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Monthly Archives: November 2013

DIY Advent Candles and Wreath

Light the way to Christmas!

Light the way to Christmas!

Have you ever heard of Advent candles? The idea is to light one new candle every Sunday all the way to Christmas. Different Christian traditions use Advent candles differently. Sometimes the candles are blue and white, sometimes purple and pink, or sometimes red and green. This is what the candles mean:

  1. Hope/Prophecy
  2. Love/Bethlehem/Preparation
  3. Joy/Shepherds (This candle is usually pink)
  4. Peace/Angels
  5. Christmas Eve/Christmas/Christ (this candle is optional, and is usually white)

I really wanted to create a traditional Advent wreath for my family to use at the dinner table this December, but I didn’t want to spend any money. The whole point of The Advent Conspiracy is to spend time with your family making memories, instead of spending dollars on cheap junk from China.

So I decided to be creative and see what we had laying around the house.

What I came up with was jam jars, beans, and brown paper bags. You probably have those things at your house too!  If you’ve got twenty minutes (and the vacuum handy), this is a fun project with kids. You can be as secular or religious as you want. Unleash your creativity and have fun.

Simply fill the jars with pasta, beans or lentils. Then cut out a symbol for each week out of your brown grocery bags, and tape the paper labels to the outside of the jars. I wrapped my jars with clear packing tape to make sure the labels stayed put.

A layer of glue on the top will help prevent spills.

A layer of glue on the top will help prevent spills.

The candles on their own are really pretty. If this is as far as you want to go with this project, that’s dandy.


But if you want to create an actual wreath, that’s easy to do too (if you’ve got the greenery). Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have every type of Christmas tree imaginable growing in our backyard. All I had to do was head to outside.

A $2.30 wreathe frame and some backyard greenery

A $2.30 wreathe frame and some backyard greenery.

Winding cedar into the frame.

Winding cedar into the frame. (Note: I should have bought florist wire but I forgot.)

Add a tray for the bottom so my dining room table doesn't get scratched.

A tray for the bottom so my dining room table doesn’t get scratched.

Last step, add the Advent candles!

Last step, add the Advent candles!

My plan is to eat dinner in our dining room every Sunday night, all the way to Christmas. Each Sunday we will light a new candle and talk about what they mean to us. We are using Hope, Love, Joy, Peace, and Christmas Eve as our themes.

A last thought is to not get hung up on the candle colors. If you don’t have the “right” colors, don’t worry about it. This can be a special family tradition no matter what.

Conspire for something better than a Black Friday Deal


Happy November 29th! Did you survive Thanksgiving? Good, now brace yourself for Christmas.

Hmmm… That doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe we all (me included) need to think bigger.

Here’s one of my all-time favorite YouTube videos and it’s about The Advent Conspiracy. Regardless of your religious persuasion, I hope you’ll find something meaningful in its message.

The season of Advent is about preparing for new beginnings. It’s about preparing for the transforming power of love. It’s about having hope, joy, peace and love in the middle of the darkest time of the year.

You don’t need to be in the mall today. You could be baking cookies with your kids, going for a walk with your husband, or caring for yourself and taking a nap.

December 1st is when Advent starts, and it doesn’t need to start with your wallet.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now, especially since I’m as guilty as anyone! But this December, I’m going to strive to do better. I hope you’ll join me.

Stay tuned, for fun ideas to come!

DIY Turkey Name-cards


My daughter brought home a super cute turkey name-card from preschool. As soon as I saw it, I immediately wanted to make my own flock.


Now that I’ve recreated one of these squawkers, I realize that this project involves a lot of patience. The pieces are so small that it’s probably best suited for Kindergarten on up. But the end result is awesome. You can write a name on the back of the paper, and then the turkeys serve as functional table decorations for Thanksgiving.

Here’s what you do:


  • Tootsie Roll Pops
  • fall leaves (fake or real)
  • yellow felt
  • eyes
  • paper
  • glue
  • wood hearts
  • wood circular beads


The Tootsie Roll Pop goes head down on the wooden heart.

The Tootsie Roll Pops go head down on the wooden hearts.

Let the faces dry flat before you but them on their home bird.

Let the faces dry flat before you put them on their home bird.

The leaf becomes the turkey's tail feathers.

The leaves become the turkeys’ tail feathers. You can also use artificial flowers.

The head threads through the sucker stick. Then you add the paper and you're done!

The heads thread through the sucker sticks. The paper goes on top, and you’re done!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Hanukkah Vacation


Okay, it’s not quite time for all of those candles yet! (My stock-Hanukka picture needs updating.) Anyhow, here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Everett Herald.

The Psychology of Bob Books

Keeping track of Bob Book progress

Keeping track of Bob Book progress

I have no research or data to back this theory up, but I think that 17 is the magic number for Bob Books.

The 17th book was when it all started coming together for my four-year-old daughter Jenna.  Before that, she needed a lot of scaffolding.

The first set of Book Books was the hardest. Then she started set 2 and stalled right around “Up Pup”.  At that point we purchased the Bob Books Sight Words set from Costco, along with a Princess Book for motivation.

Bribery works!

Bribery works!

Each Bob Book “unlocked” a Princess story. Jenna was incredibly determined to make this happens. She white-knuckled it through the first 5 books of the new set.

Then something magic happened.

After reading her 17th Bob Book, three times each, it became easier for her. Independent reading became enjoyable. Most importantly, Jenna started seeing herself as a reader. She started pointing out words everywhere and sounding them out.

Does this mean she’s polishing off the rest of the Bob Books yet? No, not at the moment. But Jenna’s reading the books she’s already mastered over and over and over again.

We have Bob Books floating around all over the house. It’s actually getting kind of annoying.

Two sizes of Bob Books

Two sizes of Bob Books

A funny thing is that Jenna is convinced that the bigger Bob Books are easier than the smaller ones, which isn’t necessarily true. The Bob Books Sight Words: Kindergarten set is on par with Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners. The larger format is from Costco, the smaller format is from Amazon.

But since things started “clicking” for Jenna with the bigger, Sight Words set, she thinks the larger format is easier. I bet if I went back to Costco and bought the larger version of Set 2, Jenna would think they were super easy too!

The take-home message here, is that if you’ve been using Bob Books at home, be patient, be creative, and be persistent.

Hold on until the 17th book! Then drop me a line and share your story. Was #17 magic for your child too?

I’m a United Methodist and I support Pastor Frank

How to get along with your fellow humans can be the hardest thing to teach.

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

If you’ve been following the news recently, you might have seen the story about United Methodist Pastor Frank Schaefer who was suspended for 30 days for performing the marriage service for his gay son. I am part of a large segment of the United Methodist Church who support Pastor Frank, and who believe that God made people exactly how God wanted them to be made.

Our church motto is “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors”.  That means a lot.

I base my faith on scripture.  But I also look to church tradition, reason, and my own experience. (This is called The Wesleyan quadrilateral.) Thinking, feeling people know that sometimes church traditions need to change.

Here is more about my faith as a United Methodist woman. I keep this statement as a permanent page on my blog.



I’ve been a Christian since the first time I read the Bible in its entirety in the sixth grade and asked God to be my pilot.  I’ve read the Bible many, many, many times since.  I believe in the transforming power of Christ.

I believe that the Bible is God’s living word, but that it is not literal history. The two differing time-lines and two different creation stories in the first few chapters of Genesis convince me of this.

I do not believe that the Earth is “young”. I do not believe that humans and dinosaurs lived on Earth at the same time.

I also don’t believe that God is “male”. I believe that God is bigger than we can define Him (or Her).

You can’t put God in a box.  God is bigger than a box.  You can’t define God.  God is bigger than definition.

I believe that women should be allowed to be ministers. I believe Mary Magdalene was an important member of Jesus’s crew.

I also believe that Phoebe was a deacon.  My understanding is that Paul used the word “diakonos” thirty four times and that it always gets translated as “minister” or “deacon” except the one time he uses it in reference to a woman.  In reference to Phoebe, the word diakonos is often translated as “servant”.  (Romans 16:1) That does not seem fair!

I also would side with a large portion of the Methodist church that believes that God made gay people exactly how God wanted them to be made, and that homosexuality is not a sin.

I believe that Steve Camp and Mary Lambert can both teach us about God.

I believe in caring for the Earth and God’s creation.  I can’t understand how some people think it’s okay to trash the environment and then say that is God’s plan.  God created us.  God created the Earth.  Let’s care for everything.

I do not believe that God cares about politics.  I do not believe God has sanctioned Republicans, Democrats, or Libertarians as the “true” party.  But if I was going to talk about politics I’d mention that George Bush and Hilary Clinton are both Methodists!  ;)

I believe Jesus would want everybody to have health care.

I do not believe that God agrees with anything Ayn Rand stood for.

I don’t know if Jesus would like the way some Christian financial gurus talk to people.  I don’t think Jesus would care if you paid with a debit versus a credit card, so long as money wasn’t controlling you.

I reject the practice that a lot of Christians engage in these days, that makes family almost a cult. (I’m thinking of the Duggars on TV.)  I disagree with homeschooling your children for the primary purpose of “being closer as a family”.  Homeschooling your kids so they can have a great education is wonderful.  Homeschooling your kids so they will become your clones is wrong.

I believe you can send your children to public school and still be a good Christian.

I believe in teaching children to think, not just memorize.

I don’t think you can force a child to believe how you believe.  I believe in giving children free choice about their faith, and educating them about religions outside of Christianity.

I strongly disagree with isolating children from other points of view.

I believe in thinking about God, not just believing hook, line and sinker what somebody from a pulpit tells me to.

I believe in living my life in a way that I believe Jesus would live it. I am far from perfect! But I believe that service, not valuing possessions, and giving to others in need is really important.

I believe that the purpose of my life is to form relationships in three important ways: a relationship with God, relationships with each other, and a relationship with God’s creation.

I do not believe in arguing about any of this.

(There is a story behind that thinking, but a blog is not the place to explain why.)

My witness is how I live my life, which is far from perfect, but full of love.

Deep Blue Bible Review

Right next to the Legos!

Right next to the Legos!

Earlier this month my son Bruce celebrated a major milestone. As part of the third grade program at our United Methodist church, Bruce attended four “Learn to Use the Bible” classes, and then received his very own Bible with his name on it.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning service. I wish you could have seen all the kids lined up on the altar with their parents. It was a big moment for everyone.

The Bible the children received was a CEB Common English Deep Blue Kids Bible Imitation Leather Burgundy The tagline is “Diving Deep into God’s Word”.

Bruce loves the “Bet You Can, Reading Challenges” section. It’s a list of Bible versus, check boxes, and estimated times. Can you read John 1: 9-7 in one minute? I bet you can!

Bruce also likes the list of Bible verses to read when you are feeling a particular emotion. Are you anxious? Read this verse.

For my part, I appreciate Deep Blue’s very real and meaningful commentary. For example, right by the first chapter of Genesis is a “Life Preserver” box that asks “Why are there two stories of creation?” It goes on to say that the two stories are written in different ways but that both invite us to think about a God who created the universe with love.

In 1 Corinthians a “Life Preserver” box asks “Why does the Bible talk about what to wear in worship?” and then goes on to say that his is a hard passage to understand.

The Deep Blue Bible is full of color, drawings, and cartoon like characters, but it doesn’t talk down to children. It’s not patronizing. That’s why I really like it.

If there was a Deep Blue Bible for Moms, I’d buy it!


Beeswax Candles Rock!

DIY Christmas Idea for Little Hands

DIY Christmas Idea for Little Hands

Longtime readers of Teaching My Baby to Read will know that I LOVE making beeswax candles with my kids. It’s one of our favorite fall traditions. (Here’s a post from the archives.)


We usually order the Holiday Beeswax Candle Rolling Craft Kit
on Amazon, but you can also order it straight from Hearth Song.

Beeswax sheets are very forgiving. It’s really hard to mess up, and even if something turns out ugly, it’s still a candle.

Jenna has been rolling candles since she was 20 months old. Now she’s four, and her candles are looking a lot better.


Candle making is a fun activity for kids because for twenty bucks you end up with decent presents for children to make and give the adults in their lives. Unlike many kiddie projects, these gifts are decorative and usable.

I’ll end this post with a great quote I heard for the first time today:

Light a candle instead of curse the darkness.

That’s a great thing to remember in the depth of a Puget Sound November.


Sunday morning rituals


My favorite Sunday morning ritual is one I can no longer indulge in because I can’t eat gluten. Have you tried the chocolate croissants from Trader Joe’s?  Mmmmmmmmm…..heaven.

But I digress. Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Everett Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131117/BLOG5205/701279858/With-a-day-of-rest-we%26%238217re-ready-to-take-on-the-week

An Elegant Solution, by Paul Robertson

Murder, mystery, and math? That’s the premise behind An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson which delves into the history of Leonhard Euler and the Bernoulli family in Basel, Switzerland.

This book was a complex and challenging read. It took me about eighty pages to really get into it, but once I had mastered the premise, I was hooked. Then later when I was looking up the real-life history on Wikipedia, I felt like I was reading about people I actually knew.

Robertson writes in a poetic, lyrical style. The back of the book says “History Suspense” but I wouldn’t describe it as genre. I found it to be more akin to a literary novel. For example, There’s a Faustian theme that I didn’t quite grasp until the end, that completely blew me away.

Part of what made An Elegant Solution so challenging is Robertson’s excellent use of world building. It’s almost like reading a fantasy book by Tolkien because Euler’s world was entirely different than our own. There were different customs, traditions, educational systems, and diction. After reading this book, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on what life was like in 1700s Basel.

If you’re looking for a good beach novel, this isn’t it. But if you have the fortitude to handle James Michener, than you might really like Paul Robertson.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

Science Kits by Mail


Sorry about the dearth of blog posts recently. Our schedule right now is completely packed. The good thing is that brains are being fed, kids are being exercised, and the house is (marginally) clean.

I still want to do more science with my kids. That’s been on my mind ever since we went to the Pacific Science Center a couple of weeks ago. I just don’t have time to plan anything.

Yesterday, I saw that Homeschool Buyers Co-op has a deal going on with the Young Scientist Club.  I’m not familiar with this particular kit, but we have used a lot of the other products that the YSC also carries, like the one pictured up top and The Magic School Bus kits. Those kits have been fun, educational, and engaging, but not perfect. Every single one we’ve tried had at least one thing about it that I wished was different.

But… The idea of science experiments arriving at our door every single month without me having to do anything is really appealing. Even expecting imperfection, I’m intrigued. My eight-year-old son Bruce is thrilled with the prospect.

So I went ahead and placed an order for a 12 month subscription. The grand total was $157.92. That comes out to $13.16 a month, which isn’t too bad.

On November 25th Homeschool Buyers Co-op starts a similar deal with for The Magic School Bus kits. I’ll probably sign up for that plan too, because it will be a good fit for my four-year-old daughter Jenna.

Unfortunately, shelling out all that money for science kits is really expensive. I would hate for my blog readers to think that Afterschooling is only for people who can afford it.

So here are two top-notch, lower-cost alternatives from the homeschooling blogosphere:

  1. Science Without a Net
  2. Learning to Be a Scientist

I also have some Afterschooling science ideas on my Pinterest Board.

As for our house, guess what Santa’s bringing? Who knew they made science kits at the North Pole!

Finding Time to Afterschool


I don’t know you in real life, but I’ve got a hunch that your family is a lot like mine in that you don’t have time for gosh darn it, one more thing.

Phew! Just thinking about today makes me crazy. Drop off, pick up, run here, run there; I spent more time in the car than I did reading to my kids in our cozy corner on the couch.

All of our activities seem like a good idea in theory. If I was looking for someplace to cut I don’t know what would be axed. Swimming lessons? Nah. Cub Scouts? No. Homework? Not an option. Afterschooling? Yes and no.

Right now I don’t have the time to orchestrate something really cool like Science Without a Net. Heck, I didn’t even know Farrah had a cool new webpage design.

But I do have time to Afterschool. When life gets busy we go on autopilot. Here are the basics:

My advice is to be kind to yourself and your children. 15 minutes a day of Aftesrchooling will still add up to 120 hours a year (if you do something extra over the summer).

You don’t have to be Supermom. You don’t have to be Superdad. Your goal is to inspire your children to love learning. Sometimes that can be as easy as turning on a CD in the car, or powering up the computer when you’re trying to make dinner.

Can you find time to Aftershool even if you’re really busy? You bet you can! If I can do it, you can do it too.

Ikea meets preschool is my signature style

Can you spot the Ikea?

Can you spot the Ikea?

Here’s my “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131110/BLOG5205/711109961/Theres-no-home-decor-that-children-cant-defeat


I wasn’t kidding about the ugly 1980’s wallpaper. Thankfully it’s gone now, but we lived with it for six years.


This is what it took to get rid of it.


And this.


Here’s the after.


Everything is painted now, but we do have one tiny wall of wallpaper up behind the china cabinet. Nobody is allowed to touch it!

It’s unscathed…for now.

Princess Bob Books

Bribery works!

Bribery works!

My 4-year-old daughter Jenna and I have been doing what we call “Princess Bob Books” every day this week.

She really, really, really wanted to get Princess Bedtime Stories (Storybook Collection)when we saw it at Costco. Frankly, it made me want to gouge out my eyes. But then I noticed that Costco also had Bob Books Sight Words Collection – Kindergarten and First Grade (Bob Books, Sight Words Collection), which we didn’t own.

So Jenna and I struck a deal. We’d buy both.

This week, every new Bob Book Jean reads “unlocks” a new princess story from her collection.  This has been very motivating.

Some phonics-fanatics freak out when they see the term “sight words”. Not me, because I’m a Balanced Literacy proponent.

These Bob Books still have a ton of phonics. If I had to guess, I’d say 95% of the words are decodable.  So if you’re afraid of sight-words, calm down! 😉

In terms of difficulty, BOB Books: Sight Words: Kindergarten seem to fall somewhere between Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers  and Bob Books Set 2-Advancing Beginners. It’s a great fit for Jenna, and a great opportunity for me to read about my favorite Disney princesses–not!


The Best Christmas Present Doesn’t Cost a Dime


Here’s “I Brake for Moms” this week in The Everett Daily Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20131103/BLOG5205/711039991/This-Christmas-give-a-jar-full-of-memories

P.S. There is a very cool backstory to this column that I share on Teaching My Baby to Read’s Facebook Page.