Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Cheer

There are many, many things that I love about the Alleghany Highlands.  I'm going to share one thing that is especailly close to my heart, one that I hold in high esteem.

I've told you before that every Monday is "trash day" in our part of the county.  The girls get the biggest kick of running out and saying "hi" to the "trash guys," telling them about something that's recently happened, probably even airing a little Morris dirty laundry here and there and generally just connecting with a few guys who they consider their great friends.

Last year we were bowled over when they pulled the big white truck up to the end of the driveway and got out with two wrapped Christmas presents for the girls.  Read about it here.....
Today, I got a lump in my throat when it happened again.  I dunno, maybe I'm just a little emotional today or something, but it really touched my heart. 

 The girls were so excited because this was the last Monday before Christmas....and they couldn't WAIT to give their friends cards, fudge and cookies that we'd made.  They excitedly talked about their friends ("I love them!" and "They're my best friends!") as they made glitter-loaded cards for these great guys.

For the girls, this was all about GIVING and not receiving.  Not once was a reference made to them "getting" anything from the "trash guys*."  The word "exhuberant" comes to mind as they looked forward to giving their presents. 

*Hannah has called them "the trash guys" from the first time she went out to see them. 
The name has stuck, although they signed last year's cards "The Trashmen." 

We were just finishing up our first half of school when the cry arose, "TRASH GUYS ARE COMING!"  And two little girls strapped on their flip-flops, grabbed a glittery stack of cards and treat boxes and trotted out in just-below-freezing-temperatures toward Johnson Creek Road. 

The pictures show the rest of the story...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Music at Temple Baptist Church 2010

I finally got the kids' Christmas videos uploaded to YouTube!

Abigail's class is called the "Mini Miracles," and Hannah's is "GROW Choir." 

Click here for the Mini Miracles Christmas Presentation!

The GROW Choir's video is split into three sections so it could be uploaded in segments; otherwise it would have taken hours to upload.  If there are any problems with these links, please let me know and I'll do what I can.  I tried to get everyone's kids in the video, but from my location (directly behind the director!) it was tough focusing on everyone, especially if your initials are GG!! :)

GROW Choir Part 1
GROW Choir Part 2
GROW Choir Part 3

Please, please, please leave comments at the end of this post!

She's A Girly Girl

Again, I didn't have my camera handy for a photo op....

When I was little, threats of coal in my stocking or switches under the tree simply paled in comparison to the mere suggestion that one of the brightly wrapped packages addressed to me and poking out from underneath the tree contained slips.

Slips of what?

Slips of.....oh, I don't know....filmy, diaphanous, silky material that felt slimy against my legs and were hot and simply horrible to have to wear on Sundays or whenever I had to dress up.  I was so glad when I graduated to denim skirts and was able to convince my mom that heavy weight knits didn't require those awful things.  I didn't even think that little girls wore slips anymore until one was given to the three year old in a sack of hand-me-downs last week.  But apparently these filmy (ick! slimy!) things are still available for little ladies. 

Well, fast forward to this Sunday.  Believe it or not, sometimes Sunday mornings just aren't smooth going for us - its the only day that all four of us have to be out the door at the same time before noon, and well, for some reason that is often a struggle!  I thought I had conquered this week's morning of chaos by waking up an hour early and getting clothes out before the girls were up.  I pulled out a "new" dress for Abbo to wear and ironed it.  Its a sweet red checkered dress she's never worn before that buttons all the way down the front.  Alas, with temperatures in the teens when we left for church, she needed something under it.

The slip!

I dug it out from where it was hanging in her closet.  I had a momentary flashback and knew that I'd never be able to pull something like this on our six year old whose sense of "style" (as in, thrift store/WalMart chic) more approximates my own, but figured I might be able to get away with it with the little one.  I expected I might be able to put something over on her if I acted quickly, but I didn't count on the opposite reacation:  Her eyes lit up when she saw it and she immediately rubbed the skirt to her cheek (ewwww!), closed her eyes and said, "mmmmmm...." 

So I popped the slip over her head and went to her dresser to grab a pair of tights.  I turned around and there was the three year old modeling a new look:  a gossamer slip and purple flip flops. 

Me:  "C'mon, Abbo, you have to take off the sandals to put your tights on."
Her:  No.
Me:  "C'mon, its too cold for flip flops.  Maybe in the summer."
Her:  No. 
Daddy, coming in the room:  "I don't care if she wears flip-flops."
Her:  Daddyo said I can wear thems.
Me: (trying not to lose it, after all, today was going to be a chaos-free Sunday)  Maybe if there weren't still 6 inches of snow on the ground and maybe if the temperatures were above freezing, but she HAS TO WEAR TIGHTS.  AND SHOES.
Daddy:  You're right.  Abbo, put on the tights.
Her:  Well, I'm wearing this dress then.
Me:  Yes, but you're putting this pretty RED dress over that dress.
Her:  No.  This dress is soft, see?  (Rubs hands over slip and skirt).  I wanna wear DIS dress.
Me:  (Gagging)  We wear our dresses OVER our slips, now come here......
etc., etc.

Eventually, the dress went on and was buttoned up and there were no drafts between the button holes.  I have to admit, a slip (ptoey!) was perfectly appropriate in this situation.

But now, I'm afraid I might never get the slip off of her.  She insisted on wearing it to bed over her jammos.  Just before I tucked her in, picked her up and put my hand on a damp spot on the front of her. 
Me:  "Why are you wet?  Is this pee-pees?"
Her:  "No, I like to chew on it."
Me:  (Shudder, gag....)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa in the Highlands

We've had all sorts of run-ins with the red-suited man over the last couple weeks.  I thought I'd share some of them.....first up is a link to pictures from a WONDERFUL visit with that Jolly Old Elf in Clifton Forge.  The link will take you to Fire and Light Gallery, a shop showcasing the incredible talents of two local men - a photographer and a blacksmith.  An unlikely pair? Well, you'd have to see it for yourself. 

Santa Pictures at Clifton Forge Presbyterian Church - sponsored by Clifton Forge Main Street. Brace yourself....they are unbearably sweet!

Abigail: http://fireandlightgallery.com/site/#/gallery/breakfast-with-santa-2010/img-1378/
Abigail: http://fireandlightgallery.com/site/#/gallery/breakfast-with-santa-2010/img-1379/

Hannah: http://fireandlightgallery.com/site/#/gallery/breakfast-with-santa-2010/img-1381/
Hannah: http://fireandlightgallery.com/site/#/gallery/breakfast-with-santa-2010/img-1380/

These videos include some friends from church.  Santa visited the kids after their Christmas performance this past Wednesday, and though I can't tell you exactly what was whispered in Santy's ear, I think the video tells the whole story.

Hannah & Ethan with Santa
Goldie, Abigail, Grace and Simon with Santa

Stay tuned for videos of the Grow Choir's Christmas Cantata performance.  I just have to figure out how to splice the different links together so it somewhat flows.  BELIEVE me, you don't want to miss it!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Peanut Butter Chewies

One thing that is important to me as I school is making basic things like math and reading relevant.  To this day, in order to remember certain fractions, I picture a cherry pie and decide whether I'd rather have 1/8 of it or 1/9th, etc. as I was taught back in 4th grade.

We're beginning early fractions with Hannah and I found a perfect recipe that includes basic fractions.  For our "lessons," we used different sized measuring cups (e.g., 1/3 or 1/2) and added them together to make a whole. It was great to see Hannah "get it"!

My friend Andrea coincidentally* posted it to Facebook the day before we began fractions.
(*I don't really believe in coincidences, do you?  God loves us and is REAL in our daily lives!!)

Anyways, this recipe is from back at our Triple-R Ranch camp days.  I remember making sheet pan after sheet pan of these things, mixing them in the big Hobart floor mixer, and eating them until my jaws hurt.  They're a wonderful recipe because they take no time at all to prepare, and you "always" have all of the ingredients on hand. 

RRR's Peanut Butter Chewies

1 cup white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
4 cups corn flakes*
1/2 cup salted peanuts (optional)
1 tbs. vanilla

(*I had some leftover "Uncle Sam" cereal that I added to the cornflakes, which is why these look dark.)

Stirring frequently, bring sugar and corn syrup to a full rolling boil.  Allow to boil for 1 minute. 

Remove from heat and add peanut butter.  Stir to melt.

Add cornflakes, vanilla and nuts.  Stir gently.

Using a cookie/meatball scoop onto wax paper.  Allow to harden.

Store in fridge or freezer, allow to come to room temperature before eating (unless you have an uncle who is a dentist and provides free services....)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow and Santa

After warming cups of hot chocolate for Andy and the girls (and an espresso for me) at Old Forge Coffee, guess who we saw in True Value Hardware over in Clifton Forge on Saturday?

The back yard this morning....

Off to church!

Clifton Forge Christmas Parade

Last Friday - a hometown, small town Christmas Parade...my favorite! It was sooooo cold - flurries, even! But it was a good time and I'm always glad we've gone. This was our 3rd year in a row! As usual, the girls got loaded up with candy and enjoyed that as much as anything else!

Boy Scouts Color Guard

(A & A:  This one is for you!  See what a little chi-hoooah-hoooah can do?  Pull a sleigh!  Santa Dog!)

 "He has sent me [Jesus] to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness from the prisoners."

Special Olympians

"Cheeze Claus."  Nothing like him!  He collects money all year to buy toys and presents (and bikes!) to give to kids along the parade route.  My girls have gotten prizes every year and have come to look forward to them!

Smile, Donald!


Thanks, Nellie!  And Clifton Forge!

The Big Guy Himself!
***A sad note to the parade....the line stopped midway to allow for squad members from the local rescue and fire departments to respond to a call on I-64 near Island Ford Bridge.  An accident including three tractor trailers resulted in a fatality for a local man from Clifton Forge.  News of the tragedy spread quickly through the crowd....many thanks to the rescue personnel who worked long hours in the cold to get the road opened again and everyone home safely...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent Calendar #1 (?)

My pal Emily called the other night and asked if I'd whip up an Advent calendar for her....WHAT?  My first thought was, "Gosh, now I have to really mo-ti-vate and psych myself up to do something that I've been putting off for two years!"

Well, actually, I did it, and it wasn't so bad!  Now I can't wait to make one for us.  I'm hoping to work on it tonight and tomorrow so check back later to see how I did.

Anyways, just a picture for this one: 

Its complete except for the dowel that goes through the top and a gold cord to tie to the ends for hanging.  You can't see here but each Christmas tree has a slit in it midway in which to insert lollipops (as shown) or mini candy canes.  And the felt background is red, not fuchsia....

Thank you, Emily for motivation to finally make an Advent Calendar!  I love it!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Salt Dough Ornament Craft

This "easy" craft has taken us three days to complete - but the chunks of time were perfect for the attention span of the Littles.  Its got all kinds of good stuff rolled into one activity: manual dexterity, fine motor skills, measuring, texture, counting....

I found several recipes for the dough online.  We used:
2 cups AP flour
1 cup salt
1 1/2 cups (give or take) cool water
extra flour - half a cup or so

I also added a bit of glitter and tiny glass beads for a snow-like effect.  I couldn't really tell it was there in the cooked ornaments, so I either used too little or it just didn't work.

Anyways, put the ingredients in a big bowl and mix with hands. No pictures of this, but I divided the recipe equally and let each girl mix her own. If it was too sticky we added a little more flour.

Other tools/ingredients:
tips of skewers (for "carrot noses")....cut the end of a skewer off with wire cutters, then use a pencil sharpener to make another point, cut that, etc.  You could use toothpicks, but they seemed too thin to me, but it would work in a pinch.
Orange paint (for "noses")
Black felt or fleece (for top hats)
black beads (for "coal eyes" and mouths)
fabric scraps for scarves
tacky glue
paper clips for hangers*
dry paintbrush to wipe off excess flour

After the dough was mixed, we pinched off golf-ball sized pieces and rolled them with our hands into spheres. 

We dipped a cup in flour to prevent sticking and smashed the ball down into a round disc.  Then, using the pincher grip of thumb and forefinger (little fingers are especially good at this), we pinched a "neck" about 3/4 of the way down the disc, like this:

After making the neck, we poked in bead-y eyes, skewer-carrot noses and popped the snowman heads into the oven to dry.

This is what took so long.  We dried the heads at 200 degrees for about 2 hours, then left the oven closed for a day and a half.  Truth was, yesterday was just too busy to get back to the project, and the extra day allowed them to dry completely. 
While you're waiting, cut out hats and scarves.  The scarves should be about 4" long and pretty thin.  If you use fleece, cut it on the stretchy grain, give it a good tug so it will curl.

Take 'em out of the oven, tie scarves around their squatty necks and glue on hats cut from felt. 

I didn't even know that Hannah knew how to tie...but she did a half hitch and I showed her how to double it to make it stay in place.  You can see that snowman had an extra eyeball growing out of the center of his forehead which I picked out with my fingernail.

....if any "necessary" eyeballs fall out after they've been baked, a dab of tacky glue will do the trick.  Just brush out any excess flour first - in this case, I had two overzealous flour stampers dipping their cups in flour to smash the "snowballs."

Have the girls pose with their favorites....

Here's the group....

Here's some closeups.....

Honestly, I wonder if my girls have even SEEN snowmen!!

* I completely forgot to do this, but this is how you SHOULD make hangers for your snowmen.  Take a metal paperclip and pull the inner loop out from the outer loop so it makes a giant "S".  It should break but if not, wiggle it back and forth until you have two 3/4 oval shapes.  Press the ends of the clip into the back of the snowman heads BEFORE YOU BAKE THEM somewhere near the top center of the back of his head.  Put it in there deep so you only have about 1/4" of the loop sticking out.  Picture an upside-down "U" shape.  Bake that in the head and then string some ribbon, yarn, string, etc. to hang it on your tree. 

I'm pretty sure any family members who read this will be seeing these snowmen again...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


After I read Bible passages to the girls, I ask Hannah to tell me back in her own words what she just heard. 

I find that I am able to get more complete information back from her than when I just ask her to answer a few questions.  I am also surprised -every time!- with how much she retains, both immediately after something she's been read and the next day. 

Sometimes, however, I get more than I bargain for, as evidenced by yesterday's narration of Luke 1:1-25.  Here are some excerpts.

Me:  Tell me who wrote this passage.
Hannah:  Luke.  Because he had seen Jesus himself and wanted to be sure everyone knew the truth.
Me:  Good.  Now, tell me the story.
Hannah:  Its about a baby named....mmm.....John.  John Bradford. [Obviously we needed more time between Pilgrims and Nativity!]
Me:  John Bradford?  No.  Just John.  Go on.
 . . . .
Hannah:  His father was from the tribe of Levis.  He worked in the temple.  He was a temple cleaner.
. . . .
Me:  And what was the problem this family was having?
Hannah:  Elizabeth, the wife couldn't have babies because she was congested.
Me:  What?
Hannah:  She was congested and she was old so she couldn't have babies, and the angel told Zacharias that she would get pregnant and he didn't believe the angel so he couldn't speak. 

Of course I corrected her with a straight face!!!

Our Homeschool Curriculum

Sometimes I cringe when someone asks, "how's school going?"  Its an innocent enough question, but if you homeschool, you undoubtedly feel the same way I do at times:  on any given day, hek, at any time during the day, the answer to that question varies in the "wince factor" it elicits. 

Well into my second year of schooling Hannah (and Abbo, now, in PK), I've edited my approach several times.  I think what I am comfortable with is an "eclectic" approach - bits and pieces, kind of like a quilt.  OK, so it looks like a crazy quilt sometimes, but its keeping us warm and Hannah seems to be thriving.

Last year for Kindergarten and for this year, I've been using My Father's World for, essentially, the Language Arts/phonics part of the curriculum.  For Kindergarten I used their math most of the way, up until about March, when I purchased Horizons K math.  Horizons was more structured, and I like its workbook format.  I didn't purchase a teacher's edition, because...well, because if I need a teacher's edition for Kindergarten math, then we're all in trouble, right?!  This year she's finishing out the second book of the K series and will start 1st grade math in January.  According to the Virginia Education website, though, if she masters the skills of Horizons K, she'll be on track for 1st grade standards.  I like that Horizons reinforces skills taught so well, in a cyclical approach that keeps skills fresh.

My Father's World has a nice Bible component to it, but I wanted more direct Scripture in our daily lessons.  So we've added a tri-weekly Bible reading, reading from the New Living Translation.  With this, I use a Charlotte Mason approach:  I read the story then ask Hannah to re-tell the story back to me, which reinforces what she's heard and helps to develop her listening skills.  The stories I'm using I found at Penny Gardner's Charlotte Mason website.  What I like about this list is that its more than Noah's Ark and th'Baby Jesus. 

I picked up a preschool series for Abigail, too ~ by Rod and Staff publishers.  This focuses on basics: numbers 1-10, ABC's, coloring in the lines, colors, shapes and matching.  She sits in on our Bible lessons as well and is learning to recite.  She is a champ when it comes to answering questions about the passage we've just read!  There is a Bible story book and a Bible coloring book that corresponds to the stories, but since we're following the list at Penny Gardner's site, I generally only use Rod and Staff's books only when they coincide with the stories we're reading.  

For Science, MFW had a set of science books that came with their first grade curriculum package, and we use them about once a week or so.  We also check books out of the library, do experiments with household tools, look at birds, take field trips, gleaning science from our rich environment. 

History is in a Biblical context for right now, except for Pilgrims and "holiday history."  Mmmm...scratch that.  Hannah is enamored by "Indians" and we try to check out books as much as we can about them, in turn learning about Native American customs, culture and history from their perspective.  We've watched several videos - good and bad (i.e., revisionist history/evolutionary perspective) that have given us plenty to talk about and learn about our country.

Music, art and crafts are much less structured than even that.  Hannah takes care of much of her own craft and art through her own independent "Indian Studies."  Music ~ they're in choir at church and we listen to classical music during impromptu dance recitals they give Andy and me.  If we were more "Charlotte Mason-y," we'd be doing nature notebooks.  I look forward to doing that in the early Spring.  Some things are just too hard to do with a young 3 year old who's war cry is "I wanna do it mineself!"

Even if we're not having a particularly successful day where Language Arts is done sitting quietly and calmly (and still!) at the kitchen table, we always make a point of reading, reading, and reading.  I've searched and complied book lists for elementary ages ~ books that pertain to what we might be doing in our more formal curriculum work and good quality children's poetry or stories.  The library is our friend!  Penny Gardner's site has a nice list of books, as does Ambleside Online.  There are also many free sites where audio books can be downloaded to an MP3 player.  Maybe someday I'll figure out what that is and be able to download to my heart's content.  Until now I'm going to stick with my library cards.

So the next time you see me and ask, "so how's school going?"  All of the above is what will flash through my mind alongside a checklist which may or may not be complete depending on the day/week/hour.  Today, for example, our day was turned upside down with a drive to Clifton Forge to bring Daddyo his cell phone, so we visited Kroger and the library.  Books to be read after lunch and then seatwork in the afternoon/early evening because Daddy is working late.  Crafts after that to finish yesterday's project.  Bible will be at bedtime in lieu of our other story books.  So the whole day is turned inside out. 

(I'm wincing as I write this!!)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

My Crow Wave

We've got a new addition to our household - it was given to us, or otherwise we  would still be in the minority of American households without one.  Its been over 4 years since we've had one of these machines, and I haven't really missed it.  In fact, I've enjoyed smugly saying, "we don't have a microwave..." and watching the reaction.  My friend Lora said, "how do you LIIIIIIIIIVE?!"  My mom just shakes her head.

As it turns out, it was donated at an opportune time - I've burnt up three saucepans beyond serviceable use in the past four months and I'd begun to dig into our camping supplies for stove top cooking appliances.  I haven't planned ahead enough to stockpile saucepans, so my cooking resources were limited to the crock pot, cast iron skillet and toaster. 

Although my dad informs me that an electric stove uses more energy than a microwave, heating up milk for bedtime drinks and cooking macaroni and cheese on the range top wasn't too much of an inconvenience.  I timed it, of course, and it only takes about 25% more time to heat things up on the stove top than in the mike, but then there is the extra pot to wash.  Stove top cooking lends itself to a bit of patience, too, in that it is a wholly interactive experience.  Witness my failure to "interact" with the cooking process by the blackened bottoms of my cookware....

Without a microwave, we're excluded from a surprising amount of convenience foods at Wal-Mart - foods that are high in fat, calories and added salt, low in fiber, freshness and health.  I use my teapot more to heat water for hot tea, hot chocolate and cream of wheat.  The whistle is satisfying and familiar.  But with a microwave comes ease in steaming vegetables, microwave popcorn and fewer dishes to wash.....(because you know if we didn't have a microwave oven, we certainly don't have a dishwasher!)

There was no real reason for not having a microwave oven in the first place.  We had one at our former house and used it regularly for defrosting and reheating.  I've never been one to cook a roast or a chicken in them.  When we moved here, we just never got around to getting one because there didn't seem to be a place for the bulky, cumbersome machines that we thought we needed.  This one is small - it probably is not too much taller than a soda can inside. 

The girls are, for some reason, pretty excited about it.  It doesn't have a rotating glass inside or anything, but they are fascinated that it can cook without really getting "hot."  I've explained "hot spots" and "uneven heating," and hopefully it will be an easy lesson for them.

Anyways, I just thought I'd share with you why I'm not looking so smug these days....

Friday, October 29, 2010

Book Review

I'm reading another great book.  That's "great" with a lower-case "g," meaning that it is not one of Great books, although I've got stacks of those waiting, thanks to PaperbackSwap....

This tome is described as "A story of courage, community and war."  Here's a hint as to its subject: it is timely, considering a holiday we celebrate soon.  Oh, and I discovered it at the Clifton Forge Library while doing a search on "Indians." 

Any ideas?
The book is Mayflower, written by Nataniel Philbrick, copyright 2006.   

Honestly, when I was researching books to check out I didn't realize it was such a hefty piece of work - in the large print section at the library, its over 730 pages!  But, I decided to give it its due and read the first 100 pages - and I was hooked by the time I finished the introduction. 

This ain't your candy-coated Pilgrim story with big-buckled shoes and handprint turkeys.

Charlotte Mason, in her approach to education, advocated reading "living" books, books that are "well written and well put," and said that knowledge is the true motivation for education.  This book, with page after page of primary sources in the bibliography, is a good fit for Mason's criteria.  I can't wait until Hannah can read this book.

All of the historical figures in this book are well rounded, fairly-depicted, with flaws, strengths and weaknesses. What I see most in this text is the contrast between the "Native American story" with which we are indoctrinated today and the historically accurate picture of the Indians that lived in the area that is now New England in the early 17th century.  Those Puritans?  their reliance on "Strangers," or those not of their faith quickly gave them a reputation for fierceness and violence that struck fear into the Indians of the time.   

Another book I happened to pick up during the same library visit is Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen.  It turned out to be the perfect companion reader to Mayflower.  I've only read the first two chapters, but so far I agree with the author's point of view that most high school students loathe history primarily because of the flat and paltry treatment it gets in textbooks and that those same texts tend to grossly distort the past. 

I won't give too much away about Mayflower, except to highly recommend it.  You think you know the whole story about those white-capped and hatted folks who came to Plymouth in 1620, don't you?  There is more to the story that will give you a richer perspective of who we are today and even our own American relationship to Naive Americans in the modern age.  Don't let the size scare you away.  It is an easy read and will give you a more in-depth picture of the early inhabitants of this country - native and immigrant.  While this is a secular text, all "religions" are treated fairly.  What is most evident to me, though - and it probably was not an aim of the author - is the fact that we are all - Indian and "white man," sinners in need of a savior.  None of us comes close to perfection as we struggle in our human condition.  No one group of people is closer to perfection than another, regardless if they are living in harmony with the land or seeking sainthood on their own by their religious fervor. 

Get thee to the library, friend!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Train Ride

One of Hannah's birthday presents for her recent 6th birthday was a train ride!

We took a round trip ride on Amtrak from Clifton Forge station to Staunton, Virginia.

 Exploring the train....walking between the cars...

 The plan was to use the hour and a half layover to grab a bite to eat at the restaurant adjacent to the depot....but, when our first train was over an hour late, it made lunch in Staunton impossible. So we waited on the platform for a mere ten minutes for our return train.

There were pretty sights to see while we were waiting.....

A nice parrot in a studio window....

Here it comes!!