25 CHRISTmas Picture Books for Older Children

As I shared in my previous post, 25 CHRISTmas Books for Preschoolers, I’ve split our Christmas library into two parts to have age appropriate books for all the children in our family to (re)discover each day in December.  Choosing books for older children is a little trickier than for the little ones.  Some of my favorite stories are chapter books that are too long to read in one day, so our Advent tradition of wrapping up a book to open each day doesn’t work quite so well with those.  So here’s a list of 25 great picture books we’ll be using for our Advent gifts, not in order, but grouped by theme.  (Yes, we open the same ones each year, with usually a few new ones mixed in.)  The chapter books will have to wait until my children get a little older.

older children
 

I’ve tried to build a collection of beautiful books that will reach my children’s hearts and cause them to think more deeply about Christmas.  Not all these books are specifically about Christ or even mention him (though many do), but are more focused on things like love, self-sacrifice, and the joy of giving as we celebrate God’s gift of our Savior.

Books Set in the Time of Christ

1.

Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado (a young carpenter’s apprentice gives the manger he has worked on to be Christ’s first bed)

2.

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado (a lamb who is sad about not being able to go out into the fields gets to be present when Christ is born)

3. Light of Christmas

The Light of Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall (rhyming story about Jesus, the Light of the World, not just at his birth, but for all time)

4.

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti (a young crippled boy meets the 3 kings on their journey and his healed after deciding to give his crutch to the baby Jesus, based on the opera by the same name)

5. box
Mary’s Treasure Box by Carolyn Walz Kramlich (Mary shows her grandaughter Sarah the treasures from when he uncle Jesus was born.)
6.
Mary’s First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr. (Mary recounts to a young Jesus her memories of his birth)

Books about Christmas Traditions

7.

The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne (teaches about the symbolism of Christmas trees)

8.
Silent Night: The Song and Its Story by Margaret Hodges (beautiful book about when the song was written and how it spread)
9.

The Candy Maker’s Gift: The Inspirational Legend of the Candy Cane by David and Helen Haidle (the symbolism behind the candy cane)

10.

The 12 Days of Christmas: the story behind a favorite Christmas song by Helen Haidle (with explanations of the items in the song)

11.

The Last Straw by Paula Palangi McDonald (a family creates a bed for Jesus as they perform kind deeds for one another)

Books about the Gift of Christ

12. cover

If He Had Not Come by Nan F. Weeks (retold by David Nicholson) (a boy dreams of a world with Christ and realizes the Jesus is the best gift ever given)

13. http://i2.wp.com/lookingglassreview.com/assets/images/Josie_s_Gift.jpg?resize=317%2C289

Josie’s Gift by Kathleen Long Bostrom (the story of a girl who learns that Christmas is not about what we want, but what we have)

14. http://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Xr5d07tBL.jpg?resize=272%2C316

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo (a little girl shares the joy of Christ’s birth with a lonely organ-grinder)

Books about the Joy of Giving

15. http://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/5117QRJ9AWL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?w=960

Christmas Oranges retold by Linda Bethers (the story of an orphan girl whose friends show her great love through their gift to her)

16.

The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans (about a man who discovers joy in giving to the poor)

17.

The Legend of Saint Nicholas: A Story of Christmas Giving by Dandi Daley Mackall (a boy learns about the story of St. Nicholas and gains a new outlook on giving)

18.

Penny’s Christmas Jar Miracle by Jason F. Wright (a wonderful story about love and the joy of doing something for others)

19.

The Princess and the Kiss: Three Gifts of Christmas by Jennie Bishop (After her parents decide a princess should only receive three gifts rather than her usual bounty, she learns that true joy comes from giving.)

20.

The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson (the story of an unhappy cobbler who discovers joy in giving “unto the least of these”)

Other Charming Stories Our Family Has Enjoyed

21.

The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans (a boy sacrifices his own desires to help someone in need and is rewarded in the end)

22.

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston (the story of a family’s love and sacrifice during hard times)

23.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski (a story of hope about a man transformed by love)

24.

Angela and the Baby Jesus by Frank McCourt (a little girl takes the figure of baby Jesus home from church because he seems cold)

25.
The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul (not a “Christmas book” at first glance, but still probably my favorite book about the point of Christmas, an allegory about God sending His Son as a light to a dark, fallen world.)

(NOTE: As I’ve discovered new books, I’ve replaced some of the titles in the original post.  I’m keeping them around for when I want to wrap up books for more kids each day, but these are currently my 25 favorites for elementary-age children.)

25 CHRISTmas Books for Preschoolers

A few years ago we started a tradition of wrapping up a book each day of Advent leading up to Christmas, and I shared a list of books we used to go along with Truth in the Tinsel.  Every year I’ve added a few new Christmas books to our collection (with more kids to open them), and this year we’ll be opening 2 books each day: one geared toward my preschoolers, and 1 for my older kids.  So I thought it was about time I organized the books into two lists and shared them.  (In other words, there are several repeats from the old list this time around, but the books with longer stories have been replaced with more preschool-friendly choices.)

Preschool Christmas Books
Everywhere we go at Christmas our kids tend to be bombarded with messages about Santa and elves, so we try really hard to counter those with Christ-focused stories, songs, and decorations.  These books are a reflection of our family’s choice to keep Jesus at the forefront of all our Christmas activities.

I’ve listed them in subject groups rather than the order I pass them out.  I do tend to give most of the books about symbols early on so that the kids will recognize them and make the connection to Christ as we go through the season, but as a general rule I try to mix them up a bit so we don’t end up with all the stable/animal stories in a big clump.  I just thought these groups would be more helpful for anyone not familiar with the books.

Books about Christmas Symbols

1. http://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51k9H2TFMWL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?resize=199%2C259

Jesus, Me and My Christmas Tree by Crystal Bowman (A little girl goes through various ornaments on her tree that relate to the Christmas story.)

2. http://i1.wp.com/crystalbowman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/9780310708919_p0_v1_s260x420.jpg?resize=211%2C273

J is for Jesus by Crystal Bowman (rhyme about the symbolism of the candy cane)

3. http://i2.wp.com/crystalbowman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/christmas-angels.jpg?resize=244%2C321

Christmas Angels by Crystal Bowman (rhyming story about angels in the Christmas story so children think of the Bible when they see angel decorations)

4. http://i1.wp.com/media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/82/33/f9/8233f90c924e9ebd12d85d90e97c1c41.jpg?w=960

A Star for Jesus by Crystal Bowman (rhyming story about the Christmas star)

5. http://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61Ay3oig7eL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?w=960

The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs (a story about a farmer and his wife who make a sacrifice that brings great joy.  Bible verses throughout.)

Books Based on Songs

6.

Mary, Did You Know? by Mark Lowry, illustrated by Phil Boatwright (beautiful illustrations and accompanying Scripture verses)

7. We Three Kings

We Three Kings traditional carol illustrated by Gennady Spirin (The pictures are probably more pleasing to adults, but I like the chance to expose my children to beautiful art.)

8. http://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61Flh9tWbCL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?resize=260%2C261

The Animals’ Christmas Carol illustrated by Helen Ward (beautiful pictures to go along with the medieval carol “The Friendly Beasts”)

9.
The Little Drummer Boy illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (a favorite song of ours, with pictures by the author of The Snowy Day)

10.

12 Days of Christmas beautifully illustrated by Laurel Long (in the right order, which is surprisingly hard to find!)

11. http://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/519Pln-JrlL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?w=960

Away in a Manger illustrated by Thomas Kinkade (all three verses, with paintings of both the manger scene and an old-fashioned village)

Books About the First Christmas

12. http://i1.wp.com/www.cynthiacotten.com/pages/book_stable.jpg?resize=249%2C281

This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotton (full of repetition and rhyme, similar to “This is the House That Jack Built”)

13. http://i0.wp.com/img2.imagesbn.com/p/9780694012275_p0_v4_s260x420.JPG?w=960

Christmas in the Manger by Nola Buck (simple rhymes about those present at Jesus’ birth)

14. star

The Christmas Star by Marcus Pfister (beautiful watercolor and glitter illustrations by the author/illustrator of The Rainbow Fish)

15. http://i2.wp.com/www.credomag.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/stars.jpg?resize=312%2C256

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones (full of excitement about the arrival of Jesus–I like to save this one for Christmas morning because it captures the joy when the wait is over)

16. http://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51-ZN%2BQUizL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg?w=960

Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer (about a self-absorbed donkey who goes with the three kings to find Christ and realizes that he alone is worthy of praise)

17.

Baby Jesus is Born by Juliet David (Very simple retelling of the whole Christmas story, starting with the angel visiting Mary and ending with the family returning to Nazareth.)

18.

The Christmas Story: The Brick Bible for Kids by Brendan Powell Smith (I am not a fan of the Brick Bible in general, and I hesitated even to buy this because I didn’t want to support the anti-Christian author, but several trusted friends recommended it and I knew my boys especially would love it, so I decided to find a used copy for our family.  If your kids are sensitive, be warned that it does include the part of the story where Herod orders the baby boys of Bethlehem killed.)

19.

Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell (about the animals in the stable when Jesus was born)

20.

The Animals’ Christmas Eve by Gale Wiersum (a counting book about the animals in the stable)

21.

Who is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate (about the animals getting ready to welcome baby Jesus to their stable)

22.

Bethlehem Night by Julie Stiegemeyer (story of the night Christ was born, told in rhyme–good fit for Christmas Eve)

Other Family Favorites

23.

Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins (An old Russian story about a woman who meets the wise men on their way to visit the Christ child.)

24.

Mouskin’s Christmas Eve by Edna Miller (classic story about a mouse who finds his way into a house at Christmastime and finds peace in the shelter of a manger scene)

25. 

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson (also about a little mouse exploring a manger scene, but a more detailed story)

If you have kids in school check out 25 CHRISTmas Picture Books for Older Children.  I hope your family finds some new favorites to enjoy this Christmas!

(NOTE: As I’ve discovered new books, I’ve replaced some of the titles in the original post.  I’m keeping them around for when I want to wrap up books for more kids each day, but these are currently my 25 favorites for preschool-age children.)

Sentence Diagramming from The Critical Thinking Co. (Crew Review)

This is the first year we have done any sort of formal grammar instruction, and I’m curious about different resources that are available.  I was thankful for the recent opportunity we were given to try Sentence Diagramming: Beginning from The Critical Thinking Co.™.

About Sentence Diagramming: Beginning

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}Sentence Diagramming: Beginning is a 72-page softcover workbook consisting of 12 lessons.  Designed for use with Grades 3-12+, the lessons are simple but not childish, so they can provide instruction and/or practice at any of these levels.

Lesson 1 begins with as simple a sentence as you can get, with just two words forming the subject and predicate (e.g. “Cats purr” or “Artists draw.”)  Subsequent lessons add in new concepts one at a time, building upon what the students have previous learned, until their diagrams become quite complex:

  • Lesson 1: Simple Subject and Main Verb
  • Lesson 2: Direct Object
  • Lesson 3: Adjectives
  • Lesson 4: Adverbs Modifying Verbs
  • Lesson 5: Predicate Adjectives
  • Lesson 6: Predicate Nouns
  • Lesson 7: Prepositional Phrases (Adjectival)
  • Lesson 8: Prepositional Phrases (Adverbial)
  • Lesson 9: Compound Subjects
  • Lesson 10: Compound Predicates
  • Lesson 11: Compound Direct Objects
  • Lesson 12: Compound Predicate Adjectives and Nouns

Within each lesson, the student gets to work through 4 different types of exercises (after brief instructional section with examples at the beginning of the lesson):

  1. Correcting errors in given diagrams
  2. Diagramming given sentences on given diagrams
  3. Writing original sentences on a given diagram
  4. Diagramming given sentences independently

Answers for all exercises are given at the back of the book.

Our Experience

I was surprised at how much my boys enjoyed the process of diagramming sentences.  It really appealed to their mechanically inclined brains, and I think it helped certain grammar concepts “click” in a way that has eluded them up to this point.

I really liked the way each lesson approached the diagrams from several different angles, and certain ones worked better for each boy depending on their strengths and how they think.  I would usually go through the examples at the beginning of each lesson, explaining which new concept was being presented.  They we would go through a few of the exercises in each section together, and I would have them try others on their own.

sentence-diagramming

I especially appreciate the copyright, which allows me to make copies to use within my family.  As a mom of many, I try to look for resources that I’ll be able turn to again and again, rather than having to repurchase multiple copies for each of my children.  Some of these lessons I just did at home with the boys on whiteboards, but others I copied for them to take with them when we were doing school away from home.  It was great to have this flexibility.

The minimal instruction made it easy to get into the first few lessons, but as they get more advanced, I think it would be hard for these lessons to stand alone.  The book shows how to draw the diagrams, but it doesn’t provide much explanation for why words are placed in certain spots, why some lines are slanted, and things like that.

Because of this, I think I would hesitate to go much further in the book on its own.  We are using it in conjunction with our current grammar program, which is teaching the boys about parts of speech more thoroughly, and as they get more comfortable with those labels, I think we’ll come back to Sentence Diagramming: Beginning to help broaden their understanding.  It’s also a great resource for families already doing sentence diagramming with their grammar program but looking for clear examples for extra practice.

Right now, this “Beginning” book is the only one available on The Critical Thinking Co.™ website, but I would be interested in seeing what the Level 1 and Level 2 books (mentioned on the title page) look like when they come out.

One Last Thing

The Critical Thinking Co.™ believes in the Importance of Preschool Academics, and has some great resources for parents who want to give their children some academic experience before they reach official school age, such as their “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™” bundle, which includes five apps designed to teach basic skills.  You can see what other Crew members thought of these programs and other products from The Critical Thinking Co.™ by clicking on the banner below.

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
Crew Disclaimer

Elementary Spanish Online (Crew Review)

middlebury-interactive-review
Foreign Language can be a hard subject for home educators to teach if they don’t know the language themselves.  I really want my children to develop a proficiency in Spanish that exceeds my own limited abilities, so I have been incredibly thankful for the online courses available from Middlebury Interactive Languages.  Both of my older boys have benefited from their Spanish 1 course for Grades K-2 (see reviews of Semester 1 and Semester 2), and recently Elijah got a chance to start working through Elementary Spanish 2 (Grades 3-5).

About Elementary Spanish 2 (Grade 3-5)

Like all the Middlebury Interactive Languages Courses, Elementary Spanish 2 uses stories, songs, videos, and interactive games to help students learn basic vocabulary.  Depending on the activity, they must listen, read, write, and speak the key words for each lesson.

Elementary Spanish 2 (Grades 3-5) covers 16 units over two semesters, each unit consisting of six lessons.

units

Within each lesson, there is a variety of activities.

middlebury-collage

Students can go back and repeat lessons as many times as they want.

Our Experience

This course was definitely more advanced than the Grades K-2 course, mostly because of the addition of the reading and writing activities.  Elijah reads at at least a strong 3rd grade level, but I think this made the course more challenging than he expected.  While I do think it is important to be able to read and write when learning a new language, I am cautious about adding in too much of this.  In my own foreign language experiences, focusing on the written aspect of the language has hindered my ability to speak and understand it when spoken.  middlebury-interactive-languagesThis is mostly due to the fact that I am a VERY visual learner and NOT strong at auditory learning.  I think there was still enough variety in this course to make it worthwhile for students like myself, who really need to focus on listening and speaking to become proficient, but because of this aspect, I didn’t like the Grade 3-5 course as much as I did the one for Grades K-2.

The only other issue we had was that because this course was building upon what Elijah has learned in the Spanish 1 course, it was beyond my own knowledge of the language.  He struggled a little more in this course, but now I’m not able to help him nearly as much.  Most of the time just going back and repeating some of the introductory lessons in the unit was enough to answer his questions and get him back on track, but I could see where it might be helpful to have the teacher support, which is available for an additional cost.

Overall, I still think Middlebury is a great option for families whose students need to work independently on learning a foreign language.  I love the way the stories immerse the student in the language by using only Spanish, highlighting the vocabulary words to help them understand while getting them accustomed to hearing the language spoken fluently.  My children may never speak Spanish completely fluently themselves, but Middlebury has at least given them a good foundation upon which to build.

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

Just Checking In

Changes are upon us.  Our family is growing, and I’ve decided to take a break from the Homeschool Review Crew after finishing up my last few reviews in the next few weeks.  This school year has just felt too busy, and something needed to go.  I’m trying to figure out how much I want to be blogging in this season.  I love having a record of what we’ve done (and I go back to look things up more often than you’d imagine), but I’m also ready to back off a little bit.  I haven’t posted a wrap-up in a few weeks (we took last week off of school), so I thought I’d try to catch up this weekend, but then that didn’t happen either.  I probably won’t be writing weekly, but I don’t want to give it up entirely.  It may take a while to find a new rhythm.

The Familyman’s Christmas Treasury (Crew Review)

familyman-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.

8_christmas_book_combo

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
Crew Disclaimer

MyFreezEasy (Crew Review)

myfreezeasy-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 MyFreezEasy.com 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:

MyFreezEasy.com 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.

MyFreezEasy.com 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.

dscn2317x

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.

dscn2320x

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.

chicken-taco-bake

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).

dscn2324x

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!)

dscn2327x

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.

dscn2329

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!

MyFreezEasy.com Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
Crew Disclaimer

If you were me and lived in… (Crew Book Review)

carole-p-roman-collage
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 Awaywegomedia.com.  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.

colonial-america-2

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.

colonial-america-3
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.

colonial-america-4
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.

colonial-america-1

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 Awaywegomedia.com}
Crew Disclaimer

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.

Preschool

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.

tea-party
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.

Elementary

History

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 Izzit.org; 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.

Biography

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

Writing

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:

iew

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)

cat-of-bubastes-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
Crew Disclaimer

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.

dscn2304

What We Did This Week

Bible

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.

vp-bible

History

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”
cabin-faced-westLiterature

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.)

Biography

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.

Writing

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.

Summary

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

« Older Entries