Book Club: Meghan March

I have a little secret. I love romance novels. Like, really, really love reading them. I’ve even written one (in the form of fanfiction) before. I rarely talk about this obsession of mine though because it can put people off. Those types of books really do seem to be “love them or hate them,” and a lot of the adult themes aren’t things I’m necessarily comfortable talking about in general life. But yeah… I love them. And have been reading a lot of them lately! Today I want to introduce you to my current favorite author, Meghan March.

Meghan March used to be a corporate lawyer, but she gave that up for writing a few years back. She now has over 30 books and is a NYT bestselling author. I found her books quite by accident; I was out on my own one day and decided to hit up the Overdrive app (digital library for ebooks and audio books) for an audio book to listen to while I drove. (I hate listening to music, especially in the car. Audio books are much more my jam.) I have no idea how or why Dirty Billionaire turned up on my recs, because I hadn’t read a romance novel in a few years, and certainly hadn’t checked one out on the app before. But it caught my eye, and I borrowed it to listen to. And let’s just say I’ve been hooked on Meghan March’s books ever since!

Ms. March’s books are primarily duets or trilogies. She also works her novels in “worlds,” meaning that even though one particular trilogy focuses on a specific couple, just because their story has ended doesn’t mean you won’t see them again in someone else’s story. I have really loved seeing familiar characters show up in other books as I work my way through her library. Her books (as many as I’ve read, anyway) are usually set in either New York City or New Orleans, and depending on which city you’re entering, that’s the world you’ll be seeing and the characters you can expect to meet. You won’t find Creighton Karas (the “dirty billionaire”) in a NOLA book, just like you won’t find Lachlan Mount in a NY book. But you’re likely (though not guaranteed) to find each of them in any book set in their own town.

In addition to worlds organized by setting, Ms. March also does spinoffs to her own books – another way to revisit those characters you love so much after their stories are over. For example, the audio book I’m currently listening to is all about Creighton’s little sister, Greer. When I finish the book I’m reading (the end of the Legend trilogy), I’ll be diving into the Savage trilogy, which focuses on Temperance, who was a background character in the Mount trilogy. Lots of interconnectedness, and I love it.

If you like erotic romance, I can’t recommend Meghan March enough. You can “buy” the first of each of her trilogies absolutely free to try out. Be prepared to buy their sequels almost right away, though! She doesn’t call herself the “Cliffhanger Queen” for nothing. And if you follow her on Instagram and interact with her, you’re very likely to get responses too. She’s very fan-centric, which is nice. I’ve had a couple of short conversations with her on that platform, and it makes you feel good to have a “celebrity” respond to your comments and posts!

What’s your favorite genre of book to read?

Blessings,

Winter Break: Yes or No?

This is a time of year when a lot of families are getting ready for Christmas. There is so much to do, so you might logistically need to have the time as a parent just to get all the baking and card sending and decorating and shopping done. Additionally, if you have a public school background like I do, you might feel obligated to give your kids a break for the holidays. If they have a lot of friends in public school, they likely want to spend time playing with them during the days while they have the opportunity.

Or you might fall on the other side of the spectrum. Maybe you don’t celebrate Christmas. Perhaps you’re Jewish (or fundamental Christian) and you celebrate Hanukkah instead. Maybe you’re not religious at all so you opt out of the holiday. Or maybe you have some other reason you’ve chosen not to celebrate, regardless of what that might be.

Perhaps Christmas doesn’t play into your plans at all, whether you celebrate it or not. Maybe you had some sickness or took a vacation earlier in the year and you need to make up the school hours now. These are all perfectly valid reasons for skipping out on the winter break.

So which is the right answer? Like all things related to homeschooling, that depends entirely on your family and your circumstances. Personally, I can’t imagine not taking a winter break! We do a “light Christmas” since we switched to focusing more on Hanukkah 2 years ago, and even though that holiday is over for this year already, we will be taking a winter break.

If you opt in to taking a winter break, the next thing to decide is when and how long will you take off? Like the decision to take a break at all, this is a very personal decision amongst families. I think 2 weeks is pretty traditional, but I’ve also heard of homeschool families who take the entire month of December off. Another option would be to change gears in the lead up to Christmas and focus more on the holiday itself in your studies. There are dozens of ways you can go about doing this. Maybe do a unit study using the Bible as your guide? Create a lap book if your children are interested in that. I just read an idea earlier to day from one of the leaders of the Homeschool Review Crew who told us about how she and her family took the “secret Santa” concept to a new level. They each draw someone’s name, and then spend the month of December doing special things for their recipient. This can be as simple as doing one of their chores for them or more complex like making them a gift. But all the things are to be done in secret. When you’ve done a service for the person, they leave a paper heart on the other’s bed so they know they’ve been blessed. On Christmas Eve, they reveal one another and have a lovely celebration acknowledging all the blessings everyone had received over the month. What a lovely way to serve your own family during this time!

If you decide not to take a winter or Christmas break, know that that’s okay, too, though. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that either!

Blessings,

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Have you ever finished loading the dishwasher only to look under the sink (or wherever it is you keep the detergent) and discovered that you’re out? That happens to me on occasion, and with the help the internet, I’ve developed a pretty reasonable substitute.

This isn’t a detergent that you can “make” a whole batch of and keep on hand because it’s only 3 ingredients, and two of them are wet. So whenever I need to rely on it, I just do it right in the detergent cup of the dishwasher. It’s so simple, and works great!

First, fill up your detergent cup with baking soda. This handy leavener of baked goods is fabulous for cleaning because it’s so abrasive. If you have a really tough item that needs cleaning, mix a lot of baking soda with a tiny bit of water to make a paste and scrub away! I used that to get all the caked-on stuff off of my kids’ high chair, and that humble wood chair has lasted through 3 kids thanks to this cleaning method. So yeah, add it to the detergent cup to help get all the bits of food off your dishes.

Next, add a splash of acid. It doesn’t really matter what; I’ve had success with lemon juice, lime juice, and vinegar (not at the same time). These ingredients give you a bit of disinfectant in your wash.

The final thing to add is a couple of drops of Dawn (or whatever dish soap you keep at your sink). It’s really important not to use more than 1-2 drops because that soap isn’t designed for the dishwasher. If you were to use it in lieu of dishwasher detergent on its own, you’d be living in a sitcom because your kitchen would be covered in suds! But by using just a drop or two in this recipe, there’s not enough to make bubbles and cause problems. This ingredient gives you the degreasing power you want for really clean dishes.

That’s it! I love knowing how to do this so that if I’ve run out of the “real” stuff I’m not stuck handwashing all of the dishes until I can get to the store.

Blessings,

Arts and Crafts in Homeschool

Art is a very important part of our family. Will draws comics and does graphic design for a living. Ballet Boy is learning to play guitar and ukulele. I knit and crochet. Scorpion makes animations. The younger kids draw and color all the time. Let’s talk a bit today about incorporating arts and crafts into your homeschool – or just taking what your kids are already doing art-wise and turning it into valuable lessons.

First of all, even though arts and crafts are often bundled together in people’s minds, they’re not the same thing. A craft is something that a student (usually a young child) makes to certain specifications. Crafts are usually part of a larger lesson (think about what children make at VBS or Sunday School). Art is – or at least can be – a lesson on its own. Students are still creating, but they’re doing so in a more free form manner. Even if all the kids in the class are drawing the same bowl of fruit, it’s more about the students’ expression than it is about completing the project exactly right (with the possible exception of a still life, but that’s a conversation for another day).

With those definitions in mind, let’s dive in. We don’t actually do many crafts in our home. Because of all the art-mindedness going on already, we tend to focus more on the things that will help our kids have an art-mindset rather than just gluing some macaroni onto a sheet of paper. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that – there’s absolutely not – but it’s not what we do.) In fact, we don’t really even do much organized art at all. It’s just sort of ingrained in our kids and we encourage it. All of our kids have started drawing from the time they could hold a pencil (or crayon), and as long as they’re drawing on paper, we support it. (We actually went through quite a difficult time with Bumblebee, who’s 3 now, where he was drawing on the walls. That was horrible, but thankfully he’s been the only child of ours who ever did that and he’s outgrown it now.) At a certain point, we move them over from loose leaf paper to sketch pads to contain the mess, but outside of that we just let them have free reign to draw whatever they want. This method teaches children that they can create whatever they want. Their only limit is their imagination! There is no right or wrong way to “do art,” and that’s probably the most important lesson to teach in my opinion.

What if you’re more comfortable with crafts than art, though? That’s totally fine! Kids can learn from doing specific crafts just as much as they can by drawing or painting, even if the lessons are a little different. In crafting, children learn how to follow instructions and how to be more precise in their creative endeavors. If they don’t cut that house panel out just right, it won’t fit into the other one to make their 3D house stand up properly.

If you don’t like having a specific art lesson each day (or even weekly, or biweekly), then how about incorporating arts and crafts into another lesson? Unit studies are a fantastic way to do this! A lot of pre-fab unit studies will have ideas for making art to go along with the lessons. Here are a few examples of ways you can add a simple art lesson to another, more mainstream course.

Literature/Reading:

Have your child/children draw an illustration for the book they’re reading, taking care to choose a scene that doesn’t already have an illustration.

Science:

Using supplies found around the house, even if they’re not traditional art supplies, create a model of whatever they’re learning about. (We did this a few years ago with Scorpion and Grasshopper where they made edible models of a cell.)

History:

Write and perform a play based in the time period you’re learning about.

Math:

Create their own manipulations to help master a tricky concept.

What are your favorite ways to incorporate art into your homeschool? Do you do specific art lessons, or do you prefer to use art as a supplement for other subjects?

Blessings,

2021 Blue Ribbon Awards

Each year, the Homeschool Review Crew members vote on their favorite products of the year. Here are my choices, and the list of winners. Links take you to my reviews of the product.

Image by Peter Lomas from Pixabay

Favorite Literature Reading Resource: The Reading Game
Winner: The Reading Game

Favorite Literature Resource: Progeny Press
Winner: Progeny Press

Favorite Vocabulary Resource: (no vote)
Winner: The Critical Thinking Co. Vocabulary Virtuoso

Favorite Language Arts Resource: Words Rock!
Winner: Words Rock!

Favorite History/Social Studies Resource: Figures in Motion
Winner: Home School in the Woods

Favorite Science Resource: The Critical Thinking Co Science Mind Benders
Winner: Greg Landry’s Homeschool Science

Favorite Math Curriculum: CTC Math
Winner: CTC Math

Favorite Math Supplement: Triad Math
Winner: MathRider

Favorite Bible Resource: Bible Breakdowns
Winner: Teach Sunday School Easter Escape Room

Favorite Children’s Bible Resource: Tommy Nelson Roar Like a Lion
Winner: Roar Like a Lion

Favorite Fine Arts Resource: (no vote)
Winner: ARTistic Pursuits

Favorite Martial Arts Resource: Practice Monkeys
Winner: Practice Monkeys

Favorite Elective Resource: The Fallacy Detective
Winner: The Fallacy Detective

Favorite Book/Book series: Buck Academy
Winner: YWAM Publishing

Favorite College Prep Resource: ACT Mom
Winner: ACT Mom

Favorite Helpful Tool or Resource: Fermentools
Winner: Fermentools

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed: ACT Mom
Winner: WORLD Watch

Favorite Preschool Product: Reading Eggs
Winner: Buck Academy Baby Buck

Favorite Elementary Resource: Words Rock!
Winner: YWAM Publishing

Favorite Middle School Product: (no vote)
Winner: Teaching Textbooks

Favorite High School Product: Triad Math
Winner: CTC Math

Favorite Mom/Teacher Product: Fermentools
Winner: The HomeScholar

Kids Choice, Grasshopper: Words Rock!
Kids Choice, Dragonfly: Reading Eggs
Kids Choice, Bumblebee: Reading Eggs
Winner: Reading Eggs

Teen Choice, Scorpion: Practice Monkeys
Teen Choice, Ballet Boy: Triad Math
Winner: LightSail Education

All Around Favorite: Practice Monkeys
Winner: Creating a Masterpiece

What has been your favorite homeschool product you used this year?

Blessings,

He Man Birthday Party

When Dragonfly turned 6 last weekend, he decided he wanted a He Man and the Masters of the Universe themed party. It was a lot harder to find decorations for that theme than it was for Cocomelon, so we ended up making a lot of them ourselves using the Cocomelon party kit we’d purchased as a guide. 

I mostly chose images from online since I wasn’t posting them publicly; I knew that within our own home there wouldn’t be any issues with copyright. I chose 9 images and used them over and over for the different decorations. Invitations were made easily using a template on Adobe Spark (similar to Canva).

Once those were mailed, it was time for the actual decorations. First, to make the Happy Birthday bunting just inside our front door, I popped each of the images into Photoshop and added one letter to each picture. Then I printed them out, roughly 5×7 (so I was able to get 2 per page). Using the Cocomelon bunting as a template, I cut the images out into a fun shape and then attached them using a blue ribbon.

We were able to find a large banner and a package of themed balloons on Amazon. The day of the party, we blew up the balloons and Ballet Boy tied them all together using a bit of ribbon, and we hung the balloon arch on the wall. We supplemented the themed balloons with some plain ones from Walmart. The banner we were able to get was 9 feet tall and 20 inches wide, so it didn’t fit onto the same wall as the Cocomelon banner had. The big kids hung it in the dining room, right over the table where the snacks and cakes were. That ended up being pretty perfect.

I made two kinds of cakes. I did a carrot cake from scratch and chocolate cupcakes using a box mix. When both were baked, cooled, and frosted, I added toppers to each one. I couldn’t find the toothpicks at Walmart, so I used straws to stick them into the cakes. For the big cake, I printed out one of the pictures I mentioned before, but this time without any letters on it.

Our final bit of decor was bringing out all of the kids’ He Man toys. They have loads of them; Will was really into He Man when he was a kid, so when the toys started being reissued he was thrilled and has been buying our kids one or two a month for over a year. So yeah… their collection is huge. After the photo ops were done, though, the kids decided to take the toys back into their room and play with their cousins.

Overall, the party was a huge success. It’s really fun to prepare and host these themed parties. I’m excited to do it all again next year! (We’re all out of birthdays in our family until next July.)

Blessings,

Practice Monkeys for Self-Defense

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

Several months ago, my husband took a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. Without telling anyone. Then when he came home, he challenged Ballet Boy to a roughhousing match (they horse around all the time – have since Ballet Boy was small), and took him out. This was quite a surprise for Ballet Boy because as he’s grown, he’s gotten closer and closer to being able to win in these matches against his dad, but after the secret self-defense class, Dad gained the upper hand once and for all.

Then we found out the Practice Monkeys review. Ballet Boy was quite interested in taking their self-defense class. That incident with Dad was a motivator, but he likes being physical in general, so he would have been interested in the class even if it hadn’t happened.

The self defense class (for ages 5 and up) through Practice Monkeys teaches Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), and when you sign up the first thing you have to do is schedule an initial assessment. This, and all the classes, are live sessions taught via Zoom. The assessment is a private meeting with the teacher of the class, Dr. Peter van Kleeck. Once you’ve had the initial assessment to determine which level your child needs to start with, he will add the proper lesson to your dashboard. Classes are taught live with Dr. van Kleeck and his son, Titus, four days a week. Each class lasts 15 minutes and students are encouraged to practice an additional 15 minutes each day on their own. Each student needs a partner for this class (unlike the music classes that Practice Monkeys offers), so Scorpion took the class with Ballet Boy. Our initial plan had been to have Grasshopper and Dragonfly also take the class, but after just a lesson or two they decided they weren’t interested. It is helpful to have the students be of similar size for the class.

After our initial assessment, the kids were put into Level I. This wasn’t a surprise as they hadn’t had any sort of training in this art before. The classes were at the same time every day (Monday through Thursday), so I set an alarm on my phone to help us remember to sign in for the live classes. To access the Zoom call, you have to first sign into the Practice Monkeys website. From there, you can find the Zoom link on your dashboard. Because of the nature of Zoom, the daily classes aren’t private. All of the students at your level in your course are there together, but you don’t see them; on your end, you only see Dr. van Kleeck and Titus. They teach the material and then have your students practice while they watch. It was pretty rewarding on my end to hear him praise my kids during the lessons (“Yes! Good job, Robertsons!”), and I also appreciated hearing him talk to the other families taking the course. It really showed that he was watching all the kids and making sure they got the material.

What if you miss a live class? While the live classes are better because of the feedback you get from Dr. van Kleeck, you don’t miss out if you can’t make it. All of the Zoom calls are recorded and at the end of the week added to your “treehouse.” This is where you go to watch past lessons, either for extra review or because you’ve missed one (or more) live class. I do wish that these classes were uploaded later on the same day they were recorded, but I understand why that might not be feasible for the van Kleecks.

After you’ve been in the class for a while, you’ll be invited to take an assessment in order to move up a level. In the self-defense class, this was an individual Zoom call with Dr. van Kleeck. You have to schedule them through your account in the Practice Monkeys website, and then you access the Zoom call the same way you do a live class at the right time. The assessments take 25 minutes. To determine whether my sons were ready to move from level 1 to level 2, they were given a spoken instruction and Dr. van Kleeck watched to see if they succeeded based solely on the name of the move. They did, and by the time of their next class, our account had been updated to allow them into the level 2 class instead of the level 1 class (same thing, just 15 minutes later).

Ballet Boy and Scorpion have been having a blast learning self-defense with Practice Monkeys! We haven’t made it to every live class, but they do their best to make up the classes on their own when we miss one. The classes take place in the middle of the afternoon in our time zone, so it’s not always feasible to make it live (sometimes Ballet Boy is working, for instance). There have also been times when Zoom was acting up and the kids could see the class but couldn’t hear the instructions, so to avoid the inevitable frustration that would cause they opted to do those classes later as well.

Practice Monkeys’ main emphasis is instrument instruction, so if you or your child have ever wanted to learn violin, cello, piano, or guitar, then you should absolutely give them a chance. Practice Monkeys is priced per instrument (or BJJ) for the entire family. So if you have two guitar students, they can take the class together (at the same time). If you have a piano student and a cello student, though, you would need to purchase 2 subscriptions for those lessons.

I can’t recommend Practice Monkeys enough; Ballet Boy is even interested in continuing his BJJ lessons beyond our review subscription (that’s something he’ll be talking to Dad about!). Make sure to head over to the Homeschool Review Crew site and learn more about all the different types of lessons, though.

Before I finish up, the biggest question still remains: Can either of the kids “take out” Dad now?

Not quite. But with the skills they’ve learned, they don’t go down quite so easily.

Blessings,

Math Practice with I Know It

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

Getting enough math practice done in the elementary years is vital for future math success. I Know It is a supplemental curriculum that can help your children with just that – practicing all sorts of different age-appropriate skills in a no/low-stress environment. We have been using I Know It with Dragonfly (age 6, kindergarten) for the past few weeks.

I Know It is a supplemental math practice website for kids in grades K-5. Each child will need their own account, but they all fall under just one log in, which is nice because you can have an account for each of your children without the need to remember several usernames and passwords. When you get logged in, you’ll get a pop up that shows each of your children with individual icons, and you just need to choose the child who’s working at the moment. Once you select the right icon, it will load up the proper lessons so your child can get started with their math practice right away.

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on I Know It with Dragonfly for the past few weeks. Since he’s in kindergarten, that’s the level we’ve been working at and that’s the level I’ll be discussing in today’s review.

I Know It provides lots of opportunity for math practice, but it’s not a teaching program. You won’t be able to use it on its own (unless you’re ready to teach the concepts and then use the program as an online “worksheet”), but it makes a great supplement for any other math curriculum. Because Dragonfly is just in K, we actually have been using it exclusively, but he already knows the basic concepts being practiced in the kindergarten lessons. We’ve just been having him get lots of extra practice to get him ready for more advanced things in the coming weeks and months.

The kindergarten level has 12 topics, and each topic has between 5 and 10 different lessons. The lessons each have 15 questions and they’re all related, based on what topic and lesson within the topic you’ve chosen. The questions are reasonably easy; my kindergartner didn’t have any problems getting 100% on every lesson he did (except one at the beginning, where he missed a single question). With each correct answer, your student gets an approving message (“Yes!” “Great!” etc) and the robot mascot does a little dance. If your student gets a wrong answer, there’s no robot dance or words of affirmation. Instead, the program pops up a window to explain the correct answer.

When the lesson is complete, depending on the child’s score they’re given a “trophy.” These trophies collect in their progress dashboard. I found that Dragonfly really got off on earning trophies more than he did the robot dances. At the end of every lesson, he’s excited to learn what award he earned that day. Today, he was an “Awesome Adder.” He enjoys going back and looking at his past trophies, too.

If you’re using the program with an older child, you can show them how to log in and then send them on their way. It’s a very intuitive program to use – easy enough for a child. There’s also a way to assign specific lessons, but since I have been working right along with Dragonfly I didn’t explore that aspect of the program.

Are you a co-op parent or public school teacher? You can use I Know It in those situations, too. They have special pricing for teachers vs families vs entire school districts. So I Know It really can be used in any situation.

Overall, we’ve had a lot of fun firming up Dragonfly’s math skills using I Know It for daily math practice. I’m very happy with his progress in the program, and he enjoys doing his “robot math” each day, too.

Please click through to find out what my fellow Homeschool Review Crew colleagues thought of this program.

Blessings,

Happy Birthday, Dragonfly!

Wishing a very happy 6th birthday to my Friday the 13th baby today! (Yes, I know today is Saturday, but the year he was born, it was a Friday the 13th.)

Photo from September when we got to “meet” a local alpaca and the kids got to pet and hug it.

We’ll be having a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe themed party tomorrow; look for a post with photos on Thursday next week.