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!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling #155: Smoky Mountain Edition

Welcome to the Smoky Mountain edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling! On our side of the Smokies, we are nestling in for winter and hoping for sprinkling of snow. There is nothing quite like seeing the mountains topped with Christmas snow!

If you live near mountains, you probably find that they are a constant source of inspiration. All of the hustle and bustle of this season can be stressful, so I thought this would be a perfect time to share a bit of mountain magic with the Carnival of Homeschooling readers. We have a variety of fantastic posts this time around, from a literature lesson comparing Little Women and Twilight to the Christmas tree as a metaphor for homeschooling. As they say in these parts, "set and rest a spell" while you browse the carnival entries and enjoy the mountain views.

"When we tire of well-worn ways, we seek the new. This restless craving in the souls of men spurs them to climb, and to see the mountain view."
(Ella Wheeler Wilcox)

In pondering the common statement made to homeschooling parents, "I really admire you" and "I could never do that," Vickie at Sidetracked Moms reflects on her own 20-year homeschooling journey in Some Thoughts on Why I Homeschool My Children. Don't miss this encouraging post.

In Advice for Unschoolers, Susan of The Expanding Life shares quotes that are "so rich with meaning, they speak for themselves."

The post Demented on Seabird Chronicles ponders the definition of homeschooling. Check out her post and give her some feedback!

If you are having a hard day, head on over to read Whenever You Think You are Doing the Hardest Job Imaginable on No Fighting, No Biting. A hero, indeed!

"Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books."
(John Lubbock)

David at MoneyNing emphasizes the importance of giving kids an education in money and shares ways to Let Your Children Handle Their Own Finances.

Heather at Mother By Nature discusses mistakes she made and lessons learned along the way with her "hyperactive kinesthetic learner" in Learning Math Lessons the Hard Way. My favorite quote: "How ‘advanced’ or ‘behind’ he was at any particular age along the way is utterly and completely irrelevant."

Sandra at On Living By Learning recounts in After Twilight, Reading Little Women On The Road how she finally got the chance to share the treasured girlhood novel with her children, in spite of their protests that it was "too boring." Since her daughter is a Twilight fan, she took the opportunity to make the literary discussion incorporate both Twilight's heroine Bella as well as Alcott's famous little women! Great discussion questions are included on this post.

Suzy's Scribbles recounts how the whole family gets involved in a science project in Mouse Hunt. Nothing like a bit of excitement to break up your homeschool day!

Not all science projects are good ones. Kim at Kim's Play Place reveals some Terrible Science Experiments included in a popular homeschooling science book.

Christine of The Thinking Mother talks about A New Venture for her 8-year-old son: guitar lessons in the comfort of his own home!

“I've learned that everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you're climbing it.”
(Andy Rooney)

Jena, a seasoned unschooler of three teenagers, answers questions from an inquiring mind. How did she do it? What was it like in the "early days? Read this interview at Life Without School.

Spunky at SpunkyHomeschool tells the story of meeting an old homeschooling friend in When Friends Quit Homeschooling. As Spunky says, "If you've been around homeschooling as long as I have, you will probably encounter families along the way who will decide that homeschooling is no longer the right choice for them. Change is never easy, but that doesn't mean I have to make it harder on them." A valuable lesson for all of us in being gracious.

Laura at Practical Homeschooling discusses a new path for The Resistant Child as she eagerly awaits a shipment of Legos.

Tammy at Just Enough, and Nothing More talks about how Politicians Can Teach Us to Be Better Homeschoolers.

"You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."
(Isaiah 55:12

At HomeschoolBuzz.com, Kathy reviews the Trigger Memory Systems website, including two educational products she uses in her own homeschool: Clean 'N' flip charts, and Times Tales. These charts must be pretty awesome, as NerdMom is also singing their praises on Nerd Family Things. NerdMom is even hosting a Clean 'N' Flip Charts Giveaway!

Kris at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers (I love that name every time I see it!) has created her own Chore Charts that work great for her family. This flexible system grows easily with her family.

Jacque at Walking Therein reminds us that Chores Are More Than Work. As she says, "it is of great importance to teach our children to run a household." In this post, she shares a glimpse at their daily chore schedules as well as tips, motivators, and Scripture verses.

And HowToMe has a great idea for How To Help Kids with Daily Chores. What a great way for kids (and parents) to see those chores accomplished!

“Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a skyscraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering unexpected connections between our starting points and its rich environment. But the point from which we started out still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our adventurous way up.”
(Albert Einstein)

At Why Homeschool, Henry finds another study which helps explains why uncertified parents can so successfully teach their own children in The Smoking Gun Which Puts to Rest the Claim that Teachers Need to Be Certified.

Elena of My Domestic Church remembers Words of Wisdom from homeschooling mom Missy Gray, from Missy's blog just a few months before her death.

Last week's Carnival of Homeschooling hostess, Miss Amanda of The Daily Planet, shares A Crash Course on Spiritual Warfare Giveaway Everyday, featuring a new seminar by Cindy Rushton.

Renae at Life Nurturing Education reviews Barbara Frank's The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschooling. Sounds like a book we all need!

Over at The Informed Parent, Mary shares thoughts on Enrollment Data on Homeschoolers, pondering the accuracy of current research and statistics.

“Keep close to Nature's heart...and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
(John Muir)

Lynn at Eclectic Education shares a precious Christmas Lapbook. There's still time to make one with your own little ones! Her great photos and links will be a great help.

Cristina at Home Spun Juggling shares a comic strip and post in which she sees her family's Christmas tree as a metaphor for their homeschooling life.

Carletta at Successful Homeschooling wonders how your children will remember the Christmas season in The Truth About Christmas. What a powerful post!

At Beverly's Homeschooling Blog, you can find a pattern and instructions for a picture Christmas tree craft that Beverly made in school in 1965. Just click on the photo of the Christmas tree for this adorable Vintage Christmas Tree Craft.

Thanks for visiting this week's Carnival! I hope you have a wonderful week and that you've gleaned some good information from this week's posts. Next week's Carnival of Homeschooling will be held at Why Homeschool, which is also the home of the Carnival of Homeschooling (archives of past Carnivals here) . You can submit your blog post here. And I'll leave you with one more photo and an appropriate line from one of my favorite Christmas carols…

Go, tell it on the mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain
That Jesus Christ is born!

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!)