Monday, August 31, 2015

Fall Leaf To-Do List 2015

It's a little earlier than normal for us to put up our fall leaf tree - listing all the things we'd like to do before the leaves fall.  We've already spotted several trees along our street with leaves changing colors though, so we decided to get a jump on fall, and have our tree all ready for the first day of September.

Per our normal tradition, we printed one item from our fall to-do list on each of the construction paper leaves on the tree. As we complete each item, we hope to mark it off by removing the leaf from the tree and sticking it to the wall around the base of the tree

Then, in November, as the tree is growing bare, we will have room to put up our "thankful turkeys", so by Thanksgiving we should be all set with a Peanuts-inspired turkey tree decorating the dining room.

Our list (below) morphed a bit this year, from early-elementary crafts and sensory experiments to be filled more heavily with art projects, family fun, and even a few handy-man type tasks around the house.

Movies to Watch on DVD or Amazon (that we think have fall release dates):
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Inside Out 
San Andreas 
Shaun the Sheep

Must Watch Fall Flicks:
It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Movies Coming Out in the Theater (that might like to see):
Mockingjay Part 2
The Peanuts Movie

Donuts on a String
Tree identification walk
Fall leaf art project
Make the first fire of the season in the fireplace
Attend a fall festival
Go to the last farmer's market of the season
Taste the first snow
Rake leaves
Jump in a leaf pile
Do a puzzle on a stormy day
Grandma's visit
Create a pine cone (snacktivity)
Go to the homecoming parade
Kick a football
Host a game night
Gut a pumpkin
Decorate the porch for fall.

Taste a Zucchini
Roast pumpkin seeds
Drink a pumpkin latte
Sample a pumpkin milkshake
Make a pumpkin pie from scratch
Bake pumpkin muffins
Bake apple muffins
Have pumpkin pie for breakfast
Make gingerbread men (for first snow)
Make owl cookies (first day of fall)
Make homemade candy corn (on National Candy Corn Day)
Eat a pear
Make caramel apples
Have an apple tasting

Mom's birthday
Dad's birthday
Grandma's birthday
Grandma and Grandpa's 50th wedding anniversary!!!
Columbus Day
Canadian Thanksgiving (with a Peanuts' feast)
National Candy Corn Day

We have a few other personal milestones and around the house, honey-do type things, and plenty of room left on the tree for all the things we forgot, but will think of later.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Building Pinecone Pyramids - Practicing Patience and Perseverance

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” ― Dale Carnegie

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.” ― Helen Keller

“Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.” ― John Quincy Adams

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” ― Margaret Thatcher

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” --- Albert Einstein

 “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” ― Babe Ruth

“Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential.” ― Winston S. Churchill

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” ― Thomas A. Edison

All quotes are from Good Reads "Quotes about Perseverance" except for the Albert Einstein quote.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Skeletal System Sewing Cards

Science is one of those subjects, that we're on the fence when it comes to unschool or not to unschool.  I generally like to follow the children's (or my own) interests into explorations and experiments, but I also like to keep an undercurrent of structured study going at the same time.

To that end, last winter and spring, I had the children reading a science page a day from Dorling Kindersley's Knowledge Encyclopedia (known in our house as "The Great Big Book of Everything"), and then following up their reading with a BrainPop video to match, capped off by the accompanying BrainPop quiz (more to hone their study skills than to actually test their knowledge).

Picking up this fall where they left off last spring, they've been reading about the human body, and yesterday read about the skeletal system.

As a quick go-along activity for my younger girls (ages 9 and 10) I decided to put together sewing cards, by printing a couple of labeled diagrams of the human skeleton...

...gluing them to cereal cardboard, and punching holes through, here and there (clearly taking some liberties where bones form circles, or are very tiny)...

...for the girls to sew through with some of the glow-in-the dark yarn we picked up earlier in the summer (a double strand works best).

So they can see their finished work, with labels, when the lights are on...

...or without labels, when the lights are off.

They glow so much better than the picture shows, too.  I'm completely geeking out over them.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

House Cleaning Solutions - Cleaning Windows With Ease

I don't know about you, but I really like living in a clean house.  I just don't happen to enjoy the actual cleaning of the house.

So, just like looking for foods or products to take the stress out of lunches, I'm always on watch for little tricks to make cleaning faster or easier, especially now that we're back to school, and time is at a premium.

Usually you can't beat good old hard work, but every once and a while I come across a product that really works the way the packaging promises.  Windex's Outdoor All-In-One Glass Cleaning Tool (non-affiliate, for information only, link) is one of those products.  I've tried a number of window cleaning hacks and shortcuts, both homemade and professionally manufactured, but this is the first one I've really been pleased with.

I cleaned the outsides of all, 20 or so, of my windows (including having time to rinse off the screens) in less than a half an hour, the other day.  It was just a matter of spraying the window with the hose, wiping it down with the soapy, Swifter-like pad, and then rinsing the window back off (we are in a single story house over a basement, so no ladders).

The job wasn't completely perfect (there were little streaks here and there if I looked close), but considering the time it took - it was amazingly good, and sparkling clean.  The starter pack comes with one cleaning pad, so refills have to be purchased for each cleaning.  So far, I haven't found them in our local stores, but Amazon carries them. 

I wasn't paid for this opinion. I'm happy to share what time savers I find.  How about you?  Any go to household products you like to recommend to all your friends?  Believe me, I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Homeschool Lunch Solutions - Toaster Bags

This time of year, there are countless posts offering fun, creative, and sometimes even healthy suggestions for filling school lunch boxes.

As a homeschool mom I enjoy looking through the recipes and directions.  But, being home all day (more or less) with a fridge and stove at our disposal, I'm not likely to get up early to arrange a bento box, or write little notes to package in with sandwiches. 

I am however, as teacher, administrator, custodian, and lunch lady of our little operation, always looking for ways, or gadgets, to make lunch prep as fast and as hassle free as possible.  

I was pretty happy to find reusable toaster bags, for making "grilled" cheese sandwiches in the toaster, hanging on the grocery aisle near the bread (I've included an Amazon link, so you can read about them, but they were less expensive at the grocery store - so shop around).

They are so simple to use - and I'm happy to say, actually work.  Just make your cheese sandwich as normal.  You don't have to add butter to the outsides of the bread.  We did though, because the children prefer the taste. 

Then, instead of pulling out the griddle, and firing up the stove, just slip the sandwich into the bag...

...and drop the bag (open side up) into the toaster, on your normal toast setting.

If you don't have a wide slot toaster, you might have to push the sandwich filled bag down into the slot by hand.

...leaving enough of the bag sticking out for easy retrieval.  Keep an eye on the bag while the sandwich is toasting.  We didn't have any problems, but I read a few reviews, that said the bags can on occasion catch fire.

Slip the toasted sandwich out the bag, right onto your plate, add an apple slice or two...

...and lunch is ready.  The bags are reusable, just flip them inside out, and wash them in soapy water, or even better - into the dishwasher - so much nicer than dealing with a greasy pan!  

One lunch down.  Only another 200 or so more to go, for this school year.  Any suggestions?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Balancing Twigs - STEM au Naturel

We had a good wind blow through town earlier in the week, leaving our yard full of twigs and branches from our tree.  I gathered them up, setting aside a pile I thought might come in handy for a fall craft project or two.

Then, I happened to spot a demo version of Melissa and Doug's Suspend, set up in a local toy store.

It's on my Christmas list now, but in the meantime, I thought we could probably come pretty close to the same concept with our pile of twigs.  When we got home from the store, I drug C (age 9) out into the backyard, stuck one of the branchier twigs into the dirt...

...and challenged her to a game of "Balance the Twigs".

We each took turns choosing one twig at a time from the pile, and placing it into the branches of the larger twig, so that it would balance...

...not touching the ground, knocking any other twigs from the "tree", or causing the entire bunch to topple over.

It took quite a bit of concentration, and really stretched our sense of spacial awareness.  The twigs, unlike the manufactured game pieces, are oddly shaped and weighted, adding an element of difficulty.  Of course, with the store bought game, you probably don't have to watch out for spiders in the pile of playing pieces - so it's a give and take.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Wow! I Could Have Read the Whole Bible.

My teens spent the summer re-reading, and watching the movie versions of their favorite dystopian series.  Not wanting to be left behind (no pun intended) I joined in, listening through the audio versions of the books they were reading (that way the laundry stayed under control, and we occasionally still had home-cooked dinners).

After The Hunger Games,  


and The Giver series,

I was working my way through The Maze Runner books, debating whether to head into The Death Cure, or to listen to the reviewers, skip it entirely, and turn to the prequel book in the series instead (after the disappointing ending to The Giver series, I wasn't sure I wanted another open-ended ending) when I did the math...

...and had one of those "I coulda had a V8" moments.

1970 V8 Commercial by RandomCommercials

Instead of a summer of depressing dystopian/teeny-bopper romance type fiction, I could have read (or listened in style) to the entire Bible - which has a quite excellent ending, I might add - with time to spare.

I was depressed for a minute.

Then I remembered, summer's not over yet.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ice Cream Bread vs Ice Cream Cake

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated July as National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the month as National Ice Cream Day. He recognized ice cream as a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by over 90 percent of the nation's population. In the proclamation, President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities."
The International Ice Cream Association (IICA) encourages retailers and consumers to celebrate July as National Ice Cream Month. In 2015, National Ice Cream Day will be Sunday, July 19. (source)

Back in July, while it was still National Ice Cream month, and while we had company to help us eat up our experiments, we decided to try out a couple of ice cream themed recipes floating around online.

The first - a two ingredient, ice cream bread recipe, we found on (though it's been posted and reposted often enough, I'm not sure where it originated) turned out to be not too bad.

All it calls for is a pint of the ice cream flavor of your choice, softened...

...mixed together with 1 and 1/2 cups of self-rising flour (cheating just a little to meet that "two ingredient" claim).

We chose butter pecan ice cream for our bread, which we baked according to the recipe for 45 minutes at 350°F in a sprayed 8x4'' loaf pan.  However, I happened to see someone else using a pineapple coconut ice cream, that also sounded very yummy.

 Our bread didn't rise much...

...but served with warm, with cinnamon honey butter (softened butter with cinnamon and honey stirred in to taste)... was, as I think I've already said, not too bad.  We will keep this recipe to try again.  If nothing else it's quick and easy, and makes a passable quick bread, which will be nice on snowy winter afternoons, with a cup of hot chocolate.

As for the second recipe we came across - ice cream cake - which calls for a cake mix, three eggs, and a softened pint of ice cream (we opted for chocolate cake, and cherry cordial ice cream)...

...we missed the moistening effect of the oil called for on the cake box.  The cake was dry, and quite frankly, a little blaw.  Maybe it was our flavor choices, but we all agreed, the ice cream would have added more flavor, and better texture, served along with, rather than in the cake.  After a few sample pieces, we tossed the left-overs (which says a lot in a house with three resident, and two visiting, teenagers).  Still the mind-boggling number of ice cream and cake mix combinations out there, might yet tempt us to try this one again.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


If you're a regular reader here you might have wondered if we fell off the map this summer.  The answer is no, but we did take a "Journey Off the Map"...

...helping with our church's Vacation Bible School, followed by a fabulous week of company (old friends from home), some barbecues (new friends from here), and time to get to know our new neighbors (lots of children for the younger girls to meet).

All in all, it's been a very active, if non-bloggy, sort of summer.  And, as a bonus, I now have a great play-list of songs to use for this winter's phys-ed. Don't knock it till you try it...

...two years ago, I lost five pounds practicing the VBS songs with the children (true story) - they are quite a work-out. I didn't loose any this summer, but I didn't gain any either, and considering it was National Ice Cream month, and we had company - I'm still counting it a success.

Plus, the children loved VBS, whether as students (the younger three) or helpers (the teens), so they can't help but jump up and move as soon as the first beats of that theme music begins to play.  We'll be sad to say good-bye to summer, but we're looking forward to taking a little of it with us through the winter.