-and-ink drawings make this a fascinating portrayal of early America.

Learn about the rare snow leopard, the scientist that study them, and the harsh land where they live. Incredible photography takes you through the mountains and deserts of Mongolia. We've also enjoyed other books by this author.

Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Trying to catch monkeys in the Oklahoma river bottom? This book had my children screaming with laughter as they followed a boy and his dog in their monkey adventures. 

Michael Faraday: Father of Electronics by Charles S. Ludwig Jr.
A fascinating biography about a talented scientist and dedicated Christian.

Do you have a favorite family read-aloud that we should add to our list for 2017?

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