Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Page 3 of 21

The Mom’s Guide to Field Trip Sanity

Try as I may, the words “We’re going to a museum!” never inspire quite the excitement I’m hoping for among my three boys. Oldest, a freshman, is finally at the stage where he actually enjoys learning outside the classroom. Youngest just likes car trips. Middle Son?

You’d think I was suggesting a root canal.

It’s not like we just started making museum treks, we’ve been taking the kids to historical places their entire lives. The key to keeping your sanity as you tug kids through museums?

Scavenger hunts and audio tours.

Every museum curator understands that kids and old breakable things don’t mix well. Remember, they deal with large school groups daily so your small family is no biggie. Most museums offer preprinted scavenger hunts. Want to ensure your kids do a good job of filling in the answers? Offer a small prize at the end. Lollipops are easy to carry in your purse. After all, everything else known to man lives in there, why not candy?

State and national parks also offer scavenger hunts, as well as geocaching and unit studies for teachers. Check out their websites and print out relevant worksheets and information before your visit.

After spending money on the entrance fee to a museum, the last thing you want to do is dish out more dough for an audio tour, right? I used to think like that. Until I was trudging around the grounds of the Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee in 100 degree weather. I am positive I have less gray hair for spending the five dollars.

Many museums that offer audio tours have adult and child versions. The younger counterparts offer funny characters and anecdotes that will keep your child interested and engaged. Even the more mature audio tours help elementary age kiddos stayed tuned-in.

Ever notice how your reluctant reader opens a book, spies the small type and lack of pictures, then promptly slams the book closed? Those same children are not going to be willing to read every. single. word. posted under a museum display. The first word they encounter that is unpronounceable will undoubtedly destroy any interest they may have had, so let them explore. You’ll be surprised what those keen little eyes wills spy. It’s okay to skip displays or view them out of order. No matter what, your kids will come out knowing more than they did before.

Seeing and experiencing history teaches a child about the past much faster than reading about it in a book. Remember that children experience their surroundings as they learn how to navigate their world. If you ask a kid to describe what’s around them, they will inevitably use smells, sounds, sights, and even tastes (much to your dismay) to answer. History is much richer when learned this way, even for adults, so let your inner kid come out!

We spent Veteran’s Day at the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The artifacts in the main hall are divided by north and south. The displays quickly show the economic differences between the armies.  The scavenger hunt is really interesting and kept the attention of our two youngest for over two hours. The clues sent them all over the museum searching for answers to the riddles. The riddles offered enough information to keep them from becoming frustrated while still requiring them to read the short descriptions of the artifacts. And they give lollipops to kids who turn in their scavenger hunt forms.

Allowing you to eat the ones in your purse:)

Some of our favorite field trips/trailer trips:


San Jacinto Monument


USS Texas


Sam Houston Monument, those little figures in front of the bushes are my kids.






Real World Experience

I begged. I pleaded. I thought I had convinced Hubs that Saturday morning was the perfect day for sleeping in.

Until the gunshot shook the morning awake.

Most people would leap out of bed with shots ringing out across the countryside, but me? I threw my arm over my eyes and groaned, “Crud, he got one.”

I threw off the covers, cursing the first day of deer season with every word I know. Not because I’m not a fan of hunting season, but because I had a momentary lapse of support for my brilliant Hubs due to lack of sleep. Once I tugged on my shoes, stuffed my hair in a ball cap, lugged the body-sized cooler down from the attic and drove to the local gas station to procure the ice, I was practically jumping up and down for joy at Hubs’ perfect shot that took down a gorgeous doe.

You would have thought it was Christmas morning the way our boys bolted down the stairs, still on pulling on their pants, to witness the miracle of hunting on their own land. An experienced neighbor helped Hubs clean the deer while Oldest and Middle Son watched. Middle Son proclaimed that he deserved a full fledged man-card  because he helped clean the deer without throwing up.

That’s what we in the country like to call real world experience.

Hubs is still basking in the glow of Heroic Hunter, at least until everyone finds out that he only sat out in the near freezing temperatures for ten minutes before the doe walked right into his sights.

Here is the link for the picture of the deer.




Fall Art/Cooking Project for Kids: Pretzel Pumpkins

The looks I got the first time I sat my kids in the kitchen for an art lesson would scare most adults. My two oldest boys didn’t understand the need for such silliness, and youngest, well he loves to draw but the picture almost always includes a Tardis.

I especially love when I can combine art and cooking. Nothing brings boys to the art table faster than the mention of treats. On those days, I am deemed awesome.

Today, when I pulled out the party package of M & Ms, mini pretzels, white chocolate, and red and yellow food coloring? Best. Mom. Ever.

The instructions? Turn the pretzels into pumpkins.

I found the project while looking up a recipe on the blog Butter with a Side of Bread. Messy, creative, and oh so yummy. The hardest part is keeping the kids from eating all the M & Ms when they’re sorting them.


Fun Fact Friday!


Just typing the word gives me the creeps. I know, I know, amazing creatures blah blah blah. I’m content to love them from afar. Far, far, afar.

Did you know sharks eat each other in utero?

Me neither, until I read it in Middle Son’s zoology book, so I thought I would share this disturbing news with all of you.

You’re welcome.


Date Night Farmgirl-Style

Does your date night involve getting dolled up and eating on an outdoor patio?

What about making googly eyes at each other over a bowl of venison chili?

Then watching intently as hunting guides skin and field dress 4 deer on the floor in front of you?

What? That isn’t normal?

The other 100 people attending the wild game harvesting class last night would beg to differ.

The scariest thing about hunting is trying to figure out what to do with the carcass after you manage to take it down. Not that I would know, ’cause I haven’t managed to kill anything yet.

Unfortunately trucks don’t count. Poor armadillo.

I think I earned major bonus points with Hubs last night when I managed to keep my dinner down while learning how to carve up a freshly harvested deer to fit in a cooler.

This morning I am watching the deer happily munching under the deer feeder behind my house with new perspective.What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

At least not until hunting season starts.

A special thanks to the hardworking fellas at Nine Bar Ranch for the informative class and amazing dinner!

*I took a picture, so if you have an iron stomach and want to see it, e-mail me and I’ll forward it on:)






Fun Fact Friday!

We learn so many interesting tidbits during the week in our homeschool that we thought we would share some of them with you on Fridays. You never know, these facts could help you destroy your opponent during a close game of Trivial Pursuit.

Hanno the Navigator

In the fifth century BC, Hanno the Navigator transported 30, 000 pilgrims in sixty ships from Carthage to a settlements along the western coast of Africa.  His is the first written descriptions of volcanoes (on the Canary Islands) and gorillas.


Wikipedia Image

Want to know more?


Encyclopedia Britannica


A bheil Gàidhlig agaibh?

“I’d like to return the Spanish program I bought last month.”

“May I ask why? Can we send you another language?”

I smiled. “Unfortunately you don’t sell the language my son wants to learn.”

The Rosetta Stone operator laughed. “We have like ninety languages.”

I cleared my throat. “Not Scottish Gaelic.”


“Your return will be credited in the next two days.”


Oldest tried learning Spanish last year, he hated the entire process. I caught him bribing Middle Son to complete the speaking sections of the program to secure a good grade. Oldest could read and write it, but he murdered the pronunciation.

So you can imagine my frustration when planning for foreign language in this year’s homeschool curriculum. Then, Oldest asked if he could learn Scottish Gaelic. His interest stemmed from time spent over the summer months learning about the history of Scotland after he discovered that most of his ancestry is Scottish.

Only an estimated 60,000 people even speak Scottish Gaelic since it was banned by England in 1746 and not recognized again until 2005. So where do you find educational materials for an endangered language?

Mango languages.

Most public libraries offer free online subscriptions to their patrons. While you may only get the first level through your library, you can later purchase subscriptions for more advanced levels directly from Mango.

Our whole family is learning Scottish Gaelic and we are using it around the house. Our experience has been great. We are all having fun speaking a language with each other that no one else recognizes, and we are beginning to actually understand some of the words in the music of Julie Fowlis.

Learning a language that some of our ancestors spoke has made the whole endeavor meaningful and enjoyable. So if you have a reluctant learner, check with your library and create an account with Mango. Take different languages for a test drive and see which one, or two, interest you the most. Just don’t feel too bad when you have to tell your highschooler that Pirate won’t actually count for credit.


A picture from Iona when we traveled to Scotland in 2007.


Married to a Madman

You know what’s great about taking the travel trailer to the beach? The nightly cost is $50 versus $200. The low cost combined with homeschooling and telecommuting means we got to stay 12 days this year! My dream and Hubs’ nightmare. I love, love, love the beach while Hubs tolerates it since he loves me.

That may be the reason he didn’t listen to me when it came time to pull the trailer home.

“You need to turn left.”

Hubs grinned and turned right.

“You can’t go this way! The only way to get off the island this way is by the ferry.”

He smiled bigger. All three boys looked to the front of the van. Oldest sat up taller. “You’re not really taking this thing over the ferry are you?”

“Sure, why not?”

The van was silent as Hubs pulled it into a loading lane at the ferry dock. The workers guided all 50-or-so-feet of us onto one entire side of the ferry and loaded the other cars onto the opposite side.  One look into the driver’s seats of nearby cars revealed riders staring back with horrified expressions.

And Hubs smiled.

The short trek started out okay, but when that cocky grin suddenly slid off Hub’s lips I spun around to see a titanic-sized ship barreling up the pass … right where we were. The ferry engines started making a grinding noise as the captain rushed to reverse our progress.

It’s a harrowing experience, sitting in a van attached to a trailer floating on a ferry in the middle of the Aransas Pass only feet from a boat the size of planet traveling fast enough to blow a breeze through your hair.

Good memories.

Thankfully, we didn’t crash. Or sink. We lived to tell another tale.

And there will be more.

Because I’m married to a madman.


Who does this?


Trashcan Potatoes

If you want to know how to grow potatoes in trashcans … this is not the place to find out.

But if you want to laugh and learn from my mistakes, stay tuned.

I first heard about trashcan potatoes when I was eavesdropping minding my own business at a gardening class sponsored by my local extension office. I overheard two old-timers raving about the enormous potato harvest they got after attempting to grow them in plastic trashcans.


So Youngest and I followed the formula: drill drainage holes in the bottom of a new trashcan, add enough dirt to cover the tuber, allow to grow to about eight inches tall then add more dirt, keep watered and repeat several times until the plant fills the trashcan and the greenery dies back.


We watered and added dirt all season. As the plant grew, so did our hopes. Then, after the foliage died back, we dumped the cans and found …  nothing. Not a stinkin’ thing.

Okay, not nothing, we grew four tiny potatoes.


I have wracked my brain trying to figure out what went wrong. The only thing I can come up with is that we should have tried a metal can instead of a black plastic one. Maybe the black plastic made the soil too hot under the Texas sun? Maybe I got bad seed potatoes. Who knows?

I’m willing to try it one more year in a metal can that reflects light before I call it quits. If you’ve had luck growing the garbage can tubers and have advice, please send it my way.

On a happy note, the rest of the plants in my garden yielded insane amounts of food. I’m still getting tomatoes, watermelon and peppers. The cucumbers, pole beans, squash, and zucchini finally called it quits after filling mason jars, freezer bags, and tummies all summer.


Recipe Share: Rock Salt Roast Chicken

Rock Salt Roast Chicken

Sounds weird doesn’t it? Isn’t rock salt is for ice cream freezers? Trust me, it is incredible. The meat is moist while the skin is crispy, and the whole house smells amazing while it roasts. This recipe came from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe, one of my favorite blogs for great food.

I spread the rock salt in the bottom of a large roasting pan then cleaned two roasting chickens. I stuffed each with half an onion, three cloves of garlic, and half an orange.  Then, I lightly coated the outsides of the chickens with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

The chickens cooked at 400 degrees F, on top of the salt, for 80 minutes. We ate one immediately for dinner and saved the other to be used for chicken pot pie the next night. Two birds with one box of salt. Perfect!

My kids want me to try the same cooking technique with chicken legs. I’ll let you know how it turns out:)

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