Saying Hello to 2014

As I think about saying hello to the new year, I can’t help but think about what goals I want to accomplish.  There are no major life events planned.  We’ve not been invited to any weddings, nor have the girls been asked to be part of the weddings. (We had flower girl in 2013.) None of my girls are set to graduate in 2014. (We had one in 2013 and we’ll have one in 2015.)  So what am I looking forward to?

Looking Forward to the Real 2014

  • Using my 2014 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog Planner ~  I tried a bit to use a blog planner for 2013 but couldn’t really find one that I really liked.  There are parts of this specially designed for 2014 Schoolhouse Review Crew Team Members planner that I don’t need and won’t use but I’ve printed out and bound the pages that I want.

Spiral Bound Planner for 2014

  • Keeping my blog real.  Blogging from my heart about what’s on my mind, about what’s happening in my life and my thoughts and reactions to issues of faith, family and home education.
  • Using a new simplified check off system for chores.  A list of chores specific to each daughter, printed out and placed in a sheet protector.  Works great with Vis-à-vis pens.  Something concrete.  Something reusable and since the masters will be on the computer, something easily replaced if the sheet is lost or needs to be adjusted.
  • Using and keeping up with some online organizational tools:  Remembering the Milk,  Evernote and Google Calendar.  I don’t have any mobile device to use these but I am on my laptop so often that it makes sense to use electronic files and calendars as much as possible
  • I am looking forward to seeing my beautiful oldest daughter perform in recitals and ensembles.  I love that as the parents of a music a student we get free tickets (or deeply discounted ones) to all the music department productions. In 2014 I know my daughter will be in at least one and perhaps more!
  • To reading more books in 2014 than I did in 2013. 

I want to start implementing some ideas from this article I read: Forget Setting Goals. Instead of setting goals and focusing on the goal, the article’s author recommends focusing on the system you’ve set up to achieve those goals.  So if I want to read more books in 2014 than I did in 2013, I need to focus on improving and sticking to my system.  Oh wait, that means having a system.  Guess I need to focus creating a system. Hmm, maybe what I need to do in 2014 is work on creating and improving my systems for everything. 

I think though what I am most looking forward to in 2014 is to embrace life.  To live each moment in the moment and enjoy those happy moments.

  Happy New Year Image

My friend Susan has organized a blog fair around the theme of Looking Forward to the Real in 2014.  Yesterday’s blog fair theme was Remembering the Real in 2013.  Check out this list of participating bloggers!

2014 - Love, Joy, Peace, Grace, and to Know Him Better by April E. @ ElCloud Homeschool: Busy Minds, Busy Hands, Busy Feet
2014: The Adventure Continues by Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road
2014 Prayers, Hopes, and Goals by Clara @ A Slice Of Homeschool Pie
Priorities and Goal Setting for 2014 by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
A Peek into My Plans for 2014 by Jennifer @ Conversaving
Anticipating 2014 by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
A Year to Sparkle! by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Saying Hello to 2014 by Tess @ Circling Through This Life
2014 Already? How can that be? by Debra @ Footprints in the Butter
Goals For 2014 Homesteading & Homeschooling by Kim @Homestead Acres
Facing 2014 With Anticipation And Caution by Audra Silva @ Simply Audra Marie
Embracing Real Moments in 2014 by Cristi @ Through the Calm and Through the Storm
2014 Goals and Why We Should All Set Them by April B. @ Coffee, Cobwebs, and Curriculum


Saying Goodbye to 2013

I can’t say that I remember much of the first half of 2013, but the second half? Especially the summer? That was a stressful and busy time!

I’ve decided to take a photo tour of the year! Sharing pictures as highlights from 2013. But first I’m going to start with some blog post highlights though:

Now for a few pictures!

From January to May we experienced a Recital, Every Day School Life, a Birthday and Pascha!

January through May 2013

June through December we experienced another recital, a heart attack, a graduation, a wedding, and more birthdays.

2013 May through August

Other 2013 Highlights include:  Honeybear reading the Epistle for the first time, growing a garden, and I became an Orthodox Godmother for the first time.

Sept through November 2013

My friend Susan has organized a blog fair around the theme of Remembering the Real in 2013.  Tomorrow’s blog fair theme is Looking Forward to the Real in 2014.  Check out this list of participating bloggers!

2013 - a messy but blessed year by April E. @ ElCloud Homeschool: Busy Minds, Busy Hands, Busy Feet
2013: A Look Back by Leah @ As We Walk Along the Road
Five Revelations From 2013 by Clara @ A Slice Of Homeschool Pie
2013 is Almost Gone by Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset
2013- A Reflection on our Year by Jennifer @ Conversaving
Where Did 2013 Go? by Joelle @ Homeschooling for His Glory
Embracing the Bright, Shining Moments and Growing in Our Struggles by Susan @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds
Saying Goodbye to 2013 by Tess @ Circling Through This Life
I'm the Mom of three teen boys, and other highlights of 2013 by Debra @ Footprints in the Butter
Looking Back Over 2013 Adventures In Homesteading & Homeschooling by Kim @Homestead Acres
2013 ~ The Good, The Bad, And The Beautiful by Audra Silva @ Simply Audra Marie
Real Moments of 2013 by Cristi @ Through the Calm and Through the Storm
It's a Beautiful Life--2013 Edition by April B. @ Coffee, Cobwebs, and Curriculum
Looking Back at 2013


Forever Friday {Book Review}

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Title: Forever Friday
Author: Timothy Lewis
Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 288 pages

Sneak Peek: includes chapter 1 download link

Though some would say I am a hopeless romantic, romance novels are not my go to genre when choosing a book but Forever Friday has a different approach. It’s not a typical boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, have conflict, resolve conflict and live happily ever after.  Yes, boy does meet girl.  Yes, boy and girl fall in love.  Yes, there are conflicts and problems to solve that do get resolved and yes the one couple lives out the “’til death do us part,” but the love story is a story in a story and it is beautifully woven together dancing from the past to the present as we get glimpses or pictures of the love story that spans 60 years.

About the Book:

Forever Friday Image

Adam Colby is just doing his job, sorting through the unsold Alexander belongings after the estate sale. He is unprepared for what he finds in an old photo album, overlooked by the bargain hounds and treasure hunters—six decades of postcards and poems from Gabe Alexander to his wife, Pearl. The mystery of the Alexanders’ love entices Adam, a man unhinged by divorce and puzzled by the depth of commitment that he finds in the unabashedly romantic cards.

Forever Friday invites you to travel back in time to the early twentieth century Texas Coastal Bend where a young couple—Gabe and Pearl Alexander—are swept up in a miraculous love. As the heartwarming, pulse-quickening story of their relationship develops through Gabe’s poems, the Alexanders reveal a new way to consider what it means to be truly devoted to each other. Could the secrets of their love affair, laid to rest twenty years ago, hold the key to one man’s future? - See more at: Forever Friday: A Novel

My Thoughts:

I was caught up in the story within the story and very much enjoyed reading about Gabe and Huck. I do wish though that there was a bit more to the ending with Adam.  What I think I loved most though was the fact Forever Friday was inspired by Mr. Lewis’s own postcard sending great-aunt and great-uncle. If you enjoy romance stories this is one you’ll want to read and if you are like me and looking for something a little different, I recommend you take a look at Forever Friday.


Check out the Book Trailer:

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.


Random 5 on Friday {Last Edition of 2013}

I did not get this posted yesterday so really it’s Random 5 on Saturday <grin>.

1.   Christmas Eve ~  Our church has two services.  The first is at 10am and is “Royal Hours”.   I love this service.  The hymnography tells the story from Joseph’s perspective.  At the beginning of the service Joseph is troubled.  He wonders why Mary is doing this to him and bringing him dishonor.  By the end of the service Joseph is “convinced that Mary will birth to God.”   It has become a tradition in our church for the Youth to be the choir.


Xmas Eve Royal Hours 2013

2. Christmas Eve~  We attended the beautiful Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil which includes many OT readings read by the laity. None of us participated (we got there too late!  Oops!) but Honeybear ended up reading the Epistle that night. The Liturgy was followed by a Lenten potluck.  There were some traditional Holy Supper foods as well as candles on the tables. Very beautiful. (No pictures!  Sorry!)

3.  Christmas Morning ~ More church!  Matins and Divine Liturgy.  I love Christmas at my church. It’s almost as wonderful as Pascha (Easter).  We didn’t get up early enough to open any presents or even to check stockings.  All that kind of stuff waited until we got home.

4.  Our Christmas was very sci-fi/fantasy oriented with Lord of The Rings, Star Wars and Doctor Who related gifts:

Boobear is very excited about the Doctor Who edition of Trival Pursuit.

Supergirl displaying Doctor Who Yahtzee game

The girls reveal a Dalek poster

5.  Christmas Day may have come and gone but we celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas.  We had a wonderful Christmas celebration with friends on the 2nd day of Christmas and for the 3rd a relaxing and doing nearly nothing day around the house. Honeybear won’t return to work until January 2nd but the home school girls and I won’t start back up until the 12 days are over.

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

Family Xmas 2013

The Pebble Pond

Come join us over at the Pebble Pond for this week’s Edition of Random 5 on Friday!


I, J, K, L Christmas Alphabet Blogging

I decided to the follow the advice that a friend gave to someone else: make a list for the letters that you are missing.  So with this post I hope to be on the same letter as Marcy over at Ben and Me.

This my Merry Christmas Edition of Alphabet Blogging:

 I is for Icon of the Nativity of Christ

Nativity of Christ Icon

For information about the icon: the symbolism and theology you can read the Orthodox Wiki article: Nativity Icon

J is for baby Jesus in the Manager:

The phrase “baby Jesus in the manager” brings two things to mind or rather I hear two things.  I hear the song “Away in the Manager” (which bugs me with the line “no crying he made.”  He was a baby.  He cried.  He was fully human. He did not sin.  Crying is not a sin.  Crying is a human baby means of communicating. Rant over.) and the other is a CCM song.  Casting Crowns?  Third Day?  Oh it’s Third day and the song is “Born in Bethlehem.”  I always hear “baby Jesus lying in a manager” when I think of the phrase ‘baby Jesus in a manager.”


K is for King of Kings: (or King of the Jews or just plain King!)

Currently my most favorite Christmas song is “How Many Kings” by Downthere. I don’t know any of that band’s other music.  I just love this song. My favorite lines:

“How many gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that is torn all apart and how many Fathers gave up their sons for me?”

I like Christmas music that is very Christ centered.  It doesn’t have to just be about the night He was born.  I’m discovering that I really like the songs that focus more on who is Christ (the Incarnation of the Living God) and why He was born (to reconcile and redeem fallen creation).  (Check out my post: Christmas: It’s not a Birthday Party)



L is for Lasting 12 Days:

Although I’ve always known that there are 12 Days of Christmas and I grew up in a home where the tree did NOT come down until after New Year’s Day, we didn’t really celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.  When we became Orthodox, we shifted our Christmas thinking.  Advent (Nativity Fast, also known as little Lent) is a time of preparing.  We focus on the waiting and the anticipation of the birth of the Savior. We don’t start the celebrating part until Christmas Eve Liturgy.  I do a bit of decoration like an advent calendar and a few other things and around December 1st we put up a tree but we have other things to celebrate such as Thanksgiving, The Entrance of Mary, St. Nicholas Day to name a few.  Our church does do a Christmas program the Sunday before Christmas but it’s part of the *anticipation* of the Christmas Celebration Season.  Honeybear takes off work starting with December 24 and he goes back on January 6th.  The girls and pause in our school work from about a week before Christmas return January 7th.  (Sometimes we start back a little earlier since Daddy goes back to work.) During this time we’ll get together with friends.  We’ll eat special foods.  We’ll relax.  We’ll play games.  I just wish we had time at Pascha to celebrate like this for the 40 days of the Paschal Season.


Blogging Through the Alphabet

Check out this week’s letter!


Christmas: It’s not a Birthday Party

I do celebrate Christmas.  This isn’t a post about why you shouldn’t celebrate or that Christ wasn’t really born on December 25 or that Christmas is pagan.  Nope.  I spent a few years in the “Christmas-is-pagan-therefore-we-can’t-celebrate-it” camp. That is a whole ‘nother topic for another blog post and not one I want to tackle today.

Instead I want to share about my journey from celebrating Christmas to not celebrating Christmas back to celebrating Christmas and what Christmas means for my family. It’s a heart to heart about why we celebrate Christmas and why it’s important to us.

Christmas is NOT a birthday party

I grew up Catholic. (Yes, Roman Catholic. though there are several “rites” that are in communion with or fall under the Bishop of Rome. The largest is the Roman Rite which is the one that most people think of when they think “catholic”.) We always celebrated Christmas which included attending mass, though we usually did that on Christmas Eve (the 4:30 service though I always wanted to go to the Midnight Mass which wasn’t really at Midnight it was 10:30 or 11pm). We celebrated advent with a wreath and lit a candle each week.  We decorated a tree.  We had presents.  We had both religious aspects (Nativity Manager Scene) and secular parts (Santa!!). It was all wrapped up together.  Whenever I think of Christmas I think of my dad singing Gene Autry songs like “Up on the Housetop.”

When we were first married, my husband and I celebrated Christmas just like I had as a child only with a Lutheran church service instead of Catholic Mass.  A mixture of secular, American traditions, and religious focus on Christ.  This blended approach worked fine until the twins were born.

The birth of the the twins, the long hospital stay, being technically homeless and seeing God work all things out caused us to seek out a deeper relationship with God. We wanted more emphasis on God.  We wanted a truly Christ centered experience for Christmas.  We began to study Christmas and remove those things that were “pagan” or weren’t religious.  We celebrated Christmas for the last time in 1998. We thought we were doing the right thing. [We were seeking after Christ and so it was the right thing at that time.]

One aspect of the “not celebrating” argument is the concept that Jews didn’t celebrate their birthday. One person (I do not remember who wrote the article or the title) stated it something like this: “How would your husband feel if he came home from work and saw that you had baked a cake, decorated the house and had wrapped gifts but you told him ‘hey it’s my ex’s birthday and I thought we could celebrate and give gifts to other people.”   Somehow this, combined with the reality that the only birthdays celebrated in the Bible were associated with a) pagans and b) death, made sense to me and we decided that so much of everything “Christmas” was “pagan” so we stopped.

This wasn’t easy.  I loved Christmas.  I loved all the colors, the decorations, and the gift giving. I wanted the warm fuzzy feelings.  I loved the music.  I missed it.  We focused more on Thanksgiving and gave gifts to the girls then but still I missed Christmas.

A few years went by and we decided to evaluate our stand.  We needed to examine our logic. Wedding rings have pagan origins.  The days of the week and the months of the year certainly do not have roots in Christianity. Should we throw out everything in our culture just because it started out pagan? [Never mind the articles that I’ve since found that dispute much of the “Christmas is pagan” aspect. Maybe we wouldn’t have thrown Christmas out the window if we’d read those first but God does work all things out.]

We decided that we were Americans and we were going to celebrate a more secular Christmas. Not because we didn’t want to seek after Christ with every breath but because we did.  We thought we could divorce the secular celebrations from the questionable religious aspects.

By Christmas 2009 my paradigm understanding of God had shifted so much that I realized I very much missed celebrating the incarnation of God.  God took on human flesh and walked among His people. He was God and He was Man and came to save His people.  That Christmas we experienced our first Orthodox Christmas.  We finally found what we needed.  The colors, the decorations, the gifts, are all an outpouring of a heart overflowing with joy because God became Man so that we might become God.

We don’t have a birthday party for Jesus.  We won’t have a cake for him (I have never done that).  We won’t sing Happy Birthday. We will however rejoice in the birth of our Lord and Savior and celebrate the Incarnation of the Lord.  God came down from Heaven, and became Man.

I will eat my Christmas cookies, wrap my presents in Santa covered paper, put them under a Christmas tree all the while singing carols.   Wishing you peace, joy, love and contentment.  Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas!


Still Looking For Gift Ideas? Fun Family Games!

We are a game loving family and part of our Christmas holiday tradition is playing games during the 12 days of Christmas. Dad takes time off from work and we have lovely days of sitting around munching food and playing games.  We do something similar at Thanksgiving as well. It’s also become a tradition that there is a least one new game under the tree.

With Christmas coming up fast [in just a few days!!] I thought I would share a list of games that we love, some of which have been Christmas presents.

Fun Family Game Suggestions for Christmas Gifts

  • Wits-n-Wagers Family Edition ~  We reviewed this one crew year and it quickly became a family favorite. 
  • Say Anything Family Edition ~ Like Wits-n-Wagers, this game is from NorthStar Games and we had the privilege of reviewing it for the crew. We can all play this as a family as well but we did have to modify it a bit in order to include Supergirl.
  • 10 Days Games  from Out of the Box: Engaging Games ~  We purchased these years ago, there are several. We have:
    • 10 Days in Africa ~  we loved this so much that we ended up purchasing more for Christmas the next year.
    • 10 Days in Europe ~10 Days in Asia
    • I’m adding 10 Days in USA and 10 Days in the Americas to my wish list
  • iMAgiNiff… I think Honeybear and I picked this up to give to the girls for Christmas several years ago. This game has no right or wrong answers and even Supergirl can play with us. We play with grandparents when they come to visit and we’ve even played it with friends.  It says ages 14+ but we’ve played with all ages.  We just remove “mature” or “inappropriate” questions. Our version is no longer available and it is no longer listed on the Buffalo Game site but I did find a different edition on Amazon.
  • Other game ideas (suggestions from my girls):
    • Apples to Apples
    • Mancala
    • TransAmerica (as well as TransEurope)
    • In A Pickle

Games are not just for fun!  When the girls were younger I included games in school.  Check out “Yes I Know It’s a Game. It’s still School.” blog post from earlier this year. You’ll find some game suggestions in that post as well.


Random 5 on Friday {Dec 20 Edition}

It’s just days until Christmas.  Here’s some things that have happened this week:

1. I played Taxi Driver for most of this week.  It’s finals for my oldest and she didn’t want to hang around all day on campus when she only had one final.  Two of the 4 days that I took her in she only needed to be there for 10 minutes or less!  I’m exhausted from all the driving.

2. Speaking of finals.  One of those less than 10 minute finals (which technically was last Friday) was her “Music Program Entrance Audition.”  As a music student her final is a “jury review.”  She received her letter informing her that she passed and she can now fill out the paperwork to formally declare Music Performance as her major.  I am so proud of her. 

3. The majority of my Christmas shopping has been completed online.  I am not done shopping though.  I need to get a bit more done on Saturday but I plan to be done on Saturday!!

4. Yesterday this was delivered:

Random 5 on Friday

And this is what was inside:

Random 5 on Friday

5.  Lots and lots of mail today!  A package I wasn’t expecting to be here in time for Christmas arrived today!! (no I’m not telling what it is or taking a picture yet, my family reads my blog!)  But amongst the packages was this:

Random 5 on Friday

The Pebble Pond

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H is for Happy Holidays {Or Why I think this phrase is perfect}

It’s that time of year again; the time of year when some Christians get all up in arms and their undies in a bundle and declare that there is a war on Christmas.  Why?  Because they object to the phrase Happy Holidays. They get mad because the sales clerk, telemarketer, friendly stranger on the street failed to say Merry Christmas and instead wished them well by saying Happy Holidays.

Happy Holidays Blog Post Image

I love the phrase Happy Holidays. I don’t mind if you say it to me.  I’ll be happy that you want me to have happy holidays. Notice the plural.  Not a Happy Holiday.  But *holidays*.  More than one.  I do celebrate more than one holiday between November 15 and January 6.  During this season Orthodox Christians will celebrate 3 of the 12 Great Feasts of the year.  THREE.  That means HOLIDAYS.  Plural.  That means more than one.  More than one Christian Holiday: Entrance (or Presentation)of the Theotokos (Nov 21), Nativity of Christ (Dec 25), Theophany (Baptism of the Lord)(Jan 6). In addition to three Great  Feasts, we’ll also celebrate a few others such as the Feast of St. Nicholas (Dec 6)

But those Christian holidays (and not not everybody celebrates all of them), are not the only holiday celebrations during this season. Those of us in America will celebrate two civil holidays. Really. Again notice the plural s on the end of the word holiday.  More than one.  And almost everyone I know, no matter what religious background, will celebrate at least two holidays between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and most of them will have some type of third celebration. (Such as Kwanza, Hanukah or Christmas and I know there are more!)  Two American civil holidays during this time are Thanksgiving and New Year’s.  I don’t know anybody who doesn’t do *something* for each of those two civil holidays.

If someone, especially a stranger, says Happy Holidays, smile.  Nod your head and presume that they only have the best of intentions.  Maybe they’ve had their head bit off by someone when they said “Merry Christmas” and they don’t wish to experience that again.  Maybe, they’re just like me and celebrate many holidays during this season and they don’t want to have to keep saying “Blessed Feast Day, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.”  It really is just easier to say Happy Holidays.

Whatever holiday (or holidays) you celebrate (or don’t celebrate!) this season, may God bring you peace, joy and contentment.


Misery Loves Company {Book Review}

Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Title: Misery Loves Company
Author: Rene Gutteridge
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Format: Soft Cover
Page Count: 368 pages

I rarely read a book more than once. If I do read it a second time, I can’t remember doing so, so soon after the first reading, but Misery Loves Company by Rene Gutteridge is so good and I read it so quickly that I had to read it again. I intended to just pick it up to refresh my memory and find a quote or two for my review and found myself reading the whole thing again. Loving it just as much the second time as I did the first time.

Misery Loves Company Book Review Rene Gutteridge

About the Book:

Filled with grief, Juliet Belleno rarely leaves the house since her husband’s death while on duty as a police officer. Other than the reviews Jules writes on her blog, she has little contact with the outside world.

But one day when she ventures out to the local grocery store, Jules bumps into a fellow customer . . . then recognizes him as her favorite author, Patrick Reagan.

And that’s the last thing she remembers- until she wakes up in a strange room with a splitting headache. Jules realizes she’s been kidnapped . . . but what she discovers about her abductor will change everything she believed about her husband’s death, her career, and her faith.

About the Author:

Rene Gutteridge is the author of nineteen novels including Listen, Possession, the Storm series, and the novelization of the movie The Ultimate Gift. Rene and her husband have two children and live in Oklahoma.

My Thoughts:

This book isn’t just about Juliet and her struggles of trying to cope in a world without her husband. It’s also about Chris and his struggles of accepting his partner’s death.  He promised Jason he would take care of Juliet and now she’s disappeared. It’s also about Juliet’s father and yes even about Patrick Reagan.

Rene weaves the story in 3rd person alternating between Chris and Juliet. There’s a mystery to Jason’s death and a possible connection between the police officers death and Juliet’s kidnapping but it isn’t until the final chapters that Rene fully reveals all the spokes of the wheel.  We are left guessing at the end of many chapters: is Chris’s partner a good guy? Is Patrick sane? Who is this other author and what does he have to do with any of this?

Yes this is a Christian mystery but Rene’s approach is different.  She explores the idea of how the faith of one can impact those he loved even after his death. Jason, though dead, is just as important a character as Chris, Patrick, or even Juliet. We learn about Jason and the strength of his faith. That strength. That belief. That faith carries Juliet through her captivity and leads to Chris’s conversation at the climax of the story.

This book asks tough questions and doesn’t sugar coat answers and even better is a griping tale worth reading a second (or even third time!)

You can visit Tyndale House Publishers and download an excerpt from Misery Loves Company

I have already read Listen, (I highly recommend it as well as Misery Loves Company) and I’m looking forward to reading more of Rene Gutteridge's books.


Adorable Must Have Children’s Christmas Books

Here were are just under 11 days from Christmas.  I’ve decided to share my short list of wonderful picture books that we made traditional Christmas reading here at my house.  These would all make great Christmas gifts as well as be wonderful to add to your own collection for family traditions.

Christmas Books
I reviewed Smudge, and the Book of Mistakes: A Christmas Story nearly a year ago. We read it through the Christmas season.  Though this is a Christmas Story, it can be read all year long. This has more text than the other books I’ve listed but not so much text, in my opinion, that you’ll loose preschoolers but enough that even your older students will pick it up to read.

Christmas Books
Last year during the Twelve Days of Christmas (the time from December 25 through and including January 6) we enjoyed this fun picture book: The Twelve Days of Christmas. We all, adults included, enjoyed the illustrations and finding the poor bird on each page.  And when ever read this book we really can’t read it; we must sing it. I’m looking forward to pulling this one out right after Christmas dinner on Dec 25.

You’ll also want to check out my review of the book The First Christmas.  This one is so fun to read aloud and I have enjoyed it so much with Supergirl.  We will read it again on Christmas Eve when we come home after church. 

Christmas Books


Random 5 on Friday {Dec 13 Edition}

Yes, it’s true.  Two Random 5 on Fridays in a row!  (I hope I am setting a good trend for myself!)

1.  Miranda over at The Pebble Pond had let some of us know that she was not going to be continuing to host random 5.  Thankfully she posted this morning saying that this week is NOT the last week.  Yay! 

2. Last week (Friday Dec 6!) we celebrated St. Nicholas Day.  On Sunday our church had our annual St. Nicholas party complete with the reading of the story and a visit from St. Nicholas. The girls posed with Godmother Kim and St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas Story

A Visit From St. Nick



3.  Getting the Christmas tree up and decorated was more time consuming than we planned.  We intended to decorate the tree on Sunday.  The girls had assembled the artificial tree.  (Yes artificial.  Though I would love a real tree, my family has this silly idea that breathing is essential and would rather be able to breathe. Tree allergies stink!) But when Daddy and the girls tested the lights, the production was a no go.  1/2 the strand would not light and the other 1/2 had an every other light refuses to turn on thing happening.  So we had to postpone tree decorating.


4.  We haven’t had Chinese take out for months.  Had it this week. Apparently, we’ve had take out from them enough that they know my husband.  They told him “see you next week.”  (Um, not if I can help it. But yes, next time I fail to have a dinner plan we will mostly likely end up with Chinese take out.

5.  I really miss having BooBear around.  We never get to talk.  If she is home and wants to talk, I find myself *sigh* distracted and busy with things like home schooling her sisters, or the Review Crew or blogging. So she and I went out to lunch today.  It was wonderful to have her all to myself and for me to give her all of me with no distractions. I’m still adjusting to the idea of having an adult daughter.

The Pebble Pond

Come join us over at the Pebble Pond for this week’s Edition of Random 5 on Friday!


G is for Goal Evaluation

Here we are in the last month of the year.  Time for me to think about the goals I set for myself in 2013.  Were they realistic?  Did I meet or exceed expectations? If I failed to accomplish the goal, why did it fail?  What could I do differently? 

One of the things I learned as the parent of a special needs child is that a goal should be measurable so that you can gauge whether or not you met the goal.  Over the years we’ve (therapists and I together) written many goals for Supergirl such as will open screw top container 4 out of 5 tries. 

I do not always succeed in writing goals with such specific outcomes but I did set out with a very measurable Reading Goal for 2013.  I re-evaluated the goal a few months into the year but I still haven’t come close.  I haven’t written a Reading Goals post since April.

I had a blog goal of posting an average of every other day.  Some months I did great.  Other months (oh like this month of December!) I fell short.  Sometimes it was because things happened (like June!) and sometimes it’s because it was so much harder for me (for whatever reason) to sit down and write a blog post.

I think losing my Tuesday night blogging time caused at least in part the problem with not blogging as frequently and regularly as I wanted.  BooBear had piano lessons every Tuesday night.  Her daddy took her and I stayed home and blogged.  Then in June she finished up her lessons.  Now she takes private lessons through the University and those are during the day while she is on campus.  I also used Sunday afternoons for blogging but it’s been months since I’ve actually set aside time on Sunday to blog for pleasure.

I even started out with good intentions this fall for participating weekly in the Blogging Through The Alphabet (Alphabet Blogging) but I am weeks behind the current letter over at Ben and Me. It’s ok though because I am going to keep plugging along, working at my own pace, and maybe I’ll eventually be on the same letter and start linking up again.

I had also planned to blog more about our baby steps to better health.  Great plans; good ideas; lousy follow through.

I don’t think I truly succeeded with any of my goals (expressed or in my heart) but I did read more books than I think I did last year.  I did eat healthier from June through now (I’ve even lost 15 lbs.!).

I need to think and ponder to be sure but my gut shouts that I failed to meet my goals because ultimately I failed to just DO IT.


Random 5 on Friday {December 6th Edition}

Yes I missed last weekend.  I’ll just blame it on Thanksgiving Weekend.  I um ate too much great food and couldn’t bring myself to have enough energy to type?  Yes that must be it!  Hope you had a great week!

1. Today is the Feast of St. Nicholas.  Most of the traditions I have seen involve children putting out their shoes and St. Nick fills them with treats.  Chocolate Coins are very traditional as they represent the coins that St. Nicholas gave to the sisters for their dowry.  Wonder what I am talking about?  Here’s a couple of links.  This first one from Alex Riggle is quite humorous:  St. Nicholas of Myra.  This second one is far more educational based and is a website with lots of links: St. Nicholas Center.

Christmas stockings by the fireplace

2.  We don’t do the shoes.  We do stockings hung by the  fire. It just seems to connect more for me with story that we hear every year at church.  St. Nicholas flung a bag of coins through a chimney and it landed in a sock that was hung by the fire to dry.  The girls found Santa shaped chocolates and a candy cane in their stockings.

Stocking with Candy Treats

3.  Mom did not want to be left out of the festivities so Turtlegirl made some yummy peppermint flavored skinny chocolate pieces for me.  I think they kind of look like chocolate coins.  (Yes, I think I might share our recipe.)


4. The Schoolhouse Review Crew has started up the 2014 Crew Year.  New crew and returning crew met this week on the forum.  The New Crew will be reviewing SchoolhouseTeachers.com in the next couple of weeks.  Then we’ll all take a break until after the holidays when it’s back to the business of reviewing great products.

5. I’m a mentor for the crew this year and I get to add the pretty Mainstay button to my side bar.  Go on, take a look at the sidebar and you’ll see the new Crew button. 

What was happening this week for you? What are your random thoughts?

The Pebble Pond

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Shopping on Thanksgiving sends the wrong message to my children.

A large number of retail stores have announced that they will open on Thanksgiving. I think I read that Kmart plans to stay open for something like 41 hours straight for their Black Friday sales.  Really?  Seriously?  41 hours?

I won’t be shopping on Thanksgiving.  I highly doubt that I’ll go shopping at all over the weekend.  I’ve never been a fan of Black Friday sales.  Maybe it’s because my first job was in retail?  Maybe it’s because I don’t really like shopping?  It isn’t because I don’t like saving money and it certainly isn’t because I don’t like buying gifts. I could blame it on not having any money to spend but some years I have had money to spend and still didn’t participate in Black Friday sales (and those were in the days when stores were actually closed on Thanksgiving and didn’t open until Friday morning, you know, after sunrise). But this post isn’t about Black Friday sales on Friday.  This post is about shopping on Thanksgiving. It isn’t part of my family’s traditions.

Shopping on Thanksgiving is not part of our tradition.

A few weeks ago a friend posted as her Facebook status that she didn’t agree with the “because everyone deserves a day off for family” shopping boycott.  At first, I wasn’t sure that I agreed with her.  I mean really doesn’t everyone deserve a day off to spend with family? Isn’t that a great reason to NOT shop the Black Friday sales that start on Thanksgiving? Maybe not.

I sat and pondered and read through the comments and had one of those light bulb moments.  She had pointed out that many many many people do not, have not and cannot have a day off at Thanksgiving. They deserve to have a day off but they can’t have it.  Doctors, emergency responders, police officers, fire fighters, nurses, military personnel, guards and so many more must work.  Their jobs are essential. My friend specifically mentioned pastors and restaurant employees.

My mother-in-law is a retired nurse.  She’s had to work her fair (unfair?) share of holidays (not just Thanksgiving, but Christmas and other holidays too!) over the years. My aunt is a nurse in a nursing home and provides in home care for some elderly patients.  She also always works on Thanksgiving.  My daddy worked for the Equipment Division of Public Works (usually for the Street Department). If snow needed to be plowed on Thanksgiving, he would have had to do it. 

One argument I read pointed out that if you shop on Thanksgiving you are part of the problem.  What problem?  The problem of keeping those retail employees from having the day off to spend with their families. Another article countered with “if you watch sports or enjoy sports or any kind of entertainment you are also the problem because those players, those concession workers, those coaches and others involved are working in order to entertain you and that messes up their their ability to spend Thanksgiving with their families. The counter point argued if you’re going to not shop because it employees have to work, then you shouldn’t do entertainment (other than board games which by-the-way is what my family does: play board games on Thanksgiving) for the same reason that those employees are also missing out on spending time with family.

I think I agree with the idea of being consistent.  I think it’s a valid point. But again, I’m not in a “Black Friday Rage” over people having to work on Thanksgiving.  Maybe I was last year or the year before.  I won’t say I haven’t heard myself complain about stores being open but this year I realized it’s more.  It’s deeper.  It hits at the core of why my family celebrates Thanksgiving.  We don’t celebrate family.  We don’t gather to just spend time with family and watch football.  I don’t even like football.

We celebrate Thanksgiving by spending time focusing on the blessings.  We contemplate what we have and strive for being content with what we’ve been given. Even the year that my father  died.  His funeral was on a Monday, the Monday of Thanksgiving week. That had to be the most difficult Thanksgiving I have ever experienced.

Thanksgiving isn’t about the food, the football, or even about having the day off.  It’s about being thankful.

For me, though, not shopping on Thanksgiving has little to nothing to do with keeping retail employees from spending time with their families on Thanksgiving. Do they deserve to spend time with their families? Yes, but not anymore so than anybody else who has to work that day. Those other people deserve time off too.

It's not the *working* on Thanksgiving "because it keeps them from their families" that bothers me. The retail stores opening on Thanksgiving bothers me because of the rampant contradiction of being thankful and content with what we have. It's the commercialism and materialism that is promoted with all the special retail sales. There is no reason for retail sales to open on Thanksgiving in order to sell at a "special sale price" items that would and often are sold at the same price the next day. It just promotes greed: "Oh no If I don't stand in line and wait at Stuff-Mart for them to open then I won't get any of x, y, z."

I won't shop on Thanksgiving. I won't do it because I don't like the message that it sends to my children. How can I focus on being grateful for my blessings and then cut dinner short so we can go buy more stuff?


Random 5 on Friday {November 22nd Edition}

Yes, I know it is Saturday but I wouldn’t let myself post this yesterday because I wanted to get my book review and giveaway posted for The First Christmas Night.  I don’t like posting twice in one day to my blog if I can avoid it. It just doesn’t feel right to not post for days in a row and then post multiple posts in one day. I just can’t do it.

So here’s this week’s Randomness or Roundup or Random Thoughts Open-mouthed smile

1. On Tuesday November 19th my husband and I celebrated 19 years of marriage. Tailorbear, Turtlegirl, and Supergirl created a romantic “restaurant” feel for our special dinner which the girls helped cooked. Tailorbear even provided classical dinner music through her Spotify account for us!


2. Because Boobear is a music student, we get free/discounted tickets to the different music concerts presented.  On our anniversary there just happened to be a Symphony Concert.  Guess what?  They did excerpts from Handel’s Messiah.  Two of the college choirs provided the voices. I love the Messiah.

3. Also on Tuesday I got my email from Kate, Director of Product Reviews, letting me know that I was accepted for another year on the Crew!  I am so excited! I joined the Crew in June of 2010 and it has been such a blessing for me and for my whole family.  Looking forward to another year (starting in January!) of wonderful products and making new friends.

4. I started following the ideas of Trim Healthy Mama in the beginning of August. Today I am 15 pounds less of a person Open-mouthed smile.  I think I have a pair of jeans that I am just going to have to get rid of.  They are “uncomfortably too big”.  Never ever thought I would ever think of anything as uncomfortably too big but I’m getting tired of having to keep pulling them up when they start to fall down.

5. I am really bummed that we don’t have cable or satellite dish so I cannot watch the 50th Anniversary Special for Doctor Who.  I had to console myself by going to a local shop that specializes in British treats.  It’s a tea shop and a store. I really wanted to sit and order something like “Adipose soup” or the “River Song sandwich” but I didn’t have time so settled for “Don’t Blink Mini-Vickies” to bring home.

"Don't Blink" Mini-Vickies in honor of Dr. Who

The Pebble Pond

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The First Christmas {Book Review}

This giveaway has ended.

Book Title: The First Christmas
Author: Keith Christopher
Illustrator: Christine Kornacki
Publisher: Ideals Children’s Books

Format: Hardcover, 32 pages
Price: $16.99
Recommended Ages: Kids ages 4-8 but in my opinion enjoyable for all ages!

First Christmas Review Collage

As soon as I pulled the book out of the packaging, I was in love!  This beautiful, hardcover book, written in rhyme captures the attention of both adult and child. It can be a quick easy read or you can slow down and savor each page.

About The First Christmas Night

The First Christmas Night is a beautiful retelling of the birth of Jesus on that joyous night in Bethlehem so long ago. The poem begins with the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and winds though Christ’s birth, the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, and the visit by the Wise Men.  The simple, yet elegant, verses will appeal to little ones and are accompanied by the rich acrylic illustrations of Christine Kornacki.

first christmas cover image

About the Author

Keith Christopher is a composer, arranger, orchestrator, and educator, and he has served as editor and producer for several major music publishers. In addition to writing and studio producing, Keith served on the faculty at the Blair School of Music of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He lives in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with his wife and two children.

About the Illustrator

At a very early age, Christine Kornacki developed a love for painting and bringing stories to life. After receiving a BFA in illustration from the University of Hartford, her dreams of illustrating children's books began to take shape, including illustrating the best-selling The Sparkle Box for Ideal's Children's Books. Christine's recent work also includes illustrating the six-book series for the American Girl historical doll characters Marie-Grace and Cecile.  She spends her days painting in her studio, which adjoins a charming cafe in New Haven, Connecticut

Supergirl enjoys looking at the pictures in The First Christmas Night

Our Thoughts

This is a fun book to read aloud. It starts out just like the familiar old Christmas poem but tells the story of the night Jesus was born. The full-page illustrations are beautiful and compliment the text perfectly. This book is the perfect Christmas gift for a young child. I think it would be perfect to give to a grandparent who has young grandchildren.

The book, at the end, includes the Scripture passages from Luke and Matthew so when you are finished enjoying the poem, you can read the story of the first Christmas night from the Bible.

I am so pleased and excited to be able to give one of these books away to one of my readers!  As usual you must be 18 and older.  US and Canada residents only please. This giveaway will only be available for a few short days. Winner will be contacted by email.

This giveaway has now ended.  Congratulations to Jared H.!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Christmas Books


F is for Food {The Holidays are coming!}

Today in the van we started discussing our Thanksgiving menu. It seems like I make the same things every year. I thought maybe we could change things up a bit.  Try something new or different.  Nope.  There are certain food traditions that must be adhered to or else apparently it just isn’t Thanksgiving at our house.

Dining room table all decorated for Thanksgiving.

I guess I can relate to my children.  There were certain foods that my mom always served on Thanksgiving and if those foods were not on the table then it couldn’t really be Thanksgiving, right? Right!

My mom always served turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, brown and serve rolls, this candied yam with marshmallow thing [it was so not my favorite but it was my sister’s favorite], cool whip with fruit cocktail salad thing [always a big hit with children] and pie, usually pumpkin.  Some years she baked the pie and some years she bought the pie but we always had pie. We also always had a “relish tray” with different kinds of pickles and olives. Thanksgiving would not be complete though without the canned jellied cranberry sauce.  I do remember at some point trying to encourage my mom to serve things like vegetables like broccoli with cheese sauce.  I think once or twice we had some corn but otherwise I just don’t remember veggies gracing the dinner table.  In later years, mom stopped with the brown and serve rolls and started buying those crescent rolls in a can. I loved those!

So what foods do my children expect at Thanksgiving?

Well for starters they expect caramel or cinnamon rolls or a breakfast casserole for breakfast.  Though this year we’ll have to break tradition.  I have no idea what I’ll make but Cream Cheese & Bacon Scrambled Eggs might be a possibility.

We tend to eat later in the afternoon around 4pm though it varies anywhere from 3pm to one year we ate as late at 6pm!  I don’t bother making a true lunch but I do make sure to have plenty of “snacks” on hand.  I set out a relish tray with several different kinds of pickles and two or three different kinds of olives. Sometimes I have a spinach dip with bread or crackers. We always have stuffed mushrooms and home made Chex mix.  I’m really surprised that we are ever hungry for the main meal!

So in the van I heard these dishes proclaimed from the back seats:

  • Turkey
  • Stuffing
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Gravy
  • Sweet Potato Casserole (oh so much better than the marshmallow stuff!)
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Cranberry Relish
  • There was some debate about whether or not we should bother with the crescent rolls this year

Not too much different than the staples I had growing up.  I had never ever had green bean casserole until I had it at my brother-in-law’s house. I decided I loved it.  I don’t know if Honeybear grew up with it at Thanksgiving but the green bean casserole is a nod to his family’s tradition as is the cranberry relish.  My father-in-law actually taught me how to make cranberry relish.  It’s yummy, especially when you spread it on turkey sandwich the next day!

What foods must you have to make Thanksgiving really Thanksgiving at your house?



I’m Thankful For . . . {TOS Blog Cruise}

It’s always a good idea to remember to be thankful any day or month of the year but there is something about Thanksgiving and the month of November that causes people to focus on being thankful. I’m joining with fellow crew members to participate in the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog Cruise: on being thankful.

Here’s my list (in no particularly order):

Today, I focus on being thankful that as I celebrate 19 years of marriage (19 years on the 19th of November, isn’t that cool!) I still have my husband with me to celebrate. Regular readers of my blog may recall that my husband had a mild heart attack last June.  Next month he’ll have another heart catheterization to see how that artery is doing.

I’m thankful that he was there in June, after the heart attack,  to celebrate our daughter’s 18th birthday and graduation from high school.  He was there for her first day of college.

I’m thankful for home schooling.  It’s been an amazing journey to home school my oldest daughter all the way through high school.  I’m thankful I get to do that for her sisters as well.


I’m thankful for each one of my four beautiful daughters. Each one of them brings something special and amazing to the world and we are all better for it.


I’m thankful for my church and my faith.

I’m thankful for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  I can not imagine how we would have continued to home educate our daughters without some of the incredible products and curriculum that we’ve reviewed.

I’m thankful for my marriage. Marriage is hard work. I am thankful that we haven’t given up.  I’m amazed that we’ve made it to our 19th anniversary but grateful that we’re still  together. And oh so grateful that he’s still around to fight with and love with and grow with and learn with. Happy 19th Anniversary (on the 19th!) to my Honeybear.

But most of all I’m thankful to have things to be thankful for.


Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to read more posts from crew members on being thankful!