Benjamin Franklin (YWAM biography review)

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

We are no stranger to the Heroes of History series from YWAM Publishing. I read two of them with my older kids when they were younger (C.S. Lewis and Jacob de Shazer), and now I’m reading a new (to us) one, Benjamin Franklin: Live Wire with Grasshopper (he and I also read Corie ten Boom last year). The biography reads like a novel, and that’s part of what makes the Heroes of History series so good. You’re getting great history without it feeling like a history lesson. 

The book, like all of the YWAM biographies, starts with a “chapter one” that would be better named a “prologue,” not a “chapter.” In the case of Benjamin Franklin, we first meet him during the famous kite-flying experiment when he proved that lightning was a source of electricity. In chapter two, we are thrust backward in time to the time of Franklin’s youth and then move forward from there.

In the book, we learn all about Benjamin Franklin’s troubled relationship with his father, and how he didn’t want to work in “the family business” (soap- and candle-making). We take a trip across the Atlantic with young Ben as he travels to London on official business with the guarantee of the governor of Pennsylvania, William Keith, only to find out that the governor was a swindler when he got there – Keith didn’t send Franklin with the paperwork required to purchase the printing equipment he was sent for. This setback left Franklin in London for over a year, scrambling to get the printing press so he could bring it back to America.

A few chapters later, we learn all about Franklin’s civic “duties” – how he developed and created the very first fire station, library, and hospital in the colonies. In his position as one of Pennsylvania’s VIPs, he met many inventors who inspired him to explore science himself. Both Grasshopper and I found these chapters (the science ones) quite interesting. It was fascinating to read about how, before they fully understood electricity, the scientists would put on “magic shows” where they shot sparks out of their fingers (and other places) to impress the crowds. One time, Franklin himself was planning a show in which he used electricity to kill a turkey for the town festival (they planned to eat the turkey at the festival), but something went wrong and he ended up electrocuting himself instead! He nearly died that day.

Benjamin Franklin retired from his printing shop in his 40s, and from that point forward he focused a lot on his scientific pursuits, as well as continuing to be a “mover and shaker” in the Pennsylvania colony. He was made the postmaster general, which gave him quite a bit of power. He personally guaranteed the bonds that were used to pay for the French and Indian War (though he was able to recover those funds from the government). And he went back to England.

This is the point where Grasshopper and I are now (we have 4 chapters left in the book to read). Because we’ve been reading about 3 chapters a week, we’re not quite done, but we should finish it up by the middle of next week, if not before.

In addition to the book itself, YWAM offers complete study guides for all of their biographies. Benjamin Franklin: Live Wire is no exception.  The unit study guide follows the same outline of the other unit studies, having students explore key quotes from the topic. In the case of Benjamin Franklin, there are a few quotes from he himself, as well as some from other notable scientists (Sir Isaac Newton, Aristotle), politicians (FDR), and authors (Ralph Waldo Emerson). On their surface, the quotes don’t seem to apply to the book, but when you discuss them and dig deeper, you can see the relevance.

There’s a guide for helping students create a display (poster-style) using the information they learned in the book. There are lots of reading comprehension questions, split up by chapter. And then there are options for expanding the study to include subjects beyond reading/literature and history. Overall, the study guide is a very good way to turn a simple book into a much more intense learning experience, especially for older children.

I am the only one reviewing Benjamin Franklin this time, but there are lots of other YWAM biographies being talked about on the Homeschool Review Crew website this week. Click through to find out more!


Easy No Bake Cheesecake recipe

I have grown to really enjoy cheesecake as an adult. I didn’t like it as a child, but it’s definitely one of my favorite desserts as an adult. I love the tanginess of cream cheese, whether it be in a cheesecake or a cream cheese frosting on top of a cupcake or even just as a bagel spread for breakfast or snack.

Baked cheesecake, while a lovely thing to eat, can be very difficult to get just right at home, though. I have a recipe from my mom that I’ve made before, but it’s so finicky that I wanted to find a no-bake version (plus, I don’t have any spring-form pans, and they’re a must for cheesecake baking). This is now my go-to cheesecake recipe. It’s always a hit, no matter who I serve it to.

No-Bake Cheesecake

A 9- or 10-inch graham cracker crust (store bought or homemade)
1 cup whipping cream
2 8-ounce blocks of cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp sugar, divided
1 tbsp lemon juice (orange juice works well too)

Pour the whipping cream into the bowl of an electric mixer and whip on high speed until soft peaks form. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and mix until the cream is lightly sweetened and the sugar is no longer grainy. Gently scoop the whipped cream into a small bowl and set aside.

In the same mixing bowl (you don’t have to wash it yet), whip the cream cheese, lemon juice, and remaining tablespoon sugar until well combined and smooth.

Gently fold (not mix) the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. You want to be careful here so you don’t knock the air out of your whipped cream. When the two mixtures are fully combined, gently pour the new mixture into the graham cracker crust. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour. Keep refrigerated for up to 4-5 days.

Optional: serve with a fruit topping. Strawberry is always a hit in our house.

See? Much easier than a baked cheesecake!


History Comes Alive with Figures in Motion (review)

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

My third grader and I are learning about early American history this year, using a variety of living books for his curriculum. Since it’s mostly just a lot of reading, I was excited to see Figures in Motion come up as a review option through the Crew – it was the perfect opportunity to add something “fun” to the reading. (He likes to listen to me read; we snuggle up and read and he never, ever complains – and I rather like the 8-year-old snuggles too. But even so.) The Famous Figures of the American Revolution book was the perfect supplement for our reading!

Figures in Motion is kind of like paper dolls, but instead of dressing static images of people, students create movable “puppets.” Each page of the book has the famous figure divided up into multiple parts (body, arms, and legs – the limbs are usually 2 pieces each). For each figure, there is a page that is pre-colored and one that is just line art for students to color themselves. You cut out each piece and then attach them together using brads. The result is an historical figure that is a moveable plaything! It really is a fun product that adds a lot to a history lesson.

The paper in the books is very high quality – more card stock than paper, really. There aren’t “instructions” per se, but it was super easy to understand what needed to happen. On the back of each piece, there is a letter and the word “front” or “back.” Simply line up the letters, determine whether a specific piece needs to go in front of or behind the matching letter, and join with a brad. The result of such a simple product is amazing!

Our current history book is a biography of Benjamin Franklin, so I had both of the younger boys (excluding the baby) create a puppet of him. Grasshopper (8, and the official recipient of the history lessons) opted for the colored version, which left the white version for Dragonfly (5). I will say that I think 5 is a little too young for this product. He had a pretty difficult time coloring the page to his (admittedly high) standards. There were a lot of tears, and I didn’t even have him cut out the pieces himself!

In addition to the book itself, you need some mini brads to create the puppets (regular sized ones would work, but your puppets wouldn’t look quite as polished). A hole punch is also useful, but not strictly necessary – the brads can push through the card stock reasonably easily. Both of these tools are available from Figures in Motion, in addition to a wide variety of puppet books.

Included at the beginning of the book is also a short (1-2 paragraph) biography of each figure, so if you wanted to use this as a quick project rather than a supplement to another curriculum, you can still get some learning in there.

We had a really fun time working with Figures in Motion, and I will definitely be pulling this book out again and again as we learn more about the main players in the American Revolution over the rest of the school year!

Be sure to check out the other reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew; many of the Figures in Motion books are represented there, not just the American Revolution one.


Perpetual Birthday Calendar

I really enjoy watching Dollar Tree DIY videos on YouTube, and Kelly Barlow Creations is one of my favorite channels. I was watching one of her videos recently, and the idea of a sign displaying all of the birthdays in the family seemed really cute. I knew it wasn’t something we would display, but I wanted to make it anyway. So I decided to make it to give to my grandmother-in-law. I went to the Dollar Tree to get the supplies, and my local store was out of some of the supplies Kelly had used, so I found alternatives. Also, she used a Cricut for her sign, and since I don’t have one of those I had to improvise on some of the other pieces too. Here is how I made my sign.

I started with two of the Dollar Tree signs that have the shape that looks kind of like offset boards. The way those signs are built, they don’t line up to perfectly when you try to put two of them together (I wanted to keep the up-down pattern intact), so I had Ballet Boy help me saw one of the planks off one sign. Then, with a little bit of puzzle solving, the signs lines up the way I wanted them to. I used the piece we cut off, as well as some popsicle sticks, to hold the two signs together (I hot glued the pieces onto the signs, going across the seam). With my sign built, I was ready to decorate!

I started by painting the sign white using Apple Barrel gloss acrylic paint. When the paint dried, I used a Sharpie to draw lines where the “planks” shifted because I wanted a fence-look. With the lines drawn, I used the dry brush technique to add another coat of white paint in order to soften the black lines. 

I added the words Family Birthdays next. “Family” is a metal word cutout from the Dollar Tree, which I painted with Apple Barrel Cool Blue. I used hot glue to attach it to the sign. I mixed my own purple using blue, red, and white paint to add the word Birthdays to the sign. Using a Sharpie I wrote the names of the months across the bottom of the sign, one month per plank. Then I painted the entire sign (including the metal word) with Mod Podge to seal the paint. Finally, I added a bit of ribbon to the two short sides to hide the rough edges.

I drafted Ballet Boy to  help me again at this point. He drilled one hole into the bottom of each of the planks with a month, and a larger one up near the top so I could install the pinwheel. 

I gathered up all the birthdays from the extended family, and took some decorative cardstock (from the scrapbook paper open stock at JoAnn). Using the planks on my sign as a template of sorts, I cut small rectangles from the paper and added each person’s name and day of birth (not the month) to one rectangle. I laminated all the rectangles using DT packing tape, and then organized them by month. I used a small hole punch to add holes to the top and bottom of each rectangle, then using embroidery thread I attached the papers to the bottom of the sign under the correct month (in order within the month). I added a bit of hot glue to the back of each rectangle to help keep the thread in place, and added a tassel to the last rectangle of each month. 

The last thing I did was to take some brown Kraft paper and cover up the ugly back. It used to be the fronts of the two signs, but now it was terrible looking because of those popsicle sticks holding the two boards together. I used a bit of hot glue to hold the paper on. Then I used cotton yarn (ch 13, slip stitch in 2nd ch from hook and in each ch across) to create two hangers for the back. Using copious amounts of hot glue for stability, I attached the hangers to the back of the sign. 

If you’re still here after all this, thank you for reading!


Crochet Wallet

Grasshopper (8) recently came into some money, and he didn’t have a good place to keep it. He asked his brothers to make him a duct tape wallet, but all we had was Dollar Tree box tape (which is really thin) so they told him no. He was pretty upset, so I got to thinking about how I could help him. My main skills are in yarn, so I realized it would be pretty easy to crochet a wallet. 

I started out with a double crochet stitch using a small hook so the fabric would be tightly woven, but I didn’t love the way that was turning out so I ripped it out and tried again. For my second attempt, I used fewer stitches (the first one was way too wide) and the half double crochet. I utilized a variation of the “third loop” method of the stitch (though not in a way I’ve ever seen done before), giving the wallet an interesting texture – and that extra solidity I was looking for in the beginning. This wallet would be great for any kid, and maybe even a woman who keeps it in a purse. If you’re a “wallet in the pocket” person, it’s probably a bit too thick (although, you could perhaps make it with thinner yarn to combat that 🤔).

Crochet Wallet

Yarn: any worsted weight yarn (I used JoAnn Big Twist in Varsity Green and Bubblegum ) in one or two colors

Hook: H

Panel (make 2):

Chain 36.

Row 1: HDC in 3rd ch from hook and every ch across (35)

Rows 2-12: ch 2 (counts as HDC). Sk 1st st; HDC in the “front V” of each remaining st across. (See photos for clarification.) HDC in top of ch 2 from previous row.

I’ve highlighted the parts of the HDC in blue. The V at the top is where you normally would insert your hook to create the next stitch. For this pattern, you want to use the bottom loop (the line below) and the “traditional front loop” of the V to make your stitch into. Treat those two loops together as if they were the normal V.





See here the position of the hook at the beginning of the HDC.

Fasten off; weave in ends.

When both panels are made,  you can add an appliqué (Jayda in Stitches on YouTube has lots of tutorials) or surface stitch a design to one or both, but this is completely optional. I added my son’s first initial. 

Stack the two panels together. Push your hook through one corner of both panels. Attach contrasting yarn (or the same color, for a calmer look) with a slip stitch. Single crochet through both panels together on 3 sides (one long and two short). As you turn the last corner, now start single crocheting on just one of the panels. When you get back to the starting point, SC into the seam between the panels, and then continue around on the other top. When you finish the second top (SC into the other seam too), join to the top of the first SC in the opposite side. Fasten off and weave in ends. 

If you make this wallet, tag me on Instagram (@ladybugdaydreams) or Twitter (@ladybugdaydream) – I’d love to see!


DIY Dollar Tree Photo Trivet

I have a super easy project for you today! I had seen trivets and plates like this on YouTube and wanted to try making one, and now I’m sharing it here. 


Glass trivet (I got mine at the Dollar Tree)

Printer and access to a favorite photograph (or a printed one from the store)

Dishwasher safe Mod Podge (available at Walmart and other craft stores – I got mine for about $8 at Michael’s)

1. Measure your trivet and open some sort of photo editing program on your computer. Size your picture up so that it takes up as close to the full trivet size as possible. OPTIONAL: Add some sort of background to the photograph. I found a background design on Pixabay and put my photo over the top of it using Photoshop, and then printed. 

2. Cut the image out to just a bit smaller than the trivet. 

3. Paint Mod Podge over the back of the trivet. Lay your image out on top of the glue (face down) and carefully smooth it out. Paint another coat of Mod Podge over it. 

4. Wait an hour, then paint another coat of glue over your image. 

5. Repeat step 4.

6. Wait 28 days (yes, you read that right) for the glue to cure and become dishwasher safe. 

I hope you make one of these and enjoy using yours as much as I have loved mine. 


Moon Stairs

My mom recently gave me a decor piece that she’s had for as long as I can remember – a wood cutout of a crescent moon with stairs and banisters, and three stars to match. She told me that her grandfather made it, and I’m really glad to have it in my own home now (even though it’ll be weird going to her house and not seeing it anymore). Even though I never met her grandfather (that I can remember), it feels like a piece of my own history to have this, and I’m really glad that she gave it to me.

But… I’ve been watching a lot of Dollar Tree DIY videos on YouTube lately, and they inspired me to take this family heirloom piece and give it a bit of a makeover. As much as I loved the piece before, I really like it a lot more now. Here’s what I did.

I started with a coat of white paint. I just used Apple Barrel White gloss finish paint because that’s what I had on hand. I really like the feeling of the gloss finish paint, and it’s not so glossy that it’s shiny. It just gives a very smooth finish to your work. I didn’t trust myself to be able to put the piece back together if I took it apart, so I did my best to just paint into the nooks and crannies of the entire piece. The stars were a lot easier because they’re flat. I didn’t bother painting the backs of any of the elements. I like knowing that they’re still the original color wood – it’s another reminder of my ancestry and the man who created the piece.

I chose to put the phrase “When you wish upon a star” onto the stars, and I knew I wanted the word WISH to be on its own star, and I wanted that one to have gold glitter. Other than that, I didn’t have a super specific design in mind. So I got onto the computer and found a font I liked (I used Garamond in all caps for WISH and Princess Sofia for the rest of the words), then typed the phrase into Word and printed it out. I used the same transfer method as on my most recent welcome sign to add the words to the stars, then painted them with Apple Barrel paint in the color Cool Blue. When the paint dried, I added a bit of gold glitter glue to the WISH star and spread it out with my finger to cover the entire star.

My mom never put anything on the stairs that I can remember, but I wanted to utilize that space for something pretty. I picked up a package of 3 mini terra cotta pots from the Dollar Tree, as well as a roll of ribbon, some Spanish moss, and “vase filler,” which was basically some miniature gold painted pinecones and other random bits of stuff that matched. I used hot glue to attach the ribbon to the tops of the pots, right where the rim is. Then I filled the pots with the moss (hot glued in place for security), then hot glued some pieces from the vase filler on top. Each one is a little different. (There are only 2 in the picture because I wasn’t sure I wanted to use all three, but decided later that I absolutely did want that.) Finally, I hot glued the pots onto the stairs. I did this so that I wouldn’t have to worry about them falling off, but also so that in a pinch, they would be removable.

Have you ever taken a piece from your past and given it new life?


Dollar Tree Welcome Sign

I created a new welcome sign for my front door this year and thought I’d share it here, including how I made it.

I started with one of the standard Dollar Tree rectangular signs. The one I picked up said “Easter Joy,” with the O being a foam chick hot glued on. I started by removing the chick from the front of the sign and setting it aside, as well as taking off the ribbon hanger. Then I flipped the sign over to the back and painted it with Apple Barrel (acrylic paint) in the color Nutmeg. When that dried, I went over it with white paint, allowing a bit of the brown to show through.

I also found a cute wood flower cutout from Dollar Tree and some pretty pink fabric. I removed the twine hanger from the flower and saved it for later. Then I used some Mod Podge glue to attach the fabric to the flower. When it had fully dried, I used an Exacto knife to trim around the edges of the flower. This works much, much better than trying to get close enough with scissors.

With both pieces (the painted and the decoupaged) done, I went to work with the words. I got on the computer and printed out the letters W E L C M and E for Welcome in a font that I liked. I made it pretty big (around 200 point, if I remember correctly). I had the idea to use the chick for the O, but that didn’t work out in the end (the sizing was all wrong). Then, using a technique I’d seen from Krafts by Katelyn on YouTube, I scribbled over the letters on the back of the paper, then placed it right side up on my sign and traced the outline of the letters. This left a very pale outline of the letters from the pencil scribbles on the back of the paper, which allowed me to paint over them very easily, with my painted letters looking just like the font I’d chosen. I painted the letters using the same Nutmeg brown that I used for the base coat on my sign.

I got back on the computer and found another font that I liked and typed out “to our home.” I printed that out and then very carefully cut it out with scissors. I used the Exacto knife to cut out the little bits from the insides of the letters as needed. I also jumped onto (a free picture site) and found a pretty yellow background. I printed that out too, and then found a little bowl in my kitchen that was a good size to fit inside the flower. I cut out the yellow texture and glued that onto the flower using Mod Podge, and while the top coat was still wet I attached my “to our home” words and added another coat of glue on top of those also. I let the flower dry completely.

With my main pieces now done, I used a bit of hot glue to attach the flower to the bottom center of the rectangle. I considered putting the flower off to one side, but then I realized that it wouldn’t hang straight if I did, so I put it in the middle. I added the little chicken that I’d pulled off the front of the sign as well as the twine from the flower for hanging, and I was done… I thought.

I hung my sign up for a few days, and while I liked it, I didn’t think it was quite ready. It was too plain. So I brought it back inside and grabbed a Sharpie marker, which I used to add “stitches” to the edges of all the main pieces – the rectangle, the flower, and the center of the flower. That helped a lot, but it still needed something else. So I found some faux flowers I’ve had for a while (a freebie from JoAnn’s months and months ago). I cut of the stems of those using wire cutters and superglued them to the top (I was out of hot glue by this point). Now it’s done, and I’m really happy with how it looks!


The Crafty Classroom (review)

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

Kindergarten is such a fun age! Kids are excited to learn, and the learning they do is so laid back that it’s just a great time to be a parent. To enhance Dragonfly’s kindergarten experience, we have had the pleasure of reviewing the Tracing Bundle from The Crafty Classroom. Dragonfly loves to trace stuff, so this was a great fit for him. The Tracing Bundle comes with two files: Editable Name Tracing Pack and Tracing Bundle C. I want to talk about the latter first.

Tracing Bundle

This file is a 297-page printable PDF with loads and loads of things for your child to trace. Dragonfly and I looked over it together and he picked a few pages he wanted to trace. I also chose a couple that I wanted him to work on to help him in his early penmanship. Then I printed them all out and stuck them in a folder to distribute to him slowly. Each day we worked on these (about 3x a week), I gave him one of “his” pages and one of “my” pages. His were mostly shapes and pictures; mine were mostly words and numbers.

The Tracing Bundle includes things like the uppercase and lowercase alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, days of the week, months of the year, seasons, and sight words. Then there are images – dogs with bones, seashells and waves, and more. As you move through the pack, the emphasis changes to drawing the shapes in the right order – for your square, starting in the upper left corner, going straight down, then to the right, then up, and back to the left. This guidance is helpful for “pre-writing,” encouraging children to do things in the right order. That way, when they’re ready to write letters, they understand the concept of doing things in the right order.

Editable Name Tracing Pack

This one was really cool! The very first page of this PDF is the instructions on how to edit it properly. (The main thing is that it has to be opened in Adobe Acrobat, not a web browser or other program.) Then you scroll through until you get to this page:

As you can see, there are three choices here. Each one is attached to a theme. Pick the one you want, and type in your child’s name(s), and the PDF will pop those names into the appropriate pages for printing

This gives you the same types of tracing pages, but all entirely personalized. This is fantastic for kids from around 3-4 and up who are learning to write their names. I wish I’d had this for my older kids! You can bet I’ll be using it next year with Bumblebee, though, as well as working with Dragonfly sooner with it. What a fantastic resource for helping kids to write their name!

Final Thoughts

I am super glad we got to review the Tracing Bundle. It has been really great to have something simple for Dragonfly to work on while I’m doing more intense work with the bigger kids. He adores writing and drawing, as I mentioned before, so he’s been happy as a clam with these pages, and I’m happy to print out as many of them as he can work through.

The Crafty Classroom has offered a variety of different products to the Homeschool Review Crew members, so make sure to check out more reviews by clicking through.


Excellence in Literature (review)

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

My oldest son has been working on writing a novel with his girlfriend, so I thought he might benefit from the Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers from Everyday Education. The PDF e-book is over 400 pages long and has tons of valuable information for writers from middle school on up.

From Ballet Boy:

The part of the book that I used was Pointers and Tips on how to write what’s considered a “good” essay from a logical perspective. It included information on how to structure sound arguments, and thus how to fulfill the purpose of an essay. It touched on the fact that an essay is not meant to deliver facts so much as it to convey a convincing point of view, or to sell an idea.

The author discusses the weakness of starting your essay with something that is a trivial or obvious claim. For example, if your essay is about Hamlet and your opening sentence says “Hamlet was the Prince of Denmark and he dies at the end of the play,” that neither conveys new information to the reader nor takes a stand about anything. Another weak sentence starter it gives as an example is “The French Revolution, which started in 1789, brought about many changes.” This, too, is a fact that can be checked by any reputable source and therefore can’t be the topic of an essay. It’s only something that can guide you toward a sound and logical argument.

This is not to say that an essay shouldn’t have the facts in it. But the mistake people often make in writing essays is that they get hung up on the facts, myself included. Then their essay becomes the answer sheet to a trivia game instead of someone trying to convince you of a point or position. This renders the essay redundant.

Moving over to the novel I’m writing, I have started using some of these same principles to create a more engaging story, one that is less concerned about delivering facts and descriptions (talking about the time of day and how the wind blows) and is more about invoking concern, emotion, and feeling in myself and my future readers.

Recently I was writing a scene where my two main characters are interacting with each other, and one of them is injured, lying on a couch. Instead of having a description of the room that they’re talking in, I have different characters interact with their surroundings. For example, instead of describing that the couch has lots of pillows on it, I have one of my characters grab a pillow and move it slightly to better support his head. And instead of describing how the room has a soft rug (or carpet), I instead talk about how their feet sink into the soft ground whenever they take a step.

All in all, I’d say this is a very good resource that I would recommend to a beginner or someone who intends to write anything of importance, whether a thesis statement in grad school or a fantasy novel for teenagers.

Make sure to read more reviews from the Homeschool Review Crew!