Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Traditions at Our House

This post contains affiliate links.

I surprised the girls, with Frosty in our bathtub a few days before Christmas.
Our Christmas begins around suppertime on Christmas Eve. When the twins were itty bitty, we started the tradition of pizza on Christmas Eve, because ordering a pizza delivered was a way to have a "treat" and keep the kitchen clean for the Christmas Day company. Over the years, it's varied whether we order delivery (when we first moved to PA, we discovered that there were no pizza delivery places that were OPEN on Christmas Eve. . . now, we live far enough out, I don't think there are any pizza places that deliver, ever), made our own pizza, picked it up from a local pizza place that doesn't deliver, or used frozen pizzas. Whatever we do, it's pizza, and that makes it tradition. 

Another Christmas Eve tradition is the Christmas Eve presents. Ever since the twins' first Christmas, we have had a few, select, Christmas Eve presents. They are always the "same", but the girls love it. Each of the girls gets to open Christmas pajamas, or nightgowns (for the last several years, my mom has made nightgowns for the girls).  The other presents for Christmas Eve are to be shared, but there are 3, since there are 3 girls. In theory, they are books, DVDs, or games, to be read/watched/played that evening. Whether we actually use them all that evening, varies. This year, when we did our Christmas Unit Study in November, Little Bit fell in love with the Grinch movie, and was so sad when it had to go back to the library. So that was this year's Christmas Eve DVD. She watched it 3-4 times before bedtime, and 3 or 4 more times on Christmas day LOL.

After supper, and presents, the big girls decided they wanted to paint their nails. Not to be left out, Little Bit asked if she could paint Daddy's toes. She got rags, and put them under his feet, then Lexie helped her, to make sure nothing spilled on the floor. Daddy now has VERY colorful toes :) 
By the time all the nails (Daddy's toes, and big girls' nails) were well-painted, it was almost bedtime, and that meant Monkey Bread time. Monkey Bread is terribly NOT healthy (though some year I'm going to play around with using homemade, whole wheat, dough), but it's yummy AND a way to have a treat for Christmas morning without taking a bunch of time on Christmas morning. The girls all prepare the monkey bread right before bed, then it raises all night (this year I put it IN the oven to raise, to keep the cats away from it) and on Christmas morning we just put it in the oven, and we're ready to go. 
Christmas morning starts with stockings. Since we give the girls gifts for Hanukkah, stockings are the only gifts we give them. 

Once the stockings had been opened, we baked the Monkey Bread, and Lexie and Ashlyn had some of the instant (decaf) coffee from their stockings, while Rodney and I enjoyed our real coffee, hee hee.

Then, after the final clean-up in preparation for the grandparents, the girls decided to exchange the gifts they'd gotten, or made, for each other, and for Rodney and me.

By then it was about time for the grandparents to start getting there.

Little Bit loved her Hello Kitty necklace
With the coming of the grandparents, there was much more present-opening to keep everyone occupied. Little Bit can read her own name, so she busily set to work finding all HER presents, and tearing through them as fast as possible. She also discovered that everyone ELSE was willing to let her "help" open their presents, so she got plenty of present-opening in.

Lexie was thrilled to get a music stand to make violin practice easier!

Little Bit ran right upstairs to try on her shirt from Aunt Darla.

Once the present chaos was contained, we fixed dinner. With our small house, that required cleaning up most of the mess from presents, so we'd have room to set up the table, but that made clean-up that evening much easier than it has been some years LOL. Lexie and Ashlyn worked together to arrange the veggie tray Christmas Tree. Some other Christmas Dinner traditions we have include spiced hot apple cider. I throw it in the Crockpot before everyone gets here, and let it "brew" all day. It's yummy, makes the house smell great, and is no effort at mealtime.  We also keep dessert simple, and just have whatever Christmas cookies we have made, or other people bring.

There's no way of avoiding having things be abit crowded when we have a meal with lots of people in our house, but it was fun just the same. By the time everyone had eaten and we'd cleared things up enough that people could walk through the house again, it was time for the grandparents to start packing up and head home.

Christmas evening is laid back and relaxing. If anyone is hungry for supper, we just pull out leftovers from lunch. I think Little Bit watched the Grinch a few more times. Lexie curled up with a new book for awhile . . . all 3 girls spent time checking out various Christmas gifts. It was calm and laid back and a perfect end to a busy day with family :)

Monday, December 30, 2013

M is for Monkey Bread

For the last several years, we've had the tradition of having Monkey Bread for Breakfast on Christmas morning.

Not only is it yummy, and unhealthy enough to fall firmly in the "treat" category, but it is also something the girls have fun helping me make on Christmas Eve, which equates to less work on Christmas morning!

I have no idea where I got the recipe, but here it is:

1/2 cup sucanat (or sugar, but sucanat adds a little bit of healthier-ness to it)
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
24 frozen bread rolls
1 stick butter, melted
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup sucanat

At least 8 hours in advance, or the night before, combine first 2 ingredients to make cinnamon sugar. Wet dough balls slightly and roll in cinnamon sugar. Place in greased bundt pan. Melt butter and add to the additional cinnamon sugar (I also dump any leftover from the first batch in with it). Pour over the dough. cover with a towel and let raise 8 hours or overnight.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Invert onto a plate to serve.

I'm linking up to Blogging through the Alphabet
and Try a New Recipe Tuesday

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up - December 29

What a busy week! I think I'm going to do a separate post for Christmas, to keep this one from being quite so long, since even without Christmas, we had alot going on this week.  The girls are starting to have fun with hair styles and such, so when they saw directions on youtube for a 4 strand ribbon braid, they had to try it out. Here's Ashlyn's first attempt (using Lexie as her model.  Not too shabby huh? Something tells me that my extensive ribbon stash is going to get more use for the next while :)
On Monday, E & J were at our house all day, so we had time to do some extra "school" stuff that is hard to fit in during our normal 4 hours. While Lexie was helping E with his math, the little ones thought they needed to "do math" too. So I got out some dice, playdough and number magnets. The idea was to throw a die (they each had one, to avoid arguments), make the same number of playdough balls as there were spots on the die, and then find the corresponding number magnet and set next to it. J wanted to use the magnets like cookie cutters on the playdough, so I also dug through our bin of playdough cookies cutters and found them at least some of the number ones. They had fun with it, and when E finished his math, he joined in, and we let it morph into general playdough play which nicely filled a good chunk of time on a rainy day!

For several weeks I'd been toying with doing a cute snowman face for snacks, but since our normal morning snacktime is also our history read-aloud time, I try to keep the snacks simple so I can read while they eat. Since the boys were here all day, we also had an afternoon snack, which was the perfect time for our snowman snacks.  We used mini-bagels, and the kids spread cream cheese on them, stuck a baby carrot in the center hole for a nose, and used raisins for the eyes and mouth.  They had fun with it, and the snowmen turned out pretty cute, but E and J weren't impressed with cream cheese. E's comment was "cream cheese sounds better than it tastes" LOL.  

Tuesday was spent getting ready for Christmas, and as I mentioned above, I'll cover Christmas (and Christmas Eve) in a separate post.

Thursday we had MORE SNOW!!! What is UP with that?!?! Which would have been fine, except E&J were there all day again, and I had hoped to be able to send the kids out for several short outside times throughout the day. Not gonna happen with snow clothes involved, sigh . . . add to that, the fact that all 3 of my girls had colds, and we had a pretty laid back day. Did school, watched a marathon of Magic Schoolbus Episodes on Netflix (shhhh, don't tell them that it's teaching tons of science!), played with Christmas presents, read a basket-full of books . . .

Friday morning the girls and I headed to Mama and Papa's house. They had mentioned, on Christmas, that that the National Zoo has a "Zoo Lights" thing that they were thinking of going to this weekend, so we decided to tag along. By Friday evening, we decided that, with all 3 girls having colds, we'd be better off to do something indoors. So Sabbath afternoon we headed to the National Botanical Gardens Conservatory. They always have Christmas displays and, in the past, have never been crowded, so we figured it would be ideal. We got there and it was PACKED!!! Claustrophobically packed!

We spent a little while there, to see the orchids and herbs and such, but didn't even try to go see the main Christmas display. The crowds, combined with the girls not feeling good, were not a good fit, so we decided to abandon this idea and head to Brookside Gardens instead, hoping it would be less crowded.

Our main "goal" at Brookside was the greenhouse, which also does a train display for Christmas, but Dad decided to park at the Visitor Center, which has a bigger lot. That meant walking through the gardens to get to the greenhouse. There's not tons in bloom, obviously, but it was fun to see the unlit "flowers" for their garden of lights, which is AWESOME, Seeing it unlit made it easy to see "how" they create the illusions they create.

We stopped in the Children's garden and the girls played there for abit. It has a "school theme" now, so they played in the schoolhouse, and such.

Then, as we continued through the gardens, they discovered the gazebo. Lexie and Ashlyn decided the gazebo would be the PERFECT place for a wedding. When I told them that I had actually BEEN to a wedding there, when I was younger than they are now. They were even more intrigued and begged to stay there and "plan our weddings" instead of going on to the greenhouse. So they spent the next while figuring out who would stand where, and where the reception would be and every other minute detail, except, you know, inconsequential things like the groom, or whether they will live anywhere near there when they get married LOL.
Even Little Bit got in on it, offering her suggestions, and asking if she'd be in their weddings.

Once we finally dragged them away from the gazebo and wedding planning, we went on to the greenhouse and the train display. It was busy, but not nearly as bad as the one downtown and we all enjoyed watching the trains and seeing all the details they'd added to the train display.  Lexie started planning out how they could do their own display, using Papa's model train and Mama's lighted Christmas houses LOL.

After supper we went to Seneca Creek Park to drive through the Winter Lights (I tried to take pictures, but my camera couldn't handle it, so you'll just have to see the pictures on their site). We used to go every year, and have gone a few times since moving away, but it's been a couple years and the big girls didn't really remember it. I'm not sure Little Bit had ever been, but if she had, she didn't remember it. As we started through, the first part was just driving under arches of light, and Ashlyn commented "is this all there is?" Once we got into it, she decided it was worth it afterall LOL. Little Bit was as enthralled as I'd hoped, and as her sisters were at her age :)

A final stop on our way back to Mama and Papa's house was the park in Williamsburg, a little town near Mama and Papa, that does a free (but donations appreciated) drive-through lights in their park. Considering it's a small town, it's pretty cool too, and there was nobody there, so we could actually stop to take pictures if we wanted. Since J LOVES firetrucks, I took a picture of the firetruck to show him when we get home.

It was a long day, but a fun way to close out the Christmas season. When we got home, the girls were all ready to fall asleep quickly :)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

L is for Let's not be Lazy about cLeaning

 In my never-ending quest for the perfect chore system, we re-vamped things AGAIN, and this past week was our first week with the new system.

In the past, the older girls have preferred to work together on chores, so rather than having one kid clean the bathroom, while the other cleans the kitchen, they've preferred chore systems where Ashlyn cleans the toilet while Lexie cleans the tub, or whatever . . . however, lately they seemed to spend more time fighting over who should be doing what, than actually cleaning and if one kid did a halfway job one day, the other kid might have to pick up the slack the next day.

So, I re-vamped things to give each of them specific zones that are their zone for a whole month. That way, slacking will only impact themselves (at least until the end of the month, I'll be sure to do a walk-through the last week and make sure everything is up to par, before we switch chores).  Since I already had chores divided into 5 zones, I stuck with the 5 zones, and assigned 2 zones to each of the big girls and 1 zone to Little Bit. Needless to say, she still needs quite abit of help, but that's ok, I "help" her with her zone.

I decided to let the big girls decide when they wanted to do their weekly zones, and told them it was up to them, they could do it all in one day, do one zone one day and the other a different day, or do a little bit each day. They decided to wait and do everything on Friday afternoon . . . I don't think they'll be choosing that again, but they stuck with it, and got stuff done!

So the specifics:
Our Master List includes the daily chores and the 5 zones. I printed out the list (you can see it here), colored it to make it pretty, trimmed the paper, and laminated it. Then I added velcro dots by each section and made velcro "tags" with each of the girls' names, to put next to each section. Next month, we'll just shift everything down to change who does what. The big girls each have 2 Daily sections and 2 Weekly zones. Little Bit has jobs within each of the older girls' daily sections, and also 1 Weekly zone.

For the specific zone chores, I printed one page for each zone. We keep them in page protectors, and use wet erase markers to mark them off. Each one is hanging somewhere near that zone. I keep track of the zones in Evernote. If you want to see them, you can subscribe to my blog, e-mail me, using the contact button in my sidebar and ask, and I'll send you the link.  For each zone I have weekly chores, monthly zones and quarterly and/or yearly chores. There are check boxes for one month's worth of weekly chores, which also lists how many monthly/quarterly/yearly chores should be done each week. Those get erased each time we switch who does which chores.  The monthly, quarterly and yearly chores have check boxes to last an entire year. I also keep track, in Evernote, of the month that we did the yearly chores, so that we don't end up doing the same chore in December one year, and January the next.

The final piece of the puzzle was check-off sheets for each of the girls. This was actually something we'd already been doing so it was pretty easy to adapt. Each of the girls has a chart that lists their daily chores. Lexie and Ashlyn's are on one page on the fridge (left). Little Bit's uses clip art pictures instead of words. It's hanging on a hook near our bedroom, since there was a convenient, not too in the middle of things, wall there (the master schedule is right near there as well). It's pictured above, along with some of the zone charts. Since the zones can happen whenever, I just randomly included them on 2 of the days but they don't have to be done those days. The charts are in page protectors and we write on them with wet erase markers. For Lexie and Ashlyn, if they do the chore without being reminded they can write a 2 in the box. If I remind them, and they do it, they can write a 1 in the box. If I have to ask twice, they don't get any points, just an X in the box when it's done. If I have to do it for them, I write a -1 in the box. For Little Bit I keep it simpler, she just colors in the box if she does it. At the end of the week, I add up the points. When they get enough points, they earn a "date" with Mommy or Daddy.

So how is it working? Lexie complains often (like daily) about having to do things "alone". She's an extreme extrovert so she doesn't do alone well, unless she's reading a book. We joke that as soon as she was conceived she realized she needed someone to talk to, and so she "split", hence identical twins LOL. However, Ashlyn likes this approach better. She felt that she was doing more than "her share" when they worked together on things. Additionally she's a perfectionist and Lexie is . . . not . . . so if they were supposed to work together to clean an area, Lexie would declare it "good enough" long before Ashlyn considered it done, which led to conflict. She's thrilled to have her own jobs that she's responsible for.  I'm THRILLED to be able to glance at the chart and know who didn't do what they were supposed to do, or who to compliment for a job well done!  One piece of all of this was having Little Bit dry and put away silverware. I've struggled with this for awhile now. At our old house, when we had a dishwasher, it was her job, albeit, not consistently enforced, to put the silverware away. But now, without a dishwasher, I hadn't figured out an efficient, safe way for her to help dry dishes. Somehow as I was setting up the rest of this, it hit me that, when I wash dishes, I could put the silverware on a towel, that could be moved to a lower surface, along with the silverware caddy, and she could dry, and put away the silverware. what I didn't anticipate was how THRILLED she'd be with her "job", she loves it!

I'm linking up to Blogging Through the Alphabet at Ben and Me.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up - December 23

We had snow on the ground the ENTIRE week! That almost NEVER happens around here, and certainly not before Christmas! I have to admit, I'm really glad it's a rare thing here. Part of our normal school routine, on days when the neighbor boys join us, includes outside time, and getting everyone in, and out, of snow clothes isn't something I love LOL. Also, since it was kind of weird snow . . . not packable, so no snowman making or snowball fights . . . we don't have hills for sledding . . . the kids had to be somewhat creative in how they played in the snow for so many days in a row, but they figured it out. . . there was a layer of "ice" somewhere in there, so they'd clear the snow down to that, on the driveway and then "skate" on it, or the big girls would slide the younger ones around in the sleds on the "ice". So it worked . . . but from that standpoint, I wasn't sad to see it go with the weekend's warmer temperatures. I do wish everything had shifted a week, so we'd had snow on the ground for Christmas, it sure was prettier :) 
This year Little Bit has really loved the Advent calendar. It's a felt calendar that I got from Oriental Trading (probably for a couple dollars) when the twins were babies or toddlers. I think it's been used every year since we got it (we have various other Advent calendars and books that I rotate, but this one has been a constant). This year, above and beyond adding a new one each day, Little Bit has spent hours just playing with it like a felt board. Since OTC doesn't still sell them, you could easily make something similar, with craft felt and velcro dots. In fact, we've lost a couple pieces, and the numbers have come off some of the pockets, so I'm thinking once Christmas is past, I'm going to re-do the numbers with puffy paint, and make new figures to replace any missing ones with felt and velcro dots. Another thing that she's gotten alot of use out of recently is the new kids app from YouVersion.  YouVersion is the app I've used on both my phone, and iPad ever since I first got a smartphone, so when they came out with a free kid app, I downloaded it onto the iPad to see what it was like. It's just a "electronic book" that tells a few basic Bible stories, but something about it has completely captivated Little Bit, she listens to those stories over, and over, and over, that has helped her to learn the Baby Jesus story more thoroughly.

Thursday evening we met my parents at a Christmas Lights place called Christmas Village. I can't imagine why people wait in line for HOURS on the weekends, or travel from far enough away to have to get a hotel in order to see it, I much prefer some of the other lights things we've gone to in the past, but it was fun to see Little Bit enjoying it. I think the snow on the ground really added to it too.
This week was our first week of a new chore system - watch for a whole post about that later this week.

The girls decided to spend one whole afternoon baking cookies. They chose the recipes, and made the cookies without any help from me (except helping them find the ingredients and equipment that aren't things we use regularly enough for them to know where I keep them, like white flour, and the flour sifter). I put the cookies in the oven, and took them out, since the baking stones are still abit heavy for the girls, and at the end, some of the final clean-up fell to me. But otherwise, it was pretty much a mom-free project.

It also suddenly occurred to the girls, that they were planning to make Christmas presents this year, and if they were actually going to DO that this year, they needed to get it done. So their art time this week was mostly spent on Christmas present-making :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

K is for Kindle, and Other Cheap Ways to Get Books!

This post may contain affiliate links.

As you know, if you've read my blog at all, our homeschool approach is extremely eclectic. We don't follow any specific approach. One thing that we do a lot of, is use "real" books (as opposed to textbooks). Charlotte Mason would call them Living Books.

So far, since this school year started (July), we have used approximately 200 different "resources" (books, ebooks, videos, audios).  Some of those are review products, and I often don't bother to record the books I read in circle time since the older girls aren't there, and I don't have to report on the little kids yet (our state requires reporting starting at age 8, and one requirement is a list of all resources used).  Still, that's a LOT of books, and such if I had to actually buy them all!

So, I thought today I'd share how I go about finding the books we need without spending a fortune:

The first thing I do is make sure I don't already own the book. Someday I hope to have a searchable list of all books that I own, and their location, on my computer, for now, I *do* have (most of) my books sorted into categories on our shelves, so I just check the shelf.

When I need a book, the first place I check is the library. I can go to our county library's website and search all books in the county, and have it sent to our local branch for me to pick up. I'm only allowed to reserve 10 books at one time, so, while otherwise, I wouldn't mess with separate library cards for the kids, since I'm always with them, Lexie and Ashlyn both have their own cards. That lets me reserve up to 30 books at a time (there's no limit on how many I can have checked out, but I can only have 10 per card on reserve at any one time). I hole punched all 3 cards and have them all on a key chain clipped to the handle of our library bag.

I have over 300 books saved to my Amazon Kindle account, most of them, I've been able to get free by keeping an eye on blogs that list current amazon freebies. So I check my Kindle account, and also check on Amazon, in case the book is currently free on Kindle. Older, public domain books are usually available free.  While I'm checking, if it's not free, I'll also make note of what the price for the Kindle version, as well as the physical book, both new and used.

If it's not free on Kindle, and it might be public domain (old enough to no longer paying royalties to the author), I check Project Gutenberg, free e-books. I download the .mobi (Kindle) version or the .pdf (Adobe) version, depending on how I plan to use it.

If it's a book I'm going to use as a read aloud, and might be old enough to be public domain, I also check LibriVox.  This is an awesome resource that saves my voice! Volunteers read and record public domain books to be downloaded free! I download them to my phone and we can listen to them in the car!

Once I've exhausted my free resources, I start looking at where I can purchase it inexpensively. I already have an idea of price from Kindle/Amazon, but, I also check Half.Com.  This is ebay's used book site. If the price for the used book is the same on amazon and half.com I'll usually choose half.com because they let you combine shipping if you purchase multiple books from the same seller. I check the sellers that have TONS of books in inventory, usually sellers of ex-library books. I keep a running "wish list" in half.com that are books I want, but don't need immediately. So when I DO need a book immediately, I also check that seller for the books on my wishlist. Combining shipping can drop the price of a book, shipped from around $5 to around $3.

Final Analysis
Even if a book is available from the library, if I'm going to use it regularly all year, I'll at least check to see if I can get it inexpensively. Sometimes buying the book new from amazon, and getting free shipping by combining items to get Super Saver shipping can be cheaper than buying used. Sometimes used is cheaper than Kindle . . . it's important to check amazon, kindle, and half.com for any book before buying.   If the price is essentially the same, consider other things . . . If I'm going to be travelling while we read the book, having it on Kindle means I don't have to pack another book, if I'm buying the book new, from Amazon, I might be able to get the Kindle version free, best of both worlds!  My girls prefer to read "real books" rather than ebooks, so if they'll be reading it independently, if the price is the same, I'll go with the physical book.  I can re-sell physical books, but they take up space on my, already overflowing, bookshelves unless/until I do. I can also loan them to friends . . . lots of things to consider, it's different for each book.

But I don't have a Kindle!
I don't! Kindle has free apps for PC, iPad, iPhone, iTouch, and Android. I have the Kindle app on my laptop, phone (Android) and iPad. I also have it on both of my daughters' iTouches. This has worked WONDERFULLY for us!

And that's I keep book costs down for our homeschool!

This post is part of Blogging through the Alphabet at Ben and Me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up - December 15

This past week could pretty much be summed up as . . . SNOW! It snowed on Sunday, it snowed MORE on Tuesday, and then it stayed below freezing all week, so the snow STAYED (that's soo not the norm here. Snow at ALL before Christmas is pretty rare, snow that sticks around is ALWAYS rare) . . . and THEN, it snowed AGAIN all afternoon on Saturday!!!!

Much to the girls' frustration, because it stayed well below freezing, the snow was super powdery, and not good for much.

That said, they did spend a good part of Tuesday outside (before the temps dropped to bitterly cold), and built a snow fort, that they continued to play with the rest of the week.

Other than snow . . .

Monday evening, our friend, Denise treated Lexie and Ashlyn to a WONDERFUL evening at Longwood Gardens. They had a BLAST!! Got home chattering a mile a minute about how fun it was, and continue to talk about it. It was definitely the highlight of the week for them!

Otherwise, not a lot going on. We're staying busy with school and such. We're really enjoying our Advent Tea each afternoon. So much, that we've decided to continue having afternoon tea after Christmas. It's a great way to slow down, reconnect, and have some mid-afternoon read aloud time!

During Hanukkah, one of the things the "fairies" did this year was to bring some gel snowflakes for the girls to put on the windows. Ashlyn put half on one side of our big front window and Little Bit put the other half on the other side. She (Little Bit) has proceeded to rearrange those silly snowflakes every day! I never thought a silly $1 pack of gel snowflakes would entertain her for SOO long, but she loves them!

Sabbath School this week included having the kids act out the Christmas story. I was busy reading the story, but another mom took pictures, so I'll post them when I get copies from her, but it was ADORABLE! The curriculum we use tends to assume a large class, so I often have to be creative to adapt it to work when I can only count on 2 kids (Little Bit and J), though sometimes we have 2-3 others. This week's program was no exception. . . As usual, my adaptation means roping my "helpers" (otherwise known as Lexie and Ashlyn) into filling in for the kids we don't have. To start out, I gave Little Bit and J the choice of characters (Mary, Joseph, or 2 shepherds).  They chose to be the shepherds, so Lexie and Ashlyn got to be Joseph and Mary. Then I told the little ones they needed to ALSO be the wisemen. They did GREAT!

Then we headed home and hibernated through the afternoon/evening snow storm :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Recipe: Snow Ice Cream

 This is what we woke up to this morning! The girls were THRILLED, and headed right outside. The snow was still coming down hard, so 30 seconds later, they were back, "can we put a bowl out for snow ice cream?"

I gave them a bowl, and told them to set it up on the cooler that lives on our back porch, so that it wasn't right down on the cats' level.

The girls spend ALL morning outside playing, and finally came in when they were starving to death (or so they said LOL).  by then the bowl was about half full of snow, so I told them to go find a place of undisturbed snow and scoop a little off the top, not getting down to the dirt and stuff, to get the bowl closer to full.

They did, and while they peeled off all their wet snow clothes, I made snow ice cream.

You need:
A big bowl of clean snow
sugar (I use raw sugar, so it adds flavor too)
vanilla extract (you could probably leave it out, when using raw sugar)

sprinkle sugar and a little vanilla extract, if using, over the snow, then add a little milk, and start stirring. Keep adding milk, a dash at a time, until it all kind of sticks together. Taste, and add more sugar or vanilla if needed.

Eat it right away, because otherwise it melts into sweet, watery milk LOL.

 photo 9c2d3d39-9e5d-4351-b060-d6251ee13eaa_zpseda17cd5.jpg
I'm linking up to Try a New Recipe Tuesday

Monday, December 9, 2013

Weekly Wrap-Up - December 9

What a busy week! Sunday we drove home from our Thanksgiving trip.  It was still Hanukkah, and Sunday marked the beginning of Advent as well. AND, I typically do my Christmas decorating on Thanksgiving weekend, so I was "behind" on that too. 
Monday was a school day. For the most part we did our normal school stuff, but I'd seen the cute idea to do "Cranberry Science" near Thanksgiving, and since we hadn't had a chance to do it BEFORE Thanksgiving, AND the big girls were planning to string the cranberries, with popcorn, for the tree that afternoon, Monday was our day for Cranberry Science.  We watched the "Dirty Jobs" episode about Cranberry farming (it's on Netflix), and then we put a bag of cranberries in a baking dish and the kids "flooded the field" and then "harvested" the cranberries by scooping them out into a  bowl. The big girls did it enough to not feel left out, and then the 3 littles happily spent the rest of school time doing it over and over and over again :) 

Monday afternoon was Christmas decorating time. Lexie and Ashlyn, with a little help from Lina, strung the cranberries and popcorn, and then declared that our team needed to have a "theme" this year. Since they'd already decided on the cranberries and popcorn (it was suggested in Christmas Comes to America and they'd been impatiently waiting for it to REALLY be Christmas time so they could try it), they went with that, and sorted through all our ornaments to find the red & white ones. It turned out really nice :) They also put paper snowflakes all over our big front windows. My tree skirt is a piece of white twill that I have the girls all trace their handprints, and write their names/dates each year. To help with their theme this year, I put a red fleece blanket under it. The white basket next to the tree holds our toy nativity sets and on the other side is a big basket of throw blankets (it always lives in our living room, but had to move to that location to work with the tree. In front of it is a red & green hatbox with all our Christmas kids' books in it. 

We had more sensory fun for school on Wednesday. I'd seen an idea on Pinterest to mix baking soda and shaving cream to make "snow", so we tried it. It worked pretty well, but was messier than I anticipated, though I still don't think it would have to be. Little Bit and E tend to "rev each other up", so they're wilder and tend to make bigger messes when they're together.  On the plus side, I had some stains on my table from other art projects (paint, glue, marker, etc), that I figured would wear off in time or I'd attack with a magic eraser someday. The baking soda/shaving cream mixture, with a damp cloth, and slight scrubbing, cleaned all but the wax drips from the candle (my finger nail did that just fine) beautifully, so now my table's white again :) 

When they were done with it, I set the pans of it in the bathtub and have been using it to clean the bathtub, shower, bathroom sink, my glass-top stove, and kitchen sink :)

Wednesday night was the last night of Hanukkah. That's the night for the girls to get their "big gift" for Hanukkah. This year, the big girls had gotten theirs early, when we got them a sewing machine while we were reviewing a sewing course. I'd struggled alot with what to do for Little Bit. I knew, if I asked her, she'd say she wanted another big LaLaLoopsy doll, but she doesn't really play with the ones she has. I'd seen 2 or 3 really cute hand-made ideas that she'd LOVE, but with Hanukkah so early, and us travelling right before it, I just didn't have the time, especially given that she doesn't nap anymore, to make something by hand. . . so I was still struggling, when, a week or so before we left to travel for Thanksgiving, I stopped at Goodwill during a rare shopping trip without any of the kids. I was looking for something else, that I didn't find, but I DID find a fold-up play kitchen! She had seen a big plastic play kitchen in a magazine advertisement and said "oh, mommy, look at that!!!" And she HAS been playing with the play food stuff alot lately. So when, I found a play kitchen (stove/oven and sink) that fold down completely flat, AND that I could get for $3. I was thrilled!! And when she got it, she was thrilled too! And has been having a blast with it! 

Thursday was my husband's office Christmas party. The food was delicious, the big girls had fun playing the gift exchange game (it runs too late at night, and Little Bit's too young to understand/enjoy a game where people can take your present away and you can get stuck with something you don't want, so when the game started, she and I came home). The big girls each managed to walk away with a box of chocolates, so they were happy LOL.  Little Bit thought the plastic glasses they passed out to the kids were fun though.

We finished up our week by celebrating our 16th anniversary :) My parents came up on Sabbath afternoon and picked up the girls. They took them to a hotel with an indoor pool for a fun evening of swimming, with more swimming the next morning before taking them out for lunch and bringing them home.

Rodney and I enjoyed a nice dinner out and some quiet time alone :) 

And one final picture for this week:  

 Ashlyn's cat, Moccasin has decided that the bathroom shelf right above the heat vent is HIS shelf. He randomly rearranges the towels that are there, or pushes them off altogether, to get it just the way he likes it LOL. I think I'm just going to give up and surrender that whole shelf to him for the winter LOL.

Friday, December 6, 2013

I is for Independent Learning

One of the questions that all homeschool parents get asked at some point, and most of us hear it semi-regularly, is some (usually more polite) variation of "what makes you think you're smart enough to teach your kids instead of letting professionals do it?" My standard answer has always been that one of the things I value most from my own education was the teacher who, for a variety of reasons, wasn't doing much actual "teaching". It forced me to learn to read the directions, and look things up, and figure it out on my own, and that ability served me extremely well throughout the rest of my education, and in "real life". Therefore, it's my job, as a homeschool parent, to teach my children how to figure things out for themselves, not to have all the answers ready to hand to them.  In other words, I don't have to be smarter, or as a smart as, than my children, in order to teach them, we learn together and they learn how to be independent learners.

That was, of course, all "theory" when my children were preschoolers, and early elementary age. Children that age are still figuring out the basics of reading and writing and such, and while they are also amazing little sponges, their reasoning and logic skills aren't developed enough to be truly independent learners.

This past year, it's begun to hit me that NOW is when I need to be steering Lexie and Ashlyn toward that independent learning stuff I've always advocated in theory. . . and I'm finding it abit harder than I'd anticipated. One part of it is easy. I am really good at coming alongside my children, and learning WITH them. It's a no brainer that I can't answer all their questions, and they're REALLY GOOD at asking questions, so they've seen me model MANY MANY times, the idea of looking something up online, or checking the library for a book on a topic, and such. The piece that I'm now struggling with is that bit about stepping back and letting them do it all INDEPENDENTLY. Not only because they balk at it, but because I LIKE learning with them. I don't want to "miss out" on what they're learning.

Additionally, Ashlyn is very strongly an auditory learner. She doesn't process things nearly as well when she reads them herself as she does when I read to her, so we've done lots of read alouds, and I'm sure we always will do some. . . BUT . . . while it's important to honor each child's learning style, and help them learn to work WITH their learning styles, it can also be important to help them learn how to step outside that comfort box, because there are certainly times in life when we have to work with others even when it means not doing things the way that works best for us.

So I guess this post is a challenge to myself as much as to my readers. Our children are growing up so fast, it's important to continually adapt and work with them so that they "grow" in wisdom and knowledge, not just physically.

This is one of my goals for the upcoming new year

  • to gently push at those comfort levels abit and encourage more independence
  • to not be so fast to answer their questions, or even point them toward the answers, but rather to sit back and see how they do on their own
  • to "let go" of my own desire to learn along with them, and instead, ask them to "teach me" after they've learned things
I suspect this will all meet with some resistance, but I think it will be a good learning experience for all 3 of us.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Our Advent Wreath

Jenn at Simblissity, is blogging about Advent this year, and has a link-up for pictures of Advent Wreaths, so I thought I'd join in.

The first year we did an Advent wreath, I got a simple metal ring, like this at a craft store and we added greenery and ribbons to it. Then at some point I found our current one at Goodwill. I LOVE it! And while some years we will, no doubt, go the greenery and ribbon route again, a huge advantage of this one is it can be easily moved around, now that we don't have a stationary table (our house is small, and there isn't a good place for a dining room table, even a small one, without impeding "traffic flow", so we have a drop-leaf table that can fold down to a "sideboard" when not in use, it's working well for us, but means that the table gets slid around depending on how big we need it).

This year we are reading Tabitha's Travels for Advent. We've read Jotham's Journey and Bartholomew's Passage in the past. There are some areas in all the books where western ideas take away from the accuracy, but overall we enjoy the books.

Previously, we've used our Advent reading for school time Bible in the morning, but this year, I didn't want to take a whole month off from Bible Road Trip, and couldn't figure out a way to make a daily continued story work when our neighbor, E, joins us for school 4 days a week. 

So, we decided this year, to have an afternoon tea party each day and light our Advent candle and read our story then. Little Bit isn't very into the story yet, but she's liking having tea and some type of "treat" each day. Once her tea and treat is done, she usually goes off to play while I finish reading to the big girls. They are thrilled with it all, it's even helping to motivate them to help keep things tidier around here, since we can't very well have a tea party if we can't "find" the table, LOL.

Don't forget to stop by Jenn's blog to see everyone else's Advent wreaths!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Weekly Wrap Up - Dec 1

Whew! What a BUSY and FUN week we had!!!

Sunday we were still at my parents' house, so the girls and I headed over to my friend Vicki's house for the afternoon. She has 3 kids too, and the world's most tolerant dog. All the kids had a blast! They even got to have a tea party :) And Vicki and I could never run out of stuff to talk about, we've been trying since we were 13 :) (and that's just when we finally got to live near each other, our parents were friends before we were born, we have a picture of us together when she was a baby and I was 1, when I say lifelong friends, I mean it!).  As we were driving home from Vicki's, the girls all agreed that "we should visit them every week". I think that 3 hr drive might be a bit of a deterrent but I sure wish we could! Fun times!!! :)

We got back to Mama and Papa's in time for the big girls to help Mama make German Cheese Dumplings, my great grandmother's recipe, but it's kind of like this, only there's also bread crumbs, browned in butter, in the filling, and after they're boiled, they're covered with an onion, sour cream gravy (and probably other differences too, I've never actually made them).  The girls didn't remember having them (it's been a couple years) but LOVED them, so now I figured THEY can learn to make them and it will just skip my generation :)

Monday we decided to go tour the book publishing company where Mama and Papa worked (technically they're retired, but they still go in and help out sometimes). The girls didn't remember touring the actual PRINTING part of it, so we went and did that again. We use the ends of rolls of paper for our art paper so they thought it was pretty cool to see how big those rolls are to start with :)

While we were there, they got to try out Mark's Segway, which they thought was great fun! Mark said they did pretty well at figuring it out too. They were just barely heavy enough for it, so sometimes it didn't register when they leaned, but overall they did great for a first try. Lexie said the easiest thing was to go in circles LOL.

Monday evening Daddy came down to Mama and Papa's house and Tuesday morning we headed out for Thanksgiving. Tuesday was a short drive (and despite predictions of an inch or more of ice, all we got was rain).  We drove to Rodney's sister's house, and spent the afternoon with her, then had supper with some friends from when we were in college.

Wednesday morning we headed out for the longer drive to TN. It snowed off and on pretty much the entire drive, but never stuck to the roads and traffic wasn't bad, so all in all, a good trip.  We made good time (and had left as early as possible to get as far south as possible before the snow hit (rumor has it it was in the 60s in Boston, I told Rodney next year we should go NORTH, it's warmer! LOL).

The rest of the week, we spent with Rodney's cousin and other relatives. I don't think I'd seen Rodney's cousin, Terry since our wedding, and hadn't met his wife or daughter (the big girls had, when they traveled to Indiana with Grandmom and Aunt Lynette when Little Bit was a baby). And I hadn't seen the aunts and uncles in forever either. We had a great time! Terry's a pilot, so Thursday morning we headed over to the airport. He showed the girls the "little" plane, and then took all 5 of us up in the bigger one. It only seats 6, including the pilot, so Lexie got to be co-pilot.

She and Ashlyn were SOOOO excited to get to fly, they made sure EVERYONE knew that they had been terribly deprived and hadn't gotten to fly in any kind of plane since they were 18 mo old and they weren't old enough to remember that so it DID NOT COUNT! And life is just SOOO unfair LOL. . .

Little Bit was more nervous about it all, and even MORE nervous when she found out that she would be sitting next to Ashlyn instead of with me. So the pre-take-off picture I snapped shows abit of terror LOL. Once were were flying and she realized it wasn't scary, she loved it too.

It was a beautiful clear day so we could see forever from up in the sky, it was amazing!!

Then we headed back to the house for more wonderful food and visiting with family.

Friday we relaxed and hung out. Terry was pulling some fence posts, so taught the big girls how to drive their golf cart, so they could haul the fence posts back to the shed after he, Rodney, and Uncle Gary pulled them. The girls LOVED that! Lexie, Ashlyn, their cousin, and Diamond the dog, spent ALL day driving the golf cart around :)  Now they're lobbying for us and/or Papa to get a golf cart too LOL.

Little Bit quickly declared the golf cart too scary and too bumpy (can't say as I blame her, with her sisters driving LOL), so she spent the day in the house with Lisa and I.  All the girls joined us to go pick up a Christmas tree and once we got lights on it, all the girls came in to help decorate it.

We all had a great time and were sooo sad to say goodbye to head back home yesterday. We left amid many invitations to come back anytime and whenever Lisa or Terry would say "you all have to come back", their daughter, M would say "for Christmas!" :)

In the midst of all our family Thanksgiving fun, we couldn't forget about Hanukkah. The first year we celebrated Hanukkah, to add to the fun, some Hanukkah fairies came to visit, and we've continued that tradition (they sometimes show up during other Biblical holidays as well). This year, they appeared on Wednesday morning, and brought a tiny travel menorah so we would have it, ready to use Wednesday night. That worked well, because even though we didn't get back to the hotel each night until bedtime, the mini menorah candles (birthday candles) burned out quickly enough that we could light it, and let them burn out while we finished up stories. Each night the girls also got gifts for Hanukkah. Thursday evening they theoretically got "dreidels and gelt" but since it seems repetitive to get a dreidel every year, I decided to modify things slightly and just have that night's gift include a game or games. This year they got some games I picked up while we were in Williamsburg. Interestingly, one of them, Teetotum is almost identical to Dreidel only with numbers instead of Hebrew letters. So the girls had fun playing that with their chocolate coins (gelt).

It's been abit challenging to come up with fairy ideas that worked in a hotel room, but I managed. My favorite, which worked really well in the hotel room, was the bubble bath!  Friday night, the girls' Hanukkah gift was bubble bath and bath scrub (the first Hanukkah was about cleansing the temple, our bodies are the temple of the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit), so one night's gifts are things for cleaning our bodies. Since Friday night is "bath night" that was the logical night for that gift), so when they woke up Sabbath morning they discovered the fairies had "borrowed" their new bath stuff and were taking a "bubble bath" in the ice bucket. Apparently, when fairy dust hits bubble bath it turns into miniature marshmallows :) Though Little Bit insisted that "that is NOT possible!" (apparently all the OTHER stuff the fairies do is perfectly logical?).  It was very nice of Target to have little "rubber ducky" lip gloss things in their dollar section right now, the ducky was just the right size for the fairies' bath, and the girls were "needing" some new lip balm with the dry winter weather anyway :)

I didn't get a picture, but another night the fairies left gel "snowflakes" on the hotel mirror, that we could take back off and take home with us, so we can use them to decorate at home too :)

Sabbath we drove to Mama and Papa's house and today we're heading on home.

Busy, BUSY week, but so much fun time with friends and family!