Karibu Rafiki! (Welcome Friend)

Sometimes I wonder if our house is actually on the moon, unhindered by so much gravity. Because my children tend to float up onto the furniture with no warning and, at least according to them, entirely by accident.

Today I looked at my nine-year-old son, whom I had just gotten out of time out for climbing all over the couch and setting a bad example for his brother during reading time, and he was climbing up the arm of the couch. Thirty seconds after he had promised he would sit still like a normal human. “Oh! Mom! I don’t know how I got up here! I’m sorry!” And he genuinely was. He had no idea that he was floating up the furniture. Again.

Anyway, despite the fact that no one seems to stay attached to the ground or sitting for more than 30 seconds, we’ve been doing a lot of reading around here lately. Mostly about one topic: Africa. Because we’re going.

That sentence strikes fear in my heart. Also, excitement. And trepidation. And joy. And terror. Sort of like homeschooling.

No, I’m thrilled we’re going. I want my kids to see the world, more than our little tidy piece of it. I want them to serve others and learn compassion and have practice being uncomfortable. And yes, we could do all those things here in Oklahoma. But we have the chance to go visit some friends, serve them and just do whatever we can (working out some details still) to refresh their hearts (I hope).

The other day I started to make a list of a few minor concerns such as:

  • lost luggage
  • lost children
  • civil war
  • malaria
  • food allergies (mine)
  • food avoidance (children’s)
  • mosquitoes
  • children getting speared by a rhino
  • children getting eaten by a lion
  • husband not returning from safari
  • robbery
  • having to eat a big pot of goat meat
  • listening to 2 weeks of nonstop whining about things my kids don’t like
  • death

Then I decided to stop worrying about it. I went to the travel.state.gov website to find out what immunizations we needed. There I read about a travel alert to Kenya that warns people to be alert after a few instances of kidnapping and murder. Fabulous.

I’m not going to worry about it any more. As the events from this week illustrate even more, there is no place that is perfectly safe, even those we’d like to think are. God is in control of our lives here, our lives there, and everywhere in between.

A Unit Study

In preparation for our trip I found whatever our library had about Africa. We found some picture books, a DVD on the food there and some Swahili CDs. I’ve made one Kenyan recipe. I want to make “ugali and sukuma wiki” but haven’t done it yet. I need to find out where to get goat meat.

We’ve been reading those, listening to some CDs and generally trying to soak in what we can. I feel like we haven’t done much because we’re still trying to do those pesky subjects like spelling and math, but I’m hoping to focus on it more this summer.

Wherever you are going this summer, you can do the same, just get some books, learn a bit about it ahead of time, and dig into whatever interesting culture you can find about that place. So much fun!

(If you happen to want to learn about Africa, I’d recommend all the resources in the picture. They are great! Chai Tea Sunday and the DVD are for grown ups; the others are for kids. Also this David Livingstone book. )

Cookie Map

And of course we had to make a cookie map, because you say Geography and I say Cookie Map. Here’s how we did that:

  1. Bake some Pillsbury sugar cookie dough into one huge flat cookie. I covered the entire pizza pan.
  2. Cool. Frost in white. Trace shape of continent, country, or area in toothpick (so you can correct mistakes) into the frosting. Cut out shape. (It doesn’t have to be perfect, as evidenced by my weird-looking Africa.) Put wax paper or foil around edges of cookie (to be the water or boundaries of the area).
  3. Have kids help decorate (my kids didn’t help until this point). We used chocolate sprinkles for the Sahara Desert, frosting for rivers and some country boundaries, red hots for mountains and one piece of spaghetti for the equator. Licorice would have worked if we had had any.
  4. Take pictures, share with friends and enjoy!

 Are you planning any trips this summer? Are you doing any fun learning before you go?

Easter: Resurrection Rolls

{This is a repost from last year. We’re planning to make these on Saturday.}

“He is not here; he is risen!”   Luke 24:6

This is the one Easter activity my children think is mandatory. They did it in their Cubbies class in Awana, and thus it must be  performed every Easter, without fail.  Today is the Friday before Easter, and we just remembered, so when we went to the store to
get Easter egg dye and a salad kit for Easter dinner, we picked up some rolls and marshmallows too.


Get some yeast freezer rolls, the kind that have to rise for 3-5 hours.  Let them rise.  Once the rolls have risen, your kids can flatten them out hide a big marshmallow in the center of each one, wrap the roll around, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and put it on a cookie sheet.

Isn’t this a great picture? I have no pictures of the finished product, so I looked online and found this at http://barbarah.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/works-for-me-wednesday-easter-treats/

Bake the rolls according to instructions on the bag. When the rolls are done, the marshmallow is gone! It symbolizes the empty tomb! These rolls are a great, easy, fun activity and can be served with the Easter meal or as dessert.




Here’s a link that shows doing it with Crescent rolls. http://savingdollarsandsense.com/resurrection-rolls-recipe.html Either type of rolls would work fine, and Crescent rolls are probably easier since you don’t have to wait for the dough to rise. We just have always done it with the frozen kind.

He is not here; He is Risen!


Easter: Simple Passover Dinner

From top, clockwise: horseradish, Charoset (apple mixture), Matzoh (unleavened bread), parsley.

{reposted from last year}

If you have small children and/or are overwhelmed with life and its responsibilities, feel free to skip right over this. I don’t want you to feel like it’s one more thing on the list of things to do.  Our family chooses not do some other traditionally Easter activities, like visiting the Easter Bunny at the mall, or elaborate Easter Egg hunts, so that we (I) have time and energy for things like this.

I dug into the whole subject one year and was fascinated by the seven Jewish feasts and their symbolism of Christ. If you want more background on them, and why they matter to Christians, along with a more traditional (and complicated) Seder dinner,
here’s a document on the Background of Jewish Festivals and a Passover Seder for Older Kids. I typed it up several years ago when I apparently had lots of
time on my hands.

Now that I have three kids and very little time, I keep this document (the steps below) in my spring box in the pantry with the Resurrection Eggs, and I follow it word for word (since I’ve forgotten everything from the year before), and it still works. I have to say, I recommend this way.  (We’ll try to do this tonight or Saturday night. These pictures are from several years ago.)

This whole meal is called the Passover Seder. Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the Thursday before he died. When your kids read that, they will now
understand what it means.  It also important to note that Jesus died at the exact
same hour
as the Passover lamb was killed. What are the chances of all the
days of the year, that he would be crucified that exact hour? And Jesus is
called our Passover Lamb. Coincidence? I think not.

Buy at the store:

  • matzoh crackers (usually there is a Jewish display around now, with all the kosher food). These are crackers without leaven. They’re good!
  • horseradish, the smallest jar possible (refrigerated, by the cheeses or deli area)
  • parsley (produce section, by the lettuce probably)
  • apples (2), walnuts or raisins, honey
  • juice -white or (more symbolic, but potentially messier) red, grape juice
    (Note: This year I forgot to buy grape juice, so we’ll use apple juice.)
  • You’ll also need: salt and water (you probably have these!)


  1. Chop up the apple, mix with honey and raisins or walnuts to form a sweet mixture.
  2. On everyone’s plate put a little piece of parsley, a small dab of horseradish, three pieces of matzoh crackers, and a spoonful of the apple mixture. Give everyone a glass of juice. Mix up a cup with water and salt, enough salt so it tastes salty. You can just have one for the table.
From top: horseradish, Charoset (apple mixture), Matzoh (unleavened bread), parsley.

1. Gather the
family around, light a candle to show the feast has begun.

2. Read Old Testament.  Have
the husband (if he’s there) read Exodus 12:3-14, 17 and 21-27. Or just retell the story of the final plague, that “the Israelites were in slavery, God was going to deliver them. They had to kill a perfect, spotless lamb, spread the blood around their door with hyssop branches, and eat unleavened bread because they were in a hurry and didn’t have time for the
yeast to rise. So, they did this, God’s Angel of Death PASSED OVER their houses
and their sons were saved. Then he brought them out of Egypt and saved them.
Who saves us? That’s right Jesus. Jesus is sometimes called the Passover Lamb.”

2. Read New Testament – “So the Israelites kept having this Passover meal every year to remember how God saved them. Did you know Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples right before he died?” Read Luke 22:1-22 or summarize. We’re going to celebrate this Passover meal just like Jesus did.

3. Parsley & Saltwater (Hyssop & tears) – “First the parsley reminds us of the hyssop they dipped in the blood and put above the doors. The saltwater reminds us of the bitter tears they cried in Egypt and how hard slavery was. Everyone, get your parsley and dip it in the saltwater, and pretend to brush it
across the top and sides of your door. Now eat the parsley.”

4. Matzoh (Unleavened Bread)
- The leader (your husband or you) holds up the bread, explaining, “This
is to remind us of how they had to eat unleavened bread, because they were in
too much of a hurry to let the yeast rise. I will now break it into three pieces,
wrap it in a napkin (or linen cloth) and put it under my plate. We will come
back to this later.”

5. Horseradish
(“Maror” in Hebrew, bitter herbs) – next, the horseradish reminds us
of the bitter herbs the Isrealites had to eat with their meal.  It reminds
us of how bitter their lives were in slavery. Dip a small (very very tiny, it’s
spicy) piece of your matzoh bread into the bitter herbs and taste it. (They can
spit it back out if they want. Have juice ready.)

6. Apple mixture (“Charoset” in Hebrew) – Now, this one tastes good! This mixture is
sweet. It reminds us of how sweet God’s love for them was to bring them out of
slavery. It also reminds us of the mortar they used to put in between the
bricks when they were slaves.  You can dip your matzoh cracker in that and
eat it. God’s love for us is sweet, isn’t it?

7. Grape juice (wine, symbolic of Christ’s blood) – re-read the part in Luke where Jesus said, this is my blood, shed for you.  This reminds us of how Jesus loved us so much
he died for us. You can drink some.

8. Unleavened Bread (again) - Take out the matzoh from under the plate. Jesus took the bread and broke it, just like I did, and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body, broken for you”. So, let’s eat a bite and remember how Jesus gave his body
for us.  Now, notice how this bread is striped and pierced. Jesus was
whipped and nailed to the cross, so the bread reminds us of his body that was
also (striped and pierced). And there are three pieces, just like the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus was wrapped in a linen cloth and put in the
tomb, just like I wrapped this bread and put it under my plate. But then, what
happened? That’s right, he rose from the dead! So we can celebrate that he’s

9. Finish the story – So, Jesus finished this ‘Last Supper’ with his disciples on Thursday night, then prayed in the garden of Gethsemane,  then Judas betrayed him, then he died at the same time as the Passover Lamb died in the temple of Jerusalem on Friday. Isn’t that amazing, the one day, the one hour of the year that the Passover Lamb died, Jesus also died. That’s another proof that he’s our Passover Lamb. He saves us from our sins, just like God saved the Israelites from Egypt. Read I Cor 5:7 (Jesus is our Passover [Lamb]) After 3 days (Friday night, Saturday, Sunday
morning) he rose from the tomb.

You could eat a regular dinner now (or one without any yeast/leaven if you want to be
traditional) and talk about the Resurrection, letting each child open a colored
egg and retelling the story of Jesus’s Death and Resurrection.  A soup dinner would work well because you could dip the crackers (unleavened bread in it). I think traditionally it’s a lamb stew, but we only did that one year. This flows in the story right after the Passover, so it fits perfectly to do those eggs next. Just talk about it
while you eat dinner.

Then, finish up with the first verse of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”.

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Earth and heaven in chorus say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

Now, when your children read about the Passover Feast, and later, take communion at church, they will know the history of it a little more.

Here’s a version of the Seder  from the Focus on the Family magazine. I would say it’s medium-complicated. So maybe start with the simple one above if you have young kids, then graduate to the Focus on the Family one.

Please let me know if you try this, or if you already do it, and how it goes!

Birthday Ideas

A cute cutting board for making fruit salad. Kids younger than 6 or so can use butter knives (not these sharp paring knives) and can cut bananas, apple slices, and strawberries with help.

I love when God just orchestrates things so I have a few extra hours to get things done. A friend ended up watching my two little ones today so our sons could play LEGOS (and argue about Battleship). I got to wrap birthday presents and now even have time to sit and write this blog post that I’ve been thinking about for weeks but haven’t had time to write!

I was sort of dreading getting birthday presents this year because I feel like we already have so much stuff that we don’t even have time to use. I prayed about birthday gifts and traditions this year for the first time and God gave lots of great ideas.  Here are some I thought I’d share:

1. Special Birthday Book – I got a journal for my son and daughter and my husband and I wrote a note to my daughter (and plan to do my son’s tonight) on her birthday. We mentioned skills she’s learned this year, areas we’ve seen her growing, gifts we see in her, and verses we are praying for this next year. I really want to take the opportunity of a birthday to cherish the uniqueness of each of my children, not just let it be a day for gifts and cake. I want them to feel so important as a part of our family.

2.  Post-It Notes with Encouraging Words - my husband, my son and I all made seven sticky notes (my daughter was turning 7) and put them all over the house for her to find when she woke up. The look on her face was priceless as she woke up and started finding all these notes with things we love about her. The ones from her brother were especially precious, since many days they doubt whether the other one even likes them! :)

This is mainly a gift of time. We probably spent two hours the night before my daughter’s birthday writing the notes and in the book.

3. Gifts that encourage a wholesome interest - Sometimes it seems like all the toys are violent, or battery-operated plastic junk, or just encourage frivolous things. We try to give books or toys that encourage a wholesome interest – this year for my daughter was horses, and my son it’s train tracks. We found several books on horses, and asked Grandma and Grandpa to give horse riding lessons (my daughter said that was all she wanted in the whole world) instead of a toy. She got a stuffed horse, a horse-shaped purse, etc. My older son surprisingly wanted wooden train tracks, but I jumped all over it because I think he will enjoy building intricate tracks and my younger son will enjoy lining up the trains. We found a Thomas train table with tracks, trains, buildings, etc. for $50 on Craigs List.

For toddlers, I love the Melissa and Doug wooden dolls, wooden fruit and vegetable and other foods (healthy) to play with, play-doh, balls, and stickers.

SOURCE: Lessons in something, Educational Stores (typically have more wood, better quality toys), Craigs List

4. Art/Craft Supplies - These are the kinds of things that encourage creativity. My daughter got play-doh, Grandma got her a doodle book, sometimes she’s had jewelry-making kits, paint, watercolors, and paint-a-birdhouse or model airplane type projects. For my son this year I got a real sketch pad, graphite pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener, and a little art box to put it all in. It was fun to get to pick out some “real” artist supplies.

Fabric can be interesting for dress up. One year we gave my daughter about two yards of: floaty rainbow fabric, blue sparkly fabric, and red satin fabric. The fabric has been made into capes, dresses, tents, and room decorations and is still used.

SOURCE: Hobby Lobby or Michaels, JoAnns for fabric

5. Tools that teach a useful skill  - For example, cooking, building, gardening tools. My son is turning nine this year, so I’m getting him kitchen knives and a cutting board to help make fruit salad and to acknowledge his growing responsibility to handle things in the kitchen. In the past we’ve gotten him a hammer, screwdrivers, duct tape, heavy string and other building supplies. I like that gifts like these encourage kids to develop useful, helpful skills, and not just look for things to entertain them.

In the past we’ve gotten gardening gloves, small spades and watering cans for both my son and daughter. My daughter has received cute aprons, pink spatulas, and mini-muffin tins for past birthdays.

For toddlers I LOVE to give mini-squirt bottles, cute broom and dustpan sets, and tiny aprons. They love to be big helpers.

SOURCE: Pier1 has great broom and dustpan sets, kids scrubbers, and other cute kids stuff. It can be pricey, but they often have an area for end-of-season marked down stuff. I get most of our friends’ birthday gifts at Target, not in the toy section, but in the cooking or tool section.

6. Books. I love these, but feel so behind with great books that we haven’t even had time to read yet that we haven’t done these as much lately. I like to get the more unusual ones that the library doesn’t have, like the missionary biographies at Grace and Truth or the easy-reader ones at Mardel. My friend had the brilliant idea of audio books, which I meant to do but didn’t get around to this year. She says they also do this at Easter and other holidays, and specifically mentioned Focus on the Family radio theater as being excellent. My sister sells Usborne and I can’t help myself at homeschool conferences and used book sales, so we’re usually covered on great books.

SOURCE: Grace and Truth Books (Christian hero bios and Christian heroes DVDs), Amazon, Focus on the Family radio theater.

7. Coupons for Mommy or Daddy Time – We did this last year, but this year didn’t because spring is such a busy time for us I can’t think about adding another event right now. But things we have done in the past include: Date with Daddy to a regular restaurant, then a fancy one for dessert, laser tag with Dad, tea party with Mom, and I can’t remember what I did with my son! Something boyish, I’m sure.

One thing that has been completely magical to the kids is Moon Walks. I want to write a whole post about this. Twice a summer I get up at the unkind hour of five o’clock, grumbling in my head the whole while about how crazy this idea is, wake up ONE child, and take a special walk with that child as the sun rises. We live in the city, so we just walk to Quik Trip ( a gas station near us), but we walk hand in hand looking at the stars and moon, talking and listening, and then hear the “first birds of the morning” begin to sing. Sometimes we see ducks, geese, or rabbits. I try to ask my children heart questions and just connect with them. We then get juice and donuts (those nasty packaged ones that I think are disgusting but they think are the hugest treat ever) and walk home. This is honestly one of the things they remember and talk about and we should do it more but I hate getting up that early! I’m trying to rope my husband into doing it to double our moon walks without further encroaching on my sleep time.

Another related special time we do doesn’t have a name, but it’s Sit Up on The Fort, Snuggle In a Sleeping Bag, and Watch The Sun Come Up Time with Mom. Again, this involves getting up early (maybe that’s the appeal to them? I mean they are virtually never up when it’s still dark outside, and certainly not sitting outside on the fort). For some crazy reason we did this when it was freezing, thus the sleeping bag part. Anyway, my kids just shine with joy being there with me all alone and having that amazing experience of watching the sun come up. (If you go camping, this probably would happen very naturally. Maybe some day we’ll go camping again.)

My whole point with that is just: make a special time with your child. It doesn’t have to cost anything. Just a few hours of your sleep and a quiet time (maybe outdoors) with them is one of the greatest gifts you could ever give.

That’s all the ideas I have for today. What are the most special or well-loved birthday gifts you give at your house?

6 Tips for My Future Crafting Self

NOTE: This is a re-post from last year. Hope you enjoy it! This year we’ve been stitching hearts onto cardboard and it’s been going surprisingly well. My eight- and six-year-old love it and my three-year-old tolerates it for about twenty minutes before he gets bored.  I followed the tutorial here: http://www.redbirdcrafts.com/2012/01/sew-heart-valentine-tutorial.html
Valentine’s Day seems to bring out the crafty side of my  fellow stay-at-home moms. And while I appreciate the sentiment behind all those cute Valentine’s card ideas on lots of blogs right now, we are doing well at our house just to get through a construction paper and glue session and wind up with some crooked hearts without cutting someone’s finger off.

Craft day at our house is a big, fat mess every single time, but this time I thought I’d share some tips I am willing my future crafting self to remember. You know, for next
Valentine’s day. Or Easter-egg dying day (shudder).

Hello, nice to meet you. Would you like to shake my freakishly purple hand?

1. Put the toddler in the high chair before you start. Always. Always! How many times do I have to tell you this, self? Otherwise he’ll be running around with purple, inky hands saying, “I not poopy!” which means, of course, that he is
poopy, and you will have both an inky toddler and a poopy diaper with which to contend, and this is not a good situation for anybody.

Get behind me, Satan. (non-washable ink)

2. Make sure the ink is washable.  I mean, hello. I did notice when I got out the blue ink that it said, “washable.” Which the black ink did not say. But how hard could ink possibly be to wash off? Well, I’ll tell you. Very hard. So hard, in fact, that even after giving my two-year-old a bath for an hour, and using lots of soap, he still looked like he had a black eye and some oddly tattooed hands. Thankfully this should not be a problem next year since I threw the non-washable kind away and vowed to not let any other such insanity enter the house as long as I have young children.

Eye Love You.

3. Googly eyes are a hit! In fact, my five-year-old helped my two-year-old sit there and glue on googly eyes happily for at least twenty minutes. They didn’t really care about those cute heart stickers I bought, so next year I might as well just buy a couple extra packs of googly eyes.

4. I have to cut out other activities on craft day.
I’m doing better about this! Maybe writing posts will help me remember my own
advice. I remembered our sticky snow ice cream disaster and thought, wait! I
need to only do one thing at a time! And cut other things out! So, we just had
our Valentine’s Extravaganza on the schedule that day. I counted it for
handwriting and copywork (which it was).

We went to our homeschool Capitol Day earlier this week, and it was awesome. (If you’ve never been to your state’s Capitol Day, I’d encourage you to Google it, find out when it is, and go.) But because of that, and our Valentine’s Extravaganza, we got exactly zero math lessons done this week. But, I reminded myself, it’s okay. Better to do a manageable amount and not get stressed out, than to try to cram everything in and be yelling at my kids. So, that’s a praise! I didn’t yell at my kids! Thank you Lord!

Busy at work

5. It will get easier. Next year, my toddler will be three and a
half. Practically a man! So, I’m sure it will be easier next year. And if it
won’t, I don’t want to know about it, okay? I’m just going to keep repeating it . . . It will get easier . . . It will get easier . . . It will get
easier . . .

6. It’s worth it. Despite the mess, the clean up, the chaos, this is important. I want my children to make Valentines for family and friends and neighbors, to show their love and appreciation for their teachers and grandparents. I want them to learn that life isn’t all about them. And the sooner they learn that, the better.

Bar Keeper's Friend, you are a friend of mine

On a side note, my husband has been yearning after a certain Pottery Barn table for years. But can you imagine the stress of a gorgeous new table? At least this one is all dilapidated, so if it gets a little ink on it, it’s no big deal. Three cheers for old kitchen tables.  :)

Happy crafting with your kiddos. I’m sure at your house it’s much more orderly than at ours.

Chapter Book Challenge: Mid-Year Update

Earlier this year I wrote about a Chapter Book Challenge. The idea is to encourage each other in our reading and share great books we’ve found.

Please jump in with your comments and share your great ideas! I have learned a lot from you.

So each week this year I felt like we were not doing nearly enough reading, maybe only sitting down to read 2-3 times per week, but somehow it added up. (The audio books did help greatly in squeezing more in.)

Here’s what we read and what we thought. At the time of the reading, my children were:
son, 8 years
daughter, 6 years
son, 3 years (But most were read during his nap.)


The Horse and His Boy; C.S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For an older child, 5 stars.)

Great story and Christian worldview, but the complex plot and vocabulary made it hard to read to a 6 and 8 year-old without a lot of explaining.

Wonderful writing, of course.




Prince Caspian; C. S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For a an older child, 5 stars.)

Same review as The Horse and His Boy. My kids did like it, but I think they’d enjoy it even more in a few years.






Voyage of the Dawn Treader; C.S. Lewis
My Rating: 4 stars
(For this age. For a an older child, 5 stars.)


I crossed the last two Narnia books off our list for this year and plan to try them in a few years when the kids are a bit older.





A Little Princess; Frances Hodgson Burnett
My Rating: 4 stars
(Due to weird theme of how The Magic is inside all of us and watches over us, instead God’s providence and care.)

Wonderful character story that ignites the imagination, but the weird “Magic” undertone bothered me. My kids (especially my daughter) enjoyed it.  I liked the concept of holding ourselves to a high standard of civility and graciousness.  Writing was good but not great. This is a classic though, and I’d recommend it, especially for girls.



Anna Hibiscus; Atinuke
My Rating: 4

Story of a girl in Africa, written by a storyteller. Lyrical writing. Kids were interested in the funny stories and names. No explicit Christian content, but seemed a Christian worldview. Lovely. Perfect for us since we hope to go to Africa this summer (Lord willing). Wonderful way to learn about the world.

Usborne carries these.



In Grandma’s Attic; Arleta Richardson
My Rating: 5 stars

Though the writing isn’t exceptional, I loved this book. Each chapter is a story from
Grandma’s day. The kids were interested in the stories. All come from a Christian worldview; some have explicit spiritual messages. This is the perfect book for their ages—simple enough plot to understand, moral lessons, funny stories, spiritual truth. I plan to get others in the series.



Hank the Cowdog and the Runaway Windmill; John R. Erikson
My Rating: ? I don’t know. I didn’t hear it.

My son said he would recommend it. (He also said I HAVE to tell kids about the A-Z mysteries. HAVE TO. But we’ll get to those later.)


The First Four Years; Laura Ingalls Wilder
My Rating: 3 stars

This book was a rough version because Wilder didn’t polish it before she died and you can tell. The writing is not nearly as strong or descriptive as the others, the theme doesn’t really work, it’s poorly transitioned in spots, and it’s extremely depressing.

The happy parts: they have a daughter.
The sad parts: hail destroys their wheat crop, Almanzo and Laura get diphtheria, Almanzo has a stroke, they lose their homestead, most of the trees on the tree claim die, their infant son dies, and the book ends right after their house burns down.
Cheery, right?

This is not one I’d recommend for kids unless they are dying to see what happened to Laura (mine were).

[Note: I don't blame Laura Ingalls Wilder for any of this. All her other books are a 4.5 or 5 stars. She's wonderful. This book, from what I've read, she didn't even like, and put the rough draft away and didn't work on it again. Her publisher decided to publish the rough draft after her death. So it's really not her fault. I'd highly recommend any of her other books.]

 Throughout the Year

The Jesus Storybook Bible; Sally Lloyd Jones (and God)
My Review: 4.5 stars

This is the Bible we read through in the mornings, one story most days. I would
recommend this because it held all three of my children’s attention, an impressive feat, and all stories are tied in to Jesus, which is a lovely thread.

The only thing I didn’t love is it’s a bit silly in parts and embellishes with dialogue that is not true to the Bible accounts. My kids really enjoyed it.


James Herriot’s Treasury for Children; James Herriot
My Rating: 4 stars, so far

I feel like this is required homeschool reading! It is lovely, with quirky stories about various animals and an English vet. My daughter is the animal-lover and she enjoys the book the most. My 3 year old likes looking at the pictures even though the stories are a bit above him. Gorgeous illustrations.
Warning: will make you want to move to a farm in England.

Here’s our updated list for the rest of the year. You might notice almost everything has changed since the original list. Ah, well.

Regular (Print) books
We are hoping to go to Africa this summer, so the books are Africa-heavy.
January:          James Herriot’s Treasury (finish); Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s farm (finish)
February:        Anna Hibiscus, books 2 and 3 (Africa girl stories)
March:            No. 1 Car-Spotter, book 1 (Africa boy story)
April:               David Livingstone, illustrated version
May:               Anna Hibiscus, book 4 and Dr. Doolittle (if time)
June:              Heidi, if time

Audio Books – as many as we get through from this list. My brilliant friend Sarah really encouraged me by how many books they’ve gotten through by using audio books. Here are some of the ones she recommended.
Beverly Cleary - Runaway Ralph, Motorcycle, Henry and Ribsy
Sarah Plain and Tall and 2 sequels
Boxcar Children
Peter Pan
Sugar Creek Gang, Focus on the Family Radio Drama
Anne of Green Gables
Hank the Cowdog

These books were bumped from the original list for a while.
Narnia, last 2 books 
Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear

What about you? What are your favorite read-aloud books so far this year?

Teaching Conversation Skills

Today’s guest post is from Karen Michelle Graham. I met her at a writer’s conference and when she told me about this technique from her book (about healing her son from autism) I asked her to write a guest post about it.

There are two kinds of children who I think could benefit from this technique: 

  • children in the autism spectrum, especially those with Asperger’s 
  • any child who has a hard time making conversation (one of my sons struggles with this)

We played this “conversation game” with our kids during the holidays and it actually helped them be much more polite in talking with Grandma, getting them to think about asking questions and interacting better.

Here is Karen’s technique, which we called ”The Conversation Game.”

One of the keys to a successful program for my son was teaching him the power of reciprocating language…the give and take of conversation that we take for granted. We started with small manageable units. Here are just a few of the basic steps out of many.

Step 1. We taught our son to answer simple social questions.
(Some prerequisites were taught before this step such as following simple commands, receptively label body parts (head, nose feet, tummy eyes, legs), action verb commands, matching, verbal imitation … to name a few. He progressed to more complicated questions and situations.)

For example:

  • What is your name?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you have any brothers or sisters?
  • What is your dad’s name?
  • What is your mom’s name?
  • What is your address?
  • What is your phone number?

Add you own questions. Come up with at least fifteen.

We prompted my son for the answer. (Fade the prompts as soon as possible.) We taught him in his room, and then had other people ask the same question. Then we made sure he generalized the knowledge by asking the question in diverse locations by various people.

When we taught, “Who loves you?”, we taught him to respond, “Mommy and Daddy.” When he generalized this question, he answered with a long list of people he believed loved him like his sister and therapists. I think this is so sweet.

Come up with rewards when a correct answer is given.
For example: verbal praise, hugs, tickles, balloons, and noisemaker. Be sure to adjust the reward to what means something to your child. When you give verbal praise, be as specific as possible.

Charity’s Note: For our game, because we were eating dinner at the time, we started with the question, “Do you like chicken?” The kids had to make eye contact (instead of the usual mumbling into their laps) and respond politely. (I think we had them say, “Yes, I do,” or “it’s not my favorite.” Something other than, “No, I hate it.”)

Step 2: Simple Statement
We taught my son to respond to a statement with a simple statement of his own.
Therapist: I like Spiderman.
Child: I like Superman.

Charity’s Note: We practiced like this:
Mom: I like chicken.
Child: I like carrots. (or whatever else was on the table they liked.)

Step 3. Statement/Statement/Question

This taught my son to ask a question back to the other person. Here is an example of how this works:
Therapist: I like Spiderman.
Child: I like Superman. Do you like Superman?
(The therapist answers spontaneously. Usually, “yes, he is cool,” Or something equally encouraging.)

When we taught the question piece of the drill, we modeled it. Though some children do not respond to modeling, many will, and it is a good technique.

Charity’s Note: Here’s what we did:
Grandma: Do you like chicken?
Child: Yes, I like chicken. Do you like chicken?
Then they looked at Grandma and waited for the answer.
Next, we modeled a polite answer to an open-ended question and asking a reciprocal question. I think my mom and I did it to each other to show them the example. Then they had a turn.
Grandma: How was your day?
Child: (Gave polite answer, making eye contact.) How was your day?
So many good manners flying about. I think Emily Post would be proud. :)

The above programs are just small examples of the many things we taught our son…it had a powerful effect in jumpstarting his language and propelling him toward more complex conversation skills.
Teaching my son was like building a house… this is just one of the key pieces I loved watching him bloom and grow with.

Karen Michelle Graham is the author of A Life to Rescue: The True Story of a Child Freed from the Bonds of Autism. To order the book or read more (such as Autism, Guilt, & Blame—Autism & Tantrums—Autism & Stress) visit her blog at  www.aLifetoRescue.com.

Do your children struggle with social skills or polite conversation? What did you do to help them learn these skills?

For those who are using this technique for autism therapy, Karen included this example chart to show how to document progress.

Date Teacher
Question / Statement Prompt? Results
11/12 Mom What is your name? w/ prompt 4/5
11/13 Dad What is your name? w/out prompt 5/5

Family Song: Take Time to Be Holy

This is our current Family Song. I love this line: “Take time to be holy, the world rushes on.” It inspired me to try to do a media fast, with mixed results. I didn’t totally cut out  the radio, but I did better at turning it off and praying or singing or just having quiet thinking time. I realized how much all that noise contributes to stress. Next up: computer time. Ack.

Here’s to “much time in secret with Jesus alone” over the holidays, for all of us.

Take Time to Be Holy
William Longstaff

Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord;
Abide in Him always, and feed on His Word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak,
Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.

Take time to be holy, the world rushes on;
Spend much time in secret, with Jesus alone.
By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be;
Thy friends in thy conduct His likeness shall see.

We’re just memorizing the first two stanzas.
For the entire song and melody go here.
For sheet music go here.

In fact, I just have to tell you, I barely even know the names of the notes on the piano, and I can pick out the melody by just using the top notes on the sheet music. I’m trying to learn it enough to play as the family sings. I’m quite excited that I can almost play a song! :)

If Mama Ain’t Happy . . .

Not a Danish fjord, but fjord nonetheless. (From my optimistically titled book, Iceland: The Warm Country of the North.)

Last Thursday afternoon was one of my babysitter afternoons, during which my three darling children go to a babysitter’s house for a few hours and I do … whatever I want.

It took me a while to figure out what I even wanted to do. I had that odd sluggish feeling hovering about.

You know how when you have postpartum depression it feels like an enormous gray cat is sitting on your brain? And you feel overwhelmed with life, and can’t even think of what the next thing to do would be, but you know you don’t have the energy to do it? And the least little thing makes you burst into tears?

That’s how I feel by the end of the homeschool week. It’s a passing cloud, not a lingering blackness, but I usually do seem to be in a bit of a fog by the end of the week.

I am so worn out from the constant demands for my time and attention (and food, always food), from breaking up fights, and for having to make sure everyone gets their
school done that I really look forward to some alone time. (I am an introvert,
so I get recharged by time alone; you might enjoy time with a friend more.)

I tried to go home and be productive this past Thursday afternoon, sorting through the kids’ outgrown clothes, boxing up summer clothes, vacuuming up the ten pounds of debris on my living room carpet. But when the vacuum cleaner started making strange sounds and not working properly, and this caused me to almost burst into tears, I knew it was time for an intervention.

I made myself go to the YMCA.

And, oh, it was glorious. I didn’t have to settle any fights in the car on the way over. I didn’t have even one single child to shepherd into the children’s area. I got to run on the treadmill. The treadmills have TVs with cable, so I got to watch House Hunters International about a sweet American couple trying to find a house on a fjord in Denmark.

It made me exceedingly happy.

Sometimes it seems like a luxury, doesn’t it? To take time for ourselves?

But the alternative, with me at least, is to keep going, chugging along getting grumpier and grumpier at “all the work I have to do,” even though I know it wouldn’t be spiritual to admit it, and then I get crankier and crankier at all the people around me.

“You want a piece of cheese? Didn’t I just feed you, like, four hours ago?” Sigh.

My kids spill milk. I grit my teeth and try not to be mad.

They fight. I gripe at them to be nice.

I’m not saying there’s ever an excuse for me acting that way. I should pray, and I do. I should read my Bible in the mornings, and I do (some days).

But sometimes, it really helps to go for a run.

Those endorphins helped lift my cloud. I could see sunshine again.

I was able to think and analyze some of the changes I needed to make in our lives. I suddenly had all kinds of plans for the next few weeks, most of which taking time to slow down, stay home (and off the computer), and make things in the Crock Pot.

(I was also inspired by the couple on my treadmill TV who were moving from California to experience the slower pace of life in Denmark with their two young girls. I want that for my kids.  I was yearning to nestle us all down by a Danish Fjord (with no TVs and maybe limited electricity), but since my husband and children are rather attached to Oklahoma, we’ll have to be content here.)

I’m not saying any of us “deserve” time to ourselves, or that it’s a requirement to be happy. Amy Carmichael chose to be joyful during persistent health problems. Corrie Ten Boom chose to be thankful in a Nazi prison camp. Many women have much harder situations in life than I do.

I do think it makes sense, though, when it is feasible in my own situation, to do those things that make me a stronger, better wife and mother.

When I picked up my kids that evening, after a nice run and a healthy dinner, I felt refueled. I was happy to see them. I was glad to get to go home and be their Mommy again. I was glad to see my husband when he came home, and I had energy to talk with him.

Life can be stressful and exhausting.  But when we choose to make time to do something that makes us happy, to renew and refresh, I think we are stronger and more
joyful women for our families.

What makes you happy? How do you make time to do it? Do you feel guilty for doing it? 


Ridiculously Simple Autumn Leaf Art

Autumn Leaf Watercolors

Step 1: Have your children collect interesting and colorful leaves on a walk or while in the backyard.

Step 2: Give them paper and watercolors. They trace a leaf on the paper, then fill in with watercolors however they want.

If they get carried away and just start painting the paper with color, fine. It’s really about them interacting with the colors and lines and making art that is beautiful to them.
I like to sit at the table and paint with my kids. It gives the project a bit more importance, and besides that, it’s relaxing and fun.

Optional Step 3:
They can sprinkle salt on the wet paint. Let it dry. Dust off the salt. You can
see the interesting patterns the salt made as it absorbed the water.

Note: I love watercolors because they don’t stain clothes or people, so if your three-year-old paints his face green, and he surely will, it cleans right off.

Autumn Leaf Collage

Step 1: Use your collected autumn leaves.

Step 2: Give the child paper and glue. Have them glue down the leaves in any arrangement they find fitting.

Step 3: Hang up and have bejeweled walls.

As you can see, these are the types of projects that are really about the children interacting with God’s amazing creation, and form and color, more than making a certain product. Glorious.

Remember, it’s the process, not the product. Have fun!

Sorry, I accidentally posted this twice, once without pictures, so you might have gotten a repeat post in your email. Sorry!