The Corn Became an Elephant

Several months ago Ani’s friend Steven asked if Cameron liked corn. And then he showed up at our house with this slightly scary and totally bizarre giant ear of corn.


He had seen it on the side of the road put out with the trash, stopped, took it home, fixed a tear it had, and then, for some reason that I still don’t actually know, gave it to us.


The corn amused us for a long time. We left it in my parents’ room when they came to visit and didn’t mention it to them just to see how long it would take for them to say something. It was also in that room when Tony and Roo came to visit because it seemed like something that should be there to greet them. It hung out by the piano for a while, too.


But, with a white elephant gift exchange planned for the last Wednesday night activity before Christmas, we decided it was time to let the corn go to a new home.


The girl who got it was delighted. She laughed and laughed. Her younger sister loved it so much, she said she wanted it for Christmas. And then she laid on it like it was a huge pillow for the rest of the evening.


As silly and slightly scary as that corn is, we did get quite a bit of enjoyment from it and now even more people are enjoying it. I guess it’s really true what they say about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure.

My Nativities

I collect nativities. I have almost 30 of them out this Christmas, though I must have left some at my parents’ when we moved because I remember some that are not here.


I think I have a total of around 35. The rest will come with my parents when they move in with us.


My collection started innocently enough. I had three or four of them and they made me happy.


I happened to mention to Uncle Ralph that I seemed to have started a nativity collection and I loved to look at them.


He gave me one that Christmas. And another the next Christmas. And then another. And then he started giving me an amazing Lenox nativity part by part. That one is utterly amazing and beautiful to look at.


Some of my nativities are tiny. Some are big. Some represent other cultures. Some are just silly. One even doubles as an Advent calendar.


One doesn’t match at all and was found piece by piece at antique stores. One came from Panama where my Uncle Lawrence was serving as a Catholic priest.


One was made by Ani and Cameron when they were 8 and 9ish using upside down clay pots as part of a Christmas study we were using that December from Discover the Scriptures.


Every one of my nativities has a story. This one is from Uncle Ralph, that one is from my best friend Kimberlee, this one was made by my mom.


Looking at them brings me joy. Thinking about where I got each one and who gave them to me brings me even greater joy.


The best part is they only come out once a year for a few weeks. This means they are not cluttering up my house year round and becoming part of the background that I don’t even really see when I look around.


Instead, they remain very special. Putting them out, I remember their stories. Looking at them those few weeks each year, they make me happy. I truly love my nativity collection.

Best Christmas Ever

We have five traditions surrounding Christmas. One is that the kids line up by age before coming into the room with the Christmas tree. This year Ani had to stand two steps above Cameron to be taller than him. (The others are watching Holiday in Handcuffs, Santa presents are not wrapped and they get nothing from Jamie and me, they get a book, a cross stitched ornament, and something else, and we always have pickles and olives with our holiday meals.)

Santa brought great presents for the kids. He also brought stuff for Lola (two toys, two bags of her favorite treats, and two cans of special meals), Filli and Kree (three bags of yogurt drops), and Hera and Demeter (wooden chewies, dried corn on the cob, and these crispy treats they love).

As I was setting out the gifts Christmas Eve night, Lola stole one of her toys. It’s got lots of ropes and ropes are her favorite. She was a bit miffed when I took it back from her. She got the idea that she wasn’t allowed to play with it and amazingly left it alone all night. When the kids went to their piles, she went to grab that toy. I laughed and told everyone to look at Lola. She must have thought I meant she couldn’t touch it because she ran away from it. She was so happy when we gave it to her.

I finished the kids’ ornaments on Christmas Eve. I always insist I will get them done early and I always don’t. This is the latest I’ve finished them, though.

Ani got a breadmaker and The Fever Code by James Dashner. She immediately sat down to read it and was quite surprised to discover it is signed by the author. We ordered it from Amazon and had no idea it was signed so that was a nice surprise.

Cameron got a Man Bag and an Audible book. He apparently really likes bags since last year he got a taekwondo bag for Christmas. He promptly put his new book on his phone. He’ll probably finish listening to it within a few days. He’s a voracious listener.

Fritz got a chess set and a book of Mysterious Benedict Society puzzles. He’s been playing the Fritz and Chesster games so now he can try out his Chess skills in real life.

Adrian got a science experiment kit and one of the worst case scenario for kids books. He hugged his science kit and then immediately sat down across the chess set from Fritz to play a game of Chess. They spent about 45 minutes playing right then and played another couple games later on (and did one of the science experiments from his kit).

I got some awesome gifts, too. Jamie gave me a Kindle Oasis. (I gave him part of a computer – the rest of his computer came from my parents and his mom.) My Kindle Keyboard served me well for almost 6 years, but it was time to upgrade. It wasn’t holding a charge very well anymore and the off/on slider button was sticking and becoming stubborn about turning the thing on. It was also just generally slowing down. I am amazed at the difference. It’s obviously so much smaller and lighter, but the font is also crisper and it responds so much faster. I love it. My parents gave me money and I chose to get an Instant Pot. I love that thing possibly more than my new Kindle and that’s saying something. It arrived about a week ago and I have used it at least once a day. Christmas dinner included three things cooked in it (ribs, potato salad, and corn on the cob). I also got purple slippers with the money from my parents. They won’t arrive until Friday. My mother-in-law also sent money and I chose to get a purse. The one I’ve been using is big and was wearing out. This one is small and fits my phone and new Kindle perfectly.

And then there was the gift that has made me laugh the most. It came from Cameron. He gave me Christmas in a Nutshell. It is a little baby Jesus inside a half walnut shell. It’s awesome. My son really gets me.

In addition to gifts and an amazing dinner, Christmas included apple cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast (made in the Instant Pot, of course), a bit of reading, and a PokeWalk with most of the family. Seriously the best Christmas ever.

Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Week 3

It’s been another week and we’ve completed our 24 days of Random Acts of Christmas Kindness. We got the idea from Coffee Cups and Crayons.

On the 18th (Sunday), we fed the birds. It got really cold the night before (okay, it was in the 40s during the day, but for where we live, that’s cold) so the birds were slow to come out, but eventually we saw some of them eating the seeds we tossed out in our front and back yards.

On the 19th (Monday), we wrote happy notes and took them to the library and put them in random books on the shelves. Hopefully, some people will get a nice smile or pick me up some time in the future thanks to those notes.

On the 20th (Tuesday), we put a Sonic gift card in an envelope addressed to our mail carrier in the outgoing mail slot. We just hope she noticed it when she pulled out the mail.

On the 21st (Wednesday), we gathered up carts from the Target parking lot and put them nicely in the corrals to make it easier for the employees who have to bring the carts in. Cameron did it with no shoes on. He hates wearing shoes no matter what the temperature unless he absolutely has to (today was mid-60s, but even when we were in the 40s he still refused to wear them).

On the 22nd (Thursday), we made blueberry muffins and took them to the people who work at our pharmacy. I don’t think people tend to take pharmacists Christmas treats because they were pretty surprised.

On the 23rd (Friday), we candy cane bombed a parking lot. It was oddly fun! (And Cameron did it barefoot yet again.)

On the 24th (Saturday), we drew pictures and took them to one of our local nursing homes and gave them out to some of the residents. They were so happy to get them. We were rewarded with a whole lot of big smiles.

So that a wrap on our 2016 Random Acts of Christmas Kindness. We had so much fun with it. We’ve decided to do some sort of random act of kindness once a month January through November and then do the 24 days again next December. It’s so nice to spread happy and, as Fritz said as we were candy cane bombing, “This really feels kind of good.”

Teach Your Child Piano Review

At the beginning of the summer, Fritz and I got to beta test Teach Your Child Piano. I can read the treble clef, but have never taken a single piano lesson. When we started Fritz could not read music and didn’t know which key where what notes on the piano. Pretty much, he just knew that the musical alphabet only contains the letters A through G.

During the 6 week beta, Fritz learned to read music, about time signatures, which fingers to use on what keys, quarter, half, and whole notes, and more. He is quite proud to be able to play songs on our piano now.

Each week included games, worksheets, a video for me to watch, a song to play, and plenty of instructional support that even though I don’t really know how to play piano, I was able to teach Fritz the concepts of the week. The games went pretty quick for Fritz. He was on the older end of the kids doing the beta test so he caught on easily. The worksheets were very simple for him, but were excellent for reinforcing the concepts.

While the idea was to spend some time every day working through the material, I found that, probably because of his age (he was almost 10 when we did it), it worked better to do all the teaching, worksheets, and games one day and have him practice the concepts and songs all the other days of the week. The first couple or three weeks really could’ve been combined into one for him. I believe the full version will allow for acceleration for kids who are older or already have had some music training to take care of that issue.

The most amazing thing, though, is Fritz can play the piano! In only 6 weeks he had a repertoire of more than a half dozen songs and the ability to play more since he knows which fingers go where and how to read music. He has continued practicing every day. Now only Happy Birthday gives him any trouble at all. I videoed him playing Hot Cross Buns as soon as we finished the beta test. Now he can play it easily with no hesitation. The progress he has made is really quite an accomplishment and it wouldn’t have happened without Teach Your Child Piano.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars for a kid Fritz’s age; 5 out of 5 Stars for a kid up to about age 8. We liked it enough that I enrolled Fritz in the full level course so he can continue learning the play the piano using the methods in Teach Your Child Piano.

So that’s my opinion of Teach Your Child Piano. I asked Fritz what he thought and here is what he had to say.

So check out Teach Your Child Piano and poke around a bit. There’s some really cool stuff on there and in just a few weeks, your child (or you) could be playing songs on the piano.

(Note: I was provided the beta test of Teach Your Child Piano for free in exchange for filling out weekly surveys to help make the curriculum as good as possible for the most people. I was not required to review it on my blog and I got no additional compensation for reviewing it.)

We’re still playing


We’re still playing Pokemon Go. Pretty much every day Fritz and I go for a PokeWalk. We have three PokeStops and a gym within walking distance of our house. We hit the PokeStops and if we can take over/train up the gym (if we’re not already on it) we go there, too. Fritz really likes the time spent just him and me getting exercise (which he definitely needs) and talking one-on-one. Plus we’re playing a fun game at the same time. That’s a win-win if you ask me!


Random Acts of Christmas Kindness, Week 2

We’ve completed another week of Random Acts of Christmas Kindness. We got the idea from Coffee Cups and Crayons.

On the 11th (Sunday), we held the door for people. Cameron has started making funny faces in pictures for some reason.

On the 12th (Monday), we went around our neighborhood and brought all our neighbors’ trash cans up to their garages. We hung candy canes on the cans. I must say I am glad we have such a small neighborhood. That was more work than I expected!

On the 13th (Tuesday), Jamie taped a baggie of change on a vending machine where he works. I hope whoever found it truly enjoyed their treat.

On the 14th (Wednesday), we did chore for or otherwise helped other people. For example, Cameron swept the stairs for me, Adrian put away some dishes for Fritz, and Fritz volunteered to help decorate for the Christmas party at church.

On the 15th (Thursday), we gave a scratch-off lottery ticket to a random stranger. Even if it wasn’t a winner, we hope they had fun doing the scratching!

On the 16th (Friday), we took cookies to the fire station. They gave us a tour! The little guys have taken a few tours there in the past, but every one is different. While we were there we got to watch several of the guys leave with the lights on and sirens blaring. A woman had gone into labor early and was in severe pain so they were off to get her to the hospital and hopefully not deliver a baby on the way.

On the 17th (Saturday), we took some dog and cat toys and treats to the Animal Defense League (where we got Lola). We almost came home with a another dog, but Lola is determined to stay an only.

November and December Science Experiments

We opened the second jar of applesauce we canned two months ago. Nobody was brave enough to eat it, though.

We identified the parts of a plant.

We made a slide using the root and looked at it under the microscope.

We dissected a lima bean and identified the seed parts.

We dissected a flower and identified all the parts.

We made a battery out of a lime, pennies, nails, wire, and a calculator.

We looked at sound waves by plucking guitar strings and rubberbands stretched between our fingers.

Cameron punched a word in braille on cardboard and the other two boys tried to read it with their fingers.

We looked at a slide of skin cells.

We assembled a filtration system (to show how a kidney works) using a two-liter bottle, rocks, sand, cotton balls, and coffee filters. They ran water mixed with dirt and oil through it.

We balanced on one foot and observed how their bodies worked to keep them upright.

We shined a flashlight in their eyes to see how their pupils automatically constrict when exposed to light.

We demonstrated how the body wants to stay in homeostatis. They checked their pulse (Fritz’s was 72 beats per minute) and then exercised for one full minute. They checked their pulse again (Fritz’s went up to 108 beats per minute). Then they relaxed for five minutes and then checked their pulse one more time (Fritz’s had gotten back down to 78 beats per minute).

I told each of them their birth stories. Adrian apologized for being born 12 days late.

And, of course, we dissected a frog.

Art in December

Paper Weavings: The boys selected the colors and pattern and made woven paper mats. Adrian named Cameron’s weaving Pie. Fritz called his Randomness. Adrian said his had no name and he literally meant that there was no name for it. So Unnamed it is!

Self-Shape: They drew a shape that represented their bodies and then added color and patterns to it. Adrian really, really disliked this one so he barely completed the assignment.

Black Belts

Six months ago Fritz had planned on testing for his first degree black belt, but then he got croup the week of testing and wasn’t quite ready so he decided to wait 6 months and test with Jamie and me. And then we all got sick last week, but this time it was just head colds so we were still able to test. I woke up Saturday dizzy which made testing a bit more interesting.


Fritz has always had a bit of a rough time with taekwondo. It doesn’t come easily to him at all. The Chief of Instruction here even suggested he wait yet another six months to test. Instead, he practiced a lot, went to extra classes, and took a few private lessons. All that hard work paid off in a big way. He was so incredibly excited when he got his new, personalized belt.


Jamie and I both have to retest in February before we can wear our belts to class (about half of everyone who tested Saturday need to retest). The only thing that really annoys me about that is it means I have to go to 6 more weeks of classes when I really would rather have a break!