Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas Friends!

May the Lord bless you and your loved ones as you 
take time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, 
Son of God, Saviour of the world!

Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Just one small thing ...

The children are busy wishing this week away when all I want to do is slow it down.
Last week was lost to the flu and I am still finding myself quite exhausted. Two weeks of heavy colds preceded my flu adventure, so I was already feeling behind.  When the Pastor asked yesterday if I was ready for Christmas, my heart sunk.  How do you explain limited energy to someone with boundless energy?  How do I share the confines of chronic illness with someone who is rarely ill?  I smiled and gave my best answer - we keep things very simple at Christmas.  By choice and by necessity, we enjoy a very quiet celebration of the Savior's birth.

As I lay in bed this morning thinking over the week ahead, I was really tempted to panic when I thought of all that needs to be done.  Catching up from last week's illness and facing down the ironing pile I neglected, doing the regular weekly chores plus some extra cleaning, having friends over for an afternoon, Christmas baking, grocery shopping plus buying a few more stocking items and wrapping all of the gifts.  Whew!  I could almost feel stress creeping into my body.  I started to pray that the Lord would enable me to take the enormity of 'getting ready for Christmas' and break it down into Company Girl inspired 'Small Things' that I can do easily each day without loosing the joy and wonder of the season! 

Dreamer under the tree - what a smile!

Storyteller under the tree - such a happy guy!

These are my two cookie munchers!  They've made a list of the 'must have'
Christmas treats and these cookies topped this list!

Have you tried my grandma's Whipped Shortbread recipe?  They simply melt in your mouth!
You can find it HERE.

We started with the backlog of laundry and I did some ironing.  Then I rested. 
I  made some lists of 'must do' and 'would like to do if I have extra time/energy' and then began to tackle it in 20 minute intervals with rests in between.
From the 'Must Do' list:
I started shopping online for silk long underwear to keep me warmer since I have come to the conclusion that I am getting cold far too easily and getting cold almost always means getting sick for me.  I am learning that there are new limits I must stay in to keep healthy this winter that I didn't have to deal with last winter.

We made a few gifts and delivered one to Dreamer's piano teacher.
Soother Sac's are so quick and easy and always appreciated - you can find my directions HERE.  Our Wal*Mart has wheat berries in 20# bags for $12. Enough for 15 Soother Sacs!

We started some baking.
I ironed enough shirts for the Historian  for a week.

I made my annual cheese ball recipe.
Certain people can hardly wait for that cheese ball!!!

We admired the gorgeous poinsettia that graces our table thanks to Dad and Mum!

I called Mum to check up on her - she and Dad both have terrible colds and they are supposed to be hosting Christmas for my sister and her family.  I'm thinking there should be a 'plan B' in the works.   Poor Mum is exhausted - this has gone on for two weeks. 

The children played games and did quite a few chores to help me out.  

They played with our silly dog and romped in the snow for a while.
They worked together to pick up the calling cards in the yard without being asked.
There was lots of laughter and fun.  
Lots of little naps for me.

I know at this point that half the things I'd love to do will not get done.  I have the choice to be upset about it and get down, or to find joy in the little things.  I have the choice to see my limitations as something to resent or something to embrace. I choose to look for God's rich blessings  everywhere, because really we are so very very blessed.

Storyteller is sure this is going to be the very best Christmas we have ever had, 
and I think he is absolutely right. 

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Men in flannel

Hot tea on a cold night, a warm flannel shirt and our family Advent devotional - so many good things!

This week I figured out that I really always have enjoyed my favorite men dressed in cozy flannel.  They are just extra hug-able when clothed in nice soft flannel shirts.  Sadly, my Historian has never been a flannel man - in fact, he has worn short sleeved cotton shirts year round for most of the 19 years we have been married.  We've lived in northern Pennsylvania, Michigan, central Ontario, and now we are in Ohio - but he's never felt the cold - totally unfair! Last winter when temperatures dropped well below zero for several days in a row, he dug to the back of his closet and found his lone long sleeved flannel shirt (a gift from my Mum) and he actually wore it.  I was so pleased - and he got lots of extra hugs!

When I was thrifting this fall I kept finding really nice flannel shirts for $2 or less  - brand new Chaps. Polo and Izod flannel shirts. So soft and well made, I just couldn't pass them up - I took a chance and bought 3 more soft flannel shirts for my Historian and hoped for nice cold days this winter.  See, I am a devious schemer good planner! Well, our cold days are upon us and the flannels are getting daily use.  I guess my Historian is beginning to feel the cold more - after all he is getting more historical each year.  He's liking his flannels - he said it's like getting a nice warm hug every time he puts one on.  I notice he's getting extra hugs from Dreamer and Storyteller too. 

When I was a girl, I loved getting cuddly flannel hugs from my Poppa and Daddy and they always smelled like all of outdoors. Wood smoke, pine sap, cold Northern Ontario air - freshness at it's best! I have wonderful childhood memories of going with my dad, my Poppa and sometimes my Uncle and spending a Saturday morning cutting wood at the woodlot.  In my memory Dad and Poppa almost always wore warm flannel shirts for wood cutting - though until they got into the rhythm of felling trees, stripping branches, and cutting logs to length, they usually had jackets too!  My sister and I helped to haul and stack the wood - though I don't remember really being much help!  Our toes would get sooooooo cold and we'd drink hot chocolate out of Nanny's big green thermos to warm up and munch on homemade cookies. Do you know that cookies stick to snow covered mittens? Mum would safety pin two or three layers of hand knit mittens on our hands to the inside cuffs of our coats - it was before the days of Thinsulate or Hot Paws mittens. We couldn't take them off, so cookie munching was quite a trick! We would head home at lunch to steaming bowls of chili with toast which warmed us up from the inside.  Our cheeks would be rosy red for hours - so many good memories.  

Some baking we did last Christmas ready wrap in pretty cellophane to give away.

Yesterday we finally made  a list of the cookies we need to bake for Christmas.  I don't think I'll have time or energy to make huge batches this year, but I had each family member choose two favorites for a total of eight 'must have' Christmas cookies - I'm planning one small batch of each. I loved that the children talked about the special memories that they have of baking and eating cookies and making up gift trays of goodies to give away.  At times I think we are not really giving our children the exciting and special kinds of memories that I would like to fill their childhood with, but then I remember that quiet evenings reading together, school at the kitchen table,  baking days, giving to others, laughing and playing, or just spending time together - they may not seem very exciting to some, but when our children are grown, their happy childhood stories will certainly include these simple daily joys.   Most importantly, they know we have put God first in our lives and in our home, and in everything we do we seek to follow Him.  They also know they are very much loved by their very own Historian in a flannel shirt and the Mama who loves to hug him!

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Burnt plastic and a smoking oven?

 The four horses of the Apocalypse raced through our tiny laundry room today and left behind a horrible smell - burnt plastic.  My 6 year old Kenmore Elite HE3 washer is officially dead.  The noise she made was deafening when she took her last spin through the rinse cycle.  A repair man has been called.  Plans are being made for a funeral and many trips to the laundromat.  In lieu of flowers we are collecting quarters. 

We are NOT calling Sears Blue Team because we had such a bad experience with one of their  repairmen and it was never addressed, despite repeated calls and a cordial letter of complaint. It's not under warranty because the extended plan cost more then the washer, so if it can't be fixed reasonably, we'll be washer shopping.  I consulted Consumer Reports before this purchase and felt confident that is was a good choice, but now I am seeing so many others complain about the same issues I have had with it.  If you love your trouble free front load washer and don't have to spend a fortune on Affresh to reduce the mold smell every month, please let me know!  Thank you!

My washer chose the wrong day to give up the ghost and spew forth sharp shards of plastic all over my very wet laundry - I was only on the third load of darks after a week of laundry neglect.  We are all running low on underwear and Storyteller is completely out.  Don't worry - I remember how to hand wash! I even have some decent rubber gloves which is a really good thing since my hands are a mess.

 I noticed they were a mess when I was making some sweet little felted wool pins inspired by Betz White - aren't they fun?  I love the way the teal one worked out with the slight variation where my cutting slide into a lighter stripe! These are so quick and easy to make - I can't wait to look through my wool scraps and make some more.

I've been a bit distracted though - all week long I've felt 'draggy' and tired - more so than usual and if you know anything about liver disease, you know that's significant. Hence, the laundry neglect - among other things.  Dreamer had a cold last Saturday and Sunday but was better Monday.  Storyteller had a slight cold Tuesday, was better Wednesday and ''caught it again" Thursday afternoon.  The Historian has been tired too and thought that he might be fighting something, but he was at work each day. I've been taking as many immune supporting herbs and vitamins as is recommended by the liver specialist and washing my hands until they are raw, but by mid-afternoon yesterday, I officially had a miserable cold.

This morning I did what any rational woman who couldn't sleep all night because I was too busy aching all over the blowing my nose would do - I made cinnamon rolls.  I've made Pioneer Woman's recipe twice now and this time they turned out very well.  Except for the fact that some of the butter escaped and made a terrible smokey smudge in my kitchen.  Now the oven needs a cleaning again, but it was worth it!  Yum! I ate two, which isn't really a good idea, but after the four horses of the Apocalypse raced through our tiny laundry room, I needed something to calm my nerves.  The Historian ran to the grocery story for more Kleenex  after I polished off my third box - do you see what he brought me?  Toy Story Kleenex.  Little smile. He bought me Popsicles too.  Bigger smile. I am so spoiled!

It's easier to find joy in the middle of burnt plastic, a dead washer, mountains of dirty laundry, a greasy smelly oven, a nose that is running like a tap,  hands so raw they are bleeding and not one thing checked off my Saturday to-do list when I look into the eyes of my gentle, godly husband and know he is praying us through another temporary trial.

Biggest smile of all.
God is good.
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Comfort Food

 Our Storyteller is suffering with a cold and requested this simple but tasty 'comfort food' for supper. As I was putting it in the oven, I realized that I have not shared this easy recipe with you - so here it is! I  think this is a great casserole for 'veggie haters', picky eaters or those who require a non-spicy diet.  It's popular at pot-luck dinners too.  It doesn't freeze well - presumably because of the dairy  content - but that is easy to work around if you keep cooked chicken in the freezer.  When chicken is on sale I often bake 5 pounds with a sprinkling of herbs and when it is cool I cut it up and divide it into 2 cup containers before freezing it. It's handy for many different recipes, and works especially well in this one. You could also use a deli chicken or those frozen grilled breasts. 

Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole

8 ounces of fine or medium egg noodles, cooked and drained
3-4 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cans cream of chicken soup  (my recipe is below)
16 ounces  reduced fat sour cream
1 1/2 -2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons  poppy seeds
1 sleeve of crackers, crushed
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine first 6 ingredients and stir well. Spoon into a lightly greased 2 quart casserole or 7"x12" baking dish.  Top with the crushed crackers and drizzle with melted butter.  Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until bubbly and brown. Serves 8.

Quick 'Cream of Chicken Soup' Substitute
We're always trying to avoid excess salt and this is more economical than Campbells.

3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. poultry seasoning
1/2 cup milk (room temperature)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup shredded chicken (if available)

Melt butter in heavy saucepan over low heat.  Blend in flour and seasonings while cooking and stirring until bubbling.  Slowly add the chicken broth and blend until smooth using a whisk.  Add the milk slowly and continue to blend until thickened.  If it gets too thick add a bit more chicken broth. This makes about 10 ounces  and is a good substitute for one can of Cream of Chicken Soup. Double for Poppy Seed Chicken Casserole.


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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving # 38

I've just been forced to take a quick break by Dreamer - she has mopped the kitchen floor and banned me from the kitchen while it dries! Like you, we are busy as bees getting ready for company tonight and a quiet celebration of our 38th Thanksgiving tomorrow! I thought I would sit here with my nice cup of hot tea and share a bit with you! Hopefully you are taking a break and taking time to reflect on the joys of Thanksgiving too!

I guess I should explain those 38 Thanksgivings, since that seems like a lot of Thanksgivings for a couple married only 19 years, but it's true! We were married in Canada on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend way back in '91 - it was glorious!  We felt then that no matter where the Lord led us we should  celebrate both Canadian and American Thanksgiving to reflect our 'dual heritage' - we've always had so much to be thankful for!  It's helps that we really like turkey too!

We'd been married just over a month when I prepared my first Thanksgiving dinner - for my mother in law!  Yikes! I'll never forget it! We ate on a borrowed card table and used blue splatter ware tin pie plates for our table service! I made enough food to feed an army, and amazingly, everything turned out pretty well.  Timing was the tricky part - having everything ready and hot at the same time was a struggle with my tiny apartment sized stove! I am amazed at God's goodness in allowing that dinner to go well, since I've had many more special meals to prepare over the years and it just gave me a sense of confidence  that I might not have had had everything been a flop.  Don't get me wrong - I've had many flops since, but we've all lived and learned to laugh about it!

One of my goals for Dreamer is to have the 'life skill' of making a special meal from scratch before she leaves our humble nest for college or marriage. I think she has the tidy up and cleaning part well in hand, but so far she loves to bake cookies and eat homemade food, but not make it!  We have some work to do there! I hope we'll have the time to reach that goal, but right now it seems like other life skills are more pressing - and getting ready for high school is taking up much of our time.

Speaking of time, the floor is dry, I'm on my second cup of tea and I need to get back to the list - there are just a few items left and I have a 1/2 hour of rest scheduled too, so I'd better be going!  

I'll finish with my 'short list' of things 
I am very very thankful for -

  • Always #1 - my salvation in Jesus Christ, without Him, I would be lost and miserable
  • My family - my husband and children, my Dad and Mum, my sister and her family
  • Dear friendships - God has been so good, not in providing an abundance of friends, but in providing friendships that enrich us in so many ways
  • Our home - a place of harmony, joy, laughter, learning, music, quiet and rest
  • Our needs are met - more then met really, and we have enough to share with others
  • Good books - for learning, laughing and escaping into another pleasant place for just a while
  • Trials - we've had so many and yet with each God has taught us to trust Him and shown us His goodness and faithfulness. Our latest trials are hard to be sure, but there is so much joy in knowing He is at work in our lives.
 I do hope that you enjoy a pleasant and loving Thanksgiving with those you love!

 Happy Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Man Camp

Breathtaking beauty courtesy of our Awesome God  - image captured in the early morning by our Historian

Last Saturday our guys braved the frosty morning air to attend our church's first 'Man Camp'. I think that judging by the response this will become a regular event for the men of our church family. The guys went to learn to protect and provide for their families and to be reminded of God's standards for men.  By all accounts it was a wonderful day.  The guys, young and old,  cooked good meals over an open fire, reviewed some basic first aid skills, practiced target shooting with guns and bows, mastered fire building without matches, learned to handle a pocket knife, reviewed some basic orienteering and heard a lot about what God has designed a man to be and how a man should treat a lady.

There was a lot of  guttural 'ugh, ugh, ugh' sounds going on Sunday morning.

 Only some of it could be attributed to the  general stiffness felt by unaccustomed muscles long over worked in the chilly November air during Man Camp.
You could almost smell the testosterone in adult Sunday School 
... or maybe that was a little leftover woodsmoke!

Our Storyteller had an amazing day.  The Historian enjoyed the day too, though the 'real deal' outhouses were a bit more 'rustic' than he anticipated. 

Both of our guys came home in one piece with glowing cheeks and much to share,
and for that, I am truly grateful. 

I thought that seeing a picture of my Storyteller positioned to shoot might be my undoing, but I was just so proud of him.  From all reports he listened well and followed instructions.  He wants to learn to shoot so badly. My conviction that a boy doesn't need to learn to shoot to become a man was quite likely wrong.  

For some boys, it's very necessary.

I admit that I was one of those Mum's who didn't want our boy playing with guns.  It didn't matter because I soon learned that even a wooden spoon will be turned into a gun in the hands of our boy. I don't how many times we had to ask the Storyteller to put away his 'gun fingers' at the table when he was younger.  We didn't buy toy guns for our Storyteller because with his temper control problems, we didn't think adding a gun to the mix was a good idea. We compromised with Nerf Blasters, and they have been a lot of fun for both children. 
Raising a boy to become a godly young man who is ready, willing and able to be the protector and defender of his faith, his family and his country is no simple task.  We need manly men who love God passionately, serve Him faithfully, and know His Word thoroughly.

Man Camp was just another step in that direction.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

A season of less

At first I didn't recognize this for what it is, but after prayer and seeking, I have come to the conclusion that I am deep into a season of less. I am not talking about 'doing more with less' but rather I am learning just to cope with less.  Less energy.  Less time.  Less creativity. Less patience. I guess it is all just part of the rhythm of  life with chronic illness and growing children.  While we have knocked some activities from the schedule, we are still a busy homeschooling family.  That's a God given priority for our family, and because of the energy it takes each day, I have less to give to other areas - including my blog.  It's hard to think of helpful things to say or projects to show when by end of day I am just ready for sleep.  I rarely wake up rested even after 10-12 hours of complete oblivion, so just starting each new day is a challenge.  By the grace of God, we are all learning to see the little things as simple joys. This is not a season without joy - far from it!  Often the little joys we find are just not the type for sharing.

For now I think my blog is just on hold.  It takes time.  It takes energy.  It takes creativity.  I have none to spare  right now.  When I do, I'll be back, but I am finished with feeling badly for not blogging, so I thought I'd best offer an explanation to my dear faithful readers. 
Now I can just quietly enjoy this season of less.

Thank you.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Morning

I told myself I wouldn't take time to blog until Mount Iron-more was tackled and vanquished - but there it sits!  I've  been doing a few hours of ironing here and there, but the pile continues to grow and our family room looks like the laundromat threw up! I've killed another good Rowenta Iron - it is leaking like a sieve, but that's no excuse.  It's not like it is shocking me like the last Rowenta  iron did!  I am letting it slide, and if we are not careful, we'll soon have a landslide! Buried under and avalanche of clean clothing! It could be fun.

I've just been letting things slide in so many areas - my blog included!  Our schedule seems really busy, though I know we don't do as much as many home schooling families - but for me, it is getting to be too much.  I am looking forward to endings - the ending of soccer and the ending of fall baseball in particular.  I want our Saturday's back.  I want to clean - thoroughly!  I want to decorate for fall before it's gone!  I need a nap! There are so many fall projects on my mind and I haven't got the energy to even begin them!  I had a horrible week with lower back muscle spasms the week before last and I think that was when I realized that I was pretty much letting everything go to ruin.  Nothing like laying around to help you really see the dust and dirt! Our home isn't just untidy, it is in fact, dirty. Grubby hand prints abound and the floors are thick with dust and dog hair.  It's time to get busy and tackle this mess! Maybe after a nap?

Over the weekend, I did get some extra rest, and I tackled a few  untidy messes, including the pantry, which was thankfully overflowing with staples and sundries bought on sale and stashed quickly away.  Now it is tidy and I have better idea of what I am low on and what I need to concentrate on using more quickly.  I've also come to realize that my stockpile of chocolate chips (Ghiridelli milk chocolate chips bought on sale at Wal*Mart last November for $1.50 a bag)  is dangerously low and rationing has begun! Seriously. It feels so good to look in the pantry and see everything lined up neat as you please. I need to tackle the freezers next since we have another freezer full of beef  coming in a couple of weeks and we need to make room.

So for today, it's our regular Monday routine - school, piano, ballet, plus some a dentist visit and vacuuming.  Usually the Storyteller has Fall Batting League too, but he has no game scheduled for tonight. It's cool and rainy - the perfect kind of day to stay in and tuck into the work.  My goal is to catch up on the ironing by Thursday and be ready for Dreamer's big birthday on Friday! I'll be back with some pictures of our teenager on Friday - until  then, have a great week!

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fall arrived with a blessing!

All the windows are open and we are loving the fresh cool breezes sliding through the dust motes dancing on late afternoon sunbeams! You would not believe how much better I feel  when the heat and humidity relax their hold and fall finally arrives.  I am sure we will enjoy a few more  warm days, but I would be quite content if the coolness stayed around. This morning I sat in a comfortable chair with a thick soft blanket wrapped about my legs and a yummy hot chocolate in my hand watching our children practice and play soccer while I enjoyed visiting with other homeschooling moms and dads.  Most of these folks we see only during fall soccer season since we travel each Saturday to enjoy the blessings of this soccer experience, so we chat and catch up and enjoy the soccer season.

I'm not sure you'll believe what I've been up to even with picture evidence, but I'll try to catch you up on our week.  It was a week of 'start ups' for our Dreamer as she resumed both ballet and piano after a summer hiatus.  We had a pretty successful trip to the thrift store Wednesday morning  which was a blessing.  Dreamer wears jeans once in a while and we found two pair that were modest and like new for less then $2 each - she is set for a  while. Story teller was THRILLED to find youth football pads - like new for $10.  I looked them up and they are $80 new, so we were really pleased.  He is not playing organized football, but loves to put on a thrifted Browns jersey and toss the ball  with Daddy in the back yard! 

On Friday we attended an excellent event at The Fair at New Boston, near Springfield, OH for their education day.  It was amazing!  We learned so much in such a fun and memorable way.  We started off the day with hot breezes catching our hair and whipping it in our faces.  The leaves rained down on us like a true fall day, but since they were crisp and brown they simply reminded us of the hot humid rainless days we have had for the last few weeks.  Suddenly we were caught in a downpour and even running quickly for our umbrellas, we became quite saturated!  It was nice when the rain stopped, but than the wind whipped up again with renewed vigor and we were soon shivering!  Eventually the clouds were chased away and the hot sun dried us up nicely.  After a while we were hot and thirsty and ready to finish!

We enjoyed  a visit to the Shawnee village and met a squaw rendering fat from bear flesh, a medicine woman and the brain tanner making leather with the brains of the deer brought in by the hunter. It was quite eye opening and very educational.  We put our camera in the van when the rains began and so we have no pictures of the rest of the day, but we met a Pewterer, the Soap Maker, a Basket Weaver, and a slave girl who wrote poetry named Phyllis Wheatly,  We met the militia men, a Goodwife, a weaver and many serving girls. It was an exciting day and I felt very blessed to have the strength to stay for the whole event. We came home refreshed ourselves with icy drinks and got ready for our next adventure!

We spent the evening digging up buried grave markers!  I told you you'd never guess what we've been up to!  The Historian found records of an undocumented 1820's cemetery on the site of an old one room school house, which was abandoned in 1912 or so.  It is now the site of a private residence, and thankfully the home owner enjoys historical research and is eager to solve some of the mysteries of the old cemetery.  Apparently, a previous home owner got tired of mowing around  head and foot stones and about 50 years ago he and his son buried the beautiful grave markers.  Sadly, they buried them en mass and in the process the already old and weathered stones suffered  much damage.  Tree roots and shifting soil took their toll as well, but those that didn't get broken are surprisingly well preserved from further weathering and graveyard vandals.

This week the Historian had an opportunity to watch  technology uncover history.  The family of a Revolutionary War Veteran buried in this re-discovered cemetery paid to have a ground radar specialist come and examine the area and plot potential sites for the buried headstones. On Friday night he took us to the site and we got to try our hand at amateur archaeology!  Some of the stones are quite large and beautiful - and some and small and exquisitely hand carved.  This one brings to mind so many questions - we wonder how poor Jane Dinsmoore died at the tender age of 15 years 1 month and 12 days. So sad. Dreamer wondered if Jane liked roses - her marker is quite beautifully carved with one flower and a bud carefully set in a deep crest shape.

I have a feeling this will be an ongoing project since it looks like there could have been as many at 200 graves at the cemetery and it will require much careful  digging to find all of the headstones. Thankfully, the home owner is eager and not opposed to a few holes in her yard  - she was out digging and  unearthing stones all  day  yesterday.  She is an avid gardener and plans to just fill them in with trees and gardens, and find a way to display and preserve the grave markers. They have not found the Revolutionary war veteran's stone yet, but hopefully it is one that was better preserved! The stones are only about two feet under, so there is little risk of disturbing the contents of the graves.  It is a shame that this site was not properly cared for, the remains exhumed and re-interred and the stones set up to mark the passing.  I guess the community decided to just look the other way when the previous home owner committed this dishonoring act.  All for a tidy yard and easier mowing.

It's been an exciting week, and I look forward to starting the day in the Lord's house tomorrow - attending church is always a blessing, and quite family days are a  joy.  We are so blessed - after a trip to the fruit farm and grocery store our fridge and pantry are loaded with good things to eat and we are planning a quiet  couple of days of  homemade fun, a few home maintenance chores, and some quiet rest. Perfect.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

What I thought was total loss ...

.... turned out to be a blessing!

It actually started last week when Dreamer awakened with a terrible 'cold'.  We've since been to the doctor and we now know she is suffering from some severe allergies, but at the time, it looked an awful lot like a heavy cold.  We had a very quiet weekend planned and thankfully we were able to get caught up on some home chores.

We were excited to be starting school, but I still had some planning to do.  Dreamer was signed up for a daily art camp this week and I knew we had some placement and assessment testing that needed to be tackled, so my plans were loose, but I hoped to add some fun to our first week of school.  Then I awakened in the middle of the night with a massive migraine and I knew our week was going downhill fast.  Thankfully, the Historian is home Monday mornings, so he adjusted his plan and took Dreamer to art camp.

The migraine totally destroyed most of the fun I had planned for the week, and I was beginning to think we were going to need a total 'do-over' for our first week of school, but I proceeded with the assessment testing while Dreamer did her art camp homework and the Storyteller did a lot of independent reading.   Not our best school week, but not a total loss either!

I have to tell you something about our Storyteller so that you will understand this next bit.  He has been talking in full sentences since 17 months.  Words are his friends!  He has always had an astounding vocabulary and been very bright, but he really really struggled with reading. We held him back last year, simply because his reading was so below grade level.  He has ADD and we have spent quite a bit of time doing professional speech therapy with him in the past, but that is mostly resolved. When I gave him the grade 2 reading comprehension test to do on his own last year he got 17%, but when I gave it to him orally he got 100% every time - in fact he passed the 4th grade test orally with a perfect score.

This week he passed the 3rd grade reading comprehension test with A 100% on his own.  Then he did the same thing for the 4th grade teat, and the 5th grade test resulted in a 95%!!!!!  He did these tests on his own - did all the reading and filling in the blanks by himself - and he took a little longer than the average student should, but he did it! Can you see why I am so pleased?  Now, we can concentrate on fluency and speed, but reading is no longer the struggle it has been for the past 4 years! Yeah!  Oh, and math - we can work harder in math now too!

Dreamer did very very well as well - she is going into 8th grade and she did the 8th, 9th, and 10th grade tests, just for fun and scored 95-100%.  These tests are not easy, they are not short - they are the State standardized tests from past years. I am so pleased with my children! I am grateful too - God uses these little things to bless my heart and re-affirm our homeschooling choice, especially on the hard days when I'm not sure we are making any progress at all!

We decided to celebrate yesterday.  We had already had a good day, since Dreamer's allergies are better with medication.  She is loving art camp.  I am loving getting some errands run during art camp. I went to Marshalls for the first time in 3 years and found some things I had on my thriting list forever - and they were very inexpensive! I have been looking to replace a large white platter that got broken years ago and found just the thing for $10!!!!  I'll still look for an ironstone one when I thrift, but this will do quite nicely in the meantime. We went out for dinner and to a movie and ended up being a bit early so we walked in the mall a bit.  I rarely get to the mall, but headed to the clearance racks at C.J.Banks right away and there was a nice long cotton denim skirt in dark blue - my size and on clearance with another 40%off - $19 thank you very much - it fits well and is quite nice! At the movie we had the theatre to ourselves - a private showing of Nanny McPhee Returns!  It was so much fun! Too much potty humor, as usual, but it was quite fun!  Hollywood, if you are listening, kids find lots of things funny, not just potty humor! Enough already!

We need to be leaving for art camp, but I just wanted to share our week of struggles and blessing with you!  Our computer is down again, so I am on the laptop - sorry for no pictures, but hopefully we will get the part we need to get the desktop back into shape - the keyboard went!

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Late Summer Cleaning Spree

I was going to entitle this 'The Urge to Purge" but decided that might bring up some unwanted associations!  I am on a Late Summer Cleaning Spree - and it feels so good.  It all started last week and I'm not sure when it will end, but I'm just going to go with it until every room in the house is lightened.
I hope. 
I was beginning to think we needed more storage space, but really, a good going through was all that we needed. I'm saving us from another minor home repair project for the 'to-do' list!

The children started this crazy need to thin out the house. As we were driving to the Quilt Shop last Tuesday, they sent me into shock when they both said that they were more than ready to get back to our regular school schedule!!!  I was amazed, but pleased at the same time. We all do so much better on a regular schedule, which is something I have failed to accomplish this summer.  Everything we have done this summer seems to have revolved around my physical therapy sessions - not quite as I had planned.  Last summer was the summer of the broken transmission - this summer is the summer of tendinitis. The summer has flown by, and my carefully made goals and ambitions barely got off the ground.  

As the shock of their announcement wore off, I realized that I never even started the whole house sorting  I hoped to do a little at a time all summer!  Panic!  Well, not really - but a huge incentive to look at the calender and make some plans.  We decided to start school August 23rd - one week from today.  
The cleaning and organizing started Wednesday. 

We've been through three closets and two rooms, and taken a van load to Goodwill - I feel lighter already!  I made a huge pile of rags with outgrown boys clothes - not good enough to give away! I even gave away fabric that I was given two or three summers ago and just really didn't like at the time - I didn't like it any better on Saturday, so I passed it along!  I got re-acquainted with my 'stash' and that was good thing - now I know what fabrics I have on hand and what I need to be on the lookout for. 

The children are invited to a friend's birthday celebration this Wednesday so I went through my stash and found some cute fabrics that worked up into a fun hobo bag. The soft railroad stripe denim is left from what I recovered our formerly pink (for Dreamer) car seat with 10 years ago - time to use it or give it away!  The red denim was left from making Dreamer shorts - 4 summers ago!

We decided it needed a pocket, because everyone loves pockets of course!  For safety, he'll probably wear it 'name turned about' like we do when going out in public, so the pocket is for 'show' too!

I had to show you the lining - I made a fun table cloth with this fabric years ago for patriotic celebrations - these scraps have been calling out to be made into something for a very long time!  

There are plenty of great tutorials out there for hobo bags - they really do only take about an hour, but that is if your children don't come up with all kinds of fun 'extra's' to make the project more complex!  I'm happy with how it turned out though, so hopefully the little boy who gets it will be too!  We'll head to the book store tomorrow and see if we can find any books to go in the new book bag. We'll let Storyteller choose since he's got the boy's perspective going on.

Today we've continued with cleaning, a little sewing and reading in between times.  The Storyteller has been outside as much as possible, of course. I don't have the energy for 'go go go', but I am really motivated to rest a while and get back at it!  I have times when I know we need to thin the house, but I am indecisive and end up just moving things to new places. Fruitless. This urge to purge has come with some decisive force - I am thinning ruthlessly. I am not keeping anything that I don't have definite plans for.  I may regret it later, but I doubt it. We truly believe that God will continue to amply supply our needs at the time of our need and we have no need to hoard things I am not using in the foreseeable future. We have seen God at work providing for us beautifully for many years - and there is no reason to believe He will stop now! 
We have 6 days before we start back to school.  Books are ordered, lesson plans are made.  Schedules are tentatively set. I am torn between continuing to clean and purge or just throwing our cares to the wind and making this last week before school all fun and games.  As usual, I've decided on a compromise - a little fun and some more thinning - though the worst rooms are behind us, unless you count the Grammy Flat!  We'll head to the library, meet some friends for a museum morning and birthday celebration, head to the pool with other homeschoolers, and take in some of the County Fair all between therapy appointments and de-cluttering the house.  It sounds like a great ending to summer and a wonderful beginning for the new school year!

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Recorded Books: The Secret School

 We recently finished listening to a wonderful audio book and I thought you might enjoy a quick review.  We love listening to great books on cd, especially in the van.  Over the summer we have enjoyed quite a few, but it just occurred to me that my thoughts on these audio books might be of help or interest to you!

The Secret School by Avi
Read by Johanna Parker
Audio book by Recorded Books LLC
Age recommendation: 9-12
3 CD's - 3 hours of listening pleasure (which means quiet in the van!)

In 1925 Colorado, 14-year-old Ida Bidson dreams of becoming a teacher, but she knows it won’t be easy. When the school board closes the town’s one-room school, threatening to keep Ida from finishing eighth grade and moving on to high school, it looks like her dream will never come true. Then she and her classmates come up with a plan for a secret school—with Ida as their teacher!
This is a heartwarming story that the whole family enjoyed.  Johanna Parker reads the story in a pleasant and engaging manner, which makes for easy listening.  While our almost teenage daughter was quite sure she was not going to be interested in such a simple juvenile tale, we certainly heard her laughs and giggles as she was drawn into the story.  Our 10 year old Storyteller was the one to beg for the story to continue each time we got in the van - he liked most of the story - except the part where Ida's mom points out that Tom is 'sweet on her'. Yuck.

One of the things that we all enjoyed about this story was the respect and honor that all the adults involved in the tale tale received from the children - even the ones who really didn't deserve it.  We liked the relationship between Ida and her parents and the honesty and love that is evident.  Ida turns to her parents over and over again when she is faced with problems she can't figure out, and while they don't tell her what to do, they offer their advice and support and allow her the freedom to learn and grow. We loved the work ethic exemplified by the children of the secret school, most of all by Ida who gives everything she has to ensure her students succeed - even when it seemed to be a detriment to her own ambitions.

All of the principle characters in this story display a love for learning, willingness to work hard, courage in the face of adversity, respect for authority, loyalty and compassion.  It is said that character is who you are when no one is looking and this group of children prove their character in every way. Even Herbert, the most contrary boy in school, loves and honors his embittered father despite everything he does to push people away.  When it seems like all hope is lost and the secret school will be shut down, making all of the children's hard work for nothing, the community rallies around and we enjoy an almost completely happy ending.

We borrowed this audio book at the library, along with several others.  I went to the Recorded Books LLC website and made a list of their Youth Library offerings and than requested the audio books I thought we'd enjoy. It sure would be so much fun to go shopping at Recorded Books, but since we don't have a library budget, that's probably not going to happen!  They do have a rental service called Recorded Books Direct and a monthly plan service called Recorded Books Unlimited which we might look into when we run out of recordings from the inter-library loan system.

I hope you enjoyed this review, and I'd love to hear about your families favorite audio resources!  sometimes we enjoy good books, and sometimes we just love a good story! We are big fans of  Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, Adventures in Odyssey and Lamplighter Theatre, which we listen to on our local radio station each Saturday. The children  have all but worn out the 62 Bible Stories Alive tape series by Kitty Ann Griffiths called A Visit With Mrs. G - Mum and Dad gifted us with the 'tape of the month' club years ago and it has been their most beloved, most cherished, most valuable gift ever, hands down!  We have loved many of  The Boxcar Children cd's from Oasis Audio, along with Jungle Jam and Friends adventures. These are just a few of our much loved audio resources.
 We'd enjoy being introduced to some of your favorites too!

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Camping: Oh! The things we did see!

I can honestly say that camping was a real eye-opening experience!  Let me tell you - we saw things this past weekend that we NEVER thought we'd see while camping!  We had a great time with our friends, and enjoyed a relaxed time away from home. We forgot a few things that we have put on a list for 'next time', and we learned once again that it's always good to 'pack' an extra measure of grace when leaving home. 

God provided a lovely weekend weather-wise, and we all came home safe and sound, so that was a blessing.

Now, you'll have to keep in mind that it's been over twenty years since I went camping!  It took me that long to nag convince the Historian that it was a good idea!!!  I have great early memories of tenting with my Uncle and Aunt in Champlain Park and traveling with my parents around the Georgian Bay in a runabout boat and tenting on the shores.  My parents had two orange canvas dome style tents - my sister and I called them 'the gum drop tents' and we tented all along the Trent Severn Waterway one summer.  When we were a bit older, Dad and Mum bought a larger boat that we could sleep in and we explored many lakes in Ontario.  As a teen I went on many out trips from summer camp, some hiking and many by canoe, almost always involving one or more portage.  Most of the time I was a camper, but later on, after many leadership training trips, I helped guide younger campers on out trips. We had some adventures!

I had entirely different expectations for this little weekend family adventure.  First, we had reserved a wee cabin.  It was clean and cute as a button, but hot and airless even with all of the windows open. We forgot our fan - it was a last minute grab that I didn't put on the 'master list', so that was a shame.  It was too hot for Storyteller to sleep up on the top bunk which was supposed to be a huge 'privilege' for him.  I could hear him up there panting and puffing and I invited him to share the double bunk with me.  He came down, dripping with sweat and in his sleepy stupor and gravelly voice said ' I'm just throwing out numbers here Momma, but it's at LEAST 15 degrees cooler down here' and he promptly fell asleep! Sadly, he was the only one who slept!

Dreamer made her bed and her 'teen' sized sleeping bag just barely fit - these bunks weren't made for the big and tall crowd, but we managed! At least, no one hit the floor!  As far as sleeping went, well, we didn't!

We had a very large family occupying the two cabins next to us and they were up very very late - they quieted down around 3 AM - except for the baby.  I've never heard a baby cry quite like their baby - the next morning I was telling our friends how at first I thought there was a cat fight going on - until I realized they were comforting a fractious baby.  Later, the Historian mentioned that he thought there was a cat next door - until he realized it was the baby - so it wasn't a sleep deprivation illusion! Just about 4:30 AM the Historian made a trip to the restrooms and found our neighbors were still up - playing video games on a t.v. hooked up in their van. We never thought we'd see that while camping!

The next night was better because the campground host came by at 11pm and asked them to be considerate of other campers, so they shut down the party at 1pm, but of course, they still had the baby.  The folks in the deluxe cabin across from us also had a late night party which was quite loud. Hmm.  I went home with bags under my eyes and a greater appreciation for our quiet neighborhood.

We did remember to bring our folding table which was a blessing since we needed a 'kitchen' area.  It worked out really well. We 'hosted' two meals at our little cabin side picnic table and contributed to the other meals, and our friends 'hosted' the other three meals at their quieter, cooler trailer site down by the water. We had way too much food, but it was all good!
Speaking of food, I never in my wildest dreams thought I would see a FRY DADDY on our camping trip, but the crowd next door feasted on fresh deep fried chicken! The lady cut up many whole chickens, dredged them and fried them up right on the picnic table. The next morning she made fresh donuts in the same deep fat fryer!

I never thought we would see a 42" flat screen t.v. on our camping trip either, but there it was, lighting up the night as we traveled to the bathrooms for our nightly visits.  Yes, I did use the 's' there on purpose.  There is something about being 400' from the nearest washroom to make a little boy ... um ... nervous.  We went at least twice before bed and once in the night.  Maybe it was the novelty of the giant t.v.?

Speaking of the bathrooms, my definition of CAMP NAILS was radically re-defined on the first day at camp, in the bathrooms.  Two ladies were chatting about their camp nails, and naturally, I was curious.  Fancy tent pegs?  A new style of hot dog skewer?  I was washing my hands and glanced over just as one woman explained that she had gone to her nail airbrush artist that afternoon to get on her camp nails - which were 1" long manicured nails with tiny pictures of trees, cabins, bears and beer bottles.  Ahhhh.  Camp nails.  I remember when camping did not require a manicure - in fact, it was the fastest way to ruin one!

Sadly, another trip to the restrooms was the source of a terrible 'first sighting'.  It was a loud and angry domestic dispute by the owners of the giant t.v..  It was frightening and horrible and right in the middle were these two precious children - one in a car seat and one just being buckled in.  My friend Mrs.S and I took in the whole sad scene, but our children were completely oblivious to the disturbance, which was a puzzling blessing.  Puzzling, because they don't see that kind of behavior modeled in our homes, and they don't see it on t.v., since both families are NOT t.v. watchers.  The children  were just in their own little world of playing, talking and laughing - and really it was a blessing because it was extremely disturbing.  The mom drove off with the children and the man just shook his head and started throwing stuff in their fire pit.

We enjoyed the rest of the time, though I must admit the lack of sleep made for a pretty un-energetic time for our family.  We managed to get a little bit lost, explore a 'new' place for our family, play on an amazing new play structure, go for walks in a lovely setting,  see a beautiful colt, play in a big play barn, eat hot dogs cooked over the fire, play games, find some clay and make sculptures which were fired in the ashes, eat a yummy foil dinner cooked over the coals, swat a thousand tiny little flies that didn't bite but were getting on our nerves, make the best s'mores ever with dark chocolate, enjoy canoe trips on the river, spend quality time with friends, run, laugh, share some stories, have pancakes and sausage cooked outdoors, and meander home after a relatively painless pack up and tidy up!  We left our cabin and campsite cleaner than when we came, and took only our happy memories with us!

Which means I didn't break quite all of the camping 'rules', Dreamer!

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