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Wednesday, September 30

Breakfast in America (Supertramp)

After several hours of sleep, your body needs fuel to get going, and not providing it can have detrimental effects.  Eating breakfast helps with weight loss and increases your concentration and awareness throughout the morning. 

Ten reasons you should eat breakfast every day!  It will give you...
  1. Better Concentration
  2. Eat Healthier All Day
  3. Improved Metabolic Function
  4. Weight Control
  5. More Energy
  6. Lower Cholesterol
  7. Boost Your Immune System
  8. Maintaining Blood Sugar Levels
  9. Digestive Health
  10. Mood Enhancer

Take it to the Next Level

Many of us are on the go, and just don't take the time for a healthy breakfast.  Try one of these four freezer cooking ideas for a quick & healthy morning!

Egg and Black Bean Breakfast Burritos
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 18 eggs, thoroughly beaten
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil of choice
  • 1 medium yellow onion, medium chop
  • 1 large green bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, medium chop
  • 1 large red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, medium chop
  • 2 1/2 c cooked black beans
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin, divided use
  • 3 c grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 1/2 c loosely packed cilantro leaves (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • 15 tortillas, burrito-sized (at least 7 inches in diameter)

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in the eggs and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula frequently until the eggs are softly cooked. Season generously with salt and pepper and pour onto a large plate or platter to cool to room temperature.
  2. Rinse or wash the skillet, coat the bottom with the oil, and return to medium heat. Add the onions and peppers and 1/2 tbsp cumin. Saute until the onions are translucent, season with salt and pepper, and pour onto a large plate or platter to cool to room temperature.
  3. In a medium bowl, stir together the black beans, remaining 1/2 tbsp cumin, and two big pinches of salt.
  4. Fill each burrito a layer of beans, vegetables, eggs, cheese, and cilantro. Try to fill the burrito about 1/3 the way full and to evenly distribute between all the tortillas – It doesn’t have to be perfect; just eyeball it. Wrap the burrito (I tried to do mine as they do at Moe’s) and place on a large baking sheet.
  5. Move the burritos to the freezer for at least an hour, then transfer to a freezer bag until ready to eat. Microwave until heat through (ours took only a minute).

French Toast Sticks
  • 4 slices Texas Toast (or other hearty, thick-cut bread)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter, slightly cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees then spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray very well and set aside. Cut bread slices into thirds then set aside.
  2. In a large shallow dish, whisk together eggs, milk, melted butter, vanilla, and cinnamon. Dunk bread sticks into batter, let excess drip off, then place onto prepared baking sheet. Bake for 16-18 minutes, spraying the tops of the French Toast Sticks with non-stick spray before flipping halfway through.
  3. To freeze: Let French Toast Sticks cool then place onto a baking sheet and freeze in the freezer. Transfer to a freezer bag or container when hard. To reheat, microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Banana Oat Mini Muffins
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • dash of cinnamon

  1. Mix all ingredients up, scoop into mini muffin tin. 
  2. Bake for 10 minutes or until muffins are set.

Omelet Mini-Muffins

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, finely copped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 6 large eggs whisked
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • salt to taste (optional)
  • 1/2 pound sausage, ground pork, beef or turkey (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute onions in olive oil for 2-3 minutes, then add peppers and saute for another 2-3 minutes. I had some ground pork so I added 1/2 pound of it at the same time as the peppers and cooked it until the meat was no longer pink.
  2. Whisk eggs in a large bowl while the peppers are cooking. When the veggies are done cooking, remove them from the heat and let them cool for a couple of minutes. Then mix them into the eggs and add your salt and pepper.
  3. Coat a muffin pan with olive oil spray and fill each cup with 1/4 cup of the egg mixture. Cook them in the oven for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your muffin tin, and remove when the tops get fluffy and golden brown.

Tuesday, September 29

Middlebury Mandarin : Review

Middlebury Interactive Languages  is an online, self-paced, language course for grades K-12.  Middlebury uses the immersion approach to teaching languages. The program was developed by highly academic and linguistic experts to not only master a language, but to learn about the culture. The course engages students through various tasks, and has won several awards for their innovation in digital education.  They offer courses in Spanish, French, Chinese and German and have the following levels available:
Since the advent of Ninjago, the kids have been wanting to learn Chinese. When the opportunity to review Middlebury Interactive Language arose, and I saw that they offered Chinese, I jumped at it and they were ECSTATIC! We received a free six month subscription to the Elementary Chinese 1 course for the purpose of this review. The normal pricing for this course without a teacher is $119 (what we have) with the option of having a live teacher for more.

The Chinese course has seven units, and covers numbers, greetings, family, colors, foods, adjectives, and school topics.  It is very user friendly and they can easily navigate the lessons and get from one to the next.  At first, they wanted to do it every day, but now they typically use it about three days a week.  Not only does this cover language, it covers some culture too, which is pretty fascinating. We are going to re-visit our Ninjago unit study as they work on this course.

Each unit begins with a video about a Chinese legend or myth surrounding the lesson being taught. Then, there are a few games and lab exercises which allow you to explore, practice, remember, and speak the language.  For the speaking lab, the student will be asked to speak and record himself saying the new words he has learned. The microphone should be enabled for this exercise.

The learning isn’t limited to the speaking and listening area.  There are also some video lessons on Chinese culture like social customs, home customs and being a good host. Chinese character formation and stroke order is also taught throughout the lessons.

For every practice and test activity, there is an automated checking. Then the program automatically records the results and you can view the results when you click on Gradebook at the menu upon log-in.

The Elementary Chinese 1 course has a total of 45 lessons broken into 7 units:
  • Numbers
  • Greetings
  • Family
  • Home
  • Adjectives/Colors
  • School
  • Food

Chinese is a harder language to learn but the pronunciation was very distinct and my kids really enjoyed learning to write the characters, which is an element that is usually not included in most foreign language programs.

Extra points :
  • There are several documents accessible in PDF format to print and store in a course notebook. 
  • The program teaches stroke order and Chinese calligraphy. 
  • You cannot go back and re-do tests and quizzes once they are finished.  It would be nice if you could remove the red check mark for finished lessons when you want your child to go back and review that lesson. 
  • Other than the price, I am thrilled with this program, and it is one I am likely to purchase in order to continue.  I like it much better than the other language programs we have reviewed over the years.  
  • To get an overview of what Middlebury Interactive Languages is about you can watch this video.  To find out if your system meets the requirements, you can check the FAQ list.
 Middlebury Interactive Languages Review
See what others are saying about Middlebury Interactive Languages at the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

Sunday, September 27

Return to Me : A WWII Book Review

New Release....
Eighteen-year-old Sadie Stark, raised by the governor of Pennsylvania, has the world on a string. She doesn’t need the mother who left her any more than she needs the fiance who promises to change. What she needs is to finish college, and keep her wits about her. 

When war-bound James Pasko returns her stolen clutch, and shows her what’s missing in her life, she gains the courage to search for the truth about her past.

What Sadie uncovers rattles her to the core. But James’ steadfast love gives her hope for the future—for the first time—even as the war tears them apart.

When James disappears over enemy lines and Sadie makes a startling discovery, she must decide to follow in the footsteps of the mother who gave her away, or face a life of hardship like she’s never known.

My Thoughts :
You'll find yourself transported back to war-time forties...a time when people lived in limbo, when every moment could be the last, and their hearts loved deeply while continuously breaking.  The characters are complex and believable, and the story sweeps you into their lives.  Multiple plotlines, from multiple eras, intertwine around the theme of "return."  Sadie is forced to examine her beliefs as her world shakes over and over again, and the journey through hard times makes one wonder if love really is enough.  In the end, the reader is left examining his / her own beliefs around that very question.

Available to buy from....

“A sweeping, romantic debut that brings the war-time forties to vivid life in this Titanic meets Philomena tale—fast-paced, tender, and real.” —RITA Award-winning Author Gwyn Cready

 “Menke’s writing is so lovely, you will want to wrap yourself in her words and savor each moment you spend in Sadie’s story. Return To Me will tug on your heart strings and take you on a journey back in time.” —Dana Faletti, Author of the Whisper Trilogy 

 “A timeless tale of love, loss and sacrifice that will equally break and warm your heart, as you cheer for the beautifully complex characters until the very last page.” —Lori M. Jones, Author of Renaissance of the Heart

PhotobucketI received this book to review through Beck Valley Books Book Tours, all the opinions above are 100% my own.

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About the Author
Carolyn Menke is the author of "A Little Known Truth" and "The Survival Guide to Mommy-hood," both published in "Beyond the Diaper Bag." Her flash fiction piece "Full Circle" took first place in the Writer's Type literary competition in July 2012. "Baba's Bananas" also placed first at Writer's Type in March 2011, and was later awarded first runner-up overall for the yearly competition in the same category.

A storyteller with an entrepreneurial spirit, she started a marketing communications business with clients ranging from local start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Prior to that she worked as a marketing communications specialist for high-tech companies. She gained valuable public speaking experience while leading corporate and educational training workshops. Recently, she was a guest speaker at Wexford Elementary, and has been invited to share her latest novel, Return To Me, with area reading clubs.

The author earned a bachelor's degree in professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University and a master's degree in marketing communications from Duquesne University. She is a member of Pennwriters and two writing critique groups.

Find the author on the following sites...
Website    Facebook    Twitter    Pinterest    Goodreads 

Friday, September 25

Beautiful Thing (Sister Hazel)

An art colony or artists' colony is a place where creative practitioners live and interact with one another...
Spruce Village in Grantsville, MD is a non profit organization aimed at preserving and promoting crafts and traditions that have been part of the local mountain heritage for generations.  Visitors are encouraged to stop in the artist studios inside the cabins, where the artists work and display and sell their art.  Classes and artist workshops are also available throughout the summer.

Did we know any of that when we rolled off the highway...desperately in search of lunch?  Nope.  But what a pleasant surprise!!!!!!!
This artisan was creating wooden salt and pepper shakers, bowls, and platters.  They were beautiful!!
Some of the artists use reclaimed materials to create new works, such as this metal worker.  We were asked not to take photos inside...but these recycled pieces were breathtaking!
We ate lunch at the Penn Alps restaurant first -- it was ok, albeit a bit overpriced.  This was a great place to stop, grab a bite to eat, and stroll around to stretch our legs.  The scenery was like stepping into another time and place!
Also at the colony is the House of Yoder.  The house is modeled after the homes built in the  mid-1700s by Yoder immigrants from Switzerland.  Inside the Yoder House, you can view an excellent presentation of Yoder history in Europe, and research Yoder genealogy in the Genealogy Lab.  We just enjoyed poking around the house, appreciating the architecture and construction and taking notes on the fantastic root cellar!!
Within the long-term colony (residents living there year-round) are a soap maker and a weaver.  If you're ever passing through Grantsville, take an hour to mosey around the village and watch the craftsmen at work.  AND if you can get there around Christmastime, check out their events calendar!!

  • Dec 4th & 5th - Christmas in the Village - FREE - noon-8pm - fireside storytelling, free refreshments, holiday gifts, cookie art, musical programs, and artisan gifts
Arts & Spruce Village Unit :

Thursday, September 24

Shoo Fly Pie & Apple Pan Dowdy (June Christie)

Crock Pot Apple Crisp 

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1/ 2 cup light brown sugar 
  • 1 cup white sugar, divided 
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 
  • 1/ 4 tsp. ground nutmeg 
  • a pinch of salt 
  • 1/ 2 cup butter, cubed  
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch 
  • 1/ 2 tsp. ground ginger 
  • 6 cups apple cored, chopped 
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice 
  1. Into a bowl, combine flour with brown sugar, halves of white sugar and cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Mix well. 
  2. Press butter, mix until crumbly mixture is formed. Set aside. 
  3. Into another bowl, mix remaining sugar and cinnamon, corn starch and ginger. Set aside. 
  4. Place apples into a 6-quart slow cooker, mix in corn starch mixture, drizzle lemon juice and toss to coat. 
  5. Scatter crumbly flour mixture over the top, cover and cook on High for about 2 hours or until tender.
  6. Remove cover and set aside for an hour to harden the topping. 
  7. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Apple Butter 

  • 16 cups unpeeled apples, cored and chopped 
  • 2 cups apple cider 
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon 
  • 2 cups sugar 
  • 1/ 4 tsp. cloves 
  • 1/ 4 tsp. ginger, minced 
  1. Into a slow-cooker, combine apples and apple cider vinegar. 
  2. Put cover and cook on Low for about 12 hours. 
  3. Cool just enough to handle. 
  4. Using an immersion blender, process the apples until smoothly pureed. 
  5. Mix in sugar, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. 
  6. Replace cover and cook for another hour on low.
Some of our favorite tools of the trade!

Wednesday, September 23

Country, When Country Wasn't Cool (Barbara Mandrell)

We rolled into Nashville in the afternoon, stopping to visit the Parthenon and Centennial Park before heading down to Music Row to soak up the culture.  What we hadn't counted on was not being able to take the kids into most of the places after a certain time...luckily, a few are "open bars," which allowed us to stand outside and listen to the music.

Traffic in this area of town is insane!  Find a parking lot, pay your fee, and walk as much as possible.  Most of the museums, like the Ryman Auditorium and Country Music Hall of Fame, are within walking distance.  The modern-day Grand Ol' Opry House is a few miles away, however, and you'll have to drive over there.
The small museums are just as much fun as the larger ones!  We visited the Johnny Cash Museum, the Sun Records Museum, and the Dukes of Hazzard Museum.  Many of these discourage photography inside.
The highlight of our stop, however, was the Ryman Auditorium.  The youngest is as much into music as his momma, and we had special arrangements to record our very own duet!!!  Life can be very cruel, however, and this is how that day began :
Oh well.  No worries...we'd just have fun!  After hanging around waiting for it to open, and appreciating the architectural grandeur of the building, we headed in for a behind-the-scenes tour of the former home to the Grand Ol' Opry!

After dancing around a bit, and getting the wiggles out, the kids met with Minnie Pearl and Roy Acuff.  We got a little history of the Ryman and watched Minnie work her comic magic!
The auditorium itself hasn't changed much over the years.  Granted, it fell into ruin and was completely renovated, but standing there now is like being there sixty years ago.  It's easy to fall back in time and fall in love with classic country all over again.  The equipment, however, is state-of-the-art, and they produce several shows there each year.
Around the sides of the auditorium are several cases filled with country music memorabilia, such as Patsy Cline's gold record and classic outfit; the dress worn by Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter; one of Johnny Cash's black suits; and much much more!
Finally, it was time to step into the recording studio with my little bug-a-boo and record our duet.  There are only a handful of songs to choose from for the recording, and that was very difficult since he only knew one of them.  On the other hand, we didn't obsess over which song to record!!  Hank Williams Sr. is not an artist that my voice lends itself to on a regular day, and the combination of his speech impediments with my throaty hoarseness was...interesting.  We had a blast!!  And we recorded a song that will remain safely tucked away in our own home.  But you know, #YOLO.  You only live once!  Make it count! 

Grand Ol' Opry Unit :