Easy Advent Calendar

Granddaughter Rachel with her mama’s creative stocking advent calendar!

Here’s an exciting way for kids to count off the days to Christmas!  Simply safety pin Christmas socks up on the line.  The kids can help you make it. You can buy them at the dollar store in a variety of designs and sizes.  It’s easy and fun to put together and makes a cheery decoration too!

Tuck a little note in each sock that describes a fun activity to be done that day to create lots of holiday excitement and family fun.  Here’s a few random ideas off the top of my head—I’m sure you’ve got better ones!

Day 1: Put up the Christmas tree

Day 2:  Bake cookies

Day 3: Walk around the mall and see the decorations

Day 4: Visit a neighbor with a treat

Day 5: Make a present for someone

Day 6: Light candles and read a Christmas story by candlelight

Day 7: Drive around and see the Christmas lights

Day 8: Write (and draw) greetings to family and friends far away

Day 9:  Read all the names of Christ you can find in the scriptures

Day 10: Make a paper chain with red/green construction paper

Day 11: Hang the stockings

Day 12: “Doorbell ditch” something fun secretly to someone

Day 13: Visit a nursing home and talk to the residents

Day 14: Gather grown-out-of coats and mittens for the homeless

Day 15: Invite friends over to play games

Day 16: Have popcorn and hot chocolate for dinner

Day 17: Watch a Christmas movie in jammies

Day 18: Make Christmas ornaments

Day 19: Find a doll that could be Jesus and wrap him in swadding bands. Put him in a basket or “manger” under the Christmas tree.

Day 20: Go to a live nativity, Christmas tree lighting, or other community celebration

Day 21:  Sing Chirstmas carols at the piano

Day 22: Invite an elderly person over for dinner

Day 23: Dance to Christmas music

Day 24: Act out the nativity story

Rachel’s mom decides what activity she is prepared for and tucks that note into the stocking at night before she goes to bed. That way she is ready for the fun!

You might enjoy:

Nativity Advent Calendar

Nativity Bracelet Craft Kit

Babushka Nesting Doll



Pumpkin Pie and Ice Cream, Sugar Free!

It’s that pumpkin time of year!

“Better-than-Libby’s” Pumpkin Pie (Sugar Free)

  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin (use a “sugar pumpkin” from your garden, or the grocery store, or use one 15 oz can or half of the big 29 oz. can, which is about 1 3/4 cups—still works)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 10 drops clear stevia
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ginger
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 can evaporate milk (12 oz) which is 1  1/2 cups

Beat eggs, add other ingredients, mixing well. Pour into unbaked pie crust. Bake at 325 degrees for an 45-60 minutes. Check by inserting a knife into the center of the pie. It is comes out clean, it is done. Serve with sugar-free ice cream!

This recipe is for a 2 quart ice cream maker:

Vanilla Walnut Ice Cream

  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 2/3 cup whole yogurt
  • 2 T. xylitol or honey
  • 1 squirt clear stevia
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Mix all ingredients, except nuts, together  in a bowl, and pour in ice cream maker, adding more milk until reaching 2″ below top of ice cream maker. Taste near the end of churning and add more sweetener if needed to taste. Churn until frozen, about 20 minutes, adding nuts near the end of churning.


Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!!!


Take Apart Toys for Your Little Guy

This Year’s Best Toys!

Have you got a little boy that loves to turn a screwdriver?  I wish these toys had been around for my little guys!

These take-apart vehicles are ranked as the #1 construction toy and I know why. It is so fun to actually build something! Take it apart, then use the “power” tool (safe, kid-sized and battery operated) to put things back together again! Take a look:

Besides being able to create a fun toy to play with, kids are learning basic “fix-it” skills. I love that! My little boys pretended they were “fixing” the vacuum cleaner with their toy screwdriver, and that’s fun, but to actually learn the skill of “right tighty, lefty loose-y” is even better!

This toy comes in two flavors:

Take A-part Airplane with 25 parts

Take A-part Crane Truck with a whopping 34 parts.

The power tool has 3 realistic, interchangeable bits. Big, easy-to-handle nuts and bolts are fun to screw in!

Where to start with little ones and building things? My toddlers were eager to get their hands on the plastic tools in this little tin toolkit. Now I watch my grandbabies “saw” the legs on the dining room chairs! A fun, safe way to get used to handling tools.

Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!!!


How to Make Your Kids Deaf

It’s simple and it doesn’t take long at all to make your kids totally stone deaf to your voice. Just tell them to do things, and then don’t follow through. Go into a store, and tell them not to touch the toys on the shelf and then when they start ripping open packages, just look the other way. Put dinner on and tell them that they don’t get ice cream unless they eat their vegetables. Then serve the ice cream, ignoring the broccoli on their plates.  I’ve always wondered how the child who cannot hear, “Eat your vegetables” said in a loud voice can super-easily hear “ice cream” when it is whispered between Mom and Dad!

Many mothers lament: “My kids won’t listen to me!” A little observation and it is pretty to see why. Mommy lies. She tells her children to stop fighting or she’ll turn around and drive home instead of to the park. Then when the children get to the park arguing the whole way, she lets them get out and play.

Every mom wants to raise good kids that are respectful and listen and obey. But not all of us moms have the gumption to make that happen. We’re tired. We’re sorry we made such big requests—maybe it’s too hard on little Johnny. We’re busy. We’re afraid to withhold rewards for fear we’ll damage them psychologically.  We’re not up to a fight today.

We’ve got lots of excuses, but basically, it takes a lot of courage to be a mom that raises good kids. There isn’t much wiggle room when it comes to being true, making sure your word is good and that you follow through absolutely.

What I learned the hard way, after several children, was to keep my mouth shut more.  (Not that I always did it, but I definitely learned it!)  Only request what you are willing to get up off the couch and make happen. If you want Johnny’s pajamas on, get eye contact and tell him so once (not 3 times, which is officially called “nagging”). You just committed yourself to stop checking your email and make sure those pajamas are on 10 minutes after you gave your son the order. Once in a blue moon, Johnny might put them on without your “supervision”, but don’t bank on it. Following up is the only way to teach Johnny that you mean what you say. After 100 nights of Mommy making sure those jammies are on 10 minutes after the command, you might get rewarded with Jimmy strolling out in his PJs 9 minutes later, while you are still checking your email. Maybe. Kid training takes effort. It is not for the faint-hearted. Or lazy. Or even tired. That’s why God gives us the kids while we are young and can still get up off the couch.

I’m all for incentives and making things fun. Promise a story. Promise 2 stories if they can get their jammies on and get back to you before the 10 minute timer rings.  Be warm, loving and playful.  But don’t lie. If the timer rings before the jammies are on, no story.

Stone deaf kids are not that fun to live with.  The older they get, the less fun it is. What’s cute at 4 is obnoxious at 9.  The longer you wait to train them to listen to you, the harder it gets.  It’s still possible, but it’s going to be rough-riding for a while while they learn to believe you mean what you say.  And you’ll be tempted to slip back into the “look the other way” mode.  But if a child can’t believe his own mother, what a very insecure world it is!

Make ‘em listen. Make ‘em mind. It is such a happier way to live!

Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!!!

You might enjoy:

A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue

Parenting: A House United

Londyn LaRae Says Okay



GIANT Space Hopper

Too fun for words . . . and a bargain!

You’ve seen little kids bouncing along on fun hopping balls.  Now, there is a GIANT one—big enough for teens and adults (up to 240 lbs.) to have their own hoppity fun!  We opened the package, eagerly pumped up this big, big ball with the included (and kind of filmsy but still works) foot pump, and the laughter began!  If you have an air compressor or bicycle pump, go for it get hopping faster!

Bright orange and 32″ high! Hang onto this giant ball’s “horns” and off you go!  Louisa decided to do her yoga poses on top of it, getting us all laughing, as she couldn’t balance for more than a minute without slipping off.  We only inflated ours to 28-30″ because we were too eager to play with it and it already looked gargantuan!

Sold only in science museums, we were able to purchase some for our customer friends.  Often selling at $49, we priced it at just $19.99, so this is a bargain!

We also offer smaller, 23″ matching Jumbo Space Hoppers, just right for kids 8-11, for just $15.99.

Besides hopping, sit on your hopper ball to work on your computer or to read.  The constant unnoticable balancing that your body does as you sit on it builds strong core muscles.

My husband Rick loves it too! Great exericse, fabulous fun!

Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!

Watch this fun video of live action.


What to do with Halloween?

What to do with Halloween? Don’t ban it! Revise it!

Halloween is an unsavory holiday for many Christians. We don’t seem to know what to do with it. The black magic, the ghouls and other frightening images, the often devilish costumes, the spook alleys, the haunted house attractions . . . these all fly in the face of seeking after whatsoever is good, uplifiting and praiseworthy.

It might seem like an exciting holiday that children enjoy, but if you’ve ever lived in a country that practiced withcraft, you may have experienced how very real—evil and horrifying—it truly is. My children who have served missions in foreign countries (and brushed up with real Halloween stuff) have expressed surprise and wonder as to why good Christians would want to promote such a holiday and put up frightening decorations to invite such a spirit.

So why am I for Halloween?

Well, it’s about physics. Whenever you remove something and create an empty space, the vacuum begs for something else to rush in and fill the void. If you remove Halloween and stay home with the front porch light off and do “regular life”, you create a vacuum that is just yearning to be occupied. You might maintain the void for a few years, but as your children get older and more part of the world outside your cottage, you’ll find it harder and harder to fight off Halloween.

Halloween is the second biggest retail holiday, scoring just under Christmas in sales. That means everyone is thinking about, making or buying a costume or decorations or foods for Halloween.  And your kids will sooner or later be touched by it.  We can’t keep them little forever, but we can give them traditions with meaning that they can repeat with their own families.

I’m all for replacing Halloween with something better.  And it is a perfect time of year to do it. Halloween comes just as the garden is being put to bed, and the pumpkins and big squashes picked. The orchard is ripe and laden with apples, and the cornstalks freeze and turn pale.  There are autumn leaves falling. Your decorations are already in place! If you’ve done much food preserving, there is a definite sense of relief and cause to celebrate when your work is done, and the garden is closed for the season. It is natural to make it a time of celebrating the harvest!  So why not have a Harvest Festival? Invite a few families, or a lot.  Have it at your home, or in a bigger location.  Here’s some ideas we’ve tried:

  • potluck supper featuring soups and breads
  • non-scary costumes for all, adults too: animals, historical figures, storybook characters, etc.
  • set up some simple carnival type games around the edge of the room so children can go from one to the next (cake walk, bean bag toss, fishing pond, etc.)
  • every family brings a bag of candy as a “ticket” to get in.  The candy is then used as prizes in the carnival games.
  • have a “healthy treat” Halloween with natural treats, popcorn, muffins, apples
  • A “Family dance” (all ages): western line dances, square dance, English contra-dancing are all great fun!

Another tradition that our children have wanted to keep going, as they’ve grown older, is to visit the elderly people in your neighborhood or church community on Halloween—trick or treat style.  Most of those who are elderly now grew up when Halloween was a more innocent holiday where the children dressed up in costume and went safely door to door through the neighborhood in droves. Most of the older people I know buy candy and wait and wait . . . and wait . . . in hopes of treating little children in costume.  My neighbor told me that “The Hopkins” were the only trick-or-treaters she’s had in the last ten years!  You can brighten someone’s evening by a visit, showing your costumes and staying for a while to chat. My college kids still go visiting our elderly neighbors on Halloween.

Whatever you choose, remember that children are quick to set it in concrete as tradition and want it be repeated every year.  Celebration of harvest with family and friends, or visiting the elderly are both things I am happy to see my children carry on.

And oh, Happy Halloween Harvest!

Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!!!

{ 1 comment }

Don’t Let High School Sneak Up on You!

It can happen!

Here you are, a happy homeschooling mom having fun teaching your little brood, and suddenly, your oldest child transforms into a “big kid”. And before you know it, high school requirements are staring you in the face.  What’s a mother to do?

Preparation is always the best plan. Before your oldest child becomes a 9th grader and credit matters, get all your ducks in a row.

The high school requirements aren’t really that complicated. They are simply an outline for giving a student a well-rounded education, preparing him for life and/or college.  I find the requirements helpful, and use them to create a great homeschool plan, with online courses or classes at a high school as options when desired. Although each high school (and college) varies in the exact details, the general educational requirements are pretty much the same:

High School Requirements (9-12th grade)

  • Math
  • English
  • Science
  • History
  • Fitness for Life, Health and P.E.
  • Computer literacy
  • Life/Career Skills
  • Fine Arts
  • Foreign Language

With this outline you and your student can build a wonderful plan to get the well-rounding knowledge and education while focusing on his interests. Don’t let high school overwhelm you! I’ll walk you through how to implement a high school schedule for each year on my next blog post. For now, let’s take a look at the required classes:


One course per year: Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Geometry, Advanced Math.  Make sure your child gets through pre-algebra (at least) before he enters high school.


Four years of learning our language, including reading classics, learning to write well both in content, analysis, and mechanics such as punctuation, spelling, use of words.  Grammar, vocabulary are taught here too.


4 years worth of lab sciences create a great foundation of understanding the world around us.  They are generally taught in this order:

  • Physical Science
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Advanced Science

Marine Biology, Human Body, Advanced Chemistry or Advanced Physics is taught during the 12th grade if you do Physical Science before high school. Apologia Science books, which I highly recommend, teach Physical Science during 8th grade.


My favorite subject!  I think teaching history gives children a sense of who they are, where they fit in the earth’s history, and helps them see the lessons that our planet has gone through and the preciousness of freedom.

Here is what is generally required  during high school:  American History World History, Geography, American Government and Citizenship.

Fitness for Life, Health, Physical Education

These classes focus on keeping your body healthy and fit.  If you’ve raised your children with Christian values, you may find high school health to be assaulting (as we did) with its focus on sexually transmitted diseases, alternative lifestyles and drug abuse.  I choose to focus on the positive: eating right, and experiencing a variety of activities such as walking, hiking, canoeing, swimming, not just team sports and exercise workouts.  Plus, a very brief exposure to drugs and sexually transmitted disease in the proper way is helpful.  Usually high schools require 1 semester of Fitness for Life, 1 semester of Health and 3 semesters of Physical Education (sports, fitness activities, can include dance).

Computer Literacy

Most homeschoolers could teach this class!  In our world, knowing how to type on a computer keyboard, and how to operate basic software—Word processing, Excel and Power Point—are the requirements. It isn’t too hard to demonstrate proficiency.  My high schoolers chose a subject they were interested in to create a great Power Point presentation using photographs they had taken.  Your teen can put his budget (or study hours) on Excel and track it for a semester.

Life Skills

Here’s where the fun comes in! Sometimes called Career Electives or by other names, the general thrust of this category is to prepare the student with some kind of skill that they could make a living with.  This is a fabulous category because this is where your child’s talents and interests can really gain expression and expertise! Includes such classes as: Cooking, Nutrition, Sewing, Gardening (Horticulture), Agricultural Tech, Woodworking, Metalworking, Welding, Engine Repair, Small Business, etc.

Fine Arts

All things cultural and beautiful: Music, Dance, Theater, Choir, Orchestra, Band, Art, Photography, Sculpting . . . many homeschoolers excel in the Fine Arts.

Foreign Language

Two years of the same language is recommended for college-bound students. Aside from that, knowing another language is a fabulous skill!


There you have it!  Semester classes count for 1/2 credit and full year classes count for 1 credit. A student must take 6 credits per year for 4 years giving them the required 24 credits to graduate with a high school diploma. (Schools vary a bit here with “elective” credit, no stress). Whether you want the diploma or not, the general knowledge is priceless . . . if you choose the right books, perspective, courses, and mentors.

How-to” plans next time!

Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!!!

You might enjoy:

Learning Language Arts

Saxon Algebra

Jumping Ship



Easy Ratatouille

Have you got garden produce—summer squash, eggplant, zucchini, basil and tomatoes—stacking up on your countertop? Here’s a sumptuously delicious way to use up late summer harvest all in one pot! No need to measure, just use what you have:

In a large skillet, heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Add and toss to sear:

  • Minced garlic (1-5 cloves)
  • Chopped onions (about 1 large)
  • Chopped sweet bell peppers: red, green, orange, yellow, Hungarian, etc. (about 2-3 peppers)
  • Chopped zucchini  (about 4 small)
  • Chopped yellow squash or patty pan, or any other summer squash (about 4 small)
  • Chopped eggplant, skin on (1 large)

Cook and toss, until all veggies are browned.


  • Chopped tomatoes  (about 4 large)
  • Chopped fresh herbs: basil, parsley (about 1/4 cup of each, roughly cut)
  • Optional: marjoram and thyme
  • Salt + pepper

Simmer until veggies are very tender, and tomatoes have dissolved into a sauce.

How to eat this mixture?  Just scoop it hot onto a crusty chunk of artisan bread and top with grated cheese to melt.

Fabulous tasting! Super nutritious!

The scoop on ratatouille:

*the word “ratatouille” comes from the French word “touiller” which means to toss food.

*Say rat-a-too-eee!

*to make a gourmet tasting ratatouille, toss and sear each veggie separately, adding it to a pot after browning.  In this way, each vegetable retains its own taste.  (Since I am more interested in getting dinner on the table than being a gourmet, mine all goes into the same pot to toss around in the hot oil just as soon as I get it chopped, and it still turns out delicious!)

*Can us ratatouille as a pizza topping, in an omelet, or thinned with a little water to make a soup.

*Ratatouille is highly nutritious, low fat and low calories.

*Make it now, freeze in containers, and enjoy summer’s savory taste this winter!

Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!!!


You might enjoy:

Hopkins Cookbook 

“Queen” Apron 

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day



Maid to be a Mother

Maid to be a Mother

Welcome to the home that lives within the house,
Where loving kids is all that really counts.

The dishes in the sink, the crumbs upon the floor,
And all the dirty laundry are secondary chores.

Now don’t assume me lazy by looking at the mess,
I’ve put forth forty hours and still don’t take a rest!

I polish little minds as bright as they can be
And sweep out tiny hearts and keep them pure and clean.

Each and every soul is scrubbed until it gleams,
I also pick up spirits, should they ever lose a dream.

So push the clothes on over, and have yourself a seat—
Excuse the toys and cookie crumbs sticking to your feet.

Judge me as a mother, not the maid I ought to be
I’d prefer sparkling lives to a house dirt-free.


Please leave a comment here.  Thanks!!!

{ 1 comment }

Nearer, My God, to Thee

Sometimes I forget how old I am.  There is nothing like a really hard trial to transform you into a child again—a student—trying to learn the lessons of life so that the pain will stop and peace will replace it.

In church, the old hymn “Nearer, My God, to Thee” opened its treasure to me. I’ve sung it a hundred times in my life, at least. Probably more.  And never “heard” it.

“Nearer, My God, to Thee”
Verse 3:
“There let the way appear,
Steps unto heaven;
All that thou sendest me,
In mercy given . . .”

Oh! I get it! God in mercy sends us the growth opportunities, life’s hard lessons: tragedies, trials, insurmountable difficulties. Why is it merciful for us to suffer?

Because the way appears . . . the path opens up . . . steps unto heaven.

It is because He loves us, in mercy He let’s us learn.  He orchestrates learning. Just like any good parent. We do it too, for our child’s benefit.

Verse 4:
“. . . so by my woes, I’ll be
Nearer, my God, to thee
Nearer, my God, to thee,
Nearer to thee!”

Our woes can draw us to God, if we allow them to. Nearer to God. The hard things are really the door opener so we can learn to know God. Challenges disguise themsevles as obstacles, but they are really stepping stones.

The speaker at church talked about Happiness.  He said, “my hobby is to be happy”.  I thought to myself how very much I need to make it a conscious decision, to make happiness a hobby for me, too, since I am often overwhelmed, frazzled, frustrated, and hurt by the grinding day-by-day challenge of Ammon’s recovery.  At the peak of a very difficult few weeks, Ammon told me I didn’t smile anymore. I hadn’t realized. Happiness a hobby . . . it is by our own choice and effort that we smile, that we count our blessings, that we feel gratitude and focus on the good things.

The speaker’s formula for happiness:

1- Gratitude
2- Serving Others
3- Personal Integrity
4- Forgiving
5- Being considerate (. . . and I would add: never judging others)

We already know those things are what make us happy, but it is easy to forget to choose them when life gets intense.  ”Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Romans 12:21

If pain is the rocky path leading one nearer to God, so be it. It would be a small price. Soul stretching lessons are difficult to live through, but the education they provide is priceless.

I want to learn.

God, help me want to learn.