Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tuesday Coffee Chat ~ Christmas Eve





I came across another weekly linky called Tuesday Coffee Chat hosted by Leslie at Time Out for Mom. I realize it's Thursday afternoon, but this linky involves drinking coffee and answering a themed question every week. So, I'm in.

This week's question is ....

What does Christmas Eve look like in your home?

Our Christmas Eve has changed in the past 5 years. When we lived in Oklahoma we always spent Christmas Eve at our house celebrating with Rick's sister and her family. Our tradition was to eat Mexican food, therefore a little Feliz Navidad celebration even though we are not of Spanish speaking descent. It was just fun! We had the most amazing enchiladas and salsa made by Julie and I provided the tacos and guac. After eating we would watch Christmas Vacation and then the kids would open gifts.

Now that we are in Missouri, they are four hours away so Christmas Eve is not possible with them. We now spend Christmas Eve with my family. If we have Christmas Eve dinner at our house, we still do a Mexican meal. But if we eat at my mom and dad's, we go more traditional. We eat dinner together as a family and then gather to exchange gifts. We still exchange gifts with every member of our family and it's lots of fun.

After we come home we pop in Christmas Vacation. The kids get to open their Christmas Eve pjs and then they all head upstairs to Dawson's room for a sleepover. In years past Rick and I (and last year Kyndal and Collin) have stayed up waaaaayyy too late and wrapped all of our presents for Christmas morning. I do not want to do that this year. I'm going to try my best to get all of our gifts wrapped before Christmas so that after our movie we can play a game as a family, or maybe even get to bed at a decent hour so that we are not totally exhausted on Christmas morning. Really I just want Christmas Eve for us to be easy, relaxing, and stress free.

So I guess Christmas Eve looks a little different at our house every year. But one thing is constant ... we spend time together as a family and it's my favorite evening of the whole year.

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 5 Salt Dough Ornaments

First of all, be still my heart .... look at how adorable my little Brynney was in 2010. I want to reach into that picture and gobble her up!!!



I had originally planned to make sugar cookie ornaments for the tree. But then I got to thinking about the four puppies and what they would do to a tree full of sugar cookies. Sooooo, I switched my thinking to Salt Dough.

On Monday I whipped up two batches of Salt Dough, got out the tin of Christmas cookie cutters and put my two little elves to work. They made stars, snowflakes, gingerbread men, reindeer, stockings (one for each member of our family), snowmen and other things.

And then they will be painted, starting today.

So far we have made a couple of batches of crystal ornaments and salt dough ornaments. Paper ornaments are next. Today, tomorrow and Friday we are going to spend all day making ornaments. Things are coming along nicely!

** The only picture I have of these ornaments was on our tree and it is so far away you can't even see the ornaments. But believe me, they turned out so good!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday Hodgepodge



We are on Christmas break so I am sitting on the couch, covered in dogs, with a cup of coffee working on today's Hodgepodge questions. This might be the definition of my perfect morning.

Time Magazine has selected The Ebola Fighters as their person of the year for 2014. Do you agree, and if so who would you say is a close second? If you disagree with their choice, who do you think should have been chosen?

I am glad I do not have the job of choosing this person each year because I do not keep up enough with current events. I really cannot think of anyone else that should have been awarded this title this year. I mean, really, who has fought a more sacrificial fight than the Ebola volunteers? They have risked their lives in unimaginable ways, most certainly in ways that I wouldn't even consider doing. The only other person to specifically add to that list might be the Ebola survivor whose blood they are using to transfuse those in the United States who have contracted the disease. And the dude who figured out that using his blood transfusions might work? He is a pretty important guy, too. Kudos to those folks ... an honor well-deserved!

This question comes to you courtesy of Susan who blogs over at Stew Mama Says.She knows we have a wedding happening any minute now, and she asks, "What's your favorite something old? something new? something borrowed? something blue in your home?" Be sure you hop over to say hi to Susan today!

My favorite something old would have to be the antique clock that was my late grandmother's. I always loved winding that clock at night when we spent the night with her and the loud 'tic-toc-tic-toc' lulled me to sleep many Saturday nights.
My favorite something new? Oh definitely our new direct vent furnace! It has kept us so warm so far this winter and I am so grateful to have it!
My favorite borrowed thing would have to be my entire house. My mom very graciously (and maybe a little self-servingly ... it got us to move the 4 hours back to our hometown) loaned us the entire amount of money to buy our house 2 years ago. Without her loan, moving here would not have been possible.
I am more of a warm-color kind of person, so finding my favorite something blue was a challenge. Ah, but then I just looked down and saw the greenish-blue color of my robe. And it is definitely my favorite thing in this house that is blue.

Fudge -- yay or nay? Your favorite flavor? Do you make it yourself? With nuts or without?

Where was I last year when I ate the most delicious peanut butter fudge? Oh, I know! It was at church on a Wednesday night potluck dinner. It was made by Sue Taylor. It absolutely melted in my mouth. I am not typically a huge fudge eater, but it was to die for!!! I think I had three pieces. I am definitely going to hit her up for her recipe. So peanut butter flavored would have to be what I would prefer. I don't really like chocolate fudge, although I like dark chocolate so maybe I would enjoy that. I don't want nuts in it.

December 17th is Wright Brothers Day, commemorating the first successful flights made by Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. How old were you when you made your first flight? Do you like to fly? Have you ever been to Kitty Hawk or other parts of the North Carolina Outer Banks?

I had to ask my mom this one. I was in an airplane for the first time when I was 6 weeks old. My little mama was only 20 years old and flew with me alone back to Virginia where my dad was stationed in the Navy. Can you imagine doing that as a 20 year old? That's Kyndal's age ... and as a brand new mama. Whoa. I honestly don't really like to fly. I like the convenience of it, but I get really, really bored on a plane. I would rather drive to see the scenery and experience new places. I have never been to North Carolina, but that sounds like it would be a neat place to visit.

Do the people in your family tend to follow a particular career path, and if so what's the path?

For a while it looked like it might be so. My grandfather had a plumbing construction company that my dad took over when he retired. My brother was being groomed early on to take it over when my dad retired, but he decided it was not for him and gave it up. If Dawson was in line to do it, I think he would have. But my dad has had an eager and dedicated young man working for him for the past several years and the company should rightfully be sold to him when the time is right. Dawson wishes we would have lived here when he was younger so he could have gotten into the business at a younger age to keep it in the family. He thinks he would have liked to take it over. But God has a plan for Dawson and if it didn't include taking over the business then we are completely okay with that. Excuse my language but my dad has always said that it is a shitty job, but somebody has to do it. Hee Hee!!

What is the one thing you absolutely, positively must accomplish today?

I really must vacuum, mop and dust, and finish laundry! Dirty dirty house.

This Christmas I hope .....

to just relax and enjoy my family, and eats lots of good food.

Insert your own random thought here.

I know that this is going to be the most peaceful and enjoyable Christmas ever. I have been reading back over my blog posts from past Christmases and, man, was I keyed up! There were years that I was trying to find the perfect balance, and provide the perfect day for my family. There were years that I was lonely and trying to find ways to fill my loneliness of being away from extended family. There was the year that I made efforts to make it a simple Christmas and realized that it was a lot of work to make it that way. There were years that I was just plain angry and fed up. Last year was a really nice Christmas without much stress. But this year I think we've finally just got it all figured out. We have completely simplified our decorations. Instead of filling every single night and weekend between now and Christmas with activity, we are slowed down and just enjoying the peace and quiet. The activities we have done have been ones that we want to be traditions for years to come. We have no real plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day except to just spend time with family. I am normally a huge Scrooge, but this year I am so, so excited for Christmas! It's going to be a great season!

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 4 Teacher's Gifts


Eli is one of those students who loves every teacher, and every teacher loves him .. even if he doesn't have them for any classes. He loves the secretaries (and never leaves for the day without hugging each of them), loves his principal and librarian and P.E. teacher and music teacher and computer teacher. He also has a speech pathologist, occupational therapist and reading specialist. Of course we give a Christmas gift to his homeroom teacher. But, he would be devastated if he didn't get to hand a gift to each of his other teachers (down to the lunchroom monitor, nurse, counselor and school instructional assistant.) That can get expensive!!  But we are grateful for them all and want to thank them for their love and care.


Here is our yearly solution, that doesn't cost much. But they are oh ... so ... good!


Spicy Pretzels

15 oz. bag pretzels
1 package  dry ranch dressing (i.e. Hidden Valley)
3/4 cup oil
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

Put all ingredients into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and shake. Shake and mix every 20-30 minutes for a couple of hours. Let sit for 24 hours before dividing. These ingredients fill about 3 cellophane Christmas snack gift bags.


Now that we are homeschoolers, we don't have all of those teachers. However, these are great gifts to give to Sunday school teachers, the mailman, the librarians, and coaches. They will all be receiving these from us this year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 3 Crystal Ornaments


In 2010, when we celebrated our Old-Fashioned Christmas, we made all of the decorations for our tree. Our favorites were the Crystal Ornaments. They are easy to make and really beautiful!

We will be making all of our decorations for our Christmas tree this year. One type of ornament that we will be mass-producing is crystal ornaments made from pipe cleaners and Borax. I got the idea from Nature Mom's Blog (go there for step-by-step instructions), and I can't wait to adorn our tree with them!




In addition to these styles, I also want to make lots of silver snowflakes.

Not only are we doing these for our tree, but we are making several of them for Brynne to barter at her bartering table at Homeschool Coop this Friday.

(We have actually made these ornaments a couple of times since then. They are easy, pretty, and lots of fun. My favorites were white pipe cleaners twisted into spirals. They looked like icicles.)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Eli's Birthday Party


Bowling parties have become a favorite for the kids. And they are great for mom because they require, mostly, no planning. The kids pick a theme, we put together a cake, some table decorations, and party favors. The kids show up, play a few video games, bowl a couple of games (blackout bowling is FUN!), do some dancing, and eat some cake. 

Eli chose a Lego theme this year and requested an Emmet cake. I added a few easy decorations and we were all set for the party.


The winner got some Hershey candy bars. The answer was 229.

You can obtain this printable at Homegrown Learners. Thanks, Mary!

Big brothers are the best!

And sometimes little sisters.

Bowling is Eli's absolute favorite sport. This was his 5th game of the day.

We gave mystery mini-figs as party favors. Big hit!!

Eli has been wanting this set to complete his Batman collection.


It was a double thumbs up party!

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Day 2 Boxwood Swags and Wreaths


Welcome to Day 2 of "The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas". This is a repost from the simple Christmas we had in 2010. Yesterday we talked about the tradition of the Bayberry candle. Today we are talking about fresh wreaths and swags.

In Colonial days, the families made their own fresh wreaths and swags. We don't have any evergreen or pine trees in our yard. (I could go across the street and cut some off the neighbor's tree, but stealing is frowned upon, especially at Christmas.) But, we do have boxwood bushes. Boxwoods are a very popular bush here in the Midwest. They can be used to decorate a mantle or twisted into a pretty wreath.

I like these ideas ...




And this is a great idea! You could also do other words (such as NOEL) and even hang in windows instead.



Here is what I did on our mantle in 2010 ...



This was an easy decorating option. This year we used the extra clippings off our Christmas tree to decorate our mantle.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas (Revisited) ~ Bayberry Candle


As I have posted about for the past several months, the kids and I have been using Prairie Primer as our main unit study for this year. We have read the first three books in the Little House on the Prairie series and will continue to read the rest of the books throughout the year. 

For the past two weeks we have taken a break and done an author study on Tomie dePaola, specifically reading many of his Christmas books. I posted all about that study yesterday.

In 2010, the kids and I read a book by Tomie dePaola called An Early American Christmas.


I loved that book. It is all about how Christmas traditions came to America. So that year we based our entire Christmas around it, especially our decorations. I posted a series that year called "The 12 Days of a Simple Christmas" and each day I highlighted one of our simple traditions from that year.

Since we have been reading about the simple and homemade traditions of the pioneer Christmas in the Little House series, I thought I might share that series of posts again. Although many of the traditions were based on Colonial times, they are still relevant traditions for the American prairie of the late 1800's and would work wonderfully for a prairie Christmas if you choose to have one. I realize I am posting this a little late from a planning perspective, but I just came across these this week. If you are planning a simple Christmas this year based on your studies in Prairie Primer, then perhaps this series of posts will be helpful to you.

Each day between now and Christmas Day I will publish a repost of a day from that series. For me it will be fun to look back at our simple Christmas of 2010 and give me a chance to reminisce with the kids.


"A Bayberry candle that is burned to the socket puts luck in the home, food in the larder and gold in the pocket."

"Bayberry candles are believed to bring good luck for the coming year.  The tradition dates back to the colonial days.  Bayberry candles burned much better than standard beeswax candles so they were highly sought after.  They were also much more expensive and harder to make.  Because of this, most families only burned their Bayberry candles at special times, such as Christmas.  From this the tradition of burning Bayberry candles at Christmas was born." ~ from the Shelburne Country Store website. (It doesn't appear that Shelburne Country Store sells these candles any longer, but I found several places that do, including THIS Etsy shop. Or you could make your own.)

I ordered a set of tapered Bayberry candles for us to burn on Christmas Eve. This is the first step in our Old-Fashioned Christmas.

Our Bayberry candles burning in Mason jars on Christmas Eve, 2010
Instead of making our own bayberry candles, which was the Colonial custom, we made Lacey candles. You can read about that in the coming days.

Come back tomorrow when I tell you all about boxwood swags and wreaths.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Tomie de Paola Author Study ~ Christmas


Over the years we have read books here and there by Tomie de Paola. He is a great author and even better illustrator. I really enjoy his books! For a little Christmas fun, and a break from Prairie Primer, we decided to do an author study on Tomie de Paola for the last two weeks before our Christmas break. It has been an easy going study, reading all about him, reading several of his Christmas books, and then doing fun activities to go along with the books.

First we started out learning about Tomie de Paola himself. We read two books: Tomie de Paola by Julie Berg and Tomie de Paola by Mae Woods, and then watched a couple of videos with interviews with him. We also browsed around the Tomie de Paola website and his blog.

Then we launched into the goodness of Tomie's Christmas books. He writes in a few different ways: from his experiences as a child (especially his Italian, Irish and religious upbringing); from Christmas traditions and legends from other countries; and in retelling folktales. All of those things combined make for some rich Christmas learning. It is also cool how he can intertwine the characters, legends and traditions together from book to book. And it illustrations are just plain brilliant. They are quintessentially Tomie de Paola.

Here is what we read and the activity we did with it:

The Family Christmas Tree

As mother, father, grandmother, and children decorate together, they tell the story of how Christmas trees came to be, including the changes in size and appearance over time, and the way ornaments were first introduced. Tomie de Paola effortlessly weaves together little-known historical facts with the story of one family's traditions.

For our activity, we decorated our Christmas tree. That worked out great for me! This time I didn't get stuck decorating all by myself because decorating was an assignment! Maybe I can find a way to accomplish that every year ... hee hee!!




Four Friends at Christmas

Mister Frog has slept through Christmas every year and is determined to celebrate this one with his three best friends. But when he takes a short nap that turns into a very long sleep, he wakes up late on Christmas Eve, and there's no one to celebrate with! He's all alone until Santa and all of Frog's friends arrive with trees, food, and holiday cheer just in time for the big day!

This was another easy and self-serving activity ... we went to Oklahoma and the kids visited with their four friends! We had a great day with Paige, Maggie, Sophie, and Chloe. We tromped around Paige and Maggie's new farm their family just bought, ate lunch together, played, talked, and enjoyed some homemade goodies they gave us as Christmas gifts. Friends are important ... especially at Christmas!



Francis, The Poor Man of Assisi

In lively prose and folksy paintings, dePaola tells of the Italian brother who forsook his worldly possessions to travel from village to village helping the poor and sheltering animals.

Brother Francis loved birds, so on this day we made pinecone bird feeders to hang outside.





The Legend of the Poinsettia

This Mexican legend tells how the poinsettia came to be, through a little girl's unselfish gift to the Christ Child.

We did a fun and beautiful torn paper craft. I just printed off a Poinsettia printable and the kids tore construction paper, glued it to the templates, cut them out, and glued them on construction paper. They turned out lovely!





The Clown of God

In this retelling of the old French legend, a juggler offers to the Christ Child the only Christmas gift he has.

We made really pretty, and delicious Stained Class Cookies. These were lots of fun to make!




The Christmas Pageant

Text and illustrations retell the story of the Nativity as performed in a children's Christmas pageant.

We planned to make these cute ornaments, but didn't get to it last week. Even though we are now on Christmas break, we plan to make them this week.



Merry Christmas, Strega Nona

Strega Nona returns with her bumbling assistant, Big Anthony, and Bambolona, the baker's daughter in time for the big Christmas Eve feast. Strega Nona, who knows more about magic than anyone else, learns that Christmas has a magic of it's own.

We made magical glitter glue stars. The lights from our Christmas tree make them shine so brightly!



Other books we read by were Christmas Remembered, Hark! A Christmas Sampler, and The Legend of Old Befana.


We really enjoyed learning about Tomie de Paola and, especially, enjoyed his Christmas books. They really helped prepare us for the busy upcoming Christmas season!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Random Five



1. I thought I was all done Christmas shopping. But then when I was looking at the case of the ONLY thing Brynne wants for Christmas (a video game), I noticed that it was an expansion pack and you have the have the original game for it to play it. She has this original game, but it's on the Xbox. And the expansion pack game is only for the computer. So now I have to buy the original game for the computer. Uggghhhh .... they get you coming and going!

2. Eli's birthday party is tomorrow and he wants me to make him an Emmet cake from The Lego Movie. This is what I am planning on doing ...


but with this expression on his face ...


Wish me loads of luck! The first look on Emmet's face might be what my expression is by the time I get done decorating it. I am always so stressed when I decorate my kids' cakes, yet they always insist I do it instead of buying them from somewhere.

3. Every strand of lights on my Christmas tree has burned out except for one. So I am going to buy new lights today. And I have not been able to get my stockings to stay on the mantle this year for some reason. We don't have enough room for stocking holders because our t.v. is on our mantle. Every night I put them up and every morning they are laying on the ground. Gotta get to work on a solution that doesn't involve a hammer and nails.

4. I have been reading the same book for about 3 months now. It is a good book, Roses by Leila Meacham, but reading this time of year is not my priority with homeschooling and working three jobs. I am hoping to finish it by this weekend so I can read a Christmas novel starting next week. I have chosen Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson. I have no idea what it is about or who the author is, but it looked good on the cover so we'll give it a go.

5. There are only 10 hours left in my sister-in-law's Kickstarter campaign to get her new board book off the ground. It is called The Wheels on the Bike and would be a great Christmas gift for the little one in your life. Consider backing her project. You can read all about it HERE.