How I’m Surviving Winter

While I love living in a state that gets to experience the unique weather of four different seasons, I don’t particularly consider winter to be my favorite season. However, because I try to focus on the positives instead of the negatives, I have come to realize that there are some things that can only be enjoyed during these cold, blustery days. So this winter, here are some things that are helping me to not only survive winter, but to thrive during it …

~Warm blankets and our fireplace – I absolutely love snuggling up under a thick warm blanket, turning the fireplace on, and reading a good book. During most afternoons, I read aloud to the kiddos and we all love getting cozy.

~Hot drinks – Whether it is homemade hot cocoa, homemade chai tea latte, my morning cup of coffee, or an afternoon cup of tea, I almost always have a hot drink as a companion throughout these cold days.

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~Thick scarves – I have a few knit infinity scarves that are a part of my every day wardrobe (yes, while I am inside my house!) since we don’t keep our heat very high.

~Wool socks and warm boots – While some of my children seem to think walking around barefoot all winter long is brilliant, I am pretty sure my feet would turn blue if I did that. I am thankful for warm woolen socks and boots with wool lining in them.

~Comfort food – This time of the year, we eat tons of soups, stews, roasts, and casseroles. Not much beats a hot bowl of soup and fresh homemade bread for dinner on a cold dreary night. We also typically have a hot lunch to warm us up (grilled cheese with tomato soup, baked potato bar, leftover soup, English muffin pizza’s, etc.).

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~Grapefruit – I absolutely L.O.V.E. grapefruit and since this is the time of the year when they are available, delicious, and cheap we always have them on hand. I don’t buy much fresh fruit this time of the year, but grapefruit is a staple.

~Candles – Throughout the winter, I almost always have my candle warmers turned on. I also burn candles, but since the candle warmers are so much more cost effective, we use those more often. There is something about candles burning that just makes the house seem warmer, even if it really isn’t!

~Body Butter – I made a huge batch of Cocoa Peppermint Body Butter which has eliminated any dry itchy skin problems. I have been using my hard lotion bar (same ingredients in my homemade lip balms) on my hands for a few years to avoid dry, chapped, and bleeding hands – however, the body butter is easier to apply all over which has made it a life saver (and saving me money since I used to buy a natural body butter every winter).

~Essential Oils – We have been diffusing essential oils every day and we all love it. Our schoolroom always smells lovely and it is an easy way to absorb them into our systems. We still spray an immune builder blend on every day, but diffusing throughout the day has been a blessing around here.

~Dreaming of summer – Since we just had an in ground pool put in our backyard this past fall, we dream of summer days by the pool!

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Life is Full … and New Books!

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Life is full of wonderful blessings, most of which include the love of my life and our darling children!  It is so easy to get busy amidst the chaos of life and not prioritize our time properly.  I want to look back on these days of having young children and homeschooling with gladness knowing that my time was well spent.  That being said, there were many times over the past several weeks where I would’ve loved to blog about school, field trips, birthdays, Thanksgiving, how we celebrate the Advent season, Christmas, our relaxing vacation over New Years in the OBX, etc.  However, I am well aware that blogging takes time.  Time away from something else.  Sometimes that is ok, but most of the time there is a little person asking me to read them a book, help them with their school work, “help” them bake a batch of muffins, or just spend time playing with them.  We live in a world where getting the undivided attention of a mom is easier said than done.  I want my children to know that they have my attention.  There will always be the never ending laundry, dishes, meals to make, house to clean, and school lessons to plan.  Not surprisingly, that doesn’t leave me with much spare time.  What little spare time I have usually finds me reading a book instead of blogging. 

I still enjoy blogging when I get bits of time, but it will likely continue to be incredibly sporadic around here!  Hopefully those of you who read this blog use some kind of blog reader so that you know when there are updates and aren’t checking in every day.  To the few who still read here, thanks for following along!

Since my book posts are often the most loved, I thought I would kick off the new year with a post highlighting some new favorites around here.

The Ashtown Burials Series by N.D. Wilson – A wild, action packed fantasy adventure filled with lost civilizations, ancient secrets, and buried treasure.  These are wonderful books to read aloud if your children can patiently wait for you to read to them! 

Andrea Carter Series (Circle C Adventures) by Susan K. Marlow – Hailey read this entire series on our vacation and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Twelve-year-old Andrea “Andi” Carter, who lives during the 1880s in California on her family’s ranch – the Circle C, attracts trouble the way her palomino horse, Taffy, draws flies on a hot summer day.  Andi is the type of girl that loves adventure, is curious about everything and always seems to get into trouble, despite her best efforts not to.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart – This book has a captivating and unique story line with puzzles built into it that are filled with creative, engaging characters focused around 4 orphans who are exceptionally talented in their own ways.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks – An imaginative story about friendship and responsibility.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry – A classic for horse lovers. 

The Kid from Tomkinsville by John R. Tunis – A great read, especially for boys who love baseball.

The Redcoats are Coming by Marianne Hering – Book #13 in the Imagination Station Series is the first of three books about the American Revolution.  In this book, the cousins meet Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock.  A quick, engaging read that all ages will enjoy.

God’s Great Plan by Melissa Cutrera – Captures the message of the gospel in a beautifully simple and engaging way.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt – This is a current favorite of Callie and Emma’s, but all of the kiddos find this book hilarious (especially the peach crayon).  We are hoping that if we keep reading this book to Emma she will comprehend the proper way to treat crayons, ha!

I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn – Another favorite of the little girls right now.  A sweet story about a girl who has a favorite dress, outgrows it, and then her mom repurposes it so that she can continue to enjoy it and she learns to embrace change creatively.

God’s Providence by Sally Michael – We have enjoyed similar books (God’s Names and God’s Promises) and so we knew this would make a great devotional to use with the kiddos in the morning.  I often read this to the kids before we begin school as part of our Bible time together. 

Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung – “A mercifully short book about a really big problem.”  As the subtitle mentions, we live in a world where being busy is the norm.  This book is filled with biblical tools to address the busyness problem.  No one is too busy to read this highly recommended short book!

Desperate: Hope for the Mom who Needs to Breath by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson – This book offers hope amidst the sometimes mundane and exhausting work that moms experience.  Full of practical advice and wisdom to help you persevere and thrive as a mom to young children.  The two perspectives (Sarah Mae who is currently in this season of life, and Sally Clarkson who is beyond this season of life) bring a unique vantage point that is refreshing and encouraging.

Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotion by Lysa TerKeurst – A funny and heartfelt book that will help you understand emotions and make wise decisions amidst those raw emotions.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield – An inspiring testimony and thought provoking read.

Not By Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith by Jon Bloom – Brian and I have been reading this together (well, I read aloud to him!) and have thoroughly been enjoying these short, faith building stories together in the morning.  His imaginative story telling brings fresh life to old stories in an engaging way that will build your faith.

And last, but not least … I have been reading the last book of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson to the kiddos.  This book is technically not available yet, but because we were a kickstarter backer for the last book in the series, we received a PDF version of the book (before final editing).  However, it is only approximately the first half of the book, so pretty soon we will be waiting with everyone else for the conclusion!  Now is a great time to start this series because you will not have to wait long for the final book by the time you finish the first 3 books in the series!

Happy reading!  This time of the year is the perfect time to cuddle up on the sofa with a hot drink a good book!

new year, new books.

Every time I post about books I seem to hear from numerous people how much they enjoy it, so I thought listing some books that we are currently reading would be a great way to start the new year.  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that we always have new books after Christmas!  Speaking of books, this week I had the opportunity to hear Andrew Pudewa speak at a seminar.  He is the founder of The Institute for Excellence in Writing and we have benefited tremendously from many of the materials they offer.  I heard him talk on the topic of Nurturing Competent Communicators.  You can download this talk (and numerous other resources) for free here on the IEW webpage after you create a free account.  It is outstanding.  He specifically talks about 1 myth and 2 truths: The myth – good readers will become good writers; the truths, which he says are the two most powerful ways to nurture competent writers — 1.  We must read good and great books (the classics) to them out loud, very often, even when they could read it themselves, and 2.  Have them memorize poetry, in large amounts.  He says that one of the biggest mistakes we make as parents is to stop reading aloud to our children when they reach the age of reading faster independently.  For a summary on this talk, you can read this 3 page document.  We read aloud every day, but I was encouraged to hear that the 2nd best alternative to reading aloud is to have children listen to audio books.  I am always amazed at how much even the younger kids love listening along with the big kids.  Although we have always memorized poetry each year, I am eager to increase the amount and length of the poems we memorize.  IEW has a wonderful supplement for this that is loved by many called Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization.  You can purchase the book alone, or the book/CD combo, which is perfect for while driving.  All that to say, it was encouraging and made me realize once again what some of my priorities are (especially on the days when I am ready to send the kids off to school)!

Moving onto books, here are some recent family favorites:

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Andrew Peterson – The Wingfeather Saga – There are currently 3 (of 4) books included in this fantasy saga.  We are long time fans of Andrew Peterson’s music and were excited to discover these novels.  Currently the books include On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! Or Be Eaten, and The Monster in the Hollows.  The characters are wonderfully drawn and the storyline is epic.  These make a wonderful read aloud.

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Snow Treasure
– Both Hailey and Justin read this book in record time and couldn’t put it down!  This is a great story of courage and sacrifice.  For those unfamiliar with this book, it takes place in 1940 during WWII and tells the story of Norwegian children who risk their lives by hiding gold on their sleds and taking it to safety. 

Number the Stars – A classic from the same time period as Snow Treasure, this story tells the experience to life through the eyes of 10-year-old Annemarie Johannesen, whose family harbors her best friend, Ellen Rosen, on the eve of the round-up and helps smuggle Ellen’s family out of the country.

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The Imagination Station: Challenge on the Hill of Fire – As I’ve mentioned before, this series is a favorite of the kiddos and book 10 came out just in time for Christmas!  This is a wonderful series for early readers as it exposes them to Christian values and historical events at the same time. 

The Farm Mystery Series – This is another series that I have mentioned in the past, but I thought I’d mention it again since book #10 was recently released.  This is one of Justin’s favorite series for his “fun reading” and he was thrilled to see that another book came out in the series.

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The Donkey Who Carried a King
– This is one of the most recent children’s books written by R.C. Sproul.  We enjoy his children’s books as they all use allegory to teach important Biblical truths.  In this book R.C. Sproul helps children understand that they should carry out every task in their lives without grumbling. He does it by telling the story of Davey, who was the Donkey that carried Christ into Jerusalem. Davey was overjoyed to have such a special task, but after taking Christ to Jerusalem Davey is put back to seemingly menial tasks for which he begins to grumble. Through a wonderful depiction of the servant’s heart that Christ displayed, this book teaches children to see the importance of doing every task without grumbling, but instead joyfully as though doing it for the Lord. 

The Barber Who Wanted to Pray – Another R.C. Sproul children’s book that is based on a true story about the great Reformer, Martin Luther, this story teaches powerful lessons on prayer for children and parents.

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Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing – From the author of the beloved Jesus Storybook Bible, this is a lovely collection of 101 simple-yet-profound thoughts on faith.  The readings are short, which make them perfect to read anytime!  We enjoy reading this book in the morning at breakfast for a short, yet helpful reminder as we start our day.

Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy – This book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been an outstanding read!  As DeMoss says, “Gratitude is a choice.  If we fail to chose it, by default we choose ingratitude.”  I want to live my life filled with joy, thankfulness, and gratitude and this book has served me well.

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Sisters in Time: American Challenge – Hailey continues to thoroughly enjoy the Sisters in Time books.  These historical fiction books are filled with important lessons of Christian faith and history, making them a great option for spare time reading.

Wise Words: Family Stories that Bring the Proverbs to Life – The kiddos love the stories in this book!  They are funny, engaging, and thought-provoking.  The stories are short and only take about 5 minutes to read, which make them a great bedtime story or short family devotional.

Christmas Traditions

I love family traditions, and this time of the year they seem to abound!  November and December are filled with numerous activities, events, books, and traditions that we enjoy together as a family.  In November, we assemble boxes for Operation Christmas Child.  This is always a highlight for the kids to select items for their box and figure out how to get the most things for the money they have to spend.  As we head into Thanksgiving weekend the Christmas decorations come out, the tree goes up and gets decorated, the lights go up on the house, and our favorite album – Behold the Lamb of God comes out.  The week before December I am often finalizing our advent plans, thinking through ways to make the month of December relaxing and enjoyable, and planning numerous ways to make memories together as a family. 

Here are some of my favorite resources, ideas, and traditions that we enjoy together as a family!

~Advent:  We incorporate some different things into our advent reading each morning.  For the second year, I am using Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Advent Family Devotional with the older kids for our daily reading every morning.  I had already printed and laminated the ornaments last year so we are using them again on our Jesse Tree.  I wanted to do something special with Callie that is more on her level, so this year I am using Truth in the Tinsel with her.  Every day we read together and do a craft together to make an ornament for our Jesse Tree.  She adores this time and it has been a blast having something special to do with her every day. 
Ever since Hailey was a toddler, we have used Noel Piper’s burlap calendar in December.  This calendar is geared toward young children and now our older kids love doing the simple reading while the little girlies put the figures on every day.  Sadly, this calendar is no longer being made, but you can get the simple daily readings here on Noel Piper’s blog.   By the end of the month our kids can recite it by memory!  We enjoy doing this short activity over dinner every day.  One last thing we do over advent season is to take time every Sunday in December to have an extended time together.  We light a candle on our advent wreath, talk together, read the Bible together, sing songs together, pray together, and of course eat cookies together!  My brother has pulled together a wonderful weekly advent plan that we use every Sunday. 

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~Books:  There are numerous books that we love to pull out at this time of the year.  Here are some family favorites:

Keeping Holiday by Starr Meade – My parents first introduced our children to this book and now it is a beloved tradition to read it every year.   Starr Meade writes a wonderful allegory of faith and the search for God through this beautiful and well-written holiday story. Snuggle up under a blanket, pull your little ones close, and read this captivating story together.

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I have already mentioned how much we enjoy Andrew Peterson’s album Behold the Lamb of God. Well, about a year ago this book – Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative was released. We have just started reading this in the evenings, and we are thoroughly enjoying it. The stories come alive and make it hard to read only one chapter each night! This book is designed to read 1 chapter every day from December 1st through December 25th, however this book could be read at any time during the year.
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Come Thou Long Expected Jesus – This is a wonderful selection to read along with your devotions during the month of December.  I keep this on my nightstand  and often read a selection each night before bed.  This book is an anthology of Advent readings collected from the writings and sermons of 22 classic and contemporary theologians and Bible teachers.
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Some favorite children’s books include the following:
Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd-Jones – Everyone who reads this blog is probably well aware that we adore The Jesus Storybook Bible, also written by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  This adorable children’s story is written in a lovely poetic way that perfectly captures the wonder and awe surrounding the birth of Christ.  The illustrations are beautiful and simple.  Song of Stars is about the coming of Jesus and how all of creation is waiting for Him!  This is a favorite of Callie and Emma’s, but even the big kids enjoy listening.
Song of the Stars
The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale – This classic story is another favorite to read at both Christmas and Easter.  Each of the three trees have a dream, and each tree’s dream is fulfilled – although not precisely in the way that they anticipated!
The Tale of Three Trees

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado – This sweet story is about a lamb with a crippled leg who feels left out because he can’t run and play with the others.  But God has a special plan for his life that only he can fulfill!  This book beautifully illustrates the love of our Father who loves us in spite of our blemishes and sees each one of His children as special just as they are.

The Crippled Lamb
Some other fun traditions include:
~Making cookies together: The kiddos favorites are the cut-out kind that they get to decorate!
~Movie Nights:  There are certain movies that we only pull out this time of the year, so we tend to have more family movie nights – homemade popcorn and hot cocoa are the perfect compliment to any movie night!
~Visit a live nativity or drive through a light display:  Every year we try to do at least one of these.  In the past we have driven through Hershey Sweet Lights while visiting family.  And for a live nativity, my friend’s dad’s church sets up a 13 scene live nativity – it’s in NJ, so a little drive, but well worth the visit.  Check it out if you are interested in seeing a live nativity!
~Drive around to look at Christmas lights: Start bedtime routine as usual.  Have one parent make popcorn and hot cocoa and place them in the car (with Christmas music playing!). When the kids climb into bed, they will find a ticket hidden. The kids are instructed to grab their slippers and head for the car. Upon entrance to The Minivan Express, you hole punch the ticket, and travel around looking at all the beautiful lights.  Be sure to plan in advance where you are driving so that you actually see beautiful lights!
~Make a gingerbread house:  This year we are actually going to mix it up and make a Nativity instead using this idea!
~Random Acts of Christmas Kindness: I saw this idea and we are hoping to make this a new tradition.  While we won’t be doing something every day, we are performing a few different acts of kindness to others.  I love watching the kids get excited about giving to others!
~Christmas Eve PJ’s: Every year on Christmas Eve our kiddos get to open one present – of course by now they know that it’s always the same thing … new winter PJ’s!  I pre-wash them so that they can put them on right away and then we snuggle up together and watch a movie together while eating popcorn and having hot chocolate.  They enjoy this tradition so much that they wear their PJ’s all day on Christmas Day too! 
~Buy treats like Peppermint Joe-Joe’s from Trader Joe’s!

Give Thanks

For many reasons Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  I love autumn and the crisp, cool, and sunny weather that it brings.  I enjoy the reflection and intentionality of Thanksgiving that calls us to ponder anew on all that we have been blessed with.  And while I desire to install an attitude of gratitude and thankfulness every day, there is something about Thanksgiving that holds it out in front in a unique way.  I think one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is that there isn’t anything to draw attention away from the real reason we celebrate.  We still get to enjoy time with family, delicious food, and a vacation of sorts as we take the week off of school … but more than that is what we get to focus our attention on.  Giving Thanks!  I love reading books, doing crafts, making yummy food, and reflecting on the wonderful blessings that I have been given which I am completely undeserving of.  Tomorrow morning we will enjoy homemade cinnamon rolls and later this week I will be making homemade dinner rolls for our family gathering.  To bless my hubby I made a huge batch of Chex mix.  We have also been enjoying homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte’s!  But other than eating/making yummy food and enjoying our break in school, here is what we’ve been doing this week to celebrate Thanksgiving …

Reading Books – Here are a couple of favorites that we’ve been reading …
Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving
Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving 

Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember
Thanksgiving - A Time to Remember

We’ve also been reading through these Thanksgiving Calendar Connections cards that are a free printable.  We have them in our Calendar Pocket Chart for this month and have been enjoying learning more about the history of Thanksgiving, including all twelve claims to the first Thanksgiving.  These cards are geared for mid-late elementary aged children, but we read them all together during our morning Bible time.
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Every day we add more leaves to our Thankful Tree.  This year, I printed and laminated the leaves from Ann Voskamp’s thankful tree and also printed and laminated these leaves in different colors.  We use sharpie markers to write on them instead of dry erase markers so that they don’t wipe off as easily.  Magic Erasers take it right off and then we will be able to use them year after year.  For the past few years, we’ve made new feathers for our turkey, but this year we decided to make leaves for a thankful tree instead.  The kids had fun gathering branches in the yard and have been enjoying adding leaves to it every day.  Here is our thankful tree for this year so far:
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We also made Indian and Pilgrim families using empty paper towel holders!  I found a cute idea on pinterest and knew that the kiddos would love it.  The older 3 were a huge help with cutting and gluing, and the younger 2 were a huge help with making a mess!  But in the end everyone had a blast and our families look pretty cute …
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Of course our families have a daddy, a mommy, 4 daughters and 1 son!
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Apart from my salvation, my hubby is the greatest gift and blessing that I have been given … so thankful for him!
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“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

Happy Thanksgiving!