Getting in the Spirit

Thanksgiving is the start of one of my favorite times of year. I simply love the holidays. I love the music, and the television shows, and the decorations, and caroling, and parties…all of it. My family indulges me in all of this, for which I am very grateful. And we have started a few favorite traditions that we love to share. This season, unfortunately, all of us were a little under the weather, because my hubby brought home a cold the week before and it made its way through all of us, but we managed to have fun anyway.

My hubby worked on Thanksgiving (which he does most holidays), but my kids and I were able to go to the station and have dinner with him, his crew, and their families. My children have grown up with fire station holidays and we enjoy the “family” we have there. The guys set up corn hole for the kids and the boys brought their skateboards and everybody had a great time. Since we were at the station on Thanksgiving, we went out to dinner with my hubby’s parents the next evening.

We spent the day on Friday getting our tree and setting up our decorations like we do every year. The first year my hubby and I were married a Christmas tree stand set up across the street from the apartments we lived in. We were on our way home from Thanksgiving dinner and saw them and decided to get one and set it up (we were newlyweds and so excited about our first Christmas together!). That became a tradition that we have kept up. As we decorate, the kids and I get to talk about our special ornaments, like my family ornaments made by my great grandmother.

We have another tradition I started when my oldest was six years old where we go to the store and each boy chooses their own Christmas ornament for the year. The box gets marked with their name and the year. Over time we have collected a number of different ornaments including Scooby Doo, Gandalf, Thor, Fire trucks, the Batmobile, and many others. I remember the first year I was married, and my hubby and I had NO ornaments of our own so we bought a bunch of cheap stuff from Wal-Mart. My idea is, when the boys grow up and get married and have their first Christmas, they will have a bunch of ornaments to take with them and hang up on their tree that will be special to them. They always talk about each one when we hang them up, and look forward to choosing new ones each year.

Each year it becomes more and more clear to me how special these traditions are. Especially as my boys get older and I see that these times are so precious and fleeting, I want to squeeze the joy out of every second. I love these people the Lord has blessed me with and I am so thankful to spend this time with them! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Do you have any special traditions? Let me know in the comments!


Squash Casserole

In an effort to (ahem) lose a few pounds, I have been working on incorporating more carb-free meals into my diet. This week, I am sharing a recipe for this casserole I made with spaghetti squash. I have never cooked with spaghetti squash before, but it actually turned out really really well!

2 medium spaghetti squash
1 lb. Italian sausage
1 medium onion
1 medium red pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 can diced tomatoes (I used the garlic and oregano ones)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 cups shredded Italian cheese
1/2 bushel parsley

1. Slice squash in half and place open-side down in baking dish.
2. Add 1/2 cup water to the dish.
3. Cover dish with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until tender.

4. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

5. While squash cools, chop the onion, garlic, and pepper.
6. Cook sausage in a pan until browned. Drain.
7. Add the onion, garlic, and pepper to the pan and cook until the vegetables are tender.
8. Stir in the diced tomatoes and spaghetti sauce.
9. Use a fork to shred the spaghetti squash and stir into the meat mixture.
10. Transfer mixture to baking pan.

11. Top with cheese, cover, and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
12. Remove the foil and bake for 5 minutes more.
13. Top with chopped parsley and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

I served this with a side salad, and my hubby and kids had garlic bread too. The squash added a really nice flavor to the dish, and my kids ate the leftovers for lunch the next day, so they must have liked it! Now I’m going to look for other spaghetti squash recipes! If you have any, let me know in the comments. Thanks for stopping by, I will see you next week. You can check out other recipes here:

Blue Ribbon Awards!

2014 Blue Ribbon Awards

It is that time of year again, when the Schoolhouse Review Crew Season comes to a close and we vote for our favorite products of the year. I have to tell you, we got to check out so much great stuff, it was very hard to choose. For my family, Apologia, Out of the Box Games, and Middlebury languages made our favorites list. See the results of the crew votes and get a good look at lots of great products on the Blue Ribbon Awards page on the crew blog!

Menu Plan Monday 11/17/14

Wow! I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is next week! For some reason it feels like it snuck up on me this year. I don’t know about you, but I suddenly have some serious planning to do! In the meantime, this is what’s on our menu for this week:

Monday: Sweet and Spicy Chili

Tuesday: Calzones

Wednesday: Pork Casserole

Thursday: Mexican Chicken Salad

Friday: Spaghetti

I hope you guys have a great week. Thanks for stopping by for Menu Plan Monday! See you next week.

TOS Review: Out of the Box Games

Out of the Box Games Review

It is my last review of this crew year, and while I have had a lot of fun, I am looking forward to the holiday break. I think it is very fitting that this review is for a really fun game called Snake Oil from Out of the Box games. As a family of four, we are always looking for fun things to do that don’t cost a lot of money, and playing board games is something we all enjoy.

Out of the Box Games Review

Based on the idea of the old “snake oil” salesman who roamed small towns and county fairs back in the early days of the country, players are asked to create their own pitch for hilarious products! This game gave my kids a chance to show off their sales and improvisational skills, and led to lots of laughs. Designed for ages 10 to adult, I think this could become a huge party game!

Out of the Box Games Review

This game works for 3-10 players, but I think the more you have the better it is. Playing Snake Oil is very easy. To begin with, each player draws six cards from four different decks. The cards have random words on them like beach, cat, shoe etc. One person becomes the customer and draws a card from the customer deck. That card features a role (such as teenager, pirate, schoolteacher etc.) and lets the salesmen know who they have to convince to buy their product. Next, each salesman chooses two of their cards to create the product they are going to sell. The idea is to tailor the product to the customer (like one of my sons thought a sword dog would be good for the pirate…it’s a weapon and also a pet!).

We set a one-minute time limit for each sales pitch, but of course, you could do more or less depending on the number of players you have. After each person makes their pitch, the customer chooses what they think is the best one, and that person wins that round. You can decide how many rounds you want to play before you begin. We went with eight. Now, since the cards are so random, I’m sure you can imagine some of the funny products we made up. Some of my favorites were the dog-pony, sleep-hammer, cheese-worm, and shadow-fan.

I love Snake Oil because it really taps into your creative side. My youngest described it as “kind of like a picture game or charades, but with words”. It really was fun for all of us, but I can also see the use in helping to develop language and public speaking skills, but in a fun and non-threatening way.

I actually plan to play this game with my girlfriends on our next “girls night” because I really think they will enjoy it too. You could absolutely use it for a party too, just have people play as teams. Snake Oil costs $19.99 and I think it is worth every penny! This could easily become one of my family’s favorite games!

To find out more about Snake Oil, connect with Out of the Box games on social media:

Out of the Box on Facebook

Out of the Box on Twitter

Out of the Box on YouTube

See what other members of the crew thought of this product here:
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TOS Review: Purposeful Design

Purposeful Design Review

Good creation resources are a benefit to any homeschool. I am always on the lookout resources that will attract my kids attention and explain things in a way they understand. For this review, we got to check out the book Purposeful Design: Understanding the Creation from author Jay Schabacker at Purposeful Design.

This book is suitable for all ages and features seven chapters, each one devoted to a particular day of creation. With over 90 pages, it is chock full of information, plenty to start a unit study if you wanted. What struck me first about the book is the beautiful photographs that accompany the text. From landscapes, to people, to animals, Schabacker brings you the world in vivid color. The book provides easy to understand explanations for scientific topics like the water cycle and the seasons, which make this a perfect resource for moms with littles. However, it also provides a great jumping off point for further study for older children, making it great for use with multiple ages.

Purposeful Design Review

Bible verses are spread out throughout the book and provide an excellent source of memory work. I appreciated how Purposeful Design makes it clear how exact our world is and how radically different it would be if just one thing were out of place. For example, one section talked about how Earth is perfectly tilted on its axis, and discusses the consequences if that tilt were off by even a little bit. To me, that just reaffirms that our world was deliberately created.

In addition to the book, parents can download a free curriculum to go with it at the Purposeful Design website. The PDF file contains questions for each chapter, additional verses to memorize and think about, as well as discussion questions you can use to further make the connection between creation and God. For younger kids, you could do a lot of this orally, but for older children, you could easily print it out and use it as a review for each chapter. I felt like the curriculum was a great addition to the book, especially if you wanted to use it as a starting point for a unit study. When combined with other books about the stars, planets, plants, etc. and maybe a couple of episodes of The Magic School Bus or documentaries, you could definitely create something to last for at least a semester.

Of course, this is also an excellent choice to simply add to your bookshelf. Use it as a read aloud, or put it in your book basket for your kids to explore on their own. It is full of factual information which makes it a great reference. You could also use it to supplement other curriculum you are using if you are studying topics like astronomy, earth science, or life science.

In 2013 Purposeful Design won the Illumination Book Awards bronze medal, and in 2014 it was awarded a bronze medal in the Coffee Table category by the Catholic Press Association. I think it definitely deserves those awards, and is well worth the price of $18.95.

To learn more about Purposeful Design connect with the author here:

Purposeful Design Blog

Jay Schabacker on Facebook

Jay Schabacker on Twitter

To see what other members of the crew thought of this book, click here:
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Sweet and Spicy Chili (Crock Pot Recipe)

Yummy Chili!

It recently got cold down here (for a couple of days at least!) and I decided to make something warm and yummy for dinner! This crock pot recipe is so easy and tastes so good! It made enough for two days.

2 lbs. ground beef
1 can black beans
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 can light red kidney beans
2 cans diced tomatoes with green chiles
2 cans tomato sauce
4 oz. chopped green chiles
3 chopped chipotle peppers
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1 cup beef broth
2 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. cumin
2 tbsp. adobo sauce
2 tbps. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
Chopped green pepper (for topping)

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet until browned.
2. Add garlic and onion and cook until the onion is soft.
3. Drain the grease and add the mixture to the crock pot.
4. Add all the other ingredients (except the green pepper).
5. Cover and cook on low for six hours.
6. Serve topped with green onion, shredded cheese, and sour cream if desired.


Thanks for stopping by! Check out other great recipes here:

TOS Review: IXL

Christmas Book Review

While I have found many online programs to be hit or miss as far as instruction goes, I think they can be very useful as a supplement to the instruction I provide. I have been pretty happy with our main math program so far (my youngest is in Pre-Algebra) but I do feel like he could use some extra practice on some topics. So, for this review, I was glad to get a chance to check out IXL for their math and language arts programs.

IXL offers practice on a variety of skills organized by grade level. What I really like about it is the fact that you can have your child work at any level you want. So, if your child is slightly above or below grade level in an area, you can have them practice skills they need. My son worked mainly on the 8th grade math topics. Skills are organized by topic, such as measurement, problem solving, linear functions, single-variable equations etc. You do not have to follow the lessons in order, which is a big help.

I had my son use IXL three-five days a week for additional practice after math. I would choose a topic that corresponded with our math lesson at least three of the days, and then we would spend two days working on things that he needed help in (mostly fractions). He would usually work on this after completing his math lesson. It worked out well for us because IXL only took him about 10-15 minutes to complete. The lessons are pretty simple, the student completes a series of practice problems. Students earn points as they complete problems, and the lesson is complete when they earn a certain amount of points. They are awarded more points for solving problems faster. When they get problems wrong, they lose points.

If a student misses a problem, they are shown the correct answer, and then given a brief explanation of how to solve the problem correctly. Then they complete another problem. Now, IXL does not provide instruction in the form or videos or detailed explanations. The idea is that they are getting the instruction from you. However, IXL will provide plenty of extra practice with some reinforcement.

IXL Language Arts works in much the same way. Topics covered for 8th grade include serial commas, verb tense, context clues, analogies, and more. The lessons follow the same structure, with the student completing a series of practice problems and getting instruction when they get an answer wrong. The instruction they get is very clear, with examples. I found that my son was able to follow the lessons very well, and only occasionally needed further clarification.

The math practice in particular was very effective for my son. It was nice that we could get in extra practice on topics he is struggling with without having to take extra time away from math. Also, while I like our math program a lot for its instruction, it does not include a lot of practice, so IXL was a great supplement.

For parents, IXL emails you reports about your child’s activity for the week, and you can log in and look at their progress reports. These tell you how much time your child spent on each topic and how they are doing as well. The Trouble Spot report identifies particular areas that your child needs more practice in. I found these reports to be helpful, especially because I mainly had my son log in and practice on his own.

IXL offers math for grades Pre-K-12 and language practice for grades 2-8 and has monthly and yearly subscriptions. They also have mobile apps available. A one subject subscription costs $9.95 per month while a two subject subscription costs $15.95 per month. Yearly subscriptions are $79 for one child in one subject and $129 for one child in two subjects. Additional children cost $2 more per month or $20 more per year. I think that if you are looking for extra practice that is easy to do and manage, I would definitely recommended it.

To learn more about IXL, connect with them on social media here:
IXL on Facebook

IXL on Twitter

IXL on Google+

Check out what other members of the crew had to say about IXL here:
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Menu Plan Monday 11/10/14

Has the cold weather set in at your house yet? Here in Florida we had one dose of cold weather last week. My kids were so excited! We got to have a fire in the fire pit and they invited their friends over for smores and a backyard campout! This week we plan to hit the theme parks since the weather is nice and the crowds are smaller. So I only have to cook for four nights! This is what we will be having:


Monday: Chicken Carnie Bowls

Tuesday: Universal Studios

Wednesday: Pitas and Bean Salad

Thursday: Taco Stuffed Shells

Friday: Stuffed Pork Chops

Thanks for stopping by for Menu Plan Monday! See you next week.


Menu Plan Monday 11/3/14


Welcome to November!! The weather has finally started to cool down, making it feel like fall has really arrived. This past weekend, we roasted marshmallows on the fire pit with the boys and their friends, and they set up the tent and had a backyard camp out.  I guess I’m going to have to start thinking about what to have for our Turkey day dinner pretty soon…in the meantime, here’s what’s for dinner this week:

Monday: Shrimp and Grits

Tuesday: Mexican Stuffed Shells

Wednesday:  Chicken Parm

Thursday: Spaghetti

Friday: Beef Burgundy

Thanks for joining me for Menu Plan Monday! See you next week!