Friday, December 30, 2011

2011:The Year of Purging

This year was the year I really felt solidified in our family's choice to homeschool. I decided that I really did want to shelter my kids as long as possible. It was also the year that I realized that I simply can't be everything and do everything. It was the year that I realized that my convictions sometimes cause tension and that my real friends love me for who I am and not for who they want me to be. We are so thankful to be able to call our school, home.

This year was a year of purging. Purging draining relationships, purging commitments that took me away from my family both physically and mentally, purging unhealthy habits and purging things from the house. I took a day to purge curriculum, and we purged unhealthy foods from our diet (well it's a process but we are getting there!).

 Purge, that was definitely my theme for this year, but with each item purged it left more room for other things and this year, after a few tough years, has been one of the best that I have had! In January we planned our huge trip to Disney World in September. In June I was excited to announce that I had been accepted as part of the TOS Review Crew! And I even got to be on the news! And who can forget my ode to aluminum foil which incidentally brought me to the front page of google (just google aluminum foil). How can I forget my adventures with Luke which resulted in him flirting with an older lady at the hospital!

So I hope you had an amazing Christmas and that your year was as blessed as mine and I am looking forward to starting 2012 with you!

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Clean House

Just feeling the need to point out that my house is getting a good cleaning for the first time in months. I am happy. That is all.

What about you? Is your house "company ready"?

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Very Easy Bath Salt Starter Recipe

All you need to do is mix 2 cups of Epsom salt (or sea salt) with 3 TB of your favorite oil (sunflower, coconut, olive and even vegetable will all work fine). Voila! Your base is finished!

This recipe is so simple and once you mix the base, all you have to do is add 20 or so drops of your favorite essential oils like these ones from Posergy (please consider using my friend Christa Farmer as your consultant when you check out. All you have to do is put her name in the blank when you check out). I also added a few drops of food coloring.

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Yearly Wrap Up and New Year Resolutions

I know I say this every year, but every year how quickly time has passed surprises me!

This has been a hard year for me. I have lost friendships that I thought would last forever. Friendships that meant the world to me and to my children. Friendships that could have been salvaged if there had just been a little more listening and a lot less accusation. However, the Lord has also chosen to teach me through those losses that I was relying heavily on my friends when I should have been relying on Him! He has also chosen to give me new friendships that I treasure dearly and have been wonderfully uplifting. How I am thankful!

This has also been a year of struggles for me concerning the kids curriculum. I feel like I have jumped around so much that I am sure to have damaged them in some way! I found a million things that I loved one minute only to hate the next. We pushed through some of them but alot of them I just couldn't do after a few weeks. Again though, we have finally found something that appears to be working!

Oh the schedule! I also had to come to terms with the fact that I am not super mom and being a good mom doesn't have to involve 3 sports each, music lessons, and weekly enrichment classes. That in fact, I was stretched so thin that nothing was getting my full attention and now instead of 2-3 well done things I had 10-15 half done things! We have dropped all extra curricular activities that involve a regular meeting and picked up Frontier Girls which allows you to earn badges individually at your own pace. I have also put together a MOTH Schedule (blog coming soon) which, although has been difficult to get into the habit of following, has really helped.

Last, but not least it is time for resolutions! I have resolved this year that with the help of the Lord I will:

1. Focus more on my primary ministry of home. I did let myself get caught up in activities over the last few years and I admit to battling with some plain ol sinful laziness.

2. Be more organized. I am a fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal naturally, but I concede that my husbands whole schedule thing may have  a bit of merit to it. The kids are better behaved and we are more productive when I at least follow a basic routine.

3. To encourage my husband more. He works so hard for us and it is only because of him (and the Lord's grace) that I am able to stay at home and homeschool our children.

Yes, my list is short and on the surface simple, but it is truly my desire to make my house a place of godliness and to be as encouraging to my family as I can and these are the 3 most practical ways I can do that. What about you? Do you have any New Year resolutions? Feel free to link up and leave a comment!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Care and Keeping of Mosquitos

I am often told that I share what others may keep to themselves, for fear of mortal humilation.  I can't help myself.  Sometimes things are just too funny to hoard.  So, at the risk of being made fun of, I am going to tell a funny story about how you should, as a mother, always trust your first instinct, particularly if you are feeling too lazy to investigate further.  :)

My children often visit the "pond" beside our house.  It is not really a pond, but a good sized mud puddle that never seems to dry up.  It is about a foot deep and about 2 foot in diameter.  :-D  They came in the house with jars of the "pond" water and were all excitedly chattering about the tadpoles they found.  I looked and said, "I don't think it is tadpoles, I think they are baby mosquitos."  They insisted they were tadpoles, so I asked their dad about it.  He confirmed that they were not baby mosquitos, but some other kind of water bug.  Well, I briefly looked closer and saw a big head and a tail on the little jokers, and said, "Ok, they are tadpoles."  Made sense because we have numerous frogs and toads out here, they are literally everywhere, like a plague or something. 

Anyway, we put the jars on the mantle and then on the back of the sink in the kitchen.  The kids asked me to help them find out what tadpoles eat, so they wouldn't die.  So, I made a couple calls and looked up some web pages about the care and keeping of tadpoles.  A couple of pieces of lettuce in the freezer later and we had tadpole food.  The children enjoyed tearing off teeny pieces and threw them in the jar.

Yesterday, I noticed that there were a couple of mosquitos floating on the top of the water in jar. There were also a couple of dead tadpoles so I fished them all out and put them in the drain.  Mosquitos are very thick around here and we have to spray on bug spray and light citronella candles if we want to be outside at dusk, so it did not occur to me to think anything other than a couple of mosquitos got into the house and were thirsty. (Stop laughing at me.)

This morning I got up and noticed ALL the tadpoles were dead.  At this point I knew something was up.  I inspected it more closely and realized, they were not dead, they were empty shells. When a mosquito bit me as I was standing there by the kitchen sink, contemplating that I had been taking care of icky bugs all this time, I was not suprised, but I was pretty ticked.  How dare that mosquito bite the hand that fed it.

I killed it.  Then I ordered a "grow a frog" kit for the children.  So, being a believer in all things education and a having a desire to put some pictures on this post, I will leave you with these:

Aquatic creatures that grow up to be frogs or toads.....

Aquatic creatures who grow up to be blood sucking nuisances

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Last Minute Amazon Deals

Amazon still has some great deals that can get to you in time for Christmas if you upgrade shipping, but what I love about right now is that it is a chance to stock my gift closet for the year! I purchase toys ahead of time and when a birthday comes around I just have the kids "shop" in the closet! Keeps costs down and eliminated the mad rush for the stores 5 minutes before the party is due to start! Here are a few of my favorite picks for today!

Unicorn Pillow Pet plus Book down from $32.99 to just $10.99!

Crayola Color Me a Song marked down from $32.99 to just $7.99!

Educational Insights Math Wiz down from $29.99 to just $7.99!

All of these items qualify for free Super Saver Shipping with a purchase of at least $25!

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut ("Nutella") Spread

I have been wanting to make this for quite a while. To be honest, I have never tried the store bought hazelnut spreads so I really had no idea what the fuss all about. I decided that since my bulk wholefoods order was due to arrive around Christmas, that I would make some to give out as gifts.

My friend Jo, over at Quirky Cooking had this great recipe for a Dairy Free Hazelnut Spread on her blog. The problem is that I am an American and as such, do not own a food scale. I operate in cups and ounces not in grams. The second problem is that I do not own the handy dandy Thermomix. So I took her recipe and winged it. Wonderful. That is the only word I could think of worthy enough to be used as a description for the yummy chocolatey nutty spread that I created. I literally was licking the counter tops (OK so not literally, but I did catch myself using my fingers to scoop up drips of the chocolate gold). I am pretty sure there is no real way to get chocolate hazelnut spread wrong as long as you have powdered sugar, chocolate and hazelnuts in it, but here is what I did for those of you who need something a little more exact.

In a food processor mix/chop adding one ingredient at a time:

1 Cup of Powdered Organic Sugar or Powdered Rapadura (I don't have anything that will grind rapadura)
1 Cup Raw (or roasted with skins removed) Hazelnuts
1/2 Cup Raw Chocolate Cut Up
1/3 Cup Cocoa Powder
Mix all of these until the nuts and chocolate are well chopped and the machine is running smooth.

Move to a pan and on LOW heat add in 1/3 Cup Organic Coconut Oil and 2/3 Cup of Raw Milk. Heat on low for about 5-7 minutes. The mixture will become a chocolate syrup type consistency, maybe a bit thicker. If you need to add more milk a teaspoon at a time until it is smooth but not too liquidity. Remove from heat and transfer to jar. The spread will thicken as it cools, so don't worry if it looks a bit runny at first. Lick the spoon, pan, stove (be sure you have turned it off!) and any other surface that may have been dripped on. Store in fridge for up to 3 weeks.

Chocolate Hazelnut Spreads will go great with sweet breads or fruit. I used all raw and organic ingredients, but you don't have to. No matter what you use it is bound to be better than what is in the store bought brand!

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Wonderful Crepes!!!

Crepes, the word that can strike fear into the hearts of the best home cooks.  I was up for the challenge.  I found a recipe out of a magazine and set out to conquer it.  I assembled my ingredients.
Notice the diet soda?  That is for my nerves, not the crepes. 
I mixed up the batter, per the recipe instructions.
The first one I made was a flop. My heat wasn’t right and my batter had a couple of teeny lumps in it that I failed to notice.  I also was following the instructions of the recipe meticulously, so I did not have enough of the batter in the pan to swirl around.
I went ahead and cooked it through and tasted it.  It was AWFUL! When I taste a crepe, I want to taste a nice sweetness that is not too overwhelming.  This batter tasted like an egg with a bit of flour thrown in.  So, I made some changes and tried again.
Cooked until the top looks dry.
I turned it over and repeated the entire process five more times.
Don’t these look nice!  Some powdered sugar at this point and a fork would have been fine!!!! But, no! Some frozen berries with sugar and yogurt and you get this:
This was DELICIOUS!!!!
Here are the recipes I used.
2 1/4 cups of milk
4 eggs
1 1/3 cup of flour
3 1/2 teaspoons of sugar
pinch of salt
non – stick skillet
Mix the milk and the eggs with a whisk until well combines. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, sugar, and salt until well combined.  Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Whisk like mad! You want this batter to be like VERY thin pancake batter. I was going to say the consistency of syrup, but you want it just a tiny bit thinner than that.  Once all the lumps are gone, the batter is ready. Set aside.  Make whatever filling you are going to use.  Get out a wire cooling rack and the butter.
Heat your skillet on medium to medium high heat – you will have to play with this a bit!  Put in a small amount of butter, just enough to BARELY or just barely cover the bottom of the pan, DO NOT go overboard with this! If your skillet is hot enough, the butter will start sizzling and melting right away. 
Pour about 1/4 cup or a bit less, into the skillet, IMMEDIATELY pick the skillet up and start swirling the batter until it is covering the bottom of the skillet and set.  Place the skillet back on the heat and cook until the top of crepe is dry and you notice the edges are starting to brown. Turn the crepe over using luck, a spatula, your fingers, or a Pampered Chef mix and scraper; whatever you are comfortable with. Cook for 30 seconds or so until the bottom starts browning a bit.  Make sure the crepe is not sticking and turn the skillet upside down over your wire cooling rack.  Hopefully, your crepe will fall out flat onto the rack.  Smile  Mine did! WOOT!  When it is cool enough to handle you can add the filling, either a sweet filling or a savory filling.  We did both!

Fruit and Yogurt Filling
2 cups of frozen berries
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of yogurt (I used strawberry)
Mix the berries and the sugar. Pop into microwave for 45 seconds to thaw it.  Stir in yogurt.  This is SO GOOD!!!! Put a few tablespoons into the crepe and put some of the syrup part over the top with a bit of powdered sugar. 

Beef “Stroganoff” Filling
2 cups of leftover grilled sirloin steak
5 tablespoons of sour cream, divided
1 can of cream of mushroom soup, divided
1/2 cup of beef broth
Shred or chop steak. Mix in 3 tablespoons of the sour cream and 2/3 of the mushroom soup. Heat until warm over medium heat. Set aside. Mix the rest of the soup and sour cream together, add enough broth to make it into a sauce that you can pour over the finished crepes.  It should be close to the consistency of your crepe batter, maybe a bit thicker. Smile

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Monday, December 12, 2011

Homeschooling FAQ

As a potential homeschooling parent you no doubt have plenty of questions. Or maybe you know someone who homeschools and you are curious. Each of these are real questions that most of us have been or will be asked at some point.

1. Is homeschooling legal?

The short answer, yes it is legal. The long answer is, well, long. Some states regulate homeschooling quite a bit, some states a small bit, and some have no regulation at all. The best place to find the most current homeschooling law is Just click on your state’s picture, and the laws and current legislation (if there is any) will be shown to you.

2. Is your day like “regular school?”

Well, first we have to define “regular.” In my house what we do is normal and “regular.” But, if you are referring to the standard eight hour day, with multiple times of standing in line, getting permission to go to the bathroom, waiting in line 25 minutes to go to lunch and then only getting 20 to eat that lunch, then the answer is no. But, this is different for every home schooling family. Some people may want to school for eight hours, I personally only do three. Some people may want their kids to stand quietly in line for 25 minutes for lunch. We just try to do this at the checkout at Kroger.

3. Don’t you have to have a degree to be a teacher?

Well, if you are teaching in a public school the answer is yes. But, since we are answering questions about home school, I will refer you back to question number one. It depends on the state you are in. Some states have different opinions on this.

4. How do you handle all their classes when you have children in multiple grades?

Again, the answer depends. If you take a unit study approach you may school all the children together – you know like they did waaayyyy back when public schools were started. Everyone sits together and hears the lessons for the day, and then will break apart to work independently in areas like reading and math. If you take a work book or text book approach, then each child will have their own set of materials, and you would work with each child separately, at different times. See how the answer to this is dependent on the individual homeschooling family?

5. How do you differentiate being a teacher from being a parent?

Being a parent is no different from being a teacher in that, we are both responsible for the instruction and encouragement of the children we are responsible for, however, as a parent, we have a bigger responsibility to our children, for we see immediately the results of the children learning and unlike a teacher who manages a classroom of 20-30 children, that changes every year. As parents, we have both the time and emotional investment to understand and learn how our children best learn and are able to more easily adapt to each of our child's needs without having to sacrifice the needs of the individual over the whole.

6. Don’t you think they need to be in “real” school?

Ahem. I will try my personal best to not to be offended. After, all my kids are learning “real” phonics and “real” math. I am not really sure what answer to give here, as the question is not asking anything specific. It is more like a derogatory statement about homeschooling in general. Ask a real question, get a real answer.

7. How could you possibly homeschool if ____________? (Fill in blank with whatever circumstance you can think of.)

If someone wants to homeschool, they can generally figure out a way. This question is typically referring to different circumstances like single parenting, special needs children, gifted children, etc… I have a special needs child. I have a friend with an extraordinarily gifted child. Our homeschools look different. Some people may need to school when they are not at work, so their school may be in the evening. I school during the day most days and during the late afternoons when I have morning appointments. So, you really learn how to work it out according to the needs of your family.

Got something to add? Be sure to let me know and I will keep this updated (serious and snarky questions allowed hehe)!

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

Curriculum Choices 2012

What do you know! This is still a homeschooling blog after all! I am tired of the deal posts. It is about time to get back to normal around here. We had not planned on starting our year back up until the beginning of January, but things got a bit changed around when we decided to go to Disney in May this year and with my brothers being in town for the Christmas holiday. It is way too hard to do school when there is uncle fun to be had. So we started two weeks ago with the hopes of getting ahead and being able to relax when all the fun starts. It is going well so far.

I have never been a huge fan of hardcore scheduling, but for my husband's sake I decided to give it a go this coming year. I will be reviewing Managers of Their Homes (aka MOTH) this week and sharing with you the new schedule we have.

Along with our new schedule I have nearly completely changed our curriculum choices. Here is what we are going with in 2012:

Math- I started with Teaching Textbooks, which I liked, but I didn't feel was working and I had this nagging feeling that it was contributing to making me a lazy teacher (not that it makes everyone one, I just tend to lean towards lazy anyways). We did about half of TT3 and then got BJU Math. I am LOVING it. The girls are also enjoying it and I do feel like it is working well for us.

English- I also went with BJU for our English. There is lots of writing and less phonics in this one. I may need to add some phonics back in for Keira but for now it is working.

Reading-Mostly just individual reading time. I try to have them both read aloud to me as often as possible and I require at least 30 minutes of quiet reading per day.

Bible- We are using Studying God's Word by Christain Liberty Press. It has a Calvanist slant but is easy to adjust. We are also trying We Choose Virtues (review coming soon) to teach Christian virtues in conjunction with the Bible of course.

Penmanship- Handwriting Without Tears, this book has saved me and my lefty from, well, tears. Just in the two weeks we have been using it, her writing has improved by leaps and bounds.

Spelling- Rod and Staff mainly because that is what I already had from last year. I finally found a spot to actually add it in formally.

History- Another BJU, Heritage Studies. So far we are really enjoying this. There is a map book which gives them something extra to do each week. They really enjoy that.

Science- Real Science 4 Kids which I can not give any thoughts on because it has not arrived.

I hope this makes all my curriculum junky friends feel better about changing things up. Every time I get something I think it is "the one" so I hesitate to say that I think I have finally found what works for us, but as I grow more experienced I do feel like I am getting better at picking out what works. And after all, isn't homeschooling about getting to know what works?

I will spare you the individual links to everything this one time hehe.

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Bath and Body Works $3.80 Each and Free Shipping

Bath and Body Works has some great deals going on right now! If you purchase 3 items from their signature lines you get three for free! Use the code CELEBRATE20 and you will get an extra 20% off plus free shipping on orders over $50.

Just a note, the page is a little confusing as it says "must add 6 to cart" making it look like you must by six of the same item. You CAN mix and match these. I tried it and it did show the free product in my cart.

The cheapest items I found were the Classic Collections for $9.50. Here is the deal:

6 Various Classic Collections-$57.00
6 Various Classic Collections-FREE
Minus $11.40 with Code
Free Shipping with Code
Total: $45.60+FREE Shipping or $3.80 per item

Use Ebates and get another 3% back!

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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Amazon Deals: Crayola, Learning Resources, Pillow Pets and more!

Learning Resources Prepared Slides marked down from $23.99 to just $6.99
Cars 2 Explosion Glow Board marked down from $39.99 to just $14.99

My Pillow Pets Lavender 17" Unicorn + Pillow Pets Book marked down from $24.99 to just $13.99

Learning Resources Brain Cross Section marked down from $18.98 to just $5.99

All of these deals are eligible for free super saver shipping on orders over $25. Amazon prices change often so be sure to get them while they are hot!

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Cookies

My two kids and one that I am watching for the day.  Seriously, is there any better way to show other moms your awesome homemakeryness by allowing their kid to decorate Christmas cookies?!  (HEHE!)  Oh yeah, and my kids thought it was pretty great too!
It is Christmas cookie time!!  I ran across an interesting recipe.  It is full of white flour, white sugar, vegetable oil (!?!) and generally just delicious.  I was *way* skeptical at first.  How could cooking oil produce a cookie worth being called a cookie??!!!  Well, I trusted the girl who passed it on, that she did not call it the "World's Best" for nothing.....  She was right!  It is mighty tasty.

The kids did some very interesting cookies!

Worlds Best Sugar Cookies (Given to me by Hannah!)

1 cup powered sugar (Hannah called this xxx sugar, but that got some uhm, interesting responses....)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup of butter or butter flavored shortening (Hannah originally had oleo - but I figured she wouldn't mind the update!)
2 eggs
2 tsp of vanilla
1 cup cooking oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tarter
5 cups of flour

Cream together sugars, shortening, and oil until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Stir in dry ingredients. Roll into balls and flatten with a glass (I chilled mine for an hour and rolled it out and cut out shapes with cookie cutters.) Bake for 12 minutes at 350.

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Scotch Laminator $16.99 + Super Saver Shipping FREE

Every year this handy personal laminator goes on sale but this is one of the lowest prices I have seen it! You can get the Scotch Thermal Laminator for just $16.99 plus if you spend $25 you can get free shipping!  Right now the laminator sheets are on sale for $10.24 so adding a pack of those to your laminator deal would give you just enough to qualify for super saver shipping! 
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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Three Way Thursday

I am excited about this new blog feature! Three Way Thursday! We will take a single ingredient and show you, our most beloved readers three things to do with that ingredient! Just one more way we want to make your life easier!

I, Jessica, picked ground beef. I have 5 pounds of it in the freezer and will be cooking that this week :)

1. Spaghetti and Meatballs
     Your favorite spaghetti noodles
     Your favorite spaghetti sauce
     1 pound of ground beef
     1/2 cup  Italian bread crumbs (oatmeal with 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning for those avoiding soy and dairy)
     1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese (optional for those avoiding dairy)
     1 egg (again, optional but I like the way the egg binds everything)
     1 small finely chopped onion
     1 tsp salt
     1/2 tsp of pepper
     1/4 cup of milk (use unsweetened almond milk if you are trying to avoid dairy)

    Mix with a gentle hand, don't overwork these! The secret to a tender meatball is one that hasn't been squashed to death.  Form into 1 inch balls. Bake in the oven at 375 for 20 minutes or cook in your sauce until they are done, 30ish minutes or so.

2.  Italian Meatloaf
     Use above meatball recipe, form into a loaf.  Mix together 1 cup of ketchup and 1/2 cup of rapadura or brown sugar.  Spread on meatloaf and cook at 375 for 45 minutes to an hour, or until meat thermometer reads 170. 

3.  Taco Pizza
     1 pizza crust
     1 pound of ground beef
     1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)
     1 package of your favorite taco seasoning
     3/4 cup of water
     1 to 1 11/2 cups of salsa
     1/2 head of lettuce, chopped into bite sized pieces
     2 cups of cheddar cheese
     1/4 cup taco sauce

     Preheat oven to 450.  Spread the salsa on the unbaked pizza crust.  Brown the ground beef and drain. Mix in the rinsed and drained black beans, packet of taco seasoning, and water. Cook in a skillet until water is gone.
Spread this mixture onto the crust and salsa. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of cheese.
Bake until the crust is done, 15 to 20 minutes.
Sprinkle lettuce over pizza, top with the remaining cheese and taco sauce.

So there ya have it!  Three simple things to do with ground beef - best of all, this meat can be frozen! 

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: Imagination Station Series

Finding age appropriate books for my daughter has been a real mission for me. There is so much out there but there but there are concerns. Is it on her reading level, is the content appropriate, will it keep her interest?

I am so excited to tell you about the Imagination Station Series. Of all the books we have read these have just been so fun! My daughter has been intimidated with chapter books as she is just on the fringe of readers and chapter books. She actually cried the first time I told her to pick up Voyage with Vikings. I gave her 10 minutes to calm down and when I got back she told me she was going to finish the book in one day! It actually took her three but she was so excited about the book that I had to make her put it down! She had the same reaction to the other books in the series!

So what about content? Well, each book is historically and Biblically based. While there is creative license in the books they are safe and based on truth. Each book follows two children who travel back in time and experience past events. Because they are published by Focus on the Family' Adventures in Odyssey you can be confident that the content in the books is safe! Best of all the books have an activity page, parent page, vocabulary list, devotion suggestion, and a fun secret word that can be entered on the website for a special surprise!

As of right now there are seven books out. We reviewed the first six and enjoyed them all. They run around $4.50 $4.99 depending on which and where you purchase them and are age appropriate for 7 and up.

These are definitely a must on your child's pleasure reading list!

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the first 6 books in exchange for an honest review. This post is 100% my opinion.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Added Some Prizes to the Girls Giveaway!

I added in some very cool prizes to the Girls Giveaway! Go check out the three Nintendo DS games and enter to win them for your special girl!

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