What We Read and Learned in January.

Can you believe it will be February tomorrow! I thought I’d take a moment to share what we’ve been doing in homeschool this month. For those who aren’t familiar, my sixth grader and I started our first year of homeschooling this year – we started because of the pandemic, but we’re enjoying it so much we plan to continue at least throughout the rest of middle school. Anyway, here’s what we’ve been reading, learning, and loving this month.

Homeschool Reads We Finished

Story of the World Vol. 3 by Susan Wise Bauer | We started reading this at the beginning of the school year and finished a couple weeks ago. It felt like a monumental milestone in our first year of homeschooling. Despite a few possible historical inaccuracies, I have found this to be the most engaging history text I’ve ever read and I really feel like it’s turned history as a subject around for my 6th grader.

Betsy and the Emperor by Staton Rabin | We both loved this story of Betsy and her friendship with Napoleon, the exiled former emperor of France. My sixth grader had a LOT to say about the book. Here’s her review:

“This book was very good. There were some good plot twists, a good plot, it was fun to read, it had an enjoyable adventurous detail in it. It’s a book I got hooked onto, it had good descriptive words, it was great. I enjoyed it a whole lot. The only thing is the ending was kind of sad. They tried to heal it with the prologue, since there wasn’t much they could do when there was history to line up with the story line. I just think it’s kind of sad how it happened.

I read this for homeschool, and when I heard about ‘Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’ dying on Saint Helena during history, it didn’t hurt as much, but when you connect with the characters, and then one of the biggest characters in the story, he/she dies, it betrays you in a way. It REALLY hurts. I kind of wish that he hadn’t died, even though I know that’s betraying the historical ending they put in, and they had to include it. I did enjoy it, I just didn’t LOVE that historical detail. I had grown kinda attached to Boney. He was a fun character, one I’d gotten attached to, a fun character is hard to lose. He was really nice, had a good humor, and then history knocked on the door and pretty much killed Boney…”

Only the Name Remains by Alex W. Bealer | I’ll be honest, this book was a flop for both of us. As important as the topic is, for such a small book it really felt like a chore to get through it. My daughter wrote, “The book was rather sad. I also have to say, though I WAS reading it, I don’t exactly love non-fiction books. Especially not when they’re sadI hadn’t known before now that Tennessee was a Cherokee name. It surprised me right at the end ...”

Books We’re Still Reading

INDEPENDENT READER Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman | E is about halfway done with this one. I personally loved it. I felt like it really transported me to the Alps and the world of mountain climbing which prior to reading this story I had less than zero interest in.

READ ALOUD Nory Ryan’s Song by Patricia Reilly Giff | We’ve been reading this story set during the Irish Potato Famine and it’s really sweeping us away. It’s heartbreaking but so engaging. We’re really rooting for Nory and her family and wondering what will happen next.

EXTRA CREDIT Soft Rain by Cornelia Cornelissen | Determined to make up for Only the Name, I picked up a copy of this book at the recommendation of a fellow homeschooling mom and it is much better. Like most of our homeschool readers, this is a historical fiction story that still manages to teach about the Trail of Tears and do it justice but keeps our attention. We’re about halfway through and things are just starting to get intense. It’s a short read but we’re reading in between regular lessons, so it’s slow going.


Other Fun Stuff We’ve Learned About

  • E found a new favorite workout channel on YouTube. She’s been watching Up to the BEat Fit most days for health class this week. Other things I’ve counted as gym class: shoveling snow, mopping while dancing (genius, I know), and playing outside in the snow for an hour. I’m a really fun mom.
  • To demonstrate how far a character fell off a mountain in Banner in the Sky, we measured out the length with yarn and saw how far the yarn could extend through the house. We also did a worksheet last week to calculate exactly how big the new Chinese army was during the Taiping rebellion.
  • We demonstrated water pressure by poking holes into a soda can and pouring water through it to see which hole would pour further. We also baked a cake and used a stencil from the Story of the World activity book to create the Taiping coin emblem on it.

Add in lots of journaling, science and math, workbooks, and music lessons on the flute and guitar and you’ve pretty much got a good idea of what the last month has looked like here in the land of homeschool. What have you been up to this month?

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?

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.

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?

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?

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.