Lessons from My Little Kitchen

photo (9)

Lessons from my Tiny Kitchen

One photo of the kitchen on the real estate ad was enough to convince me I didn’t even want to look at the house we now own. It looked tiny, for one. And the rusty electric (I’ve always preferred gas) stove/oven combo looked smaller than the standard size.

If that wasn’t enough the cabinets were small and offered less storage space than the galley kitchen we were leaving. Oh, and they were turquoise. Bright. Turquoise. The kind that could look cute in a perfectly matching retro-themed kitchen with the turquoise KitchenAid and brightly colored spatulas. With my mismatched conglomeration of kitchen stuff, not so much.

Even the real estate agent very matter-of-factly said we would need a new kitchen.

But my always rational husband, who thought about practical details like square footage and location, insisted we at least look at it. And of course it turned out to have beautiful wood floors, solid construction, and be in a cute neighborhood in the ideal location. All of that won out over the turquoise and rusty oven.

So we bought it with plans to paint the cabinets right away, replace the oven when it broke (which would surely be soon), and update the kitchen with a more modern look someday.

 

photo 2

 

We’ve now been here for a year and the oven gave out in the middle of roasting potatoes just last week. I’ve never been so happy to see an appliance break. We’re still saving for the extra cabinets and new countertops we hope to one day add. But after a year of meals in our little kitchen, I realize I’ve come to actually appreciate a few things about it.

 

photo (10)

1. I already have a dream kitchen.

A missionary shared at church a few weeks ago that they have the nicest house in the neighborhood because it has a floor.

In refugee camps in Turkey and shanty towns in India, mothers are scraping together whatever food they can find. Instead of debating between gas or electric stoves, they’re hoping for clean water, something 780 million people worldwide don’t have.

Instead of agonizing over the perfect cabinet paint color, mothers in Iraq are hoping that violence doesn’t force them to flee their homes before dinner tonight.

I may not have the granite countertops and stainless steel appliances that interior design magazines portray as practical necessities. But I have indoor plumbing, reliable electricity, a dishwasher, and at least three separate kitchen gadgets to choose from when I want whipped cream. By global standards, that’s a dream kitchen.

 

photo (9)

 

2. This kitchen is enough for what matters.

From this kitchen we’ve made quick sandwiches to eat on the go and soups to savor on cold nights made for staying in.

We’ve fed groups of 20+ with the kids running in circles and plates balanced on one knee with a baby on the other. I’m not always sure how everyone finds a place to sit, but we eat, laugh, share, and live. And no one seems to mind that the beige countertop kind of clashes with the white black splash and the drawer hangs crooked.

We’ve celebrated marriage, new babies, and our first born’s first birthday.

We’ve hosted game nights and girls nights.

And the rust on the oven and the paint peeling off the cabinets haven’t mattered for any of it.

This kitchen is enough for good conversation around simple meals. So it’s enough for what matters.

 

photo (13)

 

3. Sometimes small is better anyway.

The worst thing about cooking in a small kitchen is that cooking a simple batch of spaghetti can result in what looks like Thanksgiving dinner aftermath. The best thing is that even when every surface is covered in dishes, it doesn’t take long to clean up.

A small kitchen helps me keep things simple, both the food and the stuff.

I’ve actually come to kind of love my little kitchen, something I never thought I’d say when we bought this house. I’ll still be happy to see the rusty oven go and still dream of storing the salad spinner in the kitchen instead of the coat closet. But this little kitchen now holds a year of memories of food, laughter, sweet friendships, and simple family mornings running into each other while we wait for the coffee to brew.

Continue Reading

Six Ways to Teach Public Speaking Skills

As I shared last week, competitive speech and debate was one of the most formative activities of my high school and college years. I love helping young people learn to communicate with clarity, confidence, and grace. So I wanted to share some practical ideas for incorporating public speaking into your homeschool or classroom. (Note: This post includes affiliate links.)

 

6 ways to teach public speaking skills

 

 

1. Encourage Memorization

The first time I remember doing any “public speaking” was reciting a Robert Louis Stevenson poem to a group of people. I don’t remember all the details of it well, but my mom tells me I was probably about six at the time. I’m sure I had already memorized some Bible verses and hymns at home, but I remember learning The Moon because I performed it for other people.

Children can memorize as soon as they can talk. My 19-month-old isn’t stringing enough words together to memorize much quite yet, but I can see her getting close. She knows that two comes after one and “obey” is the next word after “children” in Ephesians 6:1 (our first Bible memory verse)! As soon as she’s able to memorize full sentences, I plan to make memory practice part of our daily routine, both to put good content in her mind and to help develop her communication skills.

You can encourage memorization in children of any age by giving them a quality piece of literature, a good poem, or a famous speech. Make regular time for them to practice at home and, if possible, give them opportunities to perform. You can find audiences in a local nursing home or with your next dinner guests!

 

2. Practice Narration

This is an easy exercise to incorporate into your school schedule as you can do it with virtually any topic. With young students who still primarily listen while you read, stop periodically and ask them to summarize what they’ve just heard. Older students who are reading on their own might summarize an entire book at once.

Alternatively, you could ask students for a short narration about their favorite birthday party, most memorable vacation, or dream job. Give them room to be creative, making public speaking something they associate with fun rather than dread.

Narration requires the speaker to identify the most important information and present it in a logical, clear fashion. Assume that you aren’t familiar with the content the student is narrating and ask questions when something isn’t clear. Q&A will help the student identify assumptions he’s making about the audience’s knowledge and rethink which facts are most important to convey and in which order.

If you’re interested in a more comprehensive discussion of using narration in teaching, check out the sections on it in Susan Wise Bauer’s, The Well Trained Mind.

 

3. Find Opportunities to Speak in the Community

Speaking to parents and teachers is great practice, but true public speaking eventually needs a wider audience. Articulate, confident, winsome young people who are willing to talk to adults are hard to find. A much easier task is finding adults who are willing to listen to them!

Community speaking venues translate an academic skill into something with real world impact. For many young people, preparing a speech for a community audience will offer far more motivation than simply completing an assignment in hopes of a good grade.

The best venues will depend on your student’s interests but here are a few ideas.

Teen Court – Teen court programs allow juvenile misdemeanor offenders to be sentenced by their peers. I volunteered as a “teen attorney” during high school and learned much about communication, the legal system, and criminal justice. This was also a good environment to be exposed to and think about hard life issues like poverty, crime, abuse, loneliness, and the human longing for meaning, purpose, and identity. You can run a search here for programs in your area.

Retirement Communities/Assisted Living Facilities – Residents love to see young people!

Civic Meetings – If your student is at all politically minded, look into local government meetings where public comments will be permitted.

Drama Clubs – Develop acting skills and perform for the community.

Churches/Religious Organizations – Youth group, missions trips, and other church events may provide speaking opportunities.

 

Teaching Public Speaking

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

 

4. Enter Scholarship Competitions

For high school students, speech competitions that award scholarship money offer both speaking practice and the potential for college funds! I personally earned several thousand dollars in college scholarships through two speech competitions sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion. These afforded public speaking practice, fun travel opportunities, a deepened appreciation for our nation’s veterans, and some financial help with college.

If these competitions aren’t the best fit for your student, a search for speech competition scholarships may offer additional leads. FastWeb is the most helpful scholarship search tool I’ve found.

 

5. Hold Classroom Debates

Debate requires significant mental discipline to understand both sides of an issue, choose a position, develop an argument, and defend that position when attacked. Even if you aren’t trained in debate yourself, you can facilitate a simple debate between two or more students.

Pick a topic you’re studying on which disagreement exists. If that seems broad, it should! You can debate almost anything. Here are a few possible topics to get you started.

Resolved: The minimum voting age should be lowered to 16.

Resolved: War is only justified in self-defense.

You could also pick fun topics related to your family or school.

Resolved: The school cafeteria should be open all day.

Resolved: Our family should start a business.

A resolution should be an assertion that can be reasonably proven and disproven.

Set time limits and determine the number of speeches for each side. You can also include cross-examination after each person’s first speech. There are several common debate formats used by competitive leagues, any of which could be modified to fit your time requirements and the age and experience of your students.

 

Teaching Public Speaking

 

6. Join a Competitive League

I’ve listed competition last because it requires the largest time and financial commitment. The five suggestions above can be incorporated in any classroom or homeschool depending on the ages of the students. Competition is one of the best tools for teaching public speaking but it won’t work for everyone.

For homeschoolers there are two main competitive leagues with local clubs around the country. There are differences between them but both provide good opportunities to develop public speaking and debate skills in a supportive, distinctly Christian environment.

STOA

NCFCA

Competition is a huge motivator for many students and participating in a club can add a fun social dynamic to learning speech and debate skills. Most of my good friends in high school were fellow competitors.

But doing well in a national league will require a significant commitment of time and financial resources to travel to tournaments. If you’re on the fence about whether a competitive league is worth it for your family, consider attending a local club meeting or tournament to check it out.


What have you found most helpful in developing your own communication skills or teaching public speaking to your students? I’d love to hear from you!

Continue Reading

Eggless 30 Minute Dinner Rolls

Eggless 30 Minute Dinner Rolls

Who doesn’t love homemade dinner rolls served fresh out of the oven? Everyone in my house loves them, including the toddler! Plus they are a perfect side for so many of our family’s standard main dishes. But usually I’m not even thinking about dinner early enough in the afternoon to start traditional yeast rolls. (Note: This post contains affiliate links.)

Eggless 30 Minute Dinner Rolls

For the longest time I kept running across recipes online for 30 Minute Dinner Rolls accompanied by rave reviews of these easy, tasty rolls you can start at 5:00 p.m. and still have ready in time for dinner. My only problem was that every recipe calls for an egg, which happens to be my one food allergy.

 

I eventually figured I should at least try omitting the eggs and see what happened. With a little trial and error I came up with an eggless version of the traditional recipe that requires only minor modification and works great. So whether you need to avoid eggs for dietary reasons or just happen to be craving homemade rolls right after you run out of eggs, this recipe is for you!

 

They technically take a little over 30 minutes, probably more like 40. But most of that is just rising time when you can be working on the rest of dinner. Active prep time is more like 10-15 minutes at the most and well worth the warm goodness you get at the end!

 

Start with mixing warm water, yeast, sugar, and oil or melted butter in your mixer. Personally I prefer the flavor butter gives, but I’ve used 1/2 butter + 1/2 oil and just oil with great results. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes. If you see the mixture foaming a little after a few minutes the yeast is working.

Eggless 30 Minute Dinner Rolls

After 15 minutes add the flour and salt and knead. I like to use bread flour but you could substitute with all purpose if you don’t have bread flour.

Eggless 30 Minute Dinner Rolls

 

Shape the dough into rolls and place them in a greased glass baking dish. If you have time (and patience!) let them sit for 10 minutes. This will allow them to rise a little more but if I’m pressed for time I skip this step and the end result is still delicious.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees.

Eggless 30 Minute Dinner Rolls

Done! Serve them warm as an easy side for soup, spaghetti, chili, or anything else that goes well with bread (which in my book is pretty much everything!).

 

Eggless 30 Minute Dinner Rolls

 

Ingredients:

1 1/8 C water (105 – 115 degrees)

1/3 C butter (melted) or oil

4 tsp yeast

¼ C sugar

3 ½ C bread flour

1/2 tsp salt

 

Instructions:

Mix the first four ingredients together and allow the mixture to sit for 15 minutes. Add in the flour and salt and knead. Shape dough into rolls and place in a greased glass pan. Allow them to rise for 10 minutes. Bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy!

Continue Reading

Public Speaking: A Dangerous Skill Worth Teaching

Public Speaking: A Dangerous Skill Worth Teaching

 

I have no explanation for why I wanted to compete in speech and debate. Most parents force their kids to participate; I asked my parents to let me. The stereotypical public speaker is charismatic and outgoing; I was quiet and reserved.

 

But I attended a summer camp as a 15-year-old and noticed that some of the most articulate students were talking about this thing called debate that they did. I came home intrigued and eventually asked my parents if I could try it. They said yes, so I signed up to give a speech for the last local homeschool tournament of the year, somehow made it to the final round, and knew I had found a new passion.

 

Over the course of the next seven years (three in high school and four in college), I competed in five forms of debate, five speech events, moot court, mock trial, and Model UN. Tournaments took me to at least 16 states (lots of road trips!) and Berlin, Germany.

 

In God’s perfect plan a debate scholarship helped me graduate debt free from Patrick Henry College where I became one of the debate team coaches and met my husband (on the debate team, in case you were wondering).

 

I share that to say that speech and debate played a major role in my life through high school and college. More than any other class or activity, it shaped me academically, professionally, and personally.

 

The skills learned and experience gained from competition gave me the confidence to present in front of an audience. But they gave me much more than just that.

 

I learned that before you can convey an idea to someone else it first has to be clear in your own head. Debate taught me to organize my thoughts first before I try to communicate them. That skill served me well in writing college papers.

 

I learned to stand up and start speaking even when I didn’t feel ready.

 

I learned to smile and keep going even when I thought I was giving a terrible speech.

 

I learned the difference between an assertion and an argument.

 

I learned that communication involves both speaking and listening.

 

I learned that being able to speak publicly sets you apart in the real world because almost no one wants to do it.

 

I even learned that talking in front of a crowd can actually be fun.

 

I learned there are two sides to every issue. While there are many arguments that are worth having, there are many others that are not. I learned that knowing the difference takes wisdom and discernment.

 

And I learned that it’s possible to sound convincing without truly understanding your subject matter. Thankfully I also learned that rhetorical skill divorced from truth and virtue is dangerous to both the speaker and the listener.

 

It’s that final lesson that defines my philosophy for teaching public speaking. I firmly believe this is one of the most important and most dangerous skills anyone can possess. Effective communicators have always influenced history powerfully, both for good and bad. And I expect that no technological innovation will ever replace the power of the spoken word.

 

microphone

 

My approach to public speaking is simple. I teach students the practical skills to communicate well and challenge them to learn these skills alongside a humble pursuit of truth and personal cultivation of virtue.

 

Next week I’ll be sharing some practical thoughts on how to incorporate these skills into K-12 learning based on my own experiences as a student and teacher. Be sure to check back for that!

 

And for those of you in the Washington DC area, I’m offering public speaking workshops this summer for students in grades 3-12. They will offer a fun, interactive introduction to public speaking, designed for students with no prior experience. Check out the full details here and contact me to register or get more information!

Public Speaking Flyer (3)

 

Continue Reading

An Imperfect Mosaic and a Memory Made

photo 5

I was given a mosaic stepping stone craft kit years ago as a child and it went in my bedroom closet where it sat.

And sat.

And sat.

I don’t remember who gave it to me (my sincere apologies if you read this and remember!).

I do remember that we talked about making them many times. My sister had one too. We pulled them out and looked at them.

We would definitely make them. Someday. It looked like fun.

And you can probably guess where this is going. Before the someday when I’d make my mosaic stone came the someday when I left home for college. And somehow a box filled with cement and mosaic stones didn’t make the cut for what got crammed into suitcases and piled into a dorm room.

 

photo 1

 

Honestly I had forgotten all about that craft kit until I came home to visit my family this past week and my mom mentioned it was still in the basement closet. I immediately thought, well, let’s do it this week. We’ll put Elizabeth’s toddler handprints in and let her design it. The stones will be randomly placed but it will be cute and a mosaic is supposed to be somewhat random anyway. Right?

So yesterday I ripped open the bag of mosaic stones and started mixing cement and wondered why on earth I ever thought this was a good project for an 18-month-old.

 

photo 3

 

But we did it anyway.

Because the convenient time to do messy projects with toddlers is, well, when they aren’t toddlers anymore.

It turned out she really only wanted to throw the stones across the table and hated having mud on her hands. If she keeps her current cleanliness obsession I’ll never have to get on her to clean her room, so I’m not complaining!

So our final stone was designed by Mommy and Grandma more than Elizabeth. But I’m still so glad we did it. It isn’t perfect. And it made a mess. But messes are temporary. And memories matter.

And if it’s worth doing today it’s worth risking imperfection.

 

photo 4

 

photo 5

(This unedited picture makes it look way better than it does in real life. Don’t ask me how an iPhone 4 camera makes colors look better than they do in reality.)

Too often I use imperfection as an excuse to delay.

I can’t come up with the perfect words for that email so I just won’t write it now.

My decorations don’t all match so I’ll leave them piled in the closet until I have the budget/time/inspiration to do it right. I admit, I actually have a pile of picture frames (with pictures!) that have been sitting in my closet since we moved in a (month) year ago.

Someday we’ll hopefully have a real dining room with space to store all the china and crystal we got as wedding gifts. So we’ll use it then. Someday.

And it happens in parenting too.

We’ll go “owside” on a walk later when I’ve done my hair and look “presentable.”

We’ll do finger paint tomorrow when I psych myself up for making a mess.

But I’m not promised any laters or tomorrows. I’m given today. And when I accept that perfect moments almost never come and this imperfect one is good enough, I’m always glad I did.

I hope someday we’ll come back to visit Grandma and see our little mosaic in the yard. Elizabeth’s hands will be much bigger than the prints in the stone. We’ll marvel at how tiny they once were. And I’ll tell her that it’s worth it to treasure the little things and the imperfect moments.

 

photo 2

 

Because life is formed by a mosaic of the little things.

Continue Reading

Community, Learning, and Embracing the Ordinary

PHCgraduation

My alma mater held commencement this past weekend for the class of 2015, the freshmen during my senior year and the last class I knew at all as a student. Seeing graduation photos online had me reminiscing on those years, the three years since, and the ideas that have been most important in transitioning from college to “real life” (whatever that is).

 

PHCgraduation

1. Live in Community

In some ways this became easier with life no longer punctuated by semester breaks. My husband and I moved into our first apartment, settled into jobs and a new church, and began building new friendships.

But in other ways it became far more difficult, leaving a small tightly-knit campus where you couldn’t avoid seeing people even if you wanted to. As jobs, family, and church commitments have grown and friends have moved all over the country, preserving and building relationships has become more challenging but still oh, so worth it.

The gift of living in community is clearest during life’s greatest joys and most painful trials. Developing the closest friendships of my life was one of the biggest blessings of my college years. And building community in our church family has been one of the biggest blessings in the years since then.

 

2. Stay Mentally Active

It took me a long time to learn how to read just for fun and enrichment. Reading more consistently was one of the main goals I set for myself at the beginning of 2015. I’m shooting for a book a week which doesn’t always happen. But I am reading more than at any point since college, enjoying titles on everything from time management to parenting to the secrets of TED talks. And I finally read my first Wendell Berry. Shhh…don’t tell any of my political theory friends that it took me this long.

 

Tutoring

 

The biggest things I’ve learned from reading more? For one, it’s a habit. The more consistently you read the easier it is to keep the habit alive. And feeding your mind well reaps benefits for all of life. I’ve found my horizons broadened and my desire to be a lifelong learner deepened.

 

3. Don’t Despise Life Lived in the Ordinary

I came to college ready to take 18 credit semesters, land prestigious internships, attend a prestigious law school, work prestigious jobs…you get the idea. None of that’s bad. And I’m beyond proud of so many of my college friends doing just that.

But this season of my life is far different from the high-profile, mass culture shaping missions I envisioned as a college freshman. I spend most of my time on the normal everyday tasks of running a house and keeping a toddler alive, usually happy, and sometimes well behaved.

Occasionally I glance at the nearby Washington D.C. landscape and remember the calling I’d imagined for myself in those iconic buildings. I’d lobby policymakers or work for one of them. In my mind none of that would be ordinary. And maybe someday I’d achieve my ultimate nerdy dream of arguing a case before the Supreme Court.

A far cry from making peanut butter sandwiches and trying to figure out why the brand new sippy cup already leaks.

 

Laundry

 

But today that is my calling. It’s ordinary. It’s sometimes monotonous. It’s often hard. But it’s always worth it.

And today I’m thankful for the ordinary days.

 

Continue Reading

Welcome to Grace Reminders

 

Grace Reminders is about seeing the big and the little gifts in our everyday lives as the reminders of God’s grace that they are.

 

The cosmic wonder of purple, pink, orange, and red mingling in the sky just before the sun peaks through the trees behind our house. A grace reminder.

 

The smile of the expressive, morning-loving toddler who got me up in time to see that sunrise. A grace reminder.

 

Books, balls, and puzzle pieces littered across the living room floor. More reminders.

 

Baby Messes

 

Food to put on the table for dinner. Another grace.

 

My days are filled with graces seen and unseen. Grace reminders is my challenge to myself to become a person who pauses to see, name, celebrate, and share those reminders.

 

Home

 

Does it matter? Does stopping to recognize graces really change us?

 

I believe yes—it can, it should, and it must.

 

It should provoke thanksgiving. Graces are undeserved blessings that we have anyway, all reasons for gratitude.

 

It should build trust. Few things encourage me to trust God more than remembering the ways He’s given grace in the last hour or day or month or year or five years.

 

And naming graces should expand our perspective. Pausing to acknowledge God’s gracious hand in our days imparts a long-view perspective to remember that the biggest trial today is a speck in the scope of eternity. But it’s also not too small to be beyond the reach and care of God.

 

Welcome to Grace Reminders

 

I plan to begin writing here to chronicle the reminders of grace in my life and hopefully encourage you to do the same. Because everything is filled with grace my topics will probably vary widely. But right now I think a lot about motherhood, homemaking, early education, and simple frugal living.

 

I’m writing here not because I have vast wisdom to share. I don’t. I write because doing so challenges me to reflect and record so I can remember. I’m confident that is good for me. And if it blesses others who read this, all the better!

Continue Reading