Unschooling: Our December 2016 adventures, a little late

Welcome to 2017, everyone! The new year marks our sixth calendar year as homeschooling bloggers, which seems really weird to me. It doesn’t look like I’ll be any better at regular postings in 2017, based on the fact that it’s taken half a month to do last month’s roundup, but hey, maybe I’ll surprise you! I really do like sharing our family’s lives, even if it’s not the most frequent. (And you can always find me on Instagram and Facebook if you want to see more!)

Ashar makes all kinds of art and gives it as gifts. Kaitlyn’s parents, at left, got a collage of winter scenes so they can remember what a Pennsylvania winter is like back home in the desert. Dave, Kaitlyn’s brother, got what Ashar calls a “painting frame” for a favorite saying of his – done in Seahawks colors, as he’s a huge Hawks fan.

If you’re new to seeing our days recapped in this format, check out our archive of previous wrapups here for some more info on why we take this approach and some other highlights of our adventures.

Christmas things

Our Christmas this year was excellent. Kaitlyn’s parents, Paul and JoAnn, and her brother, Dave, came to visit from Arizona, along with their dogs, Sadie and Sassy. Then, right after Christmas, my brother (also Dave) came (also from Arizona) to surprise my mom, along with his son. Other than the name confusion, it was a house full of family fun. Chris had the honor of cooking the Christmas turkey and did an amazing job, especially considering… he’s a vegetarian!

Another of Ashar’s projects in December was making gingerbread men. This one “got tangled in the Christmas lights,” she said.

We always do an advent calendar of small gifts for Ashar leading up to Christmas, and for the past few years we’ve put clues in the pockets of the calendar that lead to a surprise. (This is the same Avon advent calendar with a mouse that I grew up with.) We did Christmas-themed trivia this year, and used a true-or-false theme like we do in the family trivia game I talked about last month. So there would be a statement, like “Oklahoma was the first state to make Christmas a legal holiday,” then a note that said “If this is true, look for your gift near a large map. If this is false, look for your gift near a small map.” (That one’s false. That’s a freebie.)

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, it's because we really do believe in the book or item!
This year, we chose to spend most of our “gift” money helping as many good causes as possible. We adopted 5 kids through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, bought some coats for kids who needed them, got a Christmas tree and ornaments for a family that didn’t have any, paid for dinner for an older man in a diner, gave generously to Toys for Tots, sent stuffed pengins across the country, helped pay for a new roof at my mom’s church and more.

Another gingerbread project: Making a gingerbread train from a kit. The back car of the train carried two trees, which Ashar and Snowball Pengin are decorating here.

That said, we still had some neat gifts. I gave my mom an AncestryDNA kit; we’re still waiting for her results, and mine just came back from testing that I did just after Thanksgiving! (Hint: Ashar is excited because we can now confirm SHE’S BRITISH.) That also gave us a cool opportunity to talk about how DNA testing works, what DNA can and can’t tell us, and things like that.

Ashar’s top gifts received were her new drone (from my mom) and her new jeans (from Kaitlyn’s parents). Her favorite gifts given were the handmade pieces of art she worked hard on for everyone! My favorite gift received was a set of three-pronged forks from Kaitlyn; if you think forks should have four prongs, you’re just wrong.

This “painting frame” was a gift for my mom from Sarah.

Good things

We started a family tradition at the beginning of 2015, where we have a jar in the middle of our kitchen table labeled “Good Things” and a box of small slips of cardstock and pens next to it. Each member of the family is invited to share the good things that happen to them, big or small, by writing them down and putting them in the jar.

Then, at the end of the year, we all sit down as a family and take turns reading the good things aloud!

On the last night of 2016 when everyone was home (I think Dec. 28 or so), we did our readings, and came up with a total for the year of 209 good things. It was awesome! (My favorite: “You are my good thing. To: Mom. From: Sarah.”)

Our Good Things project is awesome. The five members of our family (plus occasional entries from some visitors) came up with 209 good things for 2016!

Steel City Con

Ashar’s big pre-Christmas gift from Chris, Kaitlyn and I was a trip for the four of us to Steel City Con, a good-sized Con in Pittsburgh that we’ve been to a few times.

Highlights here: Ashar got the autographs of two members of the cast of The Walking Dead, her current favorite show. She met and got her photo taken with Josh McDermitt (who plays Eugene) and Michael Cudlitz (who played Abraham). We had a great time! (My favorite part of Steel City is always checking out the amazing art booths, and I was able to get a bunch of Christmas presents there too.)


Another of Ashar’s top Christmas gifts was Hamiliton: The Revolution, which she’s been reading for hours while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.

She’s also rediscovered her love for R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series thanks to a jigsaw puzzle of Goosebumps covers she got as a gift (and which we put together, glued and hung on her wall). She also received as a gift and read almost all of Ripley’s Believe it or Not 2017.

On a more challenging note, she’s decided to dig in to Dante’s Inferno and is doing an admirable job wading through that tough piece of literature. (We talk about it as she goes, which really helps.) She also got the graphic novel version for Christmas, which I think will help it sink in even more.

Ashar’s Goosebumps jigsaw puzzle was a hit! (She then went back and read or reread several of the books pictured!)

Movies and TV

A special note for our newer readers: I’d love for you to check out our post on learning from movies and TV shows. It really explains a lot about why we are such fans!

Here’s a look at some of what we watched this month besides, obviously, The Walking Dead:

Sarah. Josh McDermitt of The Walking Dead. Serious happiness. (Also, she actually saved that plaid shirt she’s wearing and framed it.)

Video, board and card games

Our gaming was a bit different in December, because Ashar traded in her PS3 to start working on getting credit to put toward a PS4. (She’s not quite there yet, but by the time her birthday comes in March, she should have enough!) So we played more app-based games, spent time on Steam and enjoyed our family game nights.

Steep was a snowboarding Steam game that Kaitlyn and Ashar enjoyed together, and Ashar and I kept challenging each other in QuizUp. We also had a good time playing Apples to Apples and Family Feud with our visitors.

Universal Yums

One of the coolest presents I got to give was a family subscription to Universal Yums, a subscription box that sends snacks from a different country each month. Our December box got wrapped and put on the tree, and when it turned out it was from one of Ashar’s favorite countries, Germany, that was even cooler!

We had a great time trying the snacks, as well as reading the German trivia and listening to the German music playlist through the website! Verdict: German Oreos = amazing. German “russisch brot” cookies = excellent. German peanut curls (think cheese curls, but, uh, peanut-flavored) = maybe a taste we haven’t yet acquired.

I’m not in any way an affiliate of Universal Yums, but I can definitely HIGHLY recommend it. Our second box came today as I’m writing this, and I can’t wait to report on it next month. You can definitely look forward to hearing more about this in our roundups as long as our subscription continues!

Here is Ashar opening our first Universal Yums box. One of our favorite parts was that the tissue paper covering it made the German flag!

Unschooling places, projects and odds and ends

The weight of a cow: NO idea how we got onto this, but somehow Ashar ended up digging around to find out how much a cow weighs and how much meat you get from it. Learn something new every day.

French things: Ashar is still fascinated by French, so we got lucky when the free lesson in the Christmas Around the World Online Unit Study was about Christmas in France. We also did some more Duolingo French.

Cultural geography: That’s a fancy way of saying we’re always interested in learning about other places. Things we explored this month included world population comparisons and the tallest buildings in the world.

So what’s new with your family this month? Drop me a comment! I love hearing from all my “blog friends!”

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4 thoughts on “Unschooling: Our December 2016 adventures, a little late

  1. Sounds like you guys were very busy. We got boxes from Try the World, which is similar to your snack bo x es but it’s a meal. They were fun, but we got backed up on them, which probably won’t happen with a snack box. ☺

    • Oh, I never heard of that one, Phyllis! That sounds neat but I feel like we’d have the same issue. The nice thing with snacks, too, is there’s such a mix of a few of this and a few of that, that even our pickiest eaters can find something they like (which was a concern!) Hope you have been having a good month… I am so behind on checking in on all of my blog friends lately!

  2. An Ancestry.com DNA story, but first a little background: I converted to Judaism before I married by husband 21 years ago. That involved a year of study, a VERY cranky Hebrew tutor, and doing a ritual bath (including having to dunk my head under the water, which I hate—and then the Rabbi made me so it again, because the elderly ladies who were supervising me said not all of my head went under!!). So it was a big deal. Flash forward to Christmas 2015 when my sister gave our mother the gift of the Ancestry.com DNA test. It turns out, my mom is actually 3 – 5% Jewish, which means my sister and I are 1 – 3% Jewish, and I could have avoided the whole conversion thing. 😉 Of course we don’t know exactly where the Jewish blood came from, but my mother’s parents were German and we’re thinking it must have been from her mother’s side, from Ulm, the Jewish community where Einstein was born. (Her dad came from a small village in SW Germany where there weren’t any Jews.) Your German snacks sound good, although I’m not a big fan of the peanut things either. I spent a lot of time in Germany and Austria when I was young—I gained 15 pounds in 3 months working there one summer. 🙂 Lastly, I love the Goosebumps puzzle. My son loved those when he was about 9, the “Night of the Living Dummy” one on the bottom one of the puzzle was the first one he ever read, then he was hooked. Now he’s 15-1/2 and doesn’t read fiction any more (to my dismay) but he’s reading online all the time. And of course part of being unschoolers means I don’t force him to read what I think he should! Does Sarah play Dead by Daylight? That’s been his obsession since August or so.

    • That is an AWESOME story. In my case (and you’ll hear lots more about this next month), I was adopted at birth so I have my “assumed heritage” – which is that I tell people I’m Irish and Italian because my adoptive parents are and it’s just easier – but then it turns out I’m pretty close to that anyway (more British than Irish, and less Italian, but still somewhat!)

      I cannot even imagine all the amazing food living abroad. I’d gain WAY more than 15 pounds!!

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