Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas 2015

I have to say that Christmas this year seemed especially relaxing.  I made sure the downstairs was spotless on Christmas Eve so that we could just focus on the celebration and not feel too stressed.  It worked!

We kept to our tradition of letting the kids open a gift each day for a week leading up to Christmas, and then the rest were opened on Christmas morning.  They love getting to choose a gift each day, and I love that each gift gets a full 24 hours of appreciation before moving on to the next surprise.  They seem to more fully enjoy their new goodies this way.

On Christmas Eve, I picked up a platter of delicious smoked turkey and cheese croissants from Kroger, a bagged bacon cheddar house salad, and a cantaloupe for dinner, and there was no mess to clean up.  Then we picked up my dear friend, Micka, and we shared a pot of honeybush tea and Cadbury treats as we drove around with Haylee and Holden looking at Christmas lights around the area.  We even took Teenie, our little dog!  She had a good time, too.  Hayden stayed home playing video games (fuddy duddy), and Steve stayed home to wrap my gifts (he always shops at the last minute, LOL).  We had a wonderful time!  I just love the stillness of Christmas Eve.  I always feel like we’re the only ones out on the road.  It’s so peaceful!

On Christmas morning, we gathered around for the opening of gifts, tossed the wrapping paper in an awaiting trash can, and went on to have a lovely Christmas brunch.  We had sausage links, bacon, fluffy biscuits with butter and apricot jam, French toast sticks, omelet with Black Forest ham and cheese, hashrowns O’Brien, and a platter of fresh fruit like cantaloupe, sliced bananas, Cara Cara navel oranges, and strawberries.  Yum!

I loaded up the dishwasher right after we ate to restore my clean kitchen, and then I felt ready to relax.  I didn’t feel the usual compulsion to pull down my Christmas tree right away.  Instead, I grabbed my new plush faux fur blanket from Steve and curled up on the couch.  That blanket was so soft and warm that I fell asleep in no time! 

After about a 2-hour nap, I got up and fixed dinner.  I cooked a 5.5-lb. pork shoulder in my rotisserie, some sweet corn, some steamed baby potatoes with butter, and some crusty French bread.  Delicious, and the house smelled so good!

DSCN0322Then we all gathered around the Christmas tree for our annual photos.  Hayden got a really nice camera from our friends at church last year, so he did the honor of taking the photos.  He even set it up on a bar stool with a timer so we could all get in the shot.  It was such a lovely day!  I gathered up the kids’ things into small boxes and took them up to their rooms, and I decided I’d take down the tree on Saturday, which worked out great.  I even had time on Saturday to sit and knit a new project while watching tv.  I made a neck warmer for myself, and I lov20151226_221023e it!

Now it’s time for the next celebration!  Today is Holden’s 8th birthday!  I can hardly believe that many years have passed by already.  I sure do miss his being a little guy.  He’s getting so big now.  It won’t be long, and he’ll catch up to Haylee’s height.  So now I need to go bake him a cake.  We recently took him to see the new Star Wars movie…his first one…so I got a Star Wars bag and filled it with Star Wars-related goodies for his birthday gift…Darth Vader blanket sleeper pjs, a Darth Vader cape and mask, a red light-saber, a Darth Vader backpack, a Kilo Ren wallet, etc.  I think he’s gonna love it!

Now its on to the new year soon enough.  In fact, my birthday is New Year’s Day, then Steve’s is Jan. 7th, and Holden’s party is Jan. 9th.  It’s a miracle we don’t gain 10 pounds this time of year with all these back-to-back celebrations!  LOL

I hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas celebration this year, and may the new year be a blessing to you and yours.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Solution to Microsoft Live Writer Not Working with Blogger

If you use Microsoft Live Writer (MLW) to publish to Blogger, then you’ve surely noticed that sometime after the morning of December 9th, it once again ceased to work with Blogger.  That’s because Google discontinued the temporary workaround that allowed MLW to continue working with Blogger.  The new security protocols have been re-established, making them incomOpen Live Writerpatible. 

But alas, the good volunteers at Microsoft have put together a team who have converted MLW to open source, calling it Open Live Writer (OLW).  All is not lost!

Simply go here and download the new OLW.  Follow the instructions to link it to your Blogger account during installation, and you’ll be up and running in moments!  In fact, this is my first post using OLW.  It was a piece of cake, and it looks just like MLW to me!  I love that I don’t need to learn a new piece of software all over again.  I really love Live Writer, so I’m thankful for the volunteers who’ve worked to make sure this wonderful FREE product is still available to those of us in the blogging world who rely so heavily on it.

Thank you!

Happy blogging, everyone!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

FREE and Cheap 100% Fruit for All 4-Packs

I was shopping at Dollar Tree this weekend, and I noticed they had these 4-packs of Charles & Alice 100% Fruit for All blended applesauce cups available in a variety of flavors.  These are 100% fruit with no artificial colors or sweeteners, they are non-GMO, and they have no added sugar.  Amazing!  The flavors they had were cherry-apple, blueberry-apple, mango-apple, banana-vanilla-apple, and raspberry-apple.  I understand there’s also an apricot-apple flavor, but my Dollar Tree didn’t have that one.  I bought the cherry-apple one to try, and it had whole cherries in applesauce.  It was tart because it didn't have any kind of sweetener, but I like it that way.  It was delicious, and my kids liked it, too!  And it was only 50 calories per cup.

The first bonus I discovered was that printed on the inside of the cardboard wrapper was a coupon to cut out for $1.25 of the purchase off two 4-packs.  That means my next purchase will be 75 cents for two 4-packs! 

But then the deal got even better.  I was curious about the company, which I’d never heard of, so I went to the Charles & Alice website.  There on the site was a link for a printable $1 off one 4-pack coupon, which you can print twice, giving me 2 FREE 4-packs!  As if that wasn’t great enough, then I noticed you could sign up to receive offers on the website, so I did that.  The welcome email I received right away had another link for a printable $1 off one 4-pack coupon, which you can again print twice, so now I’ll get four of the 4-packs FREE! 

So if you start out with the 4 coupons for $1 off one, you’ll get 4 FREE packs along with 4 of the $1.25/2 coupons inside the packages, so you can turn right around and buy 8 packs for $3…giving you a total of 12 4-packs for a grand total of $3!  That’s 48 fruit cups for $3, making them just 6 cents per cup!  That’s a steal of a deal for natural foods.  And each fruit cup is one serving of fruit.  I can feel good about giving these to my kids for a snack, and they’ll be great to include in my son’s lunch at school.  I love it!

So go print your coupons, and grab yours before they are gone! 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Christmas Town Fun


I apologize for being a bit late with my weekly post.  I normally put it up on Sunday, but we were out in Williamsburg after church that day until very, very late, and it completely slipped my mind! 

In any case, rest assured that Hayden, Haylee, and I were off having a fabulous time at Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town!

This has become somewhat of a tradition for the 3 of us over the last couple of years.  Holden stays home with Steve and gets to go have a day out with daddy.  They usually go out to eat somewhere unusual.  This year, they went to Buffalo Wild Wings and played tons of games on the handheld devices while they had lunch together.

20151206_151848Christmas Town was especially busy, and we were there from before the official opening time until closing.  Our timing was a bit off with the show schedule, so we only managed to see 2 of the shows this time.  We also rode The Battering Ram and Davinci’s Cradle one time each (Haylee panicked a bit on that one!), and to close out the night, we took a train ride all the way around the park to enjoy the thousands of Christmas lights that were on display.  It was very festive, indeed!

Rest assured, we managed to eat way too much food in the Festhaus, where we enjoyed a full Christmas dinner.  We also indulged in goodies and snacks and plenty of hot beverages like Wassail Cider and Peppermint Hot Chocolate, as well.

All in all, we had a great time, and we were very excited to see the one new show this season…the Coca-Cola ice show called “’Twas That Night.”  It was awesome!


My favorite photo of the day was this picture I took of Hayden and Haylee together on our way out of the park.  For once, they’re both smiling, looking at the camera, and not being goofy! 


Have a merry, merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Homeschooled: The Animated Series

My family took on a fun group project a few years ago.  My husband dabbles in comedy writing, and we all decided to get in on the action by creating an animated series in which we did all the writing, computer animations, and voice-overs ourselves.  My husband wrote it with contributions of real-life situations from the rest of us, my teenage son, Hayden, did all of the computer animations, and each of us recorded our own voice-overs.  It was a lot of fun!  I’d love for us to pick it up again at some point, but life got busy, and we only completed 3 episodes that summer.  Anyway, I thought I’d share it with you in 3 weekly installments to add a little humor to your holidays.

Here is the first episode of “Homeschooled: The Animated Series” in three parts.

S1:E1 Part 1 of 3 - “The Pilot”


S1:E1 Part 2 of 3 - “The Pilot”


S1:E1 Part 3 of 3 - “The Pilot”


I hope you enjoyed watching it as much as we did making it!  I’ll post the second episode next week, and the third episode the following week.  If your family homeschools, I’m sure you’ll be able to relate in some way.  I’d love for you to leave us your comments!  Maybe it will inspire my family to continue with this project in the future.

Feel free to follow our Facebook Fan Page, and if you just can’t wait to see all of the episodes, they’re all available here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving Deals This Week

TURKEY:  This weekend only at Dollar Tree Deals stores, you can get a whole 10-12 pound Jennie-O turkey for just $5 with any additional $10 purchase.  If you’re looking for just a turkey breast, the cheapest price I’ve seen is at Target, where it’s just $1.29/lb.

CHEAP BURGERS:  This Tuesday at Sonic, celebrate Un-Turkey Day with half price cheeseburgers all day long!

BLACK FRIDAY:  This week, Black Friday begins at Wal-mart on Thursday night at 6 PM!  Wal-mart seems to be the happening place this year.  The deals go on and on!  New this season, they won’t be spreading the deals out at different times as in years past, where some start right away and some are delayed until a couple of hours later so you’re stuck hanging around the store for hours on end to get everything on your list.  I have a feeling that offering all the deals at one time will create even more chaos in the store, so I’m preparing myself for the madness by taking my teenage son along to get into special lines for big-ticket electronics items while I get the other deals on our list.  It could get really crazy!  We’ve witnessed mass chaos there in years’ past, so only time will tell.  Kohl’s is also on my list for just a couple of specific items.  Sometimes, I’m able to bypass the lines there by ordering the items at an in-store kiosk and getting them delivered to my house for free, but not all deals are available in-store.  It’s worth checking, though, because lines are really slow there!

With the deals starting early, I’m moving up Thanksgiving dinner to 1 PM to give myself time to clean up and scour the Black Friday ads so I can figure out my game plan before I leave.  I made my list for Wal-mart by viewing the ad online and making notes on certain pages right in the Microsoft Edge browser with Windows 10.  That was quite handy!

I hope you have a wonderful turkey day with friends and family, and I wish you lots of luck with your holiday shopping!  Remember to count your blessings and express your thankfulness to God for all of them.


Monday, November 16, 2015

2015 Schoolhouse Review Crew Blue Ribbon Awards

Every year, the Schoolhouse Review Crew votes for our favorite vendor products from the season.  Click the graphic below to see which products were the Crew favorites this year!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Deals Only Available This Weekend!!!

DEAL #1:  Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town

There are a couple of great deals going on this weekend only.

First, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is offering the lowest discounts of the season on Twinkle Tickets (admission with restricted dates) for their annual Christmas Town event.  You can buy unlimited tickets for just $14 each (reg. $30)! 

If you decide to take advantage of this offer, there are a few things to consider before you complete your purchase.  First, scan the list of restricted dates on which you can use the tickets and make sure you’re going to be available for one of them.  No Saturdays are included, so the only weekend dates you can visit are Fridays and Sundays, and there are only a few of those to choose from.

Also, you’ll probably want to go ahead and purchase your parking voucher for $15 just to save you some time at the parking lot entrance. 

Christmas Town offers an amazing dining experience in the Festhaus, where you can enjoy a festive traditional Christmas dinner of turkey, dressing, gravy, cheddar potatoes, and a fresh-baked roll, among other selections.  It’s best to purchase your dining deal voucher beforehand to limit your costs.  You can purchase a Gold Dining Certificate for around $15, which includes a standard meal and one additional side, or a Platinum Dining Certificate for around $16.50, which includes a standard meal with two additional sides.  That one is really the best deal if you like to add a salad and a dessert to your meal for a full-course dining experience.  Keep in mind that the Festhaus, in particular, offers the largest meals in general, so you could even get away with sharing a Platinum meal and still be full.  Not to mention that you can enjoy a great show there while you enjoy your meal.  There are plenty of other places in the park to eat, as well, but you’ll get the best value at the Festhaus.  You can also purchase a Kids’ Meal Certificate for about $6.50. 

Another add-on you might consider is the refillable Christmas Town mug for another $6.  If you purchase one, you can get hot beverage refills of hot chocolate, peppermint hot chocolate, or wassail cider all night long for $1.29 each.  It’s usually cold as the night wears on, so you can save money if you’re likely to drink a lot of hot beverages by buying that refillable cup.  Personally, I’m addicted to the delightfully spicy wassail cider, so it’s a no-brainer for me, and my kids love the peppermint hot chocolate, which has a peppermint patty melting in the bottom of each delicious cup.

There will be five holiday shows to attend this season, one of which is an all-new ice show.  It’s also lots of fun to visit the penguin exhibit.  After all, where else will you get to see baby penguins playing and swimming together?

A limited number of rides will be open, as that’s not the main attraction for Christmas Town.  Mostly, it will be rides in Octoberfest and Festa Italia.  A couple of them may close if the temperature gets too cold. 

All in all, it’s a great time to be had and a wonderful way to get yourself into the Christmas spirit, complete with fake snow that rains down upon you in parts of the park and plenty of places to huddle under outdoor heaters while you listen to festive carolers that roam about.

Be sure to wear your long johns and a good hat and gloves, as everything has long outdoor lines, even for dining. 

Just be prepared for the costs to add up.  By the time we purchased 3 tickets for myself and my two older children, plus 2 Platinum Dining Certificates and one kids’ meal, plus a parking pass, I was over $108.  Thankfully, we already own several of the refillable cups, so I didn’t have to add that to our list of purchases.

Also be prepared for a huge wait to getting into the parking lot.  I’ve seen the line of cars back up all the way onto I-64 and move at a snail’s pace.  It can take an hours and a half just to get to the parking gate, and there are times when the park reaches capacity, and a flashing sign will turn you away.  So the moral of that story is to allow yourself PLENTY of extra time to get in line at the parking gate long before the park actually opens, and if you want to see all of the shows, be sure to plan your day accordingly and plan to stay until closing time.

Deal #2:  Buy One Get One Free Starbucks’ Holiday Coffees

This weekend only (extended to Monday for Rewards members), you can BOGO FREE on any of Starbuck’s Holiday coffee drinks, which includes Caramel Brulee Latte, Peppermint Mocha, Gingerbread Latte, Chestnut Praline, Eggnog, and Teavana Gingerbread Tea Latte.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

How to Attend FREE Movie Screenings

Have you ever wondered how people get tickets to advance movie screenings in local theaters?  Ever wonder why you never hear about them until a friend says they went to one? 

This summer, I read a great article in the now-defunct ShopSmart magazine that gave the insider’s scoop on how to get in-the-know about movie screenings.  I followed their instructions to sign up at several sites to participate in future screenings, and before long, I was in my local theaters seeing movies for FREE before they were even available to the general public.  Now I probably get an offer at least once a week.

So today, I want to share with you how to sign up for yourselves.  Check out the sites below:


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SEE IT FIRST (for Disney movies)


Once you’ve signed up, you’ll need to know the ground rules.  You will be notified by email when a screening is available in your area.  It will outline for you the name of the movie, and the date and time of the event.  You’re generally offered the opportunity to claim your choice of either one or two passes.  You visit the link in the email, click on “claim my passes,” and the website will tell you whether or not passes are still available.  If so, you confirm how many you want, and you’ll receive a confirmation with a download link to print your passes.  Now these passes are usually claimed very quickly, so if you’re not checking your email regularly, you’re not likely to ever get any tickets.

In addition, they always offer more passes than the number of seats in the theater, so it’s important to arrive extra early to ensure that you’ll get a seat.  Once the theater fills up, they will turn you away at the door.  Arriving an hour before the show is pretty common.  Half an hour is as late as I’d push it, and even that is questionable as to whether or not even a single seat might be available, particularly with a highly anticipated film. 

Someone will generally stand up in the front of the theater before the movie begins to welcome you and thank you for attending the screening, and maybe tell a little bit about the film.  Sometimes, they’ll have a media person present who might do a giveaway, as well.  Then after the film, there will be studio representatives outside the door holding clipboards who will ask you for your reaction to the movie.  They’ll make notes about your feedback, so if you would like to share your opinion, be prepared to gives just a few words to express what stood out to you most about the film, both good and bad.

So the mystery is solved!  Now you, too, can participate in free movie screenings in your hometown. 


Thursday, November 5, 2015

REVIEW: The Ultimate Homeschool Planner by Apologia Educational Ministries

I’d love to share with you my informational review of The Ultimate Homeschooler Planner by Apologia Educational Ministries.



Apologia is offering The Ultimate Homeschool Planner, which is available with covers in these three colors:

       YELLOW                       ORANGE                       BLUE


It has a number of great features to meet all of your homeschool planning needs for up to six children, including a Lord’s Day planning grid, customized daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly planning pages, goal-setting forms, journaling activities, a place to track your reading lists, and year-end review pages.  Includes handy pockets and coated covers for durability.  It comes spiral-bound and is available for purchase for just $29.00.

Take a look at the table of contents and an excerpt to see what it looks like inside.  The contents vary slightly depending upon which color you choose, but I’m focusing on the yellow version for this review. 



Overall, it seems Apologia has thought of it all!  They’ve gone beyond typical scheduling pages and included lots of extras that encompass the big picture in your homeschool. 

The introduction teaches you how to use the system to ensure you get the most out of it.  Then it goes into an overview of your school year.  It even asks you to record the goals you’d like to set for each child, because it’s always important to ask yourself what you hope to have your child get out of your plans for the year and look back at those goals throughout the year to make sure they are making the progress you’d hoped to make. 

Then it offers a pre-planning section where you can set your family priorities and keep a list of the resources you’ll be using.  I know I have a habit of picking up extras I’d like to use to supplement what we’ll be learning for the year, and then later, I have a tendency to forget I had thApologia Plannerose fun supplemental materials like DVD’s, crafts, and random experiments that would have tied in with our topics.  Then I want to kick myself at the end of the year when I’m packing things up and realize we missed out on those great extras I’d planned to use!  This section will help you keep track of those.

Next are your actual planning and scheduling pages.  Both monthly and weekly pages are included for your convenience.  You can also make notes about appointments and supplies you need to get.

Then it moves into a record-keeping section.  Many states require that you keep certain types of information for reporting purposes, so this gives you a place to track that information.  It includes student grades, reading lists, and a place to record the activities in which they’ve participated throughout the year.

As if this weren’t enough to include in a solid planner, Apologia adds still more useful features like a practical section of teaching tips that help you learn how to develop independent learners, how to work with reluctant learners, how to identify learning styles and develop thinking skills, and how to give your student the tools they need to learn well. 

For those with older students, it also includes a high school planning guide and an example to get you started.  Then comes the year in review section so you can reflect on how your students met their goals and make notes for what’s next.

There’s even a Lord’s Day planner included where you can make plans for your family’s bible study, prayer list, plans for outreach, reflect on evidences of God’s grace, and record memorable moments and achievements from the week.

As you can see, it’s much more than just a school year planner.  It lets you journal, too, and chronicle your progress and reflections about your children and your family’s spiritual journey.

Take a look at what other Crew members have to say about The Ultimate Homeschool Planner by clicking the banner below.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Out and About

At the end of the week, I took the kids out for some fun.  On Friday, we picked up some dear friends and went to IHOP for free Scary Face Pancakes.  I was so happy, because the kitchen made my favorite sandwich, the Spinach and Roasted Red Pepper Melt, even though it hasn’t been on the menu for quite some time.  Yay!  I’ve missed it so.  20151030_104145

Then we rushed from there to drop our friends off, put the leftovers in the fridge, and head off to BJ’s Wholesale Club for a homeschool field trip.  This is the first time in the decades I’ve been a BJ’s member that they’ve organized such a thing.  They said one of the store’s main managers homeschools and had done similar events at other places in the past and wanted to give it a try here.  Yay!  The kids got to decorate cupcakes and cookies, get their faces painted, do some coloring and crafts, and play games together.  Holden’s hearty laugh could be heard across the room as he played games with the other kids.  It was great to see them having such a good time with other homeschoolers.  They each left with a balloon and a goodie bag of candy and activities to take home.  It was really neat!  The store took a group photo of all the kids in attendance, so it will be cool to see if they post it somewhere in the store, like on a bulletin board.

At the end of the day, I scored an Elsa costume (a princess character from the Disney movie Frozen) for Haylee from freecycle.  She was so excited!  We hadn’t been able to find her a used costume this year, so she was just planning to recycle one from a past Halloween, so that really made her day!

After spending all day at soccer on Saturday, I snuck out early with Haylee (Holden was still playing in his soccer game) to go to our community costume contest and trunk-or-treat.  Low and behold, Haylee won 2nd place in the costume contest for her age group!  She won a $10 Target gift card. 

20151031_134125  20151031_135029

Then we all finally made it home to shower and eat a quick dinner of leftovers before it was time to go out and trick-or-treat.  To complicate things, at about 5:15, I let the dogs out to go to the bathroom, and Teenie dug out under the fence…followed by giant Lilly, who busted right through the fence and broke off 3 slats!  They were off into the next neighborhood, which borders ours on the other side of our fence.  So I had to jump in the van and go over there to retrieve them before all those trick-or-treaters hit the streets!  Thankfully, I found both of them and got them home in time.  Shew!  Crisis averted.

Steve and Hayden were too tired from soccer to go trick-or-treating with us, so it was just me and the kids with our neighbor friends.  We had a good time, but there were so few houses participating in our neighborhood this year that we zipped through with 45 minutes left.  So we rushed home and all of us decided to hop in my van and go to the next neighborhood to finish up our trick-or-treating over there.  That was cool!  Val and I rode along in my van and dropped the kids off at small stretches of participating homes until it was 8:00.  Haylee declared it to be the best Halloween ever!

DSCF4439  DSCF4441

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Join the 2016 Schoolhouse Review Crew!!!

Attention all homeschool bloggers!  If you blog regularly, homeschool at least one child, and enjoying sharing your opinions about curriculum with others, you may be just the kind of person to join the 2016 Schoolhouse Review Crew!  This is the final week to apply, so don’t delay!  Click the graphic below.

2016 Crew Application Banners

It’s really a great way to try out new products with your kids without the expense of finding out what works for each child, and you can give back to the homeschooling community by sharing your honest feedback on the products you try.  I’ve been on the Crew since 2012, and it’s been a wonderful, enriching, and fulfilling experience for my family.  And it doesn’t have to be a long-term commitment…Crew members choose whether or not to re-apply each year.  So give it a try and see if it’s right for your family!

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

REVIEW: Skin Clear Cream, Manuka Honey Propolis Soap, and Emu Oil Shampoo and Emu Oil Leave-In Conditioner by Koru Naturals

I was very happy to find out I would get to try out more products from Koru Naturals.  I reviewed their Skin Clear Cream, Manuka Honey Propolis Soap, and the Emu Oil Shampoo and Emu Oil Leave-In Conditioner set.



Koru Naturals offers a vast array of all-natural health and beauty products.  I reviewed the Emu Oil and Pure Lanolin Lip Balm earlier this year, and I absolutely loved them.  This time, I used:

Skin Clear Cream:  a 4 oz. jar of moisturizing cream that is very effective for acne-prone skin, but also as a day/night moisturizer; contains raw, unpasteurized Manuka honey, pure steam-distilled Manuka Oil, and other botanical ingredients.  Available for $19.20.

Manuka Honey Propolis Soap:  a 4.93 oz. bar soap with intense moisturizing and skin protective properties; contains Manuka Honey and Propolis from bee hives.  Available for $7.90.

Emu Oil Shampoo and Emu Oil Leave-In Conditioner:  an 8 oz. bottle of shampoo and a 4 oz. bottle of leave-in conditioner spray that provide protection for damaged hair with key ingredients like emu oil, keratin, white tea extract, and others.  Available for $17.10 for the set.



When I received these products, I got started right away with putting them to work.  I should mention first that I have very sensitive skin.  Because of that, I’ve always been limited to the kinds of soaps that I can cleanse with in the bath.  The list of soaps I can use if fairly limited, because they cause intense itching in sensitive areas.  I’ve had this sensitivity since I was a kid, so I try to stick with natural soaps without a lot of chemical ingredients, and soaps that provide moisturizer for my skin without artificial scents if I can help it.  Often, I end up with plain glycerin soaps or those with botanicals like real lavender in them.  So since that’s my situation, I was a bit nervous to try another new soap.  Enter the Manuka Honey Propolis Soap.

Let me say that I was pleasantly surprised that I had NO itching at all for the entire review period, and I used this soap for daily cleansing in the bath.  I was so happy!  In addition to not having any irritation from the soap, it was a wonderful soap to use.  It had such a creamy texture and lathered up easily with a thick, creamy foam on my washcloth.  It felt great on my skin!  And the smell is just amazing…it has the intense smell of pure honey.  I loved it!  This one is definitely a keeper for me.  And I would say that after about 6 weeks of daily use, I am probably about halfway through the bar.  That’s pretty great for a bar that lathers up so well.

The next order of business was the Emu Oil Shampoo & Emu Oil Leave-In Conditioner set.  My hair is very long right now because I haven’t had it cut at all for over a year and a half.  That equals lots of damage from split ends.  It’s also naturally wavy, and it has a tendency to get frizzy from the blow dryer.  I generally have to use a very thick, heavy conditioner to control the frizzies, so I wasn’t sure how well this would work for me.  But to my surprise again, both products were wonderful! 

The shampoo was not at all what I expected.  It was thin…almost watery in texture.  I always shampoo my hair twice and then condition it once, and I wash it every other day, so I wasn’t sure how long the small bottle would last.  I applied the shampoo the first time, and I was shocked that it didn’t feel at all like any shampoo I’d used.  It didn’t lather up at all on the first application, and I wasn’t sure it was cleaning my hair at all.  But when I applied it the second time, it lathered up beautifully, which showed me that the first application had indeed effectively removed all of my hair spray residue.  I was duly impressed!  And it didn’t seem like it took a lot of shampoo, either, even though I did two applications. 

It seemed strange to me to get out of the tub without putting conditioner in my hair, but I followed the directions and applied the sprayable conditioner to my damp hair afterwards.  I was careful to apply it most to the ends of my hair where there was the most damage, but also working it into my scalp, as well.  I was amazed at how soft it made my hair feel right away!  It gave it a silky sort of texture, and it smelled great.  Once my hair dried and it continued to have that soft texture, I was hooked!  It was not frizzy, either, and I didn’t have to have that heavy conditioner feeling I was used to.  Now I was my hair every other day, but that conditioner continued to make my hair look great until I washed it again.  Impressive!  Can I just say that I love this stuff?  To my surprise, both bottles are only about halfway gone after about 6 weeks of use every other day.  And just this weekend, someone I see regularly asked me if I was doing something different with my hair, because she thought it looked so pretty and noticeably different.  I said no, I haven’t done anything except let it grow out and use these incredible natural hair products!  That was pretty cool!

The final product to try out was the Skin Clear Cream.  While this product’s main purpose is to help clear up acne-prone skin, it can also be used as a day/night moisturizer.  Note, though, that it should only be used by those age 12 and up.  I don’t have a big problem with acne all the time since I’m in my 40’s, but I do periodically have breakouts on my face in conjunction with PMS.  When I opened the jar, I noticed there’s an inner plastic lid and a small plastic paddle applicator.  Right away, I noticed the very pleasant, clean-smelling scent of the cream.  It’s fairly thick but very easily spreadable, and I appreciated the inclusion of the applicator so you don’t contaminate the contents with your hands.  For this reason, I kept the clear inner lid and applicator inside, just as they were when I first opened the jar.  I began using this mainly for spot treatment in the most vulnerable areas of my face…on my chin, my nose, and at my temples.  I did notice that my acne seemed to clear up more quickly than usual, even when not using my usual acne treatment medication.  So by the time my next PMS cycle came around, I had begun using the cream in those same areas as a daily prevention, and low and behold, I didn’t even break out at all!  Now that’s something!  And I have gotten so I really enjoy that clean, fresh smell of it on my face when I go to bed.  I’ve only been using it at night, but it does recommend that you use it twice daily.

Now my teenage son, Hayden, is another story.  He is 16, so he has much more intense breakouts, not only on his face, but largely on the backs of his shoulders, arms, and back.  Those areas had really gotten to be more of an issue for him than his face.  So I talked him into trying this out after his shower at night.  He reluctantly let me apply it on his arms, back, and shoulders, and wow!  We were both amazed that right away, you could see that by the next morning, the redness and inflammation of the breakout had really subsided.  And with subsequent applications, we saw even more improvement.  Not only did the large breakouts begin to clear up in a hurry, but the worst of it didn’t even return!  He had only smaller and far less irritated breakouts.  He noticed such a difference, in fact, that he started coming to get the jar and was using it all on his own!  He was very pleased with the results, and I was absolutely amazed at the improvement!  The difference was clearly visible, and I can see that this is a product we’ll continue to use in the future.  In addition, I can hardly tell that we’ve used any of the cream, even after 6 weeks of steady use by two people, because just a tiny bit of it truly goes a long, long way.  This jar will last us for a long time!  And of course, I would much rather we be using this natural product than a bunch of chemical products that contain harsh ingredients like salicylic acid.  No thank you!

I truly feel privileged to have had the opportunity to use all of these wonderful products!  And now my so is a believer, too.  Their effectiveness is unquestionable in my book, and they smell great and feel wonderful on our skin and hair.  I would recommend all of them to anyone!  I continue to fall in love with this company’s products.

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Monday, October 19, 2015

REVIEW: The Fun Spanish by Brookdale House


Haylee was really interested in taking a look at The Fun Spanish by Brookdale House.



The Fun Spanish is a fun and creative workbook that teaches elementary students to build their Spanish vocabulary, learn prepositions, how to conjugate verbs, as well as the fundamental structure of Spanish sentences.  All this is done through entertaining phrases and sentences mixed with demonstrating their understanding through drawing.

This program is based on the principles of Charlotte Mason and teaches students one Spanish phrase at a time.  It uses everyday vocabulary words that are common in the life of a child.  It introduces an average of 5 new words daily and has the student manipulate them through copying, illustrating, and memorizing.

You can take a look at a sample lesson and see how funny it can be!  The humor and silliness of it attracts kids and keeps them engaged while they slowly build their vocabulary and sentence structure.

This workbook is available as a printable e-book for just $14.95, or as a printed book for just $19.95.



Haylee was already doing another Spanish program for our homeschool, but when the opportunity to try out Fun Spanish came along, she jumped at the chance to do it once she saw that there was going to be drawing involved!  She’s the little artist in the family, so I knew this would be right up her alley.

DSCF4417I should start by telling you how this program is laid out.   I received the e-book version, so the first thing I did was print out the entire workbook and spiral bind it with a laminated cover.  I made it pink to make Haylee happy.  She likes things with color.

In the front of the workbook, there’s an introduction that explains the concept behind the program.  Then there are some helpful suggestions for memorization and a quick review of pronunciation and grammar rules.  There’s also a suggested schedule based on whether you want the course to last one semester or a full year.  There are a total of 17 lessons, so you can either complete one lesson per week or spread each lesson over two weeks by inserting extra review between each model of the lesson. 

Each lesson contains 5 mini-lessons, and the first 4 of those consists of a 2-page spread of verb conjugation, vocabulary, and translation practice that includes drawing an illustration of the sentence you’ve translated.

Haylee sat down the very first night and just went to town with this workbook!  I could hardly get her to stop.  She said DSCF4418it was so much fun that she wanted to keep going!  I decided to let her take the lead on it and go at her own pace, as long as she didn’t stop in the middle of a model. 

In the verb conjugation exercise, she was given examples of how to conjugate a particular verb, showing it in both English and Spanish, and then she had to copy the underlined portion on the lines in the workbook for practice.

In the vocabulary exercise, she was given an average of 7-9 vocabulary words with their translations that she would need to practice and memorize.

In the translation practice, she was given an English sentence and had to orally translate it into Spanish.  I also had her write it down in Spanish underneath so she could practice speaking it properly. 

Then in the model, she had to copy a Spanish sentence onto the lines in the workbook and then draw an illustration that showed the meaning of the sentence.  Here, I also chose to have her translate it into English in writing.

One thing I know about my children…everything they learn is more memorable if there’s some kind of fun factor involved.  In this case, the illustrations that Haylee gets to create are that fun factor for her.  Just look at how much fun she’s having here!

 DSCF4419 DSCF4420 DSCF4421

In the photos above, you can see that she illustrated the sentence “I am a big cat with long green legs.”  Then it was “He is an orange rat with eight hairs.”  Then came “She is a pink bear with three ears.”  Lastly, she translated and illustrated “We are friends.  We are playing in the garden.”  That last one was a good choice of sentences because it demonstrated both the state of being and the temporary condition of “we are” in Spanish used in context.  So while the sentences are sometimes very humorous and the drawing is fun, the lessons being conveyed are worthwhile and memorable in this context.

The last part of each lesson is a 2-page review.  It includes both a verb conjugation review and a vocabulary review.  Students are allowed to look back at the lesson for help if needed, so there’s no pressure involved…it’s a review, not a test.  The final portion of the review is a fifth model that has the student read and review all of the Spanish sentences learned in the other 4 models in the lesson, and then they must attempt to translate one or more of them into English on the lines provided in the workbook.  The answers to all of the translation work are located on the back of the review exercises for the student’s convenience in checking their own work. 

Haylee really enjoyed the exercises.  She did a great job of translating, too.  She’s not the kind of student who ordinarily does more than the bare minimum that’s required for school, but I noticed that in model 5 of the review pages, she actually translated ALL of the sentences given by her own choice.  That’s a sure indication in my book that she really, really enjoyed the lessons!

I felt like there was just enough repetition of the phrases and sentences to help the student commit them to memory without becoming boring and overly repetitive.  If it had, Haylee would have been the first one to let me know!  She continues to be excited about this program and looks forward to doing the lessons in addition to what she was already doing for school.  She thinks of it as fun exercises rather than a learning activity, but she’s definitely learning as she goes along.  She declared she liked it better than what she was already doing! 

I really like that this program is not overly simplified the way a lot of elementary Spanish workbooks tend to be.  There’s real verb conjugation and sentence construction in this program, and I haven’t found a lot of elementary programs that include that.  Yet at the same time, it’s given in small, digestible chunks that aren’t too much for kids to digest at once.  And they are given in the context of really fun and entertaining lessons.

I’ve actually never seen another Spanish workbook that’s set up this way.  It seems to be unique in that way from my experience.  I did notice that the first page of the e-book says “Level 1” underneath the title.  I don’t know for sure, but I certainly am hopeful that this implies there might be future levels for older students.  If there are, I would certainly be interested in continuing this program for Haylee now that she has begun middle school.  It’s definitely a good fit for her learning style and gives her just the right motivation to work through the lessons.

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