Any Other Day

(Me and my littlest girls.)

Today my kids woke up as I was finishing my quiet time, and I was greeted by a chorus of little voices calling my name (which is "Mommy", of course).  They grinned at me, and laughed with each other, and ran to make their beds and get dressed before breakfast.

Today is just like any other day to them.

For the first time, I realized this summer that while 9/11 will always be a vivid memory in my mind, from here on out all brand-new, 18-year-old adults are people who were not even born then.  There is a whole generation of kids who will only read about 9/11 in the history books, the way I read about Pearl Harbor.  My kids are in that group.

That is so bizarre to me.  Because my memory is crystal clear of my mom rushing into my room one morning to tell me to get upstairs quickly to watch the news.  A plane had crashed into a building.  I had no idea what she was talking about, I thought it must be a history program she wanted us to watch for school.  So I had another half hour of living in my own pre-9/11 world while I got ready for the day.

I remember being glued to the TV for the rest of the morning.  I remember seeing black specks falling from the building and realizing with horror that those were people.  I remember sitting in silence, watching the first tower fall. Then the second.  I remember seeing the clouds of debris taking over the streets, swallowing people on the streets.  First responders covered in gray dust.  I remember the black scar on the Pentagon building, the news that another plane had crashed in a field.  I remember when everyone realized that this wasn't just an accident.

That afternoon I needed a break, and I went outside for a walk.  Yellow aspen leaves rustling in the breeze.  A blue, blue sky, and autumn in the air.  I thought, and I prayed, and maybe I grew up a little right then.

I remember how the country pulled together afterward.  I remember how for a little while we weren't Democrats or Republicans, we were only Americans.  Maybe that was the one good thing to come out of the horrible tragedy of that day, that we all had the chance to know what being united feels like.

I don't know if schools even teach kids about that day as history yet, but they should.  I know I plan to educate my children about 9/11 and tell them my story.  But maybe not yet.  They are small still, and prone to nightmares.   Maybe I just want them to be little a while longer before they fully know what kind of place the world can be.

But some year soon I'll pull open the news footage on my computer or we'll watch a documentary, and I'll make sure they know.  About the towers that fell, planes that were used as weapons, heroes who ran toward the danger, and countrymen who were lost.  I want them to remember what happened that day, even if it feels like distant history to them.  I'll tell them my memory of 9/11, just as I hope others are doing with their children who are old enough.

I would hope this day is commemorated, some of the footage shown, those who died honored in memory forever.  So that even those who don't remember would never forget.

How I'd Do Disney Differently With Five Young Kids

The story is out - our trip to Disney World was less than I had hoped it would be.  And honestly, my expectations were rather low in the first place.

(The photo opportunities were gold though!)

I've told a little bit of our experience on Instagram and in this post, but today I just wanted to share a few of the things I would do differently were we to visit Magic Kingdom again with young kids.  These "tips" are coming from a non-Disney person who does not like to plan excessively for trips, so these are basic suggestions in case you are like me and just want to keep your Disney experience relatively simple!  If you are not like me and like to plan your Disney trip within an inch of it's life, I'm hoping that some of you will comment your favorite in-depth Disney planning resources below!

Here are my very basic ideas on how I'd improve our Disney experience next time.

Skip Disney World And Just Get A Character To Come To Your Kids' Birthday Party

I kid, I kid.  Kind of.  But honestly, some of my kids' favorite moments of the Disney trip were when they got to meet the princesses.  They burst out laughing when Pooh Bear found a water puddle right in front of us and splashed in it.  I didn't expect my kids to love the characters so much, because they acted so shy, but it was definitely a highlight. If we went there again, I'd try to meet a couple more characters.  Or save the $750 it cost for us to all get in there, and just hire a character to come to their birthday.  Kidding!  Sort of.  It would be cheaper.

Have A Plan For Navigating The Crowds

A huge reason why we didn't enjoy Disney as much as I expected was the massive amount of people there.  Unfortunately that can't be helped.  However, I had not been to Disney, or anywhere with that many people, in so long that I did not really think through how we were going to get from one place to another with five small children, and only four hands between Derek and me.   We just walked together like we normally would, but I forgot how people cut in front and between groups when it is so crowded. We ended up briefly losing various kids THREE different times while we were there!  Losing my child once in their childhood would be quite enough for me, so feeling that panicky I-don't-know-where-my-kid-is feeling three times in one day was a little much.  If we went back, especially with so many kids, I'd make everyone hold onto backpack straps, shirt hems, or the stroller at all times when we are walking.

Figure Out The Fast Pass Thing Before We Go

As I've already established, I am not a planner.  When I go on vacation, I like to just show up and have fun.  I heard about Fast Passes, but I thought it was a special perk that you paid extra for.  When we bought our tickets, I found out that you actually get three free Fast Passes with each ticket.  However, since I had done zero research, I did not realize that you still have to go to a special Disney Kiosk and pick your Fast Pass time slots for specific rides, or that you could even do it online before you even show up.  By the time I figured this out, there were hardly any Fast Passes left for the day.  So if you want to make use of your free Fast Passes at all, I'd recommend reserving them before your trip, or at the very least at the beginning of the day when you visit Disney.  Unless you want to waste it on the teacups, which never have much of a line anyway.

Only Go On Rides We Could Do All Together 

We picked a pretty difficult age to bring our kids to Disney.  We only have one kid who could ride on the bigger rides by himself.  We had three kids who could ride, but they each needed an adult to ride with them because of their ages.  And of course we have one baby who can't ride the bigger rides at all.  If you are doing the math, that means we'd have to go through the line for each ride twice, while taking turns waiting and holding the baby, in order for everyone to get a turn.  We did this with one roller coaster, and getting everyone a turn, even with Fast Passes, took over an hour.  If I were to do it again, I'd just skip the big rides, except maybe a really special one that we didn't get to go on at all (ahem, Splash Mountain), and I'd just focus on all the rides we could all ride together.  There were plenty of them, and I think we all would have had more fun that way.

Focus On The Movie Themed Rides

Our favorite rides in the park were the really simple ones that basically take you through the stories of Disney movies.  We could all ride them together, and the kids (8 years old and younger) were at the best age to enjoy those rides.  We did a couple of them (Little Mermaid, and Winnie The Pooh), but there were a few we missed because we ran out of time.  If we went with the kids at this age again, I'd do all the movie themed rides first!

Leave During The Fireworks

We had grand plans to sneak over to Splash Mountain and try to ride it when everyone was leaving after the fireworks.  To which plan I can only now say...ha!  The line for Splash Mountain was still quite long, and we decided that we didn't want to keep the little ones up another hour while we waited.  So instead we rode the Magic Carpets, and then headed out of the park.  I expected we'd be back at the hotel in time for a late-night swim in the hotel pool,  We waited for over an hour just in the line to get out of the park.  There was a lot of complaining about sore feet, alot of asking how much longer, and a danger of developing claustrophobia.  And that was just me.  If we did this again with young kids, I'd probably try to beat the crowds to the ferry and leave while the fireworks were still going.  (Of course, I can say this because we ended up missing the fireworks anyway - that whole lost kid thing.)


Despite a few of the rough patches and lessons learned, I am really glad we did visit Disney!  I think the kids had fun overall, and it'll be fun for them to be able to talk with their little friends who have already visited Disney.  It is just naturally a fun thing to experience in childhood, and I'm glad we got that chance.  It wasn't all bad.  We made plenty of fun memories at Disney too, so I'm tacking on a few things I'm glad we did...

Using The App

The Disney World app tells you all the wait times for the rides, meeting the characters, etc.  I'm so glad we had that, because we were able to get on a few rides when the lines were shorter!

Packing Snacks And Eating At Casey's Corner

We got out of Disney World only spending about $50 on food.  I think that's pretty good for a family of seven!  We packed a ton of snacks in a backpack, and we snacked straight through lunch.  Then when they shut some of the rides down for rain in the evening, we took that opportunity for dinner.  We got two corn dog nugget meals for the kids to split, and Derek and I each got a hotdog.  I think we accidentally found the cheapest restaurant to eat at in Disney, and I'm glad we didn't have to spend an extra $100 on food like I thought we would!

Watching Movies Beforehand And Enjoying The Atmosphere 

Alot of you have seen every single Disney movie, but my poor kids have not.  Alot of them are too scary yet for my particular kids, and we are not as into Disney as alot of people are.  However, I did try to pull out a couple new Disney movies before we went, and I'm glad I did!  One of our favorite parts of the day was visiting the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse.  I bought the movie for our kids to watch on this trip, so when we visited the treehouse at Magic Kingdom my kids were fascinated!  It was also a slower area of the park - so many people are focused on the rides, but alot of the atmospheric elements were just as fun to us!

I don't think we'll be visiting Disney World again in the near future, just because of the distance and expense.  But if we did, I know what to do now!

Disney Experts, now is your chance!  Give me all your additional tips, especially for making the most of Disney with young kids!  

You never know, maybe we'll end up going back sooner than expected!

Homeschool Planning - How I Do It

Are you a planner?  I have to admit that I am not.  Oh, every New Year's Day I get sucked in by the pretty new planners, probably like alot of you do too.  I have often bought a planner, only for it to sit on my desk with the cover never cracked.

Planning intimidates me.

My Homeschool Planning History 

The first year that I homeschooled my son, I actually didn't do any planning at all.  I bought the curriculum, counted up the number of lessons so I had an idea of how much we would have to do each week, and went from there.  I even wondered why people spent so much time planning out the homeschool year anyway.  Don't you just open the book each day and go on to the next lesson?  Why does this require planning?

I wasn't totally wrong, but by halfway through that year I realized that we needed to pick up the pace on a few subjects if I wanted to finish the book that year.

So the next year, I decided that I could probably benefit from getting the big picture on paper at the start of the school year, and I planned that year to within an inch of its life.  I followed The Lovely Homeschool Course planning system, mapped out each subject, printed all the papers I would need for the entire year, and labeled them all by weeks.  I felt so organized and in control!  This was going to be the best homeschool year ever!

Except that when we "fell behind" the plan in a few subjects, I had to move all those weekly labels around, and I completely lost track of where we were on a weekly basis.

Do you see why I struggle with planning?

I have to admit, this post has been intimidating for me to write.  I've had a few people ask me to share my homeschool planner, and I haven't exactly known what to share because my planning is a bit of a mess!  I'm still figuring out what kind of planning works for me.

This year I am shooting for somewhere in the middle between no-plan and planned-until-it's-practically-dead.  I am feeling cautiously optimistic that I am figuring out what level of planning is going to be functional for our family, but I want to point out that this is merely how I'm planning our homeschool out this year.  It'll very likely change again by next year.

What I'm Not Doing This Year

This year when I thought about planning out the year, I was hoping for a little more flexibility overall.  I thought my plan last year was flexible, but when we fell behind or got ahead in some subjects, the mislabeled weeks really started to get to me.

So what am I not doing this year?

I am not assigning lessons to each week.  I wrote a post last year about how I only plan weekly for our homeschool, but in my "big picture" plan I still had certain lessons assigned in each subject to certain weeks.  I am not doing that this year.  It's too much to go back and correct things if we get ahead or behind in each subject.

I am not picking read-aloud for the whole year.  Last year I picked out books I wanted to read aloud to the kids and assigned them to different months, but that didn't give us any room to read books that were interesting to us at the moment.  I really should have known better.  I'm a mood reader in my personal reading, and obviously I should have realized that I may be the same way with books I want to read to my kids.

I am not printing out papers for the whole year.  The Lovely Homeschool Course recommended printing out papers and preparing science materials for the whole year.  While I understand the "why" behind this idea, it gets very messy when you end up not using some of the papers that you printed or when your weekly plan gets thrown off.

I am not using a binder.  Last year I put all my planning pages and printed school papers into one huge binder.  That worked okay, but as I said, it got rather messy when we didn't end up using all the papers.  In addition, the binder got so huge that I kind of forgot what was in there.  We ended up not using some of the notebooking papers that really would have added to my kids' lessons, because by the time we got to that particular history lesson (or whatever), I had forgotten that there was a notebooking page to go with it!  It just got too big and unmanageable, so I'm not using a binder this year.

My Current Planning System

This year when I was contemplating how I wanted to arrange my year, I knew I wanted to plan it a little more loosely, and have more frequent check-ins built in for myself.  I wasn't sure quite how to accomplish this, until I revisiting my planning pages from last year and did a little looking at Hobby Lobby.  So this is what I ended up doing for planning this year.

I bought a Happy Planner.  At Hobby Lobby I was browsing the planning section, and I came across this Happy Planner.  Happy Planners are weird in that you can't buy any old Happy Planner and expect it to have everything you want, because each one has different types of pages in it.  It gets very confusing.  But when I was looking through them, this one appealed to me for homeschool planning.

What I like about it?    It has a monthly overview page for looking ahead to major events for the next month, plus a cute little section for recording "currently" things (kind of like I do in these blog posts).  It has a monthly calendar view for me to write down any homeschool-related deadlines or events for each month.  It has a monthly goal layout, with sections for habit trackers, goals for the month, things you want to focus on, etc.  And finally, it has a whole section just for daily to-do's, one list layout for each day of the month.

I like that I can sit down with these sheets, make goals for the whole month, and then break down those goals into daily to-do's.  I think that will make it easier to keep track of what I want to accomplish each month and how to get there.  At least in theory, as long as I actually use it.  In a way I feel like I fell for marketing again with purchasing another planner, but I'm really hoping this will end up being functional for me.

I have a yearly overview, but I am only planning out a month in advance.  This biggest thing that didn't work for me last year was trying to plan out the whole year in one go.  I did like having all our main subjects broken down so I knew how many lessons we needed to do each week in each subject, but I did not like having lessons assigned to each week in my planner.  Life just happens, you know?  We ended up moving last fall and completely dropped science and history lessons until after our move, and that threw my weekly lesson planning way off.  Looking at my planning binder ended up being stressful for me because it was so inaccurate.

This year I still used the yearly overview planning sheets from The Lovely Homeschool, but I did not write in which lessons we would be doing each week.  Instead I wrote out which lessons or sections I hope to accomplish each month.  The page looks like this now:

At the beginning of each month, I am going to sit down with my yearly overview sheet and my Happy Planner, look at where we actually are in the curriculum, and make goals for what to accomplish for that specific month, breaking it down further into daily to-do's.  I think this will allow me to be more flexible with my plans and adjust it as we go.  If plans change, it's alot easier to cross out one line in my yearly plan than to have to adjust every single line in the column.

I am only printing papers out one month in advance.  Some of the curricula we are using have printable notebooking pages, but I am only going to print those out one month at a time and keep them all in one folder.  This will require me to sit down and look at where we actually are each month so I can print out our pages, which is a built in check for myself.  I think this will make it easier to actually use those supplementary pages, since there will only be a small folder of them to sort through, instead of a huge yearly binder.

Doing things this way will also allow me the chance to look through the many free worksheets I've been collecting over the years, and print out the ones that I think will be good additions for that month.  I didn't even look at my digital worksheet collection at all last year.  Planning each month will be a good chance to make sure I am using all the resources that I have.

I am not planning out read-alouds at all.  Each month when I sit down with my Happy Planner, I'm planning on picking out our read-aloud for the month at that time.  For our fun read-aloud, I usually want a book that is appealing to us at that moment, so picking books each month will give us that flexibility.  I'm hoping to also request a few library picture books that will be good supplements to the subjects we will already be studying that month, while I have everything right in front of me.

What about my homeschool bullet journal?

Those of you who follow me on Instagram might remember that I was using a bullet journal for some of my homeschool planning a couple years ago.  What happened to that?

Well, I found that even though bullet journals are supposed to be functional and they don't have to be pretty, I still just really wanted mine to be pretty.

I think everything I am doing this year could absolutely be done in a bullet journal, but I found that I am motivated to plan by pages that are pretty, and I didn't have enough time or motivation to make my planning pages pretty myself.  This is why I decided to give the Happy Planner a try this year, because the one I found had pages that I thought would be functional for homeschool planning, and they were already pretty.

However, I am still using my bullet journal in our homeschool, it's function now is just for record-keeping.  My state requires me to keep a record of what we do each day in our homeschool (plus that is just a good idea anyway), and I decided I still liked using my bullet journal for that.  It's compact and easy to store long-term, and I can keep it really basic or get a little fancy with my record-keeping.  I'll share more about that in a different post!

Here is a little video, going through my Happy Planner and planning pages.

And some photos of my pages - if you want to click on them you can get a closer look!

How do you all plan for your homeschool year?
I am obviously still figuring my process out, so I'd love to hear any tips on what has worked for you!


I am still in vacation mode over here!

Everyone I know is back to school at this point, but we've been spending this week recovering from our trip to Florida!  We had a wonderful time overall, aside from a few hiccups, and I wanted to record a few of the places we went and the things that happened before I forget.  To keep this post manageable, I'm going to try to do it in bullet points and limit the photos.  Here we go!


-We got a manageable flight that left around 6:30 AM, but the girls still fell asleep on the flight, so it was perfect!  The boys watched movies and read books the whole way.

-We stopped at Delray Beach on the way down to Miami to look at the ocean before sunset.  I personally love East coast beaches at sunset, the colors are so soft and pretty!

-Finally arrived in Miami at 11 PM, and realized that I'm pretty sure I booked us a night in a gang hotel, basically.  That is if the gang tags in the stairwell, marijuana, and sketchy area were any indication.  Plus the room wasn't clean - ah!  Clearly I am not allowed to book bargain hotels anymore.

-Booked another hotel straightaway the next morning.


-We went on an airboat tour with Coopertown Airboats, and we saw the Everglades!  We all learned so much and saw quite a bit of wildlife and interesting plants - so fun!  The Everglades are one of a kind, for sure.

Bill Baggs Cape State Park

-We checked out a state park that an old blog friend recommended to me, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  It was wonderful!  It had a lighthouse, iguanas were running everywhere and the kids were fascinated, and the beach there was probably the most beautiful beach I've ever seen!  It was seriously a tropical paradise. I wish we could have spent more time there!

Boynton Beach

-Stayed the night in Boynton Beach, and then checked out the beach there the next day!  The waves were not as calm as at Bill Baggs beach, but it was still beautiful and we enjoyed ourselves!  After the beach we started the drive to Orlando.

-Car tire started losing air on the way up to Orlando.  We called the rental car company so we could switch it out that evening.  The whole process took three hours, and we were bummed that we didn't have time to relax at the hotel!


-We went to Seaworld the next day!  I haven't been to Seaworld since I was a kid, and we all enjoyed it so much.  We saw a bunch of see creatures (orcas, dolphins, seat turtles, manatees, parrots, a pilot whale...), and we really loved the shows!

-We got the meal deal at Seaworld, so we each got to order an entree, drink, dessert, and side every hour.  We didn't actually eat every hour, but we could have.  Mostly it was just nice not to have to worry about what we were spending!

-The kids rode their first roller coaster, and it also just so happened to be National Roller Coaster Day!  How fun is that?

-They were having an extended hours day at Seaworld, so we got to see the Shamu Lights The Night show.  They were trying to get everyone to dance for the "dance cam" (I'm glad I didn't end up on it, ha!), and all the big kids were dancing, but Georgie also really got into it.  It was adorable!  I'll always remember her little baby rhythm and dance moves!

-Realized the car tire was losing pressure again!  We didn't want to spend another three hours of our vacation returning the car, so we just filled it with air every day for the rest of the trip.  But I will never use that company again.  Two cars with flat tires from the same rental car company is a bit much.

Kennedy Space Center

-We slept in the next day, had breakfast at IHOP, and then drove out to Kennedy Space Center.  We figured we could see it in a half day, but we were wrong.  I wish we had spent more time there, it was so cool!  More to come in another post on that.

-We saw the building where rockets are built, which was huge.

-We saw the Saturn V rocket and the space shuttle Atlantis (both so huge!).

-We did a rocket launch simulator!

-We absolutely loved the whole experience, and I hope to go back someday!

-Saw a crocodile in the "wild" on the way home!  Also saw a man lying on the shoulder of the road and flailing about, which was freaky.  We called the Florida State Police so they could check on him, but it was really weird.

Cocoa Beach

-Beach Day!  We did nothing but eat snacks and relax on the beach, and it was perfect.

-Saw a ton of brown pelicans catching fish!

-Back at the hotel, we watched Swiss Family Robinson with the kids as a movie night.  I loved it as a kid too, but I am still surprised how entranced they were!

Disney - Magic Kingdom

-We decided to do one day at Disney, and the Magic Kingdom seemed like the most exciting park, so that's where we went.  Oh my word, it was so busy!  I don't know what I was expecting as far as crowds go, but my expectation was less people than...that.

-We met Rapunzel and Tiana, we saw Pooh Bear and Tigger wandering about.  Pooh jumped in a water puddle right in front of the kids, and I tell you, that was a major highlight for them!  And for me, because I loved to see them happy!

-Rode Dumbo, Teacups, Magic Carpets, the Barn Stormer roller coaster, and the Winnie the Pooh and Little Mermaid movie-themed rides.  Saw the Monsters, Inc. show, and visited the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse!

-Lost various children three different times, once during the fireworks. Yikes!

Down Day

-After a slightly traumatizing Disney experience, we just took it easy the nest day.

-We visited an orange grove and fruit stand, and ate some pretty great barbecue for lunch!

-We went to see Dora The Explorer in the movie theater.  I think the movie is a bit mature for our kids' age group, and it had some rather gross potty humor and magic/mystical stuff in it.  We just glossed over all that, and most of it went over my kids' heads, so it was okay.  We enjoyed just relaxing for a movie though!  The kids watched the actual Dora cartoon later though, and I think we have a new favorite.

-Went back to the hotel and enjoyed the pool for the rest of the day!

Last Day

-We managed to squeeze a little bit more fun out of our trip before our flight, and we visited this huge McDonald's we kept passing in Orlando.  That place was amazing!  There were twice as many menu options as any other McD's I've been to, with alot of things that could be customized by their chefs.  The play place was huge (largest in the world), and the service was amazing!  They even had an arcade too.  Can we get one of those McDonald's here, please?

We had such a nice time overall, and I'm so glad we got to go!  Florida is not a trip we will be able to afford every year, so this was definitely a special trip.  We got to visit the big theme parks, but I think our favorite parts were being out in nature in habitats that we usually don't get to see.  There were hiccups, but I think we made good memories overall, and I think the kids will remember everything fondly!  And that's really the whole point of vacation to me, just to make those memories together.

More photos (with better explanations) of all of us on Instagram, including really cute pictures of my kids, so if you missed it last week you can hop over there for more info about specific things we did!

Have you been to Florida?  What were your favorite things to do there?  This was just a small portion of all the options of things to see!

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