Fall Fun

Monarch Butterfly on SunflowerI absolutely love homeschooling on beautiful fall days.  We like to soak in as much sun, warmth, and color as we can before the days become dark and cold.  The goal is to have productive mornings then head out for some sunshine and exercise in the afternoon.

Tuesday our afternoon went delightfully wrong.  I wanted to go to an apple orchard on the opposite side of town from where we usually go.  Tuesdays are also farm pickup day for our CSA and I didn’t want to drive one direction only to turn around and drive the other.  Unfortunately when we got to the new orchard, we found out the orchard only allows “pick your own” on weekends.  Implementing plan B, we headed toward the CSA farm to a trail we know well, but on the way we found a “new” park.

Hinkley Ledges

We had great time exploring ledges at the “new” park.  The boys were great about posing for pictures, but the lighting conditions were a bit challenging.  After an hour or so of climbing around we were heading back to the car when we found FOSSILS! They were small (about 1 cm), but they were still a really cool find.

We spent several hours this week on FIRST LEGO League.  We took part of C’s team to a workshop on Saturday that was really productive.  We also had a team meeting this week.  I think the team is really starting to understand how the robot works and what we will be doing.

AppleThursday was another gorgeous sunny fall day.  We went to our usual apple orchard where we can pick apples any day of the week we wish.

Patterson Fun

We also had a great time playing around on some of the fun stuff they have at the orchard.  (Yes, that is me in front of the camera!)  After a nice lunch together,  we headed home for a little school work before soccer practice.

All in all it was a great week!  Hope you are enjoying a beautiful fall as well!

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Science Finds Us

Fossils - Devonian Era(?) Hinkley Reservation

This might look like just a rock BUT if you look closely those are little coral fossils.  Want to know the best part?  We found these fossils in the middle of a hiking trail on a Tuesday afternoon.


There were actually several fossils in the immediate area.  Cool huh?

When we keep our eyes open, science lessons find us everywhere!

This Present Moment

Yellow sunflower and bee along meadow trail

A beautiful walk.  Bees buzzing about flowers.  A symphony of warm weather insects.  These are the moments of late summer I cherish.

Wild purple new england asters along meadow trail

Each day brings the passing away of beauty and the appearance of a new wonder.  The coneflowers fade as the mums break forth in riotous blossoms.  Soon the green will fade from the trees to reveal the diverse palette of color, hidden as the leaves went about their work.


This is life.  Each season, each year, each month, each day – they all bring the appearance of new wonders and beauty as well as the passing of cherished time.   Perhaps happiness lies in appreciating this present moment.

Weekly Wrapup

Liberty Park - Early Fall Meadow

The air is getting crisp!  The days are getting darker and practice is ending sooner.  We’ve had some cooler weather this week and I’m determined to enjoy fall in the present.

Last Friday we went on a field trip with a local homeschool group.  We rode a replica canal boat and learned about the importance of the Ohio-Erie canal in Ohio history.  It was a great trip and really brought history to life.

This week we did the “normal” stuff plus zoo class and FIRST Lego League (FLL).   It is so nice  to schedule classes and activities that appeal to their interests without worrying about overload.

Tiny Red spotted newt

Unfortunately most of my cool nature finds this week were without the boys.  I have no idea how I spotted this tiny little red spotted newt, but he was so adorable I had to take a picture.  I also saw two raccoons backing down out of their tree (the picture turned out blurry) and a meadow vole darting across my path.


This week we read about termites, llamas (I actually learned quite a bit) and porpoises.  We also had an interesting discussion about fruits and vegetables that led to this quirky internet find:  The Carrot Museum.   I bet you will learn a thing or two (or in my case ten) about carrots if you take a visit to this virtual museum.  Isn’t it a great world where people who know vast amounts about carrots can share that knowledge with us whenever we become curious?

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH     Mary_CollageFriday

Experiencing History – Canal Fulton

As a family we enjoy biking along the towpath trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Well – C enjoys visiting the ice cream store located along the towpath and doesn’t mind biking there.

Canal Fulton 4So what is the “towpath”?  The name towpath dates back to canal days when horses or mules towed boats down the canal.  The path to the side of the canal walked by the horses was the “towpath”.

While I love biking along the towpath in the National Park, the canal is mostly dry and the locks appear merely as walls along the dry ditch.  It’s difficult to imagine the history of the canal just by biking the towpath, so I was thrilled when our local homeschool group scheduled a trip to the City of Canal Fulton and a ride on a replica canal boat.


The city of Canal Fulton and the Canal Fulton Heritage Society have built two replica canal boats.  The St. Helena II was built in a historically accurate method with a wooden hull.  After several years of service, it was in need of repair and has been retired.  The replacement, St. Helena III, has a concrete hull for a longer life span.

Canal Fulton 5In the early 1800s farmers from Ohio had a difficult time moving their goods to market due to a lack of reliable transportation.   To solve the problem of transporting agricultural products to eastern markets, the state of Ohio developed two separate canals connecting the Ohio river to Lake Erie.  The Akron to Cleveland portion of the Ohio-Erie canal was operational by 1827 and the entire canal was completed in 1832.   The canal system in Ohio not only helped farmers find a market for their goods, but saw mills and grist mills sprang up along the canal as well.  Eventually railroads replaced the canal systems as a primary transport system for goods.

Canal Fulton Lock 4

Our tour took us down the canal to Lock #4.  Unfortunately the lock is not operational at this time, however we were able to see the upstream gate holding water in the canal and out of the lock.   The little building in the photo is the “lock house” where the operator of the lock lived.

The couple of hours we spent touring the museum and riding the canal boat brought a piece of history alive for us.  Thanks to the City of Canal Fulton and the Canal Fulton Heritage Society for providing such a rich and vivid experience!

Weekly Wrap-up – Dining Room “Makeover”

The big news at our house this week is that our dining room makeover is complete.  I’m pretty sure this makeover takes us over to the “geek” side.

Dining Room Makeover

Both boys are participating in FIRST LEGO League (FLL)  this year.  I’m coaching C’s team and we are meeting at our house.  Every team needs a practice table – so my handy husband built the FLL table to fit over our dining room table.  He really took a lot of care and did an excellent job.  The boys enjoyed helping by painting the boards and doing some sanding.  My husband built a frame on the underneath side so the FLL table fits snugly over a packing blanket protecting our dining table.  We can “easily” move the FLL table if we want to use the dining table.  Since our dining table is mostly used for building new LEGO sets at birthdays and Christmas, I think it is excellent use of the space.


Last Friday we went for a hike at one of my favorite metroparks, South Chagrin Reservation.  As you walk along the creek there is a quirky sculpture carved by Henry Church back to 1885.  I’ve never understood if he had permission to carve it or not.  My readings of the story seem to indicate it was something he just did.  It is named “Squaw Rock” though I don’t know how it got the name.  A woman, a snake, an eagle, a quiver of arrows and a baby in a basket are all still visible.  Apparently a dog and a skeleton are included in the sculpture, but I never see them.

South Chagrin

We took along thermometers to test some of the things we are learning in our atmospheric studies, but our measurements were a bit haphazard.   The boys had a great time playing about in the creek.  They were able to find a crawfish and a toad.  I enjoyed watching them play while listening to the calming rush of water.

Zoo 9-10

This week we attended a zoo class at Cleveland zoo.  This particular class was about fossils.  We learned the Dunkleosteus on display at the Cleveland Natural History Museum was found locally.  During all our trips to the museum I had never realized that.  We made use of our zoo time to visit several animal exhibits.  Isn’t the underside of the gecko cool?   The boys spent a long time watching the leaf cutter ants busily going about their work.  E was able to spot the queen and a larvae being carried off by workers / drones.   Later in the week C made a perler bead bat as an art project.  I’m not certain if he was inspired by the bats at the zoo or by Minecraft, but it turned out very well.

This week’s PBS finds were: Operation Maneater – Polar Bears,  Her Majesty’s Secret Service MI6, and Secrets of Westminster Abbey.    All were really fascinating for different reasons.  Weirdly enough both boys asked questions independently this week that led to discussions about how the British political system differs from our American one.  One started with the Harry Potter books and the other with questions about the Queen.

Hope you are having a great week and wishing you lots of good discoveries!

Weekly Wrap-Up WUH    Mary_CollageFriday

A Path Less Traveled


Lately I’ve been thinking about this “path less traveled” we choose to walk.   The amount of freedom we have blows me away.  The responsibility is tremendous, but the freedom is incredible and enjoyable.

By homeschooling we are free to decide how our hours, days, weeks, and months are spent.  We choose what topics we want to learn and we decide what materials, classes, and methods work for us.  Each day we choose which hours will be dedicated to “school.”  We study topics as long as we want and pursue opportunities beyond our home.

We don’t choose just the easy things.  There are some skills we need to develop that aren’t easy.  We’re still free to find fun ways to learn, abbreviate lessons, and eliminate fluff and busy work.  We are free to use the most effective methods for our own learning styles.

This week we tried out a new class.  On the way home we discussed what we liked about the class and how well it met our expectations.  Then the kids were able to decide, “Is this class worth our time to put on the schedule?”   What an incredible life skill !

This quote is from a recent post on Becoming Minimalist:

Every day we are presented with countless choices of how to spend our time, our energy, our effort, and our money. The wisest of us recognize we always have the power to choose. And they choose to pursue their life’s greatest mission by repeatedly saying ‘no’ to things that distract from it.

Joshua Becker


By saying “no” to public school we have gained the freedom to wholeheartedly pursue the boys’ interest in science.  We are able to take field trips to see migrating song birds, visit aquariums, and tour power plants.  They have time to play with robots and visit the FAB LAB.

Having choices is a wonderful thing.  Learning to recognize our power to choose is even more wonderful.


9 Tools to Organize Your Life (and Save Your Sanity)

Tools to OrganizeIt used to seem like I was on a never ending quest to “get organized.”  I constantly had piles of paperwork waiting to be filed or sorted, laundry to be folded, and generally a cluttered feeling.  Over the years I’ve reached the place I feel organized –  all while homeschooling, doing volunteer work, shuttling kids to practice and maintaining a blog.  It’s really been a combination of finding the right tools and developing good habits.  Today I’m sharing the real life tools and technologies that help me stay organized.  All links are informational, not for affiliate purposes.  

Eliminating the Paper Piles

Doxie Scanner – We’ve had a multi-function printer with scanner for years now.  I rarely used it because it was so inconvenient.  About a year ago we purchased a little Doxie scanner.  It is really small and easily fits in a drawer.   This is huge for me.  I hate filing and all that paper work takes up a lot of space.  Now I don’t have to think so hard about what to save and what to toss.  If in doubt, scan it and toss it.  If I don’t want to take the time to scan it, it almost certainly isn’t worth saving.

Evernote – After I’ve scanned documents I upload them to Evernote.  I pay the yearly fee to get the scannable pdf feature.  Any time I need to search for a document, I just type in key words and the file appears even if I didn’t use those key words in the title or tag.   I can create different folders for the documents and set reminders for myself.  I have folders for various bills, school work, school records, and even recipes.  All of it is readily available when I need it, no more paperwork piles cluttering the house.

Managing the Daily Household 

iCalendar or Google Calendar – I switched over to the Mac platform last year and I love how seamlessly it is working for our family.  We have a family calendar that everyone can share.  If I add an appointment that other family members need on their calendar, I just give it the right color code. “Viola!” it is on all our calendars across most of our devices.  Google calendars can also be shared in a similar fashion.

Dry Erase Board / Photo App –  When I run out of something I add it to the shopping list on the dry erase board that hangs in the kitchen.  When I leave the house to go shopping, I snap a picture of the list with my phone.  Admittedly it is a pretty low tech solution BUT it really saves time.  I find it easier than using a shopping app and better than rewriting a paper list.  I don’t end up with handwritten lists cluttering my purse and when I arrive home I only remove the items I purchased from the list (sometimes there are items for multiple stores) .

Library Holds / Library Reminders –  I love our library.  I can log into my account and check the entire regional system for any book I want.  If they have it, I can place a hold and pick up when ready.  Not only does this feature save time, but I also save money by purchasing fewer books and avoid having too many books cluttering my house.  Some books are even available electronically.  Our library also sends out e-mail reminders when books are due.  I can simply log in and renew online thereby avoiding late fees.

Online Banking – Online banking is a BIG time saver.  If the amount is the same every month,  just set up a recurring bill payment and you don’t have to think about it until the amount changes.  It is quick to schedule other bills and you don’t have to pay for checks or postage.

Label Maker – Another low tech solution.  A label maker is fabulous for keeping track of all the cords and chargers that come into our house.  I also use the label maker in the pantry.  It really helps me be consistent about where I place things and keeps the shelves looking tidy.

Baskets / Storage Containers – I use baskets and storage containers inside cabinets, drawers, and closets to group collections of similar items.  For example, I use a basket to corral the vitamins – it keeps them all easily accessible and tidy and prevents anything from getting pushed to the back of the cabinet and lost.  Another basket holds reusable water bottles – when it is too full we get rid of some.  Using stackable containers to hold bags of chocolate chips, coconut, powdered sugar, and brown sugar maximizes the available storage space and increases accessibility.

Managing a Team or Group

Shutterfly – I bet when you think shutterfly.com you think photos, but the “Share Sites” you can create FOR FREE are organizational powerhouses.  If you are managing a group or team these private share sites are fantastic.   I’m currently using these for FIRST LEGO League  (FLL) teams.  We need to keep a scrapbook, send emails, communicate the practice schedule, and organize research.    Over the years I’ve used these share sites to share photos with various teams and used the calendar portion to send out reminders about practices and games.  Members can update their availability for events on the site, which really helps the team manager.  Just this week I discovered some truly powerful features I will be utilizing for our FLL teams:

  • Members can subscribe to the group calendar.  Instead of typing everything into your own personal calendar, you can subscribe to the group calendar.  Like magic the practices and events go straight into your calendar.  For a team of 5 kids with an average of 2 people per child following the schedule that saves calendar entry for 9 people.  Yes please!
  • Journal Entries – I had given no thought to using journal entries.  Turns out this can be a powerful tool for organizing team research.  If one kid on the team reads an interesting article, they can create a journal entry with a brief description or question posed to the team and a link to the article.  You can even scan in attachments or link to videos.  You can make a journal entry noting books and videos that aren’t on-line to keep as a history of team reference materials.
  • Group emails – The site allows members to quickly do a group email for up to 100 members.  The list includes all members currently on the site.  No re-working across different systems.

Beyond the way I’ve been using the application, I think these sites could be helpful for organizing a volunteer schedule or even for helping your kids manage an independent research project.


Grocery Service / Curbside Pickup– This is the only suggestion I don’t currently use.  I do however think it could be tremendously helpful – if conditions are right.  Create your list and for $5 – $10 pick up your groceries on the way home.  No impulse purchases, no standing in line, no cruising the store trying to remember what else you might need.  I know some Giant Eagle stores and some HyVee stores are offering the service and I’m sure others are as well.

I was trying to pick a few favorites out of the list as the tools that were the most helpful, but I really feel like each one helps me create a more organized and peaceful house.

What about you?  What are your favorite organizing tools?

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Big Airplanes and a Tiny House

What did the engineer say when his prototype drone crashed?


“Back to the droning board.”

My 9 year old really wanted me to share his joke with you.  He even left a note on the computer to make sure I wouldn’t forget.

Airshow for blog

We had a great time watching Blue Angels at the air show this past weekend.  They are just incredible and it was great to have the air show back this year.


Several months ago we purchased a “Power House” science kit.   Because many of the experiments involve solar power and outdoor experiments, we thought we would save it for warmer weather.   We pulled it out this week to see what we can get accomplished before winter sets in again.   We did several experiments centered around the temperature under various conditions and the effect of insulation.   This year we are focusing more on making sure we record the results of our experiments.  Since technology is always appealing, we are learning to use spreadsheets to create data charts and we will eventually use the spreadsheet to graph data sets.


The best addition to our school routine this year is trampoline time.  We’ve wanted a trampoline for a long time, but thought it would increase our home owner’s insurance.  I finally called our agent to check and was pleasantly surprised to find out that as long as we have the net there is no premium increase.  The boys enjoy taking break time on the trampoline and come back in ready to focus.  They were surprised when I told them physical exercise enhances learning.

Later start times and the benefit of physical exercise were big topics at our house this week.  The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for school districts to move start times to 8:30 am or later for high school and middle school students, citing teenagers natural sleep patterns and their need for 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night.   Even though we don’t have teenagers yet, one of the things we like about homeschool is well rested children.

Otherwise the week was filled with the usual stuff: math, reading books about animals, going to a zoo class, and getting back to a bit of grammar and writing.

Hope you are having a great year!

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Weekly Wrap-Up WUH    Mary_CollageFriday