Saturday, December 24, 2011

Countdown to Christmas Fun!

Along with our Jesse Tree Ornaments to facilitate a season of worship, I wanted to be more intentional with our time and effort to enjoy some fun activities during the holiday season. I always think I'm going to do fun, Christmasy-things with the kids, and then "life happens" and I get tied up with other distractions, and before you know it it's New Year's Eve and we haven't done a single "fun" thing as a family all month!

Which is why I really loved this Countdown to Christmas idea from Life As Mom and wanted to add it to our December fun! It's strategic, intentional, and flexible enough to incorporate our own family activities leading up to Christmas Day. And yes - I originally thought we'd do something EACH day, but that just isn't realistic : )  So sans a few days from our little "hospital hiccup" with AJ and a few other conflicts, we actually managed to squeak in some holiday fun this month!

Here's a recap from the Utecht Family December Fun!

 Hayrack ride while at the Hazen Walk Around - had to do this one twice!

 The kids watching Charlie Brown's Christmas for the first time! (I think they liked it.)

 Ellie and I enjoying our mocha and smoothie while taking in the shops and sights at the Beulah Walk Around.

And just to mix things up a bit, let's have an appendix removed! Ohhh - but the good that came from this ... adjusting expectations, learning how to show compassion, growing a heart of gratitude for her health, and learning to be a gracious recipient of others taking care of our family during this time. 

 We wanted to keep focusing on the needs of others through providing a gift through a gift tree.

 The girls loved stringing popcorn and cranberry garland (especially Ellie)!

Draw a picture of a Christmas scene ... 

Tickets to the Utecht Express! We got PJs on, got bundled up, and went driving around to see Christmas lights in Beulah.  Print your tickets from the Confessions of a Homeschooler website here -->  Express Tickets!

 The conductor punching the kids' cards as they entered the "Utecht Express". 

Ellie got to attend a birthday party for Jesus at a friend's house (no pic). As the "gift" they gave Jesus, the kids pooled their offering together and then selected an animal to buy through the Heifer Project for a community in a third-world country. Great idea, Wolsties!

 Suncatcher ornaments

 Making goodie gift bags for our teachers and service workers. 

 Ben delivering his goody gift bag to truly one of his favorite people - (Sunday School teacher) Mrs. Nelsen! Oooohhh how we love Mrs. Nelsen!

The kids participated in the annual Christmas program at IBC. Abbie was an angel, Ellie was a sheep, and Ben got to play instruments with his toddler-class (led by Mrs. Nelsen, of course!). 

We attended the Knife River Christmas Chorale concert (no pic), and thoroughly enjoyed a full choir and orchestra performing some of our favorite Christmas hymns and carols!

Family outing to Bismarck to see Santa and finish some shopping. Gotta stop at Barnes & Noble for a smoothie and time in the Children's department :) 

 The girls are practicing to sing "Happy Birthday Jesus" on Christmas morning with their friends Carter, Daiton, and Owen. 

 Making Christmas tree felt ornaments. 

 Some baking fun with the kids ... an interesting process with multiple hands involved!
Reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas" before bedtime...

When you ask Ben "where's Christmas?" he points to our Christmas tree and says, "Underneath." He cracks us up ... obviously we have some work to do on that thinking, but it's pretty cute for now.

Just putting this blog post together makes me smile from looking at all the pictures and recalling the fun memories we created this month. While our church family and friends here in Beulah are so good to us and make us feel so loved, we still miss being in Iowa and Nebraska with our extended families at Christmastime. These Christmas Countdown activities brought back some sweet childhood memories of our own, and added a few activities as new traditions with our own kids, not to mention how it slowed us down a bit in the rush of the holiday season to spend quality time together, and enjoy some good ole smiles and giggles together!  I hope you all will consider using this "countdown" activity in years to come :)

Merry Christmas from the Utechts to you all!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Five on Friday: A Change of Plans

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8-9

Based on some ideas I got from a few other websites and very creative teacher-moms, I had this amazing picture in my mind of how our month of December would be spent. I had created our "Countdown to Christmas" fun family activities for each day, along with a prepared Jesse Tree daily devotional. Christmas decorations were up and ready to be enjoyed. Abbie had dug out the Christmas music and we had already begun enjoying those carols. As far as I was concerned, Christmastime was here!

And then A walked into my room on the 4th day of December early in the morning and told me, "My tummy hurts, Mommy." And so began the start of our last two weeks of appendicitis followed by an infection in the incision wound. Almost two weeks later, she's still recovering from the infection and the surgery, but we have much to be thankful for in that the worst is behind us. The prayer and support we've received during these weeks have been so appreciated and have carried us through.

Someday we'll look back on these two weeks of A's appendectomy and recovery with a sweet memory of how our kids learned compassion for one another. One of the sweetest moments for me as a mother was when E walked into A's hospital room and stood next to her bed for a few minutes having a conversation with her. It went something like, "Hi Abbie. How are you feeling? Does it hurt? I missed you."  As if this isn't enough to send me into a crying fit, here is what Ellie did next ... 

Though my plans for a lovely Christmas celebration for the entire month of December were slightly altered, God was with us ... Immanuel! I'm learning how to be flexible and bendy in the midst of daily, family life ... and to acknowledge that my plans are not His plans, and my ways not His ways. Aron often says, "This is just a normal day, Babe." And he's right ... "normal" around here is usually loud and chaotic, full of spontaneous interruptions, but always with its share of fun and laughter. For this I am thankful (most days!), AND am usually ready to go lock myself in a closet for some quiet space at 5pm when Hubs comes home!

So what did Great Plains Elementary do during Abbie's appendicitis? We took most of last week off while Abbie was sick and then in the hospital. But we eased back into our school work this week. Below are some highlights from the past 2 weeks.  

  • Ellie was able to keep up with her phonics and math each day.

  • Abbie joined us for a little art & crafts

  • We did a little US geography with Abbie's history book focusing on 3 states: New York with a little emphasis on the Statue of Liberty, New Hampshire, and Virginia. We're mostly reading about the state's capitol, state bird, with some interesting history and fun-facts about each state. More of an overview, and a great way to introduce the states. We also read a couple books that illustrated life in these states...
Based on a true story, When the Whippoorwill Calls is set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in 1924. It's such a beautifully illustrated and written book based on the events of Shenandoah National Park being built, and how some 465 families were evacuated from this area. We all decided we should vacation there someday!

Lucy's Summer was a supplemental read for our discussion about the state of New Hampshire this week. Set in 1910, Lucy spends her summer learning her mother's hat-making trade, visiting the big city of Boston for the first time, and enjoying being a kid in rural New Hampshire. 

  • Lots of reading together! We read some wonderful books which is our absolute favorite thing to do together. Here are just a few we enjoyed: 

 This is one of the supplemental books in Abbie's science curriculum. We have used this book to learn more about birds, where they live, how they nest, and about their eggs. Very interesting and easy-to-read book!

 Ellie's focus in her Kindergarten curriculum this week was "G is for Goats" (and other farm animals). Click, Clack, Moo is hilarious! We love this author's animal humor!
Another farm-animal book we love ... Cock-A-Doodle Moooo! 
Abbie loves this book from 1st grade, so we thought we'd throw it into the mix of our "animal" books this week. 
Hattie the Bad was a book donated to Abbie at the hospital by a Literacy Council in Bismarck. Although she couldn't giggle much after surgery, we've had our share of giggling after reading it 789 times this past week! Oh Hattie ... you ARE delightfully naughty!

Some of our favorite Christmas books include: 

  • On Christmas Eve by Margaret Wise Brown

  • The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg

  • The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett 

  •  Welcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco

Thanks again for all the support and prayer you all have encouraged us with these past two weeks! We truly have felt it and appreciate it deeply.

Blessings ~ Jenn

Friday, December 2, 2011

Five on Friday

Did you know ...

  • Insects such as ladybugs, mosquitos and bees all have 6 legs? 
  • There are over 4,500 different types of ladybugs living in the United States? 
  • The Baltimore oriole is the state bird to Maryland and they love eating oranges?
  • Homonyms are words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings (two/to/too, through/threw, led/lead, new/knew, council/counsel)? 
  • The -ar combination says "r"?
  • The cornsnake eats up to 8 mice in one meal? Want to get rid of those pesky mice? Go get a cornsnake and let him loose in your yard!
  • Christmas books are our absolute favorite things to read right now? 
We love learning new stuff! 

Ok ... and here are our five snapshots on Friday (or six or seven ...  : ) for the week ~ 

E had fun inventing her own patterns this week. 

We talked about insects this week and learned that they're actually useful and not completely annoying! 

E loves to change the calendar and is learning to count to 30 through this activity. We also keep track of all the birthdays to celebrate each month! Those we could think of first: Jackie on the 5th, Uncle Matt on the 6th, Grandma Dee on the 24th, Auntie Lindee on the 24th, and E on the 30th!  Let us know if you have a birthday in December ... we'd love to celebrate you too :)

B getting his craft on! 

The girls had a "substitute teacher" on Friday while Mommy got some much-needed away time with a friend. They were SO excited to demonstrate to Daddy all they can do :) 

E showing Daddy how she does her reading lesson each day.

B loves his new chair! I found this and the green one E was sitting in (above) at a thrift shop nearby! Such a deal and fun to sit in! 

It's a great day for outside fun with the parachute! Our weather here has been unbelievably mild with our first snowfall occurring on Nov. 30th. I'll take it :)

We also started our Christmas Countdown fun activities and the Jesse Tree Advent devotions (see previous post for links to these resources), which we're all excited about. Our prayer for you and your own is that you'll take time this season to quiet yourselves and focus on the amazing gift God has given us in Jesus. 


Friday, November 25, 2011

Five on Friday: A Week to Give Thanks

Psalm 100 

A psalm for giving thanks.
 1 Shout to the Lord with joy, everyone on earth. 
    2 Worship the Lord with gladness. 
      Come to him with songs of joy. 
 3 I want you to realize that the Lord is God. 
      He made us, and we belong to him. 
   We are his people. 
      We are the sheep belonging to his flock. 
 4 Give thanks as you enter the gates of his temple. 
      Give praise as you enter its courtyards. 
      Give thanks to him and praise his name. 
 5 The Lord is good. His faithful love continues forever. 
      It will last for all time to come.

We spent a significant amount of time this week slowing down, learning through history books, Scripture, and stories what it means to "give thanks". We considered what we have, what others need, and how we might be called to respond to those needs. It was a true blessing for me - the Mama Bear - to hear my girls' hearts on what they're thankful for through their Gratitude Journals, and hearing them thanking God through prayerful praise. We also prepared for some very special guests: Grandma and Papa arrived Wednesday night to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. It was a great week!

Five Snapshots

Ellie weaving a placemat for Grandma. She was hard-focused on designing her pattern : ) 

We enjoyed several activities this week where we read multiple Thanksgiving stories, books about how the pilgrims and Indians worked together and built community together, and stories from the Mayflower. I must admit even I learned (ach-hem... I mean "re-learned") some things! 

Ben's happiness is often found in pounding with his hammer and having some alone time. Those ... and maybe also wearing his favorite "Melmo" shirt.

Abbie sharing her Gratitude Journal with us after dinner. We truly have so much to be thankful for. Aron and I are reading and studying the book "Radical" by David Platt this fall and have been transformed in how we think about our possessions, about what the rest of the world lives with and without, and how we might be used to better serve and love others for God's glory. Today was a good day to truly consider all that God has blessed us with ... so that we may be a blessing to others. 

And of course, an annual tradition for Husker fans is to cheer our football team the day after Thanksgiving. What a treat to be able to do it with Grandma and Papa this year : )  GO BIG RED!

And finally, I want to share two fun activities to use as you and your family prepare for Advent and the Christmas season: 

Christmas Countdown Fun Family Activities from Life As Mom - 24 fun Christmas activities to do together such as Christmas caroling, make a gingerbread house, go look at Christmas lights, enjoy classic Christmas movies. One fun activity per day ... and all FREE activities! I'll go for that. 

Jesse Tree Ornaments from Life Your Way - simple and kid-friendly approach to Scripture reading of the family line of Jesus as you prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We're using these for the first time this year!

Blessings to you all,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five on Friday

Happy Friday to you all!

We've had a pretty good week here at GPE, sans a bump in the road in the form of a fever on Thursday. But we're bouncing back and (hopefully) going to dodge a full-on household of sickness. YAH!

"Five on Friday" is intended to help me from writing such looooong posts once a month, and instead capture five highlights from our week to share with our friends and family! So here it goes ... a little about what's been going on here this week.

In the past 2 weeks I've been on the hunt for new hands-on activities that the girls would enjoy, and even Ben can use. So as a result of my searching and shopping, I've added some additional fun to our schoolroom. We got some lacing buttons and beads, some pom-poms and ice trays, geo-boards with rubberbands, poetry books with CDs, new puzzles to add to the collection, and more to come (some on our Christmas wish-list : ).

The kids working on the lacing buttons. 

Ellie is on lesson 53 of her "100 Reading Lessons" and is doing very well! It's such a huge blessing to teach my own child how to read. She loves to get up early each morning, find a book, and see how many words she can read on her own. Makes my heart smile!

Abbie's working on a 2-point paragraph. This week's topic was "My Favorite Places" which turn out to be the swimming pool and her friend Kody's house : ) 

And this is how we ended our week ... a high fever and lunch in bed (per her request)! Sweet girl. 

My last post highlighted 5 of my favorite sites for homeschooling ideas, toddler activities, and crafts. I'll add to that list here:

And one last thing ... although I'm quite certain I've exceeded my "five" for Friday!  I stumbled across this amazing Advent calendar idea called "Jesse Tree Ornaments" for kids and families as we prepare our hearts for Christmas. It comes with a daily Scripture reading and coloring squares to be colored and hung where they can be seen throughout the Advent season. We're eager to do this starting in only 13 days!

May blessings abound,