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December 2007

A Note from the Fridge ...

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It's already busy here this morning ~ there are breads in the oven and kids at the counter, trash to take out and feeders to fill. The day is getting off to a noisy start ...

Where are the binoculars? Who's got the field guides? Has anyone seen my boots?!

We're packing up for Nature Club today, keeping our eyes on the sky. A snowstorm is coming and the whole world seems to be holding its breath - in between all the hype and hysteria of course ... 

Six to ten inches! Heavy, driving snow! A messy and treacherous commute!

Like a dear friend of mine said, snow always, always quiets me. Later today, when we're home safe and warm, I'll pour a cup of tea and savor the silence of a world stilled by snow. But until then, whatever the day brings, I will try to find that calm in my heart ...

And wherever you are, I hope you can do the same. :)


Gingerbread Goodness!

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A busy morning of lessons and therapy (and all that ice gazing), left us with big appetites at yesterday's lunchtime. I insisted the boys eat up well because - according to our December 11th Advent Tag - we had an afternoon of gingerbread goodness ahead of us!

Normally, with Earlybird's dietary restrictions, I need to make things from scratch. But I spied these lovely gingerbread men at Whole Foods last week and, after checking the ingredients label, I decided they would be OK. (More than OK, they were soft and delicious and best of all, easy!) As much as I love making gingerbread (nothing smells more like Christmas, I think) some days there just isn't time. Yesterday was one of those days, so I was glad for these cookies in the cupboard!

For the record, the decorations - while hardly sugar-free - are all-natural and Feingold-approved. They had to be, for Eb's sake! From left to right: Sunspire Chocolate Baking Drops, Ghirardelli White Chocolate Baking Chips, homemade buttercream frosting, India Tree Snowflake Sprinkles and Sparkling White Sugar, Candied Ginger Babies, and a mixture of Sunspire Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Peanut Butter Baking Chips.

Well, you can just bet Earlybird was first to the table, and if you notice, he claimed the candy-coated chocolates for himself ...

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I asked Bookworm to read aloud Gingerbread Baby while I kept EB from eating too many candies assisted Earlybird with his cookie. This beloved story is special to my Crackerjack - he LOVES Jan Brett anyway, but this particular book was a gift to him on his very first Christmas! (We always read the note inscribed inside before starting the story.)

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Here's a parade of cookies for you ...

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*Crackerjack's*

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*EB's*

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*Mine*

*If you squint, you can see mine is actually a gingerbread mama, complete with a ginger baby in each arm. ;)

(Note ~ Bookworm ate his too quickly for a photo, lol, but I can tell you he preferred the pb-and-chocolate chips.)

After we cleaned up the cookie concoctions, I set out a simple craft for Earlybird, who was eager to do something "with goo and 'parkles." I just cut out gingerbread men from brown construction paper and laid them out for him to embellish ...

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... because nothing says "craft" to Eb like glitter and glue.

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When they were all done, we set them out to "cool" ...

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... and then strung them up in our window, alongside his minty watercolor hearts ...

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Late in the afternoon as the sun started to fade and the boys had dispersed to various pursuits, I popped in Little Bear's Gingerbread Cookies to watch with Earlybird. You know, as children's programming goes, Little Bear has to be one of the best. We've loved LB since Bookworm was little!

These homey Advent Afternoons are rushing by so quickly! How many days are left now? Can it really be less than two weeks? And, just so you know, as of today, our cards are not in the mail, the tree is still half decorated, and I've yet to wrap a single package ... but somehow it will all get done. Right? Lol, maybe I should have made up Advent Tags for myself - with to-do's rather than treats!

Well, thanks, as always, for sharing our day with us ... and I hope you have a wonderful Wednesday!


Winter World

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Though still shy of the solstice by more than a week, we are nonetheless in winter's icy grip. The boys and I were mesmerized by it all on our way to and from Earlybird's therapy today. Camera ever-at-the-ready, I took some pictures of what we saw ...

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A humble patch of grass ...

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A juniper sprig ...

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Frostbitten spirea ...

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Cattails and whatnot, just off the exit ramp (and that would be an azalea at the top) ...

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All but the last photo were taken early in the day, as the sun was just climbing the sky. That sun really made everything sparkle! The last photo of the cardinal pair I actually took just now (4:30 p.m.) as I typed up this post. I love how cardinals make dusk their time of day.

I hear parts of the country are suffering the ice much worse than we are, and yet others are having themselves quite a warm spell these days! Well, whatever your weather, I hope you're enjoying it - or at least making it through!

Have a good night, everyone. :)


A Winter Science Experiment

... very easy, very quick ...

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So what's going on here in this picture? Well, let's see ... a couple of curious kids, some table salt, a water glass, a chunk of ice and a length of string ... a bit of a good science, I'd say! :)

Since yesterday dawned icy and cold (treacherous even!), I decided to do a neat little ice cube experiment with the boys. I could have looked through our upmteem science books for an activity, but instead I googled for it - and found this. It looked quick and easy (and fun) so we gave it a go!

We started with a cup of water, in which an ice cube was immersed. We tried to "lasso" the cube with a length of string, but of course that proved impossible:

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Following the instructions of the video (see link above), we added salt to the water, but that did not seem to help us much - at first. The first time we performed this step, we shook the salt in the water, randomly and perhaps a bit aggressively. It didn't do much for the string, which still floated on the top of the water, ignoring the ice cube completely.

So we tried a different approach ...

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We positioned the thread directly across the cube and poured the salt over it slowly and gently (so that it didn't knock the string off):

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Oh yes, Earlybird was right in the mix, too - he wasn't going to miss this! :)

But did it work ...?

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Success!

I was all prepared to discuss why this happened, when the boys suggested making it all happen in reverse. So the cube dangling in midair got another good salting ...

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And then we waited and watched, wondering, ...

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And, yes! Back into the glass of water went the ice cube - with a splash!

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And we were right back where we started ...

So then we talked: What did the salt do to the water? To the ice? I asked the boys if they could recall a time in "real life" when we might add salt to ice, and why. (Aka treating icy steps and roadways.) So we thought it over and decided the salt does something to the water that makes it melt, but this was only half the answer - because what made the string stick to the cube?

Well, after a bit of research and brainstorming, we came to the conclusion that the salt sprinkled over the thread on the ice cube, allowed the ice to melt (lowering the freezing point from 32 to 15 degrees) and then, because the ice quickly refroze - it essentially trapped the thread (or stuck it) there.

Over supper, we brought this up to Daddy - chief snow removal technician in our house - for further clarification. I also suggested the boys ask their grandpa about it - he is a retired science teacher, and would definitely know the scoop on all this - he might even suggest a few more experiments for us!

So, that was a good bit of Fun Winter Science!  Of course, this all immediately called to mind the infamous frozen tongue scene in the classic movie, A Christmas Story. (Remember poor Flick? Stuck? Stuck? Stu-huucck!!) We may have to watch that movie today as follow up. Very scientific, you know. ;)

Well, have a great Tuesday, everyone - thanks for sharing in our day! :)


Planning the Week Ahead

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Well, it's 5:30 on Monday morning, and it's still dark - not to mention very icy, out there. I just poured my second cup of coffee, and as I sit here looking over my notes, all is quiet ~ save for the sleet pelting the windows and Earlybird rummaging through the freezer (Umm ... corn, Mama?) Hmmm. I may just be rescheduling EB's dentist appointment this morning. Taking EB to the dentist is always - shall we say - an adventure, but I'm not sure we need to throw in a treacherous drive over.

So, about our week ahead ... it looks to be a good one! We have a couple of fun activities on the schedule, plus there are two wonderful feasts to celebrate and then of course there's the whole Christmas thing going on too! ;)

I don't have an official lesson planner anymore. I did for a time, back in the heady and highly efficient days of September - until a tragic coffee cup incident one morning. (Call me persnickety, but I just can't work with a warped and stained page.) So now I make up my own kind of spreadsheet. Not the computer kind - that would be too techie for me. Just plain old paper, whatever's handy, but generally 8 1/2 by 11 and lined.

Anyway ... here's the breakdown of our week, this week:

Of note:

  • Earlybird's dentist appointment (rescheduled!)
  • Earlybird's therapy appointments (OT, speech and social skills)
  • Homeschool Games Day (theme: favorite games)
  • Homeschool Nature Club (theme: winter solstice)
  • Earlybird turns 6 on Friday!
  • Our family birthday party for Earlybird
  • A Caroling-Hayride at Church

Math:

  • Daily, a few pages from workbooks they're using this December.

Carol:

  • Joy to the World (tie in with Gaudete Sunday). We're making a garland of birds and animals (simple cut-out and colored shapes) for our learning room window. This will go along with the verse, "And Heav'n and nature sing!"

Poetry:

  • 'Twas the Night before Christmas ~ The older two boys are working on memorizing this poem. (We're using the Jan Brett version, and we also taped that old Christmas special just for fun - remember the one with the mice and the broken clock?)

History:

  • Listen to The Story of the World I, chapters 12-17 (Jim Weiss on CD). Do follow up discussion questions (orally), but that's all. We'll return to full-on SOTW lessons in January (picking up with the Greeks).

Reading:

  • I'm reading The Trumpet of the Swan to Crackerjack, one chapter a night. This is his January Book Group selection.
  • Bookworm's Book Group assignment is The Lightning Thief - a book he's already read twice. I need to read it myself this month since I'm the one leading his group in January! (I led Crackerjack's back in November.) As I understand it, the story revolves around a young boy who gets mixed up with Greek gods and mythological monsters who come to life. Sounds intriguing ... and it will fit well with our January history plan.
  • Bookworm is currently reading The Angel's Command, book two in the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series by Brian Jacques. When he finishes that, he'll begin On the Far Side of the Mountain.
  • We'll also be reading a few of the selections from Christmas Mosaic this week. These are on request from the library; I hope to have them by midweek. (Yes, I could have timed that better and got those requests in earlier, but I had a little issue with, ahem, a late fee.)

Writing:

  • On Monday, the boys will work together to write a letter to their pen pals. :)
  • We'll be starting nighttime journals - just like the one kept by Sam Beaver in The Trumpet of the Swan. These will be written in just before bed - thoughts and/or drawings and one question to ponder the next day.

Science & Nature Study: Icicles1

  • We're in for a batch of icy weather this week, so we'll perform some ice experiments (like this one).
  • Reindeer! We'll read about reindeer in this week's Mini-Pages as well an issue of How-Now from an old MS Kids. We'll read The Wild Christmas Reindeer and Snipp, Snap and Snurr and the Reindeer and whip up some tasty Reindeer Food, too. Naturally we'll be watching Rudolph at some point. ;)
  • Our Homeschool Nature Club meets this week, and our theme is the winter solstice. The forecast right now is for light snow that day, which would be lovely - if it does stay light!
  • The boys will also be working on an assignment for Aquarium School: to research one type of ocean animal before the December class. (They'll be learning about exhibit design.) Bookworm chose an electric eel, and Crackerjack chose a lionfish. We'll look up these creatures in our science books as well as online.

Faith at Home:

  • Our Lady of Guadalupe: Read the Tomie de Paola book (as well as The Legend of the Poinsettia). Enjoy a snack of Aztec Cocoa and cinnamon snowball cookies. We'll also have our favorite Mexican supper (soft tacos with beef and peppers).
  • The Feast of St. Lucia: I'm making an orange cranberry bread for breakfast, and we'll make Swedish paper hearts for the tree.
  • On Friday we'll read ahead in our Magnifikid and talk about the third Sunday in Advent.

Earlybird Learning: I use a combination of things with EB, who is almost 6 and has special needs (PDD-NOS). We use a workbook everyday, because A. he loves it, and B. it helps him with listening and fine motor skills. Then we choose *a* book that we can focus on all week - usually it has to do with nature and animals or perhaps family and people. Sometimes we sneak a transportation book in there (i.e. trucks and trains). I plan daily activities that correspond with the story. He also attends therapy (occupational, speech and social skills) ands it goes without saying, he taps into much of what I do with the older two, too. :)

  • Book of the week: Mouse and Mole and the Christmas Walk. I LOVE this book! It iLessonplanning2s a wonderful story about friendship and nature, featuring two of our favorite storybook characters. Together, Mouse and Mole explore the winter woods and prepare a tree for the birds. All along the bottom of each page are nature notes and simple illustrations (i.e. cold water living, pinecones, Christmas plants and icicles). EB has me read this over and over (and he knows it half by heart now, lol). Activity ideas for this week:
    • we looked at icicles this morning (see photo above)
    • we'll string popcorn and cranberries for the birds (counting, fine motor)
    • we'll make pinecone-birdseed feeders
    • we'll bake honey-spice cookies
    • we'll look at the tracks in the snow (using a field guide)
    • we'll use our nature puppets for storytelling
  • We expand upon the lessons from his social skills group. This week we're practicing remembering names, using soft voices and noticing differences.

Before I wrap up, here's a picture of our learning display this week:

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So, we have a lot of reading in store, but just a smidgen of math - some science and an earful (or two) of history. This list is more a guideline than a rule, to be perfectly honest. What we don't get done will be absorbed into the next week's (or next month's) schedule. Or not. ;)

Honestly, I think time spent reading, eating cookies, making things with our hands, listening to carols and talking about it all ~ is time well spent in December. It may stray a bit from the ed. plan, but there's some precious learning going on there, if you ask me. 


For the Kids to Make: Merry Magnets!

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I meant to post this a few days ago, and then completely forgot, lol! My dear friend and fellow homeschooling mum, Lisa, told me about this craft - a quick and easy project she made with the kids at her church. (It was Lisa behind last year's sequin ornaments, too!) These little magnets would make nice homemade gifts - perfect for helpful little hands and ready in a flash!

Basically, you are cutting images to fit behind the glass shape, gluing them on, and then attaching a magnet to the back. Sounds incredibly easy, doesn't it? (It is!) But the results are very nice and the variations are endless ... you could use images, simple hand-lettered words, monograms, etc.!

As with many crafts I plan for my boys, I like to do a trial run first - to judge the "fussiness level" and to get a feel for the time involved. Then I can see where we can fit it in. So last Saturday I swung into AC Moore and picked up the few materials required:

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  • Glass marbles (found in the floral aisle)
  • Magnets of varying sizes and styles (so I could see what worked best)
  • Elmer's glue

I picked out all kinds of design sources ~ stickers, stamps, scrapbooking paper, beautiful Christmas cards. For stickers, I traced the underside of the marble onto a piece of cardstock (I chose off-white; you could use any color you wished) and cut it out, trimming it to fit the backside of the marble.

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I cut scrapbooking paper in a similar way, making sure to center the image I liked before tracing/cutting. And with images I found on Christmas stamps and cards, I photocopied them first onto regular copy paper and then cut to fit:

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Cut, fit, glue, done!

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The boys, peeking over my shoulder as I worked, began envisioning a whole range of character magnets for their friends. For instance, this happy Pikachu:

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Next, I added the magnetic backing. I experimented with various types before finding the adhesive magnetic tape held the marble best. 

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A final touch: simple gift boxes make for a nice presentation:

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I got these at Target, but I've seen a wide range of sizes and colors at the craft store. The smaller box easily held one or two magnets, while the larger box could hold a whole set of magnets in a simlilar theme (such as the "bird" theme shown at the top).

When the boys wrap up their gifts, I'll let them decorate their boxes as they wish - with stickers, crayons, decoupaged comics etc. But I think these simple brown boxes look nice with just a cheerful bow:

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So, this craft is a go then, and it's been added to this week's docket!

Well, I hope your Sunday's a good one! Here in New England it's cold and gray, with a touch of snow in the air. (Actually a messy, messy storm is on the way for tonight.) Church was lovely this morning - the creche was set up on the altar, and the parish breakfast, as always, was yummy! So I'm logging off for now ~ there's a tree to decorate, lessons to plan and one or two football games to watch. ;)

See you all sometime tomorrow!


Cookies, Crafts and ... Cobwebs?

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Yes, cobwebs! But in the very nicest way. :)

Are you familiar at all with the book The Cobweb Curtain by Jenny Koralek? Well, thanks to Cay's Christmas Mosaic I am now! What a beautiful story. I had tears in my eyes by the end ~ and all because of a spider! (Well, a spider and the part she plays in the greatest story ever told.)

When the Holy Family hides in her cave, a tiny spider spins a glorious web large enough and strong enough to provide them with warmth and protection. By morning, the soldiers have passed and the web is covered in a brilliant, breathtaking frost:

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This story touched us so, I knew a few crafts were in order. :)

First thing we did was to play around with some silver chenille stems, making all kinds of shapes for the tree:

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(Yes, that's Crackerjack in his pajama shirt, but as he pointed out to me, he was keeping to the theme.)

While the older boys worked on lessons, I made up a little crafty corner for Earlybird. Marianne of Learning2Love passed this idea on at 4Real and I loved it. I attached a large section of brown kraft paper to the wall - just beneath our classroom bulletin board, and just at the right EB height:

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I drew the outline of a Christmas tree, then cut it out and taped it down (using, ahem, a few thumbtacks to secure the edges).

Then I let EB have at it ~ he can fill this tree with drawings, stickers and we can even make little crafty paper ornaments to tape up over the next few weeks.

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By the way, I emptied the bulletin board today to make room for all the wonderful happy faces that arrive in the mail daily - Christmas greetings from friends and family. There are just a few cards so far, but before long it will look like this!

Oh yes, and about those cookies pictured at the top of this post? Very easy and quick. I sliced a roll of Pilsbury gingerbread dough (kept on hand for just this kind of day - no time for scratch baking!) and baked several cookies for our afternoon snack.

While the cookies were in the oven, I made up a batch of sugar icing and cobbled together a piping bag of sorts. When the cookies were cool, I started in on the cobweb designs:

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A final dusting of frost (white sprinkles) made our cobweb cookies complete. (I managed to save just a few for Daddy!)

Bellies now full, we began a quick cobweb craft:

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I set out glitter and glue in all sizes and shapes, and placed a piece of wax paper at each seat. I showed them how to make a glitter cobweb and then stepped away and let them try it out. Except for some clogged nozzles it all went quite smoothly.

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(I feel I should mention - we have yet to decorate our tree, but the boys have added a few items of their own: bookmarks, pipe cleaners, and lol, Star Wars toys.)

And just like the cookies - a thread of glue (instead of icing) was spread in concentric circles, and a toothpick was dragged through to make the web design:

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Then a good shake of glitter to recall the story of the day:

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Originally I planned to let the shapes dry, then peel them gently off the wax paper and hang them as ornaments. (I did this last year with stars.) But since the glue was taking a while to dry, we decided to cut out the wax paper around them and hang them up in the tree.

Here's Crackerjack's:

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They really catch the light nicely. Or maybe, just like in the story, they are hiding the light safely within.

Well, thanks for stopping by and letting me share our day with you. :) It's getting late now so I'd best wrap up. I've just issued (pajama) marching orders and Bill just walked in, so ...

Good night! Have a wonderful weekend ...

*ETA: This morning we placed a cobweb ornament in the Nativity set - in front of a little cave (which once belonged to a dragon, lol). Just inside you can spy the Holy Family - just like in the story! :)

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Poetry Friday: Christina Rossetti

*Christmas Daybreak*

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Before the paling of the stars,

Before the winter morn,

Before the earliest cock crow,

Jesus Christ was born:

Born in a stable,

Cradled in a manger,

In the world His hands had made,

Born a stranger …

*

Jesus on his mother’s breast

In the stable cold,

Spotless Lamb of God was He,

Shepherd of the fold.

Let us kneel with Mary Maid,

With Joseph bent and hoary,

With saint and angel, ox and ass,

To hail the King of Glory.

A few days ago we set up our Nativity Corner. Here's a quick tour:

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On the tabletop are favorite nativity books:

*Not shown are the three books I picked up at the library yesterday: The Friendly Beasts by Tomie de Paola, A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith, and The Cobweb Curtain by Jenny Koralek (a Christmas Mosaic book).

Underneath the book display is where we keep the boys' nativity set:

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A small basket holds all the soft dolls - shepherds, wise men and angel:

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And inside the sturdy wooden manger we find the Holy Family:

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We are looking forward to seeing the beautiful creche set up at church, but what has the boys really excited is Parish Breakfast this Sunday! Me too, but oh, sometimes it's hard to concentrate on Mass when the fragrance of maple syrup and sausages is thick in the air! ;)

On a side note, last night Bill and I caught the very last scene of The Nativity Story on HBO. The cinematography (not sure that's the right term) looks gorgeous, and I see the movie's rated PG. But I'm not sure it's suitable for children, so we'll try to catch it sometime this weekend and preview it ourselves. (If you saw it, what did you think?)

Well, I'm off now to start my day (in the up-off-the-couch sense of the word). So far it's just me and Earlybird, and the sky is still dark in the east. (He's not called Earlybird for nothing, lol.) We're breakfasting on cold pizza (him) and coffee (me) and while I do my morning blog-thing, he's watching a show all about Mars - whoops, make that Jupiter. I stand corrected. ;) (Oh, the boys loves his planets!) He's all talk about "moon rocks" and the "snow" glitter I mentioned casually between sips. Fridays at home usually mean crafts, but I'll need a good deal more coffee in me before I break out the glitter and glue!

I haven't yet tracked down who's hosting the Poetry Round-Up this week, but I'll update this post when I do. In the meantime ...

Happy Friday!


Happy St. Nicholas Day!

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So, what's the plan for the day? Well, I'm so glad you asked! ;)

This morning when the boys read their Advent tag, they were directed to search the Christmas tree for a special surprise. And there they found hanging - one for each of them - a shiny striped candy cane!

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They are big, all-natural candy canes that I bought at Whole Foods! Now, I dont mean to sound like a candy cane snob, lol, but my Earlybird can't eat most candies due to food sensitivities, so I am always pleased to find natural alternatives when I can. You can't see it in the picture, but behind each candy cane's tag, I wrote the following stanza from a lovely blessing I found at the St. Nicholas Center:

Wherever these candy canes are hung,

On tree or wall or door,

May they carry with them

The bright blessing of God.

May all who shall taste them

Experience the joy of God

Upon their tongues and in their hearts.

After breakfast (and after math), we'll set in to work on a craft for the day, a very simple, St. Nicholas bookmark. I thought that since this is our Book Group day, the craft would be timely and practical. I photocopied our St. Nicholas holy card (you can easily find similar images online), for the boys to cut and apply to a few leftover bookmarks from Monday's Cocoa Storytime. They can then decorate them as they wish. While they work, I'll read aloud The Night before Christmas, and when I finish reading, I'll hand the book over to the boys - their memory work for this month is to learn this beloved poem by heart! :)

We also packed up some peppermint goodies to share with our friends at the library today (Hershey candy cane kisses and starlight mints).

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And of course no trip to the library is complete without filling up a sack-full of books! Here's my wish list for today:

This afternoon after returning home from Book Group, we'll have a little snack - gingerbread men (I bought, rather than made) and cups of Candy Cane Lane tea ~ except we do a slight variation, steeping the herbal tea bag in a cup of cocoa for a few minutes. Crackerjack does not care for peppermint, so I'll be making him a cup of warmed almond milk. His candy cane is actually cherry-flavored which will make a delicious stirrer!

Well, Happy Thursday ~ I hope your day is a good one ~ see you again sometime soon!


Comforts & Joys for My Boys!

You might remember last week I posted about our homemade Advent calendar? Well, we kicked it off on Saturday and so far it has been a great success! Except for yesterday when the extreme cold cancelled our winter woods walk, the days have worked out mostly as planned.

As I described in my earlier post, I am hanging just one week's worth of tags at a time (this gives me a chance to determine what we can and can't do), but since I have most of the ideas written down now, I thought I'd share them here ~ just in case an idea jingles a bell with you. ;)

Now, some of the activities are just for the older two (like Book Group for instance) in which case, I've made up a little something for Earlybird to do with Nana at home.

*Brief note: Now that it's published I see this list looks HUGE, lol, but really each idea is simple and mostly home-centric. My goal is a quiet, happy Christmas for my family ~ a time of memorable, meaningful comforts and joys! I hope some little thing here might be helpful to you and yours. :)

And now on to the list ...

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* We'll spend a day making gifts for family and friends. This year, my friend Lisa shared a new idea with me - lovely little glass magnets. They're really easy to do so the boys should be able to make many in one day. (I'll be posting the craft instructions later this week.)

* One night we'll visit ZooLights with Nana and Papa! (A local zoo turns itself into a winter wonderland of twinkling lights at this time of year. We've never been, but I hear its beautiful and great fun!)

* One morning, we'll go on a winter woods walk. We'll gather natural materials like pinecones and evergreen boughs to use at home for decorations. We'll also cut branches of forsythia to bring inside and "force" in a vase of water - hopefully for Christmas bloom.

* One day we'll attend a Holiday Cocoa Storytime with our homeschooling group! Each child will bring his or her favorite winter holiday story to share. Stories will be read by the mums as the kids sip hot cocoa and munch on all kinds of goodies.

* We'll explore the science and folklore of the Winter Solstice at Nature Club one day! Our leader (one of our homeschooling mums) will explain the solstice to the children and then lead them through a candle lighting ceremony. Then we'll take a walk through the woods to find winter, and return to solstice cupcakes, hot cocoa and an Odds Bodkins tale from The Evergreens: Gentle Tales of Nature. The kids will all go home with a mistletoe craft!

*On the actual Solstice (Decemer 22) we'll decorate our spruce tree with homemade goodies for our birds and squirrels. We'll watch Little Bear's Winter Tales (which includes a story about a tree for the snow angels) and drink "snow cocoa." (White hot chocolate with a bit of orange.) We'll also make bark rubbings of our tree and write about it all in our nature notebooks.

* One day the older boys will go to Nana's to decorate a gingerbread house! At home, EB and I will have some online gingerbread fun and when brothers come home, the bedrooms will be made up with Christmas flannels and there will be white lights around the windows!

* On December 14th, we'll celebrate Earlybird's 6th birthday! (We'll also call Papa to wish him a Happy Birthday too!) Daddy will bring home EB's favorite pizza for supper and I'll make a vanilla cake with buttercream frosting and snowflake sprinkles (natural ones he can have!). Early in the day EB will receive a new paint set and we'll all paint together that afternoon. (From these paintings we'll make gift tags.)

* One day will be a Polar Express Day! We'll read the book at breakfast (a Christmas favorite!) and then bring up the Polar Express train set from out of storage. We'll set it up by the tree. After lunch we'll watch the movie curled up with hot-hot-hot-hot chocolate. :)

* One Sunday we'll attend a Caroling Christmas Party with our Parish! We'll bundle up and head over late in the afternoon. A hayride will take us caroling and then we'll return to church for pizza, cookies, ornament-making and a holiday movie!

* On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12th), we'll read The Legend of the Poinsettia and make Aztec hot chocolate for tea. (Cinnamon pita chips, too!)

*We'll attend our Homeschool Games Day and bring Merry Christmas Bingo to share with the group. We'll bring cookies to share, too. (At home, Earlybird and Nana will make salt-dough ornaments to bake and paint.)

*We'll attend our Homeschool Book Group one day and pick out a few new Christmas books at the library before we head out. At home, Nana and EB will make crafty ornaments together for a large paper tree that we'll hang on the wall. (I got this idea from Marianne at Learning2Love!)

* One night we'll go on a Night-Lights drive! We'll all bundle up (the boys in their pj's, coats and and boots) and we'll drive them around the neighborhood to view all the pretty lights. I'll fill the boys' small thermal cups with cocoa they can sip along the way, and we'll listen to Christmas music as we drive.

* One day we'll visit a real barn to wish our favorite farm animals a happy Christmas. While we're there, we'll talk about how cold and uncomfortable a barn would be for a baby. Before we leave we'll buy some homemade pies for our freezer, and when we get home we'll use the pictures we took at the farm to write about our visit.

* One Saturday morning, we'll stop in at a local Starbucks for a special "holiday"drink from the menu (decaf or otherwise child-friendly). Meanwhile EB and Daddy will go to social skills group and come home to homemade cocoa together - and Daddy will surprise EB with special marshmallows he can have! Home altogether in the afternoon, we'll pop popcorn and watch videos of old-fashioned Christmas specials.

*One day we'll celebrate angels! We'll read a special book or two about angels ~ then we'll make an angel-bell ornament. Later we'll watch It's a Wonderful Life and enjoy some yummy angel kisses.

* We'll plan a merry Christmas for our kitties! First we'll read a few favorite books "to" the cats (if they're willing) ~ Cat in the Manger, A Pussycat's Christmas, Santa's Snow Cat, and The Christmas Cat. Later we'll make some felt-catnip toys as presents for Midget, Penny and Pooch.

* One afternoon we'll watch Take Peace: A Corgi Cottage Christmas with Tasha Tudor. We'll talk about how her Christmas in the country is different from (and similar to) ours. We'll read A Corgiville Christmas, and then, after sunset, Daddy will have a special surprise in our garden.

*One day Nana will come over to make her special fudge with the boys. We'll decorate little tins with stickers and labels and fill them up for family and friends. After we're done we'll serve Nana some Christmas tea and eat up all the "crumbles" of leftover fudge!

* On December 25th ~ Merry Christmas! We'll welcome home our whole family today! We'll also find a shining star hanging over our nativitiy set and the best surprise of all just inside. :)

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Well, as always, thanks for stopping by ~ and if anyone has an idea they'd like to share ~ well, I'm all ears! What comforts and joys does your family enjoy at this time of year? One can never have too many ideas to choose from ... because the beautiful thing about Christmas is, there's always next year!

Keep warm and well, everyone!


Good Snowy Afternoon!

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Well, the good news is, my appointment today turned out to be just a consultation - no sharp metal instruments were necessary! (Except for that x-ray contraption - youch!) But since I am not swollen, sore or otherwise medicated, I can now make it to my monthly knitting circle tonight! Mmmm - tea, friends and craftiness. Quite a turnaround!

So what else could I do but bake cookies (lemon snowballs, shown above)? It just seemed so right - narrowly escaping dental surgery - even if only for the time being - is truly something to celebrate! Plus it's snowing lightly here (lovely), and the afternoon stretches out before me. Bill is home, Earlybird is napping and the older boys are watching a Christmas special on TV. (Not generally allowed at this time of day, but our "winter walk in the woods" (see Advent Tag at right) had to be cancelled due to the bitterly cold weather.)

But as I type this, I can't help but notice the general state of hysteria outside my window. The finches - the poor little things - are so distracted by the near-empty feeders, that they're braving the windowsill tray for their afternoon meal! One after another, the finches swoop in, fix me with a beady little eye, and then neatly peck a seed from the pile before flying right off. All the birds are quite frenzied it seems, including a large female cardinal who is - goodness! - scaling the screen this very minute! I guess I'd best get out there and fill up those feeders!

But before I go, here's a picture of the red-bellied woodpecker at the suet this morning (note the squirrel making short work of the seed cake below):

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The boys also wanted me to show you all our very first icicles of the season:

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AND, one more thing! (Lol you can't get rid of me.) Helene asked for my mother's fudge recipe. Here it is. It is divine.

A Happy Evening, everyone. See you bright and early tomorrow!


A Christmas Meme

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This is actually an e-mail survey that my sister-in-law sent me yesterday - and just in the nick of time, too! I'm having some dental surgery today (oy, long story) and I suspect I may not feel up to blogging tonight. So instead, here I am blogging ahead, lol!

If you'd like to grab this meme for yourself, be my guest!

Wrapping paper or gift bags?

I love gift wrapping. I can work with both mediums. ;)

Real tree or artificial?

I have always had and loved real trees. But then I had a child with sensory issues and cats with a penchant for eating (and promptly throwing up) greenery. Moral of the story: we now have a fake tree. It's nice, but I do miss that smell.

When do you put up the tree?

The Sunday after Thanksgiving.

When do you take the tree down?

Ideally it would be Epiphany, but sometimes I get itchy and we take it down on New Year's Day.

Favorite holiday theme?

Woodland, of course. :)

Favorite gift received as a child?

The flannel nightgowns I received every year on Christmas eve.

Do you have a nativity scene?

Yes - one the children can play with.

Hardest person to buy for?

I don't want to say because I know he (or she) reads my blog. ;)

Easiest person to buy for?

My boys!

Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

Honestly, I can't think of one.

Mail or email cards?

Oh mail, definitely. I love the whole process - the holiday stamps are available in October, the cards are purchased in November; the signing begins after Thanksgiving, the mailing happens (hopefully) in the second week of December ...

Favorite Christmas movie?

It's a Wonderful Life - though I admit I do love A Christmas Story, too.

When do you start shopping for Christmas?

Usually in the fall, but in earnest after Thanksgiving.

Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?

Not that I can recall.

Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

My cousin Sue's iced butter cookies and my mum's penuche fudge.

White lights or colored on the tree?

White. Though I have extremely fond memories of the large multicolor bulbs of my youth.

Favorite Christmas song?

OK, I must name a few:

  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel
  • The Carol of the Bells
  • Sleigh Ride
  • The Nutcracker Suite

Travel for Christmas or stay at home?

We make everyone come to us, lol.

Can you name all of Santa's reindeers?

Yes- I just hummed the opening stanzas of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer to be sure.

Angel on the tree top or a star?

Star (red, punched tin).

Open the presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?

Always on Christmas Day (except when I was little my grandarents always had *A* gift for the kids to open after dinner).

Most annoying thing about this time of year?

Commercialism. Disrespect. The mall.

What I love most about Christmas?

The anticipation and all the happy preparations. :)

Have a great day, folks! I'm off to take some pre-emptive Motrin. ;)


Cocoa + Cookies + Christmas Stories

Throw in lots of friends and a good bit of snow and you have yourselves a really fun way to spend a December afternooon! Especially if it happens to be a Monday!

The timing was perfect - this morning we woke to our first real snow of the season, and this afternoon we attended a Winter Holiday Storytime with friends. This was an activity I organized for my homeschool group, and I was so pleased it had a nice turnout (30+ kids!). The idea was this ~ to have the children bring their favorite Christmas (or winter) book to share with their friends in a cozy story circle. And obviously if there are stories being shared on a wintry afternoon, then there absolutely must be cocoa and cookies. So there was, and plenty of both. :)

If I may, I'd like to share a few pictures from our day ...

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In the above picture are bookmarks I made for the kids to decorate - a memento of what I hope will be our first annual Winter Holiday Storytime. These were colored as the last story was read today. Now obviously this activity appealed mostly to the youngest children in our homeschool group, but I was thinking next year it might be nice for the older kids to get together to read a classic like A Christmas Carol. (They'd get cocoa too, of course.)

And here are the goodies brought by one and all:

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From front to back: anise drops, frosted gingersnaps, banana bread, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, brownies, pretzels and a bowlful of marshmallows for the cocoa. (Though I suspect most of them were eaten right out of the bowl, lol!) Later, a delicious pumpkin spice cake arrived too. Do you know, all that was left at the end of the day was a half-bag of pretzels? I'm not surprised - listening to stories works up quiet an appetite!

(Not shown, in the kitchen there was a cocoa station set up with an electric kettle, thermal carafe, cocoa mix and several kinds of holiday tea for the mums.)

We used a long table for displaying all the books brought today:

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As you can see, we had quite an array! Some funny, some solemn - all wonderful because they were special to our children. A few mums took turns reading aloud to the kids who spread out on the floor across a landscape of fleecy blankets.   

And the perfect timing continued ... though the morning's snow had turned to a slushy rain (making for tricky travel getting over to the library) midway through our storytime, we looked out the windows to find it snowing once more!

Our drive home was equally snowy, but just in that quiet, easy way. (The roads were passable and the light was still good.) I couldn't help pulling over to snap a picture of this field near where we live:

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December is a lovely month for so many reasons - soft snows, special stories and hot cocoa shared with friends. I'm thankful we got to enjoy these things today.

And now the snow has tapered and the sun has set ... the boys are still chatting about the fun we had, and asking when our next homeschool activity takes place. (And that would be Book Group later this week ...)

So I'm off ~ to supper, to dishes, to bathtimes and bed. I hope you all had a good day and I'll see you sometime tomorrow. :)


~ A Sunday Hello ~

First, and most importantly, Happy Advent!

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In celebration of the new season I baked a cake this afternoon ~ a woodland Christmas cake! It's a dark chocolate cake (a box mix, I confess!), drizzled with double-vanilla icing and sprinkled with white chocolate shavings ~ sort of reminscent of our birch Advent log ~ which we lit for the first time tonight. I have to say, candlelight never looks prettier - and chocolate never tastes better - than at Christmas. :)

And, thanks to a tip from Kimberlee at Pondered in my Heart, I found some lovely Christmas music today: Eventide Lullaby by the group (a homeschooling family) called Seasons. You can listen to clips of the CD at their site. Their Eventide150_4music has such a gentle feel to it, like an old-fashioned folksy Christmas ~ I think it's the "hammered dulcimer" that appeals to me, but whatever it is, these songs are beautiful. This soft, soothing music makes me think of the wonderful quiet afternoons that lie ahead ~ there will be snow in the air, good smells in the kitchen, crafts on the table, and lights twinkling on as the western sky turns red ... this music will fit these days perfectly.

Let's see, what else?

Well, I also spent a few hours this weekend outlining a lesson-activity plan for the rest of December. In a nutshell: there will be math, nature study and lots and lots of reading. (History and science - save for Aquarium school later this month - will be on hold till after the New Year.) I pruned our calendar too, because to my mind December is a month for being home as much as possible. For one thing, it's CRAZY out there, and for another, many if not most of the beautiful Advent traditions can and should be experienced right here at home. Trips to church, the farm, or special activites with friends and family will round out our otherwise quiet days. I'll post our plans later this week.

Well, it's getting late now and bedtime is officially underway. In fact, Earlybird is already down for the count. If I can stay up a bit later than usual, Bill and I are going to try to watch Miss Potter tonight. This will be the very first time I've seen it. (I know, I can't believe it either. Where have I been?)

So good night, everyone! Be well and warm, and I'll see you sometime tomorrow. :)


I got him!

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Fortunately for my dear little songbirds, the hawk can't say the same ... because, once again, he flew off empty-taloned. ;)

Yes, I finally got a picture of the very large hawk* that drops by our feeders from time to time. I'm usually too busy shooing him away to get a picture, but this time I happened to be right beside the window, and my camera was within easy reach ...

So at long last I got him - though it is a rather grainy shot. It will do nicely for our nature notebooks, however.

*We are not sure what kind of hawk this is, but our best guess after consulting The Birds of New England is a Cooper's Hawk. If you have any thoughts on his (or her) identification, please drop me a note. Thanks!