Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully

Funny how I thought I’d just have one post on Advent Conspiracy this year, and now I’m on my third one.  Earlier this week my husband received and email from his prayer partner and our pastor asking for input on what keeps you from worshipping Christmas fully—the theme for tomorrow’s message.  The Toolman emailed back his response, but I decided to write this post on what my answer would have been had I been asked.

In 1998 I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land with my father & stepmother and a group from their church.  One of the many sites we visited was the town of Bethlehem –the very place where the original Christmas occurred.  Surely one would be able to fully appreciate and worship the babe in a manger there if anywhere in the world!  FYI: I didn’t have time to dig in the basement for my own pictures—I’ve still got holiday baking to do and presents to wrap. (Hmmm, there’s a clue for attentive readers)  So these are all images I found  on Wikimedia Commons.

We were actually in Israel the week before Holy Week, so I’m guessing we were at the high end if not the very peak of tourism crowds.  While the focus was on the Easter sites in Jerusalem, anyone who’s traveled around the world to be there wasn’t going to pass up the nativity sites in Bethlehem—especially since they’re only 5-6 miles away.

Entrance to the Church of the Nativity (7703543954)




I confess my excitement was building as we got off the bus and so the sites familiar but till now seen only in books or on TV.  We walked through Manger Square and had to significantly bend over to pass through the entrance known as The Door of Humility.







And once through the doorway we beheld …..a line as long as any you’ll find waiting to see a shopping mall Santa.  It seems we weren’t  the only tour group who thought they’d be clever and leave the Jerusalem crowds behind that day.  We had plenty of time to study these columns in our hour plus wait.

Bethlehem Church of the Nativity main nave

Finally we reached the main altar area (see below).  I’ll be frank here and say there must be something about flash photography that makes the ornate lamps and decorations appear glistening and gleaming.  My impression in person was that everything was extremely dirty and dusty—like a neglected (and slightly tacky) antiques store.

Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem)

What you can’t see in this photograph were the streams of people kissing the icons in front, nor the two “kiosks” on either side where priests were selling incense.  Perhaps it was being distributed with the expectation of a donation, all I know was that money was being exchanged—apparently Jesus’s rant about “a den of thieves” had fallen of deaf ears.  You may not realize that the Church of the Nativity is administered by three different denominations:Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Apostolic.  I don’t remember which two were doling out the incense, but as most of the exchanges were done in foreign languages I imagined them saying “Buy our incense and your prayers will reach Heaven faster!”

The stand to the right seemed to have the brisker business, perhaps because that side also had the entrance to the grotto, cave-like area where Christ was born.  At this semicircle of steps leading down all semblance of order from the line dissipated.  People wriggled and squeezed toward the doorway—holding hands with the others of their group so if one made it in, the others could snake in behind them.  That old Christian belief that the last shall be first was tossed out the window—there were busses waiting and schedules to keep.


The Grotto holds two features—the first is the spot where “it is believed” Jesus was born. If you ever travel to the Holy Land you’ll get used to that phrase.  Again, flash photography make this look more gleaming and less dusty.  People stand in line to place there hand on or kiss this spot.  Lest someone become overwhelmed with awe and want to actually worship, there is a priest standing by to instruct them to “move along.”

This spot I remember wasn’t administered by the Roman Catholics.  They had their own attraction across the room:  the spot where Mary laid Jesus in the manger.  At some point in history, a pope donated the marble replica that now stands there.  As I stood nearby, the voice of Indiana Jones popped in my head, “That isn’t the manger of a carpenter’s son.”

I left the Church of the Nativity with far different emotions than I’d arrived with.  The excitement and anticipation were gone, trampled on by the crowds, the commercialism, the constant urging to move forward and not linger, the gaudy decorations and the people seeming to worship them rather than the real Reason for the Season.  I left with disappointment that the day wasn’t living up to expectations.

The story isn’t over though – we got back on our tour bus and our next stop was…the middle of nowhere.  There were no crowds, nor any buildings to be seen.   I don’t know if we were in the spot actually designated “Shepherd’s Field” or not, but while we stopped to read the Bible passage about the angels bringing the good news a Bedouin boy came over the hill leading a flock of goats.  We stopped to help him draw water from a well.  We watched the kids frolic and butt heads.  It was simple and natural and the closest I’ve ever felt to the Christmas story.

Before I close I want to say, I’m not anti-religion or anti-catholic and I’m not saying you shouldn’t go see the Church of the Nativity if you have the chance.  What I am saying is that if you’re struggling to get that Christmas spirit this year maybe you need to lay aside the trappings of Christmas—the decorations, the entertaining, the cooking and baking, the crowds.  Remember, God himself didn’t enter the world with great pomp and circumstance. He chose a very simple story: a young girl, a humble manger, and some shepherds as witnesses.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent Conspiracy & Living Water

My last post focused on our church’s annual participation with the Advent Conspiracy.  For those of you unfamiliar, there are four tenets (one for each Sunday of Advent): Spend Less, Give More, Love All & Worship Fully.  I did not mention the main charity promoted by the national Advent Conspiracy organization : Living Water International.  This group drills wells to provide clean drinking water in communities around the world. Events this week have forced me to focus on what life must be like for the folks who are still waiting for Living Water to come to their town.

Sunday evening my husband, the Toolman was preparing to brush his teeth before bed, but when he turned the faucet absolutely nothing happened!  He tried to turn on the shower…again nothing.  We live with a well system and depend on a pump to bring up water from 160 feet below our house and for unknown reasons the pump wasn’t working.   We checked the circuit breakers and confirmed electricity was still running to the controls but we’d have to call for service in the morning.

Now we’re not entirely new at this no water situation…if there’s an ice storm or other emergency to knock out the power we lose our pump as well so I usually keep 5 or 6 gallon jugs of water on hand.  Unfortunately, all the jugs in our kitchen had been used to fill the dog’s water bowl and certain parties (who now understand why I harp on such things) had failed to refill those jugs when emptied.  We managed to find a partial gallon of water in the downstairs bathroom (our tornado shelter). 

In the morning, the Toolman had to heat that water on the stove to shave.  Then I used the rest  for a sponge bath.  Oops…now we were out of water and I couldn’t exactly go knocking on the neighbors’ doors at 6 am asking to borrow a cup or two.  For the next several hours it seemed everything needed water—the dog’s bowl was empty, my son had to start brushing his teeth with a dry brush and complained that he couldn’t rinse, I was planning to make real hot chocolate  to drink and getting the sugar and cocoa to mix and dissolve without that little bit of water to kick start the process was a chore.

I figured 9 am was a safe enough hour to call on neighbors, but I couldn’t find anyone at home.  There I was going up and down the road with my little wagon load of empty ice tea jugs.  I ended up going home and trying to reach folds by phone.  Of course after nine I could also call the well digging service—they were out on calls and couldn’t get to me that day.  Finally I reached a neighbor who let me fill up five jugs and knew the name of another well service, the ones who had actually drilled ours. They were also out on a call, but thought they’d be able to swing by in the afternoon.

More waiting….dishes piled up in the sink—I wasn’t going to waste our limited supply on them.  High on my priority list was being able to refill the toilet tank because some things just have to be flushed down right away.  Decisions on what to eat and what to plan for dinner all revolved around how much what it would use up – rice and pasta were definitely out.

That afternoon the serviceman arrived.  The fault lay in the control box in our basement so they didn’t even have to dig up the yard or pull up the pump itself.  It was a real pleasure to turn on all the faucets and showerheads and flush the toilets to get all the air out of the lines. 

I share all this not to make anyone feel bad for me, my water problems were brief and now a memory.  I only wish to point out that for many people, the search for clean water is a daily struggle.  How far must they walk?  How safe is it to travel to the water and back again and once the task is done how clean is the water really? 

Living Water International is one of the charities recommended by Advent Conspiracy.  For around $25, they can provide clean water to a family of five for a year!  Look through your Christmas shopping list—isn’t there one gift you could purposefully choose not to buy so you could give this life-saving gift of water to someone really in need?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Conspiracy 2014

Let me ask the question--what does Christmas mean to you?  There are many good answers: getting together with family & friends, beautiful music & lights, and of course we can't forget the real Reason for the Season.  Perhaps it's my proximity to Ferguson (my mother actually grew up there), but this year I'm praying for some real Peace on Earth.  What's not on my list?  Shopping malls, lists of gifts to buy, hefty credit card bills come January.

Since we've moved back home to Missouri, we've participated in our church's
Advent Conspiracy project and it's four principles: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All.  This video is several years old now and estimates are Americans will spend over $600 Billion to celebrate this year.  That would surely rebuild all those stores and buildings that burned down in the riots.

This week I thought I'd focus the middle two, specifically how I can spend less at the stores and give more of myself with homemade gifts from the kitchen.  BONUS: I can also give more quality time to my son if he helps me make memories along with the goodies.  So here's just a few ideas.


It's the standby, by who doesn't love it.  Can't bake?  You can make Rice Crispy Treats or those birds nests with melted chocolate & Chow Mein noodles.

Quick Breads

Pumpkin bread or banana bread.  Here's a link to the persimmon bread I love to give.

Yeast Breads

The sad part is you can’t wrap up the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread, but I don’t think that will keep anyone from turning down the loaf or basket of rolls you offer.


Try making some peppermint bark with white chocolate.  I’ll be trying a new peanut brittle recipe I found on Food Network.

Homemade Spice Blends

Got a secret recipe for a special BBQ rub—you don’t have to share the recipe, just bag it up.  It’s all in the presentation…here’s a link to the Southwestern Dip mix we shared two Christmases ago.

Gifts in a Jar

Don’t want to do the baking yourself?  You can layer cookie ingredients like sand art in mason jars—just be sure to include the directions and a list of perishable ingredients the recipient will need to add.  Or maybe you can make up a Russian Tea or Hot Cocoa mix.

Facial Scrubs

Not everything has to be eaten.  I’ve found several recipes online for facial scrubs that use sugar as the main ingredient (always on sale during this prime baking season).  Add a little extract or essential oil and voila!

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Time Travelers Civil War

Last spring as part of a blog hop I shared ways we’ve used Photoshop Elements in homeschool---specifically, how we’d enhanced/colorized/etc. the PDF files from the Home School in the Woods’ Time Travelers U.S. History Studies.  Of course I asked their permission before sharing any of their images and after seeing my posts they gave me the opportunity to review one of their products.  This fall my son and I have really been enjoying their Civil War CD-ROM.

Obviously, if I was using their products last Spring I’m familiar with the vendor but let me be perfectly clear up front: We LOVE Home School in the Woods!!!  We’ve now used five of their Time Travelers sets, their Project Passport Middle Ages, and their Timeline Figures.  If you hated history (or your kids do) because of dull texts or unending lists of only names, dates, and places I urge you to give their activity-based unit studies a try!

Everything is contained on one CD-ROM.  I always start by printing out the Teacher’s guide and Lesson Texts which I comb-bind for our use (the book on the left below).   This gives me a Lesson Plan of material to be covered and all the instructions for creating a notebook, lap-book, crafts and other keepsakes to remember our study.  We’ve always used the Time Travelers to enhance our regular history curriculum  so I look through the lesson plan page first to see how the subject material matches up with each chapter of our textbook (to be honest, Time Travelers could stand alone as your history study if you don’t mind not having quizzes or tests).

The book on the right is my son’s notebook.  Rather than four separate pieces: a notebook, a lap-book, a newspaper, and a box of biographical mini-books (referred to as the Library of Leaders);  we compile everything into one large bound notebook.  We mount all the printables on cardstock pages-- this includes the mini-books of famous leaders and generals.  In this case, we used Photoshop Elements to add flags to the image backgrounds so we could keep sides straight, but you could just differentiate with the color of paper you use for printing.

Some of the other notebook pages include a massive timeline….

and samples of the uniforms for both the Union and Confederate soldiers.

When we went to the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob, we took spare copies of the pages that taught us to identify ranks and corps badges—it was like having our own private program to know all the players! 

The Union Cavalry was stationed directly in front of our spot, and we quickly realized that the “real man in charge” only had the rank of First Sergeant even though there was a Captain right behind him.

I could go on and on about the materials in our notebook…copies of important speeches and documents, maps, flash cards of military terms, history makes & other vocabulary; even recipes to make our study a more immersive experience.  Want your kid to know what it’s like to be a foot soldier?  Let him spend the day walking all over a battlefield and when he asks what’s for lunch, pull out the piece of hardtack you made the week before! (and then when the shock wears off, go visit one of the food vendors—I’m not that cruel).  

Of course the heart of the study are the Lesson Texts.   Here’s where Time Travelers really shine.  Every subject from pre-war Slavery to Reconstruction, every battle in between is told in a Charlotte Mason/Living Book format.  Sure there are dates and places and General’s names to remember, but everything is fleshed out to give it real meaning.  I’d found a used book of Civil War battle maps that my son kept side by side with the lesson texts and he could follow all the troop movements on the maps as he read.  Everything was spot on!


  The Civil War won’t be our last product from Homeschool in the Woods (we’ve still got three more Time Traveler studies to go).  And lest you think I’m gushing over a product I got for free in exchange for this review—I was a customer LONG beforehand, having purchased every other product we’ve used.  Every one has been a treasure—a real “this is why I homeschool” experience.

The Civil War is available for download for $27.95 or on CD for $28.95 (plus shipping).  It is recommended for grades 3-8.  You can see more project photos and download a sample lesson on the website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

TOS Blue Ribbon Awards

I can’t believe another year on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has come and gone! You may be wondering…what happens once the review is over?  Well if the product has been really helpful/enjoyed, it becomes part of our school or home life.  My son still looks forward to each new book in the Hank the Cowdog series and that’s something we reviewed years and years ago, my first year on the crew.

By far my son’s favorite review this year was HomeschoolPiano!  Yes, he looks forward to piano lessons and piano practice every day (a mother’s dream, I know).   We’re working through Book Two now.  I don’t know what we’ll do after Book Three.  I’m hoping Willie Myette will keep adding to the series.

I’m more excited about Fix It! Grammar, at least more excited to see me son’s progress.  During the review, he might make three guesses as to what the verb of the sentence was.  Now he can mark main and dependent clauses and the subjects and verbs for each on his own.  It works so well with the IEW writing program we’ve been using anyway (a review from year one as well).  I’ll be using the whole series of six books, I’m sure.

The reviewers of the Crew have the opportunity to vote on favorite products at the end of the year.  If you’re interested in the results (many award categories and overall winners too) just click on the link below.

2014 Blue Ribbon Awards

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Smoky Corn Chowder


Snow……..cold……need something warm and hearty to eat…’s soup weather.  Normally, I don’t get in this mood until after New Year’s Day, in the dead of winter ( I was planning this for a Jan-Feb blog series).  Normally we don’t have 4 inches of snow on the ground before I’ve even finished raking up the leaves.  I checked the pantry, hit the recipe books and came up with this dish.  It normally calls for bacon, but that disagrees with my hubby’s tummy.  I had a smoked turkey leg from our local butcher on hand so I used that instead.  Know what—I think it made the recipe even better.  Both my husband and son asked for more over the weekend.  I’d say this serves 6-8 people. Anybody smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving?  Here’s a chance to use up leftovers.



6 T butter                                                        16 oz. bag frozen corn

5-6 baby carrots, sliced                                4 russet potatoes, peeled & diced

1 sm. yellow onion, diced                             meat from 1 smoked turkey leg, chopped

1 t. diced garlic                                              4 cups chicken stock

1/2 C. flour                                                      2 C whole milk

salt & pepper to taste                                    pinch of nutmeg (optional)      


Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add carrot, onion & garlic and cook until slightly softened (2-3 minutes).  Stir flour into mixture, making a paste, until flour is lightly browned (4-5 min.). Remove saucepan from heat and set aside while you chop potatoes and debone the turkey leg.

Heat 4 cups of chicken stock in a large stock pot (my stock was frozen to start). Ladle some of the heated stock (a little at a time) into the veggie/flour mix and stir it until thoroughly combined. Add corn, potatoes, turkey and the veggie/flour roux to the stock pot.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until thickened (about 5 minutes)

Stir in milk and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender (15-20 minutes).

You might also want to throw in some grated cheese or just use some to garnish in the bowl.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: Purposeful Design

I once heard a motivational speaker say “You’ll be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  For that reason I’m careful with whom I keep company and the books I choose to read and keep around the house. I look for books that are thought-provoking, positive, and fill me with wonder.   Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation by Jay Schabacker hits all those marks.  His book, and the free curriculum available on his Purposeful Design website allow us to not only consider the wonders of God’s creation, but also build a positive self image as we realize that we too were created for a purpose.

Purposeful Design could be considered a “coffee table” book –the 90+ pages within its hardback cover are filled with gorgeous photography and verses of scripture.  On the other hand, it’s a book full of fascinating facts, questions to consider, and charts & diagrams too.  Mr. Schabacker spends a chapter on each day of the creation week and some of the amazing (and sometimes odd) examples of God’s handiwork.  Did you know a camel can carry up to thirty gallons of water in its hump? Or that even after spending years in the ocean a salmon can migrate thousands of miles back to the stream of its birth?  Water is one of the few elements that becomes less dense when it freezes—and why is that so important?  Along the way we learn things weren’t done just so, life on Earth wouldn’t even be possible: if the planet weren’t tilted at just the right angle, if a different percentage of the earth’s surface was covered by water, if the moon was at a different distance to control the tides, etc.  The seventh day chapter is filled with Bible verses for contemplation  and the epilogue wraps everything up with the statement “…the author wants to share his findings so that you can marvel at (and be thankful for) the love showered on us by a very personal and compassionate God. 

My son and I both loved perusing the pages—he had more interest in the astronomy and focused on Day 4 while I had more fun reading about the human body on Day 6.  This book is great to just pick up as time allows and read a page or two that draws your attention.  Then when we were ready for a deeper study, we downloaded  the free Young Explorers workbook (there’s a teacher’s answer key also).

Each lesson begins with the applicable verses from Genesis describing the creation of that day.  The author really had my son in mind when he phrased some of the questions…rather than ask “how does this verse speak to you” (as you might find in an adult Bible study) he asks “What is your favorite sentence or group of words? which was much easier for my son to understand.  Next comes a series of reading comprehension questions and then some additional Bible verses (again asking which is your favorite and why).  The other final questions for each day are 1.In your own words, what do you think was neat about what God did on Day ___? and 2. In your own words, how do you know that God loves you very much?  Each day we’re re-enforcing that God planned everything with no mistakes (including me and you) and He did it all because He loves us so much.  As I said at the beginning—positive message, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking. 

Purposeful Design can be enjoyed by all ages and is available on the website for $18.95.  The Young Explorer’s Club curriculum is free.

Click to read Crew Reviews

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