Tuesday, June 30, 2015

June Titles

Kids taking a rest while I read aloud to them the current issues of Click and Ladybug magazines

This month was over in a flash! I can't believe how our four weeks of summer have just flown by, but I suppose I should know better by now. We plan tons of days with friends, library and bike time, and just generally have a ball. I was off to a great start with my reading at the beginning of the month, but due to 2 seasons of TV shows that I love becoming available at the library (finally!) the last 10 days or so I've been camped in front of the computer, watching episode after episode. Little time left for reading, but I have a ton of books lined up in the queue for July, that I'm excited to read to the kids, and those to myself during quiet time. Here's June's finished titles:

*The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman -- This book was fabulous, and everything I love in a nonfiction book: easy to read, relevant anecdotes, full of science and statistics, and excellent, practical advice. I've heard of Gottman's work in Seattle, and so when I saw this book (that I'd heard of from a friend recently) at a garage sale for $.50, I picked it up, even though it was covered in highlighter. I then found a brand new copy at the thrift store for $1, so passed on the marked-up one to a friend, and finished the one without the distractions of bright orange and pink. 
I try to read at least one 'marriage' book a year, and although I'd love it if Stefan would join me (!), we don't read them together. I did perk up a lot and tell him, "hey! listen to this..." quite a few times during this reading. There are practical applications and quizzes you can take at the end of each chapter that I skipped, but would at some point like to go through them together. We have a strong marriage (10 years on Thursday!) but thoughtfully reading an expert's opinion can't hurt, either!

*Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin -- I wanted to like this book, but I came to terms with the fact that I'd only give it a 3 out of 5. It was good, not great. I've heard Rubin is a mastermind list writer (and she is) in her nonfiction books, but I found this book boring and a touch too navel-gazing for my likes. This was Rubin's second in the line of the Happiness Project books, where she makes a list of things that will make her happier--you guessed it--at home, and follows through with them over the course of the year, documenting what she learned, if she was any happier, and if she still follows or enjoys the practice. I still want to read her newest book on habits, but I doubt I'll go for her first one, "The Happiness Project". 

*Wonder by R. J. Palacio -- This is a young adult novel that I'd heard about from someone who works at a school. The person told me an entire grade in their middle school was reading and discussing it, and when I found out what the topic was, I was interested. It's about a young boy who was born with a facial deformity, and his first year in school. My expectations were high, so I was a bit let down with the plot, but for a first novel I thought the author did exceptional. It's a story about overcoming adversity, loyalty, and bullying, and it's worth a read for a young kid entering the world of junior high and peer pressure. 

*Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning by Oliver DeMille -- Oy. This homeschooling book took me FOR-EV-ER (yes, just like they say it in The Sandlot) to read. I forced myself to read this book whenever I had a spare moment just so I could be done with it. I'm planning on selling it, since it's still priced high on amazon. I've heard wonderful things about Leadership Education by two homeschooling blog authors I read zealously, so I thought I would connect with it. I get the main ideas and philosophy, but it could have been edited down to about 100 pages, not 300. The writing was overly descriptive and tedious to get through, and so much of it was really common sense that shouldn't need to be written in the first place. Stick with the charts! Not my favorite homeschooling book. 

Read Alouds with Children:

*Homer Price by Robert McCloskey -- Lukka loved this novel that included 5-6 'old-time' stories about a boy named Homer Price. Homer is honest, a hard worker, and resourceful. You might know McCloskey from "Blueberries for Sal" or "Make Way for Ducklings" fame. I didn't love this book but I didn't hate it, either. It was enjoyable to read aloud, and Lukka was very entranced by the stories which included a big problem, and a solution made by Homer near the end. Each chapter was about 20 pages but they went quickly. I'd recommend it to some, but not all. He's better at children's picture books, and you won't go wrong with the two titles linked above. 

*The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo -- This book was very different from the other DiCamillo books we've read, but I and the kids enjoyed it nontheless. She writes with a lot of fluidity and the story really seems to take shape only after she's written part of it as opposed to having a clear picture in her head how the story will turn out. That's only a guess, and we enjoyed this novel, but I will say it is much darker than some of her other children's novels. Edward, an arrogant and lovely china doll rabbit is taken very literally around the world through a series of imaginative and practically impossible (one might say, "miraculous"!) twists of events. In the end, he learns to do what a toy is meant to do, love. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lukka's Birthday Party (and a few ideas for 'on a dime')

 Lukka enjoying a Big Al's burger and onion strings!

Last week I did Lukka's yearly birthday interview and this week I'm sharing what we did for his 8th birthday, as we stretched it out over the weekend. We don't do massive parties (mostly because of energy levels and finances) but we do like to give our kids a treat and celebrate them with things they like or want to do, and who with. When Lukka asked for a friend party this year, we knew we'd have a small willing crowd, I just had to come up with some activities for us to do that they would all enjoy, and also do it cheaply. 

One of the first things I did in preparation for the party was to look on pinterest and find some cheap and easy outdoor games. I found one that used pool noodles, balloons, and baskets that I thought would be fun and appropriate. Balloons cost about $1-2/bag and pool noodles are roughly $2/piece. I cut all the pool noodles in half so I'd only have to buy 4 for all the kids in attendance. I can take care of the baskets with our laundry baskets. The day was hot and the grass outside popped almost all our balloons (!), so while that game was a complete bust, I let them smack each other around with the pool noodles for awhile, and Stefan joined in. They totally loved that.

 Friends feeding the local duck crowd 

The second thing I had on hand was silly string. This activity was the most expensive thing we did all weekend, but it's sort of been a family tradition to do silly string on your birthday. I was a little scared to see how this ended up, because we're in the backyard of our neighbor's house who we rent from, but I was able to quickly find a solution. Each can cost about $3.50, and I bought 7 cans. That's pretty pricey for a very short activity, but we tried to stretch it out. The kids loved having the silly string fight and when it was over (and the yard was covered), I told them all we were going to have a ball throwing contest, but they'd have to quickly 'gather and add' all the string they could find to make their balls bigger and heavier. In the end, nearly all the silly string was cleaned from the grounds in ten minutes, and the kids loved throwing their balls to see which got farthest in the backyard. Score!

Onto the next activity, we took a walk to the local ducks. Less than a block away is a farm that has goats, ducks, peacocks, doves, pheasants, chickens, a pony, and a cow, and you can get right up to the fence and feed the animals. I had a small piece of bread for each child to take and showed them how to make tiny little pieces to throw to them so their piece would last a long time. They mostly followed through, and really enjoyed petting the goats and feeling their horns, and feeding the animals. 

Friends at the park

We walked on a few more blocks to a local school and let the kids play on the jungle gym for over 30 minutes. This park is big and has a great 'obstacle course' that you can't really see from the photo, but they were all --aside from the birthday boy -- really happy to play here for quite a long time. We had about 5 blocks to walk back to our house for food and after they had been playing for a solid two hours, they were finally ready to chow down.

At the house I told the kids to go outside and drink a cup of water, and munch on the 'appetizers' (baby carrots, cucumbers, and apple slices), ensuring they would get the healthiest part of the party food in them first. Worked like a dream after all that ruckus play! That also gave me time to cut the cake, get the chips, and pop going while Stefan roasted the hot dogs. The kids went through all their food and I was shocked that all the food I bought was eaten. I thought for sure we'd have leftoveres, but with one party size bag of chips and a 12 pack of hotdogs, and 6 canettes of Sprite, there was literally nothing left except a few slim slices of a Rolo cake ($8 at Walmart!) that I handed to the lingering parents as they came to pick up their kids. Lukka loved all his gifts and was super excited to open them. We felt like the 3 hours our guests were here just flew by, and I think everyone had fun. Parties don't have to be expensive, in fact, we've never spent more than $50, and even that sounds like a lot. The silly string killed me this year, and I think I may leave it out next time, but for a kid party with a full meal, activities, and play I feel like I definitely managed!

 Lukka flying a kite at the Birch Bay Kite Festival

On the following day after the party, we went to church and then to Lukka's favorite restaraunt in Blaine, WA--Big Al's, for a big, juicy burger and onion fries, which he loves (see above photo) and we rarely go to. I randomly saw that there was going to be a Kite Festival in Birch Bay at the time near when we'd be done with lunch and ready for something else to do in the afternoon. The festival was free and my son LOVES kites. He loves designing, building, flying, and watching them, and this was too good to be true. 

When we got to the festival, we realized all the free kits that I had read about on the website were gone, and the only thing left was the $5 kits and $10 t-shirts. It was nearing the end of the day and we don't usually carry any American money. They wouldn't take Canadian (we knew, but we had to ask!) and I only had $2 US on me. The nice lady running it said 'ah, what the heck!' and gave the kids a free kite kit to work on with what we had. How generous of her. When she found out it was Lukka's birthday, she then went on to give him a free Kite Festival t-shirt, and a free kit for himself, as well. She really helped make his day special, much to the slight embarrassment of his mom. Ahem. 
It was a perfect time to spend as a family and celebrate Lukka, who felt so loved that he even told us 'this was a perfect weekend for my birthday!' and we couldn't be happier we were fortunate enough to help him celebrate in ways that we know he enjoys. Happy Birthday, Lu!

Inexpensive Party Tips!

*Use what you have around: we had the local farm attraction, a park not too far away, and a backyard at our disposal. 

*Simple Foods: veggies, fruit, and water always offered before anything else will work if kids are super hungry, hot dogs, buns, and chips are always enjoyed by most kids, and are dirt cheap party foods

*Scan pinterest for inexpensive party ideas: The game cost me $8 total, and even though the grass blades popped most of the balloons, the kids loved playing with them while they lasted and were ecstatic to take home their 1/2 pool noodle in lieu of a goodie bag

*ONE party dessert: I could have had candy, cookies, and cake, but do we really need all of that? Nah. My beautifully decorated and chocolate-on-chocolate cake (like he requested) that I bought at Walmart fed 16 and cost me $8. Totally worth it. 

*Rethink the goodie bag: I'm not saying goodie bags are terrible...they aren't! They're usually awesome, kids love them, and they are full of amazing toys, candies, stickers, and the like, but I just can't shell out tons of money for things that are just going to end up in the trash. I'd rather give out something practical. It must be the INTJ in me. Final cost for 1/2 pool noodle each: $1/person

Friday, June 19, 2015

Lukka Turns 8! Birthday Interview

Quarry Rock hike refuel

As of June 21, I have an 8 year old. WHAT? I know people like to tell families with babies and toddlers that the years fly by (and you want to growl at those people because you're covered in yesterdays spit-up), but honestly, the years didn't fly by until Ani hit about 3, and Lukka was 5. Now, they are warp-speed! I get it. Those infancy years seem to lag, but these days? I am just barely keeping up with their activities, interests, excitement, and abilities! Hence, my son turning 6 8. 

I love the idea of Birthday Interviews to see how they change from year to year, and you can revisit Lukka's  previous interviews here (7), and here (6), and see another birthday (5). 

We love you, Lukka!

I have no idea. He was excited!

*Where do you live?  Ft. Langley in Canada
*What is your favorite food? Macaroni & cheese
*What is your favorite drink? soft drinks (Sprite)
*What is your favorite color? blue or green
*What is your favorite animal? maybe a giraffe

Working with magnets

*What is your favorite book? I like all, well, most, of them
*What is your favorite toy? transformers
*What is your favorite song? maybe the Doxology
*What is your favorite thing to do inside? TV and tablet time
*What is your favorite thing to do outside? play on the swings or play in the playhouse
*What do you want to be when you grow up? maybe a house builder, hmm. Not sure.

Sweeping out the playhouse in the backyard

*What makes you sad? I don't know. 
*What makes you happy?  going on dates with Dad
*Where is your favorite place to go? the grandparents' homes
*What is your favorite thing to do?  play tennis with dad
*Who are some of your friends? Caleb and Logan, Nathaniel, Ian and friends in Lincoln
*What does mom always do with you?  stay home and spend time
*What does dad always do with you? do sports and bikerides

Tearin' it up: motox!

*What are you looking forward to this summer?  days off of school
*What do you like to take to bed with you?  teddies and blankets
*What are you the best at?  dirtbike riding
*What is your favorite season?  summer
*What is your favorite movie?  maybe The Boxtrolls

Lukka loves learning about, creating, and performing magic tricks and has been on a good kick for a solid year! He loves to perform for others and loves flying his kite. Three years strong on the kite hobby, from asking for his own (at least a year), to flying it consistently, making his own versions, and now using his Opa's 2-handled kite when there are really powerful gusts to capture. I wonder how these strong 'likes' will show up in the future! 
He is generally a very happy boy, except in the morning as he's waking up. We pretty much leave him alone on the couch for awhile until he comes out of his blanket cocoon. He loves doing anything active and his favorites are hiking, tennis, swimming and biking. He is *always* trying to be the clown and the constant jokes, although tiring most times, are normally very sweet and funny. He loves joke books, Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes comics, but also takes a delight in 'how-to' books and instructions. He marveled when I told him he could check out books on how to build things with blue prints in the pages!
Lukka LOVES listening to just about any story. If I'm reading aloud he's right next to me. He loves listening to the radio and music and audio books, and went through the entire Magic Tree House series on audio within a few weeks this past year. He is so happy he can read now on his own and reads front to back nearly every book he (and the ones I) picks out each week. He is a healthy and happy little boy and we are so blessed God chose him to be in our family!

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Bellingham Beach Day and Meeting Soulemama!

view of Bellingham Bay from Boulevard Park

Last week the kids and I spent an entire day in  Bellingham, WA, and mostly, we spent it at the beach near Boulevard Park. The sun was shining and there was blue blue blue everywhere! It was a warm day, but not horribly hot that you had to stay in the water. A cool breeze was blowing through and after we got our three or four errands done, I parked myself with a book on a bench, a picnic table, and then in the grass on my blanket while the kids played at the park, in the sand, and rested quietly while listening to me read aloud. 

new sunnies!

It was one of the best days we've had in awhile. I took them to Chipotle for lunch (a rare treat for us now that we don't live by one!), we had plenty of food and water for the entire afternoon, and aside from a bit of grumbling about sunscreen application, these kids had an absolute ball playing on the rocks, in the sand, and just enjoying the gorgeous view of the bay nearby. I got plenty of time to read to myself, the kids went happily unattended for hours

our 'outside quiet time' (i.e. this rarely happens so it's exciting)

When they got too hot and tired, I suggested we rest in the shade with a snack, some laying down time, and them just listening quietly to the kids' magazines I had brought to read to them for the last hour before our author visit, and they happily obliged! Since we normally do a daily quiet time for 2.5 hours, and not having that in the day, they realized in the afternoon they were quite tired and needed a rest (see, this mama is onto something) and enjoyed an hour of laying on the blanket, closing their eyes, and just relaxing and listening. Heaven!

The Taproot get-together at Ragfinery

Now onto the real reason why we came to Bellingham (the Namaste gluten-free flour, Chipotle, and TJ's orange craisins were just a happy pit-stop), meeting Amanda Blake Soule aka Soulemama at Ragfinery on her Taproot tour of the Pacific Northwest! I've been reading Amanda's blog for nearly 8 years; since Lukka was an infant, and reading her daily words and seeing the pictures is actually a moment I savor nearly every day. She's a crafter, artist, and author celebrity in her niche, and I couldn't believe my luck that she'd be in Bellingham (nearly everyone goes to Seattle) so close to me!

It was my first time to Ragfinery, and oh how I wish I had known about it when I lived in Blaine and was up in Bham so often! This unique store is part fabric, yarn, and notions shop. Although I didn't get a tour (my kids were with me, we didn't stay more than an hour), from what I observed it looks like there are staff who also create garments and piece from the fabric and notions collected, repurposing them. It was a really great store with a color-coded wall that I should have taken a picture of. 

 Craft and blog celebrity Amanda Blake Soule (@Soulemama) and artist Pheobe Wahl in the flesh!

Above you can see the beautifully decorated event room (you should have seen the cheese and meats all over the table! yum!) with sweet pea flowers, fabric and yarn garlands everywhere, and of course courtesy copies of Taproot magazine. My only wish for this time was that Stefan could have had the kids with him for an hour or so while I could enjoy the wonderful company of craft women (I met a few who I was able to chat with for about an hour), and also knit or embroider with Amanda-really, a lovely dream! Alas, I knew I'd never make it down from Ft. Langley to Bellingham after Stefan got home from work, the event would have been over right as I'd get there, so that's the reason we spent the entire day there anyway. We did have fun, anyway!

I only talked to Amanda for a few minutes, but what I really wanted to do was personally thank her for teaching and inspiring me so much through her blog, her books, and her photos. I've learned a lot from her over the last 8 years and I feel she has mentored me a bit in the ways of homeschooling, homesteading, gardening, and raising kids, even though I had never met her in real life before the other day. A most excellent day, indeed, and a small wish come true.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

15 in 2015: Hike Quarry Rock in Deep Cove, BC

Lukka taking a sip from his new camel pack

Whoop! I've already gotten to a few of my 15 in 2015 list goals and have more in the works, but I'm excited to share not only one achieved but a beautiful place near us as well. Deep Cove is a little village tucked away in North Vancouver, and it's high season in the summer, when everyone from the city wants a good hike a quick drive or bike ride away. There are paddle board and kayak rentals, swimming, a park, and plenty of amazing views. Our family had been to Deep Cove before but only to check it out, we'd never actually hiked around in the trees up there, but come summer there are tons of hikers on the Quarry Rock trail!

the view from atop Quarry Rock

This hike is considered an easy trail but I'm finding out that means very little to this midwestern, sea-level-all-my-life girl. "Easy" started off with a huge climb atop some beautiful tree roots, and held a lot of up and down stairs throughout. The hike was about 1.5 hours and I considered it a great workout. It was a pretty hot day but when I got to the top I was very sweaty, though I felt great and had no soreness after or the next day. The surprising thing was we took the kids on their first real hike of the year (no nature paths here, folks) and they loved it and did great. Lukka doesn't have supportive shoes yet and on the way down his feet were hurting, but Ani and Stefan ran down the trail on the way back, for fun. Crazies.

view of the treetops at the top of Quarry Rock

The view from the top was definitely worth it, though by the time we arrived at the top it was completely crowded. My guess is to get the best weather and fewest people, you'd have to go up around 8 or 8:30, get to the top around 9, back down before 10AM. I believe we started around 11 and got to the top when most people started unpacking their lunches and taking it easy. It was also extremely hot on top of the bald rock and I was fine with just taking a few pictures of the view and heading back into the tree covering!

the view of Deep Cove, from atop Quarry Rock 

It was such a beautiful hike and I'm so glad I've already marked this off my list. Our family had fun, got an excellent workout in (and sure enjoyed our Chipotle lunch after in probably less than 5 minutes) and are excited to try out more trails nearby. If you're ever visiting Vancouver, Deep Cove is a fun option for a quick trip and a short hike (comparatively) . Oh, and you might even see some dogs on paddle boards, too!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Friday Links

a view of Deep Cove

I've been storing up good links for weeks and I have a slew of goodies for you today. These are all links that I was informed, inspired, awed, or excited by, and I hope you enjoy them just as much!

* Drone footage inside the largest cave in the world

*Read you way to a love of math book list for ages 4-12

*Hipster Business name generator: brilliant.

* This On Being episode with Maria Popova was probably the best podcast episode (and I listen to a lot) I've heard in the last month or two. Probably the best title for a job, "cartographer of meaning", Popova... "cross-pollinates — between philosophy and design, physics and poetry, the intellectual and the experiential." (taken from the website)

*Love Harry Potter? Confirmation that a spinoff is coming! And Eddie Redmayne is officially on board. #AllTheFeels

*Mental Floss is the best magazine out there, in my humble opinion. Here's a great list of the 16 Coolest Playgrounds all over the world. Sweet!

*I just discovered the violinist Lindsey Stirling and she's amazing. Within the first few measures, Lukka turned to me and said, "What is that music? I love it". Enough said.

*Got kids and/or fair skin? EWG's guide for the best sunscreens to use (i.e. no harsh chemicals and toxins). We've used California Baby for years and love it, though it can feel super thick at first.

*women photographed from all over the world (wow). Stunning.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Books I Read in May

the art on our kitchen wall

The month of May was spent starting a lot of books and not coming even remotely close to finishing them. I have three books that aren't on this list that I am literally in the middle or at least solidly through the first third, that will just have to wait for future months when they are completed. 

Although I felt like I read a lot (and I did), I only finished a few. It's summer! I want to read All The Books, and then I realize my roles, responsibilities, and blocks of free time will just never allow me to read like I wish (I'd one day like to get paid for reading books, but then I'd have to read the bad ones as well). Here are the books I finished this month. Ahem.

*Every Child Deserves to Know by Lynn Brownlee -- Lynn is a fellow homeschooling mom in my area and that's how I found out about her biography and kickstarter project. I received my copy in late April and read it in a day or two. It was well-written and I enjoyed learning about the person it was about--a local guy who works with underprivileged youth named Graham Hansen. I sent it to my mother-in-law to see if she might like to read it as well. She and my FIL attended the same church as Graham, and would potentially know of connections in the book. 

*Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer -- This book was found via NPR's book blog, and it has close tie-ins with Sylvia Plath and her work, The Bell Jar (say the title over again, a little faster). It was a YA novel based on "intelligent and emotionally fragile" youth who participate in an English class together (only 5 of them in the class) called "Special Topics in English" where they read the work of one author--you guessed it--Sylvia Plath. Through the semester these youth become friends, and their tragic individual circumstances intersect in a place outside of time and space; a limbo of sorts. I thought this book was okay and admittedly I read it based on the ties with Sylvia Plath (my favorite poet). I enjoyed it, and it was a quick read, but not one I'd recommend passionately to most my fellow book friends. 

*Replenish by Lisa Grace Byrne -- Remember my 29 Before 30 List? This was the book that haunted that list AND the previous year, and I just finally got it from the library and read it in a week. That's not "go through it slowly" but I couldn't have very well done that anyway. I found this book to be much hyped up via the internet (dangit) than it should have been, and although I enjoyed specific parts regarding the neuroscience of burnout and fatigue, it was a bit too 'out there' for me. I don't think this is a New Age book but it really came across that way in some parts, which I just can't get on board with. It's accomplished, though I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would. Dang me and my high expectations!

*A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver -- This is perhaps the first Mary Oliver book I've been disappointed with, but she is just not a natural nonfiction writer. I found her chapters to be much too technical and very lacking on the inspirational side. She has a an excellent chapter on formal poem stanzas like how to write a well-done sonnet, but I quickly read my chapter-a-day and returned it without much 'oomph' for my personal writing. 

*A Circle of Quiet by Madeline L'Engle -- I've also had this book (and series) on my lists before and decided to take it off of this year and just enjoy the dang book when I got around to it. I loved this one and look forward to the other two in the series--already in my personal collection thanks to paperbackswap.com. This book is purely a collection of reflections of the author's personal life, community, and career and because I love L'Engle's books so much, this work of nonfiction sort of let me peer behind a door and 'get to know her' even more than I envision as I read her stories. Recommended for those who love the conversations about art and faith (and what it means to be a neighbor in today's world), I recommend it. 

Kid Read Alouds:

*The Green Ember by S. D. Smith -- I wrote a longer review of TGE on my children's literature site, and will redirect you there. In summary: it was a good story, but quite clunky to read aloud. My kids loved it, I was "meh" because I didn't enjoy the experience of reading it out loud.

*Still More Stories from Grandma's Attic (#3 in series) by Arleta Richardson -- This is the third of fourth short chapter books from the Grandma's Attic series, and these books are really cute and well-written. I enjoy reading them aloud to the kids for homeschooling, and they enjoy listening. The stories have great 'morals', although it's not often as overt as, say, a book of fables. They are short and each chapter is a separate story which makes for good stopping points between reads. All the stories are true and happened to the author's grandmother, and some of them are laugh-out-loud funny. When we finish the series with #4, we're definitely keeping these four in our bookshelves, since I'd like the kids to re-read them when they're older, or keep them for potential grandkids of my own! Highly enjoyable and recommended for ages 5 and up.

What book(s) did you enjoy this past month?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Subscription Boxes as Homeschool Curriculum

Ani painting her first diarama

The subscription service business sector is exploding the online retail market. You can now buy toys, pet products, clothing, stationary, beauty products, eco-cleaning supplies, and even organic snacks all in monthly packages with excellent branding. While print magazines are slowly fading away, a new type of subscription purchasing is taking place in droves--for those who are too busy or depleted to run one more errand (hand raised here), you can get a fun surprise on your doorstep for a decent price. These are excellent as curriculum because all the work of planning and gathering has been done for you! Now it's just up to the child to execute and enjoy the process. 

I have tried a few subscription services as either birthday gifts or a trial run for homeschooling, and let me tell you there are some awesome businesses going up! I want to highlight a few of them for you that can be used as homeschooling curriculum for elementary grade kids. With each I'll let you know if I, myself, have tried it, will try it in the future, or if I know someone who has tried it, or none of the above. 

Little Passports -- Little Passports is a geography adventure covering a country each month and has three age groups to choose from.This is one of the first educational subscriptions I'd heard of--years ago-- and it's a reigning champion. I have a friend who has tried it and really loves it. It looks like a great way to explore the world without leaving your home. Plane tickets are expensive these days! Included are imaginary play items like a boarding pass and letter from pen pals Sophia and Sam, links to online games and crafts.

Pley -- I have tried this subscription service (when it was called Pleygo) and LOVED it. It works just like netflix--you pay for the 'level' you want (in this case, which type of LEGO sets you'd like to receive), the kids play for however long they want and then send the LEGO set back to get another in the mail. If you choose to keep a particular set, you just notify Pley online and the next one in your queue ships out! Suitable for kids 3+.

Animal Trackers -- This is a new one to me. I hadn't heard of it before researching educational boxes for this post, but it looks like it could be really fun for PreK-2nd graders who love animals. Each month is a new animal to learn about and 'track' and if your son or daughter is a huge Wild Kratts fan, this may be right up their ally. 

Raddish -- This subscription box is for the mini baker and wee chef in the family. This branding and packaging is excellent. It really is a beautiful box (I'm not going to lie, it makes a difference to me) and comes with recipes, shopping lists, a craft or activity, a Raddish patch for each month and online extension activities. Okay, so the food doesn't come with, but I am considering this for next year's Health curriculum for Ani, who loves participating in the kitchen. Suitable for kids 5+.

Groovy Lab in a Box -- This is a science related experiment kit that looks really great. The branding is similar to Mental Floss, so already my interest is piqued. I have not tried this but I am going to get a small subscription for Lukka to try out next Fall. I know he'll love it, and we'll compare it to our experience with Tinker Crate. It looks like you get a lot of items for experiments, but my hesitation is that most of these items are things you'd already have around the home. The interesting thing is that there are more than 1 activity per box, thus making the subscription last longer each month.

History Unboxed -- This is a new-to-me subscription kit that I saw on SimpleHomeschool.net, a blog I read online that has introduced me to many a good resource and I trust their opinion of educational materials. It looks like this is a brand-new service, because they only have a few to choose from, and all of them are about cultures from long ago. I am interested to know more about this one for our homeschool curriculum (history sometimes being the hardest to come up with excellent lessons, for me anyway), but I want to wait a bit so I can see that they have more than just three or four ancient cultures to choose from. 

Green Kid Crafts* -- This is another reigning champion of subscription boxes for kids. I've heard about this one for years though have never followed through on getting a box to try out. I find that I have so many art supplies at home, I don't need any more that a subscription kit could offer, but I know that many parents or child-care givers don't want to accumulate the amount that we have, either! This is a great option for the kid who loves to craft. 

Tinker Crate -- Tinker Crate is a STEM-related educational subscription and it is awesome! We had a 3-month subscription that turned into a 4 monther because of a snafu and miscommunication. It wasn't the easiest for my school, HCOS, to get a subscription for my son, nor for us to get in touch with TC about the issue, but once we made contact they gave us a free month to rectify, which I appreciated. TC is a branch of KiwiCrate, which is another popular crafty subscription. They also have Koala Crate (PreK) and Doodle Crate (9-16yo). I often call my son "the Tinker" and so this box was perfect for him. He loved getting this every month and didn't need my help at all to figure the projects out. They come with a blueprint, a Tinker Zine (great info and more projects related to monthly topic with at-home items), all the materials, which I found to be top-notch quality, and an online video tutorial if you can't figure it out. Suitable for kids 7 or 8+. 

Love the idea of a subscription service for your kids' enjoyment or homeschool curriculum but didn't find the type of activity they're into? Check here for a large listing (also includes clothing and toy subscription services). 

*The GKC website seems to be down, the link isn't broken. Check back in a day or too if you're interested.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Biggest 'Con' to Homeschooling

 Lukka building a fort at Ft. Langley

I suppose I can start out with throwing out any old 'cons', or reasons against homeschooling to really get you curious. Does she hate teaching math? Does she think her kids will be weird? (Nope.) Does she find the homework battle exhausting? Is she secretly insecure in her ability to school all grade levels and subjects? 

Really, I could care less about these questions. The main 'con' of homeschooling, the one that stays the same year after year, when the 'pro' list gets bigger year after year, is this: I have to be with my kids all day. 

I once heard a panel of women speak who all made different educational choices for their kids, and what I remember the most from that 60 minute segment was what one lady, the homeschooler, said. She laughed and remarked, "I have to be with my kids all day, and I get to be with my kids all day". 

Sit there for awhile. Read it again if you have to.

I have to be with my kids all day, and I get to be with my kids all day.

The biggest con is also one of the biggest pros. How's that for a simple answer? 

Ani doing an experiment with magnets

What, exactly, does that mean? It means that I get to be with my kids all day--see them learn how to read, enjoy their excitement and surprise with a science experiment, snuggle with them out in the backyard on the deck swing while I read a really great book in the morning while the sun is shining and we've got nowhere to be, and scoot them outside for hours of playtime when they're feeling off, bored, or restless. 

Those, if you haven't guessed, are the "get tos". I get to enjoy those things with my kids, and I'm not naive. As parents we really get under 18 years with our kids in our house and as homeschoolers that's mine to soak up and make memories with. 

It also means that I have to be with my kids all day. There are no day care centers for elementary-aged kids, because they are required to be in school. Everything I do outside of the home is just a tad harder since I've got kids I have to lug with me. Everywhere I go takes just a little bit longer because you can't get the same amount done with one person that you could get with three (well, unless those three all drive and you split them up, heaven help me I can't wait!) because the province we live in (and my guess, the state you live in) have rules about when kids are lawfully allowed to stay at home alone. 

I have to be with them everyday. Everywhere, and everything we do, we do together, for better or worse. Have to.
Ani figuring out which pelt belong(ed) to which animal

The other thing is that I'm an individual, with a complete personality, interests, and skill set aside from taking care of my children, and being around them 24/7 can be incredibly draining. Caring for children (or other family members who need constant care) is a job, and although I don't think it's usually physically taxing, it is mentally and sometimes emotionally unnerving. The opportunity for you to become your worst self is sort of always out there, on the table. 

I don't want to sugar coat homeschooling, though sometimes I get the sense that people think our homeschooling path is puppy dogs and rainbows. I don't think homeschooling is as hard as some people make it out to be in their minds, but I also would not try to debate with someone to homeschool who simply doesn't want to. That would be foolish. I get the not-wanting to. It's the biggest con; in fact the only con that reoccurs fairly often throughout our homeschool year. 

I sometimes fantasize about dropping my kids off at school for a week, just so I could catch my breath for 30 hours and give myself an opportunity to miss them! I know I'm not the only homeschooler who thinks that (I'd even go so far as to say that fantasy is somewhat common, especially in February!). 

So how does one come to terms with that tension of getting to be with your kids all day, and having to be with your kids all day? 

Lukka working on his first diorama

For our family, it looks like a regular routine, with a long quiet time built into every day. When your kids are babies and toddlers, they need naps. I'd argue that when they're older, they need downtime, too, just not in the form of a nap. You guys, it's work to instill a regular quiet time in your day. It's got to be a non-negotiable and you've got to make it consistent or it just won't work with any reliability. I honestly do not know how homeschoolers with young children make it work every day without implementing a quiet time of some sort. 

I have seen amazing creativity come out of their quiet times, and I've seen restfulness happen after a crazy morning together. This is (mostly) how our kids have learned to read as well, and learned to love books. There is imaginary play, and self-entertaining and creative projects to start, study, and engage with. 

I am 100% certain that if we did not have a quiet time in our days, where everyone is separated from each other for a period of 2.5 hours, I wouldn't make it as a homeschooler. I cringe just thinking about interacting with my kids (the having to) every minute of every day from morning until night with no end in sight. Each day, I get a breather. The whole 'oxygen mask on yourself before anyone else' thing. 

I do get time to myself. In fact, 150 minutes, exactly. I use it wisely, even if that means taking an hour to watch three Mindy episodes. It's just that sometimes, some days, it never feels like enough. Yesterday was like that. Other days will be like that. It doesn't mean I should put my kids in school, because I can't hack it.

 It just means that some days, in whatever your job is, you're going to have bad days where you wish you could be doing something else. It's the same with homeschooling. The biggest con can also be the biggest pro. My pro list for homeschooling grows every year. We're finishing up three years, and right now, I can't imagine doing anything else. The con list has always stayed the same, and if you're a list-maker, those are some pretty good odds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Ft. Langley Living Museum

dressing up and getting the scowls right

Last week we didn't have much to do with our history curriculum as we're finishing up the year and I'm tired of the kids' text book we've been reading from, frankly. Instead, I declared the afternoon a field trip and we were going to check out our local town's national historic site, Fort Langley

Wow! What a gem. I had no idea that this living museum would be as large, interesting, and completely child-friendly as it was. While we were there a pack of 5th graders (?) from a local French-immersion school was also there, and we loved getting to stand in at their presentations (all in French, of course!) as well as taking off on our own, with the audio wand as our guide through the 24 buildings, rooms, and sites of the first fur-trading location this far west from the Hudson Bay Company.

Lukka sitting at the letter writing desk

There were people milling about on this slow Monday afternoon, workers in period dress and able to answer any questions. I found out later that the entire site is okay to touch, unfortunately, scolding my kids unnecessarily for putting their hands on all the things. Next time I'll know better and let them touch away. That is the best kind of museum--the artifacts begged to be held and felt!

The top three pictures are from 'the big house', where a wealthy family lived, where important decisions were made, where gold was weighed, etc. The bottom picture is from the actual fur-trading building, full of various animal pelts, packaged cubes (you can see mid-line in the photo--they're huge and heavy!), and the beautiful wool blankets that the HBC was known for at the time, and still is!

Ani keeping warm by the fire in the family room

When purchasing tickets and selecting an audio wand, I chose one for the three of us, but realistically, it didn't work as great as I thought it would. The kids got frustrated that they couldn't hear very well, since it's really made for one person, and I felt if I would have purchased one for each, they would enjoyed the audio portion so much more, and learned a bit more about it rather than me trying to listen with one or both of them and recapping their "what? what did they say?"

The audio wand tells 24 stories, historical importance and individual's stories from the time they spent there. There were children who told of growing up in the fort, and men and women's journey's all the way from Hawaii! It told of the shipbuilder's family and why the specific river boat (one on site) was made to hold all the weight while still being able to ford the rapids. It was fascinating and very well done. 

Ani exploring various animal pelts

This is the kind of tour I like to go on, and that my kids love to explore. There haven't been as many opportunities for these types of field trips, simply because I don't know what's out there or available until someone tells me or I happen on it on my own. The Fort Langley Historical Site, though, is a gem and should be given a full afternoon. The cashier told us we'd need a bit over an hour, we were there for three and I was begging my kids to leave because I hadn't had lunch yet and was starving!

Living museums are great opportunities to instill a Love of Learning in your home, and if you give kids time to explore, and the ability to touch and receive information in an engaging way, you and they will retain so much more. Just don't forget to bring some snacks...

Monday, May 11, 2015

Homeschool Recap // Term Three

Ani holding up her "Rubens" portrait (using only dark colors)

February is known as burn-out month in homeschooling circles, and for good reason up here in British Columbia. It's grey, overcast, and rainy for weeks (months) on end and things get restless inside; cabin-fever rampant. Now that we've been over that hump for some time, our days are going, well, fabulously. Of course, the daily sunshine helps. Hello park time!

The way that schools run up here is on a trimester system, only they don't even call it trimesters, but three terms. I've always gone by semesters or quarters, but I like this way better. We see our support teacher* three times in the year for formal portfolio presentations, and keep in contact with her and the school over the whole year. The thing I tried differently at the change-over of the third term, though, has been what has made all the difference. 

Reading from The Green Ember and pretending to have a hurt foot like Picket the rabbit

I noticed that the core subjects (bible, reading, writing, and math) were always necessary as first-thing-in-the-morning subjects, and I still continue those right off the hop, starting with bible and and our read aloud while the kids are eating breakfast. We get these four things, both kids, done within an hour, and the next thing I've changed is this: block scheduling for the other four subjects of science, history, art, and French.

What does it mean for a homeschooler to block schedule? Just that in our four days a week of homeschooling, we use the second hour to roll through a week's worth of activities in one subject per day, maximizing the kids' flow and interest in what we're learning, as opposed to trying to do 10 minutes or so per subject each day. Yes, we take Fridays off for skyping with my mom, bi-weekly reporting to our teacher, and sometimes cross-border errands., 

Lukka's "Rubens" project, portrait of me :) 

What does this practically look like? Well, take science for example. A week's worth of activities involve reading an entire chapter, doing all the workbook pages affiliated with that chapter, watching some Brain Pop Jr. videos about the topic (we love these and wholeheartedly recommend the subscription), and doing a number of experiments, often with charts, drawings with labels, or some other form of documentation.

If you think back to your school days, normally all of this is broken up into a number of days, and sticking with the same chapter for weeks on end. I find that we are all better accustomed to this style of subject-tackling than what I was doing previously--doing 10 minutes here and there, every day. I hated it. I felt like I was rushing the kids through everything and they could never really 'sit' with the material, learn it well by hands-on activities and artful productions, and just generally dishing out anxiety instead of love of learning. 

Lukka working on his science experiments and collecting data

Honestly, I don't know why I didn't think of this before. It has really changed the way my kids approach school, and approach each subject. There are some subjects (I'm looking at you, French) that my kids grumble about, but when they are IN the subject matter for a solid 40 minutes of activities, including Duolingo app time, listening to French music, watching a youtube lesson, and doing a project with vocab, they don't totally hate it. We can really dig into the topic.

Term three is going exceptionally well for us, but we also only have about a month left of school, maybe less (the poor kids go to school out here until nearly the end of June! We don't.), and I know attitudes won't always be this chipper. More than likely we'll have to rearrange things again when something isn't working for our family and it doesn't make logical sense, but for now, this solution has really solved a lot of problems of efficiency, flow, retention, and lack of interest. We'll stick with it into the next school year as well. Success!

What is working right now in your homeschool? Is there a program or system that you really love and want to share? Leave it in the comments!

*support teachers are part of every distance learning school in British Columbia. I'll post soon on the way they do things up here, it's brilliant and we love it!

Friday, May 8, 2015

15 in 2015 // A New List for A New Year

sunset rainbow on Crescent Beach trail in White Rock, BC

My last birthday list didn't go so well. It was alright, but I only finished about half, and since I like my goal lists to be realistic, this felt like a bit of a failure to only hit half when I've usually been closer to 60-75% success. Some people like to be wild with their goals, making them huge in their minds, and hitting a fraction of them is a big success, but I'm not that way. Too realistic, I guess, though I don't want to complicate my relationship with what are supposed to be fun and intentional challenges and ways to focus my time throughout a year.

This year I decided to change the amount to something a bit more realistic, '15 in 2015'. I was a bit overwhelmed at the hugeness of some of my challenges last year, even though I was very inspired when I thought about them and wrote them down. This list is a bit more pragmatic, but every item still sounds very fun to me. Some are family-oriented, some are individually minded, a majority creative in some aspect. Some are things that I've put off but want to actually do this year (I'm looking at you, Christmas newsletter). To the list!

1) Take the family on a drive-in movie date

2) Get professional family photos done in the Fall (good thing I've got a best friend who is a photographer!)

3)Turn Ani's bone & shell collection into a shadowbox piece

4) Sew a triangle skirt and headbands

5) Make 'sweet treat' hair clips for Ani & nieces inspired by Hello Shisho

6) Get a dog!!

7) Make calligraphy art (favorite quote) for the home

8) Purchase Anna Koenig (or create inspired by) drift wood installation

9) Hike Deep Cove with family

10) Own and donate to "The Giving Keys"

11) Watch The Sound of Music with the kids

12) Make a necklace(s) inspired by Ship & Shape's Dull Diamond series

13)  Write (and send!) a Christmas newsletter to friends and family

14)  Bake: vanilla bean Confetti Cookies by Joy the Baker (book--Handmade Decadence)


*15 left blank. I'm still ruminating. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

29 Before 30...What Actually Happened

it's what's for lunch

Every year around my birthday I do a list in which I write down the most random activities that I'd like to try, complete, or enjoy in the coming year. I rarely get to all of them. In fact, I don't think I've ever gotten to all of them, but I don't like to waste my time, and trying new experiences can be both frightening and exciting. 

This year, however, was a bit of a bust. You can see my 'before', or the 29 Before 30 list HERE, before reading what actually happened with me over the course of 2014. I'll just tell you right now, I missed quite a few opportunities for doing the list, but I also did a LOT over the same year, including moving twice (ugh, I know), one of which was international, and the 'switching over all the things' was actually a 12 week nightmare. I gave myself a lot of grace this year for not finishing, and honestly, there aren't too many things I'd like to re-add to the new list I'll post next time. I'm just plain uninspired to try them now that a year has passed. 

I did not: 
*go snowshoe-ing (I brought it up a few times, it was always shot down by other family members. Bah-humbug)
*explore a new National Park...instead I just explored all the new cities to me in the lower mainland, which sort of makes this one moot
*get a piece published in a kids' publication (don't ask)
*make a My Little Pony costume via Cakies (the overwhelm sets in just looking at these things)
*make homemade bubbles, but I did think about it once or twice. Hah.
*make a collection photo out of collected rocks (but I did think about rather having a shadowbox instead of photos)
*try skateboarding...again
*make a Beci Orphin-inspired embroidery piece, but I wish I had
*make a Moroccan tassle necklace, but I wish I had 
*make a fabric triangle pom scarf via Muita Ihania (but I did make some fabric cuts before scrapping the idea)
*go through Replenish slowly, though to my credit, I requested the library buy this book over 3 months ago and they STILL haven't gotten it! I don't feel like I can be held accountable for that!
*put family photos in my locket, like I wanted
*make a knitted Katniss cowl, but I did buy a pattern

Looking back, of the 29 Things I set out to do, I literally finished half, and didn't finish half. Not too bad for having a pretty chaotic and somewhat draining year. I don't like setting really unrealistic goals for myself, so although getting half of these accomplished feels great, it does NOT feel great to see the other half unmet. I realize they are supposed to be fun, but this time around I think I'll set something a bit more realistic, like "15 in 2015" or something, Look for that next time!

What was the biggest, or most exciting thing you accomplished for or by yourself in the last year?