Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Christmas Shoes

Since childhood I have adored Christmas songs from all kinds of music styles. My mother played holiday records throughout the holiday season and I still remember many of the album covers, music artists and song selections I adored. Since reaching adulthood I have formed my own collection of tapes and CD's that our family enjoys, and we add to it yearly. Through all of these years there have been many songs that I have loved, and many that have touched my heart or made me shed a tear the first listen, but never have I been so affected emotionally as by the song, "The Christmas Shoes".

I first heard "The Christmas Shoes" by Newsong a few years ago on the radio. I was working in the kitchen and had the radio tuned to a 24 hour Christmas song station. I was only half listening, but when the song began, something grabbed my attention and I went to increase the volume. I literally stood there frozen, listening to the song while a wave of emotion rose inside me, then cascaded down my cheeks. Never had a Christmas song stirred such a response in me. Was it because I was a mother with young sons? Was it the way the song was performed? Or simply was it the beautiful, eloquent way it expressed the love this boy felt for his mother, and his understanding that he would soon be parted from her until they met in heaven? It was probably all three.

Like the first time, and everytime since, when I hear the song my heart aches, my eyes swell and I cannot speak. The song has not lost it's impact on me, I have not grown accustomed to it's message in any way. My children are the same. When the song comes on the radio, or is being played - wherever they are and whatever they are doing, they stop and they listen. I can see the emotion rise up in them as well. While it may not be a song about the birth of Jesus, it is a song about the love and hope those who know and love Jesus hold in their hearts - even the youngest heart, and how that power can influence others for the good.

Last year I learned of a movie that had been made based on the song and the original book itself (from which the song had been created). The kids piano teacher had a copy and lent it to us. The kids and I watched it and enjoyed it very much - of course all knowing the ending from the very start. Mike came home a few minutes from the end to find all of us motionless in front of the screen and blurry eyed with tears.

This year I decided to read the book. I must admit, this is a totally backwards approach for me (I always read the book before the movie - family rule), but previous years I just had not felt up to what I knew would be a massive, emotionally draining reading experience. This year I was ready, so about a month ago I checked it out from the library and read it in one sitting after everyone in the house was alseep. As I predicted I cried nearly thoughout the book and was in full gasping sob mode by the ending chapters. Christopher came up to get a drink of water at this point and asked me what was the matter. I simply showed him the cover of the book and he immediately understood. The next day he expressed interest in reading it. I told him "no", I felt it was better a story to be read aloud as a family - so it's scheduled to be read Christmas season 2007 (just can't do it twice this year!).

I was pleased to discover that both the book and the film carried the same beautiful messages as the song which I have grown to love so much. There are differences between the book and film - sometimes I liked one better than the other, but they were both very good.

If you are looking for a story that truly grips the heart - this is such a story indeed.

Listen to the Song or Watch the Music Video

Film info or Book Info

The Christmas Shoes
by Newsong

It was almost Christmas time, there I stood in another line
Tryin' to buy that last gift or two, not really in the Christmas mood
Standing right in front of me was a little boy waiting anxiously
Pacing 'round like little boys do
And in his hands he held a pair of shoes

His clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe
And when it came his time to pay
I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

He counted pennies for what seemed like years
Then the cashier said, "Son, there's not enough here"
He searched his pockets frantically
Then he turned and he looked at me
He said Mama made Christmas good at our house
Though most years she just did without
Tell me Sir, what am I going to do,
Somehow I've got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I laid the money down, I just had to help him out
I'll never forget the look on his face when he said
Mama's gonna look so great

Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please
It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time
You see she's been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight

I knew I'd caught a glimpse of heaven's love
As he thanked me and ran out
I knew that God had sent that little boy
To remind me just what Christmas is all about

Repeat Chorus

Monday, December 18, 2006

December Days till Christmas

Since returning from our trip to SD for Thanksgiving, the days and weeks for us have been filled with what seems like countless events and activities related to the Christmas holiday. We have attended the symphony holiday concert, various Christmas parties, a library discussion on a favorite Christmas book, baked cookies with friends, shopped for gifts, donated gifts to Operation Christmas Child, decorated the house, learned Christmas songs on the piano, prepared for the Chrsitmas play, made homemade gifts, listened to Christmas music all day, wrapped presents, celebrated Advent for nightly worship, and for the first time in several years prepared Christmas letters for our entire recipient list (hitting mailboxes this week!). Whew!! No wonder I'm so tired!??

In reflecting on all of this we have had some discussion on our family Christmas traditions that have developed over the years that we delight in each season. It was enlightening to hear how much these things have impacted our children's memories and how much they have come to mean to them...

Celebrating Advent:

Each year we celebrate Advent in our home with traditional purple, pink and white candles, lighting the appropriate ones each evening while we read an excerpt from our special Advent book, followed by a segment from our Jesse Tree book and place the corresponding ornament on the Jesse Tree. Then we read a chapter from The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper (a book that Mike has read each night leading up to Christmas since he was a small boy). We end with prayer and the kids go to bed after moving their individual Advent calenders in their rooms.

Advent Books: 3 year Series by Arnold Ytreeide (Jotham's Journey, Batholomew's Passage & Tabitha's Travels)

The Advent Jesse Tree; Devotions for Children & Adults to prepare for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas by Dean Meador Lambert

Holiday Reading:

Each year we all dive into our favorite Christmas books together and independently. Some all-time favorites are:

The Christmas Story from the Bible
On Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
The Night Before Christmas illustrated by Grandma Moses
A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg
The Great Christmas Kidnapping Caper
Christmas Stories from the Little House books
The opening chapter of Little Women by Louise May Alcott
Christmas books by Jan Brett

Favorite Holiday Films:

It's A Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street
The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause 2
Home Alone
The Nutcracker Ballet
The Christmas Shoes
A Christmas Story
A Christmas Carol
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
Frosty The Snowman
The Little Drummer Boy
A Charlie Brown Christmas (check out this NPR segment on this cartoon )

Other Traditions:

We listen to holiday Old Time Radio programs whenever we can squeeze one in. We continue to find new favorites yearly, but our long-time tradition has been to begin listening to The Cinnamon Bear segments beginning Thanksgiving night and it takes us up to Christmas eve. Each segmant is 15 minutes long and ends in an old fashioned cliff hanger leaving the kids eager to resume the story the following night. Visit for free downloads.

Honoring St. Nicholas Day Dec. 6th by remembering who he was and what he did and partaking in some special activities. (We do this instead of having Santa Claus as part of our Christmas traditions.)

Live Christmas Tree every year - this year we went to a tree farm and cut our own! No theme tree here. Our tree is covered with ornaments all of us have received as gifts each year or made, as well as those from Mom & Dad's childhoods, teens, and years up to present. It's more like a "memory tree" everytime we decorate it.

Kids shopping day - the kids get their Christmas list and specified $ amount and hit an area dollar store to shop, then come home to wrap. It's all very secretive, and trying to be clever so no one else sees your purchases is over half the fun.

Each year Mom gets a new Christmas CD as part of her Dec. 15th birthday present to add to her ever growing BIG collecion of holiday tunes. Her all-time favorite among all the choices she has? Jim Brickman's Christmas CD - it's also the one played each year when we open gifts Christmas morning.

The Nutcracker Tree(s). We have a collectionof nutcracker ornaments that have always decorated a small little table tree - this year it's spread over 3 small Alpines 2', 3', & 4' tall.

The Nativity set displayed on the piano. (Mom looked at it longingly for 5 years before finally purchasing it - good thing too, that was the last year it was made.)

Attending Christmas Eve or Christmas morning church service and singing carols.

Hang our stockings and have fun finding what's inside Christmas morning before taking turns opening gifts.

Hurrying to find the Christmas Pickle ornament hidden on the tree Christmas morning, with the winner receiving an extra gift.

Participating in a Christmas play - an absolute must!

Fabulous food on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day! Including Mom's special Christmas scones...yummy.

Company for a week with visitors tag-teaming in and out= up though New Years. Whew!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving Program

Last night, November 19th the kids joined the local Adventist church school children to present a Thanksgiving program. The week before was filled with practice at the school and at home to be ready for the big night.

It was a delightful humor filled event titled Did You Know?, consisting of information about past presidents, patriotic songs, musical pieces and a short play on the meaning of Thanksgiving. Christopher, Elliot and Gabriella all did a fine job with memorizing their speaking parts, joining the voice choir, the bell choir, and playing their piano solos.

The audience was drawn into the action as well, with a historical quiz on the presidents and other questions. There was a very good turnout for the event with around 70 in the crowd, all seemingly enjoying the entertainment at hand.

After the program's conclusion refreshments were served, all recipes being directly from first ladies/presidential families of years past. Our family unanimously found Amy Carter's peanut butter cookies to be the best recipe of the night!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Flying High with Grandpa Dennis

Yesterday we arrived home after church and potluck to hear a phone message from Grandpa Dennis stating that he was in his airplane and in route to our home for a visit. What a huge surprise! Grandpa Dennis and Grandma Lynette live near Wessington Springs, SD and we have only been able to see them once in the past few years. During this time Grandpa Dennis had earned his pilot's license and had been enjoying flying the friendly skies visiting family and friends. Grandma Lynette, from what we gathered, is still a bit cautious about her frequency of plane travel and for the most part is remaining a land traveler! (I'm with her, flying is not for me!)

Anyway, we were all most excited for the unplanned visit, and for all of us to see Grandpa's new plane. We cancelled our plans to spend the day with friends and awaited the arrival of Grandpa Dennis.

Around the expected time of his coming, Mike actually saw him fly over our house! He, Christopher, Elliot, & Gabriella hopped in the van and headed for the airport to welcome our much anticipated guest. Ruby was napping, so she and I stayed behind. Within 40 minutes I received a call from Mike who asked me, "Guess where we are?" Of course he and the kids were flying high with Grandpa over the city and looking for our house. When they returned home later I was given the exciting details of the flight by all on board.

We all enjoyed a lovely evening with Grandpa Dennis that included supper and a tour of the house. Ruby got to meet him for the first time (she was only 8 months old and asleep when we last saw him). She warmed up to him almost immediately and within no time was perched on his lap calling him "gampa". Gabriella wanted to read him many stories (to which we had to enforce a limit) and the boys enjoyed listening to the stories Grandpa shared about when Mike was a little boy. There was much laughter had by all, for Grandpa Dennis has a genuine warmth and humor that no one can resist.

All too soon, it was time to return Grandpa to the airport for his trip home ( 3 hrs). We parked near the runway so we could watch his take-off and he flew right over our van and away into the night sky. We watched him float away in the distance like a blinking star and were thankful for the very special surprise the day had brought. Grandpa, come again soon!

Our First Snowfall in the Woodlands

First Snow-Fall

THE sun that dim November day
Had failed to kiss the clouds away
From quiet Nature's furrowed face,
Where autumn tears had left their trace.

And, by and by, on fields of brown
The feathered flakes came floating down
From Heaven to this world of ours,
Like spirits of departed flowers.

And fast and faster through the night,
Till Morn arose on meadows white,
And o'er the landscape lightly stepped
Where tired Nature, smiling, slept.

__Albert Bigelow Paine

In the early morn on November 13, I was awakened by Elliot with such a level of excitement in his voice I could not fathom what would be the cause of it in my sleepy state... "It snowed out Mom, come see quick... the trees are covered in snow, hurry look out your window! Can we go outside to play in it?"

It seemed the three oldest children were awake and the house already a hive of activity as they all anxiously lingered in the hall outside my bedroom door for my answer. I told them that they could go play outside before we began our school day. Then there was a scurry of activity in the entryway closet while they suited up in boots and snowgear to dash outside to experience the most magincal of snowfalls... the first one of the year.

First Snow
Mary Louise Allen

Snow makes whiteness where it falls,
The bushes look like popcorn balls.
The places where I always play,
Look like somewhere else today.

As I looked out my bedroom window for the first time that morning, I too could not be but impressed with the beautiful view all around our home. The trees covered with glistening, white snow that reached down to the ground and covered all beneath it in a restful slumber. It was breathtaking. I went from room to room looking out the windows admiring the lovely, still peacefulness outside that made me feel as if I were dwelling in a December calender scene, like the many I recall viewing in years gone by. Living as long as I have, both on a farm and in the city - I do not ever remember such a glorious winter site from my very own window! I could not help but send up a quick prayer of thanks to God for giving us such a wonderful home, in such a perfect place for our children to grow up. It is most definite that living here in the woodlands, you witness the beauty of God's creation magnificiently every day, of every season.

Great fun was had by all the kids and they ended up playing all morning outside and a bit in the early afternoon as well. A snowman was made, snowballs were thrown, sleds were unpacked and giddyness abounded. Additionally, moose tracks were discovered in the front yard, or so the kids are convinced, and they had the MN animal track identification guide out to show me how they reached their conclusions (I think it was a rabbit myself).

After their time in the white world outside had ended, hot cinnamon tea was served to warm chilly bones and the business of school work commenced. Sadly, by the days end nearly all the beautiful snow had disappeared, and the remainder was gone by the following day... now being only a faint memory as they patiently await the arrival of December snow whose blanket will cover the forests and spend the winter with us... and then some. Who knows maybe it will be a Christmas snow?

I don't know about you, but the first snow of the season always brings the words of Jimmy Durante, the narrator in the classic cartoon Frosty the Snowman. His words still chime in my memory and bring a warm glow to my heart after all these years....

"I supose it all started with the snow, you see it was a very special kind of snow. A snow to make the happy happier and the giddy even giddier. A snow to make a homecoming homier, and natural friends enemies. For it was the first snow of the season and as any child can tell you, there's a certain magic to the very first snow, especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For, when the first snow is also a Christmas snow.... well, something wonderful is bound to happen..."

** The photo included in this entry was taken from our deck.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hogwild for Sabra Hummus

Okay Hummus fans (and those of you who aren't..yet), I have a testimonial for you!

Our family has always been a "hummus family"... it seems that you either are (you like the stuff, you eat it regularly, it's a staple in your diet, you bring it to gatherings, etc) OR you're not (never eat it, don't care for it, can take it or leave it sorta relationship).

All of the above having been stated and defined, I will share our recent discovery that has turned into an addiction...

It all began the first weekend of October when we had our good friends Jim & Jan (also a "hummus family") come to stay for a weekend. A few times during their visit they had mentioned bringing some hummus along on the trip and needing to be sure get it out of the vehicle and into the fridge, needing to remember to bring it home, etc. I recall thinking that they were very careful about their hummus and certainly were not going to forget it by any means when they departed. This really caused me to take a "mental note" because in my opinion the only good store bought brand of hummus was made by Holy Land Bakery in Minneapolis and it was hard to find (but was delicious when you did!). I, and my family had long ago given up on even tasting store bought hummus because it was such a dissapointment - and often just plain disgusting. We made our own weekly and loved it, and also enjoyed it on rare occasion at specific restaurants.

Now the time arrived for our guests to depart and once again the topic of the coveted Sabra Hummus resurfaced. Upon questioning I discovered that they felt this stuff was amazing - better than Jan's own recipe (and she didn't have to make it - even better), and better than any store brand - even the Holy Land's version. NOW they had my attention. They shared that they purchase it weekly or even more often and simply cannot get enough of it. At this point the cherished hummus assortment was unveiled and our family was permitted a taste test of the flavors they had on hand. There was no doubt - it was absolutely unparalleled in it's exquisiteness, a flavor and constistency like none other yet fallen on human taste buds. My entire family was amazed, then quickly troubled - Where would we ever find it here in Brainerd? Jim & Jan purchased theirs in Minneapolis. To have found such a treasure and then have it stripped from you in a matter of moments - ohhh despair! In pity, they left the remainder of their great discovery with us to enjoy, since they would soon be able to stock up on more once home. Needless to say it was devoured before they were anywhere near reaching their destination.. it simply called to us from the fridge ever more enchantingly than any puff, pastry, cake or cookie could ever aspire to.

Two weekends later, while entertaining my mother-in-law for a few days here, she & Mike made a run to rent a movie and grab a few groceries. I received a call with a very excited husband in a grocery store asking me if I could guess what he had found - yes indeed, in a grocery store we seldom shop at the amazing Sabra Hummus had been located! A few kinds were purchased and quickly brought home to serve as our movie viewing treat. It was just as good as we had remembered it to be. Since this very night we have visited that store regularly and purchased it weekly to enjoy. It has become a favorite item of each individual in our home, everyone with their own favorite variety. Now, when Mike and I have a video date night, instead of our long time snack favorites of many years (popcorn, Veggie Booty, Soy Delicious ice-cream, or milk chocolate) we enjoy Sabra Hummus and chips!

Last weekend the kids and I took a trip back to Moorhead to visit friends, attend appointments, shop and such. The kids stated that we simply MUST share our discovery with my very good friend Polly because she is a huge hummus eater and has a definite "hummus family". We planned to bring her a variety of kinds to try as a surprise. Ironically, while talking to her on the phone a day or two before going there the subject of hummus came up, she stated she had eaten TWO containerd that very day of it. Curiosity hit me and so I inquired as to if she had ever tried Sabra Hummus? Her response was immediate - "HAD SHE! YES, YES YES!!!" It was that very brand of hummus that she had inhaled two containers of single handedly earlier in the day. She went on to share how she, her husand and daughter could not get enough of it and nearly filled small grocery baskets with it weekly. She wasn't kidding... when we did visit her she had 8 or more containers in her fridge ready for us to feast upon, no need to convince me!

I have read over the ingredients in this stuff a number of times wondering what in the world make it so different. It has all the ususal ingredients in other brands and recipies... hmmmm? It is healthy (all the families mentioned above, including us, are health minded and would not be eating it otherwise), but I cannot help but wonder if there is some secret ingredient in it to addict the taste buds in such a way... why else would we all be such crazy nuts for it? Maybe because it's just plain old amazingly yummy! Try it for yourself and see what happens to YOU - but beware that I warned you of the possible consequences as described above with THREE normally very sane families :-)

Sabra Hummus website:

** No, I have not been paid to promote or advertise this product in anyway - despite the fact that I probably should be!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Good Old Fashioned Church Carnival & Cakewalk

Tonight the kids and I attended our church's yearly old fashioned fall festival (Mike was in Mississippi on a business trip, so he missed the fun). We entered the gymn to see an assortment of booths and activities to choose from, the kids were immediatiately excited to be part of the action as soon as I could get tickets.

I quickly delivered the cake I'd made to donate to the cake walk (a 4 - Layer Chocolate Barvarian Torte, a definite family favorite that gets made about once per year for something special), then got in line to purchase tickets and enter the doorprize drawings. We explored the various booths to plan our ticket purchases... hot apple pie & ice-cream, cinni-buns, root beer floats, supper plate, balloon/dart game, floating ducks game, old fashioned country store, little tykes automated train ride, dunking booth, book sale area, or cake walk?

The answer was clear - cake walk - this had been the event my children were waiting to experience all week. We figured if the 5 of us were on the wheel we'd have a pretty good chance out of 15 spots (yes Ruby got involved too and loved it)! First round, we didn't win anything, so we decided to go again, Elliot had set his mind to going home with a cake! The accordian player began playing and around we went until she stopped. Number 10 was called, and I was on it! I told the kids they could choose for me from over 20 cakes on the table. They decided instantly that the one we brought was the one we would return home with, since they thought it was the very best one there (talk about melting a moms heart...). There was much teasing and pretend protest from the other cake walkers who all claimed that THAT was the one they wanted, etc. etc... making the kids feel quite proud of Mom's cake AND the fact they had won it back to it's rightful owners. Too funny :-)

After that the kids had fun in various places...

Ruby loved to pick floating ducks and win small farm animals to add to her collection. She also tried to hijack the kiddie train several times, even though she was always given extra long rides anyway.

The other kids had fun all over the place, winning prizes everywhere - including ANOTHER cake ( a lovely bundt cake this time). We also found a special treasure in the country store area we were not expecting - a certain ceramic popcorn bowl no longer made to replace one that Elliot had received years ago for his b-day (since popcorn is his favorite food). It arrived broken in the mail and we could not get it replaced. We glued it together as best we could and kept it until we finally gave it up when packing to move - since it was unusable. NOW, here was an identical one in pristine condition for a few tickets - joy! Snatched up before you could spell p-o-p-c-o-r-n!

Christopher's proud moment of the evening was at the "Baptize the Pastor" dunking booth. He bought one ticket - had one ball and took him down with one throw.. splash!!!

Christopher & I also enjoyed looking through the books that the Adventist Christian Book Center had brought to sell. I purchased one as a gift and Christopher bought a very interesting biography he was intrigued by.

The close of the evening was the doorprize drawings. Amazingly each of us won a little something, which was fun.

In the end, there were LOTS of prizes and goodies to be had by all, and I don't think one child present left even close to emptyhanded! My crew is already asking if next year our family can plan and run a booth of some kind... I told them that we have plenty of time to come up with an idea!??

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Fall Happenings

The morns are meeker than they were
The nuts are getting brown
The berry's cheek is plumper
The Rose is out of town.

The Maple wears a gayer scarf
The field a scarlet gown
Lest I should be old fashionedI'll put a trinket on.

Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)

The months of September and October seem to have passed by all too fast, with days and evenings full of lessons, activities, events, and visitors. We had weekend visitors nearly every weekend during this time frame, being blessed with family and friends traveling to stay with us and join us for woodland hikes, tasty meals and good conversation. I think some of the motivation behind all these visits taking place of late was so that they could experience the beauty of the fall colors here. I have always enjoyed the majesty of the fall season, but here in the woodlands it posesses a splendor of all it's own. Our family saw a variety of colors that we had never before known could paint the trees with such amazing brilliance. Every drive, even the tedious errand, was transformed into a time of wonderment at what God had done all around us. The kids spent extra time outside both in play and for school. Our family became members of the Paul Bunyan Nature Learning Center located outside the city and the kids have taken a number of classes there already, and are registered for the year long ecology series - this gives them plenty of time outdoors during school time too!

Our homeschool subjects have kept us ever busy each day and we have enjoyed the many subjects we have on board for the year. Along with the usual subjects, the kids are also enjoying their study of the Bible, Shakespeare and his work, artists & composers, ancient history, astronomy, phenology, piano, creative writing, a century notebook, current events, and French (yes, the whole gang got on board with Gabriella for this one, so they are learning it together).

In addition to our homeschool, we also belong to a small homeschool coop that we meet with twice each month. Here the moms and dads join forces to teach a number of subjects to the kids as a group. Lots of subjects and projects are planned for the year including sewing, latch hook, American Sign Language, carpentry, dissection, baking, first aid, a kid's book club and some field trips. Thus far, we have all had a fun time learning together, and it's especially enjoyable having the Dads lead out in the education once per month while the moms take a breather! On Fridays we have a special PE time where we join an area Christian school for their recess period, so the kids get to engage in some group sports which they really look forward to. The school has also included us on a field trip to the state capital (which was a great day) and we'll be participating in their November school program with them as well, which focuses on America's presidents.

The kids continue to be involved in the Pathfinder and Adventurer clubs which meet twice per month and sometimes more. The kids are working on a number of awards/patches this year. They also perform a program at the area nursing home once each month - singing songs, reading, etc. Two weeks ago the clubs were in charge of the church service and did a very nice job with the program. Each of our children had a short speaking part, sang songs with the group, and Elliot played piano during the offering while Christopher helped collect it.

Other fun activities recently included a huge bonfire supper at our friends' home, which was very cold, but still enjoyable. Other news tidbits...

We are entering Gabriella's 5th week wearing a "boot" on her foot after she fractured it jumping off her brothers top bunk... ooopppps! She has not let it slow her down though - she's till playing and hiking about, but she is frustrated she cannot play kickball during Friday PE time!

Mike and the boys have spent some time helping some friends of ours who are building their house themselves. They began work this fall and many friends from church and work, as well as family have gone over to help out on the project when they can. It may be likened to an Amish barn raising... except it's a house - and taking more than one day! Anyway God continues to bless their progress and Mike has greatly enjoyed his time helping them.

The study of spelling took a fast forward, turbo-charged leap after our family watched the film *Akeelah and the Bee. Suddenly my kids wanted spelling bees every week and we began a whole new approach to the subject, which they have loved. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to see them LIKE spelling, ask for the new list of words for the week on Sunday (?), and spell things they see while driving in the van. I am sooooo overjoyed by all of this - especially because prior to this, spelling was a hated subject by the boys and a weak one as well. WOW, the motivation sparked from watching one inspiring film can move mountains huh!? Oh - Ruby is even trying to spell words and absolutely must get in line to participate during our home bees!

Ruby is learning more words and has taken an interest in books and school time. Every subject we study she demands to be involved in and have her workbook, notebook, and pencil in hand. She loves books read to her and to look at them on her own. She looks at all sorts of books, magazines and catalogs each day. She tags along with us to all of our outside classes and activities.

We have had a sense of adventure participating in the "Secret Family" program at church. We have a family we do special things for in secret, and someone has our family as well. The kids really enjoyed the large shoe box (boot size) full of chocolate chip cookies that was left for us last week... mmmmmm! Our recent undercover activity involved Mike and the kids going to the home of the family we have under the cloak of night with a freshly baked apple pie, cinnamon tea and card. They basically did a leave it on the doorstep, knock-knock runaway routine and sped away in the family vehicle that was parked down the road a ways. Great excitement was had by all, but in the midst of trying so hard to escape before being discovered they forgot to wait long enough to see if the family found the goodies or the raccoons had a tasty treat!

Mike continues to enjoy his job at Central Lakes College as the Director of Online Education. He has had opportunity to attend a number of workshops and trainings in other communities these past few months and is preparing to present his master's thesis at an education convention in Mississippi in November. In addition to his duties as director, he is also teaching an art class at the college which he is thankful for - he still loves teaching students.

And now enters November.....

The peasant celebrates with song and dance
the harvest safely gathered in.

The cup of Bacchus flows freely,
and many find their relief in deep slumber.

The singing and the dancing die away as cooling breezes
fan the pleasant air,
inviting all to sleep without a care.

The hunters emerge at dawn, ready for the chase,
with horns and dogs and cries.

Their quarry flees while they give chase.

-- Autumn excerpt from Vivaldi's Four Seasons

* Akeelah and the Bee film description: A precocious eleven-year-old girl, Akeelah Anderson, from south Los Angeles, is discovered to have a talent for words. In spite of the objections of her mother Wanda, Akeelah enters a spelling contest. Her gift takes her to compete in the National Spelling Bee, the most famous competition of its kind in the world. On the way, she is helped by a forthright, mysterious teacher, Dr. Larabee, and other members of her community. (don't be mislead by the name of this website - check it out!)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Old Movies - A Better Family Entertainment Choice

Here at the Amick household, if there is one thing we are selective about (actually there are many things :-) it would be what kind of films our children watch. We are not a "TV Family" and do not have regular televison in our home, any viewing is strictly video/DVD and every selection is okayed by Mom or Dad. The Amick televison is used for educational purposes, with numerous educational items from the library being utilized regularly, as well as entertainment, usually about once per week on the average.

Over the years we have discovered that the majority of movies created for childrens' entertainment today are not something we wish to fill our childrens' minds with and be influenced by. It's a sad thing when entertainment marketed for kids or family viewing is full of violence, poor language, sexual situations or implications - and even films rated "G" are full of characters whose behavior most parents would not want their children to mimic. Prior to having children I had a job managing a video store for several years, and it was astonishing to witness the decline in quality of family films then and ever since . But dear reader, you may be asking, "What about the incredible special effects, amazing animation, award winning writing and enjoyable soundtracks in todays films?" My reply... Ah, yes - eye candy to be sure, but sadly it's nearly all the equivilant of toxins to the brain, character and morals of the audience.

With that said, I'd like to turn your thoughts to a time past, when films were made that could tell a story without excessive gore, indecency, foul language and the like. Films that are still entertaining and can captivate viewers of all ages. How many of you have watched a classic film in the last year? If you haven't I would sugest giving it a try - you might be surprized how much you enjoy it. Our children have grown up watching classic movies with a few new hollywood releases sprinkled in occasionally afer Mom & Dad find it meets approval. They enjoy old films just as much as the new ones and often more so. We often find that old films can be used to follow-up study of particular subjects or historical events we study in school. We also enjoy watching a film after reading the work of literature it was based on - lively discussions ensue as to the differences between the books and film and what was deemed better. Our rule (and hopefully your rule too) is ALWAYS READ THE BOOK FIRST if there is one that came before the film version. Books that are after thoughts of films are, in my opinion, often not worth the time to read - if in doubt check online.

Where do you find the "oldies but goodies"? Certainly a quality video store would have a few, but I have definitely seen a decline in them over the years. The best place to locate them is your local library or for that extra special gem interlibrary loan. We have found countless films to watch this way.. and all for free! When we discover one that we want to add to our personal collection, we have found inexpensive purchasing success on ebay or

If you're looking for some old films to accompany your homeschool history study, a helpful website is: Use the yellow box on the left of the screen to look over titles in various catagories. The book, A Knight at the Movies by John Aberth which focuses on films about the middle ages is also an entertaining and helpful resource.

Below is a list of recommendations from the Amick home. We'll continue to add more as we remember them or discover new ones. We'd love to receive any recommendations you might have of your own!

** Please take the time to research or preview the film prior to allowing your kids to watch it. Not all of the movies listed here are appropriate for all ages or children's maturity levels - and some are just for mom & dad!


The Sound of Music, Camelot, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (one of my favorites as a child and now my kids love it), Tom Sawyer (1973 starring a little Jodi Foster), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder 1971 - not the recent release with Johnny Depp), Calamity Jane (Doris Day), Mozart's The Magic Flute (filmed by Ingmar Bergman), The Wizard of Oz (Judy Garland)


The Ten Commandments, The Jesus Film, Ben Hur, A Man Called Peter (1955), The Robe


It's A Wonderful Life (a must view for every child!), A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Molly's Pilgrim (Thanksgiving theme) - read the book first, film info at:

Classic Disney

The Strongest Man in the World, The Million Dollar Duck, Mary Poppins, The Nutty Professor, The Snowball Express, The Shaggy Dog, Old Yeller, Davy Crockett and the River Pirates, Davy Crockett King of the Wild Frontier, Daniel Boone series (4 films), Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Freaky Friday (original with young Jodi Foster), Pollyanna, The Sign of Zorro, Parent Trap (original with Haily Mills), Flight of the Navigator, Rob Roy The Highland Rogue

Old & Modern Classic Family Films

Across the Great Divide, Shirley Temple Films, National Velvet, The Wizard of Oz, Born Free, The Princess Bride, Seven Alone, The Man from Snowy River, Return to Snowy River, Mountain Family Robinson, Ice Castles (1978), Quarterback Princess (1983 a teenage Helen Hunt), Something for Joey (true story of John Cappelletti 1977 - one of my all time favorites as a child and I recently sought it out through interlibrary loan so my kids & Mike could experience it - still loved it after all these years), Grizzly Adams Movies & TV Episodes - for a blast from the past check this out, be sure to have your volume up! The original Star Wars trilogy (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi - NOT the new films)

Classic Literature on Screen

Little Women (1933 Katharine Hepburn or 1949 Elizabeth Taylor), Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe/Narnia - get the BBC versions, Heidi (Burl Ives), Where the Red Fern Grows, Diary of Ann Frank, (1959), The Miracle Worker (1962), Rebecca (1940), The Agony & The Ecstasy, The Yearling, The Wilderness Family, Lassie Films, Little House on the Praire (1974), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935 James Cagney), As You Like It (Sir Laurence Olivier), To Kill a Mockingbird (Gregory Peck - I still cry at the end of the courtroom scene when Atticas walks out), Gone with the Wind (MY ALL TIME FAVORITE FILM EVER MADE), Journey to the Center of the Earth

Classic Romance

It Happened One Night (1934 Clark Gable), An Affair to Remember (1957 Cary Grant), Casablanca (Bogart & Bergman 1943), The African Queen (Bogart & Hepburn 1951)

Classic Action, Adventure & Heroes

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938 Errol Flynn - the boys absolute favorite!), Zorro (1975 Alain Delon), Joan of Arc (1948 Ingrid Bergman), Cleopatra (1963 Elizabeth Taylor), Ivanhoe (1952 Robert & Elizabeth Taylor), Knights of the Roundtable (Ava Gardner 1953), The Sword of Lancelot, The Court Jester (1956 Danny Kaye), Adventures of Superman (1948), Old Lone Ranger Episodes, The Longships (1963 - a Viking Story), The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Searchers (John Wayne)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why the HomeschoolEStore Banner Link?

Hi Folks,

I'd like to take a moment and let you know that our family is now an affiliate of, the only online retailer of educational material and audio books in downloadable format. This means that whenever anybody visits our site and clicks on the HomeschoolEStore link, and makes a purchase, we earn money! It's that simple. carries hundreds of supplemental educational materials, over 500 audio titles, and even downloadable software, carrying the products of over 70 children's and educational publishers. Because their material is all instantly downloadable, there's no waiting around for your purchase to arrive, no shipping costs, and most of the titles are 30% below retail. You can find anything from parenting resources, to preschool, to college and career placement. So, if your child needs help with a particular topic, you're looking for a unit study, notebooking pages, need an educational audio book, etc. then visit their site - just click on the HomeschoolEStore link and go shopping. You'll end up with a great product, and you'll be helping our family out in the process!

Our family has ordered a number of our homeschool curriculum items from this company as well as many of the free books offered each week - we have been more than pleased with them. I hope you'll take some time to visit the site and look over the many options they have available.


And for the month of October, our family will earn 25% of every sale, 10% for every month thereafter. Thanks for considering our affiliate status with the next time you need to make an education or audio book purchase.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Naturally Curly or Wavy Hair - More Than Just Hair...It's An Attitude

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead,
When she was good
She was very, very good,
But when she was bad,
She was horrid.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is a special post for individuals, like myself who have naturally curly or wavy hair. If this is you,or someone you know the information shared here could be life changing... I'm very serious. You could be transformed from someone who spends their days trying to manage and control those curly locks to someone who celebrates their waves and curls. How? Read on....

"Curly hair is in your genes," I was always told, and is it ever evident. To this day when I attend a wedding or funeral and all of the relatives from my father's side of the family are seated in a concentrated area you can view the sea of curly headed men and women in every hair color ranging from the elderly to young babies just sporting that first curl on the tops of their heads. It is truly amazing to behold - in a facinating and yet comical way (and is often joked about at each family affair).

Like many others I have spent the majority of my life trying to tame unruly tresses, wishing I had beautiful straight hair like "so & so".

In elementary school I was busy dealing with tangled long curly/frizzy hair to prevent the formation of today's currently fashionable dreadlocks (there is a reason they are called dread locks folks). In junior and senior high the fashion rage was perfectly feathered hair that met in the exact middle of the back of your head. In order to achieve this effect, I had to spend hours each morning straightening, then recurling my hair and still never have it reach the "ideal look". Then leave for school only to have the rebellious curls come unleashed at the first hint of humidity, P.E. class, or sports practice after school. I purchased all the equipment, shampoos and potions; read Teen magazine for styling tips and visited salons where no one ever seemed to know how to cut or style curly/wavy hair - thay always treated it like it was straight, which it certainly was not. My junior year of high school I had my hair professionally straightened, only to have my head look like a large bell. Every morning was hours of work to style it to make myself presentable for the public.

College days were a bit more relaxed since there was more acceptance of variety than in my small home town, but still my hair was a nuisance most of the time whether it was short or long. As years passed by I became more accepting of it and with the task of motherhood it seemed a low priority to spend great amounts of time on.. still it would be nice to know WHAT to do with this hair!

Almost 2 years ago, my answer finally came. A friend of mine with a daughter in her mid twenties with very long curly hair had discovered a goldmine of a book called Curly Girl by Lorraine Massey (a true curly girl herself). Massey has written a book that encompasses every curly girl's stuggle with her hair - including her own personal story. Her book is filled with historical trivia on the subject, testimonies from curly girls and massive amounts of information every curly or wavy girl should be armed with. Massey is the owner of a salon in New York specializing in curly/wavy hair care. Curly Girls flock from around the country to have her do her magic on their hair - she really knows her stuff!

In her book she helps you to figure out what degree/style of curly or wavy hair you have and then tells you precisely how to care for it - including special cutting and coloring techniques. What's in the book you want to know? Well, I'll tell you what's not. There is no promotion of special products or goop to buy, no special machines or gizzmos - none, notta one! What it does contain is a process of hair care that it is so easy, so simple and requires so little time it will blow your mind - but not your hair (a hint on book content). Styling info & suggestions are also included to go with your new free curly look. There is also a chapter on the care of curly kids.

Okay, okay, you need an info tidbit to entice you te read it, do you? Alright...

Curly Girl Rule #1 - Never use shampoo on your hair.

WHAT! you scream, how can THAT be? It's true - I have not shampooed my hair for nearly 2 years and neither have several of my friends that started this hair care regime either. We are all clean and presentable - there is an alternative to shampooing - READ THE BOOK! It's a short read 139 pages - mostly photographs and if you can't get it at the library it costs under $10. I keep it in my bathroom next to my hair care supplies (which are few thanks to this book).

I have been so happy with the results I have personally had. My hair looks fuller and my curls look great with no frizz (on the days I do indeed "fix" my hair - I do have my lazy days too). I now have ways to style my hair that are easy, fast and look nice. I know how to deal with the notorious problem of curly ends, but flat head (no curls on the crown and no lift) and many more styling beasts that curly girl knights can now slay with a simple hair clips & gel. Of my friends that have tried the curly girl method, I have only heard rave reviews as well.

I challenge you to go to and read the reviews posted on this book, there are 134 to date with a 4 1/2 star average rating. Also visit the curly girl page - a website especially for those using Lorraine Massey's book - you can even print out business cards there to invite other curly girls to learn about the method.

So how about it ?
Take the challenge and maybe you not only find your inner curl, but your inner girl!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Library Sale is a Homeschool Treasure Trove

Attending library book sales is a yearly tradition for us and in the past we have brought home bags/boxes of books. Ususally within our purchases were a few that we could use to go with our homeschool plans, but the majority were books the kids chose that they wanted to read for fun. Since the sales in the Fargo-Moorhead area were usually priced $2 per paper bag, I was not too firm with the kids about setting strict limits of what they chose - as long it was not something I disapproved of.

Last Friday the kids and I headed off bright and early to the Brainerd Library's used book sale. Ahead of time we had discussed how we would not be purchasing a bunch of "twaddle" or "fluff" reading materials this year, instead we would focus on quality literature and items that were worth having in our home filling shelf space. This was to be our first time attending the sale in our new community and I was assuming that since it was a smaller community and library, we would not find much that fit our purchasing agenda - was I wayyyyy wrong!

We arrived to a FULL parking lot and saw many people exiting the library with a book or two in bags, or completely empty handed - I thought this was a very bad sign. We entered a room much smaller than the room we were used to being in for sales and immediately noticed the pricing was different, by item - not by the bag.... BUMMER! I thought the whole experience was going to be a total disappointment, but we all split up and decided to start hunting.

I immediately went to the area where the classic literature was, and found a couple of books I had wanted to add to our home library, but was dissapointed that there were not more to be had since this was my main area of interest for purchasing. After I finished in that area, I wandered over to where the kids were. They were looking through tons of records - their new shopping interest since the discovery of Dad's old record player. I was astonished at what I found there.... A complete set of all of Shakespeare's plays, poems and histories on album in pristine condition packaged in beautiful sturdy shell cases (5 cases with 5-6 records in each one). Along with each recording of the acted out play was a book with the full text so you could read along while listening - as well as historical and background information. The set was called "The Living Shakespeare".

Next to them was a set of Time life Records that covered all of the eras of classical music and great composers. The set consisted of 18 beautiful cases containing 4-5 albums inside along with magazine type books that were filled with glossy color photos/artwork and information to accompany the music era and composers. I could not believe my eyes! I had been pricing CD's and tapes in both of these subjects to use for our homeschool use since we study a work of Shakespeare and a classical composer per quarter - now here they were before me in record form. The price on the wall said all audio items were 50 cents - I quickly grabbed the lady in charge of the sale and asked her how much these sets would be each - she thought about it a moment and told me 50 CENTS! I was elated! I immediately boxed them up and hauled them to the check out area for safe keeping. Newly motivated I continued the hunt and ending up finding numerous items that were completely meant for our family's homeschool needs. The list includes:

Several works of classic literature
A number of books on nature study for children and phenology items
A number of old classic films - some for educational purposes
A set of videos on the Impressionists for our artist studies
Books for each child that go with their particular area of interest & learning
Some FREE teaching materials/texts for classic literature and poetry
A video series set of my mother's all-time favorite show from my childhood (snagged that for a Christmas gift)

We carried all of our boxes to the checkout area and added them to the 3 lg boxes of records. Others in line behind us with a few books in hand looked at us in awe. I thought to myself "What's the matter with you people? Haven't you seen a homeschool family before!" As we were checking out though, several people in line made remarks about our awesome finds and expressed marvel & jealousy wondering how I had found such great stuff. The secret... you just need to be willing to take the time to look through items meticulously (sometimes painstakingly) to find the treasure that may lie there - many are not willing to or do not have the time.

A nice older fellow who was helping people carry out purchases (like.. A box=1) came in and the check- out lady told him he needed to help me. He took the box from the table and started to leave, until she told him that the 4 other boxes on the floor were mine too. He seemed a bit surprised and said I was definitely thier number one purchaser thus far. He went to retrieve a dolly from somewhere and loaded it to the top and we headed out with the remainder in hand and filled the van. I was so giddy and overjoyed on the way home - singing and thinking about the things I'd found and the money I'd saved ( now that I could remove the Shakespeare CD sets from my "to buy" list) that I missed my turn home and had to turn around. The kids didn't know what to think of me.

You may be wondering how much money I did spend on all of this treasure? A grand total of $34 - the cost of ONE book, much less 5 boxes of curriculum based items and not one "twaddle" item in the midst! How absolutely awesome is that???

None of us could wait, so once home we brought out the record player, popped in A Midsummer Night's Dream and sat on the living room floor, surrounded by our piles of treasure... reading - all of us tickled pink :-)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Stocking Shelves with Library Elves

If you use the library alot for homeschooling, school, or just for fun you have GOT to get on this program called Library Elf.

It keeps track of all of your stuff on all family members cards, at every library you use, and for interlibrary loans as well. It sends you email or phone text reminders when things are going to be due, when they are overdue, when you have holds available and soooo much more - it's really awesome. oh, and it's FREE!

My local library was not part of their system when I looked into it, so I added it myself with just an email - you can do it yourself with a few easy steps - directions are on the website. (I actually told my librarian that I had done this after I did it. She had never heard of Library Elf, but thought it sounded great and thanked me for getting them in the system.)

You really want to look into this, it's an answer to prayer for those of us who have library books taking over our homes & calenders! And it helps to prevent those nasty fees on late interlibrary loans.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Hospitality Makeover - Turning Over A New Leaf in the Woodlands

HOSPITALITY, n. The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.

"The Bible lays much stress upon the practice of hospitality. Not only does it enjoin hospitality as a duty, but it presents many beautiful pictures of the exercise of this grace and the blessings which it brings... When the spirit of hospitality dies, the heart becomes palsied with selfishness." -- Ellen White

"There is an emanation from the heart in genuine hospitality which cannot be described, but is immediately felt and puts the stranger at once at his ease." -- Washington Irving.

Be not forgetful to entertain stranges: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. -- Hebrews 13:2.

Ahh, to be "hospitable". A joy and a burden simultaneously. For years I struggled with this issue, torn between a desire and knowledge to have "planned" company, yet my lack of time and energy to prepare for it.

I grew up witnessing the two extremes of entertaining. There was my mother who never had guests (well, maybe once a year) and my grandmother who had unexpected people dropping in daily and joining the family for a meal, snack, or short visit. I always enjoyed life at my grandmother's home and decided at an early age I would immitate her generous spirit when I was an adult. Over the years I have been in the midst of numerous family members who have most definitely been blessed with the gift of hospitality - my aunts Cathy, Ann, & Connie to name a few. These ladies have always seemed to have a knack for making everyone feel welcome, at home and valued when in their presence. There are also many friends I have from back home in Fargo-Moorhead that possess this same ability... Shereen, Joanne, Jill, and Polly to name a few.

During my college years, my apartment was always the place friends congregated to hang out and spend time together - which was always fun. When Mike & I were married (b-4 kids) we entertained on a regular basis - again our little home being a hub-bub of activity with friends, co-workers and the like.

It wasn't until the children came along that suddenly formal entertaining and planning became burdensome to me. It seemed for years I was always pregnant and ill/tired or nursing clingy babies or toddlers and life continued to grow busier with a schedule that was regularly full. Although I missed having "planned" visitors over on a regular basis, I had no desire to take on the task of entertaining. Don't get me wrong - we still had PLENTY of company over - weekly as a matter of fact. Friends and neighbors dropped in regularly for visits and of course we hosted family get togethers on the holidays, BUT we were not inviting families over for a meal and relaxation hardly ever.

This was something that always troubled Mike (being the incredibly sociable fellow he is) and he would often encourage me to rise up to the challenge with promises of assurance that it would be worth the extra work involved because of the enjoyemnt that would be had by all. He of course offered his help as mush as his schedule could allow.

Now, even when my spirit was willing, we were still faced with the challenges of a very small home with a "2-Butt Kitchen" that our family barely fit in, and a small living room area. There just was not much room for guests when our family already filled up most of the house!

Needless to say, it became a goal of ours to one day be able to entertain on a more regular basis and make preparation simple and efficient enough so that ALL of us could enjoy it. My ultimate mentor and role model in this area is my dear friend Beverly whose very name brings to mind the word "hospitality" to nearly anyone who knows her. She is truly blessed with a gift and countless families and individuals have enjoyed her warm, welcoming ways. Much of what I have learned over the years on receiving guests has been from observing her the many times our family had the opportunity to visit Beverly's home.

Well, with all of that said, once we moved here to our new home we thought that after some time passed we would get to know people slowly and begin to regularly invite people over. YES and NO! We have had people over- LOTS of people, but there was nothing "slow" about it! Since we moved here in May, we have had company at least once per week - often more than that and usually for a meal - both planned and unexpected. Despite not always being prepared, it has always worked out and always been enjoyable for all of us. We have had several families from our immediate area over multiple times, as well as friends from Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes, Karlstad, Minneapolis and South Dakota. We have hosted anywhere from 1 person at a time up to 30 and have overnight visitors as well. The summer has been busy with guests and we have a fall line-up ready to arrive as well.

I'm not sure if it's the larger house, more kitchen prep room, no nursing babies, or an attitude overhaul on my part but I am definitely enjoying being a hostess much more and truly finding it a blessing. My children are overjoyed to have friends over regularly to play & visit with, and Mike is thrilled to finally be able to spread his social butterfly wings!

In the meantime, I'll continue to meditate on Bible verses, quotes and poetry like the samples included here when I start to feel weary or burdened and wish to resort to my old hermit like ways!

And YOU? You'd better come for a visit very soon!

"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality." Romans (ch. XII, v. 10-13)

Blest be that spot, where cheerful guests retire
To pause from toil, and trim their evening fire;
Blest that abode, where want and pain repair,
And every stranger finds a ready chair:
Blest be those feasts with simple plenty crown'd,
Where all the ruddy family around
Laught at the jest or pranks, that never fail,
Or sigh with pity at some mournful tale,
Or press the bashful stranger to his food,
And learn the luxury of doing good.
-- Goldsmith.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Family Vacation = Homeschool Loot!

You may be wondering what the picture above is all about, besides it being a very helpful homeschool resource site of course, well... read on....

This August we ventured on the yearly Amick trip to South Dakota where Mike's "roots" are and therefore countless relatives. On the way down we made a two day stop at my place of birth in Graceville, MN for my cousin's wedding. There we saw many relatives and had a lovely time. Gabriella and Ruby were dressed in beautiful light blue matching dresses to be part of special photos taken with all the other little girl cousins - all wearing the same dress in various pastel hues. The wedding itself was lovely and fun was had by all. I think my childrens' favorite part of the day (and maybe mine too?) was the large chocolate fountain at the reception, surrounded by huge strawberries, marshmallows, etc for dipping... mmmmmmm

Next.. off to SD to see Mike's Dad, Several Grandparents, Mother, and a few friends. It was a full couple of days filled with dining out, grilling, visiting the park and watching the national geographic & discovery channels with Grandpa Mark & Grandma Shirley, followed by quick visits to Mike's friend Sheila's house and the Mitchell nursing home to see Grandpa & Grandma Stach.

Last, but not least was our arrival at Sioux Falls to spend time with Mike's mom and help her have an impromtu garage sale. After a late night of sorting and prep we greeted the public the next morning and began the sale while I continued sorting items to bring out. Since we had not advertised, we had to be creative to draw in cutomers. Mike and the kids all dressed up in fun items we found during the sorting process and definitely caught the eye of those driving by - not to mention that Mike was not only quite goofy looking, but had a sign and was standing on a busy street waving people in as they came driving by - shockingly it really worked! Maybe it was the pink striped silk shirt and old fur hat he was wearing (?) - that somebody actually bought off of his head! At the days end we were an exhausted crew, but had success in selling and giving away a good amount of stuff! We departed the next day and arrived home wiped out and ready for bed!

Now, you may be wondering to yourself "Where does homeschool loot fit into this story?" Let me tell you.. Since starting this blog site, a number of relatives have read it - especially the entry on the surprising homeschool goals for this year. Within days I had emails and phone calls from family offering typewriters, computers, books and more - all wanting to help out with our homeschooling needs! We were absolutely amazed and ever so thankful for all the consideration. So, since we were seeing almost all of our relatives, they all brought us stuff --- actually so much stuff, we could not fit it all in or on top of the van and had to decline some of it (or leave our children behind.... hmmmmm.. somewhat tempting considering parts of the van trip!).

We arrived home safe and sound with every inch inside of and on top of our van FULL. Below is a list (although not complete) of our "Homeschool Loot":

*My aunt Connie gave the kids 2 computers (1 Mac) and an assortment of items - including some walkman stereos, a desk lamp, and a lovely troll doll collection that Ruby has taken an odd liking too! Sadly, we had to leave one computer behind - no room in the van, we kept the Apple which came with a great kids typing program (perfect for Elliot) as well as an assortment of education programs. She also gave us a mission bench for Ruby's room - which filled the entire back of our van. It's now near Ruby's bedrom window so she can sit and see outside and it houses her toys inside.

My aunt Ann (a 3rd grade teacher) gave us several boxes of books including many literature classics. The kids had a grand time going through the boxes our first night there and of course wanted them all. Again we had to leave some behind due to space issues, but brought the majority home. They are already being read & enjoyed by the kids.

Grandpa Mark had some nature magazines and calanders for us, as well as a dead locust along with its molted part for microscope work. The kids were quite excited to see a locust - I was too since I had never seen one before.

At Grandma Marilyn's (as we sorted for the sale) we were given TONS of clothes for mom, new phonics toys, tons of old stuff for dress up to use for skits, play acting etc, craft items, an old typewriter, and Mike's old record player and record collection he had when he was a little boy. It is so incredibly cute! The kids were all spellbound as he showed them the records and taught them how to put them on the player. They listened to them all morning and had a joyous time.

Last, but not least - among the clothes I received from Marilyn was a brand new... denim jumper! All of these years of homeschooling and I still did not own one until now - it must mean that this will be our best school year yet!!??? For those of you who are not in the homeschooling "know" you may be wondering "What's up with the denim jumper anyway??" Well, in homeschool circles the unofficial homeschool mom "uniform" has always been the denim jumper. Go to a homeschool convention and you're likely to see a sea of denim jumpers. It's something we've joked about in a friendly way in the past, and it's become a recognized symbol of homeschooling. It's what you'd call an inside joke with homeschool moms. Anyway, now I too own one - I dunno if I'm a denim jumper gal though... I guess we'll see what tranpires this school year!

(Oh, for those of you who know my mother in law, I know you are asking yourself "WHY did Marilyn own a denim jumper EVER????????!!!!!! Yes, I know - it's SOOOOOO not her. I'm still asking myself this very question too - as I'm sure she is as well.)

So, the trip was a roaring success - we went, we saw many and we returned home more fully equipped! I guess the famous movie quote is not far from reality..."Build it and they will come" (Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner -remember that one?) In our case it was "Blog it and it will come.." and it surely did!

** For those of you who love the old childrens' records from our youth and want your kids to be able to enjoy them too - check out the following websites. Our kids have enjoyed listening to the same stories/records Mike & I did as kids. We found these sites a few months ago - so for them, seeing the real machine & records now adds a whole new element to the "history lesson"!

You can listen online or download them - all for free. There are a number of educational ones on the list as well.

MN Science Museum Field Trip Highlights

On August 9th our family, along with eight other homeschool families (36 people total) from around the state took a field trip to the Minnesota Science Museum in Minneapolis. The start to our day was early, with breakfast at 5:30am and departure by 6:15am. Compared to some of the other families who lived farther away and had to leave their homes around 4:00am, this was sleeping in! We also had one family come early and spend the night before with us as well as the night of the field trip day since they would have had a 7 hour drive to get to Minneapolis.

We arrived at the museum by 9:15 am and after our group was checked in and all had tickets, bracelets and museum maps we were off on our days agenda. First up was a film titled The Human Body in the museum's omnitheater. It was an educational, yet very entertaining film on how the systems of the body work, complete with amazing film coverage from inside the body. The theater itself was huge with the screen covering the front and side walls as well as a portion of the ceiling. The kids all had a great expereince.

Next was a sack lunch in the cafeteria followed by some free time to explore the museum's many exhibits. Our next group event was in the 3-D Cinema where we viewed a film on African Elephants and the White Rhino. It was amazing to experience the 3-D effects! The kids were continually trying to touch the images in front of them - except for Ruby who sat so completely still with her 3-D glasses on that I often checked to make sure she was still breathing! She was absolutely captivated. After the film, she did not want to remove the glasses and wanted the movie to continue.

After more free time to explore the museum, it was finally our group's scheduled time to enter the museum's guest exhibit BODYWORLDS, which was the main reason for our homeschool trip. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to view this world-renowned, first ever exhibit of real human bodies. BODYWORLDS, developed by German anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens, features 200+ specimans (including entire bodies, individual organs, and transparent body slices) preserved with special plastics that allow views of the interior layers of the human body. Almost 18 million people around the globe have seen this exhibit, and we are so thankful to have been among them - it was definitely an educational experience that could never be duplicated. To view some of the specimens in the exhibit visit:

After further exploration of the museum - fossils, dinosaurs, weather exploration, gift shop and more we hit the city with a couple of the families from the group. We decided to have supper in a nearby Vietnamese restaurant, then we visited a dessert shop that featured numerous flavors of "Italian Ice" - very similar to sorbet. Around 25 flavors to choose from and all vegan - YUMMY! We departed from Minneapolis full and tired and arrived home around 10:30pm. Everyone promptly went to bed except for myself and my friend Wendy (the homeschool mom of the family spending the night) - we stayed up until after 3:00am chatting! Needless to say we were a bit sleepy when 7:30 am breakfast time rolled around!

Even though it was an enormous day we had a great time and experienced much. All the kids did a great job with the busy agenda and had fun together. Even little Ruby was a true gem the entire time, including travel time to and from the city - she was quite the little trooper and we were all so appreciative of it!

Another trip to the museum this fall is on the Amick homeschool agenda. The new guest exhibit will be on birds of prey (an area of interest with our gang) and the omnitheater film will be Vikings: Journey to New Worlds. We were able to watch a preview of the film while there and the boys were so intrigued with it that they begged to return to see it. Therefore, an unexpected unit study on the Vikings is already underway in our household as the kids are studying to prepare a project and demonstration for Mike & I on the topic. The reward of their independant efforts and hard work will be a return trip to the museum in time to see the Vikings film, which I have no doubt will be an awesome ending to their research project.

Family Favorites from the August Visit:

Mike: "Seeing the healthy lungs compared to the smokers lungs, and the healthy heart compared to those that were diseased in the BODYWORLDS exhibit."

Sue: "The female archer in BODYWORLDS and the Hmong story cloths in the Hmong people's history exhibit."

Gabriella: "My favorite part was in the BODYWORLDS exhibit. It was the 2 human bodies in the couples ice skating pose."

Christopher: "The 'Human Body' film in the Omnitheater because it showed the activity inside of the body."

Elliot: "Walking around in the museum looking at things, and the Egyptian mummy was cool."

Ruby: The elephants in the 3-D Cinema for sure!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Thunderstorms, Candlelight, and Dread Pirates

Today was an ordinary day consisting of errands and household tasks, but as always the unexpected comes along to add spice to the day, or in this case the evening. After a sultry day of temperatures in the 100's, a strong thunderstorm overtook our area while our family was enjoying supper. During our meal we watched as the sky quickly grew dark and great gusts of wind arrived causing the forest of trees surrounding our house to blow, bend, and toss about wildly. Soon came the heavy rain to add to the exciting supper scene we were observing from our table through the glass doors and living room windows. About the time we concluded our meal and were cleaning up, we lost all electricity, which of course caused great excitement and drama for the kids. Gathering flashlights, batteries and candles was all great fun for them, while Mom and Dad on the other hand were concerning themselves with details like the freezer defrosting, food spoiling in the fridge, losing water pressure, how many batteries we had on hand... you get the idea.

Ruby thoroughly enjoyed herself for a long time by shining the flashlight on the ceiling and walls and chasing the light about the room. She giggled the entire time and was purely delighted by this new game she had created, while at the same time seemed to be thinking (by the look on her face) "I wonder why we've been in the dark for so very long?? What's Up??"

Eventually, I decided that a game plan for the eve's activities needed to be made because it looked like we may be w/o electricity for some time, so I said, "Hey how about a game of Dread Pirate by candlelight?" To which there were abundant cheers and excitement by all. If you haven't played this game, it is truly fun and has quickly become a family favorite - after all who can resist an opportunity to "talk pirate" and have some family adventure filled with treasure, battles on the high seas, and lots of booty... all while enjoying an absolutely beautifully crafted board game with pieces that are a pleasure to look upon and hold in your hand. Oh, and did I tell you it's historically educational too (but of course!)? It is truly a child's treasure in itself (and pretty awesome for adults too!).

Soon after our game began the lights came back on and all was calm outside and back to normal inside... but we decided to play by candlelight anyway - it was just too much fun. Who knows, maybe it will now become our family's traditional way of playing. Why not, it adds another element of suspense to the playing experience.

Sadly our game had to be cut short due to bedtime, but it still sits undisturbed in the middle of the kitchen table awaiting the arrival of morning ... and maybe some hungry young pirates who want to challenge one another to a skirmish before breakfast!

P.S. Our kids very much enjoy pirate stories, which adds greatly to the fun of this game as they all decide which famous pirate character from literature they want to be for the game (this is not part of the game - just something they add to it themselves for extra fun). The usual favorites include Long John Silver, Captain Cook, Smee, Black Stashe, The Dread Pirate Roberts, Blackbeard, and so on. If you have a pirate fan in your house, below are some reading recommendations from the Amick kids.

Treasure Island
The Count of Monte Cristo
Robinson Crusoe
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Peter Pan by J.M. Barry
Peter and the Starcatchers
The Princess Bride

and we're soon to check out Peter and the Shadow Thieves.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Surprising School Year Goals

Today our household has been a flutter of various activities related to school as we continue to add more routine back into our days after the move and transition into our new home.

Yesterday, the kids and I had a discussion about the plans I have made for the school year (subjects, goals, etc) and I asked them what other things they may enjoy doing independently throughout the year and what goals they might have. This was the first time I had ever asked them this since I have always just "planned" all their subjects each year and it was always more than enough to keep us busy; but this year I wanted to be sure there was room for their individual pursuits as well. I was not sure what responses I would receive from them, and must admit I was quite shocked - but very pleased!

Christopher told me he wanted to become a better speller (one of his most disliked subjects currently) so I was glad to hear this news from him AND he told me he wanted to learn cursive writing. Why was I surprised by this you may wonder? Well, frankly because it has always been like pulling teeth to get him to write anything and he was not a highly motivated learner in this area - let's just say we had challenges. Therefore I had decided to hold off on introducing cursive for a bit until the time was right, then I was going to ease into it. Imagine my joy in hearing he WANTED to learn it! Within 30 minutes I had produced workbooks/materials from a box in the garage and he began work that day and is doing splendid. I am overjoyed with how quickly he is picking it up thus far - and he has reported that he likes it! Who would have figured???

Elliot shared that he wants to finish the chess book he began writing last year and write one about knights as well this year. He said his area of interest is to learn typing - I had no clue he was interested in learning this. So, later that day we found an online children's typing program that he began working with and is enjoying. While it's not the best, it will do for now. It would certainly be fun to try to track down a used electronic typewriter for him to practice on now and then though - I know he would think it was wayyyy fun! :-)

Now we came to Gabriella, since we had been taking turns with this discussion, and I can say I was REALLY floored by her answer. She's 5, so I'm thinking "hmmm, maybe she'll want to do some kind of fun art project or something sorta hands on since she already reads, spells, writes, etc very well" (she LOVES learning). So then, what does she say? "I want to learn another language." We all looked at her somewhat surprised. I asked if she meant she wanted to continue learning American sign language (which we jump in & out of), but she said "No". When we inquired as to what she had in mind she matter-of-factly replied... "French". Now for any of you who knew me in my college days you would get a really good laugh out of this since I took French TWICE and dropped out both times because I just could not get it. Now I'm looking at my daughter with her honest, sincere request of me and I'm thinking "Oh man, why didn't I learn it when I had the chance, how helpful would that be now!" Instead of this feeling of... "uh-oh" coming over me. BUT, I proudly share with you that "Homeschool Mom" rose to the challenge at hand. Within a few hours I had researched children's French programs and have watches on several used curriculum websites for the one I want and in the meantime have found a number of very helpful websites that offer free materials for kids to learn French. I was so pleased, and so was Gabriella. She set to work right away and by the time Mike got home from work, she greeted him and had a few exchanges with him in French.

So, today the kids spent some time on each of their chosen subjects/goals and it went smoothly. They also did their piano practice, spent time outside and helped make supper (fry bread with toppings... mmmmmmm). Little Ruby is having fun learning some basic puzzles, which facinate her, and has FINALLY decided to use some sign language with us - which has been fun. She of course has to be a part of all activities happening in each room of the house and can move like lightening to accomplish this task! Her favorite thing to do right now is to whisper in your ear -since it's baby gibrish we all pretend to know what she's talking about - but she is thrilled with us anyway :-)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Home Alone (well as close as I can get)

My first weekend here in our new Brainerd home without Mike and the oldest 3 kids is near to reaching it's blissful end. Ruby and I (as I said, I'm almost alone), along with our trusty dog Pepper have had a quiet, relaxed weekend while Mike, the boys and Gabriella had an incredible time at a Pioneer Campout about an hour from here, with 4 other families. It was rustic camping at it's best, where they made rope bridges and ladders, built a raft, learned knot tying, studied astronomy, cooked over a fire, went kayaking, washed up in a basin, (no bathrooms anywhere)... you get the idea.

Here at home I focused on continued planning and scheduling for our upcoming homeschool year. I need to do more work on it, but it feels good to be getting organized. I made a meal menu calander for the entire month of August with a corresponding grocery list. My hope is that it will free more time up for other things in the day and reduce grocery expenses. I'll be sure to report on how it goes after our first month on board the new system!

Well, my little weekend companion is telling me it's time to finish this up!
All for now...

**The accompanying photo is of Gabriella climbing the rope ladder the group made. It is attached to the top of a telephone pole the camp hosts put up for the weekend. Gabriella won the award for the bravest camper at the conclusion of the weekend due to her perseverance in conquering her fear of heights by finally climbing this ladder and walking the rope bridge after multiple attempts. (The rope bridge could be likened to a low tightrope with a small rope on each side to hold onto.)