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.
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)
A friend sent me instructions for making Easter Story Cookies.  I tweaked the ingredients, tweaked the instructions, and changed some of the scriptures to ones I thought my younger ones would relate to.  (In other words, I don't know whose idea this originally was, but should no longer be considered plagiarism.:) 
This is a sweet way to bring some of the real meaning of Easter into your home!  For more Easter ideas, click on the "Easter" category on the right.

Mix these cookies the evening before Easter, they sit in the oven overnight, as an Easter morning surprise.

You will need:
  • 1 tsp. vinegar
  • 3 large egg whites
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup pecan pieces
Wooden spoon
Waxed paper or parchment
Masking tape

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. (This is important, so don’t wait until you’re half-way done with the recipe).

Smell the vinegar. Put 1 tsp. into the mixing bowl. Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross, He was given vinegar to drink. Read John 19:28-30 or Psalms 69:21

Add egg whites to the vinegar.
Explain that eggs represent life. Jesus gave His life to give us life. Read John 10:9-11.

Sprinkle a little salt into each hand. Taste it and brush the rest into the bowl.
Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and bitterness of our sins.  Show the wooden spoon, it represents the cross he carried and was nailed to.
Read Luke 23:27.

With a mixer, beat on high speed until soft peaks form.
Explain that the color white represents the purity of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus. Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3.

So far the ingredients are not very appetizing. Add 3/4 cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, as you continue to whip.  Keep mixing until they reach stiff peaks.
Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us. It wasn’t the nails that kept Him on the cross because nothing earthly could have. It was His love for us! Read Ps. 34:8 and John 3:16.

Fold in the nuts using the wooden spoon. Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper covered cookie sheet. Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Read Matthew 27:57-60.

Put the cookie sheet in the oven and close the door and turn the oven OFF! Each person places a piece of masking tape and seals the oven door. Read Matthew 27:62-66

Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight. Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed. Read John 16:20, 22.

On Easter morning, watch the 4-minute video “He is Risen”, then open the oven and give everyone a cookie.

Notice the cracked surface and take a bite. The cookies are hollow!

Explain that on the first Easter, Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty.  Suggested scriptures to read: John chapter 20 (5 minutes), 1 Corinthians 15:22 (two lines), Mosiah 16:6-9 (one minute).

Happy Easter, Everyone! Christ Lives & Loves Us!

What beauties are around us!  Below are some of the photos I've taken.  

There's always "one that got away"; back when I was in college I looked outside and saw what looked like an upside-down, hanging rainbow.  Turns out it was a circumzenithal arc.   Didn't have the camera.  

Most of these pictures are from the last two years; the sun pillar photos are the most recent: from this New Year's Eve.  We spotted them on our drive home from Grandma's house...     What an amazing way to end the year!  It felt like God's reassurance that he's aware and still in charge.  

(For a music-backed experience, play Desert Symphony while watching the pictures. Yeah, their videography upstages my pictures.  Enjoy them both. )

It's easy to go along with the commercial aspects of Easter- 

But what can I do with my family to focus on its real meaning?

Yes, those Easter eggs have symbolism, but I want to go beyond that.  Usually we have a Family Home Evening the Monday before Easter, where we read the Easter story in the New Testament, and talk about the symbols we see this time of year- eggs for the seemingly lifeless tomb, chicks for new life, lambs for The Lamb of God who was their Passover.  But this year I wanted something each day for a week, something to learn and remember what our Savior did during his final week in mortality.  Something to help pull us into his life.

The April 2011 Friend magazine had something I'll use this year.  If you follow their suggested timeline, that begins today, two Saturdays before Easter itself.   Here's a quick day-by-day summary of it and some ideas of what to do each day; see the original article for more details.  

Our standard day starts with a song and family prayer (playing the 'hymn of the week' is the call to be awake and in the living room- it sure beats hollering down the stairs every day!)- we can have a new song each day this Easter week, to fit with the timeline below.  We sing the same song in the evening right before that family prayer, as well.  (If -WHEN!- someone is still talking or not kneeling, we sing the last phrase over again.  This is repeated until they're ready.  Usually it takes only once.  Except for some nights.   Again, it sure beats telling them to be quiet and get ready!)

Saturday, 8 days before Easter: Jesus walked to Bethany for a place to stay during Passover. See  John 12:1–3.
Song: Come, Follow Me
To do:  Point out that many people have traveled to Temple Square for the LDS General Conference (and we'll be watching or listening).  There is a great article on the symbolism of the Passover itself, by John Pratt; during our family scripture study we can talk about the symbolism.  There's a shorter summary in the LDS Bible Dictionary.

Sunday, one week before Easter: Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey; the people greeted Him as their king, shouting Hosanna (Save Us Now) and paving his pathway with palm leaves.  Also known as Palm Sunday, for this reason.  See Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11.
Song: Joy to the World (really!  look at those lyrics!) or Easter Hosanna
To do Watch a Bible Video: The Lord's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem                   

Monday: Cleansing the temple, to make it more holy.  See Matthew 21:12–17; Mark 11:15–19.
Song: I Love to See the Temple, or The Lord Gave Me a Temple (or if you want to learn a less-familiar one, try God is In His Holy Temple)
To do: Each person find some place in their room that needs cleaned and organized- and take care of it!  Also, have a Family Home Evening & lesson. :-) 

Tuesday: He taught in the temple and on the Mount of Olives.  He healed the blind and lame.  Judas agreed with the priests to betray Him. SeeMatthew 25:31–46; 26:14–16.
Song: Jesus Said Love Everyone   
To Do: Pick some spring flowers and take them to someone sick, lonely, or bedridden.

Wednesday: We don't know what he did this day.  See Matthew 25:1–13.
Song: I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus, or Build An Ark
To Do: Reading the Parable of the Ten Virgins is one idea (illustrated version here), print this activity;  or learn more about the Passover that Christ was there to offer. 

Thursday: His disciples got ready for and ate the Passover meal.  This became what we call The Last Supper, he also gave them the sacrament for the first time.  After singing a hymn, they went to the Garden of Gethsemane.  After his Atonement there, the priests found and arrested him.  See Matthew 26:17–29, 36–56.
Song: I Stand All Amazed
To Do: At dinner, serve one or more of the traditional Passover foods.  You might even manage having a Seder plate and ask The Four Questions; that would require some advance studying! is a great site for this.

Friday: He was questioned by Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod, and condemned to die.  He was crucified, died, and hurriedly laid in a borrowed tomb.  In Jerusalem, the veil of the temple tore and there was darkness for three hours.  In the Americas, there was a terrible storm for three hours, followed by complete dark until the third day. See Matthew 26:57–72; 27:1–2, 27–37; Luke 23:44–46, 50–56, 3 Nephi 8:5-23.
Song: O Savior, Thou Who Wearest a Crown, or There Is a Green Hill Far Away
To Do:  Have dinner by candlelight (yes, we'll have to shut the drapes because it's too light outside!) to remember the dark these people experienced.  Watch The Last Supper.
 Older children could watch Jesus Is Scourged and Crucified, but my littlest ones would be very disturbed by it.

Jesus' body lay in the tomb, the door covered with a large stone, guarded by order of the wicked priests.  In the Americas, it was still dark.  See Matthew 27:57–66  and 3 Nephi 9:12-22.
Song: To Think About Jesus      
To Do:  We have our Easter Egg hunt on Saturday-  to keep the "fluff stuff" away from the real holiday/holy-day.  

Easter Sunday: Jesus was resurrected!  An angel rolled the stone away, Mary Magdalene and others saw him.  He told them to teach and baptize others. See Matthew 28 Some time after His resurrection, he also visited the people in the Americas, see 3 Nephi 11:1-17.
Song: Christ the Lord is Risen Today
To Do: Watch the sunrise and think about the beauty of the earth and the sacrifices its Creator made for us.  Have each child and parent write a favorite scripture on the back of a small picture of Jesus.  Each person gives theirs to another  family member.  (Hopefully this encourages them to really think about which scripture to write!)      Watch all the Bible videos about the Savior's ministry.  

Some other meaningful Easter ideas can be found in the New Era magazine and  The Ensign

May we all have an Easter that helps connect us with family and our Savior!
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

-William Cowper

See here to listen to a simple version of this, with the lyrics.

With the attacks all around us on family, morals, and religion, I want to share where my hope and determination come from: 

The Father to whom we pray is the glorious God who created worlds through His Beloved Son. He hears our prayers as He heard Joseph’s prayer—as clearly as if they were being offered in His presence. He loves us enough that He gave His Son as our Savior. By that gift He made it possible for us to gain immortality and eternal life. And He offers us, through prayer in the name of His Son, the opportunity to commune with Him in this life as often as we choose.

We gain a testimony of any commandment of God by keeping that commandment (see
John 7:17). This is true of the command that we pray always vocally and in secret. As your teacher and your friend, I promise that God will answer your prayers and that by the power of the Holy Ghost, you can know for yourself that the answers are from Him.
- President Henry B. Eyring, “Exhort Them To Pray”, Feb. 2012

I know that God is real, that his purposes will be fulfilled, and that he has a hand in our lives.  Things that were hard, difficult, or unfair in my life, have helped me be a better, more loving person, because of his healing grace.  He helps me learn what is right, stand bravely for it, and have confidence in his ability to help me become what he needs me to be.  “The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”

Have you heard about the new federal health mandate?  It requires all religious organizations- including schools- to provide not only contraception, but also abortion services.  Read Tim Dolan's article on it and think what you can do.  One really good option is to contact your friends or neighbors who are Catholic, see what you can do to help, and/or visit