Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Parkside Church Christmas 2010

Here is the video to the Christmas concert!

I must say, I've been to many Christmas concerts over the years. This one, by far, is absolutely breathtaking.

I hope you are able to take the time to listen and watch. If we are anything alike, my friends, you will find yourself singing along at times, getting goosebumps, tapping your foot, and having your eyes fill with tears of joy. While I love every single song, O Holy Night is my favorite. Well, then there's Jesus! What a Wonderful Child! Let me know which song is your favorite and why.

Be sure to listen to Alistair's gospel message around the 39 minute mark.

Parkside Church Christmas 2010 from Parkside Church on Vimeo.

Do you love OneVoice Gospel Choir from Cedarville College as much as we do? Amazing! You can see them enter around the 18 minute mark.

Merry Christmas!

May your heart be moved to worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

P.S. See if you can find Caleb and Rachel. Here's a hint: Rachel is in the front row, the very right corner. Caleb is almost in the center of the center of the choir. Our dear friend, Alex, is standing on Caleb's left.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stuck on Me

Home at last...

Remember the post about our refrigerator dying the day after Thanksgiving? Well, a few days later, my brother-in-love, Gary, came over to help Mr. Wonderful move it out to the garage. It's proper burial will come at a later time.

Gary brought with him an appliance dolly which made moving the huge refrigerator a little easier. Because the refrigerator was so wide, it had to be taken out the front door (after removing the refrigerator handle and the hinge on the front door). But, I digress...

Imagine our surprise to find eight magnetic letters stuck to the underside of the refrigerator. There they were, plain as day: E, G, N, Q, T, W, X and Y. Thank goodness there was a vowel mixed in there!

I realize this is not world breaking news or anything important, but, I'm here to tell you, when I saw them, I realized they had been there for a very long time. Do you know how long it's been since my kids have played with magnetic alphabet letters on the refrigerator? Yes, a very long time!

No amount of sweeping or cleaning would have ever revealed their location. They were literally stuck on the bottom of the refrigerator. Apparently, they fell on the floor with the magnets facing up. When we removed them, they had quite a collection of dog hair and dust bunnies stuck to them. But they washed up quite nicely, don't ya think?

I couldn't help but think of Toy Story. Remember how Jessie was pushed under the bed and left there collecting dust? Well, I suppose, these poor Alpha-buddies probably wondered if anyone would ever come to their rescue.

Never fear!

It only took the death of the refrigerator to realize they were even missing in the first place!

And yes, I intend on keeping them. A wonderful little treasure to pull out someday so we can recall those early days when spelling names and leaving love notes were exciting moments for tiny little hands.

They'll always be stuck on me...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Concert Memories

This is such a beautiful time of year, but it's also a busy time. The kids had the privilege of performing with the adult choir at church for the Christmas concerts. There were four concerts in all, spanning a three-day weekend. We have already had a couple of huge winter storms hit here on the Great North Coast, and the possibility of a third monster storm was to arrive on Sunday evening during the last performance.

We prayed. Everyone prayed. God was faithful and held back the big snow until after everyone was safely home late Sunday night. The performances were beautiful with Christ where He belongs...on the Throne!

And the storm? It hit in the early morning hours on Monday. We all woke-up to another blizzard!

Here are some pictures that capture a few wonderful memories of Christmas at Parkside!

Caleb in his very first tuxedo and Rachel wearing Mama's pearls. You probably can't tell, but Rachel is also wearing mascara. Just a little. The girl was born with brushes attached to her eyelids, I tell you! I've never seen anything like it. Now I know why there's such a thing as an eyelash curler. As you may have guessed, I have never ever had a need for one of those!

My "Spy Kids"

Caleb, posing after the very last performance. I think this has become one of my all-time favorite photos of him.

And here's Miss Rachel, looking all aglow before the first performance.

We were so thankful to have our neighbor, Stacey, along with her mother and grandmother, join us for the Saturday matinee performance. Stacey and her family moved in behind us when I was nine months pregnant with Rachel. She has been like a daughter to us and an older sister to Rachel since the day she was born. We were talking about how Stacey was 11 when we first met. Now, she's all graduated from college and just turned 23! My how time flies.

Caleb posing as a Steak 'n Shake waiter! The serious face was on purpose. Everyone was laughing while I was trying to get his picture since he looked exactly like the Steak 'n Shake ads!

One of the highlights for the kids was being able to go to Steak 'n Shake after Saturday night's performance. It wasn't because they got to go to Steak 'n Shake. No, it was because all of their friends and their families were going! The place was jam packed with people dressed in formal attire. You should have seen all the women in long black gowns! We could have had a flash mob right there in the restaurant. You remember what a flash mob is, don't you?

Hey, thanks for checking in on me! I feel like I've been so overwhelmed with so many things of late. I hate not having time to blog. But, we're all doing well. Mr. Wonderful has just started his third week at the new job. We are still so very thankful for this miracle!

I hope this Monday finds you preparing your heart for the week ahead as we try to slow down and think about the true meaning of Christmas. God's richest blessings to you!

Much love,

Monday, December 13, 2010

ALEKS TOS Product Review

You know, I was thinking I could make this the shortest review ever by quoting my daughter, Rachel. The first time she used ALEKS, this is what she said...


The second time she used ALEKS, she said this...

"I love this!"

I could tell you what she said every single time she used ALEKS, but it would just be more of the same. She loves ALEKS!

Actually, after she had been using it for a few weeks, I asked her if there was something she didn't like about ALEKS. She said, "You know, I don't think there's a thing I don't like about it!"

And this comment comes from a girl that makes a To Do list each morning, checks off everything that she has completed and, like her mother, writes in those things she has completed that weren't even on the list, and then checks them off. I know. I know. Needless to say, she is a very detail-oriented young lady. If she had a problem with ALEKS, she would have found it and said so.

But alas, I can't just make this the shortest product review ever because it deserves much more attention than a few sound bites.

So, let me tell you about ALEKS (in their own words)...

What is ALEKS?

ssessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based, artificially intelligent assessment and learning system that uses adaptive questioning to quickly and accurately determine exactly what a student knows and doesn't know in a course. ALEKS offers truly individualized instruction that meets the student at her learning level and instructs her on the exact topics that she is most ready to learn. As a result, no two students will experience the same learning path while working in ALEKS. Learn more by watching a quick 2-minute video.

ALEKS can provide you with the instruction and support that you need to homeschool your children in mathematics for grades 3-12. With a comprehensive course library ranging from elementary school math to complex subjects such as PreCalculus, ALEKS acts much like a human tutor to help take the stress off of homeschooling parents.

ALEKS offers highly-targeted, individualized instruction from virtually any computer with Internet access, making it a comprehensive and mobile education solution for your children. A subscription to ALEKS offers access to all courses and your child may take as many courses as needed during their subscription period.

ALEKS is a Research-Based Online Program:

• Complete Curriculum Solution for Math with Access to Full Course Library
• No Textbook Required
• Artificial Intelligence Targets Gaps in Student Knowledge
• Assessment and Individualized Learning for Grades 3-12
• Master Account Includes Quizzing and Automated Reports to Monitor Learning Progress
• Unlimited Online Access - PC and Mac Compatible
QuickTables - Complimentary Math Fact Mastery Program for Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction

Learn More

ALEKS has been used successfully by homeschoolers, as well as by millions of students at schools and educational institutions throughout the world. Additionally, some ALEKS course products are American Council on Education (ACE) credit-recommended, meaning that your student may be eligible for college credit at participating colleges.

MyPie: The ALEKS Pie summarizes a student's current knowledge and offers topics that the student is ready to learn next. The darkened portion of each pie slice represents the topics that the student has mastered and the lighter portion represents what the student has yet to learn.

Explanations: When a student is working on a particular problem, she can access an explanation of that problem by clicking on the "Explain" button. The explanation typically provides a step-by-step solution, with commentary. In some cases, an alternative or more detailed explanation is also available.

Feedback: Students receive immediate feedback and, in some cases, suggestions for correcting mistakes.

Learning Mode: The Learning Mode provides students with practice problems, and offers explanations of topics and procedures as needed. Once a student has demonstrated mastery in the Learning Mode, the topic is added to the ALEKS Pie, and new material that the student is now ready to learn becomes available.

Input Tools: ALEKS provides a free response environment and sophisticated input tools that avoid multiple-choice and require students to demonstrate content mastery.

Master Account Homepage: Easily manage all student accounts, monitor student progress, view customized resources, and more.

Quiz Results: Quizzes are automatically graded and the results are available to both the parent and student immediately.

Student Progress Report: Track student progress made throughout the course. The blue bar represents the percent of course material that the student has mastered during an ALEKS assessment; the green bar represents the percent of new topics the student has mastered in Learning Mode since the last assessment; and the yellow bar represents the percent of topics the student has yet to learn in order to complete the course.

There are many other features including a Student Attendance Report which tracks student time spent in ALEKS per day, the topics attempted, and the topics mastered and added to the ALEKS Pie.

Here's a little side note, if you're interested...

Mr. Wonderful is a math major. He was very curious and wanted to spend some time on ALEKS just to see what all the hype was about. Let me just say that he got a little bit addicted to solving math problems while on ALEKS! He couldn't help himself. Like starting a puzzle, he just couldn't quit until he had completed his PIE! Even Mr. Wonderful thought ALEKS was a great teaching tool.

Here's the scoop on ALEKS:

A subscription to ALEKS is

$19.95 per student, per month, or

$99.95 every six months, or

$179.95 every twelve months.

You can also learn about their Family Discount Program.


I have been asked to pass along this message from ALEKS...

We invite to share the ALEKS free 1-month trial ($19.95 value) with your blog readers who are homeschoolers. We only offer a 48-hour trial directly from our website, so this is a special offer only for homeschoolers who are new users to ALEKS. Click on the blue box below in order to take advantage of this very special offer!

Visit ALEKS for 1-Month Trial

Let me end this product review by quoting Rachel one more time...

"I just love, love, love ALEKS!"

I am a member of The Old Schoolhouse 2010-2011 Crew and receive free products and services in exchange for a thorough and honest review. Though I am compensated with free products, I am not compensated in the form of cash for my reviews. My reviews will always reflect my honest opinions, findings, beliefs and experiences on the products and services that I receive.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Little Lambs Nativity

While we have several Nativity scenes in our home during Christmas, this one is by far my favorite. Here's the story...

When Rachel turned two years old, she was placed in a very special Sunday school class. I remember hearing parents talking about how they had hoped their child would be chosen for this very special class. The class was known as the Little Lambs. The teachers of the Little Lambs were Mrs. Linda and Mr. Jim. Now, I don't know if you know anything about teaching two-year olds, but let's just say it can be challenging. So imagine a room filled with two-year olds.

I was amazed week after week after week how this amazing couple taught Sunday school. They did not give these kids a toy box filled with toys to entertain them for an hour, they taught them a Sunday school lesson and had a host of activities from the moment they walked in until the moment we picked them up. Every single week. And they heard the Gospel message every single week.

You will notice below there are twelve wooden blocks. The first block was given to a child to complete during their first month in attendance. On each subsequent month, another block was given to the child until, at the end of the year, each child had a complete Nativity set. What you do not see here is the wooden apple basket the Nativity set came in nor the back of each block which contains a unique scripture verse.

Each wooden block has a hand drawn picture adhered to it which was then painted by the child (or had cotton balls glued to create a lamb, etc.). Yes, uniquely created by the hands of a two-year old child. Isn't it amazing?

Isn't the little bundle of straw adorable?

The Fruit of the Spirit as taught to a two-year old

And there's Rachel! She's represented on the "Salvation" block.

Look how sweetly baby Jesus is covered in cloth and there's Joseph with his curly black beard!

Even the donkey has a beautiful warm blanket.

I have taught Sunday school many years, but I have never seen anything quite like this class. Mrs. Linda and Mr. Jim loved and prayed for these kids as if they were their very own. I remember when Rachel informed me that someday if she had a little girl she would name her Linda. Rachel received Christ when she was days away from turning three years old. How can a three-year old receive Christ? Ask Rachel. She vividly remembers this time in her life. Certainly God used the faithful witness of Mrs. Linda and Mr. Jim to influence the life of our little girl.

Now I don't remember how this came to be, but I entered Mrs. Linda and Mr. Jim into a national Sunday school teacher of the year award. I simply wrote a letter explaining why they were so special and the impact they were having on the youngest of children. I remember when I received the phone call from the organization telling me they had been chosen as one of the top ten Sunday school teachers in the country! The church surprised them with a special celebration and they were honored with a beautiful award, surrounded by a classroom filled with two-year olds. I am sure this celebration pales in comparison to the celebration that will take place in Heaven!

Did I mention that at Easter each child was sent home with a container which held a Monarch butterfly chrysalis? Mmmm hmmm. New Life explained to a two-year old in a way that would never be forgotten.

All these years later, we still correspond at Christmastime and Rachel always receives a birthday card from Mrs. Linda and Mr. Jim. All of their children are now grown and married and they even have grandchildren of their own!

God bless Mrs. Linda and Mr. Jim. May their legacy live on in future generations!

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands. Deuteronomy 7:9

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmastime is Here Again

We put up the Christmas tree over the weekend. I will admit that as I've gotten older, I don't really enjoy the putting up part as much as I do the ambiance it brings after all the decorating is completed. Oh, we always have our favorite Christmas music playing on the iPod. And we stop for a break of hot cocoa. This is probably one of Rachel's favorite things to do. She loves opening all of the ornament boxes and she loves placing the specialty ornaments in just the right spot. Mr. Wonderful thinks I would enjoy it much more if I would chill out and hang just a few things. Forget the tricky garland. Forget the gigantic bulbs that anchor the tree. Forget balancing the colors. Just stick a few things on the tree and be done with it. Well, that ain't gonna happen! Nope. Decorating for Christmas might be work, but it's wonderful when it's all said and done.

I started a tradition when the kids were babies. I purchased a Christmas ornament for each of them after Christmas was over. You know, when it's 80% off! The box is labeled with the year it was purchased. Each ornament has a story. I took a few pictures and thought it might be fun to share several with you.

These photos aren't in any particular order.

Last year we read a ton of classic books for our literature, history, and theology course. It required about two to two and a half hours of reading a day. It was big! We loved it and I commemorated the first year of this curriculum with reading ornaments. This is Rachel's. Caleb's Once Upon a Time is a little further down the photo list.

Another ornament belonging to Rachel. This was from the year we went to Disney World.

A handmade Nativity which happens to be one of my favorites. Caleb made this in Sunday school in 1999 when he was three and a half years old.

I made this little ornament when Caleb was 17 months old. There's a poem I wrote on the little piece of paper attached to the ribbon. This is what it says:

The Silly Reindeer

I know this reindeer looks silly and dumb
but if you look closely you'll see two thumbs.

Look now and do not linger
for right beside them are eight little fingers!

Look below and you'll see a face
with toes on top that are outta place.

On bottom is a nose to boot
that helps to hide Caleb's foot.

Merry Christmas 1997

The year Caleb fell in love with Curious George. I think we must have read every Curious George book ever written!

Caleb's ornament from last year, 2009. Behind it is Rachel's Precious Moments ornament from the year she was born.

A gift from my mother-in-love to Mr. Wonderful and me for our first Christmas together.

Rachel and Caleb ice skated weekly for seven years. This ornament belongs to Rachel.

Oh, the year we all fell in love with Lord of the Rings. One of Caleb's favorite characters, Gandalf.

My idea is to have a wonderful ornament collection to give to each child when they get married or move out on their own. I suppose I never considered how I might feel putting up the tree for the first time without their special ornaments. I've grown attached to them and all the memories they hold.

It has been snowing here like crazy. We're under a winter weather advisory until late tomorrow night. I'm so glad we're inside where it's warm and cozy.

Here's a little tune to get you in the mood if you're not already...

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes
Of love and dreams to share

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Christmas time is here
We'll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hello? Anyone? Hello?

Do you remember the Screaming Woman?

I'm just throwing this in here because I'm a little frustrated at the moment. I will admit, however, that I'm not stressed out and screaming like I was this past July 21st.

Actually, we're all still floating around a little bit at the wonderful news we received on Tuesday night. We are so blessed and thankful.

Anyway, I took the time yesterday to completely overhaul my blog, you know, so it would be nice and pretty for Christmas and our wintry-snowy season. Did you get to see it? Anyone? I thought it was so lovely, all baby blue and sparkly.

I guess I went against my better judgment and chose a blogger background from You Know Who. It appears the entire site is down again.

Maybe by the time this posts, the pretty blue background will magically re-appear. But then again, maybe it won't. So, sometime between now and well, whenever I have a chance to pick a new background and take the time to re-design everything, you might find yet another new festive look. In the meantime, it will be that boring Minima background that looks minimal. Just use your imagination, right?!

I do hope to post what used to be part of my Friday blogging pattern...a favorite recipe! We're having homemade pan pizza tonight.

Until then smooches,

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Times are in Your Hands

Looking out our back door last January

Today is December 1st. We woke-up to find a candy coating of snow on everything outside and, even now, it is snowing. It's pretty to watch snow as it slowly falls from the sky and changes the landscape. I knew it would arrive sometime...snow. I'll admit that I'm glad it has held off until now. With Christmas just around the corner, snow seems more appropriate some how. It didn't snow here in November. That's not normal for our neck of the woods. But then again, things haven't been normal around here for quite some time.

Mr. Wonderful has been without a paycheck for quite some time. He found himself receiving an unemployment check this past June for the very first time in his life. Like so many other small business owners, the family business that has employed most of his family and many others for the past twenty-five years has come to an end. It has been heartbreaking to watch the slow death of this once vibrant and growing company. I would liken it to the death of a close family member as you helplessly watch them suffer and slowly die. It's been horrible. And it's been extremely difficult knowing there's absolutely nothing anyone can do to stop it. So, a set of parents, their five sons and their families, along with almost a hundred other employees and their families have all had to say goodbye. Even as I write this, I still cannot believe it.

It has been so hard watching my husband spend 8 to 10 hours a day, just looking for work. In today's world, everything is done on-line. Resumes are submitted on-line. Extensive applications are entered on-line. Hour and a half long tests, countless times, are taken on-line. Interviews are given on-line. Psychological tests are given on-line. And my favorite, writing poetry in order to even enter into the on-line application process. I kid you not. Once when he tried to contact a company by phone, he was told that if they allowed applicants to call in to ask questions, they would have to hire two full-time people just to answer the phones. Brutal is an understatement. The reasons for what seemed like endless rejections were even harder to comprehend.

And so yesterday morning our family gathered around the kitchen table to pray. And once again, in thankfulness, we called upon the Lord to hear our prayers and answer them according to His will. He alone knows our future. Surely the Lord sees what we cannot. We have continually prayed we would "consider it all joy" and learn the many lessons He has for us. We prayed we would be found faithful and not falter through these difficult times. I am ashamed to admit that I have stumbled many times.

Yesterday we found ourselves, like so many others, receiving our last unemployment check. Twenty-six weeks goes by quickly when you're not working. It's not much, but it was enough for us to help keep our nose above water. When you read the statistics that most families are two paychecks away from homelessness, we recognized God's provisions for our family. While we have exhausted much of our resources over the past 18 months, we are thankful we had resources to draw from.

Have you ever heard that saying, God is NEVER late but seldom early? Last night Mr. Wonderful received an e-mail which contained the first of its kind. A job offer...a job offer that exceeded any expectations. And they wanted to know if he could start on Monday.

How do you respond to that? Is "thank you" really enough? We gathered again as a family and through many tears thanked God for His mercy. We prayed our memories would not be found on the short side, like the Israelites' when they left Egypt, but that we would remember this time, for all time.

I found myself early this morning pondering what had transpired over the past 24 hours. I want so much to remember that moment in time when we discovered God's hand in our lives. It felt like the last possible moment to us. I know it didn't seem that way to Him. He knows all things and sees all things. His timing is perfect.

From Babbie Mason's Trust His Heart...

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don't understand
When don't see his plan
When you can't trace his hand
Trust His Heart

In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. ...I trust in you, LORD; I say, "You are my God." My times are in your hands. Psalm 31:1-2, 14-15

With a thankful heart and overwhelming joy,