Gentle Geography: simple ways to explore the map

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As I embark on my 6th year of serious homeschooling I am beginning to recognize my personal teaching style as that of lazy gentle.

I like read-alouds, coloring, field trips, cardboard and glue and a good conversation. And if it’s not holding interest (for both student and parent) I chuck it. So far it’s worked out pretty well, though, like most homeschool parents, there’s the regular seasonal overwhelm of all that we’re NOT getting done. For me, our national geography has been one of those back-burner subjects that has finallyΒ  begun to smell a little burnt by neglect.

So for the past several weeks I’ve been challenging myself to sneak in any and everything to do with the States. The results: two road trips (one already done, another approaching in a couple weeks), our normal every-day read aloud time, extra coloring pages, and a map. We were already planning on these road trips and already reading some of these books, so all that was left to do was to connect the conversation dots and hang a map.

Wall Map of the United States

Office Max $2 clearance, for the win!

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I slapped this baby onto the ugliest wall of my home in hopes of it becoming a dual-purposed distraction (hiding my ugly wall and tempting it’s passers-by to a studious look) and have started to label anything and everything that we can associate with a particular area of the country.

Things to put on a map:

  • Books we have read that take place in particular States and cities
  • Movies and TV shows that take place in particular States and cities
  • Hometowns of friends and family throughout the country
  • Hometowns of YouTube celebrities we follow
  • Hometowns of Saints and other people throughout our history
  • Places we have visited or are going to visit soon
  • Places we have read about in various studies through literature or history texts.

 

Scrambled States of America

My second effort to become more intentional about US geography began by perusing the shelves I already have for neglected resources and was not disappointed!

The Scrambled States of America is a fun storybook about the 50 United States getting bored with their surroundings and deciding to swap places with one another. It’s one of those titles with lots of subscript that is easily ignored the first time around but becomes more and more entertaining the more times you read and start to notice little subplots as well as distinct personalities each state has been given by the creative author, Laurie Keller.

I didnt realize over a year ago how lucky I was to be gifted a second-hand copy of the Scrambled States of America companion card game (thanks, Mom!), which really has nothing to do with the book other than identical illustrations. But this thing is a GEM! I find that the game has more material for learning opportunities than does the book (learning state names, capitals, nicknames, measuring distances, etc).

I also made a quick companion craft project by tracing off some outlines of a few states and we have had so much fun re-creating the silly faces of the characters in the book and game!

I am looking forward to highlighting each state throughout this next home school year in a similar way!

Keep me motivated! What fun projects have you tried for learning about the 50 States with your kiddos?

Parking in Purgatory

It took me way too long to write this simple blog post because I kept thinking I could come up with more content to really make it stand out. But in reality, it is just a simple and good idea for which I cannot take the credit.

Growing up, my dad would occasionally take us along on an errand to the store and we would park in the farthest parking spot available. He called it Parking in Purgatory because we offered up our slightly more laborious walk into the store in reparation for the poor souls in Purgatory.

For more information on Purgatory and the concept of praying for the dead, I recommend this article by Catholic Answers. πŸ™‚

Realistically, it takes about 2 minutes longer to walk from the back of Walmart’s parking lot to the front of the store. Yet it seems inconvenient enough for us to justify driving a lap or two around the lot, waiting for a closer spot to open up. Those 2 minutes can be an excellent opportunity to turn an otherwise impersonal action of walking from your car to the store into a spiritual work of mercy!

The kids really go for this one, too! My boys love to remind me to park nice and far away from the storefront so that we can make some spiritual friends who we will someday meet for real in Heaven.

Parking in Purgatory is just another small simple way to sanctify the day. What are some ways you and your family tuck pockets of the Faith into your day? Add your inspiration in the comments below!

Zero Waste Mock-Sausage Gravy

A couple months ago I was “freezer cooking” dinners for the month which required me to cook 15 lbs of ground beef at time in my giant roaster. After straining all the cooked meat to use in my freezer meals I was left with a few quarts of fat, drippings, and small pieces of beef that didn’t make it past my slotted spoon and into the casserole assembly. Typically this leftover stuff is set out on the counter to cool and solidify and then chucked, but this time I decided to experiment.

Because if there’s anything I hate more than cooking, it’s food waste.

I remembered my grandma saving all the fat and drippings after cooking up sausage to make gravy. She’d get the liquid hot in the pan and whisk in some flour, then some milk, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Sausage is basically just meat but with extra fat and seasonings, right?

And gravy is basically just sausage drippings, flour, and milk, right?

I already have lots of fat and meat. So why not add seasonings, flour, and milk?

The result was Zero Waste Mock-Sausage Gravy. And two freezer cooking batches later, my freezer is loaded with it.

We spread it in toast, mix it into scrambled eggs, serve with fries as poutine, and dding a few spoonfuls into any pasta or rice based casserole ups the savory flavor effortlessly.

Next time you’re browning up ground beef for tacos or sloppy joes or chili, try saving your drippings for a simple and savory all-American condiment.

Ingredients:

drippings from 5lbs of ground beef

1/3 c. flour (I have used both wheat and gluten free and both work)

1/3 c. milk

2 tsp. sage

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. salt

pepper to taste

Directions

Add sage, garlic, and salt to beef drippings and simmer for a few minutes to bring out flavors.

Sprinkle flour over the liquid while whisking.

Slowly add milk, continually whisking. Cooking a few minutes on low.

Add pepper to taste and more salt if needed.

For thicker gravy, add more flour. For thinner gravy, add more milk.

As the gravy behind to cool, liquids may separate. Just whisk back together before heating back up or pouring into freezer bags.

If you like more meat in your gravy, just add some of the ground beef back in which you originally separated after cooking.

Do you know of any other ways to use up the fat and drippings from ground beef? And what is your favorite way to use up some sausage gravy? Inspire me with your comments! πŸ˜†

Art Museum Scavenger Hunt

Taking your children to the art museum.

It’s a refined and intellectually fulfilling endeavor, especially for us homeschooling parents. Your students are bound to recognize the profiles of many historical figures depicted in sculpture and pastel mediums, or maybe they’ll beg you to assign them a report on a favorite artist whose style they happen to recognize amid the mix of any given gallery.

Or perhaps they’re more like my children.

They take off running as soon as you step foot inside because the rooms are huge and the echos are great. Security guards now silently trail you at every turn.

You make rounds of the entire museum in 45 minutes flat, having barely scaled all four walls of any given gallery. Your children now complain that they’re bored and starving.

But you, exhausted and dispirited mother-who-swears-to-never-enter-public-with-these-monsters-ever-again are in luck. I have a gift for you. πŸ™‚

Here is a free tool I’ve created to help keep a variety of ages occupied and even decently focused at almost any art museum.

The Art Museum Scavenger Hunt

Free download!

Art Museum Scavenger Hunt (NonReader)

Art Museum Scavenger Hunt (Reader)

I made this scavenger hunt because I have dragged my kids through the art museum more than enough times to know that it’s a crazy idea and I needed an intervention! This printable does really help to slow the pace of our visit, giving the kids a tangible reason to look long(er) and hard(er) at a piece of art.

Players set off to find works of art that are a certain age, style, or depict particular items. In the non-readers version, players look for specific colors and shapes as well.

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Word of advice: bring a clip board or your legs may become a little one’s writing surface.

You can use the same list at almost any art museum.

Smaller museums are a nice challenge because you really have to look deeply; as testified by a field trip we took last week with some homeschool friends.

Two hours into our hunt at Butler Institute of American Art (where there’s a lot of more landscapes and contemporary than religious pieces) we FINALLY found the last item on our lists – an angel – in a painting within a painting, way in the background where it wouldn’t always be noticed upon first glance.

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John Koch. Music, 1956-1957

While I can’t say the security guards were totally off our case as we trailed 20 kids through the otherwise silent halls, I do think that using the scavenger hunt did incur a new quality of observation from kids who had been in this particular museum multiple times already.

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Hopefully this little game can keep your troupes focused as well!

Do you have any tips for browsing exhibits with kids in tow? Please share in comments. I’d love to hear!

Meal Plan Makeover (with download!)

Total impromtu post here!

Being the first weekend of the month, I’ve spent a hunk of my Saturday taking inventory of the freezers and pantry and coming up with meal plans for the week as well as looking ahead into the rest of the month.

I’ve been planning meals by the week for a few years now and honestly don’t remember how I ever did without!

Usually my draft of meals for the week looks like this:

But this week I decided to spruce things up a bit and print a pretty template rather than using scrap paper…. Que the overwhelm.

There are TONS of meal planning templates all over the internet, but I’ve never been able to find one that 1) is pretty 2) includes a column for a daily snack 3) includes a column for prep work for the next day’s meals (such as defrosting) and 4) will not bankrupt my ink-sucking printer.

So I finally just drew up my own template for weekly meal planning and printed a couple months worth.

Then I had the afterthought to go back and edit the template to include my blog address at the bottom and share it with you. 😁

I’m aesthetically pleased with the upgrade, aren’t you?!

Feel free to download my template and use it for your own weekly plans!

Is there anything else you can think of that would make this tool better? I’d love to hear your tips and tricks for meal planning!

Weekly Meal Plan template download

Way-too-easy History Timeline

This week I told my perfectionistic self, NO.

After months of malgamated procrastination and passive “research” I finally came to the conclusion that the perfect history timeline available for me to purchase at a reasonable price and make a permanent addition to my home decor does NOT exist! πŸ˜‚

So we made our own.

And it was way too easy!

First I cut a manageable hunk off the wrapping paper roll with some HEAVY DUTY scissors.

(Later Cyprian asked me to cut him a section of roll so he could “wrap tiny presents”. I cut that time with a knife instead of the scissors and it worked well too)

Next, we rolled it out print-side-down the length of our wall stuck it up there with packaging tape.

Then, we drew two lines down the length of the timeline and marked every 50 years in the 700 year span we’re currently studying in our homeschool.

This roll had a 1″ square grid printed on the backside which made marking equal space between years very accurate.

Lastly, we leisurely reviewed several weeks of history lessons as we illustrated our timeline for the next hour!

We drew specific dated events on the bottom and put historical figures/people on the top.

The more I think about it, this really is the ideal timeline for our homeschool for so many reasons.

1- it’s customizable

We’re only timelining what we’re studying right now (a 700 year frame from late middle ages through the Renaissance) so the entire wall is relevant to our studies every day.

2- the kids helped make it

We had much fun coming up symbols to represent each figure and event. The kids picked the colors and decorated each entry themselves. Lots of hands-on learning! πŸ‘

3- it’s totally replaceable!

I stocked up on Christmas wrapping paper during clearance season this January and got half a dozen rolls for $.30/each. If my toddler decides to tear it down (despite my constant efforts to train him not to touch it) we can just have another review day and remake the timeline. πŸ˜‚

I just can’t get over how fun and freaking easy this project was! We look forward to making one for ever history unit in the future!

Disclaimer: if you make a timeline out of wrapping paper, regular markers will most likely smear on the glossy-ish finish. Use permanent markers and crayons only.

The Best Educational Toy Ever

It’s no secret that kids learn best through play.

It’s also no secret that kids don’t really need toys in order to play. They’re good at making do with whatever they can get their hands on. Books and blankets, pots and pans, sticks and rocks, etc.

And thus I can confident say that the best educational toy I have ever given my children was not Legos, wooden train tracks, or playdough. It wasn’t even the Playmobil Roman Coleseum we acquired this past Christmas (though that may be my favorite toy to play with…).

The best educational toy I have ever given my children is…

A second-hand piano.

Four years later and my kids are STILL occupied daily by picking out melodies they’ve heard or composing their own.

While we don’t currently do formal piano lessons (besides occasionally utilizing the free content from Hoffman Academy) the piano is still an excellent platform to experiment with rhythm and harmony, patterns, and other mathematical-type concepts as well.

While I can’t say from experience that the ability to play music by ear is advantageous to formal music training later in life, I do know that being able to play by ear is valuable in and of itself. I myself grew up with instruments in the home, yet never really had formal lessons for long period of time. Playing around on the piano (or any instrument readily accessible) has been an emotional and creative outlet for personally since childhood and I love being able for give my children the same opportunity!

The piano is also a beautiful piece of furniture. While I have had my share of battles explaining to everyone that it is NOT a coffee table and strictly discourage bringing food or beverages to rest upon it, the bench does double as (adult) seating for family parties.

It also multi-functions as our family altar. It’s in a place in our living room that is a prominent focal point (our TV hangs over it with a map covering the screen when not in use) and on it we have placed our Sacred and Immaculate Heart images which we used for our family consecration a few years ago. We also use it for holding pictures up when we meditate on the Rosary or Stations of the Cross

How to get a second-hand piano

It is amazing how many pianos are out there looking for homes. I have two friends who could not unload their pianos and ended up breaking them apart to move them out of the house and dispose of them. 😭 Word of mouth is the best place to start when searching for a used piano!

Great places to look for cheap or free uprights are Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and the genius network Piano Adoption . Honestly, the hardest part in becoming a piano owner isn’t finding or affording one as much as it is moving it into your house.

I searched quite a while for our piano because I wanted particularly an upright style with wooden finish and traditional bench. I also wanted to get one that was already decently in tune because I didn’t want to have to bother with paying for a tune-up.

I ended up paying $100 and had to transport it myself (with the help of 3 strong younger brothers and a minivan) but it was in great condition and I even still have the original paperwork on it from the 1960s when it was purchased brand new.

And YES, this modest investment often bites me back when all I (and perhaps more often my husband) want a moment of silence, or when there’s a new theme song or jingle unwillingly stuck everyone’s head. But the good we get out of it makes it all worthwhile! I will hence leave you with the words of Maria Augusta Von Trapp, who didn’t know how relavent her words would be to a mother of five young children at home with a piano all day every day:

What are some unlikely learning tools found in your home? I’d love to hear in the comments!

Hallway Art Museum

You know that thing that you’re totally not an expert in, yet you love it and are so inspired by it?Β For me, that’s fine, visual art. I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed lounging on the couch looking through coffee table books full of prints while sipping my evening glass of wine.

I especially love the pre-photography eras of art. It’s neat to briefly step into a time where all visual documentation was the results of the exceptional talent of so few. Each masterpiece tells a story; some well-known, while others truly enlightened only to the artist and left to our imaginations to decipher. I love a painting that I can look at over and over again over the years and still find details that I have forgotten or never noticed.

However, the current phase of my life (five kids, homeschooling, etc) merits considerably less of that leisure time to look and sip and contemplate a masterpiece. While I do enjoy observing art with my kids as we cuddle on the couch, they tend have minimal attention spans for it and are more interested in using those big heavy coffee table books as stakes for blanket tents which take up the entire living room.

Since art appreciation is something I have a personal passion for, I’ve tried to maximize it in our homeschool and plan to share more details on that in future post. For now, I’ll share with of my most cherished projects in all my homemaking enterprises: My own personalized Hallway Art Museum!

I’ve daydreamed for years about someday having an entire hallway dedicated to displaying a large collection of my favorite prints in bulky ornamental frames, just like the walls of an art museum. Fast forward to five kids and a small starter home with no long empty hallway, and I have decided to make do with what I can and I love it!

I started picking up old art textbooks and coffee table books at library book sales and thrift stores and within a few weeks had enough of a collection to more than fill an empty wall along the stairs going up to our second floor. I cut out the prints and fixed them to the wall with packaging tape on all four sides and voila! Instant joy several times a day as I go up and down the stairs!

I love being able to expose my children to the pieces as well without hardly any work at all after the images have been taped up. It truly has the makings of Art appreciation the lazy way, though I don’t stop there. I try to encourage the kids to look and talk about the story depicted, we often play “I Spy” with the different colors and objects they see. When we start a new picture study for school, I usually pick from something already on the wall and more often than not, they recognize it right away.

Now yes, sometimes my toddlers will be toddlers and tear a picture or two off the wall. I discourage it as much as I can (by encouraging them to look and play as mentioned in the paragraph above) but it does sometimes inevitably happen. I just put another one up in its place. For this reason, I by default always pick up additional cheap art books when find them at book sales, thrift stores, garage sales, etc, for replenishing the gallery wall. It keeps things interesting at least!

My husband has pointed out that the scope of my art collection on this wall is rather confined to classic European and early American styles. I completely acknowledge the the bias, and it’s just because these styles appeal to me and because this project is one of pure personal enjoyment. These pictures just make me the happiest to look at several times a day as I walk past them.

A true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.

-Michelangelo

Sanctifying the Day (with 3 phone alarms)

Let’s face it, the logistics of prayer life can be hard.

As mothers this dilemma is a unique two-sided coin: In one case we may feel frustrated by our lack of time, or even guilty that we can’t make it work out so that we DO have some time to plug in extra devotions. On the flip side, we can be assured that since our vocations as wives and mothers are divinely commenced, fulfilling those duties faithfully can, in and of itself, be a form of prayer.

There’s a lot to be said about making everything you do a prayer, especially when you’re a mother and nearly everything you do in done in the service of others. I find that the best way to springboard this mentality each day is with a morning offering. When I start my day with a morning offering prayer, I prospectively offer all the thoughts, words, and actions as a continuous prayer throughout the day. Washing dishes, folding laundry, changing diapers, grading math; Amen!

However, as wonderful an opportunity the servile lifestyle of wife and mother can be, there is still much to be said for the legacy of formal Christian (and particularly Catholic) prayer and I don’t want to miss out on that either! I’m always looking for ways to sneak more of traditon and ritual into our days and to cultivate that beautiful Domestic Church at home. πŸ™‚

Three Catholic Alarms on my Phone

One thing that has helped me to plug more Catholicism into our day has been three alarms in my phone. When one of them goes off, we drop whatever we are doing and surrender a few moments to God as a family.

⏰ 12:00PM and ⏰ 6:00PM

The Angelus (or Regina Coeli during Eastertide)

Originating in the 11th century, this prayer has us call to mind the miracle of the Incarnation (God becoming man) three times a day, at 6:00am, 12:00pm, and 6:00pm. (I don’t have a 6:00AM alarm for the first Angelus because I’m not always up by then. I just stick that first round into my private morning prayers before the kids wake up whenever I get around to doing them.)

When praying the Angelus, I pray the verses, while my kids take the responses (which are very simple and easy to learn at a young age). We actually don’t do the prayer at the end because we haven’t yet memorized it, but we’ll be working on that soon!

β„£. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,

β„Ÿ. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

Together. Hail Mary…

β„£. Behold the handmaid of the LORD.
β„Ÿ. Be it done unto me according to thy word.

Together. Hail Mary…

β„£. And the Word was made flesh.
β„Ÿ. And dwelt among us.

Together. Hail Mary…

β„£. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
β„Ÿ. That we might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray,
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O LORD, Thy grace into our hearts; that, we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord.

β„Ÿ. Amen.

I like to “let the bells ring” as we pray the Angelus (at least these two times of the day when everyone is awake) just like the faithful in centuries past, who were cued by the ringing of church bells to stop what they were doing and sanctify their day by recalling Mary’s conformity to God’s will and the miracle of the Incarnation.

⏰ 3:00PM

Hour of Mercy

This is a tradition I’ve brought over from my own childhood. Growing up in a large Catholic family in a small house (about 100sq ft per person), the world seemed to stop at 3:00PM. Mom or dad would loudly announce, “It’s 3:00!” and everyone would immediately stop what they were doing and join in the quick prayer which we always knew as “The Three o’Clock Prayer” but which as an adult I’ve learned is known as the “Conversion Prayer” or “O Blood and Water” that our Lord gave to St. Faustina. We take a moment to remember that this is the hour Jesus died on the cross for us, and is, in effect, the holiest hour of the day. This prayer is also short and easy to memorize!

O blood and water,
Which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus,
As a fountain of mercy for us,
We trust in you.
Amen

I don’t have much of a problem getting my kids to participate in these prayers, and though even if I did, I’m not sure I would make much of a fuss about it. These prayers are as much for me as they are for them!

My overall experience has been that kids like predictability and routine and are naturally drawn to religious ritual, despite how much they may make you doubt it in the middle of Mass on Sunday when they have to pee three times before we’ve even gotten to the homily. πŸ˜‰

What are some ways you plug prayer into your busy day? Please comment and share!

Stations of the Cross with kids

(Originally written 4/1/2019)

Laetare Sunday, our rose-colored halftime show, is quickly approaching, and if you’re anything like me most Lents, you may be finding yourself a little disenchanted with the grandiose plans you made weeks ago to make the best observation of the season with your family. If so, rejoice! (Or, Laetare!) This is what Lent is all about– acknowledging our weakness and rediscovering the unchangeable fact that we CANNOT do it (not just Lent, but all of life) on our own! Lean on the Lord a little this week and give Him everything: the extra devotions, fun and purposeful projects, but also give Him your broken plans and failures. They are a beautiful bouquet in His eyes when they are given in honest love. Better yet, give them to His mama to arrange into a lovely display first and to then present them to Him, herself. πŸ™‚

Here’s a little of what’s been going on here in our home these past few weeks…

I entered into Lent this year knowing it would be a challenge without me really having too try much. I was due to give birth to baby #5 in mid March, so between the physical constraints of post partum healing and the new dynamic of parent-to-child ratio amid long homeschooling (for me) and work (for Ray) days, I had a feeling that anything “extra” was probably doomed to failure.

In our home, a change in liturgical season typically involves a modest malgimation of relevant read-alouds and crafts, simple family devotions, and a humble redecorating of the living room. But alas, this year there is no salt dough crown of thorns to adorn my mantel, nor purple Stabat Mater banner stretched across my dining room entry. Although I did entertain the thought of sending the boys outside to dig hole to bury our Easter “Alleluia” banner I painted with watercolors years ago, I was soon enough enlightened to the fact that it’s secured in the Lent/Easter tote already buried somewhere in the attic. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll allow them to go up there and unearth it from those mounds of clutter to be hung for the Easter season. They’re getting new shovels “in” their Easter baskets, anyway.
So a few weeks before Ash Wednesday I decided to pick the most Lent-iest thing I could think of and just go at it hard: The Stations of the Cross.
My goal has been to pray the stations of the Cross everyday with my five children, with the hopes of them memorizing the names of each station by Easter.
Now, let me be very clear:
this is Stations of the Cross with five kids by myself at home in the middle of our naturally chaotic everyday homeschool life. It is NOT St. Alphonsus Liguori (though that is a method I love and would encourage anyone to utilize when they can), but rather a VERY simplistic method I came up with to be quick, require very little reading, and keep the basic attention of mostly everyone (over the age of 3).

The Stations of the Cross with Kids

1)We start with the sign of the cross and a brief spoken intention to Jesus to help us meditate on His passion as He carries the cross. Next, we pray the O Blood and Water prayer:
O blood and water,
That gushed forth from the heart of Jesus,
As a fountain of mercy for us,
We trust in You.
Amen.
2) Then we begin the stations.
My daughter (following along in a book, as she is the only independent reader among my kids) announces the name of the station as one of the boys puts up the picture of the station on our piano.
3) Everyone repeats the name of the station and I light a small candle which one of the boys put on the piano under the picture.
4) One of the boys leads the first half of the chaplet prayer,
For the sake of His sorrowful passion…
and everyone replies,
…have mercy on us and on the whole world.
5) We repeat steps 2 through 4 until we have completed all the stations and close with a Glory Be.
6) Lastly, and obviously the best part for young boys: We blow out 14 candles!!

Of course, things have not gone exactly to plan and we haven’t gotten in our Stations *every* day of Lent this year, but we do them a few times a week, and the kids are definitely becoming more familiar with them! My four year old can say the name of each station upon seeing the picture, even if he doesn’t know them in order. I think we may continue this prayer routine on Fridays even after Lent is over. In which case, I may invest in some longer-lasting devotional candles. πŸ™‚

How is this year’s Lent going so far your Domestic Church? Any new projects or favorite traditions? Please share in the comments!