Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas in the Country

Usually we stay home for Christmas and have a quiet celebration with "just the four of us." This year we decided that our family gift would be a trip to Arkansas to spend Christmas with my parents.

We left on the evening of Christmas Eve. As we traveled on Christmas Day we "enjoyed" scenery similar to this:

Most of the time the blowing snow wasn't a problem, but occasionally it limited visibility just like fog. We were happy to arrive safely at my parents' house on Saturday evening... and they were excited to have us come.

My sister and her family were also there part of the time. My parents were thrilled to have the house ringing with the bustle and activity of children again-- but no doubt they'll appreciate the peace and quiet once we've all gone home again.

We had our gift exchange and Christmas dinner on Sunday. It has been nice to get away and spend time with our extended family this holiday season. We'll start home again on New Year's Day and hope to be back to our normal schedule on Monday.

Hope you had a blessed Christmas! Happy New Year!

2010 Reading Challenges

I have decided to join a couple of reading challenges for 2010. Not that I need an excuse or motivation to read more. I don't have any problems in that department! But I thought it would be an interesting way to keep track of what I read. I plan to update this post once a month throughout the year.

The goal of the 100+ Reading Challenge is simply to read more than 100 books in 2010. So here's the start of my lovely blank list...

1. Raising a Modern-Day Princess

The other challenge that looks fun is What's in a Name? The idea of this one is to read books with titles which fit into 6 different categories. It can overlap with other challenges, so I thought it would be interesting to see if I end up with any titles that fit the categories.

The categories are:
  1. Food:
  2. Body of water:
  3. Title (queen, president):
  4. Plant:
  5. Place name:
  6. Music term:
Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Waiting for Christmas

Our tradition is for gifts to accumulate under the Christmas tree as they are wrapped throughout the month before Christmas. Our tree had been up for a couple of weeks this year before I put any under it that were for our kids. I told Lyle I kinda hated to because I knew it would start the begging. "Can we open just one now?" And it would be fun... to let them open just one! But the next day, it would be one more. And by the time Christmas came around there would be no gifts left, and what kind of let-down would that be? So... Mom had to be "mean" and say, "No. You have to wait till Christmas!"

Waiting's hard, isn't it? I think the hardest thing for me to wait for is answers. What will happen in the future? Will things work out the way I think they should? What if they don't? When I don't have all the answers right now, I tend to worry and fret about all the what-ifs. With the uncertain economy this year, the stress increases. I'm learning (gradually) that it's just a pointless waste of time and energy to worry about such things.

When the future arrives and the answer comes, it's kinda like Christmas. Sometimes things work out exactly how I wanted them to. Often they work out even better than I could have imagined. And occasionally it's not what was "on my list" at all, but it's what my Heavenly Father wanted me to have-- so I'm learning to be content... and trying not to worry!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas Cookie Recipe Party

I'm joining in the Christmas Cookie Recipe Party hosted by Darlene @ Our Creative Life. It's been going on for several Fridays, so if you need ideas for yummy cookies for Christmas, be sure to check it out! Here's a favorite in our family:

Monster Cookies

6 eggs
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 pound butter
3 cups peanut butter
8 cups oats
8 ounces chocolate chips
8 ounces M&Ms

Mix together. (No, this recipe does not have flour!) Bake at 350 degrees approximately 12 minutes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Living Nativity Scene

Our family had the privilege of experiencing a "living nativity" this past Sunday evening. It was located at a church about an hour away from where we live. To be honest, I wasn't expecting it to be any big deal-- a few people dressed up to portray the Christmas Story out on the church lawn or something. One of our favorite "traditions" is to go for a drive to look at lights and listen to Christmas music and stories on the radio one evening during the Christmas season, so I thought it could just be an extension of that.

I had no idea how popular this particular program is! We thought it was a little odd that the directions said to go to a particular middle school to pick up our "pass" to get in to see the Nativity, but when we got to the school we realized why. The school parking lot was a maze of cars lined up two abreast waiting to make the short drive down the street and around the corner to the church. Ah-ha! This was how they kept the line from backing up on the highway. It was a much bigger production than I had imagined.

I would be interested to know how many cars were lined up. I would estimate several hundred, at least. It was a big parking lot and at one time while we waited it was completely full. The program was to run from 6:00 to 8:00. We got in line at 6:25. An hour later we got to the man (dressed as a Roman soldier) who was handing out glow rings to hang from our rearview mirror. That was our "pass". During the next half hour we were offered candy canes and served hot cocoa while we continued to wait in line. At 8:00 we were finally at the front of the line to drive over to the church.

When we got there, we realized that our wait was not over yet. The cars were backed up down a service road! Just before we got to the entrance we were given an audio CD to listen to as we made our way through six different scenes.

The whole thing was very well organized, and very moving. I thought it was worth the two-hour wait! (But I have to admit I'm glad we have XM satellite radio in the car! We enjoyed several Christmas OTR programs while we waited.) The unfortunate thing was that the battery died on my camera, so I ended up with not-so-great cell phone pics.

First, we passed the shepherds "abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them... and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God.." 

Every time the spotlight glory of the Lord shone on the "heavenly host" they would raise their arms. Then when the light moved back to the shepherds they put them back down. I overheard someone say that some of the angels got too cold earlier in the evening and had to be swapped out, which slowed the waiting line down some. It was a very cold night... about 20 degrees... so I did feel sorry for the angels and other participants.

Next we passed the bustling marketplace of Bethlehem, where the census was being taken and taxes collected. We were impressed by how elaborate this scene was. Becky especially liked the baby goat one child was leading around.

We got to the inn in Bethlehem just as Mary and Joseph were being turned away. This was the only place in the whole scenario where any of the characters overlapped.

The Holy Family in the bitterly cold stable moved me to tears. I know it probably wasn't actually that cold the night and place where Jesus was born... but just to be reminded again... the circumstances of His birth were no accident. The lowly stable was all part of His plan.

Nearby, in the shadows, a choir softly sang traditional Christmas carols. (The CD told us to roll our car window down to hear the singing.)

My picture of the wise men with their camels didn't turn out at all. The CD said that since it was some 2 years later when the wise men arrived in Bethlehem, they portrayed them on their journey, following the star. We wondered where they found live camels in eastern Washington in December!

The last scene was the cross. It was simply spotlighted with a lamb tied to the bottom of it, to remind us of the Lamb of God. Greater still than the humble circumstances of His birth was His willingness to die in such a brutal way... for us.

I think our family has discovered a new Christmas tradition...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blog Highlights

Not only do I enjoy blogging, I also enjoy blog-hopping. I love gleaning ideas from others' creativity this time of year. And some posts just make me smile. I've decided to start keeping track of my favorite posts on other blogs and then sharing them with you when I've accumulated a few. Enjoy!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Decorating

I didn't decorate for Christmas this year.

Don't get me wrong-- I enjoy looking at Christmas decorations. I just find it an awful lot of bother, at this stage of my life, to haul all the boxes in out of the garage and spend several hours sorting and assembling, just to have to take it all down and pack it all away a month later. I know some people just love to decorate for Christmas. I can understand that. I used to be one of them. But by now, I'm just tired of it.

Still... our house is beautifully decorated this year. It seems we have Christmas Elves who took over the job. My friend, Laura, expressed my exact feelings-- and exactly what happened at our house-- in a recent blog post regarding their decorations:
"It's so much fun to have teenagers! When our girls were little, I was all into decorating for Christmas... had to create all those wonderful memories, set the atmosphere, make a cozy Christmas haven! After a few years, I got tired of hauling everything down from the attic, but just as I was getting weary of the process, my teens decided they were all into the lovely holiday custom, and so now they do most of the work !!!" --from Glimpses of Our World
Our girls put up and decorated the Christmas tree this year without any help at all. When they were finished they turned down the lights and asked us to come see. I love it!

Their dad isn't quite as much of a Scrooge as I am, so he worked with them to put up the outside lights as well. I showed you what it looked like Thanksgiving weekend. This picture was taken after the girls had put up the tree, and added the color-changing snowflakes along the front sidewalk.

Visit The Nester to go on the Christmas Tour of  Homes to see lots of beautiful holiday home decor.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Memories

When I was growing up we stayed home for Christmas most years... and usually it was just our family-- my parents and their five children. A few weeks before Christmas Dad would inevitably tell us, "Well, kids... I'm sorry... but it looks like it's going to be a pretty small Christmas this year." So we would brace ourselves and mentally try prepare for the worst. Come Christmas morning we were always amazed-- every year there were way more gifts than we had expected! I think Dad was probably amazed himself. We never had a lot but it was always enough! And we were grateful.

One year, though, we got to visit both sets of grandparents at Christmas time. I remember the trip and the family time much clearer than I remember the gifts we received. It was 1971 and I was six. We lived in Tennessee that year, and we traveled to Arkansas to be with Mother's family and then on to Louisiana to be with Dad's family.

The whole family was at Grandmother and Granddaddy's house in Arkansas… all the aunts and uncles and cousins. The family was a good bit smaller then than it is now, but it was still a house full! With so many people, the pile of gifts under the tree looked enormous… and all the little children were so excited!

 Gift opening time finally arrived… but first Granddaddy read the Christmas Story from the Bible. We squirmed in anticipation as we tried to give our attention to the familiar story of the Baby born in the stable and the shepherds who came to worship. When Granddaddy finished the reading a knock came at the door.

It was Santa Claus with a sack of presents! Santa Claus reminded me an awful lot of Uncle Keith and as I look around I realized that Uncle Keith was suspiciously missing! Others of the “big kids” (the 6- to 8-year-olds) had the same idea. We were just pretty sure that it was actually Uncle Keith in the Santa suit and not some unknown stranger.

The little kids weren’t convinced and wouldn’t go near him at first. They eventually warmed up to him as he made himself at home and proved himself friendly! Soon he was hunkered down under the Christmas tree passing out gifts.

What a Merry Christmas that was!

I remember some of the gifts exchanged included things like books, games, jigsaw puzzles, socks, handkerchiefs -- things like you'd find at the dollar store these days -- or hand-made items like potholders, aprons, doll clothes, or decoupaged plaques.

Christmas seems so much more commercialized these days. I realize that my adult eyes don't see the world through the innocent filter of childhood any longer... but I also know that the simple gifts we exchanged with family members all those years ago would be shunned by many as not gift-worthy these days. I expect that's where a lot of the stress of the season comes from... trying to live up to expectations of what an acceptable gift would be.

Of course we love to give to our children and other loved ones, but I have found it a little easier to simplify when I think back to that long-ago Christmas and realize that the memories I treasure come from family togetherness and the celebration of the Reason for the Season, not the material gifts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Wood Cook Stove

Last week I hosted a giveaway for a copy of my family cookbook. Annette @ The Ward House commented on the cover picture.  She said it looks almost exactly like the stove they currently use. So I decided to tell the story of "our" stove.

About 45 years ago my grandparents moved to the Ozarks. At that time, they heated with wood. I'm pretty sure they didn't actually cook with wood, too. At least, not most of the time. After all, this was the mid-1960s... not the 1800s! But they found this lovely antique "wood cook stove" at a second-hand place and bought it for $20!

When Granddaddy got ready to build their house, he designed the kitchen around it with a native-stone alcove for it to sit in. The opposite side of wall has a beautiful stone fireplace which they also used for heat. Many times they would build a small fire in the "cook stove" when they just wanted a little warmth on a chilly spring morning, but didn't need a big fire to heat the whole house. To my knowledge, Grandmother didn't use the stove for her main cooking, but she did keep a kettle of water on top and would sometimes use the oven for making cornbread or biscuits when the electric range had something else in the oven.

One year, after I was married, we were there for Thanksgiving or Christmas. The power went out and I remember they finished cooking the turkey in the wood stove. It made me realize how handy it is to have equipment that doesn't rely on electricity or technology to operate. We love our modern conveniences, but when they are down we have major problems.

My grandparents are gone to Heaven now. My parents currently live in the house that Granddaddy built, and the "wood cook stove" is still in it's alcove. One of my uncles inherited the stove, but for now he has chosen to leave it where it is. Mother and Dad still build a little fire in it when they want to warm up the kitchen on a chilly morning.

Not very many things in my life are exactly where they have been as long as I can remember. The years bring so many changes. It's just part of life. But sometimes I take comfort in things that haven't changed.

And now for the winner of my cookbook... It goes to Sara @ RyanSaraNCora! Congratulations, Sara! Email me with your mailing address and I'll get your cookbook out to you.

If anyone else is interested, I do still have a few cookbooks left for sale. I am offering them for $10 each, or two-for-$15, postage-paid.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December Daybook

I like to participate in The Simple Woman's Daybook every now and then. Here's a glimpse of what my day looks like in December.

Outside my window... It is cold! Currently 9 degrees with a wind chill of -8. Brrr!! Thankfully not much snow yet.

I am thinking... about my to-do list for the coming week, which includes homeschool and work, as usual, in the midst of preparations for Christmas.

I am thankful for... a loving Heavenly Father who can be trusted to take care of us.

I am wearing... a typical "homeschool mom uniform"-- denim jumper, sage green long-sleeve t-shirt, and my Lands' End fleece slippers

I am remembering... other Christmases.

I am currently reading... A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I am hoping... to post the winner of my cookbook giveaway later today. There were a lot of entries to go through! If you haven't entered yet, go ahead. I'll leave it open until I have a chance to post about it.

On my mind... decisions to be made for the coming year.

Noticing that... I am enjoying the Christmas season more now that my children are old enough to take over most of the preparations-- decorating, gift-wrapping, baking.

Pondering these words...
Arise, shine;
For your light has come!
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.
For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
Isaiah 60:1-2
From the kitchen... my daughters made sugar cookies yesterday, with plans to make several other kinds in the next couple of weeks to share with friends and neighbors.

Around the house... after a stay-at-home weekend filled with several different projects, the house needs a good cleaning!

One of my favorite things... a giant peppermint stick in my Christmas stocking! This is a tradition "Santa" started when I was a teen. I have continued it with my family. Everybody loves it!

From my picture journal... This little vignette that my youngest daughter set up beneath our Christmas tree makes me smile.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dad!

This is one of my favorite family pictures from my babyhood, even though the sun was too bright and the photographer managed to cut off the top of Daddy's head. I just love how Mother is snuggled up against Dad with chubby little me cuddled in her arms. This was during the few short months that I was an only child! (My twin sisters came along when I was 19 months old, followed closely by two little brothers.)

I read a quote somewhere once that says, "The greatest gift a father can give his children is to love their mother." My siblings and I agree that we are so blessed to have such a precious gift-- our parents still adore each other. And they love their children. In a generation where many older dads don't verbally express their love, mine does! Nearly every time I talk to him, he reminds me, "You know I love you, don't you?"

I love you, too, Dad! Hope you have a great birthday!

Friday, December 4, 2009

All About Spelling - review

For spelling this year we have been using All About Spelling, which we had the opportunity to review for the TOS Homeschool Crew. I was really impressed when I received the package to see how much was included, and how much of the work had been done for me. I did have to pull the cards apart (they were perforated) and cut apart the letter tiles and stick magnets on the backs of them-- but that was a piece of cake compared to making my own from scratch.
The instructions suggest using the tiles on a large magnetic wipe-off board. We happened to already have one, so that set-up worked out great for us. It's bright... it's colorful... it has all these fun manipulatives. The real question is: How well does it work as a spelling program? For us, it has been great for remedial work!

We received Levels 1 and 2 to review. My 14-year-old daughter has learning delays, so I just started with Level 1. Turns out, that level was really easy for her. However, the review of the phonics rules as we went through each lesson was just what she needed. We were able to whiz through the whole book pretty quickly, doing two, and sometimes three, lessons a day. Now we are well into Level 2 and we have begun to slow down a bit.

Having the letter tiles and drill cards to use in conjunction with a marker board has been a good combination of hands-on, visual, and auditory learning which seems to be helping the phonics rules stick in my daughter's memory in a way they never have before. The set also came with a phonogram CD-ROM.

There are five levels with a sixth one in the works. Each level comes with a teacher's manual and student materials kit (the flash cards and a progress chart). Level 1 is $29.95 and the other levels are $39.95. In addition, the "starter kit" with the letter tiles, magnets and phonogram CD is $26.95. It is a one-time purchase that you would use through all the levels.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Aroma of Christ

In my blog-hopping recently I came across this cheery graphic at The 160 Acrewoods. It caught my eye because I enjoy coffee so much... but I especially liked the verse that Amy Deanne put with the picture. She gave permission to use the graphic on our blogs, so I just took her up on it.

For me, coffee is more than just a beverage, it's this whole experience... the fragrance, the warmth of the mug, the flavor. It's actually more like a comfort food. Just the aroma makes me desire the whole "experience".

As a Christian, I want the "aroma" of my life to encourage others to seek the "experience" for themselves. I pray that it does.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Laid-Back Holidays

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of "the holidays"... or maybe it's the stress that comes from trying to meet expectations for "the holidays." I try not to be a total Scrooge, but I also do whatever I can to keep things simple and relaxed.

We hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year. Our home is quite comfortable for a family of four, but it takes some creative planning to accommodate 12. Table space is limited, so we served dinner buffet-style. We also went with "paper-ware" for the table settings. It wasn't elegant, but it was festive! And clean-up was a breeze. Good food, fellowship, and grateful hearts. That's what matters anyway, isn't it?
On Friday, Lyle and the kids put up lights on the outside of the house. I suggested to the kids that they could put up the Christmas tree if they wanted to, as well.
"Seems a little early yet, don't you think, Mom?"

Yes! I do think so! I have found I enjoy the tree a lot more when it's up for a shorter length of time... maybe 2 weeks. But I was surprised that they thought so. So we'll wait.

In the meantime, as early as it gets dark these days, I do enjoying seeing the outside of our house lit up when we come home in the evenings.
Hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vintage Baby Cards

I've been scrapbooking as long as I can remember. Of course, early on, it was really my mother who kept the scrapbook. My childhood scrapbook is very fragile now with brittle pages, but it is one of my special treasures.
When I was a little girl it was a special treat to get to look at my scrapbook. I always had to promise to handle it very carefully as I pored over the photos of events I didn't remember, and cards from relatives and friends.

My mother saved each of the "congratulations on your new baby" cards she and Dad received when I was born, as well as tags from some of the baby gifts.
The vintage girly sweetness of them makes me smile. I'm not sure I lived up to the sugar-and-spice and all-things-pink-and-ruffled sentiments, but they are precious anyway.
My favorite card came from my Aunt Dee. I was so impressed that it actually had a "real, live" penny in it! Imagine her "wasting" a penny like that!
Actually, come to think of it... that penny was worth a whole lot more 44 years ago! The hospital bill for my birth (including 2 nights in the hospital) came to $117.60!
I don't see meals on the itemized list. Maybe they were included in the $12 per night room charge?

Mother tells me she enjoyed Thanksgiving Dinner in the hospital that year, the day after I was born. Then she and Daddy took me home....

And we all lived happily ever after!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Snow-mommy and Snow-baby

The ground was covered with an inch or so of sloppy, wet snow when we got up this morning. Perfect snowman-making snow... and, of course, this early in the season the girls were eager to go out and express their creativity. This time they made a snow-mommy and her snow-baby. Lovely green hair, don't you think?
Do you see who's lurking on the sidelines? Later it was reported that the poor snow-baby's pacifier had been confiscated by the interested by-stander. I think she ended up with the snow-mommy's nose, too.

What? Doesn't your dog like carrots? Ours does!