This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Monday, November 28

Work Song (Hozier)

How many times have you thought to yourself "WHY do I have to do everything around here???"  News flash : You don't.  While we didn't create these little people to make them work, we can teach a lot of character and ethic through chores and working around the home, and it's just as crucial to their schooling. 

Mom, you are the CEO of the home, and need to plan for your employees.  Just like you wouldn't start a new job without knowing the work expectations, they can't work without knowing what is expected of them.

Let younger children work beside you.  Yes, it's going to cause more hassle and a mess in the short term, but the pay out will be worth it!  They will learn how you do something, and (if you'll answer a plethora of questions) why you do it that way.  One of the best tools in my parent arsenal is explaining everything to my children.  Why we something is just as important as how.

Walk your children through each chore three to four times, BE SPECIFIC about what you want done, and then turn them loose.  We have a chore card for each room of the house, and the kids have been walked through each set of chores multiple times.  If they need help with something (we're out of wet wipes; the vacuum is broken; etc), they know that they can ask for help.  They may not ask for help just because they don't feel like doing it.

Setting Up a Chore System

Laminate the chore cards - they'll last longer.  We keep these laminated cards in a pocket chart alongside our laminated school day cards, and chores are a natural extension of the school day in our homeschool.

Don't expect them to do it well at first, but expect to see some effort.  Also, be sure to check behind your child and offer up a smile and positive words when they've done a good job.  If the job needs work, provide constructive criticism, but remember that they did the best they could do and may just need more practice.  (If you can tell they didn't try at all, this is a character issue...address accordingly.)

Give your children both paid and non-paid chores.  This gives them a chance to work and save up for something they have been wanting.  In our house, non-paid chores are everyday ones : feed the animals, clean your room, help clean the kitchen, fold laundry, etc.  Paid chores are provided on an as-needed basis (ie, when I needed help collating 2,000 packets for a meeting).  Occasionally, if they've been working very hard to earn something, typically a Lego set, and are very close to it, we will 'invent' a chore that needs doing, such as picking up sticks in the yard.  They are doing the work, and feel proud of the accomplishment of purchasing their own Lego set.

When you teach your children to do chores, you're empowering them.  They're learning life skills, and they're also learning about work ethics.  They can do something.  They are useful.  They are needed.  Even our special needs child knows that he has value and things that he is very good at - he has confidence!  No matter what the future brings, they will know how to work hard at anything they put their mind toward.  In our opinion, this is just as important, if not more so, than the academics of school.

Wednesday, November 23

A Knight to Remember...

I have to admit that I thought this would be a really cheesy theme park-type place...something that kids love and parents tolerate...but I am happy to say I was wrong! wrong, in fact, that I'm encouraging you to take your family as soon as you can...

Just the Facts:
  • Location: 2021 N Stemmons Dallas, Texas
  • Hours: Various Show times (check calendar here)          
  • Admission:  Adults: $58.95  /  Children (Under 12): $35.95                   
  • Website:
Medieval Times is something every family, especially history-loving families such as our own, should experience at least once!  (They have castles in Dallas, TX,  Orlando, FL, Atlanta, GA, Washington D.C., Buena Park, CA, Lyndhurst, NJ, Myrtle Beach, SC, and Toronto, ON.)  

Why go??

  • Before the Show
    • You'll want to get there early...we showed up an hour early to take in all of the sights.  Once inside the ornately-decorated castle, we were able to visit the costume area, gift shop, and -the boys' favorite- the armor store.  There are lots of costumed maidens, squires, and minstrels walking around in character, so plenty of great photo opportunities, and some lucky folks even get knighted!  (Though we never could figure out how they were selected.)  You'll get your crown and seating assignment, as well as find out which knight you'll be rooting for that evening, and can pick up a glass of wine.  There is also a seating area, if you don't want to walk around.

  • Castle Economics (AKA How to Stretch Your Dragon)
    • The servants and serving wenches are super they manage to serve such a large crowd all at the same time, in such a tight window, is pretty amazing!  They work hard (so tip well, please) and are a lot of fun to banter with.  There are also bar wenches, for the adult who wants something stronger to drink than coke or water.
    • The menu includes :  dragon pee, dragon blood, dragon toenail, dragon tooth, dragon scales, dragon heart, and baby dragon.  They surely stretch that dragon and use every bit, and it was delicious!!  While one of our children was disturbed by the menu description, he quickly dug in once we told him what the food was.  (To be fair, he also struggled with the lights and noises...if you have a special needs child, you may want to prepare them ahead of time on what to expect.)
  • Watching the, I mean, The Show

    • The jousting, horse tricks, sword fighting, falconry, and the all adds up to a fantastic show!  Every little boy will want to be a knight (even the big boys!) and every little girl will want to be a princess.  I can only imagine how hard these guys train to be able to put on such a great show!  And the eye candy is a nice extra for the moms...  😉  If you're a lucky lady, you might even get a flower from one of the knights!
    • The animals are so well-trained.  Those Spanish horses...I'm not even a horse person and was floored at how incredible the pageantry was!  It was intricate and well-woven into the story as a whole.  There was also a lady who did falconry.  The boys love raptors (remember our trip to the Raptor Center?) and were wholly impressed at getting to see the falcon up close.
  • After the Show
    • Once the show ends, you get a chance to meet the cast and take pictures.  Since we were in the black & white knight's section, we lined up to get our picture taken with him.  By the time we did that, the castle had really cleared out and there were very few folks left.  
    • My son went over to the Norseman (the show's villain) and asked him a few questions.  The guy was nice enough to spend some time talking with our art & costume-loving son about how he got involved with the show.  After that conversation, our son now his his five-year plan in place!
  • Overall
    • It is a bit pricey, but when you consider that you get dinner and a show, the interactive component, and how many people and animals go into creating this show, it doesn't seem that expensive anymore.  And, if you can get a coupon code, all the better!  Our recommendation is that you get a family pack of tickets and go as soon as possible!
    • And speaking of coupons, we have a special offer for any of y’all who want to visit yourselves:  Adults $36.95 and children (12 and under) $29.95 with the code MT3629 through 2/28/17.  Click on this special offer link.

We get to give away a set of 4 general admission tickets for one familyto attend the show in Dallas!  Tickets must be used by 1/30/17.
My family and I were invited to visit and were provided admission. I was not financially compensated for this post.  All opinions of Medieval Times are strictly my own based on my experience. 

Christmas Spirit....Flying Off these Pages!!

Christmas Love Letters from God (Glenys Nellist)

Written for children ages four to eight, Christmas Love Letters from God cleverly combines both prose and poetry as the story of Jesus’ birth unfolds. The book includes seven stories, beginning with Isaiah’s prophecy and ending with the visit of the wise men. Following each story, the child will find his or her own letter from God, folded into a small envelope attached to the page. Each letter begins with a space in which to write the child’s name, so each one can be specially addressed to the child. Written as if God is speaking, each personalized message gives the young reader a sense of wonder as they discover anew the Christmas holiday and the birth of Jesus. A very special Bible verse, entitled God’s Perfect Promise, also accompanies each story and letter as God’s personal words of love, promise, and hope.

This book highlights some of the best Bible stories related to the Christmas story itself. Each is retold for the young audience, and includes a short memory verse. At the end of each story, there is a lift-the-flap letter from God that can be personally addressed to your child. Do you remember The Jolly Christmas Postman? It was one of our favorite books as children – and this reminds me a lot of that book. It’s very hands-on, which usually appeals to young children. There’s also a spot for them to write back to God. The illustrations are engaging and the writing is at an appropriate level. The repetition, coupled with the hands-on elements and memory verses, ensures that they’ll be learning something as you enjoy a little snuggle time!

Ready, Set, Find Christmas (ZonderKidz)
Get ready to follow Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. They are in a hurry! Mary is expecting the baby Jesus and they need your help to find many things along the way. This holiday board book is perfect for young children who will love finding the 48 objects hidden on the pages while reading the classic story of Christmas, accurately retold and with scripture references. On your mark, Ready-Set-Find!

This is a cute board book for toddlers. It's like the older "I Spy" books, and it tells the Christmas story. On each page, children have a list of objects to find hidden in the picture. On one of the pages, they spy a dove, bowl, rooster, mouse, cat, chick, shovel, and head covering. My son is in elementary school, but enjoyed looking through this once and finding the pictures as he read it to me. We have already passed it on to younger nieces, who are toddlers, for them to enjoy this Christmas. It is a great book for nurseries, day cares, moms and grandmas, babysitters, churches, and the toddler's home.

A Night of Great Joy (Mary Engelbreit)
Mary Engelbreit presents A Night of Great Joy, a delightful picture book that celebrates the joyful season of Christmas. This book tells the story of the nativity through the performance of a children’s Christmas pageant. With adorable illustrations and simple storytelling, Engelbreit paints a wonderful picture of the night that Jesus was born. A Night of Great Joy recalls that fateful night with wonder and awe. From the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem to the gathering of many before the baby Jesus, this holiday treasure leads children through the tale of the birth of Jesus, guiding them with the star of Bethlehem. Mary Engelbreit, New York Times bestselling illustrator of the blockbuster Christmas classic The Night Before Christmas, brings readers a new holiday picture book that’s sure to become a family favorite.

This is such a cute book! It's like a younger, more innocent version of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in that it depicts real-world children. The Christmas program at a church isn't complete with giggles, accidents, funny faces, and a little bit of histrionics...and this book depicts them all! It shows the true meaning of Christmas, acted out by true-to-life children and their toy animals. You'll have a good giggle when you snuggle up and read this one with your children!

Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel (Mike Berenstain)
In the newest Berenstain Bears Living Lights book, The Berenstain Bears and the Christmas Angel, the cubs discover there’s more to angels than wings and flowing white robes! It is almost Christmas and there is finally snow in Bear Country. Brother, Sister, and Honey Bear are ready for some winter fun! But when they can’t decide what kind of snowbear to build, Honey Bear’s snow angel gives the older cubs a great idea. Soon the cubs have built a Christmas snow angel. Later, as they warm up with some hot cocoa, Mama and Papa give the cubs a little lesson about some very special angels and the work they do for God.

A simple snow day activity transforms into a lesson on the Christmas story in this sweet addition to the Berenstain Bears collection. Like its predecessors in the series, this story makes a great read aloud for young children. The end has referenced passages for further reading for children. Combined with the book below, this would make a fabulous set for the Berenstain Bear aficionado in your life!

Berenstein Bears, The Very First Christmas (Jan & Mike Berenstein)

Join the Bear cubs as they learn all about Jesus’ holy birth. From the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary to the visit from the three wise men, join Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister, and Honey as they discover the story of the very first Christmas.

The newest Berenstain Bears book is out this year just in time for Christmas! The story begins with the Angel coming to Mary, and ends with Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt to avoid King Herod. In the spirit of the Berenstein Bears, this book shares values and the story of Christmas itself without being overly preachy. The illustrations are colorful and interesting, and keep young children's attention as you go through the story. If you're looking for a new story to add to your Christmas collection, this could be the one!

With the arrival of the most spectacular winter in years and Christmas only a night away, Princesses Joy, Grace, Faith, Charity, and Hope find themselves in the midst of a scene right out of a holiday fairytale in this newest adventure in the Princess Parables series A Royal Christmas to Remember. But then the threat of bandits in the village lead the king away from the castle on Christmas Eve! Suddenly, the bandits come crashing into the castle. Praying to God for courage and safety, the princesses are soon rescued by five brave knights and then do some rescuing themselves. The next day, the princesses go to the village to see how they can be of help to the people, discovering that the true meaning of Christmas is honoring and giving glory for the greatest gift of all.

While I really liked the premise of this book – teaching children that there is more to Christmas than the trappings and presents – I wasn’t particularly excited about the presentation of the ideas.  It has really nice illustrations and an easy-to-follow storyline, but there are also some disturbing images and parts of the story where violent and untoward things occur.  Be prepared to stop mid-story and discuss those.  If you have a little girl who is just really into princesses, this might be a story that she enjoys and reads at Christmas time.  For anyone else, you can get a similar sentiment from watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas on the tv special.

Berenstain Bears Christmas Fun & Sticker Activity Book (Mike Berenstain)
The Berenstain Bears come to life this holiday season with puzzles, activity pages, and more than 50 reusable stickers in The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Fun Sticker and Activity Book. Featuring Papa, Mama, Brother, Sister, and Honey and the rest of the Bear Country gang, kids are sure to find lots to do helping Honey Bear find the missing piece of the Bear family Nativity scene, doing crosswords and word searches with Brother and Sister, and even helping out at the Christmas Eve service at Chapel in the Woods.

While this book is meant for 4-8 year olds, I would put it more in the "littles" category, for preschoolers. It is a great little activity book, with _reusable_ stickers (always nice), coloring pages, crossword pages, counting puzzles, phonics activities, and word searches. As you are doing Christmas-themed classwork in your homeschool, this is a great book for the 'littles' to use at the table with everyone else. Plus, it's Berenstain Bears, and we all know how great those products are!!

A Boy Called Christmas (Matt Haig)

Eleven-year-old Nikolas—nicknamed “Christmas”—has received only one toy in his life: a doll carved out of a turnip. But he’s happy with his turnip doll, because it came from his parents, who love him. Then one day his father goes missing, and Nikolas must travel to the North Pole to save him.  Along the way, Nikolas befriends a surly reindeer, bests a troublesome troll, and discovers a hidden world of enchantment in the frozen village of Elfhelm. But the elves of Elfhelm have troubles of their own: Christmas spirit and goodwill are at an all-time low, and Nikolas may be the only person who can fix things—if only he can reach his father before it’s too late. . . .

Amazon compares this book to the Lemony Snicket series, and I can see why.  The narrative voice is very will draw you in and keep you engaged through the entire story.  If you have younger children, you may want to read through the book first to make sure that they are prepared for some of the unfortunate things that occur in the book - but everything does work out in the end.  That's what the story is about - Nikolas never loses his faith and kindness, in spite of the things that happen.  Overall, it's a good story with a great moral.

All Is Bright (Nancy Guthrie)
This Christmas season, celebrate the birth of our Savior through beautiful design and devotion. Grab your colored pencils, cozy up with your favorite blanket and a cup of tea, and settle in for a night of peace and wonder with All Is Bright. For lovers of the Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest coloring books, All Is Bright is the perfect way to transform the Advent and Christmas seasons for your whole family, re-centering the holidays on the miracle of Jesus’ birth. Combining 31 days of rich content by the beloved and inspirational Nancy Guthrie with intricate designs that will reconnect you with the heart of Christ, this coloring book devotional journey reminds us all of what the season really calls us to: worship.

Like almost all adult coloring books, this is a relaxing book designed to help you unwind and refocus on the important things in life. The pages are thick enough that markers don't bleed through and the pictures are intricately beautiful. Each page has a message for the reader, and will help to refocus energies on the true beauty of Christmas and the meaning of the holiday. It would make a great Christmas gift for anyone who loves to color!

Christmas Under a Cranberry Sky (Holly Martin)

Piper Chesterfield lives a glamorous life travelling the world and reviewing the finest hotels. She calls nowhere home, she works alone and that’s how she likes it. For long ago Piper decided that to protect her heart she should lock it away. So when Piper’s next assignment brings her to the newly opened Stardust Lake Hotel for the festive season, the last person she expects to face is Gabe Whitaker, the man who broke her heart so completely she could never love again. But Piper isn’t the only one who has been frozen in time by heartbreak. Gabe hasn’t forgotten the golden-eyed girl who disappeared from his world without a trace. Now fate has reunited them on Juniper island, can the magic of Christmas heal old wounds? And can this enchanting town be the one place Piper can finally call home?

I do believe I've found my new favorite author! Already have purchased book two from Amazon and am plowing through Neve's story... This is the kind of book that you climb into your bay window with, clutching some hot chocolate and a small bowl of caramels, and just whittle the day away while devouring the entire thing. You know what the last chapter will be, but the author's writing style makes you feel as though you're right there along for the entire journey!

The Amish Christmas Kitchen (Kelly Long)
Something’s always baking in an Amish oven, and at Christmastime, all the ingredients for joy are at hand. Wrap yourself in the warmth of the Amish home—and the Plain peace of hearts joined by love. Each story includes a recipe from the author!
Newly married, Clara Mast and Daniel Kauffman have little to give but love during their first Christmas season together. But generous hearts are always willing to be creative in this “Gift of the Magi” inspired story.
When shy Katie Rose Gingerich’s dat sends her to Huckleberry Hill to secure a marriage proposal, she never expects to long for carefree Titus Helmuth—or to hope that he might want to spend every Christmas with her . . .
A charity auction, an unexpected friendship, and a stubborn spirit combine in an unusual courtship. But for Emma and Jonathan, overcoming obstacles is just one of the lessons to be learned about special blessings this holiday season.

In the same vein as most Amish fiction, these are heart-warming stories where the main characters overcome their personal trials and tribulations to find true love. Sprinkled with tasty recipes and Christmas traditions, this is a great book to cosy up with by the fire!

The Christmas Angel Project (Melody Carlson)

Five women from different walks of life have become close friends through their book club--enjoying one another's company even more than they enjoy the books. So when the leader of the book club unexpectedly passes away on the cusp of the Christmas season, the four remaining friends are stunned. They relied on Abby for inspiration and motivation. She was the glue that held them together, and they're sure that without her the group can't continue. When the group gathers "one last time" to open a bag Abby's husband gives them, they find Abby had made each of them an angel ornament for Christmas, crafted especially for each woman and accompanied by a sweet and personal note. Inspired by their beloved friend, together Cassidy, Louisa, Grace, and Belinda decide to commit themselves to becoming Christmas Angels to others in need. Each woman will use her life situation and talents to reach out and help others in her own unique way--little knowing that her own life and her relationships will be changed forever. Fan favorite Melody Carlson is back with another touching Christmas story sure to grip readers' hearts and perhaps inspire them to become Christmas Angels themselves.

I love all of Melody's Christmas-themed books, and this one was no exception! Each of the four 'angels' left with a hole in their life from their own personal angel is looking for a way to fill that void. They decide to pay it forward and fill the void with love for those around them, rather than wallowing in their grief. The transformation happens quickly, a little too quickly to be believable, but it works with the story line. Other than that, it's another flawless Carlson execution, as she prepares your heart to accept, and give forth, the Christmas spirit!

Devotions for Christmas (Zondervan)
In the swirling busyness of December, take a moment to relax and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. We all know that Christmas is a time to celebrate Christ the King born to us, to enjoy our family and friends, and to indulge in those annual traditions we look forward to every year. But even though we may understand the true reason for the season, far too few of us know how to celebrate Christmas as the time of peace that it is meant to be. With a rich, daily devotion for every day of December, Devotions for Christmas offers you a way to unplug and spend some time reconnecting with a childlike sense of wonder and joy at the mystery and blessings of Christmas. Settle in and enjoy peaceful and hope-inspired Devotions for Christmas.

With a devotion for all thirty-one days in December, this book will take you past Christmas and get you ready for the New Year!  Each day begins with a short Bible verse and ends with a prayer.  The photographs are so beautiful and engaging, you'll want to leave this one out where company can pick it up and flip through it.  The devotions are short - one to two minutes long - and would be appropriate for family gathering time or your morning 'alone' time.  As the title indicates, they are all Christmas-themed, and will help to re-center your spirit on the true purpose of the season.  In a world where holiday shopping begins in October and runs through January, this is a good book to settle in with and get back to the basics.

The Kindness Challenge (Shaunti Feldhahn)
Think of your toughest relationship. Think of a relationship that is good but
could be great. Think of a group of people that drives you nuts. You want to show more kindness and generosity, but sometimes you’re just tired, stretched, and frustrated. Besides, would small actions make that big a difference? Yes! After years of extensive research, Shaunti Feldhahn has concluded that kindness is a superpower. It can change any relationship, make your life easier and better, and transform our culture. But how does it work? And how can you show kindness when you don’t feel like it?  With self-assessments, day-to-day tips, a 30-day challenge, and specific kindness ideas, The Kindness Challenge can make your toughest relationships better and your good relationships great—starting today.

We are big proponents of the RACK program (see about that here and here), and so of course I can get behind the idea of this book!! Whether it’s a family member, acquaintance, or a stranger, honey is sweeter than vinegar, and unexpected honey is even better. We live in a dog-eat-dog world, where these days your neighbor is more likely to sell you out than help you out. As a society, we have to work on getting back toward being kind to each other. Otherwise, what’s the point? Granted, it’s not easy, and it’s even harder when you feel that you’re the one taking all the positive steps. But just as with a child, if you continue to persevere, the kindness will usually pay off. If you don’t believe me, take the 30-day challenge yourself. It won’t be easy, but see what rewards you reap!

I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, November 21

Shine on Harvest Moon (Rosemary Clooney)

On a unusually empty Saturday, as we bumbled around town looking for something to do...a garage sale to crash....something to pass the time....we came across this storage box and began a new project.  If we'd been thinking clearly, we'd have taken some decent 'before' photos...but alas.
The box was made of real wood and had great bones, but someone had painted it this terrible chartreuse color...that's not a color anyone needs in their kitchen.  Or pantry.  It also had hinges that were rusted in place and needed a thorough scrubbing.  Completely do-able in a weekend.
The boys helped to break it apart into all of it's little pieces, and give it a nice coat of off-white paint.  We cleaned it well beforehand.  While the paint was drying, we soaked the hinges in WD-40 to loosen them.
A bit of bright red paint for the covers brought life to our piece and gave it a vintage feel.  We also stapled wire mesh to them, instead of the thick plastic, to open them up and let the food inside breathe.  For the top of the box, we pulled out our old Tupperware stencils and livened it up with the boys' vision of a pastoral scene. 

And voila!  A root box to hold potatoes, carrots, beets, apples, and the rest of your fall harvest.

A few Potato Recipes...