Saturday, December 31, 2011

November/December School Recap

Today I'm squeezing in one final, epic, for-my-own-records post about our homeschooling journey in 2011. I began writing this at the end of November, planning to give each month its own space, but... then December happened. And here I am. So here are some of our school highlights from the past two months!

In November our little four-family rotation came around to me, and I had a great time preparing my lesson plans. We spent the morning learning about the beginnings of Thanksgiving. We read Thanksgiving Day, by Gail Gibbons, played Cross the Sea in honor of the Mayflower's voyage, learned about some differences and similarities between the Pilgrims and the Indians, and made our own Indian "leather vests" out of brown paper grocery bags.

At our second November co-op, we celebrated one of everyone's favorite fruits of autumn: the glorious but humble apple. We learned about the life of John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed. We made our own apple trees.
We snacked on apples and made cinnamon-sugar soft pretzels as the perfect apple complement.


And, after sampling both green and red apples, we graphed our favorites. Red beat.

In December, we had one final co-op for the year, and I volunteered to teach again so that I can have a little break during Baby's first few months. Our Christmas-themed co-op found us reading The Donkey's Dream, by Barbara Helen Berger, and learning about the concept of symbols. We talked about different symbols for Jesus found in the Bible, and each child got to choose a little Christmas ornament to remind him/her of one symbol of our Savior. We made a Jesus-in-the-manger craft (except I used a different printable than the one shown). And then we had a quick grammar lesson and used our new knowledge about nouns, verbs and adjectives (with the mommies contributing a couple of exclamations) to create one very silly Christmas mad lib, as follows:
It was Christmas morning, and more than anything else, I was hoping for a big, cold momma under the tree. I jumped on my bed. I was so excited I could hardly wait for Mom and Dad to get me from my room so we could open the cats. The sparkly smell of delicious sandwiches wafted up the stairs and made my mouth dance. I felt so scared I thought I might go crazy if my parents didn't come soon. Just then, I heard a gentle Esme at my door. "Merry Christmas, Tree," said my dad, poking his bus driver around the door. "Merry Christmas, Tongue," said my mom from behind him. "Merry Christmas!" I ran, giving them both a big playground. "Are you ready to open some hairbrushes?" my dad asked. "Oh, my!" I said, crawling down the stairs. When I got to the living room, there in front of the baby was the most beautiful cook I had ever seen. I couldn't believe it. I felt so small I couldn't even carry. I turned around to look at my parents. They were both singing at me. For a moment, I just drew back. "Goodness sake, Mom and Dad," I finally said. "This is the bluest gift I ever got."
Our other activity that day was making Snowman Shish Kabobs as part of our snack. There are numerous cute takes on this craft all over the web, but this simple version worked well for our group, as we have a number of food allergies represented. The kabobs required no dairy, no nuts, no whole grain crackers--just marshmallows, pretzel sticks, skewers, and food decorating pens. And just look at these happy little people with their cheerful snowmen:







Whoops! Someone ate hers before I could get a picture.

November was to begin with an exciting Metro ride downtown to the National Gallery of Art. Unfortunately, when the day dawned, Esme and Matthew were both too sick to go anywhere. I made an early-morning call to our dear friend Mrs. Apple, and she was able to take Meg along with her girls. I was SO grateful for this. Meg and I would have been seriously bummed to have her miss out on this one. When Meg returned from her big day out, she was chock full of stories and bore an art project she had completed at the museum, based on the work of Eric Carle. Not only that, but Mrs. Apple's ever-generous mother, who had accompanied them on the trip, bought Meg a book at the museum gift shop, Usborne's I Can Draw People. Meg had a fantastic time working through this book over the next few weeks. Here are a couple of the drawings she produced:

Construction worker

Soccer game

Our second November field trip was a Wilcox event, conceived by me and executed by my exceedingly excellent husband. A group of about 25 kids showed up at our church one morning, met Mr. Wilcox in the auditorium, and proceeded to take the Official Covenant Life Church Behind-the-Scenes Technical Tour. Dave did such a great job planning and leading our time. The kids got to try out a microphone, play with volume and effects on the big sound board, put on a light show, use the graphics and lyrics software to project stuff on the screens, hook up cables on the stage, explore the Treehouse Gang set, tour the video production room, and see themselves live on the big screen. What an exciting morning! (At least, I thought so... and the kids all seemed pretty psyched too.)

In December, Meg and I took a surprise field trip to see The Sound of Music at Olney Theatre. A friend who had a last-minute scheduling conflict asked if I would be able to take her daughter and use her extra two tickets for Meg and me. Um... free theater? OK! So off we went. It was Meg's first professional theater experience, and she was captivated. The first act of the show was probably an hour-and-a-half long, and I don't think Meg moved a muscle the whole time, except to turn and beam at me when she recognized a song. As for me, I had never seen a live production of The Sound of Music--unless you count the one we did in high school, with yours truly as a decidedly brunette Maria. So it was great fun to see this show--a real treat to be there.

Language Arts
Meg continued to love our Spell to Write and Read curriculum in November and December. She now has about 80 spelling words under her belt, plus compound words, and is able to use the phonograms and rules she's learned to sound out out many others. We also ventured into the world of writing sentences, which Meg finds absolutely elating. I really love dictating a sentence to her and seeing her face light up when she completes it correctly.



Meg read Patricia MacLachlan's Sarah, Plain and Tall aloud during November, and in December she started The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden and Barbara Cooney. I finished reading The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) to her, followed by Charlotte's Web (E.B. White, Garth Williams) and, most recently, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (Margaret Sidney).

By the week before Christmas, we almost finished out all of our math material for November and December. I still have two lessons left to squeeze in somewhere. I noticed a definite change in the productiveness of our math time when I switched math to a later time slot (we used to do it right after Circle Time each morning). For whatever reason, Meg and Matthew are not as tempted to be out-there silly during math if we spend time focusing elsewhere first. Math highlights from the last couple of months include graphing our extended family members' eye-colors, playing "which number is missing?"with our number cards, using pennies as manipulatives, and starting to learn to tell time. All big hits.

We are almost finished building our My Body projects! Recently we've added the stomach, small and large intestines, liver and lungs. Science is easily Matthew's favorite part of our school week, and he constantly asks in his most hopeful voice, "Are we doing 'My Body' now???"


Meg and I continued to read through America Begins, by Alice Dagliesh. It's been great to use our globe to talk about the routes and discoveries of various explorers. I love that my kids are already getting some world geography into their little brains. I'm positively ashamed at my own geographical ignorance--certainly through high school and college, and sometimes still today!

We continued listening to samples of classical and jazz music, trying to distinguish between the two, and working to identify specific instruments by ear. We have also gotten to know just a few composers and musicians, though we're only skimming the surface at this point. The kids LOVE Dizzy Gillespie, "the man with the strong cheeks." And Meg finds Pavarotti absolutely fascinating; she begs me to find YouTube videos of him performing whenever we have a music lesson.

Circle Time
I don't know that I've blogged about our Circle Time (how we start each school day) before, but for now it looks like this:

1. Sing the days of the week
2. Update days of the week on our poster
3. Pray The Lord's Prayer
4. Pray our own prayers--each person chooses one thing to pray about
5. Go to the front door to check the weather, talk about our observations, update our weather poster
6. Sing one "fun" song to the Lord ("My God is So Great," "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands," "I'm in the Lord's Army," etc.)
7. Learn/practice our hymn of the month
8. Recite The Pledge of Allegiance

As far as hymns go, so far this year we have learned and memorized (with the help of hand motions):
1. "My Hope is Built"
2. "Amazing Grace"
3. "Come, Ye Thankful People"
4. "O Come, All Ye Faithful"

This is really old news, but I forgot to mention in September and October's posts that Meg and Matthew took their first swim lessons together. They both did a great job--especially Matthew, who started out terrified to get his face wet and became MUCH more courageous as the class moved forward.

* * *

This is not really a rich, reflective post like many bloggers out there are posting today, but in a way, it is fitting. 2011 was, among other things, a year of much time, prayer, thought, effort and labor poured into our decision about schooling and our subsequent efforts to do kindergarten at home. And it has been a wonderful adventure so far.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas Highlights

I may need to revisit this post and add some more memories later, but these are the moments that stand out right now.

-I loved attending our Christmas Eve service (I went to the one on the 23rd). My wonderful mother made this possible by babysitting for me. Sometimes it is weird and/or tempting always to attend church events by myself while my husband is working at them, but that night it was pure joy just to go and worship with our dear church family.

-I loved how excited our kids were to open the final box of our Advent calendar, where Baby Jesus was hiding.

-I loved how the kids made their paper angels (a craft that Nana did with them on Christmas Eve eve) swoop and soar all over the place when we sang "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on Christmas night. What a picture of the magnificent, holy joy the angels must really have had on that mysterious night 2,000 years ago!

-I loved going to a nursing home in Charlottesville, VA two days after Christmas to sing to and visit with the residents there. My sister Jacque organized our trip, and Mom and Dad, Asher and Jacque and their crew, and Dave and I and ours all went together. Despite some exhausted kids--and one who completely melted down over her close-up encounter with the very aged--we had a great time. It was so obviously meaningful to the dear folks in the home. I hope we can do this again soon.

-I loved taking the kids to church on Christmas morning. There were no children's classes that day, and I was definitely nervous about wrangling all three (plus my very pregnant belly) through an hour-long service by myself. By God's grace, everyone did wonderfully. It was a joy to sing carols with my kids, listen to the sermon together, and hear Meg say as we arrived back in the car, "That was fun! I hope we get to go to the 'big meeting' again next Christmas!"

-I loved how enthusiastic Meg and Matthew were about their Christmas notebooks. I actually had to cut them off from adding more and more pages, as we had other Christmas Day activities to which we needed to move. I also loved their answers to the question, "What do you love most about Jesus?" Meg's answer, written in her own hand, was, "Jesus berth day." Matthew's, dictated to me, was "I wuv dat He's my Fadder."

-I loved singing carols with the extended Nalle fam at our gathering the day after Christmas. We were a smaller group this year, having lost two to death in 2011 and missing some who were traveling elsewhere, but singing together is one tradition that brings true comfort. Bonus joys this year: my mom led my kids and their cousins in a brief but very amusing performance of "Come Little Shepherd," my sweet little cousin Aaron sang to us all by himself (with some very quiet help from his mommy), Uncle Rob and his boys sang, "Mary Did You Know?," and Gran read to us an extended excerpt from her mother's journal about the growth of her faith in Christ. It makes me weep to think how blessed I am to be a fourth (or perhaps more) generation Christian. Praise be to our promise-keeping God, who is still in the business of "showing love to thousands of those who love him and keep his commandments." (Exodus 20:6)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We weren't able to get Christmas cards out this year. I don't even have an updated family picture I can share; the most recent one we have is on our blog header. So in lieu of a traditional Christmas greeting, I'm just going to leave you with this unorthodox little series.





This Christmas season, the Wilcox family wishes you all possible joy, wonder, awe... and messy, delicious chocolate. And for those of our beloved family and friends who are finding Christmas a time of grief or mixed emotions this year, please know that our hearts and our prayers are with you. Much more than that, Emmanuel--God With Us--is with you.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Luke 2:11

"Hallelujah, hope has come!
Hallelujah, Christ has come."
"Hope Has Come," by Stephen Altrogge

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mr. Adams and What Was Under Him

I never officially introduced our Christmas tree this year. Here he is on his first night with us, almost-but-not-quite fully decorated. His name is Mr. Adams, after our second president. Not John, and not John Adams--just Mr. Adams.

Extremely handsome tree--maybe the finest we've had. So tall that we couldn't put the star on top this year, but that's ok. Mr. Adams has enough merit to go without the star. (And yes, I know that President John Adams was neither extremely handsome nor tall.)

Yesterday we finally opened our presents. (Explanation of why we do this early here, here and here.) It was quite a bit later than we originally planned, but at last we found a date that worked. Unexpectedly, Dave was able to take the whole day off (a big deal for us on the week of Christmas Eve services!), and we had a wonderful time enjoying God's kindness to our family.

I laid off the camera this year so that I could just enjoy my kids enjoying their gifts. (Imagine that!) Hence all these pictures are from after most everything was already opened. Long distance family, know that all of your gifts were received with joy and delight, even if those reactions were not captured! And thank you for your generosity!

Dad and Jan sent new stockings for the kids this year--with their names embroidered thereon, no less!
photo 2 (1)

photo 3

photo 1

They also provided all of the stocking stuffers, which was a blessed time saver for Mommy this year. Here is Esme, in her fancy new dress-up slippers, which she calls "buh-fy (butterfly) shoes" and has worn for most her her waking hours since yesterday. (The Hello Kitty t-shirt was Mommy's lone contribution to her stocking.)

Meg and Matthew were thrilled to receive their VERY OWN umbrellas from Mom and Tom. This was a long-held wish finally fulfilled. Simple things, you know?

Grandma Dawn's and Grandpa Tom's "big gift" this year was a wagon. Woah. Happiness. And the kids all fit at once! (For now.)

Daddy with Miss Esme, playing with Matthew's new Nerf gun. Load it...

Aim it...

Shoot it! "Ohhhhhhh, you got me!"

And here are all three with their cool new pen necklaces from Aunty Shanny.
photo 2

The kids also got to give some presents yesterday. They all wanted to give candy and gum to Daddy, so over the weekend we had picked out some of his favorites, wrapped them up and put them under the tree. Esme was struggling during our shopping expedition, still not fully understanding the concept of picking out gifts for someone else.

But by the time Meg gave Daddy her candy gift yesterday morning, Esme seemed completely on board. She crawled under the tree, pulled out the correct package, and pranced over to hand it to Daddy. David and I were melting all over the living room with how cute and sweet she was, so excited to deliver her gift. He was crooning and kissing Esme, I was choking up... seriously. Dave unwrapped the candy and thanked Esme. Then Matthew came over to investigate. "NO!" said Esme, smacking her brother's hand away and suddenly revealing her true motives. "MINE!"

Well, then Daddy and Mommy dried up in a hurry and had a good laugh at ourselves and our little girl. All of that sweetness was just because she wanted the first taste of Daddy's bounty. Our little angel is just a sinner like us after all.

All the more reason to celebrate the coming of our Jesus at Christmastime...

Monday, December 19, 2011

What Would Happen...?

I continue to marvel at the way Matthew's little mind works. He's very into "What would happen if…" questions these days. To wit, tonight as we drove home from a special Christmasy outing, Esme wanted me to sing, so I had been singing to the kids for 10 minutes or so. Then suddenly…

Matthew: What would happen if we didn't have any lightbulbs?

(Dave and I laugh)

Dave: Random thoughts from Matthew! (Teasing) "What would happen of we didn't have any ears?"

Matthew: (so excited he can't get the words out) If… if… if we didn't have… if we didn't have any ears, you could see in our heads!

Not at all the obvious answer that came to my mind, but true--quite true!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Meg is Six!


I've fallen very much behind on the blogging front these last couple of weeks. I have lots of excuses, though--one of them being that our little girl had a birthday earlier this month! It seems impossible that she could be embarking upon her seventh year. But it's true.

Since Meg was born on her Nana's birthday, and since we really hadn't celebrated my Dad's November birthday yet either, we had a combined family party with the five (almost six) Wilcoxes and the three Nalles. Meggers ordered up some Kraft mac 'n' cheese for her celebratory dinner, and the adults enjoyed a yummy baked potato bar in my mom's honor. (Thanks to my mom's spud-lovin' example, a good baked potato is about as true a comfort food as I know.)

After dinner, we had the kek. I mean the cake. (Martin Short, Father of the Bride, anyone?) Meg had requested a flower cake, so this is what I came up with.

Horrible, picture, I know, but if you ignore the crumbs (I've never in my life had such problems with a frosting job!), the cake itself turned out pretty cute. Here's a little video of the presentation of the cake, starring Meg but also prominently featuring my belly, as well as lovely harmonies by Don and Nancy Nalle. Note: we had just finished celebrating Advent and singing our traditional verse of "Hark the Herald Angels," so that's why Mom teasingly starts off singing that instead of "Happy Birthday."

Time to serve it up!



This pained and painful expression is what passes for a smile in Matthew's book (but only when there's a camera pointed at him).

The grown-ups had this Oatmeal Cake, which was warm and gooey and divine. Well, actually, my mom and dad and I had the oatmeal cake. David had the kids' cake, since he prefers buttercream to toasted coconut. And Lena had vanilla ice cream, because she doesn't eat wheat. Just in case you wanted to know.

A few pictures of our gift opening time...

I'm not sure why Meg is doing the smart-aleck look here. This was her card from Matthew, which he did a great job of picking out himself, and she was very pleased and sweet about it, as far as I recall.

Studying Matthew's gift together:

We had the kids pick out their own gifts for Nana and Grandpop this year (with some help from Mommy), but in order to avoid conflict, Meg picked for Nana and Matthew picked for Grandpop. Here is Nana, about to open her Birds of America calendar and her DVD of 1776 (the musical).

And here is Grandpop, whistling at the book Matthew chose for him about the British WWII aircraft Spitfire.


Meg with her new sweatsuit from Nana (Esme got one for her birthday in September, so now they can be matchy-matchy!)

All in all, it was a wonderful, low-key night together. Time with my parents and Lena is surprisingly rare and very precious, so we're blessed to have the excuse of birthdays to force us to clear the calendar.

And, ohhh... my sweet, amazing oldest daughter. I don't have time to go on at length now, but I wish I could say all that this wonderful girl means to us. She brings us more joy with each passing year and is truly a gift from the Lord. I can't wait to know what He has in store for her life.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Today's Quip: Matthew

During Meg's language arts lesson this morning, Matthew was busy coloring... and listening avidly. After I dictated the word "hand" to Meg, I read her the context/example sentence from the book, and Matthew piped right in.

Me: "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world."

Matthew: Mommy, what happens if you rock the cradle with your foot?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Last week, David and I had the chance to take a quick getaway to Philadelphia. Kind of a combined eighth anniversary celebration and babymoon. We are so grateful to the generous friends and family members who helped make this possible for us in various ways. It was a great treat.

Our getaway needs at this stage in our lives are not very complicated. A clean bed. A quiet, preferably darkish room where we can make up on lost sleep. Yummy food. Some place(s) to walk around and talk. Philadelphia graciously yielded them all.

So we went to bed on time and slept late. (8:30 was as late as my body would let me go, but it was still lovely.) We ate good food, most notably at Sabrina's Cafe (an absolute mountain of ahhhhmazing stuffed French toast) and The Dandelion (easily the best fish and chips I've had). We walked a lot (with many breaks for the pregnant lady's hard-working feet) and got to see some of Philly's historic sites. I just recently reread David McCullough's biography of John Adams, so seeing bits of the city where Adams walked, lived, argued for independence, presided as first president of the senate, and spent the first part of his presidential term was extra meaningful to me.

One thing I have to mention: I'm well aware that Philadelphia's status as The City of Brotherly Love is often... er... questioned. But in my experience, there can be no question about Philly's baby love. I can't tell you how many strangers commented on my belly--all with apparent kindness, or at least good intentions. It literally started the very minute I stepped out of the parking garage onto the street, with the first panhandler we encountered. As I passed him, he stopped rattling his styrofoam cup and broke into an enormous grin. "Oh, I see! I see!" he called, gesturing to my stomach. It continued about an hour later, with the hostess at the restaurant where we grabbed dinner that first night ("You look so cute!"), and proceeded through the next 40 hours or so with security guards (At one place, "You havin' a boy? Yeah, look at him movin'. I can see him!" At the next place, "You havin' a girl?" followed by, "You're tiny! Yeah, she's all baby."), fellow tourists ("I have seven... grandchildren, that is."), and some random local kids on the street ("Congratulations! HEY.... CONGRATULATIONS!") So we--and our baby--felt very well welcomed.

We took only a few pictures, but, hey, that's better than we did in Williamsburg last year, where we took none.

Self-portrait on a bench in Independence Park:

Our view from the same bench (site of a looooong rest for my tired feet):
The statue is of Commodore John Barry, father of the American Navy. The bell tower of Independence Hall is under renovation, but the building was still open for tours.

A beautiful, gnarly old tree that we enjoyed from our bench:

My view of baby:

Dave's view of baby, mama, and park scenery:

Ummm... oh, yes! The Liberty Bell:

My love enjoying his authentic Philly cheese steak...


And the gorgeously bright mural I got to look at as I ate my cheese steak. Most cheering on a chill, rainy day!

My last note, or perhaps confession: in reality, our cheese steaks were not purely and deeply authentic Philly, because we both chose Provolone rather than Cheez Whiz. About this I can only say that there are some places I just can't go, even for the sake of authenticity. And Cheez Whiz will always be one of those places.