A Handmade Christmas: 2014

Three years ago we stopped buying our kids a bunch of stuff for Christmas and started a new tradition: a handmade Christmas.  We trade names within our family and make that one person a gift, and stuff stockings as normal.

I love this tradition, and I'm so thankful we started it.  It's a little more work, but so much more meaningful, I think.  This year was a little crazy.  We realized a few days before we were going to do our Christmas exchange that a few of the kids hadn't even started.  Oh, they had grand ideas, but.... no work had been done.  So the Saturday before Christmas we spent ALL DAY working on handmade gifts.  It was actually quite fun and secretive around here.

I drew Mark, for the third year in a row.  I love that man but I'm running out of ideas for what to do for him.  Three years ago I made him a memory jar- 365 memories, one to draw for each day of the year.  Last year I made him a photo collage for his case at work.  This year I was stumped.  So at the last minute I came up with my own idea and made this for him:

My gift to Mark: Dessert of the month

I just went through my recipe book and listed twelve of his favorite desserts and then plugged them into the months of the year with a promise to make them.  Easy peasy.  And he loves dessert so he's looking forward to it.

Mark drew Ella's name and made her a garden bench- with room for tools to hang on the back and a little side space for seed packets and gloves.  She loved it.


My sweet Ella drew my name and stitched this for me:


I'm going to iron it and hang on my bedroom wall.  I love it.  She also wrote out a verse for me in her lovely cursive and framed it.  Also going on my wall.  Sweet girl.

Ella stitched this for me

Isaac had Adelia's name, and wrote her a book.  It was a silly book about a girl named Adelia who dropped a Cheeto and it grew into a tree.  He fastened this whole box for his story to fit into and tucked a Cheeto bag at the back of the box.  Cheetos are her favorite thing.  So creative and fun!


Adelia's idea for her name draw (Audra), was to make a "dollhouse set".  Great idea, as Audra loves to play with her dollhouse and accessories.  Mark and Adelia put their heads together and came up with the idea of a camping set, complete with a tent, a little fire, and roasting marshmallows! Audra LOVES it.


I helped by way of sewing up some little sleeping bags for their set.  They turned out great.  Here are two of the six I made:

Sleeping bags for Audra's dollhouse dolls (gift from Adelia)

Audra made three little bookmarks for Isaias- with her amazing artistic skills, and he really appreciated them.


Isaias drew Isaac's name, and he and Mark worked on making him a shelf for his Lego minifigures.  You can't tell in this picture but there are little white Lego pieces embedded into the shelf, so he can just affix his minfigures on there.  Very cool. 


Isaias also made him a coloring book:


I also did other bits of sewing for stockings.  Ella was determined to make a dress for Adelia's Barbie, so we worked on that together, using this tutorial, and came up with one:

I helped Ella sew this dress for Adelia's doll.

I wanted to make dolly diapers for Audra's stocking, so I made some.  I loosely followed the instructions found here but drew my own pattern (using Audra's dolly) and instead of flannel, some white terry cloth I had.  They turned out really cute and were easy, too!

Cute dolly diapers for Audra's stocking!

So that wraps up our handmade Christmas!

Merry Christmas! [from the archives]

I love this. 

Six years ago.  Ella was 6, Isaac was 4, and Isaias was 2.  From Christmas, 2007


Here's what happened on our next attempt:

Don't miss this encouraging post by Sally Clarkson called It is Normal for your Children to Resist you!

Best thing I've read online all week.  It encouraged my mama's heart.


Right now

*There are affiliate links in this post.

Ella is at the church, taking care of babies in the nursery for a bi-monthly mothers of preschoolers gathering.  She loves this.  She adores those babies, and we'll get to hear every single detail of what all the babies did upon her return.

Isaac and Audra are in the living room, using the Jenga blocks to build structures and towers and then knocking them over.  They are having lots of fun.   Those two play well together, and I'm thankful.

Isaias and Adelia are also in the living room, playing checkers together.  Each time Isaias takes Adelia's pieces after jumping them, she gets wildly mad and starts yelling.  He keeps patiently trying to explain that that's the way the game is played, and she can do that, too.  To which she randomly grabs his pieces off the board.  Somehow they're making it work.

Those two?  They're either best friends- laughing and playing and having a grand time.  Or they're at each other constantly, pushing each others' buttons- fighting and exasperating everyone.  It's one or the other.  Today so far they seem to be friends.

We've been playing lots of games lately.  Nertz (thank you, Luke Hollister, for teaching my kids the game, and thereby reintroducing it to me!)
and Authors, which I pulled out in memory of my grandma, who taught it to me when I was a girl.  Last night, while waiting for daddy to get home from work, we played Zingo, which is a fun one for the little kids.  (And the rest of us don't mind it, either.)  We've also played Trouble and Monopoly recently.  And there's always a 500 or 1000-piece puzzle on the puzzle board this time of year for us to work on.

Mark is at work, faithfully delivering the mail.  There are so many parcels and letters this time of year that he's working lots and is tired when he comes home. Last night he got home after 7, so it was a long day for us all.

I'm sitting at the kitchen table.  I just finished breakfast (an egg, a bran muffin and some milk) and I've just made myself some peach tea as I type this and listen to the kids. Audra and Isaac keep coming in to tell me about their latest creation ("Come look!"), so I keep going in to compliment their buildings.  Adelia and Isaias are no longer being friendly, so my time is coming to a close.  ;)

I have George Winston's December (piano music) playing in the living room- and I love that CD.  I've had it since I lived at home in high school... and throughout college I played it to fall asleep each night, so it's always relaxing to listen to.   I'm going to go get some slippers on my feet next and then work on this puzzle before me at the table.  I'm sure I'll have some helpers before long.  Anyone care to tell me what you're having for dinner tonight?  I need some inspiration.

Hope you have a wonderful day!

Catching up...


Things are so much quieter on the blog than they used to be, aren't they?  Some days I sit down to write, load up a photo or two and begin a post, and then get interrupted and set it aside only to forget about it.  Then by the time I do remember, it's old news.  Other days I think about writing and then think: are many people even reading here anymore? 

If you do read here, thank you.  I appreciate your patience when there are days and days and sometimes even weeks between posts.

Things have quieted down here on the school front (the whole month of December off!  YAY!) and I should have more time to write this month, and when the new year hits, I hope to carve out regular time in my schedule to write more faithfully here. 

I forget when we began this tradition of taking this whole month off, but I love it.  It's such a crazy time of year, and this affords us some quiet in the midst of a busy month.  There are gifts to make and our home to decorate and things to bake and- also, this is the perfect time of year to curl up on the couch with a good book-- when it's so chilly outside and the fire is cozy.


Before all that decorating took place, we made a Thanksgiving tree.  I cut out leaves of varying fall colors (from some scrap paper I have on hand) and sketched out a tree on a big piece of poster board and we all wrote things we were thankful for, then we colored in the tree and hung it up.


I don't think I've fully settled on the best way to document the things we're thankful for (here's a post on what we've done in the past), but I guess the important thing is that we're doing something to give thanks.

We celebrated Thanksgiving at my mom's this year with my brothers and sister and their families.  It was so nice, and my kids always revel in all that time with their cousins.

My sweet Ella had a birthday.  She's now twelve.  I love her so much, not just because she's my daughter, but because I really like her, and I love the young woman she's becoming. What a sweet blessing she is to all of us.

These days I'm trying to sneak in some time on the couch myself to finish knitting Ella's sweater.  I'm using this pattern and so far I love it.  There are a couple of things on this pattern that will be new to me: knitting the sleeves on dpns and adding button bands to the front-- but I hope to figure those out when I come to them. 

Blessings to all of you for a wonderful day!

How to find quality books to read to your children

Ramona recently asked a question in the comments about how we find quality books, whether we're at the library or in a thrift store.  My approach depends on where I'm at, so I'll break it down:

 In the library:
When I'm in the library, I sit cross-legged on the floor and pull books off the shelves until I find a book that appeals to me.  (Notice I said me, not my children).  The reason for this is two-fold:

1.  I will have to read that book over and over and over and over again in the course of that two-week period we will have it at home, so I'd best like it and not be annoyed with it.  :)
2.  Part of my role as a parent is to shape what my children like, so I am intentional when they're young about presenting them with beautiful illustrations and meaningful stories.  I want them to grow an appreciation for the beauty of both quality artistry and a good story.  (This doesn't mean that I never choose books just for the sake of silliness.  I do.  Just not as often as I choose other books.)  And as the kids get older, we do check out books based on their interests.

from Emily and Daisy, Elsa Beskow

Another library note:  When my young children bring me random books off the shelf I always read them first, and many times I will say "No, we're not bringing this one home." It's very helpful now that my older kids will bring me books they've found, because they'll often act as a filter for me. 

My system for finding good books has morphed a little over the years.  I used to rely primarily on book lists.  I own some books that are essentially bound book lists.  I've mentioned my favorites here in an older post.  (And you are welcome to borrow them, Ramona!)  Here is another online book list that I've visited over the years: 1000 Good Books List.  Or you could check the titles from the Caldecott Medal list.  My friend Elise used to do a series on her blog called Children's Book Mondays, where she reviewed picture books, so there are some great picture book recommendations if you follow that link.

Some of our favorite books for little ones:

Sandra Boynton books
Dr. Seuss books
Richard Scarry books
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Gossie & Gertie books, by Olivier Dunrea
Beatrix Potter books
Robert McCloskey books (Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal)
Sarah Stewart/David Small books (The Gardener is our favorite; I love Small's illustrations)
Winnie the Pooh
Robert Louis Stevenson (poems)
Obadiah stories by Brinton Turkle
Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall

(And, oh!  There are SO MANY more.  There are so many wonderful books and this is just a small sampling of the ones that are most familiar to me only because we own them.)  
classic Garth Williams

Some favorite illustrators: Garth Williams (probably my all-time favorite illustrator), Tasha Tudor, Gyo Fujikawa, Barbara McClintock, Barbara Clooney, Elsa Beskow, Lois Lenski (she has many books for older children, but the Small series is for the younger crowd), David Small, Lisbeth Zwerger, Freya Blackwood, Tricia Tusa, Diane Goode.  (I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting, but those are just off the top of my head.)

And that brings me to how I FIND books.  If we discover a book that we like, I hunt down what else they've written. Same for illustrators: I find out what other books they've illustrated.  This takes some time, but the internet makes it easy to do a quick search, and then I can put them on hold at the library and pick them up to peruse them.

After a few years of doing that, you'll build up a pretty good list in your own head of the authors and illustrators you like (they may not be the same as mine), and then when you go to the thrift store or library book sales, you look for those names.  :)

In a thrift store:
This is pretty simple, really.  I look for older, hardcover books almost exclusively.  I skip right on over the newer paperbacks and just look for the gems mixed in with all the other stuff.  Or, I'll scan the spines for authors or illustrators that I recognize.


I think it's great to start with what you remember enjoying as a child.  That's why we have Dr. Seuss in the house.  I don't remember enjoying those books at all as a child (the illustrations don't exactly appeal to me), but Mark liked them, so they became a fixture in our library.  Your kids will usually like what YOU like, so that's a good start. 

I hope this helps.  This is sort of a scattered post of thoughts and ideas so I hope it's not too all-over-the-place.

I know there are so many more books I'm missing (feel free to comment with your favorites!)

A Bookish Post

I have to smile at the title, "A Bookish Post" because of how much it reminds me of my Audra, who regularly adds the ending -ish onto her words.  She says things like, "Mommy, did you see what I drew? How it's kind of blueish and greenish?" Or she'll tell me that she is feeling "hungryish" or "tiredish" or other such Ish words.

I love her.

So. We're reading a lot lately, and as it's been awhile since I've told you what we're reading aloud, and since that's one of my favorite things to tell you about, here is that post.

In the picture book category, we're reading Mr. Putter & Tabby books.  I am VERY fond of these books.  I think Cynthia Rylant (author) and Arthur Howard (illustrator) are a brilliant combination.  If you're unfamiliar with these, do pick some up the next time you're at the library.

For those of you who don't know who Mr. Putter is, he's a kindly elderly man with a cat named Tabby.  They like to drink tea and eat snacks and generally stay calm, napping as often as they can.  However, Mr. Putter has a spunky neighbor named Mrs. Teaberry, who, along with her lively dog Zeke, is always looking for a new adventure and often invites Mr. Putter and Tabby along.

The characters are so likeable and the stories humorous, but what I appreciate the most is simply that these are books written for kids about elderly people, which seems such an unlikely idea, and yet it works.  They are engaging and funny and my kids love them right along with me.

This morning we read this one:


My favorite is the part where Mr. Putter, in an effort to ready himself for a marathon (Mrs. Teaberry's idea, of course), decides to work out by touching his toes several times a day.

But, alas- Mr. Putter can only reach his.... knees.  So he touches his knees each day and feels quite good about himself... until he gets to the starting line and sees all the other people touching their toes.

Here's a funny part from Mr. Putter & Tabby Spill the Beans.  Mrs. Teaberry signs them up for a cooking class and cheerily tells Mr. Putter that they are going to learn one hundred ways to cook beans.  From the book:
Mr. Putter looked at Tabby.
He did not want to learn one hundred ways to cook beans.
What he wanted was an ice cream soda.
He wanted an ice cream soda and a cherry on top.
See?  Hilarious.  Tell me you love Mr. Putter as much as I do.

I have been reading Mara, Daughter of the Nile aloud to the kids- because it's set in Egypt which goes right along with the Ancient History we're studying this year.  The kids are enjoying it and the plot is good.  I never intended on it being a read-aloud.  It was on Ella's Assigned Reading List, but she was having a hard time getting into it what with all the Egyptian names and places, so in an effort to get her interested, I began reading it aloud.  Once she was hooked, I was ready to pass it off to her to resume reading, but by then the boys were into the story and wanted me to keep reading it, so it became a read-aloud.  Before that I'd been reading The Swiss Family Robinson aloud, so we'll get back to that after we wrap up Mara.

Mark always gets to read the best books, though, in my opinion.  He began the fall with Man of the Family (book two of series by Ralph Moody).  It was just as good as Little Britches.  I have such an affection for these books.  I told Mark recently that when the kids are grown and I remember our evenings of reading aloud, these are the books I will likely remember him reading.  We loved this book.  Maybe it's because it was the second book, yet with the same, now-familiar-to-us characters.  And by now Mark has the voices of each character down- especially Ralph's, and the cadence of his voice as he reads is just.... familiar in a comforting sort of way. 


When he finished Man of the Family, he began Where the Red Fern Grows, which is what we're currently reading in the evenings.  (Another gem.  We read Rawls' Summer of the Monkeys a few years back and enjoyed that one tremendously, too.)  Ella and I knit while we listen, Adelia snuggles up next to Mark or myself- usually with another book in her lap that she's looking at, the boys play on the floor, and Audra colors or finger-knits.  The fire is often crackling and we're all cozy and hanging on every word.

Oh!  And for my own self I'm reading Sir Gibbie, by George MacDonald.  George MacDonald has long been my mom's favorite author, so I read all of his books as a teen, but I'm gradually re-reading them again, and I love them.

Hooray for good books!  (What are you reading?)

Poetry for October

Here's what we're doing for poetry this year:  I've selected two or three poems per month that are season-specific.   I read them aloud when I remember to (usually about once a week) and I've told the kids that I'd like them each to choose one poem to recite at the end of each three-month period.  We've never recited poetry so I'm excited about it!

Here are our poems for October:

Nature, Poem 28: Autumn

The morns are meeker than they were,

The nuts are getting brown;

The berry's cheek is plumper,

The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,

The field a scarlet gown.

Lest I should be old-fashioned,

I'll put a trinket on.

~Emily Dickinson


Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

~Christina Rossetti

Picture study: John Singleton Copley

We drew today for Picture Study:

Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley, age 40
Paul Revere by Audra, age 4
Paul Revere by Isaias, age8
Paul Revere by Isaac, age 10
Paul Revere by Ella, age 11


Today was a perfect kind of fall day- blustery and not raining.   I was driving this afternoon and spotted this strip of grass with gloriously big trees and a carpet of leaves (!) on the ground.   I promptly called Mark and told him to get everyone ready because I was coming home to pick them up so that we could go play in the leaves. Here are some photos:

my new favorite place to play in the leaves
handsome husband.  i love him so much!
i think it's funny that when i suggested we get a picture by the lamppost, those three kids decided they should be climbing said lamppost during the photo. 
cute ella kate.
We threw piles of leaves at each other, made huge piles and buried ourselves in them, caught the falling leaves when a gust of wind came along,  played tag, found grasshoppers, raced around to touch all seven huge trees, laughed and had a lot of fun!

audra (4)
adelia (5)
(blurry.  but the only one we got, so i'm posting it.)
cutest, sweetest kids i love so much
love this boy
Then we got back into the car to go home and saw the beautiful sky- so we drove toward the water for a better view, and then tried to capture a photo of all the beautiful oranges and grays and pinks and blues and yellows.... and this is all I ended up with (which of course doesn't do it's beauty justice):

But I'm so thankful for today.  For the wonder of the seasons, the beauty and familiarity of where we live, and especially for God who created all this beauty!

Remembering grandma (Part 3)

Welcome!  I'm doing a series of  posts about my grandma, who recently passed away.  I've been writing down memories of grandma in my journal, and as I have the time, I'll share them here on the blog.  I admired her so much, and her life was one well lived because she loved Jesus.

* * * 

I can most easily picture grandma up at the stove, making breakfast.  Breakfasts at grandma's house are one of my fondest memories.  There was always homemade white bread for toast, with butter and strawberry jam she'd made.  She made eggs just perfectly.  She would ask how you liked your egg and then make it just so, and deliver it to you at the table. (I never liked eggs anywhere else, but grandma made them so yummy- soft and with the yoke oozing out and delicious!)

Their kitchen table is a small one which comfortably sits four, and directly beneath it on the outside are the flower beds.  If you're looking out the window to the right, you can see their small front porch, with grandma's beloved hummingbird feeder hanging there.  If you look straight out the window, you'll see the front pasture with some trees and then the main road beyond that.  And if you crook your neck toward the left you can see their vegetable garden.  Grandpa, Stef and I would be sitting at the table, and grandma would be up at the stove across the room.  (That was one thing about grandma- she was always up, on her feet, serving (usually by way of feeding) everyone.  She wasn't happy until you were eating.  Truly.  And then she kept feeding you until you assured her about seventeen times that you were positively stuffed.)

Grandma's other popular breakfast offering was Swedish Pancakes.   She would carefully pour the pancake batter into the pan and then lift the pan and slowly tip it this way and that so as to spread the batter thin.  Then she'd set it down and watch it until it was just the perfect time to flip it.  Then she'd deliver the pancakes to the table one by one- as she completed them.

We still make Swedish Pancakes in our home, though I don't do them individually like grandma did.  I use my griddle because I can do more at a time that way.  But I still pick up the griddle and tip it back and forth to get those thin pancakes.  My kids love Swedish Pancakes and always prefer them to regular pancakes.

The morning after her funeral I was up early, making Swedish Pancakes in honor of grandma. And then I cried as I ate them.  I just love her and miss her.  And I can never eat Swedish Pancakes without thinking of her, up at the stove, making them for us.  But I'll keep making them, because it's a gift, that recipe-- but especially those memories- and I am certain that someday my kids will make them for their own kids, and they will know that it's grandma's recipe, and if they don't remember her, they will remember what I've told them of her.

Here is grandma's recipe:

Grandma's Swedish Pancakes
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
Mix dry ingredients
2-3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk

Mix wet & dry ingredients together
Stir in at the end:
1/4 cup oil

(I usually forgo the traditional butter & syrup combo and eat these with plain or vanilla yogurt and a bit of jam.  Mmmm!  Oh, and one more thing: you must ROLL UP the pancake and then slice it.  That's important.)

After breakfast Grandpa would open up his Bible and read from it- and from Our Daily Bread, and then they would pray.  I say "they" because when grandpa prayed, grandma would join in right along with him, tagging onto his prayers with her softer "Yes, Jesus" and "We praise you, Jesus" and the like.

I loved this, and I will miss this.

At the funeral one of my cousins stood and shared his breakfast memories-- so very like my own, and he described their praying as like a duet, and I thought that was such a good description of it. 

* * *

Other posts in this series:

Remembering grandma (Part 2)

Welcome!  I'm doing a series of  posts about my grandma, who recently passed away.  I've been writing down memories of grandma in my journal, and as I have the time, I'll share them here on the blog.  I admired her so much, and her life was one well lived because she loved Jesus.

* * *

Snippets of memories from my time on grandpa and grandma's farm:

-pulling on boots with grandma before heading out to the barn.  There was always a collection of boots- all different sizes- in the garage, so grandma would suggest a pair or we'd simply try on until we found the best fit.

-walking that familiar stretch of land from the house to the barn.

-feeding (and searching for) the barn kitties.   There were many throughout the years, and grandma had names for them all and knew their quirks and personalities.

-coming round the corner to see all the calves, waiting to be fed.  Grandma taught us how to hold two or three fingers out, upside-down, and let the calves suck on our fingers, and it was my favorite thing to do in the barn.

-walking through the field- stepping carefully over those cow pies- to see what grandpa was up to on his tractor, bringing him food or riding with him for awhile.

-haying was a highlight-- riding on the back of the wagon and "helping" to stack the bales high or taking turns on the tractor with grandpa.


The driveway to grandpa and grandma's house is a curvy little road through the woods, and it was grandma that taught us to sing,

Over the river and through the woods, 
to grandmother's house we go. 
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh
through the white and drifted snow- oh!

Over the river and through the woods
Oh, how the wind doth blow!
It stings the nose and bites the toes, 
as over the river we go!

There's another road, too- a shorter road that goes straight to their house, but grandma wanted us to go through the woods.  It mattered to her.   She loved that road, and in these later years she was proud grandpa kept it well tended so that we could still drive it.

My kids know that as soon as we turn from the main road onto the little road through the woods, we will all hush whatever conversations we're having and break into that song.  My goal is always to complete the song just at the precise moment we come out of the woods, so we have to pace the song with the length of the drive.

We'd walk through the woods, too- on the way to the park across the street, or through the woods on either side of their fields. 

* * *

Grandma loved to sing, and whenever we came she wanted to know what songs we sang at church, and then she'd ask us to sing them to her.  When my sister and I were little girls, she recorded us  singing, and she'd pull out that cassette tape and play it for us in later years.  When I started bringing my own kids, she always asked them to sing to her, too.  I think more than the songs themselves she loved to hear children singing songs.  

* * *

Grandma loved children.  In recent years when I brought the kids out, I was always a little anxious that they'd be too noisy or get into something they shouldn't or break something or make a mess.  Grandma just delighted in them.  She always wanted them close- snuggled right up next to her or- preferably, in her lap.  Once I noticed the kids had left fingerprints on her glass doors overlooking their deck, so I mentioned to grandma that I wanted to clean that up before we left, and she said something along the lines of "Don't you dare.  I'm keeping those prints up there just as long as I can so that I can keep on enjoying them."

Audra loves to finger knit


I was sitting by the fire (!!!)  [Fire!  We get to have wood-burning fires in our fireplace now that our chimney is fixed!  I adore sitting by the fire.  I am positively giddy about this recent development.]  Anyway- I was sitting by the fire knitting and Audra wanted to join me.  She REALLY would like me to teach her how to knit.  With knitting needles.  Which I tried earlier this afternoon but it was a little tricky.  But this evening I decided to teach her how to finger knit.

And Audra likes to finger knit maybe more than I even like my fires.


Once she got going I picked up my own knitting again so that we could knit together, but then she was delighting me so much with all of her exclamations that I started writing them down.  So join me for a couple minutes of knitting with Audra.  (She said these things about every ten seconds.  For nearly an hour.  Truly.) 

"It's SO long!"

"I can't believe I'm doing this."

"I'm happy to be doing this color.  It's a fun color."

"This is SO fun!"

"I can't believe that it's getting SO long.  See?  Look how long it is!"

"I LOVE this!"

"Mama, look how fun it is!"

"I'm doing so great."

"Mommy!!!  Can you IMAGINE?"

"It's just so amazing." 

"Mommy, can you believe this?!  I cannot believe this."

"Mommy!  Isn't this SO FUN?!"

"Mommy:  Can you believe this, or not?  Me neither.  I can't even believe this."


She's pure delight.

Remembering grandma (Part 1)

grandma with Audra, Spring 2013

Last Tuesday my dad called to tell me that grandma (92) had taken a fall and was on her way to the hospital.  A couple of hours later I went to see her.  Beautiful, sweet grandma, all wrinkled loveliness and still smiling.  She was in the ER, alert and chatty.  Her sense of humor was fully intact.  My aunt, a cousin, my dad and my grandpa were there.

She said several times from her hospital bed, "I love my kids.  And my grand-kids. And my great-grandkids.  I just love 'em all."  It goes without saying that she loved grandpa best.  You can't spent a minute in their company without seeing it for yourself.

Grandpa sat still on a hard, uncomfortable chair by her bedside.  He shared how grandma had slipped off the end of their bed while she was getting dressed, and he wasn't able to help her back up, so he'd called the medics.  My frail little grandma joked, "It took SIX of them to carry me, I was so heavy!"-- and when the medics had her all settled and drove away, grandpa got into their car and drove to the hospital.

He looked so alone sitting there on that chair, though he was surrounded by family.  It struck me that I rarely saw them apart- they were almost always side by side.  He sat quietly and steadily, back straight, feet apart, resting his arms on his legs and looking at his hands.  Folding and refolding his hands.  I was watching grandma, and every so often she'd look over at grandpa, wait until he looked up at her, and hold his glance with a little tuck of her head and a smile- as if to reassure him.  Oh, how they loved each other!  Their marriage is the sweetest one I've had the privilege to witness.

Mom went up to visit her on Wednesday-- all these years later after the divorce and mom still calls her mom.  Grandma always made her feel so loved and welcomed.  It was a hard day for grandma.  I had planned to have the kids draw pictures and take them in to see her, but mom said she was in so much pain that I probably shouldn't.  So we stayed put.

Thursday Mark stopped in from his route.  By then they had figured out her medication and she was loopy and silly.  :)

Thursday evening I went again-- and she was slipping away: sleeping most of the time and not very alert when her eyes were open.

Sunday morning, early- she died.  She was 92.

She had been talking about heaven ever since she arrived at the hospital.  Somehow she knew it was her time to go and she welcomed it. 

Sunday morning in church we sang the song Open the Eyes of My Heart, and when I got to the line, "Holy, holy, holy... I want to see You" I could not even sing the words for the lump in the back of my throat.  I could only think of grandma- who was now able to SEE HIM (!) in all His glory and holiness.  What joy!

I've been writing down my memories of grandma ever since I knew she was slipping away.   I'll be posting those recollections here on the blog.


Audra's drawing this morning:


That's Adelia on the left, me there in the middle with the side-swept hairdo, and Audra on the right.

This just makes me happy. 

Relief for colds and sore throats

(L) Honey Lemon Ginger Tea                (R) Homemade Decongestant

Our first colds of the season are upon us.  Recently Ella said her throat was sore and her chest felt tight.  I gave her some hot water with honey and lemon juice- which is sort of our standby around here for sore throats.  Tissue for the runny noses.  And hot baths and extra sleep.  And compassion- hugs and concern.  And lots of prayers throughout our days for God to heal and bring comfort.

I did a little searching last week and found this recipe for homemade decongestant.  It has honey, lemon juice, radishes, onions and garlic.  Radishes help relieve congestion, lemons are rich in Vitamin C, and we all know honey and garlic are good for you.  I'm not sure what red onion is good for but the recipe said to put it in there so I did.  ;)  I also threw in some ginger and fresh-squeezed orange juice for good measure.  The only thing I didn't have on hand were the radishes.  After I bought some I just pureed everything in the food processor and strained it and gave Ella a couple of tablespoons.  She was a little concerned, what with the onions and radishes-- ew-- but she took 2 T of it and then said, "I actually like it!"  Then all the other kids wanted some, too- so I gave them all a taste.

Then I made some of this Honey Lemon Ginger Tea.  It's basically what I do anyway (sans the ginger)-- but I learned that a jar of this will keep for months in the fridge. (!)  I love the fact that I don't have to drizzle the honey and pour the lemon juice for each and every cup, but can just spoon it out of a jar at-the-ready in the fridge!

As we enter our second week of school, Ella is feeling much better, but Audra is now sick with a cold and Isaac is feeling under the weather, too.  I'm planning for lots of cuddle time with Audra today- I think we'll extend story time on the couch and I plan on her being in my arms or on my lap a lot more, and needing extra compassion and grace for the fussiness that accompanies sickness. 

Favorite picture books

These are two of our favorite picture books we've recently checked out from the library:

This book was new to us, but fun to read.  In Nurse Clementine, Clementine gets a nurse's outfit and a first aid kit for her birthday and then wanders around her house trying to treat everyone's "wounds".  It's pretty cute and very much what a child would do were they to get such a gift.

We used to check out If Anything Ever Goes Wrong at the Zoo when Ella was a little girl.  Then I sort of forgot about it.  So I was delighted the other day when I saw it again and we checked it out for Adelia and Audra to enjoy!  They like it just as much as Ella used to.  Whenever we gather round to read stories on the couch, everyone chooses one book and this one is always on the stack!

Happy reading!

How we planned school this year and what I learned (Part 1)

A couple of months ago I shared a little about how weary I was at the end of last year.  Basically, I felt burnt out. 

While that was going on, my caring husband stepped in to take things off my plate.  When I couldn't bear to look at my notes or prepare a thing for the fall, Mark was thinking and praying and taking notes and planning things, and then he began talking to me about his ideas and I have gradually eased back into it.


I used to work for a company that made planners for schoolchildren.  Franklin Covey bought us out and the lingo was all from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  One of those habits is: Begin with the end in mind.

When we began planning this year, we were not consciously thinking of that habit, but in essence, that is what we did.  We began with the end in mind.  In our first planning session together, Mark set aside everything else and asked questions like, "Who do we want our children to be?  What are the qualities we would like our kids to have?  What are the things we see in each of them that we could encourage?"  Because honestly, the academics are completely secondary to us.  Of course we feel a responsibility to educate them and we are doing that, but it is absolutely secondary to WHO they are as persons.  We desire to pass on to our kids a love of learning, and we want to give them an appetite for it.  We can whet their appetites by reading excellent books and discussing great ideas and allowing them the space to create and invent and think.  But our pursuit has never been and never will be the best program or the smartest kids.  Our desire- and the whole reason we're even homeschooling at all- is to create more opportunities for us to impart Jesus to them.

If our kids are brilliant and excelling academically and yet consistently unkind to their siblings, then our focus is wrong.  And, while I don't think academics IS our focus around here, we did notice over the summer that I was saying this more than anything else: "Please speak kindly to each other." (Or some variation on that general theme.)  (Which is why we very intentionally prepared our new memory work this year: we're laying down the foundations of who we are (our family ways) and more importantly, why (because God says so in His Word)).

So when we planned for our year, we backed way up and asked those questions about who we want to be, about the gifts we see God has given each of our children and how we can encourage those, and about the weak areas, too-- how can we grow there?  How can we be purposeful and intentional in those areas?  God has entrusted these precious five to us for this relatively short season of their lives, and our purpose while they're with us is to teach them His ways, and we want to be diligent in the pursuit of that.

I'm not aware of anywhere in the Bible where it says we must teach our children Latin or Shakespeare or Grammar or Math or any of the other myriad of subjects we may teach.  But all over Scripture we are told to teach our children to love God and to love our neighbor.  So we're in the business of that.  That doesn't mean we won't teach the other subjects, it just means that they will be secondary in our home to the pursuit of loving God and loving one another.

First day of school

We just wrapped up our first day of school.  We're easing into it this year, so we aren't doing every single subject this first week, but this is what today looked like:

We woke the kids up at 7:45.  (This is the first time we've done this.  Every other school year we've let them all sleep until they wake and then we begin school-- which just meant that some days we were starting breakfast really late.)   This way we can maximize our morning time, which is when we do most of our work.

Breakfast was at 8:30, and Mark had asked the kids to do three things by the time they came to breakfast:
-make your beds
-get dressed
-have a 10-minute devotional time

We hope our kids will have a habit of spending time with Jesus before they leave our home, so we're providing a morning time for them to have devotions this year.

For the little girls (5 and 4):
I set out a basket in the living room containing children's Bibles along with some paper and colored pencils, and we showed them their "spots" on the couches last night and talked about sitting quietly and looking through the Bibles or coloring during that time.

For the older kids (11, 8 and 8):
They each took their Bibles and found a spot to read or pray.  Toward the end of that time I heard Ella singing some hymns from our bedroom (where she'd settled herself) and it so delighted me to hear that early on in our day.  :)  Isaac told me later he'd read the first chapter of Genesis, the first chapter of Matthew, and three Psalms.  Fabulous!  Isaias read the words to some hymns and then prayed.

I nestled in on the couch next to Audra with my Bible during that time, but ended up hearing all about every.single.picture she was looking at, which was perfectly fine with me.  :)  It was a sweet time.

I made pumpkin chocolate-chip muffins for breakfast-, and we also had bacon and hot cocoa (with whipped cream).  I set the table last night and had made some paper place mats for each of the kids, so they were excited to see those and they all ended up hanging their place mats on their walls after breakfast.  :)

Ella's place mat, now on her wall.

During breakfast we read from Hurlbut's and did narrations.  This is the way I've been doing narrations: I've assigned each child a colored bead and then I shake them in my hand and draw one.  For example, Ella's color is pink, so if I draw the pink bead, she begins narrations until I tell her to stop.  Then I draw another bead, and work my way through all five.  Sometimes I switch it up and have them draw a picture or make a little booklet of the Bible story we've read that day, or act it out- but those types of narrations take longer, so most of the time we just do a verbal narration using the beads for "turns".

I keep this by our table for easy narrations.  (Toothpick in a ball of playdough to hold the beads when we're not using them.)
We played some classical music while we did after-breakfast chores, and then the plan was that I would do storytime with the little girls on the couch while the older three finished up their chores.  But Ella, Isaac and Isaias all zipped through their chores so that they could be there, too, so we all gathered on the couch and read picture books from our latest trip to the library.

Then the older three headed to the table to do some math.  They're all doing Rod & Staff this year.  Mark and I decided to limit math time to 20 minutes.  This is to keep their lessons short and to keep their attention focused.  (I'm hoping this will limit the dawdling and doodling and staring off into space during math time.  So this year it's: "Here is your work.  You have 20 minutes to complete this lesson." - and it's their responsibility to be attentive and complete it in the time allotted.

While the older kids did math, I sat with the little girls in the living room and did 20 minutes of school with them.  We put stickers on a big letter A and Adelia and I practiced forming A's.  First we traced a sandpaper letter A and then formed A's on a rice tray, and then she wrote a couple.) 

Adelia is definitely behind Audra in these types of things, though she's a full year older.  Audra has been writing her name (and all sorts of other things) for well over a year but Adelia struggles to make one legible letter- and gives up easily and with frustration.  Generally she's quite too busy to sit still and work on anything for longer than 2 seconds, so that's part of it.  But I can tell it bothers her and I know she lacks confidence, so we're working on her letters, one by one- and with lots of encouragement.

some of our memory work pages
Then we all began memory work.  Instead of the memory work box we've done for several years, each of the kids now have their own memory work binder.  Each binder has a "review" tab, containing all of the things we've memorized over the years, as well as the new stuff we're memorizing.  The binders were a big hit.  The kids were amazed to see all they've memorized, and it's nice for the older three to be able to read along with me as we do so, and Adelia and Audra just felt pretty special that they had binders just like the big kids.  :)

memory work: catechism

Are you familiar with the Clarkson's Our 24 Family Ways?  Mark and I used that as a springboard to make our own family ways.  We used many of theirs but tweaked it a bit- adding some different verses, omitting a few and adding some of our own.  So we're introducing these week by week and discussing them.  We'll memorize verses to go with them for our new memory work this year.

We then worked on a little history- introduced the ancients and did a little reading about the Egyptians, and the kids all chose books from our history book bin on Egypt and looked at them for awhile, and then we were done for the day.

It was just after 11 when we finished so we played games: UNO, Apples to Apples, and a few of the kids started a game of Risk.

Next week we'll add in copywork, dictation, written narrations, science, picture study, poetry, some Shakespeare, notebooking, and geography. (And maybe a few other things that I'm forgetting at the moment.)

It was a wonderfully peaceful day, and I am thankful. Oh, and BONUS: I got all the ingredients for beef stew in the crockpot by 1:00, so we'll have yummy stew later tonight for dinner. 

Not super tasty-looking when it's all uncooked, but give it 5 hours and it will look good!

Ella ran out to the garden to get me some of her carrots for our stew, and she came in exclaiming that this carrot was "fair-worthy" so I took a picture.  :)