These are fun.  We made them as a little homeschool science project.  EVERYONE in the family thought these were awesome, and we had enough to give a couple to some of my son's friends who are fascinated with rocks.  My next-door-neighbor, the Webelos Scout leader, pointed to a pile of broken rocks on her sidewalk.  "This,"  she said, "was what we did so the boys could feel like they might find a geode- we gave them hammers and rocks from our yard.  We should have made these instead!"

They'd love them too.

These would make some amazing and unusual Easter eggs, too:  make a bunch the same size and wrap two halves together to form a ball.

Edible Geodes
Crystal-growing solution (Rock candy syrup)
1 ½ c. sugar
½ c. water
Mix the two, heat on high in a small saucepan, and stir until the sugar completely dissolves.  Add several drops food color if you want, along with ½ tsp. flavoring (optional). Let cool a bit while you make the rock shells.

Rock Shell (Marshmallow Fondant)
8 ounces marshmallows
2-4 Tbsp. water
1 lb. powdered sugar
¼ c. coconut oil or shortening

Mix marshmallows with 2 Tb. water in a microwave-safe bowl, heat for 30 seconds in microwave.  Stir.  Microwave 30 seconds more, stir. Repeat until it’s melted and smooth.  Add the powdered sugar and mix with a spoon and then with your hands.  Spread 1 Tbsp. coconut oil on clean counter, knead the fondant on top adding more coconut oil when needed.   When smooth and stiff, take half of it and set aside.  Take other half and knead in ¼ c. cocoa powder to make fondant brown.  Roll out ¼“ thick.  Roll out the white half to the same size and stack them on top of each other.    Line a few bowls with aluminum foil, sprayed with nonstick spray.  Cut a piece of the two-layer fondant to fit, and line a bowl with it, with the brown side touching the foil.  Repeat until you run out.   Trim off any fondant that is beyond the lip of the bowl, using scissors.  Set aside.

Pour the sugar syrup into the fondant-lined bowls.  Let them sit, undisturbed, for at least a day (or 2-3 days for bigger crystals).  When ready, break the surface and pour off the syrup. Turn the geodes upside down to drain for an hour.  They’re ready! 

photo credit: Alex Grichenko
This December, would you like a daily thought, song, scripture, story, and/or activity to help you feel more of the calm spirit of Christmas?  My friend Amy over at LDS Holistic Living has a Christmas Advent Calendar you can use or download for free.  It's designed specifically with members of the LDS faith in mind, but anyone can find great things in it.  If you're interested, you can get the calendar here.

Meanwhile, here's a sample:

The Real Story Behind the 12 Days of Christmas

Catholics in England were prohibited by law from practicing their faith, both in private and in public from 1558 to 1829. Being a Catholic was treated as a crime. There was no restored gospel at the time, however there were good Christians who knew without doubt the true church was not one that was mainly created merely for the convenience of King Henry the Eighth who wanted to sin and have a church justify his actions. So in secret they continued to teach their children their  religion. 

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England during this time frame. It was written to help children learn about their religion. The entire song is writing in symbolism and hidden meanings because it was illegal to have anything in writing that would indicate adherence to the Catholic faith. To be caught could mean imprisonment, hanging, or drawn and quartered.
Christmas referred to a twelve day period that starts with Christmas day. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" referred to a twelve day period that began Christmas day. While the world may have celebrated Christmas for about twelve hours, these Christians celebrated it for twelve days as a reminder that the gifts of God are with us for twelve months of the year. It also represented the idea that we should be thankful for the gifts of God and follow His teachings for all twelve months of the year and not just one day a year. 

The song begins, "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." The "true love" represents God, as our greatest love should be for Him. The word worship means that which we love the most. The "me" who receives these presents is the Christian man or woman.

1. The "partridge in a pear tree" was Jesus Christ who died on a structure made from the wood of a tree. In ancient times a partridge was often used as mythological symbol of a divine, sacred king.

2. The "two turtle doves" were the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God. Doves symbolize peace and the Gospel contained in these scriptures, when practiced, brings peace.

3. The "three French hens" were faith, hope and love - the three gifts of the Spirit that abide (I
Corinthians 13). The French hens can also represent God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.

4. The "four calling birds" were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.

5. The "five golden rings" were the first five books of the Bible also called the "Books of Moses."

6. The "six geese a-laying" were the six days of creation.

7. The "seven swans a swimming" were "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (I Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11)

8. The "eight maids a milking" were the eight beatitudes.

9. The "nine ladies dancing" were nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." (Galatians 5:22)

10. The "ten lords a-leaping" were the Ten Commandments.

11. The "eleven pipers piping" were the eleven faithful disciples.

12. The "twelve drummers drumming" were the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.
This is actually an instrument.  Or a noise maker, depending on your perspective and the personality of the child holding it.  It's a variation of the Brazilian & African cuica, used in Samba music.  (See a video of an actual musician using a higher quality cuica on the YouTube video below. 

At any rate, this one can be made to make a clucking or 'gobble'y sound.  These are entertaining by themselves, or add it in to an impromptu marching-around-the-yard band!  You could have a whole flock of chickens or turkeys.

To make one, you'll need
A disposable plastic cup, googly eyes, paper/real feathers/paper or foam beak, an 18-20” length of cotton (not nylon) yarn, something to poke a hole with, a paperclip, dollar-bill sized piece of a paper towel, water.

Using a nail or whatever works, poke a hole in the top.  Thread the string through the hole, and tie the top end of the string onto a paperclip or washer, to keep it securely on the right side of the hole!    Decorate.

If you want to see someone make one and use it, see here.  

Have fun!
To make the sound, while holding the clucker still with one hand, get a square of folded-over wet paper towel and grab the string, making quick yanks down the string.
Last week we had a lesson on the four seasons in the group of 5-and-unders that I teach in a homeschool co-op.

We started with four trees on a page; each tree gets something glued to it:

spring- popcorn
summer- tear bits of green construction paper, hole punch red paper for apples
fall- tiny brown leaves (I used honey locust) or torn brown paper bag
winter- drizzle school glue all over tree and across the base, the child uses a finger to spread it smooth; sprinkle with table salt.  

Their favorite was the winter tree! 

You  can even listen to Vivaldi's The Four Seasons while making these...

The full lesson is below, with activities and songs.  
Print this full-page size. I printed them black and white because that's all my printer does...
Four Seasons lesson/activities
Materials needed:
music: Rain is Falling All Around, Popcorn Popping, Once There Was a Snowman, In the Leafy Treetops 
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons CD, CD player
Four Season discovery bottles
Autumn sensory box
4-tree papers (1 per child)
Popcorn kernels, popcorn popper, bowl with lid, spray bottle with water
Green construction paper
Red construction paper and a hole punchSmall colored leaves or yellow/orange paper
School glue
Wipes to clean hands

Seasons song: Rain is Falling All Around (leaves are falling, snow is falling, sun is shining, wind is blowing)

Listen to The Four Seasons with eyes closed; what season does it sound like?  What do you see?  Dance to the music, pretending to be a something in that season: an unfurling leaf, a bird, wind blowing, snow falling...

Four Seasons bottles to pass around

Four seasons artwork: divide a page into 4 sections each has a tree outline?  Older ones can write seasons

Get the popcorn popper and kernels ready, sing "Popcorn Popping". Pop the popcorn.

While working on the summer trees, sing In the Leafy Treetops.

Winter:  use fingers to spread glue on the branches and below the tree; sprinkle on salt (or could paint with salt water on tree with a black construction paper background) Sing Once there Was a Snowman

Autumn sensory box for when done: a box full of things like a “Can You See?” book- things of different textures and warmth, things to find, things to count, crocheted apples,

Mist the leftover popcorn with the spray bottle, add salt.  Put the lid on and shake to coat.  


Is including this lesson useful to anyone? Or should I stick with closer-to-homemaking posts?  
Today while looking for ways to explain more about Veterans' Day to my children, I came across a Muppets version of "Stars and Stripes Forever". 
We started watching it, but then it became apparent that the music meant nothing to them. So we started on a learning journey.  If you want just the more serious side, skip down to the last video on here.  The one that, while we watched it, my 11-year-old turned to me and asked, "Is this something real?"  Yes.  Yes, it is.  I'm not convinced that we've been truly justified in many of the wars in the last 100 years, but I recognize the intent and courage of those who were doing the actual fighting, among whom are family members  Thank you, veterans.  

First, we learned that "Stars and Stripes Forever", by John Philip Sousa,  is our official national march.  (I didn't know we had a national march...)

A little about the music: Sousa was on a tour of Europe in 1896, when he got word that his band director had suddenly died.  Here's what Sousa himself said in his autobiography, Marching Along, about this time and how the march came about:

"Here came one of the most vivid incidents of my career. As the vessel (the Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor I was pacing on the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager's death and the many duties and decisions which awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes, echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed."

Sousa later wrote words to go along with the music; in the National Band version below, they use only these words as a verse:

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

If you want to know all of the words, they're at the very bottom of this post.
Now my kids had some context for the Muppets' version:
Complete lyrics- written by John Philips Sousa- to "Stars and Stripes Forever":

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand
A flag appears 'mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true
Its folds protect no tyrant crew
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom's shield and hope.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free!
May it wave as our standard forever,
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right.
Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with mighty endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.

Let eagle shriek from lofty peak
The never-ending watchword of our land;
Let summer breeze waft through the trees
The echo of the chorus grand.
Sing out for liberty and light,
Sing out for freedom and the right.
Sing out for Union and its might,
O patriotic sons.

Other nations may deem their flags the best
And cheer them with fervid elation,
But the flag of the North and South and West
Is the flag of flags, the flag of Freedom's nation.

Hurrah for the flag of the free.
May it wave as our standard forever
The gem of the land and the sea,
The banner of the right
. Let despots remember the day
When our fathers with might endeavor
Proclaimed as they marched to the fray
That by their might and by their right
It waves forever.
[UPDATE 11/06/13- this bond failed at ballot, about 67% to 33%]

Each one of the half-dozen elected officials I've talked to has decided- mostly reluctantly- that they need to vote for the bond. (Since first writing this, three mayors have come out against it.)  It seems that all we hear, everywhere we turn, is that "we have to" and there are no other good options- so I'm trying to spread the word about some options we really do have.

What do you do
when you can't afford to do
the thing you can't afford not to do? (the link is to what a South Jordan city councilman thinks we need to do- I disagree! -but he also raises a good point about how the bond may or may not actually help specific cities in the district.)

In the household of a good steward of money, you generally go without that thing until you can pay for it, find ways to make it cost less, and meanwhile look for other solutions.

The bond is not the only option, and is a LOT of money with little guarantee of best use.  See some concerns from the Utah Taxpayers' Association and the school board's response on page 4 of their October 2013 newsletter.

According to the statistics listed on a SL Tribune editorial, this half-billion is to be able to house an extra 12,000 students over the next decade. So if you've heard that we have to have this money to house all the new students coming, that's not the whole story.  If it was, that would be $41K per student.  It's also to rebuild a couple schools, add air conditioning to all that don't have it, and "seismic and safety renovations".  

A concern I have with the bond is how it is designed.  KSL posted an article a week ago about it.  The end of the article infers that Jordan School District would not ask for more money in the near future; their information is misleading.  JSD will ask again, and soon.    When I attended a meeting about the bond last spring, the board members were asking for $940 million; almost a billion dollars!  It was to cover growth over the next 15-20 years.  When they got back the survey results, they found support would be better if they cut the dollar amount in half, so what we have now is a half-price bond that will be paid over the same 15-20 years, but will only pay for building schools during the first 5-10 years.

In other words, they are expecting another half-billion-dollar-plus-inflation bond to come up in five to ten years from now, which would be tacked on to the already-raised rates if this one passes.

What options do we have?

Online learning offers amazing opportunities without the overhead.  Middle schools and high schools could be put on a three-semester track, which would allow the buildings to be used 50% more.  An uptick in homeschooling would help; Utah spends over $8000 per student per year when you count building expenses; it was $8,224 back in 2008.  That means I personally am saving the district about $25,000 for this school year alone by homeschooling my three youngest children.  After 13 years of this, the savings would total $300,000; even more once you add inflation.  That's just one person's contribution.    Splitting JSD into a few smaller districts would help; then each community or city could make decisions based on what will actually be built in their area.  Research shows that a district hits maximum effectiveness at around 3,000-4,000 students (one high school and its feeder schools).  South Jordan alone  has over 14,000 students, which is nearly the size of the whole Cache Valley School District. High schools with between 600-900 students result in the best learning and scores.  In them, our children are more likely to be treated as individuals and less likely to fall through the cracks. Smaller schools also require less busing; and sometimes none at all.

No, the bond- at least as currently proposed- is not the only solution, and I'm tired of taxation's steady erosion of what we earn.  A bit here, a bit there, until 30% of my phone bill consists of nothing but extra taxes and fees, until my property taxes easily clear the $2,000 mark in my downsized house, until everything I do that involves money has a chunk (or several) taken by others in the name of helping.  I'm willing to help myself and my neighbors on my OWN terms now, rather than abdicate my responsibility... and agency.

There is a need for housing new students and possibly upgrading facilities, but I believe we should not agree to either a half-billion-(or later billion-) dollar bond until the district commits to more cost-effective construction and education along with ways to maximize building use.

I'm voting NO on this bond.

Photo of the construction paper flag we made with this template to come... as soon as I can figure out what in the world my camera did with my photos!
Yes, I'll get some great recipes on this blog again soon... the reason it's been a bit is the same problem as above.  My camera is taking the pictures and burying them somewhere deep inside its circuitry. Sigh.

I'm teaching Joyschool to a group of children ages 1-5.  That's a huge spread in capability and ability to focus.  The group meets for two hours once a week, and has a focus on incorporating the scriptures into lessons. Since today is Constitution Day, I decided to teach them about the reason and purpose of the Constitution, plus the symbols of our flag and what the Pledge of Allegiance means.  I've learned to overplan and then be flexible- so there's a lot below.  :)

Materials needed

‘The Gift to Choose’ cube in a pretty box
Scriptures (Book of Mormon, D&C)
Constitution paper puppets (page 4 of the link, or see photo below)
Constitution puppet story (same as above)
Pictures of a school, church, plus an envelope
Map of the original 13 colonies
Map of the United States (I have a placemat map)
Marker or crayon
American flag- any size
flag pieces (red and blue construction paper) and silver star stickers (see picture below)
Music for “My Flag, My Flag” 
glue sticks or school glue

Section 1: God gave us the gift of Agency and the U.S. Constitution to protect it

Show the present, let someone open it to find the rolling cube inside.  Tell them that God gave us an amazing gift- the freedom to choose.  Let a few children take turns rolling the cube, read what it says.

Sing Do As I’m Doing (CS, - then ask, did I make you do this, or did you get to choose?

Read, then have them recite this scripture  3x: Wherefore, men are free … to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men (2 Nephi 2:27).

Tell the paper-puppet story of the Constitution (Constitution FHE manual, pg. 4).  God told us that gave us the Constitution to protect our right to choose (D&C 101:77).  We sometimes call this “liberty”.  (Have them repeat the word.)

Time for playing inside: US map puzzle for older ones?  Also let them use the cube and the finger puppets.   Also play outside for 10 minutes if weather is good: look for things that are red, white, and blue.

Section 2: The Flag and the Pledge of Allegiance

Today is a special day- show the colonies map and have the kids point out corresponding ones on the placemat map.   Count them with me while I circle them.

Show the flag, tell them it is a symbol of liberty and freedom.  Tell about the meaning of the 13 stripes (colonies and rays of light), and the stars (heaven and trying to reach it by following God, 50 stars/50states), and the colors (white: being pure and righteous, red: bravery and courage, blue: paying attention and sticking with what is true and right) = a symbol of liberty and freedom. (symbolism explained better in Supplemental Materials, at the end.)

Sing a song: My Flag, My Flag- have them wave their flags whenever you sing the word “wave”, or make up motions or dance.  Bring the music and use the piano, or the CD and a player.  

Tell about the Pledge of Allegiance

Recite it, say why we put our hand where we do, then talk about some of the words:

Pledge: a promise
Allegiance : to be faithful and helpful to it

So when you pledge allegiance to the flag, it means you promise to be faithful and helpful to liberty and freedom.

The United States: our country
Republic: the kind of government the Founding Fathers gave us, where we have power to choose our leaders.
Under God:  God is the most important, and helps the country when we’re righteous.
Liberty: we get to use our agency
Justice for all: the law is the same for everyone, no matter how old, young, rich, poor, or how they live.

End by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance together, then my testimony of God’s wisdom and love in giving the Constitution to us.
Print this to fit a regular-sized piece of paper. Cut out blue construction paper to fit the proper place (mine- 4 3/8" x 3 3/8"). Cut red stripes- each one will need 4 short ones and 3 long ones- red is the first stripe at the top and the last at the bottom. (My red stripes were 1/2" wide, long ones 10 1/2", short ones 6 1/2")
Supplemental materials: "The colors [of the Great Seal] of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness [bravery] & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

Also this from a book about the flag published in 1977 by the House of Representatives:
"The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."

50 stars- states; 13 stripes- original 13 colonies  (bring in US placemat, color/circle the 13 in front of the kids)

Explaining the Pledge of Allegiance:

Mormon Messages:  The Freedom to…

Read a  story  "Do As I'm Doing" at   

Scriptures  D&C 101:77, 80   the Lord caused Constitution to be established for protection and liberty D&C 134:1–5 (Governments are instituted of God for the benefit of mankind)

For an explanation of the need and purpose of the Constitution, see the FHE lessons for the Bicentennial, page 4 

My Flag, My Flag, also on Youtube (at the :54 mark) at

My Country

Schoolhouse Rock “The Preamble” "The colors [of the Great Seal] of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness [bravery] & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

Also this from a book about the flag published in 1977 by the House of Representatives...

"The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."

50 stars- states; 13 stripes- original 13 colonies  (bring in US placemat, color the 13 in front of the kids)

Explaining the Pledge of Allegiance:
Glue Stick Galaxy
The Milky Way galaxy, which we live in, is said to contain between 100 and 400 BILLION stars, of which our sun is one of the smaller ones.  The galaxy also has nebulae, asteroids, planets, comets, and more.  
This project was simply to help my children visualize a bit of how massive one galaxy is, as we were learning about the universe and its scale.

Start by looking at photos of galaxies.  Give each child a regular-sized piece of plain paper.  Have them draw a spiral using either school glue or a glue stick.  Very quickly sprinkle it with glitter and tip back and forth to cover.  The photo below shows what happens when there's a bunch of glue in the center.... it runs.  (Hey, a little more running on the upper side and it'd be a great barred galaxy!) 

Each tiny piece of glitter represents one star.  Look at your 'galaxy' closely for a while, then watch this video.

I used some gorgeous ultra-small glitter left from another project- so we did this outside.  On the patio, 20 feet from the house.  It wasn't far away enough.  Next time we'll do this over grass, so the glitter is less likely to get tracked back indoors!

After they've dried completely, put them in a plastic page protector to keep the glitter contained.  And marvel at what we're a part of.
White School Glue Galaxy
I began homeschooling January 2013, starting with just one child, a fifth-grader.   I'll maybe write more about what started that, another time.  This school year I have three children staying at home to learn, from Kindergarten through sixth grade. 

We've started out our homeschool year by starting at what we know as the 'beginning'- the premortal existence, which gives context and purpose to everything from that point on:

Where did we come from?
Why are we here?
Where are we going?

The book of Genesis starts with "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth". This coming week we'll cover what is known here as "in the beginning" which is different than what's above, the latter being the beginning of mortal life here.  The book of Moses not only talks about what Genesis does, but also shows some of what was before, "worlds without number".

So far I've taught what we know of pre-mortality, the Plan of Salvation, the War in Heaven, and the universe and galaxies (this coming week will be the solar system as part of this earth's Creation)- and I found some absolutely stunning things to teach with.  You will be amazed!  My 11-year-old cried as she watched and told me that the Holy Ghost was telling her this is true.   Here are links:

I Am A Son of God (Moses' vision of the earth and everything in it)

The Hubble Deep Field: The Most Important Image Ever Taken

The Scale of Everything

Scriptures I used with these:
 (really, all of Moses chapter 1, and if it's scripture study, eventually the rest of Moses for the second part of his vision)

Moses 1:32-33 (32-35)
Moses 1:37:39
Moses 7:30

We also made glitter galaxies

Have any of you found or used the NASA educational website? As is typical of any information on the Internet, things need carefully reviewed before using them- but there are some pretty great things there.  This week we'll do the "Jump to Jupiter" activity, which will help carry on the idea of better understanding the scale of things (which you get in the videos and links above)