growing up good

mothering, homeschooling, and me

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We Love Jim Gill!

Last weekend, we had the chance to go to go see one of our favorite children’s singers: Jim Gill! Have you heard of him? He’s fabulous! And FUN! And the kids LOVE him! We have a couple of his CDs, and we dance to him in our kitchen all the time!

DSC_0056This is the 3rd time we’ve gotten to see him in the last year. Why have we gone to see him so much? Because I’m a big fan of kids, music, and play, and Jim Gill delivers on all parts. And he gets my son out of his seat, dancing.  Elliot. The boy who, when toddler and preschool age, would never sit still for songs, fingerplays, and circle time, now LOVES them, sings along with the CD in the car. And this is the best shot I got him him enjoying the concert:

DSC_0069Mary, who would have normally been in the aisle dancing (she’s a big fan, too), was suddenly not feeling well. Even though she chatted us up the entire drive to Evanston (an hour away), she spent most of the concert in my husband’s lap. Poor girl. When we got home, her fever had reached 103.5- poor girl! Even though she must have felt terrible, she still smiled.


Despite feeling awful, she managed to sing a long to a few of her favorites!

Despite feeling awful, she managed to sing and play along to a few of her favorites!

Why are my pics a little of-center and out of focus? I had my hands full. I got to wrangle the little guy. It didn’t really require much wrangling, which is highly unusual, which made me think he was starting to feel bad, too. He stayed in my lap (and thereby rendering my picture-taking arms rather useless). But he had a good time, and was mesmerized by the concert!


I think Elliot was a bit starstruck, Mr. Gill came out before the concert and said hello to those of us waiting. When the door opened, Elliot looked up, eyes got wide, and said, “MOM. There’s JIM GILL.”  And we bought one of his books, A Soup Opera, and he signed it after the concert! Elliot thought that was pretty awesome, even though he was a little shy face to face with Mr. Gill.


You can check out Jim Gill’s website here.

PS. See that list? That from the “List of Dances” song! It’s a good one!

I am in no way compensated for this endorsement, I’m just a big fan of someone who advocates for children in a musically creative way!


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Going to the Circus

I was going through some pictures from before the holidays, and I came across our circus pictures and decided it was such a great time, i can’t not post on it.

I’m 35. I’d never been to the circus before. In November, a small group of us got together and got tickets (thank you, friend-who-organized-that!). It was my first time. It was my kids’ first time. It was my husband’s first time…in about 30 years. 🙂

This was a Barnum & Bailey circus, held in some-event-center/auditorium/large place either by Schaumburg or O’Hare, I can’t remember. We got there early enough for the pre-show.  Normally, don’t even know if I’d think about doing such a thing, but the  same friend suggested it, so I was like, hey- why not? I am SO glad that we did!

We got to walk around on the arena floor, watching various acts do little stunts/tricks. Jugglers, dogs and ponies, stilt-walkers, REAL. Life. CLOWNS.


Jersey Shore clown?

Jersey Shore clown?

Some of these stunts were cute, but some were really impressive. Like I’m pretty sure I can’t do this, ever:

DSC_0064So this is the pre-show? What are we going to see in the real show? I really had NO idea what to expect.

All I can say is WOW. I was blown away.

DSC_0112A real Lion Tamer (trainer?)

Mesmerized. The WHOLE time. DSC_0208What I didn’t post pics of were the horse-riding tricks, the motorcycle on a high wire, the motorcycles in a circular cage (8+ of them!),  the acrobats doing tricks in what looked like clear giant Easter eggs suspended from the ceiling, and the finale. It was a great, great show, and I can’t wait to go again!


Future Archaeologist

For Christmas, Elliot got this cute little “gem” kit. We actually made it a week past Christmas before he was beggin’ to open it up.  So one day, while the others were napping, I decided it was a good time for him to do this activity. It’s a little block of sand (?), with a little pick, a brush, and a magnifying glass. I gave him a cake pan and set him at the table to get started!

DSC_0397Each of these kits comes with one “block”. In that block are 2 gems, hidden inside.  The object is to use the little pick and the brush to reveal the gems (rocks) inside. Elliot got right to work at chipping away the sand (which is more like a fine dust).  Surprisingly, he was very gentle, and quickly became absorbed in the activity.


He was excited when the gems started to peek out! He got out the brush and gently started sweeping away the dust.

DSC_0419And he wanted a better look at the gem, so he got out the magnifying glass.


He was excited to find both gems (errr…rocks), and get them cleaned up. He then looked up which rocks he found according to the key on the box.  I would *definitely* buy this again (they sell them at Lakeshore Learning).

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Intro to Workboxes!

Before I begin, I feel the need to disclose that this is not my original idea. I first heard about the workbox system from Carissa at 1+1+1=1 (an amazing blog that I love love LOVE).  She goes over her son’s workbox system here.  When I read that, I was intrigued. At the time I was getting overwhelmed with the vast amount of planning that was required to prep lessons every day. As I dug further into her site, I also found her adaptation for preschooler here. Hey, this might work, I thought.  That was several months ago.

What kept me from starting this system right away was:

1) The organization of it. What if I set it all up and it didn’t work after I bought all the supplies and everything? Should I use plastic shoeboxes or the Trofast system from Ikea? Or the cart with all the drawers?

2) I felt like it was too structured. I want flexibility in our school day, to be able to do things together, to play. I wasn’t sure how I could make both work.

3) The holidays happened, travel happened, and the next thing I knew it was January.

So then one day in mid-January, I was on Pinterest, the time-suck of the century (besides facebook, of course), and I came across several variations of workboxes.  I read a little bit on the creator of this system, Sue Patrick. She has a book and e-book describing the process and philosphy behind it, she originally developed this method for her Autistic son, to help him reach a higher level of achievement (after being told by teachers and “experts” that he’d never learn certain things).  You can read her story and find out more information on her book here. I haven’t read it yet, but I fully intend to once we get moved and settled in.

I decided, on a weeknight, that I was going to do workboxes the very next day.

Here’s what we do, as of our life right now, less than 2 months before we move (I am certain our system will be tweaked and expanded once we’re in our new space).

The workbox system is essentially this:

Every single lesson gets it’s own “box”.  The boxes are numbered, the student works through the boxes in numerical order. Some boxes are independent work, some are “work with Mommy.”

Here’s my set-up so far. I scrounged together enough for El and Mary to each have 8 boxes, plus an “All Done” box for each.

Elliot's Workboxes

Elliot’s Workboxes

The All-Done box was an afterthought. Wow, I am so glad that I threw that in! They LOVE it! The enjoy putting everything in it when they complete a box! And you know what? I find it helpful too! At the end of the day, I can just take the bin to my desk, take out the work they completed and look it over if I need to (I usually know how they did because they still require a lot of help from me), and put the supplies away.

Mary's All Done Box

Mary’s All Done Box

What goes into the workboxes?


Here’s an example of what Elliot will find in his boxes:

1) Read Mommy a Story (he’s currently reading the “Very First Reading” series from Usborne (a set I LOVE LOVE LVOE). 2) Handwriting (ABC practice pages) 3) MCP Math pages (our supplement to the Saxon Math curriculum)  4) Listen to a story (they get to go to the playroom, sit in the big rocker, and listen to a story on CD). 5) Learning Palette, 2 puzzles. 6) MCP Phonics pages (our phonics curriculum) 7) Ee sensory page (we’re working on different letters each week, a couple days on a letter. Today they’ll use bingo dotters to make Ees). 8) Do a couple pages in the ISpy Sticker book.

Mary will find:

1) Listen to a story! 2) Learning Palette (Matching identical alphabet letters) 3) Magnet Letters on dry erase board (she’ll choose letters and then write them) 4) Mazes (from a preschool workbook, just more practice holding a pencil) 5) Writing in her Dry-Erase book (from Lakeshore) 6) Preschool Pages With MOMMY! (from another workbook, today we’ll be talking about less/more, same/different. 7) Ee Sensory Page 8) I Spy Sticker book.

The Verdict: So far, I LOVE THEM. Why?

1) We’re getting more work done in less time.

2) Less whining. No more Are we done? When are we finished? What is next?  They KNOW what to expect, and how much they have to do.

3) They’re working on their own more.

4) They’re developing pride in their work.

5) They’re *excited* (yeah, I know we’re in a bit of a honeymoon phase with the system, but they’re back to asking if we “get” to do school today).

6) It’s actually LESS work for me.  Yes, it takes time to load the workboxes each night. BUT…it’s getting EASIER to do. Last night I prepped today’s lessons in 30 minutes- that’s 30 MINUTES total, everything planned for both kids. I know when to STOP. 8 workboxes, that’s it for now! 🙂

7) I have a HUGE collection of activities I’ve accumulated over the years. I am actually starting to USE them now! Reading Rods, Magnet Letters, Snowflake Matching, file folder games, printable packs, Learning Palette, VersaTiles… name it, I might actually have it.  I’m pulling things out I haven’t used since I found them at goodwill, bought them at Lakeshore, or printed them off thinking I’d use them (but never did).

So that’s it. That’s how we workbox.  🙂

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I turned my kitchen into a city.

I’ve been perusing Pinterest again, after quite a long hiatus from the site.  Mostly I’ve been looking for ideas to keep my tornado active little toddler busy while I work with my other two on their lessons.

I came across a picture of a mom who taped out some squares on her floor with blue painters tape and let her kids play. Youcan see her post here.

On a cold, Friday morning in January, I decided that this would be the perfect play opportunity to motivate my munchkins through their lessons.

So while they were working somewhat independently, I started taping out our blue tape city. When they were done, we started with some balancing, I had them walk the lines.




Then I brought out the playmobil figures, a basket of assorted animals, and some trains.

My older son immediately started in with some “bad guy” stuff, attacking and knocking down trains and animals. I set some strict ground rules for this play session: No bad guys. No attacking. No rough play.

He can play like that anyime. This time, I was forcing him to think outside the war. He’s totally capable of creative, peaceful play.

He actually got into it more than his sister did. He set up most of the playmobil figures, and even gave them a table to eat at! Mary was more interested in making a long train. I guided them by helping to set up a zoo, a farm (discussing which animals belonged in each), and even a dinosaur museum.  We had a hedgehog home, a “castle”, and a train depot, too.




DSC_0627After awhile, my little tyrant (and I say that with as much love as a mother with a little whirlwind of a toddler can) got up from his nap, and he was elated to be able to play WITH his siblings. I encouraged Elliot and Mary to show him how to play, and give him toys so that he could join in.  They were hesitant to really share, but I suggested that he might be less likely to destroy the areas they set up if he had toys to play with as well.

Overall, this activity went over pretty well. They played in the kitchen like this for over 30 minutes, but what I thought was interesting is that each of them went off on their own afterwards, Elliot with some of the playmobil figures, Mary with some trains and animals, and Edison with silverware (his latest obsession). Getting out some toys they hadn’t seen/played with in awhile was a great way to inspire some more purposeful play.




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A boy and some beer bread (from scratch)

I’ll admit it: I’m a big fan of dip. It really doesn’t matter what kind- hot, cold, creamy, herby, with or without bacon.

I’m also a big fan of chips and whatever other vehicles you need to get the dip in your mouth, usually carb-laden. Enter: beer bread.  I first experienced the joy that is beer bread at a Tastefully Simple “party” years ago. I’ve since been addicted, and I don’t mind pairing it w/ some garlic dip as well. My husband pretty much agrees with me: beer bread is awesome. The nice crusty exterior, the chewy softness of the interior. Delish. When cubed, it makes a great dip transport.

Here’s a recipe my husband brought me from a co-worker awhile back (like before we moved to IL) and demanded that I make it.  Ok, demand is a bit of a stretch, but he also knew the mixes I was buying for beer bread were costing us a pretty penny, and hoped this would make a nice substitution. Unless you’re doing a side-by-side comparison (which we did), you can’t tell the difference between this version and the mixes you can buy.  AND, it’s easy.

Here’s the recipe:

3 cups self-rising flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 can beer

Don’t have self-rising flour? That’s okay! It’s easy to make your own, sub this for each cup of flour: 1 cup flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder, .5 tsp salt

I didn’t have self-rising flour, so I measured all my dry ingredients into a separate bowl first. And I had a helper, too. Edison needed some Mama attention, so I invited him into the kitchen to help me. It’s not very often he gets me all to himself (wait…before each nap, in the middle of the night, bedtime…..). Ok, it’s not very often he gets me all to himself when he’s not supposed to be asleep. He thought he was pretty cool on the Learning Tower. I gave him a little flour to play with.


I let him help me measure a few of the ingredients. He clapped each time he emptied a tablespoon into the bowl! When we got everything measured, I let him help me stir the big bowl and managed to get a pic of us doing that. He’s too young and too crazy to let handle the spoon on his own, especially since this day I actually needed to produce edible results (we were taking it to a NYE party).


I should probably add that in these pictures, I’m making a double batch, that’s why I used such a big bowl and have a ton of flour in there!

Once my dry ingredients were mixed nicely, I got my beer. I chose a Bud light and a Fat Tire (double batch).  We have a strange amount of beer in our fridge, considering we’re not really big drinkers. I have no idea when this Bud Light appeared in there, nor where it came from, but I figured it was as good a time as any to use it up.

Pour your beer-the whole thing-  into your mixing bowl, and then slowly add your dry ingredients. I really, really, really wish I had a picture of my 15 month old child pouring a beer into the bowl, but I wasn’t that coordinated!

Mix slowly.

Edison was thrilled to be so close to the mixer. This is the closest I’ve ever let him get (he is only 15 months, you know!).  I haven’t forgotten how much supervision he still needs (ok, he won’t let me forget- he is into everything, all the time, all day long). I had to stand right there when the mixer was going and had to grab his fingers one to keep him from sticking them in. He’ll learn, but in the meantime, I have to be RIGHT there.


Mix well, but don’t over-mix it.

Your dough/batter will be sticky, but thick.

Next- prepare your pan. Lightly grease the sides and bottom of a loaf pan. I prepped two.


If you’re doubling it, divide the batter between the two pans. Otherwise, just put it all in one pan.

Here’s the coronary part: you can melt 1/4 cup of butter and pour it on top. This gives it a nice, buttery, crunchy top and sides. I say can because you don’t have to make it awesome, it’s just up to you.

Bake at 325 for 50-60 minutes.

When they’re done, they’ll be nice and golden on the edges.


Remove from pan (using oven mits, don’t burn yourself!) and let cool on cooling rack. Let cool completely before you put it in a bag. You can slice it just like regular bread- in fact this would probably make excellent grilled cheese. I sliced and cubed to take along to party.