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