Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas time activities and traditions

I collected a bunch of Christmas books from a library book sale so that we could wrap them up to open one book a day until Christmas.  It's a fun way to mark the days AND get some good reading time in.
 I don't have as many great ideas about what to plan and do for the Christmas season.  I've really lost all that great energy, but here are a few ideas that we've actually kept up with.
And this is how we stacked them up.  We are taking one off the bottom each day so it still stays in the tree-ish shape.  I got the wrapping paper at a dollar store.  Great place for wrapping paper.. just got to check how many yards on the roll.

This isn't a tradition.. it was just funny.  Lily taught her baby sister to stuff something in her shirt, pat her tummy, and say "Ho, ho, ho.."  ;]

Making cut out cookies (gluten free in our case) and this tradition is always a big hit!

Grace got into it though she didn't know she was doing anything other than playing with the flour.

She called it "doe doe".. super cute.

Lily did a bunch!

I can't get away from a snowflake theme this year and I wouldn't want to! 

Renna working on making a snowman cookie.

Leftover candycorn for the nose.

A bit too much sprinkles, but hey.. it's all good.

More cookies.

The one that the girls made specially for me.

Wait.. that's all that we made?  I'm pretty sure the girls ate at least that many while decorating.  Yes, we had at least twice this much!  wooooo look at that sugar high face!

Easy Christmas game.. foam trees from dollar store and round stickers.  Roll dice and add that many poof balls to the tree.  First one to fill the tree wins!

You can play to get the exact number if you want it to be harder depending on the age of the kids.

A tradition in my family was to have a Christmas picture in front of the tree that mom would make these frames for... hers were fabric and mine are folded paper, but you could get dollar store frames or find other ways to display them!

Starting on the left with our First Christmas together in 2004.

I just finished making the frame for this year.... this is our 9th Christmas together...

It's fun to look back at how the kids have changed and grown.  I'll probably have our whole family every three or 4 years or so in the pics and just the kids all the other years (or the kids with their cousins if we get to spend a Christmas with them some day.)  We might include pets or other things as well to change it up.  The ones that work the best I think are like the far right one with the picture taken farther back.  It's neat to see how tall they are compared to each other too.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The many personalities of snow

Our first meal of fondue this year. 
As a third Christmas approaches without snow I unconsciously started decorating for Christmas in ways I hadn't before.  I've never been one to prefer white or blue Christmas tree lights, but this year our tree has LED lights shaped like snowflakes and normal blue lights as well.  I bought extra large snowflake ornaments at the dollar store to add to the tree and window clings that are snowflakes and there are over 50 paper ones hanging from our ceiling!  (I think we should have a hundred!) And our Christmas tree this year is the most beautiful of any we've ever had (in my opinion) which seems funny to me since I only enjoyed the multicolored ones before.  But it's all because I'm longing so much more this year for snow.

Whenever I mention to people here how I wish for snow they nod and shrug and.. well.. just don't get it.  After all, why would someone grieve about the absence of something as silly as snow?  I think they view it more like rain.. like just something falling from the sky that you can't do anything with except to see from your window as you drink tea and read a book.  I realized something though as I thought about the things I love about winter and snow and all the personalities that the snow and winter has.  It's not an activity here.  Sure snow might be pretty here if it comes at all, but what else do you do with it?  Or should I say, what CAN you do with it when "snow" here is a couple flakes that melt as soon as it hits the ground or freezes into ice sooner than you can put your boots on.

So, here are some thoughts that I've been thinking about snow and it's variations.

I've been enjoying the fireplace through Netflix instant shows.
The "snow man making snow" is the perfect packing kind that all my northern friends will recognize because it doesn't last long.  If at 10 in the morning on a Saturday it's the "perfect snow-man making snow" you can't wait until after lunch to make a snow man!  You've got to grab the moment and enjoy the packing snow! That kind of course can melt or freeze or become the powdery kind depending on the temperature..  it's quite different from the powdery "cross-country-skiing snow" that is light and powdery.  But there are other layers (literally) to snow.  The different layers in a foot or two feet of snow is fascinating... the layers that are crispier (that break like a wafer) or fluffier or denser all add a different experience to walking or playing or skiing in it.  Those times when the few feet of snow is so dense and hard that you can walk on it is always fun.  Even when it breaks and your foot goes down so that the snow comes up over your knee (all the powdery stuff underneath the top layer) is always an adventure.  There's a certain way to walk on it so that your foot won't break it.  I can remember that feeling of walking "just so" so that I wouldn't fall through.

The powdery kind doesn't make a sound when you walk in it for the most part, but there's the more frozeny waffery kind that crunches when you walk in it.  The packing kind tends to make a squeaky sound with each step.  I always thought that was fun.  If the only snow you've walked in has a sloppy slushy sound then you have only experience wet sloshy snow that isn't really "snow" anymore.. it's mostly water.

Gracie was amazed when she touched the star at the top.
I miss the challenge of rolling a snowball as large as I can!  I probably didn't get it bigger than 5x5 ft, but still.. that was one heavy ball of snow!  One year I rolled a ball like that and carved a giant face into it.  I miss going out the back door on a cross country skiing trip.  It wasn't the best place to go, but driving to a friends house to ski worked well too.  I was always the out-of-shape one that struggled in the back, but I was also a bit slower because I kept wanting to stop and look at the scenery.  One time when I got to go down hill skiing at night (I didn't go down hill skiing much) on a ski mountain nearish where we lived (49 for those of you who know what I'm talking about) it was super foggy at the bottom of the mountain where the lodge was, but about halfway up the ski lift you were out of the fog.  The largest shiniest full moon I'd ever seen hovered above the mountain and the deep blue peeks of the mountains all around reached out of the sea of fog like magical islands.  I was transfixed and didn't want to stop looking at the moon and the stars and magical land stretching out in the glowing silvery midnight.  The people working the ski lift wouldn't let me just sit in the snow at the top and look around though so I scooched sideways on my skis about half way down the mountain before having to ski like normal and enter the thick fog.

The most profound times in my life when everything seemed to stand still and clarity and beauty and the wonder of God's creation have happened the most for me were when I was in the snow.  Perhaps that's because it's so quiet.  Not only does it have a personality it has a sound that sounds quieter than quiet.  The sound isn't a sound so much as a muffling of everything else.  As an introvert I crave silence... I had no idea how deep this need went until we moved into a large city on the busiest street by a busy highway surrounded by rows and rows of apartments.  Could we have picked a louder busier more difficult place for me to cope?  Anyway, I miss looking forward to the quietness of snow.

My favorite spot in our house now.
When I was about 11 there was a super long hard winter that year.  You know, the kind you always compare all the other ones to?  Well, this one had four feet of snow on the ground at one time.  Boy that was fun when we jumped off the roofs into it!  Every year after that we'd say, "We only got 2 ft this year, remember before when we had 4 ft?"  (Note, for people who aren't from the north.. when we say we had so many ft of snow it's not the total accumulation over the whole winter.. we just mean how much we had at one time on the ground during the winter.)  There was a moment after jumping off a roof and went up to my waste without touching the ground, that I laid in the snow (a bit hot from playing) and the sun was out sparkling on the snow.  It was like laying in a sea of diamonds except that they were soft as the tiniest feathers.  I looked closer at the frozen snow and could see each tiny flake in perfect detail.  It was so cold that year that the snow didn't melt before freezing.  Each flake landed and piled on top of each other in all the perfection of how they were formed in the clouds.  Time stood still and I felt like I never wanted to leave that comfortable bed of sparkles and wonder.  When the Bible tells us that our sins are made whiter than snow through Jesus' death and resurrection and you are actually looking at the snow glittering in the sun and nearly blinded by the whiteness of it, the profound truth of the gospel is illustrated in an amazing way.  How could the dirty stain of our moldy sins be made to be whiter than that?  It's amazing and true and only God could do that in his creation and inside of us.  These are the things I thought about as I hovered in that moment of wonder.

I call this "snow withdrawal therapy"...
Many a cross-country skiing trip has been the same... with those moments of wonder and looking beyond the tips of my skis to the mountains and snowfall, the majesty and the detail, large and small of what God designed.  I would soak in the quiet and breathe in the cold air and the fog clouding my mind would lift.

I wish I could have spent more time in the snow (in recent years) when we lived in the NorthWest.  For three winters I was pregnant and it made maneuvering in the snow a bit difficult and skiing was out of course at that point.  Then each following year my energy level hadn't recovered enough to do a ton in the snow either, but oh that third year!  Well, I'm at the third Christmas now, pregnant the first year we were here, then recovering from giving birth the second year, and now here I am ready to go and race in the snow with my girls!  Ready for the many personalities of the snow.. to play in and to shovel it and to ski in.  The wonder of waking up to quieter than quiet falling and a blanket of beauty transforming the brown world with sparkles.

The girls were pretending that it was snowing.
I wonder how someone would feel if they looked forward to spring flowers and knew they wouldn't see the bounty they were used to (if any) or someone who is really into a sport and is in a land where that sports season is non-existent or terribly undervalued and not understood.  What is it that you long for each year and crave and celebrate in your own way?  I've always felt this way about snow.  The people who are indigenous to this area tend to act like this, "Snow?  Oh we had that one year.. okay, moving on." Sorry people... I can't move on and not care about it so quickly.  I know you don't get it and how could you?  How could you understand why I would grieve for the absence of something that I'd looked forward to all my life when you've never truly experienced it as I have or looked forward to it in the same way?  How could you miss a dear friend of mine when they are just a stranger to you?  -Someone you've seen perhaps, but not someone you know personally.

It wasn't quiet cold enough for a fire, but we had the sliding door open so we could roast marshmallows inside and make some smores for the first time!  Generally when it does get cold enough it takes me too long to realize it and by then it's hot again.

Check out that smore! 

Maybe you've had a bad skiing experience like my husband did on snow that wasn't right.. aka-frozen hard stuff that you can't do anything with (yeah that's called ice not snow) and don't truly know or see it's many personalities.  Or perhaps you are in a snowy area and are bogged down with the amount of shoveling or driving in it, please stop for a moment and look at it as you did when you were a child.. full of wonder and amazement.  There are those of us who would much rather have the cold and snow (shoveling and all!) if we could only experience all the aspects and flavors of a snowy winter again.

Or perhaps you are like me and far from home and the things you grew up longing for and anticipating and celebrating look different now.  Perhaps you have to come up with new ways to celebrate and you have to learn how to deal with losses that the people around you can't empathize with... It will be okay.. you won't be this sad forever and in the mean time keep looking for ways to enjoy what you have as much as you can.  Sometimes we have to lose something before we can truly appreciate or know what's truly important to us.

In case you are needing some snow therapy here are some pattern ideas to start with.  From this site. 
But first you've got to know how to fold the paper!  Instructions to make paper snowflakes

Thursday, November 08, 2012

What I love about homeschooling

Putting the toddler bed together for the little one that has grown out of her baby bed.  I love that my kids can "help" me build things.  They can watch how to use tools and try it themselves and feel capable.  The littlest one even occupied herself by slipping things through a knothole in one of the boards.

I have a love/hate relationship with homeschooling and staying at home.  While on the one hand I wouldn't have it any other way it's often really hard!  I'm not great at consistency and our school time varies from day to day, but this post is all about the "other stuff" in day to day life and what practical homeschooling looks like.  It's not just about being home to do book work.  It's building relationships and nurturing my kids interests and personalities.
Speaking of personalities, my middle one loves to wear dresses and I love the fact that it doesn't matter if she wears the same dress every day or changes her clothes 6 times in one day.  The advantage of being home is that she has that freedom of expression and less opportunities to be teased. 

I love how my girls have to learn to get along.  While it can be frustrating to break up arguments or fights so often, the rewards are really great.  Lily is almost 7 and plays with her baby sister so well!

While it's often.. often.. quite frustrating to try to homeschool around a toddlers activities and getting into stuff and wanting attention the whole time.. it's also fun to see her so interested in what her older sisters are doing.  PLUS, she'll probably be a lot easier to teach when she's school age!  My middle one has heard so much from my teaching her older sister that she's ahead of where she needs to be and her school is easy for her.

Ok.. so part of the reason why I'm not great at being consistent with school time is that I NEED to create.. I need to do my own projects and hobbies.  This week wasn't any "fun" sewing.. just alterations and so on, but it was nice to be able to get some clothes to fit Lily and myself (and her doll) and it's really great that the girls see me doing this.  I hear so often from adults "I couldn't do that".. is it because they didn't grow up with this being "normal"?  We are a "do-it-yourself" family and I love how Lily (6) is already showing so much resourcefulness and creativity!

Oh yes, and speaking of their own personalities.. here is the 18 month old who INSISTS on wearing her muppet shirt as MUCH as possible listening to the new Christmas CD that we got of the Muppets!  I love seeing their interests and personalities come through and change as they grow.

Another great thing about homeschooling is that we can go to the zoo and take field trips whenever we want!  Also, as we learned about rocks this week (reading books from the library about rocks and watching a science video) we got to grow crystals on a little snowman from the dollar store.  PLUS at the zoo today I got some rock candy for the girls and after enjoying it the whole time and learning about Elephants and playing and having a grand time there, when we got home I found a time laps video on YouTube of rock candy forming! 

We've been to the zoo a bunch of times but never went to the keeper encounter with the elephants!  It was really fun to hear about them.  Gracie jumped when one of them trumpeted, and my smart little 4 year old came up with her own questions to ask the zoo keeper and even remembered the answers well enough to tell her Daddy at dinner time!  Renna told him, "Elephants don't eat rock candy.  They eat leaves and grass and have apples for special treats."

Being able to teach my girls what we believe is a big part of homeschooling as well.  When they climbed this rock we sang our song for the week, "The wise man built his house upon a rock" and got to talk about Jesus with them again.  I love hearing them sing songs of all kinds.  Before we drove to the zoo Renna was singing "Meet me in St. Lewie Lewie meet me at the fair!"  Totally cute!  Especially when she squeaked the "tootsie wOOtsie" part out.  ;]  Okay, so old movies are a fun thing to share with my kids too.  :} 

Having lunch while watching the lions?  Yes, that can happen whenever we want.  I love how this picture captures the moment of my oldest caring for her baby sister.  I also love that we can avoid most of the crowds by going places during the middle of the day during the middle of the week.

Homeschooling is all about capturing the moment and not trying to rush too much.  Obviously we've got to stay somewhat on track, but we can take 10 minutes to run in the leaves!  Oh, and then talk about the leaves and why they aren't green and so on and so on.  It's all about using the interruptions and distractions.  Is this easy?  Not often.. it takes creativity and flexibility.  I struggle with not being too flexible.. some people struggle with needing to be more flexible .. all of us need to find that balance of going with the moment and still getting the main stuff done each week.  The main thing is that they are learning stuff and learning to enjoy learning.

I'm sure I could come up with other things I like about homeschooling, but this will do for now.  It's encouraging to realize that while I very often feel like I'm not doing enough in so many ways -- not being consistent enough with them or not reading enough to them or not playing enough with them or letting them watch too many shows on Netflix or not taking them out to activities enough or needing to put them in gymnastics or music or take them to the museum or something something something that I feel I'm not doing and should... It's nice to see the other great things that homeschooling facilitates. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"Mm" is for Moon!

 If you've been following my homeschooling posts recently you will know that we are doing a letter a week like "My Father's World" kindergarten curriculum has but we aren't doing it in their order.  THIS week is all about the moon and I found some books at the library to introduce some of the concepts about the moon.

  One fact about the moon is that there isn't any air or atmosphere there so there isn't any wind.. which means that the foot prints left by the astronauts will stay there!  I thought those concepts were something we should focus on and to help them remember I painted their feet and they got to leave their own footprints on our "doodle on the moon" (we did the medium sized print out which was 6 pages.. you could do the large one if you have more space and more kids!)
Even the baby thought this was a pretty spiffy project!

I'm pretty sure this made an impression on them and the 4 year old was even able to answer back correctly when I asked "why do footprints stay on the moon and not blow away?"  -- because there's no atmosphere! 

My 6 year old especially liked the fact that the moon has less gravity than the earth so we'd be really light and springy if we walked on the moon.  ;]
 I showed them a few videos talking about the phases of the moon and here is a pretty good one if you'd like it!  "Why does the Moon change shape?"
While they watched the videos that I'd collected I helped them turn their cookies into the shapes of the moon.  This of course was fun for them since they got to eat a LOT more cookies than I'd normally give them in one sitting!   
BFG33701 - Kinnikinnick FoodsKtoos Chocolate Sandwich Cream Cookies
If you have to be gluten free like us, might I suggest these cookies!  They are super tasty.  My husband who doesn't have to be gluten free loves them as well so they won't make anyone feel less special.
The girls have been doodling on the moon a lot this week, but the foot prints were the biggest hit of all.

Last foot to do is on the little one.


The final doodle was my oldest making her toes into a family.  How cute is that!?  :}