Sunday, December 28, 2014

Happy Christmas!

Wishing you the joys of Christmas as we join together as families to give thanks for the birth of God's Son given to us as a gracious expression of God's love for this world.

 For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. ~Isaiah 9:6a

Monday, December 15, 2014

birthday message

December moments

December always has its own roller coaster of moods for me. Excited about plans, overwhelmed by ideas, stretched for new gift lists, anticipating family time and travel plans, keeping up lesson work and housework, it all comes to a head this time of year. I don't do well with Advent daily readings, as we always get behind, but we are reading applicable Bible passages and discussing things on our own.  We are of course reading Christmas books and those that that fortuitously coincide like Mr. Pipes Comes to America. 
A quick visit from my mom to spend time with us before Christmas arrives and she is always eager to play a game or two. Next up is Kate's birthday and then it is full steam ahead to Christmas celebrations. I figure another ten years or so and I will get to have those quiet, reflective Advent moments that people are always talking about. (Wink, wink.)

Friday, December 12, 2014

links in the spirit of Christmas

To read:

Eleven Christmas Books Everyone Should Read

Operators Are Standing By


Professor Carol

To watch:

Rick Steve's European Christmas

A Christmas in Wales

just a few Christmas books...

Slowly, we are building a collection of good Christmas books that we look forward to reading each year. For the last several years, I have wrapped twenty-four books and the kids have taken a turn unwrapping one each day until Christmas Day. This year, I started wrapping and forgot to take photos until at least a third of the books were wrapped. Doh!

And the rest are helpfully sitting here, clothed in their paper finery waiting to be picked. We have more than twenty-four books in our own collection, so some of the lengthier books do not get gift-wrapped because they take longer than one sitting to read. Great classics like The Story of Holly and Ivy, The Christmas Carol or Tolkien's fun Letters from Father Christmas.

And then we have the library books, some of  which get borrowed every year until we get our own copy, and others which we test run to see what we think. Wenceslas, Christmas Farm, and A Star for Christmas are old library favorites(and mine), the rest of the books pictured below are newly discovered ones that made the cut for this post. The rest are going back to the library. But my request list has more books coming so hopefully we will have more to add to this list for another year.

One of Laura's favorites

Seth loved this edition. 

A unique story from Patricia MacLachlan.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

gift ideas for the mama (and other women too)

So apparently some of you(looking at you, Kathleen) didn't really want suggestions for kids, you wanted a list to give to your husband. Righty-o.

  • gift card to fabric stores, craft stores, IKEA, online stores, hardware stores, home stores, spa and hair salons, clothing and shoe stores, other retail, etc
  • craft and sewing supplies
  • garden supplies and planning time together
  • books, bookmarks, reading lamps, journals, bookshelves, desk, nightstand
  • music (albums, instruments, sheet music)
  • dvds (movies, series, documentaries, concerts)
  • stationary supplies (cards, paper, notebooks, journals, pens)
  • fine art supplies (drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. supplies, )
  • coffee and teas
  • chocolate and sweets
  • wine, ciders and beers
  • concert or show tickets
  • weekend get-aways
  • time to just be
  • dinner plans
  • thrift store finds
  • completed home projects
  • camera, phone, computer, accessories, etc
  • travel mug, bags, luggage, etc.
  • home appliances, large and small
  • fresh flowers, house plants, dried arrangements, vases, containers, greenhouses, baskets, etc.
  • board games, card games
  • candlesticks and tapers, votives, kitchen, table and home linens
  • framed prints, photos, artwork from him or the kids
  • and of course, woolen socks, hats, scarves, mittens, boot cuffs, cowls, and sweaters
Lastly, good words on marriage to remember especially during a time of gift-exchanging.

"You marry a man. Strange how easy it seems to be for some women to expect their husbands to be like women, to act like women, to do what is expected of women. Instead of that they are men, they act like men, they do what is expected of men and thus they do the unexpected." ~ Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be A Women

Friday, November 28, 2014

gift ideas for kids

The following items are all present in our house, unless noted and enjoy being played with in turn. There is no order to the list. I do not just buy wooden toys, but I try not to get the real cheap plastic that will break easily, especially if it has movable parts. Or I consider if the items will still be safely usable even if a part breaks. I do not try to buy items only made in North America. I do avoid toys that come with gratuitous battery usage. So Hex bugs and fish need batteries. Doll houses do not. I have not provided any links or photos to products because the post would never get posted until 2050. I will be glad to answer any questions as best as I can. I apologize for any typos, I write with kids hanging around.

Canadians do not always have access to the same stores, selections and prices as Americans, so my list hopefully reflects the items that can be found no matter where you live. I do order quite a bit online, but many of our toys have come from stores here in Canada.
I try to buy toys that are open-ended and can be used in a variety of play. Animals living inside Duplo houses. Tea and toast served to stuffed animals. Dolls being doctored and diapered.

"dinky" cars, track building pieces, car cases, car carriers

I would not waste money on the plastic race sets. I buy track building pieces that make a versatile track wherever my kids set it up. Car cases do not get good reviews, but they are a necessary evil and most of the time, get the job done sufficiently.  We have at least four different ones to hold the various collections. And we have at least three transport car carrier trucks, one that have been known to carry a load of small dinosaurs in recent days.

assorted wooden blocks, train tracks

Almost everyone makes wooden tracks and wooden building blocks. Places like Michael's sell other wood pieces like finials, balls, etc which are sold as open stock.

plastic animals and people

These get some of the most use in our house and earn their shelf space. Schleich is one of the more common brands, but Michael's and other places sell similar styles.

pretend kitchen sets

Oh the joy of being served something to "eat or drink" by a little person. Slurping up the offered tea, juice and water brings them great delight. Build a great collection and put it in your kitchen or close to your work area.

Lego, Duplo and large building bases

Look for sets that come with vehicles, people and animals. It is amazing what sort of play can emerge.

dress up clothes, hats, accessories, play mirror, travel cases, pretend make-up and hair care sets

My MIL got us started a couple of years ago on dress up clothes and we have just kept adding to the now overflowing basket. Discarded sunglasses, magic wands, slippers, sandals, scarves, mittens and gloves have all been tossed into the mix. They have a blast.

dolls, doll clothes, diapers, strollers, accessories, blankets, beds

Our dolls take abuse but also much play. Also using regular diapers are a much better deal than the ones sold with doll items. And dolls aren't the only ones that get diapers, many of our stuffed animals also need them.

stuffed animals, puppets

Two of our kids love every stuffed animal they meet. We have a lot and are played with everyday. A tension curtain rod, clothespins and pillow cases make an instant doorway puppet theater.

doctor set

This also is used almost everyday for a variety of reasons. The case no longer closes properly, but nothing a rubber band doesn't solve.

homemade play dough, utensils

I'm not a very good mom with messes, but there are some amazing things to do with playdough, especially a homemade selection of colors and even scents.  And raiding your kitchens (both real and pretend) should yield a nice selection of utensils.

pretend cameras, phones, binoculars, etc.

cash registers, shopping carts

dump trucks, snow plows, etc. 

Dump trucks can haul a lot of indoor loads too and cotton balls give snow plows a chance to move around some tidy, non-melting snow.

vintage Fisher Price Little People toys

Some of the original toys have made a comeback in recent years, I have not bought those, so I cannot comment on how closely they match the originals. I did invest in some used originals ten years ago and have never been sorry. They still function well despite the wear and tear they have received. I found all mine on Ebay and yardsales. My mom still has all the sets we played with and my children play with her stuff when we visit.

play capes with hoods

Seeing the kids rush by in their capes is just plain fun. A must-have. Ours are light-weight fabric so they flow and fly behind the kids as they play. Easy to sew if you have the inclination.

exercise ball

Something I bought for myself, but has seen more use by the kids, I'm afraid. It's huge and they love rolling around on it on our carpeted basement floor. It's durable and hasn't need to be re-inflated even after a year of use. An accidental toy purchase for sure.

plastic orange cones for indoor and outdoor use

Ours came from the dollar store, we have four of them and they are used for goal posts, inside and out, obstacle courses for biking, and other such fun.

army men
How can you go wrong with this classic toy item? We have built up our son's stash and they have been featured in home movies, war scenes, and guarding buildings. Look for ones that will stand up unattended.

walkie-talkie set

Ours uses rechargeable batteries and is best for older kids who understand when to hold the button and talk.

playchute, parachute men

The playchute comes in small and large sizes for indoor and outdoor play. We are getting the small six foot one for inside winter play. We'll get the large one come summer. Parachute men who have thicker no-tangle rope are ideal.

board games, card games, puzzles

We have a huge selection and as our kids get older, they enjoy learning new ones. I prefer the more classic games that do not have cheap plastic parts to get broken or need batteries to work. And buyer-beware, many of the current versions of older games are often modified (and cheapened) beyond recognition. Do a bit of research before you buy either in-store or online. Buying an older used game online or on consignment is often the better way to go.

analog phone with cord
Our kids love playing with our corded phone that we bring out when the power goes out. It has been used to set up a police station at our dining room table, order pizza and practice phone etiquette.

electric adding machine with receipt paper
We played with my dad's occasionally as a child and I recently saw them again at Walmart. It's on my list for this year.

homemade gifts
Pinterest is a great place to go look for things to make or to ask crafty family members to make. I am attempting several projects which I will share upon completion. Etsy is a great play to go to find something handmade by someone else. I have done this as well. The items are so charming and unique.

In the left sidebar of my blog is a short list of Favorite Shops I have ordered from in the past. It does not include the well-known online stores, but I use those too.
This is not an exhaustive ideas list, but a general list of items that work for our house and family. What's on your list?

P.S. You may have noticed an absence of books on the list. They deserve their own post. Also I did not mention movies or television. Perhaps another post for those titles as well.
And I have made no mention of other electronics. My kids do play video games, but it is quite limited and often my husband joins them.  My son does have an mp3 player which was pre-loaded for him by my husband.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


In bookish news, I finished off Middlemarch last week in a dedicated reading manner. And when it was over, I paged back through it, looking over various passages as I toyed with the idea of starting it all over again now that I get the storyline. Perhaps it may get revisited, but for now here is this week's quote from Peter Pan which made me smile when I read it.

"For a moment after Mr. and Mrs. Darling left the house the night-lights by the beds of the three children continued to burn clearly. They were awfully nice little nightlights, and one cannot help wishing that they could have kept awake to see Peter; but Wendy's light blinked and gave such a yawn that the other two yawned also, and before they could close their mouths all the three went out."
~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

a covering

This is the fall we know.

This is also the fall we know. The empty trees laid bare of all their covering. Nests of birds and squirrels exposed for us to find. Every time I find one I think, there you were the whole time.
And then I am humbled to think that this is how God sees me. He looks past the covering and sees the real me, all the time. And He loves me.
That is the amazing part of the Fall. He sees us as He did the first man and woman exposed in their sin. He loved them and treated them as His children, with chastening and provision. We have all been laid bare, we have all been exposed, we need His chastening and provision.
The way through the Fall was shown in the birth, death and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ. As we look ahead to celebrating the time of Advent and the Incarnation, we can rejoice that as God's children, we have been given a covering which will never be laid bare. Jesus Christ's covering is forever. We have no shame, we have been covered.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Remembrance Day

My children are growing in their interest and understanding of the world around them. And though we find it difficult to celebrate what our nations have done in wars and policies without the knowledge of God, we remember. Today, they are eager to wear a poppy which has become the symbol for Remembrance Day in many countries around the world. And as children do, they carry these ideas into their play. I love how this happens.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese (updated)

It's homemade mac and cheese, the creamy, crunchy, buttery version. (This is for you, Kathleen.)
This is my cold-weather lunch recipe.  I made it last year to keep us warm as we cheered on Canada in the Olympics in February. I made it this year to welcome fall and again today to ward away the discomfort of my slight head cold. It is simply yummy and oh-so satisfying. 
This recipe is from Carol, our babysitter and friend. Her instructions start with microwave cooking and end in the oven. I never cook in the microwave except this recipe. But it could easily be done on the stove top, I just haven't done it that way yet. So I will give you the recipe as is and you can decide how you would like to make it.

Creamy Macaroni

1 cup macaroni or more
4 cups water in saucepan

3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1 small onion chopped finely
2 tsp. dried mustard
1/2 tsp. salt (you can add a bit more after you make it the first time. I do)

2 cups milk

4 oz. of cream cheese or 1/4 cup sour cream, (I don't measure this either and I usually just use sour cream because it mixes in easy.)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese( I also mix in mozzarella cheese sometimes)

2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Cook macaroni in boiling water until tender, remove and drain. So far I have used elbow and small shell and the consistency is the same.
In a microwave safe dish, cook butter, flour, onion, mustard and salt for about a minute. Stir in milk and return to cook in microwave for about 3-4 minutes, stirring a couple of times until cream sauce is thickened. (You are making a white sauce so it can easily be done on your stovetop.)
Add in cream cheese OR sour cream, shredded cheeses and combine until cheese is melted and mixed well. Then add in cooked macaroni and stir until evenly combined.
Melt remaining butter with bread crumbs and spread over the creamy macaroni.
Bake at 350 for around 20 minutes or less. The top should be golden, sizzling, and bubbly around the edges of the dish.
Depending on serving size and number of second helpings, it makes enough for at least four adults, but there are no guarantees and certainly it does not include who gets to scrape the dish for the last little bits.  Oh yes.
I experimented today by adding freshly dried thyme to a small portion baked separately which tasted very good. So feel free to experiment by adding other flavors, there is enough creamy sauce to handle the extra goodness.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

September/October Book List

Favorite Chapter Books

The Book Boat's In by Cynthia Cotten, illustrated by Frane Lessac
A library boat on the canal brings books to borrow and buy to a young boy's town. One title catches his eye, and he spends the next couple of weeks earning the funds to buy the book when the library boat comes back to his town. A great story of diligent work for young kids as almost everyone can relate to working and saving for something special.

The Journey by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
I picked up this one because I recognized the married author/illustrator team from their other well loved books, The Library and The Gardener.  While the actual story seems a bit weak, (young Amish girls travels into the city, but remembers her Amish life back at home), the illustrations provide plenty to enjoy, including the end covers at the beginning and end of the book.

Martha by Grennady Spirin
We have a ton of crows in our area of Ontario which provides many opportunities for us to observe their behavior, so this book seemed like one we would like. It is set in Russia and tells the true story of the author's family who befriended an injured crow and nursed it back to health.  I loved the illustrations and have shared several of my favorites.

The Secret Cave by Emily Arnold McCully
Another true story, this time of French school boys inspired by their teacher to search for cave secrets in their village on the cusp of the World War 2.  The ancient artwork they discovered captured the interest and excitement of the historians and anthropologists around the world.  The underground illustrations provide such a realistic sense that I even felt a bit claustrophobic on those pages.  A very nice book.

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse by Torben Kuhlmann
I have not saved the best for last, but this is my most favorite for this time. And it's not the story plot, really. It's these wonderful, enormous, detailed illustrations that cause you to stare and stare at the pages. And if I may skip ahead, the German author, Torben Kuhlmann, has a second book due out in Europe next year called Mole City and it looks amazing. I am hopeful that it will be released in North America as well so we can see what the Moles build underground. But back to this current book which relates the efforts of a small mouse to cross the Atlantic by plane and reach the New York harbor just like his human namesake, Lindbergh. If only those owls were not so interested in having him for dinner...

The Animal Hedge by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
A bit of fantasy, a bit of formulaic sappiness, and a lot of hedge-carving make up this fun story of a mythical farmer and his sons. The artwork carries the story along even through the more predictable parts and ends with the sons honoring their father and his true love. It may inspire some hedge trimming or at least a trip to formal gardens to see some real animal hedges, like maybe Longwood Gardens perhaps.

The Matchbox Diary by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
This is another book by the same writing/illustrating team as the book above and also gets a pass for being a little bit sappy at times. An Italian grandfather recounts his family's emigration to his granddaughter through the items he kept stored in old matchboxes. The artwork depicting the grandfather's memories is endearing and conveys the emotion of his family's story. It may inspire your children to start their own collection.

Chapter Books

Stuart Little by E.B. White, illustrated by Garth Williams
Having enjoyed reading some of E.B. White's essays, I thought I should actually read his children's novels for myself and not just rely on the movie versions. Well, Stuart Little, the book, was a profound disappointment and theories abound as to what happened to White while he was writing this book. But let's just say, that for me, the movie version outshines whatever White was trying to do with the book.  Oh well, I still love his essays and will go finish Charlotte's Web and end with The Trumpet of the Swan, but for me, Stuart Little was a let down.

Rabbit Hill and The Tough Winter by Robert Lawson
These books form a series which recount the adventures and misfortunes of the animals living in Rabbit Hill. They are short books accompanied by black and white illustrations generously scattered throughout the stories. An acquaintance with St. Francis of Assisi would help the reader to understand what motivates the humans in the story to live peaceably with the animals of Rabbit Hill. I read both of them, but Seth wasn't interested in finishing them. He found them boring which is rare for him, but understandable for these books. Thankfully, they don't require a huge time investment.

Lillipilly Hill by Eleanor Spence
I found this at my annual used book sale and picked it up due to its vintage look. It turns out, the author was a well-known Australian writer and used her homeland as the setting for her books, this one included. In this story, three siblings move from their native England with their parents to live on an inherited orchard estate to determine if they can enjoy this new and different country. I read it first and then passed it on to Seth who really enjoyed it too. If you can find a copy, this is a true adventure story with lessons on growing up.

The Real Thief by William Steig
Another intriguing story line from William Steig which gave us a great discussion time together one afternoon. It made for a great plot to ask should questions from since the plot involves something being stolen, someone being accused, and someone hiding the truth.  It always amazes me how much we get out of a story when we start to think about the story in this way. These chapter books by Steig are short, illustrated and easy to read, yet the story is rich with ideas.

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
It had been a few years since I first read this one, so I put it back in the line-up since my memories of the story line were quite faint.  I know the main character is a girl, but her growing up story is not limited to just girls. Leaving one household and moving to another provides Betsy the opportunity to really live, to be aware of life, to know what she was capable of doing and being.  And this understanding brings her full circle when she is reunited with her original caretaker, her Aunt Francis. Now she knows who she is and what must be done. It is a truly wonderful story and deserves to be read by everyone.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
I read this one often as a young reader, but returned to it now as a mother myself who can totally relate to Mrs. Frisby and the risks she takes to ensure the care and safety of her children. It also brings ideas of the value of work, leadership, and the ethics of using animals as lab tests. There is a lot to consider in this story.

The Good Master and The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy
Having read rave reviews of books by this author, I decided to order some of her titles and see for myself. They are everything that others said and perhaps even more. The interweaving of family life, into village life, into the lives of nations makes for a wonderful and varied story that causes you to long for more. Bravery and compassion blend well into making believable characters while the mixture of ancient history blurred into folklore running into the modern era of world wars makes it stimulating and heart-warming. And it looks like some of Kate Seredy's hard-to-find novels are being republished this year by Purple House Press.


How the Heather Looks by Joan Bodger
This is on the Ambleside Online list for an upcoming year, so I thought I would give a turn now and see what treasures it yielded. While it covered some interesting background on many different aspects of British children's literature, it did not produce a real sense of delight for me. I kept looking for something that would cause me to want to curl up with the book and slow down to enjoy it, but instead I felt myself impatient to just finish it already. The interview she secured with Arthur Ransome was very disappointing and her thoughts afterwards even more disjointed as she looked back at what he had shared with her. Perhaps he wasn't a friendly man, but we can still enjoy his stories and I felt like some of the background information explored in the book, somehow rubbed away some of the magic and enjoyment of these British classics. Anyways, you can decide for yourself, but I likely will not be using this in our future AO years.