The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury (Crew Review)

Can you believe it’s almost time to start thinking about Christmas?  Our family has been getting in the mood lately as we listened to the Christmas stories that make up The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury – Audio Collection.  We received the Digital Downloads of these eight original stories written by Todd Wilson (a.k.a. The Familyman) and read by Jim Hodges.

About The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury

the-familymans-christmas-treasuryI’m pretty particular about what we focus on during the Christmas season, and I really wasn’t sure what to expect when we first started listening to these stories.  I was pleased to find that not only were they all Christ-centered, they were thought-provoking as well.  Here are some brief summaries of the eight stories we received.

Cootie McKay’s Nativity

When a small town’s cherished nativity scene is ruined, they commission a local man to create a new one for next year.  The only trouble is, Cootie McKay is not only a little odd, he doesn’t even know the Christmas story.  Over the course of the year, Cootie learns about Jesus, and his creation helps the whole town see the familiar figures in a new way.

Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster

When Jason gets irritated with his sister’s fascination with their “boring” manger scene, he pretends to blast it to bits, never expecting his wish to come true.  “Captain Chaos” erases the birth of Jesus from history, and Jason sees how different life would be if he had not been born, gaining a new appreciation of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Stranger

As a stranger comes knocking at the homes of members of a small church, fear and distrust threaten to taint their Christmas experience.  On a snowy Christmas Eve, Sam’s family receives the dreaded knock, but his father only hesitates a moment before inviting the stranger in.  The family is soon able to look past Jesse’s outward appearance and their Christmas is truly blessed as they open their home and hearts to him.

The Bishop’s Dream

Not just another re-telling of the story of Saint Nicholas, “The Bishop’s Dream” looks at the true historical man and places him a modern setting, imagining what he would think of the shift toward a holiday focused on Santa and presents rather than Christ.

Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest

Isaac is embarrassed by the plaid Christmas vest his father insists on wearing to church every year as soon as Thanksgiving has past until he learns about the story of Harold Grubbs and how God changed him.

Gladys Remembers Christmas

Gladys hasn’t had a joyful Christmas since she was six years old, just before her mother died.  Years later, while packing up her father’s house, she finds their old manger scene, and discovers love for the the first time since childhood.

The Secret of Snow Village*

Catherine loves to look at her grandmother’s ceramic village.  Somehow Christmas seems better for the small figures, though she can’t figure out what she’s missing until she visits the village herself and finds out what Christmas is really about.

It’s Called Christmas*

300 years in the future, Nook is puzzled when his “Happy Holiday” greeting is returned with the puzzling reply, “It’s called Christmas?”  All traces of this word seem to have been erased, and it is no easy task for Nook to find out what Christmas is, but when he does, he sends a warning back to the past in hopes that Christmas can be saved for future generations.

*These final two of the stories are not included in the collection in the CD collection, though all eight are available in book format.


Our Experience

Todd Wilson says, “As the father of eight children, I wanted Christmas stories that took longer than 5 minutes to read, didn’t confuse the truth with a tale, and above all, pointed my children to the Savior. I couldn’t find any, so I wrote my own. My hope is that Cootie McKay”s Nativity will give you gobs of snuggling time, Christmas enchantment, and will point your children to the manger year after year. ”

He has certainly succeeded, and the stories will definitely become part of our family’s Christmas tradition. Ian really liked “Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster.”  I have a hard time picking a favorite, but I think either “Cootie McKay’s Nativity” or “The Secret of the Snow Village” would be at the top of my list.  I loved the creativity and variety in all these Christmas stories, and Jim Hodges is a wonderful storyteller whose warm voice draws you in as you listen.  We enjoyed all of these stories so much, I’m looking forward to getting the two Easter stories for our family as well.

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
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MyFreezEasy (Crew Review)

Freezer cooking has always sounded like a good idea, but I’ve never gotten more into it than making twice as much as I need when fixing dinner so I can freeze half for another time.  However, we’re in a season where it’s essential that I have meals prepped and easy to cook, so I was really excited to get a chance to review the Freezer Meal Plan Membership.  I’m in my first trimester of pregnancy, so I don’t always feel up to making (or eating) dinner, but MyFreezEasy helped me make sure my freezer was full of healthy meals that I can get ready for my family quickly and easily.

About MyFreezEasy

Each month, members have access to 8 pre-set meal plans: Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
Each plan has recipes for 5 meals, with the intent on preparing two of each one so you can get 10 meals into your freezer with about an hour of work.  There’s a place to set how many servings you want, and you can also swap meals to customize your plan to fit your family’s preferences.  Once you have your meal plan set, you can print it out, complete with shopping lists broken down in various ways, such as by meal or by section in the store, and instructions both for cooking the meal that night or preparing it for the freezer.  You can also print out labels with instructions for how to finish the meal when you take it out of the freezer. Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

My Experience With MyFreezEasy

There are several videos on the website to help you get started, so I watched those and read through all the information I could find before even glancing at the meal plans themselves.  They really helped me understand how to use the program, and plan how I wanted to do my shopping and prep work.  I chose to swap several meals and create a customized meal plan with a variety of different foods.  I followed the suggested to do my shopping and prepping and different days, which was a good idea since my prep work took me almost two hours.  (Maybe it will go faster next time, now that I have a little better idea of what I’m doing.)

dscn2318xI really liked the ease of printing the labels (there’s a link to Amazon to buy the right ones), though I wish they were smaller so they could all fit on one page (or if you could put 6 meals in your plan to fill up two pages rather than wasting two empty labels every time).  Not only do they make it easy to know what’s in the bag, they include instructions for cooking and suggested sides for completing the meal.

We’ve had each meal at least once, and while some were more popular than others, for the most part they were well received.  Here’s what I chose to make last month:

Apricot Chicken

I’ve never made anything similar to this before, but for some reason it kept catching my eye as I went through the meal plans, so I decided to give it a try.  It was good, very sweet (popular with the kids), but ours turned out a little dry.  I think when I defrost my second bag of this, I’m going to throw it in the slow cooker to see how that turns out.


Chicken Fajita Bake

The instructions for this meal called for a disposable baking dish, but the next time I make it I think I’ll just put it in a freezer baggie (like all the other meals) and then dump the contents into a regular baking dish.  I didn’t even attempt to serve this one to my picky kids, but my husband and I really enjoyed making burritos with it.


Chicken Taco Bake

This recipe combined several ingredients and spices to freeze.  When it was time to cook, we just threw everything in a skillet to warm it up, then poured it over tortilla chips, sprinkled cheese on top, and popped it in the oven for ten minutes.  So simple, yet it was really good, and I loved having the majority of the ingredients all thrown together when it was time to make dinner.


Cilantro Lime Chicken

This was my least favorite meal of the five we cooked, but it might have been because I had substituted coconut oil for the olive oil called for in the recipe and lime juice from a bottle instead of fresh squeezed limes.  It just wasn’t quite as flavorful as I’d been hoping for, even with fresh cilantro, and I think I would have preferred using chicken breasts rather than thighs.  Still, everyone ate it without complaint (and my kids are extremely picky eaters, so that’s saying something).


Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff

I was highly skeptical of this recipe because it called for ground beef instead of stew meat like my mom always used for stroganoff and it just seemed too simple (Mom always used a seasoning packet, which for some reason led me to believe it was complicated to make).  However, this turned out to be our favorite meal out of all the ones we tried.  I actually made another two bags of sauce for the freezer because it was such a hit.  I want to be sure we always have it on hand!  Since the meat was cooked before freezing, I’m not sure why it’s labeled as a slow cooker meal.  I did it stove top one time and it was still delicious.  (I wish I’d gotten a picture of the final product, but we were all too eager to dive in!)


Final Thoughts

I loved how easy the whole process was, from selecting recipes, to shopping and preparation, and finally getting the meals on the table.  When I’ve been pregnant in the past, my family has definitely had to scrape by when it comes to dinner, both in the early months when I struggled with nausea and then toward the end when I was exhausted and struggling to get everything done each day.  I’m so excited to have MyFreezEasy this time.


I had ten meals in the freezer before I reached the nausea stage, and soon I’ll have another prep day and get it restocked.  We found some new family favorites, and I’m looking forward to trying some new recipes this month! Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
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If you were me and lived in… (Crew Book Review)

We were recently blessed with the chance to review four titles from a series of children’s history books brought to you by Carole P. Roman and  History is one of my favorite subjects to teach, so I was excited to discover a new set of resources!

(This post includes affiliate links.)

About this history series

carole-p-roman-headshotCarole P. Roman has written dozens of books, including a series about cultures around the world that first used the title phrase “If You Were Me and Lived in…”  Now she has a new series out with a similar idea, but this time looking at civilizations throughout history.

There are currently eight softcover books in this series for elementary aged children), each exploring a different historical setting: If You Were Me and Lived in…

Each book introduces important events and people from that era, as well as information about homes, clothes, meals, education, games children played, and common names.  Pronunciation guides help children learn new vocabulary words, and colorful illustrations on every page help them visualize the text.


Our Experience

Since we’re sort of covering two periods of history right now (one with our family history cycle and one with our homeschool community that meets once a week), I chose to review If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 4) and If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 6).  Although varying lengths, both books were packed full of interesting information and were a great contribution to our studies.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America

if-you-were-me-and-lived-inhellipcolonial-america-by-carole-p-roman-300x300_zpsjsbne7rbWhen I chose If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America, I was expecting to read about life in the colonies before the American Revolution, but actually this book is limited to the experience of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation about a hundred years earlier.  It begins with a discussion of the religious situation in England from the early 1500’s on, explaining why the the Separatists chose to leave the country and eventually headed for the New World.  While mentioning the hardships that took the lives of many, the book doesn’t focus on how many people died, but rather talks about the accomplishments of the settlers who did make it through the first winter before moving on to details about the types of food you would have eaten, clothes you would have worn, and how you would have spent your time as a child living at Plymouth Plantation.

The only mention of other colonies comes at the end, in a two-page spread of influential people in various colonies along the eastern seaboard.

The 53 pages of If You Were Me and Lived in…Colonial America (plus 8 additional pages about influential people and a glossary) each contain one or two paragraphs in a fairly large font, which made it easy for my 3rd grader to read (although we chose to do most of it as a read-aloud because I found that lent itself to better discussions).  There is a lot of information presented in this book, so I found it best to break it up over several days.


Although I find the title a bit misleading as far as the breadth of what is covered, I appreciated the information presented about these early settlers.  Even if you’re not studying this period of history, this book would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving unit studying the Pilgrims.

If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages

51m2fy3czrl-_sx260__zpseylxzdzfThe other book that fit in with our studies right now was If You Were Me and Lived in…the Middle Ages.  Not only is the book almost twice as long as the one on “Colonial America” (97 pages), each page contains much more text and is more appropriate for upper elementary readers.

This is a fascinating look at life in the middle ages, covering a wide range of topics, from the fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of feudalism, and William the Conqueror to the process of becoming a knight, religious life (including the building of cathedrals), and various vocations.

There’s so much here, we haven’t even gotten all the way through the book yet.

middle-ages-2 middle-ages-3 middle-ages-1

And more!

The publisher also generously sent us two additional titles to review.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient China: The Han Dynasty

51k93rav67l-_sx491_bo1204203200__zpswm27yfuqAlthough I haven’t read any of this book with the kids yet, If You Were Me and Lived in…Ancient China: The Han Dynasty will be a great resource to pull out the next time we cover ancient history.  The Hans ruled from 206 BC until 220 AD, one of the longest dynasties in Chinese history.  This period is often called the Golden Age of Ancient China, so the book provides an intriguing look at a unique civilization that in many ways was so different than that of the Ancient Romans living at the same time.

It is similar to the book on the Middle Ages as far as the reading level, with multiple paragraphs on each pages, though this one is only 76 pages long (including the pages on Important People in Ancient China and the glossary).  I’m looking forward to going through it with the kids in the future.

If You Were Me and Lived in…Renaissance Italy (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 2)

61jnw81ahdl-_sx491_bo1204203200__zpsdbg7rgy2Our homeschool group will be moving onto the Renaissance this week, so we’re almost ready to pull out If You Were Me and Lived in…Renaissance Italy.  With a special focus on Florence, this book looks at many of the exciting subjects that were being explored during the Renaissance, such as architecture, art, and music.  It covers what life would be like as a child in the family of a wealthy merchant.

At 53 pages, this book is similar to the one we read on Colonial America as far as length, font size, and the amount of text on each page.

Final Thoughts

Other members of the Homeschool Review Crew received different titles in this series, so if you want to find out more about those, click on the banner below to get to their reviews!

If You Were Me and Lived in ... {by Carole P. Roman and}
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Wrapping Up Week 12 (2016-17)

weekly wrap-up
 We are officially a third of the way through our school year!  I can’t believe how quickly the weeks are flying by, but it feels good knowing we’ve gotten in twelve solid weeks and we’re moving along at a good pace.


I had grand plans to get back into some preschool activities this week.  We started off with a tea party where I read How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, one of our favorite books from  Five in a Row.  I figured it would be a great way to build upon our field trip to the apple farm last week.

But then we didn’t get any farther than reading the book.  Granted, Arianna spent one night at Grandma’s house, and then she had ballet one morning, and we had a park day with our friends.  Still, I’m frustrated by our schedule this year, which doesn’t give us any long mornings at home.  We’re squeezing in bits and pieces here and there, but I’m sad to not have more time to spend doing fun learning activities with my preschoolers.



pups-of-liberty-dogWe’re taking a break from The Light and the Glory for Children because I wanted to spend a little more time dwelling on the Declaration of Independence before plunging ahead with the next chapter.  To learn more, we watched an episode of Animaniacs, “The Flame”;  Pups of Liberty: The Dog-claration of Independence on; and Learn Our History: The Declaration of Independence.

We also watched four episodes of Liberty’s Kids:

  • #12 Common Sense
  • #13 The First Fourth of July
  • #14 New York, New York
  • #15 The Turtle

We did go ahead and readguns-for-general-washington Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit, which tells the story of Henry Knox leading a group of men in transporting the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga hundreds of miles to help General Washington reclaim Boston.  We learned about that event last week, but I’m glad we read it, because it really helped the story come alive for the boys.


I decided to go back and spend a little more time on George Washington this week.  Because Ian learns so well through audio resources, I recently purchased a collection of old time radio and other audio dramatizations: The American History for the Ears Ultimate Collection.  From that collection we listened to an audiobook of the section on Washington from Four Great Americans by James Baldwin, as well as two episodes of the old radio show “Mr. President.”

The boys also read a cute story, George Washington and the General’s Dog by Frank Murphy.  They both really enjoyed this true story about Washington returning General Howe’s dog to the British leader after a battle.

american-history   four-great-americans   george-washington-and-the-generals-dog


We got all the way through Lesson 4 in All Things Fun and Fascinating, and I continue to be blown away by the boys’ progress.  This week they wrote their key word outlines completely independently, and then typed up their stories all by themselves.  (There was a little grumbling about that, with one boy thinking it would take him way too long to type himself, but I think he was surprised at how quickly he did it, and I don’t anticipate any such complaints in the future.)  The only place I needed to offer some guidance was in choosing a title and helping them find appropriate places to add in “dress-ups.”  This was Eli’s story:


Upcoming Reviews

We’re enjoying several products right now, so watch for these reviews in the next few weeks (may contain affiliate links):

The Cat of Bubastes – Audio Drama (Crew Review)

When my oldest was just a baby I started researching homeschooling and stumbled across a discussion about author G.A. Henty.  As I learned about this man’s character-building historical novels, I knew I wanted to share these with my boys when they got older, and I decided to start reading some for myself.  One of the first Henty books I ever read was The Cat of Bubastes, set in Ancient Egypt.

Fast forward a few years, and we have been blessed to become familiar with the work of Heirloom Audio Productions, a fabulous company that is bringing Henty back for a new generation by creating exciting audio dramas of some of his most popular novels.  Their latest creation is none other than my old favorite, The Cat of Bubastes.  Needless to say, I was thrilled to get a chance to review this CD set.

About The Cat of Bubastes

The Cat of Bubastes tells the story of Amuba, a young man who grew up as a prince but is taken to Egypt as a slave after his people are conquered in battle.  He and his father’s friend Jethro (who was given the order to protect him) become faithful servants to the Egyptian high priest Ameres, a man hungry for spiritual truth.  Through his friendship with Ameres’ son Chebron, Amuba becomes familiar with Egyptian spiritual beliefs, including the sacredness of cats.  They also befriend some Israelites and learn about the one true God.  When Chebron accidentally kills the family’s honored cat, the boys must flee Egypt and head to Amuba’s homeland, where he fights to reclaim his throne.

Along with the CD set of the audio adventure, we were given the following bonuses:

  • The Cat of Bustastes on MP3
  • eStudy Guide and Discussion Starter (pdf)
  • ebook of G.A. Henty’s original story with colorful graphics (pdf)
  • A beautiful printable pdf poster with inspirational quote
  • cast poster (pdf)
  • soundtrack (mp3)
  • “Behind the Scenes of The Cat of Bubastes (mp4 video download)

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes
The study guide can help you use the audio adventure as more than just entertainment and turn it into an educational experience.  It includes a basic biography of G.A. Henty, as well as historical background information about Moses.  Then it provides a listening guide that breaks the recording into small chunks and gives questions to help younger listeners understand what’s happening in the story or provide older children with prompts for written assignments. Scattered through the listening guide are interesting facts about Ancient Egypt, and there are suggestions for further reading.  The next section contains three Bible studies:

  • “God Meant It for Good”
  • “The Knowledge of God”
  • “Idolatry and Tyranny”

Finally, the study guide concludes with more historical background information.

Our Experience

Although the boys and I have been enjoying adventures from Heirloom Audio Productions for the past few years, my husband has only recently discovered them, as he entertained himself on long overnight drives during our road trip this summer by listening to all the past recordings.  So when we went on a weekend getaway recently, he was excited that we had something new.  Our whole family enjoyed listening to The Cat of Bubastes together.  As the excitement built and the boys are rescued by an Egyptian Prince, even my husband couldn’t help blurting out, “Moses!” when they asked his name.  It was so fun getting to enjoy the story together.

The great thing about Henty’s adventures is that they’re not just exciting adventures, they bring history to life.  I love that as we listened to The Cat of Bubastes my children were learning about life in Ancient Egypt, their culture and religion, and even getting some insight into what life was like for the Israelites during their time of captivity.  It helped make the Bible more real to them, and that’s more than any textbook could do.

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes
It’s really hard to pick a favorite out of all the Henty books Heirloom Audio Productions has brought to life, but this latest offering would definitely be near the top for me.  It is so important to me to be able to provide my boys with literary role models to help them develop a picture of the kind of men they want to become, and Heirloom Audio has given us an entertaining and powerful tool for helping mold their young minds.

Heirloom Audio Productions ~Cat of Bubastes
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Wrapping Up Week 11 (2016-17)

weekly wrap-up
As we get further into this first year with Classical Conversations, I’m starting to feel like it’s not going to be a great fit for our family.  I think it’s a great program, especially if you like having someone else plan your year.  My problem is just that I still want to do my own thing, and doing CC on top of all that is proving to be a bit much, primarily because we lose most of Monday each week.  We already lose most of Fridays for the kids’ various music classes (choir, handchimes, composer study, and various others), so that leaves us just three days to try to squeeze in everything else I want to do.  (And I’m not even covering a science curriculum this year!)

This week was even crazier, as we had a field trip on Thursday.  Thankfully, the boys are both really good at working independently, and for the most part they are diligent about getting started and doing their best without too much prompting from me.  I had actually forgotten about our field trip when I wrote up their checklists for the week, yet they still managed to accomplish everything by Friday afternoon.

And our field trip was SO worth it.  We’ve been to Riley’s Apple Farm before, but this was the first time we’ve attended one of their “homeschool days.”  The kids got to learn about life on a homestead in the late 1800’s by participating in the many chores and activities a child living then would have done.  They helped build a log cabin, sawed wood, beat rugs, pounded coffee, did laundry, hauled water, made rope, pressed cider, wrote fancy letters with a feather pen, and so much more.


What We Did This Week


Now that Elijah’s got his Veritas Press Self-Paced History Course he’s not quite as eager to get through his VP Bible Course, but he’s still plunging ahead beyond my expectations.  This week he completed more than twice the lessons I had scheduled, finishing up the 10 Commandments, completing the entire unit on “Aaron and the Golden Calf,” as well as “Moses Gets New Tablets” and starting in “The Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant.”  At this rate, he should finish Genesis – Joshua by Thanksgiving.



This week we read Chapter 13: The Birth of a Nation in The Light and the Glory for Children, covering the Continental Congress’ appointment of George Washington as the leader of the Army, the failed Canadian campaign, the retaking of Boston, and the vote for Independence.

We also watched four episodes of Liberty’s Kids:

  • #8 “The Continental Congress”
  • #9 “Bunker Hill”
  • #10 “Postmaster General Franklin”
  • #11 “Washington Takes Command”

I read The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz aloud to all the kids.  It was a sweet story about a girl whose family has left Gettysburg to live in the “Western Country.”  I had never read before and chose it for this week because in flipping through it I had seen that George Washington was in it briefly.  However, it is actually set after the Revolution, so I wish I’d saved it for later, because we have lots of other books set during the War that I want to try to read.  (For instance, Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit is about Henry Knox transporting the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston to help retake the city.  It would have been perfect for this week, but now I’m trying to figure out whether to try to squeeze it in or just save it for our next time through the history cycle.)


Since we only had two full days at home, this was a good week to watch a Torchlighters DVD.  We watched The William Tyndale Story and the accompanying documentary, which helped all of us appreciate our easy access to a Bible in English.


all-things-fun-fascinatingThe boys finished up Lesson 3 in All Things Fun and Fascinating, writing their own version of the old fable “Belling the Cat.”  It is so rewarding to see how much easier it is for them to write this year after all their hard work last year in their IEW class.  This week they only needed to focus on adding “strong verbs,” but both of them automatically threw in other “dress-ups.”

I’m SO glad I decided to use this book this year, and I’m thinking we’ll be sticking with IEW materials for several years to come.  I wish I had known about them back when I was teaching in a classroom.

Upcoming Reviews

We’re enjoying several products right now, so watch for these reviews in the next few weeks (may contain affiliate links):

The Pray-ers (Crew Book Review)

ctm-publishingI don’t often find the time to read fiction these days, so I was thankful for the opportunity to review a new book called The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles by Mark S. Mirza (published by CTM Publishing Atlanta).  I was intrigued by the premise of the novel, namely, the power of prayer in the lives of believers and the role of both angels and demons as they interact with the human world.  At 372 pages, I wouldn’t call this softcover novel a “light” read, but by using the medium of historical fiction, the author is able to convey a lengthy teaching on prayer in an entertaining manner without it getting dry.


the-pray-ers-book-coverThe Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles follows three mostly separate story lines, all taking place in different eras (although the same angels and demons are involved in each one).
In the 1st century, the book follows the journey of a young man named Thales, who is discipled by his uncle Epaphras (based on the biblical Epaphras, a leader in the church of Colossae), and those with whom he shares the good news about Christ.

The second story line follows the ministry of a 19th Century traveling preacher.  A Northerner who feels called to minister in the south, Alexander Rich devotes his life to prayer and ministering to the people around him, from Confederate soldiers in the beginning of the book, to his neighbors in a small town whose gossipy ways could destroy his ministry as the book progresses.

Finally, in the current day, the book introduces the reader to a college track coach named Dale, who also leads the men’s prayer ministry at his church.  He and his wife Margie have a powerful prayer life, and that guides them as they minister both in the church and at the college where they both work as they interact with students and other faculty.

The book jumps back and forth between these three eras.  Throughout all three stories, the reader is privy to the workings of demons and angels who are assigned to thwart or help the Christians in their work for the Lord (with the same ones being present in the lives of the main characters across the span of history).

What I thought of The Pray-ers/Book 1 Troubles

To be honest, I had a hard time getting into the novel.  The characters seemed exaggerated: the “Pray-ers” were too perfect to feel real, and many of the others they encountered seemed like caricatures.  Consequently it took me a long time to warm up to them.   By the middle of the book I was engaged enough to want to keep reading to find out what happened, though I found the ending lacking resolution.  (Perhaps this is because the author has written a sequel, which should be released in the next few months.)

I’m normally a fast reader, but I found a few repeated distractions that slowed me down.  The author, Mark S. Mirza, feels a strong conviction about not showing any respect to Satan or his demons, so he refuses to capitalize their names.  I appreciate the sentiment, but by ignoring the conventions of English, I felt like it not only made it more difficult to read smoothly, it actually called more attention to those characters, which I’m sure was not his intent.  I found myself skipping over (or at most, skimming) the passages about the demons because I prefer to read quickly and I found those sections frustratingly slow to get through because I had to really concentrate on where the names were.

The other thing I found distracting was the number of errors throughout the book.  I kept having to stop a re-read certain “sentences” because they didn’t make sense the first time through.  Most of the time when I went back over them I realized they weren’t complete sentences (or sometimes they were just phrased awkwardly or punctuated incorrectly).  With careful editing this problem could easily be remedied.

mark-headshot-authorThere were many things I enjoyed about the book, however.  I appreciate the Mirza’s use of fiction to share his message, and as long as the reader goes in knowing that this was his intent, the didactic tone will probably be acceptable.  Throughout the book there are footnotes containing Scripture references for those who want to see the biblical basis for what they are reading.  (That’s not to say I agreed with every bit of theology, but for the most part I felt comfortable with the Mirza’s interpretation and artistic license.)  His notes at the back of the book are also helpful for understanding both the characters and some of the thoughts behind the writing of the book.

Overall, I would say The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles encouraged me in my own habits of prayer by modeling a lifestyle of continual prayer through the characters.  It also reminded me to be more aware of the spiritual realm and the battle the is going on around us.  If you prefer to read fiction books and are looking to grow in your prayer life, you could find this book to be both enjoyable and helpful.

The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles
Crew Disclaimer (Crew Review)

My children are all still fairly young, and while we do utilize computers and the Internet a lot for school work, I am reluctant to let them spend additional time online because it can be such a dangerous place.  When the opportunity came up for us the review an Annual Subscription to, I wasn’t sure if I was really ready to let even my older kids (ages 6 and 8) have access to the world of online communication.  Still, we agreed to give the program a try. Annual Subscription

About Annual allows parents to set up email accounts for their children (up to 6 accounts) with more control than a traditional email service would allow.  From controlling what senders are allowed to write to their children, to receiving copies of emails, to restricting when children are allowed to access their inbox, has many features parents will appreciate.

There are three types of accounts that can be set up:


Once you’ve chosen what option will work best for your child, you can customize exactly what features you want them to be able to access.  Settings can be altered for individual child accounts or for all of them at once.  Here’s what the “Safety Settings” look like in the parent controls.



It’s not just the parental controls that make appealing.  The set-up is very kid-friendly, and there also features kids will appreciate:

They can choose their own background themes.


They can create drawings within their emails (though I couldn’t quite figure out all the functions in that panel).



Our Experience

I was really impressed by how much allowed me to customize our family’s email experience.  I signed both of my older boys up right away and set to work getting familiar with the parental controls.  It was really helpful to be able to establish what I wanted for both of them at the same time.

It was also easy to create a global contact list that is accessible for every child on my account. Since they aren’t really old enough to have friends with email addresses, the only contacts I allowed for them were myself, my husband, and their grandparents.

Elijah was the only one interested enough to sign on and get started. He started emailing Grandma right away.


They ended up corresponding back and forth several times before we went on a trip and then he forgot all about it until I asked him about it.  (He also emailed Grandpa, but that correspondence fizzled out quicker for some reason.)

Even though my kids get to see their grandparents fairly regularly, I think this is going to be a fun tool for them to communicate more, and I hope they will take advantage of it.  As they get older, I’ll gladly add others to their list of approved contacts and help them learn to use some of the other features. Annual Subscription
The uncertainty I had felt in the beginning worked itself out.  I’m not sure my boys have enough desire yet to use email on a regular basis.  However, when they reach that point, I love knowing can provide the security and parental controls that can help me feel comfortable allowing them to take that step. Annual Subscription
Crew Disclaimer

Wrapping Up Week 10 (2016-17)

weekly wrap-up
My passions were given free reign this week as we continued our study of American history, moving on to the story of Paul Revere and the battles at Lexington and Concord.  Although we did do all the rest of our normal subjects, history pretty much ruled our week.  We even got Daddy interested through all our discussions.  Leigh Bortins talks about how homeschooling redeems the education of two generations, and we are definitely experiencing that in our family.  Eric and I both learned alongside the boys this week as we dove into the American Revolution.


History: The Start of the American Revolution

I am really glad we are using The Light and the Glory for Children (and its sequel) as our “spine” this year.  It is helping set a good pace for us as we move through the events of early American history.  Without it, we might be tempted to speed through the entire Liberty’s Kids series, but because we are going chapter by chapter in the book, we have time to really explore each event, looking at various books and videos to help the children become familiar with the important people and details.

Light and the Glory   libertys-kids
This week in The Light and the Glory we read “Chapter 12: War!”  It covered several important subjects:

Paul Revere: We’ve talked about Paul Revere before, when we were going through Five in a Row, but that was three years ago, so we pulled out some of our favorite resources from that study, as well as adding a few new ones this time around.

  • paul-reveres-ridebook: Paul Revere’s Ride (there’s an audio recording of this poem from Homeschool Radio Shows)
  • audio: “Listen My Children” from Homeschool Radio Shows.
  • audio: Adventures in Odyssey #197 “The Midnight Ride” (This was interesting because it discussed some errors in Longfellow’s poem as well as giving more information about Paul Revere.)
  • video: Liberty’s Kids episode 5 “Midnight Ride”
  • video: “The Flame Returns,” part of Animaniacs Season 3, Episode 25 (streaming on Netflix right now, though they call it Vol. 2, Episode 12)

Lexington and Concord: The battle at Lexington lasted only about 15 minutes before the British moved on to Concord, but it is important because it marks the beginning of years of fighting between the Americans and the British.  We found several good resources for learning about it, and the boys really memorized a lot of details that kept popping up in each one.

  • book: Sam the Minuteman (We also used the literature guide from Progeny Press, which led to some great discussions, as well as a helpful vocabulary lesson that was reinforced in several other resources we used this week.)

sam-the-minuteman   study-guide


  • video: Liberty’s Kids episode #6 “The Shot Heard Round the World”
  • video: Schoolhouse Rock “The Shot Heard Round the World” (and we watched “No More Kings“)
  • video: April Morning (This is full-length movie starring Tommy Lee Jones about a father and son at Lexington.  It’s not rated, but my husband and I watched it with the older boys and we were okay with it.  It is about battle, but there’s no gore and as about little violence as one could have given the subject.)

Ethan Allen and the “Green Mountain Boys” at Fort Ticonderoga:

Ian and I also watched The American Revolution, which covered all these subjects.  (I found it this streaming on Amazon Prime and it’s aimed at children, so I figured we’d give it a try.  Ian, always ready to watch anything, joined me in previewing it, but I found it a little too slow to show to the other kids and after we got interrupted I didn’t bother going back to finish the whole thing.  The best thing about it was reinforcing things we had already learned about.

Chapter 12 in The Light and the Glory also mentioned the battle of Bunker Hill, but we’re saving that until next week when it’s covered in Liberty’s Kids to talk more about it.


The last sentence of Chapter 12 in The Light and the Glory introduced the man who would step up to lead the new Continental Army: George Washington.  I decided to make him the focus of our biography studies this week so the boys would be more familiar with him as we move on.  We read George Washington: America’s Patriot from YWAM Publishing’s “Heroes for Young Readers” series, as well as George Washington by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

 washington-ywam washington-daulaire

Veritas Press

Elijah has been begging me for months to sign him up for a  Veritas Press Self-Paced History Course, and while he loves his VP self-paced Bible course, it just hasn’t satisfied him.  This week I heard the VP was having a Back to School Sale (use code BACKTOHOMESCHOOL for $100 off until 9/26!) on their Self-Paced courses, so I decided to go ahead and get him started on “Explorers to 1815.”  In the first three days he completed 7 lessons, and the first words out of his mouth when we woke up Saturday morning were, “Can I do a history lesson?”

These courses really are amazing.  The only thing I would change is that I wish I could purchase them on CD-ROM so we could pass them down from one child to the next.  I’m not requiring him to do any of the lessons at this point.  It’s just a chance for him (and Ian to some extent, as he enjoys watching) to review things we’ve already learned about, and hopefully eventually he’ll catch up to where we are in our family history study.  I’ve made a note of when 6 months is up to make sure he’ll have enough time to complete the course before our subscription runs out, but I’m hoping he’ll just go through it at his own pace without me ever needing to schedule it.

Upcoming Reviews

We’re enjoying several products right now, so watch for these reviews in the next few weeks (may contain affiliate links):

Wrapping Up Week 9 (2016-17)

weekly wrap-up
This week we squeezed as much of our regular schoolwork in to the first three days, and then headed out of town with my husband’s side of the family for a classic car event they participate in each year.  It was a great chance for the kids to see a new part of California, learn a little more about cars (which are a REALLY big deal to that side of the family), and spend some time with Papa (my father-in-law), their aunt and uncle, and the cousins.  In addition to enjoying the beach and the bike trail that runs alongside it, they got to visit the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, which tied into our reading of Island of the Blue Dolphins earlier this year, and we visited the old San Buenaventura Mission to add to our ongoing study of California history.  I was surprised by how much Elijah remembered about Junipero Serra, whom we read about back in Week 2 of this school year.

To make sure the days could truly count as school days, I also prepared packets of worksheets for the older boys, using some pages from CC Connected to review our Classical Conversations memory work, plus some grammar and math worksheets that went along with what we’ve been studying lately.  They didn’t get through even half of what I prepared because we ended up taking so many little excursions, but I’m still glad I pulled the packets together.  I’ll keep them handy to pull out while the boys are sitting through Arianna’s ballet lessons or I’m at Bible study.

Here’s what we worked on this week:


Image result for the god puzzle ackermanIan has been going through The God Puzzle by Valerie Ackermann, and now that we’re a couple months into it, I’m starting to appreciate it for more than face value.  This was a last minute curriculum decision (as in we were like a day out from starting school and I realized I only had Bible plans for Elijah so I went to my shelves to see what I could find for Ian), and at first I really wasn’t sure if he was getting anything out of it.  He’s a reluctant writer, so he doesn’t give me much on the open-ended questions.  Still, the “Talk About Sections” have given me some good insight into his theological understanding, and lately he’s been eager to get out his book to go through it.  I think it’s a good fit for him, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year goes.

As far as Elijah, he has been racing through the Veritas Press Self-Paced Course on Genesis – Joshua so quickly, I actually told him to take this week off.  My plan was to have him finish this course by Christmas break so he could do the next course in the second half of the year, but I think he’s probably going to finish earlier than that.


Both boys are doing their math almost completely independently, with daily fact practice on, and 4-5 lessons a week in Teaching Textbooks 4.  (I have the whole book scheduled over the course of the year, and I try not to have them do anything on days we have CC unless we’re behind.)


We finished up Lesson 2 in All Things Fun and Fascinating from IEW, as well as Week 7 in Fix It! Grammar: The Nose Tree (Book 1).  Ian is gaining a lot of confidence as he proceeds through Sequential Spelling, and I’m breathing a sigh of relief at having finally found something that is really helping him start to improve.


This week we didn’t have a chapter in The Light and the Glory for Children scheduled because I wanted to watch the Liberty’s Kids episodes that correspond with what we’vealready read (episodes #2-4: “Intolerable Acts,” “United We Stand,” and “Liberty or Death”).  learn-our-history-jpgInstead, I planned other short readings from various older books I’d gotten with the e-book bundle from Yesterday’s Classics.  We read about Patrick Henry, as well as two short stories about children in the days just before the Revolutionary War.  We also watched the another DVD, Learn Our History: The Birth of a Revolution.

t for now I’m going to try to stick with our schedule to let these history stories really sink in.  Thankfully, I found one more cute video to show them that drove the story a little more into their heads: Pups of Liberty: The Boston Tea-Bone Party on  (I don’t know if you have to be a member to watch the streaming video, but membership is free, and you can get one free DVD a year, plus free streaming of other videos, so we signed up last year and they just happened to email me about this video on Thursday so it was perfect timing!)


We didn’t read a biography this week, but we did watch the Torchlighters DVD on John Bunyan (both the animated feature and the documentary).  It was a little late to go along with our history timeline, but I’m still glad we squeezed it in this week.  Our read aloud book was also a little behind where we are in history, but the boys really enjoyed Newbery Medal winner The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds, which is based on the true story of a boy who bravely helps his mother protect their family against an Indian attack back in 1756.

john-bunyan  matchlock-gun

Upcoming Reviews

We’re enjoying several products right now, so watch for these reviews in the next few weeks (may contain affiliate links):

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