Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hobbit Hole Cake

A couple of weeks ago, I had all kinds of plans for different posts about some of our Christmas traditions and my favorite Christmas hymns, but as we got closer to Christmas I started feeling less like it's-Christmas-break-and-I-have-all-this-free-time and more like there-are-a-million-things-to-do-and-we're-leaving-for-Denver-in-a-few-days. So blogging fell to the wayside. On the bright side, I'll have things to blog about next December!

I do hope you had a merry Christmas, even though I wasn't around to send my greetings!

We had a wonderful time! On the 24th we celebrated a white Christmas at the Blue House with just the five of us, and then we left early on the 25th for time with our family in Denver where it was definitely not white -- the temperatures were in the 50's most of the time we were there! Hanging out with our family, eating way too much, and playing cards was just what we needed. We returned Sunday night, and now I have a week to get things done around the house before school starts on the 6th.

One of our family traditions is to have a shared birthday cake for both Jesus and Marc, whose birthday is on Christmas Day. This year, rather than the traditional birthday cake, Anna had a special theme in mind. Knowing the newest Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug, would be in theaters this holiday season, she decided she wanted to make a hobbit hole cake. She found several inspiration cakes on Pinterest (I'll list the links below), and just took ideas from all of them. Here is the amazing result!

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tree made out of grape stems

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She's never done a cake like this before (neither have I), and I did nothing to help her other than buying lots and lots of sugar. Grace, who served as her assistant, helped by making lots of leaves, some flowers, and the cabbage in the garden. It was so much fun to see the cake come together -- every time I walked in the kitchen my jaw dropped in awe. But the best was when Anna started piping in the grass; it just all came together to look so complete.

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Anna worked on the cake most of the day on the 23rd. The morning of the 24th we had our traditional gingerbread pancake breakfast and opened presents. Then it was time for the big cake reveal. (Sorry about the fuzzy picture -- I'm going to blame it on being up very late wrapping gifts, rather than my so-so photography skills!)

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Then we all went to the movie (loved it!), went to church that evening (rejoice!), and finally ate the cake (yummy!). Next, came an all-night packing and organizing panic for me, which (unfortunately) is also a tradition. I never get us packed until the last minute. Thankfully, Marc drove all the way to Denver while I caught up on my sleep.

How was your Christmas?

Hobbit hole inspiration cakes:

Fondant recipe Anna used:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

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Flocks were sleeping: shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the babe was born for you. Christ the babe was born for you.
Verse 2, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

I wonder what it was like for the shepherds. Were they familiar with the Old Testament scriptures that spoke of their profession? Did they grimace at being compared to sheep, knowing it was not a compliment? Did they look forward to God's promise to tend His flock personally?
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
When they were greeted by the angel saying, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great of great joy that will be for all the people," (Luke 2:10) did they understand this baby was the prophesied Shepherd? They certainly received the news with joy, so whether they understood fully or not, they knew the Lord had done something wonderful. Maybe later in life, even in old age, they heard the adult Jesus' words, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John10:11). How great their joy would have been when they fully understood the significance of that beautiful night.

And just think. . . today, we have been blessed with the complete gospel story, and we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to transform us with this message. We have been given so much! May the tidings of a gospel true bring us joy today!

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Once in Royal David's City

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He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all. 
(from verse two of Once in Royal David's City)

I don't reflect enough on what it really meant for Jesus to humble Himself and leave His home, but when I do I am drawn to Philippians 2:5-11.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death --
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The Christmas story is more than a baby born in a manger -- it is God sharing in our humanity and sacrificing Himself for His people.
For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become and merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).
It reminds me of another hymn:
Man of Sorrows! What a name for the Son of God who came 
ruined sinners to reclaim: Hallelujah! What a Savior!

What a Savior, indeed.

Just like in my October hymn series, I came across a video from my dear alma mater, even filmed on campus. Lovely.
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Friday, December 20, 2013

Away in a Manger {Cradle Song}

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If you read my hymns series, you learned I can be quite particular about the tunes and lyrics used for certain hymns. I suppose that's why there are multiple versions of hymns, particular tunes grab some hearts and not others, but the message is still one that needs to be heard.

While I have nothing against the MUELLER tune, I do prefer the CRADLE SONG tune. It just makes my heart sing. And I prefer the lyrics "fit us for heaven" over "take us to heaven" in the third verse because, to me, it reminds me of the sanctification process. I know He's going to take me to heaven, but until then, my earnest prayer is that every day He will make me more and more like Him, culminating in that day when I will be taken to live with Him. He didn't just come to earth for our eternal salvation, but He came so that we may enjoy Him today.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask thee to stay
Close by me forever, 
And love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children
In thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven 
To live with thee there.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

1st Semester Review & All I Want for Christmas . . .

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Ryne in his bedroom work area, not doing school work, because it's Christmas break!

The 2013-2014 school year started out with a lot of changes, the biggest being that Grace went to away-school for the first time, and I was left with just Ryne to homeschool. I thought I'd share some highlights (and lowlights), as well as some goals for the second semester.

(I'm too lazy to do links for every curriculum we use, but you can see our curriculum post here for links.) 



I'm thrilled to say we're mostly on track with our subjects this year! I consider this a huge victory, given we took two week-long trips to Denver earlier in the semester and it was one of the busiest seasons we've had yet (more on that in a bit). There were a couple of areas that got neglected, but we'll catch up.

Bible - Explorer's Bible Study was a new addition this year, and I love it! The style works very well for Ryne, and it's stretching him in his biblical understanding. I think we will stick with this for at least a couple of years. At some point, I want him to get some of the more advanced biblical training Anna gets in her World View class at school, but for now I've found the perfect fit for Ryne. He's also been attending weekly catechism classes at church and reviewing the Bible Sound-Off from last year.

History - I have detailed plans for history, but I never set a timeline as to when we need to get to each chapter. I just trust that we'll get it done since we have established a pretty good routine in previous years of using The Story of the World books. I think we're in pretty good shape; we finished Chapter 21 that covers the French and Indian War. We will park for a month or two in the next couple of chapters that cover the American Revolution, but then we will pick up the pace again and should finish by the end of the year. No surprise here, but history is Ryne's favorite part of the day.

Science - I said we're mostly on track with our subjects, and it should be no shock to my long-time readers that science is one area in which we are behind. I learned a valuable lesson: Do not chose a curriculum whose release date is mid-August, especially when the supply list is a mile long. I have great admiration for the Apologia books, and I'm sure the Chemistry & Physics volume will be wonderful, but I cannot fit that kind of planning and preparation into our schedule once August hits. The science kit with all the supplies has just been released, so I'm biting the bullet and ordering it, and we will go full force with science in January.

Math & Logic - While Zeta (Math U See) isn't going as smoothly for Ryne as it did for Anna, he's still doing quite well, averaging a lesson a week. Hopefully, he will continue at that rate of progress and will be able to start Pre-Algebra in the spring. I was super-duper excited to find out that Steve Demme will be speaking at our local homeschool convention this spring, so I'm planning on bringing Ryne to meet the man who has taught him math for all these years!

We completed one volume of Mind Benders this fall as well, which is all we're doing for logic this year. He and Grace used to work on the MB puzzles together, so I was interested to see how he would do on his own. He does pretty well, but sometimes we have to solve a puzzle together.

Language Arts - We're on track to finish All About Spelling 6 in January or February, which means we should be finished with Level 7 and be done with spelling for good before next fall!!!! As I've said before, I love love love AAS, but I'm so ready to be done with this subject. ; )

Writing continues to be a struggle. We started Writing With Skill, but he struggled with some of the intro review exercises on narration and dictation. So we spent the fall reviewing these skills. He made good progress on narration, but I'm not sure his brain is wired well for the lengthy and complicated dictation passages. He does fine with the dictation sentences in spelling, but they're much easier. But I'm also not sure how vital it is for him to master that skill to be a good writer. I never had to do dictation as a student, and I did very well with written assignments all the way through graduate school. So we'll move on in January and see how things go.

Analytical Grammar continues to be a good fit for Ryne. Because of the way the program is structured (intensive instruction for the first few months of school and then just biweekly review exercises) we spent quite a bit of time on grammar this fall. The main lessons take Ryne at least an hour to complete, but the review exercises are half the length so that frees up a lot of time in his schedule for the second semester.

Ryne also completed one volume of Editor in Chief and did weekly oral reading from The Story of Inventions.

Foreign Language - I think we're a little less than half way through Latin for Children B, and it is going well.

Computer Science & Fine Arts - Other than reading through the book My iPad for Kids, we've done nothing in this area. My plan was to start these up when we were done with grammar, but we finished that just before Thanksgiving, which means I went into holiday survival mode and didn't dare add anything new. ; ) We'll add them in in January.

Physical Education - Ryne ran with Anna's cross country team this fall, and did surprisingly well. He's still not highly motivated when it comes to running, but he enjoys being part of the team. For one of his last races, I bribed him with ice cream: Get a personal record, and I'll buy you the biggest Sonic Blast they offer. He got a PR by almost 2 minutes that day! :) And, no, I'm not one of those parents that bribes or rewards their children for every accomplishment, but I do see the value every once in a while, just to show them what they are capable of doing.


One of my goals for the year was to do a better job of record keeping and to start the process of giving grades in each subject. I'm glad I started this in 8th grade, so I have a year to figure it all out before having to do high school transcripts. I'm pretty happy with Scholaric's online planner and tracker, although I do miss my paper planner. I've done a fair job with the grading. I pretty much just count the tests for grades right now, and I haven't really figured out how to assign grades for Bible. I have no idea if this is sufficient or not. It's nothing compared to the system the girls' school uses, but I don't know how detailed most homeschoolers get. I know it helps his grades a lot by just counting tests -- if I counted his regular assignments his grades would be lower, especially in math. I have a lot of researching to do in this area as the year continues. Dawn, I will probably need to give you a call sometime and have you explain what you have been doing.


This has been our greatest struggle for the year. I am definitely stretched thin these days. Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the girls are home, are very full. The first couple of months I spent a lot of time helping Grace, but now she mostly works independently, and I just have to go over her work with her at the end of the day. The problem is all the extras -- meetings, volunteering, and most of all, the driving. I do say "no" to a lot of that stuff, but somehow it still adds up. Anna is in high school and Grace in elementary, so even though they attend the same school, they are at different campuses and there are different activities and commitments for each. I'm having a very hard time juggling all the responsibilities of two different levels of away-school and home school.

It doesn't help that our dear friends that we carpooled with for many years moved out of our neighborhood last summer. Having to drive both ways takes a HUGE chunk of time out of my day. Monday was the worst when I had to make FOUR trips to school: 1) Took both girls to school. 2) As soon as I got home I received a text from Anna: She got confused on the finals schedule -- math is today, not tomorrow; can I bring her calculator to school? (Amazingly, she still got an A on her math final, even though she thought it was the next day). 3) Returned at noon to pick up Anna, who only had half days this week for the finals schedule. 4) Returned at 3:30 to pick up Grace who had regular schedule on Monday. Since it is about a 20-25 minute drive to school, you can be sure I got nothing else accomplished that day. While four trips to school in one day is a record for us, I've had several 3-a-day-trips this semester, plus all the driving we do for evening activities. It's no wonder the odometer on the minivan just hit 198,000 miles this week.


Based the previous paragraph, all I want for Christmas is for my daughter to get her driver's license. She turns 16 on January 5th, but the farthest she's driven is to the end of our street. So unlike previous years, I'm praying for no snow this Christmas break, so she can get some serious practice behind the wheel. There's no way she'll be ready by the 5th, but I'm hoping we don't have to wait until summer like we were previously anticipating. Having some extra help with the driving responsibilities will be the greatest present I could receive this year, even if I have to wait a few months to get it.


Very well! She was my only kid who had never been to away-school, and predictably she felt like she was missing out. She adjusted very well, and is doing great in all her classes. I'm sure you know what a relief that is to me! Anna transitioned from homeschooling to away-school easily too, but she had been in a Christian school before. This time everything was riding on how well I prepared Grace, and apparently I didn't do too bad. I recognize this is all completely God's grace -- I've made plenty of mistakes as a homeschool mom, but through His strength I've also done a few things right, and it has all worked out to His glory.

She loves everything about school! One day when I picked her up, she had a very sad face, so I asked her what was wrong. She was upset that they ran out of time, and she didn't get to give her science presentation that day. I had to contain my laughter, but I explained to her that when she gets to high school she's going to be saying, "Yes! We ran out of time, and I don't have to give my presentation until next week!"


Overall, pretty well. He has really matured in his ability to work independently. We've had some wonderful moments together, and I really enjoy being home with him, just the two of us. But, understandably, he is having contentment issues. He wishes he could go to school too, but there are no Christian schools in the area (that I'm aware of) that would be a good fit for him. While sending him to public school might have some benefits, I don't think that's the best answer either. So I need to find him a co-op or some other group for him to get the social interaction he craves. I've been too busy this fall to figure out a solution, so that needs to be a top priority next semester.

One thing I've done to make him feel special, however, is to bring him lunch once a month from his favorite restaurant, Chipotle. I pick it up on my way home from Bible Study, and it's something I do just for him, not the girls. I told Marc this week, we just might be the only family that includes an allowance for Chipotle in our homeschooling budget. ; )


Whew! If you're still reading this, bless your heart! We've definitely been blessed this school year, and I look forward to how God will grow us next semester.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

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It was such a blessing to spend October sharing my favorite hymns, and I planned all along to share some of my favorite Christmas hymns in December as well. Time got away from me the first half of this month, so now you are going to be bombarded with blog posts over the next week or so. I plan to share more of our family's traditions, and I even have a homeschooling post going up later today.

I love Christmas music, don't you? There is a country station in our town that switches to playing just Christmas music this time of year, and I've been listening to it every time I'm in the car (which has been a lot lately). They play a great variety of Christmas music, from the stuff you typically hear on the Christian radio station, the old big-band Christmas classics (love!), the goofy like David Sandler's Chanukah Song (I'm sorry, but it does make me laugh), to the downright awful (George Michael's Last Christmas and even worse ones which I will not name because then they will be stuck in your head all day and you'll hate me). A new one to me was Mary's Boy Child/O My Lord from the disco era -- it's pretty groovy and even better in video. ; )

Nevertheless, my favorites are the traditional Christmas hymns. The Christ-centered, solid-doctrine, great hymns of the faith. I'm so thankful for how God has gifted these hymn writers and composers over the generations, so that we may worship Him fully.

Born thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to thy glorious throne.

There's nothing wrong with driving through town, bopping to some fun Christmas songs, but I need to remind myself to take some time to really reflect on the true miracle of Christmas.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Our Christmas Traditions: Wrapping the Gifts

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Last year was a tough year for our family's Christmas traditions because we traveled so much. We went to Michigan for Thanksgiving, Denver in early December, and Florida for Christmas. I wouldn't trade the memories made on those trips for a million family traditions (that Thanksgiving was the last time we got to see my Grandma before she passed away, we had a wonderful fondue dinner with my sister and my dad who has Alzheimer's, and we went to Florida for my brother-in-law's wedding). Nevertheless, it made for a very chaotic season, and we didn't even get a Christmas tree. So this year, although life is still busy, I'm enjoying decorating the house and planning all the little traditions our family enjoys. I thought it would be fun to share some of those here.

Christmas Tradition #1: Wrapping the Gifts

I could never have been one of those professional gift wrappers at the department store (do they still have those?). My seams never line up, my ends are haphazard, and I can't tie the perfect bow. Still, that doesn't mean I can't be creative. One year I waited until the last minute to wrap the kids' gifts and realized Christmas Eve (or more likely it was already Christmas Day) that I was out of gift tags. At first, I figured I would just make labels out of the wrapping paper itself, but then I had a better idea.

I wrapped each child's gifts in one pattern of paper. Then I made a card for each child that said they needed to find the gifts with the matching paper. This was so much more fun than Marc and I simply distributing gifts to the appropriate kid -- it turned into a game. A tradition was born!

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These pictures are from two Christmases ago.

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This next picture is from last year when we brought all our gifts down to Florida. I didn't have time to make the cards before we left, so I just made some quick freehand monogram cards the night before. I made all the pom-poms one afternoon while the kids played in the pool.

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I haven't yet had a chance to wrap this year's gifts, but looking at these pictures makes me ready to break out the scissors and tape.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

School Room Sneak Peak {Christmas Style}

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I'm not exactly sure what my blogging niche is, but I know I would fail big-time as a home blogger. I first promised pictures of our school room the fall of 2012. And then again this past August. But I never got around to taking pictures, and it also bugged me that a few things still needed to be finished. I finally painted the file cabinet a few weeks ago, so the only things that need to be done are sewing some pillow cases (I've had the fabric for over a year) and some touch-up paint. Oh, and there's a hole in the ceiling that needs to be fixed, but that's not my department. I'm not sure whose department it is, but it's not mine. I'm hoping the ceiling fairies will just come and take care of it. Oh, and all the woodwork needs to be repainted, but that goes for the whole house, so I'm just waiting to win the lottery so I can hire a painter. Might help if I actually bought lottery tickets.

As I decorated the school room for Christmas, however, I decided to finally take some pictures. Someday I'll do a full post that explains the why's and how's of our room -- it will be my New Year's Resolution -- but for now I'll just give you a few glimpses. It's not perfect, but it's my favorite room in the house and the one in which I spend the most time.

We've used most of the Christmas decorations for several years now. The snowflakes were a post-Christmas clearance find we used for Anna's birthday party one year. We usually keep them up through February. My favorite is the paper chain, although I'm pretty excited the Christmas cactus decided to bloom in December this year. The pinecone garland is the result of a beautiful pinecone wreath that completely fell apart in our basement this summer. Recycling at it's best.

So pretend I just invited you over for a hot cup of tea that you can set down on the dusty coffee table (even though I just dusted it). We'll plop down on the couch that's speckled with silver glitter from when I accidentally dropped the box of snowflakes. We can talk about anything and everything as the washer and dryer hum just feet away.

Welcome to my world!

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Okay, that's my wish list, not my to-do list! We still have a couple more days of school until Christmas break.

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Hope you enjoyed the mini-tour!