I LOVE gingerbread cookies. The smell fills up your house long before the delicious cookies are done and ready to eat. And I find that I like mine to be sturdy but still soft, and have a little bit of kick to them. This recipe has floated around my family for long enough that I don’t know where it came from, but I’ve adjusted it so many times that I feel okay to call it my own.
Bake up some festive goodies and enjoy decorating them with your children.
1/2 cup butter, soft
1/4 cup shortening
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons molasses
Combine the above ingredients, mixing thoroughly and set aside.
2 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (or less, if you don’t like it spicy)
Combine dry ingredients then add to the wet mixture above. Mix until it forms into a ball. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Let dough rest on the counter for about 10 minutes before rolling out on a floured surface. Roll to 1/4″ thickness and cut with cookie cutters. Place 1/2″ apart on a silicone mat and bake for 12-14 minutes. Let the cookies cool and firm up on the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
When cookies are completely cool, decorate with royal icing. I like the recipe for icing with meringue powder found here.
I haven’t tried this recipe for making a gingerbread house but it has been nice and sturdy for large gingerbread men so I’d be interested to know if it works. If you try it out, please share your results!
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Every day I hear about another family (or five) that is embarking on the adventure of homeschooling. Common Core seems to be the biggest catalyst with the huge influx of new homeschooling families. The most recent homeschooling conference where Richard and I presented was made up of 75%, yes, seventy-five percent, new homeschoolers (meaning they had either been homeschooling for less than a semester or were about to start in the fall). I’ve never seen such huge numbers of new families and it’s so exciting!
But with all these newbies there is a lot of anxiety and a quest for that key that is going to make it work out.
It is a scary thing. I know. Fifteen years ago we made the decision to homeschool our family. We had two very small children at the time (3 years old and a newborn) and I had no idea the road that was ahead of us. I didn’t know then how hard it would be or how wonderful it would be. I didn’t know that Richard and i would end up presenting at homeschool conferences and mentoring other families or that our life’s mission would make itself manifest through the process.
I made lots of mistakes and we had lots of victories, large and small. And now with my oldest just graduated and my other children thriving I feel like I can take a breath and say, yes! This works!
So, what is the biggest lesson I’ve learned through it all? What one piece of advice can I give to those newly homeschooling parents?
It’s a big one so get ready..
I don’t just mean pretend to relax while freaking out on the inside every day. I mean the king of relaxing that comes through having faith in the process. Yes, chances are you’ve met some weirdos who homeschool and you are terrified that you are going to have kids who can’t form complete sentences. Or bathe. You may worry about grade level and aptitude testing and proving to your mother in law (or husband) that you are good enough to do this. You may worry about what the neighbors think, what your friends think, what your church leaders think, or what the bagger at the grocery store thinks (personal experience). It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to prove your worthiness or your child’s ability to anyone and everyone who decides to ask you why you are homeschooling.
But here’s the deal. Those weirdo homeschoolers would have been weirdo public schoolers, should their parents have chosen that option. They were raised by weird parents who don’t think their kids are weird and that’s okay for them. You are the parent of your children. They aren’t going to suddenly morph into backwoods social misfits just because they spend more time with you than with a bunch of third graders. Honestly, the reverse will be true.
And your mother-in-law, she will just have to deal with it. Chances are she’s going to nag you for a while but as she sees your steadfastness, she will get over it and start to brag to all her friends about how brilliant her grandchildren are.
In other words, those outside pressures are easily dealt with. Be polite, don’t be defensive, and thank people for their advice and interest then do what you were going to do anyway. Which is to . . .
what is it?
Because when it comes down to it, all those nosy people aren’t really the problem. The problem is that voice in the back of your head that asks that ever annoying and painful question.
What if . . . ?
What if I can’t do it? What if I’m not disciplined enough? What if I mess up my kids and they can’t get into a good college? What if they get behind? What if someone is judging me? What if I get lazy? What if it’s too hard? What if I never have another day to myself? Etc.
Those what ifs can drive you crazy. They can make you panic and try to recreate a public school setting at home (worst idea EVER). That leads you to getting way too strict with you children’s time which makes you (and them) overly anxious and frustrated. Nothing good comes from that.
It’ll happen. But if you know it’s coming then you can be prepared for that harshest of critics, the internal one. You can tell him/her that you hear what is being said (try, shouted) but you are going to trust this process.
And a magical thing will happen. You and your children will blossom together. You’ll start out afraid and tentative but as time goes on and you keep at it, you’ll become fearless. You’ll be willing to try new things and fail together gloriously. What better learning experience could there possibly be?
And then, you’ll succeed. And nothing in all the world can compare to the feeling of sitting with your children, being the most bonded, close-knit family unit you can imagine, and being a part of their biggest educational breakthroughs and successes.
You can do this. For centuries people have done this and succeeded gloriously and so will you!
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The Fourth of July. I love it. Not like the cute little love that we have for Labor Day barbeques but that big, hearty love we have for Christmas.
There is something about the sun-drenched day that makes my heart soar. I’m sure it goes back to childhood memories and a deep-seated love of country rolled up into a package that makes me giddy thinking about the day. And we celebrate every year by throwing a big party for our family and friends.
I’m not the most pinteresty woman in the world so I don’t have all matching table cloths with wedding-reception worthy centerpieces. I don’t make food in the shape of stars and stripes, all blue, white, and red velvet.
I do prepare LOTS of food, set up LOTS of shade, and invite LOTS of people, but the people and the reason we are there to celebrate are the central figures of our gathering.
Usually we eat, we may play games, we chat, then we have a short patriotic program and watch a family film in the backyard. This year, due to some timing issues and the fact that my youngest was feeling ill, we skipped the movie.
But the program . . . that was the part that made it all worth the work and preparation.
I had invited each of the six families attending to share a song, quote, or story with the group. It wasn’t required, just an invitation.
And just as it was getting dark, we began. A couple of our teenagers who are very talented musicians, played and sang for us. Then our dear friend, a songwriter, sang a gorgeous original song called Freedom’s Our Responsibility. It was so fantastic!
As she was singing, the neighborhood mortars began.
Our family doesn’t do fireworks (we live in a desert, people. A desert that is often plagued by wildfires) but as all our neighbors started into their yearly binge of blowing stuff up, I couldn’t deny the amazing effect it had as the backdrop to our personal form of celebration.
My brother-in-law shared his feelings and pride for his dear sister, a captain in the Air Force, who passed away a few years ago. It was very touching.
Then my little Adventure Boy, my nine-year-old son, recited the famous last paragraph to Patrick Henry’s epic speech. As he quoted, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” with vigor, I found myself tearing up.
Lastly, all forty of us sang our favorite patriotic hymns in four part harmony. My Country Tis of Thee, America The Beautiful, The Battle Hymn of the Republic (with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing backup) and, of course, The Star-Spangled Banner.
The fireworks continued all around us, but in our backyard there was a feeling of deep peace and gratitude. In the midst of the chaos, we were in a sanctuary.
As I looked at our friends and family, these whole, virtuous families that work, worship, play, and serve as family units, and I took in our combined pool of impressive teenagers who were singing along with us, full voice, I had a great swell of hope for the future.
I knew at that moment, that in other backyards and other living rooms, and other family circles, there are those who are going about building up righteous families who will move the cause of liberty.
And I was so grateful to know that we were playing a tiny part in that movement.
Because freedom isn’t won in the supreme court of the voting booth alone, it’s won in the ways we teach our children to respect the flag and all it stands for, to know the history of their country and the sacrifices that brought us here, to believe in the Constitution’s divine origins, and to prepare to defend liberty through their personal choices and community service.
Freedom is won at home, in a backyard, singing patriotic hymns on a hot summer night.
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So there we were in a room full of 150 of the best teenagers in the world. These were bright, moral, respectful, hard-working kids that had been part of my Hero Simulations, some of them for years.
They were pretty much the cream of the crop.
These kids were raised in homes where scriptures are read regularly as a family, serving others is a way of life, and staying away from pornography is not just encouraged, it’s expected and talked about regularly.
In short, these kids are from homes where the parents are doing everything right.
So what happened next surprised me on multiple levels.
I had put together this training as part of our Summit Programs. It was our kick-off for the new year with a new theme and exciting new changes. Queen Deborah and I had planned it for months and we had a line-up of messages that we knew would really touch the hearts and inspire the actions of this amazing group of kids. We did our welcome and rah-rah then introduced our first guest speaker.
This was a young woman, our awesome cousin, who has a message that is important to share about Real Beauty, defining ourselves based on what God sees in us, instead of focusing on outward appearance. As part of her presentation she put up a big picture of a girl in a bikini, one of those typical head-chopped-off, body-focused selfies we see online every day. She asked the kids to write down how it made them feel about their own selves while looking at an image like that. Next, she showed a slideshow of dozens of happy people, working together, playing together, taking vacation shots together, etc. All pictures that focused on their faces and their smiles and their connections with each other (all modestly covered, too). She asked the kids to share what those photos made them feel about themselves.
Her point was clear. When we focus on the body only, on our outward appearance only, we are isolating ourselves, comparing ourselves, and we never feel good about ourselves. When we are connected to others and we focus on how we act, how we treat others, we are truly beautiful.
It was an amazing, powerful message. But I don’t think more than a few of those kids got anything out of it.
All that was seen, was that there had been a giant picture of a girl in a bikini on the screen. And. That. Is. Not. Okay.
These amazing kids literally panicked. There were gasps and muttered words like “disgusting” and “sickening.”
As a mentor who works insanely long hours for the purpose of teaching kids to be heroes, to stand up for what they believe in, I NEVER want to put those kids in a position where they feel their values are being threatened. Heroic Youth is supposed to be a safe place. I do understand the tender feelings of our youth. And if I had known everything that was included in our guest’s presentation I probably would have told her that the bikini picture itself wasn’t really necessary to get her point across.
BUT . . .
What is Panic?
Panic is a fear response when we are confronted with something dangerous that threatens our safety. Panic is actually the WORST response, however, that we can have in any dangerous situation. If you are in deep water and you start to panic, that is the surest way of drowning. Panic makes your mind stop looking for solutions BUT makes you put your full and constant attention on the source of your terror. In other words, panicking over something is going to make a lasting memory that will be seared into your brain. And it makes it a lot more likely that you will drown.
This experience has really stuck with me ever since that day a few months ago. I went home from our event, the rest of which was so good I . . . I just don’t have any words. But still, at the end of the evening I was sure that I was about to get deluged with parental emails asking why their kids had been exposed to “pornography” at my event. It made me heartsick to think that we could have put all this work and prayer and energy into bringing a positive, Christ-centered spirit into this training only to have it destroyed by one girl in a bikini.
But as time went by, no parents emailed and I hope that’s because they understood what we were trying to teach. And I’m glad I had this experience because it made me take a hard look at how and what I’m teaching my kids about the body.
What do we believe?
We are firm and unshakeable believers in modesty as a sign of respect for our Heavenly Father who made our bodies. We keep them covered, not because we are ashamed, but because we hold our bodies to be sacred temples of God. We avoid pornography for the same reasons. Not because sex or the naked body is bad and something to be ashamed of, but the exact opposite. Because it is beautiful, and special, and sacred and we want to protect it and keep it that way instead of dragging it through the mud. We don’t want to reduce it to a mere physical act that can be made as base and twisted as the human mind can go. Instead we teach that sex is an amazing thing, a connection between a husband and wife that brings joy, intimacy, and brings new life into this world.
That is all well and good. But the next question is this. HOW are we teaching our kids to handle the situation when they are confronted with something that makes them uncomfortable or is against what they believe in? How are we preparing them so that they can CALMLY and CONFIDENTLY handle the exposures that will come?
And they will come.
Not all pornography is on adult-only websites tucked into the dark recesses of the internet. For a lot of these kids it’s passed around, right under our noses, on facebook and twitter and Instagram. Even if you are a parent who thinks you have every nook and cranny of your home completely fortified against the dangers of pornography, how are your kids going to handle walking through the mall and seeing mostly naked models on posters, women who don’t bother covering up, even buses plastered with advertisements and parked next to your car in traffic?
Avoiding pornography and immodesty is a HUGE and crucial step in fortifying our kids. But unless we also teach them to calmly and confidently handle exposures, we are setting them up for a drowning experience that can tear apart their spirits.
Since this experience with the bikini-photo panic, we have had some great conversations in our home. My kids span the ages of 6-18 but I taught them all the same thing.
When you are confronted with something that you know isn’t right for you to be looking at (define what that is) this is what you do.
- First – Take a breath and stay calm.
- Second – Tell your brain to put that in the “Not for me” category.
- Third – Turn your attention to something that IS for you. If you are driving and you see a billboard with a mostly naked woman on it, turn your attention to the beautiful scenery around you, or a conversation with the person you’re with, etc.
- Fourth – remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible.
- Fifth – report it to a parent when appropriate (pointing out a billboard in a car full of people may not be appropriate as it just calls attention to that billboard. BUT, finding inappropriate images on a family computer needs to be reported).
- Sixth – ask questions of parents in private WHENEVER YOU WANT! As parents, we are ALWAYS here for you when you want to talk. Nothing you can say will embarrass us or make us think bad things about you. You can ask us ANYTHING.
Let’s all calm down a little as parents and realize that teaching our children to be vigilant is important. But teaching them to panic could be deadly.
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