Sunday, October 16, 2016

MyFreezEasy {a Schoolhouse Review Crew review}

My life is crazy.  Between schooling four kids, working for the Schoolhouse Review Crew, church, activities, (and did I mention work???) I just always seem to come to the end of the day realizing that I never once thought about dinner. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

I was absolutely thrilled when I found out that one of the reviews this year was going to be for MyFreezEasy.  Thrilled.  At other points in life, I have used freezer meal prep to make it so that we do actually get dinner at night, but that always required a long day in the kitchen and a whole lot of planning.  With the Freezer Meal Plan Membership, though, it really, truly is EASY.

I need easy.

We came home from church today and everyone was STARVING.  You know those days, right?  Well, I had pulled out the Frito Pie bag a couple of days ago.  That meant I dumped the bag into a skillet to warm up, split up the Fritos, and started topping them with the meat mixture, cheese and sour cream.

By the time everyone (but me) changed clothes, lunch was served.  And everyone loved it.

That is something I can get used to.

How does this work?

Each month, you get access to eight meal plans.  There are lots of options there, including:
  • General ones containing a variety of meals (traditional, gluten-free, clean eats, 20 Meals)
  • One by style of cooking (slow-cooker)
  • Some by type of meat (all chicken, all ground beef, all pork chops) Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

For most meals, you don't cook the meat (most of the ground beef meals do involve browning the meat first) and most meals are put into zipper bags.  Everything is all together, so when you want to serve a meal, you thaw it and cook it.  Most of the prep work is complete, though you may need to add an ingredient or two.

Right now, we have a lot of chicken in our freezer.  We butchered a couple dozen, plus I already had a fair amount frozen.  Thawing chicken in order to add ingredients and refreeze it doesn't sound like a great plan, so I chose to do the All Ground Beef Menu Plan.  I looked at the August Menu and the September Menu, and ended up doing both.  That's 20 meals, allegedly for my freezer.  Didn't turn out that way, as we ate one meal the first day we prepared meals, and we ate another meal on our second day of preparing meals.  Eighteen meals in the freezer isn't bad either, though.

Here are some of the pages that come with the September All Ground Beef Meals Plan.  I printed the entire thing this time, but in the future, I wouldn't necessarily need all of the types of pages.  The pages include:
  • Contents, which lists out the recipe titles.
  • The actual recipes (most plans include five recipes, and you make two meals of each).
  • Various shopping lists, including options for purchasing everything or purchasing just what you need on the meal prep day, and including options for by recipe or by store section.
  • Assembly instructions, with options for it to be by-recipe or for the entire plan
As a family of six, including two adults, two teen boys, an almost-teen boy, and a tween girl, a meal meant for four people isn't going to cut it.  So I actually ended up taking each individual recipe multiplied by three, and then splitting it between two bags for the freezer.  That gives us six servings per bag, and so far, that has been pretty much spot on.  We even have leftovers occasionally.

With the Premium Annual Membership, you can create your own meal plan, and that gives you the option to adjust the serving size.  I wanted to try this with just the plans as outlined by the program, and that did work quite well. 

To prepare the meals, I had William cook the ground beef for each recipe, while I assembled the other ingredients for the bag.  We had a really good system going there, as I would usually finish getting everything else together just in time for him to split the browned meat between the two bags.  We chose to make five meals one day, and five the next, and we did a mix-and-match from the two month's plans each day. 

At this point, we have tried most of the meals and everything we've tried has been a hit.  We've had:
  1. Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff
  2. Sloppy Dogs
  3. Lazy Lasagna Bake
  4. Baked Swedish Meatballs
  5. Frito Pie
  6. 5-Ingredient Chili
We still need to try:
  • Spanish Rice Skillet
  • Swirly Taco Pasta Skillet
  • Bacon Cheeseburger Chili
  • Chickpea Beef Chili
My plan right now is to watch for pork chops to go on sale, and then to do up a month or two (or three!) of meals there too.  October's Pork plan sounds wonderful, with meals like Cornbread Pork Chop Casserole, Asian Orange Pineapple Pork Chops, Cashew Parmesan Pork Chops, Apple Juice Brined Pork Chops, and Slow Cooker Pork Roast with Sauerkraut.


The Crew loved MyFreezEasy, so you should go check out their reviews!  Lots of great photos to make you hungry. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I'm no domestic goddess

My son has been off at college for nearly two months now. I had the opportunity to send him a care package a couple weeks back, and I just couldn't get things together enough to do that. 

But a neighbor is heading that way today, so I did get a box together.  Gave it to her Sunday.  Filled with little things like, oh, his new glasses. Those might come in handy. And I should have just mailed them three weeks ago when I picked them up. Or sent them last time she was headed that way. 

But I can't get anything right. 

So this time, I decided, I'm going to do it right. I even baked cookies. 

As you can see, that was a roaring success. 

I can't even bake cookies. 

My kids have made it clear (well, not quite all of them) in various ways this week that I'm doing a pretty lousy job of this whole mom thing. The cookies were just the visible warning to me of what this week would be like.  I should have headed to bed and not gotten up until next weekend, as it went downhill from there.  And it is only Tuesday.

I told one child yesterday, after he said a whole lot of not too nice things about my failings, that I think one of the absolute worst parts of homeschooling is that we spend so much time together. If the kids were off in school all day, I could better hide my faults from them. I mean, obviously, they'd still figure out I'm not perfect, but they wouldn't be able to -- at a moment's notice -- put together a brilliant Roman numeral style outline, complete with supporting details for each flaw/point, of the top ten ways I suck as a mom. 

That hurts. 

I have never wanted my kids to think I'm perfect. So I guess I succeeded in something.

This parenting gig, and this homeschooling gig -- it isn't all sunshine and roses. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Everyday Education {a Homeschool Review Crew review}

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
This has been an interesting year for me.  My oldest son headed off to college, and that has made me rethink a whole lot of things about how I did -- or didn't -- do a good job of preparing him for the real world.  Or for the college world, which isn't the same thing at all.

Five years ago, I reviewed a program from Everyday Education, LLC.  Excellence in Literature's first program, English I: Introduction to Literature, was fabulous, and a great introduction to writing for high school.  I really loved the focus on classic literature, and such wonderful selections are included in the series.  Janice Campbell never made me feel guilty for things like using audiobooks for my struggling readers, and that is huge from someone pushing rigorous, honors-level English.

The Homeschool Review Crew is currently checking out the most recent product in this series, Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers.  Janice combines forces with Ian Johnston on this title, and oh, my!  The first thing I did was to make sure my college kid had a copy of this to start looking over before he left for school.  I didn't think I'd really be able to use it with my others, but this handbook is truly for high school and college.  There is a fantastically detailed table of contents that makes this easy to use as a reference tool as he is writing those college papers.

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

This isn't a book that is filled with lesson plans or anything like that.  But in reading through it, I am able to apply the things to other assignments that my teens have.  For instance, one of the very first sections in the handbook is titled Trivial Arguments over Matters of Established Fact.  We're in the middle of a program that is teaching the kids to write essays in their history work, and I was able to expand on the commentary in that program about picking a thesis statement with my kids.  I didn't pull out the handbook and read it to them, nor did I assign them to read it (my statement above about struggling readers applies!) but I could informally cover the concept with them in a way I simply could not have done before reading this Handbook.

I was never truly taught this stuff, at least not explicitly.  Most of the "good writing" that I did in high school and college was just that I happened to more-or-less figure out a few good principles on my own, and I just kept re-writing until it sounded good to me.  Nobody told me to narrow down my thesis statement, or that it should be an opinion.  I cannot remember ever getting any advice at all about how to create a thesis statement, actually.  Just skimming through this handbook would have made my college life so much easier.

Because my writing abilities are mostly intuitive, it-sounds-good, I-think-that-works types of things, having this handbook helps me to understand the logic behind some of my feelings.  For my teen boys, I cannot be teaching them to write by telling them to make it "feel right."  They stare at me like I am completely insane.  In just a couple of months, I've had multiple opportunities to go beyond feelings with them and to explain WHY.

A conversation about an essay on the fall of Rome, for instance, gave me the opportunity to talk about how you want to choose reasons for the fall of Rome that will be interesting to write about.  It isn't interesting to write about something where everyone agrees, and it is even less interesting to read.  Think about the writing assignment, narrow down your focus, and take a stand. 

In the foreseeable future, this isn't going to be a resource I can just hand to my kids.  This is a resource I will continue to read over myself, and I can use the principles in teaching all of my kids, from the 10-year-old on up to the high school students.  By the time they are off to college, my hope will be that they can use it as a reference tool themselves.

You can head over to the Crew Blog to see what other members had to say about this handbook, or to see what they had to say about two other products we reviewed.  Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting and Working it Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert were also reviewed by the Crew.

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}

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Monday, October 3, 2016

NKJV Word Study Bible {a Booklook Blogger review}

My baby boy is growing up.  He decided that he needed a NKJV Bible, and it couldn't be one of these "for kids" or even "for teens" types of thing.  He needed a serious Bible that treated him like an adult.

NKJV Word Study Bible cover
I can't say no to that.  So I showed him the NKJV Word Study Bible, from Thomas Nelson.  He determined that would be perfect, and he was really interested in the idea of studying the Greek and Hebrew words.

His summary of this Bible boiled down to three main points:
  1. The words of Christ are in red.
  2. There are all these great translations of Greek and Hebrew words.
  3. There is an English word index in back, so I can find the words I want.
He thinks this Bible is really great, and he really loves going through and reading the entries about the original words.  He discovered today that there are also Aramaic words included, so he immediately went hunting to find those.

Richard getting into the van with the NKJV Word Study Bible, ready to head to youth group

The publisher's description included a couple more points than Richard's.
The NKJV Word Study Bible includes in-text subheadings and 1,700 easy-to-use word studies with select Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek words explained in every chapter from Genesis to Revelation, helping you dig deeper into your Bible study. By looking into these ancient texts we are able to read scripture as it was originally written and passed on from generation to generation, bringing these words to life and allowing you to almost hear Jesus teaching on the hillside or crying out to God on the cross. As you study you will discover the richness and significance of the original languages of the Word of God and experience scripture in a whole new way
Features Include:
• NKJV paragraph-style text with in-text subheadings and translators' notes
• Book introductions
• Words of Christ in red
• Word studies
• Indexes
• Concordance
My thoughts?  If he gets tired of this particular Bible, I'd love to use it.  I've always been a bit of an etymology enthusiast, and one thing I'm constantly doing in sermons or even just when reading the Bible is to be looking up the Greek or Hebrew and trying to figure out if things mean what the English words make me think they mean.  Having the ability to do that easily within an actual physical Bible would be pretty amazing.

I'm more excited about the fact that Richard is doing that though.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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.”

Friday, September 30, 2016

Why aren't you in school?

I know full well that I'm not the only homeschool mama who ends up with that clenched up, here-we-go-again, why today?? feeling when I total stranger asks her kids, "Why aren't you in school?"

This isn't something I've experienced much lately, but that question brought back so many memories of being bombarded with oh-so-many opinions that I really didn't ask for about how badly I was screwing up my kids by not letting them socialize.

You know those moments, where you stand there thinking that you probably shouldn't say what you are thinking, right?  In the midst of a tirade, I usually want to say something snarky.  Like commenting on how public school obviously did wonders for YOUR ability to pleasantly interact with complete strangers in the grocery store.


So, to back up.  This week, the little two had eye appointments.  Trina desperately wants glasses, and the doctor did write her a prescription.  I'm thinking that we are not going to fill that though.  We'll be trying some other things.  But she did find frames she really, really wants.

Then we headed to Sam's.  The plan is to cook and freeze 20 meals for an upcoming Crew review, and we needed to do some shopping.  Pleasant trip, kids were hugely helpful.  We're having a very nice day.  We get up front to check out, and all the lines are 4-5 people long, except one.  We head for it, and right as we get there, a cute little old man (I'm guessing early 80s) walks over behind us.  With a book.  I immediately told him he had to get in front of us in line, and he starts chattering away with me, and with the kids. 

Sweet guy.  He tells about how much he misses kids, how he drove a school bus for years, and regales us with stories about the kids on the bus.  We're inching up in line, and an older (mid 70s) lady gets in line behind us.  My kids offer to put her items up on the belt for her, and chit chat with her for a few minutes.

I'm still talking with the Book Guy.  The kids come back.  And then,

"Say, why aren't you two in school today?"

My first thought is, "This was such a pleasant time, and I. Just. Can't."

The kids put on that same look I feel myself putting on.  You know, smile and pretend this isn't a question you dread discussing with strangers.  One of them says, "We're homeschooled." And I am saying, "They had eye appointments today, so we're taking the day off."

And Book Guy says, "Really?  You homeschool?"  And he proceeds to go on for two-three minutes about how he thinks everyone should homeschool these days instead of subjecting their children to godless evolution rammed down their throats, and that schools today aren't what they used to be.

I breathe a sigh of relief.  And the checkout person asks Book Guy for his Sam's card.

While I didn't agree with him, the encounter didn't leave me feeling attacked.  And I wondered a bit about my response to the question, and my assumption that we were going to be criticized.  It has been awhile since random strangers have attacked my education choices out of the blue, but I still have flashbacks to some of the worst of those conversations.

Some days, I definitely need the reminder that not everyone who asks, "Why aren't you in school?" is going to lecture me.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Living a Mighty Faith {a BookLook Blogger review}

My husband decided a while back that we needed to all start getting up with him in the morning (at WAY too early-thirty) and go for a walk, eat breakfast together, and do some Bible reading. 

At that early hour, though, we felt like we were floundering a bit on the Bible portion of that routine.  And then then I had the opportunity to review Living a Mighty Faith by Angus Buchan.

This has been a great answer for us. 

Angus Buchan is the man behind Faith Like Potatoes.  If you haven't seen the movie version, you need to do so.  Fantastic story.  He's a very real, farmer/evangelist, and reading his devotionals has been a wonderful experience.  He isn't out there spouting lofty, complicated words. 

Practical.  Real. 

The entries in this devotional are dated, and each starts with a Bible verse.  For today, August 8, the verse is Philippians 4:9.  The devotional is titled "Looking for a Hero" and begins like this:
WHAT ARE the characteristics of a hero? Young people especially look for a hero who is a winner, someone who is successful in his or her field. But a true hero should be humble and meek, since meekness is controlled strength. He must know where he's going and be prepared to get there whatever the cost. He must also be holy -- honest and reliable; sincere and dependable. He is an overcomer; one who rises to the challenge; and one who is fearless, irrespective of the mountain before him.
The book itself just feels hefty, with quality pages.  Love it. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. 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, August 7, 2016

Restore my Soul {a Tyndale House Blog Network review}

Adult coloring books are certainly all the rage lately, and with some of the amazing patterns and designs I've seen, I certainly can understand why.  Many of the books I've seen have a bit of a new age-y feel to them.  I was pretty excited to pair up devotional readings with coloring pages, with Ann-Margret Hovsepian's Restore my Soul.

Each of the 2-page spreads starts with a Bible verse.  There are a few paragraphs of devotional text, ending with something to think about as you color the facing page, or instructions of something to do on the page.

The coloring pages vary a bit in detail, and definitely in topic.  Some are flowery, some are more technical.

Using pencils works very well on these thick pages, but the card-making pens I tried definitely bled through.  I'd rather color with good colored pencils anyway.

I'm loving this devotional coloring book.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.