Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

Dear Friends & Family,

2011. A year where we saw God's hand in our own lives and in those around us. Through tears of grief and days of immense joy we know that His plan is perfect. May we continue to remember His faithfulness as we reflect on the past year and think of the year to come.

James has continued to work for the same company. He is managing the Outdoor Advertising division and enjoys his job there. We are very thankful that through this economic downturn he is still employed and as we look to the future we continue to ask the Lord to sustain his job. Charlotte is busy with the homeschooling and homemaking; now that our youngest is in first grade, we have 4 children being homeschooled full time. We are still a part of a small co-op with 3 other families from our church; Charlotte has enjoyed teaching science and literature so far this year to the children in the group.

Mr. Lego (J) is now 14, soon to be 15 in just about 6 weeks. He is a fraction of an inch shorter than dad and is still growing. This year we enrolled him in a homeschooling Lego engineering class once a week. He has really enjoyed his time there and has learned a lot. In his spare time he enjoys building things and reading. Bookworm (K) is now 12 and becoming a sweet young lady. Her favorite thing to do is to read of course, but she does enjoy knitting and crocheting as well. Over the summer a young lady in our church taught some of the younger girls how to sew and Bookworm enjoyed that immensely. Dasher (A) just turned 11 last week. She enjoys doing math in school and loves our literature time. She also loves doing the experiments in our science class. She loves animals and plays with the rabbits and bird almost every day. Nutsy (E) is now a big 6. She is really enjoying school and says that phonics is her favorite subject. She loves to play with dolls and kitchen toys.

We are still involved in 4-H. We have 5 rabbits right now and are really hoping that we can breed for the county fair this next year. We are still learning lots in the rabbit project; Mr. Lego is a teen leader and helps to lead the meetings every month. The other project we are involved in is the Leadership project. Mr. Lego is our club secretary and Bookworm is a Sergeant-at-Arms; so far this year they have learned lots about public speaking and assertiveness through the leadership opportunities and presentations. Our parakeet, Sunny Honey, wakes us every morning with his chirping. He is very friendly and loves it when we let him out of his cage.

We are thankful for all of you that keep in touch; it is a blessing to see how God has worked in your lives. May you continue to trust in His perfect faithfulness in the coming year.

The Joyful Hearts Family

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Gingerbread House Saga

Last week we had 2 of our cousins stay with us.

And I thought it would be the perfect time, with all the extra hands, to make a gingerbread house from scratch.


The walls, roof, and of course, real sugar-glass windows.

I was inspired by an old Entertaining book I have of Martha Stewart's. Martha Stewart rocks, in my opinion.

First we drew and cut out a template on a paper bag. (I forgot to take any photos until we were actually assembling the thing so you'll just have to bear with my words only.)

I did a super easy template, 4 sides and a roof; with each side being identical to the one it was parallel to.

Then I made a standard gingerbread recipe. I realized when I was mixing the flour in that I had to chill the dough for 2 hours, so I threw it in the freezer for 45 minutes and called it even.

We rolled it out and cut it using our templates.

Mistake #1 - I neglected to make sure that my template would fit on my baking sheet.

It went into the oven anyway, with the peak of the wall contorted to fit the pan. (That part eventually fell off, but as you will see, this was the least of my problems.)

Mistake #2 - Anything structural needs to be the same thickness, or else it will burn and be unstable-see photo below.  (Do you know how hard it is to roll out dough to the exact same thickness?!?)

Next we made our sugar-glass windows. (Which was the easiest, most satisfying, and equally delicious step of the whole process.) Super easy.

This was a two day process, so the following day we started the assembly.

We frosted the windows to the walls, and stood them up.

 Mistake #3 - The walls must be perfect. As in to the centimeter, completely identical to the one it is touching and facing. I didn't take close up photos, but we had one side that had a big, 1 inch gap that we had to fill in with royal icing.

Here you can see my burned sections of the roof. That was okay; we were planning on frosting them, then lining them with Chex cereal to look like shingles.

Mistake #4 - Heat makes gingerbread collapse.

This was where my creativity got too creative; I had decided to make a hole in one side of my wall and run a string of lights into the house so it would look all nice and homey.

As soon as we got the four walls up, we put the lights in and turned then on; which made it much easier to see what we were doing.

After about 10 minutes things started happening.

The lovely glass windows started sliding, and one wall started buckling.

Then the roof would not stay on. It was hilarious; as soon as one crack would appear we would mortar it up with royal icing, and then another one would appear on the other side.

Finally it hit me: You idiot, the lights are melting everything!

We turned off the lights, made repairs, tried our best to prop the whole thing up with chopsticks, and left it on the table for a couple hours to rest.

I was not happy on the inside; I had visions of a Martha Stewart, award winning, gingerbread house dancing in my head, and now the whole thing was literally sliding off the table. But the kids were the ones with the good attitude. First they said it was a half built house, and the people inside were poor and could only afford 30 seconds of electricity every hour. Then when a window cracked, they put a chopstick through it and said that the kids who lived there were playing outside and hit the window.

We finally decided a cardstock paper roof was the best; I got out the rest of the royal icing and the candy, and let the kids go to work.

Candy makes everything better.

They did a fine job.

They even used the scraps from the roof to make a car to go along with the house.

Later that evening the house did start leaning...we propped it up with more chopsticks.

Now the kids were saying this house was in Florida, and that it was hurricane season.

The next morning it was surprisingly still up, but that afternoon at co-op during our geography lesson, one whole wall collapsed onto the floor.

That was it; the end of our beautiful house. It lasted 19 hours.

I had planned on waiting until Christmas to eat it, but who wants a half erected gingerbread house on their table for two weeks?

And my little creators had been dying to partake of the yummy house ever since we started, so that night I let them all dive in.

 After a half hour of indulgence, this is what was left.

That is also when I realized that it is just as much fun to not make the perfect gingerbread house.

Joy is not based on circumstances, but on our attitudes. And I am so glad that is the truth; or else we would all be walking around moping in our troubles. Having joy is also a choice; one that can definitely be hard to make sometimes.

 Even with a fallen down gingerbread house, joy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: That I still need to write our annual family letter, which I am planning to do tomorrow. And the stack of Christmas cards is sitting right next to me, ready to go to the post office today. I'm just a teeny bit behind, but everything should get to where it needs to go by Christmas.

What I'm reading: I wasn't going to do much reading this week, but last week at the library, Dasher found a good book; What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. A super fun book that shows what 80 people around the world eat in a day.

What I'm listening to: This is our first day of winter vacation, so I am letting the kiddos sleep in. One is awake behind me though, and I can hear book pages turning. And I am sure you can all guess who that is....

What we're learning: We are taking the next two weeks off of school. Our co-op is meeting this week for class though; we'll do the language arts class and do some work in our science class too. And when the kids get bored I'll have them work on their 4-H presentations.

What I'm watching: We still have fall leaves on the ground and in the trees....we have had a pretty dry December here, which is making our fall seem like it is lasting longer than usual. But on the weather website there is some rain coming next week.

What's cooking: This week we are having Sukiyaki, Golden Winter Soup and homemade Caesar Salad, Salsa Chicken, and of course our annual Christmas Eve Appetizer Night. Like I say, the reason I work out is because I love to eat....

What I'm buying: I don't need to buy anything this week. :-)

What I'm thankful for: I am so thankful for my children. They make me smile and laugh every single day.

What I'm creating: Later this week the kids and I are planning to make just a couple batches of cookies....probably Chocolate Pinwheels and Kiss Cookies.

What I'm praying: For health during this holiday season, and traveling mercies for those that are going places.

What I'm planning:  Today after I work out and take care of all my morning chores, the kids and I are descending on their rooms to dig out under the beds, go through the drawers, and deep clean the closets. A big job that needs to get done.

What we did this last weekend: We spent Saturday doing some organizing in the garage and then some serious clean up in the backyard. My Sweetie and the kids raked up bags of leaves, trimmed the bushes, and took care of the lawn. Sunday we went to church, and then over to a friend's house for some yummy pasta. After an afternoon of great conversations we went back to church for our monthly evening service.

What I'm looking forward to:  Later this week we plan to volunteer a couple days at the food bank with 4-H. Another evening we'll all pile into the car with hot chocolate to go look at lights. Then the following week we are excited to get to see our extended families for a few days. And of course we are looking forward to our annual New Year's Eve party....lots of food, games and fun. I'll be back to blogging regularly in the New Year!

A picture to share:

 ~Christmas 2006....

....Christmas 2011. My, how my babies have grown.

*For those of you who could not see the video in Mr Lego's Lego Class, I uploaded it again and it is working now. :-)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: I was just reading through some blogs in my reader and realized that I forgot that Saturday was the tenth and I completely missed December's Ten on Ten. I'll aim for next month...

What I'm reading: I feel like my busyness is really starting this week, so I am putting the deliberate reading aside for a while. I did finish The King's Speech, but only made it a few pages past Charlemagne in my history book.

What I'm listening to: We have two cousins that are spending the week with us, so right now I am hearing chattering, laughter, and planning for the day.

What we're learning: This week I am focusing on a couple of math issues, we are reviewing the catechism questions #1 through #54, and working on our 4-H presentations. We'll start science and history back up after our winter break.

What I'm watching: Over the weekend my Sweetie and I watched The Two Towers, extended version, that my dear friend let us borrow. And I have to say that having read the books, watching the extended version is now the only way to watch them.

What's cooking: Right this very moment there are two boys in my kitchen making waffles. They told me they would make me breakfast if I would let them cook in the kitchen this morning. I am making Split Pea Soup later this week....oh so very yummy.

What I'm buying: Our mouse is going out on us and I am accidentally double clicking on everything....I am really appreciating the undo button! So off to find a new mouse....

What I'm thankful for: I am really thankful today for my friends. They are there for me when I am down, they extend grace to me in so many ways, and they make me laugh just when I need it.

What I'm creating: Most of our Christmas cards are ready to go out in the mail today. I still need to write our annual family letter which I will post on our blog today or tomorrow....I would love to make it a tab that people can click on so you all don't have to see it up there for the next couple of weeks.

What I'm praying: We have been breeding our rabbits now for a few months without any success. Now Bookworm is trying a different breeding schedule and so far, no babies. And even thought it might seem silly to some of you, I am praying that if it is God's will, we would have some little rabbits soon.

What I'm planning: The baking begins this week....and since I have extra helpers I am thinking we will get a lot done. And for the first time, this year I am planning to make a gingerbread house from scratch. We'll see how that goes....

What we did this last weekend: We ran some errands on Saturday and then did some things around the house. Then we all watched Cars 2 that evening. Sunday we went to church and Sunday school, then we went over to our friends for a fun afternoon.

What I'm looking forward to: Getting some baking done. Finishing our last week of school. Going caroling at the assisted living center. A fun Christmas party this weekend.

A picture to share:

~The two little girls went crazy and decided to make one gigantic heart for our Secret Servant project.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Mr. Lego's Lego Class

This last September we enrolled Mr. Lego into a homeschooling class.

A Lego engineering class, which fits him perfectly.

And over the last couple months, I have taken some photos of him and the class.

So far in the class, he has made a scorpion and then designed a drag car.

The class is a nice size and they have a fun teacher, Mr. J.

They have learned a lot about building things and programming.

This is his latest project; a humanoid.

Mr. Lego and his teammate made their guy sneeze 8 times, back up, do a dance and turn his head.

And so the adventure semester they are going to explore the intelligent car and the working crane. The next step is robotic competitions, which sound super fun and educational at the same time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Secret Servants

We are starting a tradition this December and I thought I would share it with you. 

Secret Servant.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve another.
as good stewards of God's varied grace...

~I Peter 4:10

I got this idea from a friend, and varied it to fit our family.

At the beginning of December, we all drew each others' names out of a basket. (This took 10 minutes, because we kept having one person draw their own name, and then Nutsy, who isn't quite reading yet, forgot whose name was written on her slip.) 

We finally figured it out, and each have the name of another family member.

This month, we are doing special things for our secret friend. It might be a chore, it might be an extra job to help them; anything we can think of to bless that person. 

Maybe emptying the kitchen laundry basket....

...or setting the table for them.

But the trick is to keep it a secret.

We'll do this until Christmas Eve, when we will take guesses as to who we think our Secret Servant is, reveal who was serving who, and then give that person a small gift.

And since it can be kind of hard to tell if someone has done something for you, I had the idea to have a heart basket.

When someone does a special something, they are to leave a heart as well.

Christ was the ultimate servant, and we can in grace, show that love to others.

...and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, 
and to give his life as a ransom for many.

~Mark 10:44-45

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Musings

What I'm thinking: That it is a beautiful, crisp fall morning here. The sun is up, the sky is clear and the leaves are glistening.

What I'm reading: I am still reading A Brief History of Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Peoples by JD Steele. Now I'm up to Charlemagne and Medieval People. I also have one last chapter to read in The King's Speech by Mark Logue.

What I'm listening to: It's a very quiet house right now. A couple people are reading near me, one is upstairs, and the last child's location is unknown. It's funny how when they were all little, I knew where they were almost all the time; now I can go an hour without seeing someone and I'm not freaking out.

What we're learning: This week we are moving onto question #54 in the Shorter Catechism. We are also learning about William Tyndale, Copernicus, and Bartolome de Las Casas in history. And later this week we have our 4-H leadership project meeting.

What I'm watching: Over the weekend my Sweetie and I watched True Grit with Jeff Bridges. We really liked the old John Wayne movie and weren't sure if the new one would be good, but we really liked it. Except that we both agreed the old ending was better.

What's cooking: I am trying a couple of new dishes in my crock pot this week: Pesto Chicken and Sweet Potatoes, and Brown Sugar Chicken. I have said it before and I'll say it again, I love my crock pot!

What I'm buying: We ran out of white paper a couple days ago. With four kids who love to cut paper into crafts and draw (even with a two sided rule), this is a problem.

What I'm thankful for: I am thankful for my husband. He is such a good friend, encourager and comforter. We can complete each others sentences and usually predict what the other will do next. I love you, Sweetie.

What I'm creating: My focus this week is helping the kid's with their presentations for 4-H. They moved our presentation date up a month and with us taking off a couple weeks during Christmas, I feel the urge to get moving on them.

What I'm praying: That the Lord would continue to keep us healthy this winter season. I know sickness will come a few times a year and I pray that it would be mild and timely.

What I'm planning: To work on our Christmas cards later this week. We went out last weekend with my friend and we took about 125 photos of our family. Now to pick the best one and find a photo card template....

What we did this last weekend: The girls and I went to our church's Ladies Tea; we had a lovely time eating delicious food and fellowshipping. Then, like I said above, we went out and braved the cold for our family photo. Sunday we went to church and Sunday school, then to the assisted living center for their service. Then all the service volunteers came to our home for a lovely evening of munchies and good conversation.

What I'm looking forward to: We have our co-op Christmas party this week, and then we have the cousins coming to visit next weekend.

A picture to share:

~Outtakes from our Christmas photo shoot.