Vacation! {Day 1}

Last month we embarked on our most ambitious trip yet as a family. We began by driving 3.5 hours to the Kansas City airport and parking in a very large parking lot, then waiting in the heat for a shuttle to pick us up.

day 1

On the shuttle, a very friendly fellow passenger offered to take our picture. I posted this to Facebook, where it got 45 likes. This is a personal best for me. (Not that I keep track of that kind of thing.)

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Getting on the plane.

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This was the first trip on an airplane for our peeps. The flight attendant offered to take our picture on the plane. As you can see, girls sat together on one side of the aisle, and boys sat together on the other side. Lydia loved the flight attendants and said she would like to be one when she grows up. I asked her why, and she said, “Because they are nice.”

She also LOVED take-off. It was a pretty bumpy ride into the air, and my stomach was lurching. Meanwhile, Lydia was beside me giggling. After things calmed down a bit, she said, “That was even funner than you explained it.”

day 1

day 1

After two hours in the air, we arrived in downtown Washington DC, where my brother David picked us up. I was not at all prepared for the amount of traffic there would be between DC and his home in Front Royal, VA. (A city slicker I am not.) Finally, we arrived and met little cousin Hadley!

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In this picture Luke is holding the pink Hungry we got Hadley last Christmas, before she was born.

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Of course it was also great fun playing with cousin Caleb.

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So with a full day of travel behind us, we got settled in, ready for a fun week.

To be continued….

Irony in the Garden

When Lydia chose the flowers for our new, front flower bed from the Baker Creek seed catalog, she marked two kinds of Morning Glories: Clark’s Heavenly Blue and Carnevale Di Venezia. For this year’s garden, I was open to whatever she suggested. So, I asked my parents to get me a trellis for my birthday, and we planted morning glories all around it in the late spring.

Here is how that trellis looks now.

morning glory

There are lots of leaves and no flowers. I’m not sure what the problem is. Maybe my soil is too rich. Maybe I don’t have enough potassium. Maybe there is too much morning shade and too much afternoon sun. I don’t know. I don’t even really care that much. I figure I’ll try something different next year. There are some cute pink zinnias blooming nearby, so all is not lost.

Wait a minute. Just around the corner from the zinnias there is a garden bed where we haven’t planted anything yet. I see something blooming. What is that?

morning glory

Of course. Wild morning glories!

morning glory

They are lovely.

morning glory

There really should be a moral to this little story, but nothing is coming to me. “Don’t plant expensive seeds, just let the weeds take over” doesn’t really seem that profound. What do you think?

Kindergarten Homeschooling- Teaching Beginning Reading, Part 4

Last week at the library I was browsing the children’s fiction picture book section. My eyes fell on these two books, which were displayed face-out on the shelf.


Perfect. Classic children’s stories my kids don’t know yet. What I love about this author is that he tells the stories in a traditional way, without throwing in any weird plot twists, sanitized endings, or politically correct statements about animals.


Also, some of our sight words are in big, bold type! However, when we read books like this, I try hard not to make it into a “lesson.” Sometimes you just have to read for fun. Lately, we’ve had about 30 minutes to fill between the end of lunch and the beginning of rest time. That is our “let’s read our new library books” time.

I love our local library system. I can log on and request books from any branch, and have them delivered to the branch we plan to visit soon. So, I requested almost twenty other versions of both The Little Red Hen and Henny Penny, also known as Chicken Little.

I absolutely love doing this. I love to see how different authors and illustrators interpret the same story. (I also love to listen to my iPhone playlist with the songs in alphabetical order, so the same song will come up several times in a row, but by different artists. But that’s a different topic.)

We picked up the first few holds today.


As you can see, The Little Red Hen can be interpreted as a cartoon,


or as a bizarre photo collage using real animals wearing clothes.


We read each of these once, maybe twice today after lunch and the again after rest time. When Keith got home, Lydia declared that she was going to read these books to him. She “read” several of them to him with surprising accuracy, remembering how the plot lines and phrases within each book varied from each other. I love the child brain.

Later that evening, Lydia started asking each of us which character we would like to be from Henny Penny. I chose Foxy Loxy. Lydia was Henny Penny, Keith was Goosey Loosey, and Luke was Ducky Lucky. (In case you need reminded, the plot line is that Henny Penny feels an acorn drop on her head, declares that the sky is falling, gets several other farmyard fowl to go with her to tell the king about the sky, and they all get tricked and eaten by the sneaky fox at the end.)

First she set up an upside down hamper with a squishy baseball on top. These are the oak tree and acorn.


She pecked the ground, then knocked over the hamper, but the acorn wouldn’t land on her head,


so she and Keith tried a different approach.


Then she got Ducky Lucky and Goosey Loosey to come with her into the fox’s cave,


complete with a sterilite cooking pot.


She prefers the ending where the hen outsmarts Foxy Loxy at the end and no one gets eaten, so that’s the one we acted out. As Foxy Loxy, I enjoyed pretending to take a nap. I got to close my eyes for a few moments.

As we get into the daily grind of homeschooling, I want to make sure we continue leaving time for this unscripted kind of learning. All I did was read her several picture books today and this is what happened. She compared and contrasted the different versions of the stories, decided which version she liked best, and proved that she comprehended the text by “reading” it back to us and then acting it out.

I can’t wait to pick up the rest of the library holds in a few days.

Kindergarten Homeschooling- Teaching Beginning Reading, Part 3

I hope you are loving this blog series on teaching beginning reading at home! Lydia is just getting started with kindergarten homeschooling, and we are loving it. One huge advantage of homeschooling is that you can customize your teaching style to fit the needs of your child. For example, last week Lydia was working on book five of Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers. However, I knew that she still needed a little extra work on book four, so on Thursday we did a book four review day.

For the day’s activity, we remade the sentences from the first three pages of the book Mac.

Before the lesson, I printed off the words would would need in a large, Comic Sans font and cut them apart. To begin the lesson, she read the entire book to me. Then, she found the words she would need to remake the first sentence.


At first, she missed the word had. She thought she was done. So I read the words she had selected back to her. Mac a bag. I didn’t tell her what was missing. She found the word herself and put it in the right place.


Don’t forget the period at the end of the sentence!


Next she read the sentence back to me, pointing at each word as she read.


Fantastic job!


Time to move on to the next page.


Pointing and reading the completed sentence.


We’re on our way!


The magnetic letter activity I described in the previous post gets the child thinking about letters and sounds in the words he or she is reading. The sentence remaking activity gets the child thinking about the whole sentence. Both activities help the young learner slow down the reading a bit and think about what’s on the page, rather than just memorizing that particular book.

Make sense?

A few of you have asked me what Luke does while Lydia is working on her homeschool lessons. There is no one answer, but during this lesson, he was busy with blocks.


Happy reading!

Kindergarten Homeschooling – Teaching Beginning Reading, Part 2

After looking at a few options, I decided to use Bob Books, Set 1: Beginning Readers for Lydia’s primary beginning reading text. BOB books come in sets. Here are the books found in Set 1.

BOB Books Set 1, Beginning Readers

Today I will show you how I did the very first lesson with the very first book a few weeks ago. But first, let me show you the exciting plot line.



Mat sat. Sam.

Sam sat. Mat sat. Sam sat.

Mat sat on Sam. Sam sat on Mat.

Mat sat. Sam sat. The End

And in case you just can’t get enough of Mat and Sam, here they are again.

Mat and Sam sure do a lot of sitting. And those awkward-looking bodies! Goodness.

I like to divide beginning reading words into two categories.

1. Sight words. These are words that we see many times every day. We might be able to sound them out, but not always. We know them by (you guessed it) sight.

2. Sound-out words. In the first series of BOB Books, the sound-out words are all three letters, with a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern. Since Lydia knows the basic letter sounds from reading her letter chart each day, she should be able to figure these out even if she hasn’t seen them before (although she often still needs help).

In the book Mat, there is one sight word: on. There are three sound-out words: Mat, sat, and Sam.

To practice the sight word on, we pulled the card from her sight word stack for review. To practice reading the sound-out words, we used magnetic letters on an inexpensive cookie sheet. The rustic park bench is optional.

cookie sheet and card

First, start with the letters all jumbled up at the top of the cookie sheet.


Say the word Mat slowly, and either pull down the letters m a t yourself or ask your child to do it.



“Now, what if we took off the m and changed the first letter to an s? What word will that make?”




“This time let’s change the last letter in sat to an m.”


“Now we have Sam!


Be sure to emphasize the sound of the letter you are changing as you talk about the words.

I also took a video of this process. Video with children always makes for something unexpected, like a little brother who likes to spit and grunt in the background. :)

After this very simple activity, it might be tempting here to say, “Okay, what if we put an h in front of -at? What about a b or an r?”

Exploring the -at word family is a fabulous idea for another time, but your goal right now is to get your child thinking about the words he or she will be reading in the Mat book.

Also, don’t be tempted to go on to book two too soon. We spend a full week on each book. Your child will certainly learn this book very quickly, but he or she will probably memorize it, rather than read it. Taking your time to do lots of activities on just this book will ensure your little learner is getting these words and sounds into his or her head.

So, what do you think? Do you feel encouraged, energized, overwhelmed, bored? (Don’t answer the last one.) Do you have a question or comment burning? Anyone else using BOB books? What kind of activities do you use? Comment. Share. Discuss.

I’ll be back in a day or two with another learning activity for this book!

Kindergarten Homeschooling – Teaching Beginning Reading, Part 1

After a month of kindergarten homeschooling, I’m happy to report that Lydia is reading chapter books!

Lydia reading

Just kidding.

Our preschool homeschool approach has been pretty laid-back. We have lots of library visits and discussions about interesting topics. Without using any formal curriculum, Lydia learned the basics: colors, shapes, numbers 1-10, recognizing capital letters, etc. Since she learned all of this with a very unstructured approach, I thought she might spontaneously start reading, too, but that didn’t happen.

Lydia will turn six this September, and would be starting kindergarten in August if we were using the public schools. Last spring we got our feet wet with beginning reading instruction. Actually, it was more like just our toes getting wet. We sat down and worked on “reading” a few days a week for about five minutes at a time. (Just toes, remember?) In June, we started spending more time each day, probably 20-30 minutes.

A good teacher (that includes homeschool moms!) is wise to ask for ideas from others. I put out a Facebook post wondering what other people suggest for beginning reading instruction. The approach I will outline for you over the next few days is a result of combining some of those ideas along with my own experiences from the five years I was a public school kindergarten teacher. This is by no means the only way to teach reading to a kindergartner, but I hope this can help someone else getting started, too!

So, let’s back up to last spring, when we got our toes wet by doing a five-minute reading lesson per day. Lydia had a folder which contained an alphabet chart, a sign language alphabet chart, and sight word index cards.

beginning reading folder

Exciting, huh? We used the letter chart to learn letter sounds. Each week we added a new row. She would say the name of the letter, the letter sound, and do the sign language at the same time. It seems like a lot, but I found when teaching kindergarten that when the students had a physical action to do when saying the sound, it stuck better. They needed something more concrete than just a sound. Lydia, however, seems to be an auditory learner (meaning she learns best by hearing), so I have recently stopped making her do the sign language with the sounds. The sound on this video isn’t great, but I hope it gives you an idea of what I mean.

I found this letter chart online. An important thing to remember when choosing a letter chart is that the word featured for each letter should be the hard consonant sound (cat, not cent) or a short vowel sound (egg, not eagle). Make sense?

Another fantastic way for kids to learn letter sounds is through the video LeapFrog: Letter Factory. Several people suggested this video to me, and it is wonderful. The letters and sounds are set to fun music, and even three-year-old Luke knows all the letter sounds now. We also just discovered another Leap Frog video on Netflix, which teaches letter sounds, too: LeapFrog: Phonics Farm.

We also learned two new sight words per week. We flipped through the index cards, and she would read them to me. Sometimes we would look through books and find words from our stack of cards. Sometimes I would read the book and stop on a word she knew and let her read that one. I wasn’t using words from any specific sight word list; I was just choosing words that I know are very common. We even threw in some words that she wanted to learn, like baby and Jesus.

Like I said, all of this, the letter chart and the sight words, would happen in about five minutes. It was a great way to introduce just a little bit of structure into our learning times without getting overwhelmed. It also laid the foundation for reading real books a few months later! More on that tomorrow…..

Please share your own ideas of how to introduce letter sounds and sight words!

Kindergarten Homeschooling – Teaching Beginning Reading, Intro

I am excited to tell you that this week I will be writing a series of blog posts on how we are teaching beginning reading as part of Lydia’s kindergarten homeschooling!

There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is certainly more than one way to teach beginning reading. I will be outlining the approach that is working for us right now. If you are teaching a youngster to read, feel free to follow this approach or just read through the posts to get some ideas. My goal is to show you that teaching beginning reading is easy and fun, and doesn’t require tons of time, worksheets, or a teaching degree.

Full disclosure: I should tell you that I do have a teaching degree, and it probably does give me more confidence. However, it also gives me the liberty to tell you that teaching reading is NOT rocket science. Anyone who really wants to teach a child to read can do it! I learned MUCH more about how to teach reading by being a classroom teacher than I ever did by taking a college-level education class.

The first post in the series will be tomorrow! Please try to get some sleep tonight despite your excitement over this new series. See you soon!

Little House on the Prairie

Lydia and Daddy enjoy reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books together.

Lydia’s Garden

When I planned this year’s garden, I was open to suggestions. I was using a brand new bed in front of the house, and I was just wanting to get something out there. I gave Lydia the Baker Creek seed catalog with a package of sticky notes. She marked the flowers that looked interesting to her. Those are the seeds I ordered, plus a few more herbs that I wanted.

She was also involved in the planting. I thought this would be enough to give her some ownership in the garden, but a few weeks ago she started saying she wants her own garden. We decided she could use an area next to our driveway that was recently landscaped, but only has two rose bushes planted in it so far.

At first, she said she wanted to grow sunflowers, and I also suggested zinnias. Then, she said she only wanted to grow food. In the end, we have a little of both.

We bought a tomato plant at Walmart. She helped dig the hole and put it in the ground.

tomato plant

Luke and Hungry helped. For now, Luke seems okay with coming alongside whatever we are doing in the garden and doesn’t feel left out if he doesn’t have his own designated garden space. (Sorry about the undies. That’s how he likes to roll.)


We also went to Baker Creek seeds and I guided her in choosing some flowers. It’s kind of tricky helping her choose something I think will bring success, but also making her feel like she is the one who chose.


I helped dig holes and trenches, and she dropped in the seeds, like these Evening Sun sunflowers.

evening sun sunflower seeds


In the end, however, playing in the sprinkler proved to be more compelling than finishing the garden work, so I planted the last row myself.


Lydia’s involvement in “Mommy’s garden” and “Lydia’s garden” was about the same, but there was something important to her about calling a garden hers. Duly noted. She says that when we go outside she will water her garden while I water mine. I hope she is pleased with the results.

The Life of a Food Allergy Mom

The temperature display on the car read 100 degrees. We had just spent a very fun morning at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in the middle of nowhere Missouri, but the peeps were tired and hot and ready to get home. They each had a little bit of cool water left to drink, but they wanted something even colder, and I couldn’t blame them. I told them we could stop at the McDonald’s in Seymour on the way home for a lemonade. They liked this idea and settled in for the ride, air conditioning blasting.

By the time we got to Seymour, Luke was asleep, using his blue dog Hungry as a pillow. Lydia and I decided to use the drive-thru for our lemonades. The line was long, so we waited and eventually got our turn at the speaker.

Girl Behind the Speaker (GBTS) : May I take your order?
Me: Yes, I would like three small lemonades please. Not the frozen lemonade, just the regular.
GBTS: We don’t have lemonade.

I was unprepared for this little hiccup. I did not want to give my kids soda, but I still wanted to get them something. (Later I realized McDonald’s probably had Hi-C, or something like it that would certainly be a treat for my kids. Too bad this thought didn’t come to me while taking into the speaker.) I looked at the sign for the frozen lemonade. I remember reading last year on the McDonald’s allergen-info webpage that the frozen lemonade contained milk. So, I’m not sure why I engaged in the following conversation other than a desire not to come away empty-handed.

Me: Does your frozen lemonade have milk in it?
Me: Are you looking at an actual list of allergens in the food?
GBTS: No, but someone told me it doesn’t have milk in it.
Me: I’m going to need to see that in writing. Does it come out of the same machine as the shakes?
GBTS: I don’t know.

At this point, my mind spoke this sentence: Really. You DON’T KNOW whether the frozen lemonade comes out of the same machine as the shakes?

But my mouth spoke this sentence: Thank you.

Then I drove away and let a real customer talk to the Girl Behind the Speaker.

I could blame McDonald’s for not training this girl about how to find allergen information, but it doesn’t matter. The truth is, Luke can’t get near cow’s milk, and it’s my job to make sure he doesn’t, not hers.

I told Lydia we would make chocolate chip cookies later today to make up for not getting a lemonade. This wasn’t really on my agenda for the day, but after supper we got to work. We have a recipe we love for dairy-free, egg-free chocolate chip cookies. I found it on the Silk website.

Source: via Amy on Pinterest


Just a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. Make sure you use dairy-free margarine. The brand that we use that works well in this recipe is bestlife buttery baking sticks

2. Make sure your chocolate chips are also dairy-free. We use Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips. Be careful; not all Ghirardelli products are dairy-free. I found out these were dairy-free simply by standing in the baking aisle at the grocery store reading ingredient lists on bags of chocolate chips.

The peeps love having a chance to do some baking, and I am thankful for an allergen-free recipe that tastes so yummy!


So, allergy moms, here’s what I’ve learned. Be assertive. Be polite. Find and read allergy info online before going to a restaurant. Find two or three people who truly understand the what your child can’t eat, and trust them to feed your child. Trust no one else. Find fun recipes your child can have. Be okay with eating at home most of the time. Take the job of feeding your child seriously, and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Most of all, be thankful you have such a sweet little person to love.

I’m back!

Blogging! It’s so old-fashioned in a world of Facebook, iPhones, Pinterest, Instagram (need I go on?). But I’m an old-fashioned girl, so here I am, blogging again. I’m not sure why my last blog post was in November, seven months ago. Blame the instant gratification of uploading a photo directly from my phone to Facebook and getting 20 likes by the end of the day. Blame the fact that I don’t have babies anymore and we’re busier than ever. Blame the fact that I’ve switched laptops several times and don’t know where half my pictures are. Blame the fact that now I’ve taken up running. (What!?)

In any case, I miss blogging. So here I am. I’ll be writing about homeschooling, gardening, or whatever strikes my fancy. So please throw me a bone and leave me a comment. Please? I’ll be back soon….