Monday, October 31, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Christmas Lodge

Recently, when offered a chance to review Christmas Lodge, I noticed that it starred Michael Shanks and jumped at the chance.  I thought my family would be interested in viewing this movie, and a family-friendly modern Christmas story sounded wonderful.

My family balked.  "It's October!" they insisted.  "We don't want to watch a Christmas movie.  Ask again in six weeks."

Some people just don't understand.  Doing this as a review means that we have the opportunity to watch it, so that I can talk about it with enough time for other people to get it for that "perfect" time.

So... I watched alone.  Which means you are stuck with only my opinions.  So first, let me tell you what the publisher says:
Thomas Kinkade presents Christmas Lodge: a place where a heart-warming past and loving future meet for one remarkable group of people. During a weekend trip to the mountains, Mary (Erin Karpluk) finds herself at the now- dilapidated lodge where she spent the holidays with her family growing up. She becomes determined to restore the building to its former glory. Inspired by her grandfather and guided by her grandmother in heaven, Mary throws herself into the project, and during the process finds herself drawn to Jack (Michael Shanks), a handsome man who loves the lodge as much as she does. Historically unlucky in love, this chance encounter allows Mary to renew her faith in life and discover her one true love. For an uplifting story about the importance of faith, family and the true holiday spirit, go to the Christmas Lodge.
What did I think?  The movie was a bit on the hokey side, with much of the basic plot being fairly predictable.  But I still enjoyed it.  It is absolutely Christian family-friendly.  A few things that stand out:
  • there is ONE romantic kiss in the entire movie.  So almost no "Do we have to see the kissing part?" comments are even possible.
  • when the boyfriend-girlfriend go away for the weekend, it is clear that they have separate rooms at the hotel.
  • there was not a single scene in the movie where I would have to tell my kids to cover their eyes.  Not one.
  • characters actually talk not only about faith and God, but about Jesus.
  • Mary and Mr. Wrong are dating.  But with Mr. Right, the word used is "courting."  I don't know where I really stand on the dating vs. courtship issue, but I still loved the contrast here.
  • the characters weren't all drop-dead gorgeous.  Most seemed fairly real in appearance.
  • Michael Shanks is incredibly convincing in his role
The downsides?  For the most part, only the two main characters (Mary and Jack) are really well-developed.  Some of the other people have moments... but they are just written as pretty flat characters.  Some of the plot developments required a LOT of suspension of disbelief. 

Still, the message... faith, family, tradition... it makes for a very nice Christmas flick.  It won't replace It's a Wonderful Life as my favorite Christmas movie... but I can certainly see watching it every December.

And I get to give one away!  Giveaway ends at midnight (Eastern) on 11/8.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services
mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I
only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255:
"Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I need some recipe ideas!

Okay, so for various reasons, the plan for the next couple of months is to go totally minimalist on grocery shopping, and to make use of some of the things in our pantry that we have in excessive quantities.

I would love some ideas.
  • Tomato Soup.  We have the heat and serve type, not condensed.  I love soup... but I have never liked tomato soup.  I'm cooking up a crockpot porkchop thing right now, that hopefully will be edible.  But I need other ideas.
  • Tomato Juice.  I've started using it instead of water in a lot of things... but there HAS to be something else I can do with it.
  • Canned corn.  I have lots of things I do with it... but we have SO MUCH right now.  I'd love additional ideas.
  • Cheddar Cheese Soup.  Again, this just isn't something I can eat as soup.  And for whatever reason, everything I try to make with it tastes funny.
Other things I have a lot of, just fyi.  So you get bonus points for making suggestions that use the above stuff and some of these things.  And no, those bonus points don't have any monetary value:
  • Potatoes.  I have lots and lots of potatoes.
  • Rice.  Oh, yeah, lots of this around too.
  • Dried beans -- particularly great northern and pinto, but have at least some of quite a few other kinds too.
  • Broccoli.  Frozen.  I have no idea how I accumulated so much broccoli.
So... any tried and true ideas for me?  Anyone?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bountiful Baskets: October 29

Bountiful Baskets time again!

Last time (October 15), I didn't get to post about it.  Dale went into town and picked up the basket, but I was in Minnesota.  So I didn't get pictures or anything fun.  I don't even know for sure what all was in it.  Bosc pears, avocados, some tomatoes...  but otherwise, who knows.

Anyway, this was my first time picking up at the new location in Falcon.  5:00 a.m. for volunteers, uff dah!  That meant my alarm went off at 3:45.  But it was worth it.  I got an extra bag of grapes for volunteering, which is awesome.  Didn't put that in the photo below.

I got one basket, plus a box of Fuji apples and a box of Roma tomatoes.  Here is a photo of my basket:

Contents include:
  • 2 heads of Romaine (I think) lettuce
  • 1 head of green cabbage
  • 1 huge bag of green beans
  • 2 English cucumbers
  • 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 2 avocados
  • 3 bananas
  • 1 pound container of strawberries
  • 2 bags of black seedless grapes
  • 3 kiwi
  • 4 Gala apples
  • 3 pomegranates
I am too tired right now to have any major plans for all of this...

The big box of Roma tomatoes is going to be turned into salsa and tomato sauce.  Some of the apples are going to be frozen for pies, and some undoubtedly turned into apple sauce.  But mostly they'll be eaten.

The other fruit (bananas, strawberries, grapes, kiwi) will just get eaten.  Mmmm.  There is lettuce enough for salads a couple days this week.  And beans enough to have those a couple days too.

I'm going to freeze the avocados.  I still have two around from two weeks ago... and guacamole in the fridge.

The stuff I still need to figure out is the cabbage and cucumbers.  I'm sure I'll come up with something.  But right now, I don't know what.  Oh, and the pomegranates.  Nobody here likes eating them plain.  I'll probably use one on a salad.  But I'll have to research things to do with the others...

I love my new location though.  So much closer, even if I have to get up even earlier for it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Review: Excellence in Literature

A couple of years ago, I was looking for something for junior high literature.  I looked, and I looked, and I looked... and nothing really made me light up and say "YES!  That's what I want!"

Until one day I was fantasizing about some writing programs from IEW, and I ran across Excellence in Literature there.  Watching the video catalog, with Andrew Pudewa talking about why he likes the American and British Literature offerings totally and completely sold me on the entire series.  (The video is available here.)
The only problem was that the program is meant to be a five-year one, starting in 8th grade, and I was looking for something for my 7th grader.  So I found something to do that year, and into 8th grade, and about a year ago, I purchased English I from Everyday Education
Okay, so a break from the story here to tell you a bit about Connor.  When he was two, he had a vocabulary of maybe a dozen words.  Maybe.  But he would line up toys in groups of two, or groups of three, and blather on in gibberish... and it was *clear* that he was working out mathematical principles in his head.

That two year old, now a teen, hasn't changed a lot.  Everything language arts related has been a struggle, with him not learning to read on a typical schedule, spelling still being an issue, and writing too.  Once he "gets it" he has it... but I ought to have known that college prep lit study was going to be too much for him in 8th grade.
I took one look (okay, a lot of long looks) and determined we were going to spend the rest of 8th grade preparing to use this as a 9th grade program.  So we used Teaching the Classics (something Janice Campbell recommends using prior to or concurrently with EIL), and we continued to work through IEW's Student Writing Intensive.

So for ninth grade, we have started with English I: Introduction to Literature.  And I absolutely love it.  My plan was to start at the beginning of English I and just keep on working straight through.  And I'm making it at least semi-honors.  Well... let me stop and explain the program a bit.

Excellence in Literature is a non-consumable product (I love that) written by Janice Campbell.  Classic literature is studied throughout, with nine units per level, intended to take four weeks each.  Each unit (with a couple of exceptions) has the student studying a single work, but also learning about the author, and the time period the author is from.  That background information includes things like music, art, poetry, history, social conditions, and so on.  The student might also be given contextual information on the time period being written about.  Each unit also has the student doing some significant writing, generally a fairly easy assignment and an essay.  The honors track has the student reading an additional, related work (sometimes two) and doing additional writing.

The text is written to the student, and while the assignments are broken up by week, the students are told that they will need to manage their time and figure how much to read each day, or how to schedule the writing.

You can get an overview of the program and a complete booklist for all five years here.  Just reading the booklist would have been enough to make me fall in love with this program (but all the levels weren't written when I discovered it!)  One thing I particularly love is that the literature is boy-friendly.  Yes, there are still titles like Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre.  But that is about it for "girly" units.  Three out of forty-five.  It's not that my boys have a problem reading "girl" books -- but it is so nice to see titles like Treasure Island and The Count of Monte Cristo.  Most literature programs seem to be so heavy on books that appeal mostly to girls.

Okay... so back to what we are doing.  Since I am starting in 9th grade, I only have four years to use this with Connor.  I'm fairly certain the same will be true for my next two students, as I really don't anticipate them being ready for this as 8th graders. 

Connor is totally able to handle the reading level, but the writing is a bit challenging.  So instead of doing this at the "honors" level in the way Janice recommends, we have reached a happy medium.  Right now, we are in Unit 3.  My expectation is that Connor will read/listen/view many of the context resources on Mark Twain.  He will read both A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (the regular text) and The Prince and the Pauper (the honors text).  And he will write the 500 word essay, though we do the IEW thing and figure out paragraphs rather than counting words.  He will discuss the honors text with me, but I have no expectations of him doing any writing on it.

The essay question for unit 3, just so you have an idea, is:
Although this book is a humorous time-travel story, Twain addresses a number of serious social issues through the Connecticut Yankee's experiences. Consider how Hank Morgan's story expresses Twain's views on monarchy versus democracy, slavery and/or serfdom, or technology versus tradition. Choose one of these issues and show how Twain used Morgan's experiences to express his views and how these views reflect the values of America during his time.
Can I point something out here?  I took honor's English all through high school.  I had a perfect score on the AP exam, which gave me 9 college credits in composition and literature.  I never once, even in my senior year AP English course, had to write a paper that required that depth of thought.  Not once. 

Now, at first glance, my thoughts are... "Connor can't do that!"  But you know what?  The first unit of English 1 (on short stories) really walked us (I needed it too!) through how to think about literature, and how to write some of this out.  The second unit (on Around the World in Eighty Days... a book Connor loves) also helped ease him into this level of writing.

He isn't done with unit three yet... but I have no doubts that he will turn in an adequate paper, which is all I'm expecting right now.  With practice, I expect that by next year, he will be doing far better.  He will easily be writing more concise and thoughtful essays at the end of high school than I ever did.

The other thing we plan is that for some units, we will move faster.  Like the next one... on Jane Eyre.  My plan for that one, to be honest, is that he will spend a week reading the context resources and the discussion in this text.  Then we are going to watch the movie and discuss some of the issues Janice brings up.  And we will move on to Unit 5.  It isn't that I don't think Jane Eyre is important (though I've never read it!), but we have to skip some, or make him spend an extra year in high school.  So this is one we are mostly skipping.

This jumping around and using the units out of order does mean that I will need to be purchasing the second level soon.  Not what I budgeted for this year, but we will make it work.

For my future high school students, I will plan to start with Introduction to Literature also, doing the first four units in order (and skipping through Jane Eyre as well... though maybe I'll make Trina read it!) and that would be my recommendation for others as well.  I think it would be really hard for most students to jump into this program in the middle somewhere.  But after you work through the first couple units, I do believe you can skip around and do the units you want.

Speaking of my future students... one thing I adore about Janice and the EIL program is that she encourages students to do things like listen to audiobooks (and actually links to some on librivox) and watch the movie versions.  I would have my struggling readers use audio as much as possible anyway... but the fact that she makes us all feel like that isn't "cheating" makes me that much more excited about this program.  While this is a rigorous college-prep program, I think it is achievable for average students with some extra coaching from an adult.  That excites me.  A lot.

I think Excellence in Literature is beyond amazing for the bright, advanced high school student.  I think it is fabulous for the average student.  And I think with some adjustment, it can be great for the student who struggles in language arts as well.

These books are available as a download for $27 with no shipping.  This is what I chose.  I love it, because I have the text on my computer for easy reference whenever I need it.  And Connor has the text on the iPad.  Both of us can easily click the links for context information.  We don't have to type anything.  And we can't lose it.  We do occasionally print a page or two out, but mostly we use it electronically.  (I did verify with Janice that we aren't violating copyright by having it on different devices within our family!)

If you love print, you can purchase it that way for $29 plus shipping.

Or (and I wish this option had been available when I first purchased!) you can get all five levels at once.  $135 for ebooks, $139 for print.

While you are visiting the Everyday Education site, you also need to check out the TimeFrame Timeline.  This is the first timeline Connor has ever been willing to do.  We love it.

You can read what other TOS Crew Members have to say about this program here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew leadership, I chose to review this product that I already owned. I was not required to write a review. All opinions are my own.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Review: Refuge on Crescent Hill

Today I'm excited to be talking about the latest book I stayed up all night (okay, until 3:15 a.m.) to read.  Refuge on Crescent Hill by Melanie Dobson, turned out to be a real page-turner.  Classified by Kregel Publications as "suspense," I found I really couldn't argue with that label.

This book was a bit of a change of pace for me.  I've tended to read more historical fiction or period-romances lately.  This one takes place in current times, and while it involves some romance... there is a lot more besides.

Let's take a closer look at how the publisher described this book:
Moving home after a recent job loss was supposed to reassure Camden Bristow but what she finds is an empty mansion 150 years old. What happened to the house she played in as a child, the bedtime stories that told of secret passageways and runaway slaves, and all those family memories?

When antiques start disappearing and footsteps are heard, Camden wonders what really happened here . . . at Crescent Hill? Who still has access to the house? And for what purpose? As she works to uncover the past and present mysteries harbored in her home, Camden also uncovers secrets about her family that could change the town--and her life--forever.
My thoughts?

It took me a bit at the beginning to sort out who the characters were.  That was okay, mind you.  It was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle.  Three of the four main characters you follow were fairly easy to piece together.  They were edge pieces, and while you didn't know exactly how they fit, you at least knew where they belonged.  In this case, the town where Crescent Hill is located.  A fourth character, though, was one of those nondescript middle pieces.  Clearly, she was part of the story, because you turned the page and there she was.  But initially, everything about her just seemed like part of a totally different novel.  Still, you knew she had to fit somewhere...

It was fun to see how the pieces came together.  There were absolutely some plot twists and turns that I didn't expect, and a number of plot twists that were not unexpected.  It is always fun in a suspense book when you can figure out some things before the characters do.  It is also fun to have something take you completely off-guard.

This novel had plenty of both -- things you could see coming a mile off, and things that totally blindsided you.  The best part, for me, is that although set in modern day Ohio, the story incorporates a historical fiction feel, as characters research the past, particularly pertaining to the Underground Railroad.

I enjoyed this book.  And you can too... if you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app, this ebook is going to be available for FREE at Amazon for one week starting on Monday the 31st.  I would definitely recommend checking it out at that price!

Disclaimer:  I received this book through Kregel Blog Tours.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Reading Aloud Challenge: October 27

I've been horrible.  I have to apologize and beg for forgiveness.  I keep promising that I'll get to everyone's posts... and for the past two weeks, I have not done that.  The traveling was stressful, and getting home has been too.

I am going to catch up... and keep up.  No travels planned.

And, unfortunately, I really don't have a lot to report this week.  But I'm posting anyway.  I have to.

The Railway Children.  We listened to about half of this.  What a fun book.  I've never read it, although I think we actually own the book.

Peace Child.  This is part of Sonlight Core 100, which no longer does "read-alouds" as such.  However, I think that reading aloud is terribly important for teens too, not just pre-high school kids.  And there are some of these books that I really need to read in order to discuss them.  Peace Child seemed like one of those titles.

And yes, I was right.

One thing I decided is that for the most part, the Core 100 read-alouds that I do are going to be just me and Connor.  Very good decision in the case of this book.  Treachery, cannibalism, revenge... and this is a true story.  <shudder>

And yes, that about covers it.  Okay, so there were some picture books.  But that's it.

Plans for this coming week? Finish The Railway Children.  Continue Peace Child with Connor.  With William and Thomas (and probably the little two), I'll be starting Hittite Warrior.  And we'll probably start Heidi for the little two.

How did your week go?  Sign the linky to link up your reading aloud post and I'll come visit your post, sometime. I will.

To see my first post when this turned into a linky thing, check here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Book Review: The Wonder of Your Love

Once upon a time, I reviewed Seek Me With All Your Heart, by Beth Wiseman.  I enjoyed that book, particularly as it is set in Colorado.  So when the opportunity came to review the second book in the Land of Canaan series, The Wonder of Your Love, I immediately signed on.  Good decision.  I enjoyed this book more than the first.

From the publisher:
Katie Ann lost the love of her life. Then God offers her a new beginning in Colorado.

Katie Ann Stolzfus lives in the small Amish community of Canaan, Colorado. At forty she is widowed and raising her first child. But baby Jonas will never know his father, and Katie Ann wonders if her Heavenly Father hasn't forgotten about her as well. Is it really God's plan for her to be a single parent?

Eli Detweiler has come to Canaan for a wedding and a long vacation. Having raised six children following the death of his young wife, Eli is finally an empty-nester. He's enjoying the slower pace of having no one to care for but himself.

When Katie Ann and Eli meet, there is an instant connection. Yet as strong as the attraction is, they both acknowledge that a romance would never work. He is done parenting, while she has just begun.

But as their friendship slowly blossoms into feelings that are as frightening as they are intoxicating, Katie Ann and Eli question if the plans they made for themselves are in line with God's plans.

Can Katie Ann entrust her heart to another man, and rediscover the wonder of God's love?
My take?  Well, first off... I read the book straight through without setting it down once.  That's always the sign of a good book!

Wiseman does an amazing job of painting the setting, and of bringing the characters to life.  It probably helps that I had read the first book -- so some of the characters were already familiar to me.  That being said, this is certainly a book that you could pick up without having read the first one.  You'd miss a couple things here and there, but you wouldn't know you were missing anything!

I enjoyed the romance between these "old" folks... almost every Amish fiction title I've ever read involves romance between teens.  Someone a bit closer to my age was a nice change of pace.  And like in the first book, it was great reading a book set in Colorado.

Speaking of Colorado, there was a line in the book that described our weather so incredibly perfectly.  I read it aloud to my husband, and he agreed. I'll quote the entire paragraph, to give you a bit of context. 
"I'll be right back."  She buttoned her long black coat and stepped outside, expecting a burst of cool air, but just in the hour since she'd been at Lillian's, the sun had peeked over the mountains and tricked their part of the world into thinking it was warmer than it really was. (Italics are mine)
Perfect description of winter here.  Just perfect.

The plot did involve a couple of twists and turns that I did not anticipate, which is always nice.  Basically, this is a pleasant read that left me thinking a little bit about my plans vs. God's plans, all without preaching at me.

You can go read other opinions on this book at the LitFuse blog tour page.

Beth is celebrating the release of Book 2 in the Land of Canaan series with a Fabulous Facebook party on November 1st. She'll be giving away one of her OWN paintings, several mini prize packs and a sneak peak at the next book in this heartwarming series.

CLICK the button (below) to RSVP for the party - then join us on November 1st for a book chat, Amish themed trivia contest, and more!

The Wonder of Your Love Facebook Party on 11/1!

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Lots & Lots of Fire Trucks

When Marshall Publishing came up as a TOS Crew Vendor, I was really excited to be able to get a DVD and book set on Fire Trucks.

I mean, doesn't that just look fun???

I don't think the DVD had been in our house even ten minutes when we popped it in for the first time.  Trina (kindergarten) and Richard (2nd grade) loved it.  My 7th and 9th graders pretty much just rolled their eyes (but admitted that there was some good information included).  My 5th grader?  He enjoyed it too, but kept trying to not look like it.  I should have let him watch it that first time without his big brothers around.

I plan to use parts of this DVD with Richard's Cub Scout den.  Most years in Cub Scouts there are requirements related to fire safety.  Some of these DVD segments would be fabulous with the den, depending on what specifically they are covering that year.  Call 911, or Stop Drop & Roll, or the section on Your Home Safety Plan...

Of course, my little kids loved seeing all the different fire trucks go zooming by.  And Richard is able to sing along to almost everything.... "I see lots and lots of fire trucks, I can see those big engines roarin' down the street..."

Richard's favorite segment is the one where they build a Firetruck.  I'll confess I think that one is pretty cool too.

I loved a couple of things about this:
  • seeing firefighters suited up in all their gear, 
  • seeing firefighters at work in a huge variety of settings, fighting fires in houses (including breaking out the windows, or chopping through the roof), other buildings, car wrecks, forest fires, etc.
  • hearing some of the fire safety "stuff" from someone other than me

The book is even better.  An 8.5x11" sized paperback, it is 124 photo-packed pages and is simply amazing.

The book starts off with an introduction to Firefighter Joe, and launches into a set of pictures of the personal gear that Firefighter Joe needs to put on.  For Trina, I skim the text and make a comment or two about the picture.  Richard clearly remembers visiting a fire station last year and watching a couple new firefighters being drilled/timed in getting ready, so he wanted me to read everything to him.

Even my older boys got into this book... my two struggling readers were drawn in by the photos, and the text wasn't overwhelming, so they were willing to work at reading some of it.  My 9th grader found it informative as well.

I'd say this book would be fantastic for pretty much anyone of any age if they are interested in fire trucks and/or fire fighting.  It would make a great spine for a couple weeks of fire safety and awareness as well.

Consisting of twenty chapters in all, some are not going to especially appeal to younger kids.  And a couple are more like appendices (Fire House Museums, Fire Related Websites).  But overall, there is such great information in this book.  The chapter on fires in history and the timeline were a big hit with my high schooler.  The chapter on Firehouse Recipes appealed to my 7th grader.  My 5th grader liked the Fire Science Basics (the older two felt they already knew all that).  Richard loved all the pictures of the trucks and the gear.  Trina liked the part about the Firehouse Dogs.  Everyone liked the Fireman's prayer.

Available at a web sale price of $29.95, you can get an additional $10 off that price by entering the code TOSF1 at checkout.  The book and DVD are also available separately, but with this coupon you may as well get the set!  You can also look into some of their other titles, such as the two Lots and Lots of Fire Trucks DVDs, or DVDs about trucks, jets or trains. 

I also had the honor of reviewing George Washington Carver, a DVD from Marshall Publishing.  You can read about that here.

You can read what other TOS Crew Members have to say about this DVD or one about George Washington Carver here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive products from Marshall Publishing in exchange for my review of the product.  All opinions are my own, and receiving complimentary products does not factor in to my opinions.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Review: George Washington Carver

When Marshall Publishing came up as a TOS Crew Vendor, we were told we had to choose which of two products we were more interested in.  We ended up choosing a Fire Trucks Book & DVD set, as that seemed that it would get the most use over the next few years of scouting.  My review of that is coming.

However, we were blessed when Marshall Publishing messed up and also sent us the George Washington Carver DVD --- the one we hadn't chosen.  Since we enjoyed it so much, I decided to write up a separate review, which hopefully at least makes up a little for their added expenses.

This 30 minute DVD chronicles the highlights of the life of a pretty amazing man, and my three bigger boys (5th, 7th and 9th grades) settled in to watch.

All three thought this was a fantastic DVD.  Although we have learned a bit about Carver in the past, this presentation was a fabulous overview and everyone felt that they had learned something (me included).  And the photography is beautiful.

The website also includes what they call a study guide.  You can view that on the product page linked above (or by clicking the DVD cover).  That includes a text biography which does include some information not on the DVD.  There are also a dozen questions, including some fact-based ones and also some that call for speculation ("Carver had planned to stay at Tuskegee 3 or 4 years. Why do you suppose he stayed the rest of his life?")

This is a DVD we will pull out and watch again as we go over this time period in US history... and who knows, maybe we'll plan to pull it out every year on January 5 -- George Washington Carver Recognition Day.

The website lists this as being for grades 4 through adult, and I would concur. There is nothing in the DVD that is inappropriate for younger viewers, but the presentation is a little dry for them.

Available at a web sale price of $19.95, you can get a 15% discount by using the code TOSC1 at checkout.  You can also look into some of their other DVD titles, such as one about the history of the Mississippi River or one about Lincoln at Gettysburg.

You can read what other TOS Crew Members have to say about this DVD and a Fire Trucks/Fire Safety DVD/Book set here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive products from Marshall Publishing in exchange for my review of the product.  All opinions are my own, and receiving complimentary products does not factor in to my opinions.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: Baby, It's Cold Outside

It's time for another LitFuse Blog Tour of the newest book by Susan May Warren.  I jump at any opportunity to review one of her books, and Baby, It's Cold Outside did not disappoint.  Since this one is set in Minnesota, it included ALL the elements I have come to expect in one of her titles -- touches of "home," complex not-perfect characters that truly seem real, multi-layered plots, fabulous attention to detail that paints vivid pictures, and historical detail that at least feels accurate (I did NOT go looking up the prices of Cornish game hens in 1949 or anything!)

From the publisher:
Hope finds the hopeless when a storm hits.

It's Christmas weekend 1949, and despite the threat of a storm, the townspeople of Frost are determined to continue their holiday traditions, if only as a means to forget the war that they had all just suffered through. But the suffering hasn't ended for Dottie Morgan who lost her only son in the war. She's preparing to wallow in her isolation for the weekend, when Violet, nearly a spinster at age 29, dares to make a request that will force Dottie to publicly revive the memory of her dead son.

When a storm traps the two women at home with a strange young man who has an unbelievable confession and a neighbor with more to do with Violet's past than she would like, no one can predict how this Christmas will give them all a second chance.
I opened the book, figuring I could read the first couple of chapters and then head to bed.  I ought to know better.  As always, Warren's characters grab me from the opening pages.  I was hooked, and stayed up until the book was finished.  I'm pretty sure I've said something similar about nearly every title of Warren's that I have read. 

What I love about this book:
  • As always, Warren nails "Minnesotan" which undoubtedly helps me to feel like I know these characters.
  • I love historical fiction that actually teaches me something or gives me more insight.  Her books always do.
  • I like characters that make mistakes and have flaws.  
  • I love Christian fiction that doesn't preach.
  • And this is a Christmas story.  A great Christmas story.  It would make a fabulous made-for-tv or made-for-DVD movie...
You can see what others had to say by visiting the Baby, It's Cold Outside blog tour page.

Warm up with a Kindle Fire from Susan May Warren

Warm up to Chrismtas early this year with Susan May Warren's Baby, It's Cold Outside! To celebrate the release of her new Christmas book with Summerside Press, she and the publisher are giving away a Kindle Fire and hosting an early Christmas Party on Facebook!

One festive winner will receive:
  • A brand new Kindle Fire
  • Baby, It's Cold Outside by Susan May Warren
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. Giveaway ends on 10/26!

But, wait there’s more! Join Susan May Warren on 10/27 for merriment and a few early Christmas presents at her Baby, It's Cold Outside Christmas party! Grab your Christmas sweaters, socks and pj’s and join Susan and a few friends for a fireside chat about her recent books (Heiress & Baby, It’s Cold Outside), holiday traditions, favorite Christmas recipes, a trivia contest and more! Invite your friends and don’t miss the fun!

RSVP here and we'll see you on October 27th at 5 PM PST / 8 PM EST!

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

Disclaimer:  I received this book through LitFuse.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.   

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Book Review: Begin

I know when giving new believer's a Bible, quite often what will happen is that they will be handed a New Testament only (and John and Romans are usually suggested) or some will hand out something that is simply the Gospel of John.

That has always seemed like a reasonable place to start... but it is not something I've ever done.  It seems to me like you need some context.  But then handing out a whole Bible can seem a bit intimidating.

Well, Begin gives another alternative.  This fairly thin paperback includes the entire text of John and Romans, but it puts those in context. 

The Bible text includes Genesis 1-11, Exodus 20:1-17 (Ten Commandments), then John and Romans, and finally Revelation 21-22.

The Bible text portion also includes one little shaded box per page of either some background fact, cross-references, or a question.  For example:
Fact:  The Pharisees were a specific group of Jews.  The Saducees were, too.  Each of these groups disagreed about things.  For example, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, but the Saducees did not (Acts 23:8).
Periodically, in the Bible portion, there will be a page with a longer question to ponder, and space to write out an answer besides.

In addition to the actual Bible text, in between sections there are a couple pages of summary.  So a page and a half taking us from Abram to the Ten Commandments, two and a half pages from the Ten Commandments through the birth of Christ, two pages from the ascension of Christ through Paul's letter to the Romans, one page about the rest of the New Testament except those last couple chapters of Revelation.

These sections are obviously VERY brief... but they do a really good job of hitting some of the high points of what happens in the remainder of the Bible, and of bridging between the chosen sections.

The final section is a series of a couple page essays on various topics, such as radiometric dating or dinosaurs on the ark.

Overall, I am really impressed with this book.  The majority of the book is actual Bible text, in my preferred version (ESV), and the commentary does add to my understanding without overwhelming the reader with pages and pages of notes.

I think this would be a fabulous book to hand to a new believer.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Book Review: Just in Case You Ever Wonder

There are so many books I've missed out on.  When I had a chance to review the new edition of Just in Case You Ever Wonder by Max Lucado, I knew I had to take it.  Although I have often heard this title mentioned, I had never read it.

That situation is now rectified.

I sat down with my 5- and 7-year-olds and read the book.  And now I question whether or not I ought to get some one-on-one time with my older boys (almost 11 up through 14.5) and read it to them too.  They will undoubtedly roll their eyes at me a bit, but still... the message that they are special, and God put them in THIS family, oh, maybe teens need that even more than the little ones.

From the publisher:
A timeless children's classic by best-selling author, Max Lucado, that reinforces the love of a parent.

There are certain words that every child longs to hear . . . affirmation of unconditional love, promises of support, and words of encouragement. Just in Case You Ever Wonder wraps your children in its tender message of love, comfort, and protection, showing them that as they grow and change, you'll always be there for them—whether it's "monsters in the closet" or hard times when other kids are mean. Beloved author, Max Lucado, helps express unconditional love for a child—simply, powerfully, and forever.
This is a sweet book, and definitely is a keeper.

Disclaimer: As a Booksneeze Blogger, I did receive this book for free from Thomas Nelson. No other compensation was received. For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

A Saturday "stuff" post

So much going on, and I haven't had a lot of internet time.  So some quick highlights:
  • Scheduling reviews to post while I'm traveling is great.  It was so nice to get some of those completed and not have to think much about it.
  • Spending time with my college roommate and matron of honor is something I simply HAVE to do when I make these trips back home.  I cannot believe it has been so long, and I am absolutely carving out time for you on every future trip.
  • I didn't see the news coverage myself, but hearing that there was security footage of your baby brother on the news, with the news-person saying something about reporting to the Fargo police if you know this man...  well, not what I want to hear.
  • I'm relieved that my brother isn't who they wanted information about.  
  • I'm stressed that the man pointing the loaded shotgun at my baby brother is who they were asking about.
  • And no, the dude threatening to kill my brother has not been caught.
  • The above bullet points (pun definitely not intended) were certainly the highlight of the trip.
  • My parents have moved.  To an apartment.  No more big, beautiful garden. They deserve the break from taking care of it and everything else though.
  • Which means we may have brought home our last batch of strawberry jam.  Of course, we brought home a LOT of jam.  In pint and quart sized jars.  Three and a half dozen jars.
  • It is amazing what some elbow grease can do when it comes to packing 'stuff' into a little Mazda.  Dishes, quilts, tools, the aforementioned jam, books, more books, more tools, an insect collection, a winter coat for Connor, plant lights...
  • Richard and Trina were adorable in Dale's cousin's wedding last Saturday.  
  • It was amazingly wonderful to have a review book to read with them... The Person I Marry.  I'll be posting some Richard/Trina pictures in that review!
  • It was great to have the opportunity to get to know the husband of one of Dale's cousins... we've met, but we had never really talked at all.  That was incredibly cool.
  • Dale's aunt did an amazing job on Trina's dress.
  • McDonald's for iced coffee and smoothies for the kids, plus wi-fi access, makes the 1,000 mile trip home so much easier.  And a couple of those smoothies were free with the Monopoly game.
  • Still, it is nice to be back home.  Be it ever so cluttered, there's no place like home.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge - October 20

Okay, so this is going to be a quick and dirty post.  Get 'er done.  We've been busy, busy, busy... but that is a post for another time.  We do get home today.  "There's no place like home!" to quote a story we finished this week (okay, the movie version, but still...)

It has primarily been audio school.  The single real book we read is an upcoming review title: The Person I Marry.  We read that to put this whole wedding thing in perspective.  Believe me, this whole wedding thing needed perspective.

We tried (again, after cleaning it) to listen to Gooney Bird Greene, but the CD was skipping horribly.  <sigh>

We finished The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Read by Jim Weiss, this was pretty fabulous.

I have not picked up a cord for the iPod (may do that on the way out of Grand Island today), so we were stuck with what I had on CD.  So we listened to the My Father's Dragon trilogy... what fantastic books!  My Father's Dragon, Elmer and the Dragon, and The Dragons of Blueland.  I think those are the titles anyway.  That was fun.  I miss using the maps in the book as we read, but listening to the voices used made up for it.

We listened to a Hank the Cowdog book, but I have no idea the title.  The case was poorly labeled.  Talked about him as a puppy and how he came to be Head of Ranch Security.  Funny as always.  Of course.  We enjoy Hank.

Plans for this coming week?  I have one more book on CD available.  The Railway Children, maybe?  But it is buried, and I'm not sure I can get to it.  Depending on how quickly I get this posted and get out of Dodge, we may hit Wal-Mart... if so, then we'll be listening to Heidi.

How did your week go?  Sign the linky to link up your reading aloud post and I'll come visit your post, sometime. I hope.  I'm making no promises this week about when that might happen.  I have NOT visited anyone from last week.  This being out of town and having random access to the internet is tough.

To see my first post when this turned into a linky thing, check here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: SAT & College Preparation Course for the Christian Student

Now that I have a high school student, some scary sounding acronyms like SAT keep popping up in my life. I am so not ready for that!

One resource I've heard mentioned on more than one occasion is the SAT & College Preparation Course for the Christian Student by James Stobaugh. I love the idea of not only preparing for the SAT, but preparing also for college... and from a distinctly Christian viewpoint.

The book is big -- 8.5x11"-ish, and over 400 pages.  Let me break down the pages a bit:
  • Intro "stuff" -- roughly 10 pages, includes things like a FAQ on the SAT, and some schedules for using this book.  The 3-year plan (starting in 9th grade) is what he recommends, but there is also a 2-year plan and a 1-year plan (if starting in 10th or 11th grades).
  • Lessons: there are 150 lessons which take up roughly 240 pages.  Lessons vary between 1 and 3 pages each.
  • Answers: roughly 50 pages.
  • Appendices: seven of them, totaling roughly 35 pages.  The biggest appendix is a booklist, but there are also vocabulary helps, journal pages, scriptures, test taking strategies and critical thinking resources.
  • A bonus section: roughly 75 pages.  Part of this deals with college admissions, the rest is FIFTY examples of college admission essays.
There is also a downloadable essay workbook.  This 30-some page pdf file is a fabulous bonus.

From the back cover:
Achieve higher scores and a whole lot more!
Eliminate test anxiety with proven strategies and effective skill development in the SAT & College Preparation Course for the Christian Student. Easily integrated into your student's busy life, the course is designed to help students prepare for the SAT by doing a few lessons per week rather than a massive “cram” weeks before the exam, all the while encouraging them to grow in the Lord. This new enhanced edition also includes a bonus book to help with college admission essays! This specialized course for the Christian student offers:
  • Helps in building disciplined study skills 
  • Development of an extensive vocabulary  
  • Encouragement in the development of writing skills  
  • Opportunities for writing practice essays  
  • Advanced reading selections to enhance critical thinking skills for both verbal & math problems  
  • Answers to general questions about the PSAT, SAT, and NMSQT tests.
Rather than approaching the SAT challenge with the goal of just “outsmarting” the test, the SAT & College Preparation Course for the Christian Student helps develop and reinforce godly character that will hopefully follow the student and lead to success in college and life! It’s not a quick fix, but investing in SAT preparation over a length of time will ensure your student the best chance to achieve their highest SAT scores, and give vital tools for thriving in secular school environments.
So what do we think?

Well... We both love the concept, particularly the idea of preparing for college (and life) not just for some silly (albeit important) test. 

Connor, however, felt like he didn't really know what he was supposed to actually do with the material.  And he was less than impressed with the basic concept that just reading great literature is going to give you a great SAT vocabulary.

I can't argue with him there.  I read a lot.  And a lot of it is great stuff.  And while I totally agree that great literature naturally incorporates a whole lot of fantastic vocabulary... I know that I have maybe ONCE in my entire life, maybe, stopped reading to grab a dictionary and look up a word.  There is a LOT of vocabulary that I only have a very fuzzy concept about, although I've read the words repeatedly.

However, as you get further into the lessons, there are, in fact, places that have a bit more direct vocabulary instruction.  Some lessons have you looking up words.  Some lessons have you creating words from certain prefixes and suffixes.

I love the book list in the appendix.  Love it, love it, love it.  The 50 college admissions essays are wonderful as well.  So even if we don't use the lessons, exactly, I think this book will be a wonderful resource.

However... I do plan to continue to use the book.  We'll probably create our own plan though, doing a lesson a week and just keeping on until we finish, instead of picking up the pace in 10th and 11th grades.  We'll get through what we get through...  I think the writing and general thinking emphasis is good.  I'm disappointed that there isn't more regarding the math portion of the SAT.

I do not think I'd recommend this for older high school kids, but if you have kids in 8th-10th grades, this is something to consider.  Low-key prep with a solid Christian perspective.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from New Leaf Publishing Group.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.   

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

FIRST Wild Card Tour: The "What's for Dinner?" Solution

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Karri | Marketing Assistant, Harvest House Publishers for sending me a review copy.***


Kathi Lipp is a busy conference and retreat speaker, currently speaking each year to thousands of women throughout the United States. She is the author of The Husband Project and The Marriage Project and has had articles published in several magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Discipleship Journal. Kathi and her husband, Roger, live in California and are the parents of four teenagers and young adults.

Visit the author's website.


For many women, dread turns to panic around 4:00 in the afternoon. That’s when they have to answer that age-old question, “What’s for dinner?” Many resort to another supermarket rotisserie chicken or—worse yet—ordering dinner through a drive-thru intercom.

In The “What’s for Dinner” Solution, popular author and speaker Kathi Lipp provides a full-kitchen approach for getting dinner on the table every night. After putting her 21-day plan into action, women will

* save time—with bulk shopping and cooking
* save money—no more last-minute phone calls to the delivery pizza place
* save their sanity—forget the last-minute scramble every night and know what they’re having for dinner

The book includes real recipes from real women, a quick guide to planning meals for a month, the best shopping strategies for saving time and money, and tips on the best ways to use a slow cooker, freezer, and pantry.

With Kathi’s book in hand, there’s no more need to hit the panic button.

My take: I'm always looking for something that will make dinnertime less stressful for me, though I have to confess, I go into a book like this with a bit of a cynical attitude.  I expect some perfect little Mom, Dad, 2.3 kids and a dog family where Mom thinks she has all the answers and as long as I do exactly as she says, I'll be picture perfect too.

That is not what this book is.  Kathi is a real mom, with a handful of kids, and a lot of ideas.  She tells you straight out to read through the book and pick out what will work for you.  No claims of being perfect, no claims that she knows better than I do what will solve my problems.

This book is well worth reading.

Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (October 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0736938370
ISBN-13: 978-0736938372


Girl Meets Kitchen, or Not

Necessarily a Love Story

“Happy and successful cooking doesn’t rely only on know-how;
it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life.”

Georges Blanc, from Ma Cuisine des Saisons

I was not the kind of kid who grew up at my mom’s knee, helping her chop carrots for Sunday night’s chicken soup. I never really helped with any meal preparation, preferring to turn my attention in the kitchen to baking. There was always some social event with friends or a youth group party where I needed to bring brownies. The one memorable time I tried to make instant potatoes? Instead of the specified one-quarter tablespoon of salt, I used a quarter cup salt. That incident happened over twenty-five years ago, and I have yet to stop hearing about it from my loving and encouraging family.

Suffice to say, I was a bit ill-prepared for the cooking adventures that lay ahead as I lived on my own for the first time. And to complicate matters? My first apartment was in Uji, Japan, approximately seven thousand miles from my mother’s loving embrace and her pot-roast recipe (as if I could afford beef in Japan).

The recipe cards were stacked against me. No cooking skills to speak of, living in a foreign land where most of the time I couldn’t identify what I was eating much less figure out how it was prepared, a kitchen the size of my coat closet back home, and an oven so small it made me long for the Easy-Bake one of my childhood.

I was terrified going to the supermarket without an escort and a translator. I didn’t speak the language (as a short-term missionary teaching conversational English, speaking Japanese was actually a disadvantage in my job), and as unfamiliar as I was with food shopping in the U.S., shopping in Uji was like watching a foreign movie without subtitles and then having to write a paper on the plot.

Oh, and eating out? So not an option. While my cooking skills were limited, my food budget was near nonexistent.

A few things were easy to recognize. The bread in Japan was amazing. It was buttery and flaky and perfect. And there was some really lovely cheese and ham. So, for the first three months of exploring this exotic new culture, I ate ham and cheese sandwiches every single night for dinner.

As I started to get to know some of my students and coworkers better, I had this urge to invite them over to hang out with me. But I had a sneaking suspicion they would want to be fed. I knew that my students would love some authentic American dishes. The question was, Who would I get to cook them?

Another short-term missionary, Diana, had a cookbook called More-With-Less. This wonderful little book produced by the Mennonite community had tons of recipes that used simple ingredients most cooks would have in their kitchen. While I didn’t have a lot of pantry staples in my four-story walk-up, I was now armed with a grocery list as well as an English-to-Japanese dictionary for my trips to the store.

I started to look for simple things I could make: salads, sandwiches, curries, and mini-pizzas out of English muffins and ketchup. (I promise, my culinary skills and taste have gotten better over the years.) As I grew braver in all things cuisine, I started to ask my mom to send some of my favorite recipes from back home.

In fact, when I threw a Christmas celebration with my friend Spenser in my micro-sized apartment, we managed to make a fondue-potless version of my mom’s Pizza Fondue. Shopping for the ingredients proved challenging, even for Spenser who spoke near-fluent Japanese. After several attempts to translate cornstarch into the native language (One would think corn + starch = cornstarch, right? Wrong. It’s pronounced korunstarcha.), we headed back to my kitchen and made one of the best meals I have ever eaten—lots of tomato sauce, some ground beef, loads of cheese, and just the right amount of korunstarcha.

Pizza Fondue
(Connie Richerson)

½ lb. ground beef

1 small onion, chopped

2 10½-oz. cans pizza sauce (I use marinara sauce)

1 T. cornstarch (or korunstarcha, if you prefer)

1½ tsp. oregano

¼ tsp. garlic powder

2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 loaf French bread

Brown the ground beef and onion; drain. Put meat, sauce, cornstarch, and spices in fondue pot. When cooked and bubbly, add cheese. Spear crusty French bread cubes, then dip and swirl in fondue. This is also delicious with breadsticks. Serves 4 to 6.

From that point on, I was hooked on collecting my favorite recipes. I bought my own copy of More-With-Less when I got back to the States, and when I got married a few months later, I received my very first copy of everyone’s favorite red-and-white-plaid Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, with every recipe an emerging home cook could want.

I think most of us home cooks have a similar story to tell. OK, you probably didn’t have your first significant cooking experience in Uji, Japan, but I bet the first few times you got dinner on the table all on your own, you might as well have been in a different country.

Maybe your mom had you peeling potatoes before you could walk. Maybe you have a rich heritage of recipes passed down from your grandmother. None of our cooking histories are going to look the same, but we do have one thing in common: We all need to get dinner on the table.

I am not a professional cook. Tom Colicchio will never be critiquing my braised kale and chocolate with bacon foam on Top Chef. But over the past twenty years I have put dinner on the table almost every single night. And while my family still likes a pizza from the neighborhood shop, our kids who have left home really look forward to coming back for a home-cooked meal.

That is all the reward I need.

Why This Book?

So, you discovered my deep dark secret—I’m not a professional chef. I don’t have my own show on Food Network, my own brand of spatulas, and I’m not going to be appearing on any morning show making a frittata for Kathie Lee Gifford.

Still, I’m required to feed our large family almost daily. So when I come across a cookbook, I have an unnatural need to own it. I’m always looking for new recipes to keep dinner interesting at our house. I have an entire bookshelf in my kitchen for my ever-growing collection.

But to be honest with you, most of the money I’ve spent on those cookbooks could have been better spent on a good set of knives or a heavy iron skillet.

I have found that most cookbooks are aimed at the fantasy life many of us aspire to—entertaining regularly, having unusual and exotic ingredients on hand, and hours and hours in the kitchen to create these masterpieces, from scratch.

And then there is my reality. Yes, sometimes I like to spend a Saturday afternoon cooking up a big feast for friends and family. But most days? I want to get a delicious, healthy meal on the table quickly.

My test when I’m purchasing new cookbooks? I flip to a half dozen or so recipes throughout the book and ask myself, Can I imagine cooking this recipe in the next couple of weeks? If most of the recipes fail the test, the book stays at the store.

I want the reality. I want dinner on the table every night without being seduced by pictures of stylist-arranged food that—let’s be honest—I’m never going to prepare.

While those books offer up a lot of grilled-chicken-in-a-peanut-sauce-in-the-sky dreams, I need some reality. It’s not just about the recipe; it’s about all the aspects of getting dinner on the table.

By the end of this book, my hope for you is that you will be able to:

save time, money, and energy when it comes to
preparing meals
have less stress when it comes to shopping
get your kitchen prepared for battle
learn some stress-free ways to get dinner on the table
get out of your cooking rut
This book is all about the process, the how of getting dinner on the table. It reflects the collective wisdom of hundreds of women who don’t have prep cooks or a crew of interns trying out new recipes. We are the women who spend a significant part of our days thinking about, shopping for, and preparing dinner. And all these wise, wonderful women are going to show you a better way to get dinner on the table no matter what your cooking background or skill level.

This is the book I wish I’d had when I first started cooking, as well as when I was raising my brood of pint-sized food critics.

Don’t worry, there will be plenty of recipes. We all love to find that one recipe that is going to become a family favorite! But this book has much more than that. My hope is that you will be able to use the recipes you already have, the ones in this book, and the new ones you find along the way to set a big, bountiful table for your family.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: The Chocolate Diaries

Recently, I have had the chance to read The Chocolate Diaries by Karen Scalf Linamen. Subtitled Secrets for a Sweeter Journey on the Rocky Road of Life, it just sounded like something I needed to read.

From the publisher:

Ready to Make Some Sweet Changes?
Karen Linamen dishes up a satisfying blend of moxie and mocha, sharing stories from dozens of women who reveal savvy strategies for embracing a sweeter life—even while traveling rocky roads. If you’re hungry for more joy, reasons to laugh again, ideas to help you heal, and reliable hope leading to a sweeter future, this journey will leave you satisfied.

Funny, transparent, and uplifting, The Chocolate Diaries is like taking a road trip with good friends who are wise about life. And while you’re at it, indulge (just a little) in the quirky recipes for concocting chocolate delights out of whatever ingredients you can round up in your kitchen. The road may still be bumpy, but you’ll be having too much fun to care.
Basically, this is a bit of a self-help (for women), a bit of funny "laughter is the best medicine" bits, a lot of talk about chocolate, and a few recipes besides.

What I like about this book, well, it's a few things.

  • The chapters are fairly short, and they stand alone.  I can read a chapter on Sunday afternoon, then read another before bed on Wednesday... and I don't have to backtrack to try to remember what point she was trying to make.  The other way of phrasing this might be that the book is a bit disjointed.
  • Linamen is entertaining.  With a "hanging out with your girlfriends" feel throughout.
  • Each chapter includes recipes.  Some are just ideas, some are full fledged recipes.  Most sound really good.
  • The overall message is incredibly uplifting.  
You can download an excerpt here and see for yourself!

I would truly appreciate you for "ranking" my review with the link above.  That helps me to have a wider selection of books to review.  Thank you!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Giveaway: Star Wars/General Mills Gift Pack -- and a Wal-Mart Gift Card

Calling all Star Wars™ fans! 

It is not be something I've paid a lot of attention to as we don't have Blu-ray... but STAR WARS THE COMPLETE SAGA  has been available on Blu-ray Disc for about a month now. You can relive the unforgettable moments and experience the spectacular adventure of STAR WARS The Complete Saga in a way only Blu-ray can deliver.
This incredible collection unites all six Episodes together for the first time in stunning high definition with the purest digital sound in the galaxy. With over 40 hours of thrilling special features, including all-new content created exclusively for this release, you can journey deeper into the Star Wars universe and discover more than ever before. Feel the Force of STAR WARS The Complete Saga on Blu-ray this September!

  • Exclusively at Walmart, look for specially marked boxes of Big G cereals, including Honey Nut Cheerios®, Cinnamon Toast Crunch®, and Lucky Charms®. Collect all three to create a Star Wars panoramic poster showcasing your favorite characters, like Darth Vadar™, Luke Skywalker™, Han Solo™, Princess Leia™ and more.
May the force be with you as you check out these Star Wars boxes at your local Walmart for a limited time only!
My kids were incredibly excited about this prize pack.  We received a set of three boxes of cereal:

Which make the panoramic poster:

Plus a $25 Wal-Mart gift card.

You can learn more about Big G Cereals, 

Do you want to win the same thing?  I have the honor of giving a package away!

Disclosure: The cereal, gift card, information, and giveaway have been provided by General Mills through MyBlogSpark.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Review: E-Mealz

In the category of 'best review product I didn't know I needed' I need to nominate E-Mealz...

Oh, my.  This is amazing, and I'll be finding the $15 every three months to continue my subscription.

So what is E-Mealz? Basically, it is a weekly meal plan, including pricing information (for most of the plans) and a grocery list.  The menu is on a single page and the shopping list is on a single page as well.

But that doesn't do it justice.

When I found out that E-Mealz was to be a Crew vendor this year, I knew a lot of people would be excited.  They are highly recommended by Dave Ramsey, and I hear about them fairly often in my online circles.  But I was fairly ambivalent.  I mean, I looked at some of the things they said about themselves and didn't think it was really going to be a worthwhile service for me.

Why didn't I think it would work?
  1. the meal plans are for either 4-6 people, and we have 7... including two teen boys (well, William will be a teen next month) so I'd need to be constantly adjusting things. (They also have meal plans for 1-2 people, by the way.)
  2. More important, though, the regular meal plans are set up so that they will cost roughly $75-85 per week.  That's dinner only, and that is based on serving 4-6 people.  Ummm... that is more than my weekly budget for everything... dinner and breakfast, lunch and snacks, and stuff like toilet paper too.  I can't spend this much.  
So I was interested, but quite skeptical.

Decided I was going to give it a serious try though... and oh, am I ever glad I did.

First off, there is no reason that I have to treat these recipes any differently than I do other recipes... which means when it calls for cream of something soup, I feel free to make my own.  Or when it wants me to buy hoagie rolls, I use the bread machine to get dough going and do my own thing.  If it calls for pre-cooked bacon, I cook up my own.

Plus, for side dishes, I substitute or make from scratch... so instead of a box of scalloped potatoes, I used real potatoes and made some.  Or when it called for corn on the cob, I ended up using a can of corn (well, two cans) because I had that on hand.  Or I substitute the veggies from my Bountiful Baskets instead of what they suggest.

In order to make this work for my family, the other thing I do is to usually only plan for about 5 of the 7 dinners... so in this week's plan, for instance (which I'm not using as I'm not home!) I would skip the Grilled London Broil... it calls for a $9 cut of meat that definitely wouldn't feed us all.  Another week, I skipped the meal that called for shrimp.  Most weeks (but not all) there is one meal that is definitely more expensive, and cutting that makes a big difference.

I also find that I don't usually need to seriously increase the recipes.  Add some bread, or a salad, or extra pasta, or add some more vegetables... but I rarely have to increase the meat.

And taste?  I think of all the e-mealz recipes I made over the past six weeks, there was ONE that didn't have anyone begging me to make it again.  Almost all of them had multiple people telling me "this one is a keeper" or "every day and twice on Sunday!"
I don't even remember which recipe this was... but here is the ham I diced up myself, and instead of using a can of diced tomatoes, I chopped up a couple and use a jar of the chunky tomato sauce I had canned.  Added extra onions, more pasta than called for, and added frozen peas.

Stretched the meal and it cost less than indicated.

So if I am making all of these changes, why do I love this?

Stress.  Specifically, the lack of it.  Every Thursday, I print off two pages of a menu plan, figure out which ones I'm going to make, pencil in a couple other things... and I have my grocery list for the week.

I don't have to plan, or really even think.

And we actually end up with food on the table at night.  A meal I did not stress out about all day long.  I didn't have to.  I already knew what we'd be eating.  I still can play with it.  I still can change it up. But the basic outline of a weekly plan is EASY.  This graphic sums it up:
We're eating a wider variety of food this way -- pork, steak, fish, chicken, beans, eggs...  and I'm remembering to make side dishes.  We aren't eating the same few meals every week.

It may not be saving me money... I'm spending pretty much the same money I was before.  But it is saving me the constant every day drip drip drip of that whole "what's for dinner?" dilemma.

And 90% of the meals have been a complete hit with every single member of the family.  The other 10% have had opinions that ranged from "it's okay" to "this is GREAT."  Like I said, only one of the roughly 30 E-Mealz meals has been a "flop" (and by flop, in this case, I mean only that everyone ate it without complaint but nobody insisted that I make it again.)

One incredible thing has been that when I'm in the kitchen making dinner, instead of "what's for dinner?" my kids are asking, "Is it an e-mealz night?"  And when I say yes, they say, "YES!  Then I know it will be good."

While I was using the low-fat Wal-Mart plan, there are lot of other choices available.  Gluten-free, vegetarian, low-carb, portion control... and there are plans designed around the sales in certain stores (none in my region).

Check it out.  Really.  I'm incredibly impressed with how easy this has been to implement, and I'm not sure I'm willing to give it up.

You can read what other TOS Crew Members have to say about various e-mealz options here:


Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive a three-month subscription to e-mealz in exchange for my review of the product.  All opinions are my own, and receiving complimentary products does not factor in to my opinions.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reading Aloud Challenge - October 13

Okay, so this is going to be a quick and dirty post.  Get 'er done.

Mara, Daughter of the Nile is done!!  What a fun book.  Total paraphrase, but love having a line about not falling for every pretty girl who sobs on your shoulder in our family arsenal.

We finished Homer Price.  The kids have a thing about making donuts now.  And this will be the last time you have to look at this fuzzy photo.

And then there are audio books on our trip to Minnesota (where I am posting this from!)

We listened to Mr. Popper's Penguins.  Neither Richard nor Trina remembered this book at all.

We tried to listen to Gooney Bird Greene, but the CD was skipping horribly.  <sigh>

We did listen to Jim Weiss and his CD on Egyptian Myths.  That was great.

And we listened to half of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Also read by Jim Weiss.

*I* listened to the last couple hours of America: The Last, Best Hope Volume II.  Had to hold my iPod up near my face to listen.  Yeah, that was great, but hey, it kept me awake for the drive.  One thing I love about this book is that they use the actual audio clips of a lot of key speeches or what-have-you.  I listened to the end of the Jimmy Carter presidency and all of Reagan (which is where the book ends).  Cried listening to some of the Iranian hostage stuff, and the Challenger broadcast.  Remembered how I felt when Reagan was shot, and when the Pope was too.  It was interesting to hear all this stuff I remember so well being presented as history.  I'm feeling old.  A lot lately.

Plans for this coming week?  We'll finish Oz.  I need a cord so we can listen to the iPod.  If I get that done, we can listen to Heidi, some Greek myths, and some fairy tales, and I don't recall what else.  I grabbed a Hank the Cowdog CD at the library too. 

How did your week go?  Sign the linky to link up your reading aloud post and I'll come visit your post, sometime. I hope.  I'm making no promises this week about when that might happen.

To see my first post when this turned into a linky thing, check here.