Friday, February 26, 2021

Favorite Books and Movies of the Week

[Treats for the viewing of the fourth Harry Potter movie]

I am often asked by friends what we're watching and/or reading. My kids seem to be going devouring books right now and their current love on television are game shows. Any and all game shows. They love them so much that every test they take they request it to be set up game show style so they can compete against each other! 

Here are our weekly picks:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - both the book and the movie. The middle mini finished the book, which means we get a "Potter Party" today while we watch the movie! I ordered these Bertie Botts beans for a special treat while they watch the movie. 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - The middle mini finished up book #4 and promptly dove into book #5. He's doing an AMAZING job with these books, writing and doing character studies with every book.

Mad About You - I needed a TV show to put on while I create tests and questions about their daily readings. I completely missed that the "new" season came out two years ago! The minis are in love with the show too, which completely surprised me, but we've been watching it as a family this week.

Nomadland - Great movie on Hulu that (if you're knowledgeable about the issues at hand) can get you thinking or be an eye opening experience.

Ellen's Game of Games - the minis LOVE this game show! 

The Great Gatsby - The oldest mini blew through the middle school reading list, so I figured I'd start him on one of my favorite books. So far, he enjoys it too.

What Is the Women's Rights Movement? - The youngest read Who Was Ruth Bader Ginsburg? and made a list of the books in this series she wants to read. She finished Otherwise Known As Sheila The Great and dived right into this one. 

Who Was Jesus? - Another in the Who Was Series that takes a look at the historical facts that are known. I love the approach the book takes and that it doesn't bring religion into it at all.

The King Cake Baby - Mardi Gras required Mardi Gras books. This is by far daycare's favorite one.

Happiest Season - I haven't watched this yet, but since I have a four day weekend coming up, I plan to enjoy this one.

What am I reading, you ask? Oh, just a lot of textbooks, research papers, and worksheets. Every. Single. Day. I have a list of books I'd like to read, but at the end of the day, I'm too tapped out to actually get into any of them! I have mad respect for all of you who are able to read book after book after book. By the end of the day, my bed and an old episode of The X-Files is what I can manage!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Did We Forget How To Go Outside?


Two kids stomped through the puddles like it was their job (I also like to walk in puddles, so I love this). Everyone else was worried about keeping their boots clean, while the dog found every last bit of snow to pounce through.

50 degrees.  A whole 50 degrees after days of below zero temps. I could have put on shorts! I went as far as opening windows to air out the house after a long few weeks of snowy days and freezing temps. It was glorious. Of course, the backyard is full of dog poop (thanks winter), so I couldn't just open up the back door and let every child and fur child run free. Instead, I chose to take the kids (and fur kid) on a walk.

My cup was PERFECT to carry my tea in while we walked. The oldest and dog were leading the way, bigs holding the littles hands, and me in the back, continually shouting out, "watch the ice to your right! Don't get caught in the pile of sticks to your left!" Overall, it worked well. 

We love walks, so this seemed like a brilliant idea. Of course, it's been a very long winter with few days spent going outside. I'm certain, after watching the kids get ready to go on our walk, that we forgot to go outside.

First, we took bathroom breaks. Then, we put on shoes and coats. All of this was going smoothly, until a kid cried because we weren't putting on hats, gloves, and scarves. Again, it was 50 degrees and not needed. But everyone thought I was lying to them. So, when we got outside and they felt how warm it actually was (because this isn't something I would lie about, but I didn't point that out to them) we had to go back inside and undress.

Then, the 10 year old remembered he didn't take that bathroom break I told everyone to take. As we lined up at the door, that's when the questions started:

"Can we bring a toy with us?" When have I ever let them bring toys on a walk with us?? Never.

"Should we bring water with us?" We're only walking half of a mile. We'll be fine.

"Can I have my sunglasses? They're in mommy's car." Um, no, since mommy's car clearly isn't here.

"Can I wear my high heels instead of my snow boots?" No, because even though it's 50 degrees, everything is melting and there is, in fact, still ice in spots.

"How many masks should we wear on our walk?" How about you bring one. We're outside in the middle of the day. At the very least, keep one mask in your pocket, so we can put it on if we come across another person (we didn't).

Once we were FINALLY on our way, a full thirty minutes of confusion later, we walked a quarter of a mile before a big announced, "I forgot to pee and now I have to." So we all went home. I think the last few weeks of winter made them forget how to go outside! Thankfully, we'll have chances to change this all week long....but I highly doubt that will stop the random questions and requests from kids!

We played in the driveway on Wednesday. I drew lines on the driveway that they had to stay inside (so I didn't worry about anyone running off). They did much better with this than our walk, but it wasn't as warm on Wednesday as it was on Tuesday (the day of our walk), so they were perplexed as to why they had to wear gloves one day and not the day before. Oh, children. Thanks for keeping things interesting.

I'm Ready To Be A Yes House Again

A hot chocolate pool. Yes, they went swimming in it too!

Preface: I feel the need to mention that I realize I am extremely privileged to be able to keep my business up and running, make money, AND safely provide families with alternatives at this time. I am grateful in every aspect for all of it, especially the option to homeschool my own children. All of that is made possible because of my daycare business. Regardless, it doesn't negate my feelings. Like many people, I am navigating through a new world and trying to find my footing. Our entire world changed one year ago and while we have made it work to the best of our ability, it's HARD to make changes you weren't ready to make or didn't want to make. I was happy and content with how my business was run, how we were leading our lives, and everything in between. 

 In all of the changes in the last year, this one flew under the radar for a bit. It wasn't until I couldn't place my own feelings about things that I realized what the true issue was. Upon creating my daycare ten years ago, I wanted one thing above all else: I wanted the kids to hear YES as much as possible. This is how we've had things like feet and body painting, baby pudding painting, flour "sand," shaving cream and chocolate pools, using a mattress to jump on from off of the couch, and so much more. A kid's life is full of no's, I wanted my house to be the yes house.

I've succeeded in that for nine years. I made it nine years and then Covid happened. Quarantines and new ways of life overwhelmed us. Daycare was forced to become "school at daycare" out of necessity. I wouldn't have it any other way because I was able to step up, help out, and be someone that my daycare families needed in a time of uncertainty. But in the process, our house became a "no" house.

No, we can't use endless blankets to build forts. I can't let you play with blankets. Or stuffed animals, cloth toys, and anything else that can't be easily wiped down to be disinfected. No, we can't do that. No, we can't do a dance party right now because someone is taking a test. No, nap times. lunch times, snack times, or anything else can't be changed. No, we don't have time to play outside. No, we can't do ________ because I won't have the time in between helping kids with schoolwork, making sure they're at their classes on time, and teaching other kids.

It's breaking me to have so many no's. Don't get me wrong, the kids don't seem to be exceptionally bothered by it; it's ME who's taking it hard! What made every day fun was that I managed to make every day a little different (for the kids and me). With school at daycare, that's not always a possibility. I'm ready for my house to be a yes house again.

Maybe it's summer that I need. The long days spent playing in the yard, in barefeet (which will likely be another no this year because, well, dog), getting covered in dirt in the mud kitchen, eating lunch whenever the kids are hungry, and having as long of a lunchtime as they would like. I'm ready for it. I miss it. I'm ready for more yes and less no.

Playing a game they created circa 2015ish. They set up the chairs, then you must stand on our couch, throw a ball, and hit a chair to get points. For five and three year olds, I thought it was brilliant.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Beed's Lake State Park


As soon as the Arctic air was out of Iowa, we continued on our quest to visit every State Park in Iowa (read about that here). This weekend, we woke up early and began our adventure at the Ankeny DOT, so I could renew my driver's license. 

Funny story: Since we were headed to Beed's Lake and I had to go in that direction for the DOT, I decided that Matt and the minis should drop me off, grab breakfast, and then come back for me. Turns out, the DOT doesn't want people waiting long for appointments and I was done within five minutes. I had to ask to wait in the waiting area while they quickly ran through the McDonald's drive thru. Usually, this would be an hour or two ordeal, but it was the quickest appointment I've ever had!

From Ankeny, we drove the easy hour to Hampton, Iowa, up I35. Once we arrived at the Park, the dog was eager to hit trail. We started hiking on the path across the lake, but the wind was too much for the kids.

Walking on the frozen lake.

We decided to keep on the wooden trail to avoid the gusts of wind. This would have been great, except we realized about half-way through we were walking on the deer path in people's backyards and NOT on the actual trail. Oops! The dog was in heaven with all of the smells and the minis wound up hiking on the lake, so it didn't matter too much. We still managed to get a good walk in!

There were quite a few ice fishers on the lake that we managed to not disturb, but they must have made it look fun because the youngest requested we give ice fishing a try sometime. 

On the way home, we stopped at Ben's Burgers in Ankeny. I would define it as locally owned fast food. The food was good, but the customer service was outstanding! Naturally, the dog assumed we were at a coffee shop drive thru. When our drinks come out, the dog went crazy looking for his pup cup (yeah, I know, he's spoiled). The worker at the window saw this and asked if he would like a pup cup. We approved and she then handed us a cup FULL of ice cream! Dog and humans were happy.

Windblown faces after the hiking, taking it easy. They decorated cupcakes for my birthday the following day. I love the above picture of my crowded table: dinner (a new antipasti recipe that we loved), a snack box from Ukraine, cupcake decorating items, books being read, pictures that have been colored, and what the picture can't capture, but something I'll remember, silence.

Goodbye 36, Hello 37

Thinking on year 36 still leaves me bewildered. I began the year hiking in Utah, then going through so many personal changes and challenges that will forever have an impact on me thanks to a pandemic, and I'm ending it doing something new and different. This year has been all about pushing myself outside of my comfort zone and trying new things. It's a year spent living day by day, in the moment, on the edge of my seat because I didn't know what would be thrown at me. 

Year 36 was a doozy. Every single one of my relationships in life was tested. Some came out stronger and better than before, some I let go of, and in others, the entire dynamic changed. I faced so many emotions I can't even list them all. I finally learned to take care of myself and say no whenever needed. I don't feel an ounce of guilt about it either. I spent time on myself, for myself, and made extra time for my kids. Somehow, my business stayed afloat and I got extremely lucky because of the good ol' blog, which got a ridiculous amount of visits thanks to terrified parents looking for things to do at home with their children. I like to think everyone made out well in the end.

I felt a challenging year needed more challenges. Not only did we live through a derecho (where a tree missed our house by centimeters, with me and a house full of kids inside), but I decided I could no longer live one more day without power or air conditioning. So, I set out on my first socially distanced, solo vacay with three kids and a pandemic puppy.

36 put life into better perspective for me. Going through a pandemic will do that for you. The theme of my thirties seems to be DOING. Do anything and everything. Do all the things you want to do. I've spent so much time doing the big things that I haven't left time for the small do's. This year, I made time for them. I can confidently say I am smarter and overall better person for taking the time (because I wasn't short on it) to learn and do. It's been a refreshing, commitment free year. I cook now. The harder, more involved recipes that life didn't allow for before social distancing was a thing. I loved the people in my life more than ever before. I lived for a week with out power, learned to use a chain saw, and got to know our neighbors better. These things never would have happened if the most difficult events didn't find us. Like I said, year 36 was an absolute doozy. It's not one I'll easily forget.

I'm walking into year 37 with two big do's on the table: one is a virtual performance/reading of one of my short stories for Expressing Motherhood and the other is taking a class in American Sign Language to become an offical interpreter (what I do with that in the future is beyond me, but it's what I want to do in this moment). As another trip around the sun begins, I'm feeling more confident in myself. I look forward to what 37 brings. If this had been the beginning of year 36, I would have wished for normalcy. However, after living most of my 36th year under unprecidented circumstances, I only wish for the continued ability to roll with it. To not once think inside the box and to appreciate the uniqueness that gives me this ability.

Here's to 37!

Opening new hiking snow boots at my masked, family birthday party yesterday. These boots already have two miles on them thanks to my active pandemic pup.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Visiting Iowa's State Parks

Beed's Lake State Park, February 2021

It's nearing the end of winter in Iowa (hopefully) and that means we're going stir crazy from being stuck indoors the last few months! Due to the pandemic, us getting out of the house usually means going hiking. As a result, we've spent much of the last year visiting the State Parks in Iowa. There's many on this list we've visit over and over again. Unfortunately, so did A LOT of other people. So, we began state park hopping to find new, less crowded hiking trails.

Viking Lake State Park, October 2020. We had the entire Park to ourselves!

While we plan on slowly adding in activities or public events, we largely plan on keeping our spring and summer weekends social distancing from others. We've already visited 29 of the 69 State Parks in Iowa, so we figured, why not visit the rest? We don't have a clear plan yet, but luckily most of these are easy day trip adventures for us and maybe one or two weekend trips! This should be fun and hopefully, by the end of 2021, we will have been to every one of these parks and have stories for days!

  • Ambrose A. Call State Park

  • Backbone State Parke 

  • Badger Creek State Park

  • Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park

  • Beeds Lake State Park

  • Bellevue State Park

  • Big Creek State Park

  • Blackburn State Park

  • Brushy Creek State Recreation Area

  • Cedar Rock State Park

  • Clear Lake State Park

  • Dolliver Memorial State Park

  • Elinor Bedell State Park

  • Elk Rock State Park

  • Emerson Bay State Recreation Area

  • Fairport State Recreation Area

  • Fort Atkinson State Preserve

  • Fort Defiance State Park

  • Geode State Park

  • George Wyth State Park

  • Green Valley State Park

  • Gull Point State Park

  • Honey Creek Resort and State Park

  • Lacey Keosauqua State Park

  • Lake Ahquabi State Park

  • Lake Anita State Park

  • Lake Darling State Park

  • Lake Keomah State Park

  • Lake McBride State Park

  • Lake Manawa State Park

  • Lake of Three Fires State Park

  • Lake Wapello

  • Ledges State Park

  • Lewis and Clark State Park

  • Lower Gar State Recreation Area

  • Loess Hills State Forest

  • Maquoketa Caves State Park

  • Marble Beach State Recreation Area

  • McIntosh Woods State Park

  • Mines of Spain Recreation Area

  • Mini-Wakan State Park

  • Nine Eagles State Park

  • Okamanpedan State Park

  • Palisades-Kepler State Park

  • Pikes Peak State Park

  • Pilot Knob State Park

  • Pine Lake State Park

  • Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area

  • Prairie Rose State Park

  • Preparation Canyon State Park

  • Red Haw State Park

  • Rice Lake State Park

  • Rock Creek State Park

  • Shimek State Forest

  • Springbrook State Park

  • Stone State Park

  • Templar State Recreation Area

  • Trapper Bay State Park

  • Twin Lakes State Park

  • Union Grove State Park

  • Viking Lake State Park

  • Volga River State Recreation Area

  • Walnut Woods State Park

  • Wapsipinicon State Park

  • Waubonsie State Park

  • Wildcat Den State Park

  • Wilson Island State Recreation Area

  • Yellow River State Forest

Elk Rock State Park, January 2021

Pine Lake State Park, January 2021

Banner Lakes at Summerset State Park, December 2020

Bellevue State Park, October 2020

Clear Lake State Park, August 2020

February Favorites

1.) We had hoped to find beignet mix at World Market, but they were sold out, so we settled on Cafe du Monde French Roast coffee. The smooth flavors have instantly become one of my favorite coffees!

2.) This song speaks to me because all I do is make things up as I go!

3.) I purchased pH test strips for a science experiment and now my kids (and daycare and other homeschool kids) are obsessed with them! Any food, liquid, or gel is tested asap in our house.

4.) The minis requested boxes of chocolates for Valentine's Day instead of toys (which they usually get), but I couldn't pass up these Lego cinch buckets. I'm hopeful to get in one or two road trips this year and that got me thinking. Every time we pack for a trip, it's always discussed how we can't bring Legos with us. Well, these cinch buckets might make it easier for Legos to travel and not end up lost or in a dog's mouth. Once we have a chance to use them, I'll report back on our successes. Hopefully.

5.) I purchased our Highlander last summer because of the uncertainities regarding the school year. Since we wound up homeschooling, having that as our second vehicle has come in handy. As I state above, we have hopes of road trips or at the very least, more exploring on homeschool adventures. Just for those reasons, we decided a car topper would be useful. I purchased this as a gift to myself for Christmas. I can't wait to get some use out of it!

6.) We attended our first event in nearly a year last Friday. Dome After Dark at the Des Moines Botanical Garden was perfect for our first hoorah in this new life. As the weather warms, we plan for more excursions like this, but plan on keeping it to limited ticketing events.

7.) Numerous works of art each week means we're constantly changing out art work in the homeschool room. Since the walls are cinderblock, we've been using 3M Command Picture Hanging Strips to put up canvases. It's worked great so far!

8.) Check out Expressing Motherhood's March 7th virtual show. I'll be sharing a story about parenting in the pandemic, as well as other performances. It's the perfect ending to my 36th year and a wonderful beginning to my 37th!

9.) My parents had a puzzle of us made on Shutterfly. It's been one of our favorite puzzles to put together!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Socializing While Homeschooling In A Pandemic


This week, the big kids have turned the basement school room into a Nerf gun battle zone.

I get a lot of questions about homeschooling. The question I seem to get the most, and probably the most judgemental question of them all, is in regards to my children's socialization needs. Before we get into the knitty gritty of our lives, let me set up our daily life for you: I STILL have my daycare business, but it's been more of a 'school at daycare' thing since last March. This means that there's several school age children here during the days that are either doing virtual learning on their computers or are fellow homeschoolers. Those kids come here during the day for socialization and homeschool at night with their parents. All of the kids have recess or free time during the day, which they spend with their friends at daycare.

This leads right into the details of our lives. Because of my in-home daycare, my children are with other school age children five days a week. We "do school" any time during the day and in the evenings. Some days are busier than others, but we've gotten into a decent routine of two busy days at the beginning of the week, fitting in the longer lessons, readings, worksheets, etc. This frees them up to have three days of more freedom. This week, they've chosen to do our science lessons in the evenings, so they can get all of their work done in the mornings. That means they have a few hours in the afternoon to be with their friends, have Zoom calls with school friends they don't get to see, or even play with neighborhood friends (as weather allows). This week, it's been Nerf battles in the basement.

All of their neighbor friends, the ones we allow them to see at least, are also friends from their elementry and middle schools. They've been able to keep those connections throughout the last year, which has helped immensely. Up until December, they were getting together regularly with one or two friends from school and playing outdoors (with masks on). Those playdates have moved to Zoom calls until the weather warms up. 

Is it the same socialization they would have if they were in school as normal? No. Is anyone getting normal socialization right now? No....and if you are, should you be? Am I worried about my children? No, not in the least. We're all going a little crazy being couped up this winter, but I have a feeling things willl start to get MUCH better for all of us as spring comes. However, I fully understand not every homeschooling child/family has this kind of socialization at their finger tips. The fact that my children have been able to keep connections with other children their ages, has helped them navigate all of our transitions in the last year.

My husband and I have been speaking deeply about keeping our children homeschooled for next school year as well. I am aware that their socialization needs will change greatly, especially if the kids they see daily go back to school. Typically, homeschoolers are involved in many group outings and activities. With both my husband and I working full time jobs in addition to homeschooling, it's difficult for us to make it to any of the group activities during the day. It hasn't been an issue this school year because everything is happening virtually. 

How we will juggle homeschooling and their socialization needs in the future is beyond me, but for now, it's not a top concern for me as I feel all of their needs are being met.

*** If you have any questions or curiosities about homeschooling, feel free to send an email or message. I'll happily answer anything that's asked nicely.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Homeschool Picture Day


We got creative with homeschool picture day. For her birthday, my mother requested new school pictures of the minis. I usually would whip out my folder with their newest pictures in them, but we obviously didn't have that this year. I could have called in a photographer or made arrangements, but we were working with a small time frame. So, we did the next best thing. We took the kids hiking, brought them home, stuck them back into their pajamas because that's their clothing of choice these days, had my husband hold a sheet behind each child, and I snapped away.

Just as with everything else in the last year, this was a little different, gave us a lot of laughs, and provided decent enough pictures for our homeschool picture day. We got more outtakes than anything, which isn't a surprise! Even the dog got in on the picture taking.

Max, 12 1/2 years old, can't stop giving me attitude.

Me: "Elizabeth, let me see your eyes a little bit more." Below is what I got.

Zeus, 9 months old.

Harrison, 10 1/2 years old, can't stop laughing during picture taking.

Elizabeth, 8 1/2 years old, forgets how to smile during photo shoots.

** Teacher Mom did NOT get her picture taken this round due to windblown hair from hiking. We'll attempt that another day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

A Quiet Mardi Gras

 This was not our typical Mardi Gras! Typically, it's a big to do. A full, loud day of fun. 2021 was...quiet. We did homeschool lessons, a few worksheets, we watched an old Mardi Gras parade on YouTube (mom failed to pre-view this one and well, they learned just how you can get more beads from people. Oops), but we did eat like we were in New Orleans! 

We made beignets for breakfast, red beans and rice for lunch, king cake, and jambalaya for dinner.

The minis finished their lessons early, so they got lots of free time which involved playing a game on their Kindles, taking a nap (I didn't argue with the 12 year old when he requested a nap!), and getting out play dough. 

This Mardi Gras was weird. I'm used to an entire house full of action and a king cake from Rouses (read about that drama here). Hopefully next year will be different and we can fully celebrate the day!

If you want to hear about an awesome Mardi Gras celebration, read about last year's here.