The 17 Books I Read in 2020

I have a goal each year of reading one book each month. 2020 unexpectedly gave a lot of us extra time for reading so I ended up reading 17 books! I would love to read more, but I spend a good amount of time reading aloud to the kids. While the kids are little, I think my goal is going to stay at 1 book a month. I’ve tried (and failed) several times to get into audiobooks – I just am not really a noise person. I almost never have music or the tv on in the background. I’ll keep trying audiobooks every so often though because I feel like they could be fantastic if I could get the hang of listening to them!

Like always, I kept track of the books that I read in a little notebook. I write the title, author, number of pages, and date completed. I usually write 1-2 sentences about what I thought of the book. This helps me a ton if anyone ever asks what I thought of a book or for a book recommendation!

My favorite fiction book from this year: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes

My favorite nonfiction from this year: Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie

Least favorite: Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World (explanation below!)

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Without further ado, here are the books I read in 2020:

  1. Risen Motherhood by Emily Jensen & Laura Wifler: This book was great at applying the gospel to different aspects of motherhood. It was a bit repetitive but still well worth reading. My favorite chapter was “The Gospel and Our Children with Differences.”
  2. Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch: I wanted to love this book, but it really rubbed me the wrong way. Specifically, there was a point where she said, “If you want to feel grateful, go tour a cancer ward.” Our family spent a ton of time on the pediatric cancer floor and I would have been appalled if someone just came touring through to feel better about themselves! Umm…let’s not just be grateful because we have it “better” than others. I think gratefulness in kids begins with gratefulness of their parents and kids will emulate what they see. Overall I’d pass on this one even though I thought I would like it!
  3. Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein: This book described the damage done by the “purity culture” in the evangelical church especially through the 90s. A lot of the research the author cited was fairly anecdotal but it is important to realize how much hurt and shame came out of that movement.
  4. A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman: My first fiction book after a huge stretch of nonfiction! This book was a bit darker/heavier than I was anticipating but I see why so many people loved it!
  5. Where the Crawdads Sing By Delia Owens: This book started a little slow for me but really picked up towards the middle and I couldn’t put it down! I would recommend this one!
  6. The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer: This was a beautiful and melancholy book intertwining WW2 Poland with today. Every time I read a WW2 book it just blows me away the trauma and pain people lived through. I would definitely recommend this one!
  7. Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver: The first few chapters made this book feel a bit dated (written over 20 years ago) but as the chapters went on there were some good points about finding rest and stability in God while continually serving everyone around you.
  8. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss: This book had a lot of similarities to the book I read last year called Influence. The stories from the author’s time in the FBI were interesting. It had good advice about disagreeing with someone without making the other person defensive or angry.
  9. Raising Worry-Free Girls by Sissy Goff (no relation to Bob Goff): This book is good not just for moms but for anyone who has or knows someone with anxiety. It is written from a Christian perspective and contains practical advice for anyone that struggles with anxiety or worry.
  10. Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie: This was probably my favorite nonfiction read of the year! It was wonderfully short and discussed both priorities in homeschooling along with practical scheduling ideas. I would recommend it to any homeschool mom! (Sarah Mackenzie is the author that also wrote Read Aloud Family)
  11. The New Husband by DJ Palmer: I picked this one up from a “free library” on our Teton trip this summer! It was basically the plot of any run of the mill suspense movie. It is never one that I would normally read but was fine for reading in the hammock in the Tetons!
  12. Made for Brave by Alyssa Galios: This book will make you cry guaranteed. It is a true story memoir of a young mom that loses her husband to cancer. She wrestles with questions like, “how can a good God allow bad things to happen?” I would definitely recommend this book!
  13. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: This book was written like the transcript of an interview which was a really unique way to read! It was a really engaging fictional story about a band outside of my normal genre of reading.
  14. Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson: This had a similar vibe to Teaching from Rest but was quite a bit longer. It stressed that education is going to look different and work differently for every family. It was definitely pro-homeschool/anti-public school though which was a downside. I think for some families public school is 100% right and for some families something different is right. I’d take it or leave it with this one!
  15. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: A heart wrenching story about the orphan trade in the US in the 1940s/1950s in Tennessee/Georgia. I had a little trouble following who was who at certain times since they kept some people’s identities hidden until the end of the book, but I would definitely recommend this one!
  16. The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart: This was another one that I really wanted to love, but it fell a little flat. The author is very type-B/permissive parent. I appreciated some of the ideas for routine that she had, but I’m still not going to set up a permanent art table in the middle of my living room or let my kids draw all over my couch and walls and just shrug that off as “kids learning.”
  17. The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes: Who knew a book about a traveling librarian could be so riveting! This one really kept my attention all the way through! I would definitely recommend it!

I would love to hear any book recommendations you have for me to add to my 2021 list!

1000 Books in 2020!

In January, 2020, I made a goal of reading 1000 picture books aloud to the kids in 2020! We finished our goal on December 28, 2020! I chose 1000 because it averaged out to around 3 books per day/20ish books per week which was just slightly above our average anyway. I kept track of the books in just a regular cheap notebook. In retrospect it probably would have been faster/easier to just keep track on the computer!

Keeping track of the books

We used to go to the library every other week to check out 50-60 books, but when the libraries shut down in March we had trouble getting new books! We flew through our home library (we don’t keep a ton of books because there aren’t too many books that I like to read over and over) and then ended up finding out about The Book Bundler company that sells boxes of used books relatively cheap. The books were definitely hit and miss, but enough to last until the libraries opened again!

Book Bundler Haul

Curbside pickup has been a game changer for books! I put books on hold that I know are available at the library and they usually have them ready to put in the trunk of my car within 24 hours! I’m able to be more selective with the books instead of the kids just randomly pulling them off the shelves (although I do miss that too).

Library Book Haul

I don’t think I’ll keep track of our picture books for 2021 just because it is somewhat tedious to write down that many titles. Eliza just turned 5 and is starting early reading skills (sight words, BOB books, etc.) so having this year of consistent picture book reading hopefully will help her continue to improve her reading skills! We will also most likely spend more time on chapter book read-alouds now that Eliza (and Oliver) are happy to sit and listen to them. I’m proud of our family for reaching our goal for this year though!

Here is the breakdown of books per month:

January: 109, February: 74, March: 61, April: 89, May: 93, June: 82, July: 107, August: 64, September: 88, October: 83, November: 70, December: 80

Some books were fantastic, others were duds, but overall the kids got exposed to a lot of vocabulary, a variety of plots, and hopefully a love of reading!

What reading goals do you have for 2021?!

One of my favorite places in the world to be!

Eliza’s Favorite Craft Supplies

I know I JUST did a post about preschool toys, but this is the time of year to do these lists! These are all fun Christmas gift ideas if you are looking for non-toy ideas!

I love doing crafty things…knitting, crocheting, paint (by number), latch hook, cross stitch, cake decorating, etc. I especially love doing crafts with Eliza since she has a relatively long attention span for a 4-year-old. I’ve arranged these from least messy to most messy. (Seth rolls his eyes when I buy a 1800 Perler bead pack or finger paint because he KNOWS it will end in some sort of craft disaster haha!).

We recently put a lock on our craft closet due to a late-night incident involving sparkle Elmers glue all over the carpet in the kids’ bedroom…

Everyone has a different level of how much crafty mess they can handle so the further down the list you get, the more mess you can expect!

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  • Water Wow: These are magical boards by Melissa and Doug that change color when you add just water! They come with a little brush you can fill. The best part is they turn back to white once they are dry so they can be used over and over again! Eliza is actually almost getting too old for these, but they are a fantastic quiet time activity with no mess! (Be warned, 1-2 year olds will try to suck the water out of the tip of the brush but I figure that’s ok).
  • Paint by Sticker: Eliza is almost 5 and just discovered these. It is similar to a paint or color by number but uses stickers instead! These take quite a bit of patience and concentration but again have virtually zero mess or cleanup involved! I think kids ages 4-12 would love these!
  • Kumon Scissors and Mazes: Pretty much any Kumon brand book is great (check the recommended ages on the top right of the books for difficulty). Eliza especially likes the scissors skills books and the maze books. The only downside of Kumon books is I wish they had tear-out pages!
Eliza learning to use scissors with her Kumon scissors skills book
  • Colored Masking Tape: We’ve used this to make roads for hot wheels cars, design tape outfits for stuffed animals, make pretend bandages for dolls, and make designs on our windows. This is so versatile and really nice to have on hand!
  • Roll of White Paper: You can use this indoors or outdoors! We like to roll ours down our hallway and let the kids color all over the paper. You can also use this on an easel to have fresh paper to pull down. This is great for markers, pencils, pens, kwik stix, colored masking tape, and so much more!
  • Dot Stickers: These are the kind of stickers you would use to label garage sale things and our kids LOVE them! They are also fantastic for learning counting, sorting, etc.
  • Construction Paper + Markers: This is pretty standard for kids but again so versatile. Eliza likes doing “Art Hub for Kids” videos on youtube to copy drawings of her favorite cartoon characters!
  • Kwik Stix: These are “tempra paint sticks” which are MUCH less messy than paint. They are kind of a waxy blend between a crayon and a marker. Our kids love using them because they are very easy to draw with and are very brightly colored.
  • Do-A-Dot Markers: There are zillions of free dot marker coloring pages if you google them. I’ve used dot markers to teach both letter shapes and counting. The kids also like just using them for fun too!
  • Wonder Stix: I recently discovered these to use instead of Expo markers for white boards! They are more of a waxy texture and don’t smudge as easily as white board markers. White board markers also stain really bad and are impossible to get out of clothes. These wonder stix also work on regular paper and windows too.
  • Play Doh: We’re getting into the messier territory now…keep play-doh away from carpet! Eliza and Oliver looove mixing the colors together too so I usually only get 1-2 colors out at a time. Cookie cutters, rolling pins, forks, spoons, etc are all great additions to playing with play-doh without having to buy specific “play-doh toys”
  • Sparkle Glue + Tissue Paper: Eliza LOVES Elmer’s sparkle glue and gluing tissue paper. This is solidly the “messy” category now. Glitter glue is fun because you can use it to “draw” designs or a word/name and glue sequins, rice, beans, feathers, etc. on to a page!
  • Easel + Paint: We have a Melissa and Doug easel that the kids can use to paint. My favorite place for the kids to use this is outside though because no matter how hard I try, paint always seems to get out of control. I’m sure this will get easier as the kids get older but for now I only get this out when I’m ready to really invest time in set-up and clean-up!
  • Water Beads: Water beads are full of so much squishy fun (even for me) but they are slippery and will bounce all over the house unless you have incredibly careful kids. My favorite place to use these is outside in the water table. They are biodegradable so you don’t have to feel bad if some of them end up in the grass! You do need to be REALLY careful with these around toddlers though because they are dangerous if eaten since they swell up with liquid.
  • Perler Beads: These aren’t actually messy unless they spill…which they will! Eliza loves doing patterns like these but still needs a little help with more complicated designs. There are pretty much unlimited patterns you can print from the internet and this is another great quiet-time activity!

Crafting is a huge part of our homeschool preschool! I would love to know if there are any craft materials we are missing out on that I didn’t list!

Rainbow Pumpkin Seeds for Learning and Play!

Making rainbow colored pumpkin seeds is a fun fall preschool activity that we did for the first time this past weekend! They are made basically the same way as rainbow rice (which we have and keep in a big Sterilite container for a sensory bin – thank you, BusyToddler!).

Steps to make Rainbow Pumpkin Seeds:

  1. Take the seeds out of the pumpkin and wash them. I got two small pie-pumpkins from Trader Joes to roast and make pumpkin bread. Eliza was in charge of scooping out the seeds/pulp and putting them in a bowl of water to wash them off!

2. Next, we spread the seeds on a cookie sheet and baked them at 350 for about 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, we prepared little containers with around 1 cup of water, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, and a squirt of food coloring! Exact measurements are not necessary.

4. We evenly distributed the seeds in each cup and let them soak for about an hour (again, exact measurements not necessary).

5. After about an hour, we used a slotted spoon to move the seeds back to a paper towel-lined cookie sheet.

6. I was going to just let them air-dry but they weren’t drying fast enough for me so I ended up putting them back in the oven at 350 for another 15 minutes and they were perfect when they came out!

That is it! Super easy, and once they are dry they won’t stain your hands/clothes. Eliza and Oliver will use these for craft projects and preschool counting activities! It was a really fun way to explore pumpkins for a preschooler!

Rock Polishing At Home

It all started out with a free rock polishing kit. I’m part of a “Buy Nothing” Facebook group where people give things away they no longer want/need. The kit came with the tumbler and enough polishing powder for one batch of rocks. I polished my first batch of rocks over the course of about 7 days and they turned out pretty cool! The main downside was the polisher was extremely loud so we had to keep it in the garage.

My original free one. (You get what you pay for)

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I thought rock polishing would be such a fun preschool/homeschool activity for years to come, but I was out of polishing powder. I did some research online and ended up buying 4.5 pounds of rock polishing powder and ceramic pellets. I was set! Until the VERY next time I used the free rock polisher the rocks banged holes in the plastic and it leaked ALL over the place. (See the duct tape in the picture above). I tried to fix it with duct tape several times but it kept leaking.

Now I had over $20 of polishing powder but no rock tumbler…so I did more research online and ended up getting this National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler Kit. Now I’m really committed to rock polishing (haha!). The kit comes with some unpolished rocks and some polishing powder to start with. Here are pictures of the rocks that came with the kit:

Before
After!

The rocks included in the kit were obviously more colorful than the ones we find laying around our yard. I know you can buy more unpolished rocks from Amazon if you wanted to do more of those type of rocks. The main reason I wanted to get the polisher was to collect rocks when our family does trips! Hopefully as a family we will be able to learn more about the different rock types (and which ones polish better!)

Functional Rock Tumbler!

To polish the rocks we fill up the tumbler about 1/2 full of rocks, add about a tablespoon of polishing powder, then just cover the rocks with water. The tumbler spins them around for about a week, then we rinse out the rocks and add the next step of polishing powder. The grit goes from coarse to ultra-fine, finishing off with aluminum oxide.

Unpolished rocks
After Step 1 (The rocks are still slightly wet so they look shinier than they really are)
After Step 2
After Step 3
Final after step 4! Some got much more shiny than others. These are completely dry, so this is what they actually look like!

I’m interested to experiment to see if longer polishing time would lead to shinier rocks or if I need to put some sort of glaze on them? Either way, this is a fun project for homeschool kids!

Also just your friendly reminder that it is against the law to remove anything from National Parks. It comes with a hefty fine – so do your rock collecting outside the parks! 🙂

Vision Therapy Update

Eliza has been doing vision therapy for about 8 months now! She started going weekly for an hour each week from January through mid-March. We took about a 3-month break during COVID, then started going every other week for 30 minutes each time.

Just a little background refresher: Eliza was diagnosed with an optic glioma (tumor on the nerve going to her right eye) in September, 2018. She did a year of weekly chemo which shrunk the tumor but left her nearly blind in her right eye. She does have some vision in that eye, however, and with vision therapy we hoped to maintain/strengthen the vision in that eye and help her with balance and coordination.

I am 100% convinced that vision therapy has helped Eliza. We saw immediate improvements in her balance, ability to color inside lines, and significant improvement in being comfortable with wearing a patch. She doesn’t have enough functional vision to be able to be patched for 3-4 hours a day because she can’t see more than a few inches in front of her, but she is able to do vision therapy exercises for 15-20 minutes each day. We’ve also noticed that doing these exercises helps keep her right eye tracking with her left eye rather than turning in towards her nose and going cross-eyed.

Vision therapy is SO fascinating! Her vision therapist was amazing, and spent a lot of time teaching both me and Eliza different red/green activities (where her left eye can see only one color and her right eye can only see one color) to force both eyes to work together. She also did balance activities, peripheral vision activities, and patched activities.

I am so much more confident in what Eliza specifically can and cannot see with her right eye because of vision therapy. Her routine 3-month eye exams at the ophthalmologist are so quick, and usually happen when Eliza is already exhausted from the drive to Seattle and multiple other appointments. Last time her eye exam was an hour after waking up from anesthesia for her MRI…you can bet that eye exam wasn’t accurate! Her ophthalmologist isn’t really supportive of vision therapy, but I’m going with my mama gut on this one and pursuing this alternative therapy to give Eliza the maximum use of her vision that she can get!

Example of a red/green activity: Eliza wears these glasses
Eliza wears the glasses and puts the tokens of the corresponding color on the squares
One eye can see the RED and the green is cancelled out by the green shade
The other eye can only see the GREEN and the red is cancelled out by the red shade!

Eliza has started getting a little bit sneaky with her red/green activities by scrunching her nose up so she can see with her left eye for a millisecond to complete the activities faster. Her vision therapist said this is REALLY common with kids doing vision therapy her age. We want to keep vision therapy as light and fun, and not something she dreads SO…

We’re taking a 4-6 month break from going to vision therapy sessions (as recommended by her vision therapist) to focus on just doing patched activities at home to try to continue to strengthen/maintain her right eye. We will continue to do 15-20 minutes every day at home!

Vision therapy is pretty expensive ($90-120 per session, not covered by insurance because it is an “alternative medicine”) and her vision therapist knows we have plenty of patched activities we can do at home (pretty much any preschool-type sorting or matching games). We will go back in a few months to see if Eliza is ready to do red-green activities again! Eliza’s vision therapist said it is very common to do a few months on/a few months off as she grows up.

We have been so happy with doing vision therapy and I’ve heard from many other moms that it helped their kids with various vision-related issues too!

I’m so happy to answer any questions about vision therapy to the best of my ability!

Not vision therapy, but Eliza’s drawing and letter forming has improved significantly since doing vision therapy!

Our Homeschool Preschool Plans 2020-2021 (P3/P5)

We’re heading in to our second year of homeschool preschool with Eliza! We started last year with Playing Preschool curriculum, which gave me some great ideas, but we ended up modifying it quite a bit as the year went on. I thought I would list what we are planning on doing for this fall here!

Eliza will be 5 in December, so she will not start kindergarten until next year. When Eliza was born I always thought she would just go right in to public school in kindergarten but the closer we get and the more I realize how much I love teaching her at home. We are now hoping to do a hybrid public school/homeschool education for kindergarten next year. We’ll re-evaluate each year what is working for our family and for each kid.

I’m a HUGE fan of independent play, read-alouds, and exploring outside. Our “preschool” takes about an hour each day and I’m really flexible with what we get done. It just adds a lot of helpful structure to our day doing an hour of preschool each morning. Eliza loves doing it for the most part, which is why I feel like we will be able to do these different subjects! I’m trying to make this homeschool preschool fun and lighthearted so we will have a good routine and foundation as she gets older.

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Reading: How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We have started this one twice and both times Eliza wasn’t quite ready for it. I’m very confident Eliza will learn to read when she is ready. We’ll start this one again in September and take it as slowly as she needs.

Handwriting: Handwriting Without Tears. Eliza has made leaps and bounds advancements in handwriting since starting vision therapy. This might be an area she needs extra help in due to only having functional vision in one eye. I’ve heard amazing things about this program!

Math: Abeka Numbers Skills K5. I was homeschooled for four years and used mostly Abeka curriculum. I chose this because I’m familiar with it and it claims to be equivalent to common core standards.

Bible: Long Story Short. This is a 10-minute daily devotional that involves actually reading out of the Bible plus discussion questions. This will be part of our “Calendar Time” in the morning.

Extras: We will do science and Spanish once a week. Eliza is really interested in names of bones/muscles/etc. The other day she said “I got some water down my trachea on accident” haha. We have this Human Anatomy Book for Kids. The Spanish book I chose is labeled for preschool through first grade. We’ll more likely use this for more than one year. We also have plenty of BOB/easy reader books and sight word flashcards to supplement!

We will continue to do our morning calendar time, picture books, read-aloud chapter books, playing outside, and lots of independent play time! Hopefully we will be able to have more play-dates too depending on what things are looking like! Eliza’s vision therapy exercises take about 20 minutes every afternoon too.

Oliver will mostly do coloring books/sticker books/play-doh type activities while Eliza does her workbooks. One book I love for his age is the Big Preschool Book. Eliza just finished going through this entire book and loved it. It is full-color and really engaging for preschoolers! It is so crazy to already see big differences in Eliza and Oliver’s learning interests and styles.

Every family is so different with their school choices, but I know many more families are forced into choosing at-home options this year. I’m really interested to see if hybrid models become more popular in the future as schools are quickly modifying now. I’m excited to have another year at home with Eliza after spending so much time apart from her during Oliver’s transplant.