How my family fell in love with history this year!


I don’t remember where I first heard the advice to write down what you do in a homeschool day instead of the other way around.

It helps you feel productive and more easily see past the “didn’t dos.”

But I kind of like planning. I love homeschool resources and tools and books …

My friend Cait thinks out things she wants to do in a given week, but doesn’t tie them to a particular day, and I love that idea because you never know when things are just going to get dumb – when the dog is going to eat something he shouldn’t, or when a child is going to wake up ready to punch things.

And so I do what Cait does now, but I still follow that advice I got all those years ago to write down our accomplishments.

I’ve decided that the best way to homeschool is to borrow ideas from people here and there, and then just be brave.

Just do it, and do it your way (with little bits of other people’s ways if they make sense, but not if they just make you feel bad.)

And so it’s with that that I want to show you something I made for you:


It’s an e-book! It’s based on the way my family studied history this year, and we all loved it so much that I found myself writing things down and keeping track.

Because it wasn’t a formal plan to study historical mysteries, you see. I didn’t write than down in August.

It just happened and I decided to go with it.

And then I decided to go with it some more and type it all up and try to make it look kind of pretty, and then I got crazy and made a cover, and well, it turns out that I made a book.

So here’s it is:


Slow down. It isn’t really an old paperback.

It’s a fancy new ebook! Look:

ebookipad700And I’m just super crazy excited about it!

It’s called History Mysteries and it contains nine mysteries for you to study together as a family. Each “case” has background information, research materials (books, podcasts, videos, documentaries, etc.), plus suggestions for further study.

I’ve also included book ideas for moms and dads to read, and some discussion questions to get you started.

But I promise, these cases are so great, you will have terrific conversations far beyond my few questions.

In our family, we studied these cases over an entire year – but you don’t have to do it that way. My friend Pam suggested it might be a fun way to study history this summer, for instance.

Um, hint-hint.


But however you do it, I hope you will enjoy it – because that’s the whole point!

I used to think history was kind of boring back when I was in school. But it turns out that it doesn’t have to be all dry dates and boring text books.

History can be intriguing, exciting and fun.

Learn about the allies dropping a corpse to fool the Germans during World War II. Study some curses! Try to figure out what happened to the passengers and crew of a ghost ship, and why everyone in Salem went bonkers.


I guarantee you, these true tales will  get your kids excited about history.

In fact, we have had so much fun, I’m thinking sequel …

But until then, I have some fun news – I’d like to give away a copy of my ebook, History Mysteries to one of you lovely people.

Just leave a comment below.

The giveaway will be open until Friday, May 27, at 6 p.m. CST, and I will contact the winner directly.

Also, I’d love it if you would share about this giveaway on social media, so if you do that, come back here and let me know in the comments and it will count as another entry.

The winner is Kim who said, “My kids are the perfect age for this! What a fun way to study history!” 

Thank you everyone for entering to win! To get your own copy, you can still head here where it’s on sale for $2.99.



This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure statement for more information.

Want to head to Italy with us this summer?

A Taste of Italy program

My friend Tabitha told me once that I am not a very Italian-Italian person.

I immediately squished my GIANT eyebrows together and asked what she meant, and she said that I don’t talk about being Italian very much.

It’s true – I’m an Italian introvert, but my soul, or at least the Italian half of it, loooongs for Italy.

This is most evident in my cooking – everything I make turns out accidentally Italian.

I made an Olive Oil Cake way before Giada told everyone to make them. It was a complete culinary accident.

So I’ve decided that my Italian heritage isn’t immediately apparent because it’s in my blood. It’s hidden under a couple of layers of cardigans, right next to my heart.

Because I dream of Italy. And I know I will get there some day, when my kids aren’t quite so small, and my wallet isn’t quite so thin.


But in the meantime, I was very excited when I heard from the lovely Daniela about a program she has coming up this summer for homeschoolers like us – homeschoolers who love travel and good food and learning about another place, but who might not have the money to load everyone on an airplane and travel to a far-off destination.

Taste of Italy kicks off in July, and it’s basically going to be the best virtual field trip ever.

My family is already signed up, and we can’t wait to travel Italy, learn about different historical time periods and EAT!

There are even art projects included in this course, and I know my kids are going to love this opportunity to get hands-on with history and geography.


If you’d like to join my family and Daniela’s family as we travel Italy this summer, I have some really exciting news for you – Daniela has offered to give one scholarship away for free to a Quill and Camera reader!!

That means if you win, your family will get to join us absolutely FREE – just head here and click on the “Apply for Scholarship” button.

Easy-peasy, right?

(And don’t fret if July is already packed with camps and swimming lessons – you get access to the program for a FULL YEAR! So you can even start it when your school year starts up again.)

I am so excited to get to tour Italy with my kids this summer – I hope you’ll join us!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure statement for more information.

How I know when it’s time to wrap-up homeschooling

How I know when it's time to wrap-up homeschooling

Last week it happened – I started to get that feeling …

It’s a wonderful feeling. The weather has changed here and it’s finally spring-like.

Everything feels a little lighter and the pressure has eased.

And so I know it’s time to wrap-up homeschooling for the year very soon.

Not that we won’t continue to learn all summer long, but the way we will learn will slowly change over the next few weeks, and we’ll spend even more time at the library, more time outside …


I’ve come to see this as a shift in rhythm, which was something I used to think didn’t shift. I mean, isn’t the very idea of rhythm that you have something to count on — an established set of expectations?

But during the past couple of years, I’ve considered rhythm quite a bit, and I feel like in my family, we need to reassess every few months, usually right around when the seasons change.

I was so comforted when I heard Melissa Wiley tell Pam about Tidal Schooling – finally, it felt like this thing we’ve been doing for a while had a name, and an actual legit homeschooler was doing it, so I wasn’t just a mess who couldn’t stay on track.



Because last year I took a bit of a leap. It was the first year that I just left some of the things undone.

We had been reading D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, and all enjoying it thoroughly, but I knew there was absolutely no way we were going to finish it by the end of May.

And I knew that if we tried, the enjoyment would be sucked out of it entirely.

And so instead, I packed it up with a bookmark still in it. I put it in our school basket, and I think I had intentions to pull it out again on a rainy day sometime during the summer, but guess what? It sat there and waited patiently for us.

We finally wrapped it up in gray February, I think? Maybe March.

Who’s counting.


This year we’ll leave some things undone too. We’ll probably get through our most recent Life of Fred, and the second Bedtime Math book. We might finish Where the Sidewalk Ends.

This week, we’ll close the cover on James and the Giant Peach and watch the movie together. (We used an Arrow study with that one and I can’t recommend these guides highly enough!)

We definitely won’t get through everything, and I’ve decided that’s OK, because just like with our D’Aulaires, anything we leave behind will wait for us. And if it turns out that we don’t want to return to it after a break–  well, then that sort of says something, doesn’t it?

I’ve already started a section in my Bullet Journal called “Big Picture Homeschool Planning,” so this summer, as ideas come up, I’ll write them down there, and I’ll probably still get that wonderful frantic rush in August to PLAN!

But this summer, we’re going to switch things up and not feel bad about it – I think we’re going to dive into Shakespeare and try for weekly poetry teas, and hike more and see friends more, and read a lot of books just for the fun of it.

I mean, there’s a new Harry Potter coming – let’s not overplan.


Learning isn’t really a race, and I don’t feel like worrying about finish lines. There are vegetables to plant and flowers to grow, and butterflies to hatch and life to live.

I can feel it.

It’s time.



Bullet Journal 3.0: How to make your journal more than just a to-do list


It’s been almost a year now since I started bullet journaling.

My journey began when I was young, fresh, naive, and had only 6 different patterns of Washi Tape.

Oh, how things have changed.

I have recently graduated to Bullet Journal 3.0, a new and improved version — he’s sleek and cool and goes with me everywhere, so today I wanted to give you a little update because I am seriously in love with my newest bullet journal – it helps me so much.

I find that it not only keeps me on track, but it helps to keep my anxiety at bay because I now have a place to write everything, and just clearing out that brain space has a huge benefit for me.

There is something about being able to write things down, that is very good for me – it’s not just knowing that I won’t forget things – it’s the act of writing it by hand.

So first, let me give you a little tour:


My new bullet journal is a Leuchturrm 1917 Hardcover in black. It’s the dotted version – all three of my journals so far have been dotted, and I think I could handle a squared one, but I think either ruled or completely blank pages might kill me.

My first journal was larger, and I found it felt too big for me – with my second, I went for something more portable.

I loved the size of my second journal, but this time I decided to give Leuchturrm a try. A couple of the big selling points of Leuchturrm journals are that they have numbered pages and an index at the front to help keep track of said pages.

I’m totally sold on that system, because it was one of the parts of using a Moleskine that always felt a little clunky to me. (The Leuchturrm also has two bookmarks instead of one, but I’m not sure if I love that yet or not.)


I’ve also given 3.0 a couple of internal upgrades – I added a pen loop and a pocket that I had in my drawer. (3.0 actually has a pocket, but I put this in there, which is packed with addresses and other important info.)

How I’m using my journal:

The size and style aren’t the only things about my bullet journal that have changed. I’ve also made many small tweaks in the past year, and I’m settling into a system that really works for me.

First, I scrapped the “monthly” layout that a lot of people love. I even scrapped a weekly layout.

Instead, at the beginning of each month, I create a page for each day. Beyond that I have a “future dates” page where I add things that are happening after the last day of the month.


Really far-off stuff I keep in my phone and set alarms, like my annual mole patrol appointment or birthdays. The fact is, no paper system is going to remind me of something really far ahead, so I don’t even try.

At the beginning of each month, I create a Monthly task list, and after each month, I keep a few bank pages for notes.

From there, I just have sections that fit me. You can find so many ideas for stuff to add to your Bullet Journal – I pin a lot of ideas here – but I’ve started waiting to add sections until I really need them.

My sections include:

  • blog planning
  • homeschool planning
  • quotes
  • books I want to read
  • and then pages I create as I need them for projects or other things that pop up.

For instance, recently, I was dealing with a lot of overwhelm and a friend asked me, “What’s something you could do right now to feel better?”

So I opened my bullet journal and started a list. Now, when I feel crummy, I just go to that page and pick a thing.



Fancy or not-fancy:

I made a couple of missteps with my first journal that kept me from enjoying it. First, I overaccessorized. I got really swept up in putting Washi Tape on every page, and trying to make things pretty.

I would love a really pretty, artsy journal filled with hand-drawn banners and calligraphy, but that doesn’t come naturally to me.

So I’ve cut back on the tape and I’ve stopped using 100 pens, and just stick with my tried and true Steadtlers.

I just use Washi Tape to mark certain pages, usually just a little torn-off piece on the very edge.

My friend also bought me some book darts for my birthday, and I’ve been experimenting with those to mark pages for quick reference.

For me, the key to bullet journaling is keeping things simple. But not too simple …


Making it more than a to-do list:

At its heart, bullet journaling is about more than just making to-do lists.

I mean, you can make a to-do list on any random scrap of paper and throw it out when you are done. So I’ve been working the past few months on making my journal a little “more.”

For instance, when we went on vacation, I wrote down notes every day – like an actual journal! It got me excited about real journaling again.

I’ve also adopted Emily P. Freeman’s ideas of WIL (What I Learned) and These Are The Days pages.

Both are pretty self explanatory, but for WIL, I will sometimes make a note about something new I learned or figured out so I remember.

And I love her These Are The Days pages, where she lists the things that are happening right then in her family and life.

So now I add not just things to do, but things we did.

And I try to write down gratitudes too. Even the tiny things like having a few extra minutes to read on the porch before starting dinner.


So WIL about bullet journaling?

So what I’ve learned (see what I did there?) is that there is a TON of bullet journal inspiration out there. In fact, if you want to make yourself nuts, type #bujo #inspo into your search bar, and wait for beautiful journals that look like full-time jobs to come flying at you from all directions.

I pin things I like sometimes, but mostly, I just keep at it and allow it to change and grow with me.

If I see or hear an idea I like, I might try it for a while.

But I don’t feel bad about not doing all the fancy things out there, and I’m learning that a bullet journal doesn’t have to be perfect to be exactly what I need.

So … have you tried bullet journaling? What tips and ideas would you share?

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure statement. Thank you!

How I’m building a pretty, affordable homeschool mom wardrobe

How I'm building a pretty, affordable homeschool mom wardrobe

I have never known how to dress myself.

Example 1:

When I was 5, I was awarded the starring role in our church Christmas Pageant. I didn’t try out for it – they just picked me. I would be playing “Little Girl Who Goes with Mother to Look at Live Nativity.”

Unlike everyone else, the “Mother” and I were to be dressed in modern clothing.

When the pastor announced casting that day in November, however, and I was called up to act out my role for the first time, I had a mini anxiety attack.

I turned to my “Mother,” (who was also my Sunday School teacher and day care provider) and panicked-whispered, “I know this outfit won’t work. I have a nicer outfit at home, I promise.”

She thought it was so cute that she told everyone, and all the adults laughed, and I was sure it was because I was wearing a turtleneck with penguins on it and green corduroy pants.


Example 2:

In 8th grade, I went to Six Flags with my junior high school. I wore a white V-neck shirt with light blue polka-dots and matching shorts. The minute I went on a water ride, the entire ensemble turned see-though.

I later learned the outfit was actually pajamas.

Example 3:

When I was 17, my boyfriend planned a special date for my birthday. He wanted to surprise me, so he didn’t tell me what we were doing.

I wore a pair of crochet flats, which turned out to be less-than-perfect for spending the day walking around Chicago.

Within the first hour I got blisters and then my feet started bleeding through the shoes, and still, he pressured me to keep walking and in that moment I realized that I actually kind of hated him and wanted to date our friend Andy instead.

We broke up 90 minutes from home.

Example 4:

My friend Meegan’s bachelorette party was a Luau theme, but it was in March and it was really cold, so I wore a colorful skirt and sandals, and a black sweater turtleneck.

A guy from my gym recognized me and harassed me the whole night both for my clothing choices and the fact that I looked funny doing the elliptical machine.


So as you can see, I just really shouldn’t be responsible for dressing myself. Which is why I’ve stopped trying.

My friend Jamie introduced me to Stitch Fix a year ago – we both hate shopping, which can bond two women just as quickly as both loving shopping.

I was hooked from my first box, even though it was a total miss and looked like something my Aunt Jackie would have ordered in the early 90s.

But the idea of it – I instantly loved the idea of a stylist picking things for me.

I considered it an adventure to spend $20 and get a whole box of clothes and be able to not only return what didn’t work, but also to be able to provide feedback so my boxes could become more “me” over time.


The thing is, though, Stitch Fix clothes can be pricier than Target or Old Navy, where I used to buy everything.

So today, I thought I’d share some specific tips for how I make Stitch Fix work as a homeschool mom.

  1. First, I only keep the pieces that I love. I Kon-Marie’d a while back, so now I pick up each piece and wait for it to talk to me. Just kidding. But I don’t keep stuff that doesn’t work for three reasons.
    a. Clutter.
    b. Money.
    c. Stitch Fix is to some extent built on an algorithm. If you keep stuff that isn’t “you,” you risk getting more of the same down the line.
  2. I set my price points where I am comfortable. Stitch Fix allows you to set ranges for what you will reasonably pay for each kind of item like shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, jewelry, outwear, etc. I didn’t do this at first and got a $298 dress. You know. Like Kate Middleton.stitchfix5
  3.  I use a Pinterest board and link to it. Each time you set a fix (you can set to get boxes as often as you want, mine is now bi-monthly, but for a long time it was quarterly) you can send a note to your stylist. In it, you can link to a Pinterest board that shows stuff you might like. Here’s mine to give you an idea.
  4. When I do my returns (returns are FREE!) I leave very specific feedback. I say, “I like this cut, but not this fabric.” “These pants are too big in the lower leg.” “Are you serious? Do you think I’m 75?” “I’m sorry, I am not currently heiress to the Nabisco fortune.”   You know. Whatever.
  5. I try to stay super realistic. The truth is, I’m a mom, and although cute, strappy, gladiator sandals with mint accents are awesome, they would be wiped out in 2 days. (I prefer something like these instead!)
  6. So I also tell them not to send me hand-wash only stuff. But I do consider nicer clothes an investment, so I made this box so my fancy shirts don’t accidentally get dumped in with a load of garden clothes and ruined. (Note: This is just a Stitch Fix box turned inside-out. Pretty right?!) I DO NOT hand-wash, but I do wash on gentle and hang to dry.titchfix8
  7. I try everything on. Sometimes things look weird in the box. Sometimes things look weirder on.
  8. I give it the full five days to think about what I’m keeping and what’s going back. This keeps me from getting too excited and making unrealistic snap-decisions like when I buy candy bars in the Target check-out and eat them on the way out to my car.
  9. Speaking of Target –  I buy basics and layering pieces from Target or at Old Navy, not from Stitch Fix. Or I buy these T-shirts because they are the softest and comfiest and 20 percent off with this link.😉
  10. I have tried asking for exactly what I want, like in my latest fix. I requested a pair of jeans, a cardigan, and some everyday sandals. I got those things, but honestly, I kind of like it better leaving it up to the stylist. I’m the girl who should NOT try to dress herself, remember? And besides, surprises are fun!
  11. But I am getting to know what I like, so I update my notes and Pinterest board occasionally and as I see things that pop out at me.

    Shorts I bought off the B/S/T Stitch Fix board.
    Shorts I bought off the B/S/T Stitch Fix board.
  12. And … I use the Buy/Sell/Trade board! And I love it. I have bought four items off the board for a fraction of the price I would have paid getting the same items from Stitch Fix directly. So if I see something I really like, I can still grab it.

One of the things about Stitch Fix is that if you keep the whole box, you get a 25 percent discount. So if I like almost everything, I sometimes post the other pieces and try to sell them so I can still qualify for the discount.

I know. Pretty sneaky, sis.

The key is to let Stitch Fix know when you leave feedback. I simply say, “This wasn’t me. I kept this piece for the discount and sold it.”

By using Stitch Fix this way, I have been able to build a fun, pretty wardrobe full of unique pieces I love, without spending a ton of money.

So what do you think? Want to try it?

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support. 

Enough with the TV shame.

I think people would tell you that it takes quite a bit to get me riled up.

I tend to slow burn and then swallow up any potentially witty, cutting responses, and then go home and eat some chocolate/feelings.

{I do not recommend any of above.}

But there is one thing that has started to fill me with quick rage, I think because it keeps popping up in my life.

It’s a phrase, usually written in a nice font on a photo of two kids playing peacefully in a stream.

It says:

“Kids don’t remember their best day of watching television.”

At its best, this is a gentle reminder to us parents (but probably especially us mothers who are already carrying around invisible purses full of guilt and worry) to put on some boots and go muck about in a forest with our kids.

(And for Heaven’s sake, stop letting them watch television so you can have a few extra minutes in the shower to actually shave your armpits!)


At its worst, it’s just downright toxic and mean and snarky.

I get it. I really do. We are kind of becoming a nation of phone-gazing buffoons who have forgotten how to interact with one another. Our country if full of disease from too much sitting, divorce from too much “checking out,” and idiocy from replacing reading Tolstoy with watching sexy vampires doing it.

We should be teaching our kids the dangers of these things, and we should spend our free minutes taking them on outdoor adventures, dressing them in matching L.L. Bean and Instagramming about it.

And there, I think, you have the first uh-oh.

That quote? That beautiful quote that seems to be everywhere online? Someone had to GET ON THE COMPUTER to share it.

That’s hypocrisy.

Unless we think this media rule is just for people under 18.


Because my next worry comes with the implication that kids are so unmotivated, so simple, that they can only like to do one thing.

Kids like all kinds of things. My two like cooking and Minecraft and drawing and reading and racing cars in Mario Cart and writing stories and jumping in puddles and climbing trees and watching Rhett and Link and eating doughnuts and swinging and bubbles and painting and emojis and buttered noodles and creeks and cartoons.

I have not yet met a kid who didn’t love going out for hibachi and playing mini-golf and stickers and Curious George, in both book and television form.

Kids are not naturally morons, and we need to give them a little more credit.

Third, I really don’t think ONE DAY spent watching TV has ever really hurt anyone, except maybe that little girl from Poltergeist.

And I’ll tell you that I do know a kid who had A Very Happy Day once watching TV, because it was the day his family first got a TV.

The kid was my dad, and he recalls the day fondly.

Let’s remember, we are only two generations away from TV being such an amazing novelty, that companies actually made trays and dinners to facilitate more of it.

So let’s calm down. We have not yet seen the world fall apart because of TV. This might still work out OK.

Fourth, I don’t think any of us need more guilt when it comes to parenting.

For many of us, a little TV or some online time has helped to save our sanity. I’d even argue that used in moderation it helps many of us become better parents.


I don’t know about you, but I spent 10 years without 1 person regularly available to watch my kids. I was away from them a handful of times in a decade, and almost every one of those times, the kids were with my husband.

We don’t live in a world anymore where we have grandpas and aunts and best friends next door.

You know what we have? We have Calliou, and no matter what Calliou camp you fall into, if he allows you to tinkle with the door closed, then God bless him.

cat quote

Lastly, if we are going to vilify TV, we are taking away a lot. I love watching movies and TV with my kids. Not too much, but enough that we make jokes about shows we love, and we share some really happy memories.

So no, maybe kids won’t remember their best day of TV. I don’t, but I do remember the time my parents took us golfing in Florida and my sister got overheated and my mom tried to revive her with Wintergreen Lifesavers.

Kids remember little snippets of their childhoods, and we can’t control what sticks.

But we can love them, even when they watch too much television, and we can forgive ourselves when we let them. We can let go of trying to get everything right every minute, and give them the same freedom.

And that’s enough.

That they’ll remember – I just know it.

If Mother’s Day is hard …

If Mother's Day is hard
(Oh how I have debated over whether to share this. But today is my birthday, so I’m going to be brave.)


My first Mother’s Day was comically awful.

A huge family blow-up just 6 weeks before, on Easter, had carried over, and so my first celebration of being a mom was an awkward reconciliation of sorts.

As I was told what I should have done, “what we all have to do,” I held my tiny baby, shaking – what in the world had we brought him into?

And yet, as I looked at my sweet boy, I also knew I could do better.

I had to do better.

To say simply that Mother’s Day continues to be hard feels like a betrayal of my little family.

Mostly, we get through it. One year my husband got stitches. The very next year he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with diabetes.

So now we just try really hard to keep him out of the hospital.

I’m not ready to tell you every reason why this holiday that honors moms is so hard for me, and frankly, I’m surprised I’ve written what I have so far. Maybe some day I will be able to share more with you, but for now, I will say that I get it – and that I know Mother’s Day isn’t as easy as it could be for many of us.

We may have lost mothers, either physically or emotionally. We might wish we had different relationships with the ones who are in our lives.

We may feel trapped. We may feel hurt. We may feel let down, disappointed, bone-deep sad or alone.

Mother’s Day is one of those times, like right after our own babies are born, when we need to feel mothered, and if that doesn’t happen, it feels like a loss, even if our mothers are very much alive.


It has taken me more than a decade of being a mother to realize that what is missing for me is like a hole that can’t be filled.

But a few years ago I experienced a shift. I realized that I needed to stop worrying about the stuff that had come before, and that I needed to focus on being a mother to my kids, and someday, being a grandmother to their kids.

Having really wonderful, supportive mom friends helps me too. Each one of them has done something kind for me over the years that has made me feel loved and nurtured; and each one reminds me that we don’t have to be perfect to be good as this job; this life.


So if this weekend, you find yourself hurting and feeling a little lost, I wanted you to know that I understand.

And if you want nothing more than to be able to enjoy the day with your kids, but something is dragging you down, I want you to know that it’s OK.

That thing that pulls at your heart is a part of you, and it makes you who you are – the person your kids love; the person they turn to; the person who shapes their world with your love and devotion.

It may even help to let Mother’s Day go. The idea of flowers and brunch celebrating you are nice, but they can also feel like a lot; feel like a spotlight on a day full of mixed emotions.

That may be hard for other people to understand, but they don’t need to.

Instead, hug your children, and remember that the work of mothering will go on for years, and you didn’t get into this for the swag.

And tomorrow, you can begin again with what you know you need to do.

Sending you peace and love,