Saturday, December 31, 2005

Family Time

Today is New Year's Eve and the Eve of the Feast of the Holy Family. The kids watched Felicity again this morning. It is the essence of a family movie. I can always pick out a good movie because my children will imitate the characters. Grace has been curtsying and having tea parties, Lou named all her horses Penny and Patriot, and I even caught Lee tip his hat and bow when talking with Grace. We all took a chance at playing darts; Lee got an electronic dart board from Grandma for Christmas. Dad and Lou played horses and I practiced the piano.

Our plans for today include: make homemade cocoa brownies, snowmobile, pack up snow clothes and equipment and head over to Jeremy and Dawn's for a New Year's get together. Together we have eight children who play together marvelously. It's a dream come true for parents.

Reading over this entry sounds to good to be true, but it isn't. I recently read an article in our local newspaper; this woman in her 60's was reminiscing about Christmas of 1968. It was a hard year, yet simple in so many ways. Then she forwarded and talked of this year's Christmas and the craziness of it all. The writer asked her if she wished Christmas was as simple as in 1968 and her response was, "No, sometimes you don't realize that the good times are the ones you're in right now." That comment had such an impact that I actually saved the article and have read that quote everyday since it was published on December 23.

That quote sums up how I feel today. I am so blessed on this Eve of the Feast of the Holy Family to be given my family to care for and to love.

Friday, December 30, 2005

What Did You Say?

Lou, my 4 1/2 year old dancer, has recently picked up a phrase from somewhere. Her response to most anything I tell her is, "that's totally wicked". Not the most polite, but none the less it sounds cute coming from her.

Menu Planning

Lately there has been a lot of discussion at Thrifty Homeschooler about menu planning. I, too, have tried different "pre-packaged" plans and found that none of them are quite what my family likes. I've always planned menus weekly or bi-weekly shopping accordingly. However, constantly making out menu plans was time consuming and sometimes daunting because everyone likes to eat different things. Often I felt that I couldn't please anyone no matter what I served for dinner. A friend of mine suggested making out a season of menus. Here's how it works. Print out 12 blank monthly calendars and staple together. Make a list of your family's favorite main course meals; the one's you can prepare blindfolded. Now label the first calendar with January. Place your family's favorite winter meals on the calendar using pen. Then in pencil fill in the rest of the blanks with new recipes to try. Use pencil so that if they aren't winners you can erase and try something new again next year. During 2005 I filled in each month according to the season. More chili in the winter, more grilled hamburgers in the summer months. I don't get too concerned if what's marked for the 2nd Wednesday of January doesn't get made on the 2nd Wednesday of January. This is just a guide so that grocery shopping is made easier and I don't have to think as hard about dinner. Now it's a new year and all I have to do is turn back to January's menu and go shopping.

If your family likes tacos here a a couple of suggestions:

Taco Meat Mixture
2 T. chili powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. cumin
1 clove garlic, crushed or 1/2 t. garlic powder

Mix together and use instead of the prepackaged taco seasoning. Brown 1 lb. ground meat, 1 small chopped onion, drain and add 3/4 c. water with the above seasoning mixture. Boil, then simmer for 10 minutes until slightly thickened.

Taco Soup
1 lb. browned ground meat
1 qt. tomato juice
1 can diced tomatoes and juice
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can Mexican or chili beans and liquid
1 recipe of above taco seasoning mixture

Simmer until warmed through. Place a small handfull of corn chips in bowl, top with soup, dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of shredded cheddar cheese. Yummy and fast! Tastes even better the next day for lunch.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

American Girl Doll Shines Again

This morning, before school, the kids started watching Felicity: An American Girl Adventure. I had planned on using the 45 minutes to blog, dust and read. While trying to dust the entertainment center I got sucked into the movie. It is fantastic, so sweet and wholesome. The young girls curtsy; the young boys and men bow. They are so polite to one another. I hope some of it wears off on my youngens'. When Lee finishes up his school we will have lunch and all curl up to finish the movie. The girls are passing the time by playing horses with their American Girl Dolls. What a storybook day.

Place Value Game

Today's subject of the day involved place value. First we looked at numbers on Lee's newly discovered (had been hiding on the bookshelf) tape measure. We stretched it out to see single, double and triple digit numbers. We read The Case of the Missing Birthday Party, it's an ok introduction to place value, but not overly exciting. The best part was that it suggested a game to play. Here's what you do. Cut 10 small slips of paper; on each write a number from 0-9. Place in small paper bag. Each player makes 3 squares, horizontally on a piece of paper. The first player draws a number slip from the bag and chooses which square to write the number in. The object is to create the largest number. Place the slip back into the bag and continue with each player until all three squares are filled in. Then read the number. Who has the largest number? They're the winner! Tomorrow we'll play again with 4 boxes to makes number into the thousands. This is a fast paced game and easy to play. We all enjoyed this since their is equal amounts of chance and skill.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mission: Organization

I tend to be mostly organized. I write To Do Lists, one for "Today" and one for "Longterm". I like my house to be orderly, although with 4 kids 8 and younger it's not always as orderly as I would like. With that said, I do like a lived in feel. Our fridge is plastered with artwork around the gigantic calendar of events. My home is decorated with basically non-breakables and we have no coffee table taking up valuable floor space. I purposely leave open space so that cartwheels, somersaults, ballet and tap dance can be practiced in the living room. And piles of books are piled everywhere.

This is the week for a deep cleaning and organization mission again. This stemmed from moving my mom to yet a third apartment in 3 years. She has so much stuff that needed to be moved into a one bedroom apartment that there was hardly enough room for her to walk. DH and I came home and decided that we don't want to own anything. DH even stripped off his dirty clothes and said "I'm giving up wearing clothes, I don't want anything." Well, he decided to keep his clothing, but we have both been cleaning out desk drawers, file folders, closets, the laundry room and anything else that looks like it is overfull. We've found so much to get rid of.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

"For unto you a child is born...." Yes, it's 9:16am on Christmas Day and I am posting a message. We've been up since 5:00am and by the time it was getting light around 7:00am the craziness of stocking and gift opening was over. It was a special year; the first time the kids had presents for us that were truly from them. Grace got jelly beans for dad and chocolate mint patties for me. Lee colored and matted two wild animal pictures and then wrote a personal message on the back of each: "I hope my dad shoots a big buck like the one on this picture." He also made me a certificate for one backrub including a hug and kiss. We've all had too much candy, mini peanut butter cups, crunch bells, candy canes, mint kit kats (only found at Target and they're awesome). I've already ordered clearance Christmas wrap from Current Catalog for next year. I do this every year. It's great, I don't have to struggle with the after Christmas crowds and come next November when I start thinking of wrapping gifts everything is in the wrapping tote and ready to go. Grace is relaxing in her new bathrobe and fuzzy socks, Lee is driving his tractors around, Lou is wearing her new horse outfit and playing with Felicity and horses, Ray (Jack, Jack) is terrorizing everyone's new toys. He was playing with his remote control car for a while until he discovered Lee's hammer.

Just for my record, we went to church last night at 6:30pm. It was a nice service, although I stood in the back for most of the time. A front page article in our newspaper yesterday noted the decline in the midnight mass. In our deanery we have 10 parishes and only one has a true midnight mass. They sighted the decline in attendance being the main reason for doing away with the midnight mass. What do you do? Do you keep the kids up late? Do you get up early in the morning?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Christmas Preparations and School

Christmas is just 4 days away and our house is bustling with activity. The kids did their schoolwork today as well as lots more learning.

Math - measured ingredients for cheesy ham soup and cranberry bread, counted out dozens of cookies, estimated and then cut wrapping paper for wrapping presents

Reading - read the recipe directions, read the messages on the to/from tags

Writing - wrote Thank You notes for Christmas presents already received, wrote a letter to Jesus telling what they want for Christmas and thanking him for a good year

Art - made creative bows for their wrapped presents, made a morning star ornament to hang above our door, played Christmas songs on violin, guitar and piano

It's so easy to incorporate learning into everyday life, yet some days I fret because we don't get all of the planned schoolwork finished and then when DH reminds me of all that was done I am reminded that real learning comes from living a full life.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas is Coming

We put up the Christmas tree today. I've always loved to listen to Christmas music while decorating the tree. This year I realized that I need new Christmas tunes. I'm still listening to the same CD's from college and this year they're just not the type of music I was yearning for. Although my favorite is still my favorite, The Christmas Harp. There is nothing more angelic than listening to Christmas carols played on harp strings. Beautiful!

We did get school done this morning as well. Grace is reading from the Little House First Chapter Books. She reads the stories to me everyday. She has become quite a reader, but still needs to work on the tion, tian, sion endings, for example, confusion. She's in second grade and I would imagine that this is normal progress. Lee finished up his rhyme book a couple of weeks ago and has progressed to a free workbook I received from Starfall.com. He likes the pages; I think they are worthless. What to do? Lee is working on counting change. He has a quick and sharp mind. Lou played Cinderella most of the morning, while Ray played with Duplos, looked at books and rifled through the Christmas boxes (what a mess).

This last weekend we went to my husband's sisters homes for our Christmas gathering and gift exchange. Our extended family doesn't exchange gifts with everyone, however with 4 kids with godparents and godchildren of our own, most everyone ends up with some sort of present. We had so much fun sharing stories, laughing, eating, playing with cousins and attending a different church. We attended St. Patrick Parish in Cottage Grove, WI. The alpha and omega of the sermon: "New York City lawyer states that after thorough search, 'God cannot be found', Father states after many scripture references, that God can be found in each and every person. It was a fun, funny and very uplifting sermon.

List of Christmas gifts received
*Grace - assorted bubble baths, Stablemate horse, Girls Who Looked Under Rocks, American Girl tea time dress and winter cloak
*Lee - Case excavator, Matchbox Army assortment
*Lou - Cinderella dress up set, Buckaroo game, Fashion Polly sleigh and horse set
*Ray - Bath toys, rubber push car
*Dad - Gun Digest 2006, Sharpie markers
*Mom - beading supplies, scrapbooking supplies

Friday, December 16, 2005

Kids Don't Miss a Beat

Lately we've had some discussions around the house about Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas. If you listen to Relevant Radio (Catholic Talk Radio) you will understand where all this is stemming from. Anyway, Lee was wrapping a couple of Christmas, oh I mean Holiday presents for Grandma. Somehow Ray, who is now 17 months, got ahold of the to/from labels and the pen from off the table. When Lee tracked him down he noticed that Ray had scribbled on some of the labels and then commented in his witty way, "Well at least he scribbled on the one that says 'Happy Holidays'. Sometimes I feel as if I'm talking to the wall, even when I have one hand on his shoulder and am making direct eye contact, then he makes a comment like this. I guess he is paying attention to what goes on around here. Kids just don't miss a beat.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Baking is Put on Hold

I am so disappointed. Ray is sleeping, Lou is watching a video and Grace and Lee are building snow forts and tunnels. So far it sounds great, right? Well, I want to do some Christmas cookie baking and I'm out of flour, cocoa and powdered sugar. How did this happen? I'm usually so prepared for December baking by stocking up in October and November. This year it just got away from me. I desperately need to go grocery shopping. We had been building up an excess of open boxes of stuff: crackers, cereal, pretzels. So I decided that I wasn't going to the store until everything was used up. Well, this is what I get, punished by my own rule. So I'll balance the checkbook instead. Happy baking!!

Mad Libs: My Favorite Word Game

We pulled out the Mad Libs today. We have the Christmas Fun edition. Mad Libs is a word game. Each page has a story with some words removed. They are labeled noun, verb, number, adjective, etc. Then one person goes around the table asking each person for the appropriate type of word. When all the blanks have been filled in, the reader reads the story. Here are some of our favorite lines from this mornings Mad Libs.

-And Sam brought lots of tacos to hang on the tree.
-Last year Nick had a grumpy party.
-Once that bat is up, you know that the green season has officially started.
-Of course, you can always decorate your turkey fan with vases or helicopters.

Lots of laughs during this project and it reinforces or introduces children to the parts of speech. These can be bought at a book store for $3.99. Each book contains about 25 different stories.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ruined Desserts

Last week I tempted you with descriptions of all the yummy desserts I made for my grandma's birthday party. There was a little (well big) mishap just before dessert on Friday night. My Uncle John opened a cupboard door; a glass tumbler came crashing down and shards of glass were sprayed everywhere including on the pumpkin pie and moist chocolate cake. The turtle brownies were covered and so were not ruined. I'm glad no one was seriously hurt, but so sad that all my work was fruitless.

Monday, Monday

Monday Home Blessing this morning. I still have to dust all the flat surfaces and do my 15 minute zone cleaning. Check out Flylady.net for more information on zone cleaning and the Monday Home Blessing. Last week I cleaned the craft/school supply closet. What a blessing that has been. The kids have a new found love of art. They have been busily drawing pictures and making tree ornaments. The board games have added appeal, too, now that they are organized and all the titles can be seen when the door is opened. Simple Pleasures!

Rejoice! We are to prepare for the coming of the Christ child.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Grandma is 73 Today

Tonight we'll be heading to my uncle's for a birthday celebration for grandma. She's a very special lady to me, always their when I need advice on what temperature to bake homemade bread or how much flour to use when making gravy. I volunteered to bring the cake, but couldn't decide what one to make, so I decided to make three different things. Turtle Brownies (new recipe found on the back of the new caramel/chocolate swirel chips), Moist Chocolate Cake (an old standby found in Quick Cooking many years ago, made with brewed coffee and buttermilk.....oh it's delicious), and Pumpkin Pie (traditional). The house is filled with the aroma of chocolate and pumpkin. What a great way to end the week.

Even with all the baking we did manage to get in some school this morning. Grace and I played games from Happy Phonics, Lee read to me from Bob Books Level C and Lou and Ray played. Both Grace and Lee played math computer games, which is their Friday treat.

Simple Pleasures

Last evening the kids stayed with some friends while DH and I went to Tony Roma's for ribs. We celebrated our 9 year anniversary on Wednesday; the vigil mass for the Immaculate Conception was Wednesday so we planned our night out for Thursday. It was great to shop at Lowe's and eat ribs without any distractions. What a simple pleasure. Colleen has a gum drop tree that she fills with red and green spice drops during the Christmas season. Lee walked into their kitchen and his eyes just lit up when he saw the shiny silver tree adorned with red and green sugar covered candy. Colleen said that he marveled at the tree all night. What a simple pleasure of the Christmas season. Of course when we got back all the gum drops had been eaten, good thing we picked up another bag at Fleet Farm.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Lots of Limericks

We wrapped up our study of the War of 1812 yesterday. Dolly Madison was a winner all the way around. We pulled out a poster of the presidents. Grace and Lee identified James Madison as the fourth president and Dolly's husband. We read the names of all the presidents and noted that one of them was named Warren (DH's name). They thought that to be cool. Today we started off by reading from the book Lots of Limericks; very funny and a good way to spark an interest in writing some of our own.

Emily had a cat
but it's name was a rat
the cat was fun
it stunk as sun
the cat it was a rat.
Written by: Grace-age 8

One day I sat on a chair
But it really was underwear
and it stunk so bad
but it really was dad
and he just didn't care.
Written by: Lee-age 6

My plan, which I have many, is to write a couple of Christmas limericks to include in our Christmas cards this year. If I really do that, I'll post them here when finished.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

Musical Words

This morning as DH and I were listening to Grace practice her violin, DH commented that listening to her play violin is just like listening to her talk. Fast, choppy and slightly out of tune. I had to laugh, because it's so true. She is a fast talker, so fast that sometimes her words are so jumbled together that I have to ask her what language she's speaking. We got to talking about this theory, that people produce music like they do words, and realized that it could actually be proven as a scientific truth. Lee, who plays guitar, plays somewhat slow, methodical, and produces clear sounds. He talks just the same way. DH also commented that I play violin just as I talk also. Concise, clear, and no mistakes. He pointed out that I work hard at getting the kids to talk the same way also. "When I speak to you, your response is 'yes, mom'." Does that sound harsh? Reading it sounds harsh. I hope I don't come across that way.

Here is a link to a http://www.catholicculture.org/lit/prayers/view.cfm?id=16 family Advent ceremony, including prayers and scripture reading. You might add "O Come, O Come Immanuel". Singing a new verse each week leading up to Christmas adds a nice touch to the ceremony.