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family fun motherhood

Redefining Halloween in 2020

The question on every mom’s lips right now is “What are you doing about Halloween?” Per usual, we’re all coming from different places with this question and, thus, arriving at different places as well. Kendra @ the Lazy Genius did a whole podcast about how to have a Pandemic-Friendly Halloween that’s definitely worth a listen if you are still trying to come up with a game plan for your family.

Several weeks ago I came to the conclusion that the typical Halloween – i.e. trick or treating – simply wasn’t going to happen for us this year. The risk just didn’t seem worth it to me. The decision was made easier by the fact that my kids are getting older and that I personally am a little bit over trick or treating.

The routine of dressing up in a costume and then covering it with a big jacket because it’s almost November and thus it’s cold out – and then walking through the neighborhood to beg neighbors we don’t otherwise talk to for candy in such exorbitant amounts that we’re then going to go home and try to figure out how to get rid of most of it without disappointing the children… Fourteen years in and I’m thinking I’m ready to call shenanigans on this beloved childhood pastime. Just call me Jen, the Killer of Fun. 2020 was the perfect excuse to shake things up, really.

So what I proposed to my little coven was to celebrate all month long and then really up the ante the week of. We’d spend the month watching all the awesome Halloween movies we could find. Dude Mom has a great list of Halloween movies streaming on Netflix right now. We watched Addams Family, The Nightmare Before Christmas, lots of Harry Potter movies, ET, The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, Goosebumps 2, The Witches, The Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting…

We decorated a horde of pumpkins…

I bought the best candy my money could buy – which meant a bag of butterfingers for the husband, peanut butter m&ms for my teenager, sour candy for my tween and fancy truffles filled with coconut for me. And a few other bags and bars that happened to look appealing… But we’ll get to spend the month enjoying it.

This week I told my daughter she could dress up in various costumes every day for school – a challenge she met with enthusiasm. So far she’s been female Harry Potter, a stylish pirate, and a deceptively evil fairie who tricks people into thinking she’s a good fairie by not dressing in a stereotypically evil fashion…

This weekend will be a feast of candy and fall treats. We’ll watch Hocus Pocus on Friday night and a double movie feature on Saturday – the new Hocus Pocus sequel with the kids and the Zombieland sequel for the grownups.

It’s nothing big – I’m not moving mountains. I just decided to focus in on the parts of Halloween we enjoy and ignore the rest. Next year when all our options are available again, I may have to seriously consider which parts of Halloween I want to bring back.

How are you celebrating Halloween this year?

I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop this week – check out her blog for more prompts and fun.

Categories
family fun

good things. 10.21.20

These days it seems really easy to focus on the bad things. I mean… who could even blame us for feeling a little pessimistic given the current climate politically, socially, epidemically and these days even the weather seems to have stopped playing along.

So now more than ever we need to focus on the good things – be they big or small. This is not a novel idea, but it is a valuable one. To physically write down (type out) the good things happening.

Here’s my list:

Squeezing in one more camping trip – honestly the weather barely cooperated. It was chilly and there were flurries predicted for the morning. But my girl child and husband were clamoring for just one more night in the tent. My teenager and I are not quite that crazy, but we joined them for the camp fire, grilled burgers and roasted marshmallows, then drove home with the smell of the fire still lingering. We went home and watched A Knight’s Tale together and had a fun mother son night. The next morning our intrepid adventurer’s returned happy and safe. A win all around.

Modern Mrs. Darcy put out her 2020 Gift Guide for book lovers – I’m drooling over the whole list basically. I’m especially obsessed with this Dickinson pocket notebook at obvious state.


One of the homeschooling moms I’m following on YouTube talks about how she has a regularly scheduled tea and poetry hour with her kids and I’ve been enviously dreaming of how I can incorporate this into her schedule. But I was really hung up on her version which happens in the afternoon – our afternoons are so unpredictable right now, I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Then the other day I thought, Why am I letting this hold me back from adding more poetry into our routine? We could be reading a poem in the morning while I drink my coffee, before diving into our routine. Um, light bulb. We added time for a couple poems this morning – one from one of my books, one from one of hers – and it was easy and wonderful. It only took three or four minutes, but it was all I was looking for right now and more importantly – we did the thing!

We finally finished cleaning out our office (and garage, and basement) and ordered a tv stand for the gaming consoles in here, instead of the folding card table we’ve been using. Everything looks so much more organized, takes up less space and really makes the area more inviting. Bonus points, we moved the card table to the basement where we’re working on setting up a little corner for our weekend coffee dates or maybe cocktails and cribbage?


This relationship advice at Cup of Jo is so simple but very smart! It totally makes a difference in our marriage, in my opinion.


We love the drawing tutorials that JJK shares on youtube and I love his new #pumpKINDNESS series. He’s decorating pumpkins and leaving them on friends’ doorsteps to spread kindness. How fun! My daughter definitely wants to do this one.

What would be on your list?

Categories
books & reading homeschool motherhood

What We’re Reading in Homeschool: September and October

We just finished week six of our homeschooling year and we’ve read a lot of great books already. I thought I’d take a minute to share the books we have finished so far as well as the books we are currently reading. I’ll give you my thoughts as well as some book reviews by my sixth grader so you can get the mom and kid opinions – which aren’t always the same!

Mom’s Review

It took me about halfway through to really get into this book. It seemed to start really slow and it took me time to adjust to the dialect and unfamiliar vocabulary. But the action definitely picks up halfway and I can see a lot of value in the story told. My eleven year old and I will be discussing the book for history and literature next month.

My 6th Grader’s Review

The book was really good. I liked it and think it has a fun adventurous plot to it. I think that it was a little bit dry though. The ending also didn’t feel like much of an ending. I think that a sequel should be made. But all in all, The King’s Fifth was a really good book.

We both gave The King’s Fifth four stars out of five


Mom’s Review

My 6th grader and I read this out loud as part of our homeschool curriculum and she loved it to pieces. It was very engaging, with plenty of rich details about the Incan people, the Andes mountains and Peruvian culture. The little mystery definitely kept us guessing. And of course the llamas were her favorite part.

My 6th Grader’s Review

Secret of the Andes was AMAZING. One of my favorite characters was Cusi’s llama, Misti. Misti holds a big part of the story line, along with the other llamas. The story was very free-spirited and fun. I LOVED the book. The book also had a slight sense of adventure. I think that Cusi finding his soul was another HUGE part of the story. Ann Nolan Clark did a great job with making the story fun, exciting, interesting to read, and it made me want to read more of the book. I had a lot of fun with the book, and I’m glad that I read it. I miss getting to read it though.

In the end, I gave this one four stars and my daughter gave it a solid five out of five.


Mom’s Review

This is the next book in our 6th grade homeschool curriculum, set in London in 1666. The story is nestled between the great plague and the great fire, but mostly centers around the title character, eleven year old Michael, who searches for family and purpose in the middle of one of the toughest years in London history. I found the book very engaging and I’m looking forward to hearing what my own eleven year old thinks of it.

My 6th Grader’s Review

I overall really liked the book. It had a good plot that made me want to keep reading, and some twists as well. Parts of it were kind of sad, some were a little scary, but for the most part it was funny. I really liked some of the characters like Tom and Susanna, but also feel like at a point, Tom kind of lost the character that I really liked about him. His fun and care-free manner was great, and I kind of feel like he lost it, then gained 1/3 of it. I think that the story also left on a sad manner, The whole of the characters were together, but one left.

I think that the story could have used a little bit more cheerful of an ending, but overall the story WAS really good, and I think that Eloise Jarvis McGraw, wasn’t quite going for a happy-go-lucky tale with happy-go-lucky characters. I think that she had a goal and she reached it, and the book wasn’t BAD, the book wasn’t boring, as I said, it had an interesting plot that sometimes twisted and that made me keep reading. I enjoyed the book all in all.

We both rated this book with four out of five stars


What we are currently reading

Mom’s Review

This was a story that kept me on my feet trying to guess what would happen next. My eleven year old is supposed to read this next month and I’m debating reading it with her instead of having her read it on her own so that we can discuss it in real time, because as much as I found it engaging, I’m concerned that the frequent discussions of seppuku might be distressing for her. It’s important to the plot, but still pretty distressing. I gave this book four stars, but it’s more like 4.5

I read this book ahead of time, before reading it with my daughter. We’re only about halfway through reading it in school so I don’t have her final thoughts yet. So far she seems to love it and frequently laments when we get to the end of a day’s reading. A great sign!


That’s it so far – next week my daughter is starting The Ravenmaster’s Secret by Elvira Woodruff as an independent reader and very soon we’ll be reading The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy as our read aloud. I’m thinking about doing that one as an audio book and giving my poor voice a break!

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mama kat's writers workshop

6 Things I Want to Accomplish This Fall

Kat @ Mama Kat’s Losin It wants to know 6 things I’m hoping to accomplish this fall (it’s one of 6 prompts for her pretty much world famous Writer’s Workshop. It feels weird to make plans or goals in a year that has been notoriously filled with uncertainty and change – but let’s see if we can come up with 6 goals for a season known for change anyway.

  1. I want to make pumpkin bars this year. I’ve never done it before but I’ve eaten a lot of them and it feels like it’s probably in my wheel house. Have a favorite recipe? Throw it in the comments section below. Don’t throw actual pumpkin bars because it will just land on your monitor or phone screen and I don’t want to be responsible for that.
  2. I want to start a nature journal with my 6th grader. This one might be cheating because I’ve literally already gotten a book from the library about how to start a nature journal and dug up some sketch books in the basement and even started pressing a couple of leaves and a flower from a recent “field trip” to a local park. But if Fall ends and we haven’t put anything in our sketch books, I’d be disappointed. So I’m throwing it out into the universe for accountability.
  3. I want to try making homemade biscuits again now that I have biscuit cutters and stuff. It’s tough when most of my goals are carb based and supposedly we’re trying to eat healthy? The conflict is pretty crystal clear.
  4. I want to watch a bunch of Halloween themed movies with the family in October. I actually looked up a bunch that are streaming and ones that I owned and put a handful on my Google Calendar to try and make this actually happen. Cross your fingers.
  5. I want to drink a warm tasty beverage while cuddled under a cozy blanket and watch The Great British Baking Show or reading a cozy mystery. We’ll pretend that I haven’t been doing that all year anyway.
  6. I want to find an extra room in my house that I can escape to when my teenagers are being exceptionally loud playing video games online with friends or watching cartoons. Like I’m glad they are happy and being entertained but my house is basically never quiet and it’s starting to get too cold outside to hide on my front porch so we’re going to need to figure something out before I start shouting that children should be seen and not heard.

That’s my list – what would be on yours for this season?

Categories
family fun homeschool motherhood

School Pictures and a Check In

It’s week three of our school year and we’re starting to find our rhythm. Last weekend I took the kids outside (with Doggo the Homeschool Mascot) for school pictures, because tradition.

My high schooler is settling into his virtual learning nicely. His classes are starting to assign actual assignments (I’m sure he misses when his math homework was “What is your favorite season and why?”) but for the most part he is still done by 3 most days and spends his afternoons catching up with friends via online video games. Basically he’s still living his best life.

He’s got a lot of the same beef as most kids right now – zoom can be a cruel mistress when your internet connection decides to bail on you or a teacher doesn’t notice you in the waiting room. Some of his teachers seem harder to get to know virtually. But overall he’s been my rock star, on top of things and thriving as best as you could expect.

My 6th grader has a pretty full workload these days but for the most part we are both enjoying it. I’ve started to find my inner teacher and given myself permission to deviate from or add to our curriculum as I see fit.

We’re still playing around with the structure of our day and I’ve learned quickly that if we try to be too unstructured that we pay for it with a loooong afternoon. But I’m starting to figure out a preferred structure and created a backup structure for days when appointments might disrupt our mornings.

We’ve done a handful of science experiments, including this impromptu one today which involved making a chromatography strip from a piece of coffee filter paper, felt tip pens, and a glass of water. (Note: sharpies will not work with this one. But my husband says rubbing alcohol would probably work with those.)

One of my favorite things has been seeing how our subjects all seem to connect to each other or current events whether planned or not. We have watched The Emperor’s New Groove and Pocahontas after realizing they are connected to a part of our history or reading curriculum.

We’ve found ourselves talking about cohesion and adhesion in normal conversation like weirdos. And while reading about New Amsterdam being settled and how it shaped current day New York, I found myself making mental notes for future family vacations.

All in all, the days have been packed and sometimes even difficult – but rewarding and one hundred percent worth it. I’m still tweaking our schedule and curriculum but I’m optimistic about the school year ahead.


How is your school year going so far?

Categories
family fun homeschool motherhood

First Week of 6th and 9th Grade

We’re nearly done with our first week of school – virtual public high school for my new freshman and our first year of homeschooling my 6th grader. It’s been a tiny roller coaster of emotions for me and probably the kids as well.

The first two days for my son mostly involved figuring out how to connect to his zoom classes and waiting for his teachers to actually post the right zoom links, upload assignments to Google Classroom and respond to emails.

Today was his first day of classes that almost resembled what “normal days” are going to look like for the foreseeable future. A mix of logging into video classes, completing assignments as they were posted, and still finishing before 3pm and disappearing to play video games while the rest of us trudged on. Basically his life is looking very smooth sailing for the time being.

As for my sixth grader, we kicked things off on Monday with a field trip to Cave of the Mounds (we invited her brother and the hubby since they both had the day off) where we explored the cave, learned about how it was formed, and got a sluice kit and panned for gemstones. Why yes, exploring a cave with masks on while trying to avoid other people was weird. But the kids had a great time so I’m going to call it a win for first field trip of the year.

The rest of Monday was spent doing science experiments (read: putting Mentos in Coke to watch the chaos) and starting our heath art, music curricula.

Tuesday was our first full book day and personally it walloped me over the head. I was so exhausted by the end of the day that I was practically calling for smelling salts and have a Scarlet O’Hara style meltdown about never cooking dinner again.

Then my amazing husband told me to order a pizza, calm down, and remember that the first day was going to be hard because we’d never done it before so we were still ironing out kinks and getting used to the curriculum. I also eventually remembered that I’d purposely done literally every assignment side by side with my little trooper so that I could be certain about which subjects I was comfortable calling independent work.

So after scarfing some pizza and grumbling to myself, I looked through the assignment planner and marked every assignment that I felt she could do on her own with little help from me. Then I followed the advice of literally every homeschool mom I’ve been stalking on YouTube this summer and sorted our schedule with all the independent work clumped together.

So Wednesday morning we did all of the other stuff and then after lunch was… you guessed it, the independent work. Being a smart, clever eleven year old, there was a lot of independent work. But she handled it like a champ and I was mostly only needed for keeping her on track, answering a few questions and grading assignments as she finished them.

Today we did it all over again and had pretty much the same results. It’s still been a long day as far as total time committed, but at the same time we aren’t even starting our schoolwork until 9am and my daughter seems to require a lot of wiggle breaks, cocoa making, granola bars and dance parties in the middle of assignments. And she’s finishing the day in good spirits. And my afternoon can be spent cleaning, cooking dinner, reading, preparing for future lessons or playing Angry Birds or whatever. I could probably even go to the grocery store.

So overall, I’d say so far so good. I like the curriculum we chose, my daughter seems to be enjoying herself but also learning and working hard, and I even managed to make dinner the last two nights without being sent to an asylum. So – win?

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mama kat's writers workshop memes & carnivals motherhood

The Difference A Year Makes.

One of Mama Kat’s prompts for this week’s Writer’s Workshop is to look back on a blog posts from this time last year and compare how things are different now…

I know, right?

I don’t think 2019 Jen could even fathom 2020 Jen’s life and that’s okay because I wouldn’t wish it on my worst alternate reality self. But if we can’t giggle about it and pretend it doesn’t hurt then the Rona Gremlins win. So here’s a post I wrote back in August of 2019 just before school was about to start.

I was giddy with anticipation about the kids going back to school soon because as much as I love my kids, being with them every day all day for a whole summer can be tough.

Here are some of the things I was looking forward to doing:

I can’t wait to go to the coffee shop and just get something for myself and only spend like $5. Which I still do sometimes during the summer but it earns me a stink eye from the Offspring.

I mean, I’d still love to go to the coffee shop by myself but I would love it even more if I could go inside without putting on a mask, applying hand sanitizer and spritzing myself with holy water.

It goes without saying that I can’t wait to go to Target alone, right?

God guys, remember when going to Target was fun? I want to pretend I enjoy my trips there now but it’s not easy when people are standing too close to me, I feel guilty for wanting to peruse the dollar bins and I can’t drink a pumpkin spice frapuccino through my mask while shopping.

Though I’ll admit, shopping for office supplies still kind of feels like this.

I have these grand ambitions to start exercising again.

Siggggghhhh that would be awesome if I wasn’t still recovering from this sprained ankle situation. I have grand ambitions now to walk without limping. Besides I’ve always been terrible at exercise. So at least 2020 Jen won’t be lying to herself.

I am pretty stoked to spend a significantly smaller portion of my day listening to my children bicker about whatever video game they have ambitions to play together.”

Oh, I might actually get this one – once we’re all back on a school schedule there will be much less time for video games and arguing about video games. Huzzah!

I have not watched much in the way of grownup movies or television in months.

Man, same 2019 Jen, same.


So I guess the moral of the story is the more things change, the more they stay the same.

or…

The grass is greener on the vaccinated non-quarantined side.

or…

Wash your hands, kids!

or…

I can’t think about that right now, I’ll think about it tomorrow…

Categories
books memes & carnivals

WWW Wednesday | August 26th

It’s Wednesday so it’s time for WWW Wednesday. This is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking on a World of Words, where you answer three questions:

  • What did you recently finish?
  • What are you currently reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Miraculously I actually have enough to update you with since last week to justify a new post! Anyone else feel like they are either reading a million things a minute or slogging through one book for months with no middle ground? Just me?

Last Read

I’ve finished four books since last week! I finished Prose and Cons by Amanda Flower shortly after my last WWW post. I’m officially obsessed with this series.

I also finished reading The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell with time to spare before the school year starts! This one picked up in the second half with more action happening and I’d finally settled into the writing style. I’m looking forward to discussing it with my daughter next month.

And I read two children’s graphic novels recently at the insistence of said daughter. Karen’s Roller Skates, a BSC Little Sisters book that brought me right back to my childhood.

And Stargazing by Jen Wang which was way deeper than I was expecting but luckily had a happy ending. It’s another amazing graphic memoir for tweens – highly recommend.

Currently Reading

I’m continuing to read way too many books at once. My book club is discussing section one of Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight tomorrow. Then we’ll read section 2 next month.

Since I finished The King’s Fifth, I started reading The Ghost at Tokaido Inn by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler, the second independent reader for our school year. I thought about waiting since I’m ahead of schedule but figured I aught to hold onto my momentum while I can. Especially in case my reading time diminishes once school starts.

I also started reading Homeschool Basics by my new idol, Kristi Clover, yesterday. I’ve been watching her videos on YouTube (among others) to get myself mentally and practically ready for this fall. So far this book seems like exactly what I needed. A mix of practical advice and encouragement.

And for my bedtime reading I’m absolutely devouring The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary. Like reading way way too late three nights in a row please send coffee kind of situation. Obsessed.

Next Up

I’m planning to start on book 3 of Amanda Flower’s magical bookshop series after I finish The Flatshare. Alternatively, I might read some of the other books I’ve been getting from the library. They have been sending them faster than I can read lately as all my holds seem to be coming through at once.

I am also keen to see what other books Beth O’Leary has written.


What about you? What books have you been spending time with lately?

Categories
IRL

The Proust Questionnaire

I was reading an old post on Cup of Jo about the Proust Questionnaire that Vanity Fair uses to interview celebrities like Tina Fey and Ina Garten. I thought I’d play along today because we’re over halfway through 2020 and I’ve literally run out of things to do (thank god the school year is starting up soon).

Feel free to play along in the comments section!


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It’s about a sense of calm – not being worried about current events, weight issues, dietary issues, schedules, fears, money. Basically security and ease.

What is your greatest fear?

Definitely the death of a loved one. That’s the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Okay, to be fair, lots of things keep me up at night. But that’s the King Poppa.

Which living person do you most admire?

My grandmother. Always have. She’s kind, funny, patient, caring. She moved mountains during my childhood and always had a nice thing to say about everyone. She spends her energy building people up and has always made time for her hobbies and her family.

What is your favorite journey?

I love visiting new places and learning new things. Whether it’s a new to me coffee shop or traveling to a new city or state. I want to do the touristy stuff.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I get stuck on new phrases frequently. You hear something funny or poignant and interesting and you try to find any excuse to fit it in. Lately it’s been things like “I feel seen” or “this is giving me life right now.” Or “I’m so tired of this year and I miss normal life and I want a donut.”

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?

My husband and kids – this one is easy.

Which talent would you most like to have?

I’d love to be able to draw things and have them look like the thing I am looking at. I tend to prefer photography or watercolor because the photograph will look the closest like what I’m looking at and the watercolor can be intentionally vague and make up for my drawing skills.

What is your current state of mind?

Like a ferret, hopping from one shiny place to the next. It sounds like this “ohhh home schooling idea! ugh politics… ohhh new recipe… oh no fears and stresses… oh homeschooling idea! hmmm what if I painted the… oh no, it’s almost dinner time… ugh politics – hey stop texting me everyone! omg so I’m so bored and miss people… why won’t my children leave me alone? I want a donut… aww my kids are so great… ugh politics…”

Where would you like to live?

I like a lot of things about where we live right now but I would love to be in a slightly smaller town. Less crowded stores and restaurants – but with a thriving bookstore or library and an excellent coffee shop and decent wifi. Also I want a room filled with built in bookcases and a kitchen with plenty of storage and counter space. And patio furniture because sitting outside reading is my new favorite hobby. Why, yes, I am old now.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Ummmm. anxiety?

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Elizabeth Bennett or Hermione Granger

What are your favorite names?

Emily, Katherine, Isabelle, Michael, Thomas, Daniel…

What is it that you most dislike?

being late, insincerity, a lack of control over my situation

What is your motto?

But first coffee.