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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Best urban hiking in St. Louis

St. Louis may be one of the greatest cities in the world for urban hiking. You don’t even have to leave the city to find a great hike with lots of interesting things to see. One of the great benefits to urban hiking in St. Louis is that most of the best locations have a variety of paths from challenging inclines to flat surfaces, and can provide both cardiovascular and mental stimulation to the hiker. 

Even better than that, you can visit each of the following locations for free. So lace up and let’s go.

Best hotels in Oklahoma City for families of five

Before my youngest daughter was born, traveling was a lot simpler. There were just four of us.  Flying was fairly easy, as my husband could sit with one child while I sat with the other. Booking a hotel was simple, because rooms for a family of four are always easy to find.  Even dining out was a breeze, since we all fit nicely into a standard sized booth made for four. But when our little one came along, our family of four turned into a family of five, and suddenly traveling together was anything but easy.

Recently, my husband had an important meeting in Oklahoma City. We decided to make a long weekend of it and take the kids along. But when I started trying to book a room online, I ran into rejection after rejection as our family of five exceeded the limits of one hotel after another. Inspired, I decided to seek out the best hotels in Oklahoma City for families just like mine. 

Residence Inn by Marriott in Bricktown

My family was invited to stay at the Residence Inn in Bricktown, the only hotel directly on the Bricktown Canal. I let the general manager know that I was interested in trying their hotel because it was very easy to book a room for a larger family and was in the middle of a historic district of the city frequented by many visitors each year. 

We stayed in a two bedroom suite, plenty big enough to sleep a family of eight if needed and more than adequate for my family of five. Our suite had two bathrooms, a kitchen with six, yes six place settings in the cupboard, and a living room with a sofa bed and fireplace. We also had a wonderful view of the canal and the city lights. Single bedroom suites are also available, with two queen beds and a sofa bed and enough room to comfortably sleep five or six.

We were so satisfied with our stay, I wrote to tell the manager that my kids said it was the best hotel we’d ever visited. And that’s high praise, considering my children’s favorite amenity, the large outdoor pool, was closed for the season.

Hampton Inn and Suites in Bricktown

Speaking of pools, the large indoor pool with water features for the kids was definitely one of the biggest draws for our family when I contacted the Hampton Inn and Suites in Bricktown about booking a room there. The manager graciously invited us to stay a night in their establishment during our weekend in Oklahoma City, and I am glad he did.

Besides offering comfortable accommodations for a family of five, the Hampton Inn and Suites offers covered parking, a delicious breakfast and many rooms that overlook the Bricktown Ballpark, home of the Oklahoma City RedHawks. It’s like having your very own luxury box.

Our room included two queen size beds, a sofa sleeper, and plenty of space so that we weren’t falling all over each other as we moved around the room. The kids slept well after enjoying an hour in the pool, which stays open late.

Other area hotels

While these Bricktown hotels offer fantastic amenities and easy access to the myriad of entertainment options in the downtown area, there are other hotels around the city which also offer comfortable accommodations for a family of five. Here are a few that I discovered while poring over ratings on TripAdvisor and checking to see whether larger families could easily reserve rooms online.

Close to the Will Rogers World Airport and just outside the hustle and bustle of downtown, you’ll find the Cambria Suites. This hotel offers accommodations for families of five along with an indoor pool, free Wi-Fi and an on-site restaurant with a variety of Cheesecake Factory desserts. Yes, they had me at cheesecake.

·         Also near the Will Rogers World Airport, you’ll find the SpringHill Suites by Marriott.  Offering rooms large enough to accommodate five or six, including two queen size beds and a sofa bed, this hotel gets high marks from travelers. Want to stay closer to the north side of the city? Check out the SpringHill Suites location at Quail Springs for easy access to Oklahoma City, Edmond and more.  Pets are welcome with a deposit.

·         The Hyatt Place on Northwest Expressway comes highly recommended by reviewers on TripAdvisor, perhaps because of the Gallery Menu of fresh and delicious meals available 24 hours a day. Central to the city and within a short drive of many attractions, this hotel can meet your family of five’s needs in style.

Three good reasons to renew your driver's license

When I presented my license at the last local election, the volunteer who checked it reminded me that I was due for a renewal soon. With the extremely volatile Presidential election looming, I don't want to miss my opportunity to cast a vote because I let my driver's license expire. 

In Oklahoma, as in several other states, a valid state or federally issued photo ID, such as a driver's license, must be presented in order to cast a ballot. And in Oklahoma, valid means not expired until after the date of the election.

Preserving my right to vote is a very good reason to make sure and renew my license, but four years ago I discovered an even more important reason, when my recently expired license caused unexpected trouble for both me and my daughter.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What's in the Fine Arts Bundle from the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition?

When you ask homeschooling parents what they have the most difficulty teaching, many of them reply with fine arts. There are highly recommended, tried and true resources out there for math, language arts, history and science. But great resources for art are like well-hidden gems.

That's why I am really excited to be a part of the Fine Arts Bundle in the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale. The Fine Arts Bundle is one of 15 bundles in the sale, and priced at just $20, it's quite a bargain.

I think the real test of any bundle sale is whether you will actually use the products in the bundles. Are they resources your kids will enjoy, and do they cover topics you'll want to teach? As one of the authors included in this year's Fine Arts Bundle, I think the answer is yes.

My own product, The History of Rock and Roll, took weeks of hard work and research. I created the unit study for a co-op class I was teaching, and meticulously collected samples of representative work from rock and roll artists from the birth of the genre in the 1940s to modern times. With videos, graphics and lessons parents can read aloud or give to older students to use independently, this is an extremely user-friendly music appreciation course your students will actually enjoy.

A few of the other products in the bundle include a detailed coloring journal, much like those you would find in art stores and a book with dozens of lessons on drawing horses. These are two products I know my older daughter would love. Also, there are unit studies on famous artists and two art appreciation introductory books by a well known publisher you are sure to recognize. These are solid resources that may spark an interest in the visual arts.

This bundle also includes notebooking pages on dozens of the world's greatest poets, and I know many parents struggle to introduce poetry studies in their curriculum.

There is so much more included, in both visual arts and music. If you have been looking for resources you will actually use in your homeschool, you'll want to see all the products you get for just $20 in this bundle. Make sure and click the link to pre-register for this sale. You'll be entered for a chance to win ALL the bundles, and you'll get a coupon so you can save even more when the sale starts!
(Affiliate links)

Build Your Bundle 2016 - Save 86% - 96% on #homeschool #curriculum! #BYB2016

Win ALL the bundles in the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale!

Oh my gosh! I have been so excited to share this news, and finally, I can! I was chosen to be one of the contributors in this year's Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale. I'm so excited to be part of such an incredible sale! There are so many great products, more than 200 in total, by a carefully selected group of authors and publishers, and everything is discounted - up to 96 percent off retail.
(Affiliate links)

The sale starts on May 16, but you can get a sneak peek at some of the awesome products and the many bundles available right now. Even better, you can enter for a chance to win ALL the bundles! Click the link above to go, go, go and get registered right now for this year's contest and see the different bundles available for 2016!

I almost forgot, you get another bonus for registering early for the sale. It's a coupon you can use to get an even better deal on the bundles you want!

Get your homeschool curriculum shopping done early with the 2016 Build Your Bundle - Homeschool Edition sale, and don't forget to check out the Fine Arts bundle. That's where you'll find my History of Rock and Roll unit study! I'm really proud to have been included with such a great group of publishers, and I can't wait to shop for my own selections at this incredible sale!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Helping an Infertile Friend Survive Mother’s Day

If you know me at all, outside of this blog, you know that my journey to motherhood - and by association, homeschooling - did not come easily. This Mother's Day, I would like to share one of the first articles I ever published, originally on Yahoo about four years ago. I hope that you will find it of some value today. Happy Mother's Day to those who are celebrating, and much love to those who are just making it through the day.

I suffered through almost a decade of infertility before giving birth to my twins. By far, the hardest day of each year for me was Mother’s Day. I remember with vivid clarity the last Mother’s Day I ever went to church. They asked all the mothers in the room to come and line up at the front of the church to receive a rose and a thank you from the congregation. The elderly assistant pastor who had never married was the only other woman left standing in the pews besides me.

I felt so conspicuous and left-out, and I vowed never to put myself through another Mother’s Day service again.

If you have a friend or loved one who is dealing with infertility this year, you may be wondering how to delicately handle the holiday. Of course, Mother’s Day is a happy day for most people, and one to be celebrated. But the fact is, infertility makes the day insufferable to many women. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help them make it through a particularly tough time.

Cut her some slack

If your friend does not want to go to church on Mother’s Day or join the family in taking Grandma out to brunch, don’t push the matter. Leave her alone and let her have some space. For an infertile woman, Mother’s Day is like a day of loss, of mourning the child you do not, and may not ever have.

She is not being selfish, and she does not need to be pressured to join in. Mother’s Day is just too emotionally charged for many infertile women to handle in the public eye, and that’s okay.

Show her a good time

Earlier or later in the week, or maybe even a week or two before, do something especially nice for your infertile friend. Take her out to lunch, go see a movie, or spend the day out hitting the junk stores. Show her a really fun time, and do your best to help take her mind off the holiday and give her nice things to think about.

If you are going out before the holiday, don’t make a big deal about Mother’s Day being around the corner. Just get out and have fun together. But do be prepared to listen if she wants to talk.

Let her talk if she wants

Follow your friend’s lead. She may need to vent about how she is feeling, or she may want to keep her feelings to herself. If she decides to share her pain with you, let her talk. If she doesn’t open up the subject, then just let it be.

Don’t be flippant

Women who are dealing with infertility need people around them who are caring and supportive, not people who are flippant or worse, judgmental. Don’t minimize her desire for a family by telling her she can have your kids, that she should get a dog, or that maybe she is just not meant to be a mom.

Also, don’t tell your friend that she should just give up and adopt. Adoption is very personal choice, it can be extremely complicated, and it is not something people "give up" and do. The wait to adopt a child is often years long, not everyone is accepted, and it can cost far more than most people realize.

Whatever you say, just try to be supportive and offer your hopes and prayers.

Stand up for her

If you notice other friends or relatives giving your infertile friend a hard time, stick up for her. It is bad enough that she is dealing with a pain that many people do not understand, but it is even worse when others choose to kick her while she’s down. Your friend will appreciate it more than she can express if you stand up to the bullies on her behalf.
I am so thankful to be a mother after so many years of infertility. I still prefer celebrating quietly at home with my family rather than making a big show of things out in public. I think a part of me will never truly get over thinking of Mother’s Day as sort of a cruel joke on the infertile women of the world.

I feel blessed every single day of the year to be a mom, and I don’t really need a big party on a greeting card holiday to make me any happier or more fulfilled. I hope every mom-in-waiting gets a lot closer to her first Mother's Day this year!      

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Don't worry about cursive

I am about to take the most controversial stand I have ever taken as a homeschooler, maybe even more controversial than taking sides on the great vaccination debate or publicly endorsing a presidential candidate. I know it's risky, but I trust you to take in what I have to say with an open hear, so here it is:

Teaching cursive writing doesn't matter.

Oh, gasp! I know, I know. Please read on, though, and I will explain why I have come to this shocking conclusion.

"If you don't teach your children how to write in cursive, they will never be able to read the documents our nation was founded upon, or letters from their great aunt Sarah, and civilization will surely come apart at the seams." Those are the grave concerns I have read over and over since becoming a homeschooler. 

Some parents, in fact, list the failure to teach cursive writing in their local schools as one of the reasons they started homeschooling in the first place. 

I'll be honest, I wasn't excited about teaching cursive when I became a homeschooling mom. I hated writing in cursive when I was in school. It hurt my hand, and it took me three times as long as printing. As soon as I was allowed to go back to printing, I happily did so and never looked back. But, as a student educated in the '80s, I learned to write in cursive as part of the standard curriculum, like it or not, and I figured I would teach my own kids in due course.

As it turned out, though, I didn't teach my children to write in cursive, other than to sign their names. I put it off, in favor of other learning opportunities, thinking I would eventually get around to it. When my twins turned 14, and we had still never made it past the letter B in their cursive book, I admitted to myself that it might never happen. 

But that's when I made an amazing discovery. My twins could read cursive with no difficulties! Out of curiosity, after one too many of the scary doomsday cursive conversations on Facebook, I brought out samples of cursive writing, from handwritten notes in a scrapbook made by my kids' great grandmother to copies of historical documents. With very little hesitation, my 14-year-old twins read everything that I put in front of them. 

Now, my younger daughter was not able to read the cursive samples, but that was because she was not yet a fluent reader of print. My older two, who could both read printed English fluently, had no trouble recognizing the letters that look similar in both print and cursive, and could easily decipher the unfamiliar letters through context. 

I, of course, rejoiced, not only because I now realized I did not have to teach cursive formally after all, but because I was confident that my failure to do so would not doom America! Hooray!

So, although the sample size of my little experiment was small, I am confident that anyone who can fluently read printed English can, with just a little effort, read the same words in the many varieties of cursive used over the previous generations. 

And with that knowledge, I tell you, you don't have to worry about cursive. Teach it, don't teach it... do what you want. Either way, your kids are going to be just fine.