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December 2007

November 2007

Themes and Plans for December

At long (long) last! :)Winterscene_2

I'm sorry this took me so long to get done ~ I know I promised it weeks (or gosh was it months?) ago. Well, I hope this post is helpful to you as you make your own plans for December - the brightest month of the year.

But first I must ask ~ how is the weather where you are? Has old man winter come knocking on your door?  The days are so short now, aren't they? And the afternoons so dark. No wonder this month seems to fly by!

Up here in New England it has grown quite cold, and there is snow in the forecast for Sunday. There may be just enough time to squeeze in a few holiday errands, and then scurry home to warm ourselves by the fire.

Well, the clock is ticking, so without further ado, here are some Themes and Plans for December ...


  • The garden has been put to bed.
  • We'll see the first real snowfall of the season.
  • The nights are dark and cold.
  • Orion is visible.
  • In the greenhouse, we find the plants of Christmas:
    • poinsettia
    • holly
    • ivy
    • mistletoe
    • boxwood
    • bay
    • Christmas rose
    • amaryllis
  • The skies are gray, the earth is brown.
  • Pinecones are plentiful underfoot.
  • The birch trees stand out in the woods.
  • Winter moths gather at the windows on mild nights.
  • The light grows again after the Solstice (22).
  • The Full Cold Moon (23) rises just before Christmas.


  • clementines
  • cranberries
  • pomegranates
  • parsnips
  • chestnuts
  • holiday spices
    • clove
    • nutmeg
    • ginger
    • cinnamon
    • star anise
  • gingerbread cookies
  • fruitcake
  • cookies of all kinds (too many to name!)
  • peppermint tea and candy cane cocoa
  • glogg (spiced wine or cider)
  • roast - beef, turky or goose
  • Nana's homemade fudge (chocolate *and* penuche)
  • old-fashioned ribbon candy
  • champagne or "fizzy" water on New Year's


  • Advent begins
  • St. Barbara (4)
  • St. Nicholas (6)
  • The Immaculate Conception (8)
  • Our Lady of Guadalupe (12)
  • St. Lucia (13)
  • Christmas Eve (24)
  • Christmas Day (25)
  • St. Stephen (26)
  • Holy Innocents (28)
  • Holy Family (30)


  • Prepare the winter kitchen ~
    • Set up special candles, evergreens and music.
    • Stock up on baking supplies.
    • Clean countertops with herbal cleansers.
  • Organize and restock food wraps.
  • Set up a wrapping station.
  • Put up decorations inside and out.
  • Clean windows (to let in more light).
  • Organize thank you notes (buy or make).
  • Prepare holiday tips.
  • Make up trays of cookies and tins of bread.
  • Consider snow removal strategies.


  • Author Jan Brett's birthday (1)
  • National Cookie Day (4)
  • Pearl Harbor Day (7)
  • National Poinsettia Day (12)
  • Earlybird & Papa's birthdays (14)
  • Boston Tea Party anniversary (16)
  • Caroling hayride with parish
  • The Giving Tree at church
  • National Treasure 2 opens (21)
  • New Year's Eve (31)

Stories: Please see my Winter and Christmas book baskets on the left- and right-hand sidebars, respectively. (I'll be adding more titles soon.) :)

Field Trips:

  • Attend a Christmas play, concert or pageant.
  • Visit a barn or stable.
  • Go out for a special holiday cocoa (maybe after mailing the cards).


  • Make clove-studded orange pomanders.
  • Go on a winter woods walk ~ find a Yule log.
  • Take an evening drive to admire neighborhood lights.
    • Tote along thermal cups of cocoa!
  • Bake with the children at least one afternoon!
  • Deliver goodies to friends, neighbors or a nearby shelter.
  • Go caroling at a local nursing home.
  • Plant a paperwhite narcissus bulb for midwinter bloom.
  • Roll beeswax candles.
  • Make paper snowflakes.
  • Fill windows with shiny window stars.
  • Listen to carols and hymns, especially as night falls.
  • Make terracotta bells for New Year's Day.
  • Construct a gingerbread house.
  • Make homemade ornaments (keep a basket of materials available).
  • Make gift tags from children's artwork.
  • Learn about Christmas traditions around the world.
  • Make tin can luminarias on Our Lady of Gauadalupe's feast day.
  • Drink Mexican hot chocolate on Poinsettia Day.
  • Read a book from the Christmas basket each night before bed.
  • Pray and light the Advent wreath each night before supper.
  • Watch special holiday movies while signing cards.
    • Little Women is a personal favorite. :)
  • Wear star hats or candle crowns on St. Lucia Day.
    • Serve orange-cranberry bread and spiced coffee for breakfast.
  • Decorate a Solstice tree for the birds.
  • Visit an outdoor creche one quiet starry night.

Now, you all know I don't plan on doing all of these things, lol! Not in one year anyway. ;) I just like to keep a running list of ideas that I can come back to again year after year. As always, I'd love to hear what your thoughts are for December ... which by my latest calculations begins in precisely five hours!

So I'm off now, but thanks for stopping by and I wish you a Happy December!

Chill December brings the sleet, blazing fire and Christmas treat ...

Poetry Friday: The Robin in December

When the leaves have fallenBirdstophat

And the days begin to shorten;

When the dark night draws its curtains

At tea-time on the sun;

When the summer flowers have gone

And we put our warm coats on ~

The Robin comes back to the garden …

Is he waiting to be drawn

To go on a Christmas card?

Is he bringing a touch of red

Now most of the roses are dead?

No: we guess why he comes

And put out seed for him and crumbs.

~ Stanley Cook

December begins tomorrow, and it's time for winter birdwatching! Are your feeders well-stocked? Are your field guides handy? :)


This winter we are planning to collect favorite bird poems and focus our picture study on birds in art. I have ordered a copy of this book, pictured at left, and requested this one from the library. I also thought our winter biography subject would be John James Audubon, The Boy Who Drew Birds.


Right now, we're reading a fun book called The Company of Crows: A Book of Poems. We happen to have a highly entertaining band of crows making daily visits to our front lawn, and their antics are thoroughly distracting and enjoyable! When we hear them coming, we abandon whatever it is we are doing just to watch for a while. They are wonderful to observe - have you ever really watched crows together? They are quite caring and social with each other. This all is very timely for us as we are reading Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allen Crowe for Book Group next week. (And in January we'll be reading The Trumpet of the Swan, another fitting title for our bird study! A magnificent pair lives in a nearby pond.)


Now, we haven't seen a robin just yet, though we most likely will just after Christmas, unless it's very snowy. Robins will figure into our February plans ~ when we begin The Secret Garden. (Have you seen the beautiful new annotated version? It's at the top of my Christmas list!) But if we do happen to spy that robin of December from the poem above, we'll throw out some raisins and apples along with a handful of crumbs, and hope he finds shelter somewhere closeby.


Thanks for visiting today, and, oh yes - the Round up is here! Happy Friday!

To Thank You ...

I would like to take a moment to properly thank the very kind folks who nominated me for The 2007 Homeschool Blog Awards. I want you to know that I am very honored, and I'm so glad you enjoy my blog. I'd also like to offer my best wishes to my fellow nominees ~ all 285 of them! :)Hsbabuttonnominee_4

And now I'm off to get supper started. (I say that at the end of every post, don't I? but then, happily, supper does happen every night) And do you know what? I'll have a rare evening out tonight! I'm meeting a dear friend for coffee this evening to catch up and make some plans for our new year's home learning. Fun!

Hmmm, caffeine will be necessary if I'm to make it past seven o'clock, so what shall it be? A toasted marshmallow latte or a peppermint mocha? I'll have to let you know tomorrow ...

Oh, and while I'm thinking of it, I've finally updated those sidebars of mine ~ the Autumn baskets have been packed away and in their place are all my Winter and Christmas lists. I'll be adding more before long.

Have a good night! :)

It's a Book-Walk at Cay's!

So stop on by and throw your hat in the ring! By sending Cay your name and email Bookwalkmd_2_2address today, you stand a chance at winning one of three books! Now, I don't know just what books Cay is awarding - but I am sure any one of them will be a prize to treasure!

And speaking of treasures, this is a good opportunity for me to point out my new link to Christmas Mosaic, Cay's latest book! Look for the pretty green package over there on my righthand sidebar. :)

You might recall me mentioning Cay's earlier work, Catholic Mosaic from time to time ~ an invaluable resource for celebrating and understanding more about the liturgical year. Well, Cay's new book is destined to become equally beloved! Christmas Mosaic is an illustrated book study for Advent and Christmas, a program that will guide you and your children through the most beautiful weeks of the year!

It is more than just a book study, though! Oh to be sure, it's a booklist - and an amazing one at that, which in and of itself is worth its weight in gold - but there are also recipes and activities, reflections and reminscinces ... prayers, crafts and more! If you never even opened a book on the list, and just read through Cay's pages, you would come away inspired and eager to share the many blessings of the seasons with your family.

Inside Christmas Mosaic you will find ideas for:

  • Advent Week 1 (Decoration and Preparation)
  • Advent Week 2 (Giving, Santa Claus, St. Nicholas)
  • Advent Week 3 (Family, Hannukah)
  • Advent Week 4 (Nativity, Angels, Epiphany)
  • December birthday celebrations (and I have one in my family!)
  • A snowflake/winter reading discovery center
  • Craft ideas, recipes and coloring pages, too!

Honestly, as I have only had this book in my posession for a week now, I have just begun to sift through all the goodness inside. I have it open now at my workspace, and I am busily making notes for next week! I will of course be sharing with you all how we use this resource over the next month or more. And if you notice, just beneath the link to Christmas Mosaic (which will take you to the ordering page at Hillside Education), I have posted the books we'll be using for Week 1 of Advent; I will change these up as we move through the Christmas season.

Now, can I mention something else exciting about this book? :) Cay graciously invited several friends to write essays to be part of Christmas Mosaic. These are names I am sure you know from the blogosphere - friends old and new, whose words will ring welcome and true:

To say I was thrilled to be asked to participate in this project - to be part of this beautiful group of women - is the understatement of the year, and I am forever grateful to Cay for honoring me so!

Now, let me wrap this up so you can all get on with our day (as you well know, I tend to ramble when I'm excited about something!) and so you can get on over to Cay's Cajun Cottage and take your chance in the BookWalk

Good Luck! :)

Tags of Comfort & Joy


I've had this craft, a homemade version of an Advent calendar, rattling around in my brain for a few years now. I originally envisioned it quite differently (there was to be cardstock, a craft knife and tissue paper involved) but the way I ended up doing it was much simpler and ultimately I think more satisfying. As usual, this is a very humble craft, but when it was finished, and I stood back to look it over, it was exactly how I had hoped it would be. That's such a great feeling! :)

So, do you remember a few days ago I showed you a grapevine wreath I cobbled together for the dining room? Well, my intent was not to have it just hang there prettily, nice though it looks against the windows. I knew I wanted it to serve as a base for a Christmas countdown, an Advent calendar of sorts.

Some Advent calendars open to reveal a beautiful picture, or perhaps tiny chocolates, and some hold sacred Scripture within. Some calendars - as my boys like to remind me - even reveal tiny Legos each day of the season. But this calendar is quite personal and it bears tidings (or tags) of comfort and joy. :)

In all there will be 37 tags, taking us from the first of December to the Feast of the Epiphany. But hanging 37 tags on this wreath at one time would be overwhelming - not just to behold but to make all at once! So each Sunday a week's worth of tags will appear dangling from the entwined branches of our wreath. On the outside of each tag is a number indicating the day it is to be read, and on the inside is a little surprise for the boys - a simple but special activity we'll do that day. I hope that each of these little bits of comfort and joy will enrich our path towards the most beautiful day of the year.

Now, for the specifics!



  • grapevine wreath
  • berry garland to dress it up
  • small bird in nest (quite optional)
  • small gift bag tags
  • ivory cardstock
  • twine
  • stickers
  • scissors (regular and pinking), hole punch, glue stick, ink pen


(A quick note ~ This wreath has a rustic, woodland look to it - it fits our decor at home and is "boyish" as well. You might opt to make your wreath in a whole different style, perhaps using an evergreen base, or golden ribbons instead of twine for instance.)

I started with pre-made gift bag tags because that way half the cutting and sizing work was already done for me. I cut a gift bag tag (approximately 2x3 inches) right down the middle, thereby making two smaller tags, and trimmed the bottom edges with the pinking shears. I then punched a hole at the top of each.

Because my tags were dark, I decided to use small ivory squares inside for the text. (If you choose a light colored tag this won't be a problem. I thought about using printed scrapbook paper for this, but ultimately I wanted something thicker.) I quickly cut up strips of ivory cardstock using a ruler - a cutting board would be even faster - and on each square I wrote down a brief message describing the special activity that we'll be doing that day.


After writing my message, I just used a bit of glue stick to adhere the ivory squares. This one shown above, for Sunday, December 2nd reads:

Advent begins! New colors on the altar and new books! Nativity set! Let's buy a new Christmas book @ B&N. We'll also try a holiday "coffee."

(I should point out that my boys won't actually be getting a caffeinated beverage, but they've been begging to try one of those Starbucks flavored coffees I get all the time now and again. I'll let them order either a decaf or a cup of flavored hot chocolate.)

One of the things that first overwhelmed me about this project was the thought of having to come up with (and really committing to) so many different ideas at one time! Sure, some of the days were taken care of thanks to already scheduled festivities on the December calendar. But there were plenty of "everyday" days that needed a little something. Plus, I thought, what if our plans change, what if a new activity comes up, or what if we just need a quiet day when something "active" has been planned?

So that's when I decided to put up just a week's worth of tags at a time. First of all, the wreath will look nicer with just a few tags spread around it, and secondly, this will help me be more thoughtful and timely with our plans. I'll write the tags out as I plan the week ahead and on Sunday morning the boys will find their wreath sporting a fresh batch of tags!

Now, the tags do stay a bit open, so you could fasten the bottom (or side) edges closed with a small bit of tape or a sticker. I've left mine open, but made sure the boys know there's no peeking!

You might notice these project pictures are a bit more cluttered than usual. Typically I wait until mid-afternon to launch into projects like this - when I can clear off the table and have a lot of room (both physically and mentally, lol) in which to work. But today I just decided to jump right into it. We got our lessons done early and the boys were all busy with "crafts" of their own so I gave it a go. (Crackerjack was drawing Mario characters, Bookworm was making paper snowflakes and Earlybird was just having at it with the scissors and glue.) 


The last thing I did was to thread a bit of twine through the tag's hole and tie it tightly at the top, forming a loop. I then slipped the tag's loop onto a bit of the wreath. It's easier to remove a tag in this way, rather than tying it to a branch.


And here's the wreath as it looks now, all set for the first week of Advent!


So what's inside these first eight tags? What little surprises are in store for my boys next week? :)

  • Help Daddy to set up the outdoor decorations!
  • Look for new colors and books at church! A special trip to the bookstore too.
  • Attend a "Holiday Cocoa Storytime" with our homeschool group. (Each family is bringing their favorite winter holiday story to share, and we're bringing the hot cocoa and marshmallows!)
  • Take a winter woods walk on St. Barbara's Day (and bring home branches to force).
  • Bring out the Polar Express train set (a once a year treat) and watch the movie, The Polar Express (and enjoy mugs of hot chocolate).
  • Attend Book Group and bake gingerfolk on the Feast of St. Nicholas.
  • Visit the nursery to see all the Christmas plants. Make poinsettia ornaments to give as presents.
  • Make a gingerbread house with Nana!

If you'd like, each week, I'll share our tags with you all. (Or if I get the ideas all down on paper in advance - and most of them are aleady formed - I'll do a post with them all in one shot.)

I placed all the supplies for making up a week's worth of tags in a large ziploc bag. I'll keep that bag on my bookcase ready to go.


Wow, when I first starting planning this craft, it seemed Advent was light years away - and now it's just a few days away! I'm glad I have this project off and running, though. I think the boys are really going to enjoy it. :)

Well, I'd best be off; it's quite dark now and supper's simmering away on the stove. After a bit of mild weather, it got very cold here today. But it's clear and crisp tonight, the stars are out and it's lovely - it smells just like Christmas out there.

Keep warm and well everyone, and see you sometime tomorrow. :)

The Clipboard Corner


A few pictures from my clipboard corner. :)

First of all, I'm so excited to see this clipboard thing (idea, system?) is helping some of my favorite bloggers! Check out Elizabeth's plans and Matilda's pictures! I'd love to hear from you if you are using the clipboard and/or file crate system. Let me know how it's working for you! :)

So the next piece of news is, I bought a new clipboard for myself last weekend. (That metal clamp with its sharp edges had me envisioning all kinds of potential injuries, most of them involving small bare feet). This new clipboard has a clear acrylic base with a smooth tension clamp and not a sharp edge to be found. I gussied it up today with some Susan Branch stickers (as you can see in the top photo).

And wonder of wonders, did you know you can hang the things up? I myself only discoverd this neat trick a few weeks ago at my homeschool support meeting (and then I promptly forgot about it). Luckily Matilda's post reminded me, so I stuck yet other thumbtack into the window frame (my poor husband) and checked it out! It hangs so neatly and now I see I could have relaxed a bit on the metal clamp issue. Hanging up here it should see little if any interaction with small bare feet. One would think.

Since we moved furniture around in this room after Thanksgiving (lost a sideboard, gained a bench and a tree), the worktable is once again next to the birdfeeder windows. This means two things: a. we will all be much more distracted from our lessons by birdwatching and tree-gazing, and b. I have a new little corner to set up!


Below you see my clipboard hanging up on its push-pin, along with the printouts and papers I needed for today. In the front are some random angel stickers I found and the small piece of paper I use for my daily to do list (a page-a-day tear-off). For the record, I do realize it's blank, but this does not mean I had nothing to do today. It just means I was too busy this morning to write my list out!


On the small table below I set up a small Christmas planning station: the steno notebook I covered in a Christmasy floral and I use it for all my holiday notes. (This took the place of the planner I never got around to organizing this year. I find this slim notepad very easy to pop in my bag when I'm going out and it has plenty of room for all the various holiday planning I need to do. (I always think I need to write down a lot more than I actually do.)


And then I have the card-writing basket. Remember that schedule I set up for myself (10 cards a night)? I'm already behind ...


Below the table I have my Christmas tote - which holds any catalogs I want to keep for online purchasing. I try very hard not to keep each and every catalog that arrives in the mail. Only the ones with tabbed pages (indicating a possible gift idea) go in this bag. I also keep Christmas idea books and special magazines in here, too.


And this final photo has nothing to do with my clipboard, but how cute is my cat? :)


And seeing as how it is 8 o'clock now, I'm thinking Midget has the right idea. :) Before I head off, though, I'm setting up my clipboard for tomorrow, including that little list of things to do. My day may start early, but it's always a better one when I've given it some thought the night before.

Well, I hope you all had a good day ~ see you again sometime soon!

November at Aquarium School

There are sharks in Boston!


And I don't just mean in in the financial district! ;) They also reside inside the New England Aquarium (three in the giant tank) and, as we learned, they're outside too - just beyond the craggy coast of our capital city!

It was a fascinating class in which we learned all about these amazing and often misunderstood fish. Lots of hands-on activities, a slide show and talk from two shark experts and, a real-live (or dead, as it were) shark dissection!*

(*Now, I have pictures of that too -because, believe or not, I watched - but so as not to offend any of my readers, who probably don't expect to see fish guts when they open my blog, I placed those particular shots in a photo album parked over there on the righthand sidebar (see Shark Dissection). Please be warned - these are graphic pictures of the insides of a dog shark. Don't look if you don't want to!)

So I must point out that I begin once again with that quintessential Boston shot above. It is the first thing we see when we step out of the parking garage and today we remarked upon how different it appeared from the earlier autumn months. Yesterday was a typical November day for Boston - drizzly and gray, the fog rolling in off the harbor ...

As we arrived a bit early for class we walked about the docks, looking out at the misty gray waters half expecting to see a dorsal fin sticking up in the distance. We didn't see that of course, but we did spy some interesting boats.


It has also become our habit to stop over at the harbor seal tank to say hello to our favorite pinnipeds.



Before we knew it, it was time for class! Bookworm headed into the older kids' class with his friends and I followed Crackerjack into the younger group's room. (As I've mentioned before, the classes follow the same curriculum with variations, of course, due to age level.)

CJ's classroom was set up with some interesting work stations designed to give the kids a feel for the shark's point of view ...


This box allowed the children to peer through two sets of goggles - the top one representing the human view deep underwater (dark and murky) and the bottom set showing us how sharks are able to see (much more clearly). This underwater vision enables them to hunt their food with relative ease.


In the sunlight however, we'd have the sharks beaten by a mile (more or less). Donning these sunglasses and peering at the chart (which appeared quite blurry) gave us a good idea of how a shark would see things in shallow sun-filtered water ... it was very hard to distinguish between things like seals and people on surfboards.


We then observed shark jaws ...


Some of an enormous size:


This jaw belonged to a Mako shark, one of our most common New England sharks.

And there were all kinds of things to explore including shark skin and egg cases ...


... including skate pods, otherwise, and rather eloquently, known as mermaid's purses:


An experiment showed us how sharks are able to stay afloat - not with air balloons as do most fish, but with oil:


Hard to see above here, but those are two pouches filled with oil (one) and air (the other). Oil may not float as well as air, but it does indeed float. (As anyone who has baked or cooked pasta knows.) 

The kids were allowed to sift through a pile of shark teeth ... and try to match them up with identification cards.


This one tooth, as large as this little girl's hand, belonged to a prehistoric shark called a Megalodon!


There were earphones designed to "hear" as sharks hear:


And a box that checked to see if we humans are electric (we are!):


Crackerjack and his friends did some sketching and note-taking as class got underway ...


Here's a picture of the whiteboard with notes from our discussion. On the left is a list of what the kids "knew" about sharks, and on the right is a list of what people generally "think" about sharks.


And just before we left to meet up with the shark experts in the next room, we got to meet a tiny chain dog fish:


He (or she, they won't know for a while) was so cute and maybe all of six inches!

The shark experts gave an excellent and lively presentation. They talked with the kids about the various kinds of sharks, how and why sharks are caught or hunted and some common misconceptions as well. (Did you know you are more likely to be bitten by a person in New York City than by a shark anywhere in the world? And how likely is that? One would hope not very.)

Now, I will leave you here with a brief glimpse of the start of the dissection. The shark guys were very careful to explain to the children that this dogfish was dead, and could not feel anything. They also explained how we must treat it with respect. They described the ways scientists like themselves use such dissections to learn more about sharks - and to ultimately help people live more peacefully with these beautiful animals.


I must say, Crackerjack held his own and watched the whole procedure - though he took off his gloves early on declaring, "Well, I'm not gonna touch it!" :) As I understand it, Bookworm opted out of this portion of the class and sat off to the side with a friend. (This from the kid who wants to be a vet, lol. I guess we'll work on that.) :)

We were sent home with a nice book about dog sharks, including a model shark to build - which we'll do today while waiting for Earlybird at speech. When we get home I will have the boys write up a narration of our experience yesterday and label a shark diagram for their notebooks. We'll also look over this great webpage all about New England sharks. Wonderful photos and information there!

Well, thanks for letting me take you with us to our shark class! If you'd like to check out the dissection photos, remember they are safely tucked away in the photo album at right. I will add notes to the photos later today. I need to pick CJ's brain to remember all that was said!

Have a great day everyone, and thanks, as always, for stopping by!

And the winner is ...

... Stephanie!

Congratulations, Stephanie, you have won a copy of Marybeth Whalen's e-book, A Recipe for Christmas Joy! Please send me your email address and I will forward your information to Marybeth (drhaniganATcomcastDOTnet). I hope you will enjoy this book as much as I did!

Thank you to everyone who played along, and thanks especially for all your very kind comments! I am so touched and encouraged by your words. :)

I am grateful to Marybeth for allowing me to help spread the good word on her new book. (I hope this will be the first of many more!)

And if you didn't win, but you are interested in having a copy for yourself, please visit Marybeth's blog for ordering information.

Blessings to all, and to all a good night! :)

A Book Review (& Giveaway!)

One of my favorite ways to prepare for Christmas ~ sometimes even months in advance ~ is to read things that get me excited about the holiday season. There are so many resources out there ~ books, magazines and blogs! ~ and I am always on the lookout for something that imparts good ideas along with gentle inspiration, and I'm happy to tell you I have found just such a thing ...

I had the incredible honor of a sneek peek at A Recipe for Christmas Joy, an e-book written by Marybeth Whalen. A little over a week ago, Marybeth sent a copy my way, and at once (after a quick and excited look-through) I set it aside to enjoy after Thanksgiving.

Well, yesterday I sat down in my Christmas corner, with a cup of that delicious holiday tea I've told you all about (at least once!), carols were playing on the radio, and I just soaked in Marybeth's lovely words ...

There's just so much in here! You can find out more about ordering A Recipe for Christmas Joy by following the button on Marybeth's sidebar, but let me give you a peek as to what you'll find inside:

  • Keeping Christ at the center of the season.
  • Organizing tips and thoughtful to-do's week-by-week.
  • Activities for family fun and personal renewal.
  • Decorating and table-setting ideas.
  • Budget-saving strategies.
  • All kinds of homemade gift ideas.
  • Lots and lots of fabulous recipes!
  • Ways to make the holidays Holy days.
  • A New Year's celebration too!

Truly there is something for everyone in here! And though I've been reading Marybeth's book on my computer, I have just printed off all 73 pages to keep in a binder so I may return to it year after year. It is a keepsake, for sure. :)

Oh, this was such a treat! And as the sun went down, and the lights on the tree began to twinkle, I was left feeling refreshed and renewed. Knowing Marybeth from her blog, I have a feeling this is what she hoped to impart to her readers ~ and she does so with a generous heart and a graceful spirit.

And speaking of treats, I have one for you, too! Marybeth has generously donated a copy of A Recipe for Christmas Joy for me to raffle off too one of my blog visitors!! How fun!

Let's see, how about ~ if you would like a chance to win a copy of A Recipe for Christmas Joy, please leave me a comment below. This evening I'll put all the names in a basket and have the boys draw the winning name. I'll post the winner here before 9 p.m.!

Good Luck, everyone, and Happy Monday!

Coffee & Gingerbread for Mum's Birthday


Yes, it tasted as good as it looks!

My mother's birthday is tomorrow, but since tomorrow is a very busy day for all of us, we decided to celebrate her birthday this morning after church. I've also been waiting for just the right occasion to make that delicious gingerbread I had at my friend Kim's house earlier this month. What can be better on a cold November's day than a warm and sticky old-fashioned gingerbread, slathered with homemade whipped cream? Not much, I tell you.

So let me share the recipe with you straight away (since I promised it a loong time ago) and then I'll have a few pictures from our day. :)

Hot-water Chocolate Gingerbread (from The Boston Globe, circa 2002)

Makes 1 large cake or enough to serve 12*

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups molasses
  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons hot tap water
  • 2 cups boiling water
  1. Set oven rack in the center position. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper and flour the pan, dusting out the excess.
  2. In a bowl, sift the flour, cocoa, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt.
  3. In an electric mixer, beat the sugar, molasses, and oil on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.
  4. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 20 seconds after each addition.
  5. Stir together the baking soda and hot water. Quickly beat it into the batter.
  6. With the mixer set on low, add the dry ingredients 1 cup at a time.
  7. Remove the beaters from the bowl. With a rubber spatula, stir in the boiling water until thoroughly combined.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake for 60-65 minutes, rotating the pan from back to front after 30 minutes. The cake is done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center springs back quickly after pressing lightly with your fingertip.
  9. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool. Cut a sheet of parchment or waxed paper larger than the cake. Turn the cake out onto it and carefully peel off the paper from the bottom of the baked cake. Use a large sharp knife to trim the edges on all four sides to expose moist crumb, then cut the cake into 3 1/2x3 inch pieces. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

*Kim's notes ~

  • Expect too much batter for your pan. Fill your pan only 3/4 of the way full. Toss remaining batter or use for cupcakes.
  • I think the cake would be dry if you waited for the top to spring up. The center can take too long to cook and the edges would dry out. When the cake starts to pull away from the sides and a toothpick comes out clean (more or less), it's done.
  • I don't trim the edges; that's a waste of perfectly good cake.

And now on with our day ...

... which began - can you ever guess? - bright and early! (I know you're wondering, does her day ever not start bright and early, lol? And the answer to that would be yes; sometimes it's very dark.) This early rising has its advantages, however. For one thing, on Sundays, you have all kinds of time to eat (and digest) before infringing upon the hour's fast before Communion. For another, you have plenty of time to whip up a multi-step gingerbread cake before heading out to first Mass. Well, almost. I was just able to get the cake into the oven, slap-dash myself together and then leave Bill with (two sick kids and) detailed instructions re when to turn and when to test.

And an hour later we returned home with Nana and Papa, as we do every Sunday, but today the house smelled of more than just freshly brewed coffee. Today the air was thick and warm with dark, rich gingerbread!

Now all we had to do was wait for Uncle Matt to join us. The two younger boys set up vigil in the doorway:


In the meantime I got the cake all ready. It came out of the pan like a dream, and as Kim advised I didn't bother trimming any edges. I even waited on the whipped cream till we were serving. I just added these lollipop candles that the boys had picked out (though they might have been balloons ~ there was quite a dicussion over this).


And the concensus? Very, very yummy - but very, very rich. I couldn't even finish my piece (though I did have seconds on the whipped cream). I think I'll make this at least once or twice during the Christmas season. What a fabulous way to use up all those unopened jars of molasses in my pantry!

Naturally, Nana got some help blowing out her candles, and then we sat back with our coffees and visited for a while. Mum and I synchronized our calendars (babysitting requests) while Bill, Dad and Matt talked up the Pats ... meanwhile the boys kept themselves busy, poring over toy ads and coughing every two minutes (into their elbows when reminded).


Happy Birthday, Mum ~ We love you so much!

Well, I hope you all had a great weekend. It went by so fast, didn't it? And now the boys are in their pj's (some of them never got out!) and kick-off is near, so I will sign off till tomorrow ... Good night!

The Holiday Home ~ Preparing


The last crumb has been swept up and the wineglasses are all back on the shelf ~ another Thanksgiving has come and gone. So it shouldn't come as a shock (but somehow it always does) that Christmas is just 31 days away! It's high time we mother birds get busy - our families are depending on us! It's time for us to feather our holiday nests ...

To that end, I began my holiday preparations this weekend, and I'd like to share what I've been up to. :)

Early this morning, just before I did the grocery shopping, I ran into the bookstore and bought our Christmas cards. This is such a highlight of the year for me! I looove Christmas card shopping, and I usually mull over the decision for days (weeks?) upon end, but this year I really want to get our cards out early. So I didn't dawdle, but made up my mind on the spot (buying two kinds just to be safe) and hoped Bill would agree they were lovely. (He did!)

Tomorrow I will make up a basket in which to store the cards and all the necessities like my address book, holiday stamps, a favorite pen and pretty stickers for the envelopes. I've written up a schedule for myself, too ~ to work on a few cards a night beginning tomorrow night. As a treat I'll have a cup of tea each night while I work and maybe a little peppermint patty as well. ;)

I also made visits to my favorite craft stores to stock up on items for upcoming projects. Once home, I made up a box for these supplies. This is just a cardboard storage box that I got at the office supply store. It will hold anything I need for upcoming projects - but that's all! (I'm thinking I might need more than one box!)

I got this idea from my friend Jennifer who once described a craft-storage bureau with drawers for each season. I thought a storage box could stand in for a drawer. And since it's portable I can keep it handy in the learning room (where we do most of our crafting) and quickly whisk it away when company is coming.

Here's a peek inside:


Then I began working on our windows. If you've read my blog for a while, you know how much we love our windows! I decided to start our holiday decorating here.


I dug up an old grapevine wreath (this would be the very same one we use for the Lenten crown of thorns) and purchased a new 5 foot strand of "woodberries" at the craft store.


I didn't do anything other than wrap the berry strand around the wreath and it held. Easy as pie. I hung it on a thumbtack (which was already in place) and added the cute little bird-on-her-nest that you see in the top picture. I placed a burgundy gingham bow at the top. (I love gingham in country shades.)

I then tied up a length of twine across the windows and attached miniature clothespins (another craft store find). I remember seeing this idea somewhere (blog, magazine, I can't recall) and I thought this would be a fun way to display the Christmas cards we receive.


The twine stretches over the wreath and is held in each corner by a thumbtack and ribbon.


And as if on cue, our very first Christmas card arrived in today's mail! I don't have a picture of it in this post, but I placed a ceramic pie dish at the head of our table. Each day I will place any cards that arrive into the dish and at supper we will open them all together. We'll say a prayer for that family and hang up the card on our line. If we are so fortunate as to receive more cards than one line can hold, then we'll string another line along the front set of windows! :)

But perhaps the most exciting thing we did today (in the kids' minds anyway) was the putting up of the Christmas tree! We don't usually put it up this early, but I really wanted the lights - so lovely and warm on these dark afternoons. We won't hang ornaments for a while - for now, we'll just bask in its glorious light.


It's a good start, but there are many more feathers to add to our nest. None very grand, mind you - just those humble little things that make a family Christmas what it is - the most wonderful time of the year. :)

Our Thanksgiving Day

Like most of America yesterday, our day started veeerrry early in the morning. Of course our days always start early, but generally the first few hours of the day are spent sitting comfortably and caffeinating thoroughly. There's not usually so much vegetable peeling, furniture moving and floor mopping. Not before 9, anyway.

And you know what? Scratch that first statement. Really, our day started several days before! Multiple shopping trips - last minute shopping trips! - cleaning, planning, cooking, etc. But the holidays are just the best and despite the serious lack of sitting and caffeine (two things of which I am especially fond) I am so so grateful for every bit of it!

So what follows is a brief(ish) recap of our day ... :)

As the first strains of the Macy's Parade began in the other room, my mum sat down to tackle the mounds of autumn flowers we purchased for today's centerpieces. She has a great eye, and her arrangements, whether done in flora or oil paints, are always beautiful. The boys offered to help add a bit of "punch" to the bouquets (small jolts of color, as Nana explained). (You can see the final results in the following pictures, particularly the sixth one down.)


Understandably I didn't do much photographing while I was elbow deep in cranberries and sweet potatoes, but I did snap this shot of my Bookworm's most favorite and requested casserole just after it went into the oven ...


Just before dinnertime, things calmed down a bit, and I reached for my camera. The sun was just coming out! It was a strange weather day - mild and wet for the most part but a weak sun managed to break through.


Brief as it was, the sunlight highlighted the tables just as we sat down to dinner. Here's our dining room set up to seat 14 ...


And the living room sat six. The keyboard might look a bit strange at the head of the table, but when you're hosting a large party, all kinds of household items are pressed into service for seating ~ hope chests, folding chairs and even keyboard benches!


This may sound trivial, but one of the reasons I love Thanksgiving, is I just love all the autumn colors! Set against linens of auburn, sage and plum, the flowers and candles were placed in glass or crystal. They caught the sunlight and candle-glow so nicely.


The below shot might seem an odd thing to share with you, but I share it for two reason. First of all, it's my trusty clipboard in action! It did me proud yesterday - holding recipes and keeping the day's timetable at my fingertips. But the other thing is this ~ do you see all that writing there? Most of it's mine but some of it is my mum's. I enjoyed looking back over it last evening and remembering all the planning we did together this past week. This sheet will be saved in my journal. I think it will be fun to look back at (not to mention practical at the holidays) years later.


After Bookworm said grace, we all dug into our dinner. In the blink of an eye it seemed it was time to start the coffee and set out desserts!


Oh, I didn't share our menu with you yet, did I? Well, then, here it is:

Before Dinner ...

  • veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, hot pepper-jelly over cream cheese
  • this year's cocktail: Amaretto-Cranberry Kiss

Dinner ...

  • roast turkey and gravy (natch)
  • stuffing (homemade, cornbread)
  • mashed (Yukon) potatoes
  • butternut squash
  • peas
  • corn
  • sugar glazed pearl onions
  • sweet potato bake
  • homemade cranberry relish - plus canned for the purists ;)
  • soft white and oatmeal rolls
  • Asti Spumante

Dessert ...

  • blueberry pie
  • rhubarb cream pie
  • apple crumb pie
  • pumpkin pie
  • cherry jubilee pie
  • marshmallow & nut chocolate fudge
  • Cranberry Bog Frogs
  • apple strudel
  • chocolate-peppermint cake
  • vanilla ice cream and homemade whipped cream
  • coffee, eggnog, mulled cider (which btw, I did in the crockpot - so easy!)

It was such a very good day, and not just because of all that food. Oh, the meal was delicious to be sure! But the best part of all was visiting with my family. And that my grandmother was able to be with us (after a scare last month) was a the best blessing of the day ...


My dearest wish for next year (you get wishes at Thanksgiving, don't you?) is that we'll all be together again. Remember those "acorn blessings" we made for our windows? It's no surprise most of them say "family." Each year (each day!) we have together is a gift. 

Wel, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and I wish you a Friday filled with the remains of The Day ~ yummy leftovers, fond memories, and not too many dishes to clean! Are you heading out to shop Black Friday specials - or resolutely staying home on Buy Nothing Day? ;)

As for me, well, a little of both! Right after I finish this vat cup of coffee, I'm heading over to the craft store to stock up on some Christmas supplies. I'll be back before long to report on all that. :)

Happy Friday!

Over the River and through the Woods ...


To Earlybird's therapy appointments we go ...

As you can see, we had more snow today! It fell at a good clip, too, beginning around 10 a.m. and lasting until just after lunchtime. It was so pretty, covering the last of the autumn leaves and the faded crunchy grass. Not the pavement, though; it was too wet for that. This morning's weather gave us just a taste of what's up the road ahead.

How I love this week, these days before Thanksgiving. I love the anticipation, the flurry of preparations, the happy greetings and the smells! And keeping in the holiday spirit, Earlybird and I made some yummy pumpkin breads to take to his therapists today. You might remember awhile back I mentioned those little ceramic loaf pans I bought at the craft store? Well, today was the day to make good on that promised project!

While the breads baked, I made up some little tags ...


I just cut down a plain notecard into small squares (edged with the pinking shears). EB applied a turkey sticker to the front of each one, and I punched a hole in the upper left corner. We wrote our message inside and tied the tags to the cooling loaves all wrapped up in ribbon:


Little gifts of thanksgiving for three special ladies in our lives ...

Later in the day, my mum came over to help with the holiday preparations. (Oh, let's be honest - she came over to help me clean, lol!) Actually, we ended up spending most of our time chatting over tea, but we needed that time to rest and revise our lists. By the way, the "Holiday" tea we drank today is made by Harney & Sons. (I picked up a tin at Barnes & Noble.) It is absolutely delicious! A black tea, gently spiced with cloves, almond and citrus ~ perfect for the season. I plan to serve it with Thanksgiving dessert. :)


And as we enjoyed our tea, we got the boys started on an "acorn blessings craft." Using a shaped cookie cutter, we traced and cut out many autumn-hued acorns. (Bookworm did the tracing, Nana did the cutting.) The boys wrote things they were thankful for on each one ...


I must say I was eager to read their acorns. ;) They listed, among other things:

  • Family
  • God
  • Earth
  • Homeschooling
  • A nice house
  • An early snow
  • The animals who come to our feeders

We hung them all in our windows, but left room for plenty more ...


... because this Thursday we'll set out a basket-full of acorns and invite our guests to share in our blessings. :)

Next year, I think we'll make this an ongoing project for the month of November. We'll fill the basket with acorns at the start of the month and each night at supper we'll write out an acorn apiece. Slowly, but surely, our windows will fill up.

By the way, as I finish up this post (bedtime inching nearer by the second), Bookworm has taken it upon himself to add paper snowflakes to some of the empty panes, in celebration of our weather today.

You know, these apples - er, acorns - don't fall far from their tree! :)

November Surprises


We had our first snowfall yesterday and that's two weeks earlier than last year! It was just a dusting and it didn't snow for very long ~ but it was enough to get us excited about the (hopefully) snowy season ahead.

And doesn't that table look like gingerbread with powdered sugar on top? Much like the cake I usually bake on the first "snow day" of the year, but we were (are) all busily wrapped up in Thanksgiving prep here so I pulled out these fellas instead, a sweet surprise for my boys ...


Our requisite cups of "snow cocoa" will wait until tomorrow. Probably just after lunch when I bring out the paper acorns to work on. (This year, instead of a grateful tree, we're hanging acorn blessings in all of our windows!)

Another surprise ~ a new bird at the feeder! He was SO hard to photograph - very very aware of the windows. I'm not sure if he could hear me or see me or sense the camera or what, but boy was he cautious!


Finally I got a sort-of decent shot, and we think he is a red-bellied woodpecker ...


Or he could be a northern flicker, but I don't think so. (Do you?) He sure likes the suet, that's for sure.

Well, I've got to dash ... today we'll be cleaning (some more), making those acorns (enough for guests too) and cooking some cranberry relish. But I'm going to find time later this afternoon to sit down with a hot cup of Holiday Tea and think about what I'm grateful for this year. There's an awful lot, so it should be a nice quiet hour or so (if I can get the boys to cooperate, lol).

Have a wonderful day!

A Special Book ~ Lost and Found Again!


My mum and I were shopping in Barnes & Noble this weekend, and naturally I spent most of my time in the children's section. With Christmas just around the corner, it's a perfect excuse time to lavish myself my children (and other children I love) with new books. ;)

Well, as I walked about making mental notes for future holiday shopping (this was mainly a reconnaissance mission) I spied the above book sitting front and center on the bargain book shelf. I froze in my tracks and almost - no I think I did - squeal audibly: Oh my goodness, I remember that book!

It was indeed a larger version of a little, and much beloved, lift-the-flap book we bought for Bookworm when he was just a wee babe - about 12 years ago! (It might not surprise you that I had baskets of books for my first child long before he was born.)

Well that tiny tome has long since been lost and, if I recall, most of the flaps had been ... well, there's just no other way to say it ... ripped off. But oh how I loved it. We loved it together; it was such a special part of our winter reading. (You have to see the pages - exquisitely illustrated - to know what I mean). Even though our son was barely six months old, I remember that year I set up a small winter reading nook, and this book was right there, surrounded by lighted evergreens, peppermint candles and tiny woodland toys. Caught up in new parenthood I didn't realize how special that book was (nor how quickly time would fly), but years later I long to cherish that story (and those memories) again.

So finding this book yesterday - and in a larger, ahem, sturdier size - was such a happy surprise. And it cost all of $7.98! Bookworm will remember it and Crackerjack too - but Earlybird is just the right age for it to be his special book now. (Did I mention the little bunny finger puppet in the back?) This will be one of EB's birthday surprises next month. :)

Peekaboo's author, Mary Melcher, is one of my favorite illustrators. (Just fyi, since we're talking children's books here, the others would be Tasha Tudor, Susan Branch, Jan Brett, Marjolein Bastein, Sharon Lovejoy, Kay Chorao, Mary Engelbreit, Barbara Cooney and Elisa Kleven. I know there are more, but that's all I can think of right now.)

Ms. Melcher only made a few books that I'm aware of: The Best Thing about Valentines and the original Peekaboo Bunny (a garden themed story) as well as a book with which I'm unfamiliar, Mommy Who Does God Love? But you might recognize her artwork from her lovely greeting cards, which were my first foray into her adorable world of tiny animals and pretty landscapes.

Yes, her characters are cute (mostly bunnies and bears), but what I love most about those cards are the landscapes and how real they look - soft, shaded and natural. Februrary's sky is cloudy and gray with a touch of pink at the horizon. The trees are bare and a bit of snow is in the air. Her Halloween cards are all golden sunshine and peachy sunsets. These touches make such a difference - they capture the season.

When I was in high school, my best friend Sabina and I would collect MM cards and exchange them for every possible occasion you could imagine. At the time (late 80s) her cards were very easy to find, but then sadly, they went missing for a while. Well, I'm happy to say a few years ago I found them at of all places, Target! Do look for them if you have a chance. They are just so sweet and seasonal. Usually I buy one of each card first (for collecting) and then pick various cards to send out. ;)

And while I'm on the subject of children's books, and Barnes & Noble, if you happen to be there, you might spy a set of three large hardcover books of poetry, recently reissued by B&N:

We own all three, each one illustrated by the late Gyo Fujikawa. Oh the post I could write about her books! They are wonderful. Sweet, simple, innocent and adorable. I believe they were originally published in the 70s (a time I am most nostalgic for, as it was my childhood era). Do you remember these books? I'm not sure I actually owned them, but her illustrations were so familiar to me when I first found these books years ago. I treasure them, and am so happy they have decided to keep publishing them and at an afforable price ($8.95 apiece).

(For the record, I like the middle book listed the best. Lots of great poems to choose from, all of them spread out over Oh_what_a_busy_daypages brought to life with charming sketches. Perfect for perusing with your little ones - or medium ones or big ones, too!)

And if you can ever find Ms. Fujikawa's long out-of-print, Oh, What a Busy Day - ooh, grab it! This mght be my most favorite children's book ever. It captures the joys of an everyday homey kind of day when you're little.

OK, I've kept you here long enough! Now I must be off to get started on what promises to be a very busy week! There will be much cleaning and cooking (20 guests coming on Thursday!) and I hope many grateful moments - for so many things - but today for special books and the memories they plant in our hearts.

Birds at our Feeders

It's been a while since I've posted bird pictures, so here we go ...


A red breasted nuthatch - such a cute little bird! He's very hard to photograph because he moves so quickly and seems wary of the camera at the window. And yet, when Bill attempted to hand-feed the chickadees the other day, this little guy came and gave a look!


In comparison, here is the white-breasted nuthatch, who is larger and less timid than his smaller cousin.


This is one of the Carolina Wrens that live near our house. Their song is incredible. Very shy and fast to flight.


Of course no one is as camera-friendly as the black-capped chickadee!


Also bold and social, here's the tufted titmouse. Below you see a pair of them on a nearby branch, cracking open their seeds:


Look at this handsome purple finch! He and his colorful crowd seem to be making a return to the feeders after a summer away.


And finally, here's our downy woodpecker, enjoying the suet in the setting autumn sun. :)


What birds have you spotted lately? Any newcomers to speak of? November is a perfect time to refill your feeders and prepare for a winter's worth of bird watching!

Poetry (and Flowers) Friday



As we watch the summer days depart

And the painted leaves in silence fall,

And the vines are dead upon the wall;

A dreamy sadness fills each heart,

Our garden seems a dreary place,

No brilliant flowers its borders grace,

Save in a sheltered nook apart,

Where gay beneath the autumn sun

Blooms our own Chrysanthemum.


Ah! She is not a “Summer Friend,”

She stays when all the rest have flown,

And left us flowerless and alone;

No singing birds, or blooms to lend

Their brightness to the autumn haze,

‘Tis she who cheers the dreary days;

‘Tis joy to know so sweet a friend;

No fairer flower blooms ‘neath the sun

Then autumn’s queen Chrysanthemum.

(Chrysanthemum by Hattie Knapp can be found in its entirety here.)

For any number of reasons, nature study can be harder to fit into the November schedule ~ we're too busy or it's too wet, cold and dark. All these challenges can stretch right on through the winter season as well. So, how about some indoor nature study for such times? One idea is to look at the birth month flowers of the year. Such a study would make a nice nature notebook all on its own, a project to work on when the inside is better than the out.

As you might have guessed then, November's flower is the chrysanthemum. Here's a look at the rest ...

  • December - paperwhite narcissus
    • a whole study on Christmas plants could be done as well
  • January - carnation or snowdrop
  • February - violet
  • March - daffodil
    • Easter plants, too
  • April - sweet pea
  • May - lilly of the valley
  • June - rose
  • July - larkspur or water lily
  • August - poppy
  • September  - aster
  • October - marigold

Can't you just see all the possibilities in that list? What a fun nature study this could be!

Now, chrysanthemums might still be blooming in sheltered parts of your garden, but old Jack Frost has seen to the last of the flora up here. I was pleasantly surprised to find beautiful dinnerplate mums at my supermarket this weekend, however. I eagerly grabbed a few because I thought they would make nice centerpieces for the Thanksgiving table. They look very pretty in tea cups or small jugs, just one gorgeous blossom to a vessel ...


(Important note ~ Chrysanthemums are toxic to felines, so if you have cats in your home, use caution. Ours - the flowers, not the cats - are kept on top of the refrigerator well out of reach. And on Thanksgiving, they - the cats, not the flowers - will be locked in my bedroom for the day.)

Now for my boys I'm going to keep this pretty simple. I'll just place the flowers in a vase on the table and let them draw what they see. Then we might label the parts of the flower. We'll also visit the withered remains of our garden mums and sketch what they look like, too.

I'll explain why these mums are called football mums (quite larger and showier than the garden variety) and we might learn about fight songs, which are traditional at this "homecoming" time of year. There are even varieties of mums named along these lines - homecoming, cheerleader, and quarterback (which I think looks a bit like the blossom in my banner above!). And it goes without saying we'll catch a football game or two over the weekend. ;)

With my youngest I'll read Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henke, and we'll work on this coloring page. With my older boys I will read this beautiful German legend, which would make a perfect start to a Christmas Plants unit.

That's probably as far as we'll get, but here are some other ideas for studying chrysanthemums ...

  • look up the meaning and origin of the word (Greek for "golden flower")
  • for picture study: Monet's "Chrysanthemums"
  • research the many varieties of mums
  • copy the poem above
  • write a letter requesting a garden catalog for the spring
  • sip a cup of chrysanthemum tea, a popular herbal drink
  • make these cupcakes just for fun
  • prepare a small pot of mums for your Thanksgiving hostess
  • make clever paper mum corsages for your guests 
  • stop in at the local nursery and ask for mum-growing tips

For more flower notebook ideas, stop by again sometime soon. I'll be dreaming up some December ideas before long. :) Also, for the whole Poetry Friday Roundup, stop by Big A Little A later today.

And oh yes - Happy Weekend!

Is Chocolate an Element?

Well, it really should be, don't you think? I mean, I figured something so basic to human life surely must have its own square on the periodic chart. Probably right next to hydrogen, or maybe even oxygen. But just to be sure I pulled out our handy dandy chemistry book to check, and sure enough:

I found CHoCoLaTe on the Periodic Table of Elements! ;)

Can you?

All right, I confess this is all just a rather silly way to introduce a post about Bookworm's morning chemistry class AND the delicious hot chocolate cake we baked this afternoon ...

But first let's address the chemistry portion of this post. (The chocolate part is still simmering away in the slowcooker; I have to wait another hour to elaborate on that.)

Well, in the picture below you see our Bookworm smiling from the front steps of MIT this morning. Bill took him in for a chemistry class, one of a series of fabulous homeschool classes the college offers. Though lots of homeschoolers I know have participated in this program for a while now, this was our first experience with it. It's been one of those things I've kept in the back of my mind - for someday, you know - but when I read they were teaching chemistry (which we're covering this year) using LEGOS (which we've had underfoot since Bookworm was four), well I knew the time was right to check it all out!


And below you see our son in the lab, in the the midst of an experiment with his teacher and partners - goggles and all! (He's in blue on the far right.)


Back at home, Bookworm pulled out some Legos to show us what he learned. These three Lego pieces represented oxygen (black) and nitrogen (gray) ...


... which, when stuck together, formed nitrous oxide (more commonly known as laughing gas).

When Bill and Bookworm came home (just ahead of that heavy rain and wind, by the way) they were full of praise for the class (and the campus) and hoping to look into future offerings. Will do. Where's my clipboard?

Now, about that chocolate I promised.

Well, as I type up this post my husband has a delicious chocolate cake baking in (of all things) the slowcooker. Oh, I wish I could make this blog scratch and sniff - you would not believe how good my house smells right now.

The Hot Fudge Cake, as the recipe is called, is a test run for the "Slowcooker Cookoff" to be held in Bill's department tomorrow. (Last year it was cookies, this year it's crockpots.) Bill was keen for me to enter the competition again, but truth be told, I have very little use for my slowcooker - other than the occasional Sunday pot roast. (I know I should use it more - I'm open to suggestions!) And since I had no slowcooker "specialty" to speak of, I told Bill I should probably sit this one out. Well, he'd have none of that, lol - so together we poured over my Fix-It-and-Forget-It Cookbook looking for something to try. I'm a baker at heart, so we stuck to the dessert section and finally landed on this one:

Hot Fudge Cake

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 3/4 cups boiling water
  • vanilla ice cream
  • (We added whipped cream, chocolate jimmies and a maraschino cherry!)
  1. Mix together 1 cup brown sugar, flour, 3 Tbsp. cocoa, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Stir in milk, butter and vanilla. Spread over the bottom of slowcooker.
  3. Mix together 3/4 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup cocoa. SPrinkle over mixture in slow cooker.
  4. Pour in boiling water. Do not stir.
  5. Cover and cook on High 2-3 hours, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  6. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream (and if you want to really go all out, a spray of whipped cream, a sprinkle of jimmies and a cherry on top!)

Sounds good? Well, you should see how it looks (the timer just rang!):


No, that picture doesn't do it a bit of justice. You should really see how it tastes: YUM!

This was just our trial run, remember, so tomorrow Bill will bag up all the ingredients (premeasured where possible) and pack up all the equipment and make it all on his own at his office, before judging gets underway around noon.

So please wish him luck - he's up against steak tips and barbecued pork, after all - and I'll let you know how it all goes down tomorrow! ;)

Have a good night, and ... sweet dreams!