Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Bookmarks: Picture Books About Refugees

One of the best ways to gain empathy for others is by stories. If you read Voices from Syria and want to share refugee stories with your children here are several picture books about children who had to flee their home. Some of these stories took place many years ago, others are more recent, but each one tells the story of courage and friendship. These books were all available at my public library, but some I've enjoyed so much that I've added them to our home library.

Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee
Hundreds of Jewish refugees are gathering at the Japanese consulate in Lithuaia to request visas. When the Japanese government refuses to give the visas, Sugihara and his family make a crucial decision that will save the lives of thousands. An amazing true story from World War 2.

The Blessing Cup, written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
We love Polacco's books. She is known best for her heartwarming stories about her family. The Blessing Cup records their journey from Russia and the kindest that was shown to them.

How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz
Fleeing from the war in their homeland, they now face poverty and hunger in a strange land. But instead of bread, Father brings home a map. A childhood memory from World War 2.

My Name Is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock
Because he is a refugee, Sangoel arrived in America from Sudan with not much more than his family and his name. No one can pronounce his name until Sangoel comes up with a creative solution.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin
A young Muslim immigrate joins her class on a field trip to an apple orchard. Ted Lewin is one of my all-time favorite children's book illustrators. The watercolors take you to a sunny fall day and the story reminds us of the power of shared laughter.

My Name Is Yoon by Helen Recorvits, illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Yoon loves her Korean name and its happy dancing figures but her father says she needs to learn to write her name with English letters. At her new school, Yoon tries out some new names. A special book about adjusting to a new country.

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Doug Chayka

When relief workers bring clothing to Lina's refugee camp in Pakistan, she is thrilled to find a beautiful sandal that fits perfectly. But another girl has claimed the matching sandal. Will the two girls find a way to share the sandals? A sweet story of friendship.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Voices from Syria - a review

We are hearing a lot about immigrants right now. I have no desire to add to the contention. I've learned that if I haven't walked in another's shoes, I probably should withhold my opinion.

In 2015, about the time we were horrified at the photos of the drowned body of a small refugee boy, Katrina Hoover traveled to Jordan and Lebanon. Her goal was to interview Syrian refugees and share their stories.

The result of the interviews was two books, Faces of Syria and Voices of Syria.   Faces of Syria is a photo-heavy book with short excerpts from the interviews. Voices of Syria is a longer book sharing the complete story of Katrina's trip.

Voices of Syria

Voices of Syria is part travel memoir, part refugee interviews, and brief factual reports of the history of Syria. I know so little about the history of the Middle East and I was glad for the refresher course on the various events that have shaped recent events.

While Voices of Syria shares heartbreaking stories, it does so tastefully. I was able to let my daughter read the book without worrying that it would be too intense for her. But when I read the book, I found myself reading very slowly. This is a book to linger over. After reading a few interviews, I felt the need to just stop and pray for these dear people who have lost so much. I'm usually a fast reader but this is one book that felt wrong to rush through, as if it would be doing injustice to the refugees stories.

I also enjoyed reading about the churches and organizations that are doing what they can to relieve the suffering of the refugees. Their sacrificial giving made me consider what I should be doing to help those around me who are hurting.

I highly encourage you to read Voices of Syria if you want to understand more about the Syrian refugees or if you need a reminder of how blessed your life is.

You can buy the book from TGS International. My copy was given to me by Katrina to review, but the opinions in this review are my own. Katrina blogs at 500 Words where she shares about her life as a cardiac nurse living in a diverse neighborhood. Even though her life and mine are widely different, her blog is one of my favorites.

Have you read any books about current events that have given you a wider perspective?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Sourdough Sticky Buns {Or How to Adapt a Recipe to Sourdough}

I'm often asked how to adapt a typical yeast-bread recipe to a sourdough recipe. I could make a guess, - decrease the water, substitute the yeast for sourdough starter, and extend the rising time, but I had not actually tried it. 

But a few weeks ago, I ran out of yeast and didn't want to make a special trip to the store when I was hit with an urge to make sticky buns. I figured this was the perfect opportunity to try adapting my mom's sticky bun recipe to sourdough. 

I can now say with assurance that it works to adapt a yeast bread recipe to sourdough. Works very well.

When I mixed up the dough, I omitted the yeast, added some active sourdough starter, and cut back the water. I placed the dough in the bowl and began to wait. And wait. It took over four hours for the dough to nearly double in size. Sourdough is never  mistaken for the fastest baking method.

After rising, I divided the dough in half, rolled it out, and sprinkled the dough with brown sugar and cinnamon.

I rolled the dough tightly and sliced the dough into fifteen slices and placed it into a 9x13 pan with prepared slurry.

I could have cut them into fewer slices for larger buns, but I knew these will increase in size and be perfect for our family. I did the same with the second half of dough, resulting in two pans of buns.

Again, these took a while to raise (2-3 hours) but eventually they filled the pan and were ready to bake.

After baking, I turned them out onto a pan and let the syrup drip down into the buns.

But the real question - what about the flavor? Do sourdough sticky buns taste sour? 

If you have eaten a San Francisco-type sourdough, you know that sourdough can taste truly sour. But not all breads made with a sourdough starter has that distinctive flavor. I actually wish we would use "wild yeast" or some other term instead of "sourdough."  Bread that is made with a large quantity of starter and risen in warm temperature won't have as strong a flavor, because it will rise quickly and not allow the "sour" flavors to develop. Bread that is made with less starter and risen cold and slow, will have a more developed flavor. 

Your pleasure in more or less flavor will depend upon your goals or your tastes. Our family enjoys sourdough. While my children like if I occasionally make a typical yeast bread, Ed says that the typical yeast bread has no flavor. 

(Warning: get your husband hooked on quality bread, and you'll spoil him for any other bread - for life. Last week, when he was traveling for work, I heard a litany of complaints about the horrid sandwich bun he was forced to eat. But doesn't every wife like to know that her husband likes her cooking best?)

But I wasn't sure if the combination of sour and sweet in these sticky buns would be complementary. 

There IS an undercurrent of a sweet/sour tang in these buns. And we loved it. It reminded me of a citrus tang, like adding a lemon glaze to a sweet cake.

But of course just one attempt wasn't enough. I had to make these buns again to makes sure that the first try wasn't just a lucky success. And this time they were even better. I omitted the slurry or goo, instead making plain cinnamon buns. Then I added a peanut butter fudge frosting. I'm sorry. We were eating the last of the batch when I realized I had not taken a photo. 

Want to try it? Here is the recipe for the sourdough sticky buns adapted from my mom's sticky bun recipe.

Sourdough Sticky Buns

1 cup warm potato water
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 cups active sourdough starter
2/3 cup butter or oil
1/3 cup honey (or 2/3 cup sugar)
2 eggs
2 tsp salt
3 cups white flour
3 cups whole wheat flour (more if needed)

Mix all ingredients together. Add more flour if needed to make a soft dough. Knead for five minutes. Place in greased bowl and raise until doubled (at least 3-4 hours). Divide dough in half and roll half into 12 x 18 inch rectangle. Sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Roll up jelly-roll style from long side. Slice in 15 pieces. Place in 9x13 pan. Repeat with the second half of dough. Raise for 2 (or more) hours until doubled. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

Variation: Place slurry (or goo) in pan before placing rolls if you want sticky buns. My mom's recipe is 2 cups brown sugar, 1 cup water, 4 T molasses, 4 T butter. Stir together in pan and bring to boil. Simmer for one minute. Pour in baking pan before placing rolls. Remember to flip out of baking pan immediately after baking.

Second Variation: After shaping buns, wrap pan tightly in plastic wrap and place in fridge. They will rise slowly. One or two days later, remove from fridge. Allow to warm up for 30 minutes then bake them for fresh buns.

I'd love to hear your attempts in adapting recipes for sourdough.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Two Things I'm Enjoying Right Now

1. Redwall on Audio

I'm not sure why I have saved audio books for long trips. Maybe because I enjoy reading aloud to my children so much. But I don't have time to read all afternoon even when I wish I could. 

Recently I picked up the audio version of Brian Jacques' Redwall and it was perfect for wet days this winter when we needed a quiet afternoon activity. Redwall was written as a story for blind children and the descriptions and action kept my children glued. And I'll admit that I chose an activity nearby so I could enjoy the story too. The audio is narrated by the author and includes an excellent cast of readers. The evil voice of Cluny and the kind wisdom of the abbot came alive.

I'll even admit turning it on over lunch when I'm weary of the ruckus. It turns a meal from chaos to silence in seconds. 

Note: Redwall is the story of war between the mice and rats. Though it is not graphic, it is dramatic; a young or sensitive child may not enjoy it. 

We enjoyed this audio so much that I'm looking for more at our local library. I'd like to figure out Audible as well. I'm so slow on learning anything new, but I've heard enough good things about some of the good Audible deals that I should figure it out. I'd love to hear your favorite audio book suggestions.

2. Walmart Home Delivery

For years I've been a fan of online purchases. I buy birthday gifts, vitamins, kitchen gadgets, and, of course, books, from Amazon. 

My sister-in-law has been telling me for months that I need to get my groceries from Walmart online. I not sure why I took so long to take her advice.  

I don't enjoy taking six children shopping. And the longer I procrastinate, the longer my list grows, until I have too much to fit in one cart. By the time I get home and am faced with the huge stack of groceries to put away, I'm determined not to go again for a long time.

Finally, a few months ago, I tried Walmart home delivery. And now I'm placing a Walmart order every few weeks. Of course I can't get all my groceries. They don't carry everything online and I can't get fresh produce or dairy products. But I'm finding that if I cross off the big, bulky items like diapers, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, toothpaste, and some canned goods, my list is not nearly as overwhelming and my cart isn't heaped. 

The best part? For my last order, two-day shipping for a $35 order was Free. I'm not sure how long this deal will last as the shipping deals do fluctuate. Sometimes I need a $50 order (which is no problem in this household) and it isn't always two-day shipping, but there is always some way to get free shipping. 

Not having to take six children grocery shopping? I'd pay money for that convenience.

But don't tell Walmart. 

I'd love to hear your tips on surviving grocery shopping.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Apple Fritter Day

If you have been reading here a while, you know that every winter my mom, sisters, and sister-in-laws get together for a doughnut making day. We always have the fun fellowship while making bowls full of yummy calories. 

My parents are in the midst of moving, so we decided not to have our big annual doughnut day this year. But Ed mentioned that he never gets to eat a warm doughnut. He suggested that we make doughnuts sometime at our house. Maybe this year would be the perfect time to try it.

I borrowed my mom's electric skillet and pulled out my largest dishpan. We decided to make apple fritters, since that is our family's favorite. The dough is easy to make, just takes lot of elbow grease to mix such a large amount of dough. I was glad the dough doesn't need to be kneaded.

An hour later, the dough had risen to almost fill the bowl and we started cutting the fritters with a large biscuit cutter.

One batch of apple fritters made about five dozen large fritters. Next time, I might cut them smaller since as they raised, they really got large.

My children, especially my boys, enjoyed helping. Usually on doughnut day at Grandma's, they are busy playing with their cousins and don't get a chance to help.

I found out how little I know about making doughnuts even though I help every year. I had to google "what temperature to fry doughnuts." The first ones were too brown on the outside and still raw dough in the inside until I got the temperature adjusted. When frying, they puffed up into nearly round balls.

We glazed the apple fritters. 

I was surprised how well the day went. One batch of doughnuts seemed like so little work compared to our big doughnut day. We were finished long before the children were tired of helping. The success makes me willing to attempt it again.

And Ed got his wish of sampling a warm, just-fried apple fritter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Just a glimpse of the last couples months at our house.

I struggle with birthday cakes, so I shamelessly borrowed this idea from Shaunda.

Last year I was trying to decide whether newborns or two-year-olds were sweeter. But now I think one-year-olds and three-year-olds mothering their dolls is the ultimate sweetness.

In early January, my family had our annual hog butchering. This year we did three whopping 500 lb hogs.  

Everybody helps, though I admit that I spent most of my time inside with the littlest ones. Someones got to do it.

The next generation of helpers is in training.

If you want to see more specifics from butchering days, check out the records of other years - 20132012, 2011, and 2010.

We don't generally do a big party for first birthdays. (Especially since her birthday hit the above butcher day.)

But a simple cupcake was fully enjoyed.

I love to find a couple girls in a corner sharing a book.

My sons were delighted to find a brand-new tent at Goodwill - for a less than brand-new  price. The weather this winter has cooperated and they have spent several nights in their tent. They are planning to live in this tent this summer. So they say.

Can I slow time down? This girlie is rushing to catch up with her siblings. A few days ago she learned how to climb onto chairs. Then tables. Now nothing is safe. The house seemed to have imploded with this whirlwind dumping toys and scattering clothes.

She loves to be outside on these unusually warm days. This afternoon she discovered that she can climb the sliding board ladder. All by herself.

I know she is my sixth child. But I still panicked when I looked across the yard and discovered her halfway up the ladder. But she had it all under control.

I think this girl is going to make me tired this summer. But oh, how many smiles she gives in return.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

3 Simple Tips to a Successful Garden this Year

February might be brown and cold here in Pennsylvania, but colorful seed packets are arriving in the mail and I'm beginning to dream about gardening.

There is a danger in dreams. I've watched gardeners turn over soil and plant seeds in May with hopeful optimism. But too often those same gardeners throw up their hands in despair three months later as the August weeds put the death-choke on their plants.

Sometimes that gardener has been me.

What can I do to help insure a successful garden this year? 

This past year I watched two beginning gardens. Both were located on a road that I travel often. I don't know if this was the gardeners first garden, but in both cases, they started with a bare stretch of lawn and turned it into a lush garden. From driving past on the road, I couldn't tell how much they harvested from their garden, but both gardens were obviously cared for throughout the season.

Here are a few of my observations of these two gardens and the tips I've gleaned from my own gardening experiences.

1. Dream within Reality

Neither of these gardens were large. I might be a poor judge of distance, but I'd guess the one as a 10 by 20 foot plot. The other garden consisted of four raised beds maybe 3 by 6 feet. They did not turn their entire yard into a garden. They didn't plant a market garden. I have seen many beginning gardeners fail because of planning too large of a garden.

A wise gardener will plan realistically, which is more difficult than it seems in the spring. It is easy to forget the reality of August, when the weeds, heat, and bugs conspire against the most hardy gardener.

Last year I purposely planted a smaller garden. I knew I would have a six-month-old baby in August and I decided that it wasn't the year to break records.

I didn't regret that decision.

While the two gardens I observed last year were small, they appeared to be well-maintained, which will give courage to plant a garden next year, and maybe, with a little experience under dirty fingernails, the gardener can successfully extend its size.

Planning a smaller garden will also help make sure you are planting wisely. Why plant zucchini if you hate it? Or ten tomato plants if all you want is a few cherry tomatoes for your salad? Evaluate what you already eat and don't pretend you will suddenly acquire a love for eggplant.

2. Have a Plan, And Do It

Both gardeners that I watched last spring obviously had a plan. They didn't walk out to their yard one day, dig a hole, push some green bean seeds in the ground, and hope they would grow.

One of the gardens actually began the year before. One Saturday in late summer Ed and I drove by this yard where a man was busy at work with a shovel and wheelbarrow. It appeared as if he was removing the sod. We made guesses about what he was doing. Planting a tree? Building a shed? But after a few weeks it appeared that the project was abandoned. A neat rectangle section of sod had been removed but there were no further signs of progress.

A few weeks later Ed mentioned that it appeared that they were layering grass clippings and leaves on this section of bare earth. Throughout the fall, more leaves and more grass clippings were added and we guessed that this spot was meant for a future garden. Sure enough, in the spring, this new garden was planted. Those months of adding mulch and a winter for it to decompose would have made a wonderful rich planting bed in the spring. The summer appearance of the garden proved the gardener was rewarded for his efforts in planning a whole season before planting his garden.

The other gardener I watched last year prepared four raised beds. They were simple wooden beds, narrow enough to reach into the middle easily. Again, the work of preparing this garden was resulted in lovely growing conditions.

3. Sit and Enjoy

I've long been a proponent of "walk your garden." In other words, spend regular time in your garden, both to enjoy it and recognize problems while they are still small.

But maybe I should change that to "sit in your garden." The gardener with the raised beds placed a bench beside the garden. They also planted perennials, maybe herbs, nearby. The garden was directly beside the house and certainly added beauty to the home's landscape.

The other garden didn't have a bench beside it, but I often saw a small child's riding toy in the yard and a large deck was nearby. My impression was that these were people who spent time outdoors.

If you plant a garden, find ways to enjoy it. Take your coffee outside and listen to the robins at dawn. Or carry out a lawn chair and watch the bats come out to eat the mosquitos at sunset.

There are many ways to provide food for your family. A garden is not a necessity for most of us. So keep it manageable, plan well for your success, so you can sit and enjoy it in August.

If you find ways to enjoy your garden, you are more likely to have positive memories to make you spend your brown February days planning the success of your next garden.

What are your tips to a successful garden? Or am I the only one who is dreaming of gardening?

For more garden info, check out our garden page.


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