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Friday Fav: Libby App Connects to Your Local Library

It’s no secret that I love to read. Over the past few years, I’ve really jumped backed into this hobby. I started the year hoping to read 25 books, and I’m currently over 50! Thanks, Corona.

What’s really made this possible is my phone’s Libby app. It allows me to access electronic resources from my local library. I can borrow ebooks and magazines with the touch of a finger and access them on my phone or e-reader.

One of my favorite features of the app is the ability to put holds on popular titles. I believe each library may have its own queue length. Mine recently increased to allow me up to 15 holds at a time. The amount of time it takes to get each hold has decreased over the year, I think in large part to people staying home more and spending time getting through their to-be-read list. I typically can get new releases delivered in a manner of weeks.

However, Libby also has this new feature that I absolutely love that is also contributing to shorter hold times. When a hold becomes available, Libby gives you the option to deliver the hold now or delay it until a future date that you set. This way, you don’t have to start your 2-3 week loan before you’re ready nor lose your place in the hold line.

If you haven’t check out Libby yet, I highly recommend it. I’m all about inexpensive entertainment, and you – in my opinion – can’t get better than free library books that can transport you to any place or time that’s desired.

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Fall Bucket List Printable

It’s officially Fall! That means it’s time to pull out my Fall bucket list and add it to our family command center.

Our Fall Bucket List

I had to make a few tweaks to it this year, with COVID limiting some of our activities. I don’t see us going to any of the local Fall festivals this year (if they’re even open). But even without some of our Fall traditions, there’s still plenty to do. We did sneak in apple picking last weekend, so we’ve already started “falling into fun.”

If you’d like to make your own Fall bucket list, feel free to download and use my fill-in-the-blank template below.

Why do I bother making these lists? It’s simple really.

We typically only get 52 weekends a year. Divide that by four, and that means about 13 weekends of each season per year. Our boys are still young, 5 and 7 years old, but they are growing up quickly. I want to take advantage of our time together and fill our weekends with as much fun as possible. Having a list means that when I’m looking for something for us to do as a family, I have a pre-planned idea of the things we enjoy doing annually. They become our family traditions and the memories the kids will take with them after they leave home. It’s the type of intentional planning that fully embodies my reflect, plan, live attitude.

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Is Halloween Cancelled?

This has been the talk of the neighborhood for the last few weeks. Everyone is wondering if others are comfortable with the traditional Halloween or if something else being organized, and, of course, the answer is not so clear cut. There’s no Halloween host in charge of making the decision for everyone, and everyone’s risk tolerance is different.

My vote is that we have as traditional a Halloween as possible. In our area, there are so many neighbors out trick or treating with their kids that leave a bowl of candy on the front porch anyway, so there’s not a ton of door ringing as it is. If someone doesn’t want to answer the door and be close to others, they can choose not to participate or they can leave candy outside. Online I’ve seen some people crafting PVC piping that they can deposit candy in to have it slide down to children on their stoop so they can maintain social distancing.

If parents are concerned that kids are in contact with candy others have touched, have the kids carry tongs to pick the candy out of the bowl. I’ve heard some people are creating individual baggies of treats or are planning to leave candy on a blanket in the driveway so they can spread it out.

If Halloween is not your jam this year, there are alternatives to consider and enjoy with family and friends. Here are a few ideas.

  • Reverse Trick-or-Treating – Instead of having costumed creatures traveling door to door, have the parents drive around the neighborhood tossing candy to the dressed up children standing in their front yards. I kind of like the idea of throwing candy at kids….. This would require coordination and buy in throughout the neighborhood though.
  • Candy hunt – Hide candy in your yard for the kids to find one evening, kind of like an Easter egg hunt. I’ve heard variations of this where you put glow-in-the-dark stickers on the candy wrappers to make them easier to find or arm the munchkins with flashlights on the hunt.
  • Decorate a haunted house – Costco is offering chocolate houses to decorate like Christmas gingerbread houses. They even have Halloween cookies you can decorate with water and food coloring. (We tried those. It was a fun activity, but the cookies were subpar.)
  • Scary movie night – Even if you don’t want to jump to super scary movies, Netflix (and I’m sure others) offer spooky tales that can be age appropriate for even the littlest of kiddos. Mine like the Dreamwork’s Spooky Stories with Shrek. Once mine are a little older, we’ll move to Casper and Hocus Pocus, some of my favorites from when I was little.
  • Boo” your neighbors – This has been an annual tradition in our neighborhood for years anyway, and it’s fun. You put together a small gift bag of candy, crafts, or other treats and secretly deliver them to a neighbor. The bag also includes directions on how to carry the tradition forward and boo another neighbor. You leave the gift bag on the doorstep, ring the bell, and run away. Our boys LOVE booing friends every year.

I hope you are able to find a way to celebrate Halloween that works for you and your family. This 2020 year is all about being resilient, which has often required us to be creative and modify traditions. As much as we adults can sometimes be disappointed by these changes, I bet the kids remember this year as special for the very reason that it is different.

Posted in Blog

Friday Fav: Painting

I am not the family artist. That title definitely goes to my little sister who has the real talent, but I do enjoy abstract painting on occasion. Well, really, I like having the finished product hung in our home so we display something more personal than a store-bought art piece.

Ages ago I bought a huge canvas at Michael’s to paint and hang in the hallway. I stumbled across it when clearing out the basement during one of our COVID home projects, and I figured if I can’t find time to paint when stuck at home for months, then I’m never going to do it. So, one weekend afternoon, I dragged the canvas and art supplies outside and got to work.

The finished product

I didn’t really have a plan on what I wanted besides the paint colors. We had leftover house paint from rooms we’ve redecorated and sample cans for rooms we plan to redo. So, after priming, I added the grays and greens. The splatters were integrated by flicking the paintbrush at the canvas. I started to see the image as different generations of our families, so I added the subtle A in silver around the middle for ancestors and the gold lines to separate the main colors. The five overlapping circles represent our family (including the pup!), which I made by dipping the top of a red solo cup in ivory paint used for our interior trim.

Mr. 7 year old pointed out that my initials in the corner look like SS but also S5, so I said the S5 is for our five family members. As Bob Ross would say, it was a “happy accident.”

Now the canvas is hanging in our hallway. It’s my Friday Fav today, but it makes me smile to see it there every day.

On full display

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Friday Fav: Alexa

Several months ago, something my husband bought online came with a free Echo. That’s how Alexa was adopted into our family. Since her arrival, she has become a daily part of our lives.

I love her because she listens and does everything I ask her to do! Well, that and I love that I can be making a meal and realize we need to add something to the grocery list, and I don’t have to stop everything to manually add it to my Cozi grocery list or write it down. I just tell Alexa, and it’s magically added to my grocery list.

Here’s how we’ve integrated Alexa into our daily lives:

  • Play games like 20 Questions and Name that Tune
  • Spell words or pronounce words (She’s a great reading and writing assistant.)
  • Count down to Christmas (one of Mr. 4 year old’s favorite questions to ask her)
  • Listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and music (like Hamilton)
  • Set timers and alarms
  • Give regular reminders (like take your vitamins every morning)
  • Tell jokes
  • Set the house temperature
  • Turn on/off and/or dim automated lights around the house
  • Change the color of our deck lights
  • Lock and unlock doors
  • Open and close the garage door
  • Activate the robot vacuum and security system
  • Turn the TVs on or off
  • Add items to our lists
  • Determine debate winners (e.g., how many Pokemon are there?)
  • Read choose-your-own adventure stories (The kids found a Scooby Doo mystery that they enjoyed.)
  • Give weather reports

The kids like her so much that Mr. 4 year old often declares his love to her, to which she replies, “Thank you. I’m flattered.” Now if you want to have some more fun, ask Alexa who she loves.

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My Podcast Recs

I often enjoy a good podcast. For me, it’s a way to learn something new while I’m multitasking, whether that’s driving, exercising, or cleaning. My podcast consumption has decreased significantly now that I’m never commuting anywhere, but when I can sneak them in, here’s what I like to listen to most often:

Best of Both Worlds is hosted by Laura Vanderkam and Sarah Hart-Unger who are two working moms who discuss career-related and family topics. My caveat is they and their husbands all have well paying jobs, so many strategies discussed involve utilizing financial resources. I like their dynamic and the topics covered. I recently added to my “to read” list after episode 147: Summer Reading with KJ Dell’Antonia.

Freakonomics is hosted by Stephen Dubner, co-author of the Freakonomics books that I devoured ages ago. I enjoy how topics are explored in depth during each show with one or more interviews. Most often, the psychology of human decision making and the effect of unintended consequences is covered in a thoughtful and engaging way.

No Stupid Questions is a new podcast that’s a partnership between Stephen Dubner from Freakonomics and Angela Duckworth, university professor and author of Grit. These two co-host friends informally discuss a number of questions about human behavior. I feel like I’m sitting at a bar listening to friends chat. It’s a great mix of the banter I love from Best of Both Worlds and the intellectual simulation I enjoy from Freakonomics.

This American Life is hosted by Ira Glass. It is an extremely popular public radio show that covers a topic a week in good depth, typically featuring multiple stories centered around a theme. I recently listened to episode 709: The Reprieve, which explored how medical staff at one hospital in Detroit have been impacted by COVID-19, and episode 706: A Mess to Be Reckoned With about Lissa Yellow Bird, a woman who searches for missing people.

Reply All, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman, has been a favorite in the past, but I haven’t loved some of their newer episodes. Too often I’m been on this hour-long journey in the podcast to have an unsatisfying and rather incomplete ending, which I find beyond frustrating. However, check out the archives. I really like their Yes Yes No episodes where their producer brings PJ and Alex a tweet he doesn’t understand and PJ and Alex give the background and explain it. Super tech support episodes are also good, like episode 147: The Woman in the Air Conditioner.

I’ve even introduced Mr. 7 year old to podcasts, and now the kids have a list of favorites I’ll have to cover in a future post. Let me know if you have any podcasts recommendations for either kids or adults. I’d love to explore more of them.

Photo by Juja Han on Unsplash

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Friday Fav: Hamilton!

I fully admit I jumped on the Hamilton love train when the filmed version of the hit show dropped on Disney+ July 3. I was not familiar with the music before this month, but the more I listen to the show and read about its creation, the more I love it.

I’ve enjoyed many a musical in the past, so I’m not surprised I like Hamilton. I didn’t realize the entire show is sung, and I had a hard time catching the lyrics at first. Once I turned on the closed captioning, it was great!

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s telling of founding father Alexander Hamilton’s story is smart and well constructed and the music is catchy. I learned Mr. 7 year old knows many of the lyrics already thanks to friends at school, and I’ve caught my husband (who did NOT seek out Hamilton) humming some tunes he’s heard on Alexa dozens of times by now.

I’ve listened to the soundtrack on repeat since early July but only seen the movie twice. I laugh every time I hear King George sing, I tear up when I hear The Story of Tonight, and my heart breaks during Satisfied and It’s Quiet Uptown. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend it.

Photo by Alev Takil on Unsplash

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Ways I Hid Learning in Kid-Approved Activities

Our school district has made classwork available for the kids since after Spring Break and throughout the summer. I’m very appreciative of the educational support, but less for the worksheets and more for the learning objectives. I use those to figure out what topics to incorporate. I have been looking for ways to integrate key concepts from PreK and 1st grade into our daily fun as a way to spend time together. It’s all part of my strategy to get them sick of spending time with me so I can work later in the day. Here are some of our favorites.

Writing Journal

We started with a blank journal where the kids could write about whatever they please, but I quickly learned that my now rising second grader performs better with more direction. To help with this, I wrote prompts at the top of each page. “What makes a good friend?” “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream? Draw it.” “If Batman and the Hulk battled each other, who would win?”

Flashlight Word Search

I printed flashcards of sight words and other vocabulary the kids are learning and hid them around their bedroom, turned off the lights, and had my little ones hunt for them. Once they found one using a flashlight, they had to read it to me.

Mr. 4 year old was really into this one.

Math Jump

I want the kids to be able to solve basic addition and subtraction problems quickly to help with higher-level math in the future. To practice, I give them two minutes to answer questions and get across the room. For each right answer, they take a step forward. For each wrong answer, they step back. You have to beat the clock, not your brother. This one was a huge hit!

Sight Word Toss

I used chalk to write a dozens of sight words on the driveway, then gave each kid a bean bag. They had to toss the bag onto a word, read it correctly, and then they’d earn points. They tracked their points in chalk on their claimed part of the driveway. By the end of it, Mr. 7 year old was adding his own words to the game board, so he was practicing writing and spelling too.

Nerf Blaster Phonics

I’ve played this game several times a couple of ways, and it is often requested. Basically, I put sticky notes on the wall and directed the boys to find what I said and blast it. Sometimes I ask them to find a particular letter, a letter based on a given sound, letter blends, or whole words.

Blasting alone is award enough. No need to award points with this game.

Find My Errors

Mr. 7 year old loves this one! I write a couple of sentences and purposefully make mistakes that he has to find. I misspell words, forget to capitalize, or use the wrong punctuation. It’s something about finding mom’s mistakes that makes this really intriguing, I guess.

LEGO Challenges

Mr. 4 year old has done this one several times independently. I give them their LEGO bin and present them with a challenge. My favorite one was when I had Mr. 4 year old build a tower taller than his water bottle that holds a plastic egg. He technically met the requirement by adding a skinny pillar on the tower to push it over the height requirement.

The angle is off here, but his orange and white pillar pushes his truck over the minimum height requirement.

Don’t be fooled though. We don’t do these activities every day, and there is PLENTY of screen time built into each day so we can survive conference calls and work emergencies. These activities were just the favorites we’ve played over the last four months.