How To Spring Clean Your Blog

Do you spring clean at your house? Do you enjoy the feeling of having a neat, decluttered living space? It is time to do the same for your writing. Let’s talk about how to spring clean your blog.

I have organized this post into four main tasks: review posts, promote yourself, update your look, and read your own writing. You may want to approach these categories in a different order, but all are critical if you want to spring clean your blog.

{Note: While you are at it, you may also want to go ahead and organize your digital life in general.}

Green leafy section of a tree with some small green insects visible. Text reads: How to spring clean your blog.

Review Every Single Post

I can understand how this might not sound like a realistic goal if you have hundreds of posts. When I started this process, I had been blogging for about 10 months and had written about 70 posts. This took me nearly a month of working a little bit each day. If you have been blogging for years you may want to start with a smaller chunk, say the last six months. 

Do you spring clean at your house? Do you enjoy the feeling of having a neat, decluttered living space? It is time to do the same for your writing. Let’s talk about how to spring clean your blog. Click To Tweet

You can review oldest to newest, newest to oldest, by category, by tag, or some other method. If it helps, print out a list of all your posts so you have something to physically check off. I love a nice list so this was my preferred system.

{To do this in WordPress, simply go to your dashboard and click on posts, then all posts. You can even choose screen options {top right corner} and include specific columns so you can easily see, for instance, the tags, meta descriptions, and keyphrases already in place.} 

Honestly, a few posts from the very beginning I did not do much with. I consider them to be my “getting in my blogging groove” posts, and while I intend to keep them I know they aren’t going to bring in traffic. 

I also did not add in keywords for some of my secular homeschooling updates. They are time-sensitive and unlikely to rank, and were mostly for connection with my regular readers. Plus I didn’t want a dozen or more posts with “secular homeschooling update” or something similar as the keyphrase.

Here’s how I did it. I opened up every single post in edit view. I used the following checklist to review key points:

  • clear title with keywords {minimal changes here and kept URLs same}
  • concise, informative excerpt {often the first paragraph, but not always}
  • focus keyphrase set
  • meta description {appropriate length and containing keywords}
  • Pinterest-friendly photo {with alt description}
  • second Pinterest-friendly photo {unless a very short post}
  • internal link{s} to related posts
  • external link{s} if appropriate 
  • confirm affiliate disclosure added {if needed}
  • all affiliate links set to nofollow
  • click to tweet added {twice for longer posts}
  • easy way to follow social media shared {re-usable block with links}
  • e-mail subscription box added
  • post share buttons at the top and bottom {not floating; *shudder*}
  • review Yoast readability score {aim for green}
  • review Yoast SEO score {aim for green}

Promote Yourself Every Day 

I admit, self-promotion is the most difficult part of writing/blogging for me personally. I hate talking about myself, and I hate asking people for favors even more. However, I know that no one will ever read what I am writing if they can’t find it. 

Connections within your niche and relationships with fellow bloggers most definitely impact your own blog. Engaging with your own blog’s “fans” is super important as well. People naturally like to feel they “know” the bloggers they follow online.

When you spring clean your blog, consider how the changes made will positively influence your marketing strategy and engagement.

I realize some of this is addressed in step one, but it is so important it needs to be broken down further.

You need to regularly put yourself out there on social media. Create new pins for old posts. Tweet your own blog posts. Share your posts on Facebook. Add an Instagram photo of your latest post and include a link in your bio. 

When updating older posts, take a look at your photos. Does every post have at least one image in the recommended 2:3 ratio for pinning? If you have a rather long post, have you broken it up with an additional photo or two?

Can readers share your posts easily? As a regular reader {and sharer} of blogs, there is nothing more frustrating than reading a post and having to hunt down a way to share it on social media. Or clicking on what I think is a share button but being taken to the blogger’s main Pinterest or Twitter page or whatever.

For the love of all things, make it super simple for readers to share your work. You can even ask, nicely. “Like what you’re reading? Please share.”

Another option to encourage social shares is to include an easy way to directly tweet a brief snippet of your post. {I use the Click To Tweet plugin.}

Equally important is letting your readers get to know the person behind the words. When someone comments, reply. If someone shares, thank them. Ask questions of your readers on all platforms that get a conversation started.

White, yellow, and orange flowers at top and bottom. Text reads: Spring clean your blog with these four steps.

Update Your Website’s Look

You might decide to really go wild here and completely change your theme; I did not. There is still much you can do to freshen up the look of your page. Consider fonts, colors, spacing, and more. 

Add a few new photos. Update your tagline. Go through all your homepage links {contact form, social media icons, etc.} and verify everything works.

Do you have a simple introduction that shares what your blog is about? Include a separate about this blog page to let readers know right away why your website is worth their time. {As I am typing this I am mentally noting I am due to update my own.} 

How do you utilize your sidebar? There is so much potential for information here. In addition to a photo and brief introduction, I love to see a list of recent posts and/or blog topics, a way to follow on social media, and an e-mail signup form.

Consider whether including ads is a good investment. Is the revenue you generate worth the additional clutter? Or is it interfering with the reader experience? 

{For me personally, lots of random ads turns me off. I know why people use them. I get the desire to make passive income. Yet, when I click on what sounds like an interesting read and am bombarded with banners and Amazon pictures throughout for literally everything even remotely related to the post, I feel . . . manipulated? I don’t think that’s the right word, but I definitely have feels about it.}

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Don’t forget to check all your plugins—make sure you absolutely need all of them and double-check the settings to ensure they are doing exactly what you want them to do. Right now I have 15 active plugins. I am truthfully not sure if that is a lot or a few, but I like the functionality of each and haven’t had any major issues.

Read Your Own Blog

This last tip is really simple but one many folks may not have thought of. You need to read {and re-read} your own writing if you want to improve it.


Be a dork and subscribe to your own blog. This is an easy way to keep an eye on any potential issues with your subscription service. You want to see exactly what your readers see.

Pull your blog up on your phone and scroll through your recent posts. You will find mistakes. You will find typos—sometimes on very old posts! This will horrify you at first, then you will be relieved that you can easily fix them.

Have you ever decided to spring clean your blog? How did it go? Any additional tips you wish to share?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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Favorite Homeschool Resources {Greek Mythology}

Welcome to Favorite Homeschool Resources—a series sharing our best-loved secular books and workbooks. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

Do you study mythology in your homeschool? How about Greek mythology specifically? While we enjoy and appreciate tales from various cultures, we find that our Greek mythology resources tend to be our favorites. 

Years ago I had this idea to introduce mythology to the Agents as part of our homeschooling. I figured we would take maybe a semester—or two, tops—read some cool stories, discuss their similarities and differences, and move on. 

However, they found mythology way more interesting and entertaining than I ever imagined. Basically since then we have never stopped incorporating these tales into our studies. Mythology is now a regular subject on our agenda, like language arts or history. 

While we enjoy and appreciate tales from various cultures, we find that our Greek mythology resources tend to be our favorites. Click To Tweet

I am not exactly sure when {or why} Greek mythology resources became our preferred, but over the years we have read more ancient Greek stories than other mythologies we have introduced. We have loved the following titles in particular, and hope you will, too.

A row of colorful books on a bookshelf at the top and bottom. Text reads: Favorite homeschool resources, Greek mythology.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

First, a Few General Titles

Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters 
M Is for Monster: A Fantastic Creatures Alphabet
Mythology {DK Eyewitness Book} 
Mythology: Oh My! Gods and Goddesses 

While each of these does include names and places specific to Greek mythology, they do not solely focus on it. These books introduce myriad characters, covering a wide variety of gods, goddesses, mythical creatures, and fantastical beings. A great place to start if you aren’t sure what direction you want to take or what types of mythologies might interest you and your students most.

Best Greek Mythology Overview

Treasury of Greek Mythology

This book by Donna Jo Napoli {she also authors Egyptian and Norse versions} is beautifully illustrated and uses flowing, poetic language to tell each story. It covers about two dozen “key characters” while also providing sidebars with additional information to help tie everything together. 

The collection of biographies and stories presented here makes an excellent starting point for diving into Greek mythology resources specifically. 

Other Good Starting Points

Greek Mythology {Junior Genius Guide} by Ken Jennings {Yes, the Jeopardy champion.}
Weird But True Know-It-All Greek Mythology
Z is for Zeus: A Greek Mythology Alphabet

These books present lots of great information in nontraditional ways. Great overviews for learning about the key people and events, and appropriate for all ages.

Individual Biographies of Gods and Goddesses 

Athena
Cyclopes 
Odysseus
Poseidon
Zeus

A few sample selections from Blake Hoena’s World Mythology series. Brief introductory texts appropriate for younger students as well.

Mythology Rocks! 

Gods and Goddesses in Greek Mythology Rock! 
Heroes in Greek Mythology Rock!

The Mythology Rocks! books offer re-tellings of various mythological tales with commentary from academics who study the specific mythology. We have only read the Greek mythology titles, but the series also includes African, Chinese, and Celtic, mythology. 

Ancient Greek Mythology

The Gods and Goddesses of Greek Mythology
The Heroes and Mortals of Greek Mythology
The Monsters and Creatures of Greek Mythology 

These books in the ancient greek mythology series were a hit with the Agents. They have more of a graphic novel style and feel. 

Stack of old bound books sitting on a wooden table with a bookshelf blurred in the background. Text reads: Greek mythology resources your students will love.

Homer’s Epic Poems

The Iliad and The Odyssey by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Iliad and The Odyssey by Gillian Cross

Of course no post about Greek mythology resources would be complete without mentioning these two stories. We love the re-tellings of the Trojan war {The Iliad} and the travels of Odysseus {The Odyssey} by both authors. Each book has short chapters, plenty of illustrations, and were a hit for both elementary and middle school. 

Note that The Odyssey by Rosemary Sutcliff linked above is the exact edition we read, although it no longer appears to be available at a reasonable cost. Both books by Sutcliff, however, are available as mass market paperbacks as well; find The Iliad here and The Odyssey here.

The Gillian Cross editions also come as a box set and the two together in one volume

Have you used any of these Greek mythology resources in your homeschooling? Click To Tweet

Fiction Selections We Love

Goddess Girls
Heroes in Training
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
The Heroes of Olympus
The Trials of Apollo 
The Epic Adventures of Odysseus 
Jason, the Argonauts, and the Golden Fleece

A few fictional series the Agents have enjoyed. The first five stories place Greek gods and goddesses in modern environments with modern problems. The last two are choose your own adventure style books.


Books About Life in Ancient Greece

Ancient Greece and the Olympics {Magic Tree House Research Guide}
Art and Religion in Ancient Greece 
Things About Ancient Greece You Wouldn’t Want to Know 
You Wouldn’t Want To Be a Greek Athlete 
You Wouldn’t Want To Be a Slave in Ancient Greece

Additional books we have read about life in ancient Greece. {We highly recommend all of the books in the You Wouldn’t Want To Be series.}

Have you used any of these Greek mythology resources in your homeschooling? Leave your own recommendations in the comments. And don’t forget to check out the other posts in our favorite homeschool resources series.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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Why February Is the Worst

Oh, February. How do you manage to be the shortest month on the calendar and yet the longest month of my homeschooling year? I want to accomplish things, I really do. But February is the worst.

You know what I mean. February is the funkiest month {not in a good way}. The weather sucks, everyone around you gets sick, and the hopefulness of spring barely glimmers.

I have heard it’s the time homeschoolers are most likely to want to give up, and I believe it. You are deep enough in that you want so badly to commit to finishing, yet “finishing” still remains far off and unattainable.

Close up of calendar with numbers in squares but no day or month visible. Text reads: Why February is the worst.

Once the February blahs hit, I develop a strong desire to outline the following school year. A fine idea—I love a good plan—but it distracts me from what we’re supposed to be doing this year. 

Oh, February. How do you manage to be the shortest month on the calendar and yet the longest month of my homeschooling year? Click To Tweet

Then, of course, my potential agenda starts looking so much cooler than my current agenda. I start to feel resentful of the fact that I need to complete what seemed like a good idea last summer. I would rather move on to what will obviously be a much better curriculum with clearly superior educational choices.

In sum, February makes me question everything. Not necessarily a bad thing: reflection can be good and anticipation is usually exciting. But, it can be overwhelming. Taking things one step at a time {and writing myself notes so I do not forget anything} helps. 


Right now I am going through everything we have done {and are presently doing} in each subject and figuring out approximately where we will be by the end of the school year. Once I finish that, I will move on to evaluating the good and bad for the year overall.

This is not as painful as it sounds. I actually like seeing what works and what doesn’t. I find it liberating to let go of ideas that simply were not useful.  And knowing we got at least some things right makes me optimistic for the days ahead.

What kind of relationship do you have with February? Do you also feel February is the worst month for motivation?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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9 Simple Self-Care Ideas To Implement Right Now

I don’t know about you, but I am over “self-care” advice that tells me I need a bubble bath, a glass of wine, or to pray/meditate more. 

Also completely not into suggestions that involve tons of cash or lots of pre-planning, like a spa day or a weekend getaway. 

You will not find that here. Instead, this list includes super simple self-care ideas to implement right now for free with zero or minimal planning.

Close up of woman from neck down holding a pink flower in one hand. Text reads: Nine simple self-care ideas to implement right now.

Drink Enough Water

Oh, come on—you knew this would be at the top of the list, right?

Spoiler alert: This may not mean 8 glasses a day.

But, I promise you if you make a commitment to consuming more water each day, you will not regret. It is like magic, truly.

One easy way I have started doing this myself is any time I think “oh, I’m thirsty” instead of just getting a quick sip I drink a whole cup. It takes only seconds more, and if you do this a couple times a day you will increase your water consumption considerably. 

Get Some Sleep

As a general rule I aim to be in bed for one hour longer than the amount of sleep I feel I need. So, if I am at my best with at least seven hours, I block off eight hours for sleep. 

I know I am a very light sleeper {thanks, parenthood} and I also wake up at least twice a night on average, so I figure adding an extra hour balances things out. 

Check here for approximate sleep needs by age.

Super simple self-care ideas to implement right now for free with zero or minimal planning. Click To Tweet

Establish a Morning Routine

Even if you are not a morning person establishing goals to start your day will help you to feel more on track. 

Having a basic morning routine will make your days less stressful. Knowing what to expect when you roll out of bed each morning puts you on a kind of relaxed autopilot. You can physically and mentally ease into the day instead of worrying what to do next.

You don’t need to wake extra early {get up whenever works for you} or accomplish specific tasks. The routine does not need to be elaborate, but if making a checklist helps, by all means do so. The key is to have a plan that works for you.

Eat Only Until Satisfied

Stay with me on this one. I am not encouraging you to deprive yourself of whatever kinds of food you want to eat. That is your business and yours alone. 

What I am saying is that I have never regretted eating only to when I feel satisfied but not full. 

Make a conscious decision to eat until you are no longer hungry, no matter how tasty the meal is. If you have trouble figuring this out—I sometimes still do—aim to put what looks like a reasonable amount of food on your plate and eat only that {no seconds}. 

Especially if you eat dinner close to bedtime you will be amazed at how much better you feel when you go to sleep at night not feeling sluggish from a big meal.

Sunflowers, one centered and in focus with others slightly blurred in the background. Text reads: Nine self-care tips you can use today.

Do Some Gentle Stretches

I try to make this a habit every morning while I wait for my coffee to brew. I also add a quick session with the Agents each weekday before we begin homeschooling. 

Too often folks give up on the “fitness” aspect of self-care because they feel it has to be all or nothing. But you don’t need to run three miles, take a one-hour yoga class, or hit the gym to feel better right now. 

Even something as simple as improving your flexibility over time {and working out any soreness or stiffness} is a step toward taking better care of yourself and increasing your overall body confidence.

Wash Your Hands More Often

Seriously, this is one of the best things you can do to take care of yourself. Not just in the fall and winter months or during flu season, but year round.

The Agents and I have all gotten into the habit of washing our hands as soon as we come back into the house, regardless of where we have been. 

Of course you will still have times when germs get the best of you, but I have found that since we began doing this regularly we have minimized sick time at our house.

Develop a Mantra

One aspect of my former religious life I actually miss is the soothing repetition of saying a familiar prayer. Sometimes you just want to have a calming verse at the ready, like a verbal security blanket when stressed.

So what’s a heathen to do? Consider poetry, movie quotes, inspirational writing, mythology, and more.

I have personally found that any positive words will do, as long as you have them memorized and can use them to center your thoughts and relax your mind. The repetition of the words, the simple act of sitting quietly with your thoughts, is the critical factor.


Write It Down

Those of you who know how into organizing and homeschool planning and travel I am might be surprised to learn I do not use a planner. It is just not something I ever got into. 

Instead, I clear my thoughts by making simple to do lists. I have used both paper and online notes and I don’t really have a preference. 

Writing things down allows me to mentally dismiss tasks until I am prepared to deal with them. This results in me being more productive in the moment.

Put Your Phone To Bed Early

I leave my phone upstairs when I take a shower in the evening {usually around 6:30 p.m.} and do not use it again until the following morning {usually around 5:30 a.m.}. 

The only thing I check before I go to sleep is if I have any texts or missed calls from family. {A habit from years ago when my dad was first ill and that’s how I was kept updated.}

Related to this, I only have notifications set up for phone calls and texts, no social media. That way I never even see the little red button and never have to overcome the temptation to click on it.

Do you incorporate any of these ideas into your daily routine? Do you have other simple self-care ideas to implement right now? What works for you?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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Evolution Resources for Secular Homeschooling

Welcome to Favorite Homeschool Resources—a series sharing our best-loved secular books and workbooks. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

What seems like a lifetime ago {actually autumn 2014} some much younger Agents and I visited the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. for the first time. The exhibits and displays in the Hall of Human Origins became a surprise hit, especially for {then} third-grade Agent E. 

Ever since we have spent at least part of each school year reading books focused specifically on evolution, including the big bang, early earth, Charles Darwin, and animal/human evolution.

Following are several evolution resources for secular homeschooling we have enjoyed throughout the years. We have used most of them as read-alouds, so in my opinion they would work for early elementary through middle school.

Even the ones in a more “picture book” style contain tons of great information and can provide excellent discussion starting points. Likewise, the more complex texts can be easily modified as well.

A row of colorful books on a bookshelf at the top and bottom. Text reads: Favorite homeschool resources, evolution.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Evolution Book Series We Love

Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story 
From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story 
Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story 

This series by Jennifer Morgan tells the story of the big bang, the formation of the earth, and mammal evolution from the perspective of the universe itself.

The first time we read these books I was not quite sold on the anthropomorphic characteristics angle. However, it is very well written and includes significant detail. {Not to mention the amazing pictures.}

The author also addresses her own faith {spoiler alert: she has a degree in theology} and the intentional decision to leave “god” terminology out of her work.

When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth
When Dinos Dawned, Mammals Got Munched, and Pterosaurs Took Flight 
When Fish Got Feet, Sharks Got Teeth, and Bugs Began to Swarm 
They also appear in a single volume:
When Fish Got Feet, When Bugs Were Big, and When Dinos Dawned

These “cartoon prehistory” books by Hannah Bonner {published by National Geographic} have been a hit with the Agents for years. 

Two young primates sitting on a tree branch. Text reads: Evolution resources your students will love.

More Evolution Books We Love

Evolution Revolution
Life As We Know It

Quality resources that we have come to expect from DK. Neatly organized and colorful with just the right amount of detail. 

Evolution: The Human Story

This book is a bit advanced; it is definitely not written with a late elementary/middle school audience in mind. However, we take it slow and enjoy the stunning drawings along the way. Works great as a coffee table book as well.

Lucy Long Ago: Uncovering the Mystery of Where We Came From

A book about Donald Johanson’s discovery of Lucy, arguably the most well-known early hominid.

Have you incorporated any of these books into your evolution studies? Any other evolution resources for secular homeschooling you recommend? Click To Tweet

On the Origin of Species: Young Readers Edition adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

This edition of Darwin’s most famous work is also beautifully illustrated. We will likely use it as one of our primary texts for the next homeschool year.

{Side note: You may recognize Stefoff’s name from her work on Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States.}

Who Was Charles Darwin?
Where Are the Galapagos Islands? 

The Who Was? book on the infamous naturalist as well as a separate book devoted to the area of the world he spent significant time during his adventures.

{Full disclosure: We have not actually read the Galapagos one, but we have read so many others from the who was, what was, and where is series of books I feel comfortable recommending it.}

Darkened night sky with dots of stars and galaxies. Text reads: Evolution resources for your homeschool.

Even More Evolution Books We Love

Animals Charles Darwin Saw: An Around-the-World Adventure
Bang! How We Came To Be
Big Bang! The Tongue-Tickling Tale of Speck That Became Spectacular
Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure
Older Than the Stars
One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin
Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story {We especially love this one! Our favorite evolution book to re-read every Darwin day.}
The Story of Life: A First Book About Evolution
What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World
What Mr. Darwin Saw


These are mostly picture books and simple biographies, but include lots of great information and can easily be adapted for older students. Face it, evolution is a complex topic to tackle, and everyone needs to start somewhere.

They are the kind of books you could read to a second grader or a seventh grader and they would both get something out of them. Many include extensive appendixes and/or book lists for further reading. 

Have you incorporated any of these books into your evolution studies? Any other evolution resources for secular homeschooling you recommend? Let me know in the comments! And don’t forget to check out the other posts in our favorite homeschool resources series.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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Disney Cruise Tips for Experienced Cruisers

In a previous post I shared several tips for first time cruisers—also a good refresher if it has been a while between voyages. Today I would like to share some new ideas to try or things I thought I had figured out and yet somehow they still managed to surprise me. This post will emphasize Disney Cruise tips for experienced cruisers.

As a family we absolutely love All Things Disney, and Disney Cruise Line has been a favorite vacation option for years. We have been on five so far, with plans for a sixth in 2021. After spending a combined 36 nights on board three different ships, we still learn new things each time. 

View from cruise ship deck as it approaches port; city skyline buildings in the distance. Text reads: Disney Cruise tips for experienced cruisers.

Morning Views Are Amazing

As a committed morning person I can tell you activities are not designed with early risers in mind. Except for a few Disney Junior inspired events, most of the action does not get rolling until late morning. 

However, if getting up with the sun is your jam, you are in for a real treat. Go up to the top deck just before sunrise. {Grab a sweater; it will be chilly.} The views are amazing. Pick up a coffee or tea on your way and just stand at the railing and swoon. 

It is also a great time to wander the ship looking at artwork and/or taking photos with virtually no one out and about. 

{Side note: I personally have never run into Sleepwalking Goofy during this time, but I think that would be awesome!}

Trivia Contests Are Loads of Fun

I cannot believe it took us so long to finally attend one of these trivia sessions! They are hilarious and a nice activity to do with the whole family. 

We actually won our very first challenge {Pixar movie trivia}, so we were quite pleased with ourselves, ha. They offer several sessions throughout the cruise, usually in one of the lounges, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.

If getting up with the sun is your jam, you are in for a real treat. Go up to the top deck just before sunrise. The views are amazing. Pick up a coffee or tea on your way and just stand at the railing and swoon. Click To Tweet

You Can Request the Same Waitstaff

Did you know if you recently sailed on the same ship—and your servers from the main dining rooms are still on board—you can put in a request to be seated in their section again? We did this on our last cruise and it was great to reconnect. 

It helps, of course, if the server is a real people person who remembers names and faces. I mean, they see a lot of guest shuffling through. We took a photo we had taken with them on our previous cruise as a reminder. 

Also we discovered that our server on our very first cruise {different ship} eight years earlier was now a head server {managing several serving teams} on our current cruise. We pulled up a photo from our Facebook archives showing our much younger children with a much younger him. He was amused. 

You Might Still Get Seasick

This one completely shocked me. After five uneventful cruises {we went on one non-Disney cruise as well, a story for another day} I could not believe it when I started to feel woozy one night before dinner when the ship was moving a bit more than usual on our sixth sea venture. 

I simply passed on dinner went back to the room to rest, and by later that evening it had mostly dissipated. However, it was a good reminder to be prepared for all scenarios. And to make sure you are taking care of yourself and not overdoing—drink plenty of water, get enough rest, take breaks as needed {especially if you’re out in the sun a lot}. 

Blue ocean and nearly white sky. Text reads: Disney Cruise tips for experienced cruisers.

Vibe Is Super Cool To Visit

Our children have always loved the kids/tween clubs, but because they are not high school age we never thought to visit Vibe during open house. On a whim we decided to pop in and we all loved it!

They had old school arcade games set up, Guitar Hero, and tons of board game and art supplies. You can also get smoothies, although we did not. The space is bright and airy and exudes fun.

My oldest will be able to go to Vibe regularly on our next cruise {ages 14-17} but we will all be tagging along during at least a few open houses for sure.

Packing Doesn’t Get Easier

No matter how many travels I pack for, I always make mistakes and learn new things each time. I still follow a basic packing plan for all of our adventures, although cruising does present some new challenges.

{See Pack by Activity, Not by Day for more specific tips.}

What I have found, though, is that once I actually get there I care less about what clothes I packed. Honestly, on the last cruise I would have been happy just having 3-4 of the same dress in different colors to alternate. 


Ports Adventures Might Not Be a Bad Idea

On our very first cruise we had a planned port adventure for every stop. This was a ten-night cruise with six or seven port stops {I can’t even remember}. We had a 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and 8-month-old with us. I know what you are thinking and, yes, it was pretty much like that.

Our next few cruises we did not plan quite so much in the way of off-the-ship activities. Sometimes we would just head out on our own and it generally worked out fine. I know a lot of veteran cruisers who simply keep things open or plan their own excursions {and save money in the process}. However . . .

This last cruise we took I started to re-evaluate the benefits of going with an organized Disney group. 

We left the ship at one particular port and apparently I had totally blocked out what it is like to be constantly accosted by vendors and locals wanting you to buy their stuff, take their tour, try their wares. It totally took away from the experience and enjoyment of exploring a new place. 

So now I am re-thinking being a part of a group might not be such a bad idea. They typically either have separate transportation directly from the pier or—as far as I could tell—even if they are on foot they were generally seen as “off limits” to the pushy salespeople. To me this would make the extra cost of an official port adventure worth it.

Okay, cruising fans, what additional Disney cruise tips for experienced cruisers would you include? Leave any additional tips/comments below!

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5 Realistic Blogging Goals for 2020

Did you set writing goals for the new year? Are you already overwhelmed by them? Maybe you need to step back and look at the big picture. Let’s talk about realistic blogging goals for 2020.

Lined paper with a black pen sits next to an open laptop and a cappuccino in a white mug with saucer. Text reads: Five realistic blogging goals for 2020.

Reclaim Your Time

Figure out the time of day you work best, and maximize your efforts during this period. Don’t waste energy trying to force yourself into a routine that makes you grouchy and irritable. 

Have a plan whenever you pull out your laptop or phone in the middle of the day. Don’t ever assume, oh I will just peek at my to do list and maybe pin a few things

Know going in what your goals are with that time, and make them as specific as possible: I will re-tweet four posts from bloggers I follow. I will create one new pin for a recent post. I will share a new book I am reading with my followers and ask a relevant question to encourage engagement. 

Figure out the time of day you work best, and maximize your efforts during this period. Don’t waste energy trying to force yourself into a routine that makes you grouchy and irritable. Click To Tweet

Evaluate Your Social Media Habits

Cull your social media blogging memberships down to a reasonable number. Aim to be more active with fewer groups. {Make this part of a commitment to declutter your digital life.}

Recognize that you will see more engagement on some platforms than others. Focus your energy where you feel you can do the most good and provide the most value. This can be difficult when you realize your favorite platform is not where your readers/fans are. Learn to be okay with that.

Also remember it is okay to use social media just for fun and connection. Not every post needs to be blog-oriented. 

Commit To Quality Writing

Face it, no one is going to care how snazzy your pins look or how catchy your blog titles are if they click through and find a poorly written post. 

It sounds cliché but it is true: Quality over quantity. 

Take time to edit your posts carefully. Don’t think that once you hit publish you are done. Become a reader of your own blog; try to see it through the eyes of someone just stumbling upon it for the first time. Evaluate older posts. Always strive to improve your style and clarity.

Woman with long dark hair sitting on a bed in front of open laptop, holding a white mug. Text reads: Blogging resolutions you can easily keep.

Spread the Love

Share and support the work of others in your niche {and beyond}. A good rule of thumb is 20% self-promotion, 80% promoting quality posts from fellow writers. That means for every personal share from your own blog/writing/social media you are sharing four others.

This may seem like a lot at first, but trust me it will become second nature to spend this much marketing energy on writing that is not your own. When you post/share add a meaningful comment or question as an introduction {i.e., don’t just hit RT or FB share without context}. 


Do One Thing That Is a Little Scary

Find something that you have been thinking about doing and just go for it. It may not be pretty at first, but that is okay and that is how we learn. 

For me personally, my “scary” thing for 2020 is going to be starting a newsletter to send out to subscribers. It is something I have never done and I know it will involve a lot of trial and error.

{On that note, I would love more subscribers so follow this link to sign up!}

Fellow writers, are you setting realistic blogging goals for 2020? What have you learned so far?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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Favorite Homeschool Resources {Middle School Language Arts}

Welcome to Favorite Homeschool Resources—a series sharing our best-loved secular books and workbooks. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

As a homeschool momma and lover of words, I love choosing language arts books with the Agents. Following are several homeschool resources for middle school language arts we recommend.

{Note: If you would like to peruse the books the Agents are reading for fun this year check out our Goodreads account.}

A row of colorful books on a bookshelf at the top and bottom. Text reads: Favorite homeschool resources, middle school language arts.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Middle School Language Arts Books We Love

Everything You Need To Ace English Language Arts in One Big Fat Notebook: The Complete Middle School Study Guide

As I mentioned in our list of favorite middle school math resources, this entire series has been a huge hit. The language arts book covers grammar, usage, fiction, nonfiction, and writing; and includes quizzes and reading lists.

Grammar: Write Here, Write Now
Punctuation: The Write Stuff  
Creative Writing: The Plot Thickens  

We love Basher Books! Each concept is introduced by a different character or group of characters {e.g., in Punctuation the Divide and Conquer Crew covers parentheses, dashes, hyphens ellipses, colons, and semicolons}. The chapters are relatively short, but you could also easily just read one page a day {in order, or not}.

Painless Grammar
Painless Writing

As with painless math, these make great reference books. We tried including them in our read-aloud time, but unlike the Basher books they were not particularly conducive to going through page by page. Still, great books to have around when you need to double-check a particular grammar rule or brush up on your writing mechanics.

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook

Found this at the library randomly one day—we were not looking for a book like this at all—and the Senior Agents ended up loving it and re-reading it a few times each before it went back. Written by Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, it is more motivation and inspiration for the writing life than how-to details. {Think Bird by Bird for your tween/teen.}

More Language Arts Books We {Still} Love

When I wrote about how to homeschool multiple ages together I addressed choosing excellent resources regardless of reading level. 

When teaching multiple grade levels sometimes your book choices won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. It is okay if what you are reading is “too simple” for your oldest and “too much” for your youngest. If you read a variety of books—and a lot of them—it will balance out. And sometimes you just want to re-read some fun titles because it’s your homeschool and you don’t need to follow arbitrary rules.

That’s how we feel about these next several selections. Your mileage may vary with how your own middle schoolers view including these “young” titles. Mine personally find them more sweet and nostalgic than groan-worthy. {Also, I still have one student in elementary, so it works for us.}

A Mink, a Fink, a Skating Rink: What Is a Noun?  
To Root, To Toot, To Parachute: What Is a Verb?
Feet and Puppies, Thieves and Guppies: What Are Irregular Plurals?  
How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear? What Are Homonyms and Homophones?

These are just a few examples of the Words are CATegorical series by Brian P. Cleary, which provide an introduction to the parts of speech and basic grammar concepts. They are all roughly 30 pages and have lots of illustrations with only a sentence or so on each two-page spread. Simple enough for early elementary yet my middle schoolers still find them entertaining {and quaint}.

He also writes The Punctuation Station, a fun journey of animals trying to find their way to the correct train with the help of savvy punctuation marks.

When teaching multiple grade levels sometimes your book choices won’t be a perfect fit for everyone. It is okay if what you are reading is “too simple” for your oldest and “too much” for your youngest. Click To Tweet

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference!
The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes!  
Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why, Every Punctuation Mark Counts! 
Eats MORE, Shoots & Leaves: Why, All Punctuation Marks Matter! 

Lynne Truss writes these cool punctuation books, which illustrate quite comically just how important punctuation can be, and what happens when you get it wrong. They are all an easy, one-sitting read aimed at grades 1 through 4, but can provide a fun review for older students as well. 

{Yes, it’s the same Lynne Truss who wrote the “grown up” version of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.}

Happy Endings: A Story About Suffixes 
Nouns and Verbs Have a Field Day 
Punctuation Takes a Vacation 
Silent Letters Loud and Clear 

Robin Pulver takes a humorous look at the English language in these books {just a sampling here}, which cover parts of speech, spelling, and punctuation. Several chronicle the adventures of Mr. Wright’s {right} class, in which a group of elementary students come to appreciate just how important good grammar is. Others include Miss Doover {do over}. Like the Lynne Truss books, these are aimed at elementary students, but appropriate {if not silly} for older students as well.

Look At My Book: How Kids Can Write & Illustrate Terrific Books 

Of all the creative writing books we’ve tried, the Agents like this one by Loreen Leedy the best. It includes step-by-step guidelines for young wannabe authors to plan, draft, edit, and illustrate their own works. Even now that they are older, they still return to the simple yet concrete guidelines this text provides.

Old-fashioned ink pen writing pointed at a lined notebook page with a few indecipherable words written. Text reads: middle school language arts resources your students will love.

Middle School Language Arts Workbooks We Love

I’ll be honest: We’ve never found a complete curriculum of homeschool resources for middle school language arts we felt strongly about. Or even one that covered just mechanics or just writing.

{I know what you’re thinking, and nope not even that one. Or that one. Or even the one pretty much every homeschooler I have ever known raves about.}

However, we still need something specific for practicing skills, and we love a good workbook, so . . . we have found the following to be great for getting in written language arts practice without committing to a curriculum. 

As with others we have come across, you will find that many do not go past sixth grade {again disappointing my workbook-adoring children}.

Brain Quest Workbook Grade 6 

Brain Quest also covers math, science, and social studies, and provide an excellent overall review for the school year. In the language arts section specifically, the sixth grade version includes spelling and vocabulary; literature comprehension; research and analysis; writing; pronouns and punctuation; and metaphor and meaning.

Language Arts: Grade 6 
Reading Skills: Grade 6 
Writing Skills: Grade 6 
Spelling Skills: Grade 6 

Flash Kids Harcourt Family Learning offers tons of specific practice in multiple areas. You can chose to have them all in rotation at the same time or focus on one topic/workbook.

{Note: While I have seen a few similar titles for grades 7 and 8, they appear to be much older editions and not as readily available, which is why I have only linked the grade 6 workbooks here.}

Spectrum Language Arts Grade 6 
Spectrum Reading Grade 6 
Spectrum Writing Grade 6 
Spectrum Spelling Grade 6 
Spectrum Vocabulary Grade 6 

{Spelling and Vocabulary stop at grade 6.}

Spectrum Language Arts Grade 7 
Spectrum Reading Grade 7 
Spectrum Writing Grade 7 

Spectrum Language Arts Grade 8 
Spectrum Reading Grade 8 
Spectrum Writing Grade 8 

We love that the Spectrum workbooks includes several options for later grades. Because of this it has quickly become one of our favorite go-to series for written work.

Have you and your students read any of these homeschool resources for middle school language arts? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! And don’t forget to check out the other posts in our favorite homeschool resources series.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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Homeschooling Update {December}

December was not nearly as chaotic as November, although I do feel like it rushed right on by. Looking forward to a productive and organized new year, in our homeschooling and beyond. 

We are still in the midst of numerous home improvement projects—and still unpacking from the move—so I am personally feeling a bit unsettled. Hoping that by January’s update we will be feeling much more together and be ready to share photos of our new spaces.

Two evergreen trees with lights; one slightly blurred. Text reads: December secular homeschooling update.

Homeschool Antics

While not intentionally, we seemed to slow our homeschooling schedule a bit between Thanksgiving and the New Year. We have never been much for taking a lot of time off around holidays, but this year we dealt with more obstacles than usual this time of year {e.g., contractors working in the house during the day, not having everything we need unpacked, not getting settled into a “new house” routine soon enough}.

Moving forward, though, I want to be back on track with our typical {albeit flexible} schedule by the end of January. Even though we homeschool year round I still feel like the start of the new year is a good time to pause and evaluate. 

We have plans to get together with some local homeschoolers next week, so I am hoping the Agents can make some connections as well. 


Holiday Traveling

We spent a few days between Christmas and New Year’s visiting relatives out-of-state—as always, mostly nice but definitely exhausting. 

The cat showed his displeasure with being boarded at the cat hotel by hissing at me excessively upon our return. I was not particularly impressed with the place we chose; I think the next time we travel we will look for someone who can come to our home a few times to feed and check on him. 

{Our previous aloof cats would have been fine for up to a week without us, but this high-maintenance one needs fresh wet food every day due to his lack of teeth.}

Blogging {and Other} Ambitions

In addition to my usual grandiose plans for the new year—you know you have them, too—I will be incorporating a number of blogging goals into future posts. I hope you will follow along throughout the year and share some of your intentions as well. We’re all in this together.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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Indoor Activities for Kids of All Ages

In November we moved from San Diego to Virginia Beach. While Virginia does not have the weather extremes of say, upstate New York {where we spent three very snowy winters} it is most definitely not southern California. We clearly needed to increase our repertoire of indoor activities for kids.

Suddenly we face colder temperatures {brrr} and more rain in a month than we saw in the previous two-plus years. 

Needless to say we have spent a lot more time indoors, and truthfully we are still getting used to the whole idea of “outside time” not being a realistic daily goal.

So what keeps us busy during all that inside togetherness? Well, homeschooling, of course. But in reality that only takes about three hours a day, tops.

Following are some things the Agents do to keep themselves entertained on days when being outdoors is just not an option. They are currently 13, 11, and 9—but honestly this list of indoor activities for kids has not changed much since they were littles {although some things probably required more supervision/assistance back then}. 

Colored pencils in a circle formation with all sharpened points facing inward. Text reads: Indoor activities for kids of all ages.

This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission—at no extra cost to you—if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and services I have personally used and enjoyed. For more information read my complete disclaimer here.

Color

I don’t care how old you are, a new pack of colored pencils, markers, crayons, or gel pens will make your day. All of mine have finally reached the stage where they want “adult” coloring books with more complicated designs or more specific characters/interests, but coloring is still a favorite activity.

Make a Collage

We always recycle paper and cards and magazines around here, but before some of it makes it to the bin we re-use instead. All you need is construction paper or cardboard for the base and some scissors and glue. 

Build a Fort

Who doesn’t love the idea of hiding in or under a large box or blanket pulled over some chairs and hibernating for a bit?

I don’t care how old you are, a new pack of colored pencils, markers, crayons, or gel pens will make your day. Click To Tweet

Throw a Book Party

This is so much more fun than just suggesting your kids have some quiet reading time. Gather up some books {include old favorites that are a bit “young” for them to add nostalgia} and plop them down next to some pillows/blankets/bean bags. Snacks/fireplace/other ambiance optional.

Use a Magnifying Glass

We bought this inexpensive magnifying glass years ago to look at rocks one of the kids collected on a camping trip. Since then we have pulled it out many times to examine things around the house more closely.

Building blocks spelling out the word play with additional building blocks blurred in the background. Text reads: Indoor activities for kids of all ages, eleven ideas for days outside time is not an option.

Make Homemade Play Doh 

Spoiler alert: Play doh is still fun for tweens and teens. Try our well-loved recipe {using old crayons}.

Author a Book 

Next time you are at the Target dollar spot {which, come on, will be soon} grab a pack of blank books. They are the perfect size for a short story with pictures.

Start a Puzzle

The more pieces and more complicated the better. When finished use puzzle glue and a simple backing to create unique homeschool room decor. 

Write a Letter

Years ago the girls decided to write to David Attenborough telling him how much they enjoyed his documentaries. He replied and that letter is one of their most prized possessions. 


Get Crafty

I only have one kid who likes to sew, but everyone can enjoy some craft time with random material bits and tulle and buttons and fabric glue.

Snap Circuits

Okay, you know you bought one of these sets at some point. It is probably in a closet somewhere. Dig it out; they will love it. 

For more great ideas check out these posts: 

The Magic Gravity Escape: A Surprising Game for Kids
Indoor Fun That Never Gets Old-Learn & Play with Cranium Games
Winter Sensory Activities That Will Warm Your Little One
A Super Simple Kids’ Craft Activity for Bad Weather Days

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest. You can also sign up to receive new posts via our monthly e-mail newsletter here.

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