Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas in Arizona

While I admit to loving the sunny Arizona weather, I also admit that it has been a bit hard for me to get into the holiday mood with the 70 degree temperatures.  After all, the last few places we have lived have been blanketed in snow quite often, and while I do NOT like being cold, I LOVE SNOW!

And just for the record, there is no snow in Arizona.  Well, at least none here in the greater Phoenix area.

But it IS December and time to decorate.  I have been dragging my feet a bit this year.  In my defense, I DID just decorate this house a mere 3 months ago when we moved in.  Every time I thought about bringing out the boxes of Christmas decorations I got a bit overwhelmed.  Not with the volume, per se thanks to 34 Weeks of Clean, but just to the idea of moving things around again.

Luckily for my kiddos I have pulled up my boots straps and set a few things out.  Things are a bit simpler this year, but I did get our trees up.

The Cross tree is still my favorite I think-

But the Americana tree grips my heart every time I look at it, reminding me of the 26 years of our lives as a proud Air Force family.

The kids' tree hold memories of my childhood as well as of our kids

We always out out the ceramic tree that my aunt made years ago.  I love pulling it out each year- reminds me of the love of family!

And of course our family tree which is waiting to be decorated on Wednesday after our college girl gets home!  We can't wait.

This year we put our white nativity out.  It is one that I grew up watching my grandmother put out each year.  It is still one I love because of the memories it holds.

The other nativity we pulled out this year is one from Guatemala, to celebrate Colby's heritage.

And of course, Ashton decorated the mantle again.  Because she is talented and I am not!

A few extra touches-

A sweet treat from a friend!

 This year we join our sweet neighborhood in decorating with outside lights in addition to wreaths and such.  Several streets here have lit arches lining the sidewalks and rumor has it our street is next.

Regardless of what decorations go up or not, my prayer is that we keep the main thing, the main thing.  The decorations are beautiful, and my heart may still long for snow, but none would be needed if we weren't celebrating the birth of our Savior.  If we strip all the extras away, I pray we are still as joyous and content- knowing that the Savior's birth, his death to save us, and our salvation are the REAL reasons for us to celebrate!

May you have a blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Our Favorite Blue Ribbon Winners

Each year The Homeschool Review Crew gives out Blue Ribbon Awards for their favorite review products of the year.  It is a much anticipated event among the Crew and sometimes the competition is fierce.  This year was no exception, as we were blessed by so many amazing vendors and curriculum this year.

The voting is finished and the results are in! Though it was a close race in several categories, 22 companies rose to the top out of the 66 total reviews the Crew did for the year.  That is over 4,500 review, you guys!

Favorite Reading Curriculum – Reading Eggs
Favorite Writing Curriculum – Memoria Press
Favorite Grammar Program- GrammarPlanet
Favorite Vocabulary Resource- Roman Roads Media

Favorite Penmanship Program- CursiveLogic
Favorite Literature Curriculum –Homeschool Navigator
Favorite History Curriculum- Drive Thru History Adventures
Favorite History Supplement – Home School in the Woods: Á La Carte Projects

Favorite Science Curriculum – Apologia: Anatomy
Favorite Math Curriculum – Whizz Education
Favorite Foreign Language Program – Roman Roads
Favorite Fine Arts Program – ARTistic Pursuits

Favorite Elective Curriculum – Code for Teens
Favorite Christian Education Curriculum – Bible Study Guide for All Ages
Favorite Christian Education Supplement – Planet 316
Favorite Preschool Product- Starfall Education Foundation

Favorite Elementary Product – Branch Out World
Favorite Middle School Product- The Critical Thinking Co.™
Favorite High School Product- The Master and His Apprentices
Favorite Parent Product – Great Waters Press

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed – Lisa Tanner Writing
Best Online Resource – Drive Thru History Adventures
Best e-Product – Home School in the Woods
Favorite Book –YWAM
Favorite Audiobook or Audio Drama – Heirloom Audio: Wulf the Saxon
Kids’ Choice –Reading Eggs
Teens’ Choice –Drive Thru History Adventures

I am not going to tell you all which ones I voted for, but I will share the reviews I did for some of the winners!   As Product Manager for the Crew, let me tell you that all our vendors are winners in my book.  One of the cool things about homeschooling curriculum is what doesn't work for one family may be perfect for another.  That is why I always give you an honest opinion of what we have used and then encourage you to check it out for yourself.  Our kids are all unique and have different likes and needs.

As you explore these vendors, keep in mind that many have gone before you in using the products and the reviews out there are to help you navigate your decisions.

The Homeschool Crew may be fairly quiet for a few months, but have no doubt we are getting ready for another big year of more vendors and more products.  Get ready to be blessed in 2019!

Congratulations to all of the winners!

Our reviews you may want to check out-
 Drive Through History Adventures


Monday, December 3, 2018

Maze Craze

Sometimes you just need something fun to do with your child, right?  Not school, not running errands, not going to appointments- and certainly not spending money!  We are all so busy these days, so sometimes it is just nice to snuggle up together and have a little quiet fun!

Usborne Around the World Mazes to the rescue!

I always loved doing mazes as a child so I was excited to review Usborne Around the World Mazes, for ages 6 plus, from Timberdoodle with Colby.  He is 11, currently in 6th grade, and loves mazes as much as I do!  Score!

This beautiful, full color maze book has 45 mazes in it.  They begin fairly easy and get harder as you work through them.  Some are only one page, while others branch across a double page spread.  Each has a different travel theme, introducing new places and things to see.

Armed with a pencil in case we made mistakes, Colby and I have tackled the mazes a few at a time together.  He usually traces the path with his finger first and then once we get it figured out, he goes back and draws the line in.  The first few were indeed pretty simple, but they quickly got more challenging as we went along.  Two that we have done we ended up going to the end of the puzzle and working our way backwards.  Is that considered cheating?

Don't worry, there is an answer key in the back for each puzzle in case you get stumped!

Why mazes?
  • Great way to relax
  • Great fine motor skill practice
  • Employ problem solving skills
  • Make fun gifts for people
  • Allow you to have some one on one time with your child
  • Allows a child to have some quiet time
  • Can keep a young child occupied while waiting
  • Can encourage cooperation when done with others
  • Can be used by multiple ages

And best of all- they are just plain fun!

I love just about everything that Timberdoodle carries, whether a stand alone product or one that is part of their curriculum kits!   Usborne Around the World Mazes is no exception.  There is still time to order a copy for a special child on your Christmas list!


Friday, November 23, 2018

Theater Room Update

We have been holding off on this room update because it has been a work in progress for a while.

When we began looking at houses here in AZ we found that a lot of them had theater rooms.  Maybe it is because of the summer heat and people need a place to retreat or maybe we just live in a world of movie loving people, but either way it was a bit of a surprise to me and kind of made me giggle.  After all, we are not a huge TV watching family and certainly did not need a theater room.

Well, guess what?  We ended up with a theater room.  And it still makes me giggle.

We retreat here most Friday nights for our family movie night and occasionally the older kids will watch something in the evening, but it really doesn't get much traffic.  Regardless, it is a fun room and one I knew I wanted to make special.

I had lots of ideas (most involved a Hobby Lobby run) and the kids nixed them all.  Yep, that's how we work around here. ;)

We finally settled on a simple approach to decorating.  All six of us chose our favorite movie and then we ordered a movie poster for each of them, had them framed, and hung them up.  DONE!

Want to have a little fun?  Can you guess whose movie is whose?

Completed room!


All I still need is a big basket of theater candy for our viewing pleasure.

Come on over and join us!


The Shawshank Redemption- Clarke
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat- me!
Little Women- Ashton
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty- Riley
The Martian- Salem
Prince Caspian- Colby

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Gift of Art

It is always a treat to review beautiful products and then be able to gift them to friends and family!  So often the things we review are for personal use, usually homeschooling.  Not that that is a bad thing, but it is often not as exciting. 

Ellie Claire Art Journals- now THOSE are exciting!

Journals of this fashion are quite new to me, as I am not an art girl, per se.  Oh, don't get me wrong, I love art, but there does not seem to be one ounce of art talent in my DNA.  Sad, but true. 

But these beautiful art journals from Ellie Art Gifts, well, they will make even the most art ignorant person's heart happy.  They are simply beautiful!

  • The Faith and Lettering Journal is a beautiful hard bound journal meant to teach lettering techniques while you meditate on the Word of God.  Some pages are full color illustrations of scripture verses brought to life with creative lettering, with a facing page ready for you to try your hand at it.  Other pages are specifically teaching and practicing pages, whether writing complete verses or just practicing a specific letter style.  Other pages have a small quote or scripture verse with a full page to be completely creative on. Here you can journal or practice more of your lettering art.  Lastly, there are pages that teach and allow you to practice fun doodles, banners and flourishes, with the encouragement to practice 15 minutes a day.  There is an elastic pen holder on the binder so you can always have a pen handy!


  •  Illuminate Your Story is the smallest of the three journals.  This book begins with the history of the art of illumination and provides information on 6 different types.  Information is also provided on Illuminated letters of ancient times, as well as a supply list you will need to get started.  Step by step instructions are provided for each letter of the alphabet with room to practice.  You will begin using a pencil and then add black marker and color.  Additional pages have a quote or additional scripture at the top.  Here you can practice your illuminated letters or simply use the space for journaling. Four special features of this particular journal are that it has a ribbon bookmark, an elastic band to hold it closed, an elastic pen holder on the binder,  and a pocket in the back cover to keep additional keepsakes in it.

  • The third journal, The Illustrated Word, is an illuminated Bible Coloring Journal, and has the most space for journaling.  In it you will find beautiful miniature pictures of religious artwork on a journal page and then a full page black and white drawing for you to be able to color that picture or one similar to it.  The pictures are labeled and would make a great mini study in art history!  This one I am keeping for myself to take scripture notes in.

The bindings of all three book are works of art themselves and allow you to lay the book open flat when writing or drawing in them.  The pages are a thick paper that will not easily tear and hold a great deal of ink without bleeding through. We used pretty thick art markers when playing with them and did not have any problem.

Since I admitted I am keeping one,  where are the other two going?

To two sweet,  young lady friends of mine.  Both are super talented and agreed to try the journals out for me before I sent them home with them.  Take a look at what they did!!

Pretty impressive, huh?

These lovely Ellie Claire Journals would make wonderful gifts for someone special in your life.  They are perfect for any age and any skill level, as well as for someone who just likes to journal in a beautiful space.  The journals are well made, beautifully illustrated, and will inspire your faith and grow your artistic talent.  With each turn of the page and each scripture you meditate on, may you draw closer to the Lord!