Summer Reading List

We’ve had a busy school year, folks. As we have hustled and bustled through it, I have not had much time for pleasure reading. Oh sure, I’ve read history and science and Bible, but haven’t had much time to sit still long enough for just-for-fun reading. Now that summer is here, I am looking forward to spending time in my porch swing with a few titles I’ve been eyeing. Here is what is on my list:

1. Start by Jon Acuff

2. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker

3. What Women Fear: Walking in Faith That Transforms by Angie Smith

4. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

5. Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Lauren Hillenbrand

6. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

8. The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

9. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz

10. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

11. America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great by Ben Carson

12. The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World
by Randall E. Stross

What is on your summer reading list?

(PS: Those pictures are Amazon affiliate links, so if you click on them and buy, I make a few pennies to keep this little blog ‘o mine going 🙂

Library Day

It’s library day at the Hill Hangout. My stack is as big as the girls’ today, thanks to the fact that school is officially OVER!!

What are y’all reading that’s good? Any great read-alouds for kids?


10 MORE Summer Art Projects


One of my most popular posts of all time here on The Hill hangout was called “Summer Art Projects.” Who knew that so many parents look online for inspiring art projects for their children? After I participated in a chat yesterday focused on incorporating art and creativity into your homeschool day, I was challenged anew to give my girls more time, space, and resources to create. Littles have such an artistic imagination and they need more freedom to let it run wild! After all, God is the master creator, and we are created in HIS image. He has gifted each of us with the ability to create unique things, if only we will take the time to develop the spark.

So to get your artistic wheels spinning, here are 10 MORE summer art projects you and your kids can enjoy:


1. Kathy at Art Projects for Kids introduces us to self-portraits in the style of James Rizzi. My girls had never done a raised image like this before, so it was a new, fun concept. Here is how Pitty Pat’s turned out:


Obviously, we used different media than Kathy recommended, but it’s what we had on hand and since art is free expression anyway, we went with it 🙂 While we created, we talked about how God made us each with unique qualities, but that we are all made in His image.

2. Gah! Do we love Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings, or what?!? Deep Space Sparkle used Georgia’s inspiration to create these flower masterpieces using construction paper, oil pastels, watercolors, and patterned (scrapbook) paper. This would also be fun using painted paper. As you cut and paste, you can discuss Matthew 6 where Jesus tells us not to worry about what we have. God makes the flowers beautifully clothed and gives them the food they need. Won’t He much more care for us, His beautiful creation?


3. We’ve talked about doodling our memory verses before. I adore a project that kills two birds with one stone, and this one definitely fits the bill. The girls think of it as a fun art project, but what they don’t realize is that at the same time they are committing God’s word to memory. Creativity AND hiding His word in their hearts – my kind of project!


4. Blow painting is fun and can be executed in a variety of ways. All you need is watered down acrylic or tempra paint in several colors, a few straws, a medicine dropper, and water color paper. Here’s an example from Kabubble:


Simply use the medicine dropper to add a few drops of paint to the paper. Use the straw to blow the paint around in all directions. You can put paper in a cookie sheet to keep the mess to a minimum.

This is also a great project to do with a crowd. We did this one in VBS last summer. The message was that no matter which way life blows you, God is making you into His beautiful masterpiece.

5. The inspiration for drawing fireworks came from Art Projects for Kids. Can you tell she’s one of my favorite online sources for art ideas? Kathy is an art teacher and has developed hundreds of art lessons, many of which she shares at her site. This project was fun because BOTH of my girls could do it well. No frustration that big sister’s piece looked better than little sister’s 🙂


6. An easy, fun outdoor project is a Chalk Self Portrait (aka Dead Body Outline). All you need for this project is a bucket of chalk and a sidewalk or driveway. The girls lay down on the driveway, and I outlined them in chalk.


Then I gave them free reign to decorate themselves any way they’d like. Again, we discussed that God made us all with the qualities He chose for us. We have so many things to love about ourselves and thank Him for, because He created us just the way He wants us.

Chalk Portraits

7. Kandinsky was a Russian abstract artist known for his concentric circle paintings. Our friend Kathy once again gave us great inspiration for using Kandinsky’s ideas to create a piece of our own.

Kandinsky Trees

We were short on time the day we created these, so they could have used a few more “leaves”, but I was happy that both of my girls worked together happily on this project. Big sister cut out the tree trunk, and little sister cut her own circles. This would be a fun project to adapt for a science lesson on how leaves change with the seasons. And since everything we teach should be God-centric, you can build on God as the organizer of time and changer of seasons: “He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” (Daniel 2:21)

8. Artsonia is another great online source for art ideas. It is an online museum of children’s artwork. You can spend hours looking through pieces that have been submitted. We loved the paper cutting projects like this horse:


All you’d need are scissors, paper, and scraps of random materials. What a fun way to use up all your left-over art supplies and show kids that God is knitting together the random parts of our lives into a beautiful creation that He can use.

9. Print-making projects are a little more involved and require a few special items to create, but they can also be a lasting treasure. Fine Lines has done a great tutorial on how to use styrofoam plates to create beautiful prints.

We did these in VBS a couple of years ago, and I was so touched by how much care the kids took with their pieces. We were discussing how time-consuming it is for missionaries to translate the Bible into other languages. We demonstrated by having the kids write a Bible verse onto a piece of styrofoam backward (because words have to be written in mirror-image to print correctly.) It was difficult for them, but they persevered. It taught them how painstaking it is to translate something, and how grateful we are to have easy access to God’s Word. My daughter’s print hangs in my kitchen.


10. Summer is a fabulous time for extended art projects like these papier mache Greek Urns from Art Lessons for Kids (different site than Art Projects for Kids).


We will be studying Greek history in the fall, so we will definitely be making these. They give an in-depth tutorial on supplies and instructions. This will be a fun outside project, as it will be messy and the Alabama summer sun will help the papier mache and the paint to dry faster.

Do you have a favorite website for art ideas? A Pinterest board of great art projects you’ve pinned? Posts on your own blog of great pieces your kiddos have completed? Leave a link in the comments so we can all check them out!

Visual Latin

As a homeschooling mom, I am filled with a hundred different varieties of angst and doubt over how well I am teaching my children. Am I covering it all? What if I leave out something really important? What if they aren’t prepared for college when the time comes? And I know I’m not alone, because at every single curriculum fair I’ve ever attended, I see mom who pore over books and charts and CD-ROMs and DVDs just trying to be sure we are providing our kids with the best education we possibly can.

After five years of teaching my children at home, I have learned that one of the best things I can do to put my mind at ease is to invest in good curricula that I KNOW is teaching my children what they need to know about any given subject. It doesn’t take a homeschooling parent long to know which publishers are reputable and which leave big gaps in learning. There are good, solid curricula out there, but sometimes you have to weed through a few bad ones to get to the ones that you stick with.

Take Latin, for example. I knew from early on in this journey that learning Latin is part of a classical education. However, my only exposure to Latin was when my mom enrolled me in a course at the local junior college when I was in middle school and I cried after every class until she let me quit. (Perhaps I was a little more dramatic than the situation called for, but it was a time I needed a little grace and was HAPPY to bow out.) I knew I needed a well-developed, well-respected Latin curriculum that gave my girls a solid Latin foundation. I tried out one curriculum that indeed met all my criteria, but MA thought it was boring, so we struggled to get it done every day. I really needed something that was going to be slightly more entertaining than translating words and memorizing declensions from a workbook. Needless to say, Visual Latin was a God-send.

Not only does Visual Latin provide a solid foundation in teaching the language, Duane does it in a way that is silly and entertaining to my 11 year old. She really looks forward to watching the videos. Also, one of the hallmarks of Visual Latin is the belief that children will earn a language better by immersion into the language than by studying a textbook. As a result, Visual Latin uses lots of stories, paragraphs, and texts which hold student’s attention and teach them more than merely translating a list of sentences that don’t fit together. (Sure, there is some translating of sentences, but the immersion technique works WONDERS!)

Y’all, anytime a curriculum gives my children a solid foundation of learning AND does it in a fun way, I am a fan. Because, I gotta tell ya, it’s no fun to have to make a child in tears study their Latin vocabulary or translate their sentences. It’s really nice when they say, “Mom, I think I’ll go watch a Latin video.” We, alrighty then.

I really appreciate that Visual Latin sent us lessons 11-20 to do this review, but I would have given them a great review anyway. They really are our curriculum of choice.

And so you know, I’m finally over the middle school drama and learning a little Latin myself. 🙂

What about you? What are your tried-and-true curriculum choices?

Doodling to Remember


Here at the Hill Hangout, we’ve already covered why we memorize scripture. It’s life to us. We have also covered the technique we use in our homeschool to commit God’s word to heart. We have used this method for several years, and it is a tried and true way to get scripture into your head and into your heart. However, we occasionally like to make scripture memory a little more FUN. My children are little Picassos who remember things faster and more accurately if they can incorporate a little artwork into their lessons.


We pull out our markers and whatever verse we’re working on memorizing.


And then we doodle to our heart’s content. We use lots of colors, various media, colored paper, scissors, glue – whatever we need to make the verses stick.


I have to help LIttle Bit write her verse and then read it to her, but she gets into the artwork just like her big sister.


“I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

Pluralizing Surnames on Christmas Cards

Every year I have the same grammar questions. They come around as I am addressing Christmas cards, and I bet you have the same questions. When I am addressing cards, instead of using a formal title like “Mr. and Mrs. John Jones” (especially when I want to include children’s names as well), I usually opt for a more casual “The Jones Family”. However, occasionally I like to go with “The Joneses,” but then that doesn’t look right, so I try “The Jones,” but that looks too singular. How do you use the plural form of surnames???

My go-to article to refresh my memory on proper grammatical pluralizing of surnames is found on Grammar Girl. In this article, Mignon Fogarty gives the down and dirty on this topic.

1. The most common way to change a family name to its plural form is to simply add an “s” to the end. The surname “Hill” becomes “Hills.”

2. For surnames ending in “s,” “x,” “z,” “ch,” and “sh” an “es” is added to the ending. So, “Jones” becomes “Joneses.” My maiden name “Mills” becomes “Millses.”

3. In all circumstances, you keep the base name the same, regardless of whether you would typically pluralize the word in another way. For instance, let’s look at “Chapman.” In everyday language, we would pluralize “man” by changing it to “men.” We ignore this rule when it comes to surnames and always keep the surname’s original form. Therefore, instead of changing it to “Chapmen,” you would use “Chapmans.”

4. Never, ever, ever use an apostrophe to pluralize a name. Apostrophes are ONLY used to show possession or to form a contraction. Therefore, the following are incorrect:
Let’s send a Christmas card to the Jones’.
I like to hear the Chapman’s sing.
The Mills’ are some of my favorite people.
Instead, you should say:
Let’s send a Christmas card to the Joneses.
I like to hear the Chapmans sing.
The Millses are some of my favorite people.
Should you, in fact, need to show possession to a plural surname, you would do it in the following way:
The Millses’ home is so lovely.
The Chapmans’ singing sounds like angels.
The Joneses’ card is in the mail.

Clear as mud?

The Grammar Nerd


Christmas Storybook Favorites

One of the most meaningful Christmas traditions we have around the Hill Hangout is the reading of a new Christmas children’s storybook. We started this tradition when Mary Anneliese was a little punkin’. We thought she might not understand the real story of Christmas as read from the Bible, so we looked for a storybook that was a little more on her level. Though our girls are now old enough to understand the Bible – and we read the passage of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Eve aloud – we have kept the tradition of reading a new Christmas storybook each year. It’s fun for me to choose the new book, and the girls both enjoy hearing their daddy or me read to them. Through the years, we have acquired quite a selection of stories about Christmas, so I thought you might enjoy seeing some of them.

If you have never read the God Gave Us… series by Lisa Tawn Bergren to your children, you have missed some very sweet stories. We received God Gave Us You as a gift when we were expecting our first baby. When PItty Pat came along, we started reading God Gave Us Two to big sister. God Gave Us Christmas is a very sweet addition to our collection.

Liz Curtis Higgs writes another of our favorite series of children’s books. She has written a parable for several holidays, pointing out the Christian characteristic behind each of those holidays. She has one for Easter called The Parable of the Lily: Special 10th Anniversary Edition (Parable Series)
and one for Halloween/fall called The Pumpkin Patch Parable: Special Edition (Parable Series). But her Christmas story is called
The Parable Series: The Pine Tree Parable.

Dandi Daley Mackall has written hundreds of children’s books. She has written a fabulous series for younger children on the armor of God, the Lord’s Prayer, the Beattitudes, and so on. The Legend of St. Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving is her Christmas story. It is a beautifully illustrated book telling the story of St. Nicholas. This sweet book shows that Christmas is a time to show the same generosity to others that God has shown to us.

You can’t have a list of Christmas storybooks without including Max Lucado’s The Crippled Lamb. You will need a tissue when you read this one. It is the heart-warming story of a lamb who is born with a bum leg. It causes him not to be able to run and play with the other lambs. His leg is a source of insecurity and shame for the lamb until one special night when he discovers that because of his leg, he is the perfect lamb for a very special job.

The King’s Christmas List is taken directly from Matthew 25:40 (“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’). Emma and her little dog Shu-Shu are invited to a birthday party for the King. They have no gift to bring that is fit for a King, but they prepare a special Christmas cake, wear their best winter cape and take their special Cherry-Bear. Along the way they find people who are in need of the gifts they bring. Arriving empty-handed, they discover that their giving was exactly what the King wanted all along.

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get good, classic children’s literature. Little Golden Books are a great source for Christmas books, and they usually run around $3.00. We own The Christmas Story, The Animals’ Christmas Eve (Little Golden Book), and The Night Before Christmas (Little Golden Book). These are all classic stories that have stood the test of time.

Our family has enjoyed the building holiday traditions together, and reading Christmas books together is a tradition that we all love. But, of course, the BEST Christmas story of all is found in the Bible. We love to read from Isaiah 9 and Luke 2.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)

Disclaimer: Those links are Amazon Affiliate links, which means I make a few pennies if you buy the books from Amazon after clicking on the link. Although I don’t make much from the sales, every little bit helps. I thank you for allowing this mama to stay home and raise her babies 😉

Charting Election Night with Kids

Sorry for the last minute notice on this, but a friend posted this fabulous article on facebook today, and I wanted it to pass it along to you in case you wanted to use it with your kiddos tonight. The article is a great explanation of the presidential election process, including a discussion of the electoral college. It contains a printable map for children to color in red/blue states and a tally sheet to track the states’ electoral college votes. We have ours printed and ready to go for tonight. Hope you will be following the election results and discussing it with your children as we make this monumental decision for our country.

*Helpful hint: I had to change the scale size to 75% when printing to get it to fit on one page.

Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

I don’t know about your area, but I can’t say that we’ve had the most colorful leaf-changing season in Birmingham this year. There are pockets of gold, sure, but not a huge display of color as in years past. It’s a shame because we’ve been studying leaves in botany and have been waiting anxiously to have some hands-on activities and discussions. So today I wanted to take the littles somewhere to see if we could improve on our autumnal experience. Somewhere a little more rustic than our back yard.

Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is about 25 miles away, so we decided today would be a good day to check it out. We discovered a magical oasis, privately tucked away in the forests of Pinson. The land was secured by the state of Alabama several years ago as part of the Forever Wild initiative.


Isn’t is lovely? We played in the water, climbed on the rocks, and hiked the trails. We were able to photograph lots of species of leaves for our leaf study notebook. We were quite impressed by this well-kept secret.

I feel like even though I’ve lived in Birmingham for years, there is still more waiting to be discovered. Do you have hide-aways like this in your area?

Homeschool Review: All About Spelling

A few weeks ago, I gave you my list of curriculum choices for this school year. I get asked about these choices a LOT, even by public and private school parents, because they are looking for additional resources to help their struggling students. One resource for spelling that I’m always happy to recommend is Marie Rippel’s All About Spelling.

Spelling can be difficult for many students if they have never been educated on the “rules” or “patterns” that are used in spelling English words. Granted, there are many exceptions to those rules, but there are strategies that can be used to correctly spell most of the words we use daily. One of the reasons I chose All About Spelling is because of the way it teaches those strategies in an organized and systematic way. It’s a very easy program to teach, and a very easy program, for students to learn.

As it is a multisensory program (and we all know that the more senses you have involved in learning an idea, the more it sticks in their little brains), there are several pieces you will want to consider purchasing. There is an initial purchase of the Spelling Interactive Kit, which sells on the All About Learning website for $29.99. The kit contains letter tiles, magnets, a phonogram CD-ROM, and divider cards for the phonogram cards. You can upgrade that purchase to include a storage box for cards, a spelling tote bag, and stickers for your accomplishment chart. You will also need the student pack for the level you are using. It contains phonogram cards, sound cards, key cards, word cards, and a few other resources that make the program truly interactive and multi sensory. The backbone of the program, however, is the Teacher’s Manual. It is the book that spells out everything the teacher needs to do and say. This book takes all the work out of preparing for your spelling lessons. There is little to no prep work needed – the book tells it all! The Teacher’s Manual and Student Pack come together in a set for $29.95.

In the typical 15-20 minute lesson, the teacher will cover a particular phonogram or letter sound, and the student will be given several ways to practice that particular sound. Students are shown how to break words into syllables, and then taught the strategies for spelling each syllable. The program utilizes the magnet tiles, flash cards, as well as giving written work like dictation so that the student is given several ways to grasp the concept. Though the program teaches only one concept at a time, there is built-in continual review so that the student doesn’t forget what was learned in previous lessons. Don’t we LOVE that?

There are seven levels in the All About Spelling program, and this year we are on level 4. We will continue on until we have finished all seven lessons. If you are a homeschooling parent or a parent with a student who struggles with spelling in school, I hope you will check out All About Spelling. They have made a world of difference in my girl’s ability to spell and use the English language properly.

In exchange for this review I was given the Teacher’s Manual, Student Pack, and a set of stickers to review. The ideas and opinions are entirely my own, and I was not required to do a favorable review in order to receive the materials. I really do happen to love this program and think you will, too.