Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fifteen {15}

This is how she is so much of the time: surrounded by her two best friends. Laughing, chatting, being silly. Being 15. Being and becoming.

She is more than I ever could have imagined. 

Happiest of birthdays to the prettiest love of my life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

First Day of School

We started back last week. We did our annual measuring on the same old chart we've been using for 13 years. And indeed, they have grown, of course. Duncan has grown taller; Laurel didn't gain any height, but she continues to grow lovelier in every way.

We start slowly, reluctant to let go of summer. Or I should say, Duncan and I start back slowly. Laurel, in 10th grade now, started back full swing last week with co-op classes: ecology, American Lit, American history, ACT Prep, geometry, drama, government. She is swamped with homework already.

Duncan and I are still in the process of organizing the school room. We've been hanging posters and timelines and photos. We started reading one of our history books, and I think we're ready to begin in earnest today.

Tomorrow we'll be on break again, because my beautiful girl turns 15. Birthdays are always a holiday around here.

The sun is shining brightly today, and summer is back to burning strong. We had a little taste of autumn last week, and we could almost imagine what winter school will be like, curled under fleece blankets, reading and eating popcorn.

Fourteen years ago, we moved to Tennessee and Randy started his job as a professor at the university. 13 years ago we said goodbye to Tennessee public schools and started homeschooling. And now, Jesse has begun his third year at Belmont University; Laurel is a sophomore in high school; and Duncan is in the middle of sixth grade. Those are the numbers. The story is between the lines and sprinkled in the letters, a mixture of memories and happenings and the quick gasp of breath at the passage of time.

Friday, August 24, 2012

10 Ways to Adjust Your Attitude When You're Homeschooling for the Long Haul

10 ways to adjust your attitude when homeschooling for the long haul

I keep counting on my fingers, so I must be right: we are beginning our 13th year of homeschooling. Thirteen years! And I have to be honest—I’m not always exuberant about starting back.
It isn’t that I want to send my kids to school or anything like that; I just like having lazy summer days. I am reluctant for all our activities to resume, and I really just want to go to the pool, hang out by the river, or travel across the country.

I recently co-facilitated a session for brand new homeschoolers. They were so eager! They shared ideas, suggested websites, exchanged email addresses, arranged play dates, asked about clubs, brainstormed field trips, and, of course, talked curriculum.

My kids are in middle, high school, and college now. I miss those days of anticipation, of bright construction paper and M&M math. I miss sticky crafts, our giant box of inventing supplies (e.g., toilet paper tubes, shoeboxes, and popsicle sticks), and reading by the sandbox while the kids played.

{Come on over to Simple Homeschool to read my tips for an attitude adjustment — and share some of your own!}

Friday, August 17, 2012

American Heritage Girls, Boy Scouts, and Cub Scouts: A Perfect Fit for Homeschoolers

Scouting has always been an integral part of our family life: Cub Scouts and then Boy Scouts for our boys (our oldest is an Eagle Scout), and American Heritage Girls for our daughter. We deliberately chose to put scouting at the top of our family’s priority list even before we began our journey in home education, but we have been amazed and delighted at how the programs complement homeschooling.

{Come on over to The Homeschool Classroom to read about how we love and use these awesome programs in our family!}

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thursday Miscellany

* Where have I been, where have I been? I'll tell you: this Ultimate Guide to Creative Writing Resources took a lot out of me. I didn't really want to even see my blog for a few days after that monstrous post!

* And this is the kind of thing that one doesn't proclaim publicly on one's blog with all the creepers out there, but Randy and Jesse, our 19-year-old, have been gone for two entire weeks at Canoe Base in Minnesota's Boundary Waters. This is a Boy Scout High Adventure camp; they both went as adult leaders. And so, you know, life is just weird when some of your people are missing. You kind of feeling like you are floating along in limbo.

* But today! Today they come home! Actually, we all thought they would be coming home tomorrow, but apparently our menfolk miscalculated the days. They drove about 14 hours yesterday and will drive the last 7 or 8 today.

* And then Jesse leaves to go back to college on Tuesday. I am watching several of my friends go through taking a child to college for the first time and remember how incredibly hard that was two years ago. I am always sad to see him go, but it sure is waaaaaaay easier every year! I can hardly believe he'll be a junior!

* Ew. My junior year is what I always think of as my "black year" in college. It was very unpleasant. I am so grateful that year wasn't an indication of how my life would turn out, or how I would turn out.

* Back to happy things. I have been working on lesson plans furiously, mostly for my American Lit class, which is another reason I've neglected my blog.  I am so excited about it! I love my students, and I love American Lit. I'm not the slightest bit ready for everything to start back up again, but I haven't figured out yet how to be on permanent summer break.

* And speaking of lesson plans, I must get back to them. I love these quiet morning hours before anyone else is awake.

I work a lot in my office. Somehow, several weeks ago, the tarantula got moved into my office. It was supposed to be temporary, which in our house sometimes translates into months. Or years. My constant battle these past few weeks has been keeping the kitty away from the tarantula. My fear is that she'll poke a hole through the top of the cage, and one day I'll see a large black spider scuttle across the floor.

Don't you wish you had a tarantula on your window seat?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Ultimate Guide to Creative Writing Resources for Students

 Creative writing: that's my thing. I love to teach it, I love to do it, I love to read about it. Creative writing often gets shoved aside, playing second fiddle to report and essay writing. I hear parents lament often that "My kid hates to write!" But the vast majority of kids do, in fact, like to write. They just may not know it because they have only known the world of report writing. My hope is that all kids will have a chance to write creatively—to learn to love words and language.

In teaching creative writing classes at our homeschooling co-op and, of course, with my own three kids, I have pinned and bookmarked dozens of resources for teaching creative writing at home or in a classroom. Below are links to the ones I have found to be top notch. Please note that, except for the books listed at the end, these are all free resources. I have not included programs for which you must pay, but there are many good ones out there.

For more posts in the Ultimate Guides series, be sure to visit iHomeschool Network! Details and a special drawing are listed at the bottom of this post.


Teaching Creative Writing: This is one of my most popular posts ever. Come read some of my ideas for making creative writing incredibly fun!

Teaching Children to Write Poetry: Aadel of Natural Family Today embraces one of my mantras: "To write poetry, you must learn to observe and love the elements of language." She has some fabulous tips and techniques for challenging your children to create their very own awesome poetry.

Reading Poetry with Children: The best writers are avid readers who love the sound of words. In this post I offer suggestions for great poems to read with kids—and how to avoid over-analyzing them!

5 Techniques that Build Creative Thinking Skills: The creative process can be blocked in all kinds of ways. (See How Traditional Classrooms Hinder Creative Thinking.) This post suggests ways to clear the mind and push creativity forward.

Writing Prompts and {Free} Creative Writing Programs

SmallWorld's WordSmithery: {All ages.} Yes, I'm starting with my own stuff. Is that tacky? The WordSmithery is my free creative writing program. It's ongoing; you never know when I might add a lesson or two! I've taught this class to dozens of students and have had emails from dozens more saying, "We love this program! When are you going to write more?" One of these days, I promise. In the meantime, check it out if you haven't yet!

Amy's Creative Writing Lessons: {All ages.} Amy generously shares 9 lessons that she used in teaching creative writing at her co-op. She even includes PDF downloads of the hand-outs, organizers, and notes that she used for each class. This is great stuff!

The Teachers' Corner: {All ages.} Writing prompts, organized by month, for every day of the year! Most of the prompts are related to the various events, including birthdays, holidays, monthly celebrations, and important dates in history. You can download a PDF form of each of the writing prompts.

Bruce Van Patter's Let's Get Creative: {All ages.} Don't miss this one! This is a fantastic site for stimulating those creative juices. This one site contains hundreds of ideas for writing. Just a few of the features include:
  • The What-If Question Genie provides a seemingly endless supply of writing prompts, such as "What if a bully tripped over a missing friend?"
  • The Story Kitchen: Kids can pick out three details, Bruce starts the story, and the student finishes it.
  • Random Wacky Headline Maker: Provides very silly writing prompts in the form of headlines and gives tips for turning the headline into a story.
Teacher Vision:  {All ages.} An extensive collection of printables, graphic organizers, and lessons plans for teaching creative writing. Includes poetry activities, short-story writing exercises, journal topics, printable worksheets, art projects, and more.

Daily Writing Ideas: {Elementary.} Simple prompts organized by month. 

The Write Source: Provides an extensive list of writing topics by grade, 1st-high school

Story starter from Story-It
Story-It: {Elementary.} Downloadable picture prompts that provide a picture and lined paper on which to write.

Writing Bugs: {Elementary.} Downloadable prompts with lined paper. A new one is available every day!

Can Teach Prompts: {Upper elementary and older.} Dozens and dozens of quick prompts.

WritingFix: {All ages.} Interactive writing prompts, writing games, and story starters.

Corbett Harrison's Always Write:  {Middle and high school.} Great ideas for keeping a writer's notebook. I especially like the Bingo Cards—a fun way to encourage regular writing. (Click to download PDF bingo sample.) The site also includes a random prompt generator, with nearly 600 prompt possibilities. Be sure to look at his writer's notebook samples!

Teaching Creative Writing at The English Teacher: {High school.} Units for teaching facets of creative writing and complete lesson plans for a creative writing course. Fabulous resource!

Writing Prompts on Writing Forward: {High school and adult.} From "Poetry Prompts for Ranting and Raving" to "TV Inspired Writing Prompts," Melissa Donovan's site has an endless supply of ideas.

Writing Portfolio: {High School.} A fantastic list of 60 largely autobiographical assignments designed for a writer's notebook. Each assignment is available to download in a Word or PDF doc. Example: "Imagine you are leaving home forever, and you can only take with you what will fit in one medium-sized suitcase. Specifically, what will you take with you and why? Explain."

NaNoWriMo Young Writers Project: {Middle/High School.} NaNoWriMo happens every November! It's a writing event where the challenge is to complete an entire novel in just 30 days, from  November 1 to November 30.

Imagination Prompts: {High school and adult.} Random prompt generator. Examples: "Describe your mother's wedding dress. What do you know about her wedding?"and "What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?" 

Specific Topics

Poetry Teachers:  {Elementary.} Easy instructions on how to write all kinds of poetry. Includes lots of funny poems.

Haiku at In the Moonlight a Worm: {All ages.} This is a wonderful site for learning the history of and how to write haiku.

Art Journaling: {All ages.} Inspiration, rationale, and ideas for encouraging art journaling—a combination of art and writing.

Bio-poems: {All ages.} Bio-poems are part autobiography and part poem. This is a great introductory tool and discussion prompt for inspiring creative writing in reluctant poets.

Form Poetry at Pizzaz: {All ages.} Links to writing all kinds of form poetry and also some fun stories.

 How Letter Writing Can Nurture a Love for Writing in Your Child: {All ages.} Don't let letter writing become a lost art! People still love getting real letters in the mail, and Rashmie has great ideas for inspiring your kids to write letters.

The Five Fact of Fiction: {Middle and high school.} This free 47-page unit is loaded with tips, guidelines, and models, focusing primarily on character as the most important aspect of fiction writing.The link takes you to the downloadable PDF.

Photography for Creative Writing: {Middle and high school.} Teens love to take pictures. This is a great lesson on using photography along with creative writing.

Outta Ray's Head Poetry Lessons: {Middle and high school.} Outta Ray's Head is one of my favorite sites in general, and this page links to dozens of different poetry lessons.

Creating Dynamic Characters: {High school.} Teaches students how to use methods of characterization to reveal character. PDF files included on "instruction" tab.

Short stories: {High school.}54 ideas for short stories. Includes some traditional ideas and also three-element starters, such as: "A stolen ring, fear of spiders, and a sinister stranger."

Teaching Students to Read and Write Short Stories: {High school.} This is a thorough downloadable guide to teaching short story writing to high schoolers, from brainstorming to editing and publishing.

You Can Write a Short Story: {Middle and high school.} This is a 3-part series (look on the sidebar on the site for parts 2 and 3) that encourages young writers to follow through with the story-writing process.

Hands-On Projects

Most of these projects can be adapted to use with all ages.

Synonym wheel
Synonym Wheels: This is a fabulous project for learning to use the thesaurus and for encouraging writers to use more interesting words.

Alphabet Animal Alliterations: Samples of how kids can practice alliteration by drawing pictures to match an alliterative phrase or sentence of their choice.

Brightening Winter with Poetry Collages:  My post on combining words with artwork to brighten up the dull days of winter.

Field Trip Notebooks: A great idea for combining field trip memories with journaling!

"Add It" Writing Game: I always use a game to warm up my creative writing classes. This one from Fruit in Season is a favorite in my classes.

Encouraging Children to Write Fan Fiction: On The Homeschool Classroom, Dee shares ideas for writing fan fiction —stories written about already existing characters or settings. This is a fantastic way to break into story writing.

Picture Prompts for Writing:See how Cindy's kids use a picture as a starting point for stories.

Newspaper blackout poem
Newspaper Blackout Poems: Take a newspaper article, black out words you don't want and keep the others, until you see a poem emerge.  One of our favorite projects!

Family Newsletter: My son called his The Freakshow Weekly. Here's a slightly more serious one from Our Journey Westward. However your kids want to do it, a newsletter is a fantastic way to write creatively!

Making Books in Your Homeschool: Book making provides a multisensory approach to learning: hands are busy, minds are exploding with ideas, connections are being made between topic and task. This post of mine on The Homeschool Classroom gives ideas and inspiration for making books.

Simile rainbow
8 Fantastic Hands-on Poetry Projects: This post of mine on The Homeschool Classroom links to several fun projects we've done, including the simile rainbow above.

Collaging a Self-Portrait with Magazine Cuttings and Mixed Media: A beautiful project that integrates art, words, and portraiture.

Shape-Book Patterns: Younger kids love writing stories and poetry in shape books. This site features dozens of shape books to download and print.

Travel Brochure: Stretch outside poetry and stories to nonfiction writing! Travel brochures can be a great way to incorporate geography with creative writing.

Making Books Blog: This blog features dozens of ideas for making simple, beautiful books of poetry. Innovative ideas with great results.


There are bazillions of writing books out there, ranging from the earliest writers to adults. These are my absolute favorites.

If You’re Trying to Teach Kids to Write, You’ve Gotta Have This Book! by Marjorie Frank. {All ages.} This is my all-time favorite guide to teaching creative writing. It's an idea book, not curriculum. Every single page is absolutely stuffed with ideas and inspiration.

Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing by Karen Benke. {Elementary to middle.} This is a high-energy idea factory, filled with all kinds of writing prompts and activities to stimulate creative thinking.

500 Writing Prompts for Kids  by Bryan Cohen. {All ages.} This is an absolute goldmine of writing prompts. Read my review of this fantastic book, and then go buy it! Cohen also now has writing prompt workbooks for various grades. Visit his website for information on these.

Kids Write by Rebecca Olien. {Elementary and Middle.} Great ideas and activities for writing sci fi, mystery, autobiography and more. Writing experiences are interwoven with other forms of artistic expression, including theatre, puppetry, and photography, as well as music, drawing, and crafts.

How To Make a Journal of Your Life by Dan Price. {High school to adult.} I absolutely love this little book. Price teaches readers how to take all those creative ideas and put them on paper, encouraging jotting down neat things that happen and also sketching, even if you think you are terrible at it.
My Future Listography: All I Hope to Do in Lists by Lisa Nola. If you have a teen girl in your home, I bet she would love this book! It's just a blank book with writing prompts on each page that range from "habits I want to break" to "places I want to travel."

A Writer's Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher. {Middle and high school.} Fletcher offers terrific advice on how to observe the world around you and record it in a writer's notebook.

101 Creative Writing Exercises by Melissa Donovan. {Middle school to adult.} Melissa's website, Writing Forward, is packed with articles about creative writing. Her book is also filled with tools, techniques, and writing ideas.

Get Published

Stone Soup: Described as "the perfect gift for children who love to read, Stone Soup publishes children's writing and art (up through age 13). Many libraries carry the magazine if you'd like to browse through it.

Self-Publishing: This family does a beautiful job writing, illustrating, and publishing their own books. What treasures these will be someday!

Kids Can Publish: Lists all kinds of contests and places for kids of all ages to submit their work.

The Slam: A forum for teens to submit their work—and have it workshopped with a critical eye by their peers.

Teen Ink: A literary magazine for and by teens.

Do you have absolute favorite resources for teaching creative writing to your kids that I am missing? Let me know in the comments, and I might add your suggestions!

This is just one of nearly 40 Ultimate Guide posts hosted by iHomeschool Network. Click on the link to  see a variety of topics  homeschool to homemaking to marriage. Come by and enjoy the Ultimate Guides from iHN. Comment and you'll be automatically entered in a drawing to win one of four prizes (see iHN link above) donated by Apologia. Four random people who comment on any of the Ultimate posts will win these four books. So the more you comment on the different posts, the greater your chances of winning!

Sick Days

Here's where my 11-year-old has been for six whole days:

And I have been here about half the time, working on lesson plans, articles, and catching up on odds and ends for American Heritage Girls and for the Andrew Pudewa/Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) conference we are hosting here this week. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.

The rest of the time, I have been in the kitchen. I have made a whopping 14 freezer meals this week, plus froze 20 bags of sliced peaches, 2 bags of applesauce, and 4 bags of chicken broth.  I also tried fruit leather, which is very tasty but not quite the right texture.

It was so hard to see my little guy so sick. He just had something viral with a sore throat and fever, but the fever was so high and he was so lethargic—it's just scary. I am reminded again and again of the blessing of good health.

Yesterday morning (day 6) he awoke and said, "My throat doesn't hurt any more!" Indeed, his fever was gone! He was still fatigued but he did actually get up off the couch, get out his cars and play on the floor a few times. I cannot even imagine how much TV and how many movies he's watched in the past week! But we began and have nearly finished My Side of the Mountain. I have been negligent in reading aloud to him this summer, so this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

I predict Duncan will have one last day of being a couch potato, and then he'll be back to climbing trees tomorrow.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: Grammar Girl's Ultimate Writing Guide for Students

I am a grammar and writing book junkie. I have two complete shelves of such guides, and I have no plans to stop collecting. But honestly, I don’t use them all.  I use bits and pieces from some of them as I create lesson plans for my middle and high-school level English classes for homeschoolers.

But I found one this year that I love so much that I am requiring that my co-op students  purchase it: The Ultimate Writing Guide for Students by the Grammar Girl herself, Mignon Fogarty.
I’ve been a long-time fan of the website Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. I love how Fogarty explains tricky grammar rules in a light, amusing fashion. For example, this explanation of bachelor’s degree on the Grammar Girl website is so simple but memorable: …

{Come on over to The Homeschool Classroom to read about why I think you should get this grammar guide for your middle/high schoolers!}

{Not} Back-to-School Blog Hop: Curriculum Week

Although all the local schools started back 1-2 weeks ago, we're still on summer break. But we are buying school supplies and books and starting to get in that frame of mind. So here's what we'll be doing in 2012-13 with two kids, one in high school and one in middle school.

 First Laurel, who will turn 15 just a week after beginning 10th grade.

Here is what's on Laurel's agenda. She's taking everything through our support group's enrichment class (co-op, tutorial, whatever you want to call it) program:
  •  American Literature: I’ll be teaching this course, and I create my own course materials drawing on various resources. My three favorites are: Glencoe Literature Library, Shmoop, and Signet Classics Teachers’ Guides.  We’ll be reading: The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Ethan Frome, My Antonia, The Great Gatsby, A Raisin in the Sun, The Crucible, and To Kill a Mockingbird plus short stories and poetry,. We'll also see at least one play together (A Raisin in the Sun), watch movie versions of novels, and of course do lots of writing. We'll also be using Grammar Girl's Ultimate Writing Guide for Students. You can see my review of it on The Homeschool Classroom.
  • U.S. History and U.S. Government will both be teacher-created courses, not relying on one particular textbook.
  • Geometry will meet twice weekly. I can't actually remember the text they are using.
  • Ecology:  My husband, a biology professor, will be teaching this class for our co-op using Elements of Ecology by Thomas Smith and Robert Smith. Besides the weekly class, they’ll be doing lots of field work in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Can you imagine a more memorable science class?
  • ACT Prep: I am team-teaching this with two other moms. Students will be using The Real ACT Prep Guide.
  • She'll also be doing drama and dance, plus continuing in American Heritage Girls.

Duncan is 11.5 and will be in 6th/7th grade this upcoming year. He kind of moves up mid-year.

We'll be doing a thorough study of World War II this year as our main focus. I'll be using two studies as a guideline:
World War II: The War That Changed the World unit study
World War II for Kids: A History with 21 Activities

We'll read lots and lots of novels, watch movies, take field trips, and, of course, rely heavily on my Dad, who is a World War II veteran. One of Duncan's best friends is also going to be doing the WWII study. We'll do some things together and some things separately, depending on our weekly schedules.

Our World War II study will include reading, writing, and history, but we’ll continue on with our regular math (finishing Teaching Textbooks pre-algebra and then algebra starting in December) and grammar (Easy Grammar). I am excited to begin a new classical science program, Elemental Science, which  “focuses on the science being studied instead of a person’s religious viewpoint.” Duncan will be doing Biology for the Logic Stage. See my review of Biology for the Logic Stage here to find out why we love it so much!

Duncan will also have a solid day of enrichment classes. He'll be taking:
  • Boot Camp: this is a PE-type course.
  • Drama
  • Literature Circle: Monsters and Mayhem. My friend Diane and I are co-teaching this. We'll be reading: Beowulf: A Retelling, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Since this is for middle school, these are all adapted versions of the novels.
  • Hands-on Pre-algebra
  • Knot Tying (great for my Boy Scout!)
  • Lego Club

He'll also be doing flags (creative worship) and another drama class at a performing arts co-op, fencing, and Boy Scouts. Phew!

Another great find for both kids this year is Complete Curriculum. Have you seen this site? It is absolutely amazing! For only $4.95 for a whole year, you can download complete years in language arts, math, science, and social studies. I am going to be using the language arts program in part for Duncan. This stuff is fantastic!

And I think that's it! I am actually really excited about this upcoming year. We've had a full summer, so I feel ready to get back to it all. How about you?

You can link up your curriculum post at the {Not} Back-to-School Blog Hop on iHomeschool Network. Next week, we'll be touring school rooms. Guess I'd better get busy fixing up mine!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chicago with Teen Girls (Day 1)

Not quite a year ago I wrote an article for Simple Homeschool about my biggest homeschooling mistake: not traveling more. We've set out this year to fix that, first with a trip to New York City and then with one to Chicago.

The trip to New York City, if you read my posts on the link above, was for our family of four. But this trip to Chicago was girls only. While my husband and younger son were at Boy Scout camp for the week, I took my 14-year-old daughter and two of her friends to Chicago.

This was a big jump outside my comfort zone: driving 550 miles by myself (or rather, as the only driver) into a major city and then navigating around the city itself. But I was committed to seizing a travel opportunity, and so…


We left on a Sunday afternoon, drove 5 hours, and spent the night with my mother-in-law in Indiana. It was awesome to get to see her and to only have a few hours to drive the next day. We weren't in too much of a hurry to get there: our goal was to arrive before evening rush hour. The trip was perfect. I was nervous and sweaty driving in city traffic, but the girls were great directors and the van's GPS took us right to my friend's door.

So, lodging in Chicago: I am fortunate to have a friend from college who lives in the city and was so hospitable that she opened up her one bedroom apartment to our invasion! Andria lives in the Ukrainian Village, within walking distance of all kinds of fun stuff. Andria was at work when we arrived, so we waited 15 minutes or so for her neighbor to open up for us. Did I mention that we were in Chicago during the first week of July, when record-breaking temps were reached? It was HOT!

Andria had left us a map of the nearby Wicker Park and Bucktown area, so we headed that way as soon as we unpacked. Our destination: shopping. Yes, traveling with teen girls is all about, well, shopping. Yes, they loved the food, the buildings, and the views, but let's face it—they wanted to shop! We had a long walk on a hot afternoon, but we didn't care: the sidewalk views were such fun.

The girls had all saved money for the trip but we're all just average income families, so we skipped the pricey boutiques (except to occasionally step in and act like we were comfortable there). Urban Outfitters was their absolute favorite, and of course we all loved this massive used bookstore.

We met Andria for dinner at a taco place. Isn't it so fabulous to reconnect with friends that you haven't seen in over a decade and pick up right where you left off? The girls all thought Andria was so very cool, living in Chicago by herself and working at a theatre. But more about that later.

After fish tacos, Andria drove us around the city. I wasn't expecting that because we took the subway everywhere in NYC, leaving our car in a garage. But Andria says she rarely takes public transportation and is able to find street parking most of the time. She navigated us around downtown and to Lake Michigan. At my request she parked (warning: $18 to park!) and we walked along the beach.

The cast: Laurel, Caitlin, Bess, and Andria

Coming from a relatively small town on the outskirts of a mid-sized big city, we were enthralled with all the activity. So much was going on at the lake that just looked like normal life: people jogging, riding bikes, eating ice cream, playing hockey on rollerblades. Just fabulous. And well, the beach was pretty dirty. But we didn't care.

From there Andria took us to where she works: Steppenwolf Theatre. It was Monday night and so the theatre was dark, so we got our own personal backstage tour.

Steppenwolf's green room

Andria is the assistant props manager, and the girls were fascinated hearing about her job. I had no idea the detail that is involved in finding props for shows! Wow! All the girls are interested in theatre, so this was an especially memorable tour. It may have even been the highlight of their whole trip!

After our grand tour of the city, we went back to Andria's place and then walked to a nearby gelato store. We ate a lot of gelato in Chicago because, well, we could!

So that was our first afternoon in Chicago. We spent about $10 each on dinner and dessert, and the girls each bought a shirt or two at Urban Outfitters. Not bad for adventure!

Stay tuned for Day 2: The Art Institute of Chicago and Navy Pier!