How to Cook Acorn Squash

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In case you did not know this, I did not grow up in the United States. Where I grew up, we did not have acorn squash. We had pumpkins and gourds, to be sure, but nothing like the varieties I see around me here in Tennessee.

Baked acorn squash halves

Acorn squash baked by my own two hands

For the longest time, I thought one could not eat acorn squash. Somebody even told me they were only for decoration and I took their word for it. Boy, was I mistaken. Continue reading »

After spending a weekend with a friend who had all kinds of winter squash around her house for cooking purposes, I decided to investigate the matter. Was acorn squash really edible? Most answers these days are only a Google search away, of course. Not only is it edible, it contains a powerhouse of nutrients like vitamin C, which, this time of the year, is very much needed to keep infections at bay.

Acorn Squash With Seeds Acorn Squash Cleaned Out

Armed with my newfound knowledge, I bought my first couple of acorn squash and baked them. Cutting them was a bit tough, but in the end it was so worth it.

Trying on new foods, textures, and tastes takes courage, folks. If you already consume acorn squash, I challenge you to pick a new vegetable today. Buy it, wash it, research it, and prepare it. Consume it with pride. You are pushing the boundaries of your taste buds. Plus, you are setting a good example for your children.

 

Ingredients

2 medium acorn squash or 3 small ones

1 tsp butter per half

1/2 Tbsp honey per half

 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil.

Wash acorn squash to remove dirt. Cut in two. Careful with that knife! That’s the toughest part of the process, I promise.

Take seeds and stringy parts out, using a grapefruit spoon. Discard. I have roasted seeds before, but acorn squash seeds are not as good as the ones from sugar pumpkins. Besides, you don’t get as many from acorn squash.

Place squash halves face down on your baking sheet.

Baking Acorn Squash

If the squash is small, it does not matter which way you cut it.

Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork easily penetrates the squash’s outer skin.

Baked acorn squash

Once they are baked, I turn them over to marvel at their beauty. Behold, baked acorn squash!

Enjoy with butter and honey. Sorry, I cannot get myself to see pumpkins and squashes as something savory. I grew up eating pumpkin with sugar and butter. The thought of putting salt and pepper on an acorn squash or stuffing it with savory rice or making pumpkin soup gives me shivers.

Maybe that should be my challenge to myself for the fall of 2018. Until then, enjoy your acorn squash sweet!


How to Prepare for a Spelling Bee

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Last year, our son attended his first Spelling Bee. He was in third grade, which is the first year a child can attend a Spelling Bee. On a national level, I see some first graders who make it to Washington, D. C. (usually homeschoolers) and I wonder how they got there. Their parents and teachers must have realized they are so good, they enrolled them and the youngsters blew their older peers out of the water.

BHEA Spelling Bee - January 2017

BHEA Spelling Bee – January 2017

Precocious kiddoes aside, third grade is where Spelling Bee starts. So how does one prepare for a Spelling Bee? Here are a few ideas: Continue reading »

First, I would invest in a good spelling curriculum. I use Logic of English Foundations for my second grader and Essentials for my fourth grader. I hear good things about All About Spelling and, also, about Spelling Zoo (IEW spelling program).

Secondly, I would let them read as many books as possible. Aim for at least one picture book a day for K-2 and at least one small chapter book (150 pages or so) per week for grades 3-5. In grades 6-8, children should read at least 100 pages per day.

Spelling Bee Logo

This may seem like a lot, but think about it. If your child is reading 20 pages in a longer biography, that covers history for the day. Twenty pages in a cool science book would cover science. Twenty pages in a mystery would cover fun reading. The rest, 40 pages, can be spent on a classic, which takes care of Language Arts and Reading.

Now, if your child can finish over 150 pages in one day in a single book only because they love that book, more power to them. Tomorrow is another day for another book. My son loves to read and he can finish a 250-page book in one day simply because he likes it. Don’t lose heart. We did not get here overnight.

If your child does not enjoy reading, you read to him. Take 20 minutes every day with books you know might interest him and I promise you that in a few months your child will be a more independent reader.

Last but not least, sign up for the National Spelling Bee newsletter. They have all sorts of ideas on how to study, Word Wall printouts, and book lists to read. Your homeschool co-op will have to pay a fee to enroll with the National Spelling Bee. Then, you will have access to their proprietary materials, which are VERY important. Hope this helps!


Gluten Free Apple Crisp

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September and October are apple months where we live. That’s when we can applesauce and make apple crisp almost every day. November can be apple crisp month too. Why not?

Gluten free apple crisp to warm you on a cool fall morning

If you ask me, any month is apple crisp month. I love, love, love apple crisp and any kind of fruit crisp, really. And since becoming gluten free, I have changed my baking recipes and the result is just as tasty if not even better.

Gluten free apple crisp with vegan cream

Option: serve it with vegan cream

This recipe I will share with you is inspired by the Minimalist Baker apple crisp, but I had to modify it because I like a different apple-to-topping ratio than what their recipe was. Also, I like a healthier take on it, so I put less sugar in mine. Continue reading »

 

Apple Layer

4 apples, cored and diced into bite sizes

1/4 c sugar in the raw or any other unrefined sugar

1 Tbsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp cinnamon

pinch of salt

small dash of lemon juice (optional)

IKEA apple corer/slicer

I love my IKEA apple corer/slicer

 

Topping

1/4 cup sugar in the raw or any other unrefined sugar like Muscovado

1 cup gluten free flour (I like King Arthur or Bob’s Mill)

2 cups rolled oats*

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup avocado oil

1/4 cup water

pinch salt

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 F and spray a 9×13 casserole dish with oil. Mix apples well with the rest of the ingredients in that list. Place in a uniform layer at the bottom of the casserole dish.

Mix dry Topping ingredients in a clean, dry bowl. Add wet ingredients and mix well until you do not see any more flour and the oats look wet. Layer over the apples in the dish. Bake for 1 hour. My oven is slow, especially if I bake using the convection feature. Sometimes I have to bake it for an extra 10 minutes, so use your judgment.

*Gluten sensitivity comes in many levels. Regular oats do not bother me, for instance, so I do not have to buy gluten free oats. If you know you must have gluten free oats, by all means use them instead of regular oats.


Gluten Free, Vegan Enchiladas

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Over the summer months, I found out what has been causing my abdominal pain for the past 24 years: gluten. As a result, I am now adapting all my recipes to be gluten free. Most of them are easy to switch. There are so many gluten free substitutes out there.

However, there is a learning curve. I have never been afraid of a little learning, so it’s all good. So far, I have been pleasantly surprised to hear from my husband and children that they like gluten free pancakes better than regular ones. The same goes for store-bought gluten free cookies and a gluten free zucchini cake I made a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s how I have adapted my enchilada recipe to be gluten free and vegan. By the way, if you do not like vegan cheese, you can always use the genuine article.

Gluten free, vegan enchiladas

Gluten free, vegan enchiladas

 

Ingredients

One pack of Bfree tortilla wraps (or use whatever brand you like)

1 1/2 c Bob’s Mill TVP

1 jar of your favorite Marinara sauce Continue reading »

1/2 c – 3/4 c Daiya cheddar style shreds or block cheese, which you will have to shred yourself

3 Tbsp McKay’s chicken style seasoning

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp chili powder

1 Tbsp. onion powder

1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder

salt to taste

 

Directions

In a bowl, pour 3 cups of hot water over TVP and add 2 Tbsp of the chicken style seasoning. Let rehydrate for at least 10 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 9 x 11 casserole dish with oil spray. Pour a thin layer of Marinara sauce at the bottom of the dish.

When the TVP has softened, strain it in a colander over the sink and transfer to a large pan. Add the oil, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, the last Tbsp of McKay’s chicken style seasoning, about 2 Tbsp of Marinara sauce, and salt to taste. Stir fry until the contents are well mixed and the TVP has darkened in color, about 7 minutes.

While the TVP is cooking, shred your cheese if you are not using shreds.

Turn off the heat under the TVP and start assembling the enchiladas. I use about 1/4 c of TVP per tortilla. If your wrap pack has more than six tortillas, you may want to put less TVP per enchilada, or simply double the TVP recipe for two packs of wraps.

Pour the rest of the Marinara sauce over the enchiladas. Cover with cheese.

Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Let sit for 5 minutes before enjoying. The enchiladas are hotter on the inside.


Enriching Children’s Minds

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There are so many ways to enrich a child’s mind that do not involve being sat in front of a teacher for hours at a time. This is where homeschooling comes into its own. In a natural, comfortable environment, it’s so much easier for your child to concentrate and learn.

Helping your own child through their life as a parent and a teacher is very rewarding. Yet the majority of parents send their children to a mainstream school for two main reasons. It’s easy and it is sociable. But homeschooling can be just as sociable! 

Girl homeschooling

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Field Trips

In school, your child will have two or three field trips or educational visits a year. With homeschooling, you can base as much of the learning as you want around field trips. For example, if you’re studying a part of history that your local museum is showcasing, it is so much more effective for it to be seen and understood by looking at artifacts face to face. Continue reading »

Museums are full of knowledge that a classroom can’t teach as easily. It is more likely to stick in your child’s mind compared to reading out of a textbook. Learning in the great outdoors is also much more effective.

Homeschool learning is just so much more hands on, it really can’t be beat. You’ll be able to pick how many of these visits you do a year, and where you’d like them to be. Nothing is more exciting than a day at school where you’d leave to go on a trip. You can bring this excitement and enrichment as many times as you’d like.

 

Online Help

Many online resources can help keep your child interested. Educational games help enrich a child’s mind through the power of fun. Whether it be math or English, the internet will have it.

There are even typing games available to help build up the first basic computer skill needed. Sometimes it can be difficult to teach something. Let the online teacher do the work for you. For example, if you struggle with fractions, there may be a game out there that can help you both learn at the same time.

 

Different Teaching Methods

In school, different teachers have different teaching methods that some children just cannot learn from. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can constantly evolve your teaching method to suit your child. They won’t go through their whole schooling time with just one method of learning. As they age through teenage years, it’s likely to change.

This is where schools falls short, they don’t adapt. The adaptation you give is what will be able to enrich your child’s mind constantly. You know them better than anyone else. You’ll be able to see if what you’re saying is sinking in, or whether they’re paying any attention at all. Talk to them often to find out what you can do to improve.

 

Choose curriculum

Having to study a subject you don’t even like can be less than enriching. The lack of interest will lead to lack of attention straight away. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can choose the curriculum depending on what your child wishes to study.

You’ll obviously have to study the basics such as math and English, but the rest can be up to you and your child. As they get older, you’ll be able to tailor the curriculum more to the career they wish to head to, rather than what a school would want to study.

Homeschooling is ultimately one of the best ways to enrich a child’s mind. The freedom, the comfort, and the tailored curriculum are exactly what children need to learn.


Copenhangen, Denmark

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A few days ago, I was talking to an American public school teacher and he asked me where we went on our trip to Europe. I replied, “Sweden and Denmark.” He asked me, “And is Denmark in Germany?”

Father and children in restaurant

Waiting for our dinner in a Nyhavn restaurant

Stunned but trying hard not to show it, I said, “Denmark is a country north of Germany. It has a peninsula and about 400 islands of its own, one of them being Greenland.” He smiled and we moved on with our conversation. Continue reading »

I don’t want to be too hard on anybody when it comes to geography. I am still learning where Burma is, for instance. Oh, I know Burma is in Asia, but where exactly I could not tell you. However. When it comes to the Western hemisphere, I would expect that Westerners know their countries. That is not the case, apparently. Moving right along…

Nyhavn or restaurant row, Copenhagen

Nyhavn or restaurant row, Copenhagen

When we went to Legoland, Billund in September, we had to go through Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark. We found an amazing AirBnB location, about two minutes (I am not exaggerating) from the royal residences at Amalienborg.

Amalienborg

Walking through Amalienborg was shockingly easy, as security was minimal.

We had about 36 hours to spend in Copenhagen, so no time for museums. We just walked around some of the most famous landmarks, took pictures, and called it a visit.

The kids learned a lot because we interacted with the host in the beginning. Then, with the waiters in different restaurants. We went grocery shopping and the carts were super cute and small – another experience which shows them there are many ways to skin a cat, if you will.

The Little Mermaid

My husband taking pictures of The Little Mermaid, Copenhagen’s most famous landmark.

Everybody speaks impeccable English and everybody is impeccably dressed. Compared to Sweden, Denmark is more chic, more elegant, and more expensive. They also manage to be patriotic while not dogging on America or any other country for that matter. The Danes are an interesting people, let’s leave it at that.

The weather was bad. It rained on and off for the two days we were there. Sometimes it rained so hard, we had to change clothes when we got home. We were drenched despite our rain boots and jackets. It was about 55F but it felt much colder due to the wind and the rain. But, we endured it all in the name of geography and tourism. And we survived to tell the story.


Avoid Buying Baby Products With These Ingredients

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My blog deals with homeschooling, but part of a thriving homeschool is to keep health and safety at the forefront. Many moms of babies are preparing to homeschool by doing lots of research on the internet. This post is for them.

When it comes to your baby’s health, you can’t afford to make any mistakes. There is a huge industry built around soaps and skin products for your baby and they all claim to be healthy for them. If you’ve ever looked into the dangers of your own skin products, you’ll probably know that isn’t true. Continue reading »

There are all sorts of chemicals found in some of these products that you definitely don’t want to expose your baby to. The problem is, when you read the labels, it might as well be written in another language.

You can’t be expected to know what all of these weird and wonderful chemicals are, so how are you supposed to choose the right products? Here is a handy list of the most dangerous ingredients that you should avoid at all costs.

Talc

Talc is a pretty common ingredient that most people don’t realize is dangerous. It’s added to a lot of baby powders and most parents don’t consider it a problem, but it is. Studies into the effects of talc have shown that it can cause irritation of the lungs and there is a possibility that it might be carcinogenic. Since these findings were released a lot of companies have stopped using talc so if you take the time to look you can easily find safe baby powders.

 

Fragrance

Fragrance of any kind in skin products can be irritating to adults so imagine what they do to the far more sensitive skin of babies, especially during winter. The problem is that lots of companies just list a non-descript fragrance on the ingredients so there’s no telling what it actually is. That’s because most of them are made from petroleum related products which aren’t going to be good for your baby’s skin. The other problem with fragrances is that they’re often used to mask the bad smell of another nasty chemical that’s in there so it’s always advisable to steer well clear of anything with a fragrance. They can also be a cause of asthma in young children which will be a long term health condition. There are loads of good perfume free soaps and skin products for babies on the market so you shouldn’t have trouble finding something that’s good. As well as soap and skin products, fragrances are added to things like diapers and wet wipes so make sure you check anything that touches your baby.

 

Parabens

Parabens are unfortunately one of the most common ingredients that are found in all sorts of things. Soaps, body wash, shampoos, and conditioners all contain parabens a lot of the time so be wary. They are neurotoxins that have been linked to all sorts of problems like skin irritation and hormone disruption which can seriously affect your child’s development. Instead of buying stuff with parabens in, look for things like Mustela face cream that are made with all natural products. They don’t rely on parabens, they use things like Jojoba Oil, Shea Butter, and Avocado which are far healthier for your baby.

 

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol is often found in skin products because it is an absorption agent. It opens up the pores and helps the skin to absorb all of the other ingredients in the product. Unfortunately, it’s really not something that you want to expose your baby to. There is a chance that it might be carcinogenic so best not to use anything that contains it. The most common place that you’ll find it is in baby wipes so you should either look for ones that don’t contain it or just use warm water and fragrance free soap instead.

 

Mineral Oil

Baby oil is a product that most parents use and it’s generally considered to be good for the skin, but the reality is very different. Baby oil is essentially a mixture of mineral oil and fragrances. We’ve already established that fragrances are bad news, but what about mineral oil? Mineral oil is a cheap byproduct of petroleum processing and it causes problems with the skin. It essentially blocks up all of the pores in the skin, stopping your baby from releasing any harmful toxins. Using oils on your baby’s skin is a good idea because it keeps them moisturized but you should go for a more natural option like coconut oil or olive oil.

 

Triclosan

Anything that claims to antibacterial probably has triclosan in it. It’s tricky for parents because it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that keeping your baby away from any bacteria is a good thing, but it isn’t. First off, Triclosan is harmful to the environment and again, it has been suggested that it might be carcinogenic. On top of that, raising babies in a completely bacteria free environment can actually do them more harm than good. The immune system essentially goes through training when it’s exposed to small amounts of natural bacteria. This is how it becomes stronger as they grow up. If you remove every last bit of bacteria, they won’t build a strong immunity and they’ll be more prone to illnesses. It also increases the chance of them developing allergies which cannot be reversed very easily.

 

1,4 Dioxane

This is a very tricky ingredient because it’s not usually listed on the label, even though it’s present in around 57 percent of baby soaps. It’s usually an unplanned by product of two other chemicals so it’s hard to spot, but not impossible. Anything with polyethylene in is likely to contain 1,4 Dioxane so best to avoid it.

It’s an absolute nightmare trying to find decent, healthy products for your baby. There are so many companies out there and they all claim that their product is the best for your baby, but the truth is, you can’t really trust any of them. What you should be doing instead is checking all of the labels yourself and making your own decisions based on the ingredients alone. Don’t let yourself get affected by marketing, just do what’s best for your baby.   


What Makes a Good Fundraiser?

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Recently, KSYO asked me to join their fundraiser team of parents and staff. I am not looking for things to do, but it was hard to refuse. I like this organization and what they are doing for my children. I accepted and then started researching a bit how I can help.

Fundraisers are notoriously difficult to get right. No matter how hard you work, there is always something waiting to go wrong for you. However, real persistence and a willingness to go the extra mile can pay off big time. You first need to start thinking about what makes a good school fundraiser. When you know what success would look like, you can start putting the right plans in place. Here are some of the things that help make a good fundraiser.

 

Fun

First and foremost, your school fundraiser has to be a lot of fun. Otherwise, why would anyone even want to get involved or play a part? It might seem like an obvious thing to point out, but you’d be surprised by the number of school fundraisers that truly are no fun at all. All that will do is sour the experience and ensure people don’t come back next time. It’s important to think about the long-term, not just the here and now.

 

Something Out of the Ordinary

Most people and most parents have been to a million school fundraisers before. That means they don’t want to be presented with the same old stuff and the same old ideas that they’ve seen a million times before. Do something out of the ordinary if you want to get people talking about your fundraiser and turning up in higher numbers. To put it simply, don’t be boring.

 

Prizes to be Won

No school fundraiser would be complete without a raft of prizes waiting to be given away. You definitely need to make sure the prizes you’ve got lined up are appealing to the kinds of families and parents that are most likely to show up to this whole thing. Head to https://www.the-fund-raiser.com/how-to-personalize-wine-gift-baskets/ if you want some gift basket ideas. Put thought and care into the selections you make.

Science Fair as Fundraiser

Image Source

 

A Strong Venue

You’re going to need to have a good venue lined up for your fundraising event because if you don’t, it might not be suited to what you’re trying to achieve. Make it somewhere that people will find easy to get to. And don’t forget to think about all the logistical things such as car parking. All these things matter a lot, and they shouldn’t be swept to one side. Continue reading »

 

Awareness

Finally, you need to make sure that people are actually aware of what you’re doing and when this whole fundraiser is actually taking place. If they don’t know about all those things, no will show up. It really is as simple as that. Learn how to market an even properly at https://www.orbitmedia.com/blog/how-to-market-an-event/. It could turn out to be one of the most important aspects of all because you’ll raise no funds if no one shows up.

 

Clearly, it’s not easy to get your fundraiser right. But it can be done. Make sure that your school fundraiser covers all of these points and gets people out in numbers for the event and festivities.


Stockholm Technology Museum

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Tekniska Museet is the Swedish name for this museum in Stockholm, Sweden, which features a mathematical garden outside, and two floors of interactive exhibits covering physics, chemistry, biology, robotics, computer science etc. In other words, a STEM museum.

Tekniska Museet

One of the installations in the mathematical garden. Preschoolers and their vests in the foreground.

There is also a large collection of early innovations showing the history of technology since the 18th century, e.g. an old printing press, sewing machine, early MacIntosh computer, automobile and so on. All the exhibits have iPads where one can select the language of the presentation, either Swedish or English.

Continue reading »

We spent three hours in there and still felt like our kids could have spent even more time there without getting bored. In fact, they were very sorry that we had to leave.

Moving ball with your brain

If you relaxed enough, you could move the ball with your mind.

The museum is free on Wednesdays from 5pm-8pm. All other times there is a fee for anybody over the age of 6. We did not go there on a Wednesday because we made other plans for our Wednesdays and then it was too late. Oh well.

We saw several groups of preschoolers come in. They would have been free any day. And they were adorable.

Side note: preschoolers in Sweden are super-cute in their fluorescent vests which they don over their rain jackets. They hold hands two by two and usually come in groups of 10-12, accompanied by at least two preschool teachers. It’s a cute, cute sight, let me tell you.

Climbing Wall at Tekniska Museet

Interactive climbing wall

I would have taken pictures of them but I did not know if this were not against the law. Sweden has some pretty strict rules on photographing children. So I settled for taking pictures of my children and, if any preschoolers happen to walk by, oh well. Not my fault or intention.

At the bus stop, one of the little girls looked straight at me and started talking. Unfortunately, I did not understand what she said. I smiled at her and said, “Really?” in Swedish. She nodded.

The Nautilus Slide in the Mathematical Garden

The Nautilus Slide in the Mathematical Garden

When the bus turned a corner and Grona Lund appeared in the distance, they all started pointing and shouting, “Grona Lund! Grona Lund!” Grona Lund is an amusement park in Stockholm and its rides and pointed towers can be seen from this particular boulevard our bus was traveling on.

Here are some of the things our children did there: they smelled different substances; looked through screens to see how different animals see; built virtual garments from vintage fabric within a certain budget; moved a ball with their mind; talked to a robot who talked back; learned about synapses in the brain; climbed a wall and got instant feedback from the computer that was telling them how to change the route; rested in a “resting room” where music and lights change in a certain way, which is supposed to spark creativity and a new thought and too many other things to mention.


Legoland, Billund

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When you think of LEGO bricks and Legoland, you think of toys and playtime, right? Right. But LEGO bricks are so much more than a toy. Children gain a lot of knowledge about the world around them when they play with LEGO bricks.

Legoland Billund

My husband took this picture of us.

A visit to Legoland is always fun, but it can also help you focus your child on building if you have ventured too much into screen time. Many people get lured into “educational video games” and forget all about the box of LEGO bricks they have in the corner of the play room. I say it is time to give LEGO bricks another chance. Your child will find the joy of building and story telling all over again.

Miniland Legoland Billund

My favorite part of the park was Miniland.

I have always wanted to take my children to the closest Legoland to us, which is in Florida. We never made it. Instead, we visited the Legoland Discovery Centery in Atlanta. Continue reading »

It was great, but small and, well, just a Discovery Center.

Dragon Castle Legoland Billund

My husband and children went on rides together. I don’t do roller coasters.

When I realized that we would be in Sweden for 23 days, I knew we should be able to make it to the original Legoland in Billund, Denmark, where the LEGO Group got started. Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter and toy maker, realized his biggest success were interlocking wooden blocks. As he perfected his product, with help from his four sons who played with the blocks, plastics were becoming more available. This was happening in the 1930s and 1940s. The LEGO brick went from wood to plastic and the world was never the same.

Legoland Billund Driver's License Course

The first thing they wanted to do was to get their LEGO Driver’s License.

Today, LEGO is the world’s most powerful brand. The company’s motto, created by Christiansen, is “The best is never too good.” He encouraged his employees not to skimp on quality. I wonder what would happen in my homeschool if I took that as my motto.

I am not talking about perfectionism here. Just an insistence on quality. Quality time with the children when they need me, quality books, quality curriculum, quality meals etc. In our quest to “do it all,” I fear that we skimp on quality just so we can get the quantity done.

Girl at Miniland Legoland Billund Boy at Miniland Legoland Billund

I don’t know how that applies in your homeschool, but I have a pretty good idea how that translates for mine. And that, my friends, is why we travel. So that when we come back, we can see our lives in a new light, and challenge ourselves to go to the next level.