Booklovers Anonymous: The Outsiders

For this week’s Booklovers Anonymous I share one of my favorite books from my middle school years. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a coming of age story set in the 1960s. The themes of love, friendship, and fitting in are things all teens can relate to. The story of Dallas, Pony Boy, Johnny, and Sodapop grabs the readers attention and draws them in.

The Oustiders

I have my boys read this book when they are in the 8th grade. At that point, they are ready to tackle the subtle and obvious plot points and themes. This book provides all kinds of discussion about topics like social class, boundaries, making right choices, and how, sometimes, the least likely person can be the hero.

Published in 1967, the story of the Socs and the Greasers has been around a long time and there are plenty of resources available for using it in your homeschool.

This PDF has some great activities like making character posters and possible discussion or essay ideas. I love the printables and discussion questions found in these lesson plans. Incorporate the study of music with the story with these ideas from Rockhall. Pearltrees has numerous resources for The Oustiders including charts, study guides, and web-related activities.

Of course, The Outsiders movie is now considered a classic (which makes me feel really old) and I am happy to say it sticks really close to the book. Appropriate for grades 7 and up, watch the movie as a wrap up activity when you finish the book.

While this is a favorite for boys ages 13 and older, plenty of girls (like me) enjoy this story. I also think the broader topics of fitting in and acceptance are especially important ones to talk about with teens today. In the end, the Outsiders was really all about love and acceptance. If you want an exciting story to read with your middle or high school student, definitely give The Outsiders a try!

Do you have any books from your childhood that made an impression on you? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for joining me and be sure to come back next week!


Black Eyed Peas with Bacon

MMM…Black Eyed Peas and Bacon

Have you heard the story that if you eat black eyed peas on New Year’s day you are supposed to receive good fortune all year? I don’t know about that, but I do know that black eyed peas are healthy and a great recipe for adding variety to your dinners. This black eyed pea recipe is full of flavor!

Black Eyed Peas

3-5 cups water
6 bacon slices
16 oz. dried black eyed peas
1 medium onion
1 can Rotel tomatoes with green chiles
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chili powder or cumin

1/2 tsp black pepper

bacon and onion

1. Wash and rinse the peas.
2. Chop the onion.
3. In a small skillet, cook the bacon until crisp.
4. Remove the bacon to a plate, and then cook the chopped onion in the bacon drippings until it is tender.
5. Transfer the onion and bacon drippings to a large pot.
6. Add the peas, tomatoes, and chili powder (or cumin), salt, pepper, and 3 cups of water.

7. Cover and cook over medium heat for one hour, until peas are tender. Check periodically and add up to two more cups of water if needed.
8. Stir in crumbled bacon pieces.

My hubby and kids liked this a lot and requested it again. I think they were happy to see a new side dish added to the rotation! If you have any other great ideas for black eyed peas, let me know in the comments! Thanks for stopping by and be sure to come back next week. Check out other Try a New Recipe Tuesday recipes here:

Great Websites for Learning

Technology has become a behemoth in the world today. From cell phones, to laptops, to tablets, the internet is accessible anywhere and at any time. While parents have to carefully navigate the online world with their children, there are a lot of uses for technology in homeschool. Our blog carnival this week focuses on this topic. We use various websites and programs to add some depth and fun to our learning. I find the internet helpful for finding out about topics I don’t know a lot about, and for making some concepts more exciting. These are a few of our go-to websites for school.

Kahn Academy

At the top of many homeschoolers lists is the free website, Khan Academy. Loaded with videos on topics like upper level math (my least favorite subject!), it has been redesigned to include an interactive using program that is tailored to your level and tracks your progress! You could really use Khan as your entire math curriculum if you wanted to.


Funbrain disguises learning with games. My youngest son likes to go to this website just to play, and I love the fact that he is learning at the same time. Math and reading are the main focuses on this site, with games like tic-tac-toe, math baseball, interactive books, and Mad Libs (remember those ­čśë ). This is by no means a full curriculum, but its a lot of fun and is a great website for practicing skills.


Both me and my boys enjoy playing logic games on Lumosity . Full of logic games, we consider this “brain training”. You have to set up an account and are allowed so many free games each day, but it’s enough for us.


We used Starfall a lot when my kids were younger. It’s a great website for pre-readers, with games that practice phonics, phonemic awareness, and other early reading skills. The best part is that the kids enjoy the games, so even for reluctant readers (like my youngest) it is not a hassle to get them to play and learn.

PBS Kids

Another favorite from my boys younger days (although I still catch them on it every now and then) the PBS Kids site features all of their favorite PBS characters and a plethora of learning games. My kids particularly enjoyed playing the Cyberspace game and anything related to Clifford. (They still watch that show on Netflix, even though they are in high school and junior high.)


This is a site I recently discovered, but it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. Do you have a child that wonders about everything? If you do, Wonderopolis is for them. Each day, a new question is presented (such as “Are all inventors scientists?”) Kids read some text that give info about the question and then explore the topic further through vocabulary, quizzes, and games.

National Geographic

For the science or nature lover, the National Geographic and National Geographic Kids websites are filled with pictures, stories, videos, games and all kinds of information on just about any topic. This is one of my favorite resources for unit studies.

NGA Kids

Art lovers should definitely check out the NGA Kids website. Interactive activities introduce them to art and art history and kids can create their own art in the style of abstracts, still lifes, and period art.


I don’t know if you caught it, but my son caught an episode of Master Chef Junior and decided cooking was his thing! Spattula is a great resource for culinary-minded kids. It has tons of videos on everything from basic techniques (like making the perfect hard boiled egg) to more complicated recipes. My youngest loves to watch the videos and then ask me to help him recreate them in our own kitchen. I love cooking with my kids, and this site has given us some great new dishes.

The best thing about using technology for your homeschool is that so much of it is free. We are on a tight budget, so I really can’t use a lot of stuff that requires a monthly subscription. These websites help make learning fun at no cost to me. There are plenty of other ways to incorporate technology into your homeschool, from using iPads (if you have them, which we don’t) for assignments, to downloading free books that are available in the public domain. I like to use technology as a supplement to our regular curriculum, and incorporating learning websites is the best way I’ve found to do so.

If you know of any great free learning sites that I missed, please let me know in the comments. To see what other crew members had to say on this topic, check out the rest of the Blog Carnival here (link goes live 2/26/14):
Homeschool Technology

Menu Plan Monday 2/24/14

Is it really already the end of February? I find that hard to believe. Guess I need to start planning my St. Patrick’s Day meal for next month!

This is our menu for this week:

Monday: Spaghetti

Tuesday: Taco Style Stuffed Shells

Wednesday: Chili Soup with a Chef’s Salad

Thursday: Chicken Caprese

Friday: Mojo Pork

Thanks for checking out my Menu Plan Monday this week! Be sure to come back next Monday.

Booklovers Anonymous: Owen and Mzee

For Booklovers Anonymous this week I am sharing a story of two unlikely friends: a hippo and a giant tortoise, Owen and Mzee. Written by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Khaumbu, this is a beautiful story of friendship and survival.

Owen & Mzee

This true story takes place in Kenya, when a baby hippo, orphaned and stranded by a tsunami in 2004 washes up onshore. Local villagers come together to perform a daring rescue. Hippos are known to be very dangerous animals, but they could not sit and watch the baby die. After a lot of effort, the hippo is rescued and sent to Haller Park, an animal sanctuary. At the park, Owen (as the hippo comes to be called) meets, Mzee, a 130 year old giant tortoise. Up to this time, Mzee was not a very friendly creature, and kept to himself. Upon reaching the park, a very frightened Owen immediately snuggled up to Mzee. At first, the tortoise was not very happy about this, but over time, things changed. Owen and Mzee became friends, and Owen began his recovery.

This story itself opens up so much discussion. It is also full of learning opportunities. For starters you could study Africa, Kenya, tsunamis, hippos, and tortoises. A documentary about Owen and Mzee is available on the book’s website. The Owen and Mzee website also has videos, sing-alongs, links for parents and teachers, and a tour of Haller Park.

Also, a free special ebook of the story was created for the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005. It contains more pictures, a coloring page, and updated information on the two animals.

The pictures in this book are gorgeous, and the story itself will bring tears to your eyes. Read it just for fun or use it for science or social studies.

Thanks for joining me for Booklovers Anonymous this week. Be sure to come back next Thursday. If you know of any other great animal stories, let me know in the comments!

Field Trips in Cyberspace

Field Trip Fun!

Ahhh….the field trip. Undoubtedly one of the most fun parts of being a kid in school. I remember how my friends and I looked forward to field trips. Planning where we would sit on the bus, what we were going to see, what we would have for lunch. Often, I could hardly sleep the night before the trip!! I had some great field trips growing up, and they are probably one of the biggest parts of my school career that I remember.

One of the beautiful things about homeschooling is that you can take many many field trips to all kinds of places. We have gone on trips with our homeschool group and just as a family that we would not have been able to do otherwise. From local trips to nature and science centers, to bigger trips to theme parks and other attractions, we have had a lot of fun.

However, our trips are generally limited to what is within easy driving distance of our home. There are places I would love to see that just aren’t a close drive away. And many people may live in areas where there aren’t a lot of places to visit nearby. Fear not, if you have a computer with internet access, or can get to one at your local library, it is still possible to take field trips right from the comfort of your living room! In fact, this week’s Crew Round Up is all about virtual field trips.

For starters, check out the Smithsonian Institution’s virtual exhibits. There are literally hundreds you can look at. From topics like history, pop culture, famous people, and ancient civilizations, you can find a virtual exhibit to suit everyone. Tie them to your history studies, or plan a unit study around one of the virtual exhibits. My boys actually go on the page from time to time just to check out stuff on their own. While a trip to Washington D.C. to see the museums in person is on our family wish list, it isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The virtual exhibits allow my kids to experience some cool things from our living room.



Tramline offers numerous trips for kids of all ages, complete with teacher’s notes. You can visit various ecosystems like the Columbia River, salt marshes, and a temperate forest biome. You can also take a trip to learn about Shakespeare, the Natural Wonders, or America. Field trips are broken up by recommended grade levels.

If you are studying the Arctic, check out this trip from Polar Husky. This is great for kids of all ages.

For elementary age students, take a virtual trip around the world with Scholastic’s Global Trek. This is a great resource if you are studying geography.

Like the Smithsonian, the Louvre also offers virtual tours of its exhibits.

If you are looking for a virtual tour to tie in with your literature studies, check out Google’s Lit Trips. They take the characters from well-known literature and map out their movements using Google Earth. At various locations along the journey, there are links to many media sources that relate to the book.

Do you have a fan of The Night at the Museum in your house? Take a virtual tour of the museum and see the famous exhibits first hand!

Finally, Nasa offers a great free virtual field trip that works well for older students. Explore Mars and learn about areas of Earth that are analog sites for the red planet.

For those who want to see exciting places and things, but are not able to travel far and wide, the internet is full of rich experiences that are free or low cost! Happy traveling!

If you know of any other cool virtual trips to take, let me know in the comments! Feel free to share this post. To see what other members of the crew have to share about virtual field trips, click here:

Virtual Field Trips Round-Up

Chicken Caprese

Chicken Caprese and Caesar Salad

I love tomatoes! And cheese, and garlic, and balsamic vinegar! So basically this recipe is a combination of some of my favorite things.


4 thin chicken breasts
4 cloves of garlic
2 pints cherry tomatoes
10-12 basil leaves
4 slices mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

1. Heat one tbsp. of the olive oil in a pan. Sprinkle the chicken with the Italian seasoning and salt and pepper.
2. Place the chicken in the pan and cover the pan. Cook for about 5-8 minutes on each side, or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Set aside.
3. Mince the garlic and chop the basil leaves. Halve the tomatoes.
4. Add one tbsp. olive oil to a second pan. Put the minced garlic in the pan and cook for two minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes to the pan and cook for an additional five minutes.
6. Add the chopped basil leaves and cook for one minute more.

7. Place a slice of mozzarella cheese on top of each chicken breast.
8. Pour the tomato mixture on top of the chicken.
9. Cover and cook for a few minutes, until cheese is melted and everything is heated through.

10. Remove from heat and top with the balsamic vinegar.

This was very tasty and could be served with pasta, bread, and other sides. I chose a Caesar salad because it was easy. Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to check out other recipes for Try a New Recipe Tuesday here:

Menu Plan Monday 2/17/14



Welcome to Menu Plan Monday for February 17 2014. This is what’s on our menu for this week!

Monday: Burgers with Bean Salad

Tuesday: Chicken with rice and beans

Wednesday: Fish Tacos

Thursday: Grilled steaks with spinach and artichokes

Friday: Chicken Caesar Salad

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back next week ­čÖé

Booklovers Anonymous: Jennifer Jones Won’t Leave Me Alone!

For this week, I am sharing a fun little book that is great for Valentine’s Day. The book, Jennifer Jones Won’t Leave Me Alone, by Frieda Wishinksy, tells the story of a young boy and his classmate, Jennifer.

Jennifer Jones Won’t Leave Me Alone

Jennifer writes him poems, and talks to him, leading to teasing from his classmates. He wishes for an escape, and is overjoyed to hear that Jennifer will be leaving as her mom starts a new job. However, his feelings begin to change as he realizes he misses his friend. Along the way, Jennifer sends letters describing her adventures in Paris and Italy. By the end of the story, the boy is happy to admit that he is excited when he finds out his friend is returning from her journey.

The story is written in rhyme, and lends itself easily to choral readings. The heartwarming story reminds me of the days on the playground when boys and girls used to tease each other and play together. For Valentine’s Day, you could read the story and create your own rhymes to write on homemade valentines. You could also read this story just for a laugh!

Do you know of a great Valetine’s story to read with your kids? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for stopping by this week. Be sure to join me again next week!

Valentine's Day Resources

Math Misadventures

What I wish I looked like teaching math

The topic of our blog carnival this week is “the subject you struggle with teaching most”. There’s an easy answer for that for me: MATH! Specifically, upper level math. The elementary stuff is pretty easy, but beyond that, I am truly at a loss. It’s funny, because in high school I took honors classes, but for some reason TEACHING this stuff to my kids is hard!! Trying multiple curriculums in the hopes of finding one that works? Guilty! Stressing out night after night about whether or not my child is going to succeed? Guilty!

We managed to get through pre-algebra and algebra without me pulling all of my hair out, but this year, my oldest son has begun the subject that I consider my nemesis! Geometry.

Geometry—the bane of my existence!

It doesn’t help that my son is just like me, preferring a good book to equations any day of the week. I knew that when he got into high school, math was going to give us both headaches. So, I started researching curriculum well before hand. I found a lot of DVD and online curriculums that looked great (Hey, a teacher that can teach the both of us!!), the problem is, most of them are way out of my budget.

This year, I was fortunate to have a good friend lend me her copy of Chalkdust Geometry for the year. I saw Dana Mosely at a homeschool conference a few years ago, and I was really impressed with how he presents concepts. This was one of the programs I had my eye on but could not afford. The geometry she gave me is an older one, but the DVDs are great, and the book comes with a full solutions manual which makes it easy to see how each problem is solved, step by step.

This might as well be a foreign language!

So far, we’ve managed to do okay with angles, measurements, etc. The one thing that still brings both of us almost to tears is theorems. I hated them in high school, and honestly, I hate them more now! I just can’t wrap my brain around how to do them, and of course, that makes it impossible to help my son with them!! Really, I have NEVER in my life used a theorem outside of school, and if it weren’t for the fact that I am worried about college entrance exams, I would skip them altogether.

symmetry, reflections, rotations, ugh!

Mr. Mosely does a fine job explaining them, but for some reason, when I have to do them on my own, I just can’t figure them out!! I am considering adding Life of Fred Geometry to the mix to see if that helps. We have done some of the Fred books before and the author does a good job of breaking things down into easy to understand steps.

Sigh…when it comes to math, there are days when I worry I am letting this boy down. His test scores have been fine so far, but I don’t want him to fall behind because of me. I am thankful that there are so many resources available to me as a homeschooler, but I wish I could just download a program into my brain that would help me know how to do this. My next step would be to look for a tutor, but we are going to try Fred first.

I would like to find a program that works because my younger son is only three years behind his brother, and I know I am going to have to do this all over again soon. Fortunately, math comes easier to him, so I’m thinking it won’t be as hard the next time around.

Do you struggle with upper level math too? Have any suggestions for me? Let me know in the comments. And check out what other Crew members had to say about the subjects they struggle with teaching here:

Subject Struggle

Bean Salad

Bean Salad

I love to make this recipe as a quick and easy side dish for burgers. It makes a lot, so we will typically be able to eat it for lunch for days. In the words of my 15 year old son “this is the best salad you’ve ever made!”

Red, white, and black beans

1 can red kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 can Cannellini beans
1 red pepper
1 small red onion
1/2 bunch parsley
1 bunch green onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Red pepper, parsley, and green onion

1. Drain and rinse the beans and add them to a bowl.
2. Chop the pepper, red onion, green onion, and parsley and add that to the bowl.

Oil and vinegar

3. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper.
4. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to mix.
5. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes and serve.

This is also a great dish to double and take to a party! Enjoy, and thanks for joining me this week. Be sure to come back for a new recipe next Tuesday. To see other recipes from this week’s Try a New Recipe Tuesday link up, click here:

Menu Plan Monday 2/10/14

Welcome to Menu Plan Monday! This is what we are having for dinner this week:

Monday: Chicken Tamales

Tuesday: Pork Tacos

Wednesday: Meatball subs

Thursday: Cabbage Casserole

Friday: Fettuccine Alfredo

What’s on your menu for the week? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to come back next Monday.

Booklovers Anonymous: The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig

This week for Booklovers Anonymous I share a fun twist on an old fairy tale. The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas and Helen Oxenbury revisits the story with the pig as the antagonist!

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig

In the story, the three soft and cuddly little wolves are sent out into the world by their mother. Before they leave, she warns them to watch out for the big bad pig! Along the way, they meet other animals who give them materials to build houses out of brick, concrete, and even steel. But nothing is strong enough to protect them from the pig! (and he doesn’t just blow houses down, sometimes he blows them up!). As a last resort, the wolves build a house out of flowers, and something amazing happens! (but you will have to read the story to find out what!)

In addition to having fun reading the story (and my kids have asked me to read it over and over) there is a lot you can do with this book. For starters, it’s great for introducing the concept of compare and contrast, when you read the story along with the original. Learn NC has a lesson already created for this purpose.

Scholastic also has a lesson plan laid out for this story that focuses on the study of folktales as well as a writing lesson where students take on the point of view of the pig and rewrite the story.

If you are looking to build reading fluency, reader’s theater is a great way to do that. Timeless Teacher Stuff has a script of the book that works great for a group!

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig is a lot of fun to read and serves as a great base for a few lessons, or even a unit study on fairy tales.

Thanks for joining me this week for Booklovers Anonymous! Be sure to come back next Thursday when I talk about a great book for Valetine’s Day!

Candy Hearts, Sticky Fingers

Candy Hearts

Ahh…Valentine’s Day. Candy, flowers, chocolate, cards, and fun. I remember the days of carefully choosing those little cards at the store and taping lollipops or other candy to them. I always gave careful consideration to which of my friends got which card from the collection, and I looked forward to receiving my own cards (and coming home with a bag full of candy ­čÖé ). And of course, there were all the crafts we made at school. Paper hearts, cupcakes, Valentine’s boxes. I always came home covered in glue!

Now, as a parent, I have to say I don’t miss filling out those cards and taping on those candies. I didn’t realize at the time that the process is not nearly as fun for adults!! However, we do like to bring some Valentine’s fun into our homeschool. I have found some great resources online and at the local library!

First, these are some books you can read aloud to your kids for fun and learning the week of Valentine’s Day:

1. Jennifer Jones Won’t Leave Me Alone (I will be writing about this one for Booklovers Anonymous on Feb. 13!) A fun book about a young boy who has a classmate that drives him crazy, until she moves away and he misses her!

2. How to Drive Your Family Crazy on Valentine’s Day A story of a girl who doesn’t like “mushy stuff” and the mysterious Valentine box.

3. The Legend of the Valentine A more serious story about love, forgiveness, and St. Valentine.

4. Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! You really can’t go wrong with a Mouse story!

5. The Biggest Valentine Ever Two friends team up to make a colossal sized Valentine!


There are also plenty of online resources for Valentine’s Day activities. First, PBS kids has printable cards and E-cards you can send to friends and family. They will also have special Valentine’s Day episodes of their kids shows airing that week. Activity Village has links to coloring pages, printables, and games you can play. Parenting has some fun Valentine’s themed recipes you can make with your kids.

Spoonful has some really fun games you can play as a family (I love the conversation hearts and chocolate kisses idea!) as well as other activities that are easy and fun. They also have some very creative ideas for simple gifts your kids can make. If you have older kids and would like to use Valentine’s Day to study some poetry, get started with these poems.

Whether you want to do a serious study about the history of the holiday, or just have some fun making crafts, cooking, and playing games, these resources are a wonderful place to get ideas! If you know of any other great places to find some Valentine’s ideas, let me know in the comments. Check out other resources that my Crew members shared here:
Valentine's Day RoundUp

Valentine's Day Resources

Quick Chicken Tamales

Chicken Tamales

This week I am sharing a quick and easy recipe for tasty chicken tamales! This takes less than an hour, is very filling, and makes plenty for leftovers.

1 whole chicken, cooked and shredded (if you have time you can bake your own with some cumin, garlic, and onion powder. Or you can use leftover chicken, or even pick up a chicken from the deli at the grocery store)

1 can enchilada sauce

16 oz. shredded Mexican cheese

1 can creamed corn

8 1/2 oz. corn muffin mix

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. cumin

Simple ingredients

1. Combine the muffin mix, chili powder, cumin, corn, eggs, milk and half of the cheese in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly.

2. Spoon the corn bread mixture into a greased 13X9X2 pan.

3. Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and slice 10-12 slits into the top of the corn bread.

5. Pour the enchilada sauce on top.

6. Spread the shredded chicken on top of the enchilada sauce and cover with the remaining cheese.

7. Bake at 400 for an additional 25 minutes.

There, a yummy one-dish meal that is simple and fast. Perfect for a busy night. I serve this with chopped green onion and sour cream. Enjoy! Be sure to check out other recipes from Try a New Recipe Tuesday here: