Since I homeschool my kids, I’m always looking for ways to make school more creative…more fun…more engaging…more enjoyable.  Sometimes I draw a blank, but I often manage to come up with some fun ideas that the kids love.

One favorite activity is as follows:

1.  The mom/teacher writes activities on slips of paper and folds them

2.  After the child completes a problem (or 5 problems, or a whole page) they get to choose one slip of paper and do the activity on the paper.

3.  Repeat step 2 until all work is done.

pick a slip bowl

If you come up with a large list of activities (many slips of paper), you can keep them in a jar or container and re-use them as often as needed.  Here’s some ideas (not all of these are pure “fun” activities, but they do give the kids a break from school):

* build a tower out of blocks

* do one math problem on the computer (or math game) for 2 minutes

* eat 1 chocolate chip

* do 5 somersaults

* play 1 song on the piano, harmonica, kazoo, or tin whistle

* put away 5 things in the living room

* draw a Star Wars character (customize this one to your child’s interests)

* send a text message (my kids love to text my sisters on my phone)

* send an e-mail (grandmas love getting e-mail from grandkids!)

* go outside and scatter some corn or birdseed for the birds

* bird watch for 1 minute (we have active and busy feeders outside out front window)

* put away 10 things in your bedroom

* jump 30 times with the jump rope

* eat at least 5 nuts or seeds

* drink 1 cup of water

* play a tic-tac-toe game with an imaginary opponent

* read 1 page in a book

And so on.  The possibilities are really endless.  Of course, the kids have to be watched so they don’t “abuse” the game (so they don’t take too long doing activities or decide they don’t want to do something, put it back, and choose a different one); if they don’t like the activity they chose, they “forfeit” that turn and do their next set of problems.  But for the most part they really love this game and it’s a great way to get them excited about finishing schoolwork quickly and well.


Shooting Fun: Shotguns

Due to computer issues and a need for relaxation around the holidays, I have sadly neglected this blog.  I do have a lot of pictures and things to share that I’ve been saving up, though, so I hope to have more regular posts in the future.

First up: some friends and I have organized a homeschool 4-H club.  I was in 4-H as a kid and dearly loved it (some of my childhood projects included: karate, gardening, cooking, cross-stitch, dogs, hamsters, and cats).  I wanted my kids to have fun 4-H experiences, too.

One of the first things we did in the 2010-2011 4-H year was shooting at the Lee Kay shooting range.  We began in October and the first day we did shotguns.

I was surprised they started with this…the guns were quite heavy and some of the smallest kids (Nia included) needed help even holding them up.  The kids also had some trouble holding the guns tightly enough to avoid bruising on the kick-back after the shot was fired.

But the wonderful people at Lee Kay were GREAT with the kids, and so patient and helpful.  The kids had a great time shooting clay targets.

bran and ciara shotgun1

Bran and Ciara receive some help with shotguns

nia shotgun2

Nia getting shotgun instruction


nia shotgun5

Doing her best to hold the heavy gun, with help


ciara shotgun2

Taking aim

bran shotgun1

Waiting his turn with the gun pointed safely down and away

Even though shotgun shooting wasn’t their favorite kind of shooting, it was a good experience…I can’t say enough positive things about the great staff at Lee Kay and how wonderful they were with the kids. 

I’m taking just a few minutes in the midst of coughing (yep, sick again…sigh.  I think because of the kidney stone I  had on Sept. 16 I got really worn out and easily caught this terrible cold) to write about my children’s latest obsession: cross-stitching.

I learned cross-stitching when I was probably 12 or 13.  My mother had a nice pile of Aida cloth and lots of magazines  full of patterns.  I didn’t finish very many projects—just a Lady and the Tramp pattern which I entered in our local county fair, a bird/window picture for my high school choir teacher, a small self-designed project for Young Women, and a cute picture for John’s birthday right before he went on his mission.  (John’s picture featured two mice, a boy and a girl, and one was holding a candle.  Underneath it said, “You light up my life.”  I was afraid he would  think it was cheesy but he actually really liked it and to my surprise, took it with him on his mission.)

The “Start Each Day” design on the right is the same as the one I gave my choir teacher, Mrs. Domek.  I found this  the other day on the internet and enjoyed showing the kids the design (via Stonehillcollectibles).

I’ve been thinking for a while that my kids would really enjoy cross-stitching, especially the girls.  (I didn’t know if Bran would have the patience for it.)  So we went to Michaels a few days ago and bought some Aida cloth and printed off some patterns from a “kids craft” book. 

They LOVED it!  All of them—even Bran—worked hard at their designs for four hours before they stopped.  I couldn’t believe their concentration and attention span.  The girls are already on their second designs (Ciara’s is here; Nia’s second one, here).  I spent a while searching the internet and found some good cross-stitching websites with free patterns:








This one has  more cartoonish/kid-themed patterns:


I like this site and the matching blog:



More free patterns:


This one has some super cool bird patterns, including adorable hummingbirds:


Jan Brett artwork done in cross stitch:


There are also lots of gorgeous ones for sale.  Some of my favorites so far, for humor or cuteness:

“Mad Blue Bird” from 123Stitch.com.  Doesn’t his expression—plus the title—just slay you? 

“Dog’s Day Out” from CrossedWing.com.  I love the collie!

“Autumn Cats” from Herrschners.com.

“Achoo!” from Herrschners.com.  This little puppy accidentally sneezed off his spots—so cute!

Adorable bird bookmarks, again from Herrschners.com. 

You can tell I was looking specifically for bird and animal ones the day I found these. :) 

Well, I could go on all day, but this is already long enough.  Let’s just say that the cutest thing of all is this picture here, of three new cross-stitching fanatics:

cross stitching kids2

The second week of August, the kids and I entered a bunch of things in the Salt Lake County Fair.

As children in our local northwoods Wisconsin 4-H club, my siblings and I entered stuff in the Vilas County Fair every year.  But Utah fairs were a new experience for all of us (besides being spectators at the State Fair the last few years). 

We’d just returned from our family reunion on August 8, but on Monday, August 9th we threw ourselves into baking. 

nia bake1

By 10pm we were exhausted so we got up early the next day and continued.  I decided at the last minute to bake 2 items, as well, and we barely made it to the Fair by the noon deadline.

We’d previously turned in the kids’ art projects on Sunday afternoon, so we counted the hours until we could go on Wednesday morning and see if our items got any prizes.

Wednesday dawned, sunny and hot.  When we got to the Fair, we raced to the art section and scanned the many framed entries hanging on the wall.  When the kids saw their prizes they started screaming and jumping up and down.  Nia, especially, was quite ecstatic and couldn’t stop screaming for a few minutes.  (They award prizes based on merit, so everyone who deserves one gets an appropriate prize.)


1st prize: Forest and waterfall scene

ciara prize2


2nd prize: Unicorn on a hill

ciara prize1

1st prize: Chocolate chip cookies

2nd prize: Pumpkin bread

ciara prize5



2nd prize: Clone Trooper drawing

bran prize1

3rd prize: GF sugar cookies

bran prize3

4th prize: GF muffins (I guess the judges don’t like the taste of gluten-free cooking!)



1st prize, “high blue” (for entries better than 1st place) and “Sweepstakes Award” for best in category: Pink Flower drawing

nia prize1

1st prize: Oatmeal cookies

2nd prize: Chocolate no-bake cookies



1st prize: lemon poppyseed muffins

me prize1

2nd prize: Sour Cream coffeecake

After we’d finished screaming and jumping, we met up with our friends Linda, Rebecca and Joseph.  We had fun visiting the animal barns (though my allergies didn’t let me stay there long…apparently there were owls in the bird and rabbit barn!! I don’t know how we missed them!), looking at all the exhibits, and watching the Pig Races.  Yep, that’s right…Pig Races done by Cook’s Racing Pigs.  It was extremely funny, and if I get a YouTube video up at some point I’ll come back and link it here.

We came back to the fair that evening to watch a free concert by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.  Wow, are they ever incredible musicians!! I didn’t know any of their songs except the famous “Fishin’ in the Dark.”  The banjo and harmonica players were especially talented.  It was a terrific concert.  I took some videos, but the pictures didn’t turn out very well.


We were pretty far back and to the side…I had to leave partway through to pick up Nia from a birthday party and then come back, so we sat close to the side so I wouldn’t disturb very many people. 

Around 10:30 p.m. when the concert was ending, a nice lady in the row behind us tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if there was any news in Susan’s case.  I am continually touched and amazed at all the people who continue to care about and remember Susan, even though it’s been so long.  I appreciate them so much and I know Susan’s family does, too.

Six months ago today, my dear friend Susan Cox Powell disappeared from her home under very suspicious circumstances.

I’ve written a blog post about it on the other blog I keep for Susan.  I just can’t believe it’s been six months and we still have no answers or resolution.  Her husband still refuses to cooperate with police or answer any questions, and her little boys are still without their mother.

This morning I got up at 3 a.m. to go downtown and be on the weekend Today show live.  These things don’t get any easier with time.  While I am beyond grateful for the media’s interest in Susan and their desire to keep her in the news, it is heart-wrenching agony to not have her back with us and have to mark yet another one of these anniversaries.

I know that Susan is in God’s hands, wherever she is, and that he is also watching over her sweet little boys.  We WILL find her and justice will be served. 

I’m thinking of you today and always, my friend.  I love you.

Renaissance Faire

I’ve been really sick the last 3 weeks with some kind of cold or respiratory gunk, so it’s been quite a while since I’ve felt up to doing stuff online.  But three weeks ago tomorrow the kids and I went to the Utah Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire.  It was so much fun, even though I was a day into a horrible cold.

Last year the kids and I didn’t have costumes but this year we wanted some.  Time was short, so we modified what we had, shopped thrift stores, and made it work.  Nia used clothes and fairy wings she already had.  I found a long thrift-store skirt for myself and we modified an old vest.  My mom made me a poufy shirt and apron.  For the older kids, including their nephew Benjamin, we made hooded cloaks.  Friday morning before we left I made some drawstring bags to get around the problem of needing a place for money, keys, camera, and phone but still look authentic.

The first thing we did upon arriving was put each kid in the stocks.  You can’t tell really, but he’s smiling.  Maybe we need some rotten tomatoes. 🙂

I’d crossed my fingers every day for two weeks on checking the weather and it was supposed to be mostly sunny and 66 degrees.  Perfect!  Unfortunately, in the afternoon a big rainstorm hit and it was pretty cold and wet for a while.  We kept warm by huddling around the blacksmith’s fire.

A kind lady named Susan cuddled Nia in her cloak

The blacksmith, complete with wooden leg

There were all manner of colorful characters wandering around…our favorite was Captain Jack Sparrow himself.  He had the look, the costume, the mannerisms, the walk, the lingo, the ship, and even the voice.

The kids loved playing in the Belegarth fortress and guarding it with their new swords and baldrics:

A highlight of the faire is always the jousting with the hilarious Knights of Mayhem.

A knight suiting up

One of our favorite parts of the Faire is all the awesome shops and booths where you can buy authentic costumes, weapons, treats, and accessories.  We let each child take $20 this year and they had so much fun spending it.  Nia got a parasol, a gorgeous inlaid box made of stone, and a necklace with a real flower imbedded in it.  Bran bought himself a boken—a wooden samurai-type sword and also a leather baldric to hold his wooden sword he bought last year.  Ciara bought a sword and baldric combo and a crystal.  I got a messenger-type bag and a handmade white wide-brimmed hat, which the makers stretched for me to get the perfect size. 

Besides the jousting and shopping we watched a magic show, a massive jenga-type game, and a shop owner demonstrating “Contact juggling” like Jareth in the Labyrinth movie.

It was so much fun and as we drove away, exhausted, hungry, and footsore, we were already talking excitedly about next year’s Faire.


My birthday was last week…and I was not expecting a good day.  Susan’s still missing and the only thing I want is to have her back.  It’s hard to care about anything trivial like a birthday.

But I was surprised that Sunday was actually quite a nice day after all.  Besides receiving sweet birthday cards from family, my 11-year-old daughter made me this, all on her own:


A crocheted neckwarmer (short buttoned scarf)


She also hand-wrote a fun “Birds of America” word search puzzle for me to do, which must’ve taken her a really long time.  And drew me a beautiful card with a lifelike picture of a chickadee inside.

John surprised me, too.  I’d told him a few days before that I just wanted a little cash to spend at the upcoming Renaissance Faire, so I wasn’t expecting anything.  But he gave me a digital camera!  Such a great present because our old camera was not only ancient and decrepit, but also sucks the life out of every battery after just a few minutes.  I’d really been wanting a new camera.

He also gave me a mixing bowl and big wooden spoon/ladle.  I’d just told him last week how much I needed a new mixing bowl.

As if that wasn’t enough, after church he and the kids made me a cake.  Yes, it was a mix, and yes, it was lemon cake—not my favorite—but since he’s never made me a cake before, it was such a sweet gesture.  It was good, too!  The kids ate it so fast it barely had a chance to cool down.



My sweet friend JoVonna also made me a treat and brought it over.  What a lovely friend she is.  Also, my online friends poured out the birthday wishes on my Facebook page so much that it nearly made me cry.  Friends from Wisconsin, Utah, church, homeschool, and many people I’ve never met in person but have become dear friends through this 5-month ordeal since Susan has been gone.  I am very blessed.