Monday, December 24, 2012

In the beginning. . .

Photo credit

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

-- John 1, selected verses, KJV

Blessings for a merry Christmas as we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Easy Vanilla Caramels with Sea Salt

I pinned this recipe a few weeks ago and then made it last night. Am I glad I did! These are both easy and fantastic! Of course, I doctored the recipe a bit; my adaptation is below. For the original recipe, check out my Pinterest board, "Tasty Eats and Sips."

Here's my version:

Easy Vanilla Caramels with Sea Salt
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
sea salt

Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper. (I buttered the bottom of the pan to hold the parchment paper in place.) Combine first five ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook 6 minutes in the microwave on high, stirring every 2 minutes. After 6 minutes, stir in vanilla. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool. When completely cooled, lift out of pan and cut into squares. A pizza cutter works wonders. Cut rectangles of wax paper, making sure you have enough on the ends to twist nicely, and wrap each piece individually. This is a tedious job, so make sure you leave pieces for you to munch while you wrap.

These are a tasty addition to Christmas treat boxes or bags to give to neighbors and friends. And imagine a box full of these morsels. . . . Heavenly!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

FREE Printable Christmas Gift Tags and Labels Round-Up

I've been on the hunt for printable -- and, of course, FREE -- gift tags and labels to attach to food gift packages and also presents in general. Perhaps you are looking for these, too.

Photo courtesy Lolly Chops

Here are some links to sites offering super-cute tags and labels:

Photo courtesy Lindsay Bolton

Courtesy Cheryl Seslar

  • I almost didn't list this because of the misspelling on stationery, BUT they do have cute Disney character gift tags, if such things make your heart happy.
  • Tidy Mom: You'll find a lot on this printable round-up, like vintage-inspired, fancy, creative, and sweet tags.
  • Free Printable Christmas Labels Image Page from Google: links to hundreds of sites offering labels and tags. Peruse to your heart's content, or quickly scan the page, click, and print.
  • The Stir at Cafe Mom: another round-up of all sorts of free tags and labels. I love the sixties-ish (think Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown) style tags!

Photo courtesy Fresh Picked Whimsy

Have fun wrapping!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Christmas-y Things Abound

It's beginning to feel a bit like Christmas around here. We're finished up most of our lessons, but have a few readings to complete. No biggie. But we've spent time doing fun things, too.

The girls and I spent one day Christmas shopping and lunching at one of our favorite restaurants, Sweet Tomatoes. They each had allowance money to spend, which is always a great joy. They have fun choosing gifts for each other and for Daddy. Oh, and for themselves, too.

Himself jetted off to N'Awlins for a quick business trip. He came back with a yummy Kringle Cake and some French Market chicory/coffee grounds for me. I made a small pot, and I have to say I prefer plain coffee. The chicory/coffee required lots of doctoring up to be drinkable. At least for my palate it did. But the Kringle Cake was delicious.

Last week, the girls set up our Christmas village on our family room coffee table. This is not some precious, hands-off collection. No, sir. All the buildings either came from Dollar Tree or are paint-it-yourself ones from Michaels. The girls each add one house each Christmas and then enjoy playing with them all. Note the Matchbox cars.

Last year, we made these really nifty picture frames, which turned out great. (The link gives more detailed instructions, if you're interested in seeing what we did.) So this year, we made some more. Here's Tiny Girl painting the backs of the frames.

And here are four the the finished frames.

Yesterday, I blogged about my Christmas baking adventures. Just so you'll know, the mint chocolate cookies are heavenly. Here is the recipe on my Pinterest board, Tasty Eats and Sips. Go there now and get it. Now.

Today, the girls made more frames, so now we have seven to give as gifts. Then they put on a nativity puppet show with a friend of theirs. The puppets were drawn and cut out and then glued to drinking straws. Luke 2 was the script. The dogs and I were the appreciative audience.

I still need to make -- okay, maybe need isn't the word. Wait a minute. YES, it is -- salted caramel and ganache. Some will go into jars to give as gifts and others will go into jars and into my fridge to eat at my leisure. More on this later. I made both last year, so pop over to those posts for photos and recipes!

How are your Christmas plans coming along?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: Christmas Tidbits

Today was the second day of our Christmas break, in which we're not taking a complete break because we have some books to finish up. Be that as it may, I spent a few hours in the kitchen whipping up some goodies for the season. Here's how my kitchen looks:

I figure I'll clean it up later. Like tomorrow, after I finish everything.

Today, I made saltine toffee. Here it is cooling.

I also made two kinds of cookies.

Dark chocolate mint cookies:

And ginger crinkles, which my mother and sisters and I made when I was a child:

I prefer chewy, soft cookies to crunchy ones, and both these are perfect!

I also sipped some of this:

I love salted caramel (in fact, I'm making some tomorrow), and this chai is simply luscious.

So what's cooking at your house?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Grammar Gaffes: That Insinuating Apostrophe S

I have seen a lot of grammatical errors in my time, but none chaps my hide more than the misplaced apostrophe S. You know the one. It pops up out of nowhere (supposedly) to indicate the plural, but all it really indicates is the writer's unfamiliarity with the plural versus possessive form. (And don't get me started with plural possessives.) I see it a lot this time of year on Christmas cards than come in the mail; that apostrophe S insinuates itself where it's not wanted:

Merry Christmas! Love, the Brown's
Have a great 2013, the Smith's
We fell asleep in English class, the Shafer's


I am certain you all know this, but just for the sake of my sanity, bear with me whilst I expostulate:

Apostrophe S indicates possession. Ownership of something.

Joe's coat
Leslie's book
Ellen's hissy fit

To indicate the plural form of a noun, simply add an S.

the Browns
the Smiths
the Shafers

Then there's also the sticky situation of what-if-my-last-name-ends-with-an-s? (Or an x for that matter.) How do I make that plural?

Easy peasy. Add an -ES.

the Davises
the Lennoxes
the Simmonses

Yes, I do know that things get trickier when one needs to indicate the plural possessive. But that is not the object of this post. I'll get to that later.

One fit at a time, please.

Monday, December 17, 2012

She Is Too Fond of Books: Review of The Girl in the Glass

I detest book reviews that summarize a book’s plot because the reviewer always gives away some detail (typically more than one) that readers would prefer to discover themselves. It happens all the time.

However, I cannot resist reviews that communicate things like, I loved this book; I cannot stop thinking about this book; I want to share this book with you; I think you’ll love this book, too; and here’s why.

Deftly weaving together the threads of three women’s lives, Susan Meissner has created a book as rich and evocative as Florence, Italy, itself. The Girl in the Glass gives us Meg Pomeroy, a book editor house-sitting in a cottage in California. Her job is the only solid thing in her life. A fragmented childhood, a broken engagement, and an unfulfilled promise from her father give Meg’s life an untethered quality, and her dream of visiting Florence, Italy, the home of her beloved Nonna, lies always in her heart. It is possible to be homesick for a place one’s never been.

Through her friend and client, Lorenzo, who lives in Florence, Meg receives a manuscript written by Sofia Borelli, another Florentine, who claims to be descended from the Medicis. Sofia makes other eccentric and mysterious assertions, such as the ability to hear the voice of a Medici ancestress, Nora Orsini, through works of art. Though more than a bit dubious of such claims, Meg is drawn into Sofia’s story, and her desire to visit Florence strengthens

Interlaced between Meg’s story and Sofia’s manuscript is Nora herself. A child of the Italian Renaissance, Nora reflects on her short life on the eve of her wedding to a man she barely knows. Despite her precarious childhood, Nora clings to the secret of the “girl in the glass,” a secret her nurse told her years ago. This same secret serves to benefit Meg and Sofia, as well.

Meissner’s plot is well paced, with surprising twists and intriguing developments, and her descriptions are vivid, conveying a strong sense of place. Through her characters’ lives and circumstances, Meissner skillfully and elegantly addresses themes of loss and faith; reality and imagination; instability and perseverance; and the qualities of love. Although the book begins slowly, it quickly gains momentum and pulls readers into Meg’s life. The denouement is fully satisfying, even though some questions remain unanswered – just like in real life.

The Girl in the Glass is one of the better books I've read lately. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Moreover, Meissner's descriptions are so well written that I found myself daydreaming about Florence! I'm thrilled to discover an author new to me; I'll be reading more from her.

To whet your appetite, here's chapter one of The Girl in the Glass on

 I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Confessions of a Mediocre Cook: My Favorite Eggnog

If you are only familiar with store-bought nog (carton or jug), then you have yet to really live, my friend. For the perfect eggnog, you must try Alton Brown's recipe. For me, it was a revelation. So this is eggnog!

I'll be sipping this on Christmas Eve. . . .

Photo credit: Photo credit: Christaface / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

She Is Too Fond of Books: And Here's What Happened

The family and I were watching a movie on Sunday evening when a thunderous BANG interrupted us and set the corgis to ferocious barking. At first we thought it came from outside, but then Himself suggested upstairs. So up the stairs everyone flew.

Here's what greeted us, only it was a lot messier:

The top two overburdened shelves of my bedroom bookshelf collapsed under the weight of my books. The resulting pile was staggering. I stacked them up so I could get to my side of the bed. In case you're wondering, the books lined up to the left of the bookshelf are always there. I don't have room anywhere else.

My other bookshelves are just as bad. And there's no budget for new bookshelves just now.

If you are like me and books adorn every room in your house, do yourself a favor and check the shelves' stability!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Five Types of Pronouns Notebooking Page

Today I whipped up a notebooking page for my daughters to use in our grammar studies. This page highlights the five types of pronouns, which we've been studying via Daily Grammar: personal, relative, demonstrative, indefinite, and interrogative. I went with a basic format for this one. My idea is that the girls will definite each pronoun within its box and then list examples.

It's available for free on Scribd!


Saturday, December 8, 2012

She Is Too Fond of Books: Review of The Giver

Last week on the Ambleside Online forum, someone asked about Lois Lowry's book, The Giver. Since I read it last month, I felt free to respond. After I wrote my post, I thought I might let you in on this thought-provoking title as well.

From Wikipedia:
dystopia is a community or society, usually fictional, that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is the opposite of utopia. Such societies appear in many works of fiction, particularly in stories set in a speculative future. Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.
The community, the setting of The Giver, is a perfect example of a dystopia. On the one hand, life in the community is orderly, safe, and happy. Members pursue careers perfect for their gifts and personalities. Senior citizens are pampered and well cared for. Families encourage everyone to talk about his or her feelings and dreams. Honesty and truth are valued.

The first half of the book sets the stage. The reader learns what it's like to live in this community. It seems a good and pleasant place. Some of the strictures seem weird, but perhaps it's just a small price to pay for the multitude of benefits. Who wouldn't want meals delivered and all dishes washed? Who wouldn't want to work in the career best suited to one's gifts and talents and enjoyment? It's tempting. . . .

And yet.

In striving to do what's "best" for its members, the community's totalitarian government, the Committee of Elders, has taken control of almost all decisions: what to wear, what to eat at meals, whom to marry, how many children to have, what career to follow, when to get a bike, what to name your child, what music to listen to. . . . all for the sake of peaceful community living. Everything runs smoothly, and when it does not, steps are quickly taken to remedy the situation.

In fact, some of the government's decisions are quite surprising, and Lowry reveals these a little at a time as they come up in the narrative. To me, this is a mark of a brilliant story-teller.

In the second part of the story, Jonas, the twelve-year-old protagonist, becomes the mentee of a very important member of the society. In his training, he learns the dark side of the community. His mentor, the Giver, accepted these "drawbacks" and lived with the knowledge. What will Jonas decide to do himself?

Lois Lowry has written an exceptional book, one that makes readers think. Moreover, it ends on a hopeful note, something I look for and appreciate in children's literature. I'd list The Giver as a middle grades and up novel. My grade: A+

Caveat: You may want to pre-read this book if your child is highly sensitive (or wait until your child is older). There is one particularly upsetting scene that might not be right for certain readers; however, this scene is crucial to the overall plot.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Sir Isaac Newton Notebooking Page

Here's another notebooking page I created for our Secrets of the Universe: Objects in Motion (AO Year 6) study. Sir Isaac Newton features largely in this selection -- and quite rightly, too. I decided to keep this page more general in design for universal appeal. (No pun intended. I mean it.)

Sir Isaac Newton Notebooking Page

Speaking of Isaac Newton, the girls and I got a good feel for his life last year when we read the chapter about him in R.S. Ball's Great Astronomers (AO Year 5). He strikes me as one of those brilliant, weird types. His intelligence is stunning, and I'm glad he did what he did during his lifetime, but I wouldn't have wanted to sit next to him at a dinner party. And I'm quite sure the feeling would have been mutual. I suffer no illusions, believe me!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Letting Go of "Normal" Expectations for Life

Do you find that, like me, you tell yourself, Next week, we'll get back to a normal routine? Or After Christmas/New Year's/spring break, etc. we'll get it together? I don't know about your life, but in mine, it just doesn't happen. When I look back at all my weekly reports that begin, "This was a weird week" or "Things didn't go as planned this week," I have to laugh ruefully.

The fact is, it's a weird week when things do go as I expected and planned.

A few weeks ago, I read a post by Mrs. White on her blog, The Legacy of Home. Her words really spoke to me.
Life never lets up.  We often say that tomorrow, or next week, we will fix our routine.  Or when things calm down, we will get back on track. But life will keep throwing us something new to juggle.  The goal is not to wait until things are better, but to do them in the middle of the challenges. 
Well, amen and amen! What a perspective.

I have to admit, friends, that I often let my school plans get derailed by life. That's not to say that I throw in the towel at the first sign of distress; but I have a hard time staying on track in medias res (as per  Greek dramatics).  I lose sight of my short-term goal (as in, lessons to be completed) and find myself backpedaling.

One beauty of homeschooling is, of course, its forgiving flexibility. In times of trouble, illness, and great stress, we can adapt our plans to match our more limited resources. Yet this same flexibility can be a drawback when we continually adapt/rework/put off our school plans due to yet another unexpected event, big or small.

Homeschooling is truly a lifestyle. We educate our children in life, not just schoolwork. They learn -- by watching us -- how to handle the mishaps and unexpected surprises of the everyday. Are we teaching them that upsets have the power to derail our best efforts and plans? Or are we teaching them to roll with it?

As a woman of faith, I want to teach my daughters that God is never surprised by events that spring up, unlooked for, in our day-to-day lives. "Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans," said John Lennon. Put another way, life is what happens no matter what our plans.

I can't keep living for the day when things get back to normal. This is normal. We're all living in the now. So the question is, now that I've made that my reality, what am I going to do about it?

  • Take a hard look at our daily schedule and how we spend our time. Are the girls wasting time? (Yes.) Am I? (Ditto.)
  • Make more intentional decisions about how we spend the time we have. Can we better use our evenings? Does Tiny Girl have to be at the barn early in the afternoon or could she go later?
  • Make room for more flexibility when needed. Could we stretch out the readings on this or that book without getting so behind we'll still be reading it this July?

That's where I'm going to start. Once I get going,I may discover other ways I can ensure that my lesson plans don't get flung into hiatus when life happens.

What about you? Have you found ways to absorb the unexpected in your day-to-day living? If so, I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

I'm Featured on Hammock Tracks' "Who Homeschools?"

Thanks very much to Savannah, who writes about her life and homeschooling at Hammock Tracks for asking me to be part of her feature, "Who Homeschools?" If you've been wondering what made me take the leap into homeschooling, nip over there to read all about it.

Savannah also hosts a weekly report link-up on Fridays, called "It's a Wrap," which I often join. Don't you just love reading blogs? I do, which is why I don't watch TV and have no knowledge of pop culture.

And I make no apologies.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Article in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!

I am so excited! I have an article in the most recent edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Here is a link directly to my article, "The Spelling Apologist: Why Good Spelling Is Essential and How to Select the Right Curriculum."

This is a fabulous issue, friends. And you can read it online for FREE! How fab is that?

                                   Look inside >                
                   December 2012                

Friday, November 30, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Powering Through, Pastels, and Poetry

We were all sick this week. Himself even worked from home, so he was here with us. The malaise was oddly up and down: we'd be poorly one day, and the next only stuffy and cough-y. Then back to poorly the next day. We drank gallons of tea and ate a lot of soup, both storebought and homemade. I doctored up a minestrone mix and the results were super delish. I also made some basic chicken noodle soup with chicken Better than Bouillon lower sodium paste, water, spaghetti noodles, and carrots (I doctored my servings with Italian seasoning). I threw it together because I didn't have any ready-made noodle soup. Turns out my homemade version was millions better. Good to know!

Most of our activities were waylaid, but we managed to get in a good week's worth of lessons.

Here's a rundown:

  • Bible study: Psalm 84 with Young Hearts Longing for God
  • Grammar: Pronouns, Daily Grammar
  • Spelling
  • Poetry: continue reading Frost
  • Math: yet more fractions
  • Composition with Writing with Skill
  • Story of the World: the Cold War, the Space Race, Civil Rights Movement, and Vietnam (whew!)
  • It Couldn't Just Happen: continental drift
  • Exploring the Holy Land: Israel
  • Queen Victoria: her adventures continue
  • School of the Woods: continue with the great blue heron. This is a long chapter, and I broke it into chunks over three weeks.
  • Piano practice
  • Assigned readings: Snow Treasure (an AO selection) for Miss Priss, and Cheaper by the Dozen for Tiny Girl

Mind Benders and hot tea -- a winning combo.

The beginnings of a Christmas tree.

On Friday, we enjoyed another pastels tutorial from Hodgepodge. This Sunday being the first in Advent, we opted for a Christmas theme. Miss Priss and I drew the Christmas Tree in Snow, and Tiny Girl felt drawn to Fireplace. Another wonderful Advent pastels tutorial is Christmas Star.

We had a wonderful time last week at my folks' house in the country for Thanksgiving. We arrived Wednesday and didn't leave for home until Sunday. The food was sublime and so was visiting with family. Bliss!

Miss Priss reading The Upstairs Room on the way to her grandparents' house for Thanksgiving.

In homekeeping, I made a few things other than soup this week. I replenished my freezer stash of homemade baking mix, and I also tried my hand at homemade dishwasher detergent. The first load is washing now, so I'll let you know how that goes.

Baking mix.

Several Frost poems engaged our rapt attentions this week. The girls especially connected with "A Tuft of Flowers" and "Mending Wall." Those are of course absolutely wonderful, but the one that spoke the most to me was "Revelation," today's selection. I think perhaps the girls are still too young to be as moved as I. They've not yet mastered the art of dissembling, hiding behind words that have lost their meaning, hiding their hearts, yet longing for true connection.

Revelation, by Robert Frost

We make ourselves a place apart
     Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
     Till someone find us really out.

'Tis pity if the case require
     (Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
     The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
     at hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
     Must speak and tell us where they are.

Have a lovely weekend!

I'm linking up with:
Hammock Tracks
Friday Photo Collage @ Homegrown Learners
The Homeschool Mother's Journal
Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
No Ordinary Blog Hop

Curl up with your computer and a cup of tea and hop a while!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Raison d'Etre

Or at least one of them. Don't you just love C.S. Lewis's turn of the phrase?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Homeschooling Book of Lists Review at Curriculum Choice

Here's a fabulous resource for your homeschool: The Homeschooling Book of Lists! I love ahving this handy resource at my beck and call.

Pop over to Curriculum Choice and read my review to see why.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Homemade Baking Mix

I live in America, the Land of the Baking Mix. Thinking of making some brownies? Grab a box (or bag) of brownie mix at the grocery. Maybe a cake is needed. Box of cake mix, check. Cookies? Ditto. Pancakes? Biscuits? Corn bread?

You get the idea.

The problem, of course, (other than questionable ingredients) is cost. Baking mixes are usually more expensive than homemade. Plus, homemade just tastes better.

But there is the convenience factor to consider. It's easier to measure out some baking mix, throw in an egg and some milk, et voila! Pancake batter. And you really don't even have to measure anything.

With homemade baking mix (think Bisquick), you get the best of both worlds.

I whipped up some baking mix today in my Red Steel Beauty. This is my favorite recipe. It stores for several months in the freezer.

Some recipes add sugar or use vegetable oil; this one requires no sugar and uses vegetable shortening. If you're making pancakes or shortcakes, by all means add sugar to taste.

I love keeping this mix on hand for quick drop biscuits, pancakes, dumplings, garlic-cheese biscuits, shortcakes, and Bisquick's famous impossible pies, both sweet and savory. And since I also love eating good food AND saving money, this is a real winner!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two New Galileo Notebooking Pages

I've been messing about with creating a few notebooking pages for scientists we are studying in Paul Fleisher's series, Secrets of the Universe, which is a part of Ambleside Online's Year 6 curriculum. I've uploaded my latest two on Scribd.

This first is a generic page featuring a rendering of the man himself and two quotations.

Galileo Notebooking Page

The second page is more specific to Fleisher's Objects in Motion: Principles of Classical Mechanics. It highlights the Law of Pendulum Motion and the Law of Uniform Acceleration. I used the same rendering but a different quotation.

Galileo Notebooking Page: Two Laws

Why I chose the quotations I chose: I found it intriguing that Galileo, a devout Christian, often criticizes the Church in Rome in his writings for its stance against heliocentrism. For Galileo, one's firm and unyielding faith in God did not negate one's own God-given power of observation and reason.

I hope you find these useful!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Favorite Day -- and a Dessert Recipe

Photo credit
Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.

I've shared before that my mother is the ninth of ten children, so my extended family is large -- beautifully large. A great many of us gather together on Thanksgiving, and there's almost always a baby to pass around. On that day, more than 70 family members bow our heads and profess our great gratitude to God for the blessings He so freely gives.

We also laugh a lot. We are a fun-loving group. Miss Priss says, "I love hanging out with my cousins that I usually only see once a year at Thanksgiving."

Then there's the food. Traditional Thanksgiving favorites are there, of course, but so are Grammie's mac and cheese; beef bouillon rice; corn casserole; and tasty new dishes on the buffet line. It's a potluck affair. It's taken Himself a few years to get used to, actually. Our first Thanksgiving together, he skeptically watched me prepare a broccoli salad.

"You don't have broccoli salad at Thanksgiving," he commented, his voice dour.

I replied, "You do at my family Thanksgiving."

Once we arrived at my cousin's house, he saw what I meant. "I've never seen so many casseroles at one time."

For Miss Priss, this is just the way Thanksgiving is. "I like all the different foods because our Thanksgiving is potluck." My heritage is now hers.

This Thanksgiving, I'm bringing something for the dessert buffet. We had it for dessert at book club last week, and it is scrumptious. Since I love you, I am sharing the recipe.

Spiced Pumpkin Cake
1 box spice cake mix (I used Duncan Hines)
1 15-oz (or thereabouts) can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour (or use baking spray, like I did) a Bundt pan. Mix ingredients together and then blend for two minutes. Spread batter in prepared pan and bake in center of oven for 35-40 minutes, or until cake springs back when pressed gently. Let cool in pan for several minutes, and then carefully turn pan over and release cake. Cool completely. Cake tastes better when made a day or so before serving.

Rum-Cream Cheese Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 T butter, softened
1 T rum or 1 t rum extract
1 T orange juice
2 cups confectioners sugar

Blend first four ingredients until creamy and smooth. Gradually blend in confectioners sugar. Heat in microwave 15 seconds. Spoon over cooled cake.

My God richly bless you and your family!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Books That Add Richness to World War II Studies

The girls and I recently read about World War II. Our history spine, Story of the World, volume four, gave us a solid and broad understanding of events leading up to the war's outbreak, the war itself, and the aftermath. I always look for good books to add depth to our learning, a richness if you will, to provide more meaning for the girls -- and me.

Here's a list of books one or both my girls have recently read:

For my part, I read The Devil's Arithmetic and Briar Rose, both by Jane Yolen, and Sarah's Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay. The latter is an adult book, but would be perfectly suitable for high school-aged students. Both of Yolen's books are very well written, powerful, and gritty. However, I decided to wait until my girls are older to assign these titles.

Of course, when one thinks of holocaust stories, The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, and The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom, tend to top the list. Again, I decided to wait on these until my children are more mature. We do own a CD audio theatre production of The Hiding Place, which we will listen to very soon.

I recently found a great blog called The Children's War. Written by Alex, this blog is an annotated bibliography of children's and teen's books about World War II. Nip over for some fabulous reviews and book ideas. But be warned: you could end up spending some serious time!

Have you found any great World War II titles you'd like to share? I'd love to hear about them!

Caveat: Some of the books my daughters have read contain objectionable language. To my mind, the language used fit the situation and character. Use your own discretion for your family.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thirteen Years Ago in November

October's glory of colors is a memory now. Some trees still sport bright leaves, but the skies are grey more than blue, the air is damp, and there are many days of drizzly drear. Ah, November.

I recall a November day thirteen years ago. I was heavily pregnant with our first child, waiting, waiting, waiting for her to arrive. In the waiting nursery with its freshly-painted yellow walls and wallpaper border of bunnies having tea -- "Afternoon tea for you and me" -- and new furniture, I rocked in the new glider-rocker, watching the trees bend in the wind under a gloomy sky.

I talked to my unborn daughter, addressing her by name. "We're all waiting for you," I said. "You can come anytime. Everything is ready."

Two days later, she was born, a burst of color in the midst of grey November. Life in the waning of the year.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Weekly Happenings: Promises to Keep

This week was a bit different from normal (I'm wondering if there's such a thing as a normal week, anyway), what with dreary, chilly weather for a few days; The Elections and a friend of the girls hanging out with us most of the day; a day meeting at church, some theatre excitement; and horse show preparations.

I made a few amendments to our schedule, bypassing spelling, grammar, and memory work for the week. I also stretched out our composition assignments and Miss Priss's Critical Thinking workbook lesson.

Hot chai and composition on a wet day

A breakdown of some things we learned:

  • Ordinary Genius, a biography of Albert Einstein and AO Year 6 selection. They've been notebooking each chapter, and I was pleased overall with their initial attempts.
  • In history, we read about events following World War II, such as the Marshall Plan and the building of the Berlin Wall; South Africa and apartheid; and the Communist victory in China.
  • Dion and Dionysius battle it out in Syracusa in "Dion," one of Plutarch's Lives.
  • Newton's law of universal gravitation was the focus of our Secrets of the Universe: Objects chapter. I'm telling you, the way natural phenomena can be reduced (if you will) to mathematical equations simply blows my mind!
  • In It Couldn't Just Happen, we read about the ozone layer of the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect and how termites (!!) greatly contribute to it.
  • Ulysses (Odysseus) and his men are taking their own sweet time getting back to Ithaca in The Odyssey for Boys and Girls. This week, they lounged and feasted with Circe (after she changed half of the men into pigs and back again) for a year or so until one of them said, "Hey, shouldn't we be thinking about heading home?" (I'm paraphrasing.)
  • We regularly catch sight of a blue heron at our lake cabin and sometimes one flies overhead here in the South, so School of the Woods delighted us.
  • On Friday, we enjoyed another Hodgepodge pastels tutorial: Harvest Moon Nocturne. The girls were less panicky this week than they were last week and loosened up a bit.

Tiny Girl's on left; Miss Priss's on right.

One of our Frost poem's this week was "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," one of the best-known poems of the twentieth century. And no wonder. The calm, quiet pastoral scene beckons us in and then surprises us with an unexpected depth. Here is an unmissable link: a video of Robert Frost reciting this simple yet magnificent poem.

On Monday evening, Tiny Girl's theatre troupe's production was announced: Peter Pan! And Tiny herself was cast as Captain Hook. Already she's in the throes of practicing at home with her lines and songs (she has a short solo). Miss Priss's troupe has been rehearsing their production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Miss Priss was cast in several ensemble parts, and she also has a brief solo for one of them.

Petal the pot-bellied pig came to visit us at the barn.

Tiny Girl has a horse show tomorrow, so we have schooling later today at the show venue. We'll also be cleaning tack, polishing boots, ironing jods, etc., tonight. She and Max are going to the show, but here she is with Tuli, who's coming along well with her training.

Not so familiar with the Great Blue Heron? Here's a fun video to watch:

I'll leave you with Frost:

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening (1923)
Whose woods these are I think I know.   
His house is in the village though;   
He will not see me stopping here   
To watch his woods fill up with snow.   

My little horse must think it queer   
To stop without a farmhouse near   
Between the woods and frozen lake   
The darkest evening of the year.   

He gives his harness bells a shake   
To ask if there is some mistake.   
The only other sound’s the sweep   
Of easy wind and downy flake.   

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep.

I'm linking up with:

Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers
The Homeschool Mother's Journal
Hammock Tracks
Homegrown Learners
No Ordinary Blog Hop

Monday, November 5, 2012

And the Wall Comes Tumbling Down

That would be the Berlin Wall, in 1989.

A bit of background: The girls and I read about the Marshall Plan in Story of the World, volume 4, today. The chapter details how the Allied Powers divided Germany into two counties: West Germany as a democracy, to please England, France, and the United States; and East Germany as a communist state, to suit the Soviet Union.

Travel between the two countries was quite easy until the communists noticed a large dip in their population, particularly among the more educated set: doctors, university professors, lawyers, and the like. In 1961, in the middle of the night, a barbed wire fence was erected through the middle of Berlin. Overnight, families, friends, and neighbors were divided, prohibited from visiting one another. Over the years, a more permanent structure went up, a concrete wall 14 feet high.

But in 1989, that wall came down.

I remember this event. I recall watching on TV the jubilant Germans dancing in the streets, chiseling away at the wall, hugging one another and crying. So I immediately thought: YouTube.

There are quite a few short videos of such celebrations, some TV news reports, and some longer documentaries available on YouTube. Tiny Girl and I watched several. She herself watched a 40-odd-minute documentary and enjoyed it very much. Here's the link.

As always, do not turn your children loose on YouTube. Comments are not mediated, and foul language abounds. But what a wonderful resource for recent historical events!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Weekly Happenings: A Week of Delights for the Senses

Happy fall Friday! The weather today is perfect here: deep blue skies, breezes, and sunshine. Which is great for us. But so many people's lives have been thrown into disorder after the hurricane -- from discomfort to complete chaos -- that my rejoicing in our glorious days is dimmed.

While I type, a dear friend of ours, a widower gentleman in his 80s, bides his time in a power-less house in New Jersey; other friends in Pennsylvania are just now back to school after being without power all week; NYC friends are just getting back to some semblance of normal life, but just a semblance; and other folks we know in the northeast are taking stock and cleaning up.

But everyone we know is safe. So we are thankful.

The girls and I had a good week, a week of delights for the five senses. On Friday night, we visited our town's planetarium and observatory with my two sisters, one of which lives here and the other who was in town for a conference. Yay! The planetarium show was fun; I hadn't been to one of those since I was a child. Afterward, we looked through telescopes to view a few celestial bodies: the Moon, Uranus, and Alberio, a double star in the constellation Cygnus. We all had a wonderful time stargazing and seeing new-to-our-eyes sights.

Other nifty things we studied this week:

  • We read about Israel's Negev Desert in Explore the Holy Land.
  • Story of the World highlighted India's partitioning in to Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan; the re-creation of the ancient country of Israel; and the Suez Canal crisis in Egypt.
  • We learned in It Couldn't Just Happen that Earth's oceans have rivers in them: the Black Current in the Pacific and the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic, which are both part of gyras.
  • Dion marches triumphantly into Syracusa against Dionysius in Plutarch's Lives.
  • We began a new book, Church's The Odyssey for Boys and Girls.
  • We read about Mooween the bear in School of the Woods.
  • The girls continued work on Queen Victoria and Ordinary Genius.
  • Tiny Girl and I enjoyed Hodgepodge's Acrylic Fall Trees Tutorial. (Thanks, Nana!)

Himself took a business trip to Savannah, a city we all love. We requested some candy from Savannah's Candy Kitchen, and he lovingly obliged: saltwater taffy, peanut butter fudge, peanut butter and chocolate fudge, and pralines! I'm going to try my hand at making these delectable goodies this Christmas season. . . .

I made homemade pizza for supper on Halloween. Himself and I indulged in pepperoni, fresh mushroom, and fresh basil with a generous grinding of fresh Parmesan; the girls had their favorite: cheese. That is just gorgeous, even if I do say so myself.

Speaking of Halloween, if you have gobs of leftover candy, I wrote a blog post of ideas for getting rid of it (or stretching it out). We're donating ours to the troops.

More culinary sensations: I made a wonderfully delicious beef stew for supper earlier this week. Click here for the recipe and then make it this weekend. You'll be so glad you did! I also made another batch of homemade yogurt. I can't imagine being without it nowadays. And I made a double batch of homemade laundry detergent. I know it's not culinary, but I did make it in the kitchen.

Tiny Girl and I are spending lots of time at the barn. In case you didn't know, we now have two ponies: Max, whom we lease; and Tuli, whom we bought. Tiny works with both of them, and this takes a lot of time. I persuaded Himself to take her to the barn this afternoon so I could have time to write this wrap-up. Here she is on Max. It was an especially gorgeous day.

We bookworms have been reading a lot, too. Miss Priss finished Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott (read my post on that here) and continues Cheaper by the Dozen and Summer of My German Soldier; Tiny Girl continues The Fellowship of the Ring and finished The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss; I finished Mary Stewart's The Moon-Spinners and have almost finished The Upstairs Room.

One of our Frost poem's this week was "After Apple-picking." Here are a few lines:

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

I enjoyed the few Frost poems I recognized for many years, but now that I've read him more widely, I wonder at his insight, his turn of a phrase, his ear for perfect words, his immense gift for poetry.

I'll leave you with a tip:

Everything goes better with chocolate -- especially fractions.

Not only am I linking up with some fantastic blog hops (see below), I'm also having a fabulous time listening to bossa nova music on Pandora internet radio. You can, too! Visit Pandora, and then type in "Astrud Gilberto" as an artist. You'll hear her and others like her. "Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking, and when she passes, each one she passes goes aahhhh. . . ."

Link ups:
Mary at Collage Friday
Kris at Weekly Wrap-Up
The Homeschool Mother's Journal
Savannah at It's a Wrap
No Ordinary Blog Hop