photo credit: Alex Grichenko
This December, would you like a daily thought, song, scripture, story, and/or activity to help you feel more of the calm spirit of Christmas?  My friend Amy over at LDS Holistic Living has a Christmas Advent Calendar you can use or download for free.  It's designed specifically with members of the LDS faith in mind, but anyone can find great things in it.  If you're interested, you can get the calendar here.

Meanwhile, here's a sample:

The Real Story Behind the 12 Days of Christmas

Catholics in England were prohibited by law from practicing their faith, both in private and in public from 1558 to 1829. Being a Catholic was treated as a crime. There was no restored gospel at the time, however there were good Christians who knew without doubt the true church was not one that was mainly created merely for the convenience of King Henry the Eighth who wanted to sin and have a church justify his actions. So in secret they continued to teach their children their  religion. 

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England during this time frame. It was written to help children learn about their religion. The entire song is writing in symbolism and hidden meanings because it was illegal to have anything in writing that would indicate adherence to the Catholic faith. To be caught could mean imprisonment, hanging, or drawn and quartered.
Christmas referred to a twelve day period that starts with Christmas day. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" referred to a twelve day period that began Christmas day. While the world may have celebrated Christmas for about twelve hours, these Christians celebrated it for twelve days as a reminder that the gifts of God are with us for twelve months of the year. It also represented the idea that we should be thankful for the gifts of God and follow His teachings for all twelve months of the year and not just one day a year. 

The song begins, "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." The "true love" represents God, as our greatest love should be for Him. The word worship means that which we love the most. The "me" who receives these presents is the Christian man or woman.

1. The "partridge in a pear tree" was Jesus Christ who died on a structure made from the wood of a tree. In ancient times a partridge was often used as mythological symbol of a divine, sacred king.

2. The "two turtle doves" were the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God. Doves symbolize peace and the Gospel contained in these scriptures, when practiced, brings peace.

3. The "three French hens" were faith, hope and love - the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (I
Corinthians 13). The French hens can also represent God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.

4. The "four calling birds" were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.

5. The "five golden rings" were the first five books of the Bible also called the "Books of Moses."

6. The "six geese a-laying" were the six days of creation.

7. The "seven swans a swimming" were "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (I Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11)

8. The "eight maids a milking" were the eight beatitudes.

9. The "nine ladies dancing" were nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22)

10. The "ten lords a-leaping" were the Ten Commandments.

11. The "eleven pipers piping" were the eleven faithful disciples.

12. The "twelve drummers drumming" were the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.
This is actually an instrument.  Or a noise maker, depending on your perspective and the personality of the child holding it.  It's a variation of the Brazilian & African cuica, used in Samba music.  (See a video of an actual musician using a higher quality cuica on the YouTube video below. 

At any rate, this one can be made to make a clucking or 'gobble'y sound.  These are entertaining by themselves, or add it in to an impromptu marching-around-the-yard band!  You could have a whole flock of chickens or turkeys.

To make one, you'll need
A disposable plastic cup, googly eyes, paper/real feathers/paper or foam beak, an 18-20” length of cotton (not nylon) yarn, something to poke a hole with, a paperclip, dollar-bill sized piece of a paper towel, water.

Using a nail or whatever works, poke a hole in the top.  Thread the string through the hole, and tie the top end of the string onto a paperclip or washer, to keep it securely on the right side of the hole!    Decorate.

If you want to see someone make one and use it, see here.  

Have fun!
To make the sound, while holding the clucker still with one hand, get a square of folded-over wet paper towel and grab the string, making quick yanks down the string.
Last week we had a lesson on the four seasons in the group of 5-and-unders that I teach in a homeschool co-op.

We started with four trees on a page; each tree gets something glued to it:

spring- popcorn
summer- tear bits of green construction paper, hole punch red paper for apples
fall- tiny brown leaves (I used honey locust) or torn brown paper bag
winter- drizzle school glue all over tree and across the base, the child uses a finger to spread it smooth; sprinkle with table salt.  

Their favorite was the winter tree! 

You  can even listen to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons while making these...

The full lesson is below, with activities and songs.  
Print this full-page size. I printed them black and white because that's all my printer does...
Four Seasons lesson/activities
Materials needed:
music: Rain is Falling All Around, Popcorn Popping, Once There Was a Snowman, In the Leafy Treetops 
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons CD, CD player
Four Season discovery bottles
Autumn sensory box
4-tree papers (1 per child)
Popcorn kernels, popcorn popper, bowl with lid, spray bottle with water
Green construction paper
Red construction paper and a hole punchSmall colored leaves or yellow/orange paper
School glue
Wipes to clean hands

Seasons song: Rain is Falling All Around (leaves are falling, snow is falling, sun is shining, wind is blowing)

Listen to The Four Seasons with eyes closed; what season does it sound like?  What do you see?  Dance to the music, pretending to be a something in that season: an unfurling leaf, a bird, wind blowing, snow falling...

Four Seasons bottles to pass around

Four seasons artwork: divide a page into 4 sections each has a tree outline?  Older ones can write seasons

Get the popcorn popper and kernels ready, sing "Popcorn Popping". Pop the popcorn.

While working on the summer trees, sing In the Leafy Treetops.

Winter:  use fingers to spread glue on the branches and below the tree; sprinkle on salt (or could paint with salt water on tree with a black construction paper background) Sing Once there Was a Snowman

Autumn sensory box for when done: a box full of things like a “Can You See?” book- things of different textures and warmth, things to find, things to count, crocheted apples,

Mist the leftover popcorn with the spray bottle, add salt.  Put the lid on and shake to coat.  


Is including this lesson useful to anyone? Or should I stick with closer-to-homemaking posts?  
Photo of the construction paper flag we made with this template to come... as soon as I can figure out what in the world my camera did with my photos!
Yes, I'll get some great recipes on this blog again soon... the reason it's been a bit is the same problem as above.  My camera is taking the pictures and burying them somewhere deep inside its circuitry. Sigh.

I'm teaching Joyschool to a group of children ages 1-5.  That's a huge spread in capability and ability to focus.  The group meets for two hours once a week, and has a focus on incorporating the scriptures into lessons. Since today is Constitution Day, I decided to teach them about the reason and purpose of the Constitution, plus the symbols of our flag and what the Pledge of Allegiance means.  I've learned to overplan and then be flexible- so there's a lot below.  :)

Materials needed

‘The Gift to Choose’ cube in a pretty box
Scriptures (Book of Mormon, D&C)
Constitution paper puppets (page 4 of the link, or see photo below)
Constitution puppet story (same as above)
Pictures of a school, church, plus an envelope
Map of the original 13 colonies
Map of the United States (I have a placemat map)
Marker or crayon
American flag- any size
flag pieces (red and blue construction paper) and silver star stickers (see picture below)
Music for “My Flag, My Flag” 
glue sticks or school glue

Section 1: God gave us the gift of Agency and the U.S. Constitution to protect it

Show the present, let someone open it to find the rolling cube inside.  Tell them that God gave us an amazing gift- the freedom to choose.  Let a few children take turns rolling the cube, read what it says.

Sing Do As I’m Doing (CS, - then ask, did I make you do this, or did you get to choose?

Read, then have them recite this scripture  3x: Wherefore, men are free … to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men (2 Nephi 2:27).

Tell the paper-puppet story of the Constitution (Constitution FHE manual, pg. 4).  God told us that gave us the Constitution to protect our right to choose (D&C 101:77).  We sometimes call this “liberty”.  (Have them repeat the word.)

Time for playing inside: US map puzzle for older ones?  Also let them use the cube and the finger puppets.   Also play outside for 10 minutes if weather is good: look for things that are red, white, and blue.

Section 2: The Flag and the Pledge of Allegiance

Today is a special day- show the colonies map and have the kids point out corresponding ones on the placemat map.   Count them with me while I circle them.

Show the flag, tell them it is a symbol of liberty and freedom.  Tell about the meaning of the 13 stripes (colonies and rays of light), and the stars (heaven and trying to reach it by following God, 50 stars/50states), and the colors (white: being pure and righteous, red: bravery and courage, blue: paying attention and sticking with what is true and right) = a symbol of liberty and freedom. (symbolism explained better in Supplemental Materials, at the end.)

Sing a song: My Flag, My Flag- have them wave their flags whenever you sing the word “wave”, or make up motions or dance.  Bring the music and use the piano, or the CD and a player.  

Tell about the Pledge of Allegiance

Recite it, say why we put our hand where we do, then talk about some of the words:

Pledge: a promise
Allegiance : to be faithful and helpful to it

So when you pledge allegiance to the flag, it means you promise to be faithful and helpful to liberty and freedom.

The United States: our country
Republic: the kind of government the Founding Fathers gave us, where we have power to choose our leaders.
Under God:  God is the most important, and helps the country when we’re righteous.
Liberty: we get to use our agency
Justice for all: the law is the same for everyone, no matter how old, young, rich, poor, or how they live.

End by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance together, then my testimony of God’s wisdom and love in giving the Constitution to us.
Print this to fit a regular-sized piece of paper. Cut out blue construction paper to fit the proper place (mine- 4 3/8" x 3 3/8"). Cut red stripes- each one will need 4 short ones and 3 long ones- red is the first stripe at the top and the last at the bottom. (My red stripes were 1/2" wide, long ones 10 1/2", short ones 6 1/2")
Supplemental materials:

http://www.usflag.org/colors.html "The colors [of the Great Seal] of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness [bravery] & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

Also this from a book about the flag published in 1977 by the House of Representatives:
"The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."

50 stars- states; 13 stripes- original 13 colonies  (bring in US placemat, color/circle the 13 in front of the kids)

Explaining the Pledge of Allegiance: http://www.ehow.com/info_10043483_explaining-pledge-flag-kids.html

Mormon Messages:  The Freedom to… http://www.lds.org/media-library/video/2009-06-27-the-freedom-to?category=mormon-messages/mormon-messages-2009&&lang=eng

Read a  story  "Do As I'm Doing" at   

Scriptures  D&C 101:77, 80   the Lord caused Constitution to be established for protection and liberty D&C 134:1–5 (Governments are instituted of God for the benefit of mankind)

For an explanation of the need and purpose of the Constitution, see the FHE lessons for the Bicentennial, page 4 

My Flag, My Flag  http://www.lds.org/music/library/childrens-songbook/my-flag-my-flag?lang=eng, also on Youtube (at the :54 mark) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g88bnDkoHbc

My Country  http://www.lds.org/music/library/childrens-songbook/my-country?lang=eng

Schoolhouse Rock “The Preamble”

http://www.usflag.org/colors.html "The colors [of the Great Seal] of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness [bravery] & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

Also this from a book about the flag published in 1977 by the House of Representatives...

"The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."

50 stars- states; 13 stripes- original 13 colonies  (bring in US placemat, color the 13 in front of the kids)

Explaining the Pledge of Allegiance: http://www.ehow.com/info_10043483_explaining-pledge-flag-kids.html
Glue Stick Galaxy
The Milky Way galaxy, which we live in, is said to contain between 100 and 400 BILLION stars, of which our sun is one of the smaller ones.  The galaxy also has nebulae, asteroids, planets, comets, and more.  
This project was simply to help my children visualize a bit of how massive one galaxy is, as we were learning about the universe and its scale.

Start by looking at photos of galaxies.  Give each child a regular-sized piece of plain paper.  Have them draw a spiral using either school glue or a glue stick.  Very quickly sprinkle it with glitter and tip back and forth to cover.  The photo below shows what happens when there's a bunch of glue in the center.... it runs.  (Hey, a little more running on the upper side and it'd be a great barred galaxy!) 

Each tiny piece of glitter represents one star.  Look at your 'galaxy' closely for a while, then watch this video.

I used some gorgeous ultra-small glitter left from another project- so we did this outside.  On the patio, 20 feet from the house.  It wasn't far away enough.  Next time we'll do this over grass, so the glitter is less likely to get tracked back indoors!

After they've dried completely, put them in a plastic page protector to keep the glitter contained.  And marvel at what we're a part of.
White School Glue Galaxy
There's nothing that stimulates creativity like boredom does.
My 15-year-old was bored yesterday and came up with this idea:

Draw on wood using the power of the sun.

Normally I'm not a fan of solar power:  a couple years ago, a solar panel manufacturing company was considering building in my city.   Our city council starting reading the research and crunching numbers, and eventually declined the move.  Why?  The council members discovered that when you add up everything it really takes to build and run a solar plant, it takes MORE energy to produce each panel that it will generate in its lifetime.  

Anyway, back to this solar-powered art:

A magnifying glass, when held close to something with bright sunlight behind it, creates a concentrated beam of light, as most any inherently pyromaniac 12-year-old boy might tell you.  

So he used that as his woodburning technique, holding the magnifying glass steady in one spot until a little wisp of smoke appeared, then moving it over a fraction of an inch.  (See the light beam below?)  He freehand drew it as he went, though you could sketch in pencil first (which is erasable!) and then burn over those lines.

Note: there are some safety considerations here, obviously.  One of them is keeping an eye on your child if they try this.  And I recommend doing this in a nice green grassy area that is not prone to catching fire.  Another is protecting yourself from the sun.  He wore a jacket with a hood, since he sat with his back to the sun for about 2 hours to make this.  Too bad he didn't think to put on pants instead of shorts.

Voila!  Wood burning with no specialty tools necessary except a cheap dollar-store plastic magnifying glass!

What happens when a favorite puzzle goes through six children and fifteen years?

I suppose it's impressive that the box even exists anymore, and that the puzzle pieces are still flat and whole.

But it was time for a new way of storing it.

The puzzle pieces fit nicely in a gallon-sized ziptop bag.  I cut out the top of the box so we'd still have the picture of what the puzzle looks like, then inserted it in the bag, too.   
As a bonus, it now takes up less space in the puzzle drawer!
OK, OK, I know it's a whole three days after Easter, but this is still fun.  We don't have to totally forget about a holiday after we've passed it, right?  (The real reason this is delayed is that I spent the last week in a beautiful, very green place with no phone connection, no cell phone signal, and no Internet connection.  This was ready to publish, I just couldn't get to the button.)  

How about something fluffy and NOT sugary?  This is a fun craft for kids anytime and has some deeper Easter meaning. It's simple but will keep them occupied for a little while.  How about making a whole flock of sheep?  He shall feed his flock like a  shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 41:11)

You'll need only 
  • 1 sheet of newspaper
  • Tape
  • Cotton balls
  • 4 straws
  • Glue
  • White paper
  • Black marker

You can find the instructions at http://www.lds.org/friend/2013/03/easter-activities?lang=eng

What about some other animals?
This year the theme for Primary-- the children's organization-- is "I Am A Child of God".  Our ward typically gives the children and teachers a small gift each year.  We've also recently had a lesson called "Jesus Christ is the Light and the Life of the World" (Dec. 2012, week 3), and I read a talk by Sister Elaine S. Dalton called "Now is the Time to Arise and Shine".   It also fit with our first Sharing Time lesson of the year, "God is my Heavenly Father.  He Knows and Loves Me." Connecting all these things, this is what we did this year:

I bought a number of chandelier crystals, strung a ribbon through, and attached a poem, which I titled  Illumination:

Hang this crystal in your room
Where light is bright and clear.
As light reflects and shines, think of  
The temple’s chandelier.

I am a child of God
His light can shine through me.
If I am clean and pure and serve,
I can help others see.

The poem can be sung to the tune of "I Am A Child of God"; we sang just the second stanza.  

Maybe the poem should have specified to hang it in the window; my children have theirs hanging on the wall, where they are not close enough to a light source to throw rainbows.  Hmm.  Maybe "In your window this will go/ Where light is bright and clear..."

Something like this poem and chandelier crystal could be used as part of a Family Home Evening lesson, especially along with either of the Sharing Time lessons or Sister Dalton's talk.  

I know that I am not the light but I can help share it.  The closer I am to the Source of light, my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the more pure of heart and willing to serve His children I am, the more I am able to share His light with others.  They will see it in me and hopefully want to shine, too.


How about the expense?  Each one cost just over $1, I ordered some from Amazon, $8.99 for 10 crystals, plus shipping.  They didn't have enough for me (we needed about 120), so found more at D. Lawless Hardware, $1 apiece with free shipping (and my favorite crystal of the two kinds).   Thin gold ribbon was on sale at Hobby Lobby, a 30-foot roll for $ .79, it took 6 spools to have 14" per crystal.

My 12-year-old science nut convinced me to buy a red cabbage-  why?   

While walking through the produce section together, I had told him that the vegetable could be used to make a pH indicator.  He was excited.   You can see how to do this in the one-minute video, below.
Meanwhile, you don't need the whole head of cabbage for such a project, so it got chopped up into a creamy, flavorful, no-mayonnaise coleslaw.  The recipe is below this cabbage video. 
Isn't that simple?  If you don't have a coffee filter, any other absorbent paper will work, including (white) construction paper or paper towels.  My favorite is the construction paper.  You can read more about why this works here

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 
Coleslaw with Bacon and Buttermilk (or Kefir) Dressing
adapted from America's Test Kitchen

If you are going to eat this coleslaw RIGHT AWAY, you can skip the salting step, which keeps the cabbage from releasing water and diluting the dressing as it sits.  However, if you’re not a fan of raw onion, cook it along with the bacon; salting the onion also mellows it.

½ medium head of red or green cabbage, shredded
1 large carrot or apple, grated
½ medium onion, sliced thin
6 slices bacon, chopped, cooked and drained
½ c. buttermilk or kefir
2 Tbsp. oil (I used coconut oil)
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
½ Tbsp. caraway seeds
¼ tsp. mustard (dry or prepared)
2 tsp. sugar or honey
Black pepper to taste

Combine the cabbage, carrot/apple, and onion in a colander; sprinkle with 1 tsp. salt. Let stand over a bowl until the veggies wilt, 1-4 hours.  Rinse, drain, and pat dry.  Add in the bacon (and onion if you cooked them together.)  Stir together the buttermilk/kefir, oil, vinegar, caraway, mustard, and sugar.  Pour over the salad, and toss to coat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.