Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas From Our Family To Yours!

Our 2011 Family Christmas Letter:

Dear Family and Friends,

We hope this letter finds you healthy and enjoying this Christmas season with your loved ones.  Here are a few updates on the Hutchison clan…

Eli (5 yrs.): Eli continues to enjoy playing sports, and was able to fit in two seasons of soccer and one season of t-ball this year.  He told me he likes, “soccer better than t-ball, because in t-ball everybody gets a turn to bat and run around the bases so nobody actually wins.”  Apparently he has a competitive streak?  Eli started Kindergarten in August and has become quite the avid reader.  He is very proud that he can check-out books from the library and read them all by himself. 

Mikayla (5 yrs.):  Mikayla is truly the “princess” of the family and loves to play dress-up, have tea parties, dress her dolls, and “talk” on her cell phone.  She was in her first ballet recital last June, and to say that she was in heaven dancing on a stage would be an understatement.  A couple of weeks ago she told me, “Mom, when I grow up I am going to be a princess, ballet teacher, and a mommy.”  Yep, that sounds about right for Mikayla.  She also started Kindergarten in August and loves learning (especially learning to write), but would gladly ditch math and reading assignments in lieu of all-day art projects!

Bethany:  My personal highlight of the year was having the opportunity to cut way back in my job (ie – working just three days per month!) in order to stay at home with the kids.  I mentioned they were both in Kindergarten… but did I mention who their teacher is?  Well, that would be me!  I am having a blast teaching my kids at home, and really allowing myself to fulfill the role of “mom” in a much greater way than ever before.  I am also really enjoying  leading a women’s Bible study at church on Tuesday mornings, and coordinating church-wide women’s ministry events throughout the year.

Micah:  Micah continues to enjoy the joys and challenges of being the Executive Pastor at our church.  Our church plant is now 2.5 years old, and this past August we had the opportunity to move out of the movie theater where we first began meeting, and into a large high school auditorium.  This has been a blessing in providing more room for our children’s classes, as well as plenty of room for future growth!  I also have to give props to my wonderful husband who chose to sell one of our cars and drive a scooter as his main form of transportation this year, in order to help us transition to living off of one income.  Now that’s love people!  And yes, driving a scooter is definitely as cool as it sounds.  :)

In other news… we were incredibly blessed to move into a new home this past summer that is much closer to our church (and therefore Micah’s work), our families, and “civilization” in general.  I can actually drive five minutes or less and get to a grocery store!   Of course new houses always have their glitches… right after we moved in and started unpacking, the downstairs flooded!  You can read more about the whole fiasco by visiting this post.

Our family looks forward to 2012 with great anticipation of all that God will do in our lives, and the lives of those around us.   We ask that you would pray for us this spring, as Micah and I begin taking part in training classes to become licensed foster parents in the state of Arizona.  At this point we don’t really have a plan for what will happen after we complete the licensing process, but we can rest assured that the Lord knows… and his plans are always good.   I am reminded of his words in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

From our family to yours, have a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year! 

The  Hutchison  Family

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Sights At Our House

Can you tell I am catching up on blogging?  Three posts this week... I think that's a record for me in 2011!

One of my favorite things to do during Christmas is decorate!  I love getting all of the decor out of the boxes and sifting through memories that each item brings.  This year I had fun deciding where to put everything, since we are celebrating our first Christmas in our new home.  Once it's all set out, with each thing in it's "perfect" place, I like to sit on the couch after the kids go to bed, dim the lights (with the exception of candles and Christmas lights), and just enjoy the PEACE and beauty of it all.  Here are a few glimpses of Christmas at our house...

Love, love, love candles

My grandma made this a few years back out of safety pins, beads and lights!  I somehow misplaced my star that goes on the top, but I'll probably find it when I'm packing everything up :)

I think this little church looks beautiful when a candle inside lights up the stained glass windows.

A tealight candle tree... of course!

My mom bought me this little tree a number of years ago... I believe during her days of working at Hallmark when she could get great deals on all the "cute stuff!"  I still love taking this out and decorating it with the mini-ornaments.  (Mom, if you are reading this, will you please get my children one of these so I do not have to share mine?)  :)

 No fireplace to hang the stockings?  Don't worry, China cabinets work just as well.

Christmas wouldn't be complete with an ornament wreath!

Love Christmas trees.  Ours is filled to the brim with ornaments... many with special memories... and we add more each year.  I think we are going to need a bigger tree.  We might have to keep it in the back yard.

This was my favorite ornament growing up... I believe my parents first got this when I was a baby.  A wind-up toy with a ribbon attached... perfect :)  The baby's walker is a bit broken, but she still deserves a place on the tree.

This one belongs to a certain, special little girl...

And these are treasured by a certain, special little boy...

And who is this cute kid??  Ha ha - had to include it! :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Traditions - Old and New

I love traditions, especially during the holidays.  It has been fun to build some family traditions with our kids  and watch them remember things from one year to the next, in anticipation of what is to come.

One tradition that we started two years ago when our kiddos were both 3 years old, was to celebrate "advent" each evening, and read a portion of the Christmas story leading up to Christmas day.  My family used to do this same thing when I was growing up, using paper chain links that contained different portions of the story.  I found this ornament "kit," that we have really enjoyed using:

The kids take turns picking out the numbered story for the day, and then we read and discuss what happened.  Then, they get to hang it on the tree!  They look forward to it every night and it's something we all enjoy doing together.  It also helps us, in the midst of gifts, toys, lights, Santa, treats, parties, etc., to spend intentional time teaching our children what Christmas is all about and why the baby that was born in the manger was the most incredible gift they will ever receive.

Another thing our kids have enjoyed the past couple of years is a chocolate "countdown" to Christmas calendar.  They love opening the little window each day to see what delectable chocolate shape is awaiting them :)

During the Christmas season, we also enjoy reading Christmas-themed books to the kids as their bedtime stories.  This year, I stole an idea I found on Pinterest and decided to wrap up 25 books so that they could open one each day for us to read together.

Now, I sort of cheated on this because we are on a tight budget... so with the exception of a couple books I purchased to add to our holiday collection, I actually just checked the rest out from the library!  Ha!  My kids could care less, they just loved opening the books each evening to "discover" what we were going to read.  This also gives me the chance to carry-on this tradition in years to come, without having to buy 25 new books each year... see people, if you set the bar low then it won't take much to beat it :)

Another new tradition I put into place this year was having a special "activity" for each day of December, up to Christmas Day.  This took a little bit of planning because I had to look at our calendar and determine what dates certain "fun events" were already assigned to so that I could stick them on the activity calendar, and then I filled the rest of the days with various things I knew we would enjoy.  If you use this idea, I highly recommend setting it up in such a way that you can easily move activities around to different days if needed (or change them altogether).  I used the small white cards you see below to write the activities on, and then "hid" them behind the numbered red cards.  It was very simple to move the white cards to different dates as needed, or use the extra white cards I kept on hand to write out new ideas as things came up!

This was one of our activities....

The kids wore their new footie pajamas (opening those was another activity from a different day on the calendar):

An activity that Micah got to "oversee" (since I was gone for a few days this month at a work conference), was making gingerbread houses!  This was the first year our kids have done this, and they had a great time.  Daddy did a pretty good job too :)  The houses were mostly eaten by the time I got home, but here is a picture of the one that "survived" the longest!

Another activity, was spending the morning volunteering as a family at the Salvation Army Christmas Angel project in downtown Phoenix.  We were assigned to be "runners," and as families came to pick up gifts for their children, we found the items on the shelves and brought them to the cars to be loaded.  It was neat to have the opportunity to serve others in this way, and remind our kids that not everyone is blessed to have the many things that they have.

And yet another exciting activity included... BAKING DAY!  Fortunately my mom came over to help with this event, and we decided that a 1:1 ratio with the kids is a necessity on Baking Day :)

Some of our final products... frosted sugar cookies, fudge, oreo truffles, and Christmas krispie treats!

Doing the December activity calendar was A LOT of fun, and the kids woke up every morning excited to see what "fun thing" they got to do that day.  I included some of the more time-consuming activities that we do every year, anyway (like baking, looking at Christmas lights, etc.), but some days also just had very simple activities such as: coloring a Christmas picture, writing a letter to Santa, singing a Christmas carol, drinking a mug of hot chocolate, watching a Christmas movie with popcorn, etc.  These are the things that made it not overwhelming :)  

Hope you enjoyed reading about some of our Christmas traditions!  Would love to hear about some of your family's favorite Christmas activities and traditions, so leave a comment!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

Obviously you can tell by the title that this post is a little belated.  I guess we have been busy.  You can probably relate :)

Nonetheless, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with Micah's side of the family this year.  We enjoyed a traditional meal at his parent's house, and then some lively games of Scattergories and Catch Phrase!  I remembered to take my camera along, but forgot to actually get it out and take pictures.  I tend to become very competitive when games are involved... who has time for pictures when you are trying to WIN at Catch Phrase.

I did, however, happen to take ONE picture.  And I just have to laugh that this is the one and only picture I will ever have from Thanksgiving 2011...

drum roll please................

I am pretty sure that when people think of homeschooled children, the picture above might describe what pops into their heads.  :)  I'm so glad we can fit the stereotype.

Fortunately, I had more picture-taking opportunities during the week of Thanksgiving as we visited Zoolights!  We took advantage of the member preview nights this year, and we were so glad that we did! Normally the place is crowded and you tend to walk around in a "group" of people the entire time.  Well the preview night was hardly busy at all - the kids had room to run, jump, and do all those things kids like to do!  We took our time walking around, watching the dancing trees, eating kettle corn, and just enjoying the sights.  If you are a Phoenix Zoo member, I HIGHLY recommend attending Zoolights on one of the November preview nights if you plan to go in upcoming years.  

Mikayla and I also had the privilege of joining my mom and sister for our annual outing to the Nutcracker.    Mikayla first became interested in dancing ballet after she saw the Nutcracker performance in 2009, when she had only been home with us for about two months.  She absolutely loves going, and this year when I asked her if she enjoyed the show, she said yes but that she really wanted to be dancing on stage instead of watching in her seat.  Since I couldn't accommodate that request, we at least downloaded the sound track on to my ipod so she can dance around the house (which she would probably do in all of her spare time if she could).

Here's the pretty little lady, all ready to go to her 3rd Nutcracker... yes, the purse had to come.

And she even had the chance to see Santa Claus!

We had a wonderful time, and I'm already looking forward to going again next year.  What a great way to ring in the Christmas season!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

How to Make An Apple Pie and See The World

Our second Five in a Row unit of the school year was based on a wonderful book called How to Make An Apple Pie and See The World by Marjorie Priceman.  In this cute story, the main character decides to make an apple pie but the market is closed... so "naturally," she has to travel all around the world to obtain the ingredients needed for her pie and bring them back home.  My kids really enjoyed learning about the countries and places she visited, and also appreciated the humor of the story :)

Here is a glimpse of some of the fun activities we did to go along with this story... we spent about a month rowing this book because I tied this into a larger theme unit on "apples" in general - perfect for FALL!

  • Scavenger Hunt - I found this great idea HERE and we spent the morning "traveling" to different countries (ie - different rooms in our house) to collect all of the ingredients we needed.  We acted out the story as went - including catching the chicken and trying to milk the cow (our dog Petey played the animal roles in our drama, so you can imagine his dismay with this activity).  Unfortunately we were too involved in our "travels" to take any pictures, so you will just have to imagine the looks on our neighbors faces as we attempted to peel bark off of our "kurundu tree" outside in order to obtain cinnamon.  I can just picture them saying it now... "that weird homeschool family is outside doing something strange again." :)  At least, we weren't all wearing homemade, matching denim jumpers (which my friend Stephanie will appreciate).
  • Mapping and Sequencing - You really can't avoid mapping activities with this book, so we made great use out of our giant wall maps and plotted the character's adventure around the world.  My kids also enjoyed making a flag book and coloring the flags of the countries she visited.  In addition, they loved playing this matching/sequencing game where you had to match up the character's mode of transportation, ingredient, and country for each leg of her journey, and then put them in order.  We have been finished with this book now for a few weeks, and my kids still pull this game out on a regular basis :)

  • Videos!  My kids love videos, and as previously mentioned, I love YouTube!  In this unit we enjoyed watching a classic Disney movie (from 1948!!) on Johnny Appleseed - Part 1 and Part 2.  And I also had fun making my kids experience an important part of my past... Reading Rainbow!  Who remembers Reading Rainbow??  Yes, there was actually an episode produced on this particular book, so of course we watched it :)  (And yes, they loved it!)
  • Apple Seeds and Apple Stamps - The kids predicted how many seeds they would find when we cut open an apple, and we also read this cute story to learn about the hidden star pattern you can find when you cut an apple open.  We also observed and labeled all of the parts of an apple.  Then we busted out the paint (yes, this was a messy day!) and made apple stamp patterns.  FUN!

  •  Play Doh - Found a great recipe for apple play-doh, so we mixed up a batch and created our own apples.  This play-doh smelled AWESOME thanks to the yummy cinnamon and nutmeg spices :)  I appreciated every time my kids played with it because it made my house smell great!  If you have kids who enjoy play-doh, I highly recommend making a batch of this :)
  •  Salt Experiment - One of the ingredients that the main character has to pick up in her world travels, is salt.  To do this, she filled a jar with salt water and then let the water evaporate.  So, we had a great time conducting our own little salt evaporation experiment.  I loved the fact that this coincidentally went along with our last science unit on steam and the water cycle when we read Mike Mulligan... the kids actually remembered enough to make intelligent predictions about what would happen to the water and the salt :)

boiling the water

 adding some salt
 pouring it on to a plate and setting it in the sun
 later that day... what was left??

Bible Lessons - Since our character in the story traveled around the world, we talked about how God is the Lord over all nations and all people, and the kiddos memorized Psalm 113:4.  We studied the story of Creation, and made wheels to illustrate what happened each day.  We also spent a couple of weeks studying the fruits of the Spirit (to go along with apple of course!) and the kids did a great job memorizing Galations 5:22 and remember all those FRUITS!  We had fun identifying when someone would demonstrate a fruit of the Spirit in their daily life, so we would usually point out if someone was being joyful, patient, kind, etc.  
Mikayla recites Psalm 113:4... 

Eli recites Galations 5:22... I love the end where I ask him what book of the Bible this verse is in... how can you argue with his response? :)

Taste Test - Studying apples tends to make a person hungry, so it was only fitting to have a taste test!  The winner?  Gala apples by far!  The only problem is that now when my kids are offered an apple they ask, "is it a gala?"  Lol!  Greeeeeaaatttt, we are now picky about the "types" of apples we eat.  One day they will ask this in some type of public setting and I will be very embarrassed (or maybe beam with pride at how smart they are............??).

  • KWL Chart - We sure learned a lot from our apple unit!!!!

  • Making an Apple Pie - And yes, for the grand finale I successfully made an apple pie with my two little bakers.  It may not have the prettiest lattice crust, but it sure tasted good (as my hubby can verify) :)

  • Our Lapbook - And finally, we put it all together in a lapbook!  As you can tell, we had a lot of fun learning about apples :)