Friday, December 28, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 12/28/12

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We have had a wonderful week spending time with family, receiving presents, and making memories. Christmas is always fun with little kids around. I just love seeing them get excited. Over and over, Zac would hug his presents, say I lub it!, No way!, and This was on my list! even if he had never seen the toy before. While I don't have many quotes this week, there were numerous smiles. I'm so thankful for my family.

1. Jake: "Do people in jail get Christmas presents?"
Me: "Only if someone sends them some."
Jake: "Can we send them some?"
Me: "Why would you want to send presents to criminals?"
Jake: "Well, could we send them Christmas cards?"
Me: "Yes, I suppose we could do that."
Jake: "I know, we could send them Bibles! That would be a great Christmas present." 

2. Jake: "Is it ok if we read the Christmas story twice - once before we open presents and once when we're done?"


4. Jake: "I got a lot of reasons, but I'll only tell you one because I don't know the rest."

5. Zac, while watching our neighbor's snow blower: "It's a snow sprinkler!"

6. Zac, about snowballs: "Look, snow rocks!"


What made you smile this week?

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Things That Make Me Smle 12/21/12

Happy Friday! This has been the baking week. The kids and I made gingerbread men on Monday and Tuesday, chocolate-covered Oreos and pretzels on Wednesday, chocolate fudge, brownies, sour cream cookies, snickerdoodles,  no-bake cookies, 2 different shapes & colors of spritz cookies, Heath bars, and half-way chocolate chip cookie bars with my mom on Thursday, and egg-yolk cut-out cookies on Friday. We make tons of goodies every year and share them with friends and neighbors. It's a tradition we all love.

Here are a few other things that made me smile this week. Don't forget to share a smile or two that you had this week, too!

1. Alyssa, about her shoes: "They won't let me put them on."

2. Alyssa: "I made up a song. {singing} Christmas, Christmas - It's not about getting toys. Christmas, Christmas - It's about Jesus."

3. Zac: I"m gonna show this to my friends."
Me: "You are? And who are your friends?"
Zac: "Whistle, and another Whistle, and Chainer, and Tichipichi, and Farnar."
Me, confused: "Really? And where did you meet your friends?"
Zac: "At school."
Me, amused: "At school? What are their names again?"
Zac: "Whistle, and Chainer, and Tichipichi, and another Whistle,  and Farnar."

4. Alyssa: "I totally think Tyler should not be in my room. He's going to distract me so I won't put away my toys. I'm just gong to want to play with him."

5. Alyssa: "I'm never going to do that. Not in my whooole life. Not until I turn 6."

6. Zac: "When you be happy, you not be sad."

7. Alyssa: "Do you remember my husband's name?"
Jake: "No."
Alyssa: "Hmm, I don't quite remember either."


9. Alyssa, dreamily: "I love everything Tyler does . . . I even love when he cries. It sounds so beautiful."

10. Zac: "Mommy, is it school-time?"
Me: "No, not yet."
Zac: "Pleeeeeeaase can I do school???"

11. Zac: "Why do you wear make-up?"
Me: "Because I like it. I think it makes me look prettier".
Zac: "It doesn't make you prettier."
Me: "Oh, no? Do you think I'm pretty without makeup?"
Zac: "Yep!"

12. Leighton took the 3 older kids to buy my Christmas presents.
Alyssa: "I'm going to pick out the perfect gift for you!"
Zac: "Yeah, I'm gonna buy butter fer you."
Me: "Wow! What can I do with the butter?"
Zac: "Cut it. It's fer when you make us cookies."

13. Jake, laughing: "You know, Tyler, you look really cute, but you aren't good at playing the iPad!"

14. Alyssa: "I did it on accident or on purpose. I don't remember which one."

What made you smile this week?
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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 12/14/12

Happy Weekend! Wow, what a week! Our Christmas cantata at church is being performed today in both the morning and evening services. We were at the church practicing nearly every day this week. Between Leighton being the choir director and me overseeing the play portion, we've been extremely busy getting everything in order. All the hard work is paying off though. I am so happy with how well everything went in this morning's production! We'll finally be able to breathe a little after tonight's performance. I have so much work left to do to get ready for Christmas though. Normally, I'm completely done wrapping and everything by now, but I still have a couple more gifts to buy, and . . . I haven't even wrapped a single one yet! Not one!!! As someone who likes things in order (remember Tyler's birth?), it's driving me crazy that there's so much left to do and just over a week to do it all. It's going to be another hectic week for sure, but I'm thankful for the times to smile.

1. Alyssa: "I spy something white and it looks like a 5 and it's outside."
Zac: "Where?"
Alyssa, pointing out the window: "Right there."

2. Jake asked Jesus into his heart over a year ago, but because of multiple reasons, he hadn't been baptized. He was finally able to be this past Sunday.

3. Zac picked up a box of matches I left sitting on the counter.
Me, disapprovingly : "Oh, those are matches."
Zac: "Can I play the matches?"
Me, surprised and slightly humored by the whole 'don't play with matches' reference: "No. What do you need with matches?"
Zac: "I want to match both the same."
Ohhhh, you mean those matches. Silly words with multiple meanings.

4. Jake: "When can you buy toothpaste for me that tastes like meat?"

5. Alyssa: "I spy somebody being loud."

6. Listening to Jake read a story with varying voices for the different characters.

7. Zac, out of the blue: "Do you know what, Mommy? I love you. So much."

8. Zac, holding a toy camera: "Hey, Mommy, say cheese."
Me: "Cheeeeeese."
Zac, looking at the 'picture': "How bootiful!"

9. Jake: "What's a parent's favorite Christmas carol?"
Me: "What?"
Jake: "Silent Night. But I don't know how that's supposed to be a joke."

10. Me: "Who ate something minty?"
Alyssa: "Not me."
Zac: "Not me"
Me, sniffing: "I smell something minty. Who ate something?"
Kids: "Not me."
Me, sniffing Zac's mouth: "You smell minty. What did you eat?"
Zac: "It's chastick."
Me: "Ohhh, you put on chapstick."
Zac: "Yeah, and it didn't taste good when I ate it."

What made you smile this week?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 12/12/12

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Tasty Tuesday: 5-Layer Neapolitan Cake

Every year I ask Leighton, "What kind of cake do you want for your birthday?" And every year he responds, "I don't care." This year he did follow it up with, "I don't think I want a Boston cream though."

It was a start. I knew what he didn't want, but that didn't narrow it down much. "Do you want another tres leches?" was met with "I don't know," (I don't know usually means no.) to which I responded, "Well, you're no help."

Profitable conversation, huh?

I browsed the recipes on a few of my favorite sites and narrowed the choices down to two. The one is an all white cake with white chocolate - a big plus in my hubby's eyes. I knew immediately that he would love it. The other was a cake I fell in love with the moment I first saw it nearly a year ago. While it does have a couple layers of chocolate cake, I thought I might be able to win him over with the Neapolitan aspect and the abundance of strawberry flavors.

As you can see, the lure of the prettier and more complicated cake was too strong. I did promise to make him the all-white cake some day though. I get bonus points for that, right??

This cake takes a bit of time to make. You make 3 different cakes - chocolate, strawberry, vanilla - along with a strawberry buttercream frosting. In between the layers, you can add either a bit of vanilla buttercream frosting or a good-quality strawberry jam. We used our homemade jam (using our  triple berry jam recipe, replacing the blueberries with extra strawberries.) Whether you choose the frosting or the jam to hold it all together, make sure you use just a tiny bit, a super thin layer. Mine soaked into the cake and bled through some. While it made for a very tasty addition, the layers were not quite as defined as I would have liked.     

But really, who cares about a little seeping when the cake tastes amazing??? All the components separately are delicious (oh, how I love that strawberry buttercream and can't wait to try it on other cakes!), but combine them and the flavors all work together to make a very Neapolitan-esque creation. It's kinda crazy how just how Neapolitany it is. Crazy and delicious. 

And crazy and delicious is good.
Really good.

And was I right? Did the cake win Leighton over??

Ohhh yeah.

5-Layer Neapolitan Cake

Chocolate Cake
¾ cup plus 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
6 Tbs dark cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
1 egg
½ cup black coffee
½ cup buttermilk
1½ tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. and butter and flour the edges of a 9-inch round pan, shaking out the excess flour. 
2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend and set aside. 
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the sugar, vegetable oil and egg.  Beat on medium speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.  With the mixer on low speed, blend in half of the dry ingredients, beating just until incorporated.  Blend in the coffee, buttermilk and vanilla just until smooth.  Beat in the remaining dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes before inverting onto rack to cool completely.

White Cake
2 egg whites
1¾ cup flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
8 Tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup very cold water
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. and butter and flour the edges of a 9-inch round pan, shaking out the excess flour. 
2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend and set aside. 
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.  Increase speed to medium high and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.  Transfer the egg whites to another bowl and set aside. 
4. In the bowl of the electric mixer now fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and butter, and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes.  With the mixer on low speed, beat in half of the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Blend in the water, vanilla and almond extracts.  Beat in the remaining dry ingredients just until incorporated.  With a silicone spatula, stir in about a quarter of the egg whites to lighten the batter.  Gently fold in the remaining egg whites, until the batter is smooth and no streaks remain.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes before inverting onto rack to cool completely. 
Strawberry Cake 
1¼ cups plus 2 Tbs all-purpose flour
1¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup sugar
1½ oz strawberry gelatin
8 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 eggs
½ cup milk
1½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup sweetened strawberry puree (process partially thawed frozen strawberries, if unsweetened add 2 tsp sugar)

1. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. and butter and flour the edges of a 9-inch round pan, shaking out the excess flour.  
2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt; whisk to blend and set aside. 
3. Combine the sugar, strawberry gelatin and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Beat the eggs into the sugar mixture one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  With the mixer on low speed, add half of the dry ingredients to the batter and mix just until incorporated.  Blend in the milk and vanilla extract.  Add in the remaining dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.  Blend in the strawberry puree.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.  Cool in pan on wire rack for 20 minutes before inverting onto rack to cool completely.

Strawberry Buttercream Frosting
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
8 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 Tbs vanilla extract
1 Tbs water
pinch of salt
1 tsp strawberry extract
yellow food coloring, optional

Beat the butter and icing sugar in an electric mixer on low with the paddle attachment for about 2 minutes. Add the vanilla, water, whipping cream, salt, strawberry extract, and food coloring (as needed to match the color of the white cake) and whip on high speed until fluffy and smooth–about 4 minutes. If consistency is too thick, add water 1 teaspoon at a time, and whip again for 30 seconds or so.

Vanilla buttercream or good quality strawberry jam

Assemble the Cake:
Torte each of the cake layers horizontally into two thin halves. If you do not have a cake slicer, use a large serrated knife. Hold the knife in the middle of the cake and spin the cake slowly as you cut into the side. Continue spinning and sawing until you cut all the way through. Use a cake board (I cut a circle out of a cereal box) to slide under the top layer and lift it off.

Place one of the chocolate layers on a cake board or cake platter.  Top with a very thin layer of the vanilla buttercream or strawberry jam.  Place a layer of the strawberry cake on top.  Again, cover with a thin layer of vanilla buttercream or strawberry jam.  Top with a layer of the white cake.  Cover with a thin layer of the vanilla buttercream or strawberry jam.  Repeat the process with the remaining layers of chocolate and strawberry cake.  (For a taller cake, you can use the remaining layer of white cake.  Otherwise, you can wrap tightly and save.)  Frost as desired with the strawberry buttercream frosting.
Recipe adapted from Sweetapolita.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 12/7/12

Happy Friday! Are you ready for Christmas yet? We're finishing up our shopping, continuing the decorating, and making a list of all the goodies we're going to make. I just love this time of year! We have some fun crafts planned for the next week or so. And . . . I'm planning to post recipes on Tuesdays again! You won't want to miss next week's. Trust me. It's yummy and impressive.

And it'll make you smile.

1. Jake, about his Lego pirate ship: "Did you see how much detail is on this thing?"

2. Jake: "I think I already said thank you 100 times for my pirate ship. I'll say it again though. Thank you!"

3. Zac walked up to me holding his stomach and groaned in a very whiny voice, "My tummy hurts."
Then he innocently asked, "May I have candy, please?"
There's an argument for candy I'd never heard before. And he almost persuaded me. 

4. Zac: "Mommy, I got hurt on my fumb."

5. Me, reading a book title: "The Ultimate Natural Detox Guide."
Jake: "Mmm, that sounds good."


7. Zac, grumpy: "I'm not crabby. I'm just mad."

8. While playing hide-n-seek . . .
Jake, standing at the top of the stairs: "Hey, are you down there?"
Zac, standing behind the door at the top the stairs: "Yes!" 

9. I was reading the kids The Hobbit and stopped at the part where they find the secret door in Smaug's mountain. Zac took the book off my lap and opened it.
Me: "What happens next? You tell me the story."
Zac: "The dragon comes and eats them all. Nobody can go home. The end."
So much for "happily ever after." My 3-year-old's a realist.

10. I was making breakfast and dropped some food on the floor. Alyssa said, "That's ok. Tyler will get it." The kids think the baby's really a dog.  

11. Jake, telling a story: ". . . and they ride their octopuses . . ."
Me, interrupting: "It's octopi. The plural of octopus is octopi."
Jake: {blank stare} "Octo . . . pi?"
Me: "Yes, it's kinda silly isn't it? Octopus is one, if you have 2 or more it's octopi. Not octopuses. Octopi."

Jake: {blank stare, long pause} ". . . And they ride their octopuses . . ."
 (That's what I was always taught, but after some research today, I discovered that octopuses not only is the preferred spelling, it's also the one deemed correct and octopi is accepted but technically incorrect. Now I'm questioning my whole education. Ha!)

12. Alyssa: "I know how to spell Erika: M - O - M."

What made you smile this week?
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Monday, December 3, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 11/30/12

Remember last week when I said how busy this weekend was going to be? Busy is an understatement. The festivities included Jake's birthday, a friend's party, the kids' very first time bowling, and a whole bunch of go-go-going. We were gone all weekend. This is really the first chance I've gotten to write up our smiles from the week. The smiles from this weekend alone are enough to make its own post though. Busy generally means a lot of smiling. I'll save some of that for Jake's 7th birthday post though. But don't worry, there's still plenty to smile about now!

1. Leighton: "Zachary, why do you have banana bread in your eye?"
Zac: "Because it smacked me right in the eye."

2. Zac: "I was playing with Tyler and teaching him tricks."

3. Jake: "What kind of fish eat fish? Catfish!"

4. Leighton and Me: "Where?"
Me: "Jinx. You owe me a kiss."
Alyssa, sweetly: "Aaaaaaaaww!"

5. Usually, when I play with Legos with Jake, he feels the need to "fix" my creations. But . . . I actually made 2 droids that he liked - no fixing required! Ha, I finally impressed my 7-year-old!  

6. Jake: "I made up a list of things that everyone can do. One is either go to Heaven or Hell. Another thing is everyone first has to be a baby."

7. Alyssa, after receiving a tiny piece of candy: "Jacob, you're so, so nice." 

8. Zac, about the word zoo: "Look! That says Zac with two Os."

9. Alyssa: "Daddy, you should be Mr. Incredible!"

10. Since Jake is reading chapter books now, his pretend play takes place in chapters too:
"We're getting ready to start chapter 3 'The Vacation.' We just finished chapter 2 'The Bus Trip' but that was a short chapter."

11. Zac was shoving handfuls of dry Honey Bunches of Oats into his mouth. Quite a bit of cereal was missing his mouth and falling all over the kitchen floor.
Me: Why are you doing that?
Zac: 'Cause.
Me: 'Cause why? You're making a big mess.
Zac: So Tyler can have some.

12. Jake: "Did Grandma like that when she was a kid?"
Alyssa: "Grandma was never a kid."

What made you smile this week???
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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 11/23/12

Happy Weekend! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! This week was so full and eventful that I didn't even remember until Friday evening that I needed to share my smiles. We've been busy decorating the house for Christmas, spending extra time with family, and baking and cooking galore. I made 3 pies (apple butter pumpkin, traditional pumpkin & double-crust apple) in 3 days and washed more dishes than I'd like to remember.  On the way home from church this afternoon, I listed everything that is scheduled for next Saturday. As we were trying to figure out how we were going to work everything in, Leighton said, "Welcome to December." On top of it all, Jake turns 7 Saturday as well. I'm sure you are equally as busy. Let's all make sure in the hustle and bustle of the season that we still find joy in the little things and take time to smile.

1. Me: "Do you know how much I love you?"
Zac: "Big."
Me: "That's right, big. How much do you love me?"
Zac: "Bigger!"

2. I went to put Tyler down for a nap. As soon as he saw his crib, he turned to me with his mouth wide open and leaned in for a kiss.  

3. After I helped Zac in the bathroom, I was kneeling next to him. He looked in the mirror, put his arm around my shoulders, and squeezed me tight. With a big cheesy smile he proclaimed, "Best friends forever!"

4. Jake got his very own library card. 

5. Alyssa: "Baby talk for saying yes is gla."

6. I heard Jake yell, "Mom! Help!"  and found him folded in half, stuck behind the couch.

7. Jake: "I don't think Tyler's much impressed with my marble."

8. Me: "Go get dressed so we can go to the library."
Alyssa: "I better not wear squeaky shoes 'cause you have to be quiet in the library."

9. Jake: "He's called the Mad Scientist because he gets mad every time someone comes over."

10. Alyssa: "This is California. We all live in California." {puts her hand to the side of her mouth and whispers} "I'm just pretending. This is just a game. I know, we actually live in Earth, but I'm pretending it's California."

11. I walked out of the bathroom with a cleansing mask on my face. Zac looked at me and said, "You look like a skeleton!"

There is so much to be thankful for! What made you smile this week?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

50% Off Melissa & Doug Toys (today only)

Today only, select Melissa & Doug toys are 50% off on Amazon! Plus, when you purchase $25 or more, you get FREE shipping! These make perfect Christmas presents. I got some last year when they had this sale and the kids loved them!

Here are a few of our favorites listed below, but you can find the whole list of deals here.

Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Classic Peg Puzzle Bundle

Melissa & Doug 60-Piece Standard Unit Blocks

Don't forget to check out all the great Melissa & Doug deals!

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 11/16/12

Happy Friday! I keep forgetting to say something and since this is the last day . . . We were nominated for the 8th Annual Homeschool Blog Awards! It is such an honor to be nominated in any category, and we were chosen for three! If you would like to help us, you can vote for Raising Leafs for 1) Best Homeschool Mom Blog, 2) Best Crafts, Plans, & Projects Blog, and 3) Best Homemaking or Recipes Blog. It's so simple and takes 3 clicks and only a couple seconds. We appreciate it!    

1. Jake, about Tyler: "He's 100% cute."

2. Alyssa picked up a piece of foam pretend wood and said, "This is so arbitrary." 

3. Jake, to Tyler: "You're my favorite boy. For now at least."

4. Jake: "I know why Jesus likes people being right-handed, because you're supposed to do the right things." (Sorry, my left-handed husband. Ha!)

5. Leighton: "Give Mommy a hug and kiss. It's time for bed."
Jake: "I already did. I'll give her another one though. {gives me hug} I could do this all day. That's how much I love you."

6. Zac: "Mommy, Lyssa called me Zac. That's not my name?"
Me: "Oh, no?"
Zac: "No, my name is Zachy!"

7. Tyler took his first big boy bath in the big tub.

8. I was making chocolate chip pumpkin muffins and was talking to Leighton and not paying attention to what I was doing. I ended up grating my knuckle along with the nutmeg. As I was laughing about it, Alyssa dashed off. She returned a few minutes later with a coy smile and a band-aid. She said, "I just want to take care of you so you'll love me forever and ever." I explained that I'll love her forever no matter what. Then she said about the Strawberry Shortcake band-aid, I got you Blueberry instead of Lemon Meringue because I love Lemon and didn't want to waste them all."

9. Me: "I need to sweep again. I already swept once, but baby Tyler made a mess everywhere."
Alyssa, looking around, finally pointing: "He didn't make a mess there."

10. Zac walked into the kitchen asking for a chewable Vitamin C. As he was coughing repeatedly, heavily exaggerated, he was bobbing his head he smacked it right into the table. Leighton and I could not help but laugh. 

11. The kids and I were watching a performance of the Thousand-Hand Guanyin. Zac said, "Wow, her has lotta hands. Her has power."

12. Me: "I'm glad you like reading books."
Alyssa: "Yeah, it's like almost my favorite thing to do."

What made you smile this week? Share a memory!

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Growing Up Wild

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:15

Though we've all been given the commission to "preach the gospel to every creature," not all of us have been called to serve on a foreign mission field. We want our children to be mission-minded though. Our church has a missions conference every year. We're involved in faith promise mission giving. We graduated from a Bible college and have many missionary friends. But none of that truly shows our kids what it's like to be a missionary or live in another country.

The Wilds family remedied that with their Growing Up Wild series. This collection of 5 DVDs welcomes you into the lives of the 4 Wilds brothers and their parents in the remote jungles of Indonesia. Each 15-minutes episode highlights a different aspect of missionary life in Wano. The videos are shot and produced completely by the family. These are not the typical home-movies though. The quality is great and the content even better.    

When I pulled out volume 1, the kids (6, 4, 3) were so excited. Any time we can watch TV for school is a plus for them. Instantly, they were drawn into the video itself. The first episode, Home Sweet Hut, walks you through their home in the jungle. You see how different their hut is from our houses here in the States - round, all wood, open ceiling, hammocks. You'll also see how they are the same - bunk beds, bathroom, Legos, schoolroom.

The second episode, Supply Trip, shows how they get their necessary things in the middle of the jungle. You'll see how they use Sun & Water in episode three to power every-day things.  

There is also a great activity guide that accompanies each volume to help you further the learning. They can even be used as a unit study since you cover so many subjects - Bible reading and discussion, geography, math, science, vocab, worldview, art. My kids really love hands-on activities. They were thrilled when I told them that we were going to make a Wano hut. We watched episode 1 again - for probably the 5th time - and wrote down everything we wanted to add to our hut (or the yurt as Alyssa keeps calling it since it's round and we stayed in one this past September.) Then, they ran around finding the absolute perfect supplies. It was neat watching the hut take form. When their daddy cut the oatmeal container so it would swing open to play inside, their faces lit up. Of course, we had to have an opening for the cat to come and go and a Lego loft, just like the Wilds. They've been having fun letting their mini figs play inside their "AWANA" hut, aka Wano hut.

We were also given volume 4 which includes these episodes: Amazing World Around Us, Adventures in Culture, and Tribal Calling. Jake, my 6-year-old, really likes the first episode since they show some pretty creepy creatures that are commonly found in and around their house. The snakes and spiders produces big smiles from him and grimaces from me.  I have no desire to open my eyes in the morning and stare into glowing spider eyes. No thank you.

On this disc, you'll also see how differently the people of Wano live. We paused the videos many, many times to talk about the differences - the clothing, the simple life, the food, the behavior, the priorities. It was so strange for my kids to see a world so different from their own. We discussed how the people make everything they need, how they can't run to the store to purchase whatever they want, how they don't own frivolous things. One thing that really impressed me about the Wild family and their partner family that is working with them in Wano, is that there was no written language when they first moved there. They had to learn the language just from living with the people. It took them 3 years to master the language. Then, they worked on writing that language down. From there, they began translating the Scriptures into the language. How amazing to be used to bring God's Word to these people! Also on this video is a native who gives his salvation testimony. The Wilds are truly living the lives of missionaries.

Each video costs $18.99 and is good for the whole family. They captivated my family from the 2-year-old on up. I think these are a great teaching tool for children and a good starting point for further discussions. It's one thing to tell our kids that we support missionaries by sending money, but it makes it so much more real when they can see what that money is used for - furthering the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If you'd like to see how other families used Growing Up Wild, you can find more reviews on the School Review Crew blog.

* Disclaimer: I received this product in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Monday, November 12, 2012

Things That Make Me Smile 11/9/12

Happy . . . Monday? Where did the weekend go? I opened this post 4 or 5 times with good intentions of getting it done. Oh well, everyone needs a few smiles on Mondays, right?

We had quite the week here last week. Zac turned the big 3 and Leighton turned the big 3-0. Two birthdays means two cakes. (Technically, 3 cakes since my SIL makes the kids fancy cakes for their parties.) I made Zac a funfetti cake covered in sprinkles. The recipe is super easy, yet looks and tastes better than any boxed funfetti cake. Leighton's cake was a little more complicated. I made him a 5-layer Neapolitan cake - chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla cakes sandwiched with our homemade strawberry-raspberry jam and covered in a strawberry buttercream frosting. In a word, yum. It truly tastes like Neapolitan ice cream. When I get back to posting recipes again, you can be sure both these recipes will be included.

You can also be sure that I won't be making another cake any time soon . . . at least 3 weeks anyway when we have another birthday to celebrate.
Now, since we've waited much too long, let's smile!

1. Zac received a birthday card in the mail. When he opened it up, two bills fell out. He immediately handed one to Alyssa (the larger denomination at that.) When I explained that the money was for him, he said, "But I have two. One for me and one for Lyssa."

2. Me: "Would you like sprinkles in your pancakes"
Alyssa: "I would appreciate that."

3. Jake, to Zac: "You turn 3 today!"
Alyssa, confused: "He doesn't look any taller."

4. We stood in line to vote for 45 minutes. The kids grew a little bored, but behaved perfectly. When we got home, Alyssa said, "When can we do that again? I really like the sticker!" 

5. I heard "Mom! Help!" and found this:

6. Alyssa was helping me do laundry when she slammed my thumb in the dryer door, hard enough to make my vision black and everything blurry. I got a bag of ice and headed to the couch to lie down. Jacob and Alyssa jumped into care-taker mode. They got me 3 pillows, 2 blankets, tons of stuffed animals, ice water, crackers, vitamin C, and a band-aid. They read me stories, turned on music, and acted silly. Alyssa even gently placed her hand on my forehead to check for a fever. They asked every 2 seconds if I needed or wanted anything. This happened a week ago today. My thumb still hurts, but my heart is happy. These little ones of mine are so sweet and loving. I certainly didn't need everything they brought me, but I'm thankful for their servant's hearts.

7. Jake: "How do you say taco in Spanish?"

8. Jake: "How do you draw an eggnog tree?"
Me: "What's an eggnog tree?"
Jake: {thinking} . . . Oak tree! How do you draw an oak tree?"

9. Alyssa, out of the blue: "Isn't Daddy sweet?"

10. Zac, wearing Leighton's shoes: "Look, I'm Mr. Daddy."

11. Alyssa: "I want Tyler to be a girl when he grows up."

What's something that made you smile last week?
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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Institute for Excellence in Writing

I have been blessed greatly by being a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew. I have been introduced to so many wonderful companies and have received some fantastic products. This product is easily one of the very best.

We received the entire PAL, Primary Arts of Language program by Institute for Excellence in Writing. The program is based on the award-winning work by Anna Ingham. The PAL system has two main parts: reading and writing. The two components work together to provide the student a solid reading and writing foundation in K-2 grades.

The reading portion teaches phonics and whole words through poetry. The student is introduced to letters through fun little stories that are easy to remember. The complete package costs $69 and includes everything you need to teach your student to read:

  • Teacher's Manual
  • DVD-ROM (instructional video, multiple mp3 audios, student e-book)
  • Phonetic Games
  • Phonetic Farm Folder with Stickers 

The writing portion is divided into three parts: printing, copy work, and composition. Spelling is also included throughout. This package costs $89 and contains the following:
  • Teacher's Manual
  • DVD-ROM (instructional video, multiple mp3 audios, student e-book)
  • All About Spelling Basic Interactive Kit
  • All About Spelling Level 1 (teacher manual & student material packet)
  • Bonus e-audio downloads

It's a lot of information. It's a lot of curriculum. It's a lot of overwhelming-ness. That's why you have to start with the instructional video. Jill Pike, creator of the program, beautifully explains how to use it. When I opened my box containing all the goodies, I was immediately giddy. There are so many wonderful resources as part of the PAL system. What initially excited me, soon overwhelmed me. How was I going to figure this thing out? Would I be able to implement all of this into our day? Could I do this? Then I sat down and watched the video. Within minutes I thought Wow, I can do this. This makes sense. Jill has a way of simplifying the program and giving you the confidence you need to teach your children.

The curriculum is spelled out for you. There's no guessing. There's no struggling to find supporting materials. Everything you need is clearly included.

While there's no independent research you must do, there is plenty of set-up in the beginning. For instance, there are many file folder games that need to be cut, possibly colored, glued, and laminated if desired. You can make the games as you need them, but I found that it disrupted the flow if I stopped to add to a game. It works better for us to have the games all set to go before we need them.

A typical lesson looks like this and can take 1-2 hours:

Poetry - a brief rhyme to be enjoyed and discussed
Class Journal - models how to properly write words and the date, includes a few sentences as a diary
Printing / Copy Work - letters introduced and practiced on a white board
Story Time - short story that engages and teaches sequence and summary 
Foundation & Reader Words - simple games that reinforce what was taught
Agenda or Work Period - independent work time, might include a worksheet, coloring page, completing a chore, playing a game, etc.
Phonetic Farm - farm setting picture that makes phonics fun
Read Words / Sentences - practice for what was learned
Informal Spelling Test- review the letters learned that day
So, what do we think? 
Honestly, I love it! I've been focusing on using the program with Alyssa (4), but Jake (6) and Zac (3) have been included in portions of the it as well. Things like the journal, poetry, and the story we always do as a family, and all of them love playing the file folder games. While Alyssa and I practice the copy work and such, the boys are sitting right there, working on other things, listening by default. I know that Zac is already picking up some of the info because he'll point out letters and say, "Look, it's the kicking letter!" Alyssa asks every day, "Can we do my letters now?" There's no better sound to a homeschooling mother's ear than to hear her child ask to learn. That right there is reason enough to purchase this system. 

I will definitely continue to use this program with my children. I am thrilled that everything is reusable and the student book printable so I will be able to use this for Zac and baby Tyler as they get older as well.  Better than just a thorough program, it's a program that works.

If you really want a good feel for the program and how it all work, I suggest you watch the introductory webinar. It will answer any questions you have and truly make you feel that you too can use this program.

If you want to see how PAL worked for other homeschooling families, you can read more reviews on the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

* Disclaimer: I was given this product in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty List and Giveaway


Can you believe it's already November? Thanksgiving is just 2 weeks away and Christmas is less than 7! Have you started your shopping yet?

We love Melissa & Doug's products Everything we own is high-quality. They've recently come out with their Terrific Twenty Holiday Gifts for 2012. There are gifts for kids of all ages. With things like arts and crafts, pretend play, and games, you're sure to find something for everyone. Plus, they're giving away a gift from the list every day on their Facebook page! Make sure to head over and like them so you don't miss a thing.

Magic Mine Wooden Train Tunnel Set

My little guy adores trains. I know he's going to love this Magic Mine Wooden Train Tunnel set! The cars triggers sound effects, the tunnel door flips open, and treasure magically appears. Fun, huh?

Would you like to win one of these trains, too???


* Simply leave me a comment letting me know which of the twenty gifts from the list is your favorite.

* For another entry, share this post about the giveaway and leave me another comment telling me how you shared.

* For additional entries, follow Raising Leafs and leave a comment(s) letting me know how you follow (email, Facebook, Google Friend Connect, Linky Followers.)

Giveaway ends Saturday, November 17 at 10:00 pm EST. USA only. Make sure to leave your email address so I have a way to contact you. Winner must respond within 48 hours to claim prize provided by Melissa & Doug. 

Don't forget to head over to the Melissa & Doug Facebook page for more chances of winning.

Check out these other blogs, also participating in the Melissa & Doug Terrific Twenty List and Giveaway!

* Disclaimer: Melissa & Doug has offered to provide a gift from the list in exchange for this review as well as one to offer in a giveaway.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Activity Bags

One of the biggest questions I had when I started homeschooling my oldest child 2 years ago was "How am I going to keep the other kids busy?" My kids are by my side almost constantly all day long. To think that my littles were going to play quietly by themselves the entire time would be silly. Alyssa (4 yrs) has always enjoyed doing school. She will sit and fill out worksheets and coloring pages for an hour. Zac (2 yrs) though? He might color 1 page and be done in 2.79 seconds. I started to search the internet for activities that would be fun, education, and keep him busy. I even started compiling a bunch of busy bag activities before we went on vacation this past summer. 

When I was given the opportunity to review Activity Bags, I was thrilled! This was exactly what I needed. Each e-book comes filled with self-guided activities that can be kept in a gallon-size zipper bag.  All the books were created by 2 homeschooling moms. The books include all the instructions, supply lists, and printable pages you need for each activity. They are designed to be used in a swap and contain all the necessary info to help you in that process. I personally have been wanting to participate in an activity bag swap for a long time. The concept is very simple - get X number of people with kids, each person makes X number of bags of the same activity, and everyone swaps bags. So, if you have a group of twenty people, in the end, you'll have 20 different activities. It's an easy and inexpensive way to quickly increase your number of independent activities for your little one.

There are currently 8 books with more in the works. We received the Preschool Bundle which consists of 2 books. Each book has 33-34 activities that prepare children ages 3-6 for kindergarten. They work on skills for counting, letters, colors, fine-motor, and more. The cost is very economical at only about $1 a bag and many of the supplies can be found around the house. Each e-book costs $15 individually or the set can be purchased for $27.

I first tried doing these activities with Alyssa and Zac while Jake (6 yrs) was doing other work. The only problem was that they were having so much fun that he wanted to play, too! From then on, we all did the activities together. Most of them worked just fine for all three ages. Some were a little too simple for Jake, and others were a bit too difficult for Zac. Every one was perfect for Alyssa though. During one activity from Book 1, I was explaining that a collage could be pictures placed all in one big pile instead of straight and organized. I told them that it's a different way to organize. Jake replied, "It doesn't sound organized to me. It sounds like messy." That's my boy!

We were also blessed to receive the Science Bundle containing 3 books. Again, each book cost $15 individually, $27 for two, or $39 for all three. Each one comes with 25 different simple science experiments that your child can see, touch, manipulate, modify, investigate, and solve. Each book focuses on different branches of science. Book 1 includes experiments in biology, general science, and nature. Book 2 has experiments dealing with chemistry, the human body, and general science. Book 3 is filled with all chemistry experiments.They are all geared towards kids in K-8th grades. Again, they can be used in a swap or simply at home by yourself.

As you may know, my kids love science and conducting experiments. I plan experiments for every Thursday, but the kids are always performing their own throughout the week. These books have made it so easy for me to have an experiment ready to go on Thursdays or just any time they're in a scientific mood. The lists are simple to gather, the instructions are easy to understand, and the activities are fun and engaging. Some of them include Secret Messages, Green Copper, and Floating Egg. The books also include log sheets, notes, and observation questions. With a total of 75 experiments, I won't have to do any research to find experiments for a while.

We have loved using these books! There are also books for Reading Games in a Bag, Math Games in a Bag, and Travel Activities in a Binder. They are even currently creating 3 Craft Kits in a Bag. I personally am very excited to buy more books. They are very thorough and offer many activities that are great for the kids. I definitely plan to host a swap in the future. If you're local and would like to participate, let me know.

If you'd like to get a feel for the activities and all they offer, you can fill out a brief survey and get some samples for FREE!  Trust me, your kids will thank you.

If you're interested in some of the other books offered or if you'd like to see more reviews of the preschool and science books, head over to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog

* Disclaimer - I was given these e-books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.
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