Nativity Artwork for Children (and their Grownups!)

The Homely Hours

We have had some time this Advent in our elementary Sunday School class while we practice our Christmas play and music, so we decided to do some special projects to share, because I deeply believe that Advent is for making.

I thought it would be fun to share a few step-by-steps for making these simple nativities with children and/or adults.  With a bit of advance planning, we completed these in about 20 minutes, leaving us with enough time for some singing and play prep.  This coming Sunday we will wrap them, and send them home to place under the Christmas tree.

Do let us know if you make these!  You can tag us on Instagram @thehomelyhours, or leave us a comment here with a picture.


8″ x 10″ canvas panel for each person (get them on sale; they are almost always on sale:)

Acrylic paint in: white, turquoise…

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Vocabulary Crosswords!

Every year I want to create a set of crossword puzzles to help my children with their vocabulary words.  Every year I get one done for the first six weeks, and then I forget about it and just do boring matching pages or have them write out the words and definitions or use them in a sentence.

I took about an hour over 2 days and used the Crossword Labs page to create 5 puzzles for my girls to use this year.  I’ll treat them as a quiz every 6-8 weeks.

We use Fix It! Grammar from Institute for Excellence in Writing.  We’ve been using this program for the last 3 years and love it.  The lessons are concise and build on each other.  It truly takes my children about 15-20 minutes each day.  This year I have 2 children using Book 3 and one using Book 4.  It appears from my work this morning, that Book 4 does not have vocabulary, but I’ll need to finish going through the whole thing.

If you use Fix It! Grammar and like the idea of using my crosswords, this link will take you there:  Frog Prince, or Just Desserts Crossword collection.

I’ve provided several links in this post, but I receive NO compensation for directing you to these resources.  I paid for the unlimited account at Crossword Labs, but you don’t need to pay to use the page.  I wanted the ability to create and save multiple puzzles.


This is what my dining room table currently looks like.  It’s a good indication of how my brain feels.


Current school work, manipulatives, menu planning, and, next year’s curriculum catalogs.

Frustration.  Can you see it?  I can feel the frustration and it’s only rising.  It’s a combination of factors causing it, but I’m experiencing it in the planning of our next year.

The hubs just retired from 19 years of military service.  We’ve decided to stay put.  He has accepted a job with a local company at a huge pay cut–so that we can stay where we are.  We’re now faced with possibly having to sell our home.  The house that I said at closing he would have to carry me out in a body bag.  It’s not the selling of the house that saddens me, heaven knows I can make any dwelling a home for us.  It’s not the loss of income either.  It sucks, but living on less I think we would be a bit more grateful.  It’s the moving again.  It’s the promise I made to my children we wouldn’t have to ever, ever move again.  It’s the packing up of things that I’ve so carefully placed, of the little scattered comfortable reading areas.  It’s finally having some elbow room–and then losing it.

Frustration.  It’s in my relationships with family.  In 15 years of traipsing around the globe, setting up a home, packing it up 18-24 months later, I know how to jump in and start fresh.  I can’t do it with my own family.  I had a seemingly brilliant idea to include my 8 sisters in a joint blog venture.  Instead of binding us together, Satan has reared his ugly, ugly head and trampled relationships that were tenuous at best.  One person demanding that her way is best.  Lack of trust.  Lack of faith.  There’s even some lack of knowing Christ in our midst.

Frustration.  It’s also in the planning of next year’s school year. I’ll have a high schooler in the fall if he manages to pass 8th grade.  He’s a smart kid.  He refuses to do the work required.  I don’t know how this will play out.  Books I ordered a month ago haven’t arrived.  The planner I buy each year hasn’t arrived.  There’s a convention in 2 weeks, I don’t yet know how much of our school work I’ll be able to purchase when it comes because of the pay cut hubby is taking.  And the best part?  Several curriculum companies give discounts to ACTIVE DUTY military, but not retirees.  Are you kidding me?  I am grateful that they give a discount at all, but I’m learning the hard way that a 60% cut in income doesn’t get my husband appreciation for the 19 years he already put in.  Belize is looking awfully good right now.

So, for now, I’m off for some much needed Jesus time.  He’s the only one with answers.  Question is, how much faith do I have?

Planning My Shining Year: 2015 Edition

I love calendars, lists, planners, notebooks, and….the list goes on..  Well, truly, any type of stationary, office supplies, etc.  While I’m not ready to plan our 2015-2016 homeschool year yet, I am ready to tackle my doula & childbirth education business year.

The planners are called the 2015 Create Your Shining Year Biz and Life editions.  The workbooks have overlaps, but if you have a small business, the business planner is invaluable.  The planner is from Leonie Dawson, a business guru in Australia.  She has several courses to assist you with being successful in life and business.  I’ve not taken any of the paid courses yet, but I am planning to do so this year.

Last year I was flat on my back after an injury that made walking feel like my pelvis was falling apart and my spine was disintegrating.  I began working on the 2014 workbook and planning my year.  I achieved many of my goals, I believe because I actually wrote them out.  A few hitches threw me off track, but I easily regrouped and re-evaluated my goals.  I accomplished most of the “100 things to do in 2014” list, and the ones I didn’t either no longer were interesting, or just didn’t work out.  This year I plan to review that list monthly.

Getting started on my To Do List

Getting started on my To Do List

My favorite part of the workbooks is the “closing ceremony” for the previous year.  Leonie walks you through evaluating the previous year, even giving you space to rant about what didn’t go well, while preparing you to tackle the next year.

Those are my thoughts.  Through a very clogged up head.  If you choose to purchase a workbook, many thanks as I receive  a small kick-back.

My Thanksgiving Memories Past & Present

Before 2000

Both my mom’s parents and my dad’s parents lived in the same town as we did growing up.  There were no long treks over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.  There was a constant flip-flop of where we’d go and what time to be there.  Was it dessert only this year?  Add to it that my parents divorced when I was six, and you’ve got the fun of which year the flip happened.  Honestly, the years we went with my mom down to her brother’s house, are my favorite memories.

Aunt Julie and Uncle Kyle lived on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, 2 hours from my hometown.  It felt like the longest drive of my life each time we made it.  We would make the drive down on Wednesday night and at the early hour of 4 am, the guys would go hunting.  The ladies would stay in and start meal prep.  The cousins would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and Mom, Grandma, Aunt Julie, and assorted friends would prep the meal while the kids played.  I have no memory of ever helping with meal prep.  We prayed that this year we wouldn’t run out of water (nearly always happened) and that the guys would shoot at least one deer amongst them.  There was no “kid’s table”, just everyone sitting where they could, balancing paper plates of food, wearing jeans, camouflage, and t-shirts.  Pure bliss.  Those were the best Thanksgivings. (Though my grandmother probably thought it was a bit low-brow.  She always dressed up.)

In contrast, at my dad’s family we dressed up, the kids sat in one room, the adults in another.  Sheer boredom.  Great food, but sheer boredom.  We’d eat dinner at my paternal grandfather’s, then head over to my step-mom’s family for dessert.  It was a bit more fun there, but not much.  I just don’t remember the free-wheeling, run all over, read, nap, etc that happened with my mom’s family.

After 2000

Being a military family, we deemed Thanksgiving too short of a holiday to make the long trip back to our hometown, so we’ve been hosting for 14 years.  Each year has brought an interesting menagerie of friends and food.  In the last few years family has started making an appearance, which has added an new layer to our fun.

The first year we truly hosted a full dinner (with lots of friends) was 2004.  We lived in Germany, and with my husband an officer, we had American-sized appliances in our apartment.  Since my oven was the only one that could accommodate a large turkey (thank goodness for the commissary!), I hosted.  Having never been in on the Turkey Day prep before, I had no idea what I was in for.  Prior to ’04 we had fixed a small meal for Thanksgiving.

I asked our friends to bring whatever dish was traditional in their family.  Wow!  Did we have an assortment of foods!  Macaroni & Cheese with Tomatoes, Stuffing, Green Bean Casserole, Rolls……I have a picture of the feast somewhere.  I managed to roast a turkey and call it a day.  The best part was sharing the day with new and old friends.  The oddest part was that while it was a holiday for us, the Germans were going about their normal routines.

My next favorite Thanksgiving is 2007.  My husband was deployed and the thought of making dinner for just me and 3 kids, aged 2, 4, and 6, was more daunting than I wanted to consider.  My dear deployment-sanity-saving friend Brandi & I decided that with 7 kids and deployed hubbies we should combine forces to celebrate.  We wanted good food & little clean-up–we chose the DFAC.  The DFAC (aka chow hall) is staffed with world-class chefs and each facility on an Army post competes with the others to design the best ice-sculptures, desserts, etc.  Excellent food, no clean-up for us!  The only down-side is the lack of leftovers, but in the end not cleaning up wins out over leftovers.

In 2011 my dad & step-mom made the trek to Texas.  Since they would just be in town Wednesday through Saturday, we decided to treat them to the DFAC instead of spending the day cooking in my tiny kitchen that only accommodated one person.  Turkey Day dawned with temps in the 70s.  By the time we left to go to the DFAC for dinner, it was in the 40s.  We returned to our house for homemade pies.  It was a nice visit and a great meal.  Again, no clean-up!

Last year we hosted 3 of my 7 sisters, a fiance, a brother-in-law, 2 nieces, a nephew, and my mom for a grand total of 14 people in my house.  It was lovely.  I wish all 7 sisters, my brother and their families could all join us.  My husband would go nuts, my house would be insanely full, and it would be blissful to me.  If that were to happen, there would be 31 of us.  At least one of my sisters would refuse to sleep here.  The rest could pile in!  To have all the cousins here at one time……

Thanksgiving Present

I’ve spent the last week prepping for my girls to dance in the Nutcracker this weekend–not prepping for the influx of family arriving next week.  I’m not sure that influx is the correct word.  There are only 3 coming.  My mom is bringing her parents down.  My grandparents are incredibly active and have made the drive twice before, but Mom is bringing them to Thanksgiving dinner this year.  The kids will love having Grandma, Great Grandma Shirley and Pops here for a few days.  I’ll love having them in my home for a meal.  Oh, and I’m buying all the ingredients so Grandma can make me a batch of her cinnamon rolls. *wink*

All this brings me to the original reason I sat down to write this.  (I’m not disciplined enough of a blogger to make a plan)  Last year while trying to figure out how to plan out the meal, I found a great planning guide for Thanksgiving day, appropriately entitled The Gobble Guide.  My biggest problem has always been that not everything is hot when it’s time to eat.  This simple sheet made mealtime nice & organized last year.  I’m sharing the link with you here for your very own guide.

Eat well next week!

Family Lessons

We still do a couple lessons as a group, the more fun ones (if you ask the children) are Music/Composer Study and Art.  I love Grammar Recitation, but that’s me.  These biographies from Zeezok have been a good jumping off point.  They are really geared at younger elementary students and told in a story format.  There are CDs available with selected scores as well as coloring pages.  Again, a jumping off point for our family.


Composer Biographies from Zeezok Publishing

Next up, Artistic Pursuits.  I opted to purchase the grades 4-5 program because we’re all beginners here.  The whole series looks fantastic to me.  The workbook is written directly to the student, so again, this is independent work for my children.  My 4th grader loves to grab the book and go to work.  She’s several projects ahead of the others as she chooses to work on this in her spare time.


Artistic Pursuits & supplies

Do you prefer group or individual lessons?


Procrastinators Always Lose….and so does Mom

We just have one week left until we break for Thanksgiving.  Well, most of us get a week off.  The 8th grader is now doing lessons on Saturdays and all of Thanksgiving week to get caught up since he’s been working as slow as possible.  I’ve had to re-work his lesson plans and stack lessons on Saturdays so that he will finish on time.  We’re (sadly) in a state where I must report twice a year.

I like taking the whole week off during Thanksgiving–especially with out-of-state family visiting.  There’s nothing worse than telling Grandma that, “No, J absolutely MUST do at least 4 hours of lessons”.  Most family members think that we don’t operate on a set schedule and we can just “get it done whenever”.  Oh, how I wish!  That was the case in elementary school, but we’re knocking on the door of high school, and J has set a big goal of having an associates degree when he graduates, so that means loads of work.

Consequently, this means I, too, must be available to answer questions about and oversee his independent work.  So, my glorious week off is now non-existant.  As are my Saturdays.  I don’t know if this is an issue every homeschool family deals with, but here, I have a huge problem with my son not working well independently.   I find it very difficult to work in my sewing room during independent work time, as my son will stare at the wall, doodle, read in the bathroom, drink gallons of water, etc. just to avoid work.  He wanted to do an online class this year, so we compromised and he’s doing a computer-based science program.  He’s only accountable to me, but I’ve had to block everything on the computer except the science program.  I’m glad he’s not doing the online class–he’d be several lessons behind.

One of my biggest shortcomings is not showing him God’s grace in this situation.  I try, but I haven’t figured it out.  I’m angry that the girls must miss out on field trips because J isn’t done with his work.  I have sewing, both custom work and personal work, that needs done (clothed children, please?), but can’t spend the afternoon working since I must be downstairs in schoolmarm mode.

Do you have a procrastinator? How does it affect everyone else?  How do you motivate him/her to accomplish the work?


The first 12 weeks

We began our year 21 July 2014.  Despite better planning this year, we had a rocky start.  Just 3 weeks before school was to begin, we found out N would be deploying yet again.  This was the shortest prep time, yet this is exactly what he is always prepared to do. We made it happen, even with my being at a birth conference for a week.

I decided that what better way to get into the swing of a deployment, than to dive into school.  It would keep us busy.  It would give us focus until we could get used to being a man down.  So in we dove.  The kids were in high gear.  New books, paper, fresh crayons, freshly sharpened pencils……week 1 went pretty well.  The usual hiccups were caused by figuring out new curriculum, schedules (oops!  double-booked), the decision to drop Latin.  Kids turned in lessons each day, grading was accomplished each evening.  Meals were cooked, regular activities were attended.

Week 2 sweeps in with the same starry-eyed hopefulness only to be beaten down by exhaustion (mine) and confusion (theirs) by mid week.  Deployments are tough.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or fourth.  Being the only adult who drives is exhausting.  It made me wish, albeit briefly, that J could drive himself somewhere for a change.  It made me grateful N will cook dinner even after a long day at work.  It made the 20 minute drive to town seem like 20 hours.  I didn’t go to bed before midnight any night that week.  To top it all off, I had a doula client nearing her estimated due date.  A girl needs her sleep before a birth!

Week 2 assignments weren’t as promising as week 1.  Some assignments weren’t done at all & teeth-pulling began.  It’s really hard to maintain patience when you only sleep 5 hours per night.

Weeks 3 & 4 were scheduled time off and thank goodness!  Just what we needed, 2 weeks vacation after just 2 weeks of school.  T & K were slated to go to summer camp courtesy of our amazing church.  J & I had plans to travel to Texas so I could go to a ministry retreat and he could visit friends.  My client birthed her baby, I dropped the girls at camp, and J & I flew to Texas–all in one 24-hour period.  The girls spent a glorious week at camp (on the beach no less!) and I basked in private retreat time along with brief reunions with dear friends.  J spent 3 amazing days with his best friend & then we flew back to reality.

In the midst of leaving for TX, we discovered N had received orders to retire from the Army.  Shortest. Deployment. Ever.  He was gone 3 full weeks.  N flew back home within hours of my arrival home.  Talk about crazy!  Deploy!  Retire!  Re-deploy!  Find a job!  While a bit stressful, N being sent home early is a blessing.

Did I also mention I took on the role of Interim Youth Minister?  No?  Well, I did.  So then it was welcome hubs home, write lessons for youth group, find Sunday school curriculum, lead Thursday night Bible study…….No worries.  Who needs sleep?    And I signed up for tap classes–for me!  It’s been a long 12 weeks.