Wednesday, December 16

Teaching Gratitude: The Art of the Thank-You Note

When planning any type of event or celebration, a thank you note is an element that is just as important as the invitation.  The same goes for Christmas and birthday gifts... There are lots of traditions surrounding the writing and sending of thank you notes. It is important to become familiarized with these traditions to help write the perfect thank you note.

When should you send thank you notes? 

Thank you notes can be sent for any occasion where guests offered gifts or services. In many cases, such as a wedding if guests brought a gift or simply attended the wedding, it is proper to send a thank you note for the guest being a part of the special event. A celebration or special event typically takes quite a few people to keep things organized and just simply to get things done. A thank you note is the perfect time to recognize all that friends and family have done to help make the occasion special.

What should thank you note contain? 

Thank you notes can come in a variety of styles and themes. While some thank you notes will have thank you written across the front, it is traditionally accepted to send a blank card. This leaves more room for personal messages. Thank you notes should always be hand written. A typed or template thank you message is too impersonal and does not genuinely convey thanks to guests. Thank you notes should coincide with the theme of the event. A good idea is to purchase thank you notes at the same time as invitations. This will save time in the long run and help to keep a consistent theme.

Why are thank you notes important? 

Thank you notes are important to show appreciation to guests, friends, and family. Thank you notes should be sent promptly following the event. It is helpful for those writing the notes to do so quickly so the events are still fresh in the mind. Thank you notes give people the opportunity to sit down and write out thoughts on paper to guests and when hand writing letters, people typically are able to express feelings that cannot be conveyed simply by a verbal thank you or a phone call.

Whatever the reason, sending thank you notes should not be pushed aside or forgotten!

You may also be interested in The Gift of Gratitude

Monday, December 7

Holiday Gift Guide for Tween and Teen Boys

If you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for the teenage boy on your Christmas list, here are some gift ideas to get you started...

You may also like Ninjabread Pilots: A #BoyMom Christmas

Do It Yourself

Get a subscription to the Craftsman Crate, which actually looks like a wooden crate.  Inside are all of the pieces necessary to create hand-crafted artisan pieces based on that month's theme.  From specialized tools down to the bits of wood and paper needed, it's all in the box so that there's no need for a run to the store to complete your project. Learn more here!

Drive My Car

A gift of car accessories is a sure win if the teenage boy on your list is old enough to drive and has his own car. Even for the teenage boy who is not driving yet, this could be a great gift. Young guys dream of owning their first set of wheels. A gift of car wax and other cleaning supplies allow him to pamper his new toy. Seat covers or other decorative accessories let him give his car a personal touch.

Read All About It

If cars, sports, and music aren't his gig, maybe books are.  They certainly are for our teens!  Why not stock his e-reader with a complete set of books from his favorite series?  Our teens love Rick Riordan, Robert Jordan, and Steve Berry books.  For younger teens, check out the Ten Best Historic Series for Boys.

Groovy Dudes

Black light lamps are back, and any teenage boy on your list is likely to want one. Get him one for his room. and find out what glows in the dark. Many posters and other decorative accessories are available now that spring to life under a black light.  Your music lover will want this one!

In the Land of Ice & Snow

Christmas is a great time for winter sports. This year might be the perfect opportunity for your teenager to get into snowboarding, and simple snowboards can be purchased at a relatively low price. The thrill of conquering a new challenge motivates many a teenage boy, and snowboarding will give him a way to release some energy and add excitement to the winter months.

Listen to the Music

Boys love noise — and their favorite kind is music. Whatever his music preferences, the teenage boy on your list is most likely to be passionate about his bands. With a portable CD or MP3 player he can listen to his music anytime, anywhere, and you won’t have to hear it.  If he already has a cell phone that doubles as his music player, why not invest in some good wireless earbuds?

Go Team

Many teenage boys are into some sort of sport (including our boys, if you count fencing). Whether it is basketball, football, baseball, or NASCAR racing, he most likely has a favorite team or sports hero. Buy him a jersey from his team. Even better, find a jersey with the number of his favorite player.

Beat the Blues

Most teenage boys wear jeans, and they're active, which means the jeans get torn up. Just make sure you buy the style he likes. Some teenage boys like snug-fitting jeans, while others like their jeans baggy.  You might need to take him to the store with you, or raid his closet to find out the size and style..

Electronics Gift Certificate

Gadgets and entertainment equipment are always a hit with teenage boys. A gift certificate to a consumer electronics store will give him an excuse to check out all of the latest TVs, stereo equipment, and computers. This is also the place where he can find his favorite music and video games.

Last Ditch Effort

When all else fails, head out and grab a generic gift card.  After all, with a little shopping savvy, he has a way better chance of finding the ideal gift that will leave him saying, “DUDE, this is so cool!”

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Tuesday, December 1

The History Behind Christmas Traditions - Unit Study

Each year you put up the tree, bake cookies, send out cards, and give gifts...but do you know why we celebrate Christmas with these traditions?  Let's dig a little deeper...

Lights & Decorations

One would think that Christmas lights have been around for as long as Christmas itself. Can any of you imagine Christmas without lights? How would the children find their way in the dark, so early on Christmas morning without them? The history of Christmas lights is intricately tied to the dawn of the modern era, when houses began to be supplied with electricity.

As you are likely aware, Thomas Edison invented the first functioning light bulb back in 1879. A few years later, in 1882, an associate of his first employed the use of lights on his Christmas tree. Edward Johnson was the first to electrically light his family Christmas tree in his New York home. His home was located in one of the first sections of the city to be wired for electricity.

A visiting reporter from Detroit reported the following in “The Detroit Post and Tribune”: “Last evening I walked over beyond Fifth Avenue and called at the residence of Edward H. Johnson, vice-president of Edison’s electric company. There, at the rear of the beautiful parlors, was a large Christmas tree presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect. It was brilliantly lighted with many colored globes about as large as an English walnut and was turning some six times a minute on a little pine box. There were eighty lights in all encased in these dainty glass eggs, and about equally divided between white, red and blue. As the tree turned and the colors alternated, all the lamps going out and being relit at every revolution. The result was a continuous twinkling of dancing colors, red, white, blue, white, red, blue—all evening.”

In 1890, Edison published a promotional brochure which may have been the first mention of commercially available electrically powered Christmas lights. It stated that “There are few forms of decoration more beautiful and pleasing than miniature incandescent lamps placed among flowers, or interwoven in garlands or festoons; for decorating Christmas trees or conservatories…”

From there, the popularity of Christmas lights exploded. Before long, every family had them and they became synonymous with the Christmas tree. It’s hard to imagine Christmas without Christmas lights. I tip my fuzzy red cap to you, Mr. Edison. You have given us all a gift we will always cherish!

Christmas Greetings

The Christmas card, as we know it, originated in England in the year 1843. An artist named John Calcott Horsley was commissioned by Sir Henry Cole, a wealthy and successful London businessman, to create a card that could be sent out to his friends and clients to wish them a merry Christmas.

Sir Henry Cole was very well known at the time, for a number of reasons. He had a helping hand in helping to modernize the British postal system. He played a prominent role in the creation of the Royal Albert Hall, and acted as the construction manager on this massive project. He also arranged for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and he oversaw the inauguration of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

One of Sir Henry Cole’s greatest aspirations in life was to beautify the world around him. He owned and operated a wonderful art shop on Bond Street, which specialized in decorative objects for the home. His shop was hugely popular with the British upper class, and he earned a tidy sum from his business.

The Christmas card he commissioned was fashioned in the form of a triptych, which is a three-paneled design that allows for the two outer panels to be folded in towards the middle one. Each of the two side panels depicted a good deed. The first showed an image of people clothing the poor, and the other side panel showed an image of people feeding the hungry. The center piece had an image of a well-to-do family making a toast and surrounded by an enormous feast.

The inscription on the inside of the card read “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” Of the one thousand cards printed for Sir Henry Cole, only twelve exist today in private collections. The printed card became highly fashionable in England during the years that followed. They also became very popular in Germany. It took quite a long time for the idea to catch on in America, then popularized by a German expatriate named Louis Prang in 1875. Today, more than 2 billion Christmas cards are exchanged each year. Merry Christmas, all!

Santa Claus & Giving to Others

Santa Claus is one old dude. We all know that. Just look at how white his beard and hair are, right? But did you know that the legend of Santa Claus, and St. Nick, go back nearly to the time of Christ, nearly 2,000 years ago? No? Well then, sit back, pour yourself a hot chocolate, grab yourself a plate of cookies, and get ready for the story of Santa Claus.

It is said that around the year 280 A.D., there was a man born by the name of Nicolas. He was born in the Near East in a town called Patara. To find it today, look on a map or a globe for the country of Turkey, near Greece. It was there that the man who would become Santa Claus was born.

Nicolas had a big heart, so big that he became a monk and devoted himself to his god and his religion. But Nicolas also was a big fan of his family and his neighbors, and he also devoted himself to them. Word spread in his homeland and far and wide about how kind and generous Nicolas was. Nicolas was born into wealth, and stories soon spread about how Nicolas gave away all of his family’s money to the poor, the sick, and anyone else he came across who needed it.

He became so famous that Nicolas was known as the protector of all children (and sailors too). Once, he even saved three young girls, sisters, from being sold into slavery by their father. Their father, you see, needed money, and was going to make a fortune by selling his daughters. Instead, Nicolas came to their rescue by offering the father money for the girls, and then setting them free.

No wonder that Nicolas became Saint Nicolas after his death. For hundreds of years, Europeans celebrated him on the date of his death, December 6. Some even say that Saint Nick was the most popular saint in all of Europe during the end of the Middle Ages. December 6 was always considered a lucky day for this very same reason.

How did Saint Nick go from being the protector of children to Jolly Old Saint Nick, the guy we know as Santa Claus, who not only protects children, but brings them great gifts too? Well, that’s one heck of a long story, and it involves a manger, and baby Jesus. We probably all already know that story by heart.

But what you may not know is that the end of December was already a big deal in Europe before Christmas was started. It was during this time of year that many Europeans celebrated that winter was almost over. They would have great feasts, celebrated the harvest of their wine and their beer, and the coming of spring and the sun. So then it made perfect sense that when people also started celebrating the birth of Baby Jesus, that the two traditions would meld.

The notion of feasting and celebrating a holiday of lights, the happiness and giving of Saint Nick, and the hope and love brought by Baby Jesus, all of it merged to form the perfect holiday: Christmas. And who makes sure that it happens every year? None other than Santa Claus.

How can you give to others this season?  Try the Reverse Advent Calendar!

Make / Do

Pick up the entire History Behind Our Holidays unit study bundle!

Includes eight American holidays. Each unit has introductory text, which will give the student the holiday’s history and customs.

  •  Introduction
  •  Valentine’s Day
  •  St. Patrick’s Day
  •  Easter
  •  Mother’s Day
  •  Father’s Day
  •  Halloween
  •  Thanksgiving
  •  Christmas

In addition to text, there are featured videos, which augment the background information and help make the topic more accessible for more visual students. You will also find a short list of reading books and fun hands-on activities!

Product Samples:   Valentine's Day & Christmas Traditions

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Best Gifts for Homeschool Moms

Have you heard the phrase "The days are long, but the years are short?" Homeschooling is a rewarding task, but one that takes both patience and fortitude. Every day. Every week. Every year.

For anyone with a homeschooling parent on their shopping list, this gift guide covers:
  • introverted & extroverted types
  • tangible and non-tangible gifts
  • pricey all the way down to free gifts
  • practical & fun ideas
Are you a homeschooling mom? Sneak this post into an email to the hubby! He'll have lots of ideas to choose from for a surprise...

ASTC Membership
Who loves free field trips?!  The ASTC Travel Passport Program gives members free general admission to science centers and museums outside their local area, in addition to all of the benefits of their home museum. Join the savviest families, and visit more than 350 science centers and museums in 20 countries around the world!
Drawer Cart
This little piece of furniture is much talked about in the online homeschool's the holy grail of organization!  It is so magnificent for so many reasons, including varying drawer sizes that allow you to be selective with your storage needs!  Plus, it rolls and has working space on the top.  There are colored versions, too, so that each kid can have a different colored drawer.

InstantPot's done!  Forgot to thaw something?  Not a problem.  This baby cooks everything from frozen meat to dried beans in record time.  For the mom who's not really the meal-planning type, this takes the stress out of getting a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table at the end of a long homeschooling day. 
Comb Binder
This one might seem odd, but do you know how much curriculum is going digital these days?  The homeschooling parent is not only purchasing it, but now they have to print and bind it, too...and that can get pricey.  With a comb binder, it's super easy to coil bind the curriculum books.  Use the laminator to do a front and back cover, and you've got something that will last without breaking the bank!
Fellowes SaturnTM 3i 125 Laminator with Pouch Starter Kit
Laminator & Pouches
This is the exact laminator our family has, and my most-recommended purchase for new homeschooling families!  Flash cards, game pieces, posters...anything that you want to last through multiple children needs a turn through the laminator.  Having your own at home actually makes it affordable...

Wall Maps
If the kitchen / dining room doesn't look like a one-room schoolhouse, are you even trying?!  These beautiful wall maps come in different sizes and are perfect for use in the homeschool room.  It's much easier to gather everyone around the wall map and point out things than to have them crowd around the Google app...  Our favorites are the World Map and US Map.

Amazon Prime
An Amazon Prime Membership comes with many benefits!  In addition to the same-day and two-day shipping (which is pretty amazing for the mom who can't just up and run to the store for last-minute science project supplies), you can stream all kinds of video content, from documentaries to go with all the school subjects, to things to keep the kids busy while you get dinner one!
Whether you’re new to homeschooling or about to graduate another child, there will come a time this year when you need to hear words of encouragement.  Here are some of our favorite encouraging books…just for you!

Check out our favorite fifteen books that all homeschooling moms should read!
Updated Tech
Much of today's homeschool education comes in a streaming format, so an updated tablet or laptop becomes a necessity.  New technology keeps up the digital capabilities, allows for more memory, and can interface with other tech such as the Echo Dot or bluetooth headphones (wonderful for when multiple kids are trying to stream classes at the same time)!

Gift Cards
Sometimes you're just not sure what to get, or you run out of time...and this is where gift cards come in handy.  A gift card to a favorite restaurant, store, or (dare I say!) spa could be just the ticket!  Decide whether you want to be practical or grant her a luxury, and then go from there.

Want to know the best gift you can get a homeschooling parent?  TIME.  Time all alone...whether it's for an evening or a weekend.  A spa day or a day at home with no one else around.  The best part of this gift is that, not only will she love it, but it's FREE!

Be sure to pin these post for homeschool moms for later!

Try One of These Unique Christmas Tree Themes!

If you're a bit bored with the traditional Christmas tree, then you might be interested in one of these unique themes. Here are some suggestions for Christmas tree themes that are sure to be real conversation starters!


The Christmas Cocktail Party Tree

This theme looks great on both big and small trees. First, if your tree is not pre-lit, try stringing it with a string of novelty lights instead of the traditional ones. You can buy plastic novelty lights in the shape of Chinese Lanterns (for a 50’s feel), chili peppers (for that modern martini bar feel) and Pink Flamingos (for that Tiki cocktail party atmosphere.)

Then try decorating the tree with tiny cocktail umbrellas and multicolored cocktail picks. If your tree is really big you could also decorate it with plastic champagne glasses into which you have glued sequins or glitter. Miniature chocolates filled with liquor also make nice tree decorations.

The Gingerbread Tree

This quirky theme is perfect for a house, or office, with lots of young children. It looks best on a green or red tree. Decorate it with gingerbread man cookies, red plastic balls, tons of candy canes, red velvet bows, and homemade paper snowflake ornaments.

This tree looks great accented with white or gold beaded garland, a bushy red or white tinsel garland, or icicle  garland. Top it with a Christmas themed stuffed white or brown teddy bear for an extra pop!


The Chocolate and Gold Tree

This is probably the trendiest of the themes described here. It looks great on a red artificial tree. The color scheme in this case is reds, browns, and golds. Tiny twinkling gold and red lights look best. Think of the eighties for inspiration when you decorate this one!

Decorate the tree with walnuts, pinecones, and chocolates wrapped in foil (gelt).  Then tie large, translucent gold and red ribbons, using the kind of ribbon that has bendable wire inside, onto the ends of the trees. The ultimate effect of this tree should be very opulent and lush.

The New Baby Tree

If you are celebrating the birth of a child or a child’s first birthday, this is a great tree to honor how happy you are about the new arrival in your home. The decorations look great on any kind of tree, but you could consider buying a small blue or pink artificial tree. This is a good idea so any toddlers or infants around can’t get ahold of any shed needles. Also, if you buy pre-lit artificial trees, then you don’t have to worry about them yanking lights and pulling the whole thing down.

Pink, mint green, lavender, and blue frosted balls look particularly nice on pink or blue artificial trees. You can also decorate these trees with baby toys, baby bottles filled with candy, teddy bears, baby booties and socks, pacifiers, and wooden alphabet blocks. Little stuffed animals look great on this type of tree, and a larger teddy bear or soft plush toy makes a great tree topper.

The Peppermint Twist Tree

This most minimalist of themes looks fantastic on a bright white, pre-lit artificial tree. The color scheme of this is red and white, but you can add a touch of green in the lights that you string around it. Purists are going to think that keeping the whole thing red and white in every way looks best.

When it comes to the decorations, stick with red and white balls. Festoon the branches with as many red and white peppermint candy canes as you can find! Remember that you can also stripe red or white balls with white or red glitter by simply adding some glue in a striped shape to the ball and rolling it in the glitter.

You can also accent this look with red and white ball shaped peppermint candies. A large lollipop with red and white striping and surrounded by a sunburst bouquet of candy canes makes a great tree topper.


The Seaside Tree

Personally, this is my favorite theme, and it looks best on artificial trees in aqua or light blue colors. However it would also suit any tree that has a coral color, such as light orange or pink.

This tree is decorated with treasures from the sea including seashells, sea horses, and ornaments made from aquarium decorations (treasure chests, coins and corals.) Strings of pearls can be used as a garland, and novelty lights shaped like seashells or even fish can be strung to enhance the aquatic theme.

The Snow and Ice Tree

This theme is white and icy blue, instead of the more familiar red and green. Decorate it with a garland of novelty lights shaped like icicles or snowflakes. Your decorations should be made of see-through plastic or crystal so it looks like the tree is dripping with frozen, glittering shapes. Instead of cotton batten, drape the tree with faux spider webs to simulate boughs heavy with snow. You can even mound this cotton at the ends of the bough so it looks like it has been clumped there.

Your final step is to spray the whole thing down generously with flocking. Flocking is simulated snow that comes in an aerosol can. You can spray this stuff on just about any kind of tree including artificial pre-lit trees to make them look frostier.

This treatment is stunning on a white artificial tree, but it also looks great on red, purple, blue or other artificial trees as all of the white provides a nice contrast to the tree’s original color.

Are you more of a traditionalist, or will you give one of these a go?  Which is your favorite?