Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween Freebies and Deals

It’s not too late!  Take advantage of these Halloween freebies and deals.

IHOP:  Kids age 12 and under get a FREE scary face pancake today, no purchase required!  We went early and got ours for breakfast.  I had a receipt from a previous visit, did the survey on the bottom, and used that get myself a free short stack of pancakes!  Then we ordered some turkey sausage links on the side, and that was the only thing I had to pay for.  Gotta love a deal like that!

KRISPY KREME:  Anyone who shows up in a costume today gets a FREE doughnut of your choice.  There are some seasonal doughnuts just for Halloween that won’t be around after today, but you can pick any one of your choice.  If you don’t have a costume, just get creative.  I grabbed a long zip-up house robe to put over my clothes and carried my daughter’s pillow pet, put my hair in two braids in the parking lot, and went in as a little girl.  Hey, don’t knock it…it works!  And I thoroughly enjoyed my favorite apple cinnamon filled doughnut.  Yum!  I skipped lunch so I could have it, especially after those heavy pancakes for breakfast.  I’m on a real carb high today!

SONIC:  A convenient way to grab a quick dinner for the kids before heading out the door for trick-or-treating tonight is to run by a Sonic drive-thru and take advantage of the 50-cent corn dogs they are offering today.  Man, those corn dogs are surprisingly good!  Crispy on the outside, yet soft on the inside.  Yummy goodness!  There’s no limit that I’m aware of, so grab a few for the hungry teenager in the house while you’re at it.

Speaking of hungry teenagers, I just left the pediatrician’s office from getting checkups for two of my kids, and would you believe that my 17-year old son has lost 4 pounds in the last month, all while eating me out of house and home?  I guess that’s what happens when he runs and competes to regionals with cross-country AND plays soccer simultaneously in the same season.  Go figure!  That boy can put down some calories, all while I’m counting every single one and trying to lose weight.  Sigh.  Oh, to be young again!

Happy Halloween, everyone!  Stay safe out there.  Smile

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

REVIEW: Elementary Spanish 1: Grades 3-5 by Middlebury Interactive Languages

Holden had the pleasure of improving his Spanish learning once again with Elementary Spanish 1: Grades 3-5 by Middlebury Interactive Languages.


Middlebury Interactive Languages offers a variety of online language programs for students in grades K-12. 

Program subscriptions can be purchased for either one or two semester periods to learn Spanish, French, Chinese, or German, with or without teacher support.  They are self-grading programs, and parents can log in to view grades and activities at any time. 

Online lessons include animated videos, drag-and-drop activities, as well as speaking the language and recording your voice for playback and comparison.

We reviewed Elementary Spanish 1: Grades 3-5, which is a two-semester program.  Without teacher support, it costs $238.00.  The primary focus of the program at this level is to acquire language vocabulary, though the cultural stories present vocabulary in context, which also provides opportunity for natural learning of grammar principles.



Holden is 8, and he has used other levels of the Elementary Spanish programs in the past and has always loved the experience.  The animated cultural stories are fun to watch, and it’s amazing to see how much understanding he can obtain from a completely 2016-10-24 (7)Spanish-speaking story by listening to it in the context of the video.

The videos do a good job of communicating the meaning of the language through the images being seen as you listen.  Then the subsequent exercises that follow isolate the targeted vocabulary from the story, allowing him to manipulate words and images in a variety of ways that help him match and remember those words and phrases.

Each time he completes2016-10-24 (1) an exercise, there is a check mark at the top of the screen that he can click to see the assignment graded instantly.  He can also go back at any time to practice an exercise again, which helps with reinforcement if there’s a section about which he feels unsure.

Each time he logs in, he can easily see which lesson is next and click on that to proceed.  After 4-5 segments which are catalogued down the left-han2016-10-24 (2)d side of each lesson, his lesson is complete, and he can either move on or exit until next time.  Each completed segment will be shown with a giant checkmark across it so he can see that he has completed it before moving on to the next one.

There is also a calendar section that shows check marks on completed lessons, though the calendar itself is not a functional one, in that you cannot move assignments around or affect in any way when they are scheduled.  I think it’s probably for use in teacher-supported courses.  But it does help you, as 2016-10-24 (4)the parent, to see an overview of completed lessons.  It actually did come in handy for me.  Since Holden had done these courses in the past, I left him alone to complete his lesson each day once I’d logged him in.  But when I went back and looked at the calendar overview to look for the little checkmarks and make sure all the lessons were complete, I realized that some lessons were incomplete.  When we went back to them, we realized he’d been doing many of the activities but forgetting to click on the checkmark to get them graded.  Unfortunately then, his work was not b2016-10-24 (6)eing saved for many of the activities.  He’s working on doing those activities again and getting them graded so his progress is accurately shown.  So my recommendation would be that a parent verify that all activities have check marks on them before logging out each day, even if your child is working through the lessons independently.  Luckily, Holden doesn’t mind doing them again because he really enjoys this program!

In fact, Holden enjoys it so much that he is doing a lesson every day, even though the elementary programs are paced at two lessons per week so they last a full school year.  We were using something else for Spanish up to this point in our school year, but Holden asked to replace it with Middlebury Spanish instead, so this is now our primary foreign language course for this school year! 

I have to say that he h2016-10-24as done quite well with the program.  I love that he can do it by himself, too, giving me a little block of time to do other things at home.  There are built-in reviews of the material as well as quizzes at the end of each unit, which is great for checking his retention of the material.

I would highly recommend this course for your young learners!  The pace of it seems just right, the lessons are just enough without being too much for one sitting, and the interactive nature of the activities keeps students engaged.

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

Monday, October 24, 2016

Comfort Food Diet…a Success!

I just wanted to post a quick update now that I’ve been cooking the menus from the Comfort Food Diet plans I mentioned last week.  I started last weekend, and in just that amount of time, I’ve already lost 4 pounds!  And let me tell you…I’ve really been enjoying this comfort food!  I’ve had pasta, cheese, bread, pineapple, banana, butter…a whole host of foods I haven’t eaten at all this year since I started dieting at the end of January.  And yet I either lost or stayed the same every single day this past week!  I am now down a total of 18 pounds this year, and I’ve even surpassed my goal weight!  I wanted to reach 123 but had been stuck fluctuating between 125 and 127 since the end of March.  Now I’m 121.2 as of today!  That’s amazing.  This nutrition plan has finally gotten me out of this weight loss plateau.  I had given up on ever reaching my actual goal.  Now look where I am!

I’ve never enjoyed a diet so much in all my life.  I’ve done a LOT of cooking and cleanup…I must admit that.  But I’ve made every meal from scratch, and it’s all been so delicious!  My family is also loving it.  Here are some of the meals I’ve enjoyed over the last few days:

This was a lunch that included a Veggie Pizza (on a whole wheat tortilla), blueberries, and a salad.

This was this morning’s breakfast that included a vegetable frittata, wheat toast with jam, and a naval orange.

This was today’s lunch that included a made-from-scratch California Deluxe Chicken Caesar Pizza (I even made the pizza dough!), pineapple, and a light string cheese.

Tonight we had some marinated steak & veggie kabobs over rice and a salad.  That was delicious, too!  And we had chocolate pudding sandwiches for dessert.  Last night, I made a broiled pineapple dessert with toasted marshmallows on top that was simply amazing!

I have not had the urge to cheat on this nutrition plan.  The meals are very satisfying, and I get dessert every night, so there’s really nothing to crave!  I’m very happy to finally be losing weight and truly enjoying food again.  I don’t feel deprived of anything at all!

I’ve officially lost nearly 13% of my body weight this year.  I feel a real sense of accomplishment in that.  I’m still doing my PINK workouts every day.  I’ve finished that program 3 times, and I started round 4 this week.  I feel happy and strong and fit!  Woo-hoo!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Awesome Nutrition Plan!!!

I have been doing the PINK Method exercise and nutrition program since January 22nd.  I lost the weight I wanted to lose in the first two months and have basically been in PINK Preservation ever since in order to maintain my weight.  I could make my own menus if I wanted to, but I enjoy having everything planned out for me, so we’ve been mostly doing the PINK menus this whole time.  I was really starting to get bored with the repetition and simplicity of the food, though, so I was looking to change something up on the food end of things.

When the PINK online access went away at the end of August, I started using My Fitness Pal to track mImage result for my fitness pal logo pngy calories and exercise, as well as my water intake.  It’s really an amazing FREE program, and you can use the convenient app on your phone or iPad, as well…available for both Apple and Android.  It has the most extensive food database I’ve ever seen, so it’s easy to pull up everything you eat and log the nutrition data that’s already there 99% of the time.

With that program, I set myself up to maintain my weight at 125, and after entering my height and weight information and other variables, it allotted me 1,400 calories per day, plus extra calories to balance out whatever exercise I enter.  I’ve been using it for almost 2 months now, and it has really helped me stay on track, even when I want a treat!  It keeps a count and lets me know how many calories I have left for the day.

When I started looking for ideas on different menus, it dawned on me that I already owned the whole set of Comfort Food Diet cookbooks from Taste of Home, and that used to be its own online weight loss subscription program, but it was discontinued a few years ago.  Anyway, in the front of each cookbooks is a free sample of 6 weeks of menu plans using the recipes in the cookbooks that equal 1,400 calories per day…which is exactly what I’m allotted at My Fitness Pal.  So I got to thinking that this might be just the thing to change up our menus without getting off track.  I dug them out of my cookbook cabinet and sat down to take a look.  It seemed totally doable, so I started it on Sunday of this week.  I’m on the third day now, and I have lost weight every single day!  And what’s more, I’ve eaten pasta, homemade bread, bagel, cheese, and dairy products, which are all things I didn’t get on PINK.  I also have had dessert every single night!  And you know what?  I’m stuffed full.  Sometimes, I can’t even eat all the food.  And I haven’t taken advantage of any of the allowed snacks at all.  To be honest, I haven’t even found myself thinking about snacks, because I’m so full and satisfied after every meal!  The first night, I made these super rich layered ice cream desserts that my kids were crazy for…they had caramel, chocolate, mini ice cream sandwiches, chocolate sauce, etc., and it was so rich!  Last night, we had chocolate peanut butter parfaits, and they were SO yummy, and only 130 calories! 

My total calories yesterday barely broke 1,000, and yet I was SO stuffed.  I had spaghetti and meat sauce, a salad, and that parfait for dessert.  I had a fabulous salmon chowder for lunch with a homemade wheat roll with butter and grapes.  I had a delicious crustless spinach quiche for breakfast with toast and jam.  It’s been so yummy! 

I’m amazed.  I’m down to 123.2 today, and that’s my lowest weight this year!  I’m down a total of 16 pounds since January 22nd, which means I’ve lost 11.5% of my body weight this year!  I have stuck with the PINK workouts religiously, and I’ve completed the program 3 times through this year.  I just started round 4 yesterday. 

Product DetailsSo if you are stuck in a food rut, you’re trying to lose weight, you’re trying to maintain your current weight, or you just want to healthified versions of comfort foods that leave you feel satiated after every meal, then I highly recommend that you check out the Comfort Food Diet Cookbooks!  Collect them all so you can get the free menu plans in the front of each book.  But it’s easy to put together your own plans with the cookbooks, as well, because the recipes are separated by meal category and then indexed in calorie order in each section.  Easy peasy!

Check them out!

1.  Comfort Food Diet Cookbook

2.  Comfort Food Diet Cookbook - Family Classics Collection

3.  Comfort Food Diet Cookbook – Quick & Easy Favorites

Enjoy!  Feel free to share your weight loss journey in the comments.  Here’s to a healthier you!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Mere Brush with Hurricane Matthew

Although Hampton Roads was spared any direct contact with Hurricane Matthew this weekend, its upper bands of moisture got sucked up by a stationary cold front that was moving into the area this weekend.  And as a result, we got an enormous amount of rain (and wind) from that storm system.  Virginia Beach got over 9 inches of rain in less than 24 hours. 

We had record rainfall just two weeks ago that caused a lot of flooding in this city…enough to close public schools for two days.  So the ground was already saturated from that weather event.  Our storm drains just couldn’t handle the volume last night, and we got up to some pretty significant flooding all over the area this morning!  Here’s what my neighborhood looked like, and this was after it started receding.

The water crept up my street into the early morning hours, and my good friend who lives three doors down had one of her vehicles flooded out.  We were lucky, because our house is literally the highest one in the neighborhood, and it never floods right in front of my house.  Several of the neighbors were proactive and moved their cars in front of my house, which was wise. 

I went for a walk and discovered a lot of flooded vehicles, impassable roads, and people without power.  The traffic control boxes were under water, so the traffic lights were malfunctioning, too.  People have been driving through the common area in front of our neighborhood and through the medians to get onto higher ground, so you can imagine how many muddy ruts there are in the grass…it’s pretty torn up out there. 

What a mess!  But we survived.

Goodbye, Matthew!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

REVIEW: Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting by Everyday Education, LLC

Haylee loves to practice handwriting but is no longer required to do so for school, so when this product came up for review, she immediately volunteered to try out Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting by Everyday Education, LLC.



Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting is designed to help you teach your early elementary-aged student to read and write well within 60 days.  It contains 60 lessons, and it is a phonics-based program. 

It’s also intended for use with older elementary students, even those in public school, who may not be reading well, perhaps because of ineffective teaching methods that have been used in the past.

In addition, the handwriting portion is intended for both children and adults who want to learn a simple, beautiful italic handwriting style that’s easy to learn and pleasing to the eye. 

This program is available for just $29 for the printed version, $27 for the e-book printable version (which you can print as many times as needed for use in your own family), or $44 for the print and e-book bundle.



My 12-year old daughter, Haylee, has always had beautiful handwriting and took a lot of pride in practicing her handwriting well.  Our instructional program, though, only went through her 6th grade year.  So this is the first year that she did not have scheduled handwriting practice in our homeschool.  Needless to say, she has commented several times that she actually misses doing handwriting!  So when Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting came up for review, she begged me to let her work on the handwriting portion.  All of my kids read well, so I agreed to let her do the handwriting portion for the review.

Up to this point, Haylee had learned the traditional D’Nealian style of cursive handwriting, and when I was a kid in public school, I learned the Palmer method.  So italics is an all-new style for our family.  I must say, though, that it looks quite lovely on paper! 

We received the e-book version of the the program, so I was conveniently able to print just the chapter on handwriting for Haylee to use.  It started off showing some of the different ways that italic handwriting can look.  Then it explains how to use the chapter to learn and master the italic style.DSCF4729

First, Haylee began by practicing the basic letters, both uppercase and lowercase, written very vertically.  Once she had that down, she began copying the first six pages of the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.”  She had to copy each line immediately following the pre-printed text.  Then the first word of her line was traceable to get her started with proper size and spacing.  Haylee did quite well with this, and it looked really nice!

The neDSCF4730xt stage of the chapter had her beginning to learn to write the letters with some slant.  Haylee wrote the remainder of the poem in this slanted style with the same layout of the pages as before, only this time, there were also faint guidelines in the background of the page to help her maintain a consistent slant to her writing. 

After the poem was completed, it had her move on to completing some sentences about herself and then writing anything she wished to write for practice on a blank page with only writing lines and slant guidelines to keep her on track.  Then it also showed her some sample writing in the most common sizing, and she had to copy that page, as well, followed by another blank practice page to apply the smaller DSCF4732sizing.

The final stage taught her how to write the italic style faster by joining letters together while avoiding making certain joins that confuse the appearance of the letters for the reader.  That encompassed the final size pages of the chapter.

In addition, there is another section of writing in italics with a calligraphy pen.  This is where you can really add personal style to your writing with swashes and flourishes!  But my daughter didn’t have a calligraphy pen to try that out, so she just stuck to the standard italic writing style.  Since she enjoyed this handwriting so much, though, that gives me an idea for a future Christmas gift…a calligraphy pen!

Overall, the italic style seemed pretty simple for Haylee to learn, and she found it relaxing to get the book out and give it a try just for fun.  I had printed the handwriting chapter and bound it with spiral comb binding like a workbook so she could lay the pages flat and keep them all together as she worked.  Haylee really seemed to enjoy learning the style, and I thought she did a wonderful job with it!  It really did look lovely, and it was easy on the eyes to read it.

Even if you don’t have a child learning to read, Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting still makes a wonderful tool for learning italic handwriting or for trying to improve your own style!

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about this and other products from Everyday Education by clicking the banner below.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

REVIEW: If You Were Me and Lived In… Books Brought to You by Carole P. Roman and

Holden is currently studying about American Indians and colonial settlements, so I was excited to be able to review If You Were Me and Lived In…Colonial America (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 4) and If You Were Me and Lived In…the American West (Volume 7), brought to you by Carole P. Roman and


The “If You Were Me and Lived In…” book series teaches children about what it was actually like to live in various time periods in history from a child’s perspective.  There are a variety of stories to choose from, covering so many historic periods that they truly make a wonderful supplement to your child’s history studies.

The two books that I requested to review were If You Were Me and Lived In…Colonial America (An Introduction to Civilizations Throughout Time) (Volume 4) and If You Were Me and Lived in the American West (Volume 7), which I selected because these match up with the time period that my 8-year old son, Holden, is currently studying in our homeschool. 

I also had the pleasure of receiving two additional books:  If You Were Me and Lived In…Renaissance Italy (An Introduction to Civilizations Through Time) (Volume 2) and If You Were Me and Lived In…Ancient China: The Han Dynasty.


All of these books and many more in the series are available for purchase through Amazon in the price range of approximately $13-$20 each.



Holden definitely has some attention difficulties, and he tends to do other things while I read to him.  So to make sure he got to enjoy the truly rich and enticing illustrations in these beautiful books, I chose to use them as bedtime stories.  When he is tired, he’ll cuddle up with me at night to read a book together, and he’s able to be more still than at other times, so that was the perfect way to ensure he got the full appreciation of these lovely books.

We began with Colonial America story, since that one lines up perfectly with what we’ve studied in our homeschool most recently.  We had already covered all of the material in this book, so it was a wonderful summary of things we’ve studied so far this school year and was far more interesting and engaging that how we’d studied it before!

Holden absolutely loved the large, full-page, full-color illustrations that were paired with every reading page, and it kept his attention as I read aloud the accompanying text.  It started off showing what London looks like in modern times vs. the 1600’s.  Then it talks about what kinds of names boys and girls might have been given and asks the reader to think about how those names reflect the society of that time.  Then it moves into the various religious movements of that time DSCF4725and how that spurred the development of colonies in the New World.  It discusses the journey to America and how the settlers had to find ways to satisfy their immediate needs for shelter, food, and a way to govern themselves.  The book gives a good overview of the challenges the settlers faced and what a transition it was from the life they’d known before.  It also gives a good impression of the daily life of the colony and how much work was involved in day-to-day survival.  It also discusses how the settlers came to develop contact and relationships with the Native Americans, and how what they learned improved their chances of survival.  It relays how the children were educated, what kinds of chores they did, and how they entertained themselves.  Then at the end of the story, it gave a brief summary of some notable people who lived at that time and what made them significant.

The next book we read was the American West story.  Holden hasn’t gotten that far into American history just yet, but it will be coming, so that was a great story to choose to read next.  The story started out by showing Oregon in modern times, followed by Oregon in the 1800’s at the time that settlers began to travel on the Oregon Trail.  It explained why the settlers began to make the move and why they chose to travel en masse.  It also toDSCF4726ld of the draws that existed in the west and then began to describe the physical aspects of the journey itself and the many challenges the settlers faced on that treacherous trek.  It detailed their food, their clothing, their chores, and their encounters with Native Americans.  I felt like the illustrations really did a great job of conveying the conditions and difficulties along the way and the perseverance involved in making a new home for themselves once they reached their destination.  A whole new set of chores were required as they created new homesteads, and it was easy to grasp how the settlers began to create a new society for themselves and get back to regular daily life with schools and stores and growing up in a community.  And at the end of the story, it again detailed quick summaries of famous people of the American West, complete with portraits.

The other two books cover completely different time periods and geographic locations than these first two, so I chose not to read those to Holden just yet.  I want to save them for when we eventually cover those areas in our studies.  I have every confidence that they will be a wonderful complement to our history lessons when the time comes. 

I looked through both books, though, and they are just as interesting as thDSCF4727e first two we read!  The Renaissance Italy story talks about the emergence from the dark times of the Middle Ages and how people became more interested in art, architecture, and literature.  The copies the ways of Ancient Greece, and they enjoyed the finer things in life.  The end of the book offers a summary of famous artists who transformed art for a lifetime to come.

The Ancient China story has significantly longer text than the other stories because it has so much more information to convey.  It talks about the culture of the people, the significance of their class systeDSCF4728m, and the lack of respect for women in their society (they were not allowed to get an education, and men felt that women’s opinions didn’t matter).  It discusses the use of slaves, the different types of homes, and how the foods of rich and poor members of society differed mainly in whether or not spices and sauces were used to improve flavor.  It also discussed the importance placed on learning the arts like dancing, music, and writing.  Like the other books, it ended with a summary of significant people of the time, as well as a glossary of relevant terms, which was present in all of the other books, as well.

Overall, I’m very impressed with these books!  They do a wonderful job of communicating a good bit of historical culture and information while relaying it all on a child’s level.  The enticing nature of the large and colorful illustrations really helps keep a child’s interest while learning all the while.  They do a good job of helping the reader to visualize the experience about which they are reading.  We enjoyed them very much!

I would hope to collect all of the books in this series to supplement our studies going forward.  They certainly cover a lot of useful historic information in a concise and easy-to-understand manner that’s just right for kids.  I hope you’ll give them a try, too!

Find out what other Crew members have to say about these and other books in the series by clicking the banner below.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Freebie This Week!

Just in time for the start of fall, you can snag lots of FREE coffee this week!  All you need is the 7-Eleven Rewards app on your smartphone.  Use the app to get one FREE cup of any coffee, any size, every day this week from October 3-9. 

Now that’s a great freebie!  And it’s just in time to enjoy some Pumpkin Spice Latte for fall.  The details are listed below.



Free Coffee Week

It’s the week you’ve “bean” waiting for! FREE COFFEE WEEK is October 3-9 at 7-Eleven. Get any size, any flavor coffee FREE when you scan your 7-Eleven app.

Limit one free coffee per member per day. At participating stores, while supplies last. Not valid on iced coffee. Plus tax where applicable.

Bold Flavors!