The Short List: July

Holland Michigan

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links.

I couldn’t let the last day of July slip by without sneaking in a Short List for the month! July flew by for us, mostly because it was packed with lots of summer fun. We fit in cookouts, s’mores, fireworks, lots of pool time, a trip to the beach, Symphony on the Prairie, and more. Tonight, though, is the night Elena and I have been looking forward to since last Christmas: we’re going to see One Direction! I’m just as excited as she is, and not the least bit embarrassed to admit it.

Pier Point Beach Michigan

Next week we’ll be celebrating a certain guy’s 8th birthday. It will be our last full week before school starts back up. Thankfully we did our back to school shopping last week, so we can spend our remaining days doing fun, carefree summer stuff, including a day at the Indiana State Fair.

Before I switch the computer off and switch full boy band celebration mode on, here are a few things I wanted to share with you this month!


We have two episodes left of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt … we love it, but we epically fail at binge watching anything! Unless I’m sick and wiped out on the couch, I can’t sit and watch more than two episodes of anything. Mike and I have been watching Ballers on HBO. It’s actually pretty terrible, but we can’t look away. Well, until the next season of Hard Knocks starts on August 11. We have high hopes for the new Netflix original series Wet Hot American Summer.


I just finished the sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, by Ransom Riggs. It took me a few chapters to remember how the last book ended and to get my characters straight, but then I tore through it. I think Elena and I are going to have to give up listening to All the Bright Places and finish it by reading the book. We both love it, but we’re hardly ever in the car together alone to listen, and we’re dying to know how it ends! I’m just starting another book I originally picked up for her, The Aviary by Kathleen O’Dell. I was hoping it would be a book we could discuss together, but as I get into it I see why she wasn’t into it. I’m intrigued enough to finish it, though. Eli and I finished Masterpiece and have moved on to Wildwood by Colin Meloy. So far it’s a great read aloud for almost 8-year-old boys! Through Audible, I’m listening to We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. I think I would’ve been turned off by the length and tediousness of it in print form, but I’ve enjoyed listening to the long, drawn-out pace of the family’s story while puttering about the house. My free Audible trial is over, but I’ve enjoyed it enough that I’m going to continue with it. I also downloaded the Kindle app on my iPad and have been reading some advanced reader copies of books via NetGalley. I love the feeling of always having something to read or listen to no matter where I am, and I’m reading so much more this year thanks to all of these options.


Mary's secret ingredients subscription box

I have a thing for grocery stores … not because I’m in love with grocery shopping, but because I love looking at food! One of my favorite things to do when we’re in a new place is to go to the store. I know I’ll find new-to-me, unique foods. I just love trying new flavors and ingredients. So when I was asked if I’d like to try Mary’s secret ingredients, a seasonal subscription box that features a curated collection of unique food products, I didn’t have to think twice. My summer box was delivered full of fun stuff.

Mary's secret ingredients summer subscription box

Eli tore into Love Grown Food PowerO’s minutes after the box was opened. I saw that it was made with navy beans, garbanzo beans and lentils and held my breath. He saw that it was made with chocolate and devoured it. The Rufus Teague barbecue sauce has been a hit on the grill. My favorite find from the box has been the Villa de Patos Maguey Sweet Sap. Made from the maguey plant (in the Agave family) native to Mexico, the Sweet Sap is an unrefined and unprocessed sweetener. I used it to sweeten our fresh watermelon lime margaritas last weekend and it was fantastic. Each box also includes some kind of kitchen gadget, which is a fun splurge for me. The summer box a pretty funky, yet useful, Speegee spatula. I appreciate that the purchase of each box helps support Feed the Children. I also like that there are only 4 boxes a year, one for each season, so as not to overwhelm you with the cost or the amount of food. It would make a fun and affordable treat for your own kitchen, or a unique gift for someone who loves food and cooking.


Have you heard of Rebrickable? If you have a LEGO fanatic in your house, it’s a great site to get even more play value out of your bricks. You tell it what sets you have, and it searches the database to show you new things you can build. So cool.

I’m taking this list of the 5 best wines under $10 to drink with pizza with me on my next Trader Joe’s trip. (In case you’re wondering, rosé is my unofficial drink of summer.)

I really appreciated this post from Gabrielle at Design Mom about not stressing over picking a school. Ever since I wrote about our transition from Montessori to public school, I get emails from frantic and stressed parents about choosing the right school for their children and how to know when it’s the right time to move them. I try to be as reassuring as possible, but from now on I’ll include this post in my message as well.

What’s on your short list of favorite things right now?


The Big Summer of Small Adventures

Disclosure: This post is part of a yearly series in partnership with Netflix. As a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam, I’ll be sharing ideas throughout the year on some of the best Netflix titles to stream with your family. The content, as always, is whatever streams through my own mind! In addition, this post contains affiliate links. Hope you enjoy!

In just three weeks we’ll be swapping our lazy summer mornings for early morning breakfasts, backpacks and the bus stop. I honestly have no idea where this summer went. It seemed like yesterday I was preparing for an anti-boredom summer, fretting about how to fill the weeks that lay ahead of us. Now? I’m fretting that there isn’t enough time left to do all the things I wanted to do.

There was so much buildup to last summer’s big European adventure, followed by the trip itself, that we spent the last few weeks of summer at home simply enjoying home. We were adventured out. This summer was tricky in a different way: how to have a summer that feels adventurous, without going too far away from home? We all crave adventure in our lives, whether we realize it or not. For some of us, figuring out a new route to the grocery store is adventure enough. For others, it’s climbing Mt. Everest. While you’ll never catch me climbing a mountain or jumping out of an airplane, I need to seek out adventure by exploring and pushing myself just a little bit outside my comfort zone. As much as I love to travel, both near and far, I have to push myself to leave my summer comfort zone: bed, home, library, pool, home. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Two-thirds of the summer is behind us, and as I look back I realize we’ve had lots of small adventures that, when taken together, form one big, happy summer of adventure. I can save the fretting for something else. (I’m genetically wired to always be fretting over something. If nothing seems obviously fret-worthy, then I fret about that.)

What does a summer of small adventures look like?

When going out on a Friday night means pulling your chairs and grill into the street ... love my 'hood.

It looks like block parties that start in the late afternoon and last through the wee hours of the night. It looks like kickball, circles of camping chairs, fireworks, and kids running around with flashlights.

Summer Concerts

It looks like summer concerts, and rejoicing in the fact that you can now enjoy live shows with your kid that isn’t The Wiggles.

Youth baseball

It looks like trying a new sport, and realizing that you actually enjoy watching your kid play certain sports (sorry, soccer).

Michigan Blueberries

It looks like picking something other than strawberries for a change, and discovering that every single supermarket blueberry you’ve ever had has been an imposter.

Girls Rock! Indianapolis 2015

It looks like rock and roll, and coming to grips with the fact that you now share a home with an electric guitar and an amp.

Elena Six is 13

It looks like having a teenager in the house, and coming to grips with the fact that there will be eyeliner. Lots of eyeliner which adds an additional 20 minutes to the departure timeline of any other adventures.

Praying Mantis nymphs

It looks like hatching praying mantises. In your habitat, not theirs.

Pier Point Beach Michigan

It looks like swimming in Lake Michigan, and realizing you’ve been horribly misguided in your disdain for any and all bodies of water that aren’t oceans.

Nicey Treat

It looks like finally trying that popsicle place, the one you’ve been avoiding because you hate trying to park in the neighborhood it’s in.

Paper Towns Tour John Green

It looks like standing in line for hours in the blazing sun to meet your kid’s favorite author, and being secretly glad for the excuse to do so, because you love him to death, too.

Rocket 88 Doughnuts

It looks like coming up with an idea like the Doughnut Tour of Indy, just so you have an excuse to eat doughnuts all summer long. It’s for the kids!

DollyBrook Resort Michigan

It looks like taking in sunsets while roasting s’mores, because there’s nothing more adventurous than saying no to the dirty dishes and the laundry and saying yes to sitting outside.

Are your kids fans of How to Train Your Dragon’s Hiccup and Toothless? This summer, Netflix is sending them on a new adventure in the brand new original series Dragons: Race to the Edge. Available only on Netflix, your favorite characters are soaring beyond the borders of Berk in search of new dragons. Did you know that How to Train Your Dragon was a book series before it was a movie and TV show? It’s fantastic summer reading, perfect for going on adventures in your imagination.


If you have kids that aren’t into, or have moved beyond dragons, stream these adventure-filled movies instead. For the elementary set we love Hook, National Treasure, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. For teens (I still can’t believe we’re there), try Jumanji, Stand by Me, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

What adventures, big or small, have you been on this summer?


Keep the Expectations Low and the Habitat Zipped.

Newly Hatched Praying Mantis

For his birthday last year, Eli received a praying mantis kit. It came with a handy pop-up viewing habitat, a little book about the praying mantis, and a certificate to mail away for your praying mantis egg case. Being August, and knowing that by the time the little mantis babies hatched fall would be well upon us, I set the kit away and made a note to order the egg case in the spring.

We were excited for our little project. We’ve raised swallowtail butterflies in a similar kit and it provided hours of educational fun. Two egg cases arrived in late spring. Still not quite ready for what was sure to be a fun and educational summer project for Eli, I disguised them as best as I could in their packaging and shoved them in the back of the fridge to stave off hatching. I knew that if Mike discovered insect egg sacks in the same fridge that stored our food, I’d discover divorce papers soon after. I solved this problem by putting them behind the the perfectly acceptable eggs to be stored in the refrigerator of the chicken variety, knowing that no man in my life has ever found something directly behind any other object.

As I compiled THE LIST for our yet-to-be-savored, sure-to-be-awesome Anti-Boredom Summer, I made sure to put “Set Up Praying Mantis Habitat” first under the category of things that count as learning something. The first thing we learned is that preying mantis egg cases are high-maintenance. You can’t just throw them in the viewing habitat and call it a day. No, you have to find the perfect stick – a fabulous excuse to send a bored and chatty 7-year-old into the back yard by himself for an hour: No, that one’s too big. Nope, too small. Nope, too branch-y. Close, but not brown enough. Keep trying, buddy! Then you have to attach the egg cases to the sticks, with the super-helpful suggestion of super glue. In fairness to the kit manufacturer, this is a fantastic way to get the egg cases secured to the stick. It’s also a fantastic way for your kid to super glue his fingers together as well as walk away with a few other random objects securely attached to his hands and fingers for the next few days.

This filled up the better part of an afternoon. We were then prompted to be patient and wait, the concept of which is completely lost on children. Forget 30 days, how about we ask 30 times in one day when the praying mantis eggs will hatch? Thankfully, after 24 hours with no entertainment from the praying mantis end of the deal, Eli moved on. We marked the estimated hatching day on the calendar. The eggs and their habitat blended into the dining room scene, passed by often, ignored almost always. Or so I thought.

I’d written Mantis? in my weekly planner on the day of Thursday, July 2nd. On the preceding Tuesday afternoon, I cut through the dining room with a basketful of dirty laundry. I manage to ignore the dining room table mess 99.9% of the time – it’s where craft projects go to die – but something very tiny caught my eye. And then approximately 50 other tiny things caught my eye. Our bug babies had hatched! Only somehow, in the 30 boring days that had passed between setting up the eggs and now, Eli had decided to open up the habitat. And leave it open. Unlike human babies, who hatch and just lie there, praying mantis babies are no fools. They’re hungry and ready for adventure, which in this case meant exploring my dining room. They were everywhere. Did I mention that each egg case can hatch 50-250 insects?

Let me just tell you, there’s no better way to make a summer less boring than by having a dining room crawling with teeny, tiny praying mantises. I thanked sweet baby Jesus for the fact that Tuesdays are Mike’s poker night, and Eli and I set to work gathering up as many of the little guys as we could, scooping them up and setting them free outside. Gus lent a helping paw, only his catches ended up somewhere other than outside. Ahem. Elena, always helpful, ran screaming and shut herself in her bedroom. Despite the sheer number of escapees, we still had a decent number of insects left in the habitat. Thinking we could just throw some leaves in there and call it a day, Eli and I were more than a little dismayed to find out that praying mantises require a lot more effort than that. They needed live, tiny insects. And lots of them.

That’s when we tapped out. Turns out Eli prefers rollerblading shirtless through the neighborhood to learning about the life cycle of the praying mantis. And me? I prefer them outside. ALL OF THEM. I took the habitat into the garden and left it there overnight, open. For the next few days, I’d turn a corner and find a tiny mantis on a wall, or walk through the dining room and find one strolling amongst the craft graveyard on the table. I woke up once in a sweaty panic, sure I was covered in them.

Praying Mantis Nymph

Much like the praying mantis project, our summer so far has been well-planned but unpredictable in the end. We struggle to find a routine, which is what makes summer so fantastic and frustrating for me. We get in a groove, and then there’s a long holiday weekend. Or Elena needs driven back and forth to camp downtown everyday, and Eli decides he’s the kind of kid that gets carsick now. It’s the middle of July and we should be languishing by the pool. Instead it’s cold and rainy. I’ll wonder why I even bother, trying to balance fun and the normal rhythms of family life that keep us sane. And then Eli will learn a game of solitaire and beat us all. Or Elena will pick up her guitar and learn a song in an afternoon. And I’ll learn to keep my expectations in check and all future insect endeavors outside, where they belong.

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