Embracing Motherhood How to Build a Sandbox

How to Build a Sandbox

It’s that time of year when the kids are out of school and all of the possibilities that they ever dreamed of are at their fingertips, and yet what do you hear when you unleash them into the wilderness of your yard, “I’M BORED!” Well, thankfully, we haven’t really ever heard our kids say that over the summer, and having this sandbox is part of the reason why. Between this and our stock tank pool, we are all set.

Neither my husband or I are really very “handy” people and this was really one of the first building projects we ever took on together. But overall, it was a fairly simple and straightforward process that has yielded a tremendous amount of fun for the children. If you have even a bit of land, I would highly recommend building a sandbox for your little ones. Not only will it provide endless hours of fun, but it will also provide them an opportunity to play barefoot in the earth which is an excellent source of antioxidants.

Materials

  • Wood
    • Four 4″ x 4″ Posts – 12 inches long, for the corners
    • Four 2″ x 10″ Boards – for the edges
  • Wood Screws – a whole bunch
  • Power Drill – cordless is best
  • Weed Blocker – absolutely essential for keeping weeds out
  • River Sand (100 cubic feet for a 10′ x 10′ sandbox) – We got ours delivered from Bill Whaling Excavating in Reed City, MI for $100.

Material Notes

  • Pressure Treated Wood: By 2013 all CCA (chromated copper arsenate) was phased out of use in pressure treated wood and replaced with AC (alkaline copper) and ACQ (quaternary ammonium compounds). These pesticides (which are meant to prevent rotting from insects and fungus) still pose some health risks, but are not the cancer causing hazard of CCA. The 4′ x 4’s we purchased were pressure treated, but the rest of the wood we got was not. If you purchased some wood and you’re concerned about the risks, you can always just paint over it with a sealer, which I recommend doing anyways.
  • Safe Sand: Look out for sand made with crystalline silica because it is a carcinogen that can cause damage to the lungs when breathed in (something your little ones will be doing a lot of in the sandbox). Much of the play sand found in stores today is not natural sand, but derived from quarried quartz rocks. The state of CA actually requires a warning label to be put on this sand to warn of the dangers. Some people have opted for using pea gravel or other substances instead of sand, but we just contacted a local gravel company and purchased some river bed sand.

Directions

  1. Location: Find a place that has shade (something we didn’t do that I wish we had), good drainage (not at the bottom of a hill), and is in a good location for you to see while you putz around.
  2. Measure and Mark: Measure out how big you want your sandbox and mark your corners. We made ours 10′ x 10′, and I feel like it is the perfect size. You’ll want to dig a few inches outside of where you want the sandbox. Better to dig too much than not enough!
  3. Dig the Corners: Take your time to make sure the corners line up and everything makes a nice looking square. You’ll want your  corners to be a few inches deeper than the rest of the sandbox for your posts to go in.
    Digging the Corners for Our Sandbox

    Digging the Corners for Our Sandbox

  4. Dig the Sod: The toughest part of all of this was digging up the sod. We have a lot of rocks in our yard, and that made it extra tough. Plus, it was barely spring and the ground was still frozen when we started. (Yes, we were itchin’ for warmer weather!)
    digging sod for sandbox

    Digging Out the Sod for Our Sandbox

  5. Use That Sod: We actually used all of the sod and dirt we dug up to make a little hill in our yard. Over time, the sod pieces all came together, and now we have a nice little grassy hill that our kids (our toddler especially) love climbing on.
  6. Dig Down (if you want): Our ground was too rocky and still slightly frozen, so we did not. But if you could, I think it would be good to dig down another 6 to 12 inches to allow more room for the sand.
  7. Level the Ground: Try to get the ground as level as you can. You can just eyeball it or use a rake to really even it out.
  8. Weed Blocker: We went to our local lumber store and got something like this. I like it because it prevents the weeds from growing through the sand, but it also allows for drainage (which you will need if your kids want to make castles with moats and flood the sandbox as ours frequently do). I know that some people lay down plastic and poke holes in it, but I’m not sure that would provide enough drainage.
    laying the weed blocker for the sandbox

    Laying Out the Weed Blocker for Our Sandbox

  9. Stain the Wood: We stained our wood with an exterior stain like this. These saw horses came in really handy for laying out the wood. We were worried about the rain, so we wanted to keep the wood under our overhang, but to this day (one year later) we still have drips of stain on our concrete. For this reason, I wish we would have done it in the grass.
    staining wood for sandbox

    Scott Staining the Wood for Our Sandbox

  10. Make the Sandbox Frame: We are not really handy people and this was the first thing we ever really built together. We made a few mistakes, but overall, it was still a pretty simple procedure that turned out rather well. First, we cut the four posts to be 12′ long using a circular saw. Next, we used our power drill and some wood screws to attach the 10″ planks to the posts. We made the mistake of not attaching the planks to the posts in an even pattern all the way around. Scott drew a quick little sketch to show the wrong way and the right way. 🙂
    Wrong Way

    Wrong Way

    Right Way

    Right Way

    sandbox frame

    Sandbox Frame

  11. Put the Frame in Place: When you lay the frame down, you want it to lay over the weed blocker. There should be a small gap inbetween the frame and the dirt that you will fill in later with loose dirt. Step on all of the posts to push them into the ground as much as you can. Then, fill in all around the frame with dirt until it is secure.
    Laying Down the Sandbox Frame

    Laying Down the Sandbox Frame

  12. Fill with Sand: When we moved into this house, we knew that we wanted a sandbox and a fence to be put in. We were smart to put the sandbox in before the fence because I’m not sure that this truck would have fit through our gate! Anyways, we just contacted a local gravel company and had our sandbox filled for $100. He said he was fine giving us as much as we wanted for that $100, so I told him “when” when I thought we had quite enough sand!
    truck with sand for sandbox

    Getting Ready to Dump the Sand for Our Sandbox

    sand delivery

    Sand Delivery for Our Sandbox

  13. Extra Sand: We loaded up the wheelbarrow and put one load of extra sand where we wanted to put our stock tank pool and another extra load where we wanted to create a mini sandbox.
    extra sand for stock tank pool

    Extra Sand for Our Stock Tank Pool

    extra sand by tree for small sandbox

    Extra Sand for a Mini Sandbox Under the Tree

    grandpa helps with the sandbox chairs

    Grandpa Helped Us Build Some Sandbox Chairs

  14. Make a Cover (Optional): Every blog that I read about building a sandbox included directions for making a cover. We researched many different options and decided to attach a cover that folded out. We had every intention of actually attaching our cover in order to keep out our cats and any other critters, but it just never worked out and we never did attach the darn thing. I didn’t like how we would have had to take out all of our sandbox toys in order to close the cover. Plus, I didn’t want to kill the grass on either side if the cover were to be left open. We just keep an eye on our cats to keep them from using it as a litter box, and even though, yes, we find a turd in there from time to time, I’m glad we didn’t go with the cover.
    playing in the sandbox with a cover

    Optional Cover for Our Sandbox

Time to Play: We have had our sandbox for over a year now, and our kids have played in it every single time we have gone outside. It provides endless hours of imaginative play, and the kids absolutely love it!

playing in the sandbox

Our First Week Playing in Our New Sandbox

Playing in our Sandbox One Year Later

Playing in our Sandbox One Year Later

Building a Volcano with a Moat in a sandbox

Building a Volcano with a Moat in Our Sandbox

Tips and Tricks: Here are a few things that have helped us to enjoy our sandbox even more.

  • No Throwing Sand: Right away, we made a rule about not throwing the sand out of the sandbox, and that is why one year later we still have plenty of sand. We have never been super strict about this rule and encourage the children to dump globs of sand into our little pools if they so desire, but we also encourage them to not go overboard with it.
  • Play with Them: At first, we played with them in the sandbox a lot to help give them ideas for how to use it. We showed them how to make sandcastles, how to bury treasures and find them, how to play imagination games, how to dig moats and make rivers, and how to play with the sandbox toys. We still get in there and play with them from time to time because, hey, it’s fun!
  • Sand and Water: If you want to take your sandbox fun to the next level, just introduce a hose into the mix. You can show kids how to carve out moats and rivers or just let them bury the nozzle of the hose and watch the water bubble out. We also like putting our mini pools near the sandbox so the kids always have access to some sort of water.

In Conclusion

If you could only add one thing to your yard to entertain young children, I would say make it a sandbox! Every time we play outdoors, the kids spend time playing in the sandbox. It entertains them for hours and hours, and they absolutely love it. If you’re looking for another fun summer project, I would also highly recommend making a stock tank swimming pool. Between this and the sandbox, our kids are very entertained. They also enjoy our stepping stumps, teepee, and backyard obstacle course. The summer is such a fun time to do outdoor projects that encourage kids to have fun and play outside, so make the most of it!

Embracing Motherhood Chicken Kabobs with Rice and Lettuce Wraps

Chicken Kabobs with Rice and Lettuce Wraps

It’s summer, and that means it’s time for grilling! There is just something so amazing about slow grilled, flame-licked, and well seasoned meat on a hot summer’s day or cool summer’s night. Get ready to have your taste buds blown away with this amazing recipe that has quickly become a family favorite in our household. I have always enjoyed cooking kabobs, but I was inspired by some an online post about a beef, rice, and lettuce wrap and I decided to take our kabobs to the next level by adding rice and lettuce and turning them into these amazing wraps!

Ingredients

  • 3 Large Chicken Breasts
  • 2 Bell Pepper
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Skewers
  • 3 T. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 3 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 c. Fresh Herbs (I used cilantro, parsley, and dill. You could also use oregano, basil, thyme, etc.)
  • 3 t. Salt
  • ½ t. Cayenne Pepper

Directions

  1. Cut up the chicken breast into one inch cubes.

    cubed raw chicken

    Cubed Raw Chicken

  2. Marinate the chicken cubes in apple cider vinegar, olive oil, fresh herbs, and salt. You can add some pepper here too if you want. I like add a little cayenne pepper for extra flavor. Add more or less depending on how spicy you like things.
    seasoned chicken cubes

    Raw Chicken Cubes with Seasonings

    • I like to use fresh herbs from my garden when I can, but any kind of herbs will do.

      potted herb garden

      My Little Herb Garden

    • You might as well go ahead and make some Italian dressing while you’re at it now because it needs all of the same ingredients.

      italian dressing

      Italian Dressing

  3. Cover and place in the fridge for an hour, up to overnight.

    mixed seasoned chicken cubes

    Chilled Marinated Cubed Chicken

  4. Cut up the onion and bell pepper into one inch squares.

    ready to make kabobs

    Skewering Chicken Kabobs

  5. Make the skewers. I like to alternate bell pepper, chicken, onion, chicken, bell pepper, you get the idea! The tomato on the end doesn’t always stay put on the grill, but it sure looks pretty, and it tastes amazing!

    raw kabobs

    Raw Chicken Kabobs

  6. Make sure to preheat your grill and scrape it clean before you start grilling. Set the grill temperature to medium, and grill for about 20-25 minutes turning the skewers occasionally. I like to try to make sure that every side of the chicken gets some grill time. You can also paint the kabobs with any remaining sauce as you turn them. Before you take all of the skewers off from the grill, test one to see if the chicken is fully cooked. It should be firm throughout, not pink, and not opaque.
    cooked kabobs on the grill

    Chicken Kabobs on the Grill

    pile of cooked kabobs

    Grilled Chicken Kabobs Served on a Plate

  7. While the chicken is grilling, prepare your rice. I just used an Uncle Ben’s Lemon Wild Rice mixture, but you can cook any kind of rice. *Check out my post about phytic acid to learn how to properly prepare rice and other grains. But in this case, I just view the rice as something extra that gives flavor rather than a “healthy addition”.
  8. Prepare the lettuce. I like to buy organic romaine lettuce bunches. I just went to the middle to get some firm leaves for the “shell” or the “bed”.kabobs with rice and lettuce bowls
  9. Make the lettuce wraps.
    Chicken Kabob with Lettuce and Rice Wrap

    Chicken Kabob with Lettuce and Rice Wrap

    Cut Up Chicken Kabob on Rice in a Lettuce Wrap

    Cut Up Chicken Kabob on Rice in a Lettuce Wrap

    chicken kabob kid plates

    Chicken Kabob Kid Plates

    kabob salad

    Kabob Salad

Embracing Motherhood Homemade Pizza Recipe

Homemade Pizza Recipe

If everyone is hungry and you haven’t made plans for dinner yet, how about a homemade pizza? If you order out, you’re getting freeze dried toppings, loads of “natural flavors” (i.e. MSG), and not to mention you’ll be out $20 or more. By making your pizza at home, you can guarantee that all of your ingredients are fresh, custom designed to the specific needs of your eaters, and at a significant cost savings to boot.

Pizza Crust

  • Sourdough Pizza Crust: If you can plan ahead by about 8 hours or so, this sourdough pizza crust will taste great and be free from the mineral leaching phytic acid present in all grains.
  • Quick and Easy Pizza Crust: If you’re looking for a quick and easy pizza crust that is made with fresh homemade ingredients, this is the recipe for you.

Ingredients

  • Sauce Options:
    • Organic Tomato Sauce: I like finding the little cans that are pre-seasoned with basil and such, but you could use plain tomato sauce and add your own seasonings too.
    • Organic Spaghetti Sauce: I try to keep my cupboards stocked with this and use it if I’m in a pinch.
    • Tomato Pureé: This is  the healthiest option, but it can be a bit watery.
  • Herbs and Spices: Basil, Oregano, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, and Salt – I like using fresh herbs when I have them, but dried works just as well.) 
  • Mozzarella Cheese (This is the ooey gooey cheese that gives pizza its classic look and taste. You can use just about any cheese and it will taste great though.)
  • Kid Toppings: Pepperoni, Ground Beef, Lunch Meat, Bacon, etc. (My kids really only like meat toppings.)
  • Adult Toppings: Jalapeños, Green Pepper, Onion, Mushrooms, Green or Black Olives, Chives, Tomato, etc.

Directions

  1. Crust: Spread the crust out onto a pizza tray like this or a pizza stone like this. I like using a pizza tray with holes for a nice crispy crust.

    pizza crust

    Pizza Crust

  2. Sauce: If you want to make a pizza that tastes like take out, the trick is to go really really light on the sauce. I prefer it a little thicker though. If I’m using plain tomato sauce, I like to sprinkle some basil, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt over the sauce. *If I’m feeling really fancy, I like to melt some butter in dish, mix in some herbs and salt, and paint over the outer crust.

    pizza sauce

    Buttered Pizza Crust with Sauce

  3. Season: Add the herbs and spices.

    Homemade Pizza with Herbs and Spices

    Homemade Pizza with Herbs and Spices

  4. Cheese: Add a generous amount of shredded cheese.

    pizza with cheese

    Pizza with Cheese

  5. Toppings: Add any toppings you’d like. Sometimes I’ll go with a plain pepperoni pizza, and sometimes I like to get more creative!
    pepperoni pizza

    Pepperoni Pizza

    Half and Half Pizza

    Half and Half Pizza

  6. Bake: Bake at 450° F for 15-20 minutes. Time will vary based on your oven, altitude, and amount of toppings, but 18 minutes is what usually works best for me.
  7. Cut and Serve: Use a great pizza cutter like this to cut up the pizza into slices and let it cool. You will want to devour this pizza quickly, so make sure it’s had time to cool so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth!

    taking a pizza slice

    Half Pepperoni Pizza

Variations

The thing I like about making pizza is that it’s a hodge podge meal. You don’t have to specifically shop for it, but instead just use whatever ingredients are in your fridge!

Half Lunch Meat Half Veggie Pizza with Cheddar Cheese

Half Lunch Meat Half Veggie Pizza with Cheddar Cheese

Chicken, Feta Cheese, Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Tomato, and Green Olive Pizza

Chicken, Feta Cheese, Sharp Cheddar Cheese, Tomato, and Green Olive Pizza

Rectangle Pepperoni Pizza

Rectangle Pepperoni Pizza

embracing motherhood Pizza Toast: Your Kids' New Favorite Food

Pizza Toast: Your Kids’ New Favorite Food

When my sister Lisa was visiting recently from Oklahoma, I loved seeing how much my little two year old nephew Tristan loved his “pizza toast”, and it inspired me to make some pizza toast of my own! I went on a little pancake binge not too long ago and created every conceivable recipe for pancakes that I could imagine (I have since created several more, but I’m sick of writing recipes for pancakes!) Well, now I feel like everything is coming up pizza these days! And why not? Kids love pizza, it’s a great way to incorporate a mixture of foods and flavors, and there are many different ways to make it if you’re feeling creative!

Ingredients

  • Sourdough Muffins (or whatever kind of bread you have or like to use)
  • Butter
  • Organic Tomato Sauce (glass jars are best, but we make do)
  • Herbs and Spices (basil, oregano, garlic powder, and salt)
  • Mozzarella Cheese (shredded, or any cheese you like or have around)
  • Toppings (pepperoni, ground hamburger, lunch meat, green pepper, tomato, green olives, etc.)

Directions

  1. Cut the sourdough muffins in half and top generously with butter. (I like putting my salt and garlic powder on at this point, but it can go on top of the sauce too.)

    Sourdough Muffins Topped with Butter, Garlic Powder, and Salt

    Sourdough Muffins Topped with Butter, Garlic Powder, and Salt

  2. Place a spoonful of tomato sauce on top of each muffin and spread using the back of the spoon.

    Sourdough Muffins Topped with Tomato Sauce

    Sourdough Muffins Topped with Tomato Sauce

  3. Top with herbs and spices.
  4. Sprinkle generously with cheese.

    Sourdough Muffins Topped with Mozzarella Cheese

    Sourdough Muffins Topped with Mozzarella Cheese

  5. Add any desired toppings.
  6. Pop in the toaster oven for 10 minutes (or until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted and bubbly).

    Pizza Toast with Pepperoni

    Pizza Toast with Pepperoni

  7. Use a pizza cutter to cut into little pieces. (My kids always like eating bite sized things.)

    Pizza Toast Cut Up Into Bite Sized Pieces

    Pizza Toast Cut Up Into Bite Sized Pieces

Embracing Motherhood How to Make Paninis That Will Knock Your Socks Off!

How to Make Paninis That Will Knock Your Socks Off!

Finally, I have a reason to use my George Foreman grill again! Remember back in the day when everyone thought that high protein, low-fat diets were healthy? (You know that we were misguided then, right?) Well, when I learned the truth about fats and how good it was to eat fats with their attached proteins (thank you Sally Fallon), I put my George Foreman grill on the shelf. Well, now thanks to one of my lunchtime panini cravings, the Foreman is back!

It all started when my husband and I stopped at a little deli the other day, excited to try one of their advertised special paninis. At the mere mention of said panini, my mouth started watering in anticipation. The crisp bread, the melted cheese, the caccophony of flavors, I could hardly wait! But then, as I bit into the premade deli sandwich, I was crestfallen at the reality of the flavor, or the lack thereof.

So, I went on a mission to create my own panini, and let me say, it was well worth the journey. I think that having fresh, quality ingredients really makes all of the difference.

Ingredients

  • Sourdough Bread (I just purchased some from our local grocery store. Properly prepared sourdough is, in my opinion, the healthiest bread choice because it gets rid of the most phytic acid that blocks mineral absorbtion.)
  • Lunchmeat (I would have preferred sliced organic free range chicken, but I settled for Oscar Meyer’s carving board lunchmeat.)
  • Cheese (I used sliced havarti and shredded cheddar.)
  • Tomato Slices
  • Avocado Slices
  • Finely Chopped Jalapeño
  • Mustard
  • Mayonnaise (I like Hellman’s)
  • Real Salt
  • Butter

Directions

  1. Plug in the Foreman grill. Prop the front legs up on a cutting board to make it level so that all of the butter doesn’t slip out.
  2. Spread the butter generously on one side of the sourdough bread.
  3. Stack the two slices of bread so that the butter sides are together so that you can put the toppings on the other side of one of the slices.
  4. Start by spreading the mayo and mustard on the bread.
  5. Then add your lunchmeat and sliced cheese.
  6. Add the tomato, avocado, and jalapeño. (Be careful not to let things stack too high.)
  7. Add a nice sprinkling of Real Salt, and hey, maybe even add a dash of pepper to boot.
  8. Cover everything with a handful of shredded cheese.

    Making the Panini

    Making the Panini

  9. Carefully place the bread half with all of the toppings onto the preheated Foreman grill and cover with the other half of the bread.
  10. Press the top down really hard and cook for about 10 minutes (or until all of the cheese is melty and gooey and the bread is nicely browned.
grilled paninis on a foreman

Grilled Paninis

Variations

  • Ultimate Grilled Cheese Panini: I put tomato, jalapeño, garlic, and salt into our little food chopper and pulsed it until it was a finely chopped. Then, I put these ingredients in between two layers of cheese and grilled them to perfection.

    Ultimate Grilled Cheese Panini

    Ultimate Grilled Cheese Panini

  • Roasted Chicken Panini: After I cooked a delicious roasted chicken and cut up all of the meat into chunks, I placed those chunks on my sourdough bread and topped them with sliced tomato, chopped jalapeno, fresh parsley, and shredded cheddar cheese. It was amazing!
  • Breakfast Panini: Cook some scrambled eggs and bacon separately, then place the scrambled eggs, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheddar cheese on sourdough and grill it up! Add some jalapenos for a little kick!
Yes, This is Really a Post About Coloring Embracing Motherhood

Yes, This is Really a Post About Coloring

Why would I write a post about coloring? Because it’s really that important. Coloring keeps kids engaged in a creative activity, it helps them learn how to properly hold a writing utensil, and it is a gateway to learning about so much more. Especially during the summer, I like to make coloring part of our daily routine.

Have a Designated Place for Coloring

It’s so great for kids to be able to do an activity, especially something as basic as coloring, without needing your help. Even though my oldest is in public school, we have a designated “Homeschool Table” full of baskets of coloring books, coloring sheets, blank books, blank paper, activity books, and all kinds of markers, crayons, pencils, and more that the kids can get to on their own whenever they feel like it. This is part of how I create an environment that encourages independent learning.

Homeschool Table and Computer Station

Homeschool Table and Computer Station

Invest in Some Good Markers

Crayons are cheap and fun, but nothing colors quite like a marker. With our younger ones, I’ve always struggled with them not putting the caps back on the markers or little ones getting ahold of them and coloring things other than the paper (like the table, the wall, the bathroom door, and of course their bodies). But I feel like this is a fine price to pay for the joy that markers bring. If you’re worried about your children coloring on things (other than the paper), you can get some washable markers and they will easily wash off from anything.

If you’re worried about them losing the caps, just buy a bunch of cheap markers like these and create a “marker system”. I do this by having two boxes of markers and one marker stash. For my marker boxes, I just cut the flaps off from my Amazon boxes and put labels on them. One box is labeled “Good Markers” and this is where I put new markers. Another box is labeled “Old Markers” and I put all extra caps, any markers that have lost their caps, and any markers that are starting to not write so well. Then I keep a stash of new markers in the package tucked away that I can use them when I color with the kids and supervise their use. Lately, however, I’ve been keeping my good markers out in a nice office supply organizer with a handle that makes for easy transport since the big kids have been so good about putting the caps back on.

Good Markers, Junky Markers, and a Marker Basket

Good Markers, Junky Markers, and a Marker Basket

I have a few Sharpie markers and Ruby has recently really loved coloring with them, so I bought her a 24 pack of colored Sharpie markers and some thick paper to color on. At first, I was really afraid of what would happen to my house and home when I unleashed permanent markers, but she and Elliot have been very careful with them. (I keep them well away from our 2 year old, Ophelia!) Ruby is obsessed with coloring now and wants to color all of the time!

Ruby Coloring with Sharpie Markers

Ruby Coloring with Sharpie Markers

Coloring Books

Coloring books are great, and even though I don’t ever recall buying any, we have a ton! (I think we get a lot as gifts!) I try to rotate them so they stay exciting and fresh. I have a bookshelf where I keep all of the coloring books accessible, but not within easy reach, and a fresh stash of coloring books that the kids are most interested in in baskets (actually, my baskets are being used elsewhere these days, so I’m just using repurposed Amazon boxes) on our homeschool table. (These are the baskets that I usually use, but these are cheaper and look pretty good too.)

Coloring Book Box

Coloring Book Box

Here’s a blog I wrote about how we use some of our favorite coloring books written by my own dear mother and sold through my parent’s product website Amazing Michigan, the Michigan product line from their fundraising company Great Lakes Promotions. (If your school needs a fundraiser, look them up, they’re amazing!)

amazing michigan coloring book

Amazing Michigan Coloring Book

Watch Me Draw

I’ve never ever considered myself an artist of any sort, but I am pretty good at looking pictures and drawings and copying them. What I do is look at the way the lines are formed in one small section at a time and do my best to get the same angles and curves on my drawing.

A Drawing of Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony

A Drawing of Pinkie Pie

The kids love, love, LOVE watching me draw things. They will typically ask me to draw something that they really like like monsters or My Little Ponies, and so I will look it up on Google images and do my best to copy it. As I draw, they watch me with baited breath making suggestions as I go along.

Drawing Outlines

Then there’s the few things that I enjoy drawing freehand like rainbows, flowers, t-rexes, brontasauruses, stick figures with word bubbles, and other really simple things. I like to draw these with a dark Sharpie marker and the kids enjoy coloring them in.

Ruby Coloring in My Outline Drawing of a Dinosaur

Ruby Coloring in My Outline Drawing

Kids Free Draw

It’s amazing to see Ruby’s progression with drawing. Only a year ago, she was scribbling pictures, and now she’s carefully free drawing intricate pictures.

Ruby's Drawings

Ruby’s Drawings

Elliot, who is four years old, has never really liked free drawing at all. Only recently has he been inspired by Ruby’s love of drawing to draw his own pictures. It’s really cute because he only likes to draw monsters and so he’ll kind of carefully scribble an exterior and then add a bunch of arms, or a beating heart, or lots of teeth and blood, and he’ll be so proud.

Elliot free drawing with sharpie markers

Elliot Free Drawing

Ophelia, who is two, loves drawing careful lines with multiple colors. But she will draw on everything in the house and throw all of the markers and caps on the floor when she’s done, so I have to supervise her!

Ophelia's Coloring Pages

Ophelia’s Coloring Pages

Printouts

Elliot’s absolute favorite thing in the whole world is to sit on my lap and do Google image searches for printouts. While I type in whatever they want to color, like “monsters” and then add the words “coloring pages”, the kids will point to the images they like. (Sometimes I have to say “free coloring pages” if a lot of paid subscription pictures come up.) Then I open up the image, right click on it and select “copy”, open a word document, right click, and select paste, make the image fit the page, and print. Lately, I’ve been printing our pictures on card stock since they are using Sharpie markers these days.

Elliot Loves His Monster Printouts

Elliot Loves His Monster Printouts

Things My Kids Like to Color

My kids are into different things at different times, and it’s always fun when a certain topic, genre, or set of characters sort of permeates their minds. I like to use their interests to find coloring pages, books to read, movies to watch over and over, imagination games to play, and more. Here are some of the obsessions my kids have had.

  • Land Before Time (Did you know they made NINE movies in this series? We have purchased many many dinosaur toys that have been a part of numerous imagination games.)
  • Dora (All three of our older kids still love watching Dora over and over. I think it’s a great show.)
  • Superheroes (Superhero Squad to be exact.)
  • Spiderman (We like watching the 1967 or 1980 versions on Netflix.)
  • My Little Pony (Ruby loves the Friendship is Magic series. I always buy little ponies at garage sales and thrift stores and the kids spend hours playing imagination games with them.)
  • Princesses (Ruby loves finding princesses with really pretty dresses.)
  • Monsters (Elliot has been obsessed with monsters for as long as I can remember. I use them to make his Favorite Things books and ABC books. Look for more on these in a future post.)
  • Mario Brothers (My husband plays these video games with the kids, and they love the characters and the story.)
  • Sharks (Do all boys like sharks or what?)
  • Octopuses (or octopi)
  • Minecraft (Elliot absolutely loves playing this game.)
  • Angry Birds (Another Elliot favorite.)

Great Resources for Printouts

Usually, I just do Google image searches to make printouts, but these are the sites that pop up over and over again that have been great portals for finding more coloring sheets.

  • The Color – You can color these online or you can print out the pages and color them. We love the interesting pictures and simple drawings.
  • Hello Kids – These drawings have more intricate details and require more precision to color, but they are very interesting.
  • AZ Coloring Pages – This page has all of the favorites like My Little Pony, Batman, Hello Kitty, holidays, animals, and more.
  • Coloring Book – This seems like the most comprehensive collection of character coloring pages. I love how they are organized by pictures of the characters.

Coloring Tips and Tricks

  • Don’t Force Coloring in the Lines: At Ruby’s first kindergarten conference, the teacher told us that one of her goals was to work on coloring in the lines, and while I knew that this was the next natural progression for her, I didn’t pressure her to do it. She is the type of personality that always does her best, and I didn’t want to discourage her from coloring just because she couldn’t stay within the lines. Now, when she sees Elliot “scribbling” and tries to chide him for it, I remind her that he’s doing his best and scribbling is just what he is working on for now. 🙂
  • Color the Edges First: When I’m coloring, I really think about all of the little things that I do that help me to color neatly. One of the things I do is color the edges carefully at first before delving into the middle. (Sometimes I even like to do my edging with marker and color the inside with crayon.)
  • Use a Variety of Colors: While it’s perfectly fine for children to scribble a picture using only one color, I like to encourage them to use a variety of colors and talk to them about the color names in the process (magenta, midnight blue, aquamarine, lavender, etc.).
  • Be Creative: Sometimes it’s fun to color a picture with the exact colors that it should be, but more often than not, it’s more fun to be creative and use whatever colors we please. I tell my children to color what they see in their minds.
  • Add More Details: I also like to encourage my children to add more details to pictures. Especially when we’re coloring our printouts, I encourage them to add a background. (What’s the setting? Where is this taking place?)
  • Color What They’re Into: Whatever children are into, you can find a coloring page for their interest. Just type whatever they are into from sharks and princesses, to viruses and biology. If you add the words “coloring page” afterwards, you will find something.
  • Bins For Coloring Pages: I have a place to put printouts that the kids can easily grab when they want to color, a place for finished coloring pages, and a place for pictures that they are still working on. When the “Finished” bin is full, I take the best ones and decorate our “Homeschool Room” with them.
a bin with Coloring Pages Ready to Grab

Coloring Pages Ready to Grab

Finished Pictures on the Wall

Finished Pictures on the Wall

In Conclusion

While coloring seems like a basic and insignificant childhood activity, it is actually a very important developmental milestone. By encouraging children to color and giving them plenty of opportunities to do so in a way that is fun and exciting to them, children will thrive in this area. In doing so, it will help them to express their creativity, get prepared for writing, and stay busy doing something productive. By giving value to coloring and the things children color, we give meaning to this precious activity, and children will see it as something important instead of just something we use to keep them busy for a little while.

Embracing Motherhood How to Teach Reading Comprehension

How to Teach Reading Comprehension

My five year old daughter absolutely loves to read, and she’s really good at it too. (Here she is at 4 reading fluently. Check out my reading program to see how we did it.) But now we that we are moving past reading fluency and she is able to write fairly well, I wanted to be able to challenge her while she is home with me for the summer by teaching her more explicitly about reading comprehension. My favorite way to do this is casually through conversation while facilitating an intrinsic love of reading, but I have also incorporated some worksheets into our summer routine to explicitly teach some reading comprehension strategies and incorporate writing into the mix.

First a Bit About Reading Fluency

After children have decoded many words and committed them to memory, they can start to read sentences without having to sound out each and every word. As children start to read phrases and sentences without any breaks or pauses, this is known as reading fluency. Children that are fluent readers are able to read the punctuation, read dialogue, and be able to match their voice to the mood of the story.

Reading fluency is an indicator that children are good readers, but if a child is not a good reader, it is not something that should be worked on exclusively and in isolation to make him or her a better reader. In my opinion, children who are really choppy readers probably haven’t had enough exposure to literature to commit frequently read words to memory and/or don’t have a strong foundation in letter sounds. (Check out my blogs: Tips, Tricks, and Resources for Teaching the ABCs and How Children Really Learn How to Read to see how to do these things.)

What is Reading Comprehension?

Reading comprehension is being able to understand the meaning of what is being read. It is a complex skill that begins long before children are able to read themselves. It begins (hopefully) when adults read picture books, poems, and nonfiction books aloud to children.

Reading Comprehension Strategies

If you look up “Reading Comprehension Strategies” on the Internet, there are many different interpretations of which ones are the most important, but I like this list from Scholastic, because it does a good job of summing everything up in not super “teachery” language. This is more like what teachers use when teaching reading comprehension. I’ve adapted these ideas below in a way that includes my experience as an educator to encompass pretty much all there is to reading comprehension.

  • Activate Prior Knowledge: If a book is about baseball and the child has never heard of baseball, he or she will be at a loss. I like to pick books and reading passages based on topics that my children have background knowledge about and are interested in like dinosaurs, butterflies, outer space, music, and technology.
  • Set Purposes: Before you begin reading, it’s helpful to know why you are reading. Typically, when we read fiction, it’s for pleasure, and when we read nonfiction, it’s to learn something.
  • Make Predictions: I love, love, LOVE using this strategy with my children because it keeps them engaged throughout the story. I love reading the title and asking them to predict what will happen in the book, and I love pausing throughout the story to ask them, “What do you think will happen next?”
  • Decode Text: Now comes the actual reading. When I’m reading with beginning readers, I like to pause at familiar words, the last word in the sentence, or a word I think they can sound out to give them an opportunity to read. I never make them struggle endlessly to sound out one word at a time. As child become more confident and fluent readers, I like to have them take over more of the reading.
  • Summarize: This is a very, very, very important skill in the school world, but in the home world, it is hardly brought up. Being able to determine the important parts of the text to figure out the main idea and supporting details to succinctly summarize is a very complicated skill. Just ask someone long winded to tell you about their day, and you will wish that they had learned better summarizing strategies! Knowing the story elements of: character, setting, problem, solution, moral or theme and being able to sequence events really helps with summarizing fiction. Go here for some great summarizing worksheets.
  • Visualize: This is something that good readers do without thinking. In the absence of pictures, they are able to see the characters, setting, situation, and ideas even more vividly than any illustrator can capture.
  • Question: Asking good questions during reading helps to deepen the understanding and take it to a new level. By posing higher level questions that elicit more than just a yes or no answer, children will really understand what they are reading at way more than just a surface level.
  • Inference: There are lots of things that are implied during reading that aren’t stated explicitly. By helping children to figure out how to “read between the lines“, they will be able to comprehend the true meaning of the text.
  • Monitor Understanding: This is probably the most noticable difference between good readers and poor readers. Good readers are able to identify when they don’t understand something. Maybe a word was misread, a page skipped, a definition unknown, or something misunderstood, but when a good reader doesn’t understand something, he or she works to clarify it before moving on.

Using Picture Books and Read Aloud to Teach Reading Comprehension

One of my favorite things to do with the kids is to get huge piles of picture books from the library, cuddle up with children on my lap, and read. I love picking out books that are engaging and entertaining for all of us, and I really get into reading these books with expression. While I’m reading, I ask lots of questions that facilitate comprehension.

Before Reading

  • “What do you think is going to happen in this book?”
  • “Can you think of a time when you ________?”
  • “Tell me about what you see on the cover.”

During Reading

  • “Why do you think _______ did that?”
  • “What do you think is going to happen next?”
  • “Do you think _______ will ever _______?”
  • “Why do you think _______ did that?”
  • “Why did that just happen?”
  • “How do you think the story will end?”
  • “What would you do?”

After Reading

  • “What just happened?”
  • “What was your favorite part?”
  • “If you had to tell someone who had never read this book before what the book was about, what would you say?”
  • “What lesson did _______ learn in this story?”
  • “How did _______ change throughout the story?”
  • “What was the main idea?”
  • “Can you think of  time when anything like this has happened to you?”
  • “Does this remind you of another book or movie that you’ve seen?”

Using Usborne Books to Teach Reading Comprehension

Have you ever heard of these books? They are absolutely fantastic, and if we had the money, I would buy every single one. If you can find these books at your library, I HIGHLY recommend them! I’ve seriously concidered being a rep for these books because they are so so good. I credit them highly for helping to teach our children how to read.

how the zebra got its stripes 1

How Zebras Got Their Stripes

They are kind of reminiscent of the old Dick and Jane readers, but the stories are highly engaging while using easily decodable text all printed on thick paper that is surprisingly appealing to the tactile senses. I love how the early series starts out super simple and easy and gets progressively more challenging. These books are so engaging that a new reader will be begging to chime in!

how the zebra got its stripes 2

Introducing the Characters and Setting

how the zebra got its stripes 3

What the Text Looks Like

I also love the comprehension questions in the back of the easier books. They provide a wonderful introduction into reading for comprehension. If my children seem interested and engaged by the end of the book, we love doing the comprehension questions. But I don’t push it. I want reading to be fun, and if they’re ready for the next book, we’ll move on to the next book. What makes me super happy is to see my children reading these books on their own and doing the comprehension part on their own. So good!

how the zebra got its stripes 4

Comprehension Questions in the End

Check out my favorite “Just Starting Out” Usborne books here. I love these because they have one page for the adult to read and one page for the child to read. Also, check out these “Growing in Confidence” Usborne books here. These are just perfect for readers who are ready to start getting into books on their own. The company is based in the UK, but you can visit their USA website here.

Using Reading Comprehension Worksheets

Now, worksheets have a time and a place. As a teacher, I felt that at times they were highly overused as a way to just keep children busy, but when used intentionally as a specific learning tool, they can be highly effective.

When children are in school and they “show what they know” by filling out worksheets and taking tests, there is a certain “language” that is used. When children become familiar with this language, it makes accessing and showcasing their actual knowledge that much easier.

In addition, by using these reading comprehension worksheets, you are guided as the parent/teacher, and I think that that is even more important. Once you do several of these worksheets, you’ll see the jargon, the questions, and the format of things, and it will make it easier to use these skills/strategies in other books that you read with your children.

Reading Comprehension Worksheets in Action

I highly recommend Read Works for reading comprehension worksheets. (You will need to register to access the worksheets, but all you need to do is enter an email and a password. There is no cost.) If you go to “Reading Passages” and then sort by grade level (hit apply), you can scroll until you find a topic that would be of interest to your child.

I really like how all of these passages are leveled, have good questions, come with answer keys, and are engaging. I also like how many of these passages are nonfiction. We already do so much work with fiction with children from a young age because storytelling is so engaging. But even though getting into nonfiction can be a bit of an intellectual leap, the rewards are tremendous. Not only will children be engaged and working on comprehension strategies, but they will walk away with some new knowledge to boot!

Let me tell you about the butterfly worksheet my daughter and I did together. First of all, I know that she learned about life cycles in kindergarten and she loves butterflies, so she already had a bit of background knowledge about the topic. I had her read the passage to herself (she chose to read it out loud), and then we proceeded to do the questions.

comprehension worksheet

Ruby Doing a Comprehension Worksheet

As she read each of the questions together, we talked about what the right answer would be before we even looked at the options. Then we eliminated the wrong answers and circled the answer that was most right. Some of the questions she was able to figure out on her own, and some of the answers we had to go back into the passage to find.

reading comprehension worksheet about butterflies and flowers

Butterflies and Flowers

For the short answer, I told her to write it using as few words as possible. As a teacher, we always advised children to “use the question in their answer”, but this really only works well for longer answers and short paragraphs. I think it’s best to use pronouns and find just enough words to show the right answer.

short answer reading comprehension butterflies and flowers worksheet

Ruby’s Short Answer

Extend the Learning

After reading about how “butterflies drink from a tube in their head”, I wanted to teach her that this tube was actually called a proboscis. So we looked at some images and watched some videos, and she really learned a lot! Then Elliot came over and was curious to see what we were doing, so I told Ruby to tell him what she learned. “Did you know that butterflies drink from a tube in their head?!?” she exclaimed. Then Elliot wanted to watch some videos, and before we knew it, we were watching videos about proboscis monkeys and laughing at their silly big noses. I love that even though I saw the goal as teaching Ruby reading comprehension strategies, she saw it as learning content, and that is a WAY more interesting learning perspective for children.

In Conclusion

I think that we’ll only sit down and do reading comprehension worksheets every week or so, but I think that will be more than enough to prepare her for first grade. I really believe in giving children a strong foundation in the skills they will be learning as they enter each grade level BEFORE they enter that grade level. (Crazy, right?) By at least attempting to do this in as many subject areas as I can, I will ensure that my children are strong in their foundational skills so that they can focus on what’s really important as they get older, which is the content, not the process. By focusing on these reading comprehension strategies as children are young, their brains will make strong connections which will ensure their abilities to read and understand what they are reading will come readily and easily even as they encounter increasingly challenging text.

Additional Resources

  • ReadWorks – This is what I mentioned above that I used with Ruby. This is by far my favorite.
  • K12 Reader: Reading Instruction Resources – Plenty of free printable worksheets.
  • Super Teacher Worksheets – When I was a teacher, all of these worksheets were free. Now, only some are and you have to pay $20/year for a full membership. There are great worksheets for every level and every subject.
  • Literably – Literably listens to students read and generates a full running record with miscue analysis, accuracy, rate, and comprehension.
  • Read Write Think – Excellent resource for reading comprehension strategies and lessons.
  • Scholastic – This is just a great resource all around.
  • Razz Kids – My daughter’s school has a subscription to this and we love using it at home. She reads stories online and there are quizes afterwards. You can purchase it for $100/year. If you have the extra money, I’d say it’s a good investment. But if you’re strapped for cash, just get books from the library.
  • TumbleBooks – This is also a paid subscription ($90/year) that your child’s school or your local library might have a subscription for that you can get access through. I really like how they use real books. I would buy this over Razz Kids.
  • Starfall – As my children learn to read, this is pretty much the only online resource we use. It only costs $30/year and it great for all levels of learning. There’s lot of great decoding and comprehension activities as well as math activities and more. We buy this every year. We also buy all of the apps.
How to Make Hard Boiled Eggs That Will Peel Easily

How to Make Hard Boiled Eggs That Will Peel Easily

Making the perfect boiled eggs that are easy to peel is truly a culinary mystery, one that I have tried and failed to perform accurately for years and years until I discovered this amazing method that makes hard boiled eggs easy to peel. Every. Single Time.

hard boiled egg that is too hard to peel

Avoid This!

Ingredients/Materials

  • 12 Eggs (Two weeks old and pastured)
  • 1 t. Salt
  • Large Pot (Like this. Big enough to fit all of the eggs and at least an inch of water)
  • Water

Directions

  1. Choose Old Eggs: My brother David (who’s a culinary wizard) taught me that the trick to boiling eggs that will peel easily is to make sure that they are old. This is because as an egg ages, carbon dioxide (which is a weak acid) leaks out through the pores in the egg’s shell, making the egg white less acidic, and the more acidic the egg is, the harder it is to peel. We get our eggs fresh from a neighbor who raises pastured chickens, and I always set one or two dozen eggs aside to “age”. Fresh eggs need about two weeks to age, but one week will be better than nothing. If you get your eggs from the store, they will obviously not be as fresh and need less time to “age”.

    perfectly cooked hard boiled egg with shell peeling off easily

    Perfectly Cooked Hard Boiled Egg

  2. Cook Your Eggs: My dad (another culinary wizard in our family) taught me that the best way to cook your eggs is to place them in cold water, add a bit of salt (this helps to stop the whites from leaking if the shell cracks) and bring them to a boil for a just minute or two, then turn the burner off and let them sit for no longer than 13 minutes. Finally, dump the eggs into the sink to cool. You can even put them in a cold water bath to make sure they stop cooking.

    hard boiled eggs in a pot of boiling water

    Eggs Boiling

  3. Peel Your Eggs: My mother-in-law taught me how to roll eggs to gently crush the shells so that they will peel easier. If you use this method, just watch out that you don’t push too hard and crack the actual egg.

    a gently rolled hard boiled egg that will make it easier to peel

    Roll Your Hard Boiled Eggs Before Peeling

  4. Check Your Eggs: Peel one egg and cut it in half to see if it’s cooked to your liking. If so, sprinkle with salt and enjoy! Or, if you’re in the mood for some deviled eggs, check out my delicious deviled egg recipe.

    perfectly cooked hard boiled egg cut in half to show the yolks still soft

    Soft Yolks on Hard Boiled Eggs

In Conclusion

Now, even though you know that the secret to perfectly peeled hard boiled eggs is to use old eggs, you just know that there will come a time when you HAVE to have a hard boiled egg and you only have fresh eggs. So, here’s what you do. Boil your eggs as usual, roll them to get them cracked, and then soak them in a large pot water. As you’re peeling the eggs, you can keep dipping them back into the water to get the water to go under the shell and to help remove any little bits along the way. This will work on some of the eggs, but probably not all.

If you’re really feeling ambitious, you can roll the egg, put it in a shallow glass of water, put your hand over the top of the glass, and shake vigerously. See what I’m talking about here. But I’ve only found this to partially work, and I don’t really feel like any egg is worth this much trouble.

How to Get Cat Pee Out of Concrete

How to Get Cat Pee Out of Concrete

Have you ever tried to get cat pee out of concrete? I know, it sucks. And the thing that sucks even worse is that the cat will keep peeing in the same place over and over again. Well, not anymore! I figured out a way to get the horrible stench out of cat pee out of concrete for good, and now our cat doesn’t pee there anymore!

Our Story

We live in an old remodeled farm house with a concrete basement. It’s enough room for Scott’s computer repair stuff, a workbench, and tucked in the back, a spare bed for guests and naps. But after our kitty, Storybelle, started peeing under the stairs on the concrete floor, we thought we would just have to be done using that room for good. The smell was horrible, and I had no idea how we were going to clean under the stairs short of removing them plank by plank.

A lot of dirt had accumulated under the stairs and she had literally started using the area as a litter box for weeks before we noticed. (Hey! Things get crazy around here with four kids, one of whom is a new baby!) In an effort to get rid of the smell, we swept up all of the dirt, sprinkled baking soda over the pee, swept again, sprayed Febreeze, lit incense, all to no avail. Not only that, but even though we tried to keep the door to the basement closed, she still somehow kept getting down there and peeing some more. If you have ever had this problem, you’ll know that cats love peeing in the same place where they have peed before!

I knew that I was going to need some more help, and so I found this stuff online. It sounded pretty good, but I didn’t feel like going to the store or waiting for shipping. I wanted to use something that I could find in the house to clean it up. So, I started scouring the Internet for solutions, and found forums like this, this, this, and this. Since the hydrogen peroxide idea seemed pretty popular, I gave it a try, and it was a huge success! Here’s what I did.

Ingredients/Materials

  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Baking Soda
  • *Optional: Dish Soap
  • Broom/Dust Pan or Shop Vac
  • *Optional: Polyurthane Vinal

Directions

  1. Pour a generous amount of hydrogen peroxide all over the pee soaked concrete.
    • You can make a mixture with 1 qt. hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda, and 1 teaspoon baking soda if you’d like something more precise. I personally don’t feel like the soap made a difference or that making a mixture was necessary, but to each their own!
  2. Sprinkle a generous amount of baking soda on top.
  3. Let sit for 24-48 hours. (Basically, you want it to be completely dry.)
  4. When the hydrogen peroxide has evaporated, sweep or use a shop vac to vacuum up the baking soda. (It is NOT good for a regular vacuum to suck up a bunch of baking soda. I actually ruined one of our vacuums during this process. The shop vac that we bought worked great, I just had to REALLY clean out the filter afterwards.)
  5. Repeat until the smell is gone. I repeated this process two times and the smell was gone, but I did it a third time for good measure!

Other Tips and Tricks

  • Use a black light to see if there are any more pee stains that you’ve missed.
  • If you really want to seal the area up so that the cat will never be able to pee there again, pour some polyurethane on top to form a seal. A second coat would probably be a good idea too.
  • Hydrogen peroxide is great for getting out stains on clothes. Just mix with dish soap, pour it on, let it set, and then scrub gently until the stain is gone.