Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Boy Who Changed the World

Rain and temps in the 60's will mean an end to our winter wonderland.  Before that happens, I took Fritz to the local sledding hills.  Throughout the afternoon families came and went.  We saw all different kinds of sleds from the old fashioned kind with runners like I remember to what appeared to be a plastic box to store things under a bed.  The latter didn't work to well and was abandoned when it cracked.  Schnickelfritz would join up with various kids that appeared close to his age.  He'd introduce himself and ask their name and age, if they'd sledded before, etc.  Who says homeschool kids aren't socialized?   At one time there was a younger boy, a little pudgy and physically awkward, that was having trouble climbing the hill.  His sled didn't have a rope and often when he tried to hold it in his mittened hand, it would slip and slide all the way back down the hill.  He'd have to go back down after it, not a long descent as he hadn't made much uphill progress himself.  Fritz announced to me that he was going to go help this boy.   He went down the hill and left his own sled at the bottom so he could carry the one belonging to the boy.  Then he took the boy's hand and said "Let's pretend you're the first boy to ever climb Mount Everest."  Fritz didn't get frustrated or give up on his new friend whom he learned was named Aiden.    Fritz has always had a kind-hearted nature, but I can't help but wonder if his actions in the afternoon were the result of a book we had read in the morning.

Granny had given Schnickelfritz The Boy Who Changed the World by Andy Andrews for Christmas.  This is the juvenile version of Mr. Andrews' book on the butterfly effect.  He describes how the actions and mindset of one individual can impact another, who impacts another, and so on.  In this case it begins with Mr. Moses Carver, who adopts George Washington Carver, who teaches the son of his professor about plants.  This boy grows up to become Vice President and hires a man name Norman Borlaug, who develops "super seeds" to feed 2 billion people around the world.   Throughout the book are phrases in bold letters like "God made you to make a difference," and "Every little thing you do matters."   Now I don't know what little Aiden will do to change the world someday, but I'm sure the kindness my son showed him today can snowball (pardon the pun) into something great.

Friday, December 24, 2010

We're going to have a White Christmas

The weatherman has assured me that snow is on the way--at first it was coming last evening, then overnight, now it's expected mid morning.  I'm hoping it's not preceded by sleet and ice.   I wonder if there was all the fuss for a White Christmas before Irving Berlin wrote his famous song?

 We've run out and got the obligatory milk and bread and since I was at the store I made sure I had the ingredients for a little holiday baking.  As long as we're going to be stuck inside, it might as well smell nice.  I'm making brownies --this year I'm using a mini muffin pan to make individual ones, hopefully with that "corner" texture all around.  I'm making the Toolman his favorite oatmeal cookies with chocolate and peanut butter chips.  And I'm trying a new recipe for orange/persimmon tea bread for Christmas morning.   

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blueberry Jam

I scrounged all over the county and made several clerks check the back rooms, but I came away with my jelly jars and fruit pectin.  That's the trouble when you decide to do something out of season.   We do have blueberries growing at several u-pick farms in the area--again, not at this time of year.  Next year I will do more planning ahead when it comes to making jelly and jam for Christmas gifts.  So I had to rely on a large bag of frozen blueberries from Sam's club.  Next year though, I can pick my own wild black raspberries and blackberries.  I have persimmons too.  Does anyone know of a persimmon jam or persimmon butter recipe?

I have to say, I was pleased with the outcome--half a dozen jars of spiced blueberry jam.  They've already been delivered to the Toolman's coworkers.  And I got permission to use one of my Christmas presents early--a Cricut Expression to make the gift tags.   Let me share what I learned about pectin.  Sorry if this is obvious to you veteren canners, but I wasn't the only one in our canning class that didn't know this.  Pectin should be used in the season you purchase it.  You cannot substitute liquid for powdered pectin (or vice versa) in recipes.  Each seasons pectin has its own binding power, dependant on the fruit for that year, so use the recipes that come in that season's pectin package and don't save the papers from year to year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: North Star Games

Ho Ho Ho!  We're in the thick of the holiday season right now and you're probably either hosting or will be attending a party or two in the next few weeks.  Recently the crew received a party game to review and you may want to have it on hand to play with friends and family.

Wits & Wagers Family is really a junior edition of the award winning Wits & Wagers game by North Star Games.  The scoring is simplified, the questions have more of a kid appeal, but it can still be played by all.  "It's good for ages 8 to senile," as my mother put it.  There are five different colored sets of pieces, but you can play as teams so the number of people playing is unlimited.

The rules are easy to pick up:  A question with a numerical answer is read aloud.  Each person (or team) writes their answer on a dry erase board and the answers are placed on a table in order from smallest to largest--there is a preprinted default card with a 1 on it.  Then each person or team has a large and small playing piece, called a meeple, that they place on the card they believe has the closest to the correct answer without going over.  You can place them both on your own card or split them up and put them on separate cards to improve your scoring chances.

The person who wrote the winning answer (closest without going over) scores one point.  Small meeples on the winning card score one point, large meeple score two.  The maximum anyone can score in one round is 4 points.  The winner is the first to reach 15 points.

Unlike most trivia games, you're really NOT supposed to know the answers to the question.  The fun comes in the guessing and seeing how diverse the answers can be.  In fact, we "threw out" the questions with obvious answers like "How many teaspoons in a tablespoon."   Sometimes in addition to discussing the actual answer we mused on who sat around investigating the answer (who really thought up the one about how many tennis balls you can fit in a dog's mouth?)     We're not really up on pop culture in our family so some questions may be more obvious to you than us (eg. How many books are in the Lemony Snicket series?)   Once we were asked the height of the world's tallest roller coaster.  Schnickelfritz, who wants to build an amusement park called Seven Flags when he grows up knew exactly.  When he scored four points in that round he declared Wits & Wagers "The best game ever."

The game only comes with 150 questions.  This may be enough if you only pull the game out for occasional parties.  If you want it to be a regular in your family game night line up like we did, you may purchase the expansion pack (this is really for the original Wits & Wagers edition so the questions may be over kids' heads).  As a homeschooler, I can think up dozens of sources to write my own questions.  Pull out a history book--When was the Fall of Rome?   How many casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg?  Perhaps you prefer science--What is the diameter of the largest eagle's nest?  What percentage of hatched sea turtles make it to the ocean?   I'm certainly not touting this as an educational game, but it could be fun to write questions throughout the school year and then "test" their retention level with a game at year end.

Wits & Wagers Familyretails for $19.99.   North Star's website is being updated to help you find retailers near you and is currently directing visitors to Target's website for purshases.  The expansion pack is $14.99 for 700 additional questions.  

You can see what my fellow Homeschool Crewmates think of  Wits & Wagers Family game by clicking here.
Disclaimer: I received a free Wits & Wagers Family game for the purpose of completing this review.  I received no other compensation for my honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pressure Canning

It was a day for the  homeschool teachers to switch roles and become students for a day.  One of the moms contacted the extension office to arrange a class in pressure cooking and making jams and jellies.  With the downturn in the economy,  more and more are pulling out Grandma's canner and planting gardens to preserve the harvest.  A WORD OF WARNING--do not use Grandma's old recipes or any recipes dated before 1989.    Science caught up with home economics at that time--the ability to test pH levels of food and put thermometers inside the jars.  Some things that used to be canned in boiling water now need pressure canning.  Other things like pureed pumpkin shouldn't be canned at all at home.  The danger isn't that you'll get peas exploded on your ceiling, but that those jars can harbor potentially deadly botulism.

For class we canned carrots and made quick grape jelly and a wonderful spiced blueberry jam.  We got to taste a little leftover jam while it was still warm.  Guess what my husband's fellow workers will be getting for Christmas?  I ran right over to Walmart (which still had a good supply of jelly jars).

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Give More

We've reached week 3 in our Advent Conspiracy--Give More.  I have to say the evidence of giving was all over the church today as the presents  were due for the Crisis Pregnancy center.  Each year the need has been greater and each year our church has sponsored more families.  There were 400 tags on the giving wreath this year.  Our church also takes responsibility to ring the Salvation Army bells several days during the season.  I'm not saying this to brag,  I just want you to know that as a congregation we've embraced the whole concept of spending less on ourselves or giving unappreciated gifts out of obligation and are instead sharing with those who truly need to feel God's love in a tangible way right now.   As part of Advent Conspiracy we are also giving financial gifts to Living Water, an orphanage in Mexico, and a Safe House for abused women in children in our county.

Giving to those in need is only half of the giving more equation.  The other half is giving more of ourselves--making time to spend with those who matter most.  Some of the best gifts don't necessarily have to cost much, but they do require imagination and effort on our part.  The pastor shared one example of a young man who gave his dad a bag of coffee beans.  The beans could only be ground and brewed when the donor and donee were together and the time had to be spent with the dad sharing memories with his son.  I bet the dad never smelled coffee again without thinking of the precious time he and his son spent together.

Last year I gave my father a copy of a cookbook from one of his favorite restaurants and told him to place his order--entree, side dish and dessert and invited him over for a family meal.   Quality time can also come from making the gifts, not just giving them.  I also got to spend time with my son making persimmon loaves to give to my husband's co-workers.  (I find watching Ratatouille before we start builds his enthusiasm to cook).

You can learn more about Advent Conspiracy at their website.

Monday, December 6, 2010


We've hit the wall in homeschooling--you know the one between Thanksgiving and Christmas when nobody is very enthusiastic about learning spelling rules or how birds migrate.  So we're doing a mini unit study on Christmas around the world (the one thing Schnickelfritz is still gung-ho about is geography).   Someone from my homeschool co-op made an open invitation to come see how her family celebrates Hanukkah--so we expanded our study to include this Jewish holiday.    I must say how impressed I was by all the effort she put into the day.

When we arrived we were offered hot chocolate and donuts.  Donuts are fried in oil and the miracle of a small amount of oil lasting eight days is at the heart of Hanukkah.

After a brief lesson (not quite brief enough for Schnickelfritz) we had a craft project.  She had made up bundles with craft sticks, paper flames and Bible verses for each child to make their own Hanukiah.   It has eight candles with a ninth "servent candle" raised in the center.

The children then got to take turns lighting a real candle.

Then it was time to learn the Dreidel game.  The symbols on the four sides stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There."  (The dreidels made in Israel say "A Great Miracle Happened Here).  Each child got a pile of chocolate gelt to play with.  And they quickly learned what each symbol meant--they whole trip home Fritz chanted "Shin, Shin, put one in."   The dreidels were pulled out and played with when the Jews feared someone might burst in and discover their illegal Torah study.

And finally we were served latkes for lunch.   These were made with mashed sweet potatoes rather than shredded potatoes.  But they were delicious served with sour cream and garlic salt.  Once again we were cooking with oil to remind us of the miracle.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Spend Less

Week two of the Advent Conspiracy focuses on Spending Less.  This is not the advocation of standing in line at 3 AM to catch the bargains of Black Friday sales.   It is instead, the conscious decision to not purchase the obligatory fruitcake for your second cousin or perhaps decide that everyone in the family could still be happy with one less present. 

According to their website,  Advent Conspiracy claims Americans spent $450 billion of Christmas in 2008.  How much of that was spent in that aisle each store has filled with gifts for people you don't even know well enough to know what they'd like for Christmas--coffee mugs, yuletide ties (or worse, underwear),  or generic gift certificates.   

Before you call me the Grinch, I'm not saying you shouldn't express your love or appreciation to these people.  Next week we'll learn how to give of ourselves, not of our pocketbooks.  And the money we save by not buying unappreciated gifts--well according to Advent Conspiracy it would only cost $10 billion to make sure everyone in the world had access to clean water.  In addition to supporting Living Water, or church is also donating to an orphanage in Mexico and a battered women's safe house right in our own county.   Oops, I think I'm getting ahead of myself.  Stay tuned for next week's topic :  Give More.

You can learn more about Advent Conspiracy at their website.
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