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Oct 20, 2016

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury A Homeschool Crew Review

Todd Wilson might be a familiar name to you.  He's written books about homeschooling for years, as well as being a cartoonist, blogger, speaker, and dad.  I own several of his books for homeschool moms.  I appreciate his humor and I admit I'm partial to the homeschooling cartoon about "Jodi" dreaming about putting her kids on the bus.  *ahem*

Todd Wilson, also known as The Familyman, has written eight Christmas stories to enhance your family time this year.  Six of the audios are included in The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection which is available on CDs or as MP3 digital downloads.  While the stories are not rewrites of events from Bible times, all of the stories are Biblically based.  Mr. Wilson wanted the Christmas books he read with his children to point them to Jesus.  He wanted them to be *about* CHRISTmas.  He has succeeded in that and included liberal use of The Familyman's humor.  These audio books are read by Jim Hodges.

Six books are in The Familyman's Christmas Treasury.

  • Captain Chaos and The Manger Blaster - Jason thinks he can tell a better Christmas story than the boring one about a baby in a manger.  He says some harsh words he probably really didn't mean.  That evening, after being sent to his room, Captain Chaos appears and blasts the manger off the face of the earth!  With the manger eradicated, what happens to Christmas?  More importantly, how can anyone get to heaven?  No one is kidding with Jason.  It's against regulations.
  • Cootie McKay's Nativity - I think this one is my absolute favorite!  When old Mrs. Nichols smashes the town nativity with her car, Dad asks Cootie McKay to make a new one by next Thanksgiving.  Trouble is, Cootie McKay doesn't even know who Jesus is!  As the year unfolds, Cootie not only reads about Jesus' birth, but his teachings, his death, and his resurrection.  Jesus is alive!  Cootie works for months on the new nativity.  No one even gets a glimpse of it.  Then one morning, Dad starts getting phone calls...
  • The Stranger - The year of the Big Snow, a stranger came to town.  His visit made everyone nervous.  Except for Sam and his family, the whole church had been visited by the stranger in the week leading up to Christmas.  Then, on Christmas Eve, the stranger visits Sam's family.  Who *is* this scraggly visitor named Jesse?  Why is he visiting everyone in the church?  And where did he go when he left Sam's house?  This story is Merrick's favorite.
  • The Bishop's Dream - The bishop is a modest man who loves and tends to the very poorest souls in Myra.  He is brought into modern day at Christmas time and is shocked to discover that "Santa Claus" has become more loved than Jesus.  The bishop's name is Nicholas. 
  • Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest - Isaac's dad has a very special Christmas vest.  How did he get it from the meanest man in town?  What secrets are kept in the pockets?
  • and Gladys Remembers Christmas - Gladys hated Christmas almost as much as she hated her name.  UGH!  This one brings me close to tears!  Gladys' mother died when she was young.  Her father took care of her and her brothers, but she never really felt loved.  Now she is all grown up and her father has gone to a nursing home.  While getting something from the house for her father, she is visited by her mother (Don't worry, it isn't a ghost story!).  Gladys begins to remember a childhood Christmas with her mother who tells her she is loved by her parents, but even more by Jesus.  I think this one is so moving because I can't help but think about the poor little girl who grew up feeling so unloved.
There are two other stories available.
  • It's Called Christmas - We've received a message from the future.  Everyone *then* is having a "happy holiday" until the man at the mall starts covertly mentioning Christmas.  No one knows what Christmas is, not even Maxine, the computer that knows everything you might possibly ask it.  Soon a few people are clandestinely gathering together in a home and reading from Mr. Z's little book.  Then, one day Mr. Z disappears.  This story was full of intrigue and the boys liked it.  After, Xav had questions about Mr. Z's disappearance that I just couldn't answer, though.  I'm just going to pretend he went underground, and continued spreading the news of Christmas.
  • The Secret of the Snow Village - Grandma's snow village beckons.  What secrets can the people of the village reveal to those who are willing to listen?  Katherine and her cousins are visiting Grandma.  She just can't stop staring at the little village and its inhabitants.  Was it all a dream?  Regardless, Katherine has a message to share.

I loaded the Christmas Treasury right to my phone.  I had planned to use them in the car, but you'd be surprised how often I get asked to start up a story while we're sitting at home.  The boys are so still and quiet while they listen again and again.  When one story ends, they call out which they want to hear next.  After two or three, I have to say that's enough for now!  They could listen to them half the day!

Each recording is approximately 20 minutes long and of a high quality.  If your family enjoys Christian audio books, they are sure to love The Familyman's Christmas Treasury.  Purchase the six digital downloads or all eight Christmas story books in The Familyman store.

We've been enjoying these Christmas stories for weeks already and I'm pretty sure we'll be listening for years to come.  I'm not kidding.  I never kid.  It's against regulations.  *wink*

Find Todd Wilson, The Familyman on social media.


The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews

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Oct 14, 2016

Autumn Fun at the Corn Maze ~ Field Trip Friday

Crunchy leaves, cool air, pumpkins, and corn mazes.  How about apples and cider donuts?  Fall is a favorite season.

We had a gorgeous day for a corn maze and some outdoor fun with our co-op friends. Some folks went pumpkin picking in the morning, but Grandma and Poppa of the Forest had already brought our pumpkins and mums to us on a visit.

We met everyone at the pavilion at the market and had lunch together.  The kids barely ate because the playground was so much fun.

Besides the usual slides and climbing things, they had a wooden mini tractor and wagon.  That novelty was a seriously big hit.  Mal climbed inside the tractor and pretended to be the engine.  Some of the little kids thought that was pretty cool.

The corn maze had stations that you had to find to punch your cards.  We were given two different kinds of cards.  They served different purposes, but both were great.  One had the actual maze on it, with the actual punch locations marked, which *may* have been cheating but was fun to try to follow.  The other card was a mystery to solve.  Boots the dog was taken from the farm by monsters.  You saw the clue at each punch and punched the monster and its hiding place on your card.  At the end, whatever was left was the monster who had taken Boots and where Boots was hidden.

Oct 12, 2016

MyFreezEasy A Homeschool Crew Review

This post contains affiliate links.

MyFreezEasy was developed by Erin Chase of $5 Dinners.  I've been following her off and on for several years.  Micah has wanted me to get involved in freezer cooking and meal planning for a long time.  I've tried a few times, but I am way too slow and busy to do one of those marathon cooking sessions that leaves you with a month of meals in the freezer, but takes all day long.  With Freezer Meal Plan Membership I can have ten meals in the freezer in a couple of hours. 

Premium membership allows access to all eight meal plans each month.  By making two full meals of each of the five recipes, I'm able to fill up my freezer in a very short time.  I can also swap out any meals from a growing database of archived meals.  Many of the recipes are or can be made dairy or gluten free.  In fact, one of the meal plans is all gluten free meals.  The eight plans available are
  • traditional,
  • gluten free,
  • all pork,
  • all chicken,
  • all ground beef,
  • clean eats,
  • slow cooker, 
  • and the 20 meals plan.

The 20 meals plan is just what you'd imagine.  You still make two of each meal, but it includes ten recipes.  The all meat plans are exactly that.  Purchase whichever meats are on sale and save money on your grocery budget.  I've shopped several times for meals since joining MyFreezEasy, and sometimes it feels like I've over spent.  I never exceeded my budget for the month and still have many, many more meals put away.  It definitely has brought value to my shopping.

After selecting my meals, or just downloading one of the plans with no alterations, I now have a document which includes complete recipes for preparing a meal for that night or for freezing all the meals, shopping lists arranged by store location (dairy, meat, produce, etc) or by recipe.  The list even includes the type of containers needed to store the meals in the freezer.  I also can quickly locate sheets that tell me what to set aside for each recipe on prep day.  On prep day, there is another sheet that tells me what to cook, chop, or open before meal assembly.  The last page(s) have each meal laid out with exactly what goes in the freezer bags or foil pans for each individual meal.

All of these instructions are for making two meals of four servings each.  Serving quantities can be adjusted before you download the paperwork.  I actually leave the servings at four, but divide the meals in half, or less often, thirds.  That way I still have the quantities on my shopping list for 8 servings, but I'm putting smaller amounts into each container and I end up with even more meals in the freezer.  Even with putting the equivalent of two servings in each bag or pan, we've found it is more than enough for the two of us for dinner and someone inevitably gets a lunch out of it.

The grocery list is very handy, as long as you don't print it and leave it on the table when you head to the store.  Not that I ever did that!

Some meals are as simple and fast as throwing a few things together; a can of this, a bag of frozen something, and jar of another thing, and throw some cheese on top.  Some recipes require more involved cooking.  All of them have been delicious.  If you have a little one who can use a can opener or shred cheese for you, MyFreezEasy is a great way to spend quality time in the kitchen as well as get some meals in the freezer.  I received compliments on every meal I've made, whether it was just Micah, family we've had over, or meals we've passed on to others.

Left: Enchiladas before cooking. Right: Black bean chili with corn muffins.
I made a few newbie errors the first time I used MyFreezEasyI ended up spending about two and a half hours on a plan I created.  I am meticulous anyway, so that makes me slow. Then I was intentionally using smaller pans for more, small meals. So rather than half in here and half in there, I was weighing every ingredient and pulling out the calculator. Also, because four of the meals were basically hamburger and onions, I cooked EIGHT pounds in a big pan. So then I had to figure the weight of the meat after cooking per recipe to divide into various sized containers. Some meals I made for a friend and some for us. Her meals were bigger than mine because she has a larger family. I was ridiculous about it.

I want to stick to a meal plan that Erin has created, following it exactly, and then the video will coincide with exactly what I'm cooking. I swear I have never used so much pseudo-algebra in my kitchen before!  The other times I've cooked using MyFreezEasy, I reeled myself in a bit and it was much smoother.  Definitely sticking with wholes or halves and not getting all worked up about being so precise!

Things I would like to see on MyFreezEasy:
  1. Nutrition information.  This one could be trickier because everyone is going to actually put together some recipes a bit differently. 
  2. Some "lighter" options, or at least mark any recipes that could be considered lighter.  I don't do "diet foods" because I prefer food that tastes good.  I rarely substitute light, low fat, or reduced calorie items.  So, I'd really appreciate knowing up front if a meal is a bit healthier than others. 
I did have two missing ingredients on one of the customized meal plans when I sorted the shopping list by store section.

The recipes I made included
  • Chicken and Ranch Macaroni - I do not normally put a crumb topping on pasta.  I've just never really cared for it, but this dish was so good and the topping was really lovely.  I didn't actually have a packet of ranch dressing, so I used a bit of Buffalo Chicken and Bleu Cheese dip mix.
  • Five Ingredient Chili - I never actually got to try this one because I passed it on to friends.
  • Bacon and Bleu Cheeseburgers in lettuce wraps - These were amazing in a lettuce wrap or hamburger buns.  The recipe called for serving the burgers with bleu cheese crumbles, but I realized I would need to buy a container of the crumbles each time I served them... and I *may* have made 14 - 1/4 pound burgers!  So I actually put the bleu cheese inside the hamburgers as I made them.  I just formed them like a bowl and wrapped them around the cheese.  Now I only need to make sure I have rolls or lettuce when I want to serve them and I don't have crumbles going to waste in the back of the fridge.
  • Lazy Lasagna Bake - While this could use a bit more sauce, it wasn't dry.  The flavor was so good!  I had never used cottage cheese in lasagna, so I used half cottage cheese and half ricotta.
  • Beef and Black Bean Chili - I added a cup of water because my slow cooker gets pretty hot.
  • Ravioli Bake - Another hit, and the kids even tried this one.  WIN!
  • Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas - This meal was absolutely gorgeous in the bowl and I couldn't resist taking a photo of it which disappeared along with Xavier's first day on the bus photos, somewhere in cyberland.  Just imagine a big white bowl full of black beans, corn, red peppers, green chiles...  It was *very* tasty.
As I made up my list, I kept wanting to write, "This was a favorite," but I would have typed that almost every single time.  I love trying new recipes, but I'm always leery of duds.  This recipes are tested by Erin in her own home and if they aren't great, they don't make it onto MyFreezEasy.

I loved
  • Being able to adjust servings for a recipe. 
  • Having a downloadable/printable grocery list.
  • Seeing videos that walk me through meal prep for the Traditional Meal Plan each month.
  • Chatting with other meal prep women in the Facebook group.
  • Being able to pull a meal out of the freezer or throw an extra together to bless a friend.
  • Removing the freezer fillers (old milk jugs filled with ice) one by one as the space was filled with food.
I got so excited each time I pulled out a jug of ice to make room for ready-made meals.

There's a video near the bottom of the FAQ Page you might like to see.

I hope you know by now that if I rave about something, it's because I *really* like it.  And. yes.  I'm definitely enjoying the satisfaction of having meals put away for us.  I enjoy cooking, but making the same stuff all the time had gotten old.  (I still prepare all the kids' favorites, regularly), but Micah and I get to enjoy something new with a lot of variety.  I can see this becoming a long term way of cooking regularly.  MyFreezEasy has been convenient (now that I have my "meticulous gene" under control!) and a money saver.

There are both monthly and annual memberships.  Make a selection and get started putting up food for those busy days where everyone has appointments and you won't be home to prepare dinner.  You'll save money by not getting take out.  Again.  And the meals are healthier.  You know exactly what's in them because you made them.  Spend the time in the kitchen making memories with your helpers.

Find Erin, FreezEasy, MyFreezEasy, and $5 Dinners on social media.
Pinterest Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

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Oct 6, 2016

If You Were Me and Lived in... History Books Homeschool Crew Review

The boys have become obsessed about time travel of late, thanks to Back to the Future.  Recently, we were able to do a bit of time travel of our own thanks to the If You Were Me and Lived in... history series.  We didn't need a fast car for our trips, just the books Brought to you by Carole P. Roman and

The four paperback books we received are

The If You Were Me and Lived in... series answers pretty much any question you could think of for each time and place in history.  I could not think of a single thing I wondered about any of these places that wasn't answered in each one of the books.  Many details weren't even things I had wondered much about, so it was neat to find out all of those details.  One of the first things in each book is a comparison of the modern day location to the time period covered in the text.  Students learn about popular names for boys and girls in the time, what they would have eaten, what their home life looked like, and how the children were educated, as well as many other topics.

I really liked how each book was told mostly about a particular child that you meet at the beginning.  "Your name could have been Clarence or Ethan if you were a boy.  Your parents could have picked Lucy or Minerva for your sister's name."  From that point on, the book is specifically about this boy and his family.  Two of the books were given a sort of "if you were this boy" feel and the other two I received featured a girl.  All the books talk about the lives of boys and girls in each location, usually as siblings.

Another nice feature of this series is the inclusion of a sort of phonetic spelling of some of the more unusual words.  "Athena (A-thee-na) was the goddess of courage and wisdom." and "Over that was a linen tunic (too-nick) that fell to his knees."  We still have some guys who struggle with sounding out some words, so this was really handy.

Ancient Greece - 54 pages, illustrated by Mateya Arkova
In addition to all the parts that are included in all the books, Ancient Greece ends with a list of Greek gods and goddesses and then a glossary of words and names from the book.
  • Back to Homeschool Resource Award winner
  • Summer 2016 NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner - Best Book in the Category of "Children's History"
Renaissance Italy - 54 pages, illustrations by Silvia Brunetti
This volume has a nice added segment about the importance of Renaissance art in addition to a list of famous people from the time period.  This list includes a paragraph and photograph covering some artists, scientists, and noble people who strongly influenced the era.  It concludes with a glossary with pronunciations and definitions of words used in the book.
  • Back to Homeschool Resource Award winner
  • IAN Book of the Year Awards 2016 - "Children's Non-Fiction" Finalist
  • IAN Book of the Year Awards 2016 - Outstanding "Children's Non-Fiction"  Winner
The Middle Ages - 97 pages, also illustrated by Mateya Arkova
Another list of famous people is included, followed by the glossary.  There are a lot of years to cover in the middle ages, so I'm guessing that's why this particular book is so much longer than the others.  Merrick especially enjoyed looking through this book.  He would look at the pictures and tell me stories about the people in them.  Mateya's illustrations (here and in Ancient Greece) are a little more vague and dreamy than some of the others and Merrick seemed to really be drawn to that.

  • Back to Homeschool Resource Award winner
The American West - 54 pages, illustrated by Paula Tabor
Everyone from Sacajawea to Annie Oakley and Geronimo to Wyatt Earp are covered in the Famous People section.  Mal and Xav thought it was hilarious that the sister's job on the trail included picking up buffalo "chips" for the fire to cook the evening meal.  If you aren't sure what they are, consider yourself lucky!

  • Back to Homeschool Resource Award winner
  • Summer 2016 NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner - Best Book in the Category of "Children's American History"
A nice bonus for these books is included on Carole's blog.  Most of the books in this series have a set of questions for discussion and even writing prompts for deeper thinking.  I found these very helpful on the second read through of the books. 

Other If You Were Me and Lived in... history books include titles about Elizabethan England, Colonial America, Ancient China, and Viking Europe.  I'm really interested in getting the rest of these books!

Carole P. Roman has authored more than 35 children's books and series which include
  • If You Were Me and Lived in... (cultural studies series)
  • Captain No Beard (pirate tales)
  • Rocket-Bye
  • Can a Princess Be a Firefighter?
Carole's books have, collectively, won over 100 awards.  She started writing on a dare and began the Captain No Beard series, in which the captain and his crew learn to navigate relationship issues like patience and bullying. 

You can find Carole P. Roman on social media.
Good Reads 

The rest of the Crew read some of the other books in this series.  You can check them out through the button below.

If You Were Me and Lived in ... {by Carole P. Roman and}

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Oct 1, 2016

My Journey ~ Weight Loss September 2016

I was sick for a weigh in this month.  That stunk.  I ended up not knowing my final September weight was.  I did get one of the charms for my key ring that I was waiting for.  10% y'all!  That's pretty neat.

Some people have asked what new things I tried each week for the Weight Watchers Try-A-Thon.
The foods included moussaka and spanakopita (both of which I bought at the farmer's market) and squash.  Activities I tried were hula hooping (which I've learned to do just in the last year, but hadn't done in a while) and canoeing across a lake with a boat full of kids and one of the co-op dads.  The canoeing was actually terrifying.  Lakes are yucky.  Rivers are yucky.  Ponds are yucky.  The ocean is probably yucky.  Pools.  I like pools.  But I pulled off the canoeing without terrifying kiddos with my own fears and without dumping anyone.

Sep 28, 2016

Heirloom Audio's Cat of Bubastes Homeschool Crew Review

"From the shimmering sands of ancient Egypt,
comes an epic tale of mystery, intrigue, and suspense."

This houseful of boys (and Mom!) loves audio books and, even better, audio drama.  We really enjoy traveling to the grands much more when we can be entertained with one amazing story for more than a quarter of the trip.  Heirloom Audio Productions creates phenomenal audio drama with big WOW! factor.  Using movie quality sound and pulling together an incredible cast of accomplished actors with lovely British accents, Heirloom Audio's production of The Cat of Bubastes is like being in the theater.  Just close your eyes.

G.A. Henty
In the 1800s, George Alfred Henty wrote dozens of history books for children.  His adventures were specifically geared toward boys and their insatiable desire for excitement and feats of daring.  These books were used extensively in schools in England and engendered a deep sense of duty.  His main characters always displayed resourcefulness, courage, and honesty.

The Cat of Bubastes,  a Tale of Ancient Egypt was first published in 1889.  It is considered to be a very popular Henty title.  I can see why!

The Cat of Bubastes' two CD set is over two hours of exciting adventures.  Jethro and his charge, Prince Amuba, are taken into slavery by the Egyptians.  On the way to Thebes, Amuba, and then Jethro, take it upon themselves to learn Egyptian from the guards transporting them.  This makes them well-suited to serve their new master and his family where Amuba is to be a companion for his master's son, Chebron.  The boys become fast friends and find themselves embroiled in adventures large and small.  This story takes place around 1250 BC.  Moses even makes a cameo appearance.

Some of the lessons demonstrated in this title include treating others as you would like to be treated and *not talking about a person's appearance in front of them*.  I may still have some boys who need to take these pieces of advice to heart!  Honesty is an important virtue highlighted throughout the tale.  Historically, listeners are learning about ancient Egypt and the Punic Wars.  Spiritually, the differences between polytheism and Christianity are mentioned several times.

Stellar Actors 
I always hesitate to name names because I never feel like I can convey the true greatness of this cast.  Some of the stars include Brian Blessed (Star Wars I and loads of Shakespeare, including a personal favorite - Much Ado About Nothing), John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones films and The Lord of the Rings trilogy), Anthony Daniels (DUDE!  That's 3PO!), and Sylvester McCoy (The Hobbit films and the seventh Doctor).  Many others would be very familiar to British audiences.

Along with the CDs, Downloadable extras include
  • Posters, 
  • Soundtrack MP3 (composed by John Campbell), 
  • Behind the scenes video, 
  • MP3 version of the CDs, 
  • The Cat of Bubastes ebook,
  • And (my favorite) a 47 page study guide. 
The study guide is divided into three sections for each track.
  • Listening Well section is for comprehension.  I find it helps the boys focus if I read the questions first, we listen to the track, and then answer the questions. 
  • Thinking Further encourages the listener to think more deeply about the story and the more subtle parts of the adventure.  It calls for speculations to be made, based on what they heard, about people's plans and motives.  Here, you'll also be instructed to find locations on maps and look for Biblical parallels within the storyline.
  • Defining Words is a vocabulary enhancement section.
  • Three Bible studies conclude the study guide.
  1. God Meant It for Good,
  2. The Knowledge of God, and
  3. Idolatry and Tyrany 

Heirloom Audio dramas are generally for listeners from 1st grade to adult.  All my punks enjoy them and there is often a buzz of excitement when they hear those first strong chords of music that signal the beginning of an Heirloom Audio recording.  There are currently six Christian audio dramas available.

Follow Heirloom Audio Productions on social media to discover which G.A. Henty books are on the horizon.

The Extraordinary Adventures of G.A. Henty on facebook

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes

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Sep 24, 2016

First "Real" Haircut

Merrick finally decided to allow a hairdresser to cut his hair.  It turned out so nice.  He wouldn't allow her to use the clippers at first.  Finally, at the end, he did let her trim around his ears.  I love the faces he made and that he held my hand through the whole thing.