Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review

Instead of doing a normal weekly wrap-up today (because really, that can be summed up with "we're packing, things are chaotic, we're trying to fit in a little school where we can), I thought I'd look back on 2012 for a few minutes . . .

This has been a year of travel and change . . . there have been challenges, but God is good. . .

Some highlights . . .

SOOO much travel. Perhaps too much travel, but I wouldn't NOT DO any of it . . .

Perhaps the most significant, was our trip to Tennessee this summer. Sassy and MiniMe were soo excited to "meet" their Great-Great-Uncle Bruce (they'd met him when they were toddlers, but didn't remember him), and, despite his failing health, they had a good visit. They got a glimpse of the master story teller that he was. He seemed to enjoy having a new, captive audience to share those stories with, it was a priceless time, made even more precious by the realization that if we had delayed even a couple more weeks, it would never have happened. He passed away a couple of weeks later.

One trip that I might change was our Williamsburg trip in February. It was fun, as always, but we definitely and unanimously concluded that September is the better Homeschool Days to attend from now on.

Our children are so blessed to have living great grandparents, so it's important to us to find the time to visit those great grandparents. Since my grandmother lives next door to my parents, and less than 3 hours from us, we see her often, for which we are thankful.  Rodney's grandpa lives several states away however, and I'm thankful that we were able to make the trip to visit him this fall. He was so appreciative of our effort and, as always, loaded the children with gifts. It is priceless to now have Little Bit look at picture albums and say "That's Grandpa Hess, I know him", or cuddle her stuffed bunny, or play with the obnoxious battery-operated yapping puppy, and comment that "Grandpa Hess gave this to me.".

Florida was a FUN trip. . . we fit in lots of great learning along the way, but it was fun to see how differently the twins enjoyed the amusement parks now, compared to even 2 years ago. And to watch Little Bit enjoying the parks in ways similar to the twins' FIRST trips there. . . Fun times, despite the bee stings on the trip home!

School . . .

Perhaps the most dramatic "progress" in school-related-stuff is Little Bit. I never DREAMED, when she told me she wanted to "do school too" and I started her on a laid-back "Letter of the Week" path, how she would TAKE OFF with that. Now, at a few months shy of 4, she can not only recognize, but write most of her upper case letters. She can write her name and pick it out of a page, as was emphasized at Christmas when she went through the packages under the tree and picked out her own.  She loves counting and numbers and letters and is basically doing her darndest to disprove my "better late than early" leanings LOL (I still, strongly believe that, when it comes to parent/teacher initiated/directed learning, better late than early stands, when a parent or teacher is following the child's leading, things can move at whatever speed is right for that child!)

There has been so much growth in the big girls too. . .

The Civil War has been such a fun learning adventure.

Reviewing products is a wonderful fit for our family, we all learn so much thanks to the variety of resources that cross our path in the form of review items.

Writing: while both girls continue to balk at writing "assignments" I'm seeing more and more spontaneous writing. Sassy's handwriting has improved dramatically this year. And MiniMe's cursive is coming along nicely (I'm hoping to use her love of art and making things "pretty" to encourage her to improve her printing in 2013, we shall see).

Both girls will pick up and read anything and everything without batting an eye. Recently, due to some behavioral issues, Sassy missed out on our bedtime read aloud, currently The Lord of the Rings. While I wouldn't encourage them to read these books on their own quite yet, she was perfectly capable of reading the part she missed the next day, and actually asked if she could keep going because "it's fasater", now THAT'S a child after my own heart!

Life of Fred has been a wonderful fit for Sassy and MiniMe this year, and is encouraging their love of math.After starting last month, they are already on books 3 and 4 respectively.

And of course, the big news of 2012 . . . moving! We have loved our little hidden farm house (and I'm not sure it's been that clean since . . .). The girls have loved exploring the woods, we have awesome neighbors . . . I truly believe that God brought us to this house and it has been a wonderful place for us. But I saw just as clearly, as the second half of 2012 unfolded, God leading us to look elsewhere, and after sooo many houses that seemed almost, but not quite right, I believe, once again, God has led us to a place that is perfect for us. I don't understand why God decided December/January was a good time for this move, it was frustrating to not be able to maintain our normal traditions and focus this month on Hanukkah and Christmas like we'd hoped, but I'm sure God had a reason. And now, as the year winds down, we are, so much more than usual, looking at CHANGE . . . so many changes, piling on top of each other as we look at a new house, new neighbors (God is sooo good, saying "goodbye" to our awesome neighbors here (but not really goodbye, we'll still see them at church) is easier when we know that we're moving TO awesome neighbors as well, new routines . . . a new curriculum for Little Bit . . . so much change, but I think it will be a good thing . . .

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In Which I Play Catch-Up . . .

So, I'm not doing so well at keeping up with blogging these days . . . I thought I'd post a few random pictures from the last month or so, and try to mention things I've missed . . . 

November snow . . . we didn't get much, as you can see, and (thankfully) it didn't last long, but it was just enough for the kids to do a little sledding.  Since last winter we didn't have any "playable" snow (the only snow we got was the October snow storm that also knocked out power, so they couldn't play in it because we had no way to get them warm again if they went out and got cold), this was really her first time playing in the snow, she loved it! 

Little Bit was so excited to use her "berry own sled!"  Last summer when Pastor Mike and Miss Linda moved away, they gave us the sleds their boys had outgrown. When Little Bit noticed the sleds and realized that there was a saucer sled, and big sisters already each HAD a saucer sled, she was SOOO excited to realize that made the new (to us) saucer sled HERS! After learning the ropes by sledding with her sisters, she happily used HER sled all by herself.

Little Bit is enjoying playing dress-up these days, and boy does she come up with some fun combinations . . . This was one of my favorites. Actually, my favorite is this get-up minus the jammies, but those aren't really pictures I want on the internet, so we'll stick with this version.  Don't mind the mess, our house is a maze of boxes, thanks to the whole moving thing . . . So, in this particular instance she's wearing Dora jammies, pink crocs,  a pink and black tutu, pink fairy wings, and of course, sun glasses. Three is such a fun age (most of the time)!

We've finally convinced Little Bit to try out the balance bike she got when she was 2. She's still abit nervous about it, but when she's in the right mood, she enjoys it. We're looking forward to the flat driveway at the new house, that will make bike riding easier for all 3 of the girls, this house just does NOT have anywhere to ride. I think part of what makes Little Bit so nervous about the balance bike is how uneven the patio space is. The cement is terribly cracked and broken. It will be fun to see if she "takes off" on her bike riding once we have a better space for it.
So those are our random updates. We are hoping to have closing on the new house in another week or so, and then things will be SUPER busy for awhile, before (hopefully) settling into a new routine.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

I know I have other updates to do, but for the moment . . . wishing you all a merry Christmas!

Because of the chaos in our housing situation right now, we opted to have Christmas at my parents' house this year. And to further complicate things, in a part of the country that almost NEVER has snow until January or later, it snowed on our way to my parents' house on Christmas Eve. And the forecast was for more snow starting during the night tonight, so we adjusted our plans, and headed home late this afternoon instead of coming home tomorrow as we'd originally planned. . . Still we had a nice time at my parents' house (but it re-emphasized to me why we usually do Christmas here, it's a PAIN to have to pack and unpack and load and unload all the kid-stuff!)

We got to my parents' house yesterday afternoon and the girls helped Mama decorate the Christmas tree, then they got to decorate Christmas cookies!

After supper the girls opened their traditional Christmas Eve presents of nightgowns that Mama made (see pictures further down of the big girls wearing theirs, Little Bit's ended up being a little too big and she's not big on clothes anyway. She's doing better about staying dressed at our house, but since my parents' keep their house quite abit warmer than we keep our house, it's a real challenge to keep ANY clothes on her there LOL) and a game and video. This year, the video was a Leapfrog Christmas video, so Little Bit enjoyed that while the big girls and I played their new Farmer's Market game. Then we headed to bed.
Christmas morning started with stockings . . . we had to improvise, since the girls' stockings are packed in a box somewhere in our mountain of boxes, but mom found some stockings that would work (as long as we didn't worry too much about the names on them LOL).

After stockings, we had breakfast (Mama's more ambitious than me, so she made Hungarian Breakfast Cake instead of the monkey bread I usually make, YUM!!!), and I read the girls the final chapter of Bartholomew's Passage (our Advent book this year. They enjoyed it, though there were some things I didn't like about this one), then we got started on presents.

 Little Bit was having great fun passing out gifts as quickly as possible, and THEN she figured out where to look on the tags to see who the gift was for. She can't read much yet, but she CAN read her name, so from then on, she just looked at the packages until she found one with her name on it, then opened it LOL.

Once everything was opened, she was happy to sit down and play with things.

Later in the day, Rodney's sister and her husband, and my brother all joined us for dinner.

After dinner, we exchanged gifts with those who weren't there earlier. Little Bit was funny, it took her a minute to realize she really did get another gift, since, we'd told her the presents were "all done" when she'd opened the last of hers during the morning presents.

The girls also had to show Aunt Lynette & Uncle Dave their play house. Dave & Lynette were duly impressed, hee hee.

Then, thanks to the coming snow, we had to load everything up and head out.

And that was our Christmas, 2012.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Book Review: Finding God in the Hobbit by Jim Ware

In Finding God in the Hobbit, Jim Ware looks at the spiritual significance of themes found in J.R. Tolkien's book, The Hobbit. This devotional, type book, moves systematically through the Hobbit, comparing Bilbo's adventures and the lessons he learns, to our own lives, and lessons God teaches us through our daily lives.

I was excited when Tyndale Publishing offered me a free copy of Finding God in the Hobbit to review, just as I was finishing up reading the Hobbit to my daughters for bedtime story, and this book did not disappoint. The chapters are short and to the point, making it a great devotional reading for busy days. The book obviously assumes you have read the Hobbit, but it also assumes you have read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which might not always be a safe assumption, but all in all, this is a wonderful way to bring another layer of meaning to a great book!

Disclaimer: Tyndale Publishing provided me with a free copy of the above mentioned book in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own. Additionally, affiliate links are used on this blog.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bi-Monthly Wrap-Up - Dec 16

Sigh . . . apparently I decided to take a blog-break LOL.

Things have been chaotic. . .

For the last couple of years we have been casually house-hunting. We were happy where we are (renting), but figured if the perfect house came along . . . While we were in Florida, an e-mail from our landlord, detailing some changes they were making to our lease agreement made it apparent that we needed to bump up our house hunting.

Before we had left for Florida, a friend had told us that their neighbor was planning to sell his house soon and it might fit our criteria. So, while we were traveling, I e-mailed Penny and asked for more information about her neighbor's house. We went to see it the day after the girls and I got home. It was smaller than we'd hoped to find, but otherwise met our criteria pretty well. After much prayer and discussion, we decided to go for it.

Thus began the whirlwind of discussions with the seller, figuring out all the stuff the realtor would normally do (nice because no realtor fees, a pain because we have to figure stuff out ourselves).  In the midst of it all, our current landlord informed us that we could no longer store stuff in the farm out building "for free" and if it wasn't out in 2 weeks, would have to pay 3+ times the going rate for that size space (keeping in mind that a storage facility space wouldn't have broken windows that let in moisture and "critters" like this space did). I'm still baffled as to how we were "using it for free" when we were told when we were first shown the house that that storage space came with this house, but apparently since it wasn't specifically listed in the lease agreement, it didn't count, I told Rodney that I'm pretty sure the use of the driveway wasn't specified in the lease agreement either, maybe they'll start charging extra for that too . . . SO, we talked to the seller of the new house and arranged to move everything from the storage space into the garage at the new house while we continued to work to set up the inspections, closing, etc. We knew we were taking a "risk" moving stuff in before the inspections and such, but decided if we moved it all into a storage unit or down to my parents' garage we would for SURE have to move everything a second time. So might as well "risk" having to move it all back out of the garage at the new house if the sale falls through.

So now we have inspections scheduled for tomorrow and, assuming that all goes ok, closing is scheduled for the 26th.

Meanwhile, I've been having fun juggling the need to get as much as possible packed, with not knowing for sure WHEN we're moving and needing to continue not only living, but homeschooling, in the meantime. I originally figured I could hand the girls boxes and tell them to pack our books, but then I realized that we USE a LOT of our books . . . and we're NOT going to be able to instantly unpack all of our books (one of the challenges of the new house is going to be figuring out WHERE to have all of our books, the much more open floor plan of the living area is AWESOME but it means I can't stick a bookcase against every wall (more or less) like I have here. Additionally, the house is a cape cod with slanted ceilings upstairs, and upstairs will be the school room (and the girls' bedroom), so while I'm loving the thought of having a school room, the slanted ceilings means I can't line all the walls, floor-to-ceiling with bookcases. . . so anyway . . . it will all work out, but it meant I had to sit down and schedule out our curriculum more than I normally do, for a couple months and make sure to pull out the books we'd need during that time. So for most of the books, I just packed them and pulled out what I needed as I went. . . and for so many other things, it's been the same . . . Add in that this house is entirely too small to have TOO many boxes stacked around, and it's been a challenge. HOPEFULLY all will go well with the inspections tomorrow so we'll know abit more, and can for sure put more stuff in the garage and get REALLY serious about packing up EVERYTHING. . .

THANKFULLY, all of this happened during the "break" in reviewing for the Schoolhouse Review Crew. I love, love, love reviewing for them, but am so thankful that we were able to just focus on our bare minimum schooling during this chaos. So what HAVE we been doing for school during all of this?

Bible:  In November we continued using Polished Cornerstones for morning Bible time. Starting the first Sunday in December, we began using Bartholomew's Passage for Advent. Last year we read Jotham's Journey and LOVED it! I didn't tell the girls that there were MORE books in the series, so they woke up the first morning of Advent this year to find the Advent candles set up (though I just used candle holders I already have, set in a circle, since the advent wreath is packed in the Christmas boxes that were NOT unpacked this year, sigh . . . ) and the new book sitting on the table waiting for them (shhhh . . . don't tell them I already have Tabitha's Travels for next year, hee hee), we are loving this one just as much! The biggest complaint is that they want to just read the whole story instead of reading a few pages per day LOL.

Evening Bible: The girls decided they want to learn Hebrew so, at least for the moment, we are using Read Hebrew Today to start learning Hebrew during our evening Bible time. For Hanukkah (this past week), we set it aside for a few days and have been reading Alexandra's Scroll which tells the story of the origins of Hanukkah.

History: We've continued with the Civil War - most days we manage to find time for read alouds, though as I've packed our books, I've found some civil war books hidden on the shelves so some days I just tell the girls to each choose one of those to read on their own while I pack LOL. We also finished listening to With Lee in Virginia by G.A. Henty, while in the car.

Math: This is new LOL.  Last fall I started thinking ahead to what we should use to "fill in the gaps" for the girls' math education as they are getting older. I am 100% sold on the idea of delaying formal math until children are older and am so glad we did that, but they are getting older and I like to plan things to death, so I started thinking about it, and in my research, I came across Life of Fred, the girls and I talked about it, looked at the sample problems, and it seemed like a good option for them. BUT at that point, I had said we would start through the elementary books starting next fall. And then, I was ordering something from a site that had free shipping if you spent x amount, and they carried the Life of Fred books, and ordering the first book would get me up to free shipping, so I went ahead and ordered it, so we'd have it when we needed it. And then all of the above mess with housing happened and I had very little time to devote to fun school stuff, but didn't want the girls to just sit and watch tv all day, or even spend all day packing and such, though they've done plenty of helping with that. . . so I went ahead and handed them the first book, showed them how to use it, and turned them lose with it. They LOVE LOVE LOVE it!!! I have to tell them "you need to stop doing math" every day! Sassy (as usual, she works "faster", MiniMe is more thorough and methodical) was done the first book, begging for more within about 2 weeks. So I ordered the 2nd book, and told her it better last her until we move. But they didn't listen (MiniMe is running about 1 day slower than Sassy), so a couple weeks ago I went ahead and ordered several more so they can just keep working through them at their pace. . .

Science: We are listening to the Jonathan Park Adventures again in the car.

Language arts: They get this through reading for history, writing for fun, writing out the required "homework" for math, etc. As an added writing bonus for Hanukkah, our "Hanukkah Fairies" brought along a notebook this year. Each night they left the girls' a short message and finished up with a question for the girls to answer, so the girls got abit of extra writing practice in each day of Hanukkah answering the fairies' questions.

The chaos of the last while has meant we haven't really kept up with Little Bit's "Letter of the Week", but that's not all bad, since we took letter "W" with us on the Florida trip, so only had 3 weeks left. We've skipped some weeks, and spread things out, but we have worked through X and Y, and will probably spread out "Z" over the rest of the year. Then, depending how the timing of hte actual move goes, we may skip the first couple weeks of January, but hopefully by mid-January at the latest, we will start in with the same Waldorf preschool curriculum that the big girls started at this age. I'm excited to get back into it, it was a fun, program and I think not only will Little Bit enjoy it, but the big girls will have fun participating again as well :)

So that's what's been going on around here. .  . hopefully I can remember to update abit more regularly from here on out . . .

Friday, December 7, 2012

Review '- NuNaturals Stevia

I was recently given the opportunity to review some yummy, natural, sweeteners.

NuNaturals has a whole line of natural stevia products. Stevia is a very sweet herb that can be used as a safe, all natural, low calorie sweetener, safe for diabetics. You can read more about stevia here.

NuNaturals generously sent me one bottle each of Peppermint, Lemon, and Orange NuStevia. AND they threw in Vanilla and regular liquid stevia, white stevia powder packets, and their new, prebiotic blend . Along with all these yummy goodies, they sent me a whole stack of recipes to get started with, and a conversion chart, showing how much of each type of stevia to use in place of sugar in recipes.

When I received my box of goodies, I immediately started using the liquid sweeteners in my coffee (vanilla and peppermint are both YUMMY for that!) and adding the lemon and orange to ice tea and water. For water, I add some real lemon to it too, so it's more lemony and not so sweet. We've also enjoyed using the the peppermint in hot chocolate, yum!

One of the recipes we tried, using the powdered sweetners, was this muffin recipe. We liked them, as written (using eggs instead of egg replacer), but then we had to try them again, substituting the orange liquid stevia instead of the powder. YUM!! Though I need to play with the amount of liquid, they were so moist they fell apart (because of the changes I made, to a liquid sweetner, and eggs instead of the powdered substitute)

Another "recipe" we made was loosely based on a friend's recipe for healthy chocolate. All we did was combine equal parts coconut oil and cocoa powder, then added orange stevia (peppermint would be yummy too!) to taste. Drop it in little plops on wax paper (or if you're feeling fancy, pipe it) and freeze it. Yummy, healthy, chocolate drops that I'm happy to let my kids eat whenever they ask!! (they do need to be kept in the freezer)

So, if you're looking for a healthy, natural low calorie sweetner, stevia's the best option, and the NuNatural stevia products are some of the best I've tried!

AND they are offering a special coupon for our readers: just enter the DISCOUNT CODE ;  BLG1212  at checkout to receive a 15% DISCOUNT on your ENTIRE ORDER. This discount remains  EFFECTIVE UNTIL  DECEMBER 31, 2012 .

You can also get free shipping on any order over $35 after discounts.

Disclaimer; I received this product free to review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations. I am part of The CWA Review Crew.