Our Civil War Christmas Tradition

cw3Last Saturday, one of my sons opened the paper on our advent calendar and read “Civil War luminaries”, one of my favorite Christmas traditions.  We live near a Civil War National Battlefield, and once a year in December, volunteers line the road through the park with over 2,500 luminaries–one for each soldier that died in battle.

cw1It’s hauntingly beautiful.  We play quiet instrumental Christmas music, and bring thermoses of hot chocolate to drink in the car.  We remind the boys that the candles honor the soldiers who lost their lives here.

cw5There are soldier reenactors who have a camp site set up, and visit in character about the events of the day (in 1861).

cw4We park the car, and walk up to a farmhouse, which looks just as it did in the 1860’s.  Much of the original furniture is still there, and the house is lit only by candle light.  Volunteers in period clothing are in each room to answer questions.

We are told that 11 people lived in the three room house, and I think about the differences and similarities between my life and that of the mother raising her nine children with the Civil War being fought in her back yard. I resolve to be more grateful for the life I have.

cw2 Outside on the porch, a group sings acapella Old English Christmas carols.  I could stand and listen to them all night. This year the weather was unseasonably warm, so we stood a little longer, listening to the singers, with the stars above us and the candles surrounding the house.

I think one reason I enjoy the evening so much is because it forces us to be quiet.  The atmosphere is hushed, like that of a church or a library.  Everything about the evening is very simple–the candles, the farmhouse, the music, the stars.  Whether or not we like it, Christmas comes with a lot of bustle and noise, and taking a break from the noise helps give us some space to reflect.

Do you have any unusual or non-traditional Christmas traditions?

What I’m Reading–Quick Lit December 2014

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The last time I discussed books, I had lots of books I hadn’t finished (or started).  A cold the week of Thanksgiving resulted in some unexpected reading time, and I was able to cross several books off my list.

book1Outlander is an amazing story, and I loved the time traveling aspect.  It almost got too graphic for me, but the story telling made up for it.  Looking forward to the rest of the series.

book2 This one did go past my tolerance for violence–looks like judging a book by the cover didn’t work out so well for me this time.  I actually liked the book, and am interested to see what happens next, but there was too much graphic violence for me (especially directed at women and children).  I won’t be reading any more of Johansen’s books.

book6I’m not in the demographics for Guiliano’s latest book, but I still enjoyed reading it, especially the chapters on food.  I did skim large sections that don’t apply to me (yet), but it was a great reminder the importance of healthy living and taking care of yourself.

book4I didn’t care for the way this book was written, but it had some good information in it, so I think it was worth reading.  The author has her own division of personality types–divided into four letters, and I was a little dismayed at seeing another personality type structure, but I was able to find my own and my children’s types quickly and painlessly, and the information aligned with other personality reading I’ve been doing, which made me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

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Also, this book was top shelf reading for helping our family interact and communicate better.  Read all my thoughts here.

Linking up Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy–head over there for more book reviews!

Natural DIY Skincare That Really Works

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During college, I worked at a cosmetics counter in a department store that sold a $30 mascara and an anti-aging cream for over $100. My college-student budget certainly didn’t allow for me to purchase what I was selling, but even so, I’m sure that College Me would be shocked to hear that Today Me puts castor oil and vinegar on her face.

It’s scary what chemicals are put into cosmetics, and although we’re certainly not a completely chemical free house, whenever I can easily switch out some chemicals for something more natural, I do.  What I put on my skin is better for me, for the environment, is ridiculously less expensive, takes very little time, and it works.

I had terrible skin following the birth of my last baby–my skin was worse in my early 30’s than it ever thought about being in my teens.  I began seeing the oil cleansing method all over the internet, and as strange as it sounded, I tried it and it worked.  I’ve added a few other natural ingredients to my skincare routine, and the results are great skin without chemicals, for just pennies a day.

1.Oil Cleansing Method

The oil cleansing method uses one part castor oil to one part extra virgin olive oil.  (If you’re oily, try adding more castor oil, and if you’re dry, add more olive oil.)  At night, I rub about a teaspoon all over my face, and then lay a hot, damp washcloth on my face until it begins to cool.  Then I scrub all the oil off.

I always save back one castor oil bottle, so when I buy a new one, I pour half of the castor oil into the old bottle, and top off both half-full castor oil bottles with extra virgin olive oil.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar Toner

In the past, when my face was breaking out, I used apple cider vinegar as a toner after cleansing, but I haven’t had to use it in quite awhile.  I love the smell and taste of vinegar, which is really weird, I know.  Putting it on my face didn’t bother me in the least, but if you have sensitive skin, or are sensitive to strong scents, try a little bit at a time.

I used the raw and unpasteurized vinegar pictured above.  It was a compromise between the inexpensive acv we use to clean with, and the super pricey organic acv that runs $20 a gallon. I’d love to try making my own someday, especially when our own apple trees start producing.  Here are two tutorials I’ve pinned for the future: acv tutorial 1 and acv tutorial 2.

3. Bentonite Clay Mask

Bentonite clay is amazing–I saw a noticeable difference after the first time I used it.  I buy it from my local health food store, and it’s inexpensive.  (If you have a health food store, go check out their bulk section, if they have one.  You may be pleasantly surprised at their prices).

I start by mixing 1 t of water to 1/2 t of powdered clay, and keep adding water until it’s a spreadable consistency.  I spread all over my face, keeping away from my eyes and mouth, and let dry for about 20-30 minutes.  The mask will turn a lighter color, and may get flaky.  Then I scrub it off with a comfortably hot washcloth.  The clay will draw out impurities from your pores, so you may break out the first few times you use it, but after the initial detoxification, it shouldn’t be an issue.  I try and do this twice a week.

I usually don’t need much of a facial moisturizer, but in the winter months, I grab some coconut oil from the pantry.  I use my homemade lotion on my body, and that’s about all the skincare I need.

Have you ever used homemade beauty recipes, and what kind of results did you have?

 

 

Kid and Mom Approved Toy Ideas

This is a list of well loved toys from our house.  They’re probably not on any 2014 hottest toy list, but they’re things my boys actually play with again and again, and they’ve withstood the abuse that a multi-boy household dishes out, so they’ve got some staying power.

A lot of these tend to be on the upper end of the price scale.  I would rather purchase fewer toys of a higher quality that will last, then lots of little toys that end up in the trash by New Year’s.  Some of ours were given by grandparents or extended family, and some of them were given as a group gift to all our boys (or the big two or little two).

1. Zoobs

toy1My guys love building things, and zoobs are fun and unusual building blocks.  There is a variety of packages available, including zoob cars and robots, which make nice add on gifts to a basic set.

2.Quercetti Georello building gears

toy2We like to build, and the turning gears make this an especially fun set.  There are also additions to the basic sets, such as farm and jungle sets.

3.Wooden Castle Blocks

toy3We have two sets of these, the better to build extra large castles with.

4.Marble Run

toy4Do yourself a favor, and grab a bag of marbles at the dollar store, the marbles inevitably gravitate towards the corners of the room.

5. Kidoozie Build a Road X Track

toy5Half of my boys are seriously obsessed with transportation, the other half are mildly obsessed.  Kids that like building and transportation will love this build a road.

6. Nowhere To Gotoy6A fun game that encourages thinking and strategy

7. Dog-opoly

toy8I think monopoly of any variety is good for kids to play in order to learn about money.  We have Dog-opoly, and our boys love to play for hours and hours.

8. Magna-tiles

toy12My guys are getting a second set of these this year, because this is one toy they will all play with together, (boys ages 4-9), and as easily as these click together, the boys quickly run out of tiles.

9. Thinkfun Rush Hourtoy13This game of strategy can be played by children and adults alike, it comes with playing cards with all different levels of difficulty.

10. Thomas Trains

toy11We have a giant box of Thomas Trains and tracks. Our living room often has elaborate tracks looped all over it.  I bought a big set on clearance, almost ten years ago.  They no longer connect with the new style of tracks, but thankfully I bought an extra box of track.

11. Elenco Snap Circuits

toy10We supervise our boys when they play with this electric set–it stays up on a high shelf in the closet, to keep it safe, but the older two have spend many hours playing with this.  They also have add on sets such as a rover vehicle, lights set, and a green alternative energy set.

12. Nerf N-Force Vendetta Double Sword

toy9I believe we got these swords two years ago for Christmas, and they are played with almost daily.  They have stood up really well, you can see from the picture one tip cracked a little, and was repaired with duct tape, but the swords are remarkably sturdy.  One of our boys has asked for his own set this year, so we’ll have a total of four swords in the house now.

13.  Legostoy14 We’ve had legos of every shape and size in our house.  Currently the two big boys love Star Wars legos, which drive me crazy because they’re so small, but they do result in quite a bit of creative play.

14. Kinetic Sand

toy1I suggested this to grandparents for our November birthday boy, and I wondered if I would sorely regret it, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.  Kinetic sand really does stick together, and hasn’t made too much of a mess (yet).  It’s a very unusual texture, you pick it up and it almost moves by itself.  Our preschooler loves the sandbox at preschool, but it’s closed until warmer/drier weather, so I thought he would enjoy this, and he does (the older boys do too).

What do you have to add to my list?  What do your kids play with over and over?

 

How I Decorate Our Christmas Trees

We have two Christmas trees in our house, a fun tree and a pretty tree.  The pretty tree is color coordinated with white lights, gold, silver and white ornaments, and there’s as much sparkle and glitter as I can cram onto one tree.

ctree2The fun tree has multi-colored lights, and all the handmade, Hallmark and character ornaments that we’ve collected over the years.

I like to get all the Christmas decorating done Thanksgiving weekend.  I’ve found if I don’t get it done all at once, the decorating process can drag out forever, and the Christmas bins threaten to take over the house.  This year I had a nasty head cold over Thanksgiving, and so the decorating is still happening.

Real tree enthusiasts, you may want to avert your eyes–both our trees are artificial.  Some years we also have a real tree in the kitchen, although it doesn’t look like this year will be one of those years.

There have been years when we’ve put one tree up, slapped about 5 cloth (non-breakable ornaments) on it, and called it good.  Those were years we had just-toddling toddlers and/or new puppies.  This year we do have two new(ish) kittens, but having a water bottle close by has worked pretty well for keeping them away from the trees.  Different seasons of life call for adjusting your traditions to fit your life right then, so don’t be afraid to change things up to find what works for your family right now.

ctree1I like to wrap each tree branch with lights, and I’ve found the easiest way to do that is to wrap lights as I put the tree together, layer by layer.  Our fun tree is in the dining room, and sits in a corner, so I wrap the forward facing branches very carefully, and am much more economical with lights on the back side.

ctree2The fun tree is 6 feet tall, and I used 4 strands of lights–I’m guessing they were 300 lights each. Once the tree is together and lit, the boys help me put all the ornaments on.

 

ctree1Our pretty tree is about 10 feet tall, and has white lights with gold, silver and white ornaments.  The ornaments are a mixture of inexpensive ornaments from discount stores, hand made, and a few nicer blown glass ornaments from my department store clerk days in college.  Where ever they come from, I try and buy most of our ornaments on New Year’s Day, when they’re 75% off.

ctree3 I put the pretty tree together the same way, and wrap the branches with lights, layer by layer.  Next goes on the  gold and silver shatterproof ornaments, which are tucked in to the inner branches of the tree, so they will reflect the tree lights. I divide the three into thirds from top to bottom, and have the largest globes on the bottom third, medium ornaments on the middle third, and smallest ornaments at the top.

The more ornate ornaments go on the outermost branches, where they can be seen easily.  The white snowflakes in the picture above were croqueted by my grandmother, and are some of my favorite holiday decorations.

How do you decorate for Christmas?  Do you have themes or color schemes for trees?

How Myers-Briggs is Helping Our Family

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I’ve only recently delved into Myers-Briggs personality typing, even though I’ve been fascinated with personalities ever since high school.

I’ve never been 100% sure about my own MB type–I’m not good about objectively answering questions about my own personality, although with recent reading, I felt pretty confident in 3 out of the 4 letters.  After reading MotherStyles, I finally cemented the last letter in my own type, and it’s so obvious I felt really foolish for not figuring it out earlier.

In this post, I commented how my child with the personality most like mine is the most difficult for me to relate to.  After reading MotherStyles, the way I view the personalities of my family has been turned upside down and realigned, and I think it’s going to be a game changer.

According to the authors, the two middle letters of your type is your personality core, so people that share those two letters see things similarly, and are usually compatible, even if they have other differing characteristics.

I always thought my husband and I had very differing personalities–he’s ENFP, and I’m INFJ. I looked more at the outer two letters than the inner letters, but our personality core is actually the same.  We share the NF, even though he’s extroverted and I’m introverted, and he’s perceiving and I’m judging (contrary to how unflattering that makes me sound, I really am a kind, open minded person :-) .)

Here’s where it gets really good:  I was able to type my oldest two sons using MotherStyles, and I discovered that one son is ENFP just like my husband.  My other son, that I previously thought had a personality similar to mine, is ISTJ.  He and I are both introverted judgers, (again, couldn’t they have come up with nicer terminology?!)  but we have trouble seeing eye to eye because of those middle letters.

I feel like a hundred light bulbs have gone off, and now that I’m armed with this information, I feel like we can make huge strides in improving our communicating and in our understanding of this child.

I highly recommend MotherStyles for any mother.  it gives so many concrete examples, and instead of a traditional quiz where you check millions of boxes in a row, it give real life scenerios that (for me) were much easier to identify ‘yes, that’s just like me’, or ‘no, that’s not like me at all’.

The authors cover how to use the personality types to foster better communication in the whole family.  They talk about what careers are best suited for children with different types of personalities, which I think is so important.

There’s also information on what types of careers are best for you as a mom, depending on your personality type, and how having children might change what your ideal job looks like.  The book also talks about identifying personality types of your parents, and how growing up with their personalities shaped yours.

As soon as I finished this book, I started reading it again, to soak up and reapply my new knowledge.  I’m planning on buying it as soon as possible, so I can take notes and highlight.

Here are other books about personalities and how families relate to each other that I’ve found helpful:

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What I’m Reading Twitterature Edition–November 2014

This is the should have-would have-could have month–I’ve finished none of these books, (okay, I did make it through the board book)  and sadly, haven’t even started many of them. But sometimes life is that way, and hopefully I’ll carve out more reading time in the near future.

book5I am completely in love with BabyLit books–and I’m so sad that my boys are too big for them now!  You can check them all out here.  These would make such wonderful baby shower or Christmas presents.

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In the spirit of Sense and Sensibility being an opposites primer, the last children’s books I reviewed were about mummies–if you’re curious, check them out here.

book2I’ve been listening to this, after reading The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers.  Also on my list is Meeker’s Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men.

book3This is my 742nd time re-reading this book—why is it that my child with the personality most similar to mine is the most difficult for me to figure out?  This is my favorite book on highly sensitive children, although Kurcinka calls them ‘spirited’ children.  If you think you have one, I highly recommend this book.

book4In my quest for understanding and communicating with my boys, yet another parent/child personality book…

book6I love Guiliano’s other books, and I’ve thumbed through this one very briefly.  Her books always remind me that taking care of myself helps me take care of others better.

Watching The Secret Garden (1987 version).  My 3rd grader’s teacher read the book aloud to the class, and then they watched the newer version of the movie.  This was one of my favorite books and movies growing up–my school librarian found an old copy of the movie for me, and I watched it over and over.  I haven’t seen it since I was a little girl, but I’m determined to see it this weekend.  I just realized it was filmed at Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed.

book8After reading this post from Jill at The Prairie Homestead, I had to check out this book to see if we could implement any no-work ideas into our garden this summer.  So while it’s snowing this Saturday, I’ll be dreaming of playing in the dirt in warmer weather.

book7These were my purely for pleasure reads, and I haven’t even opened the covers–A Bookman’s Tale is about a newly widowed antique book dealer who relocates to the English countryside, where he finds a Victorian watercolor resembling his deceased wife.  It leads him on an investigation back through history and deals with the truth of Shakespeare’s true identity.

The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy set in the future, although the setting resembles medieval times–people have rejected modern technology, and a 19 year old girl, Kelsea, is destined to take the throne of her kingdom.  I usually don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I have high hopes for the book, if for no other reason, the cover is beautiful and it has a ribbon book marker.  Irrational, I know.

What good books have you read (or intended to read) lately?  Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs Darcy–head over there for more great book recommendations!

Mommy’s Mummies

I didn’t celebrate Halloween as a child, and I’m pretty leery of letting ‘scary stuff’ in our home, but we do help our boys pick out costumes and attend kid-friendly Halloween events. When one of my younger sons came to me saying he was scared of the dark because of mummies, I was perplexed.

We had a conversation, and I tried to be comforting while explaining that mummies are real, but they don’t come back to life or hurt people; they are an interesting part of science and history.  In the back of my mind, I realized I could be making things worse instead of better.

He went onto sleep with no problems, and I put all the children’s books about mummies on hold at our library.  When they came in, I previewed all of them, putting one in the return pile before anyone ever saw it.  I took a day or two to think about whether I really believed it would help him to further discuss mummies, or if I should just let sleeping dogs lie.

These are not books that are appropriate for all children, and I don’t think they should be given to any children without accompanying adult supervision and conversation.  Once again, I seriously contemplated whether I was doing the right thing or not, but I forged ahead.

mummy1I was surprised at what I learned–when I hear the word mummy, I think of Egyptian pharaohs, but there are mummies from all over the world, and they were preserved in a variety of ways.  Some of the mummies’ skin is preserved so well you can see intricate tattoos of tribal or cultural designs.

My son looked at some of the pictures, and said, “Gross!”, but I could tell it was a ‘gross’ that actually delights little boys, and not something that would keep him up at night.

There are lots of photos of artifacts that were buried with the mummies, and some mummies have clothing and/or hair still intact.  National Geographic shows what they believe some mummies looked like when they were alive by creating a model from studying CT scans and X-rays of a mummy’s skull.

Scientists can tell a lot from a mummy–age and gender, what the person ate before they died, what kind of activities the person did daily, and often, how they died.

Mummies come from literally every corner of the globe–bog mummies from northern Europe, bundled mummies from Peru, mummies kept in Italian catacombs, the popular Egyptian kings, dried mummies from China, and even modern day mummies.

Vladimir Lenin and Evita Peron are both individuals who have been mummified in more recent years.  Their bodies look like wax figures, appearing as thought they are sleeping, and have been or are on display for the public to view.

Our study of mummies has been a positive experience, but again I want to emphasize that there are some very unpleasant issues covered by these books.  Some of the people died a violent death before being mummified, and some of the Inca mummies were child sacrifices.  All of the mummies are in various states of decay, and while none of them are gory, some of the pictures are startling.

Studying different groups of people and cultures from around the world from a historical and scientific approach helped my son overcome his fear of the imaginary.  I think introducing topics that could be distressing for children takes common sense from the parent in knowing what is appropriate for each individual child, and lots of conversation between children and adults.

Your Reading Personality

book1I just took Oprah’s reading personality quiz, twice. I generally have a hard time taking quizes, so after completing it the first time, I went back and took it again, and came up with two profiles that are pretty true to what I read. The first (and what I think is my dominant reading personality) was

“The Starry-Eyed Romantic

Remember all those summer childhood afternoons you spend sprawled under the forsythia bushes in the garden, reading Love Story, Little Women and Jane Eyre (and maybe Judy Blume’s Forever) over and over?  We won’t tell your parents.  Romantic readers crave sexy encounters, fantastical happenings and storybook endings, whether those endings be (mostly) joyful (Pride and Prejudice, Twilight, How Stella Got Her Groove Back) or tragic (Romeo and Juliet, Me Before You, One Day).

So…bring on true love and vampires, heartbreak and dragons and Earl Grey tea.  Romantic relish a good cry or epic drama–which partially explains their embrace of A Game of Thrones.  Romantics have a soft spot for YA fiction, as it suits their taste for efficient plotting and satisfying outcomes”

 

Guinea Antics

guinea2This morning I let the birds out early, and later on, I noticed the mother hen bringing the chicks and guineas out of very tall grass–and there was only two guineas with her, instead of three.  This made me nervous, and I looked around for the third guinea, which was no where in sight.

A few hours later I ran back out to check on them, and there were still only two guineas. I usually let them eat bugs during the day, so that they do their foraging when they’re the hungriest, and feed grain at night when I lock them up in the chicken house.  I thought about feeding them just a little to round up all the birds, and maybe get the guinea back before he got too far away.

guinea4I was standing in the chicken pen, contemplating my next actions, when I noticed an upturned water tub move.  The tub is very lightweight, and holds maybe three gallons of water for our sole duck.  (Ducks need something they can submerge their beaks in to fully clean their nostrils, rather than just sipping out of a standard chicken feeder).

guinea3I watched the water tub scoot across the pen, and when I picked it up, a bundle of feathers launched up into the air, and beat itself against the wire ceiling of the pen.  Over and over.  (The guineas don’t understand wire, even after living in it part-time for over a month.)  I felt terrible that the guinea had been stuck in the upturned tub all morning, but if it had just stood up straight, I think it could have overturned the tub and escaped.

guinea1I waited until it drank as much as it wanted, caught it with a net, and reunited it with the other guineas and baby chicks. I really hope these guys do a number on our snake population, because they sure aren’t smart.

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