Monday, January 25, 2016


Hi, friends.

I will not be blogging for awhile.  We have another foster care placement.  This time he's a wee-tiny one who needs a lot of extra care.  We are managing with the help of AMAZING family and friends (some who trudged through the snow to get to us to help this weekend).  Please remember him (and our family) in your prayers.


"For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."
Phil. 4:13

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Multiplication and Division Helps

At one time or another each one of our kids struggle with a certain concept.  When this happens, we slow down and look for new ways to present, learn and practice the new idea.  If the concept is crucial, we might stop new work completely and take a few days (or weeks) to focus on it.  If it's just not coming, we take a break and come back to it.  Homeschooling makes this so easy to do- moving forward and hanging back as needed.

Last March I shared about our attempts to find a spelling curriculum that works for one of our kids who was having trouble with spelling.  All About Spelling is still working well for us and I still highly recommend it.

But then there's 3rd and 4th grade math when multiplication and division are presented.  Those concepts fall into that crucial category because both really must be mastered before moving ahead. From here on out, those skills will be built upon.  And they come easier for some more than others.

Sometimes flashcards, manipulatives and worksheets just aren't enough.  For some times tables (like the 9s) there are tricks to be taught but sometimes facts just need to be memorized.  Games are great but usually require more than one person to play and I am often looking for tools they can use on their own.  Thankfully, we've found a few tools that have really helped things click.

The pattern became that while I was putting wood on the stove, washing up dishes, changing over laundry or what-have-you, I could ask my student to use one of these tools as a review before we jumped into math (the first subject we do together).  This additional review has really helped and we're back tackling new lessons in math. Non-homeschooled kids can totally benefit from these tools as well.

Wrap Ups.  You can buy these individually (for about $10), in a set like we have or make your own.    I think it would be pretty easy to make cardboard versions of these- cutting notches in the sides and affixing a string through the top (using a hole-punch for the opening). The set comes with a CD with some really catchy math raps that assist in the wrapping.

You can listen along as they rap the facts (like, "7 times 4 is 28") or just give you the problem so you can wrap the right answer on your own.  To check to see if your wrapping has lined up correctly, there are grooves on the back of each plastic card that show where the string should lie so you can see if you have it right.

Hot Dots.  There are sets for different skills.  We have the division set.  The special pen (sold separately) is pressed on the dot beside your answer choice.  If you're right, it cheers for you or says some encouraging words.  If you're wrong, it asks you to try again.  The sound can be turned off if it's distracting to others and the end of the pen will light up instead, letting you know if you got it right.

This last one is our favorite: Times Tables the Fun Way.  A friend of my sister recommended this book and I was so glad I was able to find a copy.  For some kids, memorization is just hard.  Linking the facts to a story or image helps them recall what they need to know.

Each picture incorporates the numbers of a multiplication problem and tells a story like this one below.

I decided to make my own drawn-copies of those we needed the most help on and had my student color them.  We then laminated them.  These act as flashcards now and are easier to refer to than finding the right page in the book.  You could totally create your own drawings and stories.

Sometimes I find myself saying, "Is the three a bat or a bow in this problem?" to help trigger their memory.  And it works!

All kids hit a snag now and then.  I've found that changing things up, slowing things down and taking breaks (without putting undue pressure on the child) works best in helping them over their hurdles.  

What math helps have helped your child? 
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Monday, January 18, 2016

Birdseed Ornaments

I love birds.  They're my favorite animals.  We've been thinking a lot more about birds than usual in our house because the girls and I are studying Flying Creatures for science this year.  In order to study them better, we've been putting out bird treats to entice the many birds that live in and around our yard to come a bit closer- suet feeders, bird baths, etc.  So it just seemed natural to make birdseed ornaments as gifts for some of our loved ones this Christmas.

This is also a great winter craft to do with children that helps feed the birds once the ground is covered with snow.

There are many recipes out there, I was soon to discover, and I tried several before finding my favorite.  I like this recipe best because...

1) it only calls for two ingredients,
2) the "glue" holding the seed together dries clear and
3) the ornaments dry very hard so they do not easily crumble.

Please note some of my tips below- they will help make your birdseed-ornament-making go smoothly.

Birdseed Ornaments (to hang outside for the birds, recipe found here)
* This recipe makes six medium-sized ornaments.
* Even if you want to make more than that, do not double/triple the recipe- it will become too sticky to handle towards the end.  Make one batch at a time.
* Be very generous with the cooking spray.
* Allow several days for drying before packing up and gifting.

2 tbsp. unflavored gelatin
2 cups birdseed

2/3 cups water
1 plastic drinking straw, snipped into 1 1/2-inch lengths
waxed paper, to cover cookie sheets and for packing
cooking spray
baker's twine or very thin ribbon

Place wax paper on a cookie sheet with your cookie cutters on top.  Generously spray the cookie cutters (and underneath them) with cooking spray.  Place two cups of birdseed in a large bowl and set aside.  Boil 2/3 cups water in a glass bowl in the microwave and then add the 2 tbsp. gelatin.  Stir until dissolved.  Pour the gelatin mixture over the bird seed and stir for just about a minute, allowing the birdseed to absorb the liquid but don't stir much longer than a minute- it's okay if some liquid is still at the bottom of the bowl.  Quickly fill the ornaments using a small spoon- pressing the birdseed into the corners and packing it in tightly with the spoon back.  Move fairly quickly and stir the seed each time before filling the next cookie cutter.  If some liquid seeps out the bottom- no worries.  It will gel and can easily be removed once dry.

Once the cutters are full, use a small piece of wax paper laid on top to pack it down further.  Insert a straw piece into each ornament not too close to an edge and press down to the cookie sheet.  Set the ornaments aside to dry for about 2-3 hours and then flip them over or onto their side.  A couple hours later, gently press the ornaments out of the cookie cutters and let them dry overnight on a wire rack if you have one.  Let them continue to dry until they are nice and hard.  Then, using baker's twine or ribbon, tie on long loops for hanging on branches.  Feeding the twine through the straw, then removing the straw before tying off, makes for an easier time.  Pack or wrap gently in wax paper and tie with more twine.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

A New Twist: Apple Crunch

Each fall we stock up on local (storage) apples, tucking them wherever we can find room- under the kitchen bench, in the pantry, in the fridge.  We use them for baking but mostly we eat them out of hand or sliced with peanut butter.

potatoes in the box on the left, apples on the right

We've found several varieties that we like for this- Pink Lady and Fugi are two.  They keep for a couple months before some starting to turn mushy.  At this point, I'm motivated to use the many that are still good before they get soft, too, incorporating them into salads, casseroles and (of course) desserts.

This fall, I discovered that I could use my mother-in-law's Rhubarb Crunch recipe by substituting apples.  I'd already learned that this recipe works beautifully with sour cherries, so why not try an apple version?

I did cut back on the sugar (apples don't need the extra sugar tart rhubarb or sour cherries do) and added some cinnamon to the filling. The result was a success and my family now says *this* is my best apple dessert recipe.

If you have my cookbook, this crunch recipe is on page 99.  If you want, you can simply add the changes you see below off to the side (like I did).

Apple Crunch 

1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cup quick oats
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup melted butter
Combine these ingredients and mix well with a fork. Press half of the crumbs into the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch baking pan. Cover the crumbs pressed into the pan with...

5 large apples, peeled and sliced

In a small sauce pan, combine
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 cup water
Bring to a boil while stirring regularly with a whisk. Once it becomes thick and bubbly, pour it evenly over the fruit. Top with remaining crumbs and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 min. to 1 hour or until a knife glides into the apples easily.

Delicious served warm with homemade vanilla ice cream. Also good cold right out of the pan with a fork while standing at the counter ;-).

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Thursday, January 7, 2016

I am Mother.

Between Christmas and New Year's Eve I unexpectedly found myself without children.  For five days.

Our children are almost always with us.  Sure, there have been the occasional overnights when one isn't home and there are the handful of times Jamey and I have gone away for an anniversary or funeral... but never for five days.  And never has it left me home alone in an empty house, except for our dog who seemed to enjoy being an only child despite missing his little people.

How would I spend my time?  Would I lie around and read and write and take long naps?  Would I scour the house, wash every piece of laundry and ready their school lessons for the New Year? Would I cry? Would I dance around the house in glee?

It's not often that I'm given this much free time.  At first it scared me.  What would I do with that much total me-time?  This lead to another question. Who is this me that has all this free time anyway? What do I do without my kids?

There is a lot of talk (and think) about "losing" yourself to motherhood.  It's something I know many women wrestle with.  Our days often do not look like they did before children.  No longer do some of us use those corporate (or otherwise) gifts to earn money and interact with the world in a direct way that makes us feel like outward contributors to society.  I don't think that when women struggle with this they are saying they don't feel as if motherhood isn't a major, worthwhile contribution to society.  It's just...different.

So what would the pre-child me do with five free days?  I couldn't even figure that out because that person doesn't exist anymore.  Thirteen years have come and gone.  What was important to me then isn't important to me now.  That woman has changed.

I don't mind that she's gone.  I liked her an awful lot, for sure.  She was all that I knew.  But now I know the me-with-children.  And I like her a lot, too.  Oh, she's not perfect.  She messes up every day.  She yells at her kids sometimes.  Some days she's on her computer too much.  Sometimes she loses her patience and wishes she had more freedom.

But she's a mother now and all of those struggles come with the mothering territory.  It's hard but it in no way makes the pre-child her any more important or valuable than the her she is now.

I realized in my discernment about how to spend my five days that I am a mother through and through for this season of my life.  I enjoyed the previous season and I will enjoy the next.  But for now, being a mother even when my children are away is the best me I can be.  Anything else would be trying to be someone I'm not.

So what did I do for five days when my children spent time with their grandparents?  I washed their clothes and sheets, made up their beds, got some school plans together, and stocked the fridge for their return.  I checked things off my to-do/want-to-do list that normally draw me away from them (computer work, writing, taxes, visiting with a friend, shopping, quality time with Jamey) so that when they came home, I was be ready to mother (with children) again.  Don't worry, though.  I also indulged in watching a show in the middle of the day with snacks and managed to not cook a stitch of food (pulling food out of fridge and freezer is not officially cooking in my book).

If you don't find yourself at the same place I am with this whole mother-identity thing, that is okay. We all experience, manage and live out our mothering differently.  And I can honestly say that there have been times, especially when my children were younger, that I wasn't at this place either.

At this point in time, I am a child of God, follower of Jesus, wife, daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, foster parent, church-attender, home manager, and teacher.

But most of all, I am Mother.

And I am okay with that. Pin It

Monday, January 4, 2016

Polish and German Stars

Our family spent much of the two weeks before Christmas crowded around our school table folding and gluing paper.  It wasn't a planned craft or gift.  We just kind of fell into creating.  And we couldn't stop.

It all started with these Polish Stars (video tutorial here).  Before long, Sadie (almost 10) was making them on her own and Miriam (age 6) was too, with only the slightest bit of help.

Then, wanting to be true to our heritage, we learned how to fold German Stars (video tutorial here). They come together faster but there are more steps involved.  It wasn't long and we were all contributing to a jar full.  We hope to make enough to string them into a garland for our Christmas tree next year.

As if that wasn't enough, we started making these stars below, too (video tutorial here). These are the simplest of all.  Aren't they pretty?  Midway through these projects we found ourselves running out of old scrap-booking paper I used to make cards with.  I was overjoyed to find that our local craft store was already running a 70% off Christmas craft paper sale five days before Christmas!  It was full steam ahead.

Soon, we were overrun with stars- making for pretty decorations everywhere.

Who knew folding paper could be so much fun?  Maybe you'll find your family crowded around a table full of paper snippets, glitter and sticky fingers sometime this winter, too. :-)
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Monday, December 14, 2015

{Swoon} Chocolate Pecan Pie {or Tarts}

I wasn't going to post again before Christmas...but then this happened.  I think you'll understand my urgent need to share.

A dear friend of mine brought four desserts to our Thanksgiving dinner.  Her dessert spread included a Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie. I'm not a huge fan of pecan pie (although I like it) but this pie was AMAZING. I mean, chocolate just makes everything better, right? I procured the recipe a day or two later and then made it within the week (omitting the bourbon).  That's how much I enjoyed it.

As I was thinking about Christmas cookies, it occurred to me that I could make a chocolate version of pecan tarts.  And so I did, using her recipe.  Below you will find both recipes- the one for the pie and, if you want a cookie version/love a bigger crust to filling ratio, the tart version.

Chocolate Pecan Pie (a friend's recipe, slightly adapted)

a 9-inch, deep crust pie crust in a pan, unbaked
1 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/4 cup butter
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt

Spread the chopped pecans in the bottom of the unbaked pie crust.  In a glass bowl, melt the butter and chocolate together until fully melted and combined.  Stir in the sugar, the eggs, and the remaining ingredients.  Pour over the pecans in the pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until set.

Chocolate Pecan Pie Tarts
Makes 48 tarts

To make the pastry dough:

2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks butter, cold and chopped
4 or 5 tbsp. ice water

Using your food processor or pastry cutter (I opt for my cutter all the time- less dishes to wash), combine the flour and salt.  Add butter pieces and combine/process.  Drizzle in the ice water and mix until it comes together nicely into a soft dough.  Don't over combine.  Wrap in plastic wrap and let chill in fridge for 1 hour.

To make the filling:

1 cup chopped roasted pecans
2 tbsp. butter
1 oz. baking chocolate (unsweetened)
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten well
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp. salt

In a small glass bowl, melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave until fully melted and combined.  Stir in the sugar, beaten eggs, maple syrup, vanilla and salt.

To assemble:

Coat a mini muffin pan with cooking spray (mine makes 24 mini muffins).  Set aside.

Divide the pastry dough in half, returning one half to the fridge.  On a floured surface, roll out the other half to pie crust thickness (roll it thinner if you want the filling to shine, thicker if you love crust).  Use a cookie cutter shape or a glass with a 2 1/2 to 3-inch diameter to cut out the shapes/mini pie crusts.  Place them into the muffin tin, gently pressing to fit.  When the tin is full of mini pie crusts, place the pan in the fridge for about 10-15 minutes.

Now you have a choice:

If you like a nutty cookie and don't have a big sweet tooth, fill each mini crust with 1 tsp. of chopped pecans.  Over the top, measure in 1 tsp. of the filling over the pecans.

If you want less nuts and more sweet, place 1/2 tsp. of chopped pecans into each mini pie.  Over the top measure in 1 and 1/2 tsp. of filling- be careful not to overfill or it will bake over and make them hard to remove from the tin. Aim to fill them like the ones below.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Gently remove the tarts from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack. Repeat the process with the remaining chilled dough or save/freeze it.  It will make one pie crust.

And now... I can leave you all in Christmas peace:-).

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Deliberate Christmas

I think we can all agree that simple is often more meaningful. It takes a lot of effort to make Christmas simple initially, especially if your family is used to something else.  Thankfully, over time the simpleness becomes what your family expects and longs for.  And it feels oh so very nice.

Many of us genuinely want Christ to be at the center of Christmas.  If we threw out all the traditions that don't point us to Christ...what would we have left?  Which traditions help us focus on Him and which ones draw our attention away?  For each person, it's different.  If when you buy gifts for others, you're thinking about God's gift of Christ to us and the desire to show love to others does it feel different than if we're just focused on checking things off our shopping list?  Would we shop differently? Would buy for different people?  And spend less? Or more?

It can be so complicated when it really should be the simplest thing.  In my opinion, Christmas should be about thanking God for sending His Son, Jesus, and honoring Him by letting His love for us flow out in sacrificial and powerful ways to others.  In some ways I hope that each of us feels the tension of what our culture/tradition says Christmas should look like and what we know it should be. May we strive each year to bring it closer to that which our hearts are longing for- a turning toward Him.

Over the last few years, we've been changing and simplifying the way we prepare for and celebrate the season. Here are some of the changes we've made.

Decorating:  We set up the Nativity, decorate a tree, hang stockings, put a wreath on our door and hang some white lights.  That is all.  Less rearranging, less storing, less money spent.  And we decorate right after Thanksgiving so we can enjoy the decorations all month.  Sometimes, we indulge in a handicraft or two but we try to keep from having to buy supplies.  Here's one using discarded magazines/catalogs and we always cut snowflakes for our windows.

Shopping:  Both of our extended families do gift exchanges so there are gifts to buy or make.  I try the best I can to have the purchased ones in hand before December (and the beginning of Advent) so I'm not focusing on buying gifts when I want to be centering my mind and heart on Christ in a way that isn't connected to things.

Family Devotions: Each night before heading to bed, our family reads Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. It's an Advent devotional that suits our children well right now- it challenges those of us who are older and draws the younger ones in with beautiful illustrations and simple messages.  It's worth the effort to end each day with this kind of focus- bringing our minds back to Advent and Christ before closing our day.

Each year, we're adding a new piece.  They look fragile but are made of hard plastic so even littles can enjoy them. Sam built the manger.

Christmas Dinner: We often travel for Christmas but before we leave, we set aside an evening to have our own special Christmas meal.  This gives us something to look forward to those years we are at home without extended family.  We do fondue (take a peek) for our meal- the prep is mostly chopping which makes for a much more do-able and less stressful meal prep for me than a traditional meal.  And the kids think it's so much fun because it's different.

Stockings/Gifts:  Each child gets a few (usually three) gifts to unwrap and a stocking to open. Their stockings hold mostly practical items (chapstick, a smencil or two, a new toothbrush) and a few fun things (gum, a couple chocolates, etc.).  Because our kids are showered with gifts from extended family, we try to keep our gift opening simple and brief.  We don't want it to be the main focus of the season.

Events:  There are so many this time of year!  Parties!  Caroling!  Cookie making!  Concerts! Nativity walk- throughs!  Ballets! Work parties! Church Christmas plays!  Hymn sings!  The list goes on and on.  There's nothing wrong with each event by itself but if you get sucked in to thinking you need to participate in everything to provide your kids with the proper Christmas experience, you might end up with a bunch of tired, cranky, hyped-up-on-sugar family members who do NOT feel the true Christmas Spirit.  We choose a couple to attend each year and that. is. it.  We would much rather find ourselves at home most evenings- warm, properly nourished and in bed on time.

Giving:  Each year as a family we decide how to give an extra monetary gift to a charity that we find meaningful.  Our kids use their allowance (they determine the amount) toward this type of giving instead of buying gifts for each other.  We also keep our ears and eyes open to other ways we can give- gifts for local families, taking plates of food to neighbor shut-ins, etc.

As much as we can, we try to focus our family outward and upward instead of inward.  We don't want to find ourselves on the other side of the Christmas season wondering, "What was the point of all that?"  We want to feel joyful, hopeful and ready to find ways to share God's love in the new year.

In what ways is your family deliberate about Christmas? Pin It

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas

I recently suggested that amaryllis bulbs and hand print ornaments might be nice Christmas gifts if you're looking for some ideas.  It reminded me that over the years I've posted about a number of different crafts that could also make really nice Christmas gifts.  Here they are in case you're needing some homemade Christmas gift ideas right about now.

Recycled Ski and Pallet Sled  The sleds are very cheap to make but they go fast.  Gift them to older kids or pull your little ones around on it.  For them, you could even add a back and sides.

Quilt Potholders Love to quilt and need a little project that can be finished quickly?  These might be just what you need and they're a great way to use smaller bits of fabric that you love.  I gave these as gifts to siblings and a few friends last year.  They were so fun to make.

Homemade Fire Starters  Need a gift idea for a man (or woman) who loves burning wood?  Make them some fire starters using small Christmas cookie cutters and package them up in a brown sandwich bag (or a jar) with some red ribbon.

Marshmallow Shooter  Do you need a gift for someone who enjoys target practice and has a sweet tooth? You could even enlist your own kids to help make them.

Fabric Bulletin Board  Help decorate a room and give your loved one a place to keep their special pictures and cards.

Keepsake Name Sign  Craft stores have everything you need to put these name signs together and they're very sweet, don't you think?

Simple Knotted Fleece Blankets  My sister gave our kids these blankets for Christmas a few years ago. I couldn't believe how easy the instructions sound.  Our kids still use these nightly during the colder weather, often bringing them downstairs with them in the mornings.

Homemade Stilts  Jamey made these for our kids many years ago.  They still use them and he's raised the foot holds as they grow and are able to maneuver higher off the ground.

Pumpkin Streusel Bread  I couldn't put this post together without mentioning a baked gift, could I? This is my most-often baked gift and I hope to make some mini loaves of it this year for gifts and to have on hand to take to potlucks and get-togethers.

Do you have any homemade gift ideas for this year?  I have another one but if I share it won't be a surprise so you'll just have to wait :-).
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Monday, November 30, 2015

Handprint (or Footprint) Ornament Gift Idea

Last year at this time we had a little foster toddler with us.  It seems so long ago and just yesterday all at the same time.  I wanted him to give his mother a Christmas gift and so we made these ornaments. They turned out really sweet and she appreciated them very much.  In fact, she just messaged me the other day and asked for the recipe because she wants to make another set for this Christmas.

I thought you all might enjoy them, too.  They would make great gifts for grandparents (or parents, if you watch/babysit your grandchild) or to commemorate little hands and feet on your own tree- especially if this is baby's first Christmas.

The creases across the foot were my own fault.  There were little, hair-lined cracks in the foot so I filled them in with some Elmer's glue.  I just should have waited a bit longer before glittering the edges- some stuck to the creases.  Oh, well.  You can learn from my mistake.  Thankfully, they're cheap enough to make so if you do make a mistake, you can try again.  I used the recipe and instructions found here.

Thankfully, I made two hand prints and kept one for us.  I will always treasure it...and him...and his family.

Happy Giving, friends.
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