An Epic Nature Study Fail

As I posted earlier in the week, we’re house sitting at Tiffany’s house in Nebraska this week.

Tiffany’s house is fabulous.  It’s roomy and relaxing, with lots of white.  This week, it also has lots of something else.

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Ants.  Not tiny little back yard ants, but impressively large, black ants who march along as if they are on very serious business.

Tiffany is a rather live-and-let-live kind of person.  She lets insects pretty much do what they want, and they pretty much leave her alone.  So she warned me that they had suddenly appeared last week and said that I could do what I wanted about them once they left but that she was just letting them be.

Well.

I was not fond of the ants.  They had the unfortunate habit of appearing on my arms or legs as I was cooking in the kitchen, which did not leave me feeling calm and peaceful.  They also intruded on my cooking area, which I did not take kindly to as I do a lot of cooking and do not like sharing the space with giant interloping insects.

Live and let live, though…

So I did what any homeschooling mama would do.  I googled for key words like “kids science make humane bug catcher” and such and came up with this.

So we made a bug catcher!  Brilliant, huh?

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Um, no……

First off, these ants are huge.  We’re pretty sure they’re carpenter ants because they are not the dainty little ants we’re used to seeing.  So when you put the straw next to them, you have to put it right next to them and you feel like you’re trying to squeeze a hippo into a pair of panty hose.

Second of all, even though there is gauze wrapped around the straw you suck through, it is extremely unnerving to try to suck up a large ant.  Your brain will try very hard to stop you.  It is also extremely hard to convince your 9 year old son to suck up a large ant, even if he is usually pretty fearless about weird, gross and otherwise bizarre challenges.

But poor Alex finally acquiesced and attempted to suck up the first subject.

Nothing.

Turns out that big ants are heavy, and you have to put the straw practically on top of them.  Okay….

So he did that, and voila!  An ant got sucked right in…. halfway through the straw, and he was busily running back out of it.  This resulted in me shouting, “You have to suck more!” and Alex giving a mighty suck and then a very annoyed face.

“It tastes awful!  It’s like lemon, but awful!” he scowled.

I assured him that was impossible and it was probably just an odor that had been in the straw or jar.  Nonetheless, he refused to suck up another ant.

I recruited Toria next, who was not too keen on the idea despite her usual gung-ho attitude about anything nature related.  Still, she gave it a go — And promptly gasped, gagged and started looking for places to spit.

She announced that she’d just got a mouthful of the worst taste she’d ever tasted.

A google search confirmed our suspicions, that ants release formic acid (the same chemical that stings when they bite you) when they believe they are under attack, like if you try to suck them through a straw into a mayonnaise jar.

Yep, both of my poor kids had basically huffed ant toxin.

We ended up with one very annoyed ant whom we released outside, and a house full of absolutely safe ants remaining, because none of us are about to use that contraption again.

Still, they’re almost all gone today.  Live and let live does work pretty well if you have the patience (and get good at flicking them to the ground with an index card).

The bug catcher project site is full of videos of kids who successfully made one of these things.  I guess we just got unlucky.

I’m pretty sure our days of making bug catchers are over, though.  Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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Swapping Homeschools

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We’re at Tiffany’s again (me, Toria, Fiona and Alex), but this time we’re at their house without their family.  We’re house sitting for the week while they’re on vacation — at the condo where we usually stay when we’re on vacation.

We’ve been here so many times over the years, but this is the first time that none of their family has been here with us!  Even when we came to watch the kids while Tiffany was having Milllie, we had the older kids here with us.  It’s quite a different experience!

To make matters even more unusual for us, I’m taking care of one of the little dogs that Tiffany tends to during the days, so twice a day I walk over with one or all of the kids and we take a very enthusiastic little Yorkie (I think!) on a very long, very enthusiastic walk as she makes little rhino noises (I swear!) and tries to pull us as 70 mph despite her tiny little legs and old age.  Then we make sure that all of her needs are met in her house and tuck her in her little bed on the couch and make sure her music is on until the next time we check on her.  It’s quite fun, especially since we’ve never had a little dog and we miss our wonderful collie rescue, Layla, who died last fall.

During the days, the kids jump on the trampoline and play Mario Cart, play educational games online and just play.  Toria and I read and surf the internet.  At night, I cook dinner and we watch our favorite shows on Hulu (Nashville for me and Toria, Smallville for all of us) and then read books before bed.

We all also do a LOT of yoga every day.  Tiffany and Co. do a lot of yoga and have mats and recommended apps for us, and we are big on the whole “when in Rome” thing!

Of course, we don’t do yoga quite as gracefully or peacefully as they do.

Don’t even try to tell me in all seriousness to yearn my sternum forward!  Yearn my sternum forward????  This is not a legitimate instruction.  🙂

Toria told me I was very difficult to do yoga with because I make her laugh too much.  Laughter is healthy, right?

We also drink proper English tea all day (since Tiffany is both proper and English) — though we add copious amounts of sugar that proper English people disapprove of!).

Tiffany’s house is the opposite of mine in most ways.  Mine is crowded and noisy.  Hers is minimalistic and quiet.  Mine is full of color.  Hers is almost entirely white (even the painted wood floors and full-wall fireplace).  Mine is chaos, hers is calm.  Mine is filled with oddities (brain coral, replica dinosaur teeth, jars of sand from all different colors of beaches around the world, musical instruments, historic costume pieces….).  Hers is filled with just a few well chosen items.

So it’s fun to be here, and good for us to live this other life.  We rise early and keep things tidy.  We do yoga and drink tea.  We eat smaller portions and walk miles every day.  But then we also play games and watch shows and act silly, because we’re still us, too.  🙂

We have a million things to get back to as soon as we’re back in Minnesota.  I have to finish my elderberry book.  We have to finish our portion of the renovations on our house.  There are tryouts soon for the Wilder Pageant and all sorts of opportunities and obligations for all of us.

But this week, we’re in Nebraska, living this life.  And it’s pretty wonderful too.

 

 

Our Favorite Educational Apps (Part One)

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I have to admit, it is so much easier to homeschool today than ever before.  Not only do we have literally millions of pages of free resources, information and support online thanks to the internet, but we have educational apps that we can get for next to nothing (or nothing at all) so kids can learn while playing — anywhere they are.

Our kids got Kindles for Christmas a couple of years ago when they went on sale for $35 each on Black Friday.  We also have an iPad that I bought used for a great price and some of the kids have iPods they bought with saved up allowances.  So they have a plethora of ways to use apps and things to use them on.

I figured I would start compiling lists of our family’s favorites, with about 5 each time.  I think most of them are available for either Apple or Android devices, but some may be for one or the other. Some are free, and those that aren’t generally have a free trial version.

Here are some of our favorite educational apps.

  • Dragonbox:  We’ve loved this algebra-based game since it was first released, and now they’ve added to their arsenal with a more advanced game and a science version.  This is the priciest app we’ve purchased (around $5 to $8 for different games) but I consider it worth it since the kids enjoy it so much and honestly understand the concepts related to algebra and such through using it. (Elementary and Middle School)
  • Rocket Math:  Alex loved this game since he was a preschooler and now Fiona loves it, too.  Kids design their own rockets but must do math to earn the money to get the parts to fly it.  There are different kinds of math and it’s fun to play. I believe there’s a short, free version but we paid .99 for the full version.  (Preschool, Elementary)
  • PBS Kids:  Fiona likes to watch her favorite PBS children’s shows on my iPad using the app.  She likes to come into my room while I’m working online and bring the iPad so she can lie on the bed and keep me company while watching it.  I believe it comes with games, too, but she mainly uses it to view programs.  Honestly, I don’t consider it terribly educational but she enjoys it and it does teach some basic concepts and character traits. It is free.  (Preschool, Early Elementary)
  • Stack the States:  All of our kids love this little geography game, even the teenagers.  They learn U.S. geography and go back to play again and again.  We also have Stack the Countries, which got Rhia on a kick to memorize all of the capitols of the world a couple of years ago.  There are free versions but it’s well worth the dollar or so for the full version. (Elementary, Middle School)
  • Kindle:  We have the Kindle app on all of our devices and it is such a help for homeschooling.  All of the kids have downloaded free e-books — everything from educational picture books to chapter books to Shakespeare and more.  Daryl is now subscribed to the Kindle Unlimited reading program (affiliate link) so the kids are, too (they’re connected to his Amazon account), so now they can read over a million books and magazines for free on their devices.  (Speaking of which, I created a Homeschooling with Kindle Unlimited Facebook page for other homeschoolers who use KU, where I post books that are free to read in the program.)

There’s a start, and I’ll try to add more lists in the next couple of weeks!  I know there are so many that the kids really enjoy.

Now I have to cuddle a little girl who’s fighting off the flu, make up another batch of elderberry syrup, and get ready for the daily construction stampede.

What are your family’s favorite apps, if you use them?  Please add them in the comments!

Homeschooling Through Construction Mayhem

There’s been a little more mayhem than usual in our homeschool the past few weeks.  We’re having extensive home repairs done on all four floors of our house (main floor, second floor, attic and basement).

This is what our back porch looked like last week after they ripped out the floor, walls, insulation and ceiling.

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To say it’s been hectic is an understatement.

While it will be so worth it in the end, it’s been pretty exhausting — especially since we had just one day notice that they’d be starting on the renovations since we set it all up early last summer!

The construction crew knows we homeschool (of course) and I’m pretty sure they think that involves nothing at all (!) since we’re not doing anything remotely traditional while they’re here.  After all, they’re ripping up floors, walls, counters, windows, you name it, and it’s not like we could just pile into the kitchen to do science experiments and lapbooks all day or read quietly through the hammering and drilling!

Nonetheless, we’ve still managed to learn and play through the chaos.

Here are ten ways we’ve learned and played during the construction.

1. Alex and I have been playing Timeline on the new living room floor.  We have three sets of this fantastic little history card game (Discoveries, Inventions and Historical Events) and love them all.  The other kids have been joining in some of the games too (Rhia even played a few rounds with her college friend one night!).  Not only is it great for putting historical events in perspective to each other, but it’s led to all kinds of great conversations on everything from pulsars to Darwin and Lincoln (they were born the same day of the same year, as you may know).

Pressure cookers are way older than I realized. #timeline #history #homeschooling #handsonlearning #educationalgames

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2. We’ve been reading lots of library books.  Winter is always the time to hit up the library extra often and it’s a good place to escape to when the chaos is too loud, too.

3. The boys have been playing Dragonbox for algebra.  It’s been a while since the kids played it so I loaded it up on Jack and Alex’s Kindles and had them do a little every day.  I’m planning on getting the higher level one (Dragonbox 12+) for Jack once he finishes the original version, too.  The nice thing about educational apps is that kids can just hole up in a room somewhere or just take them in the car with them and use them anywhere.

4.  Fiona, Alex and I have been playing Wildcraft. It’s a wonderful game that I finally broke down and bought last year after coveting it for years.  I love that it’s cooperative and that it teaches so much about helpful plants.  All players work together to get to the top of a mountain and gather huckleberries for a pie for grandma.  Along the way, they run into various maladies (sunburn, insect bite, hunger, sprained ankle, etc.) and they see if they have any of the plants that can help the ailment (jewelweed, field mint, plantain, echinacea, etc.).  If they don’t, one of their teammates can help them if they have a cooperation card, or they can use cooperation cards to pull the player who’s farthest behind up to their space.  It’s a bit like a nature studies “Candy Land” — except everybody works together and it teaches you.  🙂  It’s also just plain pretty!  Fiona especially loves the game and asks to play it constantly.

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5. Daryl has been taking the kids hiking and longboarding at the nearby state park.  The weather has been strangely warm for February for Minnesota (we had rain last week!) so they’ve been taking advantage of it to get some much-needed fresh air, sunshine and exercise — and of course, some nature studies!

6. I’ve been teaching the older kids about Kindle publishing.  Now that I’ve published my first Kindle book, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming and I’ve realized what a great tool it could be for the kids to share some of their knowledge and passions.  I told Toria that I would love to see her publish a “Hard Core Nature Studies” book because she has taught herself so much cool stuff about hands-on projects for serious science and nature lovers (like how to whiten bones), for instance.

Shameless plug…. Speaking of my book, it’s free to read if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.  Otherwise, it’s $2.99.  There are 52 nature study projects, broken down so there is one a week for all four seasons.  Most of the projects are ones that we’ve done many times in our own homeschool over the years, including lots of our favorites.

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7. Alex is on a spelling kick.  With all of my kids, spelling was one of the last things to kick in naturally — well after they were reading very well.  Alex was no different, and it was to the point where I cringed when I saw his spelling even though we did play spelling games, talk about spelling rules and activities like that.  As with all of the kids, though, it did finally click and he found his own way to learn to love it and excel at it.

In his case, his spelling suddenly skyrocketed because of two things — texting friends and spelling everything he says to me.  He now communicates half the time by spelling his questions and sentences to me.  It drives the other kids a little crazy, but he jumped a good 2 grade levels in spelling the past month just through these two habits.

(It should also be noted that the two friends that my 9 year-old boy texts the most often are a 9 year-old girl who lives a block away and a middle-aged world-traveled lawyer from Beverly Hills who lives next door to us.  The neighbor has become a close friend to our whole family since she moved in last spring, and it makes me smile that Alex texts her regularly to check in on things.  🙂  I love that homeschooling means that “socialization” occurs with all ages and all types of people, instead of kids growing up segregated into grade-level groups of like-minded peers.  I also love that it often means that kids have no concern about gender or age when choosing friends.)

8. I’ve put on lots of educational TV.  I love having You-Tube, Netflix and Hulu because it means there’s always something entertaining and educational to occupy the kids when things get hectic.  The younger kids particularly like Maths Mansion, which we watch on You-Tube.  It’s the weirdest children’s show I’ve ever seen but it’s oddly hilarious and even the big kids watch it because it’s just so bizarre. It’s a very surreal British show that I read about a while back on another homeschool blog.  It features a villain who traps children in a spooky house and makes them do math to escape and a nice (but ridiculous) guy who teaches the kids the math concepts.  The villain also accosts random real life people on the streets to ask them strange math questions.  🙂  It’s really odd but we like it!  It covers some pretty advanced math for a children’s show, too, and gives the kids problems to solve at the end of each show.  They’ve also been watching Myth Busters, National Geographic documentaries and various other programs.

9. We’ve been dragging out various books in spare moments to learn American history, algebra, science and more.  One of the nice things about having a massive library amassed from thrift stores and the occasional Scholastic book splurge is that we have wonderful books to teach about everything from how gravity works to rocks and minerals.  Today, I grabbed a Scholastic book about “everything you need to know about American history for homework” and we read through the section on the French and Indian war.  Alex figured out how many years ago it started and we read through the causes and results (pretty monumental).  Earlier in the day, I read a picture book with Fiona and Alex about how gravity works (and then added to it since it didn’t do much of a job of explaining it).  A couple of days ago, I went through a college-level “algebra for dummies” book with Jack upstairs when they were tearing up the living room.  These books give us small doses of pretty rigorous information and discussions that we often continue later.

10. Of course, the kids are learning all about construction, electricity, plumbing and renovation work.  I can’t possibly name all the things the kids have learned from the workers and the work they’ve done the past couple of weeks.  When the foreman found out we had an older type of wiring called knob and tube wiring in the attic, he explained how electricity passed through it as opposed to modern systems and what the risks were.

Knob and tube wiring gets its name from the ceramic knobs used to hold wires in place and ceramic tubes that act as protective casings for wires running through wall studs or floor joists. Instead of the three wires found in modern electrical installations, knob and tube wiring has only two — a black (hot) wire and a white (neutral) wire. This means there is no ground wire in the system for excess charge or in the event of a short.

The kids have also watched how counters are replaced, how all kinds of power tools are used, how various kinds of flooring are laid, how a frame is built for a bathtub and shower, and tons more.  Toria talked to the foreman about how many boxes of flooring they’d need for her to do our hallway later on, figuring out square footage for the hallway and factoring in how many square feet are in each box (and figuring the cost).  They’ve learned about plumbing lines, material costs, housing codes and oodles more.

And yes, it’s going to be so worth it when it’s over. Here’s a picture of Fiona practicing drawing and writing on our living room floor last summer.  We had pulled up the big area rug thinking they were going to start on the renovations soon (the original completion date was supposed to be in August!), so we were looking at this floor for about 7 months!

More reading and writing, as requested by Fiona. #homepreschool #handsonlearning #homeschooling #summerdays

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Here’s a picture of Fiona meditating on our new living room floor last week.

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It’s a happy sort of chaos, then, and one we are grateful for!

This was just another example of how well homeschooling can work so well around life.

We have homeschooled through getting snowed in while visiting other cities, making trips to take care of my ailing grandmother, vacations, new babies, Toria’s cancer, Daryl’s hip replacement and all kinds of other challenges.  I am so grateful that with homeschooling, school can so easily fit around life, instead of life having to fit around school.

But boy will I be glad when the construction is finished.  🙂

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A Little Women’s Studies Field Trip

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Victoria and Rhiannon each took a bit of a field trip yesterday.  They participated in the #WomensMarch in St. Paul (Minnesota), along with roughly 100,000 others (and several million around the world).  🙂

Victoria went with a charter bus from New Ulm, a city about an hour from us, and Rhiannon went with a friend and some of her friends and their children in a van that left from Mankato.  Poor Daryl had to leave at 5:30 a.m. with them to get them to their respective drop-off points so they could get up to the march in time.

They both had phenomenal times, to say the least.

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Rhia stayed up late the night before embroidering feminist statements on her jacket.  I’ll have to get a picture of some!

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(I gave Toria that hat for Christmas.  Wasn’t it perfect for the day?)

It was a profoundly empowering experience for both girls, and Toria called it one of the coolest experiences of her life.

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I’m very proud of my girls (and all who marched around the world!).

New Book!

My Kindle book went live on Amazon this morning!

You can find it here: A Magical Homeschool: Nature Studies (52 Wonderful Ways to Use Nature Studies in Every Season to Teach Science, Math, Art and More) (affiliate link).

This is utterly terrifying new territory, but very exciting nonetheless.  🙂

It’s broken down into four seasons, with 13 activities for each season (enough for one every week of the year).  They are designed to work with multiple ages, so families can do the activities together.

Examples of the activities include:

Spring:

  • Test your garden soil pH with vinegar.
  • Make homemade playdough and dye it with a variety of natural materials to make all different colors.
  • Use an empty Valentines Day chocolate box to start a rock collection.

Summer:

  • Count cricket chirps to tell the temperature (with information about how crickets make the chirps and why they speed up when it’s warm).
  • Use a magnet to find micrometeorites at the beach.
  • Use ants for nature studies (draw a chalk maze to see if they’ll run it to avoid the chalk lines, watch how they’ll follow an invisible path on a piece of paper if you turn it after they start walking a line on it, test out various natural repellents, etc.).

Autumn:

  • Use glycerine to preserve a branch of colorful fall leaves.
  • Use apples for a variety of science and nature (and homemaking) projects.
  • Do an amped up scavenger hunt with all the kids (past the usual find something blue kind of stuff, find something Native Americans used for food or medicine, find an insect that’s an omnivore and one that’s an herbivore, etc.)

Winter:

  • Carve avocado pit pendants.
  • Measure the volume of snow when it’s frozen versus melted (and extensions from there).
  • Make a tabletop observation garden from root vegetables.

It’s $2.99 in the Kindle store, or free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited.  It should be free sometime soon and I’ll post and let you know when that happens.

 

10 Ways We’ve Learned and Played Lately

We’re 2 weeks into 2017 and hanging in there.  I had a birthday a week ago and Rhia has a birthday next week.  She’s turning 17 (how did that happen?) and I won’t tell you what age I turned.  😉

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(Yes, our kitchen ceiling is completely covered with the children’s art!)

We had some more sadness, as my grandmother died right before the new year.  She was 93 and impatient to move on to her next adventure, but that doesn’t make it easier.  I am very glad that we made so many trips to Ohio for the kids to really get to know her, especially this year (3 trips in 6 months).

That doesn’t mean homeschooling was happening, though.  Or magical moments.  Here’s a bit of what we’ve been up to lately.

  1. Daryl has been doing “Teach Your Monster to Read” with Fiona just about every day.  She is beginning to get the hang of how phonics and words work, and she enjoys it.
  2. I got out an old science kit that I found at a thrift store years back, dusted it off, and started doing science experiments with Alex.  It contains a hand-held scope and lots of gadgets and chemicals.  We did things like examined different cloths under the scope, compared types of salt under magnification (black lava salt just looks dirty!) and did some simple experiments.  We’re going to try to finally start putting it to regular use.
  3. Daryl is acting in a winter play.  He has the lead in a community theater production in Worthington.  It’s a comedy and he plays a detective.  Rhia goes with him to rehearsals and all of the kids help him run his lines.
  4. Toria is working on getting our family Etsy store running.  She has some beautiful glass fox pendants that I got her for her birthday as a start to her own business (I purchased a large assortment wholesale for her to sell).  We are planning to sell a variety of things out of a family store.  Rhia creates elaborate zentangle-like artwork that she’d like to list and I have been creating magical homeschool sort of printables (such as colorful cards of hands-on ways to do all different subjects).  It has been a fun learning experience for all of us so far. Toria is taking pictures this week and then we should be able to finish creating the storefront.
  5. Rhia has been writing songs.  She is very talented on the guitar and writes amazing songs.  She wrote one last week that is quite feminist, and wrote another for a friend who needed cheering up.  She also has been learning how to cover other songs on the guitar.  Daryl and I heard a song I really liked during “Listen to Your Folks” on campus radio last week (Painting Houses) and she and Daryl learned to play it and performed it for me.
  6. I wrote a Kindle book.  I decided that it was time to start writing about the things that I am passionate about again, and that I finally needed to learn how to write Kindle books and give it a try.  There’s a steep learning curve but I got my first book written.  It is part of a series I’d like to write under the umbrella of “A Magical Homeschool.”  This one is A Magical Homeschool:  Nature Studies (52 Wonderful ways to use nature studies for science, math, art and more).  I am working on the cover today.
  7. Rhia is learning Spanish.  She has started doing Duolingo and has progressed quite far already.  Toria has been using Duolingo to master German for years, and Daryl does the free language app daily in German, French, Spanish, Norwegian and Swedish.
  8. Jack has been running D&D games for Alex.  This role playing game involves creating a world, drawing out maps, storytelling and running the game to create the adventure as the players go along.  Players roll dice to determine the outcome of decisions, battles, etc. and use miniatures to represent the players and the world.
  9. Alex, Fiona and I played a US states geography board game.  It involves drawing cards of states that you need to travel to and then answering questions about the states to move across the board and try to reach your state.  Once you visit all four of the states you’ve drawn (driving across the country in your car token), you win. A friend lent it to us and Alex really enjoys it.  Fiona doesn’t have to answer the questions.  We just let her roll the dice and travel across the country, and she is still picking up geography from the states she “visits.”
  10. Daryl and the kids have been shooting winter footage for a movie.  Daryl has a friend making a movie down south and she needs to incorporate footage of winter memories for the characters, who are supposed to be in Montana.  They have been shooting footage of snowy scenes and of the kids running in the snow and so on.  Daryl, Toria, Jack and Rhia have all shot footage, and Alex and Rhia have been in some of the scenes.

Of course, we’re doing all the usual homeschool stuff too — reading books, playing games, texting, blogging, using educational apps and shows, nature studies, cooking, chores, math pages and so on.

And now, I’m off to work on that cover and pretend I’m going to get housework done.

Okay, really try to at least get a little housework done….

Have a magical week!