This Month's Featured Resources...

Revolutionary WarScrap Crafting Lego History Latin Calendar

Thursday, December 31

Best of 2015 : Blue Ribbon Awards at TOS

What a fabulous opportunity we had this year to work with the Schoolhouse Review Crew!!  They have some amazing connections, and we got to sample some of the best homeschool products on the market!  So what were the favorites?   

Our family's favorites included :
Here are the favorites, by category, as voted on by the crew...

Wednesday, December 30

Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)

Adolescent Love
Holding Out for a Hero (Victoria van Tiem) *five star alert*
The problem with first love is that it never truly dies . . . Libby London fell in love with the eighties, came of age in the nineties, and now the twenty-first century is baffling her. Her New-York-City style is more, erm, vintage tragedy than retro babe and her penchant for All Things Eighties might just be what's holding her back in matters of life and love . . . At least that's what her well-meaning friends think. They've staged a #80sIntervention in an effort to bring Libby bang up to date. What with her dreaded birthday party, friends' madcap ambush, and being forced to relocate her vintage shop, Libby's nearing breaking point! Will she ever be able to move on when the one she loves keeps her in the past?

I loved this book!  The characters were funny and quirky, but easy to relate.  The storyline was completely plausible, and the 80s references were a TOTALLY fabulous blast from the past!  While the base was a rip-off of the Breakfast Club, if you love Brat Pack movies, you'll enjoy this light-hearted read.  The ending even left wiggle room for a #90sintervention High Fidelity sequel.

Marital Love
Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage (Greg & Erin Smalley)
Every couple who wants a happy marriage will appreciate the revitalizing secrets in Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage. In it, Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley explore the traits of a healthy and thriving marriage.  Based on research of thousands of strong couples across the country, the twelve essential elements outlined are not only biblically based; they also chart a course for a romantic adventure that will last a lifetime.  With practical advice and stories from their own marriage and counseling experiences, Greg and Erin guide couples to find ways to work around roadblocks in their current relationship and to intentionally create communication patterns that will take them to emotionally safe places.  Yes, marriage can have its twists and turns. But the detours don’t necessarily have to lead couples off course. Greg and Erin help couples map out a journey for their marriages so that they can enjoy the passionate and intimate relationship that God has promised.

While the author is a little goofy, I love how it lightens up such a serious subject.  Husband and wife team up to bring both perspectives to this book, and they keep it real.  The suggestions are do-able, the scenarios happen everyday, and you've probably experienced (or known someone who has experienced) every one of them.  Pop culture references are mixed with biblical scripture to make the book relatable.  All in all, great suggestions for the newlywed and golden couples alike, and a good one to re-read when times get tight.

Unconditional Love
Midnight Jesus (Jamie Blaine)
The heart of God can be found in the unlikeliest places, in the unlikeliest people.  Midnight Jesus shares fascinating, bizarre, and sometimes humorous true-life stories of everyday people looking for hope in their darkest hours.  Poignant and unpretentious, Jamie paints beauty where at times it seems none exists—from skating rinks and bars, late-night highways and lonely apartments, broken churches and rundown trailer parks, jail cells, bridge rails, ERs, psych wards, and that place over the levee where God laughs and walks through the cool dark night.

I wasn't sure what this book was going to be, but it's a book about life's hardest moments, and how a person is never too far gone to be saved.  There are important messages for everyone, regardless of your faith, about stereotypes and judging.  It takes you down to the rock bottom and exposes you to addiction, despair, depression, self-harm...and then shows how each person pulls themselves up by their bootstraps.  It's about finding your place in the world...fighting to go on and keeping the faith.  It'll make you laugh, and cry.

Domestic Love
The Lifegiving Home  (Sally & Sarah Clarkson)
Does your home sometimes feel like just a place to eat, sleep, and change clothes on the way to the next activity? Do you long for “home” to mean more than a place where you stash your stuff? Wouldn’t you love it to become a haven of warmth, rest, and joy . . . the one place where you and your family can’t wait to be?  There is good news waiting for you in the pages of The Lifegiving Home. Every day of your family’s life can be as special and important to you as it already is to God. In this unique book designed to help your family enjoy and celebrate every month of the year together, you’ll discover the secrets of a life-giving home from a mother who created one and her daughter who was raised in it: popular authors Sally and Sarah Clarkson. Together they offer a rich treasure of wise advice, spiritual principles, and practical suggestions. You’ll embark on a new path to creating special memories for your children; establishing home-building and God-centered traditions; and cultivating an environment in which your family will flourish.

Foster / Adoption Love
Walk to Beautiful (Jimmy Wayne)
Imagine yourself a thirteen-year-old hundreds of miles away from home, in a strange city, and your mom leaves you at a bus station parking lot and drives off into the night with her lover.  That's the real life story of country music star Jimmy Wayne. It's a miracle that Jimmy survived being hungry and homeless, bouncing in and out of the foster care system, and sleeping in the streets. But he didn't just overcome great adversity in his life; he now uses his country music platform to help children everywhere, especially teenagers in foster care who are about to age out of the system.  Walk to Beautiful is the powerfully emotive account of Jimmy's horrendous childhood and the love shown him by Russell and Bea Costner, the elderly couple who gave him a stable home and provided the chance to complete his education. Jimmy says of Bea, "She changed every cell in my body."   It also chronicles Jimmy's rise to fame in the music industry and his Meet Me Halfway campaign: his walk halfway across America, 1,700 miles from Nashville to Phoenix, to raise awareness for foster kids.

This book provides great insight into the world of foster care, and will inspire those wanting to help others.  It's a book about finding the peace of forgiveness, no matter how badly you’ve been wronged, and trusting in God, even when it seems he is nowhere to be found.  The author pulls you into a world of neglect and abuse, making you feel as though you're going through it with him.  His courage and ability to do the right thing in very dire circumstances shows how a simple child-like faith in God can give you a wealth of strength.  I really enjoyed this book because it teaches you how to be gracious for what you have, even if it's a little bit.  My emotions rode a roller coaster as I wanted to rescue the little boy from the nightmare!

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Daniel Amen) *one-star alert*
In this completely revised and updated edition of the breakthrough bestseller, you'll see scientific evidence that your anxiety, depression, anger, obsessiveness, or impulsiveness could be related to how specific structures in your brain work. You're not stuck with the brain you're born with. Renowned neuro-psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen includes cutting-edge research and the latest surprising, effective "brain prescriptions" that can help heal your brain and change your life.

This book is almost entirely composed of three things: (1) encyclopedia information; (2) juicy stories of the author's patients that he says were cured; and (3) advice you have heard for your whole life.  It is an easy read, with fascinating stories that pull you in, but it is not academic.  The book shows pictures of brains with different emotional/chemical imbalances, and provides evidence that problems like depression, aggression, ADD, and Alzheimers are physically-based. It demonstrates with the SPECT series brain scans that our brain chemistry rules our emotions by showing the 'phenomenal' changes in patients' brains before and after treatment.  And it's all a gimmick.  As a trained psychologist with more than a decade of experience, the 'junk science' behind this book was disheartening.  There will be many who read it, with no understanding of the correlations and {faulty} causations, and spend insane amounts of money for these brain scans in the hope of a quick fix.  At best, they will get a new prescription.  Don't fall for it!

I received several of these books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, December 29

Give Myself to You (Train)

 What will it do for your health?
  • Being altruistic can lower your blood pressure…it lowers stress and increases gratitude.
  • Being charitable could help your heart.  Happiness helps protect your heart.  Moving around (physical exercise) while giving back is even better.
  • Giving back could help you live longer.  You’ll be more satisfied, too.
  • Practicing gratitude will help you sleep better.  Well-rested people are happier people.
  • Generosity and gratitude can reduce your stress…and we all know that less stress is better.

What will it do for you as a person?

  • Volunteering can relieve the sense of social isolation and help you fill empty hours in the day.
  • Everyone, rich or poor, takes from society, and volunteering is one way to show a sense of appreciation.
  • Volunteering is an excellent way to explore your likes and dislikes, or to practice a hobby.
  • Volunteering can offer a new perspective—seeing people who are worse off than you are, yet still hanging in there, can help you see your life in a whole new light.
  • When you volunteer, you realize just how much you are truly needed. Meeting people who need your help is a strong incentive to continue—people are depending on you. And unlike your job at home, the recipients are usually appreciative!
  • Helping others makes you feel good about yourself, because you’re doing something for someone that they couldn’t do for themselves.

Take it to the Next Level

Tuesday, December 22

Nothing Can Stop Me Now (Mark Holman)

Holistic health refers to maintenance of the entire health of the person (all physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual systems) rather than just one aspect of health.  It is well known that emotional factors, dietary factors, stress, and physical activity influence health.

Every illness has an underlying cause, often an aspect of the lifestyle, diet, or habits of the individual. A holistic practitioner looks for, finds and removes the underlying cause of a disease with non-invasive treatments, which minimize the risks of harmful side effects.

It makes good sense to me that energy and health care dollars should be put into preventing disease, so that less money will be required for treating disease.

Tips for Preventative Health
  • Eat wisely for proper nutrition, energy, and optimal intestinal and overall health
  • Get adequate sleep, following a regular sleep/wake cycle that works best for you.
  • Exercise daily, preferably outside in the sun
  • Practice exercise, meditation, prayer, and if necessary, stress avoidance.
  • Do not use tobacco, alcohol, or other mood altering substances
  • Brush and floss regularly.
  • Minimize exposure to, or if possible, avoid environmental toxins in food, water, and air
  • Take measures to play and laugh regularly, and to feel happy, grateful, and positive about your life and your self
  • Help others and practice the “Golden Rule”

Take it to the Next Level

Learn more about preventative health at these sites :

Monday, December 21

Latin Vocabulary Bundle

As part of a classical curriculum, we began teaching our children Latin from an early age.  Latin is the foundation of many world languages, including our own English.  For us, it seemed a natural progression from phonics to Latin, and the results are already beginning to show themselves in our children's vocabulary and word discovery...

Reasons to Teach Latin
  • English Vocabulary  About 60% of English words derive from Latin, and more than 90% of multi-syllabic English words have a Latin root!  All of that "scientific mumbo jumbo" is either Latin or Greek.  Learn it and empower yourself and your children!
  • Foreign Language    If you want to learn or teach Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese or any of the Romance languages, a Latin background will be immensely helpful.  The vocabulary and grammatical structures all derive from Latin.
  • Test Scores    Not my favorite topic, but a background in Latin has been proven to increase verbal, analytic, and problem solving scores.
  • There are many more reasons, but these three alone are enough for us!!  What's your reason for choosing Latin (or another language)?

To help the children have a more visual understanding of their Latin vocabulary, we created these flash card sets for daily use words.  Each set can be used as flash cards, or as a memory game (match the word to the picture).  We also use a daily calendar, to practice days / months / seasons / weather words.  You'd be surprised at how much more they will retain from this hands-on use!!!

Check out our new Latin bundle, which includes a daily calendar and vocabulary flash cards for nine different sets of daily use words!

  • Months / Days
  • Weather / Seasons
  • Body Parts / Senses
  • Colors
  • Numbers
  • Animals
  • Food
  • Family
  • Holidays

Felix Nativitas!!

This year the Virtual Curriculum Fair is hosted by Laura @ Day by Day in Our World, Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses and Kristen @ Sunrise to Sunset.

Thursday, December 17

Reason for the Season

Sometimes, we get so caught up in life that we forget why we're living!  It's times like these that I like to choose a good book (it's my media of choice) and re-center.  These are some of the best, new books I've recently discovered, and how they have helped with that process.  I hope you find something that helps re-focus, too...

The Five Times I Met Myself  (James L. Rubart)
What if you met your twenty-three-year-old self in a dream? What would you say?  Brock Matthews’ once promising life is unraveling. His coffee company. His marriage.  So when he discovers his vivid dreams—where he encounters his younger self—might let him change his past mistakes, he jumps at the chance. The results are astonishing, but also disturbing.  Because getting what Brock wants most in the world will force him to give up the one thing he doesn’t know how to let go . . . and his greatest fear is that it’s already too late.

This is a spiritual science fiction book, and it works!!  I don’t think there is a person alive that wouldn’t change some of their life choices, if given an opportunity to view the outcome through the lens of long term consequences. As the cover says, "If you think fiction can't change your life and challenge you to be a better person, you need to read The Five Times I Met Myself."  It's true...I'm still thinking about it days after finishing it.  This is a story of redemption.  It's a story of acceptance.  You'll want to stay up all night long just to see what happens!  A must-read for anyone who feels twinges of regret, or who just needs to learn to let go and give it to God.

Kristen Welch knows firsthand it’s not that easy. In fact, she’s found out that when you say yes too often, it’s not only hard on your peace of mind and your wallet―it actually puts your kids at long-term risk. In Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, Kristen shares the ups and downs in her own family’s journey of discovering why it’s healthiest not to give their kids everything. Teaching them the difference between “want” and “need” is the first step in the right direction. With many practical tips and anecdotes, she shares how to help kids become hardworking, fulfilled, and successful adults.  It’s never too late to raise grateful kids. Get ready to cultivate a spirit of genuine appreciation in your family and create a home in which your kids don’t just say―but mean!―“thank you” for everything they have.

“Society has shifted truth by bombarding us with an idea until it’s normalized.”  That's true.  Look at our culture now versus fifty years ago...not just fashion, but the way that people act.  We're a nation of divas!!  (And yes, I mean that in a bad way.)  This book has several suggestions for balancing grace and discipline when raising our children, and the author is very real-world.  Her wit and candor kept me from feeling too much like a parent-failure, and the suggestions are very do-able.  The chapter on technology is something we all need to consider, especially since we have no modeling from our own parents on how to handle that one.  I feel like this book is perfect for new parents and experienced parents alike. There is something to be learned by everybody in here, and I plan to re-read this one in the future.

Mountain Midwife  (Laurie Alice Eakes)
Ashley Tolliver has tended to the women of her small Appalachian community for years. As their midwife, she thinks she has seen it all. Until a young woman gives birth at Ashley’s home and is abducted just as Ashley tries to take the dangerously bleeding mother to the nearest hospital. Now Ashley is on a mission to find the woman and her newborn baby . . . before it’s too late.  Hunter McDermott is on a quest—to track down his birth mother. After receiving more media attention than he could ever want for being in the right place at the right time, he receives a mysterious phone call from a woman claiming to be his mother. Hunter seeks out the aid of the local midwife in the mountain town where the phone call originated—surely she can shed some light on his own family background.  Ashley isn’t prepared for the way Hunter’s entrance into her world affects her heart and her future. He reignites dreams of having her own family that she has long put aside in favor of earning her medical degree and being able to do even more for her community. But is it commitment to her calling or fear of the unknown that keeps her feet firmly planted in the Appalachian soil? Or is it something more—fear of her growing feelings for Hunter—that makes her hesitant to explore the world beyond the mountains?

My heart lies in the Appalachians, so I was drawn to this book.  The descriptions tugged at something deep within me, and the characters embodied all my Appalachian memories.  I was impressed with how the author conveyed spirituality in a very natural way. It makes me much more willing to pick up more stories from her in the future.  I loved the mystery and romance aspects, but really did not like how the book ended so quickly.  It felt as though the publisher said "wrap it up!"  Maybe, though, it was being set up for a second book?

Midwife's Choice  (Delia Parr)
In a time when the traditional ways of medicine are constantly being questioned by new doctors fresh from medical school, midwife Martha Cade tries to balance her life's calling with the demands of her family. Recently reunited with her estranged seventeen-year-old daughter, Martha finds herself torn between guiding her child and allowing her to be an adult. At the same time, she must decide whether she'll risk reopening the heart she'd long closed off to love.  Though a small town, Trinity, Pennsylvania, is fraught with secrets, and as a midwife, Martha moves among its people. She knows which homes are filled with light and love, which families have slipped into grief, which wives are unhappy, and which husbands dare to cross lines...As Martha struggles with the conflicts of being a mother, a midwife, and a woman, she learns the greatest lessons of all--that hope can shine even in the darkest hours, and that faith has a way of making the impossible possible.

This was a well-written book that wasn't overtly 'religion-pushing,' like some novels are.  The lessons learned (including humility, faith, judgment of character, trust in God's plans, letting go, and embracing change) all came about naturally over the course of the book.  In the end, she learns that her burdens were unnecessary...which is a lesson most of us could use.  Worry is a daily issue for most moms that I know!   She learns to open up to others, and shares her load, which ultimately strengthens those relationships.  My only 'problem' was that this isn't the first book in the series  I wish I had started with the first in this series!

Home & Away  (Dean Hughes)
A historical fiction novel told from the perspective of a son fighting on the battlefields of Europe during World War II and his mother, struggling with worry and uncertainty about her soldier son while she tries to keep a semblance of a normal, happy Christmas holiday back on the homefront. Norma Hayes has always tried to make Christmas special for her family, but 1944 will make that more difficult with money being tight and wartime rationing making everything hard to come by. Aware of his mother's hardships and the worry from having her eldest son at war, second son, Dennis, is determined to buy his mother a special gift this Christmas, a lavender blue dress he hopes will bring her comfort as a symbol of special times gone by and the hope of a brighter future with the family reunited at war's end. Meantime, on a battlefield far from home in Holland with his 101st Airborne battalion, her soldier son catches a familiar scent of lavender which briefly transports him back to the homefront to the perfume scent his mother wore, giving him a short respite and reuniting the family once again if only in his imagination.

I love reading about the WWII time's such a simpler time.  It was difficult, for sure, but people stuck together and community was central.  This is a great Christmas story for readers who love this era.  We see the story through the eyes of a sixteen year old, torn between childhood fears and adult decisions.  I cannot imagine some of the trials teens must have experienced during this time...with families torn apart, siblings gone, being on the cusp of war yourself.  We see character growth, through maturity, experience, and love.  The twists and turns will make you want to stay up all night, finishing the book, and dreaming of happier Christmases to come!

I received most of these books at a discount in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 16

Baking Memories

One of our favorite things to do each year is bake up a multitude of treats to hand out to friends and family around town.  The kids are learning life skills, all while having immense amounts of fun destroying our kitchen!!!  Which then brings us to the 'cleaning' life skill...

Christmas cookies are always first on the list.  We bake several different kinds, and put a couple of each into every box we give out.  Some of the kids' favorites to make are :

They also came up with the Chocolate Peppermint Krispies, which are quick and easy to make...and an often-requested treat from the recipients!

Finally, as a family tradition, when the temperatures are consistently below-freezing, we make our Cinnamon Hot Candy.  This one requires more adult supervision.

While you've got the oven turned on, and the ingredients pulled out, why not whip up a batch of cinnamon applesauce ornaments.  They'll make your tree smell cinnamon-y delicious for days!

Heather, from Raising Memories,  has two more fantastic tutorials on making Play-doh Cookies and Holly Wreath Trees.  She's even more creative than we are!

And while you're baking up all this magic, why not have a crockpot of hot apple cider going in the background?  It'll bring a heavenly scent to the whole house, and some healthy yumminess to end your day!
Have a girls' night out baking party with our six favorites, featured here in the Happy Holiday Baking Party!

What's your favorite holiday treat to bake up with the kids?

Tuesday, December 15

Hungry Like the Wolf (Duran Duran)

We are knee-deep into ‘holiday overeating’ season.  It’s almost patriotic to overeat at these festivities…but it’s definitely not healthy.  So let’s look at the situation realistically, and try to manage the meals this year!

Most of us have to travel for the holidays, leaving us at the mercy of fast-food restaurants.  Some meals appearing “average” in size can add up to a whole day’s worth of calories.  A large order of french fries can contain as many as 1,000 calories.  Add a hamburger and an extra-large soda, and you’re getting more than 2,000 calories in one sitting.  And thus, the spiral has begun….

Real-World Strategies for Holiday Feasting…
  • Use a smaller plate.  Skip the platter, and serve your meals on smaller plates.  Your plate will look full, but you'll be eating less.
  • Slow down and skip second helpings.  Eat one reasonable serving and don't immediately go back for seconds.  Wait at least twenty minutes.  Give yourself time to digest and serve yourself more food if you are still hungry. 
  • Drink a glass of water before you eat.  Water takes up space and is calorie-free.
  • Start with the fruits and veggies.  Many of us don't eat enough vegetables anyway, so take this opportunity to eat the healthier options first.  You may find that you have less room to overindulge in high-calorie foods.
  • Skip the dips and dressings, especially the creamy ones, or opt for a lower calorie version if available.
  • Try small amounts of multiple foods rather than taking two or three servings of any one food.  (I like doing this because my portions are smaller and I get to taste more dishes.)
  • Limit your alcohol intake.  I love a cup of holiday cheer as much as the next person, but I do not love the empty calories.  If you do have more than one alcoholic drink, make a point to drink a full glass of water between drinks. It will slow you down, fill you up, and help keep you from getting dehydrated.
  • Stick to your exercise routine during the holidays or start one.  It drives my family nuts, but a morning run is crucial during holiday visits….both for the exercise and for the ‘alone time’ in a madhouse environment!
  • Don't beat yourself up if you slip.  Tomorrow is a new day, and you will have another opportunity to do better and feel good about making healthy choices.

Take it to the Next Level :  Learn to Visualize Serving Sizes

Sunday, December 13

Freezer Cooking 101 : December

Who wants to slave away in the kitchen during the holiday season??  Who even has the time?!  With the make-ahead burritos, you'll have lunch or dinner on (very) short notice, and the peppermint patties are a fantastic option for that last minute gift.  Just add a cute box and a bow!

Burritos (makes 48)
  • 8 cans organic refried black beans                 
  • 2 tbsp taco seasoning
  • 16 oz shredded cheese                                     
  • 48 tortillas
  • 16 oz salsa

  1. Mix beans, salsa & seasoning.  
  2. Spread onto tortilla and sprinkle with cheese.  
  3. Roll up.  Either place in plastic bags or wrap in tin foil.
  4. Reheat : Microwave at 50% for 2-3 minutes.
Momma’s Peppermint Patties  (makes 30…a 3 day supply)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp half & half
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • 2 ½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp peppermint extract

  1. Mix everything together until it’s creamy.  
  2. Chill in the freezer until it’s firm enough to roll, and then form into 1” balls. 
  3. Flatten on a lined baking sheet and re-chill (the colder the better).
  4. Melt 1 ½ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips in double boiler.  
  5. Dip each patty completely, then re-place on lined baking sheet and chill until firm.  
  6. Store in the refrigerator.