Friday, January 25, 2008

Telling Stories with Lego

Both of my boys are very much visual-spatial learners. That means that they don't tend to gravitate towards reading or being read to all that often. They still enjoy a rich sense of storytelling through watching movies and TV, and creating their own fantasy worlds.

Building with Lego is something they have both been doing for many years. Their designs have become increasingly complex, and lately have expanded into very detailed sets for fantasy play and story telling.

This is one of Nathan's latest creations, inspired by his experiences playing Runescape. He also made a great Indiana Jones-inspired set the other day (unfortunately it got "loved to death" before I thought to snap a pic). I thought the set he created was actually much more detailed than the "official" Indiana Jones Lego that's just been released. He designed the whole boulder-chasing-Indie scene, along with the plane escape scene, and I thought it was extremely inspired( I should add that he's only seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom once apiece, so I'm also incredibly impressed with his memory!) Even though I've been watching my boys build and create with Lego for most of their lifes, I am continually in awe of their creativity and attention to detail as they execute their designs. They also demonstrate a great deal of patience and planning as their more complex designs can take several days to complete.

I enjoy sharing their excitement when they unveil their newest creation. Their vision is usually pretty sophisticated, and their Lego worlds give me a window into their rich imaginations.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Our Family "Cold Comfort Kit"

While everyone in our house is blessed with exceptionally good health, we are still occasionally felled by the odd cold virus. I prefer to avoid using over-the-counter type cold remedies for a variety of reasons (including the fact that they're fairly expensive and they make me feel weird). I have found a few gentle low tech/natural remedies keep us quite comfortable while we're on the mend. Here is what I keep on hand for soothing a raging cold:

-a big box of tissues with lotion (these are pricey; I keep them squirreled away so they only make an appearance when they're really needed- the last box lasted me at least 2 yrs!)

-hard candies with vitamin C to help sooth sore throats

-a hot water bottle

-eucalyptus essential oil for steam inhalations (see below for instructions)

-epsom salts (add to a hot bath to ease muscle aches and soreness)

-thyme and honey for homemade cough syrup (recipe below)

Usually, these simple solutions, combined with lots of hot tea and soup (and lots of napping under warm blankets) are enough to see us through a typical cold without feeling too miserable.

Eucalypus Oil Steam Inhalation (to relieve nasal and sinus congestion)
Boil about a litre (4 cups) of water and carefully pour into a heat-proof bowl (such as Pyrex). Add about 6 drops of eucalyptus essential oil to the water. Drape a large towel over your head to form a tent and carefully lean over the bowl, keeping a few inches away from the water. Stay under the towel for as long as is comfortable, taking short breaks if necessary. Aim for 10-15 minutes or so total.

Thyme and Honey Cough Syrup
I have found this to be more effective than over-the-counter cough syrups. Honey should not be given to children under the age of one.
In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup water and 1 tbsp dried thyme. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn off heat. Let steep for 15-20 minutes. Strain the liquid into a jar (I use a small canning jar) and add 1/4 cup honey. Stir until honey is completely dissolved. Take 1 tbsp as needed.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Lentils to the Rescue!

I'm finally back from my holiday blog-break. Now that the new year is underway, it's pretty likely that either your budget or your body is trying to recover from the excesses of the holiday season. Fortunately, since lentils are both cheap and nutritious, they can help out on both counts. Here are a couple of my favourite quick and easy lentil recipes - you can have either of them on the table in less than 1/2 an hour! Both of these dishes are great paired with your favourite cornbread recipe.

Sausage and Lentil Stew
This is a great way to stretch 2 sausages to feed four people It's still plenty filling and hearty because of the lentils.

1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
1 cup red lentils
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 cup crushed tomatoes
2 Oktoberfest style sausages, cooked and chopped (I use a Bavarian-style turkey sausage)
1 tbsp Braggs or Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp dried parsley

In a large saucepan, saute onions and garlic in oil until tender. Add celery and carrots and cook until they start to soften. Add lentils and broth. Cook for 10 minutes (until lentils are nearly soft) then add tomatoes, sausage, Braggs and parsley. Simmer over medium heat until carrots are tender, adding water if needed to keep stew from drying out. Serves 4.

Quick Lentil Soup
The ingredients for this are very similar to the stew, but the lemon and spices give it a bit of a different flavour. You could add some leftover diced meat to this if you want to make it a bit more robust. Extra leftover vegetables make a nice addition as well!

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1 cup dried red lentils
1 tsp cumin
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp dried parsley

In a large saucepan, saute garlic and onions until tender. Add carrots and cook until they start to soften. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook until lentils are soft. Serves 4.