Looking back at 2012

The 2013 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog Cruise is starting back with a 2012 in Review theme.  2012 is coming to a close and I am not sorry to see it go.  Here at my house we dubbed it the year of things that broke.

I no longer recall the exact order of items only that through out the year things kept falling apart, breaking down or just simply not working anymore, including me!

We had a broken dishwasher and a broken kitchen sink. At some point, but thankfully not at the same time, we also had problems with both the washer and the dryer.  Those were earlier in the year.  I do remember the dishwasher and the kitchen sink being worked on around Easter. 

We were all in the family room enjoying a movie or something when the futon suddenly decided that it had had enough.  After 15 years it just collapsed.  With all of us sitting on it!  That was not fun.  It was funny later but it was no fun finding myself sitting on the floor!

In July  we began to have serious “car trouble”.   One day on the way home from church the van just “killed”. It stopped. We noticed that it stopped when we were too long at a stop light or stop sign or in a traffic jam.  Honeybear did an oil change, cleaned some of this and that and got it to run better.  Then a couple of weeks later, on Sunday, coming home from church the transmission starting going out.

Since we were blessed with a van (the one having trouble) and a car (really ancient, only seats 5, uncomfortably)we decided to just park the van in the driveway, make do with the car and save money for repairs.  We hoped and we prayed that it would be an easy fix.  It wasn’t.  In the end we LOST money.  We had to pay for the labor to assess the non-fixability of the van.  We did get paid by one of those “cash for cars” type of parts places but it wasn’t enough to cover the labor costs. 

So we settled down to being a one car that we don’t all fit into family and began to save money to buy a new van in the future.  Like after tax time in 2013. 

Remember, I said this was the year of things that broke.  On a Saturday evening, driving home, (from guess where?  did you say church?  You’re right!)the warning lights on the dashboard came on and we lost power steering.  Honeybear thought we broke a belt (that’s a fairly easy fix!).  We made it to the auto parts store but the belts were fine.  The car however, was not repairable.  We made it home and cried.  We were now a no vehicle family. 

Here is what I put in our Christmas Letter when I shared about the Year of Things that Broke:

Through it all though, we’ve had the opportunity to witness God’s hand in providing for our every need. We’ve found the “blessings in disguise” and have learned not to take things like dishwashers and transportation for granted. I won’t be complaining (or least not as loudly) about being a 1 vehicle family because for nearly a week we were a zero vehicle family. Much thanks and appreciation for those who helped us through that trying time.

Though I’m not sorry to see 2012 end (hopefully that will mean an end to the end of things?) I have to say that 2012 has not been all bad.  Our family had an opportunity to witness a miracle of God and to be used by Him.  Baby Gabriel was born at 22 weeks 6 days gestation.  After 5 months in the NICU his parents got to bring him home!  I am awed and amazed and thrilled to have played a tiny part (I helped with meals). 

2012 brought changes for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  I have named the 4th Year (2011-2012) the Year of Transition.  I am looking forward to a wonderful year of reviewing great products in 2013.


On Tuesday, the Looking Back Blog Cruise will be live on the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.  Be sure to stop by to see what my fellow crew members have to say!


New Year’s Eve: A Junk Food Tradition

Tomorrow night is New Year’s Eve.  Growing up, my mom always made her cheeseball and she would serve other snack food like cheese, salami, and crackers. I don’t remember if we had a real dinner or not.

When my husband and I got married we began the “junk food instead of dinner” tradition on New Year’s Eve.   It didn’t really start though until our 2nd New Year’s.  We had homemade buffalo wings.  I had just learned how to make them!  The following year we added homemade egg rolls to the menu.  We haven’t done those for a long time.  They are fabulous but hard work and four girls in less than 4 years meant giving up some of the harder items.

This year’s menu includes a NEW item.  We were introduced to Mexican Dip on Christmas Day and liked it so much that we’re adding it to our Junk Food Tradition.  Other menu items include the now required buffalo wings, home made chex mix,  my mother’s cheeseball (made by my daughter using my mom’s recipe).  We’ll have some jalapeno poppers and maybe some pizza rolls as well.  For dessert we’ll have fudge and decorated sugar cookies. 


mmm, Chex Mix cooling!


Do you have any special traditions for the holidays?  Any special things that you do for New Year’s Eve? I’d love to hear what you do!

Happy New Year!


Looking for Christ in Christmas

As I type this, I feel as though my heart is just going to burst.  15 years ago my husband and I began a journey to find more meaning in our walk with Christ.  We wanted Christmas to be truly focused on Christ. 

We began to study and search. We only wanted those customs that pointed to Christ.  We came to the conclusion that Christmas was pagan and that the best way to honor Him would be to STOP celebrating Christmas.

This left such a hole in my heart.  I loved Christmas. Christmas was always about the birth of Christ. It wasn’t that we denied the virgin birth.  It wasn’t that we didn’t acknowledge that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among mankind.  It’s that we thought it was wrong to have Christmas trees and wreaths and all those other “pagan” items.

In our defense we were just trying to serve Him with glad and grateful hearts.  He gave us a miracle in Supergirl and we wanted to honor the God of the universe for His love towards us.

As each year passed, my heart would grow heavy at Christmas.  I missed it.  It didn’t get easier.  I began to have doubts.  If Christmas was very wrong why did so many CHRISTIANS celebrate it?  But the breaking point came when I realized just how much “paganism” surrounds me everyday.  If I threw out everything and anything that even remotely resembled something that may or may not be pagan, I wouldn’t really have anything left.  I would not be able to communicate with others about dates.  I wouldn’t be able to name months or days of the weeks.  I wouldn’t be able to wear my wedding ring!

We decided to try a “secular” Christmas (yes you may roll your eyes now)  We realized that Christmas time was an excellent time to demonstrate love towards family and friends and to strangers!  We “got over” some of the pagan phobia and bought a Christmas tree in 2004. 

In 2009, we experienced our First Orthodox Christmas.  Oh.my.word.!!!  If only we had known back then!  We finally found what we were looking for! Here we found the fullness of the faith.  Here we found that Christ was celebrated.   The gift giving, the decorations, the fabulous food, they all flowed out of hearts that understood that Christ had to born.  Christ had to have a human nature.  Christ had to become man so that we might become like God.

Today my heart sings.  There is no longer an achy hole in my heart.  It is filled with the joy of celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. My house is filled with Christmas hymns and carols that speak of this wonderful God who became man so that He could redeem this lost and fallen world.

Christ Is Born
Glorify Him!

The girls on Christmas Morning after church.


Christmas Is NOT over just yet.

I know for many many people Christmas seems to begin on the evening of Thanksgiving and ends on the evening of Christmas.  If I started celebrating Christmas that early, I’d be way past done with it, too!

What amazes me though is that so many people seem to think that the 12 days of Christmas begin 12 days before December 25 and end on December 25.  Nope.  Lots of people do Christmas countdowns (we do!) but the actual 12 days of Christmas begins on December 25 and ends on January 5 and Theophany (Epiphany) is on January 6th.

When I was growing up we put the Christmas tree up a week to 10 days before Christmas and it stayed up at least until the Saturday after New Year’s Day.  We didn’t exactly celebrate for 12 days but there was the acknowledgement that this wonderful feast was longer than just 1 day and that it didn’t begin until December 25.  (Though I will point out that liturgically it begins at Vespers, the evening service, on December 24 because liturgical days begin at sun down)

When my husband was active duty military, he often experienced MORE time off at Christmas.  And we now have a tradition in our family that daddy takes off from Dec 24 until at least January 2nd.   This becomes family time.  Being able to stretch out the holiday keeps the stress levels down.

We’ve been blessed for the last several Christmases to be able to spend time on Christmas day with family (some relatives, some church family).   Because Christmas doesn’t have to all be squeezed into one day and my husband is home  we can do our own little just us Christmas. 

So what does it look like for us to celebrate for 12 days?  What does celebrating for 12 days mean? Well it doesn’t mean fancy dinners every day or opening presents every day.  Though we’ve been known to have a couple of nicer meat rich dinners (traditionally Orthodox Christians abstain from meat, dairy and wine during advent, so we tend to make sure we have lots of stuff like cream cheese, whipped cream, beef and pork around here.  Oh and butter.  REAL butter Open-mouthed smile )

Having 12 days means we don’t stress out if all the cookies aren’t baked before December 25.  It means that we listen to Christmas music while we hang out and munch on Christmas goodies.  It means hanging out in comfortable clothes, or jammies.  (I’m typing this up in my jammies.  It’s late afternoon and I still haven’t got dressed.) 

It means taking time to remember and reflect that only one human being was ever born to die:  Jesus Christ.   Death is part of the curse.  By being born to die, the little baby, the incarnate Word of God will trample down death by death.  Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

(For some interesting reading about the 12 Days of Christmas you can check out this 12 Days of Christmas article.)


On the Eve of the Feast of Nativity

I love the Royal Hours service that is given on the morning of Christmas Eve.  In our parish the youth are the choir.  This is from last year.  I’m looking forward to hearing them this morning.

Youth in the Choir 2011


The songs of the day for this service speak from Joseph’s point of view.  He moves from disbelief and anger at Mary for “doing this to him” to Joseph declaring that he is convinced that Mary will give birth to God.

Tone 8
Joseph said to the virgin:
What has happened to you, O Mary?
I am troubled; what can I say to you?
Doubt clouds my mind; depart from me!
What has happened to you, O Mary?
Instead of honor, you bring me shame.
Instead of joy, you fill me with grief
Men who praised me will blame me.
I cannot bear condemnation from every side.
I received you, a pure virgin in the sight of the Lord.
What is this I now see?

The Kontakion (short hymn honor a saint or event) for the day is in tone 3. We’ll sing this repeatedly this morning:

Today the virgin comes to the cave
Where she will give birth to the Eternal Word.
Hear the glad tidings and rejoice O universe!
With the angels and shepherds glorify Him who reveals Himself:
The Eternal God, a little child!

I love Christmas Eve (both the day and the evening).  I love the building anticipation and the bubbling joy of my children.  Yes we’re excited for good food and presents but those things are merely outward manifestations of the anticipation of the birth of the Redeemer who will save His people from their sins.


O is for Ordinary

Here we are just two days before Christmas,  We’re at letter O for the Blogging Through The Alphabet.  Being so close to Christmas it would make sense to do something like O is for Ornaments and I could very easily do a whole post about ornaments.  But I found a bunch of “ordinary” pictures.  Pictures of us doing boring ordinary things.  Here are just a few.




Sleeping.  Something we do everyday.  Not necessarily daily on the couch though. Smile






Yard work. Another ordinary activity. This was taken in the spring after the major ice storm of January 2012







School work.  Boring.  But it’s something ordinary that we do nearly everyday.







More school work.  Doing school with the cat on the lap is a pretty ordinary event for us.









I wish that goofing off during school wasn’t an ordinary activity.  I wish that it didn’t happen so frequently with so much regularity.





It’s the ordinary moments of life that truly make life special.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

Linking this up to Ben and Me for the Letter O!


Christmas Preparations

This week we’ve set aside school to focus on preparing for the Christmas Season celebrations.  As I’ve mentioned before, we celebrate the 12 days.  Christmas Eve becomes ripe with anticipation and December 25th marks the Feast of the Nativity of Lord and Savior.  That feasting will continue through Jan 6th.  Ok ok.  There’ll be a short break from the feasting on January 5th for the preparation for the great feast of Theophany.

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of these preparations.  I’ve got Christmas crafts/gifts to complete, cookies to bake, menus to plan, and cleaning to do.  I also have to get the Christmas cards sent, and the presents wrapped.

This week I’m making an effort to include a slow-down-and-enjoy-the-season memory making activity each day.  I don’t want the holidays to be so busy that we’re stressed out. 

And I don’t want us to be so busy with preparations and cleaning that we forgot *why* we are celebrating.  From the last line of one of the Kontakion (in Tone 3) “Since for our sake The eternal God was born as a little child.”  (Kontakion are short hymns for saints or events.  This one is appointed for Christmas).

To remind us of the reasons for celebrating we’re listening to Christmas carols, rich in theology, about God becoming man and dwelling around us.  It is so much more than an anniversary of a birth; it is the celebration of the greatest gift ever given.  God gave himself to us so that we might be reconciled with him.  That is the celebration I am preparing for.



I know today is NOT 12-12-12.  That awesome cool date was LAST week.  (Wednesday to be specific) Though I wanted to post, I just couldn’t squeeze it in that day because I was working fast and furiously trying to get home school records in order for my oldest to get her college application in before the December deadline.

Because I just knew I wasn’t going to get my wonderful 12-12-12 post done I quickly grabbed the children and snapped a picture so I would have a RECORD of some type of this momentously cool date.



I really wanted a picture that captured the moment and the above picture was taken at 12 minutes after 12 O’clock on 12-12-12 or it was taken at 12:12 on 12/12/12.   What were you doing at 12:12 on 12-12-12?

Oh and yes the oldest did get her college application finished.  I did get a transcript made and a senior year course schedule.  Now we wait and see if she if’s accepted.


N is for Nativity

The “Christmas Season” is upon us.  I put “Christmas Season” is quotation marks because Christmas begins on December 25 and ends on January 5th, the eve of Theophany.   We celebrate the 12 days of Christmas here.

Right now as I type this we’re deep into Advent.  Advent means “coming”.  Advent is the time of preparing for the coming of the Lord.  We’re waiting and preparing for Emmanuel.   In the Orthodox Church it is known as “little lent”.   Great Lent is the time of preparation for the joyous Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior.

I love advent.  I love the idea of preparing my heart to receive this great gift from God: the gift of Himself: God made flesh.  One thing that we’ve done in the past is an advent chain.  This chain has 40 links and each link contains a bible passage that points to the coming of the Lord.   Weeks are noted by alternating red and green rings.  Feast days are noted by purple links and the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior is white.

This year we are not doing the advent chain and I really miss it.   I miss the intentional focus of remembering what the Nativity means.  Yes we celebrate the birth of Christ but it isn’t just a “birth day”.    It has deep theological meaning.   Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Trinity, came down from heaven and became man.  Became ManThose words are so important to our salvation.  If God had not become man, man could not be redeemed.   The fall of Adam and Eve affected every area of Creation.   The Creator must become creation.   “He became man, so that we might become like God.”

The Feast of the Nativity is just over a week away.  I still have much to do.  I need to get my photo cards addressed and mailed out. (yes Photo Cards.  me.  Photos.  I broke down and we did a family picture and created photo Christmas cards.)  I still have gifts to make and gifts to wrap and I might even have a gift or two to purchase.  I have cookies to bake and menus to plan. Groceries to buy.

I am so glad that Christmas lasts 12 days because there is just so much to do and to celebrate.   I am also glad that I still have a few more days to prepare my heart and ponder the mysteries of the coming of Emmanuel.



This post is linked to the Blogging Through The Alphabet meme hosted by Marcy at Ben and Me. This week we're blogging about N.

Blogging Through the Alphabet

This post is also linked up to 40 Days of Seeking Him Advent Season 2012. This meme is hosted by Day by Day in Our World and A House Upon the Rock.


M is for Music

For many years my girls have been taking piano lessons.  That means that I grew very accustomed to hearing the (digital) piano played frequently throughout the day.  I’ve even found that I would dream about the piano playing or have a piece of music running through my mind.

I don’t always enjoy listening to the scales and technique practice, nor do I find it pleasurable to hear them first begin a new and more difficult piece but love hearing the progress they’ve made over the years and it brings a smile to my face when one of them chooses to try her hand at improvising or composing.

Playing the piano

Several weeks ago our believed digital Piano, a Technic, began to die.  First it was one broken  key.  A pain but sort of workable.  Then all the D’s and F flats above middle c only wanted to work part time.  It became a gamble; would they have sound this morning or not.  If that wasn’t bad enough, several more keys decided to be uncooperative.  If you pressed ONE key, you got the sound of a chord.  At this point BooBear gave up practicing songs and the other girls ignored the Technic altogether.

BooBear is the only one of the big three still taking lessons.  Her future is wrapped up in the piano.  She wants to teach piano.  She plans to get a music degree in piano performance and hopes to open her own studio some day. 

It is during these last couple of weeks with the house filled with silence that I have come to realize how important music is to my family.  We may not all express this importance in the same way nor with the same style but the loss of the piano wasn’t just a blow to my oldest and her college plans, it left a hole in the heart of the family. It ripped at my soul to not hear daily music.  Yes, I put restrictions on WHEN the piano could be played.  It is rather difficult to conduct a phonics lesson when you have to compete with Chopin or Mozart or Bach or even just scales!

With 2012 being “the year that everything broke”, we just really didn’t have the money to replace that instrument.  We prayed.  And then we prayed some more.   I discovered that there was a warehouse full of used discount pianos.  I felt sure this was the answer!  We made a trip (an hour and a half one way) to look at pianos.  We found one that might work and that would be within our very tiny and tight budget.  I told the salesperson we needed an “emergency” piano.  I explained the situation and that we needed to find something as soon as possible because recital season is beginning and scholarship auditions are right around the corner.   He promised to have the technician look over the piano thoroughly, tune it, and he would work a deal for us.  Give him a week, he said.  12 days later I called him.  He was so sorry but the technician had been so busy and pianos that are actually sold get priority.  He would try and squeeze it in that afternoon and call me in the later afternoon or early evening.

He never called.  Fortunately, we had looked at a Casio digital piano at Costco.  It wasn’t what we were looking for and was a bit more than we wanted to pay but it would be available NOW and we could take the time to save up some money and finally buy a real piano sometime in the future.  When the phone call never came we gave up on the real piano, the “emergency” piano, and the next day (yesterday) we headed to Costco.

The sound quality is excellent, but we don’t really need all the bells and whistles.  It has a stand, 88 weighted keys, and a sustain pedal.  It plays and sounds like a real piano.  But best of all, and most importantly, today has been filled with the sound of music as the girls each took turns to practice again.



Blogging Through the Alphabet

This post is linked up to Marcy’s Blogging Through the Alphabet meme.  This week we’re blogging about the letter M.


Crew Review: Vocal Coach Singer

What’s a mother to do when her music loving, choir participating daughter wants voice lessons in addition to her piano lessons but there’s no money in the budget for a singing tutor? If the mother in question is like me, then she’s going to be blessed to be introduced to Vocal Coach and the Vocal Coach Singer program. 

Here’s a description from the website:

“Vocal Coach Singer is the most complete instructional singing system available with the equivalent of over $2,000 worth of personal coaching time. Whether you are a beginner or a professional, Vocal Coach Singer teaches and builds upon the fundamentals essential to an accomplished singing voice. From posture to performance our tested and proven techniques will help you deliver your songs with consistency and confidence!”

Boobear, my oldest, is 17.  I begged the Schoolhouse Review for the opportunity to review this product specifically for BooBear.  She is a senior in high school and plans to major in music at college starting in the fall.  She used this product independently so I asked her to please share her experience and opinion. 

BooBear’s thoughts, experience, and opinion:

Music is part of me. If you were to write a definition of me music would be in the description. I play the piano. I teach piano. I also love to sing. Singing is involved in more of our lives than we think. We sing when we are cleaning, when we are in the car, to little children, and as part of worship, Everyone should have at least something from that list that they do. As singing is such a large part of who people are we all want to be better at it. Vocal Coach can help with that.

Vocal Coach is easy to use in your home. It does not take a lot of time, though if you wan to improve you do need to make a time commitment. It provides CDs, or MP3s, that fall under different categories. There are seven training CDs that include: Getting Started, Complete Breathing, Complete Warm-Up, Complete Tone, Complete Expanding Your Range, Complete Diction, and Complete Performance. There are also 4 workout CDs: 2 Daily workout High Voice for Soprano and Tenor, 2 Daily workouts for medium/low voice for Alto and Bass. There are also PDFs with sheet music for the different Exercises. I found this especially helpful as I like to have the sheet music around to follow and know what my voice is doing. Visual aids are important to me.

I have wanted to have voice lessons, however I am already taking piano lessons. Vocal Coach has given me a way to have voice lessons. I can do it on my own time, and move at the pace that I need to. It would also work for a wide variety of ages including adult and younger children. They provide a technical description and a more watered down explanation. There are also a lot of summaries at the end of the tracks. Listening to the tracks it sounds like they are trying to engage a younger audience while still keeping it interesting for an older one. This could get a little annoying for some older kids. Other than that I think it is great to have it so that a family could do it together. The tracks are not very long at all. The longest that I have come across is 8 minutes and the shortest 1 minute. Being short they work well for use with children of shorter attention spans, and for those who want to do more they can do multiples. This also makes them easy to review.

I liked to do 4 or 5 new tracks and then review maybe 2 or three when I did a session with it. You are encourage to do the exercises on your own. I like to do this as well, however it can take a few reviews for me to get the flow of the exercises. I have used the warm-ups in this way on Sunday morning before going to Church. That was one thing I am really happy about. I have been wanting a way to warm-up for singing in choir but I didn’t really know any exercises. Vocal Coach also says that even if you are not a singer, but you do speeches, or any job that involves a lot of talking the warm-ups will help you as well. You can use Vocal Coach Singer not just for singing but for speaking as well. They do not need to be used everyday, which is good as my life can get a little crazy sometime and I don’t have a lot of time.

One thing that I really really wish that they had was a little more of a laid out plan. They told you to start by reading the guide book and listening to the getting started CD but after that there was not much guide as to what to do. They did give an order on the website that they recommended. But it was hard to find. I would like there to be a much easier to find recommendation. I felt a little lost looking at all the tracks and CDs. Also there was no instruction on when to start using the workout CDs. I didn’t know if I should complete the training CDs and then start using the workout ones, or if at a certain point along the way I should start implementing them? I felt like I was trying to find my way in the dark at some points.


The above picture shows the physical Vocal Coach Singer which retails for $119.99.   We received the MP3 version which is available for $99.99.  If I could spare the extra $20 I think it would be worth the extra money to receive the physical product.  We’ve made the MP3 version (with PDF version of the guidebook) work but we don’t have an mp3 player and BooBear has been tied to the computer.  With the disks she could bring them to church and complete the vocal warm ups in the van or bring a portable cd player and use them as part of choir practice.

I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve overheard and what I’ve witnessed with BooBear.  She has much more confidence now.  Turtlegirl age 15 and Tailorbear, age 13,  have decided that they also want to give it a try.  Turtlegirl wants to use Vocal Coach Singer to improve her range and her ability to match her voice to the pitch so that she can join the choir at church.  Though a $100-$120 is pretty step for me right now this  is cheap cheap cheap for vocal lessons.

Vocal Coach product doesn't teach a particular style, rather we teach you to master the principles of vocal muscle memory, which cause critical body parts to produce excellent sound, amplification, and control with increased stamina to predictably deliver the results you want! Before you know it, you'll be able to apply what you've learned to any style you want to sing. Just like a well-conditioned athlete often has the ability to play many different sports, a well-trained singer has the potential to sing many different styles.”

Vocal Coach Singer is intended for teens and adults but BooBear tells me that she thinks younger children could do this along with the family.  There is a program specifically for children ages 5-13, Teaching Kids to Sing that some crew members had the opportunity to review.

Check out the home school tab for hints on how to use Teaching Kids to Sing and Vocal Coach Singer in your home school.  You’ll need to scroll through the Teaching Kids to Sing information to reach the Vocal Coach Singer tips.

Read the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to see what other Crew Members had to say about Vocal Coach Singer or Teaching Kids to Sing


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Holiday Cooking

With Thanksgiving just two weeks and 2 days away my family has begun to list suggestions for Thanksgiving Dinner.  Supergirl, my developmentally disabled daughter has a strong opinion of what needs to be served for Thanksgiving: Pickles, carrots (carrots???), cranberries, and stuffing.  “Lots of stuffing,” she tells me, “because it’s my favorite.”

Today is Day 2  of the Preparing for the Holidays Blog Hop hosted by the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  Today’s topic:  Cooking, of course!
First let’s chat about Thanksgiving.  We have a nearly set menu for Thanksgiving: a combo of traditions from his family, my family, and traditions we’ve started as our family.

We start our Thanksgiving morning with some type of breakfast roll: Cinnamon, Carmel, or some variation.  I’d love to brag about how they are homemade and made from freshly ground wheat but they’re not.  They come from a can.  We only make them once a year so I don’t worry too much about cost or how incredibly unhealthy they are.
Our Thanksgiving cooking though begins at least the day before.  It has become tradition to eat Chex Mix while we play games before dinner is ready.  So we make a HUGE roasting pan full of our own variation of Chex Mix. We also get the potatoes cooked and mashed for the “really good mashed potatoes that are so good you don’t even need gravy” that will go in the crockpot.  I also steam or bake some yams/sweet potatoes (I am pretty sure they are yams but I call them sweet potatoes).  Those will get mashed up with butter and brown sugar and a bit of maple syrup if I have it and be placed in a casserole dish.   We also make the stuffed mushrooms.  Well we get them prepared and ready to pop in the oven.

Our Thanksgiving Dinner consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, cranberry-orange relish, jellied cranberries and sometimes my mom’s fruit salad which is really fruit cocktail, drained and folded into Cool Whip.  We start the meal off by snacking earlier in the day on a relish tray (pickles, olives etc), Chex Mix, the stuffed mushrooms, and sometimes spinach dip.  (It’s really a wonder that we have any appetite for dinner but I don’t serve lunch.)
Christmas dinner is a different ball of wax.  Before becoming Orthodox we did a breakfast casserole for brunch and didn’t go to church (our church didn’t have Christmas services) but now we’re Orthodox.  That means NO breakfast because we do go to Divine Liturgy on Christmas Morning.   We flip flop back and forth between prime rib roast and ham for our Christma dinner.  And our traditions for Christmas Eve has changed somewhat as well. 

There is one Christmas dish that must be served sometime between December 24th and January 1st.   This is a tradition my husband brought into the family.  Fruit Soup.   And it has to be served with lefsa.   We make the flour kind.  I could live without fruit soup but my children love it and with them I have become rather fond of butter slathered cinnamon/sugar loaded lefsa.

When I hear “Holiday Cooking” my brain translates it to “Christmas Goodies.”  I love making fudge (I use my mom’s “magic fudge” recipe) and a few years ago thanks to Sonlight Forums I was introduced to Buckeyes ( a peanut butter ball dipped in melted chocolate!) and Linda’s Famous Peanut Butter Fudge.  Those items along with various cookies have become part of our traditional family Christmas treats.  We do not start making these though until just before Christmas so that they can be enjoyed as part of 12 days of Christmas.
I think I have gained 5 pounds just thinking about Christmas Goodies!  What do you cook for Thanksgiving? What are some your family’s food related traditions for Christmas?  Click on the link below to hop from blog to blog to read more about Holiday Cooking or click on the Button near the top to link up your own Preparing for the Holidays post!


Decorating: Not Just for Christmas

Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is  2 1/2  weeks away and Christmas is just around the corner.  Many people are preparing for the holidays or at least thinking about preparing for the holidays.  The Schoolhouse Review Crew is hosting a 5 Day Blog Hop:  Preparing for the Holidays:

PreparingfortheHolidaysDay 1 is Decorating.   I don’t just want to talk about Decorating for Christmas because I don’t just celebrate Christmas.  I celebrate Thanksgiving, St Nicholas Day, Christmas,  New Year’s Day, and Theophany. 

Grab a cup of hot cocoa, or spiced cider, or hot tea, something that puts you in the mood for fall/winter festivities as we take a stroll through my decorating traditions from late October though January 6.

For me the start of the decorating season begins a day or two or three before Halloween.  As I said in a previous post, I don’t really decorate for Halloween.  I do, however, like to decorate for fall.  I love the colors and I love the harvest theme.  But it’s a process.   I start by putting out the more generic harvest/fall items including my pumpkin shaped candle and bowls of pumpkin spice potpourri.   When we’re solidly into November, I’ll bring out the more obvious Thanksgiving items like my Pilgrim Couple that will sit on my mantle.  On Thanksgiving we’ll put out the special table cloth.

My house might appear a have a split personality though because the Nativity Fast (advent) begins on November 15 (revised calendar).   On this day we hang up our advent chain.  It has 40 loops: one for each day and containing scripture readings for each day.   It almost looks out of place with the purple, green, red and white loops hanging on one side of the door while a friendly fall colored scarecrow decorates the other side.


I like to fully enjoy Thanksgiving.  I stretch it out over the whole weekend.  It’s called Thanksgiving Weekend, right?  Well because for us the Nativity Season begins November 15 and ends Jan 6 and because I like to savor Thanksgiving we do NOT decorate for Christmas, other than the Advent Chain until the weekend AFTER Thanksgiving. 

Sometime during the week after Thanksgiving, I start taking down the fall decorations and start sorting through the Christmas ones.  I have some VERY Christmassy stuff and some that just looks like wintery stuff.

I dislike clutter and though I love Christmas, having the tree up from the end of November/Beginning of December until January 6 is too much for me.  But I like decorating for Christmas.   Decorating throughout advent helps me to focus on preparing my heart for why we celebrate the Nativity.

On December 1st we put up this cloth advent calendar.  It’s not really an advent calendar, though more of a countdown to Christmas.   It begins on the 1st.  Since we’re already putting up the count down we also hang the stockings.  The stockings are, in my opinion, essential for St. Nicholas Day, however, my children would be just as happy to just put a shoe in front of the fire place.  I’m the mom so I win.   The stockings are used twice.  They are used for December 6th and are filled with gold foil wrapped chocolates and other bits of candy.  The stockings are filled again after the children go to bed on Christmas Eve.

In this picture you can see that the stockings are already hung. We’re doing the digging out and planning for the tree and other decorations.


We have lots of things we use for decorating at Christmas time.  We have stuffed animals that only come out at Christmas.  Here are a few pictures


One more picture.  This is picture is taken from our front door.  This is what greets visitors to our home.  I love the holidays and I love decorating for them!


You can click on the links to hop from blog to blog.  Click on the banner above to join the linky with your own post about decorating for the holidays.


Molly Crew Review: You CAN Sew from Modesty Matters


For years and years ,I have thought that sewing is not my thing.  I’ve wanted to sew; I’ve wanted to teach my daughters how to sew.  My sewing class in 7th grade was a disaster for me, and my costume design class in college for my theater degree?  Well let’s just say they didn’t let me near a machine during practicum.  I have managed to learn a few skills but sewing continued to intimidate me until the Schoolhouse Review introduced me to You Can Sew! published by Modesty Matters.

The text and the DVD instructions work together to create a complete 12 week beginning sewing course.  In addition to the text and instructional dvds, the course includes:

  • Materials List ~ This handy list details out what you materials you need for the course, some items include a basic sewing machine, the manual for the machine, scrap fabric, sewing notions, and more. I found this list very helpful!
  • Syllabus/Outline ~ This overview lists the Topic, Skill, Classwork and Home Work/Follow-up for each class.  There are some classes listed together such as classes 36-37 which is the Skill Assessment: Make a Simple Apron.
  • Activities and Practice ~ This may be my favorite feature. Because my girls are beginner sewers and I am not much of a seamstress myself, this gave us opportunities to learn more or to gain confidence in a skill.
  • Review and Journal Pages ~ This could rival “Activities and Practice” for a tie for favorite feature.  You CAN Sew! encourages students to create your own binder to use as a journal and as a resource.
  • Field Trips ~ Our vehicle [or lack thereof] situation makes it difficult to do a physical field trip.  But that’s ok.  The curriculum gives suggestions for virtual field trips!
  • Exclusive, simple patterns and instructions from Modesty Matters ~ Patterns for both teen/adult and child sizes are included in a PDF File on a CD-ROM.
  • Sewing Glossary Compilation of Terms and Lingo ~ 28 pages long and arranged in alphabetical order. 


This course, intended for ages 10 and up, teaches sewing in incremental steps. I’ve tried some other “teach yourself” sewing programs and those programs tend to use“make a project to learn the skills” type of programs.  I would get frustrated because I needed to know how to do something first and I often needed more practice with the skill.  You CAN Sew! teaches the skills you need first and then uses the projects as an assessment for those skills.  This approach gives confidence to a beginning sewer. 

Because of the step by step incremental approach, the program may appear to move very slowly and perhaps frustrate students who may have more than just basic or limited sewing knowledge/skill; however, for my family, this was wonderful and we could speed up a few things when needed or slow down and take the time we needed to master a skill.

The step by step approach also makes it possible for students younger than the target range.  I used this with girls ages 13, 15 and 17.  I originally thought we would do 1 class per day 4-5 days per week.  I envisioned us reading the text, watching the video and then completing the assignment.

So what did it look like in reality? We used it more like a co-op or how I imagine it might work in a co-op.  On Day 1 we started by watching the first several classes (4 maybe?) and then we spent the next couple of days reading the text for those classes and reading ahead for the next couple of classes. We also completed any assignments.  We fell into a pattern of watching 2-4 classes and then taking 2-4 days to work through the material.  This method allowed us to be together for the DVD instruction but gave us more flexibility for scheduling sewing time.  Sometimes the girls would work at the same time to keep each other company and offer encouragement and support.  We have averaged completing 5 classes per week working 3-5 days per week.



Thoughts from BooBear age 17: “I have always wanted to sews but I could not find a sewing book that would give me the instruction that I needed. I need a lot of visual aid to show me how. I like Modesty Matters because it has the video that shows you how to sew. They are very good at explaining what you need and how to do it. I also enjoy having a binder to show what I have learned.”


Thoughts from Turtlegirl age 15: “I liked that they gave instructions in the text and they showed you what to do in the videos. Sometimes, I was unable to remember the lesson and reading the text would help but it was good to review the video as well. I’m glad they have you take the time to learn the basics, and then move on to more difficult things.Overall, I like learning to sew with this product.”

The first finished project: Pin Cushion

Thoughts from Tailorbear age 13: “It is amazing. I love sewing more than I did before. The instructions were clear. No one minute “take thread through loop like this” next minute, “do not take thread through loop”. I appreciate that she knows how to teach. I like the project(s). I like the videos. I am thrilled that I can go, watch a video, then go do my assignment. I also like how everything you learn in a video is critical for your project. Overall, I TOTALLY recommend this product!”


 Looking forward to the next project: Simple Apron

 I want to make sure I give special mention to the customer service! When I flipped though the text and saw the journal pages, I hunted for a copyright notice and didn’t find permission.  I emailed Dee and she responded very quickly, not just with permission for my family to make what copies we needed but she included an attached file with all the “consumable” pages.  She says she sends this file to everyone who has asked for photocopy permission.  This file makes it so easy to just print out the pages I need instead of having to pull it out of the binder and make copies.  I also had an issue with an attached file for a corrected pattern.  Dan graciously re-sent the file.   I recommend reading more about the families who own Modesty Matters.  Be sure to read about the company as well.

Everything you see in the picture above is included for $159.  Well everything except the monitor. <grin> To read more about this product click on the curriculum page and scroll down past the brand new quilting curriculum recently released.  You’ll even find a video to watch.  And while you’re visiting the site check out the Free Stuff page and the current promotions page, where you’ll find information about free shipping and a sneak peak at the sewing curriculum.

I and my daughters highly recommend this program to any family wanting an easy to follow, complete basic sewing course to use at home or with a co-op.

Click on the banner below to read what other Crew Members had to say about You CAN Sew! From Modesty Matters.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

Disclaimer: As a TOS Crew member, I received this product free of charge to review. I am required to write a review but I am not required to write a positive review. This review contains my and/or my daughters’ honest opinion with, hopefully, enough detail as to why I/ we liked or did not like a product so that my readers can make an informed decision. I received no compensation.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews by clicking here.


Thankful Thursday ~ November 1st

I am thankful for the rain.   I loved having so much sun in September and most of October (we had something like 82 days of sunshine.  I’m sure that is some kind of record for us here in the rainy part of the Pacific Northwest.)  The grass that was all brown and dead looking is now starting to become green again. 

I am thankful that my husband has been off work for most of this week.  I wasn’t thrilled at first when he announced “oh I forgot to tell you. I have some use or lose leave so I’m taking off next week.”   But it has been a blessing.  We were able to get some errands done and he’s been around to help me through a difficult personal crisis.  And he makes the bestest scrambled eggs in the whole world and he made scrambled eggs for me this week.

I am thankful for the creativity of my daughters.  I’m thankful for the relationship that they have with each other.  Yes, they fight.  Yes, the fighting drives me crazy but when it matters they willingly step up and work together.  The three “big girls” worked together to create costumes for all four of them and they all went out trick or treating together last night.   The three big girls did not want to be greedy for candy (it was really about getting to go walk through the neighborhood than about the candy) so they had one bag for candy.  Supergirl had her own bucket.


And finally this week I am thankful for Costco and frozen lasagnas that can be cooked from frozen!  Made our monthly shopping trip to Costco and came home with dinner:  Lasagna, a salad, and some specialty bread.

What are you thankful for this week? 


October 30 ~ Read Aloud Challenge

Debra over at Footprints in the Butter has started back with her Read Aloud Challenge Link Up.  When the girls were younger we read aloud daily.  We have fond memories of reading aloud as a family.   Now that the girls are older I find it so much more difficult to carve out time to read aloud.   I keep telling myself that I need to make reading aloud a priority for Supergirl but unfortunately, I tend to push that aside as well getting caught up in striving to teach her to read, write, and do math.

It’s not that we’re not a book loving family.  The 5 independent readers can all be found with a book at some point during the day and the not-yet-reading-independently-but-still-loves-books girl is frequently reminded to “put down that book.”

We’ve done some reading aloud a few weeks ago.  We were reading Only the Names Remain, Sing Down The Moon, and Song of Hiawatha as part of our Native America studies.

About 3 weeks ago Tailorbear started Sonlight’s Core 7 (oops it was Core 7 when I purchased it… I think it might be Core H if you purchase it new): World History In-Depth Part 2.   She’s been reading the history and the reader herself but tonight we’re finally starting A Murder for Her Majesty. She could easily read this as a reader but I loved this book when I read it aloud several years ago and I want to read it aloud again.  Turtlegirl wants to hear it again as well so since the weather is chilly and rainy and Daddy and BooBear will be gone the rest of us will snuggle up with hot tea or hot chocolate and I’ll read aloud.

I have a pile of books set aside to read to Supergirl.  We started ages and ages ago with Sonlight’s Core 1(Core B?? now??) Introduction to World History Part 1 but we set it aside and decided to use a different literature based approach for her.  I still love the read alouds and so we’re going to pick those back up.  I know she is really looking forward to A Little Princess, but I think we’d better finish Mountain Born first.  I just hope we don’t have to start over as it has been so long since we picked up that book.

In addition to literature read alouds, I need to get back to reading aloud history and science to Supergirl on a more consistent basis or making use of the Story of the World audiobook.

The fall and winter seasons seem so much more conducive to reading aloud.  It gets dark early.  It’s cold.  It’s rainy.  I have high hopes that we’ll do more reading aloud.

I do not know if I will link up every week but I do want to link up at least every 2-3 weeks.  My primary goal will be to re-establish a reading aloud habit starting tonight!

Come join Debra at Footprints in the Butter for her weekly read aloud challenge.


H is for Holidays

Yes, I know I am really behind on my blogging through the alphabet.  I started a post but didn’t finish it E is for Evergreen and F is for fall.  It won’t be linked up but I do intend to polish it and get it posted.  I don’t even have a topic for G but I’m sure I’ll think of something and again, It won’t be linked up but I am really striving to do a post or a combination post for every letter of the alphabet this time!

This is the last day for linking up the letter H.  I was thinking of doing H is for health but I didn’t want to write a whining post about my health problems and I didn’t want to do the whole don’t take health for granted so I dumped that idea.  I moved on to H is for Hope.   I thought ‘oh I’ll do a post about how Christ is my hope!  I’ll find some bible verses and I’ll post on Sunday.’  It’s a good idea but I still have the doxology going through my mind and it’s lingering on the line “Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we have hoped in Thee.”   But last night I went to a class at church: Church History.  It was a brief overview of the timeline of church history beginning at Pentecost.  I thought that would make a great post.  I could use my blog to write a narration.

So as I sat with my coffee and pondered what to say about Church history in general and how to fit 2,000 years of church history (that I’ve barely begun to understand) into one blog post, I remembered that this is the end of October.  The “Holidays” are right around the corner.  After 3 paragraphs of blabbering about potential H topics, I’ve hit on one that I can actually write about!

First let me do a plug for a blog hop that will be happening the first FULL week of November:  Five Days Of Holidays.   This is hosted by The Schoolhouse Review Crew.  Each day has a specific topic and a link up.  You do not have to be a member of the crew to participate.  You do not have to participate each day.   Here’s the topics:


The holidays are on my mind because I’m thinking of the blog hop and because I finally realized it was the end of October and I needed to pull out my fall decorations.  I don’t really think of Halloween as a holiday and my decorations are more harvest/fall/thanksgiving type decorations but I usually pull them out a few days before Halloween and leave them up through at least the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  I’m hoping to talk more about decorating as part of the 5 Days of Preparing for the Holidays.

For us the “holidays” include Thanksgiving, St. Nicholas Day, The Feast of the Nativity, the New Year which for us is a combination of the secular new year and St. Basil’s Day, and ends with Theophany on Jan 6th.  So feel free to wish me Happy Holidays, I won’t be offended. 

I think I am still in denial that the holidays are right around the corner.  I better get myself organized so that I can enjoy them.

Marcy over at Ben and Me hosts Blogging Through the Alphabet.  This post is part of the Letter H.  Click on the button to learn more, visit a few links or join up!

Blogging Through the Alphabet