2017 Advent Countdown

Scripture-Based Christmas Countdown – Why?

As Evangelical Christians and as parents, my husband and I wanted to make sure to give our kids a foundation of understanding what Christmas is all about… beyond the trees, lights, gifts, Santa, etc (there are places for those, but we don’t make any of them the center of our celebration). So, starting when our twin daughters were almost 2 years old, we created 25 daily Scripture readings to help them understand the background of the Bible before Jesus came. We wanted them to have an understanding of how the world was before the great moment of wonder — the incarnation — happened, so they’d gain a better understanding of why this is such an important event.

In the following years, we added ornaments that the kids put onto a small tree. These ornaments are simple but are connected to the Scripture we read — for example a whale, an apple, a red ribbon, etc. They *love* touching little tangible objects — they’ll often come up to the tree, touch an ornament from a past day and explain it’s significance. We also added some chocolate, because a little incentive to do an activity every day doesn’t hurt. 😉 This year, due to how much both girls and I love LEGO we’re also adding a daily mini-build.

This activity has grown with us over the years and I think it should be applicable to kids from around age 2 (for eager listeners) through elementary school.

Free Materials

You can find a free printable file that has directions, a verse list, printable verse cards, suggestions for ornaments, and pictures (so you can play match/memory, or substitute an image if you can’t find an ornament). You can present these in many different ways — the photos below show some of our past efforts.

What Else You’ll Need

You can do this activity with just the Scriptures (read them from the cards or from your Bible). If you want to do the ornaments, you’ll need to find or make them. Suggestions are in the free printable file linked above. I suggest you work a week ahead. Don’t be afraid to substitute a picture or pull out coloring pages when needed. It took about 3 seasons for me to find or make actual ornaments for everything (perhaps because I’m cheap! I didn’t want to spend more than $2 on any ornament!).

We also use a typical Christmas-countdown-calendar with chocolates. Ours comes from IKEA. It’s not necessary, and you could always substitute something small like an M&M.


Since this is the first year to make the LEGO mini builds and since sourcing all the bricks took me a long time — I’m not undertaking the herculean effort to show you how to build them.  However, there are a few rough photos of my work-in-progress here.

We do another activity like this for Easter – also with Scripture cards and ornaments to hang on a twig tree – that covers the life of Jesus. The Christmas verses pretty much take you through the Old Testament and the nativity story.


Day 1 – Earth
Day 5 – 2 year olds wanting to kiss the sheep ornament
Day 7 from the year that we hand-wrote the Scripture cards and hung them on the wall — for Joseph’s colorful coat (made from contact paper and tissue paper for a stained glass effect.)
This one took some creativity – it’s “manna” (coriander seeds) in a jar with a string attached for day 10.

Thoughts on Ultraviolet

Joshua Tree image from the 2017 U2 Tour

We saw U2 in the Dallas area on Friday night as part of the 2017 Joshua Tree anniversary tour.

The band used stunning visuals for most of the songs in the concert (those visuals, not shockingly, included some amazing vistas of the American west which has inspired me to travel more). One of the videos that got into my head most was the video for Ultraviolet. The images of the video made me think way too much to actually pay attention to the music. The images were of women, never quite defined how those particular women were selected, but it was a definite women’s empowerment/feminism/ish vibe.

I noticed how the video we saw, deep in the heart of Texas, included Laura Bush, Anne Richards and a few others — and I highly doubted those same women might have appeared in the video in non-Texas cities. So, I did some research and discovered that, nope, those women didn’t show up in at least Seattle and Vancouver. Going through the fan-shot videos of the song, I noticed quite a few differences, in fact. And, I was able to write down each name to look up later. This is my attempt to summarize what I researched about the women who were included in the video.

Names marked * showed up in the Vancouver video but not the one from Houston. Names marked # show up in Houston but not Vancouver. I based this on Houston since that’s the clearest video I found.

Women related to politics & government, in some fashion:

  • Michelle Obama – former first lady. School lunch re-doer, among other accomplishments.
  • #Laura Bush – former first lady and advocate for literacy, among other accomplishments.
  • #Ann Richards – former governor of Texas. I find it humorous how some people have tried to say she’s the first female governor of Texas — nope, that was “Ma” Ferguson back in 1925. Ann was a democrat and a feminist, and was the star of the Alamo Drafthouse’s greatest “no talking” ad ever. (IMHO)
  • Angela Davis – former leader of the US Communist Party. Her bio includes plenty of potentially violent interactions, though some people seem to respect her quite a bit.
  • Angela Merkel – Chancellor of Germany with significant influence over the EU.
  • #Hillary Clinton – If you don’t know who she is, you’ve been living under at least a dozen rocks for the past 2 decades.
  • #Sandra Day O’Connor – Supreme Court judge – first female one of those.  She was born in Texas, so I might have to see if she was included beyond the lone star state.
  • #Madeline Albright – first woman US Secretary of State, under Bill Clinton
  • #Condoleeza Rice – first female African American US Secretary of State, under George Bush
  • Eileen Johnson Sirleaf – President (or similar title) of Liberia, first female head of state in Africa
  • Christine Lagarde – leader of the International Monetary Fund
  • #Eunice Kennedy Shriver – JFK’s sister. Involved with philanthropy, too. She was a pro-life democrat, a fact I honestly didn’t remember.
  • *Emma Goldman – I’ll put her here since he was mostly a political activist, specifically an advocate for anarchy. She was arrested a lot and was involved (but not tried) in an attempted murder. She was apparently involved in gender-based political anarchism, though I didn’t know that existed. She died in Toronto, which is the only reason I can come up for her being included in the Vancouver version but not ours here in Texas.
  • *Chrystina Freeland – Canadian Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, appointed in 2017. Prior to that she was a journalist.
  • *Mary Robinson – President of Ireland in the ’90s. Since then, she’s been involved with human rights.
  • *Agnes Campbell Macphail – Canada’s 1st women in Parliament. She was a progressive.

Civil Rights

  • Rosa Parks – she who did not give up her seat on the bus


  • Melinda Gates – she’s surely done other things, but I suspect she was included for the Gates Foundation


  • Sojourner Truth – her bio is a lot more interesting than I recall from my elementary school textbooks (I’m sure she came up in some lecture in a college history class, but I honestly don’t recall it). Among other claims, she was the first former slave woman who sued to get her child back (out of slavery). I didn’t realize she became a Seventh-Day Adventist


  • Poly Styrene –  a punk rocker and perhaps a bit of an extremist, depending on your point of view
  • Pussy Riot – not a reference to the hats worn at January’s Women’s March, but a reference to a band from Russia that was talked about a bit a few years ago
  • #Rosetta Tharpe – a gospel and blues musician, who was influential in the starting days of rock & roll
  • Patti Smith – a punk rocker and poet, among other accomplishments
  • #Frederique Petrides – I was entirely unfamiliar with her. She was one of the first female conductors in the land of classical music
  • *Joni Mitchell – Canadian musician. Influential woman musician.
  • *K.D. Lang – another Canadian musician and activist for a variety of feminist, vegetarian, and LGBT causes

Nobel Prize Winners

  • Wangari Maathai – first female from Africa and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for her efforts in environmentalism and democratic rights
  • Malala Yousafzai – Pakistani. Youngest-ever Nobel laureate. Advocate of women attending school. The Taliban attempted to murder her but she recovered.

Pop Culture

  • Ellen – talk show host, comedian
  • Oprah – talk show host
  • Grace Jones – I know her from being a bad girl in a Bond movie. She was also a model, musician, and actress, somewhat known for her androgonous look
  • Khalida Popal – Afghanistan soccer player – notable because that country wasn’t really in favor of women playing soccer. Has since fled to safer environments.
  • Moms Mabley – stand up comedian from the era of the Ed Sullivan show. Edgy comedian for her day, and maybe for today (I don’t know).


  • These women, generally, were called out in one bunch (there were a few group photos in the montage — one of which was labelled Suffragettes). Only 3 specific names were also included:
  • Emily Wilding Davidson – British suffrage leader who had some extreme acts, particularly including arson and who died in a confusing way (by being run over by a race horse, during a race — spectators and contemporary commentators couldn’t agree on what happened there)
  • Edith Margaret Garrund – one of the (or the) first woman jui jitsu instructors. She used her skills to train women to be bodyguards to protect suffragettes (such as others connected to the organization she & Davidson were part of) from going back to jail, connected to an obscure law that allowed British jails to release women who were on a hunger strike, then re-arrest them later.
  • *Victoria Woodhull – American, ran for president in 1872 (though some people claim she wasn’t really a candidate considering she was too young to actually serve). Spiritualist and newspaper owner, among other businesses. I didn’t catch her name in the names we saw in Texas, but did see her on the Vancouver list. Odd.


  • Ieshia Evans – the woman in a long dress who was in a famous photo a year or two ago, standing up to some police in riot gear in Baton Rouge, after police shootings in Minneapolis
  • Saffiyah Khan – a woman caught in a photograph smiling at a protester from a British far-right group, and defending a woman wearing a hijab. Like the prior entry, she seems to be known just for being photographed at the right place and the right time
  • Connie Mendenda – an AIDS activist from Zambia
  • Nawal El Saadawi – an activist for various causes from Egypt. She seems to be a doctor who’s fought against FGM, oppressive fundamentalism, and for various feminist causes
  • Ruth Ellis – I’m not sure if they were referring to a British woman who killed her husband or an American LGTB advocate. I presume the later.
  • #Marsha P. Johnson – American drag queen and AIDS activist.
  • #Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook, and the closest this list gets to anything involving technology.
  • #Lena Dunham – contemporary actress who gained some political notoriety for claiming she’d move to Canada if Hillary wasn’t elected.

Authors or Playwrights (all of whom could be classified under other categories, but writing seems to be their main fame)

  • Maya Angelou – poet
  • Virginia Wolfe – who’s afraid of her?
  • Alice Walker – author of the Color Purple, not without some controversy
  • Aphra Behm – a playwright with an interesting bio
  • Simone De Beavoir – writer and philosopher
  • Begum Rokeya – I had no idea who she was — Bengali writer who advocated for more freedoms for women, particularly Muslim women seeking education
  • *bell hooks – A pen name that she wants spelled lower case. Feminist and intersectionalist feminist author.
  • *Caitlin Moran – British journalist who I’d put into the “very feminist” camp, though that’s not really a thing. She advocates for girls to not read any books written by men early in their lives, or perhaps ever

Groups of people, not identified individually

  • Match Girls Strike – strike in London in the 1880s for better working conditions
  • Sari Squad – group of mostly Asian women who defended London multicultural clubs in the 1980s. Resisted attacks against foreigners.
  • Women of Iceland 1975 – a women’s strike demanding better pay and treatment of women in the workforce
  • Women’s Land Army – British civilian organization where women worked in Ag so men could go to war
  • Women’s Army Corps – branch of the US Army, from WWII onwards a few decades
  • Women’s Airforce Service Pilots – just what their name implies. American. WWII era, primarily
  • Suffragettes – I couldn’t identify anything about the particular image shown, but the group was included generally

So, there you go. I’ll leave it to you to consider the impact of these people.

Wildflower 3 Part Cards

Indian Blanket.

I created a set of small printable 3-part cards for common (and a few not-so-common but beautiful) wildflowers of Central Texas.

It’s a very simple file — print 2 copies of the flower pages to use as 3-part cards or to play match or memory with younger kids. If your kids are just starting at identifying flowers, you might start with just the first page of photos (those are the easiest and most common in my experience).

Prepared 3 Part Cards for Texas Wildflowers

Find the FREE printable file here (PDF via google drive).
Updated 3/15)

On Our Shelves: Late February 2017

I try to refresh our shelves every few weeks — otherwise the kids and I get bored. Even small adjustments can bring renewed interest to an activity they had become bored with. (Often, I find that boredom means an activity is too easy.) Valentine’s Day is over, but my girls still want to talk about it — so we’re doing a few more Valentine’s related activities to finish out February.

Clockwise from upper left “God” sight reader, Germination Booklet, Valentine Tracing, Heart Puzzle, Balloon Blowing, Conversation Heart Graph, Heart Water Transfer, Grow Capsules and Art Box (center)


Added a sight word reader called “God Gave Us the Earth.” We’ll not use it so much for sight reading, but for identifying and correctly gluing the letters G-O-D where indicated.

Added a line-tracing activity with “V” for Valentine’s Day — in a dry-erase pocket with a dry-erase marker.

Practical Life

Added water-transfer into a heart-shaped ice cube tray. We used the same ice cube tray for a baking-soda and vinegar science experiment, too. (We’ve done that before.)

Balloon blowing. This was inspired by the girls’ recent birthday. I intend to add a mirror.

Grow capsules are always popular. We get a pitcher of hot water and use kitchen tools to stir the capsules as they dissolve.

Wooden Heart Puzzle. Grabbed this the day after Thanksgiving for 70% off at Target. It’s honestly a little too easy, but we’ll see how it goes. Paired with a sign saying “God is Love.”


Sorting conversation hearts by color, then graphing to find out how many of each were in the box.


Booklet about how a seed germinates, to go along with our gardening activities.

On Our Shelves: Early February 2017

(These on-our-shelves posts try to just show pictures of what we’ve got available. I love these kinds of posts on other blogs, so I try to show off ours. I try to add info about what each item cost to set up. The categories — Practical Life, Math, Language, and Sensorial — relate to a Montessori style, but I think you’ll see that most of these things are interesting from any educational philosophy.)

Practical Life

Clockwise from top: Sewing, Water Pouring, Bead Lacing, Open-Ended Art, Paper Chains, Scrubbing

Valentines, Red, and Hearts show up in a lot of activities this month.

  • Paper Chains. Glue Stick and Paper Strips (found on clearance last Valentine’s Day). Cost: $1.50
  • Open-Ended art with stickers, paper, glue, stampers, etc. Heart stickers (also on clearance last Valentine’s Day) and paper from Michael’s. Cost: $4 for enough stickers to last us many years.
  • Scrubbing. The kids love this activity whenever I refresh it with something new. I felt I’d gone overboard on hearts, so they’re actually scrubbing little airplanes this month. We added toothbrushes for a challenge.
  • Water Pouring: 1 to 3. The kids *love* when they get to pour water!
  • Sewing. We used a big needle and some embroidery floss to make heart art for Valentine’s Day. We also used the supplies with paper plates to sew hearts for our Valentine’s Cards for an exchange at the Library. For an open-ended activity, I have some wooden hearts and yarn that the girls can practice on.
  • Beading. Small box with cords and assorted beads. The small photo above shows it after all the heart beads were cleared out. One girl used letter beads to make her name.
  • Cleaning, Cooking, Laundry — all the good stuff we do regularly. 🙂


Clockwise from top left: Red Rods & Number Rods, Bead Stair & Teens Board, Count & Transfer, Memory Game
  • We’re working on several traditional Montessori-Math concepts right now — golden beads, bead stair, and teens board. We also still have our Spindle Box, Cards & Counters and Number Rods available. I made almost all of these myself. I’ll post about them little-by-little in coming months.
  • Counting & Transferring Pink Rocks. These are actually beads that fell off a necklace. I put them in a ramekin with a large dice. We play it independently or as a game — roll the die, count the pips, then move that many rocks with the wooden spoon. Kids both love it!
  • Memory Game. We’re playing the number memory game as a clean-up activity. For example — if you open the “3” maybe you get to find 3 dishes to put away, or if you open the “8” you get to find 8 pencils to sharpen and put back in the jar. It works really well! I really love getting the “0” 😉


Clockwise from upper left: Dwyer objects and labels in small drawer, double sandpaper letters & picture cards, single sandpaper letters and phonetic objects, movable alphabet, h/H heart game, valentine mail phonics game, shadow matching, vegetable cards
  • We have 3-Part-Cards about vegetables out right now. One girl mostly matches the pictures. I try to get her to look at the letters on the labels, and she can match them based on the starting letter. The other girl can read at a beginner’s level — but she, too, mostly just matches the labels based on the beginning letter.
  • Traditional language activities including Sandpaper Letters (singles and doubles) and Movable Alphabet (with Dwyer-style objects & cards).
  • One daughter doesn’t always prefer the traditional Montessori trays, but does love anything that feels like a game. For her, we’ve got a “game” where she has to place a red acrylic heart onto H or h letters and another where she has to match the beginning sound of some valentines mail.
  • Shadow matching with valentines-colored vehicles.


Bad photos of sound jars, scent jars, knobbed cylinders
  • Our DIY pink tower is in for repairs (needed glue — more on that some day) but we’ve still loving our (purchased) knobbed cylinders. The scent jars are out, also, but they’re not getting much use.
  • I put sound jars out again, after a long delay. Last time, the girls didn’t get it. Now, they do! Success! Ours are made from pill bottles — filled with popcorn, beads, or bells.


Love Poster
  • We recently added a Daily Weather/Activity chart (found for $3 at Target). It has sections for weather, what to wear, activities, etc. and magnets to correspond. I like it pretty well, but I’ll be tweaking it in the months to come. Right now, we use it to check the daily weather and what we need to take with us when we leave the house.
  • Gardening: It’s a mild winter here in Central Texas so we risked it and planted some seeds directly into our garden recently. The girls each have their own small planter box where they’ve planted snap peas, carrots, and phlox. (With room to add something else later.) Indoors, we’ve stated basil, sensitivity fern, and pumpkins — including pumpkin seeds in a glass jar so we can watch the seed grow.
  • 1 Corinthians Love Poster: I printed and cut a few sheets of paper, then we glued them onto a poster and talked about what it means to love others.


I didn’t total up all the costs this month, but it was very much on a small budget — I think I spent around $10 on valentines theme items, and the rest was from my stash of craft supplies. I only printed a few sheets of paper, and only laminated a couple. The art supplies for making valentine’s cards and the supplies for planting the garden would have been the biggest expenses — though I tend to chalk those up to general living.

See you back later this month for a refresh of the shelves, I hope!