Introducing Giants & Pilgrims ABACUS: a creative home curriculum centered on a monthly theme!

I’m so excited to introduce one of Giants & Pilgrims new projects for 2015: ABACUS
Creative home curriculum centered on a monthly theme.

Isn’t that a fun word? Abacus. One of the things I have wanted to do for a while is to come up with a list of themed activities to center our home study/projects around. As a stay at home mom, I feel like our lives and days can get so scattered. Just this morning, in the course of 10 minutes I was asked 53 different questions. I seriously started counting. Can I have chocolate milk? Can I have two cereals? I want a cup! Can you pick me up? It’s amazing how much of an energy-drain parenting can be at times. Sometimes just getting everyone dressed and fed uses up all the energy I have. Trying to come up with creative engaging activities in addition to the normal chaos of life can feel like too much.

But, we want to live “the good life”. I want to tell a better story with our days. For me, ABACUS will be about focusing our projects and days into a cohesive journey. It’s about tying all the little bits and pieces together to create something beautiful.

The second inspiration for this project was my sister, Katie. She and her beautiful family, who we love so much, live in Canada- way too far away to visit as often as we would like. She is homeschooling her kids (Luca 5, Rose 3, and Remi 1). We wanted to find a way to connect as families and sisters by sharing our activity experiences. So, the idea of Abacus was born.

Essentially, the plan is this. Each month we will pick a theme and then create a whole list of activities that correspond to it – which will also coordinate with our Almanac theme. This first month’s theme is “Mountain.”

As we brainstorm our whole list of activities that correspond to the theme – hopefully you’ll add ideas as well on our new facebook page. We will publish a whole list for you to use however you see fit. For our family, we will be hanging a poster of the list with check marks in our family room. As we need activities to focus our days, we will choose projects off the list. No need to try to do everything, and they do not need to be completed in any particular order. Essentially, these are meant to be project “sparks.”

Finally, as an explorer of the world. I want to come along side my kids. I want to get excited about what we are working on and playing with together. So, within this list are some items and things that are for me (and parents). I’ve included books like “Into Thin Air” and “Born to Run” on our Mountain curriculum for myself, which have been on my reading list for a while. I plan on reading these during the month as my own little “Mountain” study.

Another piece that as a teacher I believe is very important is the journal. We’re calling these Adventure Logs! Starting this month, we bought simple blank sketchbooks for the kids. I keep these separate from the rest of their collection of notebooks and papers, because they are special. Any time we do something off the list, I try to incorporate a journal activity or reflection. So far its looked like sketches of mountains, Lucy’s visual interpretation of “the hall of the mountain king”, and a sketch of her pattern for a mountain pillow. Harriet’s has a page of practicing drawing “J’s” for “January. We make sure to date each entry. My hope is that these will be great pieces to come back to and remember our adventures by.

Oh, and one last thing. I made a sweet pinterest board to keep track of some of the fun, Mountain-themed projects I have come across in my research.

Ready to get started? Here is the first list –  
January 2015 “Mountain”

Abacus: Mountain – Creative Curriculum List for January

Read all about how to use this list and our heart behind this project here.

And, here is a sweet pinterest board I put together with lots of project ideas and inspiration

Mountain list_small



The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Sound of Music

The Unsinkable Molly Brown

Mountains from Planet Earth



In the Hall of the Mountain King by Edvard Grieg

Rocky Mountain High by John Denver

America the Beautiful





Rock Collecting/ identifying rock-types

Making Egg Geodes

Breaking Geodes

Volcano Making

Elevation Maps

Examining rocks under a microscope- sugar vs salt, etc.


Art & Craft:

Plastic wrap and tape mountain paintings

Build Mountain Shelves

Mountain Pillow Sewing

Painting mountains

Torn Paper mountain Range Stencils

Carving rock stamps


In the Kitchen:

Haystack cookies (we’ll call them Mountain cookies!)


Heidi by Johanna Spyri

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


Listen to our Mountain spotify mix

Download our January desktop wallpaper


Mountain Shaped Poems

Journal Keeping/Adventure Logs


Here is a printable pdf of our little chart we made for ourselves: 

Mountain list

The Odd & Random “Best of 2014” List

Betony and I have been loving the “best of” lists for 2014. It’s fun to see summations and high-lights of an entire year. It’s like distilling a story into a brilliant, concise single sentence.

We started thinking about our own favorites of the year. They ended up being strange bits and pieces of the good life we’ve been (and always are) discovering. So here now is the “best of 2014” list as curated by Giants & Pilgrims:

BEST SMELL of 2014:

This year I found my signature scent. Go ahead. Laugh at that ridiculous sentence.

But I have friends that always smell a certain way. Truly, specific colognes or Bath & Body Works lotions will always remind me of  various people. I’ve been on the search for a cologne that I could wear as my own, but each name brand I’ve tried never quite feel like me. Then I discovered Portland General Store.

Portland General Store are out of Maine and specialize in homemade men’s colognes and shaving items. Sounds like a disastrous business plan to me. But I ordered an expense cologne sampler regardless.

I cannot believe how awesome these smells are. They come in great marketing names like “tobacco, whiskey, farmer, saltwater, professor”. And they smell amazing- smokey, fresh, with a manly depth. That’s the way I want to smell. But best of all, Betony loves the scents too.

BEST PASTA of 2014:

This category could also be “best new restaurant find”. Betony and I had heard good things about Pellegrini’s Italian but had never been. It ended up being a magical date night there. Our favorite dish was the BOSCAIOLA- a house-made pappardelle pasta sautéed in white cream sauce with Cremini mushrooms, home-made sausage and tomato. There’s several words in that sentence that I don’t know. I just know I want to put them in my mouth.

We’ve been back several times since. If you’re around Greeley, CO you should hit it up too!


Every line from The Grand Budapest Hotel’s Monsieur “Gustave H.” wins this category we just made up.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson, gave Betony and I something rare- big laughs that also made us feel smart and cultured because we felt like we “got it”.

But seriously, watching this movie brought such joy. There was real variety in the comedy- from funny one-liners:

Gustave H. (played by Ralph Fiennes) to a dead, ex-lover-

“You’re looking so well, darling, you really are… they’ve done a marvelous job. I don’t know what sort of cream they’ve put on you down at the morgue, but… I want some.”

to random:
seeing an old man’s bare behind getting pelted with hot water in the hotel’s basement hot springs… for no real reason. This movie was really, truly funny.


The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak! Lucy chose this one. She requests this book be read to her serval times a day… by any individuals she comes across.

It’s a clever and funny book. My favorite part is the hippopotamus named “Boo Boo Butt” part.


This one doesn’t go to Serial. Hahaha.

It goes to “The Liturgists” Podcast put on my Science Mike, Michael Gungor and various guests. They take on different subjects through the lens of art, science, and faith. I’ve loved each hour-long episode produced and find myself tearing up often as they explore some of the deep issues close to my heart.

I say this with some gravity that no book, sermon series, song or media has enriched my faith more this year than this podcast!


Wonder by R.J. Palacio is a Young Adult book about a middle school boy with a facial deformity. It is mostly written from the boy’s perspective, but it also jumps into first person accounts from other characters in the story. One of my favorite quotes is “Always be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” For me, this book captures that idea beautifully. It showcases that as humans we are more good than bad, more light than dark. (The fact that it has a perfect 5 stars on Amazon speaks for itself).


Monument Valley is so beautiful and fun and artistic and creative. It was named the number one game from Apple this year! You are Ida, a forgotten princess, who makes her way through the ancient monuments of men- which are crazy, M. C. Escher-like, perspective puzzles.

The rule was, as we played it, we had to play as a family. No one was allowed to sneak playing the next level without ALL of us watching. We got the iPad out and only played with all four of us (baby Bea was uninterested) crowded around it. It became a really wonderfully family activity.

BEST LIQUOR of 2014:

Every Thanksgiving I try to make a new, creative cocktail to go with the feast. This year I mixed a “martinez”, which is a play on a martini, using sweet vermouth rather than dry. But the recipe I used called for Maraschino liqueur. I immediately thought about the gross, fake red things put on top of sundaes. I was oh, so wrong.

Maraschino liqueur, made by Luxado and imported from Croatia is bright, clear and complex and is woody and sweet with hints of creamy cherry. It’s now become one of those “secret weapon” ingredients that surprise the mouths of those we have over for dinner.


Betony and I were extremely blessed to get to go to Iceland this year for our 10 year anniversary. We had been there several days and seen wonder after wonder. (I’ve told people it’s like a harsh middle-earth: foreign and brutal, from another realm.) We’d experienced geysers and continental divides and lobster soup. Then we accidentally ran into this waterfall, the second accidental waterfall find of the day.

Skogafoss is what it’s called. It’s massive and, as Iceland doesn’t really worry about hazard ropes anywhere, you could walk right up to it’s base.

As the roar and noise and mist rose over me I had this great sense of how small I am and how immense the nature, life, love, God, power, and blessings that I get to witness are. I felt poured into in such tremendous ways.

I’ve called it BEST WATERFALL but I could also say BEST SPIRITUAL MOMENT of 2014 as well.
Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Where would your awards go to for that category? What odd categories would you make up to highlight interesting things in your life? Feel free to leave comments below and add to our “best of” list.

January 2015 Desktop and Phone Wallpaper

I am excited to have a year of making desktop wallpaper for computers and phones again. I took a break from these in 2014 and I missed it. For me it is a great excuse to refresh and renew my digital workspaces. These funky mountains are from a fun kids/mom painting morning where we just enjoyed being home, having a peaceful time creating together with no plans or expectations. If you are looking for some more January inspiration and sparks, here is a beautiful Poem written by Tim called Begin, a recipe for my favorite New Years soup, and a downloadable pdf of crochet snowflakes that make lovely banners or cutouts. Happy January!


iPhone wallpaper:

iphone january_4

Click small image below to view large size file.
Desktop Wallpaper

Mountain desktop_v4

The Practice of Remembering a Year




hattie in snow


I LOVE the first week of January.

Very rarely do you get such a strong overlap of everything ending and at the same time, beginning. It’s captured in that moment of Midnight on New Years Eve. Then the week that follows is filled with putting away ALL those decorations and presents (and definitely turning off all the Christmas music) while the paper and pen is out to fill the blank page of the year to come.

The Calvin and Hobbes comic above is one of my favorites because of just that. It’s the last one that the brilliant cartoonist, Bill Watterson, ever did for the Calvin and Hobbes series. But it gives you the sense that at this ending, everything is just beginning. The real adventure for both Calvin and Hobbes will continue on.


Betony and I have a tradition that we’ve done, I believe, as long as we’ve been a married couple. (So, ten some years?) Before we jump into the planning and dreams of the next year, we spend time remembering the previous one.

We really take our time with it. In year’s past we did this practice right at midnight on New Years Eve. After having kids it’s now usually on the drive home from visiting family. Regardless, we give ourselves an hour or two to really dig in.

We start in January and begin asking questions,

“Ok, where were we last year on New Years? What were we doing? What special events were happening that January? Who were we hanging out with? What happened?”

This year we used Instagram as our crutch to jog our memories (in other years we’ve pulled out planners). We moved to February then all the way to December. We recalled our Iceland trip, the concerts and tours, starting new jobs, special meals, our small group times, when Hattie hurt her leg, Betony finishing the library mural, the birth of baby Bea… It was SO good to remember this intensely special time.

We look forward to doing this every year. Often, in remembering, the most cherished moments of the year are brought to mind, dusted off, and enrich our understanding of just how sweet life really is. The stepping back and recalling the past reminds us of just how blessed we are. It helps us feel centered in who we are and what we’re doing as a family.

And when the hard times are remembered, we’re surprised by how much those difficult seasons have shaped us or led us to better places. That can be seen when it’s hindsight much more easily.

So allow me to suggest this practice to you: Take time to remember you year. Really give yourself time to do it. Recall the good and the bad and let this remembering enrich and center you, teach you, and remind you of how sweet life can be. Let it all shape you as you take on the magical world to come.

Tim Coons
Giants & Pilgrims