Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ballad of Matthew Begats

Ages ago when we started our New Testament study I had wanted to purchase this fun book. The pictures are just beautiful, and the cd/song was really helpful in making sense of all the "begats" as we read through the lineage written out in Matthew. The catch was that while CBD will ship as far as Australia, they send it via a boat. A slow boat. Probably the slowest boat. There's no exaguration when they state that it will take 6-8 weeks in stuff arriving. By the time we start to forget we ordered it, or begin to wonder if it was thrown overboard to help the boat move faster it finally arrives. It's often worth the wait, but when we found the same ballad online we opted out of buying the book. Slight pitty, because while we get the full fun of the song, the pictures in the book were more then worth the $2.49. 

Anyway, today we were discussing the lineage of Jesus, or rather Mary. I was trying to explain what a direct descendant was when I remembered this song. So I pulled it up and we played through it several times. We then had many fun and long conversations about the various people mentioned, especially the ones we knew more commonly or the ones that have a special "extra" near their name. For instance, the boys understood why King David had a crown, but they didn't remember why Solomon was gold.  They also wondered why on earth Uriah was shot off the tree, and once I told them of the story (and tried not to laugh while remembering the name of Uncle D's really annoying chow-chow) Morgan said, "Oh, that explains EVERYTHING!"

Now you have to understand something. Morgan is one of a kind, aren't we all? He can sit and ponder things for days, or weeks, or even months. He can hear one quip of something and have a dawning light pop on in his head that puts all his dots on the i's and crosses on the t's. So when he said that we were all at a total lost. You see, not only weren't we entirely sure what "everything" was now explained, the conversation we'd been having had ended and he was happily writing out something in his lapbook. However, not being one for suspense I said, "Explains what?"

"Well, I was just thinking of the story of David and the lady and then I realized why there's a Veggie Tale movie about a King who's really greedy and takes all the ducks." I gotta say, King George And The Duckie wasn't top on my mind of "everything" make sense all of a sudden. But, I've also gotta say, that I'm glad he put two and two together himself. It's always a lot more fun when we come to those conclusions on our own, isn't it? 

Christmas Nativity Cookie Boxes

Making our Christmas Nativity Cookie Boxes is a bit of a tradition around here. You see, being a bi-cultural family we're bound to be influenced from both cultures. In America there is a lot of baking that happens around Christmas time, and my family, like thousands of others, took part in massive amounts of baking.

Especially cookies. Just the smell of anise makes me think of Christmas and cookies. Hours spent rolling and decorating cookies. Laughter over mixing the last few colors of frosting together only to discover we'd come up with some nauseating color of green that many military men are forced to wear.

When we go to the local Honey Farm, I race for the anise honey while everyone else makes bee lines for chocolates and fruited honeys. While the boys might fight over Vanilla and Raspberry honey I'm left with an entire bottle of blissful anise honey to enjoy all for myself.

We always made roll-out cookies at Christmas time sometimes using a family recipe and when it couldn't be found reverting to the one in Mom's old Betty Crocker cookbook. The orange one that wasn't falling apart nearly as badly as the spiral bound one, which was always my personal favorite. We'd substitute anise seed for vanilla and we'd carry on with business as usual.

There are some traditions that one must carry on even when they are all grown up and don't live at home anymore. Each of us have them, and in our house one such tradition is making cookies at Christmas. Then one year, I decided to take a new twist on the whole idea. I thought I'd be really creative and make a cookie for each participant in the Nativity story. The immediate participants, that is. Only, being the mother of 7 month old and a 2.5 year old things didn't go exactly as planned. I managed to make many of the ones I'd planned, but the end results didn't look anything like I'd planned, and several bits were missing. My family didn't mind and accepted their boxes of goodies with open arms and smiled when I attempted to explain what I'd tried to create.

The next year I was feeling a bit wiser and I spent many months working on the cookies. The easier ones I'd have the boys help with, as much as a 12 month old and 3 year old can help. The tougher things were made during nap times. All of it was tucked into the freezer, and come Christmas morning we pulled it all out and assembled our various buckets and boxes. We delivered some to our neighbors and some to family. That year, I really was much wiser and had even prepared a little card to go with the cookies that explained the "story" behind them.

And so the tradition has stayed. So much so that now the day to make the cookies are designated throughout December and we find them hidden in our Reindeer Countdown Calendar. The boys are older now too and can help more. Morgan is even capable of mixing up an entire batch of cookies on his own as long as I keep my hovering to a minimal. You know, just verifying that he only uses a half teaspoon of salt and not a half cup, simple things like that. We've even perfected making most of these sweet treats sugar-free, which makes them all that much sweeter because we can fully enjoy an entire box of cookies ourselves!

Interested in making some to share with your own friends and family? I promise they are really easy and you don't need a set of Nativity Cookie Cutters, all though I'd seriously love to snatch this set up this year. All you need is a few of your own trusty, normal, cookie recipes, or you can use mine.

Each year the cookies are boxed up in simple tins, gift boxes, or buckets. We line that container with tissue paper and use muffin liners to separate the cookies. We usually aim to give a half dozen to a dozen or so cookies to each family based on how many people are in a family. We don't want to inundate a small family with gobs of cookies, nor do we want to leave a large family wishing they had enough to go around! We also include a fun little tag/card with our cookies (printable coming soon) that tells the story and describes the cookies.

Angel -- "Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy." -- Mexican Wedding Cake (aka Russian Tea cake)

Donkey -- Seven Layer Bars (to make these sugar free use homemade chocolate, graham crackers, & homemade condensed milk)

Mary -- "thou art highly favoured.. blessed is thee among women."  -- Milk Chocolate Fudge (use homemade chocolate & homemade condensed milk to make this sugar free; we prefer to add chopped dried cherries and marshmallows over nuts to this fudge.)

Joseph -- "being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord bidden him." -- Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (to make these sugar free use coconut sugar, maple sugar, or date sugar; we prefer to do 1/2 c butter & 1/2 c coconut oil)

Baby Jesus -- "and she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes - For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." -- Buried Cherry Cookies (to make these sugar free use homemade chocolate, homemade condensed milk, & pick a low sugar cherries or sugar-free bottled cherry)

Manger -- "and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." -- HayStacks (to make these sugar free use double the amount of [homemade] chocolate called for and omit the butterscotch. I have never used the peanuts in this recipe as I never recall doing so as a kid.)

Shepherds -- "And there were.. shepherds.. keeping watch over their flocks by night." -- Chocolate dipped mini Candy Canes or Pretzel Rods (we brake the big chocolate rods in half and dip their broken ends in chocolate. Either way only dip the item halfway up in chocolate. you can then roll them in crushed peppermint, nuts, or sprinkles. To make sugar-free use homemade chocolate & sugar free peppermint candies)

Herod -- ".. Herod the king.. was troubled." -- Peanut Butter Cookies (to make sugar free use coconut sugar, date sugar, or maple sugar; also use a natural peanut butter with no sugar in it)

Wisemen -- "they presented unto him gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold." -- Gingerbread Camels with Marmalade (to make sugar free use coconut sugar and don't bother to sprinkle the tops with sugar. Roll out and cut with a camel cookie cutter. Make an indent in the middle of the camel with your thumb and add a dallop of all fruit or low sugar marmalade, sprinkle with chopped crystallised ginger if desired. We use coconut oil in place of shortening.)

Star -- "for we have seen his star in the east.. when they saw the star they rejoiced." -- Sugar Cookies or Peppermint Starburst Candy (we shape the cookies in a star and then make a yellow tinted icing to glaze the tops with. We also add a teaspoon or two of anise extract to our dough. You could also make traditional Butter cookies. To make sugar free use coconut sugar.)

Why we chose these cookies:

The recipe for the Angels is handwritten in my Great-Grandmother's cooking notebook, it's always a favorite and the idea for using that recipe came to me due to the fact that it was white. It's also one of the most favorite cookies in the box.  

Mary is chocolate fudge because the way we saw it chocolate (and fudge) is one of the first goodies people go for, especially when it's only served once a year. I like to add the white marshmallows for Mary's purity.

While the Donkey isn't honestly mentioned in the Christmas story, it's something we're use to seeing or associating with the it and so 7 Layer bars sprung to mind because honestly they reminded me of the goat and horse feed we use to use on the farm.

We chose an Oatmeal Cookie for Joseph because we figured oatmeal cookies are pretty ordinary in the world of cookies, but they can have extraordinary surprises in them, like bits of chocolate or dried cranberries. We figure Joseph was just an ordinary man given an extra ordinary job.

The cookie for Jesus was also an easy one. Buried Cherry cookies have a sweet cherry hidden inside of them. The name and the hidden cherry made us think of the burial and resurrection of Christ. Not to mention the dark chocolate of the cookies reminds us of our sins while the cherry inside reminds of the price paid to redeem us from them.

Then there's the manger. We use to make Haystacks quite often when I was little. I remember melting the butterscotch and chocolate over the double boiler before or after church and then waiting, impatiently, for the cookies to cool. The name alone really drew me to the cookie for representing the manger.

The pretzels use to be our ideal item for representing the Shepherds. In America you can buy thick long pretzel rods and we use to break them in half and dip them in chocolate. Chocolate coated pretzels are quite yummy and made us think of a walking stick. Here, such pretzels have yet to be found so we've started using candy canes, and sometimes we don't even dip them in chocolate as the little ones are usually individually wrapped. The hook of the candy cane reminded us of a shepherd's crook.

Herod. Wow, what can I say. The man was certainly troubled, to put it lightly. The way we figure it he was also a whole lotta nutty! And when we thought about it that way, well, peanut butter cookies really did fit the bill to represent him.

The wisemen came bearing gifts of spices and gold, and they rode on camels. So this was another simple one to figure out. Gingerbread cookies are a pretty typical Christmas cookie in America so instead of making the beloved "boy" shape (which Morgan truly adores) we shaped ours like camels. There's a lot of sweet smelling spices in those cookies, and we let the marmalade represent the gold.

The star cookie really speaks for itself doesn't it? There have been times when we've shaped all our yummy anise cookies into other things with our fun stash of cookie cutters and when this happens we use a peppermint candy for the star. We just make sure to buy the ones that said "starburst" on them. Not that it truly looks like a star to us, but we let the name do the talking. I'm also a wee bit wiser and remember to make a double batch of these so we can make our stars and the kids can go wild with the other cutters!

And that's it. We tend to make the 7 layer bars last, as I've never frozen them and have no idea how they'd do in the freezer. The fudge is also made closer to the giving away day and hidden in the back of the fridge so sticky fingers don't pinch too much of it. Everything else is frozen. We do freeze the gingerbread camels with their marmalade on them. We do not freeze the stars pre-iced. We do those when we pull them out if we ice them at all. We don't always. Last year we got fancy with it, and I forgot to add the anise to the cookie dough so I felt the lacked huge flavor and thus needed a pinch of icing on top.

I don't have a picture of any of our packed boxes as it's usually quite the scramble to pack them all up before the chocolate melts in the summer heat, or the children attempt to pinch too many of their favorite ones. Then there's the equally mad scramble to find room in the fridge for a half dozen to a dozen boxes of cookies as they await handing out the following day!

You can see what our boxes looked like HERE and grab the free printable card that goes with them HERE.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Free Jesse Tree Devotional

I've heard from a friend today that the Jesse Tree Devotional that we use each year is being offered up for free by the author, Ann Voskamp. It's a beautiful Devotional for the Christmas season, and the ornaments included are gorgeous. They are the same ones we used to make our very own Jesse Tree.

I know I mentioned sharing more detailed information on how we made our ornaments, and hopefully we will soon, but until now this devotional hasn't been available!

Shortly after we purchased it as an ebook several years back from The OldSchoolhouse Store it was removed for updating. I was really disappointed to learn that because I had hoped to purchase a copy to go with a Jesse Tree and Ornaments to have as a give-away here. Due to the lack of the devotional I was unable to do that.

Now that the devotional is up for free you can all pick one up for yourselves! All you have to do is hop on over to Ann's blog and sign up for an email to notify you when she's updated the blog. In the email you'll get a link to the devotional. It's well worth the two minutes of your time that it would take, and you don't have to remain on the email list afterwards either.

School Plans: Christmas Fun

Normally, after Thanksgiving we'd take a month long break from school, but this year we've decided to keep going with a 4 week Christmas study! This has been something that's been long in the making, but something that's taken us a long time to follow through with.

Interestingly enough we're also attempting to keep up with our Christmas Craft Bags, all though I still need to finalize our list of crafts for this year!   I have been gathering up ideas here and there and have several from last year that we didn't get to make. So there's much excitement around here about these little things. We won't start them until Wednesday though.

This week we'll be using the Amanda Bennet Christmas Unit Study I shared information about last week. The boys are still a buzz about this after seeing the lapbook that I made to go along with it. This will be the blunt of our school for the week, along with math journals, and the boys choice of reading material. We're keeping it low key so we can fit in our other fun stuff.

We've also pulled out or Jesse Tree which we'll be doing daily. There's all ready been a few skirmishes over who will get to put the star on and who will go first. I'm pretty sure this happens every single year and somewhere down the line a child will forfeit a turn (or more) in an attempt to move themselves in position to be the one to put the star on.

I picked this up, on sale, over at Currclick for the boys Copywork for the month too. I was debating making something up for them when I spotted this and considering it was only .50 I figured it would save me the time. I think once Morgan realizes he'll have the entire Christmas story written out in his own handwriting he'll be over the moon excited. He's always writing his own stories and books, so this will especially excited him.

Just in case we didn't have enough Christmas fun going on around here we're also gearing up to start this on December 1st. I picked this up last year when the Scripture Adventure products first arrived at Currclick. The Christmas Adventure is currently on sale right now too! There's one activity to do each day. Sometimes it's a craft, sometimes it's a baking adventure. They all look like a lot of fun!

Lastly, because our Christmas study will only be a 4 day study per week I thought we'd have some extra fun with science on Fridays. We use to do this more regularly and fell away from the habit. The Ultimate BubBle Book has been sitting in our book basket since the warm weather appeared and we've yet to do the science experiments (even though I think it was in our school plans a few weeks/months ago) I figured this will make a great week for it because one of our Craft Bag items was making giant bubble wands! I actually purchased this book used with Jayden in mind, but I'm suspecting we'll all have fun from making our own bubbles to testing them all out!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Chain

Every December I help the boys make a Christmas Chain. It's always the same one. We print out 25 days of Bible verses, I cut them apart, Morgan glues them to longer strips of paper, and Jayden helps staple them into loops. Each year we rip one down each day and then throw it away. Last year the boys wondered why we make a craft just to throw it away.

While I respected their question, they'd probably go insane without it. Wondering and waiting, or they'd ask to drive by the neighbors house and check out his giant ".. sleeps until Christmas" sign. I happened to love the fact that this particular countdown chain took us through the story of the prophecies and birth of Christ.

So, this year I was determined to have my favorite countdown chain, but to do it differently. You see, last year I'd stumbled upon this awesome tutorial. It shared a cloth countdown chain so that you didn't have to "make a craft and throw it away." Only, I didn't have time last year to make it, so I filed the idea away and left it. Until last night. I pulled out some leftover Christmas material and some vlisofix and set to work.

Thing is, I wasn't willing to trade paper for cloth at the expense of not having our Bible verses. I really loved that about this particular countdown chain. It's why we've used it year after year after year. So, last year when I stumbled on that fun tutorial I started contemplating ways I could print directly onto material. I know you can buy material just for printing on from the shops, but it's pricey.

After a few weeks of debating it I figured I would need to come up with a way to feed material through my printed. Which reminded me of the countless times I've heard people mention freezer paper in their crafting journeys. I filed that tidbit away. Until yesterday. While I knew one could buy freezer paper in a grocery in the US, that wasn't the case here. I had to make a special trip to the small local quilting shop. Then I came home and used this tutorial. It worked, kinda.

My first piece came out fine, but my second one jammed the printer. In it's defence I made the material/paper combo a tad smaller then I should have and didn't alert my printer to the problem. That, however, didn't change the fact that I had one inky mess happening under the guest room bed! After a second pile-up with the printer I taped the freezer paper side to a piece of typical A4 paper and then put it back in my printer. It gave the whole thing just enough extra stability I had no more crash-ups.

I then cut out each of the Bible verses with my rotary wheel so that I'd have nice even lines. Then I used more vlisofix to attach them to the cloth chain pieces. I made my cloth chain pieces slightly shorter (by accident; half inch smaller) and slightly wider (by a half inch). Then, because I felt the need to, I sewed around the edge of the Bible verse pieces and then again around the exterior of the actual cloth chain, then I did the pinking sheers trick to them. I used no-sew velcro because it's all I had.

I'm quite pleased with how the whole thing turned out! Morgan noticed it right away and was worried he'd rip it when it was his day to take one off. I'm thinking that won't happen, especially if he's worried about it as I suspect he'll take extra care. It still needs a permanent home, but for now it's draped around my adorable snowman. Mr S gave me that cute snowman for my birthday; what can I say, he knows the ways to my heart!

Notes: You can find the Paper Chain pieces here at Hubbard's Cupboard; they also have a terrific Christmas Plan laid out for little ones. We've used it many times, and it's oh so fun.  You can find the Cloth Chain tutorial here from Roots & Wings Co.  You can find the tutorial for using Freezer Paper in your printer here at HazleRuthes.

Please note that Wax Paper, Grease Proof Paper, and Butcher's Paper are not the same things as Freezer paper. Freezer paper is paper on one side and plastic on the other side. This allows you to iron it right onto your material and easily remove it. Also note that you can use the same piece of freezer paper many, many times!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

It's Official

I received the official status of winner this evening. Okay, so I should have gained that earlier in the day, but somewhere between balancing a half dozen side dishes, a quick cooking turkey and a slow cooking chicken I didn't have the time!

There were a few days there I didn't think I was going to pull off the 50,000 words, and then when I reached the end my first thought was, "Sleep, blissful sleep!" I'm still attempting to catch up on lost sleep, but I'm beginning to think it's a lost cause at this point.

I now have yet another certificate to add to my ever growing collection. Interestingly enough, there's also the option to have your "novel" turned into a free proof copy. All I can say is that there must be some amazing Nanoers out there who can take their 50,000 plus words straight off the press and send them in for a free proof!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Message From Our House To Yours

The Pilgrims Came
The Pilgrims came across the sea,
And never thought of you and me;
And yet it's very strange the way
We think of them Thanksgiving Day.
We tell their story old and true
Of how they sailed across the blue,
And found a new land to be free
And built their homes quite near the sea.
The people think that they were sad,
And grave; I'm sure that they were glad -
They made Thanksgiving Day - that's fun -
We thank the Pilgrims every one! 
Thanksgiving Prayer 

Heavenly Father, on Thanksgiving Day 
We bow our hearts to You and pray. 
We give You thanks for all You've done 
Especially for the gift of Jesus, Your Son. 
For beauty in nature, Your glory we see 
For joy and health, friends and family, 
For daily provision, Your mercy and care 
These are the blessings You graciously share. 
So today we offer this response of praise 
With a promise to follow You all of our days.

For beauty in nature, Your glory we see 

For joy and health, friends and family, 
For daily provision, Your mercy and care 
These are the blessings You graciously share. 
So today we offer this response of praise 
With a promise to follow You all of our days.

--Mary Fairchild 

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Wishing you a Happy & Blessed Thanksgiving!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Letters Home: 2

Dear Mom Dad and Everyone else,
Can you believe Thanksgiving is here again all ready? I can’t. I mean, I really can’t! There’s no turkeys leering down from every advert, tv commercial, and store that I enter. There’s been no advertisements for the ever glorious Macy’s Parade, so while my calendar tells me it’s very nearly all most totally here I’m still in denial.
The boys aren’t though, but you wouldn’t have excepted anything different right? They’ve been dutifully marking off the calendar days around here making sure I’m fully aware of how many days we have left until the big T Day. And, as if the daily announcement of, “It’s 9 am and there’s only 3 more days until Thanksgiving!” isn’t enough for me, I decided to bade them a tad more and leave them insane questions about how many days we have left in their math journals. Morgan found it amusing and after writing 0 months, 0 weeks, and 3 days he loudly proclaimed, “It’s 1 pm, I’m hungry, and there’s only 3 more days until Thanksgiving.” 
I really was beginning to wonder what all the hullabaloo was with them, and then I tripped over four massive orange semi round objects while attempting to finish off laundry before the 4 day rain storm hit. I’ve come to conclude the boys aren’t so much as counting down to our Thanksgiving feast as much as they are counting down until we can carve the four funniest orange, semi American, jack-o-lantern pumpkins we found.
Yep, you read that right. We scored 4 of them! See, Charlie accidentally let Jayde’s pumpkin rot (a freakish orange one we found, but not a proper Jack-o-Lantern one) and so when the new season of very expensive carving pumpkins came into the shop he agreed to purchase one.. at the horrific price of $16.00. Which was a far better cry then the competing store for $23.00. 
Then, in a total cry of insanity I had to run to the grocery on the 31st of October in an attempt to find something that I totally forgot about when I walked in the shop and noticed that pumpkins were down to $5.00, in total doubt I took it up to the checkout and asked how much they were. Needless to say the boys were delighted to see us bring home 3 more!
At least this year I can sleep in and not fuss about getting up and freezing my rear off running the annual Turkey Trot. All though, I am still in deep wonder to know if they have finally achieved their goal of receiving a parade permit this year.  Charlie thinks I’m nuts, and he might have a point, but really there’s nothing like running flat out and having a Police officer stop traffic so you can cross the street. Never again in my entire life can I honestly say, “I ran by and the traffic stopped!” 
Of course, I’m still scrambling to find the Corn Pudding recipe, which would took a second seat to finding my recipe for making creamed corn. I know what you’re thinking, “What you can’t buy creamed corn there?” I can! Really, I can, but it all has sugar in it, and I’d prefer our Thanksgiving Feast to be peaceful and avoid a cranky 7 year old hurling mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie across the table because he thinks someone is looking at him funny. Mind you, he might do those very things anyway because Charlie made the huge mistake of telling him about a childhood food fight.. 
The turkey, however, is another story around here. Like I said, they weren’t leaping at me from every store catalog (wait, I’ll say ad because we wouldn’t want certain family members to think I’m going all Australian on them..) so there was quite the hunt happening around here to find an appropriate priced one. We managed three stores before finally setting on a meagre six pound turkey. I know, you can stop laughing now!
Okay, wait you can’t because you have to here this line.. So I’m checking out and the clerk says, “Wow, you’ve got a big one there!” I had a hard time not laughing as I remembered the 30+ pounds birds we use to by. I was simply pleased to walk out of the store and have paid less then $40 for a turkey. 
I’ve also been attempting to cover Pilgrim and Indians with the kids again for school, but it appears Morgan retained much of the information for the last 9 years of his life and he’s joyfully reiterated most of it back to Jayden, who really only remembered the information about his beloved Squanto. Jayden’s only questions when Morgan was done with the lesson were: “So, are the Pilgrims still alive?”
He wasn’t very impressed when Morgan told him no. He was equally disappointed to learn that he couldn’t meet Squanto or invite him to Thanksgiving dinner. He was, however, over the moon excited to know that Indians are still alive.. Apparently he’s completely forgotten the amazing Indian dances that we use to get treated to in the Christmas Parade. If you guys go to that one this year you’ll have to attempt to snap a few pictures for him.
The tradition of cooking the day ahead is still alive here, all though I’m really branching out this year and have promised something like 4 pies. That was before I remembered I only have 2 pie plates. You think anyone will notice if the pies are square? Surely not right, and we could just turn it into some insane math lesson!
We’ve also resorted to watching the Macy’s Parade on YouTube which is really interesting. You can only watch 2 minute clips of various floats and dance routines, or you can watch longer glimpses of it from peoples mega high apartments. Gotta, say, looking out the window and seeing Spiderman’s backside would be enough to give me nightmares! The boys took it all in stride and were only distressed when the parade would stop for a dance routine.
I’ve also finally told them about the tradition of American football on Thanksgiving. Without giving me a chance to say more then Lions and Cowboys Jayden instantly said he hoped the Lions would win and Morgan said he wanted the Cowboys to win. I broke the news to them, as kindly as possible, it just wouldn’t be traditional for either of those teams to win. We won’t mention last year’s shocking results will we? Of course, then the NFL had to go and mess with my head and have a third game happening so now they both want the Jets to win, which I told them was so uncool, but they weren’t buying that.  I figure that’s okay, because I can just freak them out with the news that there’s a turkey with six legs.
Anyway, we just thought we’d write and say Happy Thanksgiving and send our love your way. How strange is it to think that we’ll be eating Thanksgiving Dinner after you? It’s a pity they haven’t really invented those fun “Beam Me Up Scotty” machines, but I suppose that would just send customs right over the edge! 
Lots of Love,
From All Of us

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Christmas Lapbook

A few years ago, when Morgan was six or seven, I purchased the Amanda Bennett Christmas unit study. I recall it being on sale at Currclick at the time and I was feeling all excited to do a fun study for the upcoming holiday. Let's just say that didn't happen. I was slightly disappointed at the time with the unit study. Honestly, I don't fully remember why other then thinking that it was just too much for us then.

We've wanted to do a Christmas study in the month of December for years, but it's just never panned out. Life happens, and we're often very busy wrapped up in the season between crafting and decorating to being outside enjoying the beautiful summer weather (remember we're in the Southern Hemisphere!)

However, this year I was looking through various unit studies that we all ready own and stumbled upon it again. As I was looking through it I knew it would be perfect for us. Funny how a few years can make all the difference in the world, isn't it? I took the time a few weekends ago to print it out and look through it and mark the areas that we'd work with. I also had fun checking the book list against the books I knew we had and flagging a couple I'd love to add to our collection.

Then the whole thing got shoved into my bag of planning stuff. It's where I keep upcoming unit studies, teacher manuals, and planning pages so I can grab it and take it to the park to work on if the kids are having a play. It's also convenient to pick it up and carry it anywhere to be honest, like camping or to the library or..

Last weekend I realized that our Christmas Study was due to start on Monday and that I hadn't finalized plans for it yet or looked at what we'd use for the Christmas Journal Amanda calls for. Her idea is to simply take a 3 ring binder, spiral notebook, or some notebooking pages (which were sold separately at the time and I didn't pick them up). I was torn on the whole idea. I have one who would have relished being turned lose with a notebook, and another who would have freaked out. I debated just doing a family notebook because there are some assignments for the Upper Level that I'd love to do myself.

You see, the beauty of these unit studies is that she's all ready broken it down into Lower Level & Upper Level. We'll be doing a little bit from each, focusing mainly on the lower level things, but there are some topics in the Upper Level I know the boys would enjoy talking about and learning.

In the end, I decided I'd make a lapbook to go along with the study. Some very creative and talented folks over at Homeschool Share have all ready done that for a few of the other unit studies by Amanda Bennett, but there wasn't a Christmas one. After asking if anyone was planning to make one for the Christmas study and finding out no one was, I decided I'd just have to submit myself to taking on the task. Normally, that's not a big deal, but for the past 23 days I've been up to my eyeballs in NaNo.

I took last Sunday and spent the entire day putting together this fun lapbook. The boys are very excited to start Christmas school and seeing all the fun booklets only encouraged it. (I had to print a few booklets off to make sure I had things lined up properly!) The lapbook is made to be used with the Unit Study, and from what I understand there are some $5 sales happening over at the Amanda Bennett Unit Studies website! Check the link each day for a different set of Unit Studies to be on sale, personally I'm hanging out for a couple I really hope make the sale list!

If you'd like to download your own copy of the lapbook you can do so here. It's a 27 page pdf so it may take a moment or two to load. Despite some of the pictures looking wonky, the pages all print out just fine! Oh, and while looking for a free coloring page to use as the cover of this lapbook, I stumbled upon a site that had free Mobiles & Dioramas of the Nativity story. I can't wait to work on them with Morgan!

Mission Accomplished!

Last night, I finished off my 50,000 words for Nano, and I pretty much looked like that geeky image to the left. Seriously. There was much rejoicing, clapping, squealing, fist pumping, and then Mr S sat up and said, "Oh, can we go to bed now?"

I'd post my winning trophy, but it's not available until the 12:00:01am (USA Time). So despite my wonderfully early finish I can't get my bragging rights for another 48 or so hours.

I was really sweating it there in the end too, because we have a busy weekend ahead and I knew there'd be little time to hash out a few more words much less sentences and paragraphs. Not that it fully matters, the story is far from done and a shamble of ideas and events with no actual flow to them.

You see, I had this amazingly wonderful idea for a story. One that I'd been tossing around and [mentally] talking out for some time, but did I write that? No. I meant to, I really did, but as soon as my fingers started typing there was a totally different story on the computer screen. The thing about being a parent is, we're full of great stories and ideas and apparently one of the other ideas I'd been tossing around found it's way to my fingers before the one I'd meant to write did.

This meant I had 30 days to write 50,000 words on a few subjects I knew very little about. Or maybe it's not that I didn't know anything about them, it's more that I didn't know enough about various aspects of it. How's that for completely weird and vague?

In the mean time I haven't totally forgotten about this poor little blog. Quite contrary to be honest. The entire time I was typing away I kept thinking about how November is suppose to be blogging month, or some such craziness. Which, for me, was completely ironic because I don't have much time to do such things during this particular month. Maybe it's funnier when you're suffering writers block and so tired your eyes sting and you've had to backspace and rewrite popcorn a half dozen times because you can't stop writing poocorn. Seriously, I was having major issues!

There was also some very funny stuff happening around here, like my children showing up to dinner in costumes. I know, you're probably thinking that's not weird at all, but let me finish.

Jayden showed up in a Spiderman Costume my parents bought for Morgan two years ago while visiting them in America. Jayden just handed down all his outgrown summer clothes to his big brother. Needless to say the suit looked like it was painted on my child, and when I stopped laughing long enough to debate pulling it apart (at the seams) to use as a pattern for making other costumes Morgan walked in.

Okay, wait he danced in. Mr S had to be pulled up off the floor, quite literally too! Remember that funny gymnast outfit the boys cousin's gave them? Yeah, Morgan was wearing it. Just that. He danced up to the table threw himself down in his chair with much flair and said, "Well, I'm here!"

It only got worse from there and I was laughing so hard Morgan looks up from what he's doing and says, "What's the big deal? Have I got sour cream on my face again?"

I think Jayden summed it up quite well for us when he said, "Oh for Heaven's Crying out loud I think you've done a bit of an overkill or something." Best part, he said it with so much sincerity he didn't even have a smile on his face. Seriously, people, I don't make this stuff up!

And if that's not funny enough, today, my first free day from mandatory writing, I was driving into town to pick Mr S up from the office and (don't start laughing yet.. do you do that? Mr S does as soon as you say you have something funny to tell him he starts laughing like a maniac!) Anyway, we're driving into town and the boys are discussing vikings which led to World War II (don't ask me how) and then Morgan said, "No, Jayden it was England vs.. someone, I'm not sure who hold on. MOM! Who was England fighting?"
Dead silence for about three seconds and then he says, "That's a bit awkward."
"Well, if in the first war (he means Revolutionary War) England and Germany were fighting together, so now to be fighting against each other must have just been.. I dunno, awkward!"
Yeah, the guy in the lane next to me thought I was having a heart attack I was laughing so hard.

Yep, it's good to be back!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

School Plans: Thanksgiving

This week we're focusing on Thanksgiving. The boys have been counting down to this holiday for over a month now. I'm not sure if it's the whole Thanksgiving thing or the fact that they know next in line is Christmas. Either way, we're gearing up for some fun Thanksgiving around here.

We've also got some fun craft plans we're hoping to tackle this week. Some of which we've posted all ready, and some we've stumbled upon since then. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to make Plymouth Rock cookies or these mini bow & arrows.

We're also using this Thanksgiving Lapbook that I picked up from Currclick. This is actually a fun little lapbook for us, because while we have a few Thanksgiving books here you won't need them because this nifty little book has all the info inside of it! We will, of course, still be reading our Thanksgiving books, but it's nice to know that we won't have to panic if the info we're looking for aren't in the books we have.

Remember the Scripture Adventure Give Thanks book I shared about? We're still working on that one too, and from what I understand you can obtain it free now directly through Scripture Adventure, but you'll have to submit your email address. It's well worth the meagre price Currclick was selling it at, so scooping it up while it's free is a huge bargain! It's loaded with crafts, recipes, stories, hymns, and more!

Photo Credit

We're also rounding up some games and crafts for our Thanksgiving Dinner. I'm pretty sure this Boat Race will be a huge hit with everyone, I just have to keep the balloons and recycling safe until then! There's also the Chopstick Pass Along, because I don't think we'll be able to find a small enough pumpkin for the typical Pumpkin Pass type game. I also thought Put On A Happy Snood would be downright hilarious to play, we'll have to see if we can get enough snoods made!

That's amongst all of our Thanksgiving Feast baking. Morgan is determined to see how I make the pies because Gram told him that I make the best pie crust ever. He's certain I have a secret ingredient. (Seriously, if you're kids balk at eating something tell them there's a secret ingredient in it and you can't tell them until they've tasted it. And honestly, anything they don't know is in it counts as a secret ingredient!) I also have to locate my Great-grandmother's recipe for corn pudding, and attempt to make her fruit salad too. Thanksgiving wouldn't be right without the corn pudding, and Mr S really wants that fruit salad! Between you, me, & the computer screen I think he's in it for the marshmallows, but who can blame him, right?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanksgiving Resources

As a bi-cultural family we celebrate a lot of holidays in our home. It doesn't matter which country where in we still attempt to celebrate in style. It is, truthfully, easier to celebrate some holidays in their own home nations, but that doesn't mean we don't give it our best efforts elsewhere too.

Which means, despite the wonderfully warm weather, green grass, beautiful flowers now in bloom, and amazingly long light nights we're gearing up for Thanksgiving around here. Yes, it's slightly unusual to think of having a Thanksgiving Feast when there's no crunchy leaves on the ground or cool nights after a long muggy summer. It's equally funny, when you think about the fact that we choose to celebrate Thanksgiving as a reminder of God's faithfulness in helping the Pilgrims survive a winter and then proceed to have a great harvest the following year, that we're actually celebrating in the spring instead of the autumn.

It works for us though, and while it may seem slightly odd to me, I suppose it seems perfectly natural to my children as they have little memory of waking up on a bitter cold morning and getting rugged up in layers upon layers of clothing to survive the 5k run in their double stroller. You know, there are days when I think about Walton Hill that I wish I had little memory of it too, but then there are those Thanksgiving mornings when I pull out the old Turkey Trot shirts slap one on and go out for a non parade route 5k. Whatever works, right?

Anyway, we thought we'd share some of our favorite Thanksgiving ideas out there:

Paper Bag Turkey -- this center piece is filled with popcorn and my boys are dying to make this one! They can't wait to fill it up with popcorn place it on the table and trick an uncle (or two) into cutting it open. Jayden was over the moon excited when I told him that yes we could indeed ever single piece of popcorn.

Thanksgiving Printables -- Word searches, word puzzles, color by numbers, and a fun mad lib to try your hands at. I don't know about your house, but the only thing funnier then the hoots of laughter from the boys when Mr S is reading out a Mad Lib is the look of absolute hilarity on Mr S's face as he attempts not to laugh himself silly while reading out the final story!

Turkey Placemat with Pockets -- I didn't have any fun fall fabric, so I only made one of these and while it's cute it lacked the festive fall colors. It's sitting on our dinning room table as a center piece except when Morgan snags it for his personal place mat and sticks various crafting tools in the pockets! I also used the body piece to make Jayden a Turkey T-shirt (his hands were the feathers) and he absolutely adores it!

Pilgrim Bear Quilt Blocks -- I'm using the boy teddy to make Morgan a Thanksgiving shirt. He's psyched and very excited, but then nearly lost my fresh metre of visoflex in another store when he got distracted by the ugly shoes on the shelf.

Turkey Muffin -- I had to share a photo of this one so you didn't feel repulsed by the sound of a turkey muffin. I was so excited to see this creative snack idea. Most turkey ideas involve chocolate candies, cookies, and other sugary goodies that we just can't consume in our home. I was absolutely giddy when i saw this healthy, non sugary version and I can't wait to surprise the boys with these for snacks this weekend or early next week!

Apple Turkeys -- this lady used marshmallows and gummies, but I can see it with grapes, strawberries, and melon. I'm equally envisioning turning my kids lose to make this one on their own, and I'm pretty sure when they pull out a skewer to eat it one of them will scream, "OH NO!! You've eaten my bum feathers!!"

Fruity Turkey -- this is another one that made me giddy because there's no sugary candies in it! I'm also willing to be on this one that Jayden will nibble the toes first, just because that's the kinda boy he is! Unless, of course, I really use chocolate chips for the eyes. I'll probably used dried currants instead though..

Felt Thankful Banner -- we still have our fun Nature banner from last year, but this one looks like a lot of fun and Morgan really enjoys sewing by hand with felt. This would be a great project he and I could work on together if we make a run for more felt. We shall see if time permits, after all we have a beautiful doorway waiting to be decorated for Thanksgiving!

Tiny Turkey Sandwiches -- have I mentioned that my kids are addicted to sweet peppers? It's true. I can't keep them in the house, and it's a weird day if one manages to escape our clutches and rot. My kids love to eat them like apples and nothing makes their day happier then when i slice one in half and send them on their way. Add cute sandwich fun to the mix and they're set!

Turkey Math -- not only does Mrs Carol show some fun and creative ways to sneak Thanksgiving into math games, she provides you with a printable for it! How fun, I can't wait to print and laminate for a certain first grader I know. (I'm having printing issues with it, but I can't wait to resolve them!)

30 days of Thanks & Giving -- of course we'd have to mention our own Thanksgiving fun wouldn't we? We're not actually using this one this year because we're setting sail with Scripture Adventure's Thanksgiving fun, but we still have all our crafts from last year that will be displayed around the house..

A Thanksgiving Carol -- an Odyssey story. We love the gang from Witt's End and enjoy listening to many of these stories. The Christmas set is a big favorite around here and one year I'll remember to get the Easter ones in time for Easter. In the mean time we enjoy listening to the Thanksgiving story. I believe you can download it from the previous link or from here.

Origami Pilgrim Children -- print, cut, fold. Easy peasy Lemon Squeezy as Morgan would say.

William Bradford Movie -- you can see this terrific historical series on YouTube. It's broken down into 10 parts so it doesn't take as long to download. We use to enjoy checking these videos out of the library and getting the free copies of the coloring books to go with it, so this is a fun way to view the movie instead!

Cranberry Thanksgiving -- FIAR fans might find this youtube link fun. A little cheesy, but fun all the same.

You'd think after all that we'd be all turkied out, but honestly I love turkeys as much as I love pumpkins and snowmen. In fact, the other day I spotted a garden sculpture that was a turkey (two in fact) and was so struct by them that the boys had to ask me what was taking so long. Mr S was not as taken by the $100 price sticker on each of them. Can't say as I really blame him, it's a pity I don't own a welding torch!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Random Things

boys checking out the echidna under our fence
I was feeling the big need to bring my poor abandoned blog up to date this evening, but then I remembered that I still had to get in a thousand words or so for NaNo. You see, I started out on a great roll with NaNo, I couldn’t get the words down quick enough and kept hearing Mr S saying things like, “Honey, you’re going to type the letters off your keyboard again.” (That doesn’t annoy me at all, but he hates not being able to see the letters on the keyboards!) 
I managed to get myself well and truly ahead of schedule, which was awesome and amazing, because that’s rarely ever happened to me. I usually blame lack of time. The inevitable has happened though.. I’ve hit a road block. My story has done the whole “Inkheart” effect and taken a turn of it’s own. How dare it? I feel a bit like Fenoglio when he started ranting about how the story was his and had no right walking away from the plot and lines he gave it. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have a talented author or a simple inkweaver writing anything for me! 
I was tempted to trash all 15,000 words, much to Mr S’s dismay, until I realized that if I did I might not make my quota in time. So, I keep plucking along. I’m still crossing my fingers I’ll make it in time. Not because I care so much about the official status of winning, but if I “win” I get a huge discount on the writing program Scrivner which I’ve been using this time around and have fully enjoyed! It’s completely and totally awesome, and I haven’t even checked out the tutorial that they suggest you set a “couple of hours aside for”! 
Hopefully I can sneak in some regular blogging this week at some point, we’ve been up to a fair bit like:

  • Planting our pumpkin seedlings in the back garden, we’re hoping they survive, the poor seedlings were a tad waterlogged. 
  • We also discovered some fun pumpkin plants in the side garden area where we had lettuces growing this past fall. Turns out the pumpkin the guys smashed after it rotted has started growing on it’s own! We’re excited to keep an eye on it.
  • We’re delighted to notice all our raspberries and strawberries seem to be in bloom. We’d hoped to expand our strawberry population this year, we go through a lot of strawberries, but we’re thinking we might just go pick our own instead.
  • Jayden is now sporting a swollen nose with a huge red line across his right cheek, his entire nose, and a quarter of the way across his left cheek. With the screaming that ensued when I found him I was certain I was going to see blood gushing everywhere. Apparently the game of “lets throw sticks over the fence” backfired on the poor kid. No broken nose, but boy howdy is he sporting a mark from the whole thing!
  • We have a fun field trip to our local Science Museum this week. We’re very excited about it’s sports theme. We shall see how it goes! Hopefully I can snap some decent photos, that’s usually Mr S’s job, but he won’t be able to join us.
  • The boys blessed me with Disney’s Beauty & The Beast (one of my all time favoritest movies in the whole wide world!!) for my birthday and they are desperate to watch it. They know it’s a princess movie, but they figure it’ll be okay because there’s a “Big hairy guy on the front, and he’ll probably keep it interesting.” Seriously love their funny comments.
  • We also have a fun review coming up about another spelling program called SpellQuizer, stay tuned for that one! Our family is gearing up for some fun to try this new programme out!
  • There’s also been a great hubbub in our home ever since I spotted a pelican on the beach, twice in fact. When I finally dragged the men folk down there, the silly thing had flown on and was no where to be seen. They were heavily disappointed and ask me daily if I’ve spotted the bird again.
  • The boys have been busy watching the neighbor’s grand Christmas display going up. I don’t think we shared pictures last year but a neighbor a block away from us has a beautifully grand display in his yard each Christmas. Nativities, Father Christmas, lights, trains, the whole nine yards. it’s amazing to see. He even has a beautiful chair anyone can sit in with the year above it for a photo, and he hands out suckers to all the kids too. It’s an amazing display, the folks right next door to him don’t do a terribly shabby job either. Anyway, he’s been putting up a few decorations each day for the past week plus now. We’ve had great fun seeing it’s progress.
  • Lastly, the Homeschool Blog awards end on the 17th of November. If you haven’t taken the time to check out all the fun blogs and vote you’d better hurry! I’d tell you exactly how much time you have, but I can’t do the US/Aussie time conversion in my current sleep deprived state of mind! 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bug-A-Loo Kids

My husband is a web developer (one of many talents he has) and has spent the last 11 years (plus) building up a website we’ve dubbed Bug Cafe. Over the years he’s developed a lot of classic games and word games that people can play via email or even live.
Our boys think this is awesome, and at least one of them has high hopes of being employed by Bug Cafe when he’s old enough. They especially love being solicited to test the games. The latest game craze around here has been Bug-A-Loo. I am only slightly ashamed to admit that we have a few relatives who are completely addicted to the game.
This has caused some frustration for the boys because they really wanted to be able to play it without help, but the phrases and other word puzzles aren’t ones they know very well. Which led the founders of Bug Cafe to have a meeting and discuss the possibility of branching out with games specifically designed for kids. And so another chapter for Bug Cafe began!
Mr. Scarecrow surprised the boys with a need for them to test a game a few weekends ago, and they agreed. However, they were ecstatic when they found out that it was a kids version of Bug-A-Loo! They were even farther over the moon when they realized it had all their Word Wall and Dolch words in it so they could actually solve the puzzles on their own!
There was so much buzz around here and celebrating and competing. At one point Jayden had himself the nice fat score of 485 points. We all celebrated with him, and then I went into the pantry to cry for a bit because honestly I’m not that good at regular Bug-A-Loo. Okay, so I didn’t really cry in the pantry, but I debated it.
Interestingly enough Adobe Developers felt that Bug Cafe was an awesome enough company to allow them to do some testing on Adobe’s behalf. In exchange, you can now purchase downloadable versions of Bug-A-Loo & Bug-A-Loo Kids via the Adobe Marketplace. How’s that for neat?
But that’s not all (that sounded very infomercially!), Bug-A-Loo is now one of the Adobe Marketplace’s Staff Favorites. You should of seen then celebrating around here when we got that bit of news! And, within a month of having released Bug-A-Loo Kids it’s been spotlighted on their front page!
So what exactly can Bug-A-Loo Kids do? It’s preprogrammed with the 1000 most used word list and the Dolch word lists (yes some of these words appear on both!) It also has the ability for a parent/student to type in a chosen group of words (think spelling lists here) for the game to use as the puzzles for your child to solve!

How does it work?

Once you've decided which list of words you're working on the puzzle pops up (see picture above). Kids can click on the colorful letters or use the keyboard to type a letter in. If a letter is correct it fills itself in on the puzzle above (yellow tiles). You have 8 helps in the game which can be used at anytime by clicking on B.O.B. (Big Odd Blob). These helps come in the form of filling in a missing letter (or two) for you. One can also click on the vowels at the base of the screen (which uses up a Life Line/Help) and it will fill in the vowels in your puzzle.

As you move through solving a puzzle keep an eye on B.O.B., he has some hilarious facial expressions! We had so much fun watching B.O.B. that at one point we forgot to keep track of what we were doing with the solving our puzzle!

You can keep track of your score and compare it to other high scores in your family by trying to outdo each other's play and typing in your name. There is one high score preprogrammed into the game, Charlie, with a top score of 500. Can you beat him? 

How much does it cost?

A minimal $3.99 and then you have it saved on your desktop forever. However, you can also play a trial version of the game for free to see how you like it!

How Fun Is It?

Personally, with B.O.B. in the game it makes for laughs all around win or lose! However, our littlest testers gave this game two thumbs up and are delighted that they now have Bug-A-Loo scores that rival not only Daddy but also Nana who has a huge passion for the adult version. 

Anything else we should know?

I feel it would be unfair, and perhaps a pinch unwise, to not warn you that both of these games tend to be a tad additive. "Once more!" seems to be the resounding word around here when someone is asked to hop off and move on to another task. Yet, we can't fault the kids when adults playing either version are heard saying the same thing! 

Where can I find it again?

Both Bug-A-Loo & Bug-A-Loo Kids are available through Adobe Marketplace which can be found here. Currently these are the only games Bug Cafe is offering through Adobe, but there are more in the works. There's also been a lot of chatter between the various Bug Cafe Staff about a larger Bug-A-Loo Kids site/games. We're eagerly awaiting their arrival!!