Monday, February 20, 2017

Day Trip: Nashville Public Library

Although we don't live there anymore, we love spending time in Nashville, Tennessee! It's a family friendly place with lots of free and inexpensive things to see and do, many of which we easily incorporate into our homeschooling week when we have the pleasure of visiting.

If you've been thinking about taking your kiddos to spend a day in Music City, perhaps you'll find this helpful.

If you have elementary aged children and younger, start at the Nashville Public Library's Main Branch, on Church Street. Know in advance that there's an affordable parking deck attached to the library, and they will validate your pass at the circulation desk to reduce your parking fee further.

Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday, and here's why: most weeks on those days, there's an amazing story hour at 9:30, 10:30, and 11:30, with a craft time immediately following. There is no admission charge for either. Check their website or call the library before you go to make sure story hour is happening on the day you plan to visit.

Their story hour is a major production. It involves recurring characters--so don't be surprised that the "regulars" around you know The Professor, Mary Mary, Library Pete, and all of the puppet friends--songs, games, and stories. I have been many times, but I get a little emotional every time they invite all the children to join them onstage at the end to sing "What a Wonderful World" together, so be prepared for that precious sight.

After craft time, enjoy the amazing renovations recently completed in the children's department. Besides the plethora of books to explore and read together while you're there--because I'm assuming you do not have a Nashville Public Library card with which to take things home--there's so much more! You'll find all kinds of learning centers, like Tinker Toys and building blocks, as well as an indoor play structure, a puppet theater, and a small climbing wall. There's an area dedicated to teens where they can play ping pong or video games, and sometimes even experiment with a 3D printer.

If you packed a lunch and the weather is good, you can enjoy it right in the courtyard of the library, directly linked to the children's department. There are nice restrooms inside the children's area, with ample room for baby changing, and you'll also find water fountains that make refilling your water bottles a breeze.

If you'd rather pick something up, there are fast food places like Subway, Burger King, Sonic, and so on within a few minutes' drive from the library; heading south on 8th Street gives easy access to some of these options.

Wondering what to do after lunch? Watch for the second part of this short series!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Pip's Pizza Bites

Sometimes we need a quick snack or meal. It needs to be gluten free and it needs to be tasty. Bonus points if it's warm (is it just me, or does warm food seem more filling?). Extra bonus points if you can integrate a lesson on fractions into your creation.

With those goals in mind, Pip and I experimented with pizza bites this week. They take two minutes and they are yummy! Here are the first four steps:

1. Crackers (we used Glutino brand)
2. Pizza sauce (we used Mezzetta; it's certified GF)
3. Shredded mozzarella (we used store brand)
4. Pepperoni (we used store brand--just make sure it's certified GF)

When they're assembled, pop them in the microwave for approximately 5 seconds per cracker.

You can spice them up with Italian herbs, you can make them without the meat, you can add a little mushroom slice or banana pepper; just like pizza, the possibilities are endless! And you can individualize for each member of your family, all in the same batch.

I guess we've really missed pizza, since we've now enjoyed these three times this week already. What's your favorite go-to snack?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

5-Minute Project: Empty Your Bag

Before having a child, my purse was lightweight; I carried only the essentials. After Pip was born, I traded in the handbag for a diaper bag. Everywhere I went, I carried with me everything I could possibly imagine that I could need, and, often, in duplicate.

When she graduated from diapers and I retired the bulky bag, my shoulder bag felt so light again. I loved it. I'm not someone who changes handbags frequently--typically once per season, if that--but I kept a regular routine of rummaging through it once every week to make sure that I was keeping things streamlined. I never had trouble finding what I needed because there was nothing in the way.

I don't know when I stopped doing that. But I can tell you when I realized it: this weekend.

I had used a little bit of birthday money from my dad to order myself a new handbag. Well, new to me. It was my first purchase from Poshmark, and I was psyched to start carrying it. I had a few minutes before heading out the door, so I figured it was a perfect time to move things from the purse I was retiring to the new arrival. I figured dumping everything out on the table was the easiest way to determine how to place items in the new bag.

To my horror, this is what came out of the old purse; this is what I was carrying everywhere I went.

Besides my wallet, keys, and coupon file, the contents included 4 pairs of glasses, a set of Pip's mittens (even though it's been 60 degrees outside), receipts, pens and markers, multiple hair clips, an EpiPen, and a LOT of candy including an open, partially melted candy cane. Yikes.

After sorting through that mess, tossing what needed to be tossed, washing what needed to be washed, and putting away the things that didn't need to go everywhere with me all the time, I put the necessary items into my new bag. I don't know whether it's the bag or how little it weighs, compared to the old one and all its wonders, but I have a new pep in my step.

Today, I encourage you to lighten your load. This is not a metaphor. I am talking about the physical bag that you carry around: your purse, your backpack, your messenger bag, your gym bag, your Thirty One utility tote, whatever. Empty it out, and replace only the items you need to have in there. 

It's a relatively quick thing that can change how you feel walking out the door. At least I know it did for me!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Favorite Sale: Peebles

Our little shopping mall houses a Peebles. Since I signed up for their rewards club (NOT their store credit card, just the rewards club), I have enjoyed shopping there immensely. They send me coupons and sale reminders via text and email, and if I am careful to shop the sale and clearance racks, I find some amazing buys there!

This past weekend I ended up there kind of by mistake. Chris was working, Pip was with Mimi, and I was out alone--something of a rare occurrence. I stopped by the mall to return a beautiful birthday gift that hadn't been the right fit, and as I entered the building Mimi forwarded me her most recent text reminder from Peebles. "That's not why I'm here," I responded. "Worth looking," she replied. She was right.

First off, every department contained racks of clothes and shoes and household goods marked "clearance" which were up to 75% off. Second, all clearance items were buy one, get one free. And third, I had received an email for $5 off any purchase of $5 or more, just for fun.

I prowled around the store section by section. I wasn't looking for anything specific, just looking. I didn't want to spend much--or anything, really--unless it was something we needed or would definitely use. My last department was home goods. I headed straight for the clearance shelves. That's where I found this guy.

Pip thinks the Minions are great fun, and we use travel cups almost every day. This cup was originally $12.99; yeah, right. It was marked down to $6.49; I still wouldn't have bought it. Oh, wait, all clearance is buy one, get one free and there's a second, identical cup in the clearance section; now I'm getting them for $3.25 each. And I can use that $5 off any purchase? That's two nice kids' travel cups for a grand total of $1.49 before tax, and I "saved" $24.49. (The second cup is not in this photo because it was immediately washed and was in use at picture time.)

In case you're skeptical, here you go:

Of course I realize that not everyone could use a pair of Minions cups. But this same principle could be applied to clothing, jewelry, or other household goods. If I had felt like I needed a thing, I could have really cleaned up in the costume jewelry department.

And as if that savings wasn't fun enough, I was sent away with these parting gifts at checkout. They know how to keep me coming back!

If you don't have Peebles in your area, I suggest checking your local or regional department stores for the same types of member programs--and the bargains that come along with them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

First Grade, Second Semester

Actual conversation with a kind, older gentleman at the grocery store early one afternoon:

Man, with a twinkle in his eye: Shouldn't you be in school, young lady?
Pip, taken completely off guard: Should I, Mom? Is it a school day?
Man: Well, it's Thursday; isn't that a school day?
Pip: Not for me; I only go to school on Tuesday.

Man: (bewildered silence)
Me, stepping in: (To Pip) Well, you only go to co-op on Tuesday. (To the man) We homeschool; we've already finished with school for the day.
Pip, confused: We haven't done school today. We read books and sang songs and played that game where we add and subtract and wrote that letter to my cousin and... hey, you tricked me!

While I have no intention of "tricking" my child into learning, that comment was an affirmation that my efforts to keep our school days engaging seem to be working. And it is an effort: it means preparing ahead of time, and it means being willing and able to change course when the day is derailed, because that's most certainly going to happen from time to time. The variety in activities and approaches is worthwhile, though; it seems to keep her interest and mine, and makes the days quite pleasant. She's an inquisitive seven year old. Learning should be fun.

Heading into the second semester of first grade, my lesson plans have evolved from what they were even a few months ago. The girl loves to have a book in her hand, so much of our learning time is spent reading and discussing what we read; this includes Pip reading to herself, Pip reading aloud to me, and me reading aloud to her.

I learned last year that our homeschool thrived when I set goals for the week rather than specific daily lesson plans, and that's still ideal for us. On Sunday evening or Monday morning, I lay out what I hope to accomplish that week. Each day of our lessons, we enjoy reading, music, writing, and life skills. In addition, I aim for hitting each of these targets several times per week: science, history, math, and art. And because we both so enjoyed the read-aloud that we used throughout Advent--along with the conversations it sparked--we've incorporated a Bible lesson, either from an online source or a book or a VeggieTales movie, into the majority of our days.

The outside activities component remains strong, as well. We're committed members of a co-op that meets once a week for classes, clubs, and field trips. Pip takes harp lessons, sings in a children's choir, and participates in a weekly gymnastics class. We've got a variety of performances and field trips planned for our second semester of this year, from seeing the Russian Ballet Company to strolling through at least one zoo to watching a children's theater production of Peter Pan to visiting our state capitol. Other opportunities will surely present themselves, and we will take advantage of the feasible ones.

I regularly reflect on how fortunate we are to be in a position to homeschool and how that means we can put an emphasis on the things that are important to Pip--and to us--as she grows. We spent hours one day last week creating codes, writing each other messages in code, and then decoding those messages. We spent the majority of yesterday afternoon working on a painting for a local student art show. Pip was fascinated with the election process in the fall, so we'll spend some more time in the coming weeks focusing on the job of our nation's president and learning about a few of the historical greats.

Here's a peek at just a few of this semester's non-textbook materials. 
- Build the Human Body set from Silver Dolphin books (this was a Christmas gift from her grandparents!)
- Erasable place mats featuring US presidents and US geography (I found these at a children's consignment sale for next to nothing)

It's going to be a great term; we're both looking forward to what's to come!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Simple Team Umizoomi Birthday Party

My now-3-year-old nephew is crazy about Team Umizoomi and all things numbers, patterns, and shapes. A couple of weeks before his birthday, Mimi and I--with the blessing of his parents--brainstormed and came up with this simple Team Umizoomi party plan.

The location made it easy; they were hosting it at an indoor play place, complete with private party room and brightly colored decor. (This was super fun and frugal because his homemade Geo costume had won a Halloween costume contest a few weeks before, and the prize was a complimentary party!)

Licensed Team Umizoomi items were not as abundant or easy to find as I had hoped, but we found a 12-pack of cupcake liners and toppers on Amazon for about $12. The liners were really designed for big cupcakes, and when we saw that they dwarfed the adorable ones that Mimi had made and frosted, we trimmed characters out of them and used them as additional toppers. The cake was from a gluten free boxed mix, the frosting was homemade, and the liners, sprinkles, and candles were from the Dollar Tree. All together, it made an adorable tray of individual treats.

Because the party room was already bright and colorful, the only things needing decor were the tables. They were blue, so we didn't need the blue tablecloths that we had picked up at the Dollar Tree. We simply unrolled a length of craft paper from one end to the other, as a runner, and then cut large, basic shapes from 12x12 pieces of rainbow colored cardstock to set atop it to give a nod to Geo's belt. I originally intended to tape them down, but when the birthday boy saw the scene, he wanted to take them off the table and create new patterns with them. It was easy entertainment while we waited for his guests to arrive.

We added bottled water, single-serving ice cream cups, and lots of friends and cousins to go wild in the play place together, and we had ourselves a party!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

New Year, New Goal

For years, I made New Year's resolutions. Sometimes I kept them, and I would feel proud about that. (Example: "I'm going to take at least one photo of Pip every day to share with our family and friends." That's been a win!) Sometimes I did not, and I would feel truly disappointed in myself. (Example: "I'm not going to eat any more refined sugar, ever." Yeah, right!)

Then, for a number of years, I dropped the habit altogether. Looking back, many of the expectations I put on myself were unrealistic from the start (clearly!). I am glad I realized then that it wasn't worth the stress I put on myself to meet them or the frustration I felt when I failed.

In recent years, I have picked up the January habit again, but I have stopped using the word "resolution" and started setting "goals." It has completely changed my approach to how I view the incoming year, and in a very positive way. I also limit myself to one or a few; no more laundry lists, which are too daunting to follow through. Because, really, we can set a new goal any time of the year, right? We don't have to overwhelm ourselves at the beginning!

So, for the coming year, I have created this goal: make my screen time more meaningful and more productive.

I require a computer for my work, and I enjoy social media. I can't eliminate screen time, nor do I want to. To make the time more meaningful, I will eliminate the junk.

This means unsubscribing from emails that do not interest me. Sale messages from a website I ordered one gift from two years ago are out of there. Updates about social events in the city we visited in 2013 are gone. If the messages in my inbox are all of interest and pertaining to my life right now, I will spend less time sorting the junk and be able to review and react efficiently to what I receive. This can take a while if you're really far in the hole with junk email, but it's so worth it. Even if you work through five or ten junk messages a day, clicking the unsubscribe button on each one, eventually they will all stop (some take up to two weeks to remove you from their mailing list, so be patient and diligent and you will see a difference). There are apps that claim to do it for you, but I have not known anyone who had complete success with one, yet.

It also means cleaning up my Facebook feed. I adore Facebook for seeing photos of my friends and their families, for receiving information about local events, for following blogs, and for obtaining and sharing other generally helpful and uplifting information. I realize that is not how everyone uses Facebook, and that's fine, but that's what I want out of it: enjoyment. So, I will sort through all my "liked" pages and quietly "unlike" the ones that no longer pertain to me. I will hide Facebook posts--namely political--that unnerve me, and I will unfriend repeat offenders, if I deem it necessary. This is not to be mean or rude, but rather as a form of self-care; I have to protect my own heart. I get my national and international news directly from reputable sources; I don't want it, or any garbage masquerading as news, in my feed.

These simple changes will tailor my experience, and I believe it will be a much more pleasant one.

To make the time sitting at my computer more productive, I have got to create a structure for the minutes I spend in that spot. This is going to take some experimentation, because while I don't know exactly how to make it better, I do know that what I do right now isn't working. See for yourself.

Current scenario, typical of many mornings: I turn the computer on and creep into the kitchen to make coffee, careful not to wake anyone in the house. When I get back, I open my email. Then I open Facebook. I start Photoshop. I go back to email and delete messages that are obvious junk. I go to Facebook and open my notifications and follow through on any that I want to know more about. I open another tab and go to our online store to see whether there are new orders, although the likelihood of me packing and shipping them immediately is incredibly low. I open a fourth tab and start a music station on Pandora. I go back to email and look for any new, time sensitive messages; I open those and might react as needed and might decide to deal with them later. I return to Pandora to change the station. I open a few images in Photoshop to retouch and save them. I open Word and start typing a summary of the events and lessons of our school week. I realize I need to update our co-op's website, and open a new tab to take care of it. I remember that I have a topic I want to research, so I quickly open a new tab to type it in before I forget it. I see new Facebook notifications so I pop back over there. I open a few comics files in Photoshop, thinking I should prioritize knocking out a basic task or two to help Chris along on his current project. Just as I start on the first page, I hear Pip's feet hit the floor, and I realize that while I started many things, I may not have finished a single one, which stresses me out. And this is how our day together begins.

Some people thrive on hopping around between multiple activities; clearly, I do not. For me, the current norm is a mess, and yet I have been functioning this way for some time. I spend mental energy throughout the day either searching for moments to get back to my desk to chip away at what I started, or feeling frustrated at how few of those tasks I got done.

I know it has to change, and I think the most specific plan I can have, for now, is to take my seat at the computer knowing I must deliberately focus on one task at a time, instead of all the jumping around, and see how that pans out.

For January, I am stopping at this one goal, because it's big. I'll revisit it in a month or two--or earlier if what I'm doing doesn't seem to be working--and make changes as necessary to ensure its success. I've realized that it's very important for my well-being for this to change. And I am confident that it will have a positive effect on other areas of my day to day.

It's a little scary to share a goal, because making it public invites accountability. But there it is. Do you set goals for the new year?