Thursday, December 18, 2014

December in Our Home School

I've been looking forward to December for months.  This year is the first time I've ever just slowed our pace way down and enjoyed the season full on.  Thankfully, illness has pretty much left our home, and life is starting to become a little more normal.  If I can just manage a few, full-nights of sleep maybe I will start to feel a little more normal myself.

In the meantime the kids and I have been enjoying our special Christmas routine, and it's hard to believe Christmas is right around the corner.  I thought I'd share with you the things we planned, both what we've done and what's managed to slip through the cracks, and the things we still have on the agenda for December.  There is still plenty of time to enjoy a few crafts or activities together as a family.  Maybe you'll find something here that looks like fun, or you can visit my Pinterest board for lots of other Christmas ideas.

1.  Wrap 25 Christmas Books and Read Them - My favorite idea of all I actually failed to do.  Maybe we'll get lucky, and there will be no illness in our home next fall, and I can pull this one off next year.   I originally discovered the idea from Counting Coconuts who got it from The Picky Apple.  (Anyone else feel like they're in that old shampoo commercial?)  Anyway, the idea is simple.  You wrap 25 books with a Christmas theme and open one each night, and read it as a family.

2.  Make Tamales on Christmas Eve - Well, I didn't actually plan to do it ON Christmas Eve, but this is a tradition that I really want to implement in our home.  Our youngest son is 50% Mexican, and I totally believe in growing up with a knowledge of our heritage.  For me, food is such a fun way to learn culture.  Making tamales on Christmas and/or New Year's Eve is a Mexican tradition that I love because it's about family and friends coming together to cook, eat, and celebrate.

3.  Family Movie Night - We've already watched a few Christmas movies, but one of my favorite is to watch The Polar Express very close to Christmas and make it special.  I love the idea of taking the experience a little further with added activities.  Fantastic Fun and Learning shares some wonderful ideas that I plan to choose from before our Polar Express Pajama Party this weekend.  Typically, we make hot chocolate and pop a large bowl of popcorn.  I bought the book this year.  Can you believe I didn't own this one already?  We'll probably read it during the day and enjoy some activities.  Then, we'll watch the movie together as a family.  Honestly, I really look forward to this each year.

4.  Make Cotton Ball Snow - The month of December began with decorating.  Hubby and I got the tree together this year from a local lot forgoing the whole tree farm experience we had planned since all of our children were still sick.  We got the tree set up, and let it get happy for a couple days.  Meanwhile, the kids and I dug out all the Christmas decorations and sorted them out on the first day.  The next day we decorated the house.  Then, the next day we decorated the tree.  It was fun spreading the process out like that, and it totally took away any stress that may have been involved in the process and instead created anticipation.  The day after we decorated the tree we strung cotton balls on thread and hung it in the walkways of our home.  I got the idea here.  It was fun for all of the kids, and it does look really cool.  I purchase plastic needles so the little kids could do it without worry.

The Supplies

I knotted the thread on the needle so the kids didn't have to worry about it slipping out.

We later added snowflakes from the beams.  It created a really cool effect.

Other ideas still on the list include:

Christmas isn't here yet, and winter hasn't even begun, so there is still plenty of time to enjoy all of the above activities.  From our family to yours...

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Anticipating Christmas

We're doing things a little differently here this year, and I have to say we are all liking it very much.  Our norm is to keep a regular school routine year round with the occasional break here and there; usually a day or two, and never for more than a week or so.  This year I decided to approach things a little differently.  We have been off of our regular schedule since Thanksgiving, and we are having so much fun.

Never in my life have I ever participated in Advent in any way.  Honestly, up until a few years ago I'd never even heard of it.  I found a great study to do with the kids each night, and we started it on December 1st.  It's been a lot of fun, and I'm already thinking of ways to change it up for next year.  For now, we are keeping it simple.  The kids get a picture to color from a free download that goes along with our evening reading, a book I downloaded for $1.99 onto my Kindle.  This is another first for me.  Out of my thousands of digital books this is the first I've ever paid for and the first I've used exclusively for study with the children.  Truth be told, I am old fashioned and much prefer a printed book in my hands.

Each weekday I have planned a craft or special activity to do with the kids.  As each day passes our home becomes more and more festive, and our children anticipate Christmas Day more and more.  This is big for me, because some days (or weeks, or months) it seems we have the market cornered on stressful circumstances to deal with and work through.  It's common knowledge that holidays and special, traditional, family times can play with our emotions, and having this concentrated time to just focus on being with each other, honoring the purpose of celebrating Christmas, and drawing near to those we love has added so much to our family relationship.

It might be possible to think that we have so much time on our hands as homeschoolers, and we can accomplish so many things, but I'm here to tell you that time is very fleeting.  There literally are not enough hours in the day or days in a lifetime to see, do, experience, share, create, or give all the things our hearts desire or long toward no matter the life we choose to live.  I am grateful for the privilege, honor, and freedom to spend my days fully present with my children.  It is by no means perfect.  We struggle and make mistakes, but in the end we love each other with all we have within ourselves to give.  Taking this extended break like this has helped to redirect my focus and assisted me in slowing down enough to see more clearly the things that are most important.  In the end the only thing we can give is our best, and it is my mission to continuously improve my personal best.  Is it any real surprise that I am a genuine work in progress?

As 2014 comes to a close many of us will take time to reflect on the past.  It is my prayer that your focus will be on the positive.  Though it is winter, and quite possibly a winter of your life, there are always sunny days, little gifts, and small treasures that we can hold onto.  The positive things are always there whether or not we take the time to notice.  Why not put our attention on the joyful moments that positively touched our hearts?

"Finally, brothers, 
whatever is true, 
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, 
whatever is pure, 
whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable, 
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think on these things."

~Philippians 4:8

Monday, December 08, 2014

German Chocolate Cake Cookie Revamp

Life has been a little different around here the last couple of years.  A sudden sensitivity to wheat has been aggressively working at changing the way I understand, relate to, and consume food.  Honestly, it's rather annoying, and I totally wish I could just be one of those people that could eat whatever I want to and maintain a healthy body.  Alas, such is not the case for me.  I have been one of those people that gain five pounds when I smell brownies baking for most of my life.  Food allergies have a way of stopping us in our tracks and forcing us to look at the world of food with different eyes.

That being said, I love dessert.  I especially love baked goods.  My husband loves German Chocolate Cake, and I make it for him for his birthday every single year without fail.  That is, until this year.  The kids had been sick for weeks, I was tired, and there was the whole ban on wheat and sugar going strong in our house.  Sadly, we let his birthday go by without dessert.  Crazy, right?

Well, I made up for it on Thanksgiving.  I took the recipe that I found on the blog A Dash of Sanity, and I tweaked it.  I made it gluten free, and I omitted the refined sugars.  Here is what we came up with:

Gluten Free German Chocolate Cake Cookies


Chocolate Cookie

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sucanat
1 cup coconut sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten
2 1/4 cups Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch salt

German Chocolate Frosting

1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup coconut sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup dark chocolate chunks for melting


Chocolate Cookie

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.  (This is my new favorite kitchen tool.  It totally changes the game.  Love this stuff!)

In a stand mixer or large bowl using a hand mixer, blend the butter, sucanat, coconut sugar, vanilla and eggs.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.  Gradually add the flour mixture into the butter mixture and blend until combined.

Drop the dough by tablespoonful (I used what Alton Brown calls a disher.) onto the prepared baking sheets.  The original recipe says 12 cookies per sheet, but I got 20 total cookies.  I'm guessing using the disher made them a tad bigger than the original author intended, but there were no complaints here!  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  (I baked mine for 4.5 minutes, had the pans switch shelves in the oven, and baked for another 4.5 minutes.  They turned out perfect!)  Cool on a baking rack.  

German Chocolate Frosting

Add evaporated milk, coconut sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla to a large pan, and place on stove top over medium heat.

Stir so that it becomes well combined.  Continue stirring until thickened.  This takes about 11-12 minutes.  (This can be a little tricky to judge on an electric stove, especially for those of us that are electric stove cooking challenged...don't get me started!)

Once thickened, remove from heat, and add coconut and pecans.  Beat until thick enough to spread.  I found that the frosting thickens as it cools, so I allowed it to cool for about 15-20 minutes on the counter before frosting the cookies, stirring occasionally.  

Melt chocolate using double boiler method, and drizzle over top of frosted cookies.  (The original recipe says this is optional, but I just don't think so.)

I think these cookies would make a wonderful gift, but I'm really not sure how you'd package them effectively.  Stacking them would be totally out of the question.  If you come up with some good ideas, let me know.  Either way, they are totally fun to eat, and the clincher is that my family had NO CLUE they were gluten free.  I never did tell them, and my picky hubby gobbled them down blissfully.  Success!

Friday, December 05, 2014

5 on the Fifth - Favorite Blog Posts for December

I've decided that I'm going to stretch myself a bit this year with my blogging; more commitments, new activities, and getting to know more blogs personally.  This is the first step.  I just discovered this link-up, another new to me term, late last night when sleep was eluding me.  That being said, I've obviously not spent the previous month keeping my eye out for blogs to share with you here.  So, what I did was just take a moment and think about blogs I like; some from good friends.  I figured is as good a place to start as any.

The first blog post I'd like to share with you is from my good friend Anna at Where My Treasure Is.  I love her blog and the way she shares her wisdom.  No matter what I read there I leave with a good feeling, and it may even challenge me in a kind and gentle way.  Recently I read her post on home management, and let me tell you how timely it was for me.  I felt encouraged after reading this post, and I hope you do as well.

As some of you know, I have been on a trying journey to rediscover health and understand more clearly the food that I feed to my family.  This past year has been a year of tremendous increase in knowledge in this area.  One of my favorite discoveries was GNOFGLINS (God's Natural, Organic, Whole Foods, Grown Locally, In Season).  I love when the posts come through my news feed on Facebook, and I even get information from them in my email inbox.  Mind you, I've gotten pretty selective about what comes through that medium.  Am I the only one that can find myself drowning in emails?  Here is a recent post with a helpful, homemade gift idea.  Maybe you'll find yourself inspired.

This next post is an idea that I've pondered more than a time or two, especially since we've made our big move to the country.  I grew up poor, and I do know how to live with very little.  I am forever thankful for having a mother that taught me how to keep my house stocked with food and essentials like toilet paper, laundry soap, and medicines.  She managed to keep a hefty larder despite a VERY minimal income.  She was, and still very much is, very thrifty.  I suppose being raised on a farm by parents that survived the Great Depression had a little something to do with that.  Now that my hubby and I find ourselves raising yet another generation of children we tend to look at a lot of things differently than we did when we were younger. this is definitely not one of those areas.  My natural instinct is to have a good stock of food, among other things, at all times.  I shop for deals and do my best.  Often, though, I do find myself wondering just how long my stock will last and how much food do I need to put up to meet the needs of my family comfortably.  Leona at My Healthy Green Family took this challenge seriously and put in the very real effort to find out just what she was capable of pulling off, and I thoroughly appreciate the fact that she took the extra step in sharing her experience with the rest of us.  Check out her journey!

I've had the honor of reconnecting via Facebook with one of my favorite gal pals from grade school, and I am certainly the better for it.  She's a bubbly person that grew up in the Midwest and sports a Southern accent.   (I've not had the privileged or confusion of actually hearing her talk since this transformation.)  One thing I have gotten acquainted with however is her personal blog.  Her writing style is amazing as ever; enhanced a little by age, faith, and hard earned wisdom.  She shares poignantly her exploits and the subsequent growing pains.  She's off the cuff and no holds barred.  She's not afraid to let you see her rough edges.  It's what I love about her.  One day maybe I'll be lucky enough to share a jar of pickles with her face to face again, but this time I think they should be deep fried!

Here's another lady I know that loves to share her knowledge with those who are interested in learning and growing.  In the three short years that I've been privileged to know and cultivate a friendship with her, my knowledge has grown greatly.  Honestly, I owe a lot of that to her.  It's empowering when you are fortunate enough to rub shoulders with confident people, especially women when you are one yourself, that are more than comfortable being the person God created them to be.  When we want to grow it's a good idea to put ourselves in the company of those respect and those that challenge us to become better versions of ourselves.  This post has nothing specifically to do with that very topic, but using beef tallow for good things was a bit new to me.  I found the process interesting, and I love the biblical connections she always seems to share.  Those of us that know her personally are glad she's finally taken up blogging.  I think you will as well.

5 on the Fifth
You can visit the rest of the posts here.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

What Oxygen Mask?

I don't know about you, but when life gets crazy and hectic the care and keeping of me is the first thing that slips to the wayside.  It's not like a conscious decision.  Things just seem to slip slowly off my radar.  The first to go, I think, is my supplement regimen.  With my current health challenges this is a really important thing for me to maintain.  I don't know why I stop taking the things that contribute so greatly to my well being, but I do it every.single.time and I pay for it accordingly.  This mama is T-I-R-E-D.

So, what was the trigger this time?

All three of the young ones at home contracted Pertussis.  Don't worry!  It's not as alarming as it sounds.  It is just a TREMENDOUS inconvenience.  Today marks week seven for the first to contract the dreaded cough, and he's still exhibiting symptoms.  Mind you they are markedly improved, and Lord willing my sleep deprivation will soon be a thing of the past.  For right now, I remain thoroughly exhausted.

What are the symptoms of Pertussis anyway?

Initial symptoms can include low-grade fever, runny nose, mild cough, and infants can experience a pause in breathing.  As the disease progresses symptoms can include many rapid coughs followed by a "whoop", vomiting, and being very tired after coughing fits.  Some of these symptoms were present for our three, but some of them weren't.  It was also a very different experience for all three of the children.  For us it began with a random cough here and there with NO other symptoms.

How did we get Pertussis in our home?

We were actually exposed to two families that struggled with the 100 Day Cough, as they call it in China (for very good reason, I might add), and I thought we'd made it through unscathed.  (I'm currently singing, This is the cough that never ends.  It goes on and on my friends. Some people started coughing not knowing what it was, and they'll continue coughing forever just because...This is the cough that never ends...)  Personally, I think we may have made it through without contracting it had I not made what I consider a terrible lapse in judgement as a parent.  My children rarely have sugar, but we had a little celebration of sorts.  I allowed them each to have VERY high doses of sugar in a very small amount of time.  The the first one was exhibiting symptoms, and we've been battling Pertussis ever since.

Don't worry.  I don't beat myself up about it, but it sure did get my attention and remind me of just how dramatically the intake of sugar can impact our health. It reminded me that our diets are our first line of defense when it comes to maintaining good health.  This whole experience has forced my hand so to speak and given me the extra nudge I needed to make some more dramatic changes to our diets and make better choices for my family.  I've never been more mindful of the sugar and grains present in our daily meals, ever.

What did you do about it?

Fortunately, I have a wonderful friend that is very knowledgeable and willing to share her wisdom, experience, and resources to all who are willing and eager to learn.  She gave me a push in the right direction by sharing her personal experience with the disease as well as giving me enough information and resources to educate and arm myself.  I took the time to look at several opinions on the handling of the disease (It's amazing the amount of reading that can occur by a stressed out parent in the middle of the night.) including the CDC website, and The International Medicine Council on Vaccination as well as books like The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, and Natural Remedies Encyclopedia.

From these resources we decided to treat our children with Elderberry Syrup, Sodium Ascorbate, Liquid C, a probiotic, and a good multivitamin/mineral as well as Colloidal Silver.  Coupled with the strict supplement regimen we have also held to a very strict diet consisting of no sugar or grains along with diffusing and vaporizing specific essential oils in our home on a regular basis.  This has proven very effective, and our children are well on their way to getting better.  One is completely well now, and the other two are not too awful far behind.  All of them are past the contagious stage, but we still keep our distance from others.  Even if we aren't contagious, the cough can sound bad and might make others uncomfortable.  Hopefully, we'll feel comfortable mingling with the general public, and not just those that we know have already battled Pertussis and won, in the next couple of weeks.

What's Next?

After I was almost completely out of breath I remembered that I needed to put my oxygen mask on and take care of myself.  I may may not have remembered to do it first, but at least I got it back on before I passed out fully.  I'm back on my supplement regimen, and I was already keeping a strict diet along with the kids, but I have also implemented a much earlier bedtime for all of us just for a while.  We all seem to need it and benefit from it greatly.

We'd already planned to take the month of December off from our regular scheduled programming to focus more on Christmas, organizing our home, and some good old fashioned playtime.  Everyone is having a ball.

Speaking of ball!  It's almost time to get back on the ball with The Old Schoolhouse and The Review Crew, and I am super excited.  Being part of The Crew has been such a blessing to our family, and in particular to me.  I love to write, and I love the way that being a member of The Crew challenges me to write more, write better, and learn more and more about using social media.  (sigh - LOL)  It has been challenging at times, but I LOVE a good challenge and nothing motivates me more than a strict deadline.

In the coming days and weeks you will see me on here more.  The kids and I have been having fun doing special crafts and activities in preparation for Christmas that I am very excited to share with you.  We have been enjoying bird watching and will start our photography study soon.  (Shhh,,,they're all getting cameras for Christmas.)  Day after day our home is looking more and more like Christmas.

Things are changing around here, and it's not just the holidays.  We've had the first half of the school year to see what is working and what is not.  The second half will look a little different for us, and I hope it brings more fun.  Not to mention, I'm already thinking about spring and our plans for animals and vegetable gardening here on our little homestead.

We may be part of The Crew, but we're also part of a bigger crew.  Our family can feel our Captain steering our little boat into different waters, and we wait with anticipation to see what lies on the horizon.  All of us are growing around here, not just the kids, and for some of us it's a bit of a bigger stretch.  I hope you stick around and enjoy the cruise with us.  2015 is bound to have many surprises in store for everyone.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, 
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
into this grace in which we now stand.
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
And not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, 
because we know that our suffering produces perseverance;
perseverance, character; and character, hope.
And hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured out 
into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,
who has been given to us.

~ Romans 5:1-5

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

IXL Math & Language Arts - A Review

Christmas Book Review

Our family has been enjoying the additional learning exercises provided through IXL.  Both the math and the language arts programs have provided fun supplementation to the resources that were already part of our home education routine.  Harmony is old enough to benefit from both of the online programs provided.  IXL Math supplies her with both reinforcement of her current skills and extra practice on strategies that pose her more of a challenge.  Currently we are not using a formal Language Arts curriculum.  Rather we have been using a few less formal resources, and IXL Language Arts has been a nice fit.

We use the programs in a couple of different ways here at Royal Academy.  Harmony can go online and practice her choice of skill sets, and the IXL program keeps track of her progress.  Alternately, I can assign her certain exercises and check back later to see if she's grasping the concepts.  I should note that the assignments cannot be given within the program.  I just write the exercise numbers on a piece of paper for her, and she looks them up on her own to complete them.  As you've heard me mention previously, instilling independence and self-sufficiency is high on our priority list.  Using the programs is another simple way for me to work toward that end goal.  In this way we have put IXL to work as our primary math program to fill the gap in our transitional time since she has completed her previous math program.  It is nice to have a resource to help keep her skills fresh as well as provide an added challenge while we decide where we want to go from here in regard to her mathematical education.

Harmony assisting Avery while Bella observes.

Annabella and Avery are both of the preschool age, and they really enjoy IXL Math.  The Language Arts program begins at Grade 2, so they are too young to utilize it yet.  Harmony loves to work with them on the math program.  Reading them the questions and helping them understand the concepts and answer the questions is a great opportunity for all of the kids.  Not only do the little ones learn math skills, but Harmony gains confidence through teaching them.  It's a win, win!

We are also excited about the potential of IXL in our homeschool thanks to the availability of apps.  It is not something we've managed to implement at this point, but we certainly plan to in the future.  Most likely it will be after Christmas since we are planning to add some new technology to our school supplies this holiday season.  The complete program, math Pre-K through 12th Grade and language arts 2nd through 8th grade, is available through the iPad app.  Pre-K through eighth grade math can be accessed through the Android and Kindle apps with higher level access on the horizon.  The math portion goes all the way from Pre-K through 12th grade when accessed via the internet.

Although IXL is designed for skill practice as opposed to a full curriculum, we have found a way for it to take center stage in our current routine.  If you would like to utilize IXL in your homeschool family memberships start at just $9.95 per month or $79 per year.  For more information or to purchase a family membership, visit the IXL website.

You can connect further with IXL via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Click to read Crew Reviews
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Friday, November 07, 2014

A Break from the Norm

Sometimes it becomes evident that a diversion is needed from the mundane, everyday routine.  Don't get me wrong.  Our routine is a good one, and it works well for us, but sometimes changing things up a bit is just what's needed to add a little fun and adventure into the normal course of living.  Since the kids and I have done so well at staying on track with our academic schedule, and we really don't take any breaks, it was easy to throw caution to the wind this week and head out for some spontaneous shopping and exploring.

My favorite day was Wednesday when we decided to take a truckload of donations to K.I.D.S. in St. Clair.  It's a wonderful organization that provides clothing, books, toys, and other needed items to children that are experiencing difficulty in one fashion or another.  We learned about it shortly after the girls came to live with us, and they really blessed us.  Now, we make it a point to give back.  This time was the first time I directly involved the children in the process.

After breakfast and morning devotions the kids and I headed up to Avery's room to go through all of his possessions.  We took out a trash bag and small box of items to donate.  I had already loaded up the back of my truck over the weekend with items from another room I've been actively purging.  We added Avery's old treasures to the load and headed out.

For some reason I missed a turn and it took us a little longer than it should have to get there, but we weren't in a rush.  It was no big deal.  We still made it there in time for the kids to help me unload the donations.  They enjoyed helping.

Once we were finished at K.I.D.S. we found a local party store to purchase some snacks and headed out to travel the waterline.  We found a nice spot to pull off and watch the water and enjoyed our snacks.  Then, we traveled the back way home through the woods and stopped at a park for some fun time to run around and climb.  Bella's favorite is the teeter-totter.

The rest of this week we wrapped up our science and history studies and focused our energies on purging more things from home.  I cannot tell you how good it feels to finally have enough energy to get some of our house back in order.  With kids moving in and out over the past three years we have changed rooms around more than I care to remember.  It has caused some very frustrating disorder.  Step by step I am reclaiming my organized home.

As the kids grow and get more settled in our family they are growing more independent, and for me that means more time to do the things I need and want to do.  There was a point where it seemed they would never go off and explore or play on their own.  Now they play make believe A LOT, and I absolutely love listening to their exploits.  Sometimes they even include me in their script.  Of course I play along.

Right now we all seem to be in a spot where we need a little more freedom.  Play really is the work of the children, and I have been actively encouraging mine to work very hard.  It just seems like that kind of season right now.  It's a time for us to set aside rigorous academics for a more relaxed approach.  I guess that's why we're so good at being eclectic.  We may use a curriculum, or two or three, for this or that, but we can also flow with our natural rhythm as well.  Sometimes that is what's most important.  Aside from a strong faith walk, the thing I wish most for my children is independence and trust in themselves; their instincts and intuition.  Having enough time to freely explore, create, and play is essential to the end goal.

This week of redirection has renewed my strength and my hope in the future.  It's weird how some days life can seem so long, and others it seems way too short.  Recently I was reminded just how important it is to be present in the here and now.  Life is short, and if we do not take the time to enjoy it we will surely miss out.  We are not guaranteed tomorrow, so we should live today.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

If He Had Not Come by David Nicholson - A Review

Christmas Book Review
I have to admit that I have never heard the original version of If He Had Not Come by Nan Weeks, but I can see why it is considered a classic.  The story is thought provoking and a great conversation starter between parent and child.  David Nicholson retells the story sharing his thirty year family tradition so that we can begin our own tradition of reflection and conversation within our own families.  Tradition has been at the forefront of my mind and a big topic for me lately.   Ever since Avery joined our family five years ago, and with the addition of the girls two years ago, I have learned a lot about the importance of tradition.  If He Had Not Come is a perfect fit for our family.

This year is the first year we are planning to take the month of December off from regular academics and take the time to really enjoy the season.  One of the things I have planned is reading Christmas themed books all month.  I really like the idea of keeping a basket of wrapped books in the family room and having the kids take turns picking one to unwrap and read each night before bed.  If He Had Not Come will be in our basket for sure.  I even plan to read it as a special activity for Christmas Eve, as that is when the story takes place.  We'll light candles, make hot cocoa, pop popcorn, and read and discuss the story before bed.  I can think of no better way to send my children off to bed on Christmas Eve.

Even though If He Had Not Come is geared toward the six years and up group, all of my children enjoyed reading it.  (Mine at home are currently three, four, and nine.)  The story is told through the eyes of a young boy.  I like that the relationship in the story is between father and son.  That, along with the artwork reminiscent of days gone by, gives the story a comforting feel lending to that word tradition that keeps popping up around here.  David Nicholson provides some great resources in the back of the book.  Harmony, the resident nine year old, and I enjoyed discussing the questions posed on the Interactive Topics page.  The questions definitely are not geared for toddlers.  Throughout December we will further explore the questions provided by Josh Mulville for Digging Deeper.  We'll even do the Christmas activity in the back.  The little kids are sure to enjoy it with us!

The added resources really make this beautifully bound, hard cover copy of If He Had Not Come a treasure to last generations.  It's a timeless story with a timeless message that is sure to ignite valuable conversation within every family that reads it together.  It's a wonderful resource for beginning a simple tradition that could have eternal implications.

You can order your own Casebound Hardcover copy for $18.95 and begin your own family tradition.  If He Had Not Come is also available for $3.99 as an E-Book.

Follow David Nicholson and his book If He Had Not Come on Facebook here.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Clued in Kids - A Review

Clued In KidsReview
This second journey we are on as a homeschooling family is rather different than the previous one we took.  One of the biggest differences is technology.  Clued in Kids is a prime example of a fun resource that we get to enjoy now that would not have been part of our homeschool experience 17 years ago.  This wonderful, educational resource came about as the realization of one mom's childhood dream.  How exciting is that?

The motivation behind Clued in Kids is to provide a fun and healthy way to educate our children while being reminded that life is a journey to treasure.  Mission accomplished!  Our family loves opportunities to share fun times with each other as well as other homeschool families.  This year we are gathering together once per month to share activities relevant to our current course of study with a nearby family traveling a similar course.  This month the gathering was at our home, and I was excited to tie in our Gluten-Free Treasure Hunt as well as our Soccer Treasure Hunt with our current studies in human biology.  I'm sure my three would have enjoyed the hunt on their own, but some things are are even more fun when shared with friends.

Our afternoon together went like this:

1 - Explain and execute Soccer Treasure Hunt.

2 - Make articulated hand.  (I'll share more on this another time.)

3 - Explain and execute Gluten-Free Treasure Hunt.

5 - Snack and Free Time.

6 - Dinner

Clued In KidsReview
Since we had already studied the importance of muscles and our need to exercise them, the Soccer Treasure Hunt was an easy tie-in.  The kids worked together to solve the puzzles and locate each clue.  I had everything set-up before they got here.  I created a treasure box out of an old shoe box and purchased a treasure for each child from the dollar store.  For this hunt everyone received a different game as their treasure.  The suggestion from the author on labeling each clue with a specific child's name was one that was very much appreciated on my end.  We did our hunts with seven children ranging in age from three-years-old to 14.  Even though some of the kids in our group were outside of the recommended Pre-K through elementary age range they still very much enjoyed participating in the treasure hunts.  Labeling the clues ensured that everyone got a turn, or two depending, and that skill level appropriate challenges were given to each child.  None of us were very familiar with the sport of soccer, so we all learned something new.

Some of the kids working on one of the clues.

The Clued in Kids website offers an abundance of treasure hunts on various topics including health, holidays, sports, and education related subjects.  Middle and high school level hunts are in the works.  You can even use their Puzzlemaker to create your own customized treasure hunts!  One feature that I really like is that you can purchase a treasure hunt in a greeting card.  Oh, the possibilities!  We are currently waiting for our 13th grandbaby to enter this world.  With raising three young ones of our own it is very challenging to be an involved Nana and Papa.  This is a wonderful way for me to be able to send a little love and fun through the mail to our grands.  I am very excited about doing that in the future.  Here is a video demonstrating the process of the treasure hunt:

Clued In KidsReview
Our second treasure hunt was the Gluten-Free Treasure Hunt.  Honestly, I chose this for personal reasons.  Our family has been directly impacted by the whole gluten madness, and this was a fun way to learn a little more about why some of us are sensitive to gluten in our diet.  Food allergies have become a norm in our society, and it seems we know many people that suffer due to sensitivities.  You can read about the Clued in Kids author's personal journey of discovery with autoimmune disease here.  It was exciting to have a fun way to educated the kids on gluten sensitivity and hopefully empower them to be more aware of the issue and why it is important for some people to avoid gluten in their food.  It was nice to watch the older kids get excited and help the younger kids figure out their clues.  At the end of this treasure hunt everyone received a gluten-free snack, and they all enjoyed it.  Some were amazed that the cookie included in their snack bag was gluten-free.  This treasure hunt was a nice prerequisite to the next topic in our biology book, digestion.

One of the older kids helping a younger one figure out a clue.

It was fun gathering together and being able to provide enriching activities for the children in such an easy fashion.  I wish I could download, print, and prepare all of the activities in my life in under 10 minutes.  Now, that would be the day!  (Maybe my house would actually stay clean.)  You can purchase your own treasure hunt download for $5.99 and instantly provide a fun and enriching activity for your children.  Sign up for their newsletter and receive a FREE treasure hunt!

The treasure!

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Teaching Origins Objectively - A Review

New Liberty Videos Review

New Liberty Videos Review
New Liberty Videos presents a compelling collection of information, compiled from over twenty hours of recorded expert testimony, on the importance of teaching origins and evolution objectively in the public school classroom through the Teaching Origins Objectively DVD.  Many well educated perspectives are shared within the two hour compilation providing a thorough understanding of the importance, and glaring absence, of unbiased discussion within the public education system.  I found the discussion fascinating, compelling, and even disheartening.  Why is it that within such an "advanced" culture we are so closed minded when it comes to open discussion of origins and evolution?  This is truly a fascinating topic.  Why the dishonesty?  Why is it forbidden to discuss openly the evidence that both supports and challenges the theory of evolution?  This is highly intriguing to me.

As I viewed Teaching Origins Objectively the second time around I found myself noting many various, valid points presented by the attending experts.  My personal notes amounted to over ten pages of compelling information and fascinating resources shared by the  expert participants.  I will surely view the DVD a few more times as well as review my notes and follow up on some of the resources I noted.  The two times that I've already viewed this well put together documentary has sparked a desire for me to learn more on the subject of origins and evolution so that I can have a more rounded understanding of the science involved with this topic.

The only thing missing was expert presentation from the Theistic Evolutionists.  They were absent intentionally, barring an attorney that spoke at the end for two hours and forbid any questions in direct violation of the forum agreement, due to an orchestrated boycott of the hearings.  This behavior is eyebrow raising at the very least.  Personally, I find it rather alarming behavior.  When a group of professionals resorts to name calling and strategic, dishonest maneuvering we should pay even closer attention and seriously consider what the purpose of that group really is.

As a parent and grandparent it is more important to me than I ever discerned possible that the education provided our children be as unbiased as possible.  It is important to me that children be taught critical thinking and allowed to practice the process within the educational framework of which they are a student.  So much is to be gained from educated discussion, and so much is to be lost when valid and important pieces of information are missing and/or manipulated out of educational text.  If we were more educated as parents and grandparents perhaps the education of future generations would be provided on a more solid foundation.

One fascinating expert who testified was a Muslim journalist from Istanbul, Turkey.  He shared an Eastern perspective on the Western lifestyle, and why what we teach on origins and evolution has such vast implications on our reputation on the other side of the world.  Honestly, it never occurred to me that the widespread hatred of the Western World could be based on the perception that our society is completely materialistic and poisoned by the ideology of materialism.  He shared a quote that resonated with me, "In China you can criticize Darwin and not the government.  In America you can criticize the government and not Darwin."  Something IS wrong with this picture.

Through Teaching Origins Objectively one gains a more clear perspective of the challenge the public educator faces on a daily basis to provide an unbiased education in regard to origins and evolution.  When an educator's job is at risk by simply allowing students to discuss intelligently within the structure of the classroom the intricacies of evolutionary science we, the general public, should be concerned.  This compelling documentary is an excellent resource for anyone even remotely interested in learning more about origins and evolution and its role in the science industry as well as public education.  A copy can be purchased for $19.95 from New Liberty Videos.  For those of you, like me, that rely on subtitles there are none present on this DVD.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Fall Walk

 Now that the kids are getting just a little older I am able to carve out small amounts of time for myself.  I am learning more and more to identify those opportunities and grab them quickly and without guilt.  (Why have I struggled so much with guilt over the years?)  Anyway, progress IS progress, and I am growing and learning each and every day.  It is a beautiful thing.

Speaking of beautiful things, my property puts on quite a show no matter the season.  However, there is something glorious about spring and fall.  It is hunting season here, and my hubby loves his time in the woods in search of the next years dinner.  I do what I can to assist in the process.  Part of that is programming the trail cam and the timed feeder.  For some reason the feeder wasn't working, so I was asked to head out and figure out why.  The kids were very engaged in their activities.  I grabbed my camera and headed out.  It's a rare treat this time of year to get to walk my property.  The hubs is very protective of his space for fear we'll scare all he's hunting away and ruin everything for him.  (As a homeschooling mom with three eager to learn children this is a very challenging time of year for me.  I want to be out there with them exploring everything.  Fall is the perfect time to explore the woods, but we will wait until winter and spring for our closer look.)

Come along with me as I travel my property and explore what the absence of leaves has revealed:

"The God who made the world and all things in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth,
 does not dwell in temples made with hands;" - Acts 17:24

"Worthy are you, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power;
for you created all things, and because of your will they existed,
and were created." - Revelation 4:11

"The heavens are the heavens of the Lord,
but the earth he has given to the sons of men." - Psalms 115:16

From the rising of the sun to its setting
The name of the Lord is to be praised." - Psalms 113:3

"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together."
- Colossians 1:17

"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
And he who is wise wins souls." - Proverbs 11:30

"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad;
for the tree is known by its fruit." - Matthew 12:33

"Moreover the Lord your God will send the hornet against them,
until those who are left and hide themselves from you perish.: - Deuteronomy 7:20

"While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat,
And summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." - Genesis 8:22

"For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb." - Psalms 37:2

"Finally, brethren, rejoice, 
be made complete,
be comforted,
be like-minded, 
live in peace;
and the God of love and peace
will be with you." 
- II Corinthians 13:11

I hope you enjoyed our walk and that it revealed the beauty and peace that lies all around us if we only take the time to look.  The lessons of God are before us if we only allow the time to slowdown, be present, and open our soul to receiving the gifts of God through nature.  A peaceful walk alone in nature is sometimes all we need to nourish our soul and open our hearts to God.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Family Traditions

We have the most amazing Women's Ministries team within our region.  Our church camp is phenomenal, and the most wonderful programs take place there.  This past weekend Harmony and I got to visit Camp Au Sable for our first ever Mother Daughter Retreat.  They put on an amazing program.  The Women's Ministries ladies really have a talent for making everyone feel special.

As we walked up to the main building for registration we were greeted by a fun row of colorful pinwheels and a ladybug light lined roof adorned with those fun party banners with the little pointed flags.  We entered the lobby to a 1950's diner setting where we signed in, made fun, polka-dot themed name tags, crafted a picture frame, and entered our names into drawings for the opportunity to win prizes.

Upon entering the main auditorium we found ourselves in the audience of the set of a 1950's home complete with beautiful turquoise-blue kitchen appliances, old school black and white checker board flooring, and the type of sewing machine my grandmother used to use.  We chose our matching aprons and posed for a picture.  The stage had been set for the weekend very effectively.

As things unfolded we learned about the value of being a woman in today's family.  The mother and daughter speakers did a wonderful job of teaching about tradition and how the Jews celebrate various things throughout the year.  Their personal experiences were insightful and refreshing, and they did a wonderful job appealing to the vast age range of participants.  We were in the company of daughters, granddaughters, mothers, sisters, and grandmothers.  It was a beautiful mix of women and future women.

The big topic of discussion was tradition, and this is a subject dear to my hear.  I long for tradition and so regret that I've not done a better job of instilling the importance of tradition within my children.  Guess it's time to work on the next generation.  We are carrying on some traditions of old and creating some new ones within our family.  Since we get to participate in a round two of parenting, there's no better time for us to learn from the past.

Current Traditions in Our Family -

Special Birthday Meals and Dessert
One on One Lunch Out with Mom on Birthday - Kid's Choice
First Day of School Photo Shoot
Annual 4-H Fair Dollar Day
New Year's Eve Indian Fry Bread Tacos with Friends
Christmas Eve Music Service with Mom and Looking at Lights
A Whole Month Break from School for December
Sledding and Hot Cocoa in the Winter
Lighting Candles for Sabbath in the Winter Months
Christmas Dinner with Mom
Nacho Bar, Taco Soup, and Tres Leche Cake with the Family for Christmas
Make Ornaments for the Grandkids
Read Stories at Bedtime

Traditions I'd Like to Add -

Annual Family Campout at Our House
Annual Family Vacation
Jesus Tree
Tamales Christmas Eve
Thankful Tree or Thankful Box at Thanksgiving
Special Plate for Birthday Meals
Celebrate Baptism or Baby Dedication Day
Decorating a Tree for Wildlife in the Winter
Last Day of School Pictures
Visit a Tree Farm for Christmas
Attend a Local Fall Festival
Friday Night Supper - same each week
Family Night - popcorn and a movie or game
Annual Photo Book - view on New Year's Eve
Make Resurrection Cookies for Easter

Some of the benefits of family traditions include fostering a stronger family connection, providing a feeling of security to the children, fostering a sense of belonging, imparting and reinforcing values, and helping children to become happy and generous adults.


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