Recipe: Angel Chicken

I have a recipe to share with you today. It’s so delicious, though probably not the healthiest thing in the world. It’s not that it’s full of “bad” things, but because of the cream cheese, butter, and pasta it has a lot of fat and carbs. You could counterbalance that by using a low fat cream cheese, butter substitute (or just lessen the amount of butter) and low-carb pasta (or skip the pasta altogether and serve with spaghetti squash or other “noodled” vegetables). You could also skip the “bed” entirely and just eat this sauce as its own dish (it’s definitely thick enough to pull that off) with a side salad or other choice of vegetables.

I originally found the idea for this recipe on AllRecipes.com. My version uses all the same ingredients, but I’ve modified the cooking method to make it easier to cook well. It’s not necessarily easier, per se, but whole chicken breasts can be tricky to cook well in the oven. The original recipe called for making the sauce separately, then pouring it over the chicken and baking it altogether. It could be because I have kids, or maybe because I get pretty frustrated when my chicken takes too long to cook, but I like to chop the chicken up and cook the small pieces. This saves the trouble of cutting them up for the kids later when you’re ready to serve. Also, baking chicken breasts can be hit or miss. Just a couple of minutes too long and your chicken is suddenly unpalatable due to dryness. So I’ve combatted those issues by cutting up the chicken in advance and cooking it in a skillet (you can add oil if you want, but I normally don’t need to) and then adding the sauce ingredients and cooking everything in one skillet. The other benefit of making it this way is that it’s just a one pot meal (excluding the pasta, but that’s an easy pan to wash later).

Let’s get to the recipe!

Angel Chicken

(serves 6-8)

1-1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts, cubed
1 packet dry Italian dressing (find it on the salad dressing aisle)
8 oz cream cheese, cubed
2 cans Golden Mushroom soup
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
hot cooked pasta

Cook chicken. Sprinkle dressing mix over chicken and mix well. Add cream cheese and soup. Mix until cheese melts. Stir in butter and melt. Serve over pasta.

What’s your favorite chicken recipe? Pasta recipe?

Blessings,

Reading Eggs (review)

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through the Homeschool Review Crew.

We had such a great time learning with Reading Eggs and Mathseeds last year that I eagerly requested to review it again this year. Grasshopper was really jealous of Dragonfly’s work last year, so I added him to the account this year, and Bumblebee is preschool age now, so he got an account too! Let’s explore Reading Eggs again, this time with all three of my little guys.

Bumblebee (3 years old)

Bumblebee has been using Reading Eggs Junior, a specially designed portion of the app for the 2-4 age group. It is super simple, but has loads of great activities to get your child ready for reading and math, which they will encounter in a couple of years. There are three main sections to Reading Eggs Junior: Books, Videos, and Activities. Bumblebee has been working on the activities exclusively at this time.

In the Activities section, there are 14 different areas to work in: colors, counting, eggs, handwriting, jack in a box, jigsaw puzzles, letter puzzles, matching game, memory, sorting, same or different, sound buttons, sounds, and the alphabet. We have worked primarily on the colors lessons, with a few of the others sprinkled in for good measure. Bumblebee learned his colors really early – he’s known them for months already. In fact, one of his first words when he was learning to talk was “yellow.” He can easily differentiate between the “normal” colors, so he enjoyed being able to do the colors lessons easily. In these lessons, children are shown 2-4 pictures (a butterfly, a fish, a car, etc) with a circle cut out of it. At the bottom of the screen are those cutouts. They simply drag the correct color up to the right picture.

Matching Game has also been fun for Bumblebee. It is very simple (obviously – it’s designed for the very young), with just 3 pairs per game. Whenever my littlest boy got a matched set, he would get so excited!

Overall, he has had great fun with Reading Eggs. He spent the better part of the last year watching Dragonfly with his lessons, so he’s learned through observation that way, and now it’s exciting to let him have his own turn with such a familiar program.

Grasshopper (9 years old)

When you think of Reading Eggs, you probably think of a program for younger kids – those who don’t yet read or who need some remedial help. Grasshopper fits neither of those criteria, but he was always pretty jealous of Dragonfly’s lessons last year. We had a bit of difficulty getting him a proper diagnostic placement test, so instead of using Reading Eggs proper, he’s been using Fast Phonics to reinforce the reading he already does reasonably well.

Fast Phonics uses a “Matterhorn” theme, and the main character is a yeti. Each lesson contains about 20 activities, and they are quite similar to the Reading Eggs activities, but with a focus on phonics rather than sight words. Here are a few words from Grasshopper on the program.

When I play the video games in Fast Phonics, the yeti helps me along the way. The videos help me learn new sounds and it’s really useful to help me learn new words and stuff like that. My favorite of all the games I play on there is the game where the yeti is on the wrecking ball and you have to knock the sounds down (the sounds are engraved on the ice). It’s a really fun game and it helps me to really remember the sounds I’ve learned.

It’s really fun, and Fast Phonics has been amazing. I’m glad I started it.

Dragonfly (5 years old)

Dragonfly has been using Reading Eggs and Math Seeds for over a year now, and it’s been so good for him. He has learned so much through these programs! Let’s talk a little bit about them.

Each lesson consists of about 12 activities. The first activity is typically a video to introduce a specific word or sound. Each of the activities after that reinforce the concept taught in the introductory video. You can easily tell how many activities are in a specific lesson by looking at the pop out menu on the left. It shows exactly what activities your child has done, the one they’re currently on, and those that are upcoming. Each lesson uses a mix of different activities, and there are more than 12 games, so no two days are quite the same.

Some of Dragonfly’s favorite games are the frog hop one (which is just like the old “Frogger” game, except you have to land your frog on the truck with the word of the day); the planet match one (where you are given 3 planets each with a word; when the star appears, you match the word on the star to the appropriate planet); and the painting game (it’s like a paint by number, except it’s a paint by word; the child reads the color word and then colors that section accordingly). When all of the activities for the lesson have been completed, the child is awarded with an Egg, which hatches open and reveals a creature. After every 10 lessons, there is a 15-question quiz. The child must get at least 11 questions right in order to move on to the next ten lessons.

Math Seeds is much like Reading Eggs except for Pre-K/K math. Because math is an easier subject for a lot of kids, the lessons are longer and there’s a quiz (“Show Me Your Skills!”) after each lesson. There are a series of activities/games, and at the end of the lesson the child is awarded with a Seed that has a creature in it.

Here are a few words from Dragonfly:

The activities help me read and it’s really fun. I’m really good at it. I always do it. I love it.

As you can see from my kids’ own words, we love Reading Eggs and Mathseeds! This will continue to be a staple in our homeschool for many years to come.

Make sure to click through and read more reviews from other families.

Blessings,

 

Why We Use a Literature Based Approach in Homeschooling

I’ve mentioned before (but only in passing) that I prefer a literature-based approach in homeschooling. It didn’t used to be that way. When the teenagers were small, we were more workbook based, but it wasn’t enjoyable for anyone. That’s not to say that everything needs to be fun all the time, especially in schooling, but if your kids aren’t engaged in what’s being taught, they won’t retain any of the information you’re imparting to them. And that’s if you can even get them to do the work in the first place.

Two children are standing in a forest with mythical light. Each one is holding and reading a book.

About the time Ballet Boy was 9 and Scorpion was 6, I joined the Homeschool Review Crew for the first time. Leading up to that point, I’d read an ebook called Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath – You Can Do This! by Terrie Lynn Bittner. I got it for free at some point in an Amazon promo, and I mostly read it during the nights when I was up with a baby Grasshopper. (It doesn’t appear to be available as a Kindle book anymore, but you can get a paperback copy for about $15.) That book changed our homeschool permanently! There were so many ideas in there for how to run a homeschool, particularly one that didn’t look like “school at home.” It was there that I learned about lap books and that playing games could be a reasonable – and successful – form of learning. I learned about Unit Studies, and that was the method of schooling that really spoke to me the most.

Some of our earliest unit studies were Penguins and Newspapers. I created my own studies for the boys, and all were based around – you guessed it – a book. When we studied penguins, we read Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I created a spelling list for each of the boys revolving around penguins and the antarctic. We created a lap book, and generally had fun learning together. For our newspapers unit, we read Henry and the Paper Route, learned about how paper is made (including creating “wood pulp” from existing paper and reforming it into our own new paper), and took a field trip to the local newspaper office. Those are some of my fondest memories with my older boys.

It was around this time (the next school year, I want to say) that I found Ambleside Online, and we did an entire school year using their curriculum. It’s a lot of reading, but such a good curriculum if you’re looking for something based on “living books” (novels and picture books rather than textbooks). Doing that year of Ambleside, I realized just how much I wanted to incorporate books into our homeschool. They are so vital to memorable learning, and I’m forever grateful I finally came around to a different way of teaching my boys.

These days, we get a lot of review products to incorporate into our school days, but I still favor a literature heavy approach. We read a ton of books together, and going heavy on the literature is a good way to incorporate a lot of different learning styles into a single teaching session. Obviously you can’t do everything together when you’re teaching different ages, but you definitely can read books to many children at once. And they’ll all absorb different things from the same book.

You don’t have to “write” your own curriculum if you want to try a literature-based homeschooling approach. There are lots of options out there. One that I haven’t used, but I have gotten a sample of and think has amazing potential is from Leah at As We Walk Along the Road. She even has quite a few free literature unit studies! Homeschool Share has lots of unit studies based on children’s books (both picture books for the younger crowd and kid novels). Progeny Press is an obvious choice for making sure your students get “more” out of each novel. The list goes on and on.

What’s your homeschooling style?

Blessings,

Yarn Thoughts: Crochet vs Knit. Acrylic vs Wool.

Since I am a skilled knitter and crocheter, I follow both types of accounts on Instagram. I also look at both types of patterns on Ravelry. And watch videos from both types of crafters on YouTube. One thing I’ve noticed is that knitters favor wool, while crocheters favor acrylic, across the board. I’ve often wondered why, and when you do a Google search, nothing turns up. As I was typing up last week’s post (Yarn Thoughts: Hobby Lobby’s I Love This Yarn!), I think I came up with a few reasons this might be the case, and I want to get my thoughts out in case anyone else has every wondered this too.

Crocheting is faster

For most people (I know because I’ve seen it stated on many forums by others who know both crafts), crocheting is faster. This is why a lot of people crochet blankets, but not that many knit them. A blanket is a big enough project as it is, and you want to be able to actually have a chance at finishing it.

With that said, because as a crocheter you’re able to make your projects so much quicker than a knitter (and therefore one could argue that you’re making more projects), you’ll go through more yarn. Since you’re using more yarn, you need your yarn to be less expensive.

Crocheting uses about 30% more yarn than knitting

This is a very similar argument to the previous one, and something I’m not sure a lot of people know. But it’s true: crocheting eats up more yarn than knitting. This is likely due to the fact that crochet stitches have varying heights, and even the smallest one (single crochet) is quite a bit taller than a knit stitch. So again, you’re using more yarn, and therefore likely want a cheaper yarn since you’re going through it faster.

Knitting has more opportunity for beauty

This is probably a controversial statement, but I stand by it. And I’m not even saying that crocheting isn’t beautiful. It definitely can be (in fact, I’m working on a crochet blanket right now that I absolutely adore – I’ll be sharing a link to the pattern and photos of my project next week). But there’s very little that can compare to a cabled knit sweater. It’s the envy of everyone. It’s the reason I wanted to learn to knit.

Knitting is beautiful.

Crochet is (usually) more utilitarian.

And if you’re working on a more beautiful project – the whole point of which is to be stunning – you want a nicer yarn to show off all those hard worked stitches.

Sweaters are more personal (and showy) than blankets

Sweaters and blankets take a similar amount of time (in my experience), but a sweater is likely to get more “face time.” What I mean by that is that you’ll wear a sweater out and about, but a blanket is relegated to your own home. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s just the nature of the two different items. But because you’re going to be showing off a sweater more than you will a blanket, it’s another reason you want a “better” yarn.

Wool yarn is blockable

To understand the point behind this point, you have to know what blocking is. Put simply, blocking is the wetting of your finished item, which you then pin out into place (at the proper measurements) and let air dry. By doing this, it helps to even out your stitches, which is especially beneficial if you’re working cables or color work (fair isle). You see, when you’re making those types of projects, the combinations of stitches – either knit and purl, or multiple colors of yarn – can kind of bunch up together a bit. This isn’t a problem, and it’s not your fault. It’s just the nature of those stitches. By blocking your project afterward, you get everything to lay out a lot nicer and look more professional.

When you block a project made with wool yarn, those natural fibers will “remember” their new, post-blocking position and keep that shape until the next time you wash it. Acrylic fibers don’t do that as well. I’m not saying that an acrylic project doesn’t benefit from blocking, but it’s not near the difference as you get with wool.

So there you go. A few reasons that might explain why crocheters are more likely to use acrylic and knitters are more likely to use wool. Do you have any other ideas as to why this might be? Do you have a yarn fiber preference? Let me know in the comments!

Blessings,

Keeping Your Homeschool Day on Track

The most important thing you’ll do as a homeschool parent is make the decision not to send your kids to a traditional school. Next on the list is choosing curriculum (ideally based on your child’s learning style).

But once those two decisions are made, the next most important thing is making sure you actually get through all of the lessons you need to each semester/year. Making sure you stay on track will keep your child moving through the grades “properly.” And this will assure success later in life. Not only will they “finish” school with their peers, but they will learn the importance of sticking with things until they’re done. If they decide to enter the traditional work force and get a job, this will keep their employer happy. If they opt instead to start their own business, then they will have a huge advantage over a public schooled peer in that they already know how to stick to their own schedule instead of someone else’s.

But how do you do that? Especially if you’re schooling different kids in different grades? Over the years, I’ve had varying degrees of success with keeping on track. Looking back, my most successful year was the year we had a paper planner (and I was only working with two elementary-school aged kids). I know that sounds kind of dumb; of course things will be easier to keep on track if you’re working from an actual planner as opposed to just kind of “winging it.” But to a certain extent, that’s easier said than done. See, with winging it, all you have to do is make sure you have a pile of books and all your online subscriptions up to date. With a planner, you have to actually take the time in advance and write down everything you want to cover each day. It’s more work for Mom! But that’s precisely why it’s such a better system. When you put that work in prior to needing it, it’s almost like you feel obligated to follow through. If you don’t, then all that planning time was wasted. And we don’t want to waste our time! So take the time to plan, and then make sure to pull those plans out each school day and follow them.

Which planner should you use? The short answer is “whichever one works best for you and also fits into your budget.” That school year I mentioned before, the one where I felt the most on the ball? I used The Well Planned Day planner. I won it in a giveaway, and I adored it. I haven’t used one since, but if you can swing it, I can’t recommend it enough. It runs about $40 on Amazon, and is worth every penny (assuming those pennies don’t stretch your budget too thin, that is). One of the things I liked so well about it was that it had monthly and weekly pages, and the weekly pages had enough space to plan for multiple children. It was so easy to write out the lesson plan for each child and have them all in one place, where I could quickly glance at the day’s plans and see what each of them needed to do. It was a dream.

But I haven’t used a paper planner for homeschool in many years now, and I can feel it in my own self. I know in my head that things aren’t the same as they were that year that we used a good planner. So this year, I’m going back to a good, monthly and weekly, paper planner.

I found a great digital option using my SchoolhouseTeachers.com membership that I’m going to use this year. It’s called the Schoolhouse Smart Planner (if you don’t have a SchoolhouseTeachers.com membership,  you can purchase the planner – physical or digital – for about $35), and it reminds me very much of the Well Planned Day. (Though to be fair, I haven’t used or seen a Well Planned Day planner in about 5 years, so I could be remembering inaccurately.) But it has everything I need, which I described before as reasons I loved the other one so much: a monthly calendar and a weekly calendar with space for more than one child. The monthly calendar is great for “at a glance” things like appointments, while the weekly is perfect for writing down the specific lesson plans for each child. And beyond that, there are other pages that give you a different “at a glance” specifically designed for homeschool. What I mean by that is that the pages include “semester” and “annual” goals for each child. There’s a page to manage your household budget and your homeschool curriculum budget. There’s a reading log, and even a page specifically for making sure your preschooler knows what he needs to know for Kindergarten readiness. And the best part is that because it’s digital, you can simply print out the number of pages you need of each style of page. For example, even though there’s technically only one page of weekly planners, you just need to print multiple copies of that page when you set up your printer.

When you get all your pages printed out – however many you decide to print – you can take the printouts to any office supply store and have them bound. If you have your own binding machine, even better! With your new planner in hand, you just need to write down all the assignments for each day, and then execute them. It’s amazing how much simply having a written list of things to do (and cross off!) will help keep you organized and on task.

How do you keep your homeschool days on track?

Blessings,

Vindication (tv show review) #VindicationMIN

Disclosure: I received this complimentary product through Momentum Influencers.

My husband and I used to really like watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (and the NY spinoff, but we could never get into the Miami one for some reason). I also sometimes like to watch old episodes of Forensic Files. So when I had the opportunity to sign up to review a new show called Vindication, which is a similar feel to those crime shows of the past, I was interested.

Vindication airs on the Pure Flix streaming network, which is a lot like the others in its field with the exception that the shows and movies on the platform are faith based. Vindication is no different. The show follows Detective Gary Travis and his team of police investigators, as well as his personal family. He works for the police department in a small town in Texas solving a crime in each 30-minute episode. The first episode is a stand-alone, but as you move through the season, you get a bigger story arc. Each episode also has its own arc, just like a “normal” show.

I watched the entire first season in just a few days; it was well done and I enjoyed the stories. I liked how the episodes were a bit shorter than others of this genre. It made it easier to find time to watch an entire episode while I crocheted or cooked dinner. The first episode, like almost every pilot episode of every show ever made, was a bit disjointed, especially when taken with the rest of the season. After watching it, I was convinced that each episode would be a standalone and there wouldn’t be a recurring cast of characters, but I was glad to find that not to be the case. It made the rest of the show more entertaining having that character development to push it forward.

In each episode, someone related to the case has a faith encounter, usually the suspect of the crime. I enjoyed seeing how they incorporated those encounters into each episode; it didn’t feel forced at all (most of the time). It was really nice to see how these bad people could really, truly change after meeting Jesus – just as it should be for all of us. This is quite a change from a traditional crime show!

My favorite episode of season 1 was Reverse Traffick (I’m not sure why the misspelling). This episode was one where there wasn’t a”gotcha” faith encounter at the end, but rather it was the story of a Christian couple whose crime was a monumental misunderstanding. The main suspect of the episode was arrested for meeting up with an underage girl for “sex” after an online encounter. He kept insisting on his innocence, and when he told his story it was amazing. He wasn’t trying to pick up the girl for sex – he was saving her from her life as a prostitute. Through a flashback, we discover how he did this: by “buying” the girls back from their pimps, and then setting them up with the things they need (an apartment, some cash) to start their lives fresh. The police, understandably, don’t believe him, so it’s up to his wife to convince just one of their beneficiaries to explain to the police the truth. It was harder for her to find someone willing to tell the truth for them than you’d think, but in the end she’s able to bring a whole hallway full of young girls and women to the rescue of her husband.

As I mentioned, I really enjoyed watching Vindication, and I highly recommend it if you like the more mainstream cop shows like I do. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Vindication has been renewed for season 2, which is currently airing on Pure Flix (it started on Sept. 1 and is airing one episode each week through Oct. 27). I will be reviewing a specific episode of that season in the next few weeks, so make sure to look out for that soon. Read more about the second season in Pure Flix’s press release.

Do you like cop shows?

Blessings,

Yarn Thoughts: Hobby Lobby’s ‘I Love This Yarn!’

Most of the big box craft stores have their own line of yarn. A lot of people compare these yarns to Red Heart Super Saver, because that’s the “original” budget yarn. And it has a bit of an unfortunate reputation (for good reason, in my opinion). The other stores’ yarns are a lot newer, and a lot has been learned in the production of acrylic yarn over the decades. At JoAnn, it’s Big Twist, and at Michael’s it’s Loops and Threads. At Hobby Lobby (the other nationwide craft store that most people have likely heard of), it’s called I Love This Yarn!, and that’s the brand I want to focus on today.

I’ve only made two projects using the Hobby Lobby brand (a sweater for Grasshopper and a sweater for Ballet Boy). I really liked the yarn when I was working with it while making Grasshopper’s sweater. It’s a reasonably soft yarn, and I bet it would crochet up really nicely (I’ve only every knit with it). As I mentioned in the post I wrote about Ballet Boy’s sweater, even though the yarn is really pretty, it’s rather heavy when you knit it up. I can’t really understand why, because it’s a pretty standard feeling worsted weight yarn before it’s knit. And I’m not even sure that calling it “heavy” will make sense to an average crafter. But for me, there’s really no other way to describe it.

Despite that heaviness (denseness, maybe?), the printed yarn I’ve worked with in this brand really is very pretty. I really like the marbled effect that it gives to a project, especially something with so many inches of plain stitches. Obviously you wouldn’t get this with a solid colored yarn, but what you lose in marbling you gain in extra yardage. I personally find it worth losing a few yards for the more beautiful finished project, in the case of something like a plain sweater. If I were making a crocheted blanket or a sweater with cables, I would opt for a plain color over the print, though (but also – a different yarn altogether, at least for the cabled sweater).

So let’s talk about that last statement: that I would choose a different yarn for a fancy, cabled sweater. That heaviness I described (or didn’t, really) makes me not want to knit another sweater in this yarn. I sort of felt it with Grasshopper’s sweater, but he was so heavily involved in the process, and loved it so much even before it was completed, that I didn’t really process it mentally that well. But now that I’ve made a second sweater in the yarn, I’m realizing that “I Love This Yarn!” is not actually that much better than any of the other discount yarns. The Mickey Mouse sweater I made for Bumblebee a few months ago was made using Big Twist from JoAnn, and I didn’t really like the way that one turned out either. What I’m finally learning through all of this knitting (what I’ve known all along but am finally willing to admit, rather) is that sweaters really need a higher quality yarn. While the budget yarns are good for a lot of things – and invaluable if you have a wool allergy or very tight finances – I don’t think I’ll ever make a sweater with one again.

That said, if you’re looking for a budget yarn that is great for sweaters, I recommend Lion Brand Jeans. I’ve made many (4, I think) sweaters using that yarn, and been thrilled with every single one. It’s just a little bit more expensive than a true “budget yarn,” and so much better quality.

Blessings,

What We’re Reading (Sept 2021)

Happy First Day of School! Many of you have probably already been back to school for a couple of weeks, or even a month, but it’s the first official day of school for us. The first day of school is the one way I struggle to separate our family from the public school schedule, but it’s one that I don’t mind following! One of the ways I plan to keep us more accountable this school year is to go back to posting a reading list for each of my kids here each month. I used to do this a few years ago, and I like the idea. Besides keeping us on track, it offers book ideas for other families. I hope it will give you ideas for books to read to/with your kids.

Read Aloud

My teens don’t really participate in our read alouds anymore. I know a lot of families encourage/require everyone to be there for them, but that doesn’t really work in our family dynamic. So when I talk about our read aloud choice each month, it is for myself, Grasshopper, and Dragonfly primarily. Sometimes Bumblebee will mill around or snuggle while we read also though.

This school year, we will be reading quite a few classics. For my birthday a couple of years ago, Will found a copy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that was beautifully illustrated for me. I read it to the younger kids right away, and we all marveled at the gorgeous drawings. Recently, we discovered that that book was actually part of a series of classics all with “new” illustrations done by the same illustrator, Robert Ingpen. (I say new with quotation marks because these are newer than the text, but not actually new. Mr. Ingpen has been illustrating books since the 1950s, and working on children’s books since the 70s. The set of classics that we’ve been collecting were all done from 2000-2014.) So we’ve been building up our collection of these books over the summer, and now that school’s in session for our family again, we will begin reading our new treasures. Another thing I love about these books is that each one has an indentation on the front cover that is associated with the story without giving anything away (wood tools for Pinocchio, shoes for Oz, etc). It’s such a neat touch!

This month, we are reading Pinocchio. This is Bumblebee’s favorite Disney movie, by far, and the other kids enjoy it too. They were really excited when this book showed up on our doorstep from Amazon, and we’ve been reading it inconsistently throughout the summer. But with the weather beginning to cool and more time spent inside, we will be making a much bigger effort to read it more regularly now.

In addition to the classics, we are also making our way through the illustrated Harry Potter books. If you haven’t seen those in a bookstore or on Amazon, and you’re a HP fan, I highly recommend them. Jim Kay has done an absolutely stunning job illustrating the familiar stories. We’re about a third of the way through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone now.

Ballet Boy (17; 12th grade)

Even though the big kids aren’t participating in read aloud time, they are still reading books on their own. Ballet Boy has never been one to care for novels; he’s always preferred biographies instead. So he’ll be working his way through Church History in Plain Language. Will assigned that to him last school year, and it’s so dense that he hasn’t finished yet. This is a hefty read, but a good one if you’re interested in finding out why American Christianity is the way it is now. That may not be the point of the book, but you can definitely read it and see the path that brought us to where we are now. As we get through the school year, I may add other books to his load, but we’re going to start with just the essentials (this one is essential because Dad assigned it). Ballet Boy spends a lot of time working with Will, so his schedule involves more than just school at this point. I’m happy to accommodate that.

Scorpion (14; 9th grade)

I’m going to be assigning Scorpion a book a month, like the other kids, and he will be getting a mix of classics and modern novels, in addition to the reading required by his Khan Academy lessons. First up for him is Animal Farm, and I have a Progeny Press guide for him to do along with it.

Grasshopper (9; 4th grade)

It’s time! It’s time! Grasshopper is finally getting a chance to read Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom. He’s so excited to read this book, and I’m excited to experience it with him.

Dragonfly (5; K)

Dragonfly is still a very early reader. He’s technically been able to put sounds together for a year, but when our iPad died a few months back, he fell behind on doing his Reading Eggs lessons. I bought him those Paw Patrol books over the summer, so we’re going to work on those until he’s super comfortable reading things in the “real world,” and then we’ll see where we end up with him.

Me

Until recently, I hadn’t actually read much in awhile. I love that I’m getting back into reading novels at night, and some of my favorite authors have older books that I haven’t read yet. I just finished up a John Grisham book last month (The Guardians, which will be this month’s book club post), and I’m going to be diving into another Grisham novel this month: Sooley. This one is on the newer side, but my turn on the hold list came up, and I don’t want to miss out after so many weeks of waiting.

What are you reading this month?

Blessings,

Cocomelon Party!

You might remember that Bumblebee turned 3 on Sunday. He’s such a special boy, and we wanted to do something really fun for his birthday this year. One day a few months ago, he figured out how to find his own shows on Netflix (!). He had seen older brothers run the app enough to figure out to tap the “Kids” icon on the accounts screen, and then he scrolled through the show options until he found something that caught his eye. That show was Cocomelon, which is rather a big deal in the 2-4 year old market.

In case you’re not familiar, Cocomelon is an animated show with a series of songs. There’s no story, just songs. The animations are actually quite cute, and the songs vary from classic kids songs (Baa Baa Black Sheep) to original works to more modern “classics” (Baby Shark) to classic songs with new lyrics. Even though there’s no official story for the characters to participate in, it has the same characters throughout. The main little boy is a toddler named JJ, and he has Mom and Dad, along with sister YoYo and brother TomTom. Sometimes JJ goes to “school” (daycare), and he has a “teacher” there (Mrs. Appleberry) and a group of friends – Nina, Cody, Cece, and more.

Bumblebee loves it.

Will and I didn’t realize quite what a phenomenon it was until we started seeing the toys in stores, and because our boy loved the show so much, we started him a collection of the toys. One day a few months ago, I was browsing Amazon for birthday party ideas, and he peered over my shoulder and saw all the Cocomelon decorations. He immediately started saying, “Me have Cocomelon birthday!” So of course, we obliged. We purchased a basic party kit for about $24 that included a cake topper, 24 cupcake toppers, 12 ceiling streamers, a Happy Birthday banner, 16 printed balloons, and everything you needed to hang it all up. We also bought a huge (5’x7′) poster featuring the young kids of the show and a package of matching invitations. From the Dollar Tree, I bought 2 extra packages of plain balloons to supplement the printed ones.

I spent the three days prior baking cakes and making plans for the decorating of said cakes. The three days was because you need to take the time to let your cakes cool and chill with the frosting before you begin decorating, not because it was such a difficult job.

The day of the party, we hung up the big banner and blew up the balloons. So many balloons. Scorpion, Grasshopper, and I did most of the blowing up while Will and Ballet Boy worked on tying them all together into a balloon archway. We then attached the balloon archway all around the large banner. We just hung it right over our existing artwork. It was big enough to nearly cover the wall, and with the balloons added it was perfect.

We hung the Happy Birthday sign (it was one of those with a cardboard cutout for each letter, attached together with ribbon) over the hallway, so it created a kind of natural pathway from the front door to the living room, where we were holding the party. And we hung all of the ceiling streamers up using the glue dots included in our party kit. A bit of furniture rearranging in the dining room (to block off the kitchen but still provide a place off-carpet for children to eat cake) and we were ready.

I decided to make a lemon cake with a lemon curd filling because hello – who doesn’t love lemon curd? It’s hands down my favorite sweet treat. I ended up making 4 layers, but that was too many. Most of the cake didn’t get eaten at all. I also made a cream cheese icing, which I tinted green. For the watermelon stripes (Cocomelon), I used a green apple fruit rollup, sliced up. The cupcakes were just a standard chocolate, but with the same cream cheese icing.

Because Bumblebee is just 3, we kept the game simple, and only did one: Pin the Curl on JJ. This was just a twist on the classic Pin the Tail on the Donkey, but using JJ and his statement hair instead. I gave personal watermelons to the top two winners of the game.

Overall, it was probably the most successful children’s birthday party we’ve ever thrown (sorry, older kids). We will hands-down be having specific themes for our kids’ parties from now on, and won’t be afraid to spend the money on the decorations. It was so worth it!

Blessings,