Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year in Review First Sentence Meme

As the year winds down, it's always fun to go back and scan the year in blog posts. Today I'll be playing the "First Sentence" meme. Tomorrow, I'll be doing the "Favorite Posts" post. Join me if you want! Here's how…

How to Play.
1) Look back to your archives for 2008.
2) Collect the first sentence you wrote every month for the whole year. (This doesn't have to be the literal first day of the month--just the first post.)
3) Entertain us on your blog, link back here, and post a comment here with the link to your blog. (And if you're blogless, just remember the first sentence you spoke every month for the whole year and post it here.)

And here are mine:

January 1:
"Wake up! Wake up! It's 8:45!" (Laurel)

February 2: Apparently today is Blog Poetry Slam Day and so I chose this poem by e.e. cummings because it is one of my absolute favorites, and also in memory of our friend randy landry, who once rewrote this whole poem with a few changes and claimed it as his own ("I did not copy it from e.e. cummings!"), and who made the last line, "No one, not even the snow, has such fragile wrists."

March 3: I have about a zillion things to blog about (or rather, "about which to blog" but whatever).

April 2: This has been a birthday week: Jesse turned 15, and Abigail Rhapsody (yes, you're reading that right) was born to my niece, Esther.

May 1: Whatever you do, find ways to read poetry. Eat it, drink it, enjoy it, and share it.”
~Eve Merriam

June 1: We officially ended our school year on Friday, so I'm ready to face the summer projects.

July 3: The July edition of the Recipe Box Swap calls for BBQ main and side dishes.

August 2:
I am sitting in my parents' bedroom in Geneva, New York.

September 1:
Although I do consider this blog my blog headquarters, I also post regularly at SmallWorld Reads, my reading and writing blog.

October 1:
Um, I'm a boring snack mom.

November 1:
What a fabulous day this has been.

December 1:
This Monday Memory post is more of a memory-in-motion: an anniversary post.

Wasn't that fun? Your turn!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Three Beautiful Things

1. Scooters: With the temps up in the 70s and lots of sunshine, the kids were out riding their new scooters off and on all day. There is something lovely about those faces concentrating on coming down a hill and then breaking into smiles at the end.

2. Sunset: Black silhouettes of winter trees against a brilliant December orange, pink and silver sunset.

3. Pizza: After a week filled with an abundance of rich food, the simplicity of cheap pizza was perfect.

What beautiful things are in your life this weekend?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

"It comes every year and will go on forever. And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs. Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary, in the secret spaces of her heart."
~ Marjorie Holmes, American writer

Merry Christmas from our home at SmallWorld!
May you have the blessings that come with the greatest Gift of all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah

That was the theme of our special family Sunday night worship service this past Sunday. Since the first night of Hanukkah fell on a Sunday evening this year, our pastor thought it would be fun to educate the congregation about the Festival of Lights, highlighting the fact that, as a Jew, Jesus would have celebrated this dedication remembrance.

As part of the evening, several of our church girls did two Hebrew dances. Laurel has taken Hebrew dance off and on in the past; she's going to start again more diligently in February.

I thought it would be fun to serve a taste of traditional Hanukkah cuisine, so I spent Sunday afternoon whipping up latkes and applesauce. I made 100 small latkes, which turned out to be enough for everyone to have one and some to have extras. The kids went crazy over them; I left out the onions.

From what I've read, the potato latke has a big role in the culinary tradition of Hanukkah. The Hanukkah connection has nothing to do with the potato and everything to do with the oil in which it is fried. Jews all over the world eat foods fried in oil on Hanukkah to commemorate the Miracle of the Oil.

I'm going to add latkes to my list of yummy things to make on a more regular basis. These were incredibly easy and really delicious. The recipe is below.

Easy Latkes

1 bag (24 oz.) shredded potatoes for hash browns, somewhat thawed
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp baking powder
3-4 TBS flour
vegetable oil for frying

Heat 1/2-inch oil in big skillet to medium high heat. Place potatoes in a large bowl. Add eggs to the bowl. Add salt and baking powder, then sprinkle in flour. Combine with a wooden spoon. Drop mixture into oil in 3-inch mounds, press down gently with spatula to form patties. Fry in batches of 4 to 6 patties depending on the size of your skillet, 1-inch apart, until golden, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Drain latkes on paper towels. Serve with warm applesauce (recipe below) and sour cream.

Truly Luscious Applesauce

About 8 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into fourths
1/2-1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 TB. cinnamon

Directions: Put the apples in a pot. Add everything else. Cook slowly with lid on for about 20-30 minutes, mashing the apples occasionally and stirring. Take the lid off the last 10 minutes to thicken, but be sure to stir to keep from scorching, like I do sometimes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Monday Memory: First Christmases


Jesse, 1993, age 9 months. Living in Oxford, Ohio.


Laurel, 1997, 3 1/2 months. (Jesse, 4 1/2.) Living in Ames, Iowa and covered in snow.


Duncan's first Christmas was quite literally his birthday: December 25, 2000. Laurel was 3 and Jesse was 7 1/2. Living here in Tennessee.

Christmas Books That Make Me Cry

The mark of a good Christmas book, for me, is that it makes me cry. We have a good number of children's books for Christmas, and I try to add a new book each year. We have some of the popular ones like The Polar Express and some silly but sentimental ones like Mercer Mayer's Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, starring Little Critter. Some of the books we give the obligatory seasonal read and then put back on the rack.

But I have my favorites. These are the books that, without fail, make me cry at some point. My voice catches, a child's head pops up and looks at me and says, "Mama! Are you crying again?" I can't help it.

1. The Tale of the Three Trees (retold by Angela Elwell Hunt): This book ties it all together—Jesus' birth, life, and death—in a simple but eloquent story. I get choked up on almost every page.

2. The Story of Holly and Ivy (by Rumer Godden): This one takes us a couple of reading periods to get through, but it is so well worth it. This is the story of an orphan who wants a grandmother, a doll who wants a home, and a woman who wants a family. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

3. The House Without a Christmas Tree (by Gail Rock): I loved this TV special when I was a kid, but I'm not sure I'd ever read the book until a few years ago when I picked it up at a yard sale. Now my daughter and I read this story annually of a girl who begs her father for a Christmas tree, and I always cry at the end.

4. A Wish for Wings That Work (by Berkeley Breathed): Is it weird to get weepy over a book about a penguin named Opus? I can't help it; there's something about Santa saying, "Ho, ho, ho, go!" to a penguin whose wings don't work that brings tears every time. Also, this was one of the books we bought for our oldest for his first Christmas, so it's extra sentimental.

5. The First Night (by B.G. Hennessy): This short book starts off with one of my favorite Bible verses: "And the World became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14) and proceeds to tell the birth of Christ in simple but poetic text. I especially love the rustic look of the paintings, done on butternut wood and shaped with a jigsaw. It's the simplicity of a birth—of a new life—that gets me every time.

And so those are my Top 5 favorite Christmas books. Do you have one that makes you cry? If so, leave a comment and I'll check it out! (And my apologies to those of you who also read SmallWorld Reads for this duplicate post!)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Birthday Party Day

I have a Christmas baby. An honest-to-goodness, born-on-Christmas-Day boy. That's him on his first birthday, seven years ago. I miss that baby face.

Birthday parties are always a challenge with a December birthday because we're all so busy with Christmas activities, but I've always had a good party for Duncan. We've had an assortment of themes, including knights in shining armor, dinosaurs, army, and I forget what else; but this year I took the easy way out and—at Duncan's request—had his party at a local gymnastics center where he does a weekly class. Lovely. I needed the absolute simplicity this year of having someone else do the party. All I had to do was make the cake and assemble the goody bags.

I was very pleased with the cake, for both the ease in making it as well as its obviously stunning appearance. The recipe for this ice-cream cake is at the Breyers website, and I highly recommend this. I do, however, suggest that you keep in mind that a freezer is necessary to keep the ice-cream cake, um, frozen. Unbelievably, the gymnastics center did not have a freezer that could accommodate an ice-cream cake. It began to resemble a somewhat soupy ice-cream sundae shortly after Duncan blew out the candle, but it was tasty anyway.

Here's my birthday boy now. That's Ezra next to him; his mom and I were pregnant together, so they have been together since before birth. And Patrick next to Ezra, who used to look just like Christopher Robin.

This is the amazing Noah, who can do 10 back handsprings in a row, shimmy all the way up the rope, and leap over tall buildings. He may be small, but he is powerful!

A bunch of hot, sweaty, smelly boys and one sweet little girl came to the party. The other little girls who were invited couldn't come, and I was impressed this girl got right in there and played with the boys. If Duncan weren't already betrothed to someone else, she'd make a great wife. I like girls with a little spunk.

I would have had more pictures, but my battery died. Of course.

As a special treat, Duncan got to have his friend Caleb spend the night. They played without ceasing for hours and hours and actually fell asleep at a decent hour. And after birthday party day, I actually feel relaxed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Waterpark Day!

Our homeschooling support group had this amazing opportunity yesterday. A brand new indoor waterpark in nearby Sevierville needed kids for its Grand Opening media blitz, but, hmmm, all the kids are in school—except the thousands of homeschoolers in the area! Fortunately, one of our BHEA dads works for a public relations firm and mentioned that he could round up a good number of families for the big day. So over a hundred families from our group (and word snuck out to a Knoxville group or two so we had some extras) showed up expecting to get to play around for a couple of hours. What we didn't expect was a boxed lunch for each child and a full buffet with everything from eggrolls to crab legs to carrot cake for the parents!

With a wave pool, waterslides, surf pool, tube slides, and more, this is heaven for the kids (and parents who like this stuff!) For parents who don't, there is an indoor/outdoor hot-tub set off in a quiet corner and plenty of quiet places to sit and watch.

This place is fantastic. If you are taking a trip to the Smokies and like to hang out in the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area, as most tourists do, you might consider booking a room here (especially in fall and winter). From now until Dec. 31, they have a great grand-opening special for rooms booked anytime in 2009 (but you have to make your reservations by Dec. 31).

I think they should give me a free room for this promo, don't you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Really easy, amazingly delicious!

Chocolate Peppermint Bark

2 16-oz. bags semi sweet chocolate chips
1 16-oz bag white chocolate chips
6-8 candy canes

Unwrap 6-8 candy canes and put in a ziploc bag. Wrap a towel around the bag and crush candy canes with a meat tenderizer or whatever works for you. This shouldn't be powdery; some small bits are good.

Melt two 16-ounce bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I do it in the microwave for one minute and then stir, and then at 30-second intervals, stirring after each 30 seconds until melted.

In a separate bowl, as soon as the chocolate chips are done melt, one 16 oz. bag of white chocolate chips in the same way.

When the chocolate chips are completely melted (and while you are in the process of melting the white chips), add the peppermint to the chocolate. Mix well and spread evenly on a cookie sheet. When the white chocolate is completely melted, drop by spoonfuls onto the chocolate and swirl with a knife to marbelize.

Put in fridge until hard. When it's completely hard, you can take a knife and break it up into fudge-sized pieces. That's it!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Gift Idea: Bananagrams

At least a few times a day, Dr. H. and I play a game on Facebook called WordTwist with a college friend, Laura. (For the record, she beats me pretty much all the time, and she beats Dr. H. much of the time.) So last week she sent us a fabulous surprise in the mail: the game Bananagrams. My 11-year-old daughter and I were headed off for a long performance weekend, the vast majority of which was to be spent waiting patiently in the green room. I stuck Bananagrams into her bag, thinking it might help pass the hours away.

I had no idea just how much attention the game would attract! Kids of various ages instantly gathered around as Laurel and her friend Caitlin began to play. Moms came to check it out and asked what it was and where they could get it. I had to sit down and play with them, too, as I find word games irresistable!

Basically, Bananagrams is like Scrabble, except that you aren't confined by a board, you work independently, and you don't score according to the value of the letters. The object of the game, as the directions say, is to work quickly to use up all your letters in your own crossword puzzle and then yell "Split!" and you and the other players pick up another letter. You keep going until all the tiles are used up, and you then yell, "Bananas!"

Of course, we instantly altered the rules to fit our needs. You can do this in endless ways. One time we set a 5-minute time limit, so that whoever had used the most tiles at 5 minutes, won the game. The girls wanted to play by using proper names, so we tried that way. You can also be category specific, as in creating only animal words, or kinds of food, etc.

I wasn't anticipating what a great game this would be for my second-grader. He and I play a low-key version of the game. I'm flexible about allowing him to trade in tiles, and I give him hints at words he might make. He absolutely loves it and has been begging me to play. I was thrilled to see how good his spelling is, too! This would be a great game to use in all kinds of ways in homeschooling: spelling, vocabulary, language arts (make words that are nouns or verbs or adjectives, for example).

Another great thing about the game: it comes in a small zippered, banana-shaped pouch which could easily fit in a purse (or a Christmas stocking!). This would be fanastic to bring with you whenever you are going to have to wait. The great thing is that not only do the kids love it, but I love playing it, too!

Really, this is a multigenerational game that you could safely give to anyone on your Christmas list, from age 6 through grandparents. It will be a huge hit!

(And thank you again, Laura!)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Three Beautiful Things: Japan, Softness, Chocolate

1. Journey to Japan. A local, as-yet-unopened Montessori school has been doing classes for homeschoolers this month. For five days in December, the kids are at the school learning all about Japan, from cooking to art to culture, and everything in-between. Nearly all of the 13 other kids are great friends of my kids, and they have been having a blast. And I've had four (so far) 5-hour days to catch up on things. For a homeschooling mom, five hours to oneself is almost incomprehensible. The other days I had meetings or shopping to do, but today I stayed home and did catch-up jobs at home. I can see my counters!

2. Slippers and a very soft blanket. Yesterday we had our annual American Heritage Girls Christmas Tea, and Caroline and I, as co-coordinators, were presented with an abundance of purely lovely gifts. Tonight I am enjoying being slathered in lotion that smells fabulous and wearing new slippers, and I'm about to go cover up in my new outrageously soft blanket to read.

3. Chocolate. As if I didn't get enough delectables at the Christmas Tea, Randy came home today with a box of Godiva chocolates from a former graduate student. I will probably be feeling woozy by the night's end.

What beautiful things are in your life lately?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ingredients for a Mother/Daughter/Grandmother Tea

A sweet girl in her new Christmas dress

Beautiful decorations

Teapots and helpers

Tables filled with cookies and tea, and most importantly with mothers, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, and special friends.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Homeschool Memoirs #17: Chores

This week's Homeschool Memoir asks for how we do chores at our house: "how you order your day with school and getting housework done. How do you decide which chores should be done by which child, of which age?"

We've tried various approaches through the years. While we don't do this consciously, I would say that we use the phrase "family responsibilities" rather than "chores." My kids have had the kind of thorough immersion in historical fiction that when hear the word "chores," they think of milking cows and sweeping the hearth. They also know that "chores" is supposed to bring about a batch of grumbling. It's all a matter of semantics, really; however, our goal is to foster the idea that we all have to work together to make our home run smoothly. Thus, the term family responsibility.

Our kids have certain responsibilities—cleaning their rooms, making their beds, setting the table, etc.— that are directly tied to their allowances. Here is a post about our allowance system that really explains the whole process. For other jobs, I just ask, and they do it. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I don't "ask" them: "Hey, would you kids like to pick up the living room?" Rather, I tell them: "It is time to pick up the living room." Sometimes I'll make jobs fun by playing a game of I Spy ("I spy something brown and bumpy that belongs to Duncan") or picking up color-by-color or by having each pick up a certain number of things ("Everyone pick up 22 things, even if they're not yours.").

Something that I used to do frequently when the kids were younger was called "15/15." For this, I would set the timer for 15 minutes, and we would all clean. When the timer when off, we'd stop and play. They absolutely loved this system, and I have no idea why I don't employ it more regularly. Perhaps today I'll start it again!

Our house goes through various phases of cleanliness and clutter. If we have a particularly busy week, we'll have piles of stuff everywhere. I would be fairly horrified for anyone to walk in my house right now. But then we'll have weeks like this one, when activities are at a minimum and we can attack the chaos. I do daily maintenance, of course. I was a Flylady follower years ago, and she taught me the basics of managing one's home: shine your sink, get dressed, put on shoes, declutter for a few minutes at a time, etc. I am still fairly consistent with all of those things.

Basically, we've trained our kids from toddlerhood that they are a part of this family, and that in order for our home to run smoothly, they must help. They know that they can't watch TV or get on the computer, etc., unless they have done what I've asked them to. As they get older, their responsibilities and expectations increase. I have been really happy in the past year to see that our 15-year-old regularly cleans his room, including vacuuming, without ever being asked. I can't remember the last time that I reminded him to get his room clean. I think it all comes down to years of training, consistency, and, well, a kid who likes a clean room.

* Guess what? I'm hosting the next Carnival of Homeschooling here at SmallWorld! I've been an avid reader of the Carnival for a couple of years, and I'm excited to have a chance to host finally. Any blog post you write that has to do with homeschooling can be submitted by using the form here. If you've never submitted, just look back over your past posts and find one you especially liked, and send it in!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Tree Day

Sixty-six degrees at 4:30 p.m.: if you can't have a good deep snow, then it's a perfect day for Christmas-tree hunting.

And the hunt is on. So many choices!

How about this one?

This one?

I don't really care. I have him.

And them.

At last! We found the perfect tree! Not too short, not too fat, not too skinny, not too tall.

Now to get it chopped down and home before the rain sets in.

A flurry of ornaments: remember this? remember this? Who made this one?

I can't help but get just a little teary-eyed at the sweet, homemade ornaments and photos of little faces.

It's done, and beautiful as ever. Our home is magically transformed.

This is my life. It is a very, very good one.