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.
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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.

Thanksgiving Music Playlist

          When I choose music for a Thanksgiving playlist a couple of things are at play- theme and feel. I search for songs that deal with the theme of “thanks” for sure, but I also try to choose some of the classic American music of the past, like The Platters or Elvis’ gospel music or Bing Crosby. The result is a warm sounding, roots kind of playlist with lots of gratitude in the lyrics.

Now Thank We All Our God • Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Amazing Grace  • Elvis Presley
Give Thanks  • The Platters
A Mighty Fortress is Our God  • Chris Rice
Shenandoah  • Chanticleer
Homeward Bound  • Simon & Garfunkel
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving  • Vince Guaraldi Trio

I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For • Bing Crosby

One Voice  • The Wailin’ Jennys
We Gather Together  • Quicny Choral Society


Photo from Wes Bruce –


A friend of mine holds onto several mantras for his life. He repeats these phrases and has let them take hold as best he can.
It made Betony and I begin to ask ourselves, what are our own mantras? What are the sayings that stay with us or that we keep coming back to or that we need to keep reminding ourselves of?

Here are just some of the mantras we’ve adopted. What are yours?

Always be kind,
for everyone is
fighting a great battle.

Be Open to Whatever
Comes Next

The world will never
lack for wonders;
only wonder.


Live a Better STORY

Love God, love people


Wonders of Your City


What are the wonders of the area in which you live? Sometimes just recognizing the great places in your town, whether they’re restaurants, museums, natural wonders, or events can reinvigorate love for your home. The question we’ve been asking ourselves as we put our list together is, “Where would we take someone if they were visiting? or just moved here?”

Perhaps post a poll online for your local Facebook friends and come up with a list of 7 or 8 for your own city. Make a point to visit each of those places this month. Take some pictures and use the hashtag #wondersofmycity

For our 7 Wonders of Greeley, Colorado we had to split it into three different categories: places, events, and restaurants! These are places both very popular in our town, but then also have sentimental value to us:


1. Centenial Village (the hidden gem of Greeley where Betony and I were married!)

2. Glenmere Park (and it’s secret bird sanctuary)

3. Kress Cinema (a renovated, art deco experience)

4. UNC Central Campus (giant trees and an outdoor amphitheater to explore)

5. The Greeley Train Museum (one of the largest in the US)

6. Poudre River & Sheep Draw Trails (wide biking lanes through true Colorado plains habitats)

7. The Moxi (a high-ceiling space just for music and night-life worth catching a great show at)


1. Block Party

2. Greeley Stampede

3. Potato Days

4. Greeley Chataqua

5. Baby Animal Days

6. Father Daughter Dance

7. July Concerts in the Park


1. John Galt & Blue Mug (Betony and I’s favorite places to sit and be together)

2.. Alberto’s Breakfast Burrito (THIS is an institutionalized Greeley breakfast event)

3. The Rio (great building and large margaritas)

4. JB’s (a diner who’s most recent re-branding happened in 1972. Carpet on the walls and framed velvet clown paintings, people. It’s amazing.)

5. Sushi One (our go to date night place)

6. El Poblito (the undiscovered champion on this list)

7. Roma (the college experience with bazooka beers and a 45 minute wait for cheap and delicious pizza)

Road Trip Games

For those of you road-tripping this summer here’s some game suggestions for the car! Several are listed here. Also if you love casino gambling, visit now and you might find something that interests you. Comment below if you’ve got some more.

The first one below comes from a night Betony and I were at a restaurant and our waiter gave us this game. It was really fun to try to figure them all out.

Three-Letter Body

Name 10 Common Body Parts that are three letters long:











The iPod Shuffle

The modern person’s “Name that Tune”. Put your iPod on shuffle and see who can guess the song fastest. Take turns using different iPods to avoid advantages.

Daring Hang Man

Smashing two favorites into one

game. Whoever loses the hangman

round must take a “truth or dare”

from the car!

Memorize a Poem or Rap

To pass the time in a car ride my wife would choose a rap song and memorize the whole thing. When we first met she had several charts she could perform. It was one of the many things that won me over about her.

Choose a rap song or a poem and repeat it over and over (perhaps put it on repeat?)

License Plate Decoder

Pretend that every license plate is a personalized message and decode it. “HDR 732″ might stand for “Hairdresser Diva Roller-derby, 7 days a week, 32 hours a day.”

Road Trip Game: Banana

Look around until you find a yellow colored vehicle. Shout “BANANA!” when you notice a one. If you don’t, it does not count, and someone else can call it. Whomever gets the most points is declared the “Top Banana”.

Other Road Trip Games: 

Twenty Q’s

I Spy


I’m Going on a Picnic and…

Alphabet Game (can be played with signs, animals, cars, etc.)

License Plate Game (try to find all 50 states)

Telling your favorite jokes


The Quiet Game

Pick a letter and a topic: what songs, movies, other things come up?

The Cow Counting Game (and you lose your cows if you go by a graveyard…)

Truth or Truther: Like Truth or Dare except you are opening up for REALLY personal questions. Good to play late into the night with close friends willing to become closer.

Road Trip Game: Squares on Dots


Each person gets to draw one line, dot to dot (only vertical or horizontal) at a time. When your line completes a square put your initial inside it (and you get to go again!) The person with the most squares wins.

July Playlist: Road Trip Songs

This was a really fun playlist to put together. A longer (much longer) version of it is on our Spotify (look up Betony Coons). Enjoy hitting the road this summer!

On the Road Again Willie Nelson
Here I Go Again Whitesnake
I’ve Been Everywhere Johnny Cash
Take Me Home, Country Roads John Denver
Life is a Highway Tom Cochrane
Can’t You See The Marshall Tucker Band
Joyride Roxette
Ride Like the Wind Christopher Cross
Song for the Road David Ford
Jerry was a Race Car Driver Primus
I Can’t Drive 55 Sammy Hagar
Route 66 Chuck Berry

July 4th Playlist

American classics and bits of musical Americana to ignite your summer

Stars & Stripes Forever John Phillip Sousa

This Land is Your Land Woody Guthrie

America the Beautiful Ray Charles

Party in the USA Miley Cyrus

American Girl Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

America Simon and Garfunkel

Born in the U.S.A. Bruce Springsteen

American Pie Don McLean

America West Side Story

Firework Katie Perry

Living in America James Brown

Star Spangled Banner (Live at Woodstock) Jimi Hendrix

May Playlist: “School’s Out Forever!”

During this time of year I still go to songs that shout out
lyrics like “School’s out forever!” It reminds me of the blessing of those educational years and makes me thankful I’m not sitting in class anymore. Here’s a playlist celebrating everything heading to summer.


School’s Out • Alice Cooper
Another Brick in the Wall • Pink Floyd
Good Riddance • Green Day
In the End • Linkin Park
Pomp & Circumstance • USAF Heritage of American Band
Graduation • Vitamin C
Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen • Baz Luhrmann
Friday • Rebecca Black
Be Chrool to Your Scuel • Twisted Sister
Bitter Sweet Symphony • The Verve
We Are the Champions • Queen
Summertime  • Bon Jovi
Summertime  • DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Freebird  • Leonard Skynard
Are You Ready for the Summer?  • Meatballs Movie Soundtrack
Compass  • Lady Antebellum
We Go Together  • Grease Soundtrack
Shut Up and Let Me Go  • The Ting Tings