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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?

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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
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?

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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
homeschool motherhood

Getting Ready for Back to School – 2020 Style

In three weeks we officially start our school year.

My fourteen year old is starting his first year of high school virtually. He’s the amount of excited but nervous that you would expect.

After months of hearing little more than crickets about what’s going to happen, the last week or two have been a comparable explosion of information. We’ve successfully completed online enrollment, picked up his school issued Chromebook, printed out the generic schedule explaining when his classes will meet virtually, and started talking about adjusting sleep schedules so that logging into class on time will be easy.

And then there’s the whole “I’m homeschooling my 6th grader” thing. Our Bookshark curriculum was delivered on Friday and, after spending the weekend organizing everything, things are looking pretty darn real now.

I’ve been labeling books, pouring over instructor guides, filling out lesson plans and calendars, and even started reading my 6th grader’s first independent reader for literature – The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell.

I’m hoping to stay a book ahead of her so that I’ll be able to really discuss those books with her and not have to rely solely on the instructor’s guide.

Along with the standard Bookshark curriculum, I also ordered a U.S. elections lapbook – which is a more hands on arts and crafts centered lesson. We’re reading about governments, elections, etc. and then filling out little charts and stuff and filling a fold out booklet with each project.

We’ll be using a similar thing in our social studies curriculum so I thought we’d spend the last few weeks of summer working on the election kit as a way to get our feet wet and ease ourselves into the school year.

I’ve also been figuring out things like health, art and music – which I’m making my own curriculum for. And talking with other mom friends in a similar boat about how to form little co op pods but with Covid precautions in mind. Occasional zoom chats or backyard study buddy time? Maybe some outdoor field trips?

I’ve also been watching lots of YouTube videos by homeschool moms and even started listening to a podcast called Homeschool Your Way. It’s sponsored by Bookshark but run by some mom friends who are longtime homeschoolers who also run homeschooling YouTube channels.

And of course I have to remind myself that we still have three whole weeks of summer left. So in between my spurts of planning and productivity, I’m trying to leave room for downtime. Watching movies with the kids, grilling dinner outside (thanks hubby!), playing video games and you know trying to breathe.

Speaking of breathing, I’ve been trying to spend some time reading or sitting outside while the weather is still nice. And my hubby and I are trying to commit to having coffee just the two of us at least once a week. Sometimes that’s outside in the backyard. Sometimes we’ll hit up a coffee shop with outdoor seating. But either way – it’s just us a good cup of coffee and no kids. Self care for the win!


When do your kids go back to school?

How have you been getting ready for the fall?

What are you doing for self care?

Categories
family fun motherhood

5 Things Bringing Me Joy Right Now.

It would appear that 2020 is in no hurry to take it easy on us. Like everyone else, life has been a series of one step forward and two steps back, making the urge to wallow and whinge strong. But we know better.

We’ve learned to look for the things bringing us joy in the little moments. It’s the only way to battle the blahs and look at these months behind us with the ability to remember more than face masks, social media meltdowns and heartbreaking news stories.

So today let’s choose to look for the joy so that we can fight more battles tomorrow with renewed spirits.

Like these new jars I bought to store flour and sugar on the counter.

And the cookbook that I’ve been baking my way through while we’re stuck at home.

Or those small moments when life looks almost normal. Like taking the kids out for ice cream (we wore masks to order). Bonus points, we had the place to ourselves, so I let them eat inside in the air conditioning.

Playing outside – we’ve had plenty of time for frisbees and sidewalk chalk this summer.

Or when I baked chocolate chip cookies for my husband for Father’s Day and everyone agreed they were some of the best chocolate chip cookies ever.


What’s bringing you joy right now?

Categories
family fun motherhood photography wordless wednesday

wordless wednesday | pictures of june

When I look back on this time someday, these are the things I hope to remember. Not how Facebook was driving me crazy or how much I hate group texts or how much I miss that sense of normalcy that we’ve always taken for granted. I want to remember the beautiful moments that we found when we were forced to slow down and focus on home.

doodling along with some favorite illustrators on youtube - we love Studio JJK and Mo Willems!
doodling along with some favorite illustrators on youtube
what better activity to spend quarantine doing than baking my way through a new cookbook - these cheddar herb scones came out great
baking therapy for the win
making pinecone bird feeders with the kids really brought me back to doing this as a kid with my grandmother
making pine cone bird feeders like it’s 1992
finally painting again - it felt good to pull out my watercolors after a long hiatus
painting a watercolor meadow