Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Santa ate his cookies and drank his milk, and the reindeer had their fill of carrots.

The star, the final ornament, went on our Jesse branch.

Our family shared communion and rejoiced for "... she gave birth to her first son" (Luke 2:7), "... Immanuel, which means 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23).

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Night Before Christmas

Wrote it...

Mailed it...

'Twas the night before Christmas,
   when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
   not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung
   by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon
   would be there...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Warp, Weft, What??

Needle-craft was my worst subject in school. I don't sew, I don't knit, and I certainly don't weave. A seasoned homeschool mom who makes her own clothes and rugs and curtains has kindly spent an afternoon to enlighten us. She taught the kids to use the spinning wheel; she demonstrated how to work the loom; she quizzed us on the different possible materials for yarn: wool from animals, cotton, flax, and hemp from plants. And then there're all these foreign terms like warp, weft, flying shuttle, reed, spindles, bobbins...

Thankfully Serena & I were not completely ignorant on the subject. "The Story Book of Science" by Jean-Henri Fabre sits at our breakfast table and we enjoy reading a chapter here & there. Coincidentally the last few chapters we read were "The Fleece", "Flax and Hemp", and "Cotton" - I couldn't have timed it better. It's always exciting to be able to see the words we read in books come alive!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

O Tannenbaum

The ever green branches, a symbol of everlasting life; its triangular shape, a symbol of the Holy Trinity; its branches and top, pointing toward heaven. At least that's one of the legends about the first Christmas tree: around the 8th century Saint Boniface, a missionary in Germany, told Christian converts to bring evergreen trees into their homes to honour Christ's birth.

We picked ourselves a 6' fraser fir from our favourite tree farm, Serena's very happy place with its irresistable fragrance, hot dogs by the fire, and hot apple cider.

We were hesitant to bring a tree home to two kittens who might view it as a great big toy. We even contemplated (ever so briefly) a plastic tree, or a Lego tree. But our annual trek to the Christmas tree farm and Serena picking out a tree and decorating it has become too precious a family tradition to give up. Thankfully Jack & Jill are behaving (so far), and we sing:

"O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!
Thou hast a wonderous message.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!
Thou hast a wonderous message.
Thou dost proclaim the Saviour's birth,
Goodwill to men and peace on earth.
O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!
Thou hast a wonderous message."

Related Reading:
"Christmas Tree Farm" by Ann Purmell
"O Christmas Tree: Its History and Holiday Traditions" by Jacqueline Farmer

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Gift of Music

It's been 50 years since The Sound of Music made its stage debut in London and New York. Serena has seen the 1965 movie and saw a stage production by Lyric Light Opera two years ago. We had the chance to watch another great production today at the Gateway Theatre.

Before the show, Serena sang some songs herself - she and a group of homeschoolers from SDHL sang Christmas carols and delivered some holiday cheer to the extended care patients at the Ladner Hospital:

Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; 
  let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, 
  for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.
(Isaiah 12:5-6)

Friday, December 9, 2011

George Shannon

We first discovered this great author when we were at the Whistler library. Serena spotted "More True Lies: 18 Tales For You To Judge" and we read through the whole book immediately because Serena couldn't stop. When we returned home, I located similar books by Shannon:

"True Lies: 18 Tales For You To Judge"
"Stories To Solve: Folktales From Around the World"
"More Stories To Solve: 15 Folktales From Around the World"

They're all brain-teasers and anecdotes drawn from different folk traditions. Shannon defines "true lies" as statements that are "technically truthful yet basically a lie". Serena loves the humour and wit and enjoys figuring out all the riddles. She loves them so much that before I knew it she's already finished reading them all on her own...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mele Kalikimaka

This month's Wed Club topic was "Christmas Around the World". Serena's choice? Hawaii. Why?  I don't know.

If you strip away all the commercialization, there's unfortunately not much left of Christmas in Hawaii. We did learn that it was the protestant missionaries from New England who formally introduced Christmas to the Hawaiian people in 1820.  The locals had trouble saying "Merry Christmas", so the missionaries made a phonetic translation - "Mele Kalikimaka".
Serena did a hula dance number with the song "Mele Kalikimaka" by Bing Crosby. We made a Hawaiian coconut pudding called haupia, a popular dessert served at luaus and all sorts of festivities including Christmas.

Mele Kalikimaka!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Serena has been taking weekly taekwondo lessons for 2 years now.  She's worked her way up from Tiny Tigers to white belt to orange belt; now she's working toward her yellow belt.  The Extravaganza on Saturday was her first time at a martial arts exhibition, and her first time breaking a board successfully!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pioneer Holiday Traditions

To kick off this Christmas season, we went to the Delta Museum and Archives to learn how Delta's early pioneers celebrated the holidays. The scavenger hunt took the kids through different rooms in a pioneer home, with particular focus on the parlour where the family would gather to play music, read stories, and perhaps look through a stereoscope.

The kids made pomanders out of mandarin oranges and cloves. Pomanders gave a nice fragrance in a pioneer kitchen, and it was a very special decoration since oranges only came at Christmas time. Serena's favourite part was making hand-dipped beeswax candles. (Wonder if she'd still think it's fun if she had to do it for hours like the pioneer children did...)

Reading the Little House series, doing our own Pioneer Thanksgiving, and the Biography Fair project have taught us so much about pioneer life. This trip to the Delta Museum added more hands-on experience for Serena and confirmed how much we've learnt about pioneers!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


We watched a show on basilisk - what funny creature!  Serena and I went on Popplet for the first time and made this little flow chart. She got hooked and went on making a popplet for cheetah all on her own. (She loves cheetahs and got all sorts of facts in her little head already.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


'Tis the season of Advent (from the Latin word adventus, meaning "arrival" or "coming").

We painted our Jesse tree stump with a shoot coming up.  Each day we come to read His word that points toward the Branch, and we hang an ornament on that fruit-bearing Branch.

The Lord Jesus Christ is coming.  Are you ready?

Monday, November 28, 2011

"Saw Ma Lau"

With my family in Asia and Keith's family in Ontario, Serena loves it whenever there's a relative in town to call her own.  Her flight attendant aunt paid us a surprise visit when she flew in for work.  Serena had a blast spending a day and a half with her Yee-Yee who, without my consent, taught her niece all sorts of silly phrases in Chinese.

You'll have to ask Serena yourself what "saw ma lau" means.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Punctuation Fun

Panda eats shoots and leaves.
Panda eats, shoots and leaves.

The student, said the teacher, is crazy.
The student said the teacher is crazy.
Girl's like spaghetti.
Girls like spaghetti.

Those smelly things are my brother's.
Those smelly things are my brothers.
Twenty-odd ducks.
Twenty odd ducks.

Our ancient-history teacher went to Egypt.
Our ancient history teacher went to Egypt.

Serena loves the humour of Lynnne Truss' books and the hilarious results of placing that little comma, apostrophe, or hyphen in the wrong spot. This is no comprehensive grammar guide, but what a fun way to introduce the concept of punctuation and the important job of one little squiggle.  For our more "serious" school work, Serena hunts for errors and edits sentences in "Editor In Chief Beginning - Grammar Disasters and Punctuation Faux Pas" by The Critical Thinking Co.

Related Reading:
"Greedy Apostrophe: A Cautionary Tale" by Jan Carr
"Punctuation Celebration" by Elsa Knight Bruno

Monday, November 21, 2011

Laura Ingalls Wilder

It took no time for Serena to decide who she was going to pick for her Biography Fair project this year. We're currently on the 8th book in the Little House series, The Happy Golden Years. We feel like we know Laura so well that it's tricky to narrow down all our ideas.  Mapping her family's frequent move was fun since we were curious ourselves as to where and how far they had traveled over the years. Serena enjoyed putting the family tree together, tracing Laura and Almanzo's families back to their grandparents. Coming up with trivia questions was also entertaining - Serena amazingly recalls every detail of every book no matter how hard I tried to stump her.

The Biography Fair hosted annually by the South Delta Home Learners (SDHL) was held this past Saturday. There were about 50 homeschoolers participating with some fascinating biographies. We spent time wandering from project to project, reading different bios, checking out creative display ideas, leaving comments, and hunting answers to the Detective Questions related to the bios. About half the kids went on stage and made presentations, including Serena in her Laura Ingalls Wilder persona being interviewed by the inquisitive Times Magazine reporter Keith. It was all great fun and great learning!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Penderwicks

We love this book by Jeanne Birdsall! Serena & I devoured it as we are still waiting for the next Little House book from the library.

After we got to the very satisfying end of the story today, Serena said, "You know what The Penderwicks reminds me of? Little Women."  Lo and behold, this is what the author said about her inspiration: "I also borrow from other books, especially the ones I loved best when I was young. The idea of four sisters came from Little Women." Serena never fails to amaze me.

Who are the Penderwicks, Serena?
Father, Rosalind, Skye, Jane, Batty, and Hound.

Which character is your favourite?
Skye!  Because she is sarcastic and always arguing.  I also like Mr. Penderwick when he speaks Latin, so funny!

Which sister is most like yourself?
Jane.  Because she has brown eyes and brown hair, and she has a good imagination and she loves books.

If you had met any of the Penderwick sisters, do you think you would have become fast friends?
Yes!  Hound, Batty, and Jane would probably be my first friends.  Then Skye and Rosalind because they're older.

What do you think will happen to Jeffrey?
I think he's going to become a famous musician, and he will stay in touch with the Penderwick sisters.  I think Skye is his best friend even though she conked his head in the beginning!

What do you think of Mrs. Tifton?
She is a disgraceful mother!  She is very rude, boastful, and doesn't listen to what you want to say.

Would you like to explore Arundel?
Yes, yes, yes!  The garden, the big house, the secret passage, the cottage, the passage through Batty's closet, everything!

Which scene in the book is most memorable to you?
I like the end of the story when after Jeffrey said he'll visit the Penderwicks in Cameron, Skye said, "Just remember, if you don't, I'll kill you"!  Skye is so sarcastic.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Britannia Mine Museum

On our way home from Whistler, we stopped to check out the Britannia Mine Museum just south of Squamish.  Britannia was once the largest copper mine in the British Empire, producing more than 50 million tons of ore during its operation from 1904 to 1974.  There are over 210 km of tunnel around Britiannia.  We rode a mine train into a historical tunnel to see where and how miners worked back in the day...

"Man Car" 

Up to 12 men would cramp in a man car and travel up to 45 minutes to get to work.  It also served as the lunch room if the work location was very wet.
"Mucking Machine"

Muck was rock that was blasted free. This machine could move 16 to 20 tons of rock an hour.  Before it came to Britannia in the early 1920's, two miners could move the same amount of muck using "muck sticks", i.e. shovels, in a 12-hour shift.
"Widow Maker"

This super heavy Wood Drill was the first drill to run on compressed air.  It made an aweful noise that caused miners to go deaf, and the rock dust it produced could scar the lungs and lead to silicosis, a fatal disease.  Hence the apt nickname.
"Honey Wagon"

How would you like to roll this lovely wagon to every miner twice during each 8-hour shift? No doors, no toilet paper. Well, at least it was dark in the mine. A surely quick way to get the new workers assigned to the job to meet everyone and figure out the mine layout!
After we emerged from the tunnel, we were taken to the 20-storey high historical Mill No.3. A big bucket called "the Skip" rode like an elevator up and down carrying supplies & equipments. The Skip had no brakes so workers were not allowed to ride it, leaving them to take the stairs - all 375 steps from bottom to top.
Our tour guide gave us an introduction to the "concentrating" process of separating minerals from the waste rock or "tailings". This pioneering system was developed at Britannia and gave a very high metal recovery rate.
Serena's favourite part of the tour - Gold Panning! "Scoop it, shake it, dip it, and fill it".  Serena took home a few bits of souvenirs which made the trip all the more memorable!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Whistler, B.C.

Thanks to Serena's godparents, we spent this past week vacationing in Whistler!

Apart from lounging around in our beautiful cabin and hot-tubbing in the snow, we also spent time playing in the tree house in the village, reading at the fancy new Whistler library, and swimming at Meadow Park Sports Centre.

The Whistler Museum in the village is a treasure trove.  We learned about the pioneer history of Alta Lake, the prominence of Rainbow Lodge as a fishing resort before the development of Whistler into a ski resort in the 1960s, the natural history and habitat of Whistler, and of course, Whistler's journey to the Olympic Games. There're lots of fun trivia to discover throughout the museum - you may already know that Whistler is named after the hoary marmot, but do you know what animal Blackcomb is named after?

[Answer: the black rooster]

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hänsel und Gretel

Serena went to her first opera today - the English adaptation of Englebert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel by the Vancouver Opera In Schools (VOIS).  It was a great production sung by four singers accompanied by a pianist.
The VOIS is on tour with public performances of Hansel & Gretel throughout B.C. until next spring.  It's a great way to introduce opera to young children.  Check it out if you can!

Saturday, October 29, 2011


What an inspiration!  We read the book "Seabiscuit, the Wonder Horse" by Meghan McCarthy, watched the historic 1938 Pimlico match race, and saw the 2003 biographical movie Seabiscuit.  

When we were at the A&T Equestrian for the YNC field trip, as soon as the staff led a bunch of horses into the paddock, Serena had her eyes immediately trained on Blackberry - the only horse of pure black, like a real race horse. She broke into tears when someone else got to him first.  She wouldn't take another horse and would wait til Blackberry was available again.

That same day I brought home a couple dozen books from the library, a few of them on how to draw horses. Not long after, Serena's desk is filled with sketches of horses. Her Christmas wish list? The crystal horse at Swarovski. (Note to Santa: it's $510.)

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Based on Star Dancer by Edgar Degas, 1876, made with pastel on paper:

Degas started using pastels when he got older; the smudgy effect looked like what he saw with his failing eyesight.

Painting with pastels steers Serena away from clean lines and makes imperfections acceptable.

Degas and Serena share the same love for ballet as an art form and pastel as their medium of expression.  I think they would make good company!

My Art Book: Amazing Art Projects Inspired By Masterpieces
Children's Book of Art: An Introduction to the World's Most Amazing Paintings and Sculptures

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


From "If You Were Alliteration" by Trisha Speed Shaskan:
Alliteration - the same sound repeated at the beginning of two of more words in a phrase or a sentence.
Acrostic Poem - the first letter of each line spells a word vertically.

An Illustration by Serena:
Serena sat on a sunken stool sipping strawberry sundae in the sunshine.
Ed erased the editor's egg and eel enchilada.
Rosy Ruben rubbed his rusty ruler on a rich red rug.
Eleanor the elephant explored Egypt with her extremely essential ears.
Narrators never eat nuts and nuggets without nifty napkins.
Archaeologists ate ancient apples with anchovies and aphids.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


"I've been fine for nine years without any pluttification tables," said Pippi.  "And I'm sure I can manage in the future, too."

Before there were Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls in Serena's world, there's Pippilotta Comestibles Windowshade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking, the alter ego of every child.

Serena didn't know what multiplication meant then when we first came upon the word in "Pippi Plays Tag with the Police" in Astrid Lindgren's book.  Now pluttification is no longer a mystery.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Presenting New Artwork and Haiku by Serena:

A smooth pumpkin grows
On a vine that twists and twirls
Waiting to be picked

Buttery pie crust
With creamy pumpkin filling
Cinnamon whip cream

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

O Canada

Once in a while in our homeschooling days our learning falls together tidily yet unintentionally.  We love our libraries and use them extensively, bringing home dozens of books each week.  What we ended up reading and watching lately looks very much like a unit study on Canada.  We posted the stories of Annie Edson Taylor and Laura Secord, and the documentary on the War of 1812 recently. Here are a few more good finds on the topic of our home and native land:

"O Canada" by Ted Harrison:

The first illustrated version of our national anthem O Canada with spectacular paintings by acclaimed Canadian artist Ted Harrison as he pays tribute to each province and territory.  The book comes with French lyrics - we're now attempting to learn O Canada in French!

Serena loves this one, it's a ton of fun - we counted our way across Canada with "Loonies and Toonies: A Canadian Number Book" by Mike Ulmer:

1 nation
2 languages
3 metres-a-side border
4 theatres at Stratford
5 kinds of Pacific salmon
6 time zones
7 fathers of Confederation
8 left shoes (Terry Fox)
9 cattle head (John Ware)
10 of the metric system
11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month
12 of a clutch of Canada geese eggs
13 provinces + territories
14 days to canoe down the South Nahanni River in Northwest Territories
15 daredevils going over Niagara Falls in a barrel (Annie Taylor was the first!)
16 spokes in the calèche's wheel
17 of Hwy 17 dividing the city of Lloydminster between Saskatchewan and Alberta
18 undefeated years of the Bluenose
19 the jersey number of Paul Henderson
20 dollar bills linking Canadians to Queen Elizabeth II
50 polar bears on an ice floe
100s of loonies and toonies traded by the toothfairies

In the October issue of The Canadian Reader, we read up on the first successful whale hunt by Inuit hunters in Iqaluit this past August after the decades long ban on hunting bowheads was finally lifted.  The video on the butchering of the 70-tonne bowhead whale into meat and muktaaq was quite surreal!

Finally we watched another Explorers of the World DVD, this time on Henry Hudson. He was English but his voyage along our eastern coast was very influential on the colonization of the New World. Now we know where the name of our famous Hudson Bay came from!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

History Through Biography

Being a very relational person, Serena loves a good character in any story and reading biographies has been a great way to introduce history to her.

Daddy took on "Laura Secord's Brave Walk" by Connie Brummel Crook, enriching the story with what he knows growing up around the Niagara region. PBS happened to premiere The War of 1812 last week.  We're able to see some re-enactments of "a small but bitter war" with no real winners in the end but the native nations being the clear losers.

We went back further in time and read "Follow The Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus" by Peter Sis.  While the book presents a simplified story of a romanticized explorer, the Schlessinger video "Explorers of the World" brought to light some of the more questionable qualities of Columbus during his voyage, especially the brutality toward the Taino, the native people of the Caribbean. Sadly the injustice upon the natives was a thread that ran through both periods of history.

Other biographies explored recently:
"Marco Polo" - Explorers of the World DVD
"Abraham Lincoln" by Ingri & Edgar Parin d'Aulaire
"Leonardo da Vinci" by Diane Stanley
"Leonardo da Vinci" - Inventors of the World DVD
"Michelangelo" by Diane Stanley
"Peter Tchaikovsky" by Mike Venezia
"Cleopatra" by Adele Geras

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Community House

Serena made a pop-up book about the people in her community home.

What does it mean that you live in a community house, Serena?
To live in a house with a bunch of people!  And we're all Christians!

What do you like about living in community?
Because they're all my friends and I have company to play with me!

What do you do together?
We pray together, we have house dinner too. We bake cookies together! I play the flute with Pris, I watch "Amazing Race" with Geoffrey, I play games with Jonathan, I play "Phillippe" with Ben, and I squeeze Brenda!

Anything you don't like about living in a community house?
Sometimes it is too noisy in the kitchen when everyone cooks together!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book In A Bag

The topic for our first Wednesday Club meeting with the VCHEA this year is Book In A Bag.  Serena picked a book by Chris Van Allsburg, whose books such as "Jumanji", "Probuditi", and "The Sweetest Fig" we've read and thoroughly enjoyed.

"Queen of the Falls" is a bit different than the other books by the author.  It's a true story about Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Serena painted this picture of Niagara Falls as part of her presentation.

Check out this video of Chris Van Allsburg talking about his book, "Queen of the Falls" which came out this year.