December 31, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: New Year, New Calendar

Happy New Year!  The new year is always exciting.  It's a time for wiping the slate clean, and making a fresh start in every part of your life.  This week's Mid-week Morsel focuses on keeping your calendar for the new year organized and effective.  LifeHacker's Five Best Calendar Applications lists personal calendar apps for all platforms.  Appstorm offers 15 Cool Alternatives to Google Calendar; a list of applications for both personal and business schedules.  If you're looking to organize your whole family, has simple ways to streamline your family's schedule.  Finally, if you're more of a paper and pen person, I have found many printable calendar options at CalendarLabs and WinCalendar.    What do you do to keep your calendar under control?


December 29, 2012

Fast & Fabulous Cheese Ball

My mother-in-law's cheese ball recipe is a holiday staple around my house.  We took two to a Christmas party last week, and had to make a third just for my family to eat before we went.  They never last more than a few minutes, and they are so simple!  Have a New Year's Eve party coming up?  Try this recipe as an appetizer.

1 pkg. Buddig beef
1 pkg. cream cheese
2-3 stems green onions

Dice the beef and the green onions.  Break the cream cheese into pieces and combine with the beef and green onions.  The best way to do this is with your hands.  It's a little messy, but getting to lick your fingers clean makes it worthwhile.  Shape the mixture into a ball and serve with crackers.  We serve the cheese ball with saltine crackers, but you can use whatever you wish.  This fast and fabulous cheese ball makes the good life simply delicious!


December 25, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Be a Supercook!

Not sure what to do with all those leftovers? How about the left over ingredients from the special dishes you made for holiday get-togethers? is not your typical recipe site. Rather than searching for the title of a recipe, you enter the ingredients you want to use and Supercook searches the internet for every recipe you can make with what you have. You can even exclude ingredients you don't want to use.  This feature is perfect for someone with food allergies or someone on a restricted diet.  With Supercook you'll never have to fret over dinner again.

December 23, 2012

Let it Snow!

Winter is upon us.  Whether you live in the North or South, the snowflake is a recognizable symbol of winter.  They are so beautiful and interesting; I thought it fitting to write a post about snow to commemorate the Winter Solstice.  

I love watching fluffy white flakes fall from the sky, but what makes snow white?  Well, it's not really.  It's actually clear, like glass.  Snow crystals, again like glass, partially reflect light.  Have you ever seen a pile of crushed glass?  The light reflecting from the clear glass appears white.  The same phenomenon happens with snow crystals.  

Snow is frozen water, right?  So what makes snow different than sleet and ice?  The difference is in when the water turns to ice.  Sleet and freezing rain are actual drops of water that freeze as they fall from the sky.  Snow is created in the clouds when water vapor condenses directly into ice, and not water drops.  

Kenneth G. Libbrecht, Professor of Physics at Caltech created a wonderful website all about snowflakes.  There he has a photo gallery full of pictures of actual snowflakes, tons of information about the science behind snow, information about creating your own snow, and some science-based activities for kids.  I highly recommend his website.

If you're looking for more than science, I found that as well.  Snowflakes make great decorations that you can leave up all winter long.  Country Living and Better Homes and Gardens both have nice collections of snowflake decorations.  I also found informative how-to's on making snowflake window clings, borax crystal snowflakes, and even a quilled snowflake ornament.

Of course, there are always paper snowflakes.  Here are instructions for your basic 6-pointed paper snowflake.  For more stylized snowflakes, check out these Star Wars, ballerina, and 3-D snowflakes.  Jessica Jones, a blogger at How About Orange, has a fan-tastic paper snowflake tutorial.  eHow even has instructions for making a paper snowflake chain!

If you're the kind of person who prefers to stand outside and catch snow in your mouth, perhaps you'd be interested in making some snow ice cream.  This first recipe is very similar to how my dad made it when I was a kid.  The next one uses sweetened condensed milk, and the last one has egg in it.

Finally, if you're like me and live someplace where it doesn't snow, occasionally you miss it.  Even if you don't miss the cold, snow is beautiful.  Steve Spangler Science sells instant snow powder.  Just add water for an "eruption of fluffy snow".

All this talk of snow is giving me cold chills.  I think I'll have a hot drink and snuggle under a blanket.  How do snowflakes inspire you in the winter?


December 18, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Christmas Factoring Tree

This week's Mid-week Morsel brings you a Christmas Factoring Tree.  Just in case you're not doing 5th grade math right now, a factoring tree is a diagram showing the prime factorization of a number.  Prime factorization is the process of breaking a composite number down into its prime factors.  My daughter does happen to be doing 5th grade math right now (which means so am I), so I decided to make it a little more fun for us to practice prime factorization.  I created two versions of this free printable; one sized to use at your student's desk, and the other sized to hang on a wall or chalk board.

December 4, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Free Holiday Cards

The holidays are almost here.  If you're anything like I am, you still haven't bought or mailed a single card.  Never fear; the Mid-week Morsel is here with free printable and customizable holiday cards.  MES cards offers free half-fold or quarter-fold Christmas cards, including picture cards.  Greetings Island has half-fold and half-sheet cards for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, and allows you to add a picture to any of their cards.  Both sites offer printable envelopes, as well.

December 2, 2012

My 5 Favorite Apps (v.1.0)

This past summer I bought my first smart phone.  Before I had one, I was amazed at how much time other people spent on theirs, and wondered just they did that took up so much time.  Now, I don't know what I would do without it.  I feel like I can carry half the house with just one pocket!  I thought it would be fun to make a list of which apps I liked and used the most, then come back to it periodically and see how the list changes.  This is the first version of the list.  By the way, I have a Droid and get my apps from Google Play, but I will list a link to the Apple version whenever possible.  Also, I only use free apps.  The good life should be free.

5. Ultrachron Lite - This is a stopwatch and timer.  I use it for everything from cooking to phys. ed. to reminding my children when a class is starting to tracking when it's the next person's turn to play the Xbox.  Needless to say, it gets a lot of use.  After all, you never know when you might need to see just how fast you ran down the street!  I did not find an Apple version of this app.

4. Blogger - I don't think I could really call myself a blogger if I didn't acknowledge how nice it is to be able to blog on the go.  I love having the Blogger app on my phone so I can start or work on a post whenever inspiration strikes.  I can take a picture and upload it to a post right from my phone.  Finally, I never have to worry about not getting a post up just because I'm not at home.  Get Blogger for iPhone here.

3. Zoodles - My daughter loves Zoodles.  She's had an account for a couple of years.  I was so happy when I found the app for my phone.  If you've never heard of Zoodles, it's a place where children can access age appropriate (and often educational) games.  They can also draw using a feature similar to Microsoft Paint.  They can send video messages to family members (which you have invited and approved). You and other family members can also video yourselves reading classic storybooks to your children.  One of the features I love about the app is that there is a Kid's Mode and a Parent Dashboard.  Once your child is logged in to the Kid's Mode, they must pass a security test to be able to close it and access other apps on your phone.  This prevents your child from getting into app in which they don't belong. Also, you can add any other child-friendly app you have to the Kid's Mode so that you child has all of his/her apps in one place and isn't wandering aimlessly through your phone.  Download Zoodles for iPhone here.

2. Google Sky Map - Fun and educational!  I absolutely love Google Sky Map!  It is so much fun for kids of all ages.  Download this onto your phone, then point your phone at the night sky.  It will show you where the stars, constellations, planets, and meteor showers are.  My family and I have so much fun finding constellations and planets.  Get Sky Map for iPhone here.

1. Out of Milk - My very favorite app I have right now.  Out of Milk takes so much effort out of my meal planning.  For several years now my husband and I have memorized the prices of items at the store so we can plan our weekly menu to match our budget for that week.  Then, I've walked through the store, carrying my calculator, shopping list, and pen to make sure I bought everything I needed and stayed on budget.  With Out of Milk, simply enter your shopping list by typing, speaking, or scanning your items.  Enter the cost of the item, either at home or when you pick it up at the store, and Out of Milk will remember the price for the next time. Create multiple shopping lists, to do lists, and even keep track of pantry items...great for last minute menu changes.  Out of Milk has a website that allows you to create lists and share them with others.  This means you can create a shopping list complete with the quantity, and UPC of each item, then send it to someone else to pick up for you!  Now that's the good life!  As of January 4, 2013, Out of Milk is now available for iPhone!  Visit iTunes to download the app.

I want to know which apps help you live the good life.


November 28, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Relieving Holiday Stress

Between shopping, hosting, and budgeting there isn't much time for relaxing, sleeping, or even breathing during the holiday season.  With all the joy and merriment comes a lot of added stress; for adults and children alike.  Take a few moments to look at the relaxation techniques suggested by Stress Relief and sooth your holiday spirit.


November 24, 2012

DIY Stylish Neck Scarf

I hope everyone had a good Black Friday yesterday.  That's the one day of the year when I don't think you could pay me to go shopping.  I'd rather sit at home and make Christmas gifts.  Here is one I made in just a few weeks.  This knitting project is quick, easy, and oh-so stylish!  It's a short scarf held around your neck with two pom-pom buttons.  Because it's only 2 1/2 feet long, there's no extra length to drag around or get tangled up in.  That makes it perfect for youngsters.  It's style makes it perfect for adults.  I used size 8 needles and three 95 yd balls of Peaches & Creme Tropical Sea yarn.  I didn't follow any pattern; it's just a stockinette stitch rectangle with two button holes at one end.  I did say this was easy, didn't I?  Just in case you don't know how to complete any of the steps, I'm including links to YouTube videos demonstrating the techniques.

1. Cast on 50 stitches and knit a row of knit, then a row of purl (stockinette stitch).  Repeat for about 2 feet, or until you feel the scarf is the length you want for the button holes.

2. When you are ready for your button holes, on a purl row, purl 12 stitches.  Next bind off 5 stitches.  Continue purling 16 stitches, then bind off another 5 stitches.  There should be 12 stitches left to purl to the end of the row.

3. The next row is a knit row.  Just as the previous row, knit 12 stitches.  This time cast on 5 stitches.  Knit 16 more stitches, then cast on 5 stitches.  Again, there should be 12 stitches left to knit to the end of the row.

4. Continue to stockinette stitch several more rows until you feel the scarf is long enough.  Bind off all the stitches and knot your yarn.  Trim all tails.  

5. Now it's time to make the pom-poms.  If you have a pom-pom maker or have the opportunity to buy one (they're inexpensive), I recommend it.  I don't have one, and didn't want to wait until I had time to go buy one, so I made my pom-poms by hand.  It's not difficult, just tedious.  First, I cut seventy-five 1 inch pieces of yarn.  This is the tedious part.

6. Cut one more piece of yarn that is several inches long.  Gather all your 1 inch pieces and pile them up so that they are in a neat pile.  Tie your longer piece around the pile as tightly as possible.

7. Fluff the pom-pom so that it fills in like a ball.  Use the long strings hanging to attach the pom-pom to your scarf.  Repeat steps 5-7 to make the second pom-pom.

Now you have a warm and fashionable scarf to keep you or a loved one warm this winter.  As for the one I made, it will be a Christmas gift this year, made to match a toboggan I made last winter.  Perhaps the recipient's mother will be good enough to post a pic of the matching set after Christmas.  (Hint. Hint.)  What warm and fashionable yarn crafts do you have to share?


November 20, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: 10 Habits for a Well-run Home

This week's slice of the good life brings you a post I've kept in my bookmarks list and revisited often.  Life gets very hectic around the holidays and it is easy to get behind with regular chores.  Bernice at The Stressed Mom has a great list of tips to help stay on top of your daily chores.

How do you keep your house in tip top shape?

Happy Thanksgiving!


November 17, 2012

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving Day is a jewel, to set in the hearts of honest men; but be careful that you do not take the day, and leave out the gratitude.  ~E.P. Powell

Like many other holidays, it is easy to sometimes become overwhelmed at Thanksgiving by everything we are expected to do for the celebration to the point that we loose track of why we are doing it in the first place.  This year has been a year of tremendous change for my family and we are without almost all of our standard holiday traditions.  This has really helped me take the time to think about what I am truly thankful for and why those things and people are so special to me.  As we are on the road to forming new habits and traditions for our holidays, I took the time to do a little research and get some ideas.  I decided to share some of my findings with you.

National Geographic for Kids and History for Kids both have good articles summarizing the history of Thanksgiving on a child's level.

Fun Facts
Do you know what a baby turkey is called?  Do you know how to say "thank you" in Turkish?  Which balloon was the first balloon in the 1927 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?  Random HistoryFact Monster, and Brownielocks have the answers to those questions and many more interesting facts about Thanksgiving.

Crafts & Activities for Kids
Crafts and activity pages are great ways to get children involved and keep them occupied while you are busy with preparations.  All Kids Network and both have some cute craft ideas, while Busy Teacher and have dozens of printable worksheets.

Family Traditions
In what unique ways does your family celebrate Thanksgiving?  As my family goes through a transition, we are looking for new ways to celebrate.  She Knows and Squidoo have some great ideas that I'll definitely have to keep in mind.

Ways to Show Thanks
Family traditions can be more than what you do when you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner.  Better Homes & GardensThe Huffington Post, and Victoria Lynn write about ways to extend Thanksgiving beyond the meal, and even the day, to make the spirit of Thanksgiving a way of life.

How do you give thanks?


November 13, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Printable Maps

This week's Mid-week Morsel is for parents, teachers, and geography & social studies buffs of all ages.   While digging through my very long list of educational bookmarks on my laptop, I rediscovered a link to Maps ETC, a website produced by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology.  They have an enormous collection of printable maps.  I'm not just talking about blank maps to color in; they have historical maps, political maps, black & white maps, color maps, and many others from every state in the country, and every continent on the globe.  This is definitely a site to add to your bookmarks list for future reference.  What must have links in your bookmarks list help you live the good life?  Please post them to share with others.


November 10, 2012

Celebrating Veteran's Day

"To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country's service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations."  These are the words of President Woodrow Wilson as he announced the first Armistice Day on November 11, 1919.  

That was the first anniversary of the day the fighting stopped for the First World War.  Armistice Day was created in part to honor all the military personnel who served in the Great War.  This was different than the already celebrated Memorial Day which honors all who have died in our nation's service. After WWII and the Korean War, in 1954 Congress changed the word Armistice to Veteran's so that personnel from all the wars could be recognized for their service.

There are many ways to celebrate Veteran's Day.  First and foremost, thank a veteran for his or her service.  You can attend a local celebration, visit a friend or relative who is a veteran, or even visit a local VA hospital.

Next, we need to teach our children to honor all who serve our country.  It is sometimes hard to distinguish between the wars we may not agree with, and the men and women who sacrifice their family and sometimes lives to fight in them.  Here are some resources to help teach children that veterans are heroes...


November 7, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Tour the Statue of Liberty

All the election buzz has me thinking about what I love about my country. What better way to burn some of that patriotic energy than to take a tour of the Statue of Liberty?!  The National Park Service website has a wonderful e-tour of the Statue of Liberty.  Take a few moments to gather the family and sit down for a whole new way to check out one of our nation's symbols of freedom.


November 4, 2012

Printable Practice Clock

Early this morning we "fell back" from Daylight Saving Time.  This is a perfect opportunity to start thinking about telling time.  When my daughter was a preschooler, I created a printable practice clock for her.  The hands and numbers are color coded to help little ones differentiate between hours and minutes more easily.  Now I'm making it available for you to download for free.

  1. Print the clock, and the number sheet.  
  2. Cut out the hands and numbers.  I recommend laminating all the pieces so that they last longer, but it's not required.  
  3. Punch a hole in the end of each hand and attach them to the clock face using a paper fastener or brad.  

If you want to have the ability to attach the digital clock numbers to the practice board, I suggest either attaching a small piece of Velcro to the number spaces and the backs of each of the numbers, or printing the numbers on a magnet sheet and posting the practice board on your refrigerator.  What tips and ideas can you offer to others for teaching little ones to tell time?


November 1, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: A Healthier Halloween

Halloween; an evening full of costumes, trick-or-treating, and of course candy!  What do kids want to do as soon as they get home?  Eat the as much of the candy as possible.  My daughter is no different.  However, to my surprise, when we emptied her bag to choose what to eat first, I found some healthier choices.  What was even more surprising was that she actually chose the healthy options first.  I kind of expected to find some popcorn, which we did.  It has become the standard alternative to giving out candy, at least where we usually trick-or-treat.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a pouch of Peter Rabbit Organics puree, and a Ritz Crackers'n Cheez Handi-Snack.  I suppose in this case, one could say it was a treat to find some healthier options in the candy bag.  What healthier choices did you find in your candy bag?  What healthy options did you give out to the goblins and ghouls in your neighborhood?  What ideas do you have to share for next year?


October 26, 2012

Children Learn What They Live: Cooking & Cleaning

Children need the skills to be able to succeed on their own before they leave the nest.  This means that they must be able to run your household without you.  Think for a moment about what your child(ren) know and don't know about successfully running a household.  Can each child cook and clean?  Maintain and repair the house?  What about plan a budget or even a grocery list?  Many parents put so much thought and planning into their children's education, yet the little every day details of life are often overlooked as important skills.  Of course, certain lessons would be lost on a younger child, but even very young children can be involved in managing their home.  And yes, when children get involved, they take the perspective of "their home".  You'll be amazed by how much pride they'll take in your home when it becomes theirs.

To keep the post from becoming overwhelming, I've decided to break it into segments and focus on one area of the household at a time.  Let's start with the basics; cooking and cleaning.  All children can learn to cook and clean.  Just remember that they are learning.  Accidents will happen, and you may have to go back and do it "the right way" yourself, but that is part of the learning process.  Remember, patience is a virtue.

From a young age, my children have been involved in cooking, whether it's a simple task like stirring batter, or a more complicated one like baking a cake from scratch.  (Yes, my teenage sons can bake a cake from scratch.)  The key is to get them involved and let them actually do something.  Ask them to measure, pour, or stir.  Have them gather all the ingredients for a recipe.  Just get them involved.  Let them choose a favorite meal or snack and prepare it on their own.  The sense of pride and accomplishment will be easy to see on their faces.  Search the internet, or get kid-friendly cookbooks and find recipes they are excited about.  Talk about nutrition and balanced meals, then let them plan an entire meal for the family, even if they can't make it by themselves.

Cleaning their room is a good way to help teach responsibility.  However, when they move out on their own they will need to do more than just pick up after themselves.  Keeping a house truly clean requires a lot more effort.  Give children the opportunity to be involved in cleaning.  Have them sweep and mop the floors, scrub the top of the stove after a messy meal,  clean the windows, or scour the bathroom.  Tell them how often each job should be done.  It will take some repeated instruction, and a lot of practice, but they will be pros by the time they move out.  Teach them how to sort laundry and which settings to use on the washer and dryer.  When my children were preschoolers, I had three laundry baskets; a pink one, a white one, and a blue one.  (I happened to have a pink one, it would have been better if it had been red.)  As soon as the boys were old enough to know their colors, they were responsible for sorting their own laundry.  They simply had to put each piece of clothing in the hamper that best matched the color. 

Teaching your children how to manage their home isn't a 30 minute conversation you sit down with them and have before they move out, it is a life-long lesson learned by example and experience.  Give your children all the tools they need to be successful in all areas of their lives.  What tips do you have for preparing children for success?


October 23, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Flash Review Games

This week's Mid-week Morsel brings you two fun options for reviewing for quizzes and tests. offers a host of tech tools for teachers and educators.  As a parent, I'm especially excited about their Jeopardy review game and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? review game.  They can both be fully customized to fit your material, and best of all, are free!  


October 20, 2012

Learning At Home Should Be Fun

    I hear so many fellow school-at-home parents talk about the difficulties they have getting their children to actually do the school work.  Often times, these conversations include suggestions of taking away privileges or other punishment.  While I agree that consequences for bad behavior are important, I think in some cases it is important to look at the root of the problem.

     Most children, even well into middle school, simply get bored with school work.  Let's face it, even most of us adults get bored sitting at a desk all matter how much work there is to do.  So we check our email, Twitter, or Facebook, or we talk to a nearby co-worker for a minute.  Children also need a way to liven up their day.  However, most parents don't allow their children to "play around" during class time (and rightly so).  

     Take a cue from the old adage, "If you love what you do, then it's not work."  Children love to play.    Here are some simple ideas to help make their work feel like play.

  1. Use technology.  The internet is chock full of games and videos that make learning exciting and fun.  Check out some of the sites available in my list of educational websites.
  2. Play games.  Whether you buy educational board games, or make up your own educational games, children are sure to have some fun playing games for school.
  3. Watch tv.  Yes, I said tv.  As much as every parent hates to admit it, at some point most all of us have used the tv to entertain our kids and keep them busy.  Don't feel guilty about it, just make the tv work for you.  There are actually some very educational shows that are enjoyable, too.  So, set your DVR and plop those youngsters in front of the boob tube for some learning! 
  4. Create special spaces.  Every house is different.  You don't have to have that beautifully organized, large space created with all new top-of-the-line products that you've pinned on Pinterest.  Kids love spaces because they are private, comfortable, and their own.  Give each child his or her own space and it will be special.
  5. Get hands-on.  There are so many ways to really get into a lesson.  Have your children create a project that suites their interests and ability level that demonstrates what they are learning.  Don't tell your kids, but this is also a great way to make what they are learning really stick with them, too!
  6. Get out of your seat. I've noticed that when my children sit in one spot for too long they loose focus and become unproductive. They get wiggly and tend to start wandering around the house. They get even less done then. Designate different places around the room or house for a couple of subjects. (See #4.)  You can even get creative with the seating at your work space. Use an exercise ball or bean bag at the desk instead of a chair. Lie on the floor for a workbook page. Try standing at the desk instead of sitting. This allows your child the opportunity to wiggle a little while working.  Check out some of the ideas from the resourceful teachers at
  7. Get out of the house. Go outside or take a field trip.  This doesn't have to be expensive; any park, or library will do just fine.  It doesn't even have to be for the whole day.  The point is to change the scenery.  Search for landmarks and points of interest in your area to find places you can explore together. 

     I hope some of these ideas help you break out of that old routine and get creative with your school day.  Keeping each day fresh will do wonders to stave off boredom and melt-downs.  What do you do to make learning fun in your house?


October 16, 2012

Mid-Week Morsel: Who Doesn't Love a Blog Full of Free Resources?!

This week's slice of the good life is all about freebies.  I mean, really, who doesn't love freebies?  One of the blogs I follow really is all about freebies.  It's actually their middle name.  I'm talking about Homeschool Freebie of the Day.  (They say homeschool, but there are plenty of resources for everyone.)  When you sign up for their mailing list they send you a "heads up" every Sunday stating which resources will be available the next week.  I was very excited when I saw this Friday's resource, Homestead Simplicity: FRUGAL CLEAN.  Here's what they had to say about it...

           Friday, Oct 19th:
           Homestead Simplicity: FRUGAL CLEAN

           $3 value, but free today!

           Learn how to clean your homestead frugally with simple,
           inexpensive ingredients: Vinegar & Baking Soda. Slash your
           grocery bill and keep the environment in your homestead so
           much healthier, by making your own simple products that will
           clean your home on the cheap!

           In this ebook, you'll learn easy to make recipes, frugal
           tips, & ideas for you to create and simply implement at your
           own home. You'll learn how to make your own cleaning sprays,
           Vinegar Hair Rinses, Dish soaps, Lavender Baby Powder,
           even the coveted "Homemade Laundry Soap" recipe and MANY more.

While I can't preview this ebook for you, I can tell you that the Erskine family who runs Homeschool Freebie of the Day is very good at choosing worthwhile resources.  I highly recommend stopping by their blog this Friday to get your free ebook, and don't forget to sign up for their "heads up" while you're there.


October 13, 2012

Election Resources for Kids

     The Presidential election is less than a month away, and boy does it show!  Campaign ads are flooding the airways, newscasts are abuzz about who is winning the latest poll, and debates are all the talk on social media.  Naturally, children are aware that all of this is going on, and they are sure to have questions.  What is the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?  What is the Electoral College?  How is it affected by the popular vote?  What does the President do?  Understanding political positions and the election process can be hard even for adults. It can be even more difficult to try to explain so that children can understand.  I've scoured the web and found some resources to try to help you explain it all to the children in your life, and maybe even have a little fun along the way.

Who is running for President this year?
     Let me start by suggesting you simply visit Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's personal websites.  However, I understand that sometimes it's not easy to take the carefully worded propaganda on a candidate's website and explain it so that a younger child can understand it.  In that case, let me also suggest that you visit TIME for Kids' pages about Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.  They do a nice job of watering down the information so that just the facts about the candidates' lives come through for the readers.  For a very basic introduction for the youngest readers, PBS Kids' The Democracy Project has a page with a few basic facts about both candidates.

What is the difference between a Democrat and a Republican?
     This is a much tougher question to answer.  No matter what search parameters I entered, I only seemed to find very biased answers, many of which were full of attitudes I do not wish to pass on to my children.  I believe the best way to help you answer this question is simply to lead you to the Democratic platform site, and the Republican platform site where you can see what each party says about their beliefs.  TIME for Kids has a special section on their website which covers some of the current issues and where the candidates stand on those issues.  Finally, if you have access to a Brain Pop membership, they have a video which effectively summarizes the two political parties.

How does the election process work?
     The Central Rappahannock Regional Library in VirginiaBen's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids, and PBS's Zoom tv show all have pages that explain the process. Brain Pop has a free Win the Whitehouse game that allows children to play along as a candidate, making decisions about how to run their campaign.

What is the Electoral College?
     Congress for KidsScholastic, and Social Studies for Kids all have very cut and dry articles explaining what the Electoral College is and how it works.  For a more animated explanation, check out Schoolhouse Rock's I'm Gonna Send Your Vote to College video.  Also, Scholastic Magazine has a video about the Electoral College and an Electoral College Challenge game on it's election page.

What does the President do?
     Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids has a section in each grade level covering the branches of government and their roles.  Congress for Kids and Scholastic both have articles explaining the role of the President.  However, PBS Kids' Democracy Project's President for a Day game and Scholastic's Seven Hats Challenge game let children experience the job of being President (and as everyone knows it's more fun to be President than it is to read about being President.)

Need more help?  
Here is a list of books to buy or check out from your local library with more information.  What resources do you have in your favorites list and bookmarks about the election?


October 9, 2012

Mid-week Morsel: Halloween Activity Treats

     A couple of weeks ago I started posting mini-messages half-way through the week on my Facebook and Google+ pages.  This week I decided to start making them a regular part of the blog so that no one gets left out.  Here it is: the "Mid-week Morsel"; a bite-sized portion of the good life.

     Halloween is just around the corner, and along with it comes cooler weather.  That makes this the perfect time to check out some FREE Halloween themed activities to keep your youngsters occupied when it is too cold and rainy to go outside.  I love searching through all the curriculum and resources available on  One of the first places I always look is the "Free Stuff" section.  You know you're living the good life when you get resources for free, right?  Here is some of what I found...

Halloween Coloring Book  Halloween Coloring Book

Vintage Halloween Playing Cards  Vintage Halloween Playing Cards (These would be great for some educational card games.)

Halloween Tic-Tac-Toe Board Game  Halloween Tic Tac Toe Board Game

A Spooky Halloween Memory Card Game  A Spooky Halloween Memory Card Game


October 6, 2012

Coconut Banango Smoothies

Break out your blender; it's time for a smoothie.  I found this recipe while helping my daughter work on a social studies project.  Her instructions were to make a recipe or product using resources found in her state.  She quickly decided to make a tropical fruit smoothie.  After narrowing down her list of potential ingredients, we started searching.  A few clicks later, we found this delicious recipe on Kitchen Meets Girl.  After a couple of very minor tweaks, we had smoothies for dessert.  Here's how we made them...

1 mango, chopped
1 1/2 banana, sliced and frozen
1/2 C coconut milk
1/2 C cold water
ice cubes
1 tsp. coconut extract
1/2 tsp. lime zest
1 Tbs. sugar (or honey!)

1. Place all ingredients in a blender.
2. Puree until smooth.
3. Pour and enjoy!

We made two batches of this for our family of five.  You may need more or less for your purposes.  Just for fun, here is a link to my daughter's "commercial" she made for her product.  What is your favorite smoothie recipe?


September 29, 2012

See it, Do it, Learn it


Many people just aren't good at note-taking.  Still fewer are good at teaching note-taking.  Besides, what young kid, or teenager for that matter, wants to write page upon page of notes...let alone go back and study those notes?  Get creative with the information and make it memorable...and maybe even a little fun.  Here are four ideas I've discovered to help kids see it, do it, and learn it.

  1. Visual Note-taking.  Do you have a doodler in your house?  Visual note-taking may be a great way to combine his or her natural tendency to doodle with taking notes.  I recently discovered a blog post on Core 77 which explained that visual note-taking is simply a way to visually organize important pieces of information.  It can be done using images or words (or both), and is organized using lines, arrows, boxes, and even color.  Don't worry about being a great artist, it doesn't have to be pretty, as long as the information flows and keeps the note-taker interested.  
  2. Mind Maps.  Mind Maps are similar to visual note-taking in the sense that it is a way of visually organizing pieces of information.  However, it differs in that it doesn't flow.  It's more like a spider web, or a snow flake.  The main idea or topic is in the center of the page, and each sub-topic branches out.  Details then branch out from each sub-topic.  I found a great article on Mind Tools and a blog post on Beyond Talk that explain the technique in more detail.
  3. Power Point.  Some people can't stand making Power Point presentations, my daughter on the other hand, loves it.  She loves copying and pasting images & texts, then animating each slide.  Furthermore, she loves to go back and watch her creations over and over again.  Hmm...sounds like studying to me!  For younger children, a whole unit can be a long time to remember details.  By creating a slide for each lesson (or chapter, or whatever reasonable chunk you choose), the information doesn't seem to be too much to handle.  If you have access to digital or online textbooks you may even be able to copy important information directly from the textbook.  Then, have fun with slide transitions, animated text, and image entrances & exits.  You can even record your child reading some of the information and link it to an image.  If you don't have Microsoft Power Point, don't worry, you can download and install a free office program called Apache Open Office.
  4. Lapbooking.  If you've never heard of lapbooking, think of the big poster you made for the science fair.  Now shrink it down to the size of a manila file folder.  Lapbooks can be as ornate and detailed as you want them to be.   If you need more space, create fold out pages by attaching more file folders.  Now, fill the folder with minibooks that display all the information your child has learned.  Jimmie at Squidoo has a very informative article with everything you ever wanted to know about using lapbooks to help your child see it, do it, and learn it.  For even more samples, visit my lapbooking board on Pinterest.
There are so many ways to learn in the classroom, whether that classroom is in a brick and mortar school or your own home.  These are just a few that I find useful.  What creative tips do you have to share for making note-taking more fun and effective?

September 22, 2012

Cheesy Breadsticks with Nacho Sauce

Everyone in my house is a cheese lover.  I can get them to eat just about anything just by adding cheese.  So, it is no surprise that my cheesy breadsticks with nacho cheese dipping sauce are a bit hit.  I mean really, who can resist homemade cheesy breadsticks that are golden on the outside and soft inside dipped in warm, gooey nacho cheese sauce?  Certainly not my crew!  While it does take a little time, they are both very easy to make and well worth the effort.

Cheesy Breadsticks

1 C lukewarm water
1 egg
1/3 C sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/3 C flour (I use bread flour.  Wheat breadsticks can be made by using 2 C bread flour and 1 1/3 C wheat flour.)
3 teaspoons dry yeast (I use quick rise.)
2 Tablespoons butter (Use baking butter, not a spread.)

Add ins:
garlic powder
shredded cheddar cheese (or whatever you prefer)

Combine all ingredients, except add ins, in a large mixing bowl in the order listed.  Stir with a wooden spoon until a dough starts to form.  

Knead the dough for approximately 6 minutes.  (Skip the gym today, this is a great arm workout.)  

Warm your oven slightly...really...just leave the oven on for a couple of minutes.  Your not baking the bread yet, just letting it rise.  If the walls of the oven are too hot to touch, it's too hot.  Put the bowl of dough in the oven and let it rise for 1 hour.  

After that, punch down the down and sprinkle a little flour on your clean and dry counter top.  Flatten the dough out to about 6" X 8" or so.  It doesn't have to be exact or even pretty; you're just creating a larger surface area on which to add your garlic and cheese.  Sprinkle the garlic powder all over the dough to taste.  I like a lot of garlic flavor, but I've never measured how much I add.  Next, sprinkle your shredded cheese over the dough.  Again, I've never measured how much I add, but it's approximately 2 good handfuls.  Roll the dough up jelly roll style and kneading the dough until the cheese and garlic are distributed evenly through out the dough.  

Now you are ready to divide the dough into 16 equal(ish) pieces.  Roll each piece out like a rope until it about 8"-10" long.  Kids love to help with the rolling.  Place each rope on a greased cookie sheet; just touching.  

Slightly warm your oven again for the second rise.  This time they will rise for 30 minutes.  (Now is a good time to start your cheese sauce.)  

After the 30 minutes, take the dough out of the oven while you preheat the oven to 375ยบ.  Bake your breaksticks for 12-14 minutes, until golden brown.

Nacho Sauce

3 Tablespoons butter (Use baking butter, not a spread.)
3 Tablespoons flour (Either bread flour or all purpose flour are fine.)
2 C milk (I use 2%, but you can use whatever you have.)
1 C shredded cheddar cheese

Add ins:
garlic powder
onion powder
chili powder
ground cumin
Rotel juice

Combine the butter and flour in a small sauce pan over low heat to form a simple roux.  (A roux is a mixture of a fat, such as butter, and flour used in cooking to thicken soups, sauces, and the like.)

Slowly, as in a dribble at time, add in the milk, stirring continuously.  After all the milk is stirred in, raise the heat slightly and continue to stir until the sauce starts to thicken.  This will take about 5-10 minutes.  You now have a white sauce which can be used as a base for any number of sauces.  

Reduce the heat back to low and stir in your add ins.  I don't measure them, just add what you think you might like, stir, taste, and revise.  Just remember, a little cumin goes a long way.  Oh, and by the way, Rotel is a brand of canned diced tomatoes that have diced green chilies in it.  We use this regularly, and the juice adds a nice little kick to the sauce.  Stir the sauce until your spices are distributed evenly through out the sauce.  Finally, add in your shredded cheese.  

Stir until melted.  Serve warm.

Pair them with a dinner salad and make it a meal!  What are your favorite cheesy indulgences?