Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our Five in a Row Tree

Our small, literature-based co-op started seven years ago as a Five in a Row group. Although we have moved on to more mature books, we still call it our "Five in a Row group".

We didn't have a party that first year, since we barely knew each other, but in 2003 we started a tradition that has become a treasured part of our Christmas memories. Each year, each family creates an ornament to go along with one of the books we have studied that year. We love having our FIAR ornaments on their own tree.

If you look closely, the big dipper is painted on this gourd. (You can click the pictures to enlarge them.)

We don't assign which book each family will use to make their ornaments so one year we had two different Cowboy Charlie ornaments and three different Albert ornaments. That year, our family's ornament was for Snowflake Bentley. That's the only year we've had much duplication at all.

The first year, one family put all the FIAR story disks on ribbon and attached them to a medallion they made. We use it as our tree topper.

One idea I suggested this year was a little cup and saucer glued together for Three Cups of Tea. It's a good thing Allison came up with a different idea, since another family had the same idea.

Our ornament this year was the dog tags and wedding ring referred to in Born to Fly.

It's incredible how many of our co-op activities, or obscure details of the stories, the kids start reminding us of when we pull out these ornaments.

We treasure the many memories of special times with friends, of learning, and of wonderful books we have shared that are brought to mind as we admire our ornaments.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hot cocoa candle

Earlier this year, a blogging friend and I got our daughters hooked up as email pen pals. It has been a blessing to Julianne because the two girls seem to have lots of things in common, including being only a few days apart in age.

Last week, a package arrived for Julianne. Chelsea sent Julianne and Allison each gifts. She also sent our family some of the goodies she has been making. The girls were getting a little giddy with excitement.

Then we found this:

To me. From Becky, Chelsea's mom. How sweet was that? I started getting a little giddy myself.

It looks amazingly real, and smells convincingly chocolate. I keep looking at it, wondering how she makes those marshmallows look so perfect and gets that tiny bit of color variation on the top of the chocolate, so it looks like hot cocoa that has just been stirred. I love it!

It was a fun surprise and my day was brightened (pun intended) by Becky's thoughtfulness.

BTW-Becky's candles are for sale here.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Recycled bows

A couple weeks ago I followed a link for bows made out of recycled magazines.

Since then, the elves around here have been busy. Most of these are Julianne's but Allison eventually got in on the action.

Whenever the girls make something, my brother, Earl, tells them they should make whatever it is in camo for their dad. Earl hadn't seen any of their bows yet, but Allison anticipated his advice when Earl's 50th birthday rolled around last week. (You didn't hear it here.) The Bass Pro ad provided her with enough camo to make a bow for Uncle Earl's gift.

I love the unique, bright, multi-colored look of these bows. If you've got colorful magazines (or even junk mail) around, you, too, could become a bow-making fanatic. You'll be in good company.
Hey, I think this qualifies for Kathy's Handmade Holidays, doesn't it? If you got here from her site, jump back over and wish my brother a belated happy 50th, won't you? Thanks. (Don't tell him you heard it from me, though.)
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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Holiday Season Haiku

Julianne has a favorite pair of jeans. Make that had.

Her experience a few days ago inspired her to write a haiku. She gave me permission to share it here, appropriate as it is for the holidays.

Zipper on pants broke
Sadness overwhelming me
Thankfully alone

She makes a good point. It could have been much worse.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cream-Filled Confetti Cookies

I've been planning, for a few years now, to convert all my recipe cards to 4x6 inch cards. I bought a nice, new box and some pretty recipe cards but I've rewritten only a few recipes in all that time.

It's an overwhelming task; my small box is packed tightly with cards. I find I'm more likely to copy an old recipe into MasterCook than I am to copy it to the new, larger cards.

When Allison and I got ready to make cookies Sunday afternoon, I knew the time had come to copy at least one recipe onto a new card. Looking at the old card, you might think I've had it a long time or that I'm a messy cook. Yes, and yes. I have those cool plastic sleeves designed to keep your cards clean but obviously, they came too late to save this one.

One down, only 32,593 left.

Cream-Filled Confetti Cookies

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup candy sprinkles
3/4 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg (see note)
food coloring

In large bowl, combine sugar, 1/2 cup butter, shortening, vanilla and eggs; beat well. Add flour, baking powder, & salt, mix well. Stir in candy sprinkles. Cover dough, refrigerate at least 1 hour for easier handling.

Heat oven to 400ยบ F. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut with 2 1/2 " cookie cutter. Place 1" apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 5-7 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 1 minute, remove, cool completely.

In medium bowl, beat 3/4 cup butter until softened. Gradually add sugar, blend well. Add vanilla and egg, beat until light and fluffy. Add coloring, blend well. Spread 1 heaping teaspoon of filling between 2 cookies. Store filled cookies in refrigerator.
Note: I get a little queasy at the idea of raw egg in the filling so I use powdered egg. The flavor wouldn't be the same without the egg so I had to either find an alternative or buck up and eat raw egg. The powdered egg gives a great result, without any queasiness. Also, we skipped the food coloring this time.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

First Sunday of Advent

We have some Advent traditions around here.

Allison starts us off, since she's the youngest. She gets to light the candle and choose the special treat we will have after our Advent devotional reading.

As the girls have gotten older, they have started helping with the treat they choose. Allison didn't even hesitate when I asked her what she wanted for her treat today. I was a little worried because I forgot to check with her ahead of time but she knew just what she wanted. Thankfully, we had everything on hand to proceed.

She chose Cream-Filled Confetti Cookies as her treat. They are a festive-looking, delicious sandwich cookie.

She and I worked together on getting the dough mixed but she did all the rolling out, cutting, and baking by herself. We worked together on the filling, then I left her to do all the work of frosting and putting them together. It's a beautiful system for me as I get tired of the tedium of the steps she handled alone.

I'm planning to share the recipe. Stay tuned!
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Handmade Holidays Snowman

I didn't plan to participate in Kathy's Handmade Holidays because I'm not very crafty. Then I remembered this guy and decided to give him his moment in the spotlight.

I made several of these a few years ago, complete with matching fleece hats and scarves. The one I kept for myself never got matching accessories so he gets whatever is floating around in the box at the bottom of the coat closet. We dressed him for hunting season while Clarence was away, hunting at Uncle's cabin. Clarence, of course, didn't notice until I mentioned it.

He is made from a cedar fence post, cut in half, nailed to a square of scrap wood to help him stand. Clarence drilled a hole, cut a piece of dowel, and rounded the end of it somewhat by sanding to make our carrot nose. I painted him with acrylic paint, then put Thompson's water seal over the paint in hopes of making him somewhat weatherproof.

For the hat and scarf, I think I used about a half yard of fleece for each snowman. (As a heads up: I think fleece is on sale at Joann Fabrics for Black Friday.) The scarf is a strip (~4-5 inches?) made from the fabric leftover after making the hat. I eyeballed everything so just go with what looks good to you. You can fringe the ends of the scarf or not.

For the hat, I measured a piece of fleece that would fit around the post. I cut it to size and hand stitched it to form a tube. I then took some thread and tied it around one end of the tube, a couple inches down from the top, similar to closing a bread bag. I snipped the fabric above the thread every 1/2 inch or so, so it looked like fringe. Fold the bottom edge up to make a hat brim and put it on the snowman.
This is a simple project if you have access to a couple power tools, especially if you can sweet talk someone into helping with the cutting and sanding like I did. If you're quite ambitious, you could even drill holes in his sides and add some twigs for arms. You could also save the sewing and use a hat and scarf you already have, like I've been doing.
I like that he's a winter decoration, rather than just a Christmas decoration, so he can stay for a long visit before being stored away.
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Friday, November 20, 2009

November Quiz

The girls quizzed last Saturday and their forgetful mother didn't take her camera. You might also notice how many days it has taken their forgetful mother to take pictures of their awards and post about it on her blog.

Thankfully, they don't have faulty memories like their mother and did very well.

Their teammate is older so they have to quiz in the Senior Teen division when she's there. It didn't seem to be a problem. Their team took first place.

For individual competition, they both quizzed in the Young Teen veteran division. Julianne took first, quizzing out on the 11th question. Allison took second, quizzing out on the 12th question. She was making Julianne nervous, let me tell you.

Julianne quizzed out in every round she was in (as is her goal every month). Allison quizzed out three times, the most exciting time happening when she quizzed out ahead of Julianne in one of the team rounds.

You're probably tired of hearing me say how proud I am of them.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009


My girls learned when they were little that if they uttered the words "But Mom, it's tradition!", I often succumbed to whatever it was they wanted at the moment. Needless to say, when something comes along that they really like, it quickly becomes "tradition" in their minds.

When Clarence goes deer hunting each year, we girls have a few traditions to uphold. We rent a movie or two (because Clarence never wants to watch movies), I buy eggnog for them, and I make biscotti. Yeah, I know that's a bizarre combination but somehow those are the things that carry over from one year to the next. I don't remember what got us started on the biscotti but it's a tradition they won't let me forget.

Lemony Almond Biscotti

(One trick I learned somewhere is to stand the biscotti up as pictured above for the second baking. It saves turning them halfway through the baking time.)

I didn't remember to buy eggnog yet but we watched our movie this afternoon and I made biscotti this evening. And those pumpkin chocolate chip waffles I made for lunch today? I think they're destined to become a tradition.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Each year, my inlaws haul our camping trailer to their house and store it for the winter in their yard. They have nice, wide open, mostly tree-free space; we have hilly property that's full of trees.

A few weeks ago, it was time.

As Clarence and his dad worked to hook the trailer to the truck, the girls and I stood nearby with Grandma, chatting. The guys jacked up the tongue of the trailer to take out the cement blocks they had under it. Underneath was a surprise. Two salamanders.

Clarence tried to hand them to Julianne but there was no way she planned on taking them from him.

For whatever reason, she changed her mind.

At first, they were cold and just laid on her hand.

Then they seemed to wake up and started to scurry away. She wasn't quite as keen on holding them anymore.

The girls played with them for a few minutes, then released them into the garden.

Hopefully, Clarence's mom didn't have flashback nightmares to his childhood when he put a big washtub with salamanders under his bed and she, unsuspecting, pulled it out to see why he'd have a washtub under his bed. The dark skittering movements drove her quickly from his room-never to return, as the story goes.
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Saturday, November 7, 2009

More Air Zoo shots

These shots are from the main campus at the Air Zoo. We were particularly delighted to see this P-40 Warhawk. In the book we read, the main character wants to learn to fly one of these. It was interesting that it was pink, too, since the character in the book is an 11 year old girl. This plane was owned, and flown, by Suzanne Parish, who co-founded the museum with her husband.

There are various rides available but my girls only went on this very tame one. I was concerned about the long ride home if they didn't feel well after riding, so we avoided the more exciting rides.

It ended up being a long day away from home but we really enjoyed ourselves and learned some interesting things.
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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Air Zoo

Our small literature co-op read the book Born to Fly this month and took a field trip to the Kalamazoo Air Zoo. One of the moms had discovered that the Air Zoo was offering free admission until the end of the year and we wanted to take advantage of that.

They have two campuses and one of the moms got docents scheduled to guide us through each campus. They both did such a great job! I figure if they can make it interesting and enjoyable to someone like me, who has no knowledge and very little interest in airplanes, they must be very good at what they do.

We got to climb inside this plane, which was a WWII era plane for hauling paratroopers. (Don't ask me what kind of plane it was-I have no recollection whatsoever.) The kids are huddled in the front looking at the shower stall they found there. One of the moms asked about it and the docent told us he thought the "shower head" was a microphone so someone could talk to the troops over the PA system. We giggled a good bit about Julianne's guess that it was a shower but she insists that it even looked like there was a spot for soap.

One interesting thing I learned was that during WWII, the military trained pilots to take off and land on aircraft carriers on Lake Michigan. I don't remember ever hearing about that before. They couldn't get actual aircraft carriers into the Great Lakes, of course, so they improvised by adding decking to a couple boats, creating the runways they needed for training.

As you'd expect, some planes were lost in these practice sessions. The Air Zoo, with help from others, pulled one fairly intact plane out of Lake Michigan a few years ago and worked to restore it. The above picture of the info board shows how it looked before restoration started. (You can click to enlarge it.)

Here it is today. I was amazed, as I always am when something so far gone is restored so beautifully.

These pictures are from the East Campus. I'll try to share a few pics from the Main Campus in the next few days.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

Flower Child

Our church had its annual "Trunk or Treat" event on Saturday. Clarence handed out candy from the back of the van and the girls helped at the craft table inside. (I stayed home where it was warm, peaceful, and quiet. I am not a fan of Halloween.)

Costumes were optional. My girls love many things about the 70's look, so these are actually clothes that Allison wears normally.

She added a long ribbon as a head band

and made a "Peace" necklace to complete the look.

She was wearing the necklace again yesterday, so I think I'll probably see this "costume" again. Won't that be groovy?
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Allison's helmet

You may remember that Clarence helped put up some hay this summer. He really enjoyed it and was able to go help on another occasion, too.

Are you wondering what that has to do with this picture?

The people who were haying have horses. They recently got a horse back from having the Amish break it for them and need to ride it every day. The wife said that she'd like someone to ride her other horse when she takes the new horse out and asked if Allison would be interested.

Interested? Are you kidding?

Finally, she found something she really wanted to spend her saved birthday and Christmas money on. Her very own riding helmet, in a lovely light purple.

We've been slow about calling them to set things up and now, unfortunately, one of the horses is injured and can't be ridden for three more weeks. Allison is trying to be patient.
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Sunday, October 25, 2009


Well, almost.

The girls have discovered that Salvation Army and Goodwill are great places to find interesting and unique clothes. They love making their own fashion statements and both have a particular affection for paisley.

Julianne got these pink paisley capris last year. They are one of four different pairs of paisley pants she owns. Allison was lagging behind with only one pair. I tried to console her with the knowledge that Julianne would be handing them all down to her some day.

That was fine until she found a pair of paisley pants identical to Julianne's in our local Goodwill last week. I told her I didn't think I needed to buy them, since we already had a pair at home that she would eventually get. Mean, aren't I?

Yesterday we stopped in looking for something else I had seen the last time I was there (which, of course, was long gone) and everything in the store was half price. Allison went looking and came back with the pants.

I guess I'm an old softie after all.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Presto Change-O


This is our "new" van. The Montana was, indeed, totaled and we were happy to find this '03 Chevy Venture. We intentionally ordered the Montana mud-colored. This one is actually red but, as it's been raining since we drove it off the lot yesterday, you'd think it was the same old color (which gives you a hint as to why we ordered that ugly brown in the first place).

Some friends told us they'd seen a used Montana at a local dealer. We went to look at it Thursday night but it was a smoker's car, so not for us. This Venture was sitting next to it. We didn't want to look at something that old, as we were hoping to get at least 5 years out of this vehicle. However, the relatively low mileage made us reconsider.
It seemed like God was putting all the pieces into place, in perfect timing. We even got a much more generous settlement from the insurance company than we expected.

We are excited have both a cassette and cd player so we can listen to audio books in either format. There's also a dvd player, which means we won't have to haul the inverter, tv/vcr, and dvd player along when we drive to Florida. That will be a huge space saver, plus this has headsets so the girls can watch a movie and we can still talk or listen to the radio.

Our poor Montana was 10 years old and showing its age. Over 200,000 miles, the air conditioning, rear wiper, automatic door, and gas gauge had all broken, the driver's window would go down but had to be helped up, and some of the trim was loose where it had been repaired after the first deer ran into it. "But there ain't nothin' wrong with the radio." (Although I don't normally listen to Country, when I heard that song a few years ago I thought it was hilarious.) Having all those extras working makes this seem like a brand new car to us. We feel very blessed.
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Score

Deer 2

Clarence 0

Here's what he was wearing when he hit the deer Saturday morning.

Oh, the irony.
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