Sunday, December 27, 2009

Candy Cane, Candy Cane - Wherefore art thou?

DS is hunting through the house looking for one last treat. DH bought candy canes to put in the kids' stockings on Christmas, but alas, they cannot be located. We have looked high and low for them and cannot find them. DH bought them at least a month ago and so he tucked them away for safe keeping, but apparently the place is so safe, it cannot be located.

I can so identify with this problem as when I buy presents throughout the year and tuck them here and there, I end up spending most of December searching for the items in different little nooks and crannies. Apparently, this has actually brought some admiration of my DD who at almost 15 knows the secrets of Santa and has begun to be impressed by the true secrets of a parent that can keep such secret gifts hidden until the morning of Christmas.

How do you hide Christmas gifts? and if you have any thoughts on the missing candy canes, my children would love to know.

Friday, December 25, 2009

And Unto You A Child is Born

This Christmas is bringing us even more to celebrate than ever. This year, while celebrating the birth of the Christ child, our family is also celebrating the birth of a child in need. As I mentioned, we have been certified as a foster family this week. Well, we also had our first official training and a meeting to discuss a possible placement. I worried that our words did not reach the ears and the hearts it needed to, but at 2:30 on Christmas Eve we got our call and on Monday we will be getting our first placement.

The excitement I am feeling is coupled with so many fears: What if we are not enough? What if I can't remain calm? What if we do something stupid to this child who is already so delicate? How do I best keep everything in balance for this child, for our current children, for my husband, and for myself?

But the biggest question that echoes in my heart is how as a society can we continue to let these children down?

This new coming year will certainly be a year of new things for us; This new child certainly being the largest. As you contemplate your new year, might there be a place for another child in need. Jesus was born in the manager, wrapped only in swaddling cloth. As he grew, he talked to us about helping the least, the lost, and lonely and he encouraged us to help. Can you hear his call?

How can you answer? I pray that you have had a wonderful Christmas and that in this new year you will think about how you will make next Christmas wonderful for a child who was hurt and lonely this year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Christmas Miracle

We are official now. We are officially a foster family. We received our letter yesterday, the same day that we had our meeting for our first possible placement. For now we just have to wait as "the system" does its job, but we are definately on the right track.

It is interesting that a friend recently made a comment that you know you are doing what you should when it brings tears to your eyes. As I sat at the table with all the associated social workers, telling them why we would be a good family for this child, and hearing all about his issues, I found myself tearing up. I was able to control the tears, but I had to stop to take a breath before the reality of this child's life overwhelmed me. So based on my friend's philosophy, we are doing what we should be. I just wish things would come together faster for both him and us.

So, I am asking you all again for a prayer. A prayer this holiday, as we sit with our family around us, that all the children in the world can feel God's love and that one by one each of these needy children will find a home and people that love them. Amen

Monday, December 21, 2009

Another great Christmas Tradition - Spritz cookies

Spritz cookies have been a part of my family traditions from my earliest memories. My mother was not a big baker, but these I remember firmly. They are actually fairly quick cookies to make and do not require refrigeration, but they do require a cookie press. I so miss my mother's. Hers finally broke after over 30 years of usage a couple years ago; since then, I have gone through about five, but have yet to find one as durable and trouble-free as hers.

This year I was actually making the cookies for Breakfast with Santa that the library was sponsoring, but like an elementary school child who doesn't do their homework banking on the upcoming snow storm, I put off my evening cookie making. When the snow did not come, I started making them at 7 am.

Of course, as I wrapped up the cookies to go. I could see it in my husband's eyes: "More cookies please". And when my daughter and I drove to our old hometown to see their Christmas pageant the men baked away and by the time we got home cookies were freshly baked. Oh, so yummy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to make a perfect Gingerbread House

How do you make a perfect Gingerbread House? I think you pre-buy a built house. Some of you might like to build your house from scratch, but I prefer to make this a few hour project and not days.

Gather some candies:

Flick on the Christmas tree, light a fire, and find a sappy Christmas movie to play in the back.

Then, decoate with abandon.

This is the first year that I've been able to join in the decorating - check out my Chex Mix roof. The idea comes from an advertisement in Taste of Home Magazine (which by the way is a very inexpensive, but much enjoyed Christmas present).

I highly suggest that if you do not already incorporate gingerbread house decorating in your holiday plans that you add it now. In a busy time of hustle and bustle, gingerbread house decorating brings a bit of solice and family time.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading Challenge 2009 Conclusion

Well, as 2009 is quickly coming to a close, I thought perhaps we should try to look over the 2009 reading challenge to see where we are. I think from the instructions of "Let’s set a goal of reading 12 books in 12 months" that I have achieved that, but I'm not sure that I have managed all the segments that I noted. Let's see how close we came:

1. Book written by a long lost lover i.e. an author you enjoyed pre-kids.
This one was tough, but I read a great compilation of essays that my daughter picked out, Eloquent Essays that included many of my favorite authors: George Orwell, Barbara Kingsolver, and some very intersting essays by Carl Sagan and Martin Luther King Jr.

2. A book that allows you to travel to a place of your dreams.
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown - What I would give to see the art of Italy?

3. A book that brings you back to a place you’ve been before by location, character, job, or some other way.
Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr. This book takes place primarily in Maine, has a scene in Boston, and has a huge section that is based on the cancer his father is facing. Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in all three of these places.

4. A book recommended by your librarian (If you haven’t met him or her yet, it is time to get reacquainted).
Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

5. A book that is or was on the NY Times Best Seller list.
The Alchemist by Paula Coehlo

6. A biography of a person that interests you.
The Knockout Entrepreneur by George Foreman or Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldman. In these cases, I wasn't interested in George Foreman before I read his book and I had never heard of Catehrine Goldman, but both were great reads.

7. A book that is found in the Children’s or Young Adult section.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

8. A book on which a movie is based. Then plan an evening to watch the movie too.
Ok, I have to cheat and use Angels & Demons twice. I was dying for the movie to come out and was thrilled when DD brought it home as a suprise. Next, we are going to read his Digital Fortress. Do you think I'll get a movie for that one too? Tom Hanks, if you are listening, please start filming for a March 2010 release: ; )

9. A book of historical fiction.
The 19th Wife By David Ebershoff - - - This was an incredibly good book that intertwined the life of Brigham Young's 19th wife and a current day 19th wife in a fictitious Mormon sect.

10. A book recommended on any blog. Ok, I have to stretch this one a bit two, mostly because I don't recall who recommended specific books or how I came to read them. However, I know that Faithful Ruslan was recommended by a fellow book club member. Recommendations from others is a great way to expand your regular reading repertoire. This book for example I would have never read without a recommendation but am so glad that I did.

11. A book that claims it will make your life better because you read it.
Guinea Pig Diaries - by AJ Jacobs. While AJ does not claim that he will make your life better, his experiments do open your eyes to looking at the world in a new way which can in turn improve your life.

12. A book that is recommended by someone else in the comments of this blog (hopefully the list will be longer toward the end of the year).
Well, I can't do this one, because I need you all to talk. It is great to read, but we need some interaction to know about some new books.

Well, we didn't get all twelve, but pretty close. So now I will need to set up the 2010 reading challenge. Do you have any ideas or recommendations?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Suggestion - Mr. Peabody's Apple

Ok, I have to share this one. A dear friend recommended this book to me the other day. She is a 1st grade teacher and she read it to her class and was astonished by the way it touched them. The book, irronically, is by Madonna or more specifically re-told by Madonna. The story is about rumors. The story vividly shows how rumors can hurt and sometimes all the hurt and pain cannot be fixed with an "I'm sorry": some damage is irrepairable.

I must tell you that I took the book out from our library here and was as impressed as she was. So I am passing on this recommendation to you as well.

Article on Homeschooling Socialization - a must copy for the holiday season

Here is a wonderfully supportive article for homeschoolers. It may be a good one to print off and have with you during this holiday season. When someone says, "But how are they socialized?" You can just hand them a copy of the article and ask them to read it before you will discuss the issue further. When there done, I their concerns may be gone. There next question may be, "and how do I start homeschooling my children?"
HOME-SCHOOLING: Socialization not a problem - Washington Times

Monday, December 14, 2009

Prayers for Michelle Duggar

Did you hear? The 19th baby of the Duggars was born. Unfortunately, the birth was three months premature. I'm sure the family could use some extra prayers.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Helping others during the holiday season

Do you feel like you could have done more today to help others? Here is a way to feed 10 people without even leaving your seat and make someone's day at the same time. Kraft Foods is donating 10 meals to Feeding America for each mailing of a holiday e-card. It is that simple. So stop reading and start acting. Send your e-card now.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

O Christmas Tree

It looked like we were getting close to yet another year without a tree. We have not had a tree for two years. Two years ago, we were getting the floors done at the old house to prepare for selling the house, and then last year, we didn't put up a tree because we needed to be ready for showings. Unfortunately , a giant tree in the living room made the room look very small. So we settled for a 3' psychedelic Home Depot special for two years running. It is still used as a decoration in the house but not quite so prominently, though it has found a special place in my heart.
This year, life was piling up and I wasn't sure when we were going to get to it again. As you know, we did get the house decorated, but the tree itself was looking a little elusive. Sadly, we had to make a choice for DH and the kids to go tree hunting without me since I had to work, but better that than another year without a tree. DH was sweet enough to take pictures so that I could see their search.

By the time that I got home from work, they had the tree up and decorated.

Now we just have to find tinsel which is almost impossible to find around here. Apparently we have about the same chance of finding tinsel as we do in getting the H1N1 vaccine. Why, we do not know, but DH and kids went to four different stores looking for it and could not find it. So right now the tree is a little bare, but soon will have it glittering.

Tinsel has a long history in my family. I have to admit that I was surprised to find out how cheap tinsel was. When I was growing up, you would have thought tinsel was gold. I remember being instructed by my mother to only put three strands on each branch which we would methodically remove and save at the end of the season. I figured that tinsel had to be incredibly expensive and so when I had my first tree, I did not even question doing the same thing. DH looked at me like I was insane. "Honey," he said. "A box of tinsel is only 99 cents. We can throw it out. It is ok."

What funny Christmas memories do you have? Show us your tree. Include the link in your comment and we'll come check it out.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Creating a Genealogical Record for Your Family

I have always been fascinated by genealogy. I love the search, finding first hand documents, hearing old stories, traveling across time and space as our ancestors emigrated to this country. All the facts and details are fascinating. Fortunately, this interest runs in the family so I am luck to have other genealogy fans to work with.

In typical fashion my family kind of jumps in and out of it and looks down all different lineages to see what interesting tid-bits we can find. My aunt, however, is much more methodical and has created a wonderful book on my mother's side which she gave to all the descendants for Christmas a few years ago. Now I'm sure, in many households this book is a dust collector, but in ours it is a great reference book. What a better way to make history come alive than have a direct connection to a historical event. This week, the kids got the book out and were doing a comparative table of jobs that have been held in our family. DD found out that we had farmers, silk workers, bankers, entrepreneurs, gas company employees, inn keeper, blacksmith, and a whole boat load of teachers. DS was especially interested when he found that part of the Shaw family owned a grocery store. He immediately wanted to know if we were heir to the Shaw's supermarkets. He is no fool. Genealogy suddenly became very important.

Most interestingly though was that this common interest brought the siblings together to work, which is not always that easy. They worked cooperatively at this for several hours. They would scour through the histories of individuals that my aunt had compiled and glean out the occupations, which DD put in a spreadsheet on the computer.

If you have a genealogy, you may want to dig it out to work with as you work on graphs, geography, language, culture, etc. And if you don't have one, this might be a great time to start one.

We frequently use: - this is a web page that you need to pay for, but there is an initial 14 free trial.

Burial ground records are sometimes online and can be a great help.

My aunt gave DD a great book called Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Off-Line Genealogy for Kids by Ira Wolfman.

and easiest and most importantly, talk to the relatives that are still alive to get down their history before it is lost. Perhaps a great gift this Christmas would be

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Does Power Go to their heads

I don't get it. Why do people that have what appears to be everything flush it down the toilet? What goes through their minds. In the most recent case that is developing of Tiger Woods, he has done it not once but several times. The same was true of Bill Clinton. Then there was Gary Hart who dared the media to catch him.Well, I guess they managed to catch him. I am just fascinated by this philosophy of untouchable cockiness. I would be so thrilled to be at such a point in my career / life, I would worry that it could disappear at any moment. I would not tempt fate. Now mind you, I'm sure there are plenty of us that have made far stupider choices, but our gain / loss ratio is far different. It is like choosing between jumping off a dock or jumping off a cliff. In Tiger's case, I don't know what to think and I don't think we have heard it all, but I feel for him, his wife, and most especially for his children. It looks like he lost his wife, some portion of custody, most likely his endorsements, and who knows what else. He surely has lost my respect. I hope that it is somehow turns out to be some big mistake.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

If I homeschool will my child be able to get a job?

One of the biggest fears of the general public is how does homeschooling prepare children for their future? Will they be employable or just end up on the public rolls? What they don't realize is that many homeschooling parents worry about the same thing. We know that we only have one chance at this. Unlike in a public school, where children fail, quit, or expelled every day, and then they still have a crowd of children still to educate; the children that we teach are our own. If homeschooling fails, the repurcussions have a direct impact. We worry every moment if we have made the right choices and are properly equiping our children for their future. Yesterday, part of my answer came as it relates to my family. DD received her sub-professional librarianship certificate. It is almost like an apprenticeship certificate for librarians. Whether this becomes her permanent career path will remain to be seen, but at least it gives her an option. I am so proud of her hard work and look forward to continue to see her develop in this area.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How Homeschooling can help a child with learning disabilities

As I have mentioned before, as part of my job, I get the luxury of hearing great educators speak about topics facing public education. This is certainly unique given that my family doesn't actually use the public school system, but I always enjoy it because it keeps me up to date on research in the field. Interestingly though this week, one of the speakers made a comment that one of the states uses the fourth grade reading scores to extrapolate the number of jail cells that they will need in the future. The speaker gleaned from this statistic that bad readers in the fourth grade meant future convicts and felt that if we were to make children better readers by fourth grade by focusing more on early intervention then these children would never become criminals. I believe (mind you this is completely my opinion and I have done no research on this independently although I think it would be a fascinating area to research) that he is possibly looking at this statistic from the wrong perspective. I think quite possibly, based on reading that I have done particularly on boys, that many children are not ready to read at the same time that our educational setting is pushing it and that basically by fourth grade these students have learned two things: they are stupid and they hate school. These two messages push them to rebel and act out which then quickly becomes a slippery slope. I believe that instead of pushing harder on their weakest skill set, perhaps we should do the reverse and relax a little bit. While there should still be reading and reading instruction with a focus on phonics, we should separate reading and intelligence. We should find other ways for these children to learn their subjects and excel. Our education system is far too heavily weighted on reading and writing which literally handicaps those that develop these areas later or have processing difficulties.

My belief in this comes from the personal experiences of many homeschoolers. There is a plethora of anecdotal evidence of homeschoolers who have taken their children out of school because of reading / behavior problems and with a little space, some extra time, and success in other areas, these children not only learn to read; they recognize their own intelligence; they are not behavior issues; and they may even go on to love reading instead of hating it. Reading is not knowledge. It is one way to obtain it.

In our case, my son has many issues with reading and writing and the only thing that he learned in Kindergarten and first grade in public school was that he was dumb and that he hated school. Taking him out didn't solve everything, but we were able to reverse his feeling of self loathing and his dislike for education. His learning disabilities will never leave him, but he is learning tools to compensate. Most recently, I was impressed with this:

He was tasked to put together a cooking demonstration for Boy Scouts. He is a wonderful Dutch Oven cook as I have mentioned previously (and interestingly will happily pour through cookbook after cookbook to look for the perfect recipes). This diagram is his plan for tool, space, and equipment needed for the evening. This could have been written in a list, but for him the visualization was easier for him. Frankly, he accomplished what was needed. So is there anything wrong with this approach? I can't even imagine what the response would have been if he turned something like this in school, but this homeschool mom for one is very proud and I can guarantee you that everyone that eats the food that he cooks on Thursday won't know that he has done it any differently. Plus, look how effective this diagram will be when he explains what he is expected from his 3 or 4 helpers. They will know what he expects and where he expects. It would probably take your or I several pages of words to get this same point across.

How can homeschooling help a child with learning disabilities? It can give them the time and space to develop their skill set without outside pressures that begin to beat them down to such an extent that they give up and end up hating learning, possibly get angry, and become the statistic that the speaker recited the other night.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

As you are working to fill your Christmas list, consider Kiva:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Knockout Entrepreneur By George Foreman - a book review

Do you ever read outside of your comfort zone? This book, Knockout Entrepeneur by George Foreman, was suprisingly good. I choose to read it for its entrepreneurial advice, but became fascinated by the man. If you are not familiar with George Foreman, his first call to fame was as the heavyweight champion of the world, which he achieved not just once, but twice. His second call to fame was the George Foreman Mean Lean Grilling Machine, a product that has grossed him millions of dollars. This book ties these two event together as a guide to help you achieve business success.
The writing in this book is chock full of inspirational quotes, so much so that I could not help but pull out a pencil to underline them. I was also impressed with his Godly view on life and how strongly he adhears to his beliefs (even when it costs him money). I found the entire George Foreman story inspirational and will be passing this book on to both DD and DH to read. DH will appreciate the business advice and DD will be inspired by his determination, grit, and faith.
Note: This book was provided to me as a Thomas Nelson Book Reviewer, but I am free to express my own opinions about what I read. For more information, see

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friendship braclets with a twist

DD is a friendship bracelet addict. She even has medium sized safety pins on her Christmas list (so that she can easily pin the threads to her pants for proper knotting). She always carries multiple colors of thread in her purse so that she can pull out her project at any moment. In doing so recently, she has extended her bracelets to a necklace (see in the picture to the right). Unlike bracelets which are often knotted on for life, she added a toggle so that the necklace can come off. I think she is going to try adding a charm to the next one.
I find this hobby interesting because it is such a timeless and universal craft. Friendship bracelets have been made since I was little. So don't be surprised this Christmas when you open your Christmas gift and find a DD original.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Finding Your Inner Child

DD and I were joking about finding your inner child as she was being a grinch and was begrudgingly decorating the library for Christmas. The director told her that she had lost her inner child and she should start to look for it. Of course, this got DD and I laughing hysterically later. I even changed my FB status to "Amber Alert - Amber Alert - DD's inner child is missing" (I did put a note that it was a joke as not to really scare anyone with the use of the Amber Alert). But last night it was actually I who got to explore my inner child.

The local library invited artist Gregory Maichack to present a pastels class. DD talked me into going and I got to play with crayons (well, not really crayons but pastels). The focus of the workshop was on Claude Monet's work, style, and life. Not only did we learn about him, but we got to try our hand at it too. First, we worked to replicate one of Monet's pictures and then we were set free to try what we liked (mind you the whole workshop was only 2 hours so there wasn't that much time). I brought some pictures from home. In Monet's memory, I chose to try my hand at one of my black-eyed Susans. I don't think you'll be looking for my gallery opening anytime soon, but it was an enjoyable evening that allowed me to try something I really hadn't prior (except maybe Jr. High if that counts). And the best thing was that it was free and all the materials were provided - a rare holiday treat for me.

Here is the original picture:

Here is my attempt - cropped by the scanner since the original is too big for the screen:
So, I guess my question today is: what are you doing to encourage your inner-child?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Decorating for the Holidays

I have long since given up on the crazy decorate all in one day concept. I think the holidays should be savored like a lollipop or lifesaver, not chomped down like a cookie. This year the decorating is going to be especially drawn out due to the addition of the caroleers. So Christmas decorating started a few weeks early. Now, I have added layer two and three.

Layer two, was the majority of all the other self standing decorations. (You can see the front door in the new header above). Layer three, I broke down and went to the store. As our new house is a reproduction colonial, I couldn't resist the pull of candles for the windows.

Of course as I put them in the windows, I found out that we need yet another plug. The center window upstairs, which is actually in the attic stairwell, has no plug and so sits dark until I can get DH to put one in.

Layer four will be the addition of the actual tree, which I still have to find a place to put and the time to search for. Tree hunting in our family though is a process. It can truly take an entire day. The dear daughter of a friend of ours agreed to go hunting with us one year thinking it would be a very romanitc ideal - after six hours, she swore she would never tree hunt with us again. While I wish my husband wasn't so picky about his trees, I do love tree hunting. Growing up we always had an artificial tree so I appreciate getting out and finding a tree. Plus, the whole hunt alligns with my philosophy of enjoying and savoring the holiday.

Layer five will be one of our favorite traditions - gingerbread house making. I'm going to try to hold off on this one a little while as I'm kind of hoping that our foster child will be here before Christmas and this would be a great family project. Who can frown when you are decorating a gingerbread roof with Necco wafers? When we are done with these beautiful, sometimes rather unique creations, they become part of our decorations.

Intertwined with all of these steps is cookie making here and there, some Christmas carols playing, and the wrapping of presents. All of which I have also learned not to do in one night.

How do you decorate for the holidays? Do you do it in on fell swoop or do you laze it across several days?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Photos of Me - Then and Now

Well, here you go as promised: me - then vs. me - now. The picture to your left is a picture of me in 1988, my senior class picture. The picture below is me from the reunion last Friday - 2009. At least I'm still smiling.

How to plan a reunion

In our class, there is one simple step to planning a reunion - put Bob on the job. When planning a reunion, he is like a dog after a bone. He hunts down our classmates with a fervor rarely seen. He makes sure that everyone has an opportunity to attend. This year we were slightly off cycle as this was actually our 21st high school reunion, but as Bob was in a very bad motorcycle accident and spent last year recovering, I think we can forgive him.
The best thing about this reunion is that it was more casual than those in the past and they worked to really keep the cost down. Bob and his friend Dave found a great location that suited the number of people we had and had delicious food. It was interesting to note the classmates that came, many of them hadn't come to any of the previous reunions so it was really good to see them. Most of them were inspired by their interactions of Facebook, as many of us had reconnected there. For me though, it was kind of the opposite. I felt like I already had talked to everyone. Had it not been that Bob is such a good friend, I probably would not have gone myself. But I will admit, I had a good time reconnecting with some old friends. By in large, I will tell you that the women have aged much better than the men (I am the exception to this rule, but we won't go there). If I'm really brave later today, perhaps I'll post my high school picture with a side by side and you can judge.
So if you have been ignoring your high school reunion, RSVP now or commit to going to your next reunion.