Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Review: My Blog Planner 2013 (it's free!)

I don't know if it comes across via cyberspace, but I am not a naturally organized person.  Thankfully, God created us with amazing brains that are able to learn and grow and change!  One way I have been growing the past few years is in the area of organization.  I have been slowly-but-surely beating my house into organized submission.  I have done meal planning, got a freezer and filled it with a bulk cooking day, created my very own oasis and then rearranged it.  I love Pinterest because I can see how other people organize and discover new ways to categorize, group, and store all sorts of things. (I have board dedicated to organization on Pinterest).  I've also been reading books about organizing and homemaking: e-books, library books, and even one or two I bought.

When I decided that I would focus more time and energy on my blog this year, I knew I would need a way to keep myself organized!  There are so many free blogging planners out there, but the one I chose is the beautiful planner from Confessions of a Homeschooler.
Confessions of a Homeschooler
Her 2013 Calendar Style Blog Planner has each month laid out in a traditional calendar format which allows you to see the whole month at once.  Each day has a series of check-boxes so you can keep track of whether a planned post has been scheduled, and whether or not it has been promoted on the various social media sites: Facebook, G+, Twitter and Pinterest.


Opposite each calendar page (if you print it out front-to-back like I did) is a note page with space for information on reviews and giveaways, future post ideas, and your monthly blog stats.


image used with permission
Not only does each month have a place for all the relevant information, but it is aesthetically pleasing too!  Each month is a different color scheme which, believe it or not, was one of my main reasons for choosing this planner over any of the others available online.  You see, although my mind may not be naturally inclined to organization, I do seem to associate colors with things, so knowing that May, for example, is green and not pink acts as a secondary line of defense against accidentally recording information on the wrong month!  (Something I've been known to do, sadly).


I added some Martha Stewart NoteTabs* to make it easy to find the section I want instantly.

As I began to use my planner, I discovered there were one or two things it didn't have that I wanted.  First, I needed a place to record any income/outcome related to my blog. Right now I am not making any money of significance from my blog (only about $1 a day from the AdSense ads), but maybe someday I will and I would like to have a system in place to track that.  Also, I would like a place to record relevant Twitter hashtags and any link-ups I might like to participate in.  Pages for both of these are available in the Additional Planning Helps section of Homeschool Creations free blog planner, so I printed out just those pages and added them to my planner.  I haven't come across the need for anything else!


Did I happen to mention that this planner is completely free?  Sometimes getting organized takes a bit of money, but not this time!

This is my first review as a member of the Mosaic Reviews team!  Honesty is a quality I value highly and you can be certain that I will always give you my frank and honest opinion of any product I receive for review.




P.S. If you're looking for a blog planner, but this one seems to elaborate for your tastes or organizational style, check out this review for a one-page blog planner! Or this week-on-a-page review.



* I am not affiliated in any way with Martha Stewart or Staples. I just like this product!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bringing in the Green

Ugly dead grass and leafless trees are all we see during the winter months.
By the time February rolls around, Christmas is a distant memory and the longing for warm spring days has set in.  Here in Missouri, we're torturously teased with the occasional 50 or 60 degree day that reminds us of spring, but doesn't last.  A mere 12 hours can bring those temps plummeting to sub-zero with flat gray skies and dull brown lawns.  The dreariness gets old mighty fast!

Day 3: the sprouts are about a half an inch already.
A couple years ago (before Pinterest!) I hit on the idea of growing some wheatgrass in little containers around the house.  It grows very quickly and the kids enjoy checking its progress everyday and running their hands gently over it.

Less than a week and already the wheatgrass is lush and beautiful!
I bought the wheat berries from the grocery store's bulk bin.  I soaked about 1/4 cup of grains in 1/2 cup of water overnight.  In the morning I drained and rinsed them and sprinkled them over the surface of some potting soil.

The pretty green brings a spot of beauty into the home.

They begin sprouting almost immediately and before long you have a pretty bit of green inside even though it's dark and dreary outside!  See how easy it is to grow wheatgrass!  It may not last forever, but it brings joy to our mid-winter days and reminds us of the hope of new life in spring.


And it always reminds me of Isaiah 40:8.

"The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Adventures in U.S. History Week 1

Homeschooling Miss M has been quite the adventure. We started with pre-K and she outgrew it quicker than we completed it!  She learned to read when she was four, so I didn't see any point in doing a kindergarten curriculum.  We went straight into first grade.  She outgrew that too, but we were so near the end that I decided we'd press on and finish it anyway.  Finally the day arrived for us to begin a new year of school.  I know, I know, it's weird to start a school year in February, but hey, we homeschool!  Plus, if I start now and school on through the summer (which I plan to do), then we can take off November and December when we get busy with birthdays and holidays!

I made posters to greet the kids on the first day.
As I mentioned before, we're using Adventures in U.S. History by My Father's World to which I added the the recommended language arts, Singapore Math, and Rosetta Stone Tagalog.

They picked out their "best clothes" to wear for the first day.
The first week was a blast!  So much so that on Friday Miss M begged to have school the next day even though it was Saturday.

I Can Do All Things is a great name for an art book, don't you think?
We made a timeline and learned about Leif Ericsson.  I love the notebooking pages that come with Adventures.  We have never done any notebooking before, so I wasn't sure how Miss M would take to it, but it turns out she loves it too! She loves to count her "collection" when she adds another page to her notebook.  And several times when Hubby came home she ran to get her notebook and show him what she had done that day.

Leif Ericsson notebook page.

We did a science experiment with water and salt and two raw eggs.  Miss M always loves anything hands on!

Make an egg float in salt water.

Science experiment notebook page.
Miss M has a fiercely independent spirit and loves to be able to make her own choices.  She especially enjoys being able to choose her own books for Reading.  She loves to write and draw, and I've been seeing significant development in both areas which makes me all the more excited for this new year.

Reading with animated expression to her little brother.
Our week ended on an atypical note.  Hubby stayed home from work both Thursday and Friday as we were slammed with a massive winter storm.  The snow fell at a rate of 2-3 inches per hour!  Last year we only had a half an inch of snow the entire winter!  We spent lots of time birdwatching and then shoveling ourselves out after the storm.

The birds mobbed our seed feeders during the snowstorm since other food sources were inaccessible.

Ten inches of snow!

Snow drifts!
Friday we went on our Nature Walk. I had instructed Miss M to pay attention to her surroundings and find at least one thing she could draw, color, label and add to her notebook after our walk.

On a nature walk as a family.

When we came back, she pulled out "a burr" from her pocket.  I was surprised because I didn't know she had brought it with her, but she was thinking ahead!  She got out paper and colored pencils and drew it while I looked it up in our nature book.  Turns out it was a seed pod from a sweetgum tree.  I am no artist myself, so I was pretty impressed with her ability to draw it so recognizably! She was just tickled to add it to her Nature Journal!

Miss M's Nature Journal page
Next week we'll add in a few more subjects (there was no math or foreign language in this week's lesson plan), and see how that goes, but I have high hopes for this curriculum! It seems to suit us better, and I feel like Miss M didn't get burned out from her lessons so that there were several times during the week that she said things like, "Mama, I think I'm going to write a paragraph in my best cursive, okay?"  And she did!  If our homeschool curriculum does not replicate "school at home" but encourages a love of learning, then it is a good curriculum in my book!

Making a snow angel on our Nature Walk.
P.S. Don't you just love the "bow" Little Guy picked out for his first day of preschool?  Preschool, by the way, is going to be 100% informal...I just didn't want him to feel left out.  He can join us when he wants, but I won't force it.  He's having a brain spurt as it is and keeps surprising us with the things he knows that we didn't know he knew.

Come see what adventures we had in Week 2!





The rest of our adventures:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Activity Day: SPA DAY!

If you have a little girl, it's likely you've read a Fancy Nancy book or two.  Miss M received a copy of Fancy Nancy: Ooh La La! It's Beauty Day (affiliate link) from her auntie and absolutely loves it!  She's been pouring over it for weeks and begging to have a Spa Day.  We decided that in honor of our last week day off before starting second grade, we'd have a special Spa Day!

Fantastique Face Mask

Mash half a ripe banana in a small bowl.  Add in about half a teaspoon of honey. Mash the mixture some and put it in the fridge until you're ready to use it.


 
Miss M had begged for this.  She even got out the ingredients for me.  But one look at that slimy, banana scented goop and she had an instant change of heart!  She let me apply it to her in spite of her wails of protest and cackling laughter.


Little Guy's response was: "I'm ugly! I'm ugly!" until I wiped it all off of him.

Marvelous Manicure

The next order of business was to manicure their rather grubby little mitts.  This involved the usual nail cleaning, trimming, and filing.  We used Mama's Healing Salve for cuticle cream.  And Miss M picked out pink nail polish.


While having her nails painted, Miss M said wistfully, "People always tell me I'm pretty, but no one ever tells me I'm fabulous."  I guess she has high aspirations!

Soothing Sea Salt Foot Soak

Have you ever had a footbath?  It's heavenly!  Miss M and Little Guy perched on the counters and put their feet in the sink.  This made for a simple cleanup!  I added a handful of Kosher salt and a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil (the "recipe" in the book calls for lemon juice, but this was already in the bathroom, so I went with it).

Magnificent Massage

While we waited for little tootsies to dry, I gave each of them a massage.  They must see Hubby give me massages when my back hurts now and then because both of them groaned and sighed and said, "Yeah, yeah, that feels goooood!"  It was hysterical!


Perfectly Posh Pedicure

Our last spa activity were their pedicures.  Little Guy had felt left out when he didn't get his fingernails painted, so I let him choose two colors for his toes: purple and yellow!


Miss M was so excited to finally get to use her foam toe separator. She asked me, "Mama, why aren't you more of a girly-girl?"  I guess, sweet child, God didn't make me one.  I have no desire to go get a manicure or pedicure.  I would, however, like to get my hair done when spring comes.

Are you a girly mama?  Or do you shudder at the thought of a stranger touching your feet like I do?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Nature Walk: Weston Bend State Park in winter

In the middle of February a 60-degree day is a rare blessing.  It's a promise of spring-yet-to-come, but everyone knows it won't last long and it's best to take advantage of it while you still can!  We had one such day recently and decided to take a short trip to Weston Bend State Park.

Miss M stops to point out the "here-o-glyph" on the map.
As far as vegetation goes, it's still the dead of winter.  Nothing has come to life yet, partially due to the awful drought we're experiencing, and partially because it's still early in the year.  As Miss M put it, "Everything is brown and gray and dull." 

I've noticed, though, that when the trees are bare and the underbrush has died back for the winter, you really get a chance to appreciate the different shapes of the trees.

Bare trees line the Missouri River.
This tree looks like a giant slingshot!
Our first stop was the scenic overlook that provides a sweeping view of the Missouri River.  The kids thought it was fun that we could stand in Missouri and look across the river to see Kansas.

View from the overlook across the Missouri River into Kansas.
After hanging out on the overlook a while, we decided to hike the 0.7 mile Harpst trail.  The kids loved it!  Miss M probably ran the whole-thing-times-three because she'd run ahead, then run back to us, then run on ahead again.  She loved looking out for the next blaze mark and finding tree stumps to stand on.


I knew it would be muddy, so I insisted the kids wear their rain boots.  What I didn't count on was how slippery the mud would be!  Some parts of the trail were quite steep and the gooey Missouri mud made it a bit treacherous.

Hubby carefully avoiding the mud by walking on leaves with Miss M tromping happily right on through!
 

After a while the sticky mud got heavy and we needed a break to scrape some from the bottoms of our feet! Imagine trekking through wilderness like that mile upon mile.  It gives me a new respect for our ancestors.


It was a wonderful family outing and we hope to go back when spring arrives to see what changes have taken place along the Missouri River.  Where do you like to take nature walks?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Crazy Bread

Crazy bread is one of my favorite breads to make.  It's versatile and forgiving.  It makes a great accompaniment to dinner or a perfect afternoon snack for the kids.  And it's hard to mess up!

Add 1 cup warm water to a small mixing bowl.  I use water that is just slightly warmer than body temperature -- warm enough to wake up the yeast, but not so warm that it'll kill it.

Stir in 2 teaspoons sugar and stir to dissolve.  You can use white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, anything that'll "feed" the yeast.

Sometimes I mix some parmesan cheese into the dough too! So yummy!
Sprinkle one .25 ounce envelope of yeast over the water.  Or if you're like me and buy yeast in bulk, use two heaping teaspoons.  Stir the yeast into the sugar water and allow it to rest about 10 minutes until the surface is foamy.

Meanwhile, measure out 2 cups of flour into a large bowl.  I use bread flour, but all-purpose will work.  Or try substituting whole wheat for half of the white.  Stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1 tablespoon of dried parsley.

Once the yeast has activated long enough add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and pour the whole mess into the flour mixture.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the majority of the flour is mixed in and the dough pulls away from the sides in a big lumpy ball.  No need to overmix or get a completely uniform dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let it sit in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 35 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Baking on a pizza stone helps keep the bottom from getting soggy.
When it's ready, oil your hands generously with olive oil and dump the dough onto a lightly oiled surface.  Pat gently into a round about 1/2 inch thick and transfer to a pizza stone (or shape it into a rectangle and use a cookie sheet).

Rub the top generously with softened butter (or melt some and brush it on) and sprinkle garlic powder.  You can stop here and have delicious garlic bread, but I almost always add some cheese.  I typically use whatever I have on hand: mozzarella, cheddar, colby, monterey jack, it doesn't matter much.

Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven.  Serve warm!

My favorite way to cut pizza or crazy bread is with kitchen shears!

~*~ CRAZY BREAD ~*~

1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-4 tablespoons butter (softened or melted)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup grated cheese 
In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water.  Let stand for 10 minutes until foamy. 
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, garlic, and parsley.  Add olive oil to the yeast mixture and add it altogether to the flour.  Stir with a wooden spoon until dough is stiff enough to pull away from the sides of the bowl.  Cover and set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. 
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly oiled surface.  Shape gently to about 1/2 inch thickness.  Rub with softened butter.  Sprinkle with garlic and cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Plant Murder

I once read that every room should have something living in it.  And I do love houseplants!  There's something so magical about a green, thriving thing sharing your space.  There are also all kinds of benefits to having houseplants.  But that only works if you don't murder your plants.

I am a plant murderer.

A once-beautiful dracaena tree.
I can't count the number of once thriving houseplants I've destroyed over the years.  Overwatering.  Underwatering.

The blame doesn't lie entirely with me.  I water them when I'm supposed to.  I even give them plant food sometimes.  But I've never lived somewhere that has the right conditions.  We only have northwest and southeast facing windows.  They're small windows and only rarely get any direct sun shining through them.  All the windows have deep roof overhangings and they all have UV coating that blocks the sort of light plants love from entering.

The ficus, or Rubber Plant, I murdered.
I do have some plants that seem happy enough, a couple pothos and one Wandering Jew.  Oh, and the Christmas cactus my mom gave me is about to bloom (a few months late, but hey, it's not dead)!  But it hasn't been with me long enough to be sure of its fate.  In spite of my track record, I'm determined not to give up.  I will keep trying and reading books/blogs about plants and maybe someday I can have a pretty collection of houseplants to cheer up all the rooms of the house!

Do you keep houseplants?  What is your secret?  Or are you a plant murderer like me?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Science Week: Day 5


We are nearing the end of Calvert 1st grade, so we decided to knock out the last two chapters in our science book with a dedicated Science Week!  So far we have explored position and force and simple machines and magnets.  Then we started investigating the different types of energy: first heat and then sound.


It's the last day of Science Week!  Just as heat and sound are types of energy, so is light!  Light is the form of energy that allows us to see.

Some materials let a lot of light pass through them. Other materials block out light completely.  Miss M tried a few materials to see what lets light through and what doesn't.

Plastic wrap, waxed paper, aluminum foil, an empty paper towel tube, and a rubber band.

First she covered one end of the tube with plastic wrap and tried looking through it. She could see light!  Then she removed the plastic and covered the end of the tube with waxed paper.  She could see some light, but not as much as before.


Lastly, she covered the end of the tube with aluminum foil.


Whoa! No light came through at all!  She recorded her findings.


How does light help us see?  When light hits an object the light bounces off the object and right into our eyes!  We wanted to see what bouncing light looks like, so we took a flashlight and a small mirror into the bathroom (there are no windows in there and it gets very dark, even in the middle of the day!)

Miss M shined the flashlight into the mirror and looked around to see where it went when it bounced off the mirror.  We stuck a paper target on the wall and tried to aim the light to hit the target!

Light bounces off the mirror and hits our paper target.
Sometimes when light shines through a material, the light can be changed.  Miss M and Little Guy took turns shining the flashlight through colored paddles.  When the light shone through them, the color of the light was changed!


The colors were very pretty!

We liked the colored lights so much we decided to make our own stained glass window art.  Miss M and I each took a piece of black construction paper, folded it up, and cut shapes from it.  When we opened it, we had a frame for our stained glass art.


Then we cut small bits of colored cellophane wrap and taped them across the holes on one side.  When we flipped the frame over, we could see the pretty colors in the frame!





By the time we finished it was dark outside.  Too dark to hang up our pretty artwork and admire the sun shining through.  Oh well, we'll hang them up tomorrow and enjoy the colored lights then!

Thank you for joining us for Science Week!  We had so much fun and learned a lot.  If you try any of our experiments, we would love to hear about it!

If you enjoyed Science Week Day 5,
come see what we did on
Day 1Day 2, Day 3, and Day 4!