Wednesday, October 29, 2014

REVIEW: Homework Reward Treasure Hunt and Soccer Treasure Hunt by Clued in Kids

Haylee and Holden were really excited to get to review the fun Homework Reward Treasure Hunt and the Soccer Treasure Hunt by Clued in Kids!



Clued in Kids offers a whole series of printable and pre-packaged scavenger/treasure hunts to suit kids ages 4 and up, and they can even be coordinated by teens so kids of varying ages can all work together. 

The Homework Reward Treasure Hunt is a printable treasure hunt that is meant to be used as a reward for children who have completed their school work.  It’s available for just $5.99.  In addition, if you sign up for the newsletter from Clued in Kids, you can receive this treasure hunt for free, so check it out and see if this is something your family might enjoy!

The Soccer Treasure Hunt is a printable treasure hunt with an overall soccer theme to it.  If soccer is a popular sport with your kids, then they are likely to enjoy this hunt.  They will need to know a few things about the sport in order to solve some of the clues.  It’s available for just $5.99.



The idea of treasure hunts really appealed to my kids, so when the opportunity arose to do this review, both Haylee (age 10) and Holden (age 6) were really happy to try them out!  We’d never done anything like this before, so the prospect seemed pretty exciting to us.

I invited each of them to select a theme they thought they’d enjoy the most.  Haylee picked the Homework Reward Treasure Hunt, because I often pass out little rewards throughout the day if the kids are staying on task and sticking to the schedules.  But Haylee especially loves a bigger reward at the end of the day when she finishes school on time.  This is because she struggles with staying on task, and an end-of-day reward is something she has to work hard to earn.  This scavenger hunt seemed to fit the bill!  After all, who wouldn’t look forward to a little fun after a hard day of school work?

Holden selected the Soccer Treasure Hunt.  Obviously, he wanted to choose a boyish theme, and since we’re right in the middle of our soccer season, this oneDSCF2254 appealed to him right away! 

The setup only took about 10 minutes.  First, I printed out the kit and cut the pages in half with a pair of scissors to separate the instructions, clues, and answer key.  Then I looked at the bottom of each clue to see the note regarding where it needed to be hidden and went to place the clues accordingly around the house or outside, as the case may be.  I selected Tastykakes as the treasure, and I hid them under Haylee’s bed to be found by following the last clue.  Then I called the kids together and gave them their first clue.  Off they went! 

Here’s a video of how our Homework Reward Treasure Hunt went.

I think Haylee’s favorite part of this particular hunt was the clue where she had to fold the paper into a paper airplane and fly it.  She’s never been good at making paper airplanes, and the folds on this one were a bit different from anything she’d tried to make in the past.  In fact, it flew so well that she was genuinely shocked, and when the hunt was over, she returned to fly her paper airplane again and again!  She was amazed to have made one that worked so well!DSCF2255

The next treasure hunt we did was the Soccer Treasure Hunt that Holden had selected.  Some of the clues for this hunt required a little knowledge of soccer and related terms, so it worked out well that both of them currently play soccer.  I followed the same procedure noted above to set it up, and I selected little bags of Reese’s Miniatures for their treasure, hidden in their shoes, which were located by following the final clue. 

Here’s another video depicting how that hunt went.

I think their favorite part of this hunt was finding clues in strange places like the grill, the front door, their soccer bag, and on the shoe rack with their cleats!

As you can see, both of the kids really enjoyed these treasure hunts!  In fact, they enjoyed them so much, that by bedtime, Holden was already asking me if we could buy more of these treasure hunts to do!  It’s true that there certainly are plenty of them to choose from.  I would imagine they’d also be a lot of fun in groups, like for his birthday party coming up after Christmas.  I will definitely have to keep these in mind!

I will say that there were some clues that Holden would not have been able to work out by himself…there were some more advanced math problems at times that would be too hard for a first grader.  But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t help your child find the answer now and then.  It’s all the more reason why these are great for multiple children to work on together.  Team work won them their prizes in the end, and that’s always something I like to see in my children!

The bottom line is that these were a great way to build social interaction and to practice skills in logic, math, social studies, and reading, all while having a great heap of fun!

Check out what other Crew members had to say about these and many other treasure hunts from Clued in Kids by clicking the banner below!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – October 12th-18th

This was a week of miscellaneous happenings, for sure!  Here’s a look at our random outings and events.


I absolutely love my new smartphone, new to me this summer…a Samsung Galaxy Ace Style from Straight Talk.  It’s my first smartphone, and I keep finding new things to do with it.  Where have you been all my life?  My handiest app is Cardstar.  I was able to get rid of all of those key-tag store loyalty cards by scanning them all into the app on my phone.  Now when I’m shopping, I just open the app and select the store card I need, and it pulls up the bar code for the cashier to scan.  I love it!

I’ve been busy loading up on all kinds of apps for stores and restaurants that bring me coupons.  I love coupons!  And I’ve signed up for great text offers from places like Arby’s, Sonic, 7-11, and Long John Silver’s.  Speaking of Long John Silver’s, I got a text offer for a kids’ meal for 99 cents when you donate $1 to Children’s Miracle Network for one day only.  So since the kids were off from school this week, we decided to head out for a rare lunch treat. 


Here are my little pirates.  ARGH!  They enjoyed their fish…their favorite! 


The kids were off school on Friday to kick off our 10-day break, so I broke out our old V-Smile console and hooked it up to the tv in the living room so they could play some games together.  Wouldn’t you know the first game they pulled out was Soccer Challenge?  Of course it was!  We’re right in the heart of our soccer season, after all. 


It was cute watching them play together without fighting.  But of course, it didn’t last all that long since they’re really too old for the most of the games.  But the novelty of it was cool.  I always loved how you could rotate the joystick for a left-hander like Holden.


On Friday night, we decided to go see a movie with Steve.  He met us there straight from work.  We went to Cinema Cafe, so we got to eat dinner while we watched Guardians of the Galaxy.


I didn’t actually know much about the movie before we saw it, but it was really good!  We all enjoyed it.


After our soccer games on Saturday, I rushed home so the kids could change into their Halloween costumes so we could go over to our community clubhouse for a costume party and trunk-or-treating.  We knew we’d be late because of soccer, but we were hoping to catch the costume contest.  When we got there, it turned out they held it earlier than they’d planned, and we missed both the party and the contest!  Bummer.  But they were just starting the trunk-or-treating, so they at least got to do that.


Haylee found this cute Candy Corn Witch costume at the thrift store for $4.  It’s so cute!  Everybody loves the colors.  Holden will be going as Batman this year, which I recycled from when Hayden was little.  It was so windy outside, and Haylee kept losing her hat!  We could barely keep it on long enough to take the picture!

When we got home, we discovered one of the treat bags had a coupon for a free kids’ meal from Applebee’s, so I see another night out coming soon! 


In Saturday’s mail, I got our last BarkBox from that 6-month daily deal voucher we purchased in the spring.  Our dogs have enjoyed their toys and treats so much that we talked about it and decided to renew for another year, which gives you the best rate of $19/month.  Here’s what we got this month.


As you can see, it had a Halloween theme!  Their favorite was that cool mummy mat, which had 16 squeakers in it plus crinkle fabric!  Lilly absolutely loves it.  The dogs started playing tug-of-war with it immediately, and she loves all the sounds it makes.  That toy alone prices out at $15 at Amazon, so these boxes are definitely a good value for the money.  Then they got a really loud, squeaky skull, a beef strip, some goat liver snacks, and some pumpkin biscuits.  I love that all the snacks are organic and completely natural.  The little pumpkin cookies smell so good, and the dogs really loved them!  There were a couple sitting on the table, and Hayden walked in and nearly ate one because they smelled just like pumpkin pie! 


That wraps up our week of random happenings!  Until next week…

Friday, October 24, 2014

REVIEW: Anthem for a Nation DVD by New Liberty Videos

After watching previews for this film, I was really looking forward to the opportunity to review the Anthem for a Nation DVD by New Liberty Videos.



The Anthem for a Nation DVD is a unique film that aims to demonstrate to viewers how our nation was truly founded on Christian principles, and the gradual shift that our country has made from that Christian foundation over time. 

From its footage of the beautiful landscapes of America to its grand federal buildings, it all proclaims a nation that was created because it sought to follow God.

Where do we stand now?  Is this nation as great as it once was?  Why has no other nation prospered like America?  How can we restore the values that brought us God’s gift of freedom in this land? These are the questions this video will seek to answer.

Take a look at the video preview for this brand new film.  You can purchase this DVD for just $19.95.  This film is intended for a general audience of adults and children, as you deem appropriate.



After watching the video preview of this film, I went from little to no interest to great anticipation of seeing it and hoping to review it!  I have to say that I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to view it.  I watched it with my 10-year old daughter.  While I don’t think it moved her the way it did me as an adult with a better appreciation for American history and for God’s involvement in the prosperity of our nation, I’m still glad she watched it with me.  She was fascinated with the facts we learned about many of the federal buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. So I want to summarize for you some of the information that stood out to us the most:

  • Within a hundred years after the founding of the United States of America, 32 million people immigrated to our great nation.
  • “In God We Trust” is engraved in the walls of many federal buildings.
  • Major federal buildings and monuments in Washington, D.C. form a perfect cross when viewed aerially.
  • The 10 Commandments hang above the Chief Justice in the United States Supreme Court.
  • The Great Seal of the United States is inscribed with “God has smiled on our undertaking.”
  • The Jefferson Memorial walls are carved with “God is the holy author of our religion.”
  • The House and Senate each have a chaplain, open their sessions with a prayer, and have a dedicated room for prayer and meditation.  The window says “Preserve me, oh, God.  In thee do I trust.”
  • The top of the Washington monument has a plaque that says “Praise be to God,” and it faces the East so it is the first point in the city to receive the morning sun.  No other building is allowed by law to be taller than the monument.  Therefore, those words were placed at the highest point of the tallest building in the most powerful city in the most prosperous nation in the world.  The cornerstone of the building contains a bible.
  • Four paintings in the Capitol building show historical events in the founding days of our nation, and those paintings depict two prayer meetings, a bible study, and a baptism.
  • Church services were held in the Capitol building for 75 years.
  • Federal funds were used to evangelize native people.
  • For 200 years, the bible was the best-selling book in America.

All of these facts were used to establish that our nation was indeed founded on Christian principles with a desire to do the will of God in all things.  Then the film shifts to show us how our nation’s court system began to slowly erode those principles by gradually removing God from our everyday lives and thereby failing to give credit to God for making our nation great.

  • In 1963, our laws removed bibles from public schools.
  • Following that move, there came a ban of many things such as nativity scenes, singing of carols, and celebration of Christmas in schools and public buildings.  Prayer was removed from schools.
  • The federal government funded the instruction of humanism in public schools.
  • Gradually, there became an increase of violence, dropouts, and teen pregnancies in schools.
  • In 1973, Roe v. Wade essentially said there is no value in an unborn child, and therefore, an unborn child has no rights.  Whereas a blade of grass has value and therefore could be protected from trespass, an unborn child does not.

Then the film asked us to close our eyes and listen to the sound of be-bees hitting the side of a tin can. We were told that each be-bee represented 10,000 lives lost.  Then it named each of the major wars one by one and sounded out the number of lives lost in each one as represented by the be-bees.  Then it demonstrated the lives lost to abortions in this country since that fateful 1973 court decision, and shockingly, the sound of the be-bees went on for what seemed like forever.  Each ping of a be-bee broke another piece of my heart, and I was overwhelmed with emotion at the astounding number of innocent lives lost in this way.  It was truly a powerful statement beyond words.  My daughter looked at me as I was overcome with tears of grief.  Such a simple gesture made such a profound impact on me, as I think it would anyone watching and listening.  I wish more people could see that little demonstration, because I don’t think the numbers quite sink into people’s minds when you just read it somewhere.  This segment ended with the words “God help us.”  Indeed.

The film made a great point then…if we allow, encourage, and provide opportunities for our elected officials to pray, then why not our school children?  Do we think we have the strength to make this nation great instead of God?  A house cannot stand without its foundation, and as such, we must return to ours.  As a republic of the people, for the people, and by the people, we are the decision makers, so we are guilty of allowing the courts to remove God from our nation.  “The only way for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”  The bible says in 2 Chronicles 7:14 - If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (NIV)

The film states that the rebirth of our nation can happen when great numbers rise up to obey God.  We must remain one nation under God!  The film ends with beautiful footage of our American landscape as Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA” played in the background.  I felt so patriotic and moved by this point that I again burst into tears!  The closing stated that the film was dedicated to the Glory of God.  Amen! 

As if there weren’t already enough in this film to entice you to purchase it and see it for yourself, there is also wonderful bonus content included on the DVD.  I found myself just as interested and engrossed in the story told by Maria Anne Hirschmann of her upbringing in Nazi Germany and her indoctrination into that belief system and then how she came to encounter the generosity and kindness of American soldiers at the end of the war…the very enemy she’d been taught to hate.  This led her to come to America to see for herself what these people were like, and the truth of freedom she found in America led her to what made these people kind and generous and this nation so great…their belief in God.  She came to know Jesus and transformed her life.  She became an American citizen and explained that because she learned of freedom and truth the hard way, she will never forget it, but that she sees Americans who have known nothing but that freedom have come to take it for granted and to forget that it all comes from God.  Wow, that, too, was a mighty powerful message.  I also was not born a citizen of the United States, but I am one now, and I appreciate that opportunity, as well.  I, too, am saddened at the distance our nation has created from its Christian roots. 

There is an additional bonus feature that tells the story of Kitty Werthmann’s life growing up in Austria under Hitler’s regime.  This is also worth watching as she explains how freedoms were taken away from her people, and her mother saved her from a life of indoctrination by sending her away to a Catholic school.  When she returned, she saw how her friends had changed because religions was removed from their lives, and she became thankful that her mother had made that choice for her.

Truly, this film has a meaningful message for all of us…adults and children alike.  I especially want to sit down and watch this with my teenager.  As he studies AP History this year in 10th grade, I want him to have the underlying message of this film in the back of his mind.  I forsee lots of fruitful discussion to be had from watching this film together.

I definitely recommend that you take a look at this wonderful, patriotic film that reminds us what Christian America should look like.  I have the urge to share it with everyone I know!

Check out what other Crew members had to say about this and other great DVD films from New Liberty Videos by clicking the banner below.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

REVIEW: iWitness Biblical Archaeology by Apologia Educational Ministries

I had the opportunity to review iWitness Biblical Archaeology by Apologia Educational Ministries with my teenager.




Apologia offers a series of iWitness books to give kids ages 11 and up and adults alike the opportunity to explore the bible and it’s place in history a bit further.  They take very scholarly information and present it in such a way that you can understand the meaning and context and draw your own conclusions in a meaningful way.

iWitness Biblical Archaeology offers readers the opportunity to explore how God has revealed the bible not only in the book itself, but also in archaeology.  There is amazing evidence of the factual existence of the events of the bible in our world today.  This wonderful book shows you the documents and artifacts that reveal that truth to us in the here and now.

Other books in this series include the New Testament iWitness, which offers a discussion of the authors and source of the New Testament, whether or not we have the entire text or if there were books left out, and how it has been handed down over time, and the Old Testament iWitness, which compares the Old Testament with the Hebrew bible, discusses who wrote these ancient books, and tells how they were collected.  These fascinating books are available for just $14 each.  There are also two earlier published books in the series called Resurrection iWitness and Jesus iWitness, available for $20 each.



When I saw these three new iWitness books on the review list, the iWitness Biblical Archaeology immediately caught my attention.  My 15-year old son, Hayden, and I have always been interested in how archaeological discoveries made over time have only served to reinforce the truthful history presented in the bible.  We’re big fans of watching documentaries on this type of subject matter, so we thought this book would be of great interest to us so we’d have a chance to examine the documents and artifacts for ourselves.  We were not disappointed!

This book covers a variety of topics to include:

  • The Flood
  • Searching for Noah’s Ark
  • Egyptian Chronology/Exodus Pt. 1
  • Exodus Pt. 2/Sinai?
  • David, YHWH, and Israel Inscriptions
  • Sennacherib’s Siege and Hezekiah’s Tunnel
  • Old Testament History
  • Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Oldest Copies of the Bible
  • Hadrian and Constantine
  • Jesus’ Judges
  • Jesus’ World
  • New Testament History
  • The Burial Shroud of Jesus?

Each topic shows you images of artifacts and documents that have been found and then gives you some background information about the topic and differing viewpoints on the findings by various scholars.  This allows you to consider all the information, look at the evidence for yourself, and draw your own conclusions about their significance to history and the way they are presented in the bible.

For instance, on the topic of The Flood, the text tells you of various versions of the event as told by different sources.  It discusses the myth in many ancient cultures of the flood story and the fact that many scholars think the Genesis account is a compilation of these cultural myths.  But then it mentions that the bible’s more straight-forward, simpler account is perhaps what the cultural myths were instead based upon.  It shows you an image of the Gilgamesh Epic, tells you where it was found and where it is stored, and then it explains Babylonian story told on the tablets found in a palace library in Nineveh and its similarities and differences with the Genesis story of the flood.  Then it shows you an image of the Atrahasis Epic, tells you where it was found and where it is stored, and tells its flood story as preserved by the Mesopotamians.  Then it shows you an image of the Weld-Blundell Prism, where it was found and where it is stored, and it talks about the lists of Sumerian kings found on it and how the length of their reigns before and after the flood support the differing life spans demonstrated in the bible in the time of Noah. 

We really enjoyed the interactive nature of the book in that it presented you with multiple artifacts that were relevant to a single bible event and let you put it all together in your mind.  We also liked how the author presented us with all the facts and evidence, summarized various opinions of each topic, and then let us decide for ourselves what we thought about it.

Both the content of this book and its presentation were appealing to both me and my teenager.  I could definitely see us owning the other books in the series in the future.  It was truly fascinating information, and it only served to strengthen the foundations of our faith.

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about this and other iWitness series books by clicking the banner below.

Monday, October 20, 2014

REVIEW: Elementary Spanish 1 Course, Grades K-2 by Middlebury Interactive Languages

We were so pleased to have the opportunity to review Elementary Spanish 1 Course, Grades K-2 by Middlebury Interactive Languages.



Middlebury Interactive Languages offers a wide variety of language learning courses for grades K-12.  You can see below which courses are available for various grade levels.  These include Spanish, French, Chinese, and German.  Each course is one semester in length.  Middlebury’s teaching style is full language immersion, giving students exposure to complete language right from the start and a well-rounded exposure to culture.

The recommended pace is two lessons per week for grades K-2, and students will complete a total of 35 lessons to complete the semester course; two to three lessons per week for grades 3-5, for a total of 45 lessons; and 4 lessons per week for grades 6-12, for a total of 90 lessons.

Courses can be completed with or without a teacher for all levels of courses except AP, which requires teacher involvement.

Take a look at some videos that showcase the course overview, highlight elementary and high school courses, and provide testimonials from a principal, a teacher, and a student perspective.

Each semester course can be purchased for $119 without a teacher, or $294 with a teacher.  The exception is AP semester courses, which require a teacher and can be purchased for $319.



My 6-year old son, Holden, is a first grader this year.  He was the lucky student for the Elementary Spanish 1 course for grades K-2 (the version without a teacher).  He had been working through a workbook for the last few weeks, but I’d found it to be getting too advanced for him.  So when this review opportunity came up, I knew he’d be a good candidate for something like this.  He loves videos, and this course offered him full animated cartoon-like videos to watch.  He was thrilled to give it a try!

As soon as he completed the first lesson, he was hooked.  I really can stress enough how this program drew him right in, and I could tell he was going to be in it for the long haul.  He wanted to do more and more lessons.  This wasn’t like school…this was FUN!  Initially, I let him go at his own pace, which turned out to be at least two lessons/day for 4 days/week.  He even wanted to do it on the weekends!  When I realized there were 35 lessons and that he’d complete them way too fast, I decided to take it down to the recommended pace of 2 lessons per week.  So now he’s doing a lesson on Monday and a lesson on Wednesday.  He’d still rather speed it up, but I wanted to get a feel for what the vendor recommended for this age group.


Right from the beginning of the course, Holden would watch videos that were traditional stories in Spanish culture.  The animated characters spoke only in Spanish with complete conversations taking place.  At first, I thought he wouldn’t pick up much from it, but his focus was really on the cartoon, and before long, I realized he was actually picking up a lot from it. 



Each lesson had a theme, like numbers, relationships, etc.  The key vocabulary words for the lesson were highlighted within the video so he could see them being used in context.  Then there were exercises after each video that allowed him to practice those key terms.  He’d always have a chance to hear the words being spoken by a native speaker, and he could have them repeated as much as he wanted before moving on.



Next, he’d get to do some kind of matching activity where he could see if he remembered the meaning of the words and understood their English translations by matching them with relevant pictures.  The videos were repeated often throughout the lessons so he’d get multiple exposures to the story.  He’d often have to recap the story in some way, like by putting scenes in story order. 




There was also plenty of opportunity to do review activities to make sure he was retaining the information from lesson to lesson and take a little quiz.  Review is obviously an important component to any language course.  The quizzes were graded instantly when he clicked on the checkmark after finishing them.  Those grades were recorded for me to view at any time, and he could see his score displayed on the screen as soon as he submitted it.  This gave him tremendous encouragement to be able to see that he remembered the material accurately!



Then at the end of each lesson, he’d always have a chance to take a speaking test.  I thought the speaking test was super cool.  He was not only hearing and seeing the language, but also speaking it!  He would first listen to the native speaker say each word, and then he would record himself repeating each word.  Then he could play back his recordings and compare them with the native speaker’s speech.  If he hadn’t gotten it quite right or wanted to try again, he could record it again until he was satisfied.  Then he’d submit it.  Because this was the version without a teacher, I could go into the dashboard and see his progress and listen to the recordings myself, but he always got immediate credit for participation in the activity. 


Even as we spaced out our lessons, I was impressed with how much he retained.  This was a program that really stuck with him!  And I have to say that he is thoroughly enjoying this course!  He loves it so much that we’ve abandoned the workbook we were doing before this, and this course has now replaced it in his regular school work!  I would love to see him continuing these courses in the future, but I wish there were more courses available for his grade level.  At this point, he’ll have to wait until he gets to 3rd grade before he’s an appropriate age for the next course that’s available.  But for now, he absolutely loves it, and he’s gleaning so much understanding from it!  I definitely would recommend this program for anyone with a student who responds well to audio-visual learning.  In fact, my 5th grade daughter was quite jealous and said she wished she could take a Middlebury Interactive Language course herself!

Check out what other Crew members have to say about this and other courses from Middlebury Interactive Language by clicking the banner below.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – October 5th-11th

This was a fairly uneventful week of catching up after our break, and Hayden continued to struggle with making up all of his missed work and quizzes.  Who’d have thought 2 days of fun could create such a mess of work? 


The weather this week was especially mild, and the sunshine felt so god!  Haylee and I decided to soak up some sun while we did our read-alouds for school outside at the table.


She drew on the chalkboard while I read, sometimes making illustrations that went along with our story (I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade).  That was pretty cool!  And we had plenty of snacks on hand, too, including some of that PB2 peanut butter that you make from powder.  That stuff is so good and has less than 25% of the calories of regular peanut butter!  Have you tried it?  If not, give it a shot.  It’s delicious!  They make peanut butter and press all the oils/fat from it, then dehydrate what remains into a powder.  You just reconstitute it with water.  Voila!  Delicious peanut butter that’s only 45 calories per 2 Tbsp. instead of 200!  I’ll take that any day, ‘cause I love me some peanut butter with my apples!  I scored some for just $4/jar at Big Lots, but I did notice it at Target for just $4.50.  Well worth it.


Before we went to the fair, I picked up a Groupon deal for tickets to the Admirals hockey game.  We’d all been looking forward to going on Saturday night after a day of soccer games, which incidentally got canceled due to rain.

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This was the opening game of the season against the Bears, and it was such an awesome game!  We jumped out of our seats a lot, and the whole game was back and forth scoring so you couldn’t tell who was going to win until the very end.  The Admirals took the win, which was a great way to end a wonderful evening.

The downside was that I not only left one of our reusable water bottles that go to our set (ugh…we love these) under the seat, but I also dropped my credit card out of my pocket and didn’t realize it until the next morning.  Double ARGH!  I had to call my credit card company and cancel my account and get a new one issued.  Now comes the waiting game for the new card, and worse yet, the long list of companies I have to contact to change my billing information for those automatic payments I have set up.  Blech!  And the kicker is that I didn’t even use the card at the game…I just stuck it in my pocket and ended up paying cash! 


So as you can see, it really was a pretty slow week.  It’s always tough getting back to school work after a break, especially after a vacation, but we made it through.  Since we did 4 weeks on (instead of 3) and 1 week off to time the break just right for our trip, we only have to do 2 weeks on before we take another week off for October, so that won’t be so bad.

Until next week…

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – September 28th-October 4th

It’s time for a little mini-vacation!


We haven’t taken a family vacation since Hayden started school last year, so we’re all feeling a bit weary worn and needing a little break from the day-to-day routines.  We haven’t gotten to go to the cabin in Front Royal in 2 years.  I’m really sad about that.  A quick solution was to just go away for a couple of days close to home, and then Hayden would only miss 2 days of school (he’s only allowed to miss 3 days per school year.  So when I saw a Groupon deal for discounted tickets to the Virginia State Fair, it dawned on me that this might turn out to be a great little getaway for my family.  I used to go to the state fair with a friend every before I got married, but I’ve never been since that time in 20 years of marriage.  I had a feeling my kids are now a great age to really enjoy it.  So I made reservations for a motel in Richmond, and we headed out on Sunday right after the church potluck.

We got up to Richmond early enough to catch the Virginia State Science Museum for the last couple of hours before it closed for the day.  We have passes that get us in for free with reciprocal admission, so that was great.  Here are the kids posing with their heads on a platter…notice how dad photo-bombed Haylee just for fun.  ;-)

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I had everybody pose out front for one last photo before we headed out to find our motel.


That was a nice way to start off our trip.  We got settled into our room, and then I went to a nearby Walmart to get some stuff to eat for dinner.  There was a fridge and microwave in our room, so we didn’t have to eat out for dinner.  We ended up having subs, salad, and fruit for dinner each night, so that worked out great.  And we got a free continental breakfast each morning in the motel lobby, so we only had to worry about lunch at the fair.


We bought two days’ worth of tickets to the fair, so on Monday morning, we were on our way to have some fun!  We checked out some prize-winning birds in one tent, and I just fell in love with this beautiful first-prize winning frilly pigeon.  Who knew a pigeon could be so fancy?  The birds were just lovely.


Holden checked out the sleeping accommodations inside an old covered wagon.  He thought it was pretty cool.  It was a beautiful and impressive wagon, but I noted that it was on modern tires rather than wooden wagon wheels…although the kids didn’t seem to notice that part! 


Haylee couldn’t help posing in a cutout of Carmen Miranda.  Too funny.


We basically went around and watched as many of the shows as possible on day one.  We enjoyed all the shows...everything from pig races to a magic show to a rattlesnake show.  The pig races were really funny.  If I can ever get the videos to load, I’ll insert them here at some point.

It lightly rained all day, but I bought the last rain jacket they had in one of the shops for $5, and it was money well spent as far as I was concerned.  Nobody else in my family seemed to care about being in wet clothes all day, but I would have been a really unhappy camper if I’d had to sit around with damp clothes and flat hair all day!


On Tuesday, we headed out with the idea that we’d be spending this day doing all of the rides in the midway.  So we bought all-day ride passes and had a blast.  I actually didn’t ride too many things.  A lot of the rides were just like ones at Busch Gardens, but with no lines to wait in, and the rides lasted about 3 times as long!  Seriously, they lasted so long that Hayden and I were experiencing more than a little queasiness, so we both decided to sit out on a lot of them!  Maybe it was too soon after eating a big bowl of Raisin Bran for breakfast, but man, was I woozy!  Hayden actually turned completely white…even his lips…after he rode one of those anti-gravity spinning rides.  He sat out the rest after that.  Here’s Haylee on the carousel.


It was an unusual carousel in that they weren’t all horses.  Some were beautiful bunnies and other creatures.  It was neat!

Then we ran across a candy store that was no ordinary candy store.  They had these huge open baskets full of candies of every kind and color to choose from.  You picked up a big basket on your way in and just filled it with whatever suited your fancy.  Then it was all weighed and charged by the pound at the checkout.  We ended up with $35 worth of candy to gorge on for the remainder of our day!


Between the candy and the loaded twisty fries, that was pretty much lunch, with the exception of Hayden’s odd selection.  He was determined to try something bizarre to eat before we left, so he chose a Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburger.  Eww, ick!  I thought it was disgusting myself, but he ate it gladly.  Gross!  You guessed it…the donuts replaced the bun.  Blech!


We went in a fun house with all kinds of weird mirrors.  Here are me and Hayden as little people.


We also caught a couple of shows we’d missed the day before.  The last one we saw was the Kachunga Alligator Show.  Wow! 


That was not only a super cool show, but they picked Haylee out of the audience to participate in the whole show!  I took a video of her participation with my phone.  Watch it below.  It was pretty funny!  And what a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Not too many people can say they’ve sat on an alligator’s back!

That was definitely one for the memory books!


We had such a wonderful trip that the rest of the week paled in comparison.  It was so good to get away for a couple of days!  Steve and Hayden were back to school and work on Wednesday morning, so we went right back into the usual routine.  Hayden had an overwhelming amount of homework and class work to make up for school, which continues to be a challenge.  I guess that’s the price to pay for missing a couple of days of school!  He has several AP classes this year, so he gets a fair amount of homework from those.

The kids are already talking about how they want to go back to the fair again next year, so maybe we’ll make this a regular thing.  It sure was fun!

Is your family taking any special fall trips together?  If so, please share in the comments.  See you next week!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Weekly Wrap-Up – September 21st-27th

The key words for this week are organization and trying new things.  What new things did you try this week?


I have always had a soft spot for small kitchen appliances.  They are so much fun for me!

I bought this Bella Pastry Tart Maker on clearance at Target earlier this summer, but I hadn’t gotten around to try it out just yet.  I envisioned making not only homemade pop-tarts for breakfast but also homemade hot pockets for lunch.  So I grabbed some refrigerated roll-out pie crust and decided to finally give this thing a try.


So here is my first attempt at a homemade hot pocket for lunch using some smoked turkey breast and a slice of deli cheese.  Yum!  Haylee liked it, but Holden said he liked regular hot pockets better.  We could change it up with a different brand of pie crust or some different fillings, but I thought it looked pretty good for this first time around.


Haylee and Hayden said they want to try pop-tarts next.  I have some tart cherry jam I bought from the local farmer’s market, so I’ll bet that would be a great filling for our first attempt at making those.


Over the weekend, I read a great online article with 50 ideas for home organization.  I’m so glad I did!  I gained some wonderful inspiration and began taking notes about the projects I thought I’d like to try.  The supplies for a lot of the projects were available at Dollar Tree.  I set about making some of the items right away.  Here are some of my favorite tips:


#1  This idea pictured above is my new menu board!  I bought a black magnetic board that came with a chalk marker for $5 at Dollar Tree deals.  I wrote “menu” on it.  Then I bought two packs of colorful magnetic clips at Dollar Tree for $1/pack.  I couldn’t find the right size of magnetic pencil cups, so I bought 2 packs of jewelry gift boxes from Dollar Tree for $1/pack, glued the lids on, and then cut out one side.  I had a roll of self-adhesive magnetic strips at home that I use for crafts, so I cut some of that and attached it to the back of the little boxes.  Voila!  After searching unsuccessfully all over town for magnetic locker caddies, I had improvised my own little magnetic cups in just the right size.  Problem solved!  Usually, you can buy them pre-made at Dollar Tree, but only during back-to-school time.  Then I sat down with a pack of colorful sticky notes and wrote all the meals we like to eat on the front sides (categorized by color) and their required ingredients on the back sides.  I laminated all of them and trimmed them and dropped them all in the bottom box.  So now each weekend, I sit down and pull out 7 meals from the bottom box, flip them over so I can make a quick shopping list, and then make one grocery store run to get what I need for the week.  Then I clip them in place for each day of the week.  As I make the meals, I remove the tag and drop it in the top box, which contains the meals I’ve recently made.  This way, we keep all of our meals in a steady rotation without too many repeats, and I can make sure I select a variety of meals from the different colored categories so I can make sure we are eating fish at least once a week and are not eating too much red meat.  The kids like picking out their favorites and being involved in the planning, and I like being able to ensure I have what I need in one trip and that we’re eating a variety of meals.  It takes the “what’s for dinner” question out of my head for the whole week, and that’s wonderful.  I just look at the board around mid-day, and then I know the answer!  I really love this menu board, and I highly recommend it to take the doldrums out of your meal planning.  It’s a brilliant idea!


#2  The next project shown above is a lovely pen/marker/pencil organizer that I made for my daughter’s bedroom.  We had a little portable caddy on her desk for all the pens and markers and such, but they were always spilling out, and Haylee had a hard time keeping them sorted and organized.  I really wanted to make it easier for her to keep her desk surface cleared so she can set her laptop there whenever she wants, so I jumped on this great project idea.  I bought a 3-ft. metal mounting strip from Wal-mart for about $7.  I had my husband mount it underneath Haylee’s bedroom window beside her desk.  Then I bought a package of metal s-hooks from there for $1, and Haylee picked out these cute little metal buckets with handles for $1 each from Wal-mart’s remaining school supplies.  They can be written on with a dry-erase marker, so she can even label them if she wants to.  I hung up the buckets and then sorted her many coloring/drawing implements into the buckets for her.  Voila!  Now her colored pencils, crayons, and markers of all kinds are all very organized and tidy, and they aren’t taking up any space on her desk at all.  She can grab a bucket when she’s working on something and easily put it back when she’s done, keeping all the supplies sorted out neatly.  She loves this!


#3  The last little project I did this week was a way to organize my measuring spoons.  Up to this point, I had kept them in a shallow kitchen drawer, along with my measuring cups.  It seemed like the 1/8 teaspoon was always getting buried somewhere in the drawer.  Here was my solution!  I went to Dollar Tree and bought a package of self-adhesive plastic hooks and spaced them out inside one of my kitchen cabinet doors beside my stove.  Then I sorted my various sizes of measuring spoons on the hooks in order of size, and now they are handy and at my fingertips whenever I need them.  Yay!  No more digging through that drawer.  I’m glad for that!  I like it so much that I want to go back and get some more hooks so I can sort my measuring cups on the other cabinet door beside my stove.  I can’t wait!

#4  I don’t have a picture of this one, but I bought a long garment bag from target for about $5 and hung it in my hallway coat closet.  I tucked all of my rolls of wrapping paper inside and zipped it up.  Now they are clean and safe from damage (rather than in my attic where I can only get them down once a year), and I can access them any time I need to.  They are taking up very little space this way.  I love it!  I had them in one of those tall plastic storage tubs before, but it had gotten knocked over and cracked, and it wasn’t tall enough for the longest rolls of paper, so I was left stashing it all over the place anyway.  This way, it’s all together in one place. 

There are a couple of other organizational projects I’d like to try that I think are terrific ideas, but I haven’t located just the right supplies yet.  When I do, I’ll set to work and talk about them with you here.  I love being organized!


By the end of the week, I’d decided to try my hand at making my own California Crunch Rolls (American sushi) at home.  My kids love them, and although I’ve splurged and bought them a couple of times from Kroger, it works out to $1 per piece, and that’s a bit much for my budget.  My 6-year is especially fond of them and begs to go to Kroger all the time just for the sushi samples!  So after watching some YouTube videos on how to make them at home and and what tools were needed, I set out to gather up the necessary supplies and give it a whirl.

DSCF2233 DSCF2234 

I went to a local grocery store called GMart, which is an Asian market, and I purchased a sushi knife for $4, a flexible rice paddle for $1, a bamboo mat for $2, and a pack of seaweed sheets for $2.  That covered the essential tools.  Then I shopped for an avocado ($1), a large tub of sushi rice ($6), an English cucumber ($1.29), a pack of imitation crab sticks ($5), a tub of French fried onions ($1), and a small tub of spicy mayo from the Kroger sushi bar ($2).  That was all I needed, and I can make a LOT of sushi with those ingredients!  The only things I’ll have to buy more of each time are the spicy mayo and the vegetables.  I froze the rest of the crab sticks for next time.  I also went to Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and splurged on a set of 3 freezable serving plates for $17 to keep the sushi cold until it’s consumed.  I have a terrible fear of food poisoning with this kind of thing…call me crazy!  I had it once in my very early 20’s and never again!


So how do they look?  I can tell you that it was absolutely delicious and so easy to make with the right tools on hand.  My kids and my non-sushi-eating husband enjoyed them immensely, and we’ll definitely be having them again and again!  Now that I have what I need, I know I can make this for dinner within my budget, so we can have it as often as we like. 


I hope you all had a great week!  I felt like mine was pretty productive, and I ended it with packing for a little extended weekend trip to the State Fair with my family.  I’ll tell you all about that next week!  We’re very excited and looking forward to it since we haven’t been able to take a vacation since Hayden started attending public school last year.  I let his school know he’ll be missing two days next week, and they were very understanding.  I just hope he doesn’t get too far behind with his work.  He has several AP classes this year, and his workload is quite a bit heavier than last year.  Enjoy your weekend!