Friday, December 9, 2016

Homeschool Highlights - Holiday Preparations

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Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Welcome to Homeschool Highlights! 
This weekly link-up is your opportunity to share some highlights of what is happening in your homeschool and in your world each week. If you write a wrap-up post at the end of each week, like I've been doing, we'd love to see what you're busy with from week to week. If you'd like to pick a favorite post from your week that spotlights a resource or activity in your homeschool that you'd like to tell others about, we're interested in those too. I'm keeping the guidelines as simple as I can, and they will appear at the bottom of each post, along with the link tool. I look forward to getting to know you, and I hope this will be a source of encouragement and good ideas for all of us.

Grab a cup of coffee and let's get started!
My cup is new to my collection - won in a giveaway at a shopping event on Saturday.


Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Homeschool news  . . . Well, all I can say is I'm glad I'm counting the time put in on the Christmas play backdrop towards a partial credit for Kennady, because it saved the beginning of the school week from being a loss! Actually, Kennady and her friend Sadie completed the painting on Sunday afternoon, but all those weekend hours counted. (You can see the progress and all the pictures on my Virtual Fridge posts from last week and yesterday: Prep Work and Completed Backdrop)

Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com
the bottom of the trash can was the perfect size to trace
for the "records" on the wall!

Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Kennady has been working really hard on History and Health during this week as well, but I sure wish she'd spent more time on Math. Our failure of the week was that we both completely forgot about her guitar lesson on Wednesday! I guess our routines changed just enough that we both lost track of what day it was.

Other news . . .  Saturday was busy, with a shopping event we attended in the morning, work on the backdrop during the afternoon, and the Big Band Merry Christmas concert (for Kennady's chorus group) in the evening. At the end of the day, I was disappointed that I hadn't done much of anything in terms of housecleaning or Christmas preparation. And both needed doing, because of my parents' upcoming visit!

On Sunday, I was able to relax at home for a good part of the day, which was nice but didn't help me get the house in shape. In the evening, Kennady and her friend were finishing up the backdrop, and I was willing to help, but they didn't let me do much other than the cleaning up. Typical. Yay. So I chatted with some of the moms that were there while their kids were in the dress rehearsal for the play. Then I took the girls out for a celebratory milkshake once the backdrop was complete.

I was hoping to say that the majority of the week was business as usual, but there were a few things that were different. Monday evening we met up with a bunch of girls (and their moms) from the homeschool group for a fun time at Sweet Frog. On Wednesday morning I interviewed for a new part-time job. More about that as we go along! And this morning, Kennady sang with members of her chorus at a Christmas business breakfast in town. With that flurry of activity over, we hope to spend the rest of today and tomorrow getting a lot of the cleaning done around the house!

Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com
It is SO hard to get a good picture!
I recommend . . . checking out the Virtual Retreat offered by Institute for Excellence in Writing this weekend. Join Andrew Pudewa, Adam Andrews, Jill Pike, and Sarah Mackenzie for a full day of webinars to inspire and encourage you. If you can't listen live, registering will allow you to receive recordings of the talks you'd like to hear. (I particularly recommend "Fairy Tales and the Moral Imagination" as I've heard Andrew Pudewa present that topic at a homeschool convention; and it is good stuff!) Also make sure you sign up for IEW's Twelve Days of Christmas Giving event, so you can get all the goodies they'll offer during those days!

Institute for Excellence in Writing - Virtual Retreat and 12 Days of Giving

On my blogs last week . . .


Just A Second is where I share book reviews and other book-related things, and update on what's on my bookshelf. This week I finished and reviewed The Reckoning (Legacy of the King's Pirates) (Volume 5) by MaryLu Tyndall, and I've been reading:

Bees in the Butterfly Garden (The Gilded Legacy)by Maureen Lang
The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen
From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A.W. Tozer


A parting shot . . .

Holiday Preparations on Homeschool Highlights, a weekly link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Grab the button and link up with Homeschool Highlights!
Homeschool Coffee Break

Homeschool Highlights guidelines:
  • Your blog should be family-friendly content, and your post should include something about homeschooling.
  • Please link directly to your post, not your blog's homepage.
  • Please include a link in your post to Homeschool Coffee Break - you may use the graphic above if you wish. 
  • Visit a couple of the other bloggers and comment or share.

I will be linking up my own posts at the following weekly link parties that you  may also be interested in: Weekly Wrap-Up hosted by Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers and Homeschool Blog & Tell at The Homeschool Post.


The Homeschool Post

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 ©2006-2016 Homeschool Coffee Break. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://kympossibleblog.blogspot.com/


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Virtual Refrigerator - Completed Backdrop

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Completed Backdrop on the Virtual Refrigerator, an art link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Welcome to another edition of the Virtual Refrigerator! Thank you for joining me and my co-hosts for our weekly art link-up. We all cordially invite you to add your link sharing artwork that's on your Virtual Refrigerator and then hop over to the other blogs and admire what's on their Fridges too!

Last week I showed the preliminary work for the backdrop Kennady was doing for the kids Christmas play at church. Yesterday was their first performance, so we finally got to see the finished backdrop up on stage.

After the priming I showed last week, Kennady spent her Saturday afternoon sketching out some outlines; and then she and her friend Sadie spent several hours on Sunday getting the painting done.

Completed Backdrop on the Virtual Refrigerator, an art link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Completed Backdrop on the Virtual Refrigerator, an art link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

So by the end of the day on Sunday, it was completed, and mostly dry.

Completed Backdrop on the Virtual Refrigerator, an art link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

And their hands had a distinct tin man appearance that had to be dealt with before I took them out for celebratory milkshakes. 

Completed Backdrop on the Virtual Refrigerator, an art link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Kennady and I did stop by to add a tinsel garland to the window. And on Wednesday evening, this was the set on stage. By the way, the whole canvas is 22 feet wide, and maybe 8 feet high.

Completed Backdrop on the Virtual Refrigerator, an art link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Completed Backdrop on the Virtual Refrigerator, an art link-up hosted by Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Now it's your turn! Join us by sharing your art posts here on the Virtual Fridge!

The Virtual Refrigerator is an art post link-up hosted by Every Bed of Roses, Homeschool Coffee Break, Raventhreads, and This Day Has Great Potential #VirtualFridge #art

Grab a virtual magnet and add your link here to share your child's art or your arts and crafts how-to posts. Please visit the other blogs and admire what's on their Virtual Refrigerators!





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 ©2006-2016 Homeschool Coffee Break. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://kympossibleblog.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday Sweets and Treats


Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

I never have enough time to bake all the cookies and treats that I'd like to during the holidays. Or perhaps I just don't start early enough. This year, I'm kind of excited because there's extra potential to get help with the baking! My parents are coming for the holidays, and I bet my mom will be more than willing to help do some baking, and if she is helping, then it's more likely that my daughter will too! But we'll see how it turns out, because there's not much time.

Want to know what some of our favorite holidays cookies and treats are? Here's a round-up of some of our most loved holiday recipes, and many of them are perfectly suitable for any time you crave a sweet treat.
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Peppernuts and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

These little cookies are called peppernuts, despite them not containing either pepper or nuts. Go figure. Our family recipe, which is actually quite "plain" compared to some that include spices, has never included pepper, and after doing a little research, it seems that just as many peppernut recipes include pepper as leave it out. (If you want to add it, try 1/4 tsp of black pepper.) Peppernuts are associated with the Christmas holidays in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, and among Ethnic Mennonites in North America (that would be my family heritage). The recipe we use is very similar to a cookie called "Kruidnoten", which means "spice nuts". The ingredients are pretty much the same as those used for the Dutch cookie known as "speculoos". All three cookies have been part of St Nicholas Day traditions in Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium; and part of Christmas and Yuletide in Germany.

Peppernuts and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!
Peppernuts
3/4 cup margarine or butter
1-1/2 cups white sugar
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tbsp water (if needed to make the dough manageable)
2 tbsp corn syrup
5 cups flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder

Cream butter and sugars together; add eggs and syrup, then mix in dry ingredients to make a stiff dough. Roll the dough into long ropes about an inch thick. Freeze on cookie sheets until firm. Slice each rope into small coin-sized rounds (dime sized if you're patient, silver dollar sized if you're not). Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 350* until set and starting to brown. Ours took about 10 minutes or so, but it will depend on the size of your cookies. Allow to cool for a minute before removing. Store these crunchy little cookies in tins.

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Chocolate Chip Shortbread and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

Shortbread is one of the classic Christmas cookies, and here's my favorite recipe.

Chocolate Chip Shortbread Cookies
2 cups butter, softened (not margarine!)
2 cups confectioner's (icing) sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups flour
1 package (12 oz) semisweet or dark chocolate chips

 Cream butter and sugar, then blend in vanilla and salt. Gradually stir in flour until well blended. The dough will be quite stiff. Then mix in chocolate chips. Pinch off dough and shape into 1-inch balls, placing on an ungreased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly with a fork. Bake 15 minutes or until light golden in a 350*F oven. Remove from cookie sheet while still warm and cool on wire rack. If you like, you can sprinkle with additional confectioner's sugar.  (This recipe makes about 90 cookies)

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Cake Mix Cookies and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!
These are some of the easiest cookies to bake ever, and also one of my kids' favorites. This is perfect for when you need cookies at the last minute, or if your kids want to do some baking without needing a lot of help from a grown-up.

Cake Mix Cookies
1 box chocolate cake mix (or whatever flavor you like!)
2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
confectioner's sugar

Mix cake mix, eggs, and oil by hand.  Roll into 1-inch balls.  Roll in confectioner's sugar and place on non-stick cookie sheet.  Flatten slightly.  Bake at 375 for 7-8 minutes.

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Cookies with a Kick and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

I have my mom to thank for introducing me to these spicy ginger cookies. She found the recipe in a magazine and was curious; so we baked a batch and personally, I fell in love. It's a ginger/molasses cookie that packs quite a punch thanks mostly to the cayenne pepper! Different!

Cookies with a Kick
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark is best!)
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp ginger (the original recipe calls for minced fresh gingerroot)
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or just 1/4 tsp if you want less kick)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cardamom (also 1/8 tsp each of ground white pepper and ground coriander if you wish)
3/4 cup turbinado or demerara sugar (washed raw sugar)

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Beat in the molasses, egg, and ginger. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1-1/2 hours or until easy to handle.

Roll into 1/2-inch balls; roll in turbinado sugar. Place 3 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes or until set.  Cool for 2 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Store in airtight container.

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Nanaimo Bars and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

So what IS a Nanaimo Bar? It's a three-layer dessert bar, believed to have originated in the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. (pronounced nuh-NYE-mo.) The bottom layer is a chocolatey graham crumb crust, and most recipes include shredded coconut or chopped nuts. Personally, I don't include those in my recipe because my kids object to coconut. Go figure. But leaving out the nuts and coconut also make it more likely that folks with nut allergies can enjoy this dessert, so it's all good!

Nanaimo Bars
Bottom Layer:
1/2 cup butter (or margarine)
1/4 cup sugar
5 tbsp cocoa
1 egg, beaten
2 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

Melt butter, sugar, and cocoa in top of a double boiler (or a heavy saucepan). Add beaten egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat and stir in graham crumbs. You want it to be moist enough to pack firmly and hold together, but not be mushy. Press firmly into an ungreased 9x9 pan.

Middle Layer:
1/2 cup butter (you can use margarine, but trust me - butter is better)
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, milk and custard powder together, then add icing sugar and mix well. Beat until light and creamy. Spread over the bottom layer. I suggest chilling it a bit at this point to help that layer set.

Top Layer:
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (or 4 squares semisweet baking chocolate)
3 tbsp butter

Melt chocolate and butter together over low heat. Allow it to cool for a bit, but while it's still pourable, spread gently over the second layer. Chill in the fridge for about an hour before serving. Cut into 36 squares with a sharp knife. 

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Cranberry Crumble and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

This dessert is similar to an apple crisp, but it's made with whole cranberry sauce. I often make it with the leftover cranberry sauce after Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

Cranberry Crumble
1-1/2 cups rolled oats
1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened

whole cranberry sauce, about 14 oz or so

Mix together the oats, flour, sugar, and soda; mix in the butter until crumbly. Pack just over half of this mixture into a greased 9x9 pan. (Or use an 8x8 if you're short on cranberry sauce) Spread the cranberry sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture. Press the crumb topping down just slightly, using your hand. Back at 350*F for 35-40 minutes.

I think it's best eaten while warm, with a bit of vanilla ice cream or cream.

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Chocolate Lace Cheesecake and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

Need a dessert that looks fancy? How about this delicious - and not too difficult - chocolate cheesecake?

Chocolate Lace Cheesecake
Crust:
2 cups chocolate wafer crumbs
1/4 cup melted butter

Filling:
2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 cups (or a 12 oz package) semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla

Topping:
1 cup dairy sour cream
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp sugar
1/2 oz melted unsweetened chocolate

Heat oven to 325* and butter a 9-inch springform pan. Blend the crust ingredients and press into bottom and up sides of the pan; refrigerate. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Mix in melted chocolate chips. Add whipping cream, melted butter and vanilla; beat until smooth. Pour into crust and bake for 55-65 minutes, until edges are set. (Center of the cheesecake will still be soft. To minimize cracking while baking, also set a shallow pan half full of water on the lower oven rack.) Cool in pan 5 minutes before removing sides. 

In a small bowl, stir sour cream, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. Spread over completely cooled cheesecake. Drizzle with the melted unsweetened chocolate in a lace pattern. Refrigerate several hours or overnight before serving. 

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New Years Cookies and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

When I was growing up, one thing I looked forward to every New Years Eve was 'Niejoashe Koake" (Low German for 'New Years Cookies'). There are two basic versions of Niejoashe Koake - a yeast recipe, and a baking powder recipe. The yeast recipe would be more traditional, obviously, but for simplicity and speed, the baking powder recipe is great and tastes basically the same. The name 'Niejoashe Koake' comes from the Dutch and German Mennonites who immigrated to the USA and Canada. The same basic recipe is also known as Porzelchen (High German), Oliebollen (Dutch), Croustillon (French), or Dutchies (English); and they are simply sweet fritters with raisins. Why are they associated with New Years? I haven't a clue. But I'm hoping Mom will help me make some on December 31st!

Niejoashe Koake (New Years Cookies)
4 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp butter
1-1/4 cup milk or cream
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
flour, enough to make a spongy batter (I used about 2 cups)
raisins, lots of them!

Mix the first six ingredients together well, then add flour and mix until batter is spongy, sort of like a very thick pancake batter. (I should have taken a picture of that because I realize now it's hard to explain!) Mix in as many raisins as you and your family like. I like lots, my kids don't like raisins, so I made some fritters before adding the raisins. Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil and deep fry until golden brown. The fritters tend to turn over by themselves as they cook, but they may need a little help. Drain on paper towel, and dust with icing sugar. (Some people prefer them rolled in granulated sugar, but icing sugar is my preference.) I recommend cutting open one or two of the first ones to make sure they are cooked all the way through - if you make them too big (which I tended to do), they may still have uncooked batter in the middle even though the outside looks done. They are best served warm and fresh. 

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King Cake and other Holiday Sweets and Treats on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - A collection of some of our favorite recipes for holiday cookies and other seasonal sweet treats!

And then after New Years, there's Epiphany or Three Kings Day to celebrate. This simple version of King Cake can also be enjoyed for Mardi Gras.

King Cake
2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup pecans (I used about 1/2 cup)
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup brown sugar

1-1/2 cups icing sugar
milk

Soak the raisins in hot water for awhile to plump them up, then drain well. Mix all the filling ingredients (cream cheese, raisins, pecans, cinnamon, brown sugar) together in a food processor until raisins and pecans are well chopped and the consistency is smooth. (I 'chopped' the raisins in the blender, and ground up the pecans in a coffee grinder because I don't have a food processor) Open the crescent rolls and overlap them in a ring on a pizza stone. (If you've ever been to a Pampered Chef party, you'll know exactly how that's supposed to work!) Spoon the filling along the center of the ring, then fold the dough over and seal as best you can. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until golden brown. Mix the icing sugar with a little milk, a teaspoon at a time, until you have an icing that is easy to stir but not runny. Pour over the cake after it has cooled a bit. Decorate by sprinkling colored sugar on top.

This post will be linked to the Winter Cooking Inspiration Round-up on the Homeschool Review Crew blog. (The link-up will be open on December 9, 2016.)

Homeschool Review Crew Winter Cooking Inspiration


This post is part of a Coffee & Conversation Link Party at PatAndCandy.com - Join us!
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This post is linked at the Hearts for Home Blog Hop hosted by Embracing Destiny and nine other blogs.
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 ©2006-2016 Homeschool Coffee Break. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://kympossibleblog.blogspot.com/

52 Lists #48 - To Do In December

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52 Lists #48 - To Do in December on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

Time for another to-do list of the month, for this week's assignment from 52 Lists at Beauty Full Slow. Like pretty much everyone else, I have way too much to do in December. Let's see how long my list gets before I need to actually go DO something on the list.


  1. Clean my house. My parents are coming for the holidays, so there's some extra motivation to whip this place back into some kind of acceptable shape.
  2. Decorate the house. No, I haven't finished decorating for Christmas yet. I'm going to keep it simple though. Not much beyond getting the tree decorated.
  3. Get some Christmas cards and letters out. Part of me thought maybe I'd just skip the Christmas letter this year, but with a new grandbaby to brag on, I've got to send out something!
  4. Christmas gifts. Again, the gift list isn't very long, and we're trying to keep it simple, but we need to do it.
  5. Get a new dishwasher. I think we just missed another sale on the model I'm in favor of, so I'll have to be watching for the next chance. The old dishwasher is just gross, and I'm so done with it.
  6. Silver-ize my hair. I made that word up. I'm just waiting on my Overtone to arrive and I can get on this. 
  7. Concerts and Christmas parties. There are several of these still to come!
  8. Plan our next trip to Columbus. We're taking my mom and dad with us, and the boys will come this time too, so that they all can meet the newest member of the family!
52 Lists #48 - To Do in December on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com

It is December, and no one asked if I was ready. ~Sarah Kay

For real. How about you? Are you ready for December, or did it sneak up on you? Leave a comment and let me know, and visit Beauty Full Slow to see other to-do lists for this month!

52 lists with Chasing Slow

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 ©2006-2016 Homeschool Coffee Break. All rights reserved. All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author. http://kympossibleblog.blogspot.com/


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Holiday Bookshelf

This post contains affiliate links - using affiliate links from Homeschool Coffee Break helps fuel this blog and our homeschool - thank you! 

Holiday Bookshelf on Homeschool Coffee Break @ kympossibleblog.blogspot.com - Some Christmas themed books that have found a place on my holiday bookshelf recommendations.

As much as I enjoy reading, I was a little surprised that I didn't have much in the way of holiday themed books on my reading list this year. Just one of the many ways the season has been sneaking up on me, I suppose! The Homeschool Review Crew are sharing some recommended holiday books this week, so I took a look through my blog archives and picked out a few books with Christmas themes that have been past favorites. 

One I like to read every year is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. It's been our family tradition to watch the movie on Christmas Eve (our preferred version is the one starring Alistair Sim) so it's a story we're all familiar with. But I think there's something special about reading the original book, and it's one I've read aloud to my kids several times.



And speaking of kids, I want to mention a couple of favorites for the younger set. My kids may have outgrown these, but I still love them! One I especially like is Mary's First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr. It's the story of Jesus' birth as if Mary is telling it to her son, in the time-honored tradition of moms retelling their special memories of their children's birth stories. The illustrations are gorgeous as well.



Also good for family read-aloud would be The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas by William J. Bennett. It's a retelling of what's known about the historical Nicholas of Myra, along with legends and stories that have been told about him over the years. The book explains how the stories of this good bishop traveled the world and were embraced by so many cultures; and how he became Santa Claus and part of Christmas traditions even though his feast day is at the beginning of December. It puts the fantasy and magic associated with Santa into perspective in its place in the celebration of Christmas. A read-aloud for families that enjoy including Santa might be The Christmas Chronicles: The Legend of Santa Claus by Tim Slover. I read it several years ago and found it a quick and entertaining read. The 'true story' of Santa Claus is told with some unusual twists, presented as the biography prepared by Santa's court historian. The story is sweet, and humorous in places, and has a fairytale charm. Especially fun for those who still want to believe in Santa!
   

A quick read - or read-aloud - that focuses on the birth of Christ is The Christmas Journey by Donna VanLiere. Donna VanLiere is the author of The Christmas Shoes, for which I will forgive her, since I so enjoyed this little book retelling the story of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem. (I admit I have not read the shoes book, only suffered through the song, which I cannot stand at all, so perhaps I am judging the book harshly!) The Christmas Journey takes only minutes to read, but the  simple yet evocative description of the journey to Bethlehem and birth of Jesus is compelling, showing Mary and Joseph as very ordinary human beings.




One more suggestion for a family read is Were They Wise Men or Kings? by Joseph J. Walsh. Suitable for about 10 and up, it answers Christmas season questions in a common-sense way without being simplistic or overly scholarly.  The author taught a course on Christmas to freshmen at Loyola, so when I read it I wondered whether his answers regarding the Nativity and its relevance to the Christmas celebrations would be dismissive.  After reading his answers, I really don't know whether he is a believer or a skeptic, because he stuck to the facts! His answers were honest and sometimes humorous, acknowledging the unknowns such as when exactly Jesus was born, some of the facts surrounding the historical St Nicholas, and details about the wise men and the star. He doesn't gloss over the fact that the church co-opted pagan feast days and remade them into celebrations of the Nativity of Christ, but is also quite clear that it is the Christian celebration of this holiday that has made it great and inspired most of the charity associated with it. The book is organized into chapters by topic with a series of questions along with the answer, Read the book cover to cover, or just look up the answer to a question that intrigues you. This may be the book to have on hand when your kids ask what holly and ivy have to do with Christmas, and what the twelve days of Christmas are.  As homeschoolers like to say: "Why don't you look it up?"




Looking for a grown-up novel with a Christmas theme or setting? Here are some ideas from three of my favorite authors.

Silent Night (A Lady Julia Grey Mystery) by Deanna Raybourn. The Lady Julia series of mysteries is one of my favorites. Lady Julia Grey was introduced in Raybourn's debut novel, Silent in the Grave, when her first husband died unexpectedly and it was discovered to be a clever murder.  Lady Julia had the services of investigator Nicholas Brisbane to solve that mystery, and later - after collaborating in other cases - the two married.  Julia's entire family is quite infamous for their eccentric habits and personalities, and this provides humor and conflict throughout the series. This brief Christmas themed novella updated readers on the Brisbanes and many members of Lady Julia's family, as they gather to celebrate the Christmas holidays. This is almost a cozy mystery, as there are no murders or bodies (there's missing jewelry, and mysterious family secrets), and it is a short and fun read.  The mystery is easily solved, and I think readers who aren't already familiar with the series would enjoy it, although knowing the characters already makes it even more fun! (Read my complete review and find out more about the series on my book blog: Just A Second - Deanna Raybourn)



From another favorite author, Tasha Alexander comes Star of the East: A Lady Emily Christmas Story. This is also a Christmas themed novella that's part of a larger mystery series, but can be enjoyed by readers who haven't followed Lady Emily previously. Lady Emily and her husband Colin have agreed to spend Christmas at her parents' home, along with other house guests including a family from British India. Emily befriends the daughter, who is petulantly demanding that her parents find her a husband even though she is still rather young for marriage. This odd behavior sets the stage for the drama, because the 'Star of the East' is a valuable family jewel that is traditionally worn by a bride, but has a curse attached to it. When the jewel disappears, Colin and Emily set to work to find out what happened. (Read my complete review and find out more about this series: Just A Second - Tasha Alexander)

Star of the East: A Lady Emily Christmas Story

Still another favorite - and another mystery author! - is Anne Perry. She is known for her William Monk series and her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, both set in Victorian London. She also writes little Christmas novellas that feature characters that have been introduced in the other series, but you don't need to be familiar with those in order to enjoy the novellas. One of the more recent ones is A Christmas Escape: A Novel. In it, Charles Latterly has come to the Mediterranean island of Stromboli to spend his first Christmas as a widower. Among the guests at the small inn where he stays are an arrogant novelist, a retired colonel, a married couple that seem always to be at odds, and an elderly gentleman and his teenage ward. Charles strikes up an unlikely friendship with the teenage girl, and starts getting to know her and her guardian a little better. The other guests cause several awkward scenes, but then the situation becomes dangerous when the local volcano threatens a major eruption. The host urges all the guests to leave for their own safety, but before they can get away, one of their number is discovered killed, and Charles realizes that it's a murder, and the killer must be one of the group of guests.  As with all Perry's Christmas novellas, it's a quick read with interesting characters and a not-too-difficult mystery to solve. (You can read my full review of this one: Recent Reads - A Christmas Escape; and my reviews of some others in the series: A Christmas GarlandA Christmas HomecomingA Christmas BeginningA Christmas GuestA Christmas Odyssey)

A Christmas Escape (Christmas Stories, #13)

Finally, a modern setting mystery (I read mysteries a lot, apparently!) that I discovered a couple years ago is Holiday Buzz (A Coffeehouse Mystery) by Cleo Coyle. This one is set in New York City around Christmastime. Clare Cosi operates a trendy coffee shop in the Village that is taking part in a series of Cookie Swap holiday parties for charity. At the first Cookie Swap, one of her employees that also works at a friend's bakery is brutally murdered; and Clare discovers the body. Clare is dissatisfied with the direction that the police investigation is going and pursues any leads she can come up with in order to bring the killer to justice. She gets assistance from her quirky cast of coffeehouse employees and a bakery owner friend; as well as the assisting detective on the case, her ex-husband and his mother, and her current significant other who happens to be a former cop himself. Clare puts herself into some dangerous situations as she doggedly follows up on any information she gathers, but there is plenty of comic relief along the way as well.There are even several delicious-looking recipes in the back of the book!




And what's on my list this year? I just purchased From Heaven: A 28-Day Advent Devotional by A.W. Tozer after seeing it recommended on a book blog and this will be my Christmas themed reading this season. I'll be busy with family visiting and a short trip we've got planned, so I'm prioritizing a seasonal book that I hope will help me focus on the true meaning of Advent.



What's on your reading list this Christmas? What would you recommend? Leave a comment and let me know; and then visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog to see what other Crew members are reading and recommending in the Books for the Holidays Round-up.

Books for the Holidays
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