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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

D-man Gets Closer to Actually Being a Man

D-man turned 14 just two days before Christmas. 

My due date, back in 1997, was  December of the OB docs even told me he thought I would deliver by Thanksgiving.  When all was said and done, he was 30 minutes from being born on Christmas Eve. 

Because he is so close to Christmas, sometimes his life celebration gets a little lost in the shuffle.  The good thing about it being so close to Christmas is that the other kids are really in the gift giving mood and want me to bring them to the store so they can get something special for him.

It has become a tradition that I make pancakes for the birthday boy or girl.  They get to use the "birthday" plate that my mom made.  It is a clear glass plate that she somehow attached a piece of fabric to.  (I know that sentence ended in a preposition....but I don't feel like fixing it.)

This fabric is from the old curtains I had in our Minnesota house.  We used the plate in Minnesota too....but, somehow in has more meaning to us in Georgia.

My cabinets were the blue in the plate.  My walls were the yellow.  The ceiling beams were the green....and the dining room next door was the orange.  I really like color. It makes me happy.

D-man asked for an I-pod this year and gave us permission to have it be a combined Christmas/Birthday gift.  He had even scouted out a few used ones that he had found on Craigslist.  Rainman and I decided that we didn't want to pick for him, in case we chose wrong, because that would give him room to whine and complain.

So, inspired by my sister, Karen, he got a money tree for his birthday (and an I-tunes gift card for Christmas).  Just click here if you would like to make your own.

(I guess from the way I took this picture, it looks more like a money arrow....but, you get the idea)

His cake got lost in the shuffle a bit this year, so I didn't make him a cute/creative cake....just a nummy one.  It made me sad.  It did not make him sad.

He has been talking like a man for about a year now (sometimes I even have to ask who I am talking to when I call home - him or Rainman)....but, now he is starting to look like one too....

He was really excited about all the special gifts the kids got him....and even oohed and aahed appropriately over their homemade cards and wrapping paper.  He is starting to act like a man too....sigh....

In case you can't see....I will list off his gifts.  A case of Mountain Dew, tapioca pudding Hubba Bubba gum, Five gum, a bubble gum machine, a plastic football helmet, a Slim Jim, a hacky sack, and $11... that was it.  He was happy.  He was grateful to all. 

Are you wondering about all the gum?  See the truth is....I enjoy gum....but I can't stand listening to other people chew gum.  I got this from my mom too.  I remember being so annoyed when she would snap at me to stop making noises with my gum.  I was sure I wasn't doing anything other than chewing it.....but, now, I see what she means.  I can't stand the noise of it.  So, it is not something that I ever give my kids.  I do not have it in my purse to give to them in church.  So, they have taken to giving it to each other for birthday gifts.  How can I say no to that, right?

He is turning into a really nice guy.  I am proud of him.  He gets frustrated with the little kids sometimes....but, so do I.  He loves his little sisters and doesn't care who knows it....well, at least he doesn't care if people know how he feels about S-girl and V-girl.....

His little brother thinks the world of his big bro....

He is a good kid.  I have already started getting a little sad for the day when he will leave home to go to college. 

I like him. 

I like having him around. 

He makes me laugh.  He usually laughs at my jokes too (something a little hard to come by around here....and I am really funny!)

Happy Birthday, D-man.  You are loved.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ups and Downs of December

We have had some ups and downs around here in December. 

My mom has developed heart problems since my Dad has passed.  She has had two surgeries in December getting them fixed.  I was able to fly up to be with her for the first one, but the second one was scheduled too quickly for me to be able to make it.

I was feeling down and a bit nervous about not being there with her, so, some good friends came over to help cheer us up and distract me.  They brought a few Christmas gifts with them.

The gift they got for A-girl, I had already gotten for her....but they didn't know that.  So, when A-girl opened it and was over the moon excited about it....I, of course, burst into tears....right front of everyone.

I am a Minnesota girl.  Good, solid, sturdy stock.  Scandinavian blood flows through my veins.  We do not like to show people our emotions. We certainly do NOT like to cry in front of people.  Yet, there I was.....crying away.  My friend, felt horrible. 

Her daughter had picked out the gift AND spent her own money on it...knowing it was going to be the perfect gift.  It was.  I was happy for A-girl.  But, the selfish part of me wanted to be on the receiving end of all that joy over a well chosen gift.  You know?

I felt sorry for myself for two reasons....I didn't get that joy directed at me....and it meant I had to go shopping.  I hate shopping.  In fact, I did 99% of my shopping this year on-line.  That is definitely a Christmas tradition that will continue!

It all worked out fine in the end.  If I didn't know it already, I realized that we have great friends, who know us....and want to give us things that will, literally, make us jump with joy.  And, I ended up being  able to go shopping (without crowds or kids) to get her something else. (I hope she will love it just as much.)

What was the joy/tear inducing gift?

Remington T-Studio Pearl Ceramic  Curling Wand

A curling wand....have you heard of them?  They are actually pretty cool.  It really is just basically a hot....stick....or wand.  It comes with a glove you wear, so when you wrap your hair around and hold it there for a bit, you won't get burned.

Here is me after my curling wand makeover:

I think I am going to be "borrowing" her excellent Christmas present!  Thanks E. for being such a good friend to my girls.

Since I was feeling down, S-girl wanted to make me feel better, so she offered to paint my toenails.  She laid a napkin down on the floor and climbed under the kitchen table where I was teaching A-man.  She took her time and got my toes just right.....and I mean...she reeeaaaalllly took her time....

(Ignore that gook on the floor...I have since mopped)
I love them.  They make me happy.  Since I live in Georgia and it has been in the 60's and 70's, I have been wearing my sandals and showing off my pedicure.  In my head, I wonder if people notice them....and, if so, what they think.  But, everytime I look down at my toes, it makes me smile!

Onto more ups in our December....

My girls decided to host their own coffee clatch get together....with lots of cream and sugar....and Oreos.

We got V-girl to keep her hair in a ponytail for, oh......about 30 minutes....a new record.

(This looks like we pulled it a little too tight, doesn't it?)

Then later, she did this....

And even got her tongue....yuck!!!

We had breakfast for dinner.

And, thanks to my friend, Debbie, we got to go see a cool light display at the:

(They had the 12 days of Christmas....this is the ladies dancing)

We brought a thermos full of hot chocolate and some marshmallows...

We drove through a few neighborhoods on our way home looking at lights.  But, V-girl, every few minutes would announce, "I sad.  Lights done."  Apparently, none of the home displays held a candle to the ones at the Atlanta Motor Speedway!

Like I said, it has sort of been a hard month.  I am missing my Dad.  I want my Mom to be healthy and happy.  It is hard for me to be in Georgia and not in Minnesota with my family.  We have been thinking about trying to sell our house and move into something that would work better for our family, but the reality of the market is that our house is probably worth about 1/2 of what we paid for it two years ago.  Rainman is working all weekend, so our Christmas will be a quick lunch with him on Sunday before he heads to work.

Really though, overall, December has held mostly ups.  D-man turns 14 this month.  We get to celebrate Jesus's birth.  My kids are healthy, happy, and silly....that leads to a lot of "ups" for me.  Rainman is healthy and happy.  I am healthy, happy and a little crazy.....and my family loves me anyway.

I guess I don't have it so bad, do I?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The World's Greatest Stories

I love reading.  I read as much as real life allows.  I even panic a bit if I don't have a book "waiting" for me.  It is totally unheard of for me not to have some sort of reading material nearby.

I also have not yet gotten aboard the Nook/Kindle train.  I still like to feel my books and all the other stuff that goes with holding a book. 

But above all, I love a good story.  Although, if I am honest, sometimes any old story will do, if I am just trying to escape for a bit.

Do you remember how great it was when your mom or dad would read you a story?  I have a vivid memory of my mom reading me a Casper the Friendly Ghost book every time we would go to our dentist's (Dr. Lingle) office.

I also have very fond memories of story time with the library lady while I was growing up.  Sitting on the floor in front of her....jockeying with my classmates to see if I could get just a little bit closer....her reading the book upside down so we could see the pictures the whole time she was reading.

In high school, I competed in Speech, as a Storyteller.  I was even the Rum River Conference Champ in Storytelling one year.  Woot!  Woot!  (Or whatever the kids are saying these days...)

The point I am trying to make is that I appreciate a good, engaging story.  I understand how hard it can be to use voices....and remember what voice you used with which character.  Here, look at some of my notes....

I had sloppy cursive writing, but, note the part about "more definition in voices".  If you are going to have character voices, you have to make sure people can tell them apart....and that you do them the same every time.

So, when I got the chance to listen to The World's Greatest Stories by George W. Sarris as part of a TOS review, I was kind of excited.

First, let me say, that after listening to the first story, I decided that I sort of hate George Sarris.

Okay, I don't really hate him.

I am just really, really jealous of his gift. 

I know....I know......that is not really very Christian of me, is it? 

He is just soooooo talented.  Really, really talented.

I used to attempt to tell a great, engaging, entertaining story with this.....

Mr. Sarris uses this....

Totally trumps the Grimm Brothers, huh?

I got to listen  to Volume One: The Prophets.  We sat down as a family one night after supper and..... just.....listened.  Rainman and I were sort of mesmerized.  We could not believe that all the different voices came from the same guy.  He is that good.

His narrator voice is smooth, and manly and....I don't know....buttery....can that be used to describe a voice?

Here, don't just take my word for it....listen....see?????

Mr. Sarris has a lot of "voice" experience.  He has done work for companies like Burger King, Duracell, Pizza Hut, UPS, AT&T and American name just name a few....seriously...that is just a few of them!  I am sure we probably have all heard his voice before. 

But, never like this.  I mean not to be a "bad" Christian or anything, but who knew that the Bible could be so interesting?

The kids sat still and listened.  Really listened.  It started out as "I am only here because Mom said I have to be" kind of listening...but morphed into shushing the little kids so they could hear what happened next.  Some of the bigger kids already knew some of the stories we listened to, but thought it was neat to have a more "alive" version of the stories.

Mr. Sarris uses his imagination to bring the characters to life with various accents and dramatics, but the text is taken word for word, from the Bible.  There are some sound effects and music thrown in that remind me of the old radio theater shows I used to listen to....or like a Garrison Keillor type radio drama.

My personal Bible is the New International Version (NIV) but I know some people who prefer the King James Version (KJV).  The beauty of The World's Greatest Stories is that you can order his CDs in either form.

He has a total of 6 CDs available:

Volume 1-  The Prophets (I have this one)
Volume 2 - The Life Of Christ
Volume 3 - Beginnings
Volume 4 - Joshua and Esther (this clip is a sample in King James Version)
Volume 5 - Joseph and His Brothers
Volume 6 - Defeating Giants (David and Goliath)

Each CD is about 1 hour long and costs $7.95 and can be ordered here.  Shipping is free if you order 6 CDs.

I am not really a "gushy" kind of person, but I really loved this CD.  It made me remember when my Mom and Dad would sit us down after dinner for family devotion and Bible reading time.  Nothing against my Dad, but after a long day of hitting the books or navigating through the rough waters of drama, and then one of my mom's dinners, sometimes (most of the time) I would struggle to stay awake as my Dad read from the Bible. 

I know I wouldn't have fallen asleep if I had been listening to one of these CDs...even after eating one of my mom's great dinners.  It makes listening to Bible stories fun....and you can't help but learn a few things along the way.  You know how I feel about sneaky it!

If you have an older car or van that doesn't have a CD can also get all of the volumes on cassette tape!  We have used the stories as we sit around after dinnertime.....before the T.V. gets turned on for the night.  But, these would be great to listen to when you are running errands or on road trips.  I am bringing ours on our next road trip up north.  I can almost guarantee that it will entertain the whole family!

Mr. Sarris also does speaking engagements.  So, give him a call if you have an event coming up that needs a dynamic, entertaining speaker.  Believe me, if you have the chance to see/hear him won't want to miss it.  In the meantime, he offers a few of his talks on his website, although these are only available in CD form. 

The topics include:  Impacting the Culture: Changing the World; The Two Most Important Things a Father Can Do; Bringing Scripture to Life Through Storytelling; Homeschooling As A Team Effort - The Father's Role; and Waiting on the Lord for a Life Partner.  These CD's are $4.95 and if you want to hear an excerpt of them, just click here.

Don't just take my word for it, go take a look at what other TOS crew members thought of the World's Greatest Stories.

I received a copy of Volume One: The Prophets as well as a Sample CD with both NIV and KJV for free in exchange for an honest review of this product.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Our Way

I love beautiful Christmas decorations and even "themed" Christmas trees.  I have friends and family that have gorgeous trees that have evenly spaced lights and ornaments that all go together.  They are lovely.  Really, they are.

Our decorations are not "themed".....unless you count "kid" as a theme.

Here is our tree....

I is sort of jumbled mess, isn't it?  I love it!

Our most important ornament....

....reminds us who and what the Christmas season is really all about!

Get a load of our outdoor decorations....

Yup, people come in from all over the state to drive by our place at night!  It is truly a sight to behold!

The closest thing we have to "nice" decorations are my village that I got at Sam's Club sometime in the early 1990's....I think....

And this Nativity set that I think I got as a gift from my sister-in-law (I think she got it at Sam's Club too)

In a Christmas miracle, the kids have only broken one wise man's head off....the one right behind the donkey!  (You can hardly tell, thanks to this mother's best friend, Super Glue!)

My mom made this for us....

I do have a kid friendly nativity since little hands can't seem to keep themselves from handling baby Jesus and (as noted above) the wise men!

Thanks to my friend, Sherri and her daughter, E, we rediscovered the joy of making paper snowflakes this year.  Which, since we live in Georgia, has the added bonus of being the only possible way we will see snowflakes at Christmas time.

So, from our "kid" Christmas house to yours....Merry Christmas and...

Peace on Earth....Goodwill Toward Men!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Do You Love Punkin Chunkin?

We have recently discovered the beauty of  Punkin Chunkin.  We haven't actually done it....we just watch it on T.V.   I don't know why it is so entertaining....but it is.  There are definitely some interesting people involved in creating the great big machines that hurl the pumpkins across the field.  There is definitely a whole sub-culture of folks who "chunk". 

It is where we first learned what a "trebuchet"is.  That is one of those words that I feel smart when I say ....especially because I also know what it is!  I can now add proud owner of a Trebuchet and a Catapult to my list of accomplishments!

We got a chance to review some products made by a company called Pitsco.  They sent us two Siege Machines ....also known as a catapult and  a trebuchet to construct and try out.  Cool, huh?

They are mini we couldn't launch a pumpkin across our neighbor's fence or anything....but we could launch little clay balls at enough for this mom!  (You don't get those pesky calls from the cranky neighbor lady that way either.)

The kits came with a book all about Siege Machines.  This is the book that has all the things that make a homeschooling mom's heart go pitter-pat.  It explains about the science, technology, engineering and math of medieval siege machines. 

For each machine, they have sections called:  Launching into Experiments, Launching into Science and Launching into Math.  These things walk you through "school" kinds of things like mass versus distance and testing and gathering data and then plotting your average results.  So, you can feel like you are "doing school" even when you are just trying to see whose little clay ball launches the furthest!

The book talks about the history of war machines and the evolution of their use throughout the ages.  This section ends with 1986 and the beginning of the World Championship Punkin Chunkin contest.....which has now spawned the annual Punkin Chunkin show on Discovery Channel.  (In case you are interested, as of the time of the writing of this post, there are 333 days, 14 hours,  17 minutes and 40 seconds.....until next year's contest!)

That was one of the fun parts of getting this kit.  We watched the huge catapults and trebuchets (and air cannons) launch pumpkins before we built our own miniature versions!

The kits took us a while to construct properly....and there were a few....shall we say "tense" moments when Rainman was trying to take the lead in construction and lots of little hands were in his business....

(Why isn't the lid on that glue bottle????)
But, we succeeded with no blood shed.....just a little bit of glue shed.

(He looks just a little cranky, doesn't he?)

The kits came with something called Klean Klay so you can make your little balls o' destruction.  It is a non-drying clay that you can use over and over again and it isn't supposed to lose any of its far, so good.   Those pink balls in the above picture are our balls o' destruction that ended up being too big to launch very far.

After a bit of practice, we have found the perfect size ball o' destruction and now the kids have moved on to seeing what else can be launched....without making mom mad.  For your information, pretzels work pretty good and don't do any damage.

Pitsco is a treasure trove of fun projects if you have a science or an engineering minded member of your family.  I won't say kid....because, honestly, there is some stuff on their site that I would love to get and play this house framing kit or this robot....or this rocket. I have wanted to launch rockets since the 4th grade when the boys got to join  "rocket club".  (In retrospect, I probably could have joined....but wasn't courageous enough to cross those mid-70's gender boundaries.)

Seriously, just go wander around their website for a while. 

I can wait.

I lot of the stuff on their site is designed for classroom use...but there is a homeschooling section where you get can just what you need for your home use. 

I must admit that I expected our siege machines to have a short, yet satisfying life at our house....but they have been surprisingly sturdy and haven't broken yet....that is always a good sign, in my opinion.  Oh, and, no one has been hurt by any of our little flying experiments....also a good sign!

The homeschool Medieval  Machines Pack is available through the Pitsco website for $21.95.

Check out what other TOS crew members throught of their Pitsco machines here.

We received the Medieval Machines Pack for free in exchange for an honest review of their product.

Art...Natural Skill? Or Can It Be Taught?

We teach a wide variety of subjects here in our homeschool.  But, there is one that I have tried various times throughout the years....but haven't been super successful.   The subject is art.

I have had secret dreams of being an artist for years. Then I pick up a pencil or a paint brush....and my hopes are dashed. I have created one pretty good water color picture of a dog....but that is about it. Maybe when I retire?

I have higher hopes for my kids.

We have had a lot of fun with craft time....but somehow, to me, that wasn't really "art" class once they hit like 4th grade or so.  I wanted them to understand lines, perspective, how to shade and how to use a kiln....and make some beautiful pottery for their mother....not that we have a kiln here....but a mom can dream, can't she?  I also wanted them to have some art history and be able to identify a VanGogh and tell the difference between a Monet, Jackson Pollack, and a Picasso.

The kids all have shown some natural talent and ability....and I don't think it is just a proud mother talking. 
(She got 2nd place in our County fair)

(Earrings she made that won 1st place at the County fair)

So, I was super excited when we got the chance to review an art curriculum called Artistic Pursuits.

Artistic Pursuits has curriculum for preschool up to high school.  We got to choose from all the different age levels.  I chose the one geared toward 4th-6th grade (Book 1) called the Elements of Art and Composition

We needed a few official supplies before starting the curriculum, so we headed off to Michael's....for just the few basic things we needed to get started.  We needed 4 Ebony pencils, a vinyl eraser, a metal pencil sharpener, and 1 sketch pad.  I could have ordered all my supplies that I needed directly from their site.  They have supply packs broken down by each book/level. 

The only problem I had at Michael's is I didn't know what an Ebony pencil was.  I assumed that it would be labeled and would look like the one depicted in the book.  It wasn't.   

I got what I needed, but it turned into a much longer shopping trip than intended.  Rainman even ran next door to Staples to see if they had any pencils magically labeled "Ebony".  They didn't.

Teaching this course was much simpler after our initial shopping trip for supplies!

This book has 16 lessons divided into sections to cover:  Visual vocabulary; American Art Appreciation and History; Techniques; and Application.  Throughout the book are examples of art by "professionals", but also student art that I found encouraging....and was also encouraging to my girls to see what other kids had been able to do with the help of the lessons.

This curriculum is one that the student can work on independently without your direct supervision....which if you have read any of my schooling posts in the know I have mixed feelings about.  I like to know what they are doing in school and be involved....but realistically, time-wise, I can't directly supervise every aspect of their day, so I do have to throw them to the sharks sometimes.

We (A-girl and L-girl and I) read through the beginning of the book together about the "Mysterious Language of Art"...the main points are to 1.  Learn to observe the world around you - and really see it.  2.  Learn what to look for.  3.  Learn to focus on one element of art at a time, while drawing, and block out the others.  Then I set the girls loose to do their lesson.

I tried having the girls do the lessons sequentially...but they thought that was too boring.  So, instead, I just told them to dive in and do which lessons interested them.  The thought behind this was that I was hoping to get them more excited about art....and, if they were lacking in one area that had been covered earlier in the book..... they could always jump back and fill in their gaps with earlier lessons. 

So, far, I think this approach is working....not a traditional approach....but we aren't a totally traditional family here anyway!

Here are a few of their projects.

If you are looking for a way to teach art at home, this is really a neat program.  In looking at the website at the books for younger students, I sort of wished I would have tried those to get to do some of those projects with my littler ones.  Like the one for "scratch art".

I remember doing scratch art in school when I was little.  It was cool.  There is a scratch art lesson in the Artistic Pursuits book we have too.  I just may have to jump ahead in the book myself and do some scratch art!

You can take a look at all the Artistic Pursuits book here. The Grade 4-6 Book One Elements of Art and Composition book can be purchased here for  $42.95.

See what other TOS crew members thought of Artistic Pursuits here.

We received a free copy of Artistic Pursuits Grade 4-6 Book One Elements of Art and Composition in exchange for an honest review of their product.