Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Back-to-School Shopping - Must Have School Supplies for the Elementary Years

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We went shopping for school supplies last week.  Yes, I realize that it is still July, but I also realized that it is the end of July, and considering that I plan to start our new school year on August 1st, I knew that I needed to get my act together.  School supplies it is!


My kids love school supplies as much as I do, so it was a fun little trip to Target

There are a few items that I buy year after year, my go-to school supplies if you will.  I am going to share them today.  I would love for you to share in the comments which are your favorite school supplies to use as well.

Must Have School Supplies

Ticonderoga Pencils – These are, by far, the best pencils we have ever used.  They do not break easily, they are comfortable to write with, and they sharpen easily.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when you go to sharpen a pencil and the lead continues to fall out.  What is the point?!

Spiral Notebooks – I can never get enough spiral notebooks.  No matter how much I love my fancy Erin Condren notebooks, the cheap, spiral notebooks, are used so much in my home.  I use them for lists, and brain dumps, and my kids use them for writing stories, using as spelling notebooks, extra math practice, pretty much anything that you would ever need paper for, we use these notebooks for.


Crayola Crayons – I love new crayons.  Opening a brand new box of crayons for coloring brings me back to my childhood.  My kids love coloring, and use crayons daily.  Crayola is my favorite crayon brand, and I always take advantage of the sales right before school starts.  I purchase several boxes so that I can keep them on hand.

Blank books – My kids love to write stories.  They love to illustrate these stories, and so blank books are a favorite in our home.  It allows for creativity as well as helps them learn to put together a cohesive story.  I like to work with themes throughout our homeschool year, and these blank books allow the opportunity to concentrate on those themes in a story form.

These are my top four back to school supplies for the kids – that we use most often.  Of course we also need construction paper and drawing notebooks, markers, glue, all the stuff that makes school supply shopping fun.


What are your most used school supplies?

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Garden Tour - Week Eight


There are some amazing things happening in my garden right now!  We are coming into the best weeks of the year, when things are ripe enough to pick, and instead of heading out to the grocery store we are able to shop our back yard for lunch.



We have had an awful time with weeds this year.  Surprisingly, the weeds are not so much in the garden beds themselves, but instead are in the pathways. 


At the beginning of the season I had put straw down in the paths, and that helped for a time, but I have a feeling I should have continued to put straw down every few weeks, and that has not happened.  However, my husband did go out and get rid of most of the weeds in the paths this weekend, and for that I am thankful.  We will have to figure out some sort of solution for the paths for next year, but for now we are making do.  The wildness of it all doesn’t bother me, although looking at nice neat garden beds is definitely the preference for Matt!


There are so many honey bees buzzing around in the garden every morning when I go out.  It is so nice to see that they are alive and well, and their legs loaded up with pollen.


The slugs are still a problem.  I have always been so hesitant to do anything in the garden besides picking bugs off plants and plopping them in some soapy water.  There was a year that I spread diatomaceous earth religiously, which helped, but I haven’t done that this year.  I realized I had a problem when I went out to pick green beans the other day, and half the green beans were missing…the slugs had eaten the tops of my plants, and most of the beans I had been letting ripen just a day longer.  I am thinking of trying the beer trap idea, and we will see if it works.  Put some beer in several pie plates, and set them in the garden for a good old slug pub.


Despite the pests, I am still bringing in zucchini, green beans, kale, lettuce, and we had our first sungold cherry tomato ripen – which Emma promptly picked off the plant and ate it before I had a chance to take a picture.


There are so many tomatoes growing in the garden.  I know that soon we are going to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of them.  But, as that is my absolute favorite thing to pick from the garden, I am very much looking forward to those days. 



I planted one sungold cherry tomato plant in the garden, and one in a pot.  The one in the garden is huge.  The tomato cage I put around it after I first planted is not really cutting it, and the plant is essentially wild and falling over.  I tried to help it as much as I could, but I can’t get the old cage off and a new one on, so instead I just hope for the best – you may see a theme with my garden posts – I tend to hope for the best!


I have 9 sugar pie pumpkins growing which is definitely awesome.  There is nothing better than roasting a pumpkin and then making a pumpkin pie.  There is something wonderful about the savory flavors that happen with roasting when combined with the sweetness of a pie.  Yum, while I don’t want to wish away these last days of summer, I am definitely looking forward to all the fall baking!


While I am growing a lot of tomatoes in the garden, I know that I will not have nearly enough for the amount of canning that I like to do (I prefer to can my tomatoes for the winter, it goes a long way in helping my meal planning in the middle of winter), so I will need to make arrangements to buy canning tomatoes from a local farmer I know.



Overall I am very pleased with the progress, even if it means that more bugs and slugs are coming to visit.  I don’t mind sharing a bit of my garden with them, as long as they don’t devour everything!  Now, if tomato hornworms decide to show up, I might feel differently, but so far so good!


What is coming into season in your garden, or farmers’ market?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tips to Help with a Wet Cell Phone

This post is a sponsored post on behalf of the U.S. Cellular  #BetterMoments Blogger Brigade.  All opinions are my own!

Have you had a discussion with your child about cell phone usage?  Download this free parent-child agreement from U.S. Cellular to get the conversation started!

There is nothing worse than dropping your phone into the water.  I think that I am probably part of the *65% of people who would rather go without TV than their iPhone!  But, it definitely happens.  With it being summer, and everyone at the beach, lake and pool most days, it is inevitable that at some point you may just get your phone wet.

video

What do you do if you do get your phone wet?

Well, for starters, what you don’t need to do is try and push every button you have getting it to work again – this doesn’t help anything!  Don’t panic.
The best thing to do is act fast.  As soon as your phone gets wet, immediately grab it.  The longer it stays submerged the more likely it will be irrevocably damaged.  Then take the battery out.  If you have an iPhone 6s like I do, it doesn’t have a removable battery – power off the phone immediately!

Then you are going to want to take off all the accessories.  The cases, covers, memory cards and especially the SIM card should all come off and out.  Dry your phone and SIM card as best you can with a dry soft cloth.  Your SIM card may still hold the data even if your waterlogged phone is damaged.


You can use a phone or compressed air to try and blow water out of the cracks and crevices, and to generally do a better job than a towel for drying. 

While I have never tried this myself, I have heard that if you put your wet phone in a bag of dry rice that will work wonders for absorbing water.  You can also save all of those little silica gel packets that come with shoes, electronics and other products.  Pour the contents of the packets into a tightly sealed container, and then if you have a wet cell phone, stick it in the container.

Another great option is to have a back-up plan.  Most people will submerge their smart phone at some point, and being prepared is always the best option.  There are products like Bheestie Bag and Dry-All that are specifically designed to dry out wet mobile devices.  These products can often prevent lingering moisture that can do further damage to your phone.


Have you ever dropped your phone in the water?  What tips would you share?

*According to a recent U.S. Cellular survey.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A Garden Tour - Week Seven

Ahhh, the middle of summer, when the plants start to produce the vegetables that I have been caring for.  Well, at least the start of producing!


The green beans are growing.  We haven't picked any yet, but I think today I might be able to grab a couple so we can all eat one - raw - straight out of the garden.  The best way to eat green beans in my opinion!



I was also able to harvest the first two zucchinis!  Now, this may not seem like a big deal to most of you.  Zucchini is typically a prolific producer.  I'm sure you have heard stories of anonymous people dropping zucchini off at your home because they don't know what to do with them all.  



This is not the case in my home.  In fact, these are the first zucchinis I have grown in a few years due to the fact that I have two specific garden pests that do a number on my plants - cucumber beetles and stink bugs.




This week saw the return of the stink bug.  I usually am able to just flick them into a jar of soapy water, these are not bugs that I can squish in my fingers - they are too big and too gross.  And actually, when you do squish them (with your shoe or a garden tool - definitely not your fingers), they give off a foul smell that actually attracts more of them to your garden.  So, into the jar of soapy water they go.  Of course, with the plants being much more established, it is a lot harder to get into the stems and get the bugs.  Summer and winter squash as well as cucumbers are prickly, and they do a number on my hands and arms when I try to get too far into the base of the plant, where the stink bugs like to hang out. 


My hope is that I can get some neem oil spray and get rid of them once and for all.  I'm not sure how realistic that is.



Everything else looks really good as well.  The potatoes look good, but still need the straw put around them.  The tomato plants are all flowering a lot, and there are tiny tomatoes growing.  I can almost taste them!




Overall, I am really happy with the progress in the garden.  My hope is that in a couple of weeks I will be bringing in handfuls of green beans, more zucchini, perhaps a couple of cucumbers and maybe the first tomatoes of the season.  

What have you harvested from your garden this week?  Did you pick up a new vegetable at the farmers' market?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Year Round Homeschooling - Why do we do it?

If you have been reading here any length of time, you know we homeschool.  Not only do we homeschool, but we also homeschool all year round.


My sister-in-law asked me if we were taking a break this summer, and as I thought about it, I realized that we most likely would not take much of a break over the summer.

Now, I am sure that sounds completely ludicrous to some of you.  Why wouldn’t you take a break?!  Even my husband thinks we should take a bit of break.  Because of that, I thought I should revisit homeschooling all year, what it looks like for us, and some of the reasons we may not take a big break during the summer.


Oh, summer days, how I love you so – you are incredibly short lived in our state, and we need to enjoy as much vitamin D as possible. 

So why do we school all year?  And what does that look like?

Well, the main reason is flexibility.

I have written before how we take off the month of December.  That is an extremely busy time of year for us, between sports practices and games, as well as holiday parties, and church activities.  Changing our rhythm to make space for these activities between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is important to me.  Of course we are still learning during that time, it just looks a little different than what our school looks like from August to November and January through April.

When we look at the entire twelve months, instead of September through the beginning of June, we have a bit more flexibility.  When someone is sick, we can take the day off, and more often it ends up being a week off because everyone in the house gets sick.  We can take off birthdays, and decide to take a three day weekend on a whim, because I know that we have plenty of time to make up those 175 days that we need.

Another main reason we like to school all year is so that there aren’t large gaps of time where we stop working on school.  When the kids are little, I know that it makes more sense to continue to work a little here and there on math facts, reading, spelling etc. so they don’t lose it all during a large break. 

The final big reason that we homeschool all year long?  Well, it looks different at our house than at public school. 

Often, when people hear that we do school all year, they think of it in the context of public school, where the kids are in school from 8am-3pm.  That isn’t the case for us.  We are almost always done with school by lunch time, and we don’t start until 9 or a bit later most days.

Yes, that is only a few hours of school each day, but we are able to accomplish so much in those few hours.  If Emma and Jack are being intentional and diligent with their time, we fly through school easily.  If their attitudes are less than stellar, it might take a bit longer, but overall, we can accomplish all I need to in the morning.

What does homeschool in the summer look like for us?

Well, it is a little different than the rest of the year.  We spend a lot more time outside.  They will do their math lesson first thing, to get it over with, but then reading is on blankets outside, writing becomes journaling out in nature.  And the biggest part, we spend a lot of time on science.  During the rest of the year science tends to slide a bit, but summer is the perfect time to work on nature studies, be in the garden, learning about the birds that visit our yard, pick caterpillars off trees and let them turn into moths.  It is a wonderful time of very relaxed schooling.

When I say we homeschool all year, don’t be concerned that we never take a break.  We take lots of breaks!  Our school is probably a lot different than what you picture when you think of school, but it is what works for us. 


Do you incorporate learning during the summer in your home?  What does that look like?

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Garden Tour - Week Six


It has been extremely cold the past couple of days.  I guess that is probably a bit of an exaggeration, temperatures in the 60’s are not all that cold.  It certainly felt that way though, especially in the summer months!  I think that the cool off and rain did help my garden though – the rain especially.  It has been so incredibly dry here.


There is a lot of flowering going on in my garden right now, which is extremely exciting.  I am starting to see the fruits of my labor in more lettuce and kale harvested, as well as radishes.  My Swiss Chard looks like it is about ready to be picked, and I may plant some peas in its place, although perhaps not this week since it is supposed to be so hot, and then the peas will not actually germinate.



My pie pumpkin plant seems to grow daily, and it has been hit by cucumber beetles.  My hope is that the plant is established enough so that the cucumber beetles will not be a huge issue.  There were a few last week, completely manageable with my bug squishing skills, however, this week they are overtaking the garden…again.  And not just in my pie pumpkins, also in my zucchini and cucumbers.  I haven’t seen any stink bugs yet, but perhaps they will be next.


With all the cold and rain, the one thing that did appear in my garden which I have never had a problem with in the past – slugs.  Everywhere.  They are literally everywhere.  In all of my flowers, on the leaves, on the stalks of the plants.  While I may not mind squishing cucumber beetles, or drowning stink bugs in soapy water, touching slugs is something entirely different to me.  They are disgusting.  So, my hope is that with the very hot weather we have this week, they will disappear.  I am not sure how likely that is.





All of the bugs that show up in the garden can be a real downer a lot of the time.  Also, when I see this little guy still hanging around my garden – yes, another woodchuck – it drives me batty!  However, it does strengthen my case for getting chicks again next spring, if we can just figure out how to protect them from the family of fox down the street.


With all the craziness of bugs, and animals and other garden pests, you would think I am out in the middle of nowhere growing my garden, nope.  I live in town, but I swear my street is its own little ecosystem consisting of so much wildlife I never have to leave this little city.

Any of you more experienced gardeners, what can I do about slugs – besides picking them off?

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Garden Tour - Week Five

There has been an amazing amount of growth in the garden this past week.  I think the majority of it is in my greens bed as well as my sugar pie pumpkin plant, which is officially growing in the garden paths now.


I love to see all the new flowers coming out!  This is also the point where I start to see stink bugs and cucumber beetles on all of my summer squash/winter squash/cucumber plants.  And yes, there have been cucumber beetles, but I have been diligent about squishing them as soon as I see them.
  



That may make some people queasy, and honestly it used to make me queasy – who in their right mind wants to squish a bug.  But, over the years of being infested with these garden pests, my queasiness went away and my lethal bug squishing skills emerged!



There are a lot of little tomatoes growing, which is incredibly exciting.  I think that in another month we will be eating a lot of fresh tomatoes for lunch and dinner.  I can’t wait!

  

Most of my pots seem to be doing well.  I was a little concerned when I first put them in, since it was so late and the seedlings had been sitting in their little seed trays for so long, but I think most of the seedlings have new growth on them.  There are a couple pepper plants that do not look very good at this point, and I’m not entirely sure if they will make it.  One looks as if it is getting zero water, so the roots may have been damaged beyond repair.  I will give this one pepper plant another week and see if it does anything.



The weeds are insane.  I was just out there and had everything cleaned up.  We get one good rain storm followed by warm sunny weather, and bam, weeds are back. 

 

I need to hill my potatoes, but I am unsure what to use for dirt.  When I planted potatoes the last time, I cleared enough dirt around the plants to just sweep it up when the leaves emerged from the ground – that was not the case this time.  My idea is to go buy some more garden soil from the store and use that to pile around the potatoes…not sure if that will work, but I think it is my only option at this point!


In the meantime, I am harvesting lots of radishes and lettuce and kale from my garden.  The kale has essentially taken over the greens bed, but I am OK with that – lots of greens for green smoothies.  Although, it does seem to be overpowering my swiss chard, so I may need to pull some of the plants.


Overall, I am incredibly happy with the progress!  In the meantime we have been strawberry picking, and trying to get as many of those delicious berries preserved for the winter as possible!


Have you been to a PYO farm before?  What about this year?