Find Joy and Meaning in a Simple Christmas

Find Joy and Meaning in a Simple Christmas

Christmas is just around the corner.

Did that statement make you a little queasy? Did your heart start pounding a little faster? Did you instinctively stiffen, bracing yourself for a mad season of busyness during which you would grit your teeth and push just to get through it?

Or did you smile and relax deeper into your seat, thinking of the peaceful, joy-filled time of preparation and family that would soon be upon you?

If you’re in that second group, this post is not for you.

If, however, getting through the Christmas season is much like surviving final exam week, I have help. I have been where you are, but no longer! Christmas can be a time of peace. It can be a time of savoring the smells and tastes of the season, holding family members a little closer, and remembering the Savior born on Christmas day. It can be fun and fulfilling without being overly busy.

Make This Christmas Special by Making This Christmas Simple

I wrote a book to help you enjoy a more peaceful Christmas, to regain the joy of the season, to deal with gifts, family, food, fun without a heaping helping of angst. It’s called From Frazzled to Festive: Finding Joy and Meaning in a Simple Christmas.

My Christmases have been getting better and better as I’ve been implementing the principles I wrote about in the book. My children have been enjoying them more, also. Even so, every once in a while, I have to go back and reread a chapter or two to keep the calm in Christmas.

Don’t barely survive Christmas. Thrive! Savor it! Love it once again like you did as a child.

One reader wrote in saying that the principles in From Frazzled to Festive could be applied to many other areas of life as well. What an excellent thought–finding joy and meaning in a simple life!

If you want to regain the joy and meaning in a simple Christmas (and a simple life), do it! Refocus on what matters most. If you need help, my book is available right here.

Learn more about From Frazzled to Festive here.

Buy From Frazzled to Festive here.

Do your family a favor--simplify Christmas this year.

Chemistry 101 on the Road {Review}

In exchange for this review, The 101 Series gave us a copy of Chemistry 101. Some other members of the Homeschool Review Crew reviewed Physics 101 and Biology 101. You can learn all about what others had to say by clicking on this banner:

Physics, Chemistry & Biology 101 {The 101 Series}

What is The 101 Series?

I’m feeling very bullety, so I’m going to write almost everything with bullets. Yup, crazy fun.

  • high school science courses
  • video courses
  • one year long
  • Biblical world view
  • created by Westfield Studios and Wes Olson, a veteran filmmaker
  • include printables–quizzes and a guidebook
  • include printable PDF course accreditation program booklet


Physics, Chemistry & Biology 101 {The 101 Series}
What is Chemistry 101?

I’m done being bullety. I’m feeling prosaic now. Let’s use full paragraphs, shall we?

The Chemistry 101 class that The 101 Series sent us is a full year of high school chemistry on video from a Biblical perspective. (When I say video, I mean DVD. Let’s just accept that I’m olde.) It comes with four discs. The first three contain 19 video sessions running anywhere from 20-45 minutes. I know that sounds like a long time to listen to someone talk about chemistry, but this guy kept us glued and he also made us (okay me) laugh…a little too much for chemistry lessons. I got some stares.

Each lesson is expected to last you two weeks if you do “the works.” If you want to merely introduce your kids to chemistry and not do the labs, you will still learn! So, theoretically, you could finish this whole thing in a month if you’re using it as an overview or introducing your younger kids to it or refreshing your own olde brain…use your imagination.

The final disc includes printables, including quizzes/tests and a full one-year course book–“the works” I mentioned earlier. There is a booklet you can print for accreditation, if you’re concerned about that…which I’m not…but probably should be. Wink. Using the accreditation booklet and the included suggestions for additional learning and activities, this course stands alone as a one-year high school science course–a pretty big deal. Otherwise, you can use it as a supplement to something else you’re doing.

The final disc also includes a schedule. Sigh of relief! (This is where I interject something about not being a slave to a schedule, about using it as a spine–flexible, but supportive–and perhaps say something about the joy and freedom of year-round homeschooling…with breaks. Assume I said all that, ‘kay?)

This is a lab course, so if you do the lab work, it will count as your high school lab credit on your high school transcript. (Am I getting redundant here?) The labs mostly use common household items, so you won’t have to send your last paycheck off to deepest Peru for a rare monohaki. (I made that word up.) There is a list at the beginning of the accreditation booklet, so you can get all your goodies up front.

It’s pretty easy to work field trips into some of these lessons, but you’ll also get a pretty good edu-ma-cation sitting on your keister and watching the videos and eating popcorn.

Physics, Chemistry & Biology 101 {The 101 Series}
Chemistry 101 is broken down into four parts as follows:

  1. The Road to the Periodic Table–this starts 3000 years ago (get out your timeline books to make some amazing connections) with stories from history about how we began breaking components of our known world down into the periodic table of elements. Assures us that by the end of Chem 101, we’ll be chums with the PT–what it means, how to read it, and how to explain it to someone els.
  2. Chemistry Essentials–this portion digs deeper into the chemical world. You’ll even learn how to balance seemingly overwhelming but actually extremely comprehensible chemical equations. I geek out over this stuff…and I’m not a science person…or am I? 
  3. Meet the Elements: this is where you get to know every single element perfectly–have them over for dinner, learn their nicknames–it’s pretty cool. And, yes, get one of those laminated periodic table of the elements placemats from your favorite school store, because you’re going to want to memorize that baby! I mean, everyone loves memorizing the PToE, right?
  4. Future of Chemistry–this is about the future of chemistry. You’re welcome. Isn’t it fascinating that your CHEM101 class begins 3000 years ago and ends rather open-endedly in the future? It’s a history lesson and science study all in one. You will want to keep those timeline books handy!

Bible talk time:

You can tie this study into your Biblical studies a bit. Genesis 4 talks about Tubal-Cain, the craftsman in bronze and iron. Bronze is an alloy, so that required some extreme skill in extracting the necessary elements and creating the material he needed.

Our CHEM 101 instructor emphasizes how we stand on the shoulders of brilliant men that have gone before to reach the heights we have reached now. This is very important and humbling, particularly in a world where our elders are looked down on and we have come to think we “know it all.” What we know is only because it was revealed by God and discovered by others. We just build on it.

May I say that I love a science teacher who carries a pocket Bible. Science and Scripture are not incompatible. Science proves Scripture. Can I have an amen here…unless you’re German Lutheran, in which case a slight inclination of the head will do. Thank you.

May I also say that one of my new favorite people of all time is Robert Doyle. He is one of the greatest scientists ever, and, whoa, totally agrees with my last paragraph. Look him up.

Some concerns you might have:

While this is a high school course, your tagalong younglings are not going to be exposed to anything objectionable…unless you object to God as Master of the Universe. My 2nd grader watched it with us and did say, “Am I supposed to understand this stuff?” So, they might not “get it,” but they’re not going to see bad stuff.

The videos are not cheesy, B-rated, early Christian film type. They are well done…in my opinion. I really enjoyed watching them.

The labs mostly use common household items, so you won’t have to send your last paycheck off to deepest Peru for a rare monohaki. (I made that word up.) There is a list at the beginning of the accreditation booklet, so you can get all your goodies up front for each video segment. (I know I said this earlier, but I bet you skimmed and missed that part.)

Okay, in brief:

I laughed. I learned. I love this CHEM101 class. I also like saying CHEM101 out loud to my kids, because they’ve never gone to a real high school and maybe they think I’m cool with my code.

There is a potential con, depending on how good you are at steering around obstacles. You can read about it in the next section:

Additional Thoughts for my Fellow Roadschoolers

That con I mentioned…it’s this: the printing. Oh how I hate printing. But I need something in my hands. I like books, people. I don’t like finding trailer space for them, but I like them anyway. And for science, a subject I geek out about but really need to work hard at, a book is very important to me. Or so I thought.

Not having a book, surprisingly, doesn’t take away from the course. Strangely, for this subject, I find myself learning just as well with the video than I did with a book…maybe even better. (Sorry books–I still love you!)

And because this is a video course with all the material on tiny little discs, you don’t need shelf space! All you’re really printing and storing (or throwing away) is quizzes (or just do them out loud or straight from the screen like us) and the guidebook (or just glance at it on the disc now and then, like us).

So my one con (no book, some printing…that makes two cons) isn’t really a con if you’re good with oral quizzes or quizzes from a computer onto paper, and if you can learn through a video, which most of you should be able to do, because the instructor is great…and there’s a rewind button on your video machine.

If you can’t do a lab because, hey, you are on the road and life is not like life in a house and sometimes you can’t even make a pizza much less do a chemistry experiment, it’s okay. The labs are all shown on the video. The kids can still practice writing up lab reports. Just press pause during the experiment so they can make their hypotheses and then continue.

No internet connection, no shelf space, very little weight, no truly major supplies needed, four holders taken up in your DVD case…or shove them all in one (I’ve never squeezed in more than three…and we scratch discs up a lot…so never mind shoving them in together)–it’s a road-friendly upper level science course. There, that one last reason for not hitting the road is gone. Get on out there!

Learn what others have to say:

Remember, other Homeschool Review Crewers (I think I just made up another word) are looking at Chemistry 101 as well as Physics 101 and Biology 101, so check them out here, or visit The 101 Series’ social media links below. I really like this review of Chemistry 101 by a more normal homeschooler over at Unexpected Homeschool, so check it out, too, if you’re hunting for a chemistry course. Speaking of physics (and you’ll learn why this is physics and not chemistry in the course), I smell a stinky diaper. Outta here!

Social Media Links:

Twitter: @the101series


Crew Disclaimer

Let’s Talk About Diagramming {Review}

Take note, faithful readers: The Critical Thinking Co.™ gave us a free copy of Sentence Diagramming: Beginning in exchange for this review.

Before we get to the nitty-gritty, you must know that I am a big fan of The Critical Thinking Co. My kids have used some of their books from little on and really enjoyed them, although we never used their full programs…or anybody’s for that matter. They offer far more than we have tapped into. Many of the Homeschool Review Crew members are reviewing their other products, namely various aspects of their Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ preschool program, also available as a bundle “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ bundle.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
We have so many computer problems, that I opted to review a book–the kind you can hold in your hand and sniff and if you fall asleep and drool on it, it will still work in the morning. The rest of the Homeschool Review Crew isn’t as pathetically Olde School as I am. Find out what they have to say about the Before Kindergarten! program and others by clicking on the banner below:

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
Did you know I’m a geek?

I love diagramming sentences. I think there are, like three people in the world who will say that out loud. I’m one of them, and my daughter Marissa is another. I think the third might be Jan Karon. Maybe not. I haven’t asked her.

I was surprised when I learned that my oldest daughter doesn’t like diagramming. What?! I looked into this further, and it appears most people think diagramming is a chore, confusing, and a waste of time. Most of them had to begin it around fourth grade or earlier and then wade through it every year over and over again. I don’t teach like that.

I wait until the children are old enough to understand it and teach it once. Done. That way it isn’t too torturous, and if they like it they can get more in-depth.

By the way, diagramming is not a waste of time. It helps clarify sentence structure and proper word arrangement–in other words, it makes you a better communicator. Have you noticed lately that everyone is a “writer?” The excruciating blog posts and ebooks I’ve tried to read since self-publishing and blogging became the rage are screaming, “I never diagrammed in my life!” So, learn to diagram…then publish.

(You can become a good writer without diagramming, but it does help with communicating in your native language and with studying the grammatical structure of foreign languages.)


Let’s look at the book.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
Sentence Diagramming: Beginning is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a thin, 12-lesson workbook that teaches the basics of diagramming and, in the process, sentence structure. It carries the students from the basic simple sentence to diagramming sentences with compound predicate adjectives and nouns.

Say wha?!

Okay, the first sentence in the workbook section is “Cats purr.” The last sentence to be diagrammed is “The friendly waitress quickly delivered delicious chips, salsa, and guacamole.” Mmmm…salsa.

That’s how far this book will carry you…and the trip is very painless. The three working on it here are in 5th, 8th, and 10th grade, and they all enjoyed it. There was no pain. The older two finished or are almost finished, and the 5th grader is doing the prescribed lesson a week.

As an English major and a writer, do I feel this program takes full advantage of the benefits of diagramming? Yes and no.

It is, as the title says, a beginning diagramming book. Also available are levels 1 and 2. Being a grammar geek, I would love to check those two levels out as well, to assist young (and old) writers in better determining proper structure. For example, I can’t tell you how often I see something like this:

A box full of cute, wiggly kittens were under the Christmas tree!


Or this:

Running to the post office, my letter fell in the mud.

Oh, my aching head!

Or my personal favorite by the under-over-educated:

Talk to Jim or myself.

Excuse me while I gaze at this picture of a baby to calm my harried grammar senses.


I’m okay now…I think.

This beginning book will help you know that the BOX WAS under the tree, and that “full of cute, wiggly kittens” modifies “box.” This seemingly simple step becomes more complex the harder sentences get, but when you can see the logical breakdown of the sentence, as occurs in diagramming, you can easily define the subject and determine whether the verb should be singular or plural.

See? Diagramming matters! And this book will help you with that.

To know that the letter wasn’t running and that they should talk to Jim or me, not myself, you will need the next levels.

As a beginning diagramming book, I find it more than adequate! If you need to dig deeper (and please do), follow it up with the next book.

As much as I would like the English-speaking world to use proper grammar (and when I say proper, I’m not freaking out about little obscurities), what I hate is when parents or teachers (but especially parents) force-feed grammar down their kids’ throats. Use proper grammar to establish correct neuro-pathways in your children’s heads. Correct them on their pet grammar struggle (not when they’re telling you an exciting story or sharing a faith struggle) until it disappears and then move on to the next one. Use a gentle program like this one.

But please don’t force them to diagram sentences for hours every day if they just don’t get it! Wait a year or four. That’s why this beginning book is for grades 3-12+. Some of us were diagramming in the womb, but others struggle with it. Don’t force the issue if your child is not ready. A challenge is fine, a tear-riddled struggle that sucks the joy out of homeschooling…not in this “house.”

(In case you are feeling inferior because you weren’t born diagramming, I still forget my times tables and the only thing of worth I did in Calculus was write a poem about the uselessness of Calculus. Plus my husband doesn’t let me touch his electronics, because he wants them to live. And I burn things in the kitchen. And the extent of my fashion sense is choosing a collar that looks good on my cat. Yes, diagramming is my one skill.)


Diagramming is extremely valuable.

Get this book. Use it.

Two thumbs up. Eight, actually.

A note for my fellow roadschoolers:

I know I said I’m Olde School and I am not a fan of online learning because of our constant battle with computer problems and limited internet access. That said, books take up space–boo! Here’s how we solve that. When we finish a book, we eat it. Okay, that’s a lie, but if books were made of chocolate…

This beginning sentence diagramming book is significantly smaller than the big binder my two oldest students used back in their day. It’s thin, so no biggie as far as space is concerned.

While the book says it is reproducible, that means paper and printing, neither of which we’ve managed to handle gracefully in our lifestyle. Therefore, my kids wrote their work in a 25-cent spiral-bound notebook. Easy peasy. All my kids prefer writing in workbooks themselves, and, this being an affordable workbook, that’s a great way to go if your funds and space allow. The workbook doesn’t take up any more room than a spiral notebook, so space-wise, you’re nothing out if you give each child her own workbook instead of a notebook.

Also, because it’s for grades 3-12+, you can have one workbook that can be used for many students. We have three using it at once. One book, three kids…plus three notebooks. My son (10) diagrams in his math notebook, so that technically it’s one book, three kids, two notebooks.

Finally, use it quick, move it out. My girls took this twelve-week course and raced through it in 3-4 weeks, prioritizing it over other things. They learned the skills, finished it, and bumped the book down to take up space on someone else’s bunk.

By the way, Critical Thinking Co. also has an all-in-one language arts program for the early grades which I am highly tempted by. Others reviewed it, so click here to learn more about it.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
Social Media Links:



Crew Disclaimer

Don’t Just Block Internet Access–Hold Yourself (And Them) Accountable

Note: Accountable2You gave us a free year of their Family Plan in exchange for this review…which got a little longer than I had anticipated. Sorry ’bout that. If you want to read reviews from other members of the Homeschool Review Crew, which perhaps might be a little shorter and with fewer tears and less puppy talk, click on the banner below:

Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}

First, a little background…which most of you already know…and which is entirely relevant to this review, even though it doesn’t feel like it:

We have eight children. We also live in a travel trailer and tour the country full-time for our Christian music mission. (Learn more about that here and follow our travels here.)

I am a book NUT! Seriously, a NUT! And I used to be fairly anti-screen for my young crowd. That olde school combo meant books, books, and more books, and no unsupervised internet activity. That was back when we had a big house with closets and rooms bursting with books, and no teens yet, which made the “all books, limited screens” concept doable.

Life is a little different now. Exit house; enter 29-foot travel trailer. Towing a travel trailer around these United States means we only have so much room and so much weight allotment for books. And when I say “so much,” I really mean a ridiculously small amount. I’ll show you a picture of that someday, but first I have to cry.

I am getting to the point. Stick with me.

As my crowd grows older (and larger), and our ridiculously small amount of book space shrinks (or at least seems to shrink), we have had to rely on modern technology for our schooling needs far more often than I would like. That inevitably means computers, kindles, and smartphones, and that inevitably means more internet access and that inevitably results in less supervised internet access, because I’m only human. (My husband has a song about that–being “only human,” not unsupervised internet access.)

One of our new favorite homeschool writing programs and a free language guide just for you!

We have discussed internet safety with our kids, and the little ones have limited access. We use some blocking tools to keep the kids safe from those nasty images that pop up on the screen or from accidental search results. So the kids are relatively safe and the kids are relatively trained. We want them to be more than relatively safe and relatively trained.

Enter Accountable2You…stage left. (There really is no stage, so don’t get confused. I’m just waxing nostalgic about my old acting days.)

Accountable2You is an accountability service that holds you accountable. (Can you say, “Duh!”) What I like about accountability software is that, rather than making it impossible for, say, your 16-year-old to spend her math time hunting PetFinder for a golden retriever puppy up for adoption, it causes her to determine whether or not that is the best way to use her time. In other words, it teaches responsibility with accountability. I’m all about accountability…and responsibility.

How does it do this?

Accountable2You teaches responsibility by making my aforementioned 16-year-old daughter, for example, accountable for her actions. Everything she does online is reported to the accountability partner we set up who, in this case, is Steve (my man) and me. You can choose your own accountability partner because, no offense, I’m a little busy with my own accountability-ing.


Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}
You know the why of this sort of accountability software. Now the what:

Accountable2You offers four different plans:

Individual Plan:  Do you want to monitor only one person? Perhaps you spend too much time looking at cookie recipes or hunting for puppies when you should be writing reviews of accountability software. You need to be monitored. This plans for you. You can attach up to six devices.

Family Plan: This plan allows up to 20 devices, which is a lot of devices, even for my family! You can monitor several people, including those who may be boarding elsewhere. This plan also enables you to set hours for your kids, so you’re alerted if they’re doing a little after-hours puppy hunting.

Group Plan:  A group is…well…a group. You’re welcome for that explanation. Each person in the group can attach up to six devices. I did not review this plan, but from my understanding, the administrator does not receive user reports, so each family maintains its privacy. The reports are sent to the accountability partner the family chooses rather than the group administrator.

Small Business Plan:  Unlike the Group Plan, administrators of the small business plan receive reports on what their employees are up to during work hours. No puppy hunting on the clock, folks!

Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}
What exactly does accountability mean in this case:

I (because so far this hasn’t been beyond even my technical expertise) install the software on all devices I want monitored. It hasn’t been any more difficult than installing an app, so far. (Ignorance disclosure: I don’t know how to install apps on the KindleFire–I’m going to need help with that one, so I put it off.) If you can install, say, PacMan on your device, you can install Accountable2You…and then monitor how much you’ve been playing PacMan.

You select your accountability person. I selected myself, because I was a willing and enthusiastic volunteer. (I may have bribed myself with cookies a little…and the promise of a puppy.) You can select more than one person.

Then, customize your list of objectionable words. My husband would add “puppies” to my list, because he is under the delusion that we’re not getting one and thinks I’m wasting my time by looking for one–silly guy. Perhaps you want to add Minecraft, a teen idol, or diseases to your list if you have a hypochondriac in the house.

Set time limits for each device if you so choose. This is a great way for me personally to be more aware of how much time I spend online.

As the accountability masters, I or my husband receives  hourly reports as soon as something objectionable happens on a device. So within an hour of looking at that darling little golden retriever up up for adoption in Arizona, my husband was giving me the look.

I half-joke about puppies and cookies, but as you must be aware, pornography is a rampant problem that ensnares men and women at young ages. It is huge in the church also. If you know you are accountable to your mother and then your wife or husband for your behavior, won’t that affect what you look at? Won’t that remind you to mind your own behavior, because aren’t we ultimately accountable not only to ourselves and others, but to God? Yes. Yes, we are.

I don’t believe in raising our children (or ourselves) in a bubble, but I firmly believe in protecting them and teaching them to hold themselves accountable. Accountability doesn’t end in childhood. Personal accountability should be a way of life for adults as well–it isn’t, sadly, but it should be. Accountable2You is one tool in the arsenal of staying on the narrow road.

Check it out. I’m off to look at puppies. Don’t tell my husband…although he’ll know within an hour.


Crew Disclaimer

Achieving Spanish Fluency {Review}

Middlebury Interactive Languages gave my family free access to High School Spanish II Fluency for grades 9-12 in exchange for this review.

We are always on the lookout for the best way to learn Spanish more fluently as a family, besides moving to Mexico or, my personal favorite option, hiring a Spanish-speaking cook. We frequently are in areas where Spanish is pretty essential. In fact, we participate in Spanish services often enough in our mission travels to necessitate at least a working fluency in the language. You can’t get much beyond lunch with a vocabulary of “taco burrito fajita el pollo loco por favor y gracias.” Ever on the hunt, we gave Middlebury Interactive Languages a try.

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
Middlebury Interactive Languages is an online curriculum that uses a multi-faceted, immersion-like approach to teaching the following four languages:

They offer courses developed by experts in linguistics and academia (smart people) for elementary, middle school, and high school, including advanced placement. As I already said, (but maybe you weren’t listening because a bit of fluff flew in your ear), we are using High School Spanish II Fluency. If you would prefer information on one of these other languages or levels, feel free to click on the banner below and you’ll be whisked away to the Homeschool Review Crew’s numerous other reviews on these language courses. I believe the reviews are all written in English, so never fear if you’re still one-lingual…er, monolingual:

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
The Middlebury courses teach language and culture by incorporating reading, writing, speaking, and–the toughie for me–listening. This four-faceted approach enhances the learning experience and solidifies the language in the students’ heads…hopefully.

Each level is age-appropriate, with the earlier levels focusing more on vocabulary and growing in complexity as they advance. Makes sense, right? Many levels also have the option of teacher support.

The course we are following is specifically designed to increase communication skills and cultural understanding, as opposed to a strong grammar and usage focus on a scholastic level. This suits us, because of our Spanish exposure in the mission field as opposed to the academic world.

The fluency course involves quite a few real people–they’re only on the screen, so none of them will be coming over and eating your cookies. They are real teens telling you real things at, unfortunately for my ears, real speed.

Because my family has already studied Spanish for over a year, we are ready for level II at a grammatical and vocabulary level, even at a reading and writing level, but where we struggle is with the listening. When I speak Spanish with my kids, I’m not exactly Speedy Gonzalez. Listening to and watching videos of native speakers talking in Spanish is exactly the element our Spanish studies have been missing.

I was tempted to back up and take the second semester of Level I instead, but honestly, we know all that stuff already. What we really need is the hard stuff–comprehending the native speakers. So instead of backing up, we listen to the same videos over and over and over again until we could tell you exactly what Ana likes to do in her spare time and who Cristiano’s cousin is and who likes to play guitar and who likes volleyball. Ask us! We know.

The high school level is definitely challenging, but here’s the good news:
  1. We can do it, and if we can you can.
  2. You do not need to know Spanish (or any language) to use these courses.
  3. If you select the wrong course and aren’t able to keep up, talk to the folks at Middlebury about backing up. It is my understanding that they will help you find where you belong.
  4. The course is self-paced (within a total timeframe), so if you need to watch, for example, Ana’s video 75 times, you may and you can. You can also clear all the answers on your examinations and practice pages and do them again and again and again. That way, you can exercise your weak area and level out your skill set–that’s fancy talk for “get better at Spanish.”


Here’s my overall impression of this course:

I’m an old dog. Understanding Spanish speakers is a relatively new trick, something I’ve struggled with since I started studying languages decades ago. In fact, I pretty much bombed my oral French examination when I lived in England–writing: good, reading: fantastic, vocabulary: no problem, listening: fail! (Note to other French students: when the professor asks where you are from in the States and how long you have been studying in England, don’t tell him you like trees and horses and definitely don’t ask him if you can have bread and cheese for breakfast.)

In all my Spanish studies, the part that was seriously lacking was listening. This program is not as good as having an excellent Spanish-speaking cook move into the travel trailer with us, but it takes up a lot less space. In fact, it takes up no space at all. And it offers the one segment of language training that we are missing–listening. At the risk of sounding even more redundant, the repetitive listening has helped get a better feel for the sound of the language…although I wouldn’t cry if there were subtitles and I could cheat. That is the challenge with immersion courses–what on earth are you people telling me to do?!

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}

I had trouble figuring the course out at first from a technical level, and I don’t like that. The boxes on the left, the big screen on the right–it confused my Olde School Brain. But once I got rolling, I was A-okay. In fact, I like it. I like the gentle approach to useful grammar, the emphasis on listening, and the useable vocabulary. Most everything we’ve heard so far is something we would say in a legitimate conversation.

And here’s the ultimate compliment: we’re continuing with this course beyond the review period. We are going to finish as much of this course as we can in the next year. I doubt we will complete the whole 90 lessons, because we are slooooooow pokes. You, however, are probably a little speedier.

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
Three things for my fellow roadschoolers:

Uno: This program teaches fluency. That will be useful to you if you choose a language you need in an area you are traveling. The other programs deal more with academic language learning, and that’s great, too, but if you want to learn the culture and be able to chat over quesadillas, this is great!

Dos: This program takes up no space, because it is completely online.

Tres: This program needs a solid internet connection, which we didn’t have for a chunk of the review period, which is probably part of the reason we didn’t “get it” at first. For the more recent days when the connection is rapido, everything has run smoothly. Still, the amount of time we spend without a speedy connection affects our ability to use the program. Boo.

Do I still recommend it? Yes, I do, at least from what I’ve seen so far in our slow and unsteady approach in the high school fluency course.

Enough from me. Go visit Middlebury in the social realm on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest

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Online Christian Film Making Class {Review}

Please note: We were given twelve months of access to Online Christian Filmmakers Academy from Family Gravity Media, a division of Families For Christ Ministries, Inc., in exchange for this review.

In our biz (that’s the Christian music mission biz), a person needs to make videos…and ours stink. That is why we were excited to take film classes from Online Christian Filmmakers Academy.

Online Christian Filmmakers Academy {Family Gravity Media}
About the instructors:

The classes are taught by father-son duo Ken and Zack Lawrence. They have experience working in, oh, practically every aspect of filmmaking ever invented–okay, maybe not every aspect, but pretty close. Already, there are three points in their favor:

  1. Father-son team (I love it when parents work with their children instead of everyone going their separate ways…but I’m biased, since that’s what we do with our kids.)
  2. Christian
  3. Experienced in the filmmaking world, not just experienced at reading filmmaking books and teaching filmmaking classes.

About the program:

The program has five modules. Each one contains video lessons, (of course, duh, because it’s a video course), quizzes, docs, interviews, and templates. This is what you’ll be studying:

  1. The Camera–six lessons on how the bugger works, with an emphasis on using a DSLR…which we don’t have, so we’re working through this course with some cell phones and a cheapo video camera from an online Black Friday sale many years ago.
  2. Cinematography and Lighting–ten lessons about how to work with different lighting
  3. Sound–six lessons about sound. If you’ve ever recorded anything, you know the sound doesn’t always come through. That’s what the post production lessons are about.
  4. Pre-production–five lessons about prepping for your film. Don’t skip these steps!
  5. Production–six lessons about getting down and dirty on the set. This also includes a section on budgeting, which is crucial to bringing your film to life.

As the program grows, new content is added. In fact, the profs mention that they look different in various videos because they have updated some modules as needed. It’s nice to know they’re keeping up with technology, isn’t it?

About access:

You know what’s great? Anyone in your home can use the course for one fee. My older four girls are doing the course together (slowly–see below), and my ten-year-old is doing it on his own, since he isn’t part of the girls’ production studio. He’s not a girl, see. (I’m watching with everyone, whenever I can squeeze in close enough to see the screen.)

They have a full year to do it at whatever pace they want, whenever they want…or whenever I say Hey! Film class time!  Family learning at its finest.

Notes for my fellow roadschoolers:

This program absolutely 100 percent requires consistently good internet access, unless I’m an idiot, which is a possibility. It also requires a working computer–duh. We have been struggling with both lately, so class is slow moving. I know internet access is a struggle for many of you out there. Also, assembling a bunch of kids around a video on the computer is not possible at, say, the library–you need earphones or a place you can be loud.

Remember, though, you have a year to access the course. Surely during that time you’ll have a chance or several to find a good internet connection. Even if, you know, you’re fleeing from the remnants of a typhoon, like we did today, that doesn’t last forever. In a few days you’ll be someplace else, hopefully with time and access to learn how to do some post-production sound for that Fleeing the Typhoon video your kids just shot.

A discount:

The class is $299. The Lawrences have offered a $100 discount to you swell people (Swell!? Did I say swell?!) if you use the coupon code FALLCREW16 by November 30.

Read what other Homeschool Review Crew reviewers have to say by clicking on the banner below:

Online Christian Filmmakers Academy {Family Gravity Media}

Social Media Links:
Facebook page for the hands-on film camp:
Facebook page for the Online Christian Filmmakers Academy:


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Have You Tried Freezer Cooking? {Review}

Please note: MyFreezEasy gave us a free Freezer Meal Plan Membership for the purposes of this review. I told them all about our situation and how brutally honest I would have to be, but they gave it to us anyway. They’re either super brave, or they’re super confident about their subscription. Specifically, we are using the Premium Annual Membership. Also, this contains affiliate links (see my note at the bottom about becoming an affiliate after I reviewed the product and loved it).

If you’re a totally normal person, you might prefer to watch the video on the bottom of the FAQ Page or read what other reviewers have to say by clicking on this banner: Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
If, however, you are restrained by dietary issues, budgets tighter than my waistband on Thanksgiving, or a kitchen so small your kids think an apartment is a mansion, you’re in the right place.

First, a brief description:

MyFreezEasy is a menu planning subscription service that offers meal plans designed to be frozen for later.

Was that brief enough for you?

Now, some details:

There are a variety of different meal plan options, as you can see on this self-explanatory graphic below…which I will not explain: Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
Each meal plan gives you two each of five different meals, except, obviously, the 20-meal plan, which doubles it. You can do that math yourself if you don’t believe me. So, if you follow a meal plan exactly, you will end up with, for example, two chicken taco meals, two Italian chicken meals, two whatever-else-is-on-your-plan meals, for a total of 10. Get it?

The premium plan allows you to swap out meals, essentially building your own plan according to your needs. Of course, if you’re like me, and you subscribe to a meal plan because you don’t want to have to build your own plan, the many options above encompass quite a few needs and preferences. And the meal plans themselves offer gluten-free and dairy-free options to further meet your needs.

There are also a number of printables…like these: Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
That includes the following:

  • printable labels with directions on how to prep those beauties you just tucked into your freezer.
  • shopping lists arranged per recipe and per store section.
  • instructions for freezing the meal
  • instructions for making the meal right away (so you can make one and freeze one–you do need to eat on freezer cooking day after all)
  • prep instructions
  • assembly instructions by the recipe or everything at once

There is also a video for each of the meal plans.

Time for our limitations:

We have the following issues which make using a meal plan made by anybody but us difficult at best:

    1. We have a daughter with Crohn’s disease who is on a restricted diet, and no, that doesn’t just mean dairy-free or gluten-free, and no you don’t know what we’re going through just because you’re lactose intolerance or your cat has ulcerative colitis. (Did I just sound off? Sorry.)
    2. We are a family of 10. We eat more food than a family of four. You’re welcome for sharing that obviousness.
    3. We live in a travel trailer and have roughly 250 square feet.
    4. We cook with a single burner and have limited use of ovens and other modern conveniences.
    5. We live on a music missionary’s salary. (Just so you know, music missionaries don’t get a salary–we live off the donations of those who listen to our music and CD purchases.)
    6. Our freezer isn’t much taller than my head.
    7. We don’t really have good printer access.
    8. We don’t have good internet access.
    9. We have an eratic schedule and time constraints.

Want to know how MyFreezeEasy meals measured up?

Let’s tackle each issue one by one.

1. Restricted diet.

See that Clean Eating Plan? We used it. In September, it was great! Hannah can’t eat potatoes, so I cooked those separately, but otherwise we could all eat every meal exactly as written. Those of you who have to cook a variety of foods for a variety of conditions are in tears of joy with me right now, aren’t you?

In October, I was super excited to check out the Clean Eating plan, but alas, the spinach burgers had bread crumbs in–two cups! That ain’t clean eatin’ in our book, so I had to swap that out. Another recipe used taco seasoning and yet another used vinaigrette dressing. Because I don’t have any of those things on hand and can’t easily find them, I have to look up another recipe or (as I do) make something up. I was bummed to have to resort to that again.

That said, it wasn’t a huge deal, since I’m used to it. I still would have so much preferred they used real, clean ingredients instead of blends and bottles. With the premium membership, of course, you can swap out, but I don’t want to do that. I want to open, shop, prep, and cook. Probably not an issue for most of you. So, five stars in September, four in October.

2. Lots of mouths to feed.

The plans are adjustable. Feed as many or as few people as you want. I used the plans as written for four people and simply fed both bags of food to my hordes, with a few extra veggies, taters, or meat pieces.

3. Space.

Prepping really didn’t take up that much space. I had my chopper set up at the table and I worked at the counter in my “red zone.” (My red zone is where I work with raw meat. I set out a red cutting board and everyone knows the cooties will be flying in that space. All raw meat action happens on that cutting board. When I’m finished, I disinfect whatever I used.) It worked great.

What kind of chopper do I use, you ask? This kind:


An eight-year-old with a good knife and an even better attitude. Works for me! If you have a power chopper, it’s probably faster, but less fun.

4. Limited cooking appliances.

We did not cook all the meals exactly as we were instructed. If you’ve been living like us, however, and someone says roast this or grill that or bury this in the ground and unearth it three months later, you are accustomed to adapting. We popped things in the pressure cooker instead of a crock pot or oven and threw everything else in a pot o nthe burner. It worked.

Would it have been better roasted, for example, probably. Was it bad not roasted? Not at all.

5. Budget.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road and why I have never before told you guys to follow an already prescribed meal plan instead of making your own. I buy food that’s on sale and build my menu according to sales and what I already have on hand. Buying the food for the September meal plan was more expensive than my approach. Fact. For October, however, I switched things up a little and substituted meats and other ingredients based on sales. So, whereas the menu called for ground chicken, I found a good deal on ground beef, and whereas another recipe called for chicken breasts, I found manager’s special beef steaks for less. So, I swapped out.

Plus, MyFreezEasy offers three plans based on whatever’s on sale–the chicken, beef, and pork plans. That right there is going to save you a lot of money, since you probably have many or most of the other ingredients in your pantry already–there’s nothing out of the ordinary on these plans, no squid eyeball ink. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

6. Freezer space.

I told you my freezer isn’t much taller than my head. See:


Okay, so that picture is from the outside of the freezer. The inside is much, much smaller. I didn’t show you the inside, because I’m embarrassed by the sheer quantity of frozen chocolate in there. Mmmmm…chocolate. (As an aside, this is Hannah’s homemade chocolate–so good! No sugar. Yum!) It also contains frozen veggies and fruit, which takes up pretty much all the space. So, with the chocolate and produce, there isn’t a ton of room for freezer meals.

That is a problem that’s hard to work around. Fortunately, because we used two bags as one meal instead of two, we were able to store some in the freezer and some in the fridge (why does that word have a “d” in it?). We ate the fridge meals first.

Also, lucky us, our refrigerator freezes things during some times of the year, so, like lettuce becomes frozen lettuce sludge in twelve hours. That comes in handy when storing freezer meals in the fridge.

Finally, the meals in the bags take up less space than the ingredients in their separate packaging. If you get on the stick and prep the meals right away, you don’t need room to store all that meat, and that provides more room in the fridge and freezer.

7. Printer

We didn’t print. It still worked fine. Between my Sharpie marker and my sharp memory, it was just fine. (I don’t have a sharp memory. That was a leeeeetle joke. A very leeeetle joke.)

8. Internet access.

Again, this is as sketchy as my memory, so watching the videos was not always possible. Who cares! I did it without the videos. No problem!

9. Time

We are busy. We never know when we’ll be called on to be somewhere that isn’t “home” and how long arriving at our next destination will really take, since Google doesn’t know everything. Still, it took only an hour to bag these meals, and a few minutes to throw them in the pots. No biggie!

Having the shopping list ready made shopping a breeze.

Now the big question:

How was the food?

If you’re not already cooking for your family, they are going to be blown away. If you are, you might find a few meals that will be bumped into family favorites or a regular rotation–it really depends on the family preferences and the meals.

My family enjoyed all the meals (even the lentil stew I accidentally made with unlabeled split-peas, since neither my marker nor my mind were on duty the day I repackaged those). Okay, so my hubby doesn’t eat lentils, but the rest of us were good! There is one from the first month that I will be making again, and we haven’t eaten the second month’s stash yet.

My one gripe:

As you know, my one gripe is the three processed ingredients in the Clean Eating plan. If you have a source for safe processed ingredients, you’re good, but in my experience those are more expensive, so we make them ourselves. Having the single ingredients listed instead of, say, vinaigrette or taco seasoning, would make this gripe vanish like Hannah’s chocolate!

Still, five stars!

You know something–this link right here is an affiliate link to join MyFreezEasy. You know something else–I didn’t hunt down an affiliate link until after I had published this post. In other words, I like it, I want to promote it, so I found an affiliate link for it, not the other way around where people promote it whether they like it or not.

I’m outta here! Happy eats!








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