Merry Christmas to All!

Dec 25, 2011

Oops! Where's Levi?

You didn't really think we'd get two good photos in a row, did you?

Merry Christmas!

May your day be filled with
love, blessings, and the joy of Christ!

Clever Dragons Review

Dec 19, 2011

Like it or not, we are raising a tech-savvy generation. My boys are drawn to electronic games and devices like a moth to a flame. I could fight it or I could use it to my their advantage, when possible. Blogging has given me opportunities to try several different educational websites with my boys. So far, the one that has been the biggest hit with both mother and son is Clever Dragons, an educational website exclusively for boys, ages 7-12. It just launched last month as the "brother" site to Always Icecream, an educational website exclusively for girls.

Of course, we loved the theme right away! Knights, dragons, castles. Your son creates his own "Mini Me" that represents him in the games and learning community. The objective is to collect gold coins by completing levels of various educational activities and then use the coins to build your own castle and to take care of your pet dragon or other animal. The activities are not your typical arcade-style games with lots of action. They are mostly multiple choice type questions with plenty of repetition to build mastery. The mastery part was what impressed me.

In States of the USA, you have to locate and click on states on a blank outline map. At first, it seems like too much repetition, because you have to find the same handful of states over and over again. If you click the wrong one, it shows you the answer before continuing. But as you begin to consistently give correct answers, new states are added in. Each level builds on the previous one until you have learned the location of all 50 states. As any homeschool parent/educator knows, repetition is the key to memorizing and mastering facts.

In addition to geography, there are learning games and quizzes on math, science, language arts, keyboard skills, and even classical music and the Bible. Isaac has discovered that he enjoys classical music and has learned about several composers so far. It fits in with our Charlotte Mason style very well. A picture of the composer is shown, along with some facts about him and the name of the piece that is playing. Then the child is quizzed on the the information, all while listening to the music.

Security is a big deal, as children are learning how to safely interact in an online environment. If you allow your son to join the learning community, you'll be glad to know that it is moderated and all comments have to be approved before they are posted. As a parent, you'll set up your own free account so you can control the social features (learning community), keep track of your son's progress and activity, and dole out gold coins for whatever reason you see fit (chores, attitude, reaching goals, etc.). It was a nice surprise to discover that I had my own "allowance" of gold coins to reward my son with. You also have the ability to earn free months of membership by referring new members to the site and there is a fundraising option for organizations.

To keep Clever Dragons free of advertising, you do have to pay for membership. Due to the personalized nature of the program, each son needs to have his own account. Here's the breakdown:

  • Monthly subscription: $4.99/month (first month is $0.99)
  • Two-months membership: $9.98 (perfect for summer break)
  • 12 month membership: $29.99 (Holiday special - extended membership until 7/1/12 for a total of 18 months!)
  • Lifetime membership: $99.99 (this would be the best deal for boys under 10)

Disclaimer: I received a free lifetime membership in exchange for this review. All opinions are my honest evaluation of the website.

Truth in the Tinsel: 12 Days Til Christmas Sale

Dec 12, 2011

Just a couple of days ago, after seeing all of the good reviews, I finally purchased Truth in the Tinsel to use with my hobbits. I printed it off, slipped the pages into page protectors, and added it to my new Christmas binder. It's a great way to shine more light on Jesus for the little ones this Christmas. My plan was to start today (late, of course, because that's how I roll) and follow one of the alternate schedules listed in the back of the book. {I'm trying to type this quickly so we can get started. Levi is excited and tugging at my arm.} What we don't get to this year, we will get to next year because I'll be ready for it.

If you're like me and don't mind being late for the party, today's your lucky day! You can use the code 12DAYS to save 20% on Truth in the Tinsel. But it's for today only! If you're not sure now, but decide tomorrow or later that you want it, the regular price is still reasonable at only $4.99.

Disclaimer: I liked the Truth in the Tinsel ebook so much, I decided to become an affiliate and spread the word.

Moments to Remember

Dec 11, 2011

This week, I'm joining Carisa and Jolanthe in their Moments to Remember link-up. Here are several pictures of happenings in our homeschool this week.

LJ stringing beads, completely uninterested in my efforts to help him create patterns, while M2 periodically scatters them and knocks them on the floor

IB practicing place value (and stacking the tens and ones into little pyramids)

M3's work-in-progress (I call it "Auto Mechanics") 

NG helping IB make cookies for IB's Cub Scout cookie exchange


8 DIY Christmas Crafts Using Epsom Salts

Dec 4, 2011

It all started yesterday with this post by Melissa from The Inspired Room. I loved all of her simple DIY Christmas craft ideas, but the Jingle Bell Mason jar really caught my attention. With recycled jars and Epsom salts on hand, I only needed some twine, jingle bells, votive candles, and a couple of tiny bottle-brush trees (with the Christmas villages). All easy enough to find at your local WalMart or craft store. Hopefully, I'll find some time to work on them tomorrow. Of course, I'll post pictures. Here is some inspiration for creating your own simply snowy decorations.

Melissa @ The Inspired Room

Advent-ful Ideas: Part 2

Dec 2, 2011

Recently, I shared a small sampling of advent calendar projects from around the web. It didn't take long to figure out which one I would make, but I did need a little inspiration for 24 days worth of activities.
Passionate Homemaking
  • Click HERE to see what advent activities Erika at has planned and print off her numbered Advent Ornaments. 
With all of the fun ideas to choose from, I was finally able to make my own list. Although, there were lots more things that I liked but couldn't fit in. Maybe next year. There are specific activities planned for Papa Bear's days off, but many of the other ones can be moved around as necessary because I used sticky notes on the back of the tags.

Here is our advent line-up for this year:
  1. Make the first batch of hot cocoa for the season - Done!
  2. Make paper snowflakes
  3. Pop popcorn & watch Polar Express
  4. Put up Christmas tree & outside lights
  5. Record boys' heights on wall in hallway (new tradition!)
  6. Play a board game or two
  7. Listen to Christmas music all day
  8. Snuggle on the couch & read Christmas books
  9. Make mini muffins & deliver to neighbors
  10. Color Christmas pictures
  11. Bundle up & take a walk through the Christmas light display at the park
  12. Go ice skating outside at the winter festival
  13. Get out Nativity block set
  14. Make cookies
  15. Deliver cookies to sheriff's office
  16. Invite boys' neighborhood friends over for hot cocoa & cookies
  17. Go through old toys and clothes for donating
  18. Watch It's a Wonderful Life
  19. The Minivan Express
  20. Read The Night Before Christmas
  21. Build a gingerbread house
  22. Make a snowman (weather permitting, of course!)
  23. Watch The Nativity Story
  24. Go to grandparents' house for dinner & presents
  25. Merry Christmas! 

Give Thanks

Nov 24, 2011

"For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends. "
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy Thanksgiving to You and Your Family!
May the Lord bless you richly!

Wholesome Banana Nut Flax Muffins {aka Brain Booster Banana Muffins}

Nov 21, 2011

This is my original healthified banana muffin recipe I posted before, but I tweaked it a bit so I thought I'd repost it. This redux is made with honey instead of sugar. I just entered it into the Chiquita's Ultimate Banana Recipe Contest. {You can view it HERE, along with lots of other yummy recipes. I'll let you know if it makes the top ten, so you can vote!} These muffins are packed with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and potassium. By using almond milk, you can make it dairy-free also. Makes 12 large muffins.

Banana Nut Flax Muffins {aka Brain Booster Banana Muffins}
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp baking powder (aluminum-free)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
2 ripe bananas
3/4 cup almond or dairy milk
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line muffin tin with paper liners. Mix flour, flaxseed, walnuts, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. In separate bowl, mash bananas; stir in milk, coconut oil, honey, and egg. Add banana mixture to dry ingredients; stir just until moistened. Using an ice-cream scoop, fill muffin cups. Bake about 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool for a few minutes; remove to wire rack to cool or serve warm with butter.

Linked to Homemaking Link-Up, Tasty Tuesday, Pennywise Platter Thursday, Feeding Boys Recipe Link-Up

A Toddler, A Couch, and Dish Liquid

Nov 20, 2011

With children, you never know what the day has in store for you. With a toddler, take a deep breath, gear up, and never take your eyes off the little stinker tike! I'm sure the title of the post says enough, but I'll tell the tale anyway. There is no picture for this post because, after the incident occurred, I stood there for several minutes trying to figure out whether to laugh or cry or scream.

After our grocery shopping trip last night, M2 was helping me put things away. Although, our organizing styles are vastly different. I may find a can of beans in the refrigerator later. He is only 21 months. We were almost finished when IB asked for my help at the computer. I left M2 alone for just a few minutes and I could even hear that he went into the living room with NG and LJ. But I should know by now that when the kids are watching television, they are oblivious to what is going on...even right next to them. It wasn't long before I heard the familiar "MOM! You need to come in here!"

M2 had poured out half of a new bottle of dish liquid on the couch and ottoman. It took me a moment to tame my response. NG confiscated the bottle from him. I gently removed M2 from the mess and told him that he had made a big mess and I was not happy. He just smiled his sweet smile and all was forgiven. He is "the baby", after all.

But I was still left standing there trying to figure out where to even start. After a brief period of closed eyes and deep breathing, I had NG scrape off as much as he could into a bowl while I wiped down the leather ottoman. That was the easy part. What to do with the couch? The dish liquid had also run down in between the cushions and onto the rug. Have you ever tried to clean a microfiber couch covered in dish liquid?? Even though I knew what would happen, I tried using a damp dishcloth to wipe it off. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse...well, you get the idea. Of course, that just made suds and the fabric was still full of soap. Ahhhh! It was time for the hobbits to go to bed so I decided I'd deal with it the next day.

Fortunately for me, my mother showed up unexpectedly at my door this morning. She knew just what to do, as usual. She convinced me to take the covers off and put them in my front-loading washer. We did a rinse-only cycle on low. About half-way through, we opened the washer and scooped out as much of the foamy suds as possible and then let it finish. It worked! We dried the covers on Ultra Delicate and put one of them them back on. Good as new! The other cushion needed to have one corner rinsed out with my sink sprayer and it's drying right now.

So, if you ever find yourself with a microfiber couch covered in dish liquid, now you know what to do. But what are the chances that it would happen to someone else?

Wordless Wednesday #19 - "How to Eat Ice Cream"

Nov 16, 2011

The key is to take your time and let it melt, not making any effort to lick around the sides.

Linked to 5 Minutes for Mom and Mama to 4 Blessings.

Advent-ful Ideas: Part 1

Every year, I try to do something to build anticipation for our celebration of the birth of Christ. Something that will help to plant seeds of faith in my sons' hearts. Something that will become a family tradition. Advent calendars are probably the easiest because your children will certainly remind you to do it. Every. Day. Especially if there may be something sweet hiding inside.
More than once, I've put one of these premade advent calendars with the little drawers into my cart at the craft store. You know, the kind you decorate yourself. As I walk through the store, I try to decide on the colors and theme and what medium I want to use. Paint or scrapbook paper? Sticker numbers or stamped? And then, inevitably, I put it back on the shelf. Because I know me. The little perfectionist that lives in my head would keep me up at night trying to decide on the "perfect" way to decorate it. Then the little procrastinator would whisper, "you can do it later", repeatedly, until it's two days before Christmas. 


I've been looking online for cheap, easy, cute ideas for making an advent calendar with the boys. Of course, I'll have a difficult time choosing which one to try. Artsy, craftsy people never fail to impress me. Creative, I am not (very). But I can follow instructions!

I loved this stocking advent calendar immediately. Probably because Heidi, at The Frugal Girls, uses those tiny little clothes pins that I adore. And because there is very little involved in putting it together. Simple is good.

Cassi at The Crafty Crow has an amazing collection of advent crafts that have inspired me to make a different one each year from now on. I'm blown away by all of the beautiful creations. Be sure to scroll all the way down and check out the links to previous years' collections.
One of my favorite sites for decorating ideas,, has lots of projects to choose from, ranging from cut-and-glue to break-out-the-sewing-machine, and ideas for treats and activities to fill them. I like the idea pictured above, but I don't think that it would be economical or practical to have one for each of my five boys.

Last, but not least, Tip Junkie shares 24 ways to countdown to Christmas with a collection of tutorials. There are advent calendars and simple countdown calendars. Personally, I may need to make the tea tree advent calendar for myself.

Do you have an advent tradition with your family? Do you make your own advent calendar? Leave a comment telling us about it.

Christy's Chili

Nov 15, 2011

There are probably as many ways to make chili as there are people making it. This is my version. As with all of my soups, the measurements are approximate for seasonings. Add more or less to suit your family's tastes. To kick up the heat a notch, use turkey sausage. If you like a sweet and spicy chili, add a little white or brown sugar at the end. We also like it chili-mac style. I add about a cup of small pasta, like ditalini or elbows, and some water to compensate for the soaked up liquid. Remember, my recipes are meant to feed our family of seven, which includes six males, so adjust quantities if you need less. Enjoy!

Christy's Chili
1 1/2 - 2 lbs lean ground beef or turkey sausage 
1/2 to 1 onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 (14 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
2 (16 oz) cans dark red kidney beans, rinsed & drained
2 (15 oz) cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 (46 oz) can tomato juice
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder 
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
Dash Red Hot sauce
Salt & pepper, to taste
Sugar, to taste (opt.)

In dutch oven, brown ground beef with onions and garlic. Drain grease; add remaining ingredients, except salt, pepper, and sugar.

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for at least 30-45 minutes. If desired, add pasta and water during last 15-20 minutes. For a sweeter chili, try adding a little white or brown sugar, to taste. 

Linked to Tuesdays At the Table and What's Cooking Wednesday. Review

Vocabulary and spelling made fun

I love finding new resources to help with our homeschooling. One of my recent finds is, an award-winning online service where educators can create custom spelling and vocabulary lists, assign a variety of activities to teach and test students, and keep track of students' progress. This is one resource I can use for all of my boys, from the beginning reader through high school. And there is so much more than meets the eye with this site! While clicking around the site and the forum, I discovered lots of things that I didn't see at first glance.

The Teacher Resources section contains popular word lists, including Dolch-sight words, math and science words, analogies, contractions, compound words, syllables, and many more. My eight year old likes the short, animated videos that accompany some of the topics to help explain the concepts. Personally, I appreciate the Teach Me aspect that says each word aloud, spells it, and uses it in a sentence. The female voice is actually pleasant and clear. And the ample activities can be used to reinforce more than spelling and vocabulary. For example, practice states and capitals with MatchIt Sentences and WhichWord. Integrate handwriting practice by creating your own worksheets, using your saved word lists, in your choice of font and size. If those activities aren't enough, you can also have your child practice composition and demonstrate comprehension with Sentence Writing and Paragraph Writing.

My two middle sons are the ones that will benefit the most from using this program right now. For IB, who is in second grade, I am using mostly pre-made word lists and printing out handwriting practice sheets. IB's favorite activity is HangMouse. NG is currently reading The Bronze Bow and using the Total Language Plus literature guide. I simply used the vocabulary lists from TLP to create custom lists to reinforce his lessons. With all of the activities to choose from, I can add variety to each assignment.

There are two membership options: free and premium, which is only $24.99 per year for a family with up to five children. You can see the differences below. Of course, there are options for classrooms and schools too.

With the premium membership, I get access to the Premium Teacher Toolbox where I can manage students, word lists, assignments, check student progress, and print detailed reports for each student. I really like being able to create individualized assignments for each child, using their own word lists, and setting due dates. The boys can each sign in under their own user name and see exactly what I want them to do and when they need to have it finished. This makes it much more likely that we will fit spelling and vocabulary review into our busy days. I simply add a card to their workbox/file and they can do it on their own while I work with one of their brothers.

Having seen many online learning websites in our 12 years of homeschooling, I think is a great tool to have in an educator's belt, whether you choose the free registration or the affordable premium membership.

Disclaimer: I received a free one-year premium membership in exchange for this review. This is my honest assessment of the program.

Peanut Butter Banana French Toast

Oct 14, 2011

Before we switched to basic cable, the boys and I used to watch the Food channel a lot. This is a recipe I think I picked up from Alton Brown on Good Eats. The peanut butter and banana adds protein, potassium, and some other good stuff to an already yummy breakfast. Why eat plain ole French toast when you can have this? Be sure to consume with a tall glass of creamy, white beverage of your choice. Mine is vanilla almond milk.

Everyone makes French toast, right? Feel free to use your own egg/milk mixture. I don't actually measure anything out, so I'll just give a brief picture tutorial.

vanilla extract
peanut butter

Heat skillet or griddle over medium heat.

I use about 4 eggs, 2/3 cup whole milk or almond milk, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1/2+ tsp cinnamon.

Whisk mixture well with fork.

Spread a thin layer of peanut butter on two slices of bread. Cover one slice with thinly sliced banana. 

Place bread slices together and cut in half. 

Dip each half in egg/milk mixture. 

Brown on both sides and the cut edge, using the spatula to lift and hold it up.

Serve with butter, maple syrup, and garnish with sliced banana. Enjoy!

Linked to Raising Homemakers' Homemaking Link-Up.

Thankful Thursday: Autumn

Oct 13, 2011

The leaves are starting to cover the yard quickly now and I love the sound as I shuffle through them. At this point, the younger boys eagerly rake them up into piles for jumping into and hiding from each other. I'm sure that will change once it's time to rake the whole yard and take them to the curb for pick-up. 

I love living in a region that gets to experience all of God's good seasons. Autumn is filled with its own unique blessings for me. Papa Bear and I celebrated 19 years of marriage this week. It has been a long road, full of ups, downs, twisting curves, and drop-off cliffs where you hang on by your fingernails and pray for God to guide you back to the smooth scenic path lined with tall oaks and fields of flowers. God is good. The fact that we are still married today is a testimony to his grace and loving kindness.

Our annual camping trip has become part of our anniversary celebration. Last year, we began joining my mom and stepdad on their trip to Spring Mill, IN. The older boys had already been going and we wanted to make it a family tradition. Although, I'm not a fan of all the "pre" and "post" work that goes into it, I have to say that the trip is definitely worth it. The boys get along really well...if you don't count the drive to and from. They spend most of their time riding bikes, exploring the woods, and making new friends. Papa Bear's favorite part is probably relaxing and napping around the campfire, while I like to take walks with the boys, just hang out and talk with my mom, play rummy, and let her bless us with her cooking. And, of course, there are the s'mores!

What else do I like about autumn? Probably the same things that most other people enjoy.
  • Earthy colors
  • Apples & pumpkins
  • Acorns & busy squirrels
  • Constantly changing scenery
  • Fresh, cool air through open windows
  • Jeans & long sleeves
  • Baking more & hearty soups
  • Fall festivals
  • Gathering with family to give thanks

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