"Popcorn" is the nickname we gave to our incredibly active son. If you spent 2 minutes with him, you will easily understand the meaning of the nickname. The Chinese Noodle is the affectionate nickname we chose for our hoped for Daughter-to-Be, who may one day come to us in the LORD's perfect time from China.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


 The customs are rarely different.  We always have the same foods every year.  We love Traditions in this Family.  Brothers and Sisters drop in every hour and help, and each family member has a hand in the preparations, orchestrated by Mom JRB.  And Pop Pop peels the potatoes!  ALWAYS.  The grandchildren love to come into the kitchen to converse with him, and sneak a little bite of the raw white food while teasing with their Grandfather all the while.  Pop Pop encourages them to help, but there is too much excitement in the air to peel potatoes today!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

7 PM:  Blaine scatters Carrots out front
of our motel room for the

Midnight on Christmas Eve
All is quiet as I
gaze at the little tree

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Elf Mischief... from our Visiting Elf

Our Naughty Elf From Santa for 2010
"Christov Gorbechov"

Santa sent him, passport and all...  He warned that this one may give us trouble.  Santa has been sending us an "Elf on the Shelf" for about 3 years now.  The elf is usually a different one every year.  Most years the elves have been friendly, nice, quiet, and well-mannered.  But not this year.  This year there has been Elf Mischief.  Perhaps Santa should know, it has gone far enough...
Skis on the job
The first week on the job we found him skiing in the Ice Cream in the Freezer!  Imagine that!  He is supposed to be observing and reporting our behavior to Santa, & instead, we are having to report His behavior!
Next, imagine our SHOCK upon awakening to see a Party of Elves and other creatures (stuffed animals from Blaine's room) celebrating some unknown Elf event with treats, candy, cookies, and MANY crumbs under our Tree!   A big mess!!  We are going to let Santa Know in uncertain terms that this Elf is having an unfavorable influence on the stuffed animals in this home!

If that weren't enough, before we even sent out our report to Santa, the next morning there was a Huge Craft Party in the toy room.  When we stepped in there to gather things for the day, we found snippets of paper and ribbon and craft materials all over the floor, and a circle of Animals, figurines,and one Elf Leader caught red-handed in the act!  Do others have this same challenge?  I wonder...

Last night, I actually had a dream that there was loud Christmas music and noisy dancing somewhere nearby.  I was unable to arouse myself from sleep, but when I brought my morning cup of Joe into the Living Room, what did my two sleepy eyes behold:  half a dozen little stuffed animals and figurines, along with a Merry Elf under the Tree, with our little piano, violin, and some drumsticks in Hand!  It wasn't a dream after all!  It looked like a Merry Jam Session occurred in the wee hours of the morning.

Blaine is quite amused with all of this mischief, and it seems much easier for him to get out of bed now, no matter how late bedtime the evening before had been. 

It is really something, that Elf.  I am going to have to write Santa another letter...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Romantic Living

     It is so important to me to incorprate beauty and love into members of my family's
lives so that even the most mundane of chores is in some small way elevated and
validated as a daily ritual of beauty. Our home is vibrantly lived in, and loved.

We like to think we live "Romantically" here in our home, which we call "Blueberry Cottage."

      To me, romantic living is thoughtful, beautiful, and deliberate.
If one decides to embrace it, all days will be truly LIVED, not just "passed."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mike playing football with the boys

One night a father overheard his son pray:
"Dear God, Make me the kind of man my Daddy is."

Later that night, the same father prayed,

"Dear God,
Make me the kind of man my son needs me to be.”
"There's something like a line of gold thread running through a man's words
when he talks to his son , and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough
for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself."

--John Gregory Brown, Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery

Saturday, December 11, 2010

House Decorating Party at Harding Academy First Grade

Why Our Family Studies Chinese

Many people get a glazed-over look in their eyes and say, "Oh, Reeeeeaaallllyyyy???"  when they find out that our famiy studies Chinese.  We do it for several reasons, most certainly the first and most important reason is that we WILL be in China one day, Lord willing, and we will need to speak some of the language. 

Additionally, for Blaine there are several long-lasting mental, social, and even professional benefits to learning a foreign language at a young age. Children who continuously study other languages have often been shown to think in a different, more complex manner than youths who only learn their native tongue. They also are often more open and willing to accept the customs of other cultures.

Studying a Foreign Language Enhances Learning Abilities:

Studying foreign languages has been shown to have a positive effect on mental development, particularly in young people, and an enhanced overall intellectual growth. The Association of Departments of Foreign Languages indicates that "studying other languages at a young age can improve math and critical thinking skills, as well as strengthen the use and understanding of a child's native tongue."  Research even shows that students who continuously take foreign language courses score higher on standardized tests, like the SAT and ACT, with each additional year of study.

We use our bread machine in the kitchen to write our
current words to commit to memory.  I love that Mandarin also
requires that one studies the Chinese Characters
of the Language (see figures at left of bread machine white board)
Studying a foreign language early in life exposes children to other cultures--with different values, language patterns and ways of expressing themselves--in a way they never would have experienced had they not taken up the subject. By gaining the ability to communicate with people from other areas of the world at an early age, children become more interested in, as well as accepting of, ways of life that differ from their own.
Blaine's favorite word in Mandarin id Shae-Long-Sha, which means
Cray fish or Craw Dad
For us, Studying Mandarin Chinese gives our son an advantage in becoming successful in his future chosen career. By beginning studies early, Blaine can take advantage of educational programs using tutors from the University here in the City, thereby they getting a head start for studying languages in college (or life after high school). Mastering a foreign language will also increase any candidate's chances in landing a desired job because he/she will be able to communicate with more people from other areas of the world, and we all know that most corporations view this skill as a marvelous asset. 

The plus side is that Blaine will actually be fairly fluent in Spanish, also! I (his mother) am fluent and actually work as a translator at our local hospital part time.  We speak Spanish at home on the odd days (calender days that are odd, i.e., 1st, 3rd, 5th...).  He has a pretty good foundation in Spanish, although if he continues to attend private Christian schools, Blaine will not formally have an opportunity to study Spanish until 7th grade.  One more reason to Home School!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Planning our Christmas Getaway… on the Cheap!

Every year the two most expensive months for our family are August and December. This is because we travel by car to visit extended family, either to the Beach (New Jersey- 1,598 miles) in August, or to Siblings’/Parents’ Homes (Pennsylvania- 1,109 miles, Maryland- 1,096 miles) in December. After a few years of using credit cards and PAYING FOR the TRIPS for months after the fact, I set a goal to find savings and have money (CASH) to spare when we arrive. We actually have a “Red Notebook” for our December trip, and a “Blue Notebook” to organize our August trip. I have found that this method is so effective, because I do not have to re-invent the wheel every year. I simply open up my notebook about two months before our intended travel date, and start making arrangements. Here are some of my tips/tactics for arranging affordable trips:

Silly Michael
Planning ahead to cut costs:
We have stayed in a variety of places, from DUMPS to near Castle-like hotels. Over time, I have made notes and have rated different hotels along Highway 40 and Interstate 81, narrowing our night-stays down to 2 favorite hotels: 1) Knoxville’s Country Inn & Suites (with a CLEAN indoor pool & Jacuzzi whirlpool tub to the side in the swimming area… so we can keep an eye on Blaine while soothing those stiff joints from non-use cramped up in the mini-van), or 2) Knoxville’s Best Western (same indoor pool, but no Jacuzzi). Both of these hotels are located nearly half way to our destination (we drive over 500 miles per day), and have a delicious and healthy hot breakfast included in the fee for the night’s stay. They also have free internet and a computer in the lobby so we can check email and travel news, etc, when we arrive. A few months before our trip, I call and check on prices, and also check the Web sites for any special discounts from these hotels. In the end, we usually stay at the one with the lowest price. This year, the lowest offer was $52.95 per night (at Country Inn & Suites), but with taxes and fees, it came to just less than $59.00. I am thrilled! In the past, we have paid up to $89.00 for the exact same rooms!

Of course, we rarely eat out on the road because we stock a large cooler with healthy snacks, sandwiches, baked chicken, and drinks. I always try to put a few treats in that are VERY rarely bought or served at our house, like Heath Candy Bars, Special Potato Chips, or Pixie sticks (pure sugar, I know, but they do liven things up!) Pulling over at a rest top and having a picnic is one of the adventures of the trip. In the summer, we bring a ball or a friz-bee. Blaine loves to bring his scooter, too. That gets some energy out! In the winter, we sometimes picnic in the car, but I do pack warm coats and a big blanket to wrap up in, and most often we brave the cold and eat al fresco, even in the cold! We try to stop every 4 hours at least, and do something special along with a snack at the rest stop. One year we made a huge snowman behind a gas station. I have a large wooden picnic basket which my darling mother gave me years ago. Inside of this I perpetually stash a tablecloth, plastic utensils, paper plates, napkins, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes.

After we arrive at the hotel, we jump into our bathing suits and swim for a few hours (more energy released), then use coupons for pizza and a salad if we have them, or eat baked chicken brought from home in our hotel room. By the time we have showers and dinner, we are bushed, and ready to hit the sack. One thing we found especially helpful to practice is to get up excruciatingly early the first morning of our trip (about 4:00 am), so we have more time to play at the hotel. The second morning we arise 15 minutes before breakfast is served (free-continental style at the hotel lobby). Lunch is another picnic at a rest stop, and dinner is eaten with our family at our destination.

Timing our trips:
If we are flexible about our travel dates (we usually are NOT), we check out lastminute.com, where it is said that one can save up to 70% on impulse trips. I use this to check out the free festivals and concerts at our destination.

Find a Great deal:
Contact your destination’s Chamber of Commerce in advance —they will mail you a packet that contains coupons and discounts for many area businesses and hotels. This also gives your family something to look at and dream about during the car trip, and an idea provider for outings once you reach your destination. We go to local museums, attend choral concerts, and house tours, many of which are FREE!

Web sites for arranging an affordable trip:

Healthy Dinner for under $10.00???

Pepper/Venison Stir-Fry
o 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
o 1 pound Venison, cut into strips
o Ground pepper to taste
o 2 Green Bell Peppers, de-seeded, chopped
o 12 Scallions, white and light green parts, cut into 1 inch pieces
o 1 cup sliced mushrooms
o 3 cloves garlic, minced
o 1 Tablespoon minced, fresh ginger
o 2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
o Cooked Brown Rice (Optional, but it makes the meal more filling)

Step 1- Warm ½ Tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Season the venison with ground pepper (a few good shakes). Add half of the venison to the skillet and stir-fry for 4 minutes, until just brown. Remove ro a warm plate, tent plate with foil. Repeat with another ½ Tbsp. oil and remaining venison.

Step 2-Return reserved cooked venison to skillet. Add green peppers, scallions, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and remaining 1 Tbsp. oil to the skillet. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, until venison is cooked through and vegetables are lightly browned, but still crisp. Serve over brown rice, if desired.

Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time: 11 minutes
Serves 4, Cost per serving: $2.11 (or less if your husband shot the deer)
Per serving: 244 Calories, 13 g Fat (3 g Saturated), 66 mg Cholesterol, 3g Fiber, 24 g Protein, 9g Carbohydrates, 764 mg Sodium

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Make Room for Reading!

I love to give “my” children a special book for Christmas. I think it is a wonderful choice for a gift, especially because it will be shared over & over again, and not tossed to the side after a few hours, never to be touched again. Here are some books on my shopping list for those cherished darlings I love:

The Christmas Gift, by Emily Arnold McCully (Harper Trophy Books, for ages 3 to 6 years)- this is a wordless book about an extended family of mice. The readers are in for a treat when they open this book about when a cherished Christmas present does not make it through Christmas day before it is broken (not an uncommon event in my home).

The Tree that Came to Stay, by Anna Quindlen (Crown Publishers), for ages 4 through 9 years. Ms. Quindlen is a Pulitzer Prize-Winning columnist for the New York Times, and this is her first children’s book. I love that it is about a resourceful mother who finds a way to keep Christmas alive all year round!

The Day Before Christmas, by Eve Bunting (Clarion Books), ages 5-8. All children are drawn into this story about a special day in a young girls’ life: a train trip she makes with her grandfather to see her first production of “the Nutcracker.” The paintings that illustrate this book are magnificent, and the story is touching because many years ago, the grandfather made the exact same trip with the little girl’s mother, who is now passed on. Compassion is modeled in the girl, and heart strings are tugged all around in this poignant tale.

 First Snow, Magic Snow, by John Cech, (Four Winds Press), for ages 4-7. For me as a child, the first snow was always enchanting, exciting, and a blessed event at our house. This book is based on a Russian folk tale called “The Snow Maiden.” A barren couple’s life is changed forever when a snow girl” built by one of them magically comes to life. In the spring, when the girl-child must suddenly leave with the melting snow, their love for her leads them north to a colder climate in an effort to keep her. This book really touched my heart the first time I read it, I suppose because at one time, I was a “barren woman.” And because I KNOW what a tremendous blessing a child can be to a family who yearns for one!

 Christmas Eve at Santa’s, by Alf Proysen (R & S books, distributed by Farrar, Straus, & Giroux), for ages 4-8. This book comes to us from Sweden. A carpenter bumps into Santa one Christmas Eve, and Santa asks the Carpenter to go and make a visit to Santa’s Children at his home!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Marvelous Monday

 Today was just a typical Monday for our family, we woke up at Nimmo, and had one of Mike's delectable breakfasts of bacon, fried eggs, and biscuits with strawberry jelly (made by Maw Maw C.). Then we cleaned up our mess in the cabin from the weekend, and took a long walk in the woods. Blaine is really helpful in cleaning up, he actually was the one who initiated the cleaning this am. He is trying to earn enough money to buy a Batman Kite ($7.99 at Fred's), and he earned $3.00 today, which Daddy & I matched, making his total $6.00. He was thrilled to be so close to his goal so quickly
 Mike & I thought we may need to decrease the price of each chore, but maybe not?? We're just glad he is so enthusiastic about earning his own money to buy his own goodies!

     We had invited our little buddy, Colton out to the cabin, so we drove to his house and got him.  The weather was gorgeous, just a bit nippy, too windy for a fire.  The boys had a Blast in the yard, & on the zip line & with the Tree fort. 
Inside, they created a "Communication System"
with PVC pipe while I cooked lunch.

Very interesting and quite fun, this
little apparatus!

Then, outside for more "Zip-Lining"

It started to get chilly, so we let them sit in the truck and listen to
Adventures in Odessey while they snacked.

After warming up, it was back outside to look at the
minnows (we need to clean this out, but it is an old
Tub and filled with many fine catches of whatever
the boys catch).  They enjoyed netting a few minnows, then
put them back in.

Next, we had a Gingerbread man decorating "moment" before they devoured the cookies.

Creating the Gingerbread men

Colton and Blaine,
best buddies for life

Glory to God for Great Friends!