TOS Review: Jim Hodges Productions

Jim Hodges Productions ReviewSo I have one boy who doesn’t exactly love to read. Don’t get me wrong, he loves a good story, and he reads comic books and chapter books that interest him, but reading just isn’t his first choice of favorite things to do. So, I have tried to bring more literature into his life through audio dramas and books on tape. For this review, we got to listen to The Dragon and the Raven by GA Henty from Jim Hodges Productions.


dragon and raven

This story is about the struggle between the Saxons and the Vikings in 8th and 9th century Britain. The hero of the story is Edmund, who joins King Alfred in his fight to protect Britain. Throughout the story he faces fierce battles on land and on sea. Edmund fights on the ship The Dragon, and at the siege of Paris where he faces Sweyn the Viking in single combat and rescues the girl he loves.

The entire story covers more than seven hours of listening time spread out over 19 chapters. We listened to it over a period of 4-5 days. The MP3 CD plays on computers and it played in our Playstation, but not on a regular CD player, so we couldn’t listen to it in the car, which was kind of disappointing. However, the fact that it is divided into chapters made it pretty easy to find the spot where we last left off. This story is strictly an audio book, and not an audio drama. For this reason, I got more interested in the story than my son, who enjoys the excitement of different actors and sound effects of more dramatized versions.

The story itself is very well done and easy to follow. I found that I came to care about Edmund and was sincerely interested in what happened to him. My son enjoyed all the action that took place in the battles between the Vikings and the Saxons. Since we are currently studying that time period in history, it fit into our schoolwork very well, but I could easily see using this as the basis for a unit study as well.

Jim Hodges productions also offers excellent study guides to go with the books, and this was one of the best parts for me. The study guide includes vocabulary, chapter questions, and activities for each chapter in the story, and a quiz for every five chapters. Some of the activities include internet links for further study, which my son really liked. He enjoys being able to research things that interest him on his own, and he got really excited about some of the topics. He often ended up exploring the websites that the links took him to on his own. For example, one of the websites had information about the Viking game Hnefatafl, which inspired him to try and create his own version of the game!

He also got sidetracked learning about Ragnar Lothbrock, one of his father’s favorite characters from the Vikings television show, which lead to a lot of discussion between the two! Basically, we went over the vocabulary orally before starting each chapter, and then did the questions as discussion afterwards. I did have him choose one activity for every three chapters to complete, or asked him to come up with his own research project. At the end of the study guide is a complete answer key, which I really appreciated!

On the whole, I really enjoyed listening to the Dragon and the Raven. My son was most interested in the battles, and less interested in the rest of the story. However, I think this could be a great addition to any history course if you spread it out over time and use the study guide for further exploration. The MP3 CD for this story costs $25.00, while a digital download costs $18.00. The study guide costs $12.00.

To learn more about Jim Hodges Audiobooks, connect with them on social media here:
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TOS Review: New Liberty Videos

New Liberty Videos Review

We are fortunate to live in a time when we can supplement our children’s education with media like educational videos and DVDs. For this review, I got to check out the Anthem For a Nation DVD from New Liberty Videos. The documentary video focuses on exploring the qualities our country was built on, how we have gotten to where we are today, and what we need to do to get back to where we came from. This video is intended for a general audience, although I think older students would get the most out of it.

New Liberty Videos Review

Biblically-based, the movie encourages families to remain strong in their fight to stay true to the founding principles of our nation. The video opens with beautiful panoramic shots of America, ranging from mountain ranges to oceans. My hubby and I watched this together, and while we both loved the images, we felt the music they were set to was a little, umm…contrived. It seems they had original songs written that included their own message, and it was a little much for us. I think it would have been better if they just used classical music as the background.

The documentary immediately begins by expounding on how important the church was to the beginnings of our country. From Alexis de Tocqueville to George Washington, it does a really good job of explaining how the founding principles of this country came from a firm belief in God and the Bible. It draws Biblical references between historical documents like the preamble to the Declaration of Independence and parts of the Constitution and passages in the Bible. Both my hubby and myself found this part to be very interesting. It was one of those things that most people kind of “know” in a general sense, but don’t have the specifics about. I could see how this part would be very interesting to explore with my children.

Now, when we watched this video, it was right before our trip to Washington DC, so one of the best parts of this documentary for me was when it got into specific details about this city. First, they show you an overlay of the city and how it is laid out in the shape of a cross. It also pointed out how the Washington Monument itself (which we got to tour!) has a Bible in its cornerstone and has Bible passages inscribed on itself. This was something we talked about when we were touring the monument (and something I didn’t know!).

From there, the movie goes into the background of our Founding Fathers and how their beliefs were tied to their politics. For example, they talked about how John Quincy Adams read his Bible daily and became president of the American Bible Society. It goes on to talk about how far our country has strayed from our foundational beliefs with a discussion of abortion, prayer in schools, and how our government has moved Christianity further and further away from our daily lives. The video draws a specific connection between how we, as Americans, have become more and more self-reliant, and less reliant on God.

On the whole, we both felt this video brought up some very valid parts. However, some parts of the documentary seemed a little heavy-handed, and when my boys walked through the living room the music did get a few eye rolls. Still, I think you could easily use this movie to spark some very thoughtful discussion with kids in middle school or above. Anthem for a Nation costs $19.95.

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Menu Plan Monday 10/27/14

Wow, I can’t believe that I will be planning my holiday menus soon! Where did this year go??? Since Friday is Halloween, we will be ordering pizza before the kids start trick or treating, so I am only cooking four days this week! Here’s what’s on our menu:

Monday: Chicken Tamales

Tuesday: Pot Roast

Wednesday: Stuffed Pork Chops

Thursday: Rosemary Lemon Chicken

Friday: Pizza 🙂

That’s it! Make sure to join me to next week for Menu Plan Monday!

TOS Review: Middlebury Languages

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

After taking four years of Spanish in highschool, including one year of AP Spanish, you would think teaching a second language to my kids would be no big deal right? Wrong! While I was almost fluent in Spanish when I graduated that was (ahem 😉 ) a while ago…and with no need to really use Spanish every day in my regular life, I have lost much of what I learned. So, I was excited to give the Spanish Courses from Middlebury Interactive Languages a try with my 8th grade son!

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

We used the Middle School Spanish 1 course, aimed at students in grades 6-8, with my son working three-four days a week. The course is set up as self-paced, with students working through the lessons at their own speed. They have six months to complete the course. If you were to complete one lesson per day, it would take you about one semester to finish. At the pace we were moving, it would have been slightly longer than that, but still well within the six month time period.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

The course is divided into units, which are divided into lessons with different activties. Basically, we aimed to complete one lesson in each session. The activities in each lesson vary slightly, with some lessons having more activities than others. Each lesson featured a speaking lab with recordings of native speakers going over the phrases and vocabulary. In addition, each lesson had some sort of interactive activity for students to practice what they learned. Longer lessons may have more than one lab and activity. I really thought these activities were very well done and appropriate for the grade level. For example, at one point my son listened to two native speakers having a conversation, and then clicked and dragged the missing words and phrases to their correct spots. It was enough to engage him, but not be seen as “babyish” in his eyes.

Activities are scored right away, and students get more than one chance to complete it, giving them a change to achieve mastery. I also appreciated the structure of the lessons. They flowed very well together. For the most part, our lessons started with a recording of natural conversation between native speakers. Students were then given a chance to learn the vocabulary with an activity, such as listening to the phrases out loud and trying to guess their meaning.

Middlebury Interactive Languages Review

One of the things I liked most about Middlebury is that they actually get into teaching grammar, not just speaking vocabulary. It seems like a lot of online courses skip this part, which I think is central to being able to use a course to complete a credit. Each unit teaches one or two grammar topics, giving students a great foundation for high school. As he completed the lesson on subject pronouns, and I listened along, I was surprised how much of what I used to know came back to me!The grammar lessons were longer than the other ones, with multiple opportunities to practice the concept. We split these lessons up into two days.

The Middle School Spanish course consists of nine units, and a mid-term and final exam. It was really nice to have these included, and have the scoring done for me! I was very pleased with what Middlebury had to offer, and the best part was that my son enjoyed it too. He said he felt like he was taking a more “grown up” class than he had in other places, and the lessons were done in 30 minutes or less. He also told me he felt like he was learning a lot with Middlebury. They also offer courses in French, German, and Chinese for grades K-12. A one-semester course, like the one we took, costs $119.

To learn more about Middlebury, check out their social media pages:
Middlebury Interactive Languages on Facebook

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TOS Review: Standard Deviants Accelerate

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

As my boys get older, I find myself looking for more and more creative ways to get them excited about learning, and to work in classes that are a little outside of what I can offer them. It seems like online learning is becoming more and more the way of the future, and while it is not my favorite thing, I have decided to try and embrace. So, I jumped at the chance to review some of Standard Deviants Accelerate Homeschool Courses from the website Standard Deviants Accelerate. Designed for ages eight through adults, they offer a wide variety of core and supplemental classes.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

I had my 8th grade son take the nutrition course as an elective, while I poked around in the English Composition course and some of the AP courses, to see what they might have to offer my older son. Each section of the course begins with a “big picture” activity aimed at getting students thinking about what they are going to learn about. These activities are designed more for classrooms, with larger groups of students, but with a little tweaking, you can make them work. The nutrition course was made up of eight chapters, each divided into short daily lessons. There are enough lessons to do one each day of the week, but, because they are short, you could also break it into three days and just double up on the lessons.

The nutrition lessons had a short video, which my son said was only so-so, then it moved into reading and other activities. Kids can take notes right on the computer and save them for later in the program. Vocabulary lists were included, and at the completion of the reading, students work on a diagram, and then take a quiz. Basically, my son easily completed each section in 20 minutes or less, and he enjoyed them. The quizzes were good because they marked which answers they got wrong, showed them the right answers, and then took them back to the lesson where the information was to reinforce the learning.

As a parent, I was able to access his quiz and diagram grades. This made it easy for me to keep track of where he was. The first time he did a diagram and quiz, he did not really take it seriously, but I was able to see that he scored low, and have him go back and redo it. The course covered a lot of information, from vitamins and minerals, to food safety and nutritional disorders. I felt like it worked really well for my son and fit into our “health” credit area.This course is aimed at grades six and up and works well as a middle school elective.

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

The English Composition course I looked at is aimed at grades nine and up, and although it has a similar set up to the nutrition course, it has a lot more meat. Not only does it cover the “how to” of writing, it gets into the types of writing, and touches on rhetoric, research papers, and other topics you would expect to be covered in a high school English class. The AP courses are designed to prepare students to take the AP test in that particular subject. It goes over how the test is set up, how it is scored, and strategies students can use when taking the test. I looked at the AP History and English courses because those are the AP tests I took in high school, and I think they would be helpful to prepare a student who is nervous. I wish they offered an SAT prep course because I would absolutely sign my oldest up for that one!

Standard Deviants Accelerate Review

The pricing for Standard Deviants Accelerate varies. Core Curriculum subjects cost $99.00 per year, or $24.95 per month. AP courses cost $14.95 a month. This flexibility is nice, because you can decide how you want to complete the course and pay accordingly. If you need to take a break from a few subjects or you just want a good way to supplement your instruction, I would recommend you take a look at what Standard Deviants Accelerate has to offer.

Learn more about SDA on their social media pages:
Standard Deviants Accelerate on Facebook

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Southern Shrimp and Grits

Shrimp and Grits

As a little girl, my nana’s grits were one of my favorite things to eat! They were a breakfast staple. The instant stuff just doesn’t compare. Shrimp and grits was a treat we would get when shrimp was on sale. After going through some of my nana’s old recipes, I found this one and decided to make it for my family!

Grits ingredients:
1 cup grits
1 can chicken broth
3/4 cup half and half
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup shredded Cheddar
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
2 cups water

Homemade grits!

1. Bring half and half, water, broth, and salt to boil in medium pot.
2. Whisk in the grits.
3. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the grits are thick.
4. Stir in the butter, hot sauce, pepper, and cheeses.
5. Keep warm.

Shrimp ingredients:
1 lb. medium shrimp peeled and deveined
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. hot sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup flour

1. Cook bacon in skillet until crisp. Set aside on paper towel and save 2 tbsp. drippings.
2. Saute mushrooms in bacon dripping until tender.

3. Add the green onions and saute for another two minutes.

4. Sprinkle shrimp with salt and pepper. Dredge in flour.
5. Add shrimp and garlic to skillet and saute until shrimp are browned.

6. Stir in the chicken broth, hot sauce, and lemon juice and cook until heated through.
7. Serve shrimp over grits, garnish with lemon slices.

This recipe was absolutely delicious. The grits were so rich and creamy, just like I remember! We even had leftover grits for breakfast the next day (note, add a little broth and heat them up). You can also just make the grits by themselves!

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Menu Plan Monday 10/20/14

Fall is in the air and the temperatures and humidity are dropping! This week I am going with a family favorite menu, cooking up some of my hubby and kid’s most requested dishes!


Monday: Crock Pot Chicken and Dumplings

Tuesday: Calzone

Wednesday: Chicken Quesadillas

Thursday: Mojo Pork

Friday: Make your own pizza

What are your family favorite recipes? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for stopping by for Menu Plan Monday, come back next week!