Apr 192013
"Band Camp at SAU 6.21.12."  Photo by Southern Arkansas University.  From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Band Camp at SAU 6.21.12.” Photo by Southern Arkansas University. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

The financial decision taking up most of our time lately is planning summer activities for our children.

Since we are a homeschooling family, summer ends up looking a bit different for us than most people. Instead of being “off” in the summer, our educational activities tend to ramp up. Many of the very best educational opportunities occur during the summer. You can find intensive camps on just about every subject imaginable. For our children, it is also the opportunity for them to interact with a wide variety of children who may be homeschooled, in public or private schools.

Many colleges and universities offer educational programs for children in the summer and it is a terrific way to check out a prospective college. You get to know the campus and the types of students (it is usually college students who teach the classes) the college attracts.

The great thing about summer is the wide variety of experiences available. The downside is the expense. Since these summer experiences are so valuable to us, we don’t mind skimping on other things (like buying second-hand toys or making Easter dresses) in order to afford summer camps. There is also the cost of time. I have to budget my energy carefully to do all the driving to and from these camps, to pack the lunches and snacks and buy any supplies needed.

"Kids Camp 07"  Photo by saritarobinson.  From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Kids Camp 07” Photo by saritarobinson. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

We are now in the thick of the enrollment process begins for all of these summer activities. Here are a few tips I have learned over the years.

1) Enroll early.
Many of these camps and classes book fast. Swimming lessons started filling up just three days after enrollment opened. Try to decide quickly which activities you are willing to commit to and block the dates out on your calendar.

2) Look for cost savings. Many camps offer a discount for early enrollment paid in full or for enrolling more than one child in the same camp. If you have more than one child, each with different interests, consider whether you can have one child “expand their horizons” by joining a sibling in another activity.

3) Be realistic.
Summer is a time for relaxation as well. Don’t overbook your child (or yourself!) and make sure at least some of your summer educational activities are areas your child is passionate about so the camps don’t seem like “work” to them.

There are also many free or cheap alternatives for summer enrichment and education.

1) The local library.
Probably the very best summer educational activity is reading. Our local library (and most local libraries) provide excellent free summer reading programs. Be sure to sign up in June and read as often as possible.

"Library program teaches children about rain forest animals"  Photo by Fort Meade.  From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Library program teaches children about rain forest animals” Photo by Fort Meade. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

2) Churches. If you don’t mind a religious bend to your education, many churches run free or cheap “vacation bible school” or other programs that are full of learning and activities.

3) The local parks and recreation department, school system or YMCA. Generally the least expensive summer programs are offered through the parks and recreation department. There is a large dose of sports but also activities ranging from arts and crafts to science camps.

"Soccer Camp EGR 7-24-09 10"  Photo by Steven Depolo.  From the Flickr Creative Commons.

“Soccer Camp EGR 7-24-09 10” Photo by Steven Depolo. From the Flickr Creative Commons.

4) Free concerts. Summertime is usually packed with free musical events. Here in the Washington area, the military bands for each of the armed services perform at least once a week at various memorials throughout the area free of charge. There are also jazz concerts at the National Gallery of Art.

5) Museums. In Washington, we are fortunate to have the Smithsonian museums available free of charge. You could spend your entire summer exploring them. In most cities there is at least one day in the summer where museums are available free of charge. Check the websites of your local museums and pencil in the free dates on your calendar.

6) State, local or national parks. Just being outside can be an education in itself. Take advantage of the warm weather to go for a hike or a walk with your kids. Even hanging out at the local park offers the opportunity to run around with some new friends.

7) Workbooks. You can find inexpensive enrichment workbooks just about everywhere. We have found them at office supply stores like Staples and Office Depot, at pharmacies like CVS, in grocery stores, big box stores like Target and Walmart and even at Toys R Us. Find one for your child’s grade level to keep them sharp in math and English skills so they are ready for the next school year.

What are you planning for your child’s summer enrichment activities? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on April 19, 2013 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 272012

The heat this week in Virginia.

Since most of the country is experiencing a heat wave, as Ruly Ruth and I are, we’ve decided to tackle hot-weather snacks!

When the weather is this hot, the last place you want to be is in the kitchen!  Before the twentieth century, kitchens were put in separate buildings from the main house because they got so extraordinarily hot in the summertime (as well as the fire risk they posed).  I can’t imagine what that must have been like in Virginia pre-air-conditioning.  So below are some tips on how to “not cook” in hot weather.

This week, I discovered the simple and delicious pleasure that is the chilled banana.  To make: chill a banana (peel on) in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, eat it for breakfast.   It’s creamy and sweet like ice cream.  Yum!

A chilled banana makes a wonderful summer breakfast!

Read on for more suggestions from the ever-creative Ruly Ruth!

Ruly Ruth’s Stay Cool Summer Snacks

1) Chilled Fruit – Chilled watermelon/cantaloupe/honedew/other melons—ARE LOVELY! We recently had a brief gathering at a park and I brought a cooler packed with watermelon slices–HUGE HIT!!

(Note from Anne: Starting in June, I clear a shelf in my fridge for watermelon.  The whole watermelon goes right into the fridge from the store to chill.  It’s a necessity to get through the humidity of a Virginia summer.)

Chilled watermelon - a summer staple!

2) Frozen Water Bottles – Store some bottled water in the freezer for outdoor hydration on hot days.  Caution–they will spill over a bit when opening them–but it will quickly cool you down! It’s lovely!
3) Frozen Yogurts/Gogurt Tubes – (esp. for kids)—put them in the freezer–it’s like a healthy ice cream popsicle–lovely!
4) Ice Cream —sorry–healthy or not–that is a lovely treat when it’s blazing hot outside! Cold, creamy–love it!
5) Salty Snacks – Be it crackers, nuts or chips and salsa–that’s always a wonderful combination in hot weather–the salt helps replenish the electrolytes that can so quickly dehydrate you in the hot sun.
6) Toast & Tomatoes – An Australian friend makes this for breakfast–you make toast, butter it, top with a slice of tomato and salt and pepper. It’s a wonderful, fresh and yummy! Add a protein like some cheese and it’s a perfect breakfast–even when hot outside!
7) Pizza – Either make your own or we love our Little Caesars–when counting calories go light on the cheese. It’s piping hot, yummy, salty–if you top it with everything you can get your veggies in too–perfect for a hot day!
8 ) Chilled Veggies – Crisp carrots, celery, peppers–with a super creamy bleu cheese or ranch or caesar dressing—yum!
9) Iced Coffee – For those of us that drink coffee, iced coffee is a lovely treat! From McDonald’s or your own kitchen–my girlfriend from Albania makes a frapee that is to die for!!
10) Lemonade – Hands down–the citrus helps replenish electrolytes, the lemon flavor is so refreshing on hot days! (Note from Anne: A glass of water with half a lemon’s worth of juice is great too if you are watching sugar.)
11) Italian Ices/Snow Cones – Italian ices are so popular around here–kind of like frozen slushees in a variety of flavors. And snow cones–enough said!
12) Hamburgers/Hot Dogs/Sausages – If you’re looking for a quick meal with some good protein–obviously leaner varieties be it turkey or low fat are better—but again, hot, salty, meat on a bun! Yum!
13) Salads – Crisp, cool–kind of like the veggies–but add on cheese or meats and eggs to make it a meal–like the chef salad or chinese chicken salads with wontons and mandarin oranges–DELISH!
14) Hard Boiled Eggs – The stuff of long-time picnickers–be it regular hard boiled or deviled–yum! Even for breakfast–quick protein–cold from the fridge–make a bunch and keep restocking them! The kids love to crack and peel the shells–so it adds an activity for them too!
15) Gatorade/Energy Drinks/Capri Suns – These along with water are really good–straight water will dehydrate you on a super hot day–it’s a great base, but it’s not filled naturally with electrolytes. Hydration is key here people!
16) Iced Tea/Sweet Tea – Here in the South–it’s all about sweet tea! Now I like mine half and half since all of my tooth decay issues are coming to light–but iced tea on a hot day is a sweet treat!
17) Gumbo – Okay–spicy soup on a hot day works! I don’t know why–it just does! Adding shrimp and sausage and onions and peppers in a roux-based spicy chicken broth– just FABULOUS!!
18) Juice-cicles/Popsicles – Of course the normal summertime treat of ages gone by is STILL a hot (cold!) commodity! 🙂 And we love to make our own juice or lemonade frozen pops in the freezer–the kids love to help–and the frozen treat on a hot day outside is wonderful!
19) Fried Chicken Tenders/Nuggets/Wings – Fried chicken in the hot heat—bring it on! Whatever form….again, salty, tender, wonderful!!
20) Coleslaw/Potato/Macaroni Salads – If soups need to be spicy broth-based, in summer especially–side dishes or quick snacks need to be covered in creamy yumminess!

I hope these ideas are helpful–please feel free to add on! I’d love it! And most importantly–Stay cool, everyone!

Have a favorite cold or easy summer dish?  What do you crave when the weather is 100+?  Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on July 27, 2012 General, Ruly Ruth Tagged with: , ,
Jun 052012

"Children from school No. 2 in the Italian district Terrace nr. GeneSt. Many of these children spend their summer vacations in the canning and fruit picking settlements where their parents go to work during the season." Feb. 8, 1910, Buffalo, N.Y. Photo by Lewis Wickes Hine. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As you may have noticed, I missed posting entirely last week! I have not yet recapped April and May nor given you a theme for June.

I don’t know if that has ever happened before in my 2 years of blogging. There is nothing wrong just overly busy. Our home remodeling project has required more of my time than I was planning for and we then had to add on top of that several birthday parties, ballet rehearsals and life in general. It was just too much.

At this time of year, I imagine many parents are in the same boat. While one might imagine that having a summer “off” would be great and relaxing, in practice I don’t think very many parents have time to think in summer, much less relax. Why is it so busy?

For some parents it could be the adjustment to a new schedule. During the school year, things are certainly always busy but there is a predictable routine to it all. Now that school is out (or nearly out), simple things are about to change for many parents. For example, you might be used to making a quick grocery run sans kids in about 20 minutes. The same trip with children might take an hour. It takes more effort to clean and tidy the house when more people are about and more time needs to be spent preparing meals, doing laundry, and driving to activities. Summer vacations consume a lot of time, money and effort. Summer camps and classes do too.

In our homeschooling household, summer isn’t really time off but rather an important part of our academic year. It is one of the few times of year when homeschooled students have the opportunity to mix in with other children so for us that means extra effort to socialize and drive to activities and classes. It is also time to start planning curriculum for the fall.

So, after you tally up all the extra demands on your life, it’s no wonder things are busy in summer.

How can you reduce your stress in this situation?

Honestly, all I can answer here is that I don’t know and that if you find out, please tell me! Organization certainly helps but sometimes there isn’t even time to organize. On this point, I am turning to a professional for help, namely Marcia Francois, whose new book Live Organised just came out.

This is on my June reading list. I bought Marcia’s book when she was offering a special promotion where you could get a copy of her eCourse “Break out of overhwhelm.” (If you didn’t know, Marcia is South African and I love her use of the English language.) If anyone needs to “Break out of overwhelm” right now, it is me!

So for June, on my blog I am going to cut myself a bit of slack. My blogging goals are to:

  • Post random odds and ends about things I am organizing in our life lately.
  • Finish up my gardening and summarize the garden-related posts from the last two months.
  • Read and review Marcia Francois’ book and eCourse.

Thank you for reading and sticking with me. Curiously, I think it might be helpful both to myself and to you to keep blogging during the busiest times of my life as that is the time when we really need to put our organizational strategies to the test.

Do you forecast a hectic or relaxed summer for yourself and/or your family? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on June 5, 2012 General Tagged with: , ,