Advent, Epiphany, the 12 Days of Christmas: My Gift to You!

Don't you just love eBooks? So portable, so always-available, so interactive! I do. Sure I adore the tactile everything of "real" books. They smell so good, and feel so good, and... But seriously, you can't put a video in a "real" book, or a link to a cool web page, or even a picture, not without upping the cost of production. And you can't distribute a "real" book paperless and for free.

Yes, free! As an Advent Gift to Everybody, this little book: Gloria! A Family Guide to Advent and Epiphany. Not only does it take you through Advent with Jesse tree ornaments, readings, songs, links to totally amazing YouTube videos, recipes and more. But it continues through the 12 Days of Christmas, to Twelfth Night, the eve of Epiphany!

So please please please, if you like eBooks and like Christmas, click the image or link and give it a try. It is my gift to you. Because that's what this season is all about.

I plan to update this document from time to time (fix links, edit, etc.), so if you share, please link to this page, NOT the download link.

A Few of My Favorite Things

In putting together a little Advent book, I started thinking about movies. No, not to procrastinate. I never do that! Ahem.

It seems every year I enter December in a frenzy of good intentions - traditions I simply MUST maintain - and I start January with a deep sigh of "Oh, I forgot to do..." While this isn't likely to change, I can at least give myself the resources to succeed. So a list. Of all holiday movies! We'd be watching a movie every night of the week, I think, which some in this house would love, but not me. So I'll have to narrow the list to my favorites. And you can do the same!

IMDB list of the 50 best Christmas Movies. I agree with some of these, but Cast Away? Really? Since when is isolation on a deserted island related to Christmas?

Die Hard and Batman? Seriously? Those are in the Rotten Tomatoes Best Christmas Movies Countdown.

Readers Digest has a slideshow of Christmas Movies Guaranteed to Get You in the Holiday Spirit I can stand behind, even if my personal favorites aren't on it.

From The Polar Express to Frosty The Snow Man, this 20 best Christmas list from Time Out Kids has the best family-friendly assortment I've seen. No Die Hard here, though Gremlins still made it. This would be the closest to my list, but it still lacks my number one, must-see-every-year favorite.


A Christmas Carol, 1984 with George C Scott
It doesn't get any more Christmas than this! Oh, and below is another favorite thing ...

How to Rehab an old School Desk

Or: things to do when you're procrastinating.

So in typical Me fashion, my first order of business after deciding to homeschool was to obsessively organize, plan, and pretty much avoid thinking about what I would actually be doing every day. I started by setting up work boxes, moved on to curricula comparisons, and then bought two cute little desks off Craigslist.
My initial plan: paint the metal, strip the wood. Snag: the chemical stripper only took off the top layer of paint. So I sanded but the next layer (old primer?)  seemed very lead-based. And with Rowdy crawling all over...

I moved on to painting, after soaking the rusty areas in a baking soda paste and scraping and sanding, after a crap load of painters tape. Voila. 
Now, what to do with those seats! Any sane person would have painted them or never %#€!! them up in the first place. No sane person would plaster them with pictures from iconic children's books. So of course, I did decoupage with pictures (google images + color printer). Of course I did!

Step 1: collect images. For extra fun, let the kids pick their favorites!

Step 2: Glue! Ok more specifically make a solution of half glue and half water. Cut or tear out your pictures. Working in small areas, brush the glue mix onto your surface. Then submerge the pictures one at a time in the paste mix for five or so seconds. Apply to your surface. You'll have a few minutes of flex time to reposition things and adjust layers. Be sure some overlap. And try to make it look random. Smooth out bubbles with damp hands. Oh, and use straight glue (white school glue in case I didn't mention that) and a little paintbrush to affix tricky corners. You can always trim with an exacto when dry. 

Step 3: after an overnight dry, apply coat after coat after coat of this stuff:
At least three coats or until you've entirely lost your mind or are so high on fumes the pink elephants are dancing. But do let each coat dry before sloshing on the next. 

That is Mud Pie's desk. Note the happy colors and cute chickies and bunnies. Contrast with Fish's:

The House Built on Good Intentions

This blog should be titled, "The Blog of Good Intentions." Because just the other day I was thinking, Wow I need to post about the chicken coop! But wait, I need to finish those posts about the bathroom first!

And before that I was thinking, Wow I could have one of those Home Improvement blogs! I could post tutorials on remodeling and stuff! That would be awesome!

I even took pictures of the bathroom-in-progress, and as I slapped thinset onto the concrete and smeared it around and cursed my bleeding knees and blistering hands, I imagined the great how-tos I was going to write. I DID write them. In my mind.

And that's as far as I got. Well, I did take pictures. And here they are! Next up, the chicken coop!

Choosing colors:

Measuring for tile:

The many uses of a chalkboard wall:


Let there be floor!

Let there be a toilet!

Shopping for a new vanity:

Rehabbing the old vanity:
Done at last:

And that's that. 

All Books are Not Created Equal

I've been eyeball deep in selecting books for this coming school year and since I'm (part) Dutch, I'm (part) cheap frugal, so I'm going through our curricula's book lists to see what I can get at the library and what we ought to purchase.

One item on the list: The Everything American Presidents Book by Kelly and Kelly. I've read some from the Everything series before, and while they're interesting and all, they're graphically pretty spare. A quick perusal on Amazon proved there are gajillions of books about US presidents. Surely one could be more visually appealing. Right?

I found what looked like the perfect alternative. Our Country's Presidents by Ann Bausum. Put out by National Geographic, this one was sure to be better. Right? I decided to check out both from the library to see.

Sure enough, the National Geographic book was beautiful. Stunning illustrations, sharp layout. I added the book to my Amazon shopping cart and moved on to the next item.

Then this morning I wondered ... why would the authors of my curriculum recommend the Everything book when the National Geographic book is so obviously superior? Unless it's not. Hmmm.

I did an experiment (pretty smart of me). I read (even smarter!) the section on George Washington in the Natl. Geographic book. And THEN (wait for it - it's really smart) I read the section on George Washington in the Everything book.

Here's what the Natl. Geographic book said:
Ooh, pretty pictures, let's see, bla bla bla, George Washington, bla bla bla. Something about his wife. Bla bla bla, and he died of strep throat.

The Everything book:
Wow, Washington's mother was rot; so he didn't actually cut down a cherry tree! And he didn't have wooden dentures. So that's how he inherited Mount Vernon! Plus he came to believe slavery was immoral and was the only founding father to free all his slaves.

So Natl. Geographic with the dry tone of textbook is going out of the shopping cart, the Everything Book is, well, why don't I just get it from the library? One thing is certain: the curriculum writers really did choose the better book.

Why I Will NOT Use CafePress, and Why You Shouldn't Either!

A year or so ago I tossed some of my artwork up on CafePress just for kicks. Within a few months I gained a few contract design jobs through it (folk noticed my artwork, didn't like CafePress's prices, so I made a custom design and pointed them to other vendors), and made about $6. Woohoo. Thrilling.

Then I logged in to find a bizarre shop in my "My Shops" section. Admin_CP7945435.

Initially they made an iPhone 5 case (shortly after the iPhone 5 release) with a small markup. I thought, "Cool! Maybe this is a featured product! That's cool, even if it's only a few bucks in my pocket!" In fact, here is that product. Note the small markup:

So I let it go. But today I logged in to see more products in the mysterious Admin_CP7945435 shop. Yet now my more popular artwork is appearing on products with no markup.

No markup means no profit - for me. In short, CafePress slapped my art on their products and sold sold sold. They didn't ask permission, didn't notify me, just claimed rights to my images and ran with it. Here's another one:
For the mathematically challenged, $0.00 markup means $0.00 profit for me.

I am more than a little peeved by this. I did notice in the Terms of Service that they are allowed to use my images for marketing and such. But does that right apply to selling my stuff without my permission or my knowledge, and without giving me a penny? Was the first iPhone 5 case a "trial run" to see if I'd notice their creepy little Admin_CP7945435 shop, if I'd close it or let it sail?

I put an email in to customer service - we'll see how they spin it. But my days using CafePress are Over as of - my cursor is hovering over the "delete shop" button - Click! - right now.

Symbaloo: My New BFF

Thanks to Mud Pie's 2nd grade teacher, I discovered Symbaloo. Which is really nothing more than a cross-user, cross-platform version of Safari's "Top Sites" start page. Well, ok, it is more than Top Sites, because with Symbaloo I can make a webmix (or mix of bookmarked sites - that's visual rather than a pulldown list), and I can put it as the homepage for each of the kiddos. What's more, they can each have their own customized homepage!

I can put Dance Mat Typing and Starfall on Mud Pie's, Spelling City and TimeMaps on Fish's, and National Geographic and Kitchen Chemistry on St. Nick's. Along with about three dozen more - each. Each kiddo can have a customized background, too. Even Rowdy has a home page, though there's not much on it since she'd rather eat the mouse than click it.
Solved is the problem of Fish starting up the computer, clicking Firefox, and surfing away to Gamezone or some other time-waste site. Solved is the problem of finding a great educational link, emailing it to myself, losing the email beneath a zillion others, and forgetting about it entirely. I can add and delete links at will from my computer - no more logging on to the Family Dinosaur to change up the kids' home pages or nagging St. Nick to visit such-and-such site. Any changes made from the master webmix will be reflected on any computer where that webmix is displayed! How cool is that? What a fabulous educational resource!