Categories
family fun motherhood

The unsung heroes of 2020

I am feeling nostalgic as this year draws to a close and thought I’d dorkily list some of the very un- serious things that have gotten my family through this year and served as the backdrop to our year, if you will. Things like…

Animal Crossing which I bought on a petulant whim after all our plans were cancelled this Spring and has since gone on to become a favorite game for my eleven year old and I, along with all the other tweens and moms I know it sometimes seems. This summer especially involved a lot of long hours visiting friends islands and working on our little island.

Bob’s Burgers which we started watching for the first time this year and have already caught up with the current season, making it much harder to binge. It’s not the only show we fell for hard this year. We also binged Community, The Great, Space Force, most of King of the Hill, and almost the entire Marvel cinematic universe.

Adult coloring books have become a completely unironic hobby of mine this year. My daughter and I both spend many afternoons and evenings coloring together and have developed strong opinions on markers and paper quality.

Eatstreet has gotten so much of our business this year it’s crazy. We’re using Amazon slot, too, but that’s not necessarily new so much as increased. Before 2020 we almost never ordered delivery apart from the local pizza and Chinese places but this year we’ve made ample use of these new fangled services that let us enjoy more of our favorite restaurants without leaving the house.

Loungewear has become far more important this year. Yes standards have fallen pretty low when it comes to what constitutes outdoor wear, but I don’t hate the freedom of deciding that comfort is king this year. Mad love to the new favorite pieces from Duluth Trading Co. and Torrid that have become every day staples.

Our Mr. Coffee pot that went from the appliance we pulled out on weekends to our daily workhorse. I don’t hate meeting up with my hubby for coffee refills on the kitchen in between his work meetings and my homeschool lessons. We’ve developed a lot of cute rituals that just look like drinking coffee on the front porch or shopping for groceries but have become a stand in for date nights and I couldn’t imagine the year without them.


What new or novel things have you been enjoying this year? What new hobbies and habits will you keep in the next?

Categories
family fun IRL

counting my blessings in 2020

It’s pretty easy to wallop on this year and list the myriad of things that have gone wrong or changed or thrown us for a loop. All you have to say is 2020 and I think we all collectively groan and grumble about quarantine, politics, social media, curves that need flattening, and the isolation and closeness and sheer Groundhog Day-quality that this year has been.

But it hasn’t all been bad. 2020 has scattered a few blessings in between the chaos, at least for us.

I was inspired by this video by Homeschool on the Hill to look back on some of the ways that this year was good for my family.

The first obvious one is that even though it was under duress, homeschooling my sixth grader has honestly been a joy. That’s not to say it’s been easy or that I haven’t been exhausted or stressed out in the planning and day to day of it all. But I can see how much she’s learning and how much we enjoy sharing this together. We’re loving our Bookshark curriculum and I’m already starting to plan for seventh grade because even when this whole quarantine situation is over, we’re not planning to switch back (at least for middle school).

I would be remiss not to express my gratitude for getting to replace my car this year. We actually replaced both of our aging vehicles and although both happened rather unexpectedly, I’m grateful that we were able to replace them quickly and with little issue. Not paying for private school tuition this year certainly made this situation easier. And I freaking love my new ride.

We have been blessed with so much family time. From camping trips to late night stargazing walks to movie marathons and just the day to day minutes. I’ve not so secretly loved having my brood around so much. Distance learning hasn’t been easy for everyone but my teenager makes it look easy and working from home has been relatively easy for my husband as well.

Although we get antsy with the close quarters every now and then, for the most part we’re all getting along and making the most of these stolen days. If anything, I feel like I am finally learning how to simply be at home. I’m baking more and finding time for hobbies and learning to keep myself entertained without leaving the house as much.

We’ve done some home renovations that we’ve talked about for years like clearing out our office so it can double as a den and gaming room – or replacing our stove (under duress) and putting up a little backsplash. We cleaned out the garage so that my new gorgeous car can park inside (yay!!) and put some chairs on our front step so that the hubby and I can escape outside for a morning cup of coffee and “get away” from the kids for a bit. We’ve also finally gotten comfortable leaving the kids home alone for periods of time so we can go on exciting dates like “to the grocery store” or “what if we got ice cream by ourselves for no reason?”


Those are just a few of the little blessings off the top of my head. It’s nothing earth shattering – but if you ignore the face masks and the toilet paper shortages and the lack of exciting vacations or big parties and the ability to go to Target to shop for nothing while drinking coffee (and yes some of the bigger things we are missing, too), this year almost kind of hasn’t been that bad…

I’m not making light of the struggles this year has provided. There have been plenty. I could write a completely different post listing all my grievances and it would be a long one. And I’m sure yours would be pretty intense, too. But sometimes we need to remember to focus on the rays of light where we find them shining.

Happy Holidays guys – I hope you find some glimmers in the darkness as we count down to the end of a very strange year.

Categories
family fun homeschool motherhood

10 Things I Was Doing When I Wasn’t Here.

You guys. It’s twelve days into December. Seriously. My last blog post was telling you the things I was loving this fall and now we’re knee deep into December and this morning I had to shovel snow off my front porch and we tried out our new propane outdoor heater thingy so we could sit on said porch and drink tea together like the old people we apparently are. (The heater worked great but we should have waited for it to stop snowing because flurries kept blowing in my face basically the whole time. I don’t know how to be outdoors basically.)

Anyway I thought I’d make up for my horrendous lack of regular posting by sharing TEN THINGS we’ve been doing when I haven’t been here blogging about it. That aught to get you up to speed. You’re welcome.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with a weeklong unit study about the Wampanoag tribe because 1) history tends to sorely overlook them apart from saying, “Thanks for teaching us how to make corn. Sorry we were basically terrible in return.” and 2) my hubby and kids are actually part Wampanoag so it was also basically genealogy. We made nassump corn porridge and cranberry coffee cake. We read books about the tribe and a few about the pilgrims, too. We watched YouTube videos about how the tribe lived back in pilgrim times and we made pottery with some air dry clay.

The weekend after Turkey Day, we put up our Christmas tree. This was our first time pulling out the artificial tree in a few years, the prelit lights no longer work, so we strung another string of lights right on top and went about our merry making.

I made the family pose for a cozy sock photo after an aunt sent us these amazingly cozy socks that my eleven year old especially has been living in ever since.

One of my besties got me this amazing coffee mug because my three favorite things in life these days seem to be coffee, coffee mugs, and Animal Crossing. Oh and my family and stuff, I guess.

The sixth grader and I have been slooooooowly making our way through a Nutcracker Themed weeklong art history class offered by Art History Kids. This is a swirly Christmas tree inspired by Van Gogh.

My book club discussed the intro to Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown and then made the I think really fun decision to no longer have a planned book each month and rather just get together and discuss what we’re each reading, and do the drinking and gossiping we were already doing. Basically it’s a wine club for bookworms.

I brought out the watercolors again for the first time in ages after we learned about Hokusai’s famous wave painting. I thought it would be fun to have waves created by super wet watercolor dripping down the page. Honestly, I was pretty pleased with the results.

I got the kids a Harry Potter LEGO advent calendar this year which is super splurgy for me – I’m usually a chocolates or stickers kind of advent mom. But Covid does funny things to our priorities. It’s been really fun opening the door each day and the kids completely took it in stride that they’d be sharing the one insanely expensive calendar.

We got a new oven!! Our old oven was on its way out and after exploring the cost of parts, we decided to just get on with it and replace it. We splurged on this induction cooktop with a convection oven option and an air fryer option. It’s pretty spiffy. We also installed a peel and stick backsplash that I’m in love with.

Other than that, it’s been a lot of school and work. Which for my sixth grader and I usually looks like us curled on the couch reading together. One of our last reads was Calico Bush by Rachel Field which she adored in spite of some seriously intense plot twists. Definitely read some parental reviews before mindlessly handing this one off to your kiddos.


What have you guys been up to? Who’s excited to say Smell You Later to 2020 in a few weeks?

Categories
family fun motherhood

6 Little Things I’m Loving This Fall

It’s been a few weeks so I thought I’d tell you about some of the light hearted fun stuff we’ve been up to in the middle of a hectic season of life that’s been trying it’s darndest to get to us. But in the year of 2020, it’s going to have to try harder than a few geriatric cars and other things too serious to joke about. Instead let’s talk about…


Apple cider donuts from the grocery store – we’ve had a lot of apple cider donuts this fall, but the ones that keep me coming back for more are actually just the donuts from my local grocery store. They taste like apple cider, stay moist for days, and brighten up my morning in an instant. Simple wins!


I just finished Murder, Simply Stitched by Isabella Alan, book two in her Amish Quilt Shop series. I’ve been flipping through a few of her mystery series and have had varied results but I really like this one as well as the Magical Bookshop series that she writes under the name Amanda Flower. Something about this season has begged for the cozy mystery so I’ve been checking out a lot of them in between my book club picks and homeschool readers.


I made this slow cooker Olive Garden Chicken and Penne recipe from The Magical Slowcooker and two out of three family members ranted and raved and have been devouring the leftovers all week. The other person doesn’t really like slow cooked meat and it shows. Can’t please everyone. ::shrugs::


EMILY’S WONDER LAB (L to R) Emily Calandrelli as EMILY in episode, 101 of EMILY’S WONDER LAB. Cr. NETFLIX © 2020

Emily’s Wonder Lab on Netflix is my sixth grader’s new favorite thing and is miraculously always relevant to our current science curriculum. (sidenote: One of my favorite things about homeschool is how seamlessly one subject seems to find another and how our lessons often seem oddly relevant to the shows we’re watching on tv or things happening in day to day life.) This show is like Bill Nye for the next generation, making science unabashedly fun and silly.


You guys, I’ve become Adult Coloring Book lady rather unabashedly this fall. You know I love my watercolors, but adult coloring books let me be creative in bursts without planning ahead or having an idea of something to create. This is great when I have five minutes to kill and don’t want to give it to social media. I can idly color in a mandala while we’re listening to an audio book or I’m waiting for my daughter to finish her math lesson. I find that I’m more present while doing this than idly tapping my phone – and it’s a better stress reliever. Some days I’m coloring because I’m bored but many other times it’s because 2020 has me stressed out of my gourd. Anyone else?


Another show we discovered this fall is the apparently oldie but goodie, The Librarians, currently streaming on Hulu. This feels like Doctor Who meets Castle meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The whole family is watching this one and loving it.


What have you guys been up to lately? What books or shows should we watch and read next? What’s your favorite weeknight dinner recipe?

Categories
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!

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?