This afternoon we held a little drawing to determine who would receive our extra copy of Per and the Dala Horse by Rebecca Hickox. The twins selected a random name from a vase and the winner was Julie from Our Westmoreland School. :-)

[Me] At Oma's house for Baking Day, many moons ago

Baking Day is a Christmas tradition in our household ~ the one tradition I've faithfully maintained since the children were wee babes. Unfortunately this year, as with virtually everything else I've tried to plan lately, it did not go quite right.

Our first recipe was for salt caramels. Elon took over this recipe at the last minute, neglected to watch the temperature carefully, and we ended up with hard butterscotch candy. Fortunately, the kids *love* butterscotch so this wasn't a total loss!

The next few recipes we attempted were all from Martha Stewart Cookies: Cocoa Shortbread Diamonds, Cranberry Noels and Cream Cheese Walnut Cookies. All three resulted in extremely dry crumbly dough - so crumbly that it was virtually unworkable. This is a problem that I've never experienced before and I'm still puzzled by it! I added a bit of milk to each and stuck them in the fridge to chill, though I'm nervous to see what will happen when I try to roll them out and/or bake them.

Maddie & Emma are excited to start baking :-)

Next, we mixed up some Nice 'n Soft Sugar Cookie dough and had the same stupidly dry dough issue. At this point I was feeling pretty frustrated, but luckily we had some success with another recipe: Cranberry and White Chocolate cookies. We also mixed up some gingerbread dough, which is currently chilling.

Emma keeps an eye on the kitchen (and Mocha)

Mocha keeps an eye on everything

So...our baking day evolved into two days of very little actual baking. I still have a counter piled high with cookie and candy making supplies, so I'll have to find some additional recipes to try after work today, hopefully with better luck. We still have truffles to make and, of course, a fridge full of dough that I'll need to deal with sooner or later.
We did take a break on Saturday afternoon to assemble the gingerbread house we'd purchased:

However, we never managed to get to any of the other Christmas craft projects I'd planned. I have a basket full of new craft supplies, just waiting for some attention. Sigh. I suppose there's always tomorrow...

This week went nothing like I'd planned! I realized halfway through the week that I'd forgotten to post our Week Three Advent plans (for this week). In the end, that's probably a good thing, because we didn't get much accomplished. The feasts of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Santa Lucia kept me very busy last weekend, so by Monday I was ready for a more relaxed schedule.
Poinsettias purchased for National Poinsettia Day

On Monday, we read Per and the Dala Horse and The Tomten. I had planned that we would make tomten ornaments, bake cookies in traditional Swedish shapes and paint Dala horses, but we only managed to start painting the Dalas because *I* got terribly sidetracked and had Elon cut out a bunch of little gnomes/tomtes with the scroll saw to paint.
One of the many new gnomes with his "ice cave"
On Tuesday, I had an appointment for a hair cut that ended up taking nearly the entire day. Yikes. However, I got all of my hair chopped off and am *thrilled* with my new super short cut. I've almost always had fairly short hair, but had let it grow out two years ago when I got re-married. It's been driving me crazy pretty much ever since so I was very ready for a change!
On Wednesday, the kids studied their CLAA material and we read The Night of Los Posadas by Tomie dePaola. I had to finalize my Christmas Day menu, since we'll be having family at our house this year, and we also planned our Christmas baking.
On Thursday, the twins helped out at the Salvation Army toy distribution all day and had a blast (they're hoping to help out at a soup kitchen next week). An added bonus was that they made the evening news. :-)

And that brings us to today, which is our annual Christmas baking day. Honestly this week has gone by so quickly, I hardly feel prepared, but here's what we'll be making today (and probably tomorrow as well):
Suffice it to say, I think we're on Christmas break since very little school work got done this week! This weekend we've got tons of craft projects to get done as well, things that we didn't get to previously, so I'll be posting those as we get through them.
One last note ~ we ended up with two copies of Per and the Dala Horse by Rebecca Hickox, because I forgot that I'd ordered a used copy on Amazon, and purchased a copy while in Lindsborg. If anyone would like the extra (new) copy, please leave a comment & on Monday we'll randomly pick someone to send it to. It's really a very beautiful little book!

Helping in the kitchen

...and playing with marbles

Advent candles & letters for Gaudete Sunday

Our Julkärve (Christmas Sheaf) for the birds

Maddie as the Lucia Bride

Being silly

The Lussekatter (Lucia Buns)

Pepparkakor (Ginger Thins) & Cream Cheese Braids

Waiting to eat!


Photo by ilhuicamina

Wishing everyone a blessed Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Shrines & Images of the Virgin of Guadalupe from Mexico

Another week has been completed and eagerly I continue to look ahead, still prayerfully hoping for 'smoother sailing' with our school work.

First, our new schedule was fairly successful. Ironically, *I* struggled with it more than anybody! Dominic and Jaymon began waking up at 5 AM each morning, and then waking me up. This meant that I didn't get enough sleep all week, and woke up sick yesterday. Hopefully next week will go a bit more easily.

We had another fairly light week of school, but I think I've come to terms with the fact that until the Advent and Christmas seasons are over, that's okay. Everyone started on a new concept in Math this week, which kept us fairly busy and stressed out. We began our study of the Church in the Early Middle Ages (briefly reviewing what we'd learned about the Desert Fathers), learning about the organization of the church and it's vital role in Medieval Europe. We discussed how worship of God and honor of the saints provided a framework for much of medieval life, the rhythms of the year being closely tied to the liturgical calendar. Some good information on the Medieval liturgical year can be found here and, more briefly, here. We continued reading An Introduction to the Liturgical Year by Inos Biffi (a preview can be found here).

We also started reading St. Benedict: Hero of the Hills by Mary Fabyann Windeatt and Life in a Medieval Abbey by Tony McAleavy (a wonderful and very thorough book!). We learned a little about the Liturgy of the Hours, which St. Benedict helped to organize, and the Rule of St. Benedict. The summation of his rule, and the motto of the Order of St. Benedict, is "Ora et Labora" - "Pray and Work." I particularly liked this explanation from the Monastery of the Holy Spirit:

"Benedict was following earlier monastic rules of life when he legislated a lifestyle balancing liturgical prayer, private prayer, study of Scripture, and manual labor, with equal time per day allotted to each activity. The insistence upon manual labor as an intrinsic part of the life had three main sources. First, work is an ascetical exercise: it expels idleness. Second, it recognizes an obligation toward neighbor: the monk should not be a burden on others, and he should also give alms to the needy. Finally, earning one's own living while in the service of the Lord follows the examples of the apostles. All three reasons are integral to the prime concern of seeking God. Ideally, while working, monks continue to pray, meditating upon the lectio and the Divine Office, thus exemplifying the goal of Ora et labora."

We will be learning more about the Rule of St. Benedict as we continue our study of the early Church and monasticism in the weeks to come.

This week the first few supplies for the kids' electives showed up. Elon received his Snap Circuits Extreme Version ~ SC-750 and Dominic received his Bamboo Pen & Touch tablet. Jaymon also received a demo CD of Rosetta Stone, which he and Dominic will be using (along with other resources) to study Japanese. In addition, I ordered the complete set of drawing books for them from Manga University, which I expect to arrive today or tomorrow. I've been allowing Dominic some time to experiment with his tablet and Photoshop, and Elon has already gone through numerous Snap Circuits projects - despite my repeated requests that he just hold on. Poor Maddie is still waiting for me to decide on a suitable drawing/fine arts program for her, though I'm finally closer to a decision. I received a new Seton catalog this past week and the Ginger Himes Art Series looks quite tempting (Atelier is another possibility).

I've made a few additional modifications to our curriculum for the year, to compensate for those things which simply have not worked for us. I'll be detailing these changes in a later post, but most notably, I've added online classes with the Classical Liberal Arts Academy. The kids will each be taking Classical Catechism I, Classical Grammar I (which includes Latin) and Classical Arithmetic (in fact, three of them are studying their arithmetic, with much enthusiasm, now!), while I will be taking a Praeceptor I training class. I've spent hours reading through every single article and post on the CLAA website and Online Family Forum and am both thrilled and honored to be a part of such a wonderful school. While I know the work will be a challenge, it is a challenge that I look forward to!

For Advent, we had a very nice Feast of St. Nicholas ~ the chocolate-dipped candy cane stir sticks were especially popular, though they were eaten as candy more often than they were used to stir cocoa!

For the Feast of St. Ambrose, the children enjoyed decorating candles:

I decided not to make any honey cake, since we still had *plenty* of baked goods left over from our St. Nicholas Day celebration.

On Tuesday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. My lily cupcakes left a lot to be desired (I was exhausted when I baked them), but were quite delicious.

On Wednesday, we were supposed to read The Legend of the Candy Cane, and make our own candy canes. Instead, we read about the Star of Bethlehem and made window stars (which are tricky to photograph!). We'll be having our 'candy cane day' sometime next week.

Lastly, while we read and learned about Christmas oranges, the children *ate* their oranges before we had a chance to make pomanders. Sigh.

This weekend promises to be VERY busy with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (+ National Poinsettia Day) and the Feast of St. Lucy. I just hope I'm feeling better so that I can manage everything!

For the second week of Advent, we'll be focusing on the following:
  • Feast of Saint Nicholas
  • Feast of Saint Ambrose
  • Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
  • The tradition of Christmas oranges
  • The legend & symbolism of the candy cane
  • National Poinsettia Day
  • Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our plans for Saint Nicholas Day have been posted here. For the Feast of Saint Ambrose, we will be reading about the life of Saint Ambrose and snacking on "Majestic and Moist Honey Cake." Using Stockmar Decorating Wax, mini cookie cutters, and plain pillar candles, the children will be decorating Christmas candles (a kit is also available at Magic Cabin).

For the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we will discuss the Immaculate Conception and have vanilla cupcakes topped with white lilies. We may also make gingerbread ornaments. Additionally, we may discuss the history of Mary Gardens, the symbolism of flowers, and work on plans for our own garden (a small Mary Garden will be included in our Medieval Garden Project next spring).

On another day, we will read An Orange for Frankie and Christmas Oranges. We'll learn why oranges are traditionally given for Christmas and snack on Cinnamon Streusel Orange Muffins. Our craft will be Spicy Orange Pomander Balls.
We will read The Legend of the Candy Cane and learn about the symbolism of candy canes. We will be making our own candy canes, as well as beaded candy cane ornaments, and eating Peppermint-topped Brownies. Next year I'd love to make this Peppermint House!
For National Poinsettia Day, we will be reading The Legend of the Poinsettia (another version of the story can be found here) and browsing The Poinsettia Pages; we'll also buy a poinsettia today. Our snack will be Poinsettia Cookies (I think) and Poinsettia Punch.
For the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we'll read The Lady of Guadalupe by Tomie dePaola and listen to Our Lady of the Guitar (music inspired by the spiritual music played at celebrations for Our Lady throughout Spain and Latin America). We'll follow-up the story with an article: Science Sees What Mary Saw From Juan Diego's Tilma. A beautiful page on Our Lady of Guadalupe can be found at Catholic Tradition and O Night Divine has a post that is full of suggestions for celebrating the feast day. I ordered a variety of supplies from Silver Crow Creations for an as-yet-to-be-determined craft project (though I do have some ideas). For our snack, we'll have a rose cake (using this pan) and candy roses.

Saint Nicholas Day is a "holiday" that I remember with great fondness from my own childhood. It signalled that Christmas was near and every Saint Nicholas' Eve that I stayed with my Oma and Opa, my shoes were placed out for a treat - usually a clementine and some chocolate coins (though one year I received lumps of coal!). Admittedly I haven't been the most consistent about celebrating this feast day with my own children, but as I'm joining the Catholic church this year, I'm trying to improve on these things. :-)

For all things Saint Nicholas, the most obvious place to start is the Saint Nicholas Center. There are stories and poems, crafts, and recipes galore. There is also the Saint Nicholas Society, and Family in Feast and Feria has two excellent posts: Celebration Ideas for the Feast of St. Nicholas and Reading Material for the Feast of St. Nicholas. Lastly, I was also inspired by this post from the Orthodox blog, Festal Celebrations' Gallery. In particular, I thought her gift suggestions were very nice.

As for our plans, I had hoped to be making speculaas this year because our local World Market isn't selling them (I'm very sad about that!), but didn't get around to ordering a mold in time. I may still make them using regular cookie cutters, we shall see. The kids will be decorating this humble (but cute!) gingerbread house and we'll have some Stollen for coffee hour, along with St. Nicholas Cocoa and chocolate-covered candy cane stirrers. We'll be reading The Legend of St. Nicholas by Demi and listening to Legends of St. Nicholas by Anonymous 4; there may be a craft of some sort, but I'm still undecided. If nothing else, we'll incorporate some fun, vintage images of St. Nicholas into our Christmas cards this weekend.

This week was, quite frankly, a bit light. We've been fairly relaxed about certain subjects this year while I've been struggling to find curriculum and a method that actually works for us (after nearly a year of homeschooling, I'm still feeling pretty clueless!). The kids don't work well independently and I don't have hours a day to spend reading (nor will they tolerate that). I had high hopes that things would improve this week, but alas, it didn't happen. We managed to muddle our way through the Barbarians and the Byzantine Empire in history - with a heavy emphasis on Byzantine art & architecture, and two Math lessons were completed per day, but there was no Language Arts, Science or Latin. Yikes!

Though I enjoyed using Tapestry of Grace to study Ancient Rome, I tweaked it so much, it became something else entirely (truthfully, it was also a little overwhelming). So now that I've exhausted nearly all of our options for history, I'm back to writing my own curriculum with the help of TruthQuest. I can't promise that it'll be spectacular since I'm having to essentially plan as we go, but at least the Middle Ages is a subject that I'm passionate about, which will help.

What I did accomplish this week was to establish a strict new schedule and rules. Part of the problem is that the kids have become lazy and difficult, and that's simply not acceptable. I have a nearly full-time job to manage, in addition to homeschooling, cooking, cleaning and lesson planning. Since my husband recently accepted a job out-of-state, everything falls on my shoulders these days and it's a lot to deal with when I'm getting NO cooperation from the kids (especially when, despite surgery, I'm still having near-daily headaches)!

So here's my plan... From now on, bed time is strictly at 9:30. Everyone is expected to be up in the morning by 6:30, fed, and ready for school at 7:30. School will be held daily until 12:30. After lunch, they will have a mandatory 30-minute free reading period followed by chores. At 2:00, if all work is complete, they will be allowed computer/television/Xbox time until dinner. Arguing/disrupting class/not doing work will result in the total loss of electronic privileges for the day *and* extra chores. For every five minutes they are late to school in the morning, they'll be writing 25 lines. To alleviate the complaints that school is "boring," each child was allowed to choose an elective that they'll study for the last hour of school each day. Dominic and Jaymon chose Japanese and manga drawing, Maddie ~ drawing and painting, and Elon ~ electronics. They'll start on these electives in January.

For Advent this week, I managed to follow my Week 1 Plans pretty faithfully. We added a book ~ Sister Wendy's Story of Christmas, which was just wonderful (and a steal on Amazon right now)! Our paper plate angels were a *total* disaster, so instead, the kids made some simple angel ornaments as shown below (can you tell we're in love with Martha Stewart glitter these days?!). Also, we didn't get very far on our tissue paper roses, so will be working on those this weekend since we'll need them for something else next week.

Angel Kisses and Eggnog Angel Cookies

Lastly, here are some great resources that I found and used for our study of Byzantine art & architecture this week:

Next week we'll be back to our *full* course load and taking a look at the church in the early Middle Ages, with a special emphasis on Saint Benedict and the rise of monasticism. We've got a lot planned for Advent as well, so it will be a busy week!

The full version can be found here.

We borrowed this idea and painted these letters as a reminder of what is important during the Advent season. Unfortunately, Michaels was out of the larger letters we needed, so I had to go with this smaller size and make a sign. The result isn't quite what I'd hoped, but again, that's what I get for crafting while sick (it's very sparkly!).

What's wrong with this picture?! I almost didn't notice until I asked the kids which candle we should light for the first Sunday of Advent. When they all correctly responded "purple," that's when I realized that we only had only one purple candle, rather than three. Oops! Ironically, I had ordered these candles from a monastery ~ the boys found it highly amusing that a monk would make such a mistake, though I'm certain it wasn't intentional!

I had also planned to make an Advent wreath, but was never able to find exactly what I was looking for, so we had to make do with a simple candle charger (for now).

Our Swedish Advent Candle ~ there's little tomtes all over it, very cute!

Yummy chocolate-filled Advent calendars, all in a row.

Our leaning Jesse Tree ~ the women at my Grandmother's church made the ornaments and then held an ornament exchange so that everyone would have a complete set. Some of them are pretty amazing!