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


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