February 7, 2015

Books I'm Hogging From The Library: The February 7, 2015 Edition

Bookmark and Share

There's nothing like a little winter weather to get some reading done. Of course, by "winter weather," I mean "rain." But at least with rain, there is no plowing or scraping to be done, which leaves more time for reading.

Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life  ::  I started following Glennon on Facebook for her humor, but ended up sticking around for her kindness. She has a great heart for others--including herself. The world needs more grace and I am glad she puts "words on paper" to do just that.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens  ::  I listened to this on audio once the Christmas music season was done and I had a huge void in my world. And I've got to say, for the psychology-majoring, education-immersive person that I am, this book was GREAT. I'd call it a "must read" for anyone who loves to teach or loves to learn. The book was filled with little tidbits of wisdom and -- isn't this meta -- I learned a lot from it's discussion on learning.

Food: A Love Story  ::  Jim Gaffigan has long been one of my favorite comedians. Maybe it's because his humor is so "white guy from the midwest," who knows. So I've heard all his schticks a number of times and yet--I still laughed out loud throughout his book. The best chapter, hands down, was "Seabugland," where he wrote about eating bugs from the sea. Tears, people. I laughed tears. (And by that I mean, I cried tears while laughing. No actual tears came out my mouth. Though that would've been something.)

Me, Myself, and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being  :: Personality Science is my kind of science, you see. I'm always mulling and conversing on this topic, and this book gave me more fodder to work with. A related book I made my way clear through, thank you jury duty, was The Art of SpeedReading People: How to Size People Up and Speak Their Language. If you've always wanted to get a handle on the Myers-Briggs, this author explains it thoroughly and clearly, and not in an over-your-head kind of way (which is often typical of personality type books).

Cleaning House: A Mom's Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement  ::  Firstly. The title of this book is fantastic. Really, all I needed from this book was to have it sitting around my house giving me permission to make my kids work. The author has plenty of good suggestions for how to get this done, of course. Since I'm such a systems person, I rarely need to be told how to do something; however, I did need a kick in the pants to get a system started. You'd be surprised how much I do for my kids--yes, those same kids who are home with me all. day. long. But for months now, my Inner Zelda has been working herself up to a frenzy, and this book was the impetus for making a plan. I can happily say that my kids are now sharing in more of the work at home. Ahhhhhh...

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

This post contains affiliate links. See full disclosure policy for details.

November 4, 2014

8 In 8 - Eight Things I've Learned In Eight Years Of Homeschooling - Episode 7

Bookmark and Share

Back when I had kids ages five, three, and one--I used to wonder how I could be home all day and yet get nothing done. Of course, that "nothing" meant anything outside of keeping three little humans alive. I watch parents in that stage now and wonder HOW IN THE HONKY-TONK I didn't just LOSE MY EVER-LOVING MIND. Caring for kids (and a house) is absolutely a full-time job, even if it doesn't seem very productive or you know, PAY.

So I carried this skewed perspective right on into my life of homeschooling--that of still being home with three kids (ages 13, 10, 8) and educating them at the same time. On paper, it seems like my schedule should allow for at least an hour or two of "free time" a day, right?!


Okay, so I get like a ten-minute break each day. Progress, people. This week I talk about the full-time "mindset" that homeschooling requires. Thanks for listening!

Homeschooling Is A Full-Time Job

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

October 22, 2014

8 In 8 - Eight Things I've Learned In Eight Years Of Homeschooling - Episode 6

Bookmark and Share

One rookie mistake I see homeschoolers make is thinking the key to "success" is in the curriculum. Now don't get me wrong, some programs do work better than others and it's worth the time to pick something good. HOWEVER. You can have the perfect workbook and the perfect schedule and the perfect schoolroom but guess what? YOU AND YOUR KIDS AIN'T PERFECT, and this is why "school" tends to break down. This is the hard work of homeschooling, and what I talk about in episode six of my series.

Academics are Easy Compared to Character Development

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

October 18, 2014

Books I'm Hogging From The Library: The October 18, 2014 Edition

Bookmark and Share

To quote Lemony Snicket, "Keep anyone with whom you can read in silence." Isn't that the truth, especially for the introverts among us? Here are some books currently on my shelf.

I Work At A Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks  ::  Since I spend so much time at the library, I felt it was my civic duty to read this book. It took no more than an hour to read, as it's filled with little anecdotes about life at the library. My own eyes and ears (AND NOSE) tell me that the public library contains the fuuuullllll spectrum of humanity within its walls. This book has given me a new appreciation for my library and the librarians I love!

Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected  ::  I heard about this book (and author) through Momastery's Facebook Page -- and I'm telling you, she is worth a follow. I truly respect her humor and grace. So this book (not her's, by the way--just one she highly recommends) falls into the small pile of parenting books I can read without gagging. That's saying something, you know. She understands what makes kids (and their parents) "tick," and shares ways to parent that are neither too authoritarian nor too permissive. Let's hear it for balance, you know?

Your Left-Handed Child: Making Things Easy for Left-handers in a Right-handed World  ::  I have one lefty amongst four righties in my family. And my lefty has always shown a strong preference for being left-handed--even as a baby she'd eat with her left hand, grab with her left hand, and turn pages with her left hand--working her way from the back to the front of every book. It's been a steep learning curve for me as I realize, little by little, that our world is overwhelmingly geared towards right-handers (test layouts, workbook layouts, kitchen gadgets, a computer mouse, etc.). This book has been helpful in giving me more ideas for how to make my girl's world seem less backwards. I will say--my favorite story in the book was about a left-handed musician who had a piano created especially for him--one that was a mirror-image of a regular piano. The high notes started at the left, which meant the pianist could play the melody line with his left hand versus his right hand--which made the whole thing 'click' with his brain. Isn't that crazy?!

Will It Waffle?: 53 Irresistible and Unexpected Recipes to Make in a Waffle Iron  ::  Who can resist a book with a title like that? Not me, apparently. I bookmarked about five or ten recipes to try on my very own waffle maker. I bought my waffle iron at Goodwill a couple of years ago (seriously, go to your local thrift store and I guarantee there will be at least two waffle makers there) (right beside the fondue pots, which I also happen to own, just so you know). I don't use it very often, seeing as it's a total unitasker. But this has inspired me. Did you know you can cook homemade hash browns in a waffle maker? OH YES YOU CAN. AND I FULLY PLAN TO.

Common Core Basics Core Subject Module Writing  ::  I grabbed this book and the other four books (social studies, reading, mathematics, science) in the series. As an educator, I do my best to keep up with what people are saying about Common Core. Granted, I've not seen one positive opinion but I'm sure there's one out there. Regardless, I feel it's my duty to figure out what Common Core is actually about--and do this outside of thoughts posted on the world wide web, see also, Facebook. I think what most people have a beef about is the curriculum used to teach Common Core. I've looked through all these books, which are the high school standards, and so far nothing has frightened me. Honestly, the standards look too low--my seventh-grade homeschooler could meet most of the learning requirements by the end of his eighth grade year.

And those books are just a few of the roughly two hundred we currently have home from the library. Remember--many of the books I read out loud to my kids end up being posted on my Facebook page--so "like" me over there if that's your thing!

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

This post contains affiliate links. See full disclosure policy for details.

October 14, 2014

8 In 8 - Eight Things I've Learned In Eight Years Of Homeschooling - Episode 5

Bookmark and Share

My youngest child is now eight. I remember when my oldest child was eight, and I couldn't believe how "grown up" he was as compared to his preschool years. Oh, parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. THIS TOO SHALL PASS. The days are slow, but the years are fast -- how true that is.

So now that I've had three eight-year-olds in the house (not at the same time, my goodness), I know just a wee bit about them. And that's what I yak about in this podcast. Enjoy!

Age 8 Is A Big Year

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

October 13, 2014

10 More At-Home Lunch Ideas Besides PB&J

Bookmark and Share

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici
You know the old saying, "There are two things that are certain in life--death and taxes?" Well, I hereby rewrite that quote to say, "There are THREE things that are certain in life--death, taxes, and MEALTIMES." Every day, three times a day, those doggone mealtimes show up whether I want them to or not.

Now don't get me wrong -- I like surviving eating, and cooking. What I don't like is the derailment of my day -- just when we all get in a groove, oh look -- it's time to plan food and fix food and eat food and clean up the food.

I was talking to my kids' pediatrician, and she said the best part of having an empty nest is that she could go home and eat CEREAL for dinner. YES. Now THAT is a good word from a doctor!

In the meantime, I have three kids (and myself) to cook for each midday meal during the week. I'm always looking for something quick that still resembles food. Oh, don't worry--I had my years where lunch was either mac-n-cheese or chicken nuggets, and we all turned out fine. But eventually, my kids matured and I could offer them a little more variety for meals. Hallelujah.

My main survival tips for lunchtimes are these:
  • cook only the main dish
  • serve raw veggies
  • serve fresh fruit
  • serve a small portion of cheese or Greek yogurt

And for those days when I have to resort to PB&J or lunchmeat sandwiches--I serve chips because CHIPS MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER. Lays lightly-salted ones, especially.

Last year, I posted the first of my ten lunch-time ideas. Here are ten more. Hopefully this gives you some help in an area we all need a personal chef more help in!

10 *More* At-Home Lunch Ideas Besides PB&J

1.  Barbecued Meat Sandwiches
I love those days where I cook a beef roast, pork loin, or chicken drumsticks in the crockpot for dinner. And when I'm really on top of things, I cook twice as much and have enough meat for the next day's lunch. I put the leftover shredded meat in a saucepan with some water, and warm it up on the stove. (I find this is just as fast as using the microwave, plus the meat doesn't turn to rubber.) Then I drain the water off the meat and add a few squirts of my favorite barbecue sauce and heat until warm. Serve this over a slice of bread and voila--I've got a yummy, open-faced sandwich.

2.  Fresh Pasta
Our grocery store (and likely yours, too) carries some really great fresh pasta. I find the ravioli I like in the same aisle as the deli meat and cheeses. The best thing about this fresh pasta is that it cooks in minutes--like four at the most--once the water is at a boil. I often buy the Buitoni brand, and as odd as it sounds, the butternut squash agnolotti (good ol' agnolotti!) is my fave. For whatever reason, having fresh pasta for lunch always feels like a special treat.

3.  Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup
Oh, sure, you could make grilled cheese sandwiches with just bread and cheese slices, that's fine. Or you could go OVER THE TOP and make the ULTIMATE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH and think you've died and gone to heaven. On cold winter days, I like to serve this alongside tomato soup-- from a can, of course, because not everything can be fancy-schmancy.

4.  Smoked Sausage Sandwiches
My mom used to make this aaalllll the time for our family. I take one package of smoked turkey sausage and cut it into four segments. I then "butterfly" each segment so I have a flat, inner side to fry--plus this makes the meat easier to eat in a sandwich. Cook in a skillet with a little water until warmed and slightly browned on each side. Serve with mustard and say hello to 1987!

5.  Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad
I love my grilled chicken recipe. What I do is buy a bag of frozen chicken breasts, and add the marinade shtuff right to the bag once I get home from the store. As the chicken thaws (in the fridge, of course), it marinates and is ready to grill in a couple of days. If I've planned ahead, I will grill enough chicken for two meals--meat and veggies for dinner at night and sliced breast over salad the next day. I have finally waved the white flag and buy mostly bagged salad kits now. The Caesar kits make this a quick and easy lunch to put together!

6.  Breakfast Burritos
There's usually about one day a week I lose track of the morning and then suddenly it's HOLY COW WE HAVE TWENTY MINUTES TO FIX AND EAT LUNCH AND GET OUT THE DOOR. The kids know this inevitably means eggs are on the menu. I get a whole bunch scrambled and cooking in a skillet, and then maybe toss some ham and cheese on top of that. Once cooked, I dole out the eggs in a long line of flour tortillas and BAM!! Lunch is served.

7.  Tortilla Club
I'm telling you--soft tortillas are great to keep on hand. I buy the plain, smaller ones that come in a pack of thirty or so. We tend to get tired of lunchmeat sandwiches, as that's what I pack whenever we're out and about during lunchtime. But I've found that if I layer similar ingredients (condiments, meat, cheese, and thinly sliced red peppers) in a tortilla and wrap it up--lunch feels whimsical and exciting again. Who knew we were so easy to please?

8.  Hot Dogs
Oh don't you judge! I try to buy hot dogs that have the fewest and most-recognizable ingredients, does that make it better?! There's something to be said for having lunch on the table in less than ten minutes--and that's what this meal is to me. I use either my George Foreman grill or cook the hotdogs in a skillet on the stove. Sometimes I pair this with a can of baked beans because I am FAINCY like that.

9.  Greek Yogurt Pancakes
I found The Pioneer Woman's Sour Cream Pancake recipe a year or so ago, and loved it. However, I make one big-ol' change: I use plain Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream. First of all, my lactose-intolerant child can digest the yogurt. Secondly, the plain Greek yogurt has a lot more protein than sour cream or regular yogurt. It's important to me, especially when serving up pancakes, that I don't send my kids into a carb-coma after lunch. I usually pair these pancakes with scrambled eggs to make sure we're fueled up for the afternoon. To serve the four of us, I have to double the pancake recipe as shown on Ree's site. I keep a big tub of plain Chobani yogurt in the fridge just for this.

10.  Pepper Steak Sandwiches
Think of this like a quick-and-easy Philly Steak Sandwich. The original recipe is a good one, but I usually just slop a little Italian dressing in a skillet and cook the deli roast beef in that. I then top with some mozzarella I've (hopefully) got hiding in the back of my freezer. On a good day, I'd sauté a pepper or onion as well, but let's not get carried away.

And there you have it. Ten more ideas for meals you can make for lunch at home. Let me know what ideas you can add!

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

Hip Homeschool Moms

October 7, 2014

8 In 8 - Eight Things I've Learned In Eight Years Of Homeschooling - Episode 4

Bookmark and Share

One of the best tips I have about handwriting is that it's more like art and less like a language art. And like any artistic skill, some kids have a more natural bent towards drawing the letters just like they're supposed to be drawn, and others need more practice to get the "pictures" copied correctly. Having watched the progression of three kids over the course of eight years, I have lots more thoughts about handwriting--all contained in this week's episode of my podcast. Enjoy!

Handwriting Matters

PS: The two resources I've used and found success with are Letters and Numbers for Me (which teaches printing) and Cursive Handwriting, from the same publisher.

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

This post contains affiliate links. See full disclosure policy for details.

September 30, 2014

8 In 8 - Eight Things I've Learned In Eight Years Of Homeschooling - Episode 3

Bookmark and Share

Math has always been one of my favorite subjects. You too, right?! Okay, I really am being serious. It's so satisfying, what with its "one answer" that works out so neatly in the end. I often look at my kids' math assignments and think, "Wow, I wouldn't mind doing that page myself." I know. I should really get that part of me checked out.

Even though math is a strong subject for me, I'm still learning the ins and outs of teaching it to others. Here's my main math tip which applies especially to the grade school years, but greatly affects the middle school years (and beyond). Enjoy!

Math Facts Matter

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

September 26, 2014

What Curriculum I'm Using - Middle School

Bookmark and Share

Each spring, I get all restless and ready to be d-o-n-e with the current school year, and excited about the next one. And because I love to research and plan, I spend a solid two months with a spiral notebook and the internet--combing and sorting it all out. I then take bits and pieces of the summer getting each child's subjects sorted into 36 weeks worth of work. Not everyone does it this way, but it works for me.

We are now a few weeks into the 2014-15 school year, so I thought it was time to bore inform you of what curriculum I'm using for my middle schoolers. I'll blog about my grade schooler next, because I know my audience, and I know what my audience wants: LONG, DETAILED POSTS FOR THE WIN!!!!!

It's time to get things started...


I made a big change this year for my seventh grader -- I switched him from Math-U-See over to Saxon. I have always loved Math-U-See (and continue to use it with my sixth grader and third grader), but I felt my comp-sci sort of boy needed the extra "oomph" that Saxon could provide. He's about twenty lessons in to the book, and so far, so good. I also purchased the DVD lessons, which include the visualization of every single problem in the book. Clearly we don't need to see every problem, but when we do need help, it's nice to have this available.

Critical Thinking

My seventh-grader is getting a break from critical thinking this year. During his eight years of official schooling, he's already completed four labor-intensive workbooks on this topic (one, two, three, and four). I did buy a logic and reasoning book for this school year, but I soon realized it was high school level and would work better with group discussion, i.e., when his brother is older as well. I do have my sixth-grader working his way through the Building Thinking Skills - Verbal book, which has great word-centric exercises for the brain. Man, I love this subject because I am so! stinkin'! logical!


I'm so happy we've cycled back to American History this year. It always feels so much simpler and more interesting to me, but hey, maybe that's the ethnocentric side of me talking. Over the years, I've found that buying one main history book (our "spine") and borrowing stacks of supplementary library books makes for a good homemade curriculum. I'm really pleased with this year's spine: Children's Encyclopedia of American History. It's straightforward, readable, and it splits the span of history into manageable chunks. You have no idea how much time I spend trying to find a resource that makes sense to me! (And this one does!)


Usually, I piece together my geography curriculum from internet freebies and library books. But this year I wanted my middle schoolers to have something a little deeper -- so I got them each a copy of Discovering the World of Geography. This workbook combines a quality overview of map terms along with an overview of American History. I really appreciate the exercises that connect events of the past to places the kids have to find on a map.

Language Arts

This is my fifth year using Easy Grammar and Daily Grams for all three of my kids. Oh sure, the books are a bit repetitive and boring, but boy are they effective. And I am determined, LO UNSHAKABLY RESOLVED, that we will never again misuse the forms of "lay/lie" or "sit/set."

Both of my middle schoolers are completing two Vocabulary From Classical Roots books this year. I have them do the fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice exercises, but I also make them write unique sentences for each word in the lesson. In addition, I use this as a way for them to practice their handwriting--both manuscript and cursive. Books A-E are the ones I've picked for the middle school years, and I'm telling you, I find myself wrestling with the words myself!

My seventh-grader is 'done' with spelling--this I decreed. And my sixth-grader and I are half-heartedly working our way through another level of Sequential Spelling. My boys are both naturally good spellers, so this subject has always been a fluff one for us anyway.


For the past two years, both of my boys have worked their way through the beginning level of Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). This curriculum has always been good, but it was definitely overwhelming at first. I finally had a little talk with myself about expecting adult-level, skillfully crafted paragraphs with every child's assignment. (What?! Me? A PERFECTIONIST?!) That alone has made this year's writing assignments much easier on everyone. Since we're studying American History, I chose the course that supports that topic and helps reinforce the stories of history. Starting in the middle school years, I decided to put a heavy emphasis on writing, and IEW has been the right tool for us.


Do you have any idea what you learned during middle school science? For me? 206 bones in the body--there's one thing. How babies are made--that's another. Other than that--I GOT NUTHIN'. Now grade school science with my kids was so easy--we simply read books on all sorts of topics and did the dorky experiments. (Colored celery, anyone?) As for high school science -- okay, that's chemistry and biology and physics and schtuff like that. But what goes on in between?! I have no answers, but I did settle on what to do with both my sixth- and seventh-grader this year. I picked another quality spine (again, it took me hooooooouuuuurrrrrrrrs to search out and select a text I liked) called Science: The Definitive Visual Guide. The reading level is definitely for 6th-8th graders, but the pages aren't so crammed and "busy" as to make the book painful to read. (I have a real pet peeve against books that assault my eyes.) What I love about this book is that it takes a historical look at science, covering all kinds of interesting topics from the dawn of science to the information age. I give my boys simple assignments with each reading, but that's a topic for another post!


This is one part of our school day that I love the most. We take about 30-60 minutes and I read a mix of historical non-fiction, historical fiction, poetry, or simply great fiction that is appropriate for my audience. I won't put a full list of what I plan to read aloud here--it's a huge list and I'm always tweaking it based on what's available at the library and what actually ends up working as a read-aloud. I imagine I'll put any favorites in my bloggy book lists or talk about it on Facebook.

Foreign Language

Over the years, we've tried learning the Spanish language using multiple methods--all with varying degrees of failure. I imagine we'll revisit Spanish during the high school years when it can actually 'count' for something. Meanwhile, I asked my twelve-year-old what language he wanted to learn and he said, "Latin." Of course. My speciality. "My specialty" meaning, "my speciality is knowing nothing about Latin." He is working his way through First Form Latin while I struggle along with him. His brother, the sixth grader, is taking a year off from learning a second language, mostly because *I* have only enough brain power for one second language at a time.


I continue to be the piano teacher for all three of my kids. Now listen. This is not my favorite thing in the world, as I feel they're not being challenged enough by me. They get an official lesson in about every other week (if we're lucky). I mean, we are making progress and it's not horrible. But I still can't stomach paying another person $100 - $150 a week for private lessons when I can do them myself. Ugh, how does anyone manage this?!

On the instrumental side, both boys are participating in our local school's band program. One plays the alto sax and the other plays the clarinet. This makes for a busy week (with someone having band every day the school doors are open), but my kids enjoy being at a "real" school and seeing the same kids day after day. They also have a great teacher and a well-supported music program, which is refreshing to be a part of.


For the second year in a row, I picked twelve projects from Discovering Great Artists and we'll do them as time permits. We did complete all twelve projects last year, but there was a looooot of cramming there towards the end.

Well, here ends the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational post I've ever written. Comments and questions are welcome from any of you grumptastic men (or women) sitting in the stage left balcony box!

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!

Any link to amazon is an affiliate links. See full disclosure policy for details.

September 23, 2014

8 In 8 - Eight Things I've Learned In Eight Years Of Homeschooling - Episode 2

Bookmark and Share

This is one of those things that took me about seven years to learn. Somehow I had in my mind that every homeschooling family sat around and peacefully did school at one table and it was bliss with a side dish of bliss. Here's hoping this week's tip frees someone else from a rather unrealistic expectation. And if you happen to have kids who can sit at the same table and work productively---I do NOT need to hear about it.


My Sanity

Two Or More Kids Working Happily At One Table Is A MYTH

post signature

Subscribe to this blog's feed and follow me on twitterfacebook, instagram, pinterest, and goodreads!