Friday, August 29, 2014

8 Things I Learned in August

8 Things I Learned in August

1) A frisbee is a mess-free (and stress-free) way for a little girl to learn to paint her own toenails.  It started out as laziness.  Alaine grabbed a bottle of  nail polish and I grabbed the closest thing I could reach without having to get up.  It turned out to be genius.

2) I learned to make a frittata.  I've never made a successful omelet in my life, but I don't need to learn now because this was better.  I made ours with potato and bacon, but I want to experiment with other add-ins.

3) In the movie Felicity: an American Girl Adventure (which was released in 2005), Felicity is played by a very young, Shailene Woodley, who now stars in Divergent and The Truth in Our Stars.

4) The American way to pronounce Vincent Van Gogh's name is incorrect.  Instead of saying it like "van go," it is pronounced  "van gokh"  with a  gutteral, back-of-the-throat, kind of yucky sound. 

5) I finally got around to starting my own batch of vanilla.  Brian and I put it together on a Saturday morning and I left the bottle on the counter the next day when we hosted a small family birthday party for Maddie and Owen.  It sparked a discussion on various varieties of alcohol so while the kids all played in the next room, the adults learned that vodka is made from potatoes, gin from juniper berries, rum from sugar cane, and whiskey from corn.

6) I learned more about the inner workings of an Apple iPod than I ever wanted to know...and all for naught. During a morning run, the volume up button stopped working on my iPod nano.  In all the fiddling and experimenting I did to try to get it working again, I ended up with the volume all the way down with no sound at all.  We don't have a local Apple store and no other shops in town will repair Apple products so Brian and I decided to do it ourselves. 

I followed an online tutorial which had me melting the glue from the face and prying it up with a knife to get to the mechanisms.  Then using the tiniest screwdriver imaginable, tweezers, and a set of needle nose pliers, Brian did a series tinkerings and repairs.  Hunched over the iPod for several hours, he ended up with a headache and a kink in his neck before realizing that the problem was not repairable.

7) I've been experimenting with small batch canning.  I started with dill pickles and moved on to peach jam and pear caramel sauce. In the process, I learned how to sterilize jars, what head space means, how to blanch peaches to remove the skin, and how to do a water bath to sterilize and seal the finished product.

8) After making a salad for a family party, I had about a cup of leftover kale so I decided to try my hand at a green smoothie. I used plain yogurt, milk, frozen bananas, peanut butter, and kale.  All seven of us had a sample, but only the youngest two and I were converts.

What have you learned this month?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

real life: a new blog series

When I wrote  31 Days for the Struggling Mama in October 2011, I included a weekend feature of photos that illustrated my "real life."  It was not a glossy, smiley, arranged life, but candid snapshots of what life looked like in the everyday: messy house, noisy singing, dishes in the sink, mischievous antics, cranky days and happy ones, too.

I want to bring that series back for the month of September and I want to invite you to join me.

Each Wednesday in September, I'll post a "real life" photo like the one below and I will include a place for you to link up your "real life" photos, too.  Join me starting next week, Wednesday, September 3.

To view the original feature from 2011:

Monday, August 25, 2014

Writing Prompts (a printable for the new school year)

With three weeks behind us in this new school year, I'm discovering what works for us and what needs some tweaking. I'm all about making the days run smoothly while conserving our time and energy. 

I've found that it helps to knock out spelling, grammar, and writing in a single activity.  We save time with this method. Plus, the way I look at it, it is more effective than learning the subjects separately.  (When do you ever encounter a spelling list in your adult life?)

I created a set of  Check-off Writing Prompts for my three oldest children (ages 11, 10, and 8). Each child keeps their checklists in a folder with a bunch of loose-leaf notebook paper.  When it's time to write, they choose any question off of the list, write down their answer, and then check off the question to be sure they don't repeat it another week.  

When they finish, they turn their paper into me to make notes on spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  The next day we work through it together to make corrections.  Sometimes I ask them to copy it over and make a final draft, sometimes not.

Does this sound like something that would benefit your kids or that they would enjoy?   
Download your own set of Check-off Writing Prompts by clicking here.


This is our second year of using writing prompts in our homeschool. To access the writing prompts I created last year, click here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

We Draw Animals Tutorial

We finished our third week of school today.  Dare I say we are starting to find our groove? 

I've mentioned to several people this year that if I could somehow find a way to incorporate art into every subject, maybe Gavin would learn to love school... or at least stop complaining about it.  He gets bogged down by math (even though he excels at it) and he couldn't care less about spelling, but the boy loves to draw! 

One of the things we are doing for science this year is  reading our way through The Burgess Bird Book for Children {Amazon affiliate link}.  We read a chapter, or sometimes two, a week, then look at photos of the featured bird in a variety of nature guides.  On a separate day, the kids sketch that week's bird in their nature notebooks. 

When Kathy from We Draw Animals contacted me about creating a how-to-draw tutorial for my blog, I was excited.  My kids love the how-to-draw books they find at the library, but this tutorial would be especially tailored to what they are learning and doing in school every week. 

Kathy designed a hawk tutorial for me (scroll down to see the 6 easy steps), but the website has hundreds of animal to choose from including a section devoted to how to draw birds.  I love that each tutorial on the website is prefaced by a short science lesson with bulleted facts about the animal. And the best part?  Everything on the website is free! A free eBook is also available for download and I've included the link below.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Books About Real People

Most of the country is preparing for a return to school or already hard at work, but learning doesn't have to be a bore! This is a fun list of books about real people.  {I'm not calling these biographies because each of these books reads like a story.}

Honorable Mention
These books are also worth considering:  


For even more stories about real people,  I compiled another list 2 summers ago featuring books on famous (and not-so famous) naturalists: Nature Study For the Non-Outdoorsy Type

Monday, August 18, 2014

On Facebook

Did you know that my blog has a Facebook page where I share photos, ask questions, and expand what I write about on the blog. It's a place that is less one-sided and more conversational. I love that!

What could you be missing?

I have my doubts about one of them.

After this post on the blog, we talked sandwich ideas on Facebook.
Then I posted a photo of this which my kids have requested again.
Here is another alternative.

I shared this photo when I came home from the library and asked which one I should start first. 
(I went with the one on top!)

It's not all about books. I came late to the party on a favorite TV show and now I'm binge-watching because I'm hooked. 
I'm up to Season 4 now.

I would love to see my community grow so we can have more conversations like the ones we've had this summer:

Today is my 34th birthday and tonight I plan to post a photo of what one of my kids is doing as a special treat for me!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The {Not} Summer Reading Program

Earlier in the summer, I asked my readers via my Facebook page (and also my personal Facebook page) to recommend books for my kids to read independently.  I was looking for books that would be fun to read but also stretch their minds. 

The suggestions started...and kept coming and coming! 

After researching and looking up titles, after following links and reading reviews, I settled on books for each of my independent readers.

I tailored each list to the child's reading level, age, gender, and interests, though there is some overlap of books between lists. I am calling it our Not Summer Reading Program because I plan to give them their lists now, at the beginning of the school year, and continue with the challenge until school ends in May. The plan is to require each of them to choose a predetermined number of books to read on their own time during the school year.  If they choose to read more than the required number, there will be an extra reward.

As a visual reminder, I gathered any of the books we own and put them in their own space on one of our living room bookshelves.  Any books we don't own can be borrowed from the library on our weekly visits.

Do your kids have required reading (whether they are homeschooled or attend a public or private school)?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Something Old, Something New

Today, Brian and I celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary.


It's amazing how many months of planning went into our wedding and yet I remember so few of the details.  I  know I followed the tradition pulled from an Old English rhyme:

Something old, 
Something new, 
Something borrowed,
Something blue.

My something old was a family Bible that I carried with my bouquet.

My wedding dress was new.  Though I bought it used on Ebay and it fit so perfectly I didn't have to have it altered, my mom remembers that it arrived with the tags still attached. I also wore new shoes and a new tiara.

I borrowed a string of pearls to wear.

Though my wedding color was periwinkle blue,  I cannot remember what I carried of that color. My bridesmaids had blue ribbons hanging from their bouquets, but I think my ribbons were all white.


We've been doing some sprucing up and changing in our home this summer and unconsciously following that same Old English rhyme.

I read The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillen Smith early in the summer and was inspired to rethink how I think about my house.  One chapter asks you to determine the purpose of a particular room and treat it accordingly. Many people gather in our dining room throughout the year whether it is for dinner, a playdate, a birthday party, or craft day, but our dining room is also our school room. That room needs to be pretty yet functional.

To serve both purposes, I set up a new area designated our Nature Corner.  I shopped around for a side table and found and old one for $5 at a thrift store.  Brian sanded off the glossy brown paint  and I re-painted it a shade of blue and replaced the drawer pull.

I put a tray on the tabletop where the kids can display leaves, rocks, or seashells and included two vases for branches, flowers, and twigs.

The bottom shelf houses our nature guides and animal books.

The table adds beauty to our dining room while contributing to its functionality. I anticipate this being a wonderful asset to the room!

And remember one of the chairs I painted blue for our living room?  I felt like it needed a little something more so I borrowed a pillow idea I saw on my friend  Joanne's blog.

I cut and stitched the little birds while binge-watching seasons of Downton Abbey, then sewed a pillow slipcover using this tutorial.

It adds a lot of color (including more blue) and a little quirk to the living room.

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