Super Busy at Home

Family blog about homeschooling, autism, saving money, mom blog, travel, vacation, budgeting.

These Items Help Make Learning Awesome!

Over the years we have fine tuned what works for us and what doesn’t.

This past year we took our very large homeschool room up on our third floor and moved it down to our den, located on the first floor. This took an enormous amount of time and thought as we sifted through each item on hand to determine its value in our classroom. After all, we moved our classroom into a much smaller space and which thereby dictated that everything needed a justification for its use of precious real estate in the footprint of the room.

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It was really hard and took me a really, really long time (think 9 months, ugh). In the end though I am left with what really works, what we love, and what is useful to what we are studying. For a girl who always liked to have one thing on hand, then another if the first didn’t work, and then maybe something else, this was a struggle.

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But now we have on hand things that work well for us and things that we love to use. (at least I love to use, something the kids would just like to not do school, teehee).

A few of you have asked me for some recommendations on things to buy so here they are in no particular order:

Light Up Timer

This is amazing for showing your kids how much time they have. It also gets you off the hook for having to track your kiddos time (or am I the only one who randomly forgets to keep track of the time only to announce, “two more minutes” when your kids ask how much time they have left?). It has a yellow zone so you can set it to give a ____ more minutes left until time is up. This is a much needed feature for our son and it’s really helped.

Multiplication Bracelets

We used these when we were practicing skip counting and now we use them when going over our multiplication facts. I will randomly give the kids these when we are not working on our facts and ask what number all of the bracelet numbers are multiplied by.

Drawing Workbook

This workbook has been in our house for years and for good reason…it’s amazing! When we practice the OiLs method of drawing with Classical Conversations I pull this out but we use it at other times as well. There’s a little story that tells about the animals you draw and there are stickers to use as well (we’ve actually never used those, just the story and the drawing).

HP Printer Connected Ink

Okay, I love our printer! We have had it for about 3 years and it is hands down the best printer we’ve ever had. We decided to take advantage of the HP Connected program. If you don’t know what that is, basically it’s a subscription program for your ink. You sign up for how many pages per month you use and they send you ink when you need it. It is so easy. You can send them back your old cartridges to be recycled and that’s it. It is so easy. I was always running out of ink and pinnacle moments when I didn’t have time to run to Staples for more ink and now I don’t even have to think about it.

Tichonderoga Pencils

We have tried so many pencils. When we started homeschooling (8 years ago!!!) I was a mom who would buy the Target Dollar Section everything to match and it was in theory so much fun! Except the pencils would always break like it was their job and that part wasn’t so fun. Through trial and error I realized that Tichonderoga Pencils really are worth the money. If you have a chewer like me you should also invest in some eraser tops because the eraser will be gone long before the pencil is short so with the erasers you can keep using the pencil.

Sticker Charts

You can get any you would like but I have the ones that we have linked so you can see what I am talking about. These are a great incentive for good attitudes about school and diligence with our work. I give a sticker for each day the kids get their work done without complaining and have good attitudes. Sometimes I will give the chart a set prize value “trip to the froyo place” or I will give it a monetary amount, usually about $5. This gives them something attainable to feel that they have achieved each day. Plus we like to use the little treats when we have a break from school and we remind them what their hard work has earned them.

Fidgets

We used fidgets long before fidget spinners were the craze and we have never used those. Instead I look for quiet things their little hands can play with while we are reading outloud, working on poetry, or whenever else they want to play with them. In my mind fidgets can be anything that keeps their hands busy…so crochet, weaving, playdough, anything could be considered a fidget, right? I love having different things on hand for them to play with (get it, on hand! Eh? Eh?!)

These are the things that are working for us to make our year awesome! If you have any other recommendations I would love to hear them! We are always looking for new things. I will have to learn to recycle things through with our new classroom rather than just hoard everything. I’m excited for the challenge though and hope it will keep us engaged as we will keep only what we love and move through things we are finished with.

Happy learning!

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Planning our Trip to Georgia

I shared before how I plan our family roadtrips in order to get the most out of them for the least amount of money.

I wanted to share with you now how I am planning our next trip to Georgia.

I chart our route and looked for larger cities that we will be passing through.

I see that we are going through Lexington, Kentucky and Knoxville, Tennessee. I have nothing relatable in my head about either one of those places (do you guys? Do I just live too sheltered of a life?) so I Pinterest them to see what there is to do.

It looks like in Lexington there are some horse race type parks to check out but nothing that is screaming “us” so I’m moving on. I will also point out Lexington is about 4 hours from our house. I want to make sure we cover some distance in the first day of our trip so Lexington is about the closest place I would be willing to go to. Otherwise we’ll have too much traveling to do the next day as we make our way to Georgia.

So the next place I’m going to look up is Knoxville.

There look to be some things but I am not sure if that is where I want to be for very long. We are after all driving through so we don’t have a lot of time to spend.

I now check out our memberships’ reciprocal programs. We have memberships through the ASTC and the AZA. I see that there is a zoo in Knoxville that looks promising but we still have to pay 50%. That’s a great deal, don’t get me wrong, but I just want to make sure that that is something we commit to do with our time. After all, a zoo takes a large chunk of time to go through.

I check out the National Parks website and, duh! I see that Knoxville is just a hop, skip and a jump a way from the Smoky Mountains National Park. BINGO!

I think we might go that way. We love hiking and exploring so going that route ensures lots of fresh air, exercise, and it’s darn near free.

Do you ever wish someone would show you how to plan a road trip?  I am walking you through how I planned our trip to Georgia through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It's a Step by Step Guide you can use to plan your next getaway!

In case you’ve never been to the Smoky Mountains, it is near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. This is a really neat area but a huge tourist area that makes it really hard to stay on budget. I am sure we will do some things there but we try to steer clear of this area. An example of the area is when we went mini golfing. We went to a scabby kind of place with flaking paint and it was $60 for the four of us. Seriously. That is why we try to plan carefully what we do in the area and we look for budet friendly items.

The Smoky Mountains park spans over 800 square acres over North Carolina and Tennessee. While it is technically one park there are several sections and areas of the park including Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Clingmans Dome, and more. While there are lots of things to do I think we are going to be focusing on the Cades Cove area.

Do you ever wish someone would show you how to plan a road trip?  I am walking you through how I planned our trip to Georgia through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It's a Step by Step Guide you can use to plan your next getaway!

Cades Cove offers some of the best opportunities to spot wildlife. When we’ve been through the Smokies before we have spotted deer, bears, elk, and coyotes. We like Cades Cove because of the settlement you can explore as well as the nature. We’ve never had a lot of time to explore the area though, so I think that will be a perfect option for us.

Do you ever wish someone would show you how to plan a road trip?  I am walking you through how I planned our trip to Georgia through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It's a Step by Step Guide you can use to plan your next getaway!

We are so excited for our trip and can’t wait to get to the mountains!!!


I hope this kind of “me talking outloud to you helps you to see the madness behind my method for planning our trips. I can try to do this with another trip if it helps you! Let me know, friends!


New Duds for Mom

How are y’all doing in your year so far? I know I’ve reached the point where the newness of the homeschool year has worn off and I am starting to wonder if we can make it until Fall Break.

You guys, I've reached my upper-mid thirties. 

Gulp.

Don't tell anyone, okay? 

I feel as if age doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things but in life I can certainly tell that I am starting to act my age. 

Like in matters of apparel.  I get why my grandma, who is 92 now, insists on wearing the same  style of slippers that she's worn since before I can remember...comfort. 

Comfort, people, comfort. 

Which often times makes it hard to be cute and stylish when you just want to crawl into some kind of ball made out of terry cloth and stay there forever. 

But I can't...you know, because, kids. 

Outside of being a mom I am also a director of some camps, a teacher, and a wife, so you know, there are those things. 

And can we just add to it I'm also a lady on a budget?...that's right everyone, I said it.  Money doesn't grow on trees over here.  There's no dollar fairy in these woods.  Despite my many hats we're basically a one income family and that means there are sacrifices people, Sacrifices!

What does sacrificing mean, you may ask?  Well, it means I hone in on one thing to get rather than the 20 on my list of wants.  It's hard.  Cough, cough.  Some day my old self will thank me when there's something in that retirement fund so I can buy fancy slippers like Grandma Jean. 

In the meantime here are some things that I buy when I want to spruce up the old wardrobe.  These are items I have purchased in the last year, here and there.  But they've been total game changers for my wardrobe. Also, I may add that all of these things can really spruce up any denim jumper and they are all me-approved for doing all of the weird things that us homeschooling moms find ourselves do…from mixing chemistry projects to running kids to sports to teaching math to rolling around on the floor playing to vacuuming to…well, the list goes on and on.

Adidas leather sneakers

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You guys listen, they didn’t fail us in middle school and they won’t fail us now. There are also canvas options but I went for leather because I am not Martha Stewart with an entourage of people to assist in making my sneaks look great. I know I will walk through anything and everything and the leather makes it easy to wipe clean and press on.

I have a pair of these and I’ve found that I can wear them with so many things. Tee shirts of course but sweaters, skirts, dresses, you name it. They really add a sense of fun to my outfit I wouldn’t normally have had with the clothes I wear them with and they are seriously comfortable.

Anything from Evy's Tree...seriously, anything 

I have been such a fan of their clothing for years. It was only within the past two years or so that I got wise to their sales. They have these amazing garments, primarily really comfortable sweatshirt creations, that I salivate over and try to justify in my mind but most (no, all) of the time we just can’t spend over $100 for a sweatshirt.

However, their sales are amazing! If you wait and watch you can score some awesome sauce deals! For example my latest order was last month…I ordered a tee of theirs, a sweater, and an amazing sweatshirt top for under $50.

A cute bag 

I love bags. I have a problem but yes, I love bags. TJ Maxx is a great place to get a great deal. Or Amazon for the beauty above which won’t break your bank and comes in a bunch of colors. Wherever you get a bag, the things to remember is to get a bag that works for you and you don’t have to break the bank to get a cute new purse.

If you need some recommendations of my faves you can read my blog all about them if you missed it.

Earrings

This is something that is so simple and yet such a game changer.

Truly, you guys!

Find some earrings and pair them with an unexpected outfit. Or buy some new ones and try those out with an outfit you are really tired of. They help to change things up and to frame your beautiful face.

Starfish Pants from Lands End 

There are not many things in this life that I have one, brand specific piece I would recommend. But leggings are when I am different.

These pants are life.

One of the amazing things about these pants is the thickness of the fabric, the breathability, and the fact that they can be worn for anything…from working out to working in the office, they are just that amazing!

I wear the Starfish slim leg pants but they also have the original cut, leggings, jeans, and even crops. So comfortable!


Ladies, listen to me, I know money is tight when you’re homeschooling but it is so important to treat yourself, even if it’s something small. It helps with your sanity, it helps you to feel like the special woman you are, not just a wife and mother, with constant demands on you day in and day out.

Find a way to treat yourself!

Do you ever feel so blah in your day to day as a mom?  These pieces are great to freshen up your wardrobe and bring some pep back into your step!

 

 

The Secret Place to go if you're a stressed out Mom...

Are you a stressed Momma on the verge of a break down?  You know what I mean. We all reach that place at some point where we just don't know if we can do it (by it meaning, anything!) anymore.   

There's a place that I promise will help you.  You need to run there, now! 

Kroc Center Fitness Room, workout gym, sanctuary of alone time and contemplation, Kroc Center, South Bend Indiana

It's the gym. 

Wahhh???? 

I was reminiscing the other day while on the tread mill.  There was a time that I would go to the gym with tears streaming down my face, not knowing if I could make it another day.  Literally. 

Autism is hard y'all.  You can understand that somewhat, but unless you go through it, you don't really know what I am talking about.  

The screaming.  The tantrums.  The round and round arguments that convince you you are going insane.  Watching your child suffer, knowing you can't undo anything.  It's a hard and brutal momma life.   

Too often than not I found myself with my husband out of town, juggling homeschooling two kids, and not being able to look down the barrel of autism.  

Can I share something with you here? I remember a day when I was at my breaking point and I found myself going to the treadmill.  I had so much emotion being held inside that I couldn't really remember how I had gotten on the treadmill or to the treadmill, I just knew I was there. I wanted to run away truthfully but that treadmill and that place kept me there. I just didn't want to do it anymore.  I hope that doesn't sound lame or contrite but in that moment, I had had enough.  I wasn't cut out for this mom business, I thought.  But then my head started to clear.   I ran and ran, harder than I ever had and came to the realization: 

The gym will be my place. 

Of course, every gym has their own set of amenities and rules but here's the deal with ours: 

I can put the kids in child care there for up to two hours at a time.  I am sure this is with the idea you are going to go workout but no one asks.  

There's a cafe area, a pool, a gym, and free wifi.  

What I thought was that the gym was the place I needed to be at when I was on my last nerve but I eventually found myself dragging all of us there for some peace so I wouldn't have to enter "on my last nerve" territory.  

I would take the kids to the child care and sometimes I would go and work out. There is nothing like working out to help clear your head.  I remember once when I was dealing with some pretty tough post-partum stuff I called my dad (who's a pastor).  He listened to me rant for I don't know how long and then quietly he said "Linds, you need to go work out." And ladies, he was right!  The hormones and chemicals are so much reset by working out! 

Sometimes though (gasp), I wouldn't.  I would go sit in the hot tub or take a long shower, or read the bible in the cafe, or work on my blog in peace.  You guys, the gym over the years has been my saving grace.  

Delicious and Nutritious treats at the Kroc Cafe, Kroc Center, South Bend IN.

Whether you have a child with special needs or not, all of us mommas reach a point where we are broken and weary and need a break.  We need grace and understanding and Jesus.  We also sometimes just need someone else to watch our kids so we can have some us time.  It's okay. It's acceptable.  It's required.  

So go to the gym.  Find a gym that has useful things for your kids and for yourself.  Find something that works for your family.  I know our gym membership is cheaper than me paying a babysitter for four hours.  Taking my kids to child care one day a week for two hours each month is more than worth the membership...not to mention all of the other times we use the facility. 

When you are a momma at home struggling and alone, the world can be a scary place.  I get it!  Please, don't ever hesitate to reach out (to me, I'm here!) if you need someone to talk to, to pray with you, to love on you, or just to be there.  

You're worth it, you deserve it, now go to the gym. 

Review: Conner Prairie

Each school year we enter into the sacred time with new hopes and expectations for the future.  It's always a feeling of excitement and with fervor we rush into the newness of our schedules: armed with the unspoken promise that our efforts will indeed bring forth a new era of accomplishment into our lives.  

Each year as a homeschooling family we try to carve time out of our schedules for two field trips each month for the duration of our school year.  Sometimes we fail, other times we flourish.  No matter what the future within our new year may bring, for the past several years our inaugural field trip has been to a place that has never failed to invoke a feeling of wonder and to evade our schooling with excitement. 

What is this place?  

It's Conner Prairie.  

Located in the heart of Indiana (which is the heart of the Midwest, keenly inside the heart of the heart) is a place that has evolved over the years into something nothing short of magical.  

We had the joy of being hosted this year by Conner Prairie in exchange for this, my own words about the place called Conner Prairie.  

First let me tell you about our trip this year: 

The Prairie opens each day at 10 am so we planned to be there right at the beginning.  Arriving in the morning is always so fun because the animals haven't met the full heat of the day yet.  We found frolicking lambs, squealing piglets, and playful kids (in the goat variety) wherever we turned.  While we are not strangers to the barnyard scene, we certainly are not accustomed to it on a daily basis.  Conner Prairie's farm life comes in just the perfect way...lots of experts to explain things and buckets of hand sanitizer.  

After saying hello to the animals we scoped out our map and decided that Treetop Outpost was the next place for us.  

The thing I love the most about the Treetop Outpost (or the treehouse as my kiddos call it) are the amount of activities there are to do within the area.  Kids with varying interests can enjoy different activities at the same time while mom is nearby.  Our kids are 10 and 12 and I love letting them wonder through the Outpost without me, giving them a sense of adventure and independence while mom is waiting at the bottom for their return.  

After lots of fun running, making music, digging, and exploring we decided to partake in a Make and Take craft.  For only $5 per child they were each able to construct a wooden treasure box.  We adore Conner Prairie's crafts because they are solid objects that the kids can take home and treasure.  I always walk away amazed by what they were able to construct and at how much of a value each craft is. 

If you decide to do a make and take craft, be sure to make it a point to talk to the workers who oversee the crafts; they truly are a plethora of knowledge from the history of Conner Prairie to the best places to eat once you leave, I've had some very interesting and insightful conversations with these wonderful people.  You can tell that they are deeply invested in Conner Prairie and not just an employee.  

Our day progressed and as the heat intensified I felt we were slowing down, like a little family moving through glue.  

We stopped to play in a tug of war game in the Prairietown area outside of the general store we explored.  

After that I was losing Cal.  Most of you know he has High Functioning Autism.  We reach a point where enough is enough and he just needs some quiet and alone time.  

Last year was when I discovered Conner Prairie has these Quiet Spots.  I adore that they don't have just one but several throughout the prairie.  Because let's be real, can be worse than trying to move a child in a full panic all the way across the complex to a quiet area. I've done that at other places and let me tell you, it's not fun.  I counted no less than 5 Quiet Spots on the Conner Prairie map but there could be more.  I can't say enough about these areas you guys...they are a godsend! 

We found one right on the edge of the town by the restrooms and for a momma in crisis mode it is a dream come true...quiet, well lit, cold, with a box of sensory resources to use.  I am highly impressed by Conner Prairie's attention to detail in this department.  Weighted blankets and fidget toys are calming for us and they had both.  Amazing, you guys! 

After our break we refueled (Conner Prairie allows outside food to be brought in) and then we headed out to the Civil War Journey area.  

If you have older kids learning about the Civil War, this is such an ideal destination.  First of all, let's be real, there just aren't many field trips you can find within Indiana, or the Midwest for that matter, about the Civil War.  And while it was very neat for us in the past to travel to places like Gettysburg or Savannah to learn about the civil war history there, in reality it's just not practical in most time frames of life.  

The Conner Prairie Civil War area does an amazing job of transporting you back in time by having you walk across a real covered bridge to enter.  There are a couple fairly intense representations of Civil War action, a house to explore, and more!  

With the heat in the mid-nineties when we visited we also enjoyed their new splash pad, and their new water play feature (again, we stayed here forever because this is always super calming for Cal).  

Conner Prairie is located in Fishers, Indiana, which sits as a cute little hat on top of Indianapolis.  It is very close to the interstates and very convenient to get to.  I think it would be impossible to make it through everything in one day (we only covered two and a half areas this trip!).  Below is a carousel of photos from a previous trip we had to Conner Prairie, just to give you a look at other things they offer: Tomahawk throwing, Fun Science activities (indoors and out!), the William Conner house (that started the entire place!), there is so much to do.  

If you are a homeschooler and would love to visit, I have good news!  

They offer various homeschool activities throughout the year that are focused on an indepth look at various sciences or historical eras.  Water filtration, civil rights, and lunar landers are some of the topics on their calendar. 

And every August and September they offer special homeschool days so homeschool families can come at the field trip price without the amount of students a field trip normally consists of!

You can read all about their homeschool programs and their upcoming homeschool day here.  

I hope you enjoyed our little tour and review!  We love Conner Prairie and we know you will too!