The Critical Thinking Co.™ {a review}

Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
For the past several weeks my youngest little guy has been having fun playing with the Letter Sounds Song and Game™ Software - 2-PCs Win Download, which is one of five downloads offered in the Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic Before Kindergarten!™ software bundle from The Critical Thinking Co.™.
The Critical Thinking Co.™  is known for their curricula which helps children become "better problem solvers".  They offer a wide range of material from supplemental to full curriculum for students in Pre-K all the way to grade 12.  Eight subjects are offered, in various methods such as books, ebook, software downloads and more:
  • Critical Thinking
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Test Prep
  • Tests
  • Technology
What is the Letter Sounds Song and Game™ Software - 2-PCs Win Download
Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
The Letter Sounds Song and Game™ Software - 2-PCs Win Download is a software game offered for windows computers.  With this download you have access to two licenses for download to your window computer.  The game is intended as a single use, as it does not save information for more than 1 user at a time.

This software app, intended for preK to grade 1, has 7 really fun games that our youngest learners will find easy to play.  As the child plays the games s/he will learn the letter sounds.

This is not your traditional alphabet letter song, but rather a unique and catchy tune, Letter Sounds Song™, that includes both letter name and sound; such as, "A is the ah in apple."

My youngest little guy just so happens to love music.  He has been making tunes on keyboard and harmonica and humming along before he could even talk.  A music based song is just so ideal for him.  (However, each time my 4 year old and I played the game the other two (ages 9 and 6) would come hurrying over to watch us - they love the tune as well).

The game starts off with the Letter Sounds Song and the accompanying animation.  Afterwards you are taken to Game 1, where the child matches the letter to the word, or picture, that will complete the song.

The game is very user friendly and never discourages the child.  At anytime we can click the "play" icon to hear the complete Letter Sounds Song again, or click the gal with the guitar to have her sing the current verse.  When a wrong answer is chosen a sound is played that signifies a wrong answer. 

In the lower left we have a Menu/Scores link for parents to see the current score(s) and to adjust a couple things such as turning the incorrect sound or adjusting the pass games success score.  We can also skip ahead or replay a game under this menu section.

Game 2 removes the guitar wielding gal and has no sung prompt.  Other than that, the layout is the same.  We click the correct picture to hear the song continued.  As with Game 1, any completed letters are bolded as we move along down the alphabet.

These first 2 games teach the child the song verse so that s/he can move onto the rest of the games that will help the child further identity the letters and their sounds.  Such as Game 3, the child is asked to select the letter to match the picture given.

I played Letter Sounds Song and Game™ with my youngest sitting on my lap.  His is a preKinder and is a very young 4 who has never learned his alphabet or letter sounds yet.   We played the game several times a week.  The very first time he played it with me he was already getting 65% correct!    However, we didn't progress to Game 2 because he liked selecting the wrong answer on purpose, week after week.  His sister wishes he'd hurry along because she's begging for a turn! 

I love how fun this game is for him especially considering the Importance of Preschool Academics!

To see additional reviews of Software Downloads and a couple Paperback Books from The Critical Thinking Co.™, click the banner below: 
Language Arts {The Critical Thinking Co.™}
Crew Disclaimer

Pirates or Privateers: You Decide {a review}

We have long been lovers of unit studies as this particular method of learning (or teaching) is the easiest and most fun for us.  It allows our multiple ages to all learn many subjects together, all centered around one chosen topic.  We have spent time with Homeschool Legacy before, and the wonderful Once-a-Week Unit Study topics that can found there.  

For the past several weeks we have been learning the difference between pirates and privateers as well as truths and myths of these seafaring scallywags with the help of Sharon Gibson, founder of Homeschool Legacy. She has done a fantastic job of creating a thorough yet quick study with her Once-a-Week Micro-Studies Pirates or Privateers: You Decide

What sets Once-a-Week Micro-Studies apart from the bigger Once-a-Week Unit Study is that these "micro" studies are designed to provide us a quick, but thorough, foundation in one of five offered topics.  There are no biblical devotional times as with the more detailed Once-a-Week Unit Study.  You also won't find the American Heritage Girls, Boy Scouts, nor Trail Life USA badge requirements with these Once-a-Week Micro-Studies, nor a long library list of required reading. 

Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}

The Once-a-Week Micro-Studies are created as digital ebooks and as such have many helpful internet links to enhance our learning.  With Pirates or Privateers: You Decide we are given fun links to websites for video clips, and maps, timelines and linked articles which all help to enhance our history study.

Pirates or Privateers: You Decide is a 22 page PDF that provides us with 4 weeks of history.  It is intended for landlubbing students in Grades 1 through 8.  All that's needed for the "Grab-N-Go" study are basic school supplies and one copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

How We used the Micro-Study

In the first week of study we "set the stage" and learn the earliest recorded history of piracy.  We learn a bit of geography right along with the history.  A timeline is linked within the ebook for us to begin a timeline as a family, using the images provided for us in the unit study. 

We already had started a timeline last year so we opted to update our own timeline.  I do like that one is linked and provided for us for those that don't have a timeline started. 

I printed off the first week's pages to read on the go during a short family vacation, and I used the provided download link to print off the Spanish Galleon paper.  My two students (1st grade and 4th grade) read the printed pages together and my oldest finished off the labeling of the Galleon. 

Entering into week 2 we learn more history and language history as well as Good Queen Bess' role in the history of piracy.  (This was actually so timely as we were just finishing up learning about Queen Elizabeth I and my 1st grader just fell so in love with the Good Queen - so this section of pirate history happened to be especially fun and an easy learn for my 1st grader).

Two movies are suggested throughout this Micro-Study, and this second week's lesson prompts us with the first Family Movie Night.  These movies, to me, seem better suited for the higher grade range of this study, however, in the intro of this unit Sharon gives us several ideas to better suit a younger crowd.

Week 3 provides us with an additional Family Movie Night and games that pirates would have played!  One such game happens to be my 4th grader's favorite (checkers). 

History, Language Arts, and Music are the focus of this week.  We learned how the pirates became known as Buccaneers and a True/False section is provided for us to learn the difference between what pirates actually were like versus Hollywood's portrayal of them.

Week 4 we learned how pirates actually might have dressed.  We combined this suggested activity of dressing like a pirate with week 3's music lesson and had a little fun swabbing the decks to the tune of Shiver Me Timbers

In this final week we learn of government, and the Pirate Code (a lot of which actually shocked me!).  We also learned of current events and are linked to a short video clip of the American Navy pirate hunters.

Final Thoughts

The Once-a-Week Micro Studies are a great and engaging way to learn history.  No stuffy old and boring books here!  My eldest has enjoyed playing pirates for many years now and this micro-study has renewed his love of playing pirates - but now with a good solid history lesson under his belt scarf.

With Thanksgiving around the corner why not consider a fun history lesson with Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims?

To see additional reviews of Homeschool Legacy's Once-a-Week Micro-Studies click the banner below:


Once-a-Week Studies {Homeschool Legacy}
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Accountable2You {a review}

Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}
The world our children are growing up in is so starkly different than the world we grew up in.  This tech driven world grows every day and the challenges our youth face grow along with it.
Accountable2You offers our households Internet accountability with one of four available plans.  We chose to sign up with the Group Plan.  There is also a Family Plan, Individual Plan, and a Small Business Plan available.
What is Accountable2You?
Accountable2You is a software that, when installed on our devices, encourages purity and integrity within our households, small groups, or businesses.   This is done by providing an accountable partner, chosen by yourself, with comprehensive activity reports and instant texts for any questionable content.
What devices are supported?
Windows, iOS, Mac, Android, Chrome and Linux.  What kinds of reports are collected from each device varies depending on what you use.  When I first signed up for Accountable2You I found this provided graph very helpful to explain further:
As you can see by the image above, titles of web pages visited are provided in the reports across all platforms.  Android is the most covered for data reports, with iOS being the least.
More on Partners:
With the group plan each member can install the software on up to 6 devices.  Each device chosen has its own accountability partner, chosen by the user.  So for example, by own Windows OS I would choose my husband as my partner.  His Mac has me as the partner.  
Being a "partner" means that you will receive comprehensive daily, or weekly, reports about the device owners activities.  You will also receive an instant text for any highly questionable activity.
What is shown on the reports?
In general the repots show things like the title of a website you've visited, what folders, programs or apps you've opened (except for on i0S devices such as iPhone and iPad).   The reports will also show, if you chose so, where the device has been, if the device has GPS enabled. 

The "questionable" and "highly questionable" content is all chosen for you by Accountable2You.  As far as I can tell it is all "purity" related.  Purity of the body (think porn related) and of the mouth (like foul language). 
In total we installed Accountable2You software on 4 devices.  We installed software on each of our iPhones, my Windows computer, his Mac laptop, and the kids iPad. 
You can add your own questionable content, which is really useful if you have younger users that would be otherwise excluded from sexual sins.  So for example, I could add "Star Wars" as questionable - not because it is bad but maybe I'd like to be alerted if my kid gets side tracked onto YouTube when he's supposed to be doing his math.   Or maybe I have a shopping problem and I want to curb the habit.  I could add "Amazon" or "fluffy pink purse" to my questionable content so my partner can put a halt to my actions if I succumb to the temptation of online shopping.
We also found out, by accident, that if you remove the software your partner will be alerted right away via text.  That's good news if you do chose to be accountable for whatever reason, and then fall into temptation and want to be "sneaky" and remove the software to browse to your hearts content.  Your partner will still be alerted and can help you come to your senses again.  Or, in our case, we will realize that the Mac system turned off the software and we can turn it back on.
My husband just shuts his laptop when he is finished, and the software would prefer he turn off his laptop properly.  For the ones in red (when the software was turned off unexpectedly) I was texted.  The yellow "questionable" is just shown as an alert here, in the reports, so you can then investigate further and discuss with your partner or dismiss. 
App Usage is where we can see a break down of where time is spent.  This is great, in my mind, for kids or spouses that what to curb a gaming habit.  Or maybe curb how long you're on Facebook or just surfing in general.
Under the "Details" you can see the website titles, email subject lines and so on.  Nothing more.  No screen shots, personal information or keystrokes are recorded. 
More on how the Group Plan works:
Under the Group Plan each individual that is added can add up to 6 devices.  So say I am the "owner" of the account and I want my small group to do this together.  I'd invite Sally and Sally in turn installs the software on her chosen devices.  Sally, and her chosen partners are the only ones that see the reports for those devices, or receive alerts.  I'm essentially just the account manager.  Not the spy of my small group.   In other words, the others in the group retain their privacy.
As the primary account holder I handle the payments, the adding of users (via email) and the removing of users.  That's it.  We only see reports for our own devices or partners.
Some ideas for Group Plan:
  • Small Group
  • Youth Group
  • College/Career Church Group
  • Homeschool Group/Co-Op
  • Adult Siblings
Final Thoughts
If I could do this over I would chose for ourselves the Family Plan as opposed to the Group Plan.  For the Group Plan you really have to be sure that your friends truly want to be held accountable.  This isn't a program to force us to behave.  It's one to assist and encourage us in our integrity. 

The Group Plan can save money if you do have a group that wants to be accountable for their actions online.  My "group" plans fell through and we are basically working just as a family anyway, so I'd prefer the Family Plan where you can get all the accountability of the Group Plan, in addition to create child accounts and set time limits on devices. 
I do like this with the family in mind, with tech in the hands of most teens and even children.  Especially for the teen user of android this would be especially beneficial for helping your teen be accountable for his/her actions online, even via texting.
To see additional reviews of the Family Plan, Individual Plan, and a Small Business Plan click the banner below:
Accountability across all your devices {Accountable2You}
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CrossTimber {a review}

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
I remember being a young girl and being told what my name meant (honey bee) and why I was named that particular name (because my dad wanted a biblical name).  I had found it so fascinating to know why I was named Deborah, when it was more popular to be a Debra.  Well, actually it wasn't popular to be either in my generation, just that the latter was more favored.  In my small world, surrounded by many Angela's and Sarah's and no Debbie's, it helped knowing my name was special and intentional. 
In my family names were important and intentional.  I remember my paternal Grandpa, some time after my Grandma passed, ordering name meaning bookmarks and cards for many in our family.  Since that time the company, CrossTimber, has grown significantly and offers many unique gifts such as the Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse.
Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
CrossTimber was first established in 1994 as a professional graphic design and printing service.  The company, owned by John Dehnart, has now grown to include name gift coffee mugs, plaques, and much more.  Name meanings is his passion and if you have a question on your name or any name of importance to you - he is always more than happy to share that information with you, usually with a short little history lesson included!

Our little story
When I became pregnant with my first born I spent so many hours researching names, as many of us mommy's do, trying to find the best name full of love and meaning.  I had so many rules.  It has to be a strong name.  It has to be a name kids can't make fun of easily.  It has to have meaning.  I took such care with his name that for 3 days of his little life he was named "Baby West". 

In all the time I took to name my baby, I learned a few things.  First, my paternal Grandmother must have took care just like I was trying to do because I learned that 3 of her children had nearly the same meaning.  John, Matthew, and Timothy are all 3 biblical names that mean "gift of God" or "honoring God".  Suddenly it made so much sense to me why my dad (Mathew, with one "t") took such care to name all 4 of his kids a biblical and meaningful name. 

My "baby West" ended up with the name of Connor, because it was a good and strong sounding boy name that my husband insisted on for 3 long days.  (I wanted Samuel).  I didn't like the meanings I kept seeing, "hound-lover".  He fears dogs.  But he does absolutely adore his big cousin, Caleb ... which baby books say means "dog".  So there's that. 

In my talks with CrossTimber owner, John, I learned that Connor doesn't simply mean "hound-lover".  Which is maybe a good lesson to leave the name research to the experts.  John came back with this:

From:  Irish
Intelligence, Wisdom:
He who Seeks God's Perspective
"The wisdom that comes from above is first pure: then peaceable, gentle, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness."  James 3:17

Being in Canada, I opted to choose a print as opposed to the framed plaque, due to shipping cost.  John was gracious enough to allow us to choose 1 5x7 print for purposes of review, but I loved the meaning he found for Connor so much and so as not play favorites with the kids, I purchased two additional 5x7 prints. 

The "hardest" part in choosing your name gift is choosing one of the numerous wonderful backgrounds.  (tip:  It helps to talk to John first and get the meaning of your chosen name, or go with the personality of your gift receiver).

From the drop down menu of NamePlaques I looked through the group of "Fantastical, Creative" and found one we liked - the first one, "Earth's Horizon".  (and I found Connor as an example for "Space Stars" design!)  Either one is a good fit for my Connor who loves to study Astronomy.

Next we have Emma, lover of all things pink.  For her design I chose from the "Parchments & Simple" group and found "Pink Silks".

"Wholehearted, All-Embracing" fits this sweet little girl so perfectly!  (and is much nicer than what I could find for her name meaning, on my own, which was "universal".)

Since we ordered 3 gifts each of the kids got a free bookmark too!

Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews
Last we have my Samuel.  Sammy loves to point out clouds to me and to gasp in shock when there are no clouds in the sky (not too often in the Great White North).   Under the "Oceans, Water & Sunlight" group we found a perfect fit with "Peaceful Skylights" as a background.
Final Thoughts
John truly is a pleasure to talk to and he is honestly more than happy to share his knowledge with you, free of charge.  Even if you have a difficult name - or maybe you need a unique spelling of name.
Before deciding on my own 3 kids I had been considering my niece who's name is a unique mix of her parents.  Kyra does have her own name meaning but she was named for Kyle and Rebecca.  John was kind enough to share with me what "Kyra" would mean if considering her own unique story.  (He also shared with me the meanings of Rebecca, Kyle and Kyra's own name meaning).  Kyra, named for her two parents:
From:  Gaelic & Hebrew
From the Strait:  One who walks the straight and narrow
United:  Acting in Harmony with God's Leading
"The way of the wicked is as darkness, but the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day."  Proverbs 4:19
I had also considered my daughter's best friend as she has a unique name:  Miela.  This name wasn't in John's database, but he was kind enough to research it that very day and promptly email me back with his finds.  I'll share with you a snippet of his exact response:

See?  He's a joy to work with.  Go ahead and ask him what your name means and then enter his giveaway!
CrossTimber 2016 giveaway
a Rafflecopter giveaway
To see what others on the Homeschool Review Crew had to say about Cross Timber, click the banner below: 
Personalized Framed Plaque with Name Meaning and Bible Verse {CrossTimber} Reviews 
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Middlebury Interactive Languages {a review}

Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
My eldest has had, for a few years now, a love of studying China.  He's been asking for a while now to "please, mom, please can I learn Mandarin??"
Last year we spent some time with Middlebury Interactive Languages, when my daughter took Elementary French 1:  Grades K-2.  I remember then we had a very jealous big brother.  So this year when the opportunity to work again with Middlebury Interactive Languages came up, I decided to give my eldest a chance at Elementary Chinese 1 (Grades 3-5).  He was just so excited.  (see pic below of my "reveal" to him about what he was going to be learning.)
Middlebury Interactive Languages is a company that provides digital language courses for grades K through grade 12.  The language courses can be completed independently or with the help of a certified virtual language teacher, all done online.
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
There are 16 units for the Elementary Chinese 1 course as well as a "welcome" course that walks you through what to expect, and how to complete the steps needed to advance through a lesson.  Each unit has 6 lessons to work through where the student will learn to read, speak, write and hear the Chinese Language (Mandarin) as well as learn about the culture.
The Units are:
  • Unit  1:  Numbers
  • Unit  2:  Greetings
  • Unit  3:  Family
  • Unit  4:  Home
  • Unit  5:  Adjectives/Colors
  • Unit  6:  School
  • Unit  7:  Food
  • Unit  8:  Review (3 parts in lieu of 6 lessons)
  • Unit  9:  Animals
  • Unit 10:  Friends
  • Unit 11:  Nature
  • Unit 12:  Seasons
  • Unit 13:  Clothing
  • Unit 14:  Places
  • Unit 15:  Professions
  • Unit 16:  Review (3 parts)
Each Unit has a unique story, all told in the native language.  The student listens and watches the animation and picks up on new vocabulary.  Each subsequent lesson will gently teach the student new vocabulary for that unit's theme, through an interactive format.  The lessons start off fairly easy for each unit, having the student click to listen to the word or phrase spoken, or click to match to a Chinese Character.  The lessons get progressively harder, and include the "speaking labs", where the student will first listen then say the word or phrase himself.  
My son has been using this program independently (without the offered virtual language teacher).  The lessons are wonderfully self-paced.  Mandarin is a hard language to learn.  He's been moving steadily along, and even though he is moving slow, that is fine.  Currently he is in Lesson 4 of Unit 3:  Family.

The lessons are run in an online "app" within a internet browser and are presented with the current lesson on the right, and previous and upcoming lessons are on the left.  Completed lessons are shown checked off.

I like that at any time he can click "Browse Activities" and go back and review anything he is struggling with.

So far my Chinese enthusiast has learned to count (and write!) up to number 10, and how the Chinese count on their fingers compared to how we do. 

He has learned how to greet others and how the Chinese greet each other compared to us.  ( Such as elders have highest respect and are to be greeted first).

Currently he is learning the names of family members and how to introduce his family, all while also learning what a typical family in China is like.

Connor has enjoyed his Chinese Language lessons and while it is a hard language to learn, he continues to want to learn.  The story videos are enjoyable and entertaining enough for the 9 year old and his side kick 4 yr old kid brother, who always runs over to eagerly watch alongside big bro.  I find it fascinating that even a 4 year old will watch a video that is fully in a foreign language! 

We'd definitely recommend Middlebury Interactive Languages to any family looking to learn a second language.  To see additional reviews of Spanish, French, German and Chinese courses, click the banner below:
Spanish, French, German or Chinese {Middlebury Interactive Languages}
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The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {a review}

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
Our family loves to listen to audio stories anytime we are driving.  Even our youngest, at age four, will ask for a "talking story" (meaning he wants a story as opposed to a song).  It is hard to find good quality audio stories where the reader is pleasant to listen to and even harder to find a good Christian audio story.
Todd Wilson over at The Familyman has written a wonderful set of Christmas Stories and has partnered with professional storyteller, Jim Hodges, to bring us a very entertaining collection, The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection.  This set is also available as Digital Downloads to satisfy families like us that like to be entertained via story while on the go.
The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
The Christmas Treasury Collection, which is available on 6 CDs or as digital downloads, provides us with a way to enjoy wholesome family entertainment throughout the holiday season.  The six audio books in the collection are:
  • Cootie McKay's Nativity (Book One)
  • Captain Chaos and The Manger Blaster (Book Two)
  • The Stranger (Book Three)
  • The Bishop's Dream, (Book Four)
  • Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest (Book Five)
  • Gladys Remembers Christmas (Book Six)
There are 2 additional stories in the collection. 
  • The Secret of the Snow Village (Book 7)
  • It's Called Christmas (Book 8)
We received all 8 audio books as digital downloads.  After saving them to my computer I put them on my iPhone so we could listen to them in our van using the Bluetooth. 
The stories range in length from about 15 to 30 minutes, which was a perfect length for even our youngest listener, at age 4, and also was the perfect length to get in one story while running errands or driving to a function.  (Living in a city with significant construction makes for lengthy trips across town). 
The first book, Cootie McKay's Nativity, takes place in 1956.  This 30 minute story, told in the first person, is an delightful tale of a town's best Christmas and also the year they almost didn't have Christmas.  The narrator tells of how a talented Cootie McKay saves the day by thinking "outside the box".  I won't spoil the story, but this one really appealed to my 9 year old.     When the story was over he immediately said "Mom!!  Can we hear another!" - which is music to any momma's ears.
Book Two, Captain Chaos and The Manger Blaster, is fun 19 minute story about a 10 year old, "Jason", and his sister, "Martha Ann".  This story was so relatable to my two oldest kids - big brother and younger sister, constantly bickering.  Jason has a big imagination, just like my little guy.  We hear of Jason being sent to his room for trying to change the manger story and here we hear of his unexpected visit with "Captain Chaos". 
The Stranger, Book Three, is an 18 minute captivating story of Christmas Eve, where a town is feeling disrupted in it's cherished holiday routine as a stranger appeared in town during a big snow storm.  As the town gathers for service they realize that the stranger has visited them all - all except for the family of 9 year old Sam Tucker.  Why hasn't the stranger visited the Tuckers?  If he does visit what will they do and what will they learn?
Book Four, The Bishop's Dream, is a 20 minute story set in Ancient Myra and a simple man named Nicholas.   Nicholas was a Bishop who loved God and cared for the poor.
Each story is truly entertaining and a delight to listen to.  We loved listening to these stories as we drove around town completing errands.  My kids loved all 8 of the stories and they still ask to listen to them again whenever we are in the van. 
To read additional reviews of  The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection, click the banner below:
The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
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MyFreezEasy {a review} Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
One area I struggle with is to consistently have a healthy, well balanced, meal ready.  This is especially so for the busy nights we need to be out the door close to dinner time, or are out until dinner time has arrived. 
My poor husband was left to do more than his fair share of cooking, especially on the nights I had to run the kids around to programs that let out at 5:30 p.m.  We were eating far to much of store bought freezer meals.  The Freezer Meal Plan Membership from MyFreezEasy has helped me be consistent with putting a home cooked meal on the table each night, even on those busy nights. 
 photo 10 Meals in 1 hour with My FreezEasy_zpsybaixa9s.jpg
When creating meals, not all would be suitable for a freezer and not all would be quick to do.  Erin Chase, from $5 Dinners, has done all the busy work for us and created for us a meal plan that will have us  make up 10 meals suitable for our freezer that are quick and budget friendly!  
You can either join as a basic member, paying monthly or annually, with access to eight new meal plans a month; or, you can join as a premium member and enjoy the flexibility of adjusting serving sizing and customizing your own menus, in addition to having access to the 8 meal plans.
How this works is you log in to the website and come to the member are.  From here you have 6 choices 
  • build your own meal plans from scratch or by exchanging recipes from within a set plan
  • download an entire plan from the 8 choices
  • view videos of Erin talking about the different plans and how to assemble them
  • access to resources and instructions
  • help on how to create your own meal plans
  • customer care center:  change your password and update your payment info
There are 8 plans each month and 8 printable labels for each meal within each plan.  Each plan has instructions to create 10 meals for your freezer.
  • Traditional Meal Plan
  • Gluten-Free Meal Plan
  • Slow Cooker Meal Plan
  • Clean Eats Meal Plan - great for the Paleo Diet or "whole 30", or those that just want to eat whole foods
  • 20 meals Meal Plan - great to really get that freezer stocked
  • All Chicken - great to use when you find chicken on sale
  • All Ground Beef - great for when ground meat is on sale
  • All Pork Chops - great for when you find deals on pork chops
Each plan is a downloadable PDF that you can save to your computer and print off.  The printables each consist of
  • Table of Contents - listing the 5 recipes (you make 2 of each for a total of 10)
  • Recipes - one per page; each has instruction for serving 1 now, or for making 2 for the freezer
  • Shopping List by Recipe
  • Shopping List by section, or category
  • Prep Day Shopping List (excludes sides)
  • Prep Day Shopping List by section, or category
  • Assembly Instructions - pre-cooking and chopping instructions
  • Instructions for Assembly by Recipe - preferable for those that want to do 1 recipe at a time
What we did with this:
We shop weekly at a farmers market, and substitute in with Costco's bulk food purchases.  As such, I chose to mostly use the Clean Eats Meal Plan, because we'd need to use up all those fresh vegetables as opposed to canned goods from a grocery.  Plus, with a palm oil allergy there is often no choice but to act "whole 30".  The Clean Eats Plan is the first I downloaded, then I decided I'd rather substitute in a few recipes to be sure to use what we had on hand already and to add in a fish dish. 
Making your own plan can be down 1 of 2 ways.  From the Members HQ you can simply click "Build Your Own Menu Plans" which you then will be able to adjust serving size and chose your own 5 recipes (remembering that each recipe makes 2 meals).  Additionally, from "This Month's Meal Plan" there is an option to "Swap Recipes on This Month's Meal Plan".   Simply dragging and dropping the recipes gets the job done.  (I also love that you can email the shopping list to yourself and have an on-the-go paper free list using a smart phone).  The meal plan swap is all further explained beautifully in the video library
I ended up building my own picking and choosing from the Vegetarian Recipes, the Paleo/Whole30 Recipes, and the Seafood Recipes.  I chose:
  • Black Bean & Corn Enchiladas
  • Lemon Dijon Salmon
  • Paleo Minestrone Soup
  • Slow Cooker Curried Chickpeas & Vegetables
  • Dutch Oven Italian Chicken & Potatoes
I printed off my shopping list and set off to Costco to get anything I didn't have on hand.

I chose to mostly make the recipes one at a time, usually making one for "tonight" and one for the freezer, because I have such a small kitchen (like 2 feet of counter space) and no dishwasher - plus I'm just so far gone in being organized with meals.  This way I wouldn't overwhelm my tiny space, and I'd feed us all home cooked meals while stocking up the freezer for those busy evenings.
Upon starting to prep and assemble my chosen dishes, I realized most of them were SO easy to do that I did up 6 recipes in one night.  In my tiny kitchen!  Like seriously, the Dutch Oven Italian Chicken & Potatoes was basically a dump and freeze - there is no chopping because it uses small potatoes and baby carrots.  As an important side note, I'd like to add that I am SO glad I watched the prep videos because it was here I learned why we use the small potatoes and not cut potatoes.
The Salmon dish was another that was so easy to assemble with no pre-cook, as well as the Minestrone Soup.  With the soup I just chopped veggies one kind at a time, added them to my bag and placed it in the freezer!
I don't like fish but I was instructed by a cardiologist that I need to eat more fish, mainly salmon.  So I braced myself and made this dish.  I loved it.  And I loved that the sides were suggested to make it all the more easy of a meal.
The Slow Cooker Curried Chickpeas & Vegetables was awesome to put in the crock pot after church one Sunday and made enough to serve us plus some unexpected dinner guest (as a bonus our friend's baby was able to partake in this whole food meal!)
While on the topic of serving sizes, my husband made the comment that our chose 4 servings made "Texas sized portions".  I laughed and said Erin is actually from Texas.  (this is all a good thing and I love having leftovers)
I loved the experience (and the stocked freezer for the days I had to be away at dinner time) so much that we went on and created another menu with ground beef since we had purchased the Costco ground turkey.  From there we made Bolognese Sauce (a Clean Eats meal in the October Plan) and Frito Pie.  These each involve cooking up the meat, cooling and then placing in the freezer bag for later.  This worked so well even in my small kitchen as I made one meal to eat "tonight" and then used the same pan to make up one more, after dinner, to put in the freezer. 
I am so pleased with the experience and happy that we are saving money buy eating "fast" at home instead of fast food on our kid activity nights. 

To see additional reviews of Erin Chase's FreezEasy Plans, click the banner below: Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
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Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting {a review}

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
My 4th grader has poor handwriting and hates to write.  Any time he has to write anything, no matter how short, he balks.  When I heard about Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting from Everyday Education, LLC I just knew we had to give it a try.
Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting is a complete elementary program for teaching your child to  write in italic and to also read.  Italic is said to be the easiest method of writing to learn and the fastest to write.  This book can also be used as remedial work, as we have chosen to do. 
Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
There are two versions to choose from when purchasing Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting.  You could chose either a print copy of the book or, like we have received, an ebook copy.
The 218 page consumable book has 6 chapters of instruction, for a total of 60 lessons.  The book also has an informative Forward and an Introduction.  The Forward is a couple pages of tips on how to teach the lessons, complete with scheduling options, from Janice Campbell.  Ms. Campbell had used this book to teach her own child.  When she decided to purchase another copy for her 2nd child she was disappointed to see the book no longer in print and went about getting it reprinted.
The Introduction is done by the original author, Caroline Joy Adams.  Here you will find a letter from her as well as her thoughts on four different ways you could use the book.
The 6 chapters are as follows:
  • Chapter One - About Reading, About Handwriting, Teaching Tips
  • Chapter Two - The Alphabet
  • Chapter Three - Lessons 2-23 (short sounds, blends, and more)
  • Chapter Four - Lessons 24-41 (digraphs)
  • Chapter Five - Lessons 42-60 (silent letters, ending sounds, contractions and more)
  • Chapter Six - Handwriting Practice (over 40 pages of instruction on italic, joining letters, serifs and beginning calligraphy)
How we used this

I have a 9 year old and a 6 year old that this worked well for.  The book is intended to use for one child, however I have one child (the eldest) that had very poor penmanship and one child that was needing to work on learning blends and such.  So each could use their respective sections of this ebook.

I had both kids go through Chapter Two to learn this new (to them) way of forming letters.  My oldest really (really) hates to write anything, so he did take a big longer to go through even the re-tracing of the letters, whereas my 6 year old likes to fill in worksheets and do copy work. 

I do like that my daughter could practice this more beautiful way of writing while working on memorizing her blends and digraphs.  She can read so well, but when it comes to writing on her own and spelling on her own, she struggles.  So this has been a huge benefit.

My son has actually improved in his writing after all his hard work at tracing and re-tracing Chapter Two.  We actually parked ourselves back in that 2nd chapter while he took his time to learn italic - but the slow pacing was so worth it.  He had copy work to do elsewhere (outside of this book) and I can actually read what he wrote!

More on Everyday Education, LLC

Everyday Education, LLC sells several other "twaddle-free" books to teach your student poetry, handwriting and writing.  To see additional reviews on Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting, Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers, or Working it Out: Poetry Analysis with George Herbert, click the banner below:

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
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