Monday, December 29, 2008

Art Therapy

We stayed home from church Sunday morning to recuperate after totaling our van (but not getting injured) Saturday night. (Never mind that we didn't have transportation to church).

The kids drew these pictures during "Sunday School at home".

"See Mom -- This is a tank hitting our van." (it was actually a jeep). Bennet, age 6.

"This is our van, all crumpled up. And this is all of us outside, we're all okay, see?" Josephine, age 2.

"This is our van. See, the front is on the ground". Bennet again.

We're thankful to all be fine. The other guy was at fault (he ran a red light), and after all the insurance stuff pans out we'll be looking for a replacement minivan. We want 7-8 seats and good miles-per-gallon. Know anyone selling?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Earn the Loyalty of your Part-time Employees

I got a terrific gift from the new CEO of my company this Christmas. It technically wasn't on Christmas, because I took the day off "sick" (which was legit -- three of my kids have strep). But on the day after, when I was the only one working at our closed company.

As the only part time employee of my company, I sometimes feel second-rate. Yes, they treat their employees really great. Even as a part-timer, I set my own hours, which I can rearrange when I need to (as long as I get my time in each pay-period). But I don't get some of the full-time perks -- like vacation time, sick time (I get 1.5 days a year, full-timers get 2 weeks), personal days, profit-sharing bonuses and holiday pay. Not to mention benefits (which I don't really want to pay premiums for anyway).

So I worked this week, while the company was closed. I don't mind doing that -- I get a lot done on days when I have the place to myself.

About half-way though my day, the new CEO saunters through. We all know him well, since he'd been the vice-president for years. And I've always gotten along with him pretty well, even though I find him intimidating. So when he asked why I was there, I was straight with him - the company may be closed, but I'm part time, and if I don't work on Christmas (or the day after), I don't get paid.

"Yes you do".

"No, I don't -- part timer's don't get holiday pay."

"Since I took over they do." (He took over at the beginning of November).


"Everyone gets holiday pay since I took over."

"You've got to be kidding" (He's not a prankster, so this is unlikely).

"No, go home."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes, go home!" (He's a little irritated that I don't believe him.)

"How come no one told me this?"

"I told them to tell you -- I made sure the managers knew to tell the part-timers that they were now off on holidays"

"I'm the only part-timer, I think, and I had no idea. Are you serious? I get paid holidays?"

"Yes, for the hours that you would normally work on the day we're closed. Go home."

"Seriously? I can go home?"

"Yes, go."

"I will then. Thank you!"

"Wait -- what are you doing here?"

"I'm mailing out something that I forgot to send out and is up against a deadline. Then I'm going back home to take my family up to my parents. You go home too, your kids need their mom at home."

"Thank you so much! I love you!"

Yep. I told the CEO of the company that I loved him. Then I made sure that he was really serious that I could go home without taking a cut in pay, and that I could do it again next week on New Years Day. After I wrote a note to my manager asking if he knew that I got paid holidays now (considering that he knew I worked Thanksgiving and Christmas...) - I went home. I almost cried from the sheer joy during the drive home.

I'll tell you what. That man just earned my loyalty.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The cost of Christmas

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: "A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more."

My Father-in-Law used this scripture (Matthew 2:16-18) to remind us this Christmas, not to take our celebrating lightly. For it came at a great cost. Not just the obvious cost - Jesus laying down his equality with God and taking on skin of a man. Not just Jesus taking our sin upon himself, and the night He came to earth to rescue us. But also the great sacrifice of others. It was a war time sacrifice -- not the lives of men given to save their country, but the lives of babies taken in wrath.

And because these women had a reason to weep, refusing to be comforted,
Because their children died,
We can live.
We can celebrate.

Yes, the cost of Christmas was high.

Let us celebrate in gratefulness, not forgetting the cost that our abundant life incurred, but grateful for the sacrifice that has made it possible.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How to have a Graham Cracker house building party

I'll admit, we're not a family with a lot of holiday traditions. Sure, we meet up with extended family and exchange gifts and eat too much. But that's really about it.

Except for this one, which is very near and dear to our hearts. We simply must include this one every year. It doesn't always happen before Christmas, but it always happens.

It is, of course, the Graham cracker house party.

It starts off with us finding a location to meet (for some reason, it's not always easy), and inviting several families. Because it's holiday season, most that we invite don't come -- and it's really better that way, because this party seems to be a space-hog. We almost always end up with about 4 families, and we have a blast.

To start off the evening, we make a big pot of soup. We don't have an "official" meal, but anyone that didn't get supper before coming out can have soup and bread. It also helps offset all the sugar.

Then we set aside one table for decorating, and load it up with all kinds of candy and breakfast cereals. Coconut for grass, Shredded wheat for thatched roofs, pretzels for structural details, gum drops, gummy bears for characters, and so on.... We ask guests to bring a small bag of candy and/or a box of graham crackers as their contribution, so the candy possibilities are endless.

In a different room, (or at least a ways away), we make the structural glue. It's easy
  1. Put candy canes (or any other hard peppermint candy) on a pancake griddle.
  2. Turn it on high
  3. Wait
You can start using this "glue" when it starts melting. Eventually it'll look like this.

While it's melting, cut up cardboard boxes into "bases" -- ours are about 8x12 inches, and cover them with tin foil. Makes them pretty.

When the candy canes have melted, we can use it: dip the edge of a graham cracker in it to coat with "glue", then stick that edge to another cracker, and hold still until it's "set" (about 15 seconds).

For most parties like this, we'll make-ahead a few small houses. Our pre-fab houses are merely three graham crackers, broken into six squares. Each square has one side dipped, and stuck to another one at a right angle. After this, we have three "v"s. Dip the sides of two "v"s and stick them together to make a standing square -- these are the four walls of the house. Set the third "v" on top, it's the roof.

A word on buying graham crackers for this project: The cheap ones are generally more sturdy. Aldi or Walmart brand are the best we've found.

Of course you don't have to make little houses like the above -- those are really just for toddlers or people who don't want to build. The real fun (for us) is in the other types of structures we can make. Anything from a "Berean Addition" (it's a local joke), to an outhouse, to mine this year - a table-top water fall. In the past, people I know have built train engines, taj-mahals, 5-foot-tall sky scrapers and the like. Now, doesn't that make us seem less out-there?

After your structure is made, it's time to decorate. For this, you want glue frosting (or, if you don't have a kitchen aid or want to eat the frosting, cement frosting). It's best to make both of these as people are still hanging around talking and eating soup, since they take a while.
Glue Frosting
6 egg whites
1 lb powdered sugar
1 tsp cream of tartar

Mix in a kitchen aid (nothing less will work -- it'll burn up the motor. Don't ask how we know), with a wire whisk for 10 minutes.

Cement frosting (for those without a kitchen aid, or who want to eat their frosting)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar or 1 tablespoon white corn syrup
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup water
2 egg whites
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (optional, unless you want it to taste good)

Place sugar, cream of tartar or corn syrup, salt, water, and egg whites in the top of a double boiler. Beat with a handheld electric mixer (it doesn't have to be anything special, a normal mixer will cut it) for 1 minute. Place pan over boiling water, being sure that boiling water does not touch the bottom of the top pan. (If this happens, it could cause your frosting to become grainy). Beat constantly on high speed with electric mixer for 7 minutes. Beat in vanilla, if desired.

We use the glue frosting, because we don't particularly care if we ingest a few raw egg whites. If you care and think your littles will eat it, then use the cement frosting. It's not as strong, and doesn't dry as hard, but it's certainly suitable for the task of holding candy to your house. Which is really all the frosting does. When it's done, scoop the (very stiff) frosting into bowls and dye with food coloring. I use the paste food coloring made by Wilton for frosting - the colors are really bright. But anything will work.

Then, decorate to your heart's content. Or don't. Whatever you like. It's a pretty low-key party. Unlike actually constructing the houses, decorating is a toddler-safe activity (just watch the sugar consumption).

Each of the littler ones started with the pre-fab house. Here's some of their work.

Lisel's house.

Josephine's house. (I think?)

Bennet showing off his house. Next year he wants to build his own "not a house".

A Christmas-tree filled yard

And a few of the others:

A truck

A teepee, complete with a campfire

A "candy box" (the lid is removable, but she didn't fill it with candy)

A large blue house. The sides are each eight full graham crackers.

It's fun to tell a bit of a story with your scene:

"A Berean Addition"

My table-top waterfall (you know... like those little wavy fountains)

A super-cute little village

This one uses candy-cane hinges to open and close doors and windows

Nathan built an outhouse, and Toby built a trailer house - complete with a patched roof, since they all have patched roofs. I can't believe I didn't get pictures!

We have fun every year. This year it was almost called off due to complications in weather and transportation, and we were very unprepared. Somehow, it made it all the more fun (because we have understanding friends!).

Afterwards I got two notes:
Thanks again for the party on Sat. We had lots of fun and can safely say this is one of our few Christmas traditions. I hope you don't suffer too badly from the sugar consumption!

Thanks so much for hosting the graham cracker party on Sat. We really enjoyed ourselves, although the kids were on a major sugar high when we came home - thanks A LOT for that! .... Saturday was a great example of how, even though we have kids, or maybe BECAUSE we have kids, we can do fun parties like that. The house doesn't have to look perfect [good thing!], the food doesn't have to be fancy, the activities don't have to be trendy or store-bought. It's the PEOPLE and the MEMORIES that are important. The Xmas parties I remember from my childhood were parties of my dad's lawyer partners where we dressed in our best and were told to be good, then sent down to the basement so the adults could have fun while the kids put up with each other. I much prefer your version. :) Even now that I'm the adult. :)

Notes like these make it even better! Thanks you all for coming and making Christmas special this year! We're grateful to have you to enjoy these Christmas traditions with!

What's your favorite Christmas tradition?

Those of you who were at this party: if you want copies of any of the pictures in a large format, just ask.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Comments on the comments

If you all don't read the comments that others leave here, you should -- they're terrific! That said, I've been really bad about responding to comments lately - my apologies. I am reading them, and am acting on them, it's just slower than it should be (something about wintertime with Christmas celebrations and sick kids, no sleep, deadlines at work, etc....)

So here we go, a post responding to all the comments that I think I've missed in my responses:

I made the apron based on this pattern, except I didn't make a quilt block for the top, I just cut a piece to the size of the finished top (actually, I cut two pieces and sewed them together for two-right-sides on the top). The pattern was easy, and used just about exactly a yard of fabric (I adjusted the width of the saist and ties for my fabric, which had squares on it).

Regarding the Jesse Tree Activities
Hey thanks for that link to the Jesse tree. I had the instructions years ago and lost them and have been unable to find them. Wendy
Wendy, I'm glad you found it useful. There's another one, by Ann Voskamp, in her Jesse Tree Archives. The scriptures are mostly (but not all) the same, but without the dates for each year, and the comments/devotionals are definitely more poetic. You have to scroll backwards through the days.

Just a Mommy said...

My kids were curious about the snow when it first fell, but once they realized how cold it was outside, they were content to watch it out the window. :)
Only my oldest actually will play out in the snow for extended time. He's been out for about a half-hour a day (sometimes much more) every day that he's not sick so far. He did the same last year -- a born outdoorsman :)

And Thank you Calina, Heather and Jennifer for your super helpful comments on surviving the cold and flu season.

I remember flushing sinuses like crazy last year (and it really does help). But this year we've had a more unusual mix of diseases, and not so much the normal colds. I don't mind it -- variety is the spice of life, right? We just started round 2 of the fever and rash mystery disease. Now the 6-eyear-old has it.... (The doc has confirmed it to not be strep/scarlet fever, nor chicken pox, and not likely measles).

Jennifer, I had never thought of stirring unflavored fish oil into the kids snacks (yogurt, applesause, etc). What a terrific idea! I think I'll buy a big bottle of it as a liquid and try it that way.

Calina - your comments are usually more useful than the post you comment on! Thanks for all the tips. I have been working on eliminating all sugar -- it's harder than it should be (especially with Christmas!) We're pretty good at snacking on fruit instead of "sweets", and it does help a lot. We also spray our air with tea-tree-oil (a few drops in a spray bottle filled with water). I'll try boiling it.

As a side note, another friend of mine told me that in China, they boil rice vinegar on the stove to kill viruses in the air. She admitted that it's stinky, but claimed it to be quite effective. I don't have any rice vinegar, but I might try it with our cheapo white vinegar.

I hadn't thought about opening up the house a few minutes each day to clear the air. I think that's a terrific idea. I wonder if I can get away with it without mu husband thinking I've gone off the deap end :) It was pretty hard to sell him on going without sugar for a while :)

We try to play outside, even in the winter, to get some sunlight. It hasn't happened much the past week, because it's had single-digit highs here and we're sick. But I do read books in front of the window -- I just hadn't thought about it's health benefits. We'll do that more often.

About Graham Cracker houses:
Hello, I just found your site while looking for some activities to do with my nieces and nephews. I really like your Jesse tree ideas. My husband grew up celebrating advent with a Jesse tree. Anyway, I am wondering what kind of candies do you need to melt for the "glue"? Or does that matter much? Thanks
We did this again last weekend, and I think I got enough pictures to post a tutorial. We melt candy canes for the glue, but recently discovered that the red and white hard candies (Starlite, I think?) melt at a bit lower temperature, which is really nice. They're easier to unwrap too. I don't think that it matters too much what you melt to use -- except in how burnt your fingers get. Straight table sugar can be used, and that's how we started, but it's much hotter when it melts. I prefer the fewer injuries. We also use "glue frosting" for decorating. I'll post the recipe with the tutorial yet this week.

The Monster Hoodie giveway did have a winner - SerahRose. I mailed out a hoodie the following Tuesday, so she should have received it by now. I made up and gave away fifteen more of these at our family Christmas this weekend. And I still have some left! When will it end? Serah's comment was great:
Oh, these are hysterical! I think my brother would need one. He'd laugh so hard he'd pee, which would be such a bonus.

And finally, Ginny had asked about instructions to make a ballerina doll.
This is adorable! Would love instructions on that ballerinas for my girls!
I'd love to do a tutorial, and I'll do it. But not before Christmas. I still have two gifts to make, aak! Look for it in January, or check out the book Felt Wee Folk - these dolls are based on the ones in that book (only I'm a lot less particular, and don't measure as I go, etc).

Monday, December 22, 2008

Made it myself Monday: Secrets Revealed (part 1)

We have Christmas on my husband's side of the family last night. It was an evening of riotous fun, piles of gifts, and more sweets than I care to recall.

And today is the day after.

Where we struggle to find room for the new toys, work on trying to remember what this thing called sharing is, and generally detox from all that sugar.

We're staying in today -- going no where at all, doing nothing to tax our systems, eating healthy bean soup.

We enjoyed the gifts we gave - some were unfinished, and all of them I forgot to get pictures of after they were received.

But of the gifts that I can show you now (some of them will be repeated -- the other grandmother's gift is remarkably similar to the one given yesterday, for example), this is my favorite.

It was given to my neice, Elissa, who is 8, homeschooled and likes to cook. She received this with a set of mini cake pans and a cake mix. (And a moster hoodie, just for good measure and because I really want to get rid of them!)

Hope you enjoy, Elissa! I wish I was paying more attention with the camera, but alas, one can only do so much, and I had to help four kids with their gifts too :)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Jesse Tree activities for Preschoolers

We are doing the Jesse tree devotional for the first time this year with our kids. I thought we'd make a little ornament together each day to put on the tree. We didn't. But, most days we have done some sort of an activity to go with the reading. I wrote about November 30-December 10 a while ago ago. Here's part two.

  • December 11: Ruth 1:15-2:3 Played "Follow the Leader", since Ruth followed Naomi.
  • December 12: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 Talked about ways that kids (David was a kid) can serve other people -- like making cookies to take to neighbors at Christmas time.
  • December 13: 2 Samuel 5:1-5 Made crowns from felt (these will be gifts in a dress-up kit for a friend, unless we ruin them by playing with them beforehand).
  • December 14: Isaiah 9:2-7 Memorized John 5:24, about God's promise of Eternal life to those who believe Him. (It's a stretch -- the theme was God keeping promises -- any better suggestions?).
  • December 15: 1 Kings 19:17-24, 36-39 Stacked stones to build an indoor "altar".
  • December 16: Isaiah 11:6-9 Made Lion and Lamb masks from paper plates. Too bad the kids don't lie down peacefully together with their masks on....
  • December 17: Micah 5:1-5 Looked up pictures of bethlehem on maps and online.
  • December 18: Daniel 6 Played with our Lion masks from the other day again.
  • December 19: Habbakuk 2:1-4 (probably will change out this scripture next year -- I had a really hard time coming up with an activity) We ended up just talking about waiting -- like for cookies to bake.
  • December 20: Luke 1:5-25 Played Charades (because you have to communicate without talking). Also put dollies in our shirts to have a baby in our tummy. But we do that all the time anyway.

We also finally got around to decorating our tree (since we didn't make Jesse tree ornaments). All handmade ornaments that were given us by my grandmother, and (best of all) are unbreakable! The kids are re-decorating the tree all the time, and having a blast!

We tried last night to take the kids to a church that hosts a live nativity every year. It's really neat -- they have a town of Bethlehem that's bustling and busy, then you go through the hallways, are told "no room" at the inn, and eventually get to a live Baby Jesus nativity and a petting zoo. We got there only to find out that it was last week. That's what I get for thinking I remembered when it was an not checking the date. We came home and went sledding in the front yard instead. It was still special.

What are you doing to make Christmas season memorable and meaningful for your family?
This post is participating in Living Simply Saturdays.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WFW: enjoying the snow!

It may be cold, but it's fun anyway (for about 3 minutes, then it's fun to go inside for hot cocoa!)

This post is participating in Word-Filled-Wednesday

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tis the season... (natural cold and flu remedies)

"It's not the flu", or so reporters are telling us. But the symptoms are just about the same: fever, achy-ness, sometimes nausea or gastro-upset. (Matt got a rash with it too, but we're not totally sure that it was related). And it's spreading like wildfire.

So I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite cold and flu remedies. At least, these have been working for us so far.

First a disclaimer: you have to understand that when I say "working for us", I mean that rather loosely. With four preschool kids, we spend a fair amount of the winter sick. Two winters ago we were down for about 4 months in a row. My goal for each winter is to be healthier than the previous, not sickness-free.

After that very sick winter, two years ago, my Mother-in-law, who participates in one of the better-known Multi-Level-Marketing health supplement things tried to convince me that we would all have better health if we took that product. Being too frugal to shell out $100 a month for each kid for this product (!), I took to reading ingredients. They were almost entirely things that we get aplenty from our food - folic acid (yep, we eat dark green veggies), vitamin A (yep, we eat carrots), calcium (we drink milk and each cheese), and so on. All the ingredients, it seemed to me, could be had in a diet that was reasonably high in fruits and veggies (as ours is). Finally I found a difference: fish oil. Aha! We don't eat fish (too expensive, not a fan of the fishy flavor... and we live in the midwest).

So I bought a fish oil supplement (strawberry flavored, by Nordic Naturals), and dutifully gave the kids a 1/2 teaspoon a day. I bought some in capsules for me too, partly because they are cheaper that way, and partly because the idea of eating straight oil kind of weirds me out. (Note that it's worth the extra money to buy the good brand of fish oil, and it must be refrigerated. They don't always tell you this, but the stuff does go rancid fairly quickly).

It made a difference right away. Not a huge difference, but one that I noticed -- we still got sick, but it was shorter lived, and I didn't feel like we were always on the verge of illness.

That was the biggest change we made. But there's other little ones, which together have helped a lot. I'll go through them quickly.

EPY tea and garlic oil are becoming my old standbys.

And did I mention candied ginger? Ginger in general is just about the greatest thing for sore tummys. My brother-in-law also claims that it might prevent the flu. I don't know (we rarely get stomach flu anyway). Candied ginger is practically candy. The kids actually ask for it.

I told you about lobelia, and echinicea-eyebright, and how to make and use your own tinctures.

And I'm sure you already know about Vitamin C - we drink it as Emergen-C. Yummy.

Finally, let me tell you about the virus blend. This was suggested to my mother by a doctor, and it's not entirely natural, but it does work.

At the onset of virus symptoms (namely cold or flu, but we've also used it for mono) take:

800 I.U. Vitamin E
50 mcg Zinc
800 mcg Folic Acid

Take this mixture twice the first day, then once each day until symptoms are gone (which will in general be 2-3 days).

This fall was the first time that I tried this with my kids -- I halved the doses, and ground up the Zinc and Folic Acid, then mixed it with honey. It still tastes bad, but the kids will eat it. They don't mind chewing the Vitamin E gel-cap. Weird kids. when I tried it for the first time, the kids had been sick for two weeks, and I was dreading this winter. They were well in three days, and stayed will for three weeks (until the "not the flu" of last week).

What ways do you keep your family healthy, and return to health when you're down?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quality vs. Quantity

We all know that quality does not equal quantity. Just look at the jumbo size french fries.

But I have, for a long time now, been of the mindset that when it comes to time with kids, quantity does equal quality. Kids don't need just a focused hour each month of attention from their parents, they need lots of time. They crave attention every day, and quite a bit of it (at least mine do). Giving kids attention doesn't need to exclude getting things done -- they actually go together pretty well. My kids, at least, love to help in the garage, to stir dinner, and even to help with housework.

Up until a week or two ago, I took the same approach to this blog -- write every day, even if it's just a short, quick note.

I think I'm changing my mind on that. I've noticed that my favorite blogs aren't really the ones that update every day so much as every post (or nearly so) is well-written and makes me think.

Most of my favorite blogs don't even include pictures in their posts.

I like to post pictures of what the kids and I are doing and making at any particular time -- I don't think that'll change. But I'm also feeling that I want this to be a place of sharing what I'm thinking about on a deeper level. And I don't think deep thoughts on a daily basis (I tell myself that it's because I'm busy, but it's probably just because I'm shallow). Nor do I have the time to really write stellar posts every day.

So if you don't mind, this is likely to become a 3-times-a-week blog rather than a daily blog. I think the content will be higher quality, and lie more along my passions. And who knows - maybe I won't be able to keep myself from updating all the time anyway.... Perhaps quality and quantity will find a way to coexist.

But I want to focus on the quality rather than the quantity. Not a bad philosophy for material things either, come to think of it....

What are the characteristics of blogs that you love to read?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Poor Little Boy...

Has a rash.

It's the worst here, on his face.

But it's also all over his tummy and back.

I'd call it roseola, but he never had a high fever. He had a mid-range fever for a day or two, so it's still probably what it is. At least it doesn't seem to itch.

The others are sick too (fevers, feeling achy). I hope it doesn't last long.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jesse Tree Activities for Preschoolers

This is our first year doing a Jesse Tree in celebration of Advent. When we started, I thought we'd make ornaments each day, and put them on our little tree.

But it's worked out to doing some related activity each day instead. And it's been fun (even though our tree is relatively bare. Here's what we've done. (We're using this devotional as a starting place.)
  • November 30th: Isaiah 11:19. Got out the Christmas tree, talked about it being a Jesse tree.
  • December 1st: Genesis 1:26-31. Celebrate creation in some way. We made snowflakes out of pipe cleaners and beads, (it was our first snow).
  • December 2nd: Got out all of our snake toys and talked about making the right choice when we want to be naughty. Hung a snake on the tree.
  • December 3rd: Cut a cereal box in to the shape of an ark and played with animals in it.
  • December 4th: Genesis 12:1-7. Made Abraham's traveling tent out of a blanket and chairs in the living room. We played "Abraham and Sarah" all evening.
  • December 5th: Genesis 21:1-7. Played with baby dolls, name them all "Isaac".
  • December 6th: Genesis 22:1-14. Played "Hide and seek the Ram" with a stuffed lamb. It's currently still hidden behind the computer.
  • December 7th: Genesis 28:10-22. Played Tag (the person who was "it" is the problem, others are running from their problem -- a stretch, I know).
  • December 8th: Genesis 37: 1-36, 50:15-21. Made a coat of many colors. We used paper bags, cut the front open, made a hole for the neck and two side holes for the arms. Then we turned them inside-out (so they were solid) and colored them. Now the kids are wearing their colorful vests.
  • December 9th: Genesis 5:1-22 Wrote messages to each other on rocks. Crayons worked pretty well for this.
  • December 10th: Joshua 2:1-21 Hung a piece of red yarn in the window.

What activities have you others been doing for advent? If you've been doing the Jesse Tree, what sorts of things make it memorable for your young ones?

For other Works for me Wednesday, visit Rocks in my Dryer

Monday, December 8, 2008

Made it Myself Monday - Graham Cracker Houses

Last Friday, we observed one of our favorite Christmas Traditions. The making of Graham Cracker houses.

Simply put, we build a structure out of mostly graham crackers. Melted candy canes are the "glue". We melt the candy in an electric griddle, then dip a graham cracker in it, then attach it to another for a nice, strong joint.

This technique for making a strong wall is exceptionally good.

We have a history of going all-out. This year we were a bit more conservative, confining our efforts into about 2 1/2 hours of construction and decorating. Here's the results:

I built each of the kids a tiny little house and let them decorate it. They enjoyed it a lot, and ate way too much candy.

Josephine already has a bit of a tummy ache.

Lisel is quite proud of hers.

Bennet built a really nice yard around his.

I built a nativity,

and Chester built a ship crashing into a bridge.

Some of the others built really nice houses.

Clearly, their decorating sense is better than mine!

They also brought the nice kinds of candy. Yum!

You can always tell a more engineering type. They build such great structures that they run out of time and don't end up decorating them. The structures are so cool, though, that they really don't need decorating, do they?

A double water wheel.

Look at the spiral stairs on the inside of her tower!

And a space ship.

Yep, we had a fabulous time. Thanks to Dan and Hannah for taking the ball and running with it this year. All photos, by the way are by Dan, and can be viewed for real at Tiger Photography.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Keeping Christmas Simple

I'm blessed to have grown up in a fairly simple family that wasn't tempted to
keep up with anyone in particular in our Christmas celebrations. Thus, it's been easier (I think) for me to keep Christmas simple with a family of my own now.

Here's a few of the things we've done in the past or are doing this year:

Gifts We've only ever bought one gift per person. Each child gets one thing, each name we draw in the extended family gets one thing. Our extended family observes price limits -- $5 on one side and $15 on the other. This year, we're forgoing gifts within our immediate family so as not to be so overwhelmed with new stuff all at once.

We've tried to make a habit of having the kids participate in giving gifts. Last year, they each chose a gift that they thought Jesus would like to have (i.e., something they really liked), and we donated them to a gifts-for-the-needy program. This year, they are each picking a gift for Jesus out of the Samaritan's Purse gifts catalog. They'll do extra chores to pay for their chosen gift. They also draw names with their cousins for a gift exchange, and we moms have an agreement that they just swap their own toys rather than buying new ones all the time.

Decor We have a 4 foot tree this year (last year, we had a 2 foot tall one). And everything that we get out is safe for the kids to play with. Our favorite is the Veggie Tales nativity. I don't have to worry about breakables or precious decorations. We tack our Christmas cards to a bar that's hung on our kitchen wall -- most of the year it displays current kid art. But at Christmas, it displays cards and Christmas letters.

Shopping I do all my shopping for gifts during the summer garage sale season, or I handmake them. This allows me to get really nice gifts while still observing the price limits. It's usually my goal to be done with the shopping by September, allowing a few months for the things I have yet to make. This year, I'm done shopping, but still have lots to make, so it's a bit busier than it has been in the past. I also make lots of jelly in the summer, and use it as gifts for families at church and co-workers.

Cards I've always written a Christmas letter. A couple of years ago, I decided that a letter with pictures was fine without a card -- just by itself. Then I noticed that if my Christmas letter arrived at the same time as everyone else's, it didn't get read. So now I send out either a "Thanksgiving letter", or a "Happy New Year" letter in mid-January. It takes the stress out during Christmas, and gets a bit more attention from the recipients too.

Activities Just like all year long, we minimize our activities. We like to be at home, together in the evenings. We like to have friends over to our house too, but December is usually so busy for others that we get to enjoy more evenings at home by ourselves. We generally try for one extra activity a week (or less), and it usually works. (This week we built Graham Cracker houses -- so much fun! Look for pictures on Monday). I think life in general is calmer and more centered when we minimize our outside activities.

This year, we're doing the Jesse tree for the first time. I thought we'd make ornaments each day, and put them on our little tree. But it's worked out to doing some related activity each day instead. Here's what we've done so far:
  • November 30th: Got out the Christmas tree, talked about it being a Jesse tree.
  • December 1st: Made snowflakes out of pipe cleaners and beads, Thanked God for His creation (it's a stretch, I know, but we got our first snow that day).
  • December 2nd: Got out all of our snake toys and talked about making the right choice when we want to be naughty.
  • December 3rd: Cut a cereal box in to the shape of an ark and played with animals in it.
  • December 4th: Made Abraham's traveling tent out of a blanket and chairs in the living room, played "Abraham and Sarah" all evening.
  • December 5th: Played with baby dolls, named them all "Isaac".
  • December 6th: Climbed a couch cushion "mountain", and "sacrificed" a stuffed lamb on the top (after carrying up a baby doll named Isaac, of course).
We'll keep doing these types of activities. (Do you want me to share abou them here while we do them?) The tree isn't getting very decorated, but we're having fun, and the kids remember each day's story and activity (and I don't have any more of a mess than usual to clean up).

That's it for now -- especially since I can't access my pictures to add some and break up this post. Maybe later today. For other's Simple Christmas ideas, go on over to Keeper of the Home.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cost Analysis of 'No-Poo' Baking Soda Shampoo

Looking for the monster hoodie giveaway? It's here.

Using baking soda instead of shampoo ( no-'poo) seems to be an internet rage right now. I've read about it several places, and even given it a bit of a try. Like others, I found my hair was definitely greasier than usual at first, but I think I could make it work. Unlike most others, I get my shampoo free from the local food bank, so using baking soda (which I don't get free) is actually more expensive.

So I decided to figure out how the costs compare.

The 16 oz box of baking soda in my cupboard cost 54 cents. I measured 30 Tablespoons in the box.

My most recent bottle of Aussie Shampoo from the local food bank is 16 fluid ounces. That's 32 tablespoons.

For one shampooing, the site above recommends using 1 Tbsp. baking soda. So one box has 30 shampooings. In my couple of weeks trying it, I acually use a bit more than this, but I'm leaving the calculation at 30 Tablespoons.

When I use normal shampoo, I use about 1/2 Tbsp regular shampoo for my chin-length hair (That's shampooing twice in the shower). You may use more or less than this. But this makes my calculations easy. That means that I'm getting 64 shampoos from a bottle of shampoo. I'll call it 60, just to be lazy.

If my bottle of shampoo costs less than double the price of a box of baking soda, it's cheaper to use shampoo. I know that not too many 16 oz bottles of shampoo are actually one dollar or less, but I've definitely seen those prices on sale. I also realize that it's probably healthier to use the baking soda even when it's more expensive. In the past, though, I've bought shampoo for $5 a gallon at Sally Beauty Supply (on sale) before. That's equivalent to 8 - 16 ounce bottles of shampoo at about 63 cents each. My baking soda would have to be cheaper than 32 cents a (16 oz) box to beat that price. (And it might be in large boxes or with a coupon). Have you found baking soda cheaper than 2 cents an ounce?

Conclusion: "No-poo" may be healthier than shampoo, and probably is better for your hair than the cheapest shampoos. For most people -- those who buy something more expensive than the absolute cheapest shampoo, it's probably cost effective to switch to baking soda. But not for everyone.

Another note: My hair does not usually need conditioning. If you use conditioner, the cost of washing your hair approximately doubles. But you'll probably need some apple cider vinegar with your baking soda too.

I've been trying baking soda shampoo for about 2 1/2 weeks so far. It's okay, but I'm not totally sold yet. My hair still feels more oily than I like, but it looks clean and fine (actually it looks better than before). I had the kids switch to baking soda, since it's much gentler on the eyes than regular shampoo and we finally (after nearly 3 years) ran out of the last of the baby shampoos that we were given in baby showers.

In any case, using baking soda for shampoo is a terrific "in a pinch" tip to remember.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Monster Hoodie Giveaway

hoodie-setI've been known to go overboard once in a great while. ahem.

Last February, I bought a bunch of hoodies, on sale for a terrific price. They would make terrific gifts, and maybe I could even sell a few!

I had to buy rubbermaid totes to house all the hoodies, and then I lost motivation.

All year long, I've been housing rubbermaid totes of hoodies that I don't want to deal with anymore. It's time for them to move.

So, here's the deal. I'm making them in to monsters as fast as I can. I'm giving away as many as I can to people that I know for their birthdays. To date, this has been about 20.

I still have 18 hoodies. Six are set aside for Christmas. That leaves 12.

Six are listed in my etsy shop (created for the sole purpose of getting rid of these hoodies that are consuming my basement). I'm working furiously to get more in there.

And one (or more), will be given away, right here, right now.

Here's the deal. Go to my etsy shop. Decide who you know that would like one of these. Then come back here leaving me a comment with the name and age of the person that would like one. I'll randomly generate a winning number and email you. (Oh, leave you email address too, blogger doesn't tell me those things).

Then, I'll make a hoodie for that person. You'll get to pick the size and the basic colors, if you wish (limited to the stock I have). Then I'll ship that hoodie to you, free.

Sound ok?

You have until Wednesday evening to enter -- it's a quick one because I want to get that hoodie made and shipped yet this week!

SewMamaSew has suggested that we keep these open a bit longer, to give everyone a chance to enter. I'll be closing this on Friday, December 5th instead of tonight. Thanks everyone!

Welcome Internet Cafe readers! Notice that htis contest is a short one -- it's over on the evening of Friday December 5th, so enter quickly!

For a 15% discount in my store, enter SewMamaSew when you buy!

Made it Myself... Tuesday: Dolls and Doll house mod

Unfortunately, there's more to life than blogging. Sorry for my recent absenses. I may have to resort to a few-times-a-week-blogging rather than daily blogging, I'm not sure.....

That said, do you like my new project? It's our friend's 2 year old birthday today! She wants a doll house.

We had an old garage-sale doll house that needed to go, so we spruced it up a bit...

The "yard" was a piece of old, badly worn paper. We tore it off, and glued down fabric to make a bit of a path. Tacky glue worked pretty well.

Then we added flowers and a tree, and threw in some of our dollhouse furniture (we have excess).

A dollhouse needs dolls, right?

So we made some. This is "The Mom"

"The Fireman"

"The Farmer"

"The Fairy"

"The Dad"

and, "The Ballerina"

I hope she enjoys them! They were more work than I had bargained for, but she's worth it. We're taking it to supper at her house this evening.

Do any projects this week? Add a comment sharing a link!