A Collection of Holiday Recipes ~ Food for the 12 Days!

Food plays an enormous role in our Christmas celebrations. We don’t just eat special foods on Christmas Eve or Christmas but we spread out special foods from December 24th through January 6th.  We don’t always eat the same foods on the same day each year but we do eat the same foods or this year a variation of the same foods.

Every year we have Buffalo Style Chicken Wings. I think these are the best chicken wings in the universe and the only ones that come close are the ones from Buffalo Wild Wings.  Seriously, these are good.  Crispy, flavorful, and you make it as hot or mild as you like. We started out making these for Christmas Eve and then switched it over to New Year’s Eve. They’re great for Super Bowl Parties, if you do those kinds of things.  They’re also wonderful as a special movie night “junk food” dinner meal.

I had to modify the 8 Minute Cheesecake this year to make it work for my husband and I. Same basic idea *but* I used heavy cream and whipped it myself in place of cool whip.  I substituted Truvia for sugar in the recipe and I omitted the crust altogether and scooped the cheesecake filling into pretty 1/2 pint jelly jars.  This cheesecake is wonderful and lovely and amazing and has become a Christmas Dinner Dessert tradition.

At least once during the 12 Days of Christmas we eat Cream Cheese and Bacon Scrambled Eggs. We don’t usually make them on Christmas Day as we don’t eat breakfast before church. These scrambled eggs are perfect though for a special brunch. I think I might serve them at Pascha.

This year we had French Toast Strata as part of our come-home-from-Christmas-Liturgy-starving-and-need-to-eat food.  It’s a little different from our Breakfast Casserole: Strata. There are lots of variations that one can do but none are great choices for low-carb. It does make a great holiday brunch. I adore bacon but in the strata I prefer sausage. I think the sausage gives it more flavor.

We also enjoy stuffed mushrooms and fruit soup during the holiday season. I don’t have my stuffed mushroom recipe up on my blog so no link yet. These mushrooms are stuffed with cream cheese and bacon.  You can omit the bacon and still have yummy vegetarian stuffed mushrooms. In addition to making a great appetizer for Christmas dinner these are wonderful to bring as “finger foods” to any holiday potluck gathering.  Hmm, I think I need to get this recipe up on the blog.  I’ve mentioned them before. I haven’t actually made the mushrooms in years though we eat them at both Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The girls have taken over preparing the mushrooms. I like having teenagers who like to cook.

Another holiday food tradition: Fruit Soup comes from my husband’s family. It has become our tradition to bring it to the Christmas Eve Lenten Potluck Supper at church.  Nope, I don’t have the recipe on the blog.  I can tell you that it has lots of different dried fruits such as apple rings, raisins, prunes, apricots and whatever else looks/sounds good tossed into a pot with water and allowed to soak over night.  Toss in some cinnamon sticks and cook for hours until you have this unappetizing thick fruity sauce like thing that passes as soup. It doesn’t look good but it does taste amazing. It is one of Supergirl’s most favorite things to eat. You can add sugar to sweeten it but we think it is plenty sweet on its own.  We do not add any orange or lemon zest though you can certainly add that as well. We found that if we did do add orange zest then we wanted to add sugar and we prefer to not add sugar.

Do you have special foods that you only serve during the holidays?

Linking this post up to Our Family’s 12 Days of Christmas from Homeschool Coffee Break


Celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas

Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas is more of a Western tradition than an Eastern Tradition; however, many American Orthodox Christians view the time from December 25th through (and including) January 5th as the 12 Days of Christmas. January 6th is the Feast of Theophany.

In the West, January 6th is Epiphany. Epiphany is the visit of the Magi or Wise Men and some view it as the 12th day of Christmas ( Dec 26 would then be day 1).  Theophany is the celebration of the Lord’s baptism in the Jordan river and the revealing of Jesus as the Son of God.

Liturgically the Orthodox church does not celebrate 12 Days. I think I read it is 6 Days.  I think the “Leaving Taking of the Nativity” is Dec 29 or Dec 30?  January 1st is celebrated as the Circumcision of our Lord and it is also St. Basil’s Day.

For my family we love that celebrating the Incarnation of God can be stretched out.  Without the Incarnation, there could be no redemption but that is a meaty topic for another time and place.

We begin our Christmas celebrations on December 24, the Eve of the Feast.  Prior to Christmas Eve we are in preparation mode.  We prepare ourselves spiritually through fasting (as well as prayer and almsgiving) for 40 days (November 15th through and including December 24th). 

Our Parish serves the Royal Hours in the morning on the 24th. My priest jokes that they should not be called Royal Hours but rather Imperial Hours because the Emperor attended these services. There are three in the liturgical year and are served on the Eve of the Feast:  Christmas,  Theophany, and Pascha.  Well, eve isn’t exact for Pascha.  I believe they are served on Holy Friday.

Later, in the early evening, Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St. Basil is served.  This service is beautiful and there are 8 Old Testament Readings. These are the readings that foretell the coming of the Messiah. You know, like the passage in Isaiah.

Immediately after the service we gather for a Lenten potluck. In the Slavic tradition there is a 12 course Holy Supper. We do have a quiet candlelight meal but it is not the traditional symbolic meal. You will find some regular items though such as pierogies, and fruit soup (because it’s what my husband makes).

We come home after church and sometimes open a present or two and do any finalizing for Christmas morning. Since we fast before liturgy we don’t have breakfast on Christmas morning. I have yet to serve the same thing on Christmas for the last 6 years! Maybe I’ll settle into a tradition when I have grandchildren.

If the girls are up early enough on Christmas morning we check stockings.  This year? Nope. We had to race to get to church on time! The service is long.  Matins starts at 9am and I think we pulled out of the parking lot to head home around Noon.  Of course some time is spent after the service greeting one another and in some cases exchanging gifts.  Now the feasting can begin!

I always serve beef on Christmas. Beef is the meat we don’t eat during the Nativity Fast.  I also do not serve fish until after January 6th. There are certain foods that I only make a couple of times of the year.  This keeps them special for holidays.

We don’t stop celebrating on Dec 25th though. Honeybear takes time off from work and we spend time together as a family playing board games, eating special foods, playing Wii, watching DVDs, visiting with friends, or enjoying special outings.

God taking on human flesh: God becoming man so that man can become like God is a big deal. Humanity and all creation is redeemed because a Virgin gave birth. It is worth celebrating for more than one day.

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

Linking this post up to Our Family’s 12 Days of Christmas from Homeschool Coffee Break


SchoolhouseTeachers.com is on SALE!!

**Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!**

One of the perks or benefits of being a member of the Schoolhouse Review Crew is a Yearly Membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com. This incredible members only resource is filled with lesson plans from preschool to high school and covering everything from basic core subjects like grammar, spelling and math to history and geography.  You’ll also find electives like foreign language, music (both theory and instrument!), filmmaking and more!

New members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew are currently writing reviews of SchoolhouseTeachers.com.  Since I am not writing a review, I’m just going to drop this link right here so that you can go read *real* reviews of the Yearly Membership.

Read Reviews of SchoolhouseTeachers.com from the Schoolhouse Review Crew!

Since I love having a membership to SchoolhouseTeachers.com I just had to take a moment and tell you about this special deal that is happening right now!

SchoolhouseTeachers.com Review

My favorite lesson plan sections are the lapbooking and literature units. I recently discovered the Imperial Russia course and I am contemplating how to add that to Turtlegirl’s current studies since she has been studying the Russian language. 

My favorite non lesson plan section are the planners. I blogged about the planners during my 5 Days of Back to Homeschool series this past fall. 

So much good stuff over at SchoolhouseTeachers.com! Check it out! 


Random 5 on Friday ~ December 12th Edition

I’m not sure and I’m too lazy too look it up but I think this is the first edition that I’ve done for month of December.

1.  One of the things I always look forward to in late November/early December is a delivery of a box of citrus fruit from Texas. Every year my husband’s parents order oranges, grapefruits and tangelos from Texas.  These are the *best* I have ever tasted. I’ve already eaten two tangelos today!

Fresh Citrus Fruit from Texas is the Best!

2.  We started making some dietary changes for health reasons in June 2013 when Honeybear had a mild heart attack. Now, we’ve got another unexpected health diagnosis and have to radically change the way we eat. Honeybear got blood drawn for cardiology follow-up and ended up with a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes. We’ve been watching *my* sugars for quite some time but his diagnosis seemed to come out of nowhere. The doctor joked that now we have his and her glucose meters.

3. We have a lovely but quiet Thanksgiving here with just the six of us. We played the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who edition of Trivial Pursuit. It can be played with just the cards and a special die or it can be played with the original TP game board.  The colors match the more recent original TP board but work just as well with the old one. We gave the girls the Doctor Who Trivia game for Christmas last year. We ordered through Amazon but it was fulfilled and shipped from the U.K.  How cool is that?!

Playing Doctor Who version of Trivial Pursuit on Thanksgiving!

4. We made and canned applesauce last week.  I’m working on a separate blog post about our canning adventures.  Look for it soon!

5. December 6th is Saint Nicholas day. Yes, there really is a Santa Claus, though the American chubby fellow bears little resemblance to the historical Bishop of Myrna. Our church always has a special activities on the first Sunday of December to celebrate the feast day for St. Nick. We gather around to hear the story of the Old Man and his three beautiful daughters who want to marry the handsome young men but have no money for a dowry. After the story, we get a visit from Saint Nicholas. Supergirl loves getting her little package from St. Nicholas.

Supergirl receives a gift from Saint Nicholas


Mama ~ Our God Is a Baby!

Sometimes children say the most profound and beautiful things. This afternoon Supergirl and were hanging out with my kindle.  She was chattering away and I was flipping through recipes.  Suddenly she was quiet.  She looked up at the Nativity Scene and said,  “Jesus is a baby.”  I nodded and replied yes this is the time of year when we remember Jesus as a baby.

She pondered a moment longer and declared “Mama, our God is a baby!”  That stopped me.  I mean it isn’t new information but I had never quite thought about it in that light. Never took the time to think how amazing it is that God was a baby.  Most of the time when we hear “God” we think of God the Father.  Jesus is the Son.  But Supergirl is spot on.  Jesus is God so that means that our God is a baby.

This little chatterbox was not finished yet with wisdom proclamations. She had one more for me today:  “He had to be our Savior.”  

So often I wonder if she understands what she hears at church or the Sunday school lessons or my inconsistent bible lessons and then she has a day like today. She does get it.  It’s a paradox how she gets it on both a very basic and yet profoundly deep level at the same time.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is our Savior.  Jesus is a baby.  God is a baby who came to be our Savior.  So very basic.  So very deep.

And then?  It’s back to life as I know it.  “Mama, can I play Frozen now?”  “No.”  “But, mama, I want to play.”   And later she says “You’re my best Mama, ever!”  Why?  Because I do spelling with her.  She’s a precious reminder of everything good.

Supergirl says some of the most profound things!


5 Random Thankful Thoughts ~ November 21st Edition

Last week I decided to make my Random 5 on Fridays in November to be random thankful thoughts because November is the month for gratitude posts and status updates.

Five Random Thankful Thoughts ~ November 21st  Edition

1.  Earlier this week we had beautiful sunshine. I am grateful for the sunshine! Today as I type this it is cold, gray, and rainy which is much more typical November weather for us.  Living here in the rainy part of the PNW, I’ve come to appreciate the sunshine and not take it for granted like I did in other places I’ve lived.

2.  This week on November 19th, Honeybear and I had our 20th Wedding Anniversary. I am grateful that we have made it this far. We’ve had more than our fair share of stress, problems, and disagreements. We’ve weathered military deployments, a child with serious health issues, and his heart attack in June of 2013. Somehow we’ve managed to stay together.

3.  I am thankful for flowers! Our wedding flowers were Fire And Ice Roses which are bi-color red and white roses. When Honeybear buys me flowers he always tries to get bi-color or two-tone roses in remembrance of our wedding flowers. This picture doesn’t show it well but these roses are two-toned.

Anniversary Roses ~ 20 Years

4.  I am thankful for my daughters who took it upon themselves to decorate for our anniversary. They wanted to make it special. Turtlegirl drew a Happy Anniversary Message on our white board using fall colors. The colors didn’t turn out so well in the photo but I am sharing anyway because I love the bride and groom on top of the wedding cake.  Tailorbear put up cranberry streamers and set up our little dinner table for two.  Burgundy, Wine or Cranberry were the colors we aimed for with the wedding.

Happy Anniversary Message

Romantic Dinner for Two

5.  This week marked the 12th anniversary of my dad’s passing. I am grateful that he and I had a much better relationship the last few years of his life than we did when I was growing up. It’s like he was two different men. I miss him very much especially around the holidays. 

The Pebble Pond

Come join us over at the Pebble Pond for this week’s Edition of Random 5 on Friday!


The Official 2014 Schoolhouse Review Crew Favorites

It’s official. The 2014 Schoolhouse Review Crew Year has ended. I’m sad to see the year end but I’m going to enjoy a little break. I’m excited though because I’ve been invited back to the Crew for 2015!

Announcing a Few of the 2014 Crew Favorites:  Blue Ribbon Awards

End of the crew year means Blue Ribbon Awards. Last week I shared my family’s favorite products and vendors from the 2014 Crew Year. Today I’m highlighting some of the Schoolhouse Review Crew Favorites. The votes were tallied and these are some of the official winners! You’ll want to visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog to see the full list of winners because I am just going to highlight a few of them here.

Our wonderful Assistant Director, Debra, put the voting form together for the crew to fill out. She organized all the vendors into 27 different categories! Did you know that the crew reviewed more than 115 products from over 50 vendors!  I think there were something like 58 different review slots. That’s a lot of awesome products. I counted up my reviews  the girls and I used and reviewed: 31.  Some were just for mom like the Motivated Moms e-planner and the Trident case that I am still using with Kindle. Some were just for Supergirl like Digital Heroes and Heroines of the past: American History.  Tailorbear discovered that she loved learning science with Fascinating Biology and Turtlegirl finally got to study French with Middlebury Interactive Languages. We had a little something for everyone!

So now to a sampling of the Schoolhouse Review Crew Favorites! Note: links to products are either to my review or to the page where you can find schoolhouse crew reviews if my family did not review that vendor.

Favorite Language Arts Curriculum: Moving Beyond the Page

Favorite History Program: Veritas Press 

Favorite Science Curriculum: Supercharged Science

Favorite Math Program: CTC Math

Favorite Elementary Resource: Logic of English

Favorite High School Resource: Roman Roads  Media

Favorite College or College-Prep Resource: Fortuigence

Favorite Mom/Teen Resource: Apologia: Flourish

Best Resource I Didn’t Know I Needed: My Student Logbook

 All Around Crew Favorite: Veritas Press

To see all of the categories and their winners click on the banner below!  

2014 Blue Ribbon Awards


5 Random Thankful Thoughts ~ November 14th Edition

I did not think of this last week but today it occurred to me that I could combine Random 5 on Friday and Thanksgiving type thoughts. I see many friends on Facebook listing something they are grateful for everyday for the month of November. I like that idea but I can’t keep up so I’m going to write up things that I am grateful for for the remaining Fridays in November.

Five Random Thankful Thoughts

1. I am thankful for sunshine even if it is so cold outside. ~ The artic air seems to have arrived here and temps are in the low to mid- 40’s during the day and in the 20’s in the evenings. Yes, I know not so cold as many other areas of the country but that is cold for us. I do love the sunshine though which is very rare for November.

2. I am thankful for warm cozy throw blankets because it is so cold outside. ~ I like keeping a stack of these blankets on the couch in the family room and a couple on my rocking chair in the living room. Give me my sweater, a blanket, a cup of tea and my book and I will be happy oh and the fireplace (see number 3.)

3. I am thankful that we got the gas fireplace fixed. ~ I am so thankful that we have a fireplace. It didn’t really work last winter but it has been wonderful to turn the fireplace on, starting on some colder days in October. The girls have been doing some of their history work and playing games on the floor in the living room in front of the fire.

4. I am thankful for home canned tomatoes! ~ My friends, along with two of my daughters, and I canned boxes and boxes of tomatoes.  I love having quarts and pints of tomatoes. This week I used tomatoes in the crockpot to make a yummy sausage pasta sauce and today I used a quart of tomatoes for the soup we’ll eat tonight.

5. I am thankful for the Schoolhouse Review Crew. ~ I am thankful for the crew, for the great products I get to review, for the awesome Crew Leadership, and especially for the friends I have made. Friends who have made me laugh, prayed for me, encouraged me and who might even read my blog sometimes!

What are you thankful for this week? In addition to my regular Random 5 link up, I’m also linking up to This Day Has Great Potential, a blog from another wonderful Crew friend!

The Pebble Pond

Come join us over at the Pebble Pond for this week’s Edition of Random 5 on Friday!


Looking Back at the 2014 Schoolhouse Review Crew Year!

Yesterday I posted and linked up my final review for the 2014 Crew Year. How awesome that we got to end the year with a game! So, today I’m looking back over the year and remembering what amazing products my family got to use.

Schoolhouse Review Crew has a Blue Ribbon Awards tradition where the crew gets to vote for their favorite products. The girls and I powwowed and came up our favorites and submitted our votes.  (The Official Winners will be announced on the Schoolhouse Review Blog on Monday!)

A Few Favorite Review Crew Products from 2014 ~ Circling Through This Life

So here’s a few of our favorites from 2014:

Favorite Literature Program:  Oh my this was so hard to choose just one to vote for the official Blue Ribbon Awards but since this is just a list of my family favorites and it’s my blog, I’m going to go ahead have two favorites! Hewitt Homeschooling Lightning Lit Shakespeare Comedies Review by Tess

It’s Shakespeare and it’s Lightning Literature so of course we loved it! Boobear is a much bigger fan of Shakespeare than either Turtlegirl or Tailorbear but I was surprised by how much they enjoyed using and reviewing Lightning Literature Shakespeare Comedies & Sonnets.




Progeny Press Review Collage

I love love love love Progeny Press study guides. We have reviewed them multiple times over the several years I have been on the crew. It should not be a surprise that we could not decide between two wonderful and very different literature curricula. This was the first time that Supergirl used a Progeny Press guide and she loved meeting with mom to have mom read the book, The Courage of Sarah Noble, aloud. I think she loved the extra mommy daughter time and I know she loved building a log cabin out of pretzels and frosting! I loved that my high schoolers could use the Hunger Games Study Guide.

Favorite Math and Language Arts Supplements: This actually covers 4 or 5 of the official categories but I’m combining them because my two favorite products can both be used as Math and LA supplements!IXL Math and Language Arts ~ It's fun to practice math with IXL. Read Tess's Review at Circling Through This Life

In 2014 I got to review IXL for the third time! This year they have a new math app for grades k-6 that works for the newer Kindle Fires. You’ll have to read the review to see all the other neat stuff but Supergirl adores being able to practice math on Mama’s Kindle. The LA portion of the website can be used on the Kindle using the browser!




Learning Wrap Ups Review at Circling Through This Life

The Learning Palette makes my list of favorites! I love the wrap-ups but I adore and Supergirl loves and adores the Learning Palette. It is fun. It can be done independently and it covers so many topics in both Math and Language Arts. When she has finally mastered all of the first grade material, I am going to have search for sales on the second grade packages!




A Few More Favorites: Rather than try to group them by category I just present a few more of our favorite review crew products from 2014!

Spelling You See Curriculum Review ~ Of Tess's Favorites for 2014

I love Math-U-See so I was sure I would love Spelling You See. I was not wrong. I was afraid that it would be too much for Supergirl. We’ve had to take many long breaks from using it but she’s making far more progress than I thought she could and that means this has to be one of my favorite crew products for 2014!




Old Western Culture An integrated humanities curriclum.

I will confess that I was not interested in Roman Roads or the Old Western Culture program they offer when I saw it on the upcoming vendor list. I really didn’t not want to have to write a review. I showed the website to Turtlegirl and let her check out the sample lessons and she begged for it. What could I say? This was her favorite crew product. And you know what? It ranks up there as one of my favorites too and I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to review it!


Turtlegirl and her Logbook

The Last favorite that I share today is the My Student Logbook. In my review I stated that I would be voting for it as The Product I Didn’t Know I Needed. This simply tool has helped us so much. She keeps track of chores and school and little things like “put on glasses” since she often forgets to wear her glasses which seems to contribute to her headaches. I will have to purchase one of these for her next year!



So that’s it for now! I reviewed so many wonderful and amazing products but these stand out as some of our favorites. Next week I’ll share about the official winners!


Family Game Night? Try Snake Oil {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

What do “Closet Urge,” “Snow Napkin,” “Cheese Man,”  “Danger Photo.”  “Rainbow Future,” and “Fish Socks” have in common?  These were all items that my family, posing as snake oil salesmen, attempted to sell to customers: Pregnant Lady, Prom Date, or Runaway among others while playing the game Snake Oil.

This hilarious game does not take long to learn, has no small parts to keep track of or lose, and encourages creativity. Snake Oil is produced by Out of the Box Games and is intended for 3-10 players ages 10+.

Snake Oil from Out of the Box Games ~ Review at Circling Through This Life

Setting Up the Game

Setting up the game is easy! There are two types of cards: Customer Cards and Word Cards. Customer Cards are blue on one side and green on the other. Each side lists a character such as Rock Star, Priest, or Dictator. These cards go in the center.  The Word Cards are divided into 4 decks in the plastic tray. These are placed around the Customer Cards,in easy reach of the players. These Word Cards have nouns: goggles, belt, closet, toilet, knife, cup, socks, pony, pillow, freedom and many many more. There are 28 Customer Cards which give you 56 different Customers.  There are 336 Word Cards. Each player draws a hand of 6 Words Cards. Select a player to be the Customer for the first round and you are ready to play!

Snake Oil from Out of the Box Games ~ A Review! "There is a lot of freedom with the game as to how you want to play."

Playing the Game

The Customer draws a Customer Card, makes a selection from either the blue or green side and becomes the persona on the card. In other words, I set aside my own personality and try to think like a Grave Robber, Spy, or Couch Potato. What products would make life easier if I was a Cheerleader or an Alien?

The other players select two cards from their hand to combine to create a product. Now the fun begins. Players become Snake Oil Salesmen, think of used car salesmen or door-to-do solicitors, and try to pitch their product. If the Customer chooses your product, you get to collect the customer card! The game ends when each player has been the Customer once. The player with the most Customer Cards wins! A full game takes 20-30 minutes to complete. 

Our Experience 

My husband remarked, “the more you play the game, the better your ability to pitch things.”  He really seemed to love the game. He has a twisted sense of humor and this came through with his sales pitches. He pitched the now infamous “Cloud Belt” perfect for a Prom Date who wants to be light on her feet while she dances with her partner. He also said “using that used car salesman type of pitch is what makes the game so much fun!” It was a bit scary to see how much fun he had with that!

Turtlegirl is an introvert and though she found the game funny, she preferred to watch rather than play. She was uncomfortable giving pitches and even more uncomfortable receiving pitches but she laughed along with the rest of us when a parent or sibling gave a sales pitch. Her older sister though loved the game and said “Snake oil is fun and forces you to think creatively. I enjoy that there is a lot of freedom with the game as to how you want to play.”

I do want to add a note about ages.  The game says ages 10+ but some of the Word Cards and Customer Cards may be either too mature or too complex for the under 12 crowd. I would list the ages as 12+ but in a family setting it may work with 10+.  We only played with ages 15 to adult.

Sisters Playing Snake Oil ~ Review ~ “Snake oil is fun and forces you to think creatively. I enjoy that there is a lot of freedom with the game as to how you want to play.”

Game Variations

The game includes suggestions for variations and we came up with our own. Instead of taking one customer card, you take two. We made it a rule that you had to use one blue and one green to combine. Some of our crazy combos included Soldier Santa, Fashion Model Prison Guard, and Alien Teenager. This gave us more variety and allowed us to get even more creative with our product pitches.

We have all decided this game will be played on Thanksgiving. We plan to play the suggested variation “The More the Merrier” which allows each player to have more than six cards. The directions suggest “eight or even ten cards per hand instead of the standard six.”  More Word Cards mean more choices and that means more laughter and fun!

Snake Oil Game from Out of the Box Games ~ Review at Circling Through This Life

The Summary of Details:

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Out of the Box Games.  

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.
You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.


A is for Advent and B is for Books

Marcy from Ben and Me has retired from hosting Blogging Through The Alphabet. She did five rounds. Five! So my friend Kristi  from A Potter’s Hand Academy  has taken up the baton and is now hosting a new round of Blogging Through The Alphabet. She started last week. I missed the memo. But that’s ok. I’ll just start now and I’ll start from the beginning with the Letter A. The first thing that came to mind was Advent or in the Orthodox world, Nativity Fast or little lent. Since my post for the letter B is about the books I want to read during Advent, I’m going to combine the two letters.

Icon image:  Our Lady of the Sign

For many Orthodox Christians in the USA, the Nativity Fast will start on Saturday November 15. Well, actually for all Orthodox Christians the fast will begin on November 15 but one is November 15 on the Revised Julian Calendar (New) Calendar which currently follows the civil Gregorian calendar that we are all familiar with.  The other calendar is the Julian Calendar (Old) and currently differs from the Gregorian calendar by 13 days. So when the secular wall calendar says November 28, that’s November 15 on the Old calendar.  But I digress.

The word fasting tends to conjure up images of no food or very little food. But for Orthodox Christians food is only one part. In addition to fasting from food we are to abstain from or fast from sin. Well certainly we should abstain from sin all the time but during fasting seasons we put a greater emphasis on seeking to put to death the desires of the flesh and seek a deeper, more meaningful spiritual relationship with God. We can do this by praying more. Praying and fasting go hand in hand.  For that reason many folks will withdraw from online forums or social media such as Facebook. Some will spend less time watching television.

Advent ~ The Nativity Fast isn't just about food. It's also about praying more.

I read this quote on Life of the World’s Facebook page this morning:

Not only should we observe moderation with food, but we must also abstain from every other sin so that just as we fast with our stomach, we should fast with our tongue. Likewise, we should fast with our eyes; i.e. not look at agitating things, not allow your eyes freedom to roam, not to look shamelessly and without fear. Similarly, arms and legs should be restrained from doing any evil acts. ~ Abba Dorotheus of Gaza

When I read that I immediately thought of the TV show Criminal Minds which Honeybear and I have been watching on Netflix streaming. We both think that giving up Criminal Minds during the Nativity Fast is in our best interest. I plan to abstain from most of our regular streaming. It has been our habit to watch more documentaries and educational type programing during fasting seasons, rather than the sitcoms and dramas that we usually watch.

So what will I do instead? Read books. I debated making this a separate post but the reason I want to talk about books is because I’m going to read them during the Nativity Fast. I don’t know if I will finish them. Ok my goal is to finish Mere Christianity because I am thisclose to finishing it and I think if I set aside the time to read, I will actually finish the book. So here is my Book List for my Nativity Fast reading:

  • Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis ~  I started this ages and ages ago. It’s time to finish it.
  • Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene ~ I borrowed this from a friend but I haven’t started it yet.
  • The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton ~ The same friend who loaned me the above book is hosting an Advent Read Along. I have my copy on my Kindle ready to go and I am looking forward to reading it.
  • Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman ~ this is book two in her series about Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • Evergreen by Susan May Warren. This one is a Christmas Winter Novella so I might wait until after Christmas and read it during the 12 Days and I first have to finish book 3 in the series When I Fall in Love which I am currently reading.

Considering how long Time and Chance and Christ the Eternal Tao are, my list may be overly ambitious for 40 days if I were trying to finish all of them.

By watching less Netflix, I can increase time reading!

In addition to reading the above books, I do also intend to make my daily Bible readings a priority and use the 40 days to make Bible reading a daily habit like making my bed or combing my hair.

I’m looking forward to Advent and reading more Books.


Blogging Through the Alphabet hosted by The Potter's Hand Academy

Check out this week’s letter!


Practice Makes Perfect! IXL for Math and Language Arts ~ A Crew Review

There are less than a handful of crew products that I have begged to review multiple times. IXL is one of the few. I love this program.  Supergirl loves this program. I begged for the opportunity to review it for the third time. Yes, it’s even better now! IXL very generously provided a one year subscription for up to five students for both IXL Math and IXL Language Arts. So grab a cup of your favorite beverage and let’s chat about what’s new with IXL. 

First What is IXL? How Does it Work

IXL is designed to help students master concepts in Math and LA through practice. It is intended as a supplement to whatever curriculum you are using. It is easy to coordinate practice with IXL with the student’s current topic. Simply log in and choose math or LA.  Choose your grade or level and then pick a skill. Or you can choose a topic and then choose a skill.  Here let me show you:

You Can Choose by Grade Level Choose By Topic

Students practice the skill and earn points towards mastery. Students must score 100 points to achieve mastery. They earn points for correct answers and lose points for incorrect answers. Questions within the skill for a specific grade will get harder and when you reach 91-93 points you enter the “Challenge Zone.”  Supergirl always gets excited about the challenge zone. These questions are the hardest for the skill set.

When the student has mastered the skill, a special screen comes up showing them the medals they have won. In the Math section of the program, students earn visual rewards on a game board. These are highly motivating.  Rewards are given for how long you’ve been practicing or for mastering a certain number of skills. At the PreK level the final reward was for achieving all the rewards!  This game board reward system is not available for the LA portion of the website but Turtlegirl, Supergirl, and I all agree that adding one to the LA side would make it even more fun. 

Let’s Chat About IXL Math

When I first reviewed IXL Math, it only went from PreK through Algebra. At the beginning of this current review period I got an email from IXL with the exciting news that IXL has added more upper level math programs including Algebra 2 Skills, Geometry Skills and Precalculus skills. I signed myself up as a student so I could play too!

Another added feature: Apps!  I was so thrilled to find out that IXL Math for grades PreK-6th grade is available for 3rd Generation and newer Kindle Fires!  I have a Kindle Fire HDX 7” and the app is gorgeous! If you do not have a compatible device, no worries the program works well in iPad and Kindle browsers too!

IXL Math and Language Arts ~ It's fun to practice math with IXL. Read Tess's Review at Circling Through This Life

This program, as I stated above is intended as way to practice skills. It is not intended to be a stand alone math program. However, I have found that for Supergirl I can use it as her primary math program. The program does have some instruction pop up when you get a problem wrong. For many students this is not enough to teach a new concept but works well a reminder of the concept. Some students grasp math very easily and at the younger levels, some parents may be comfortable using this as their primary math program.

Both Tailorbear and Turtlegirl are using IXL strictly for practice, review and reinforcement of upper level math. Tailorbear needed extra practice with word problems. I love that IXL offers practice in word problems in Algebra! She needed help with specific types of word problems, like percent, and she was able to use IXL to practice and review for her Algebra test.

IXL Math ~ Review at Circling Through This LIfe

Turtlegirl is currently studying geometry. She is using IXL when she needs extra practice with geometry but she is also using it to keep algebra skills from slipping away. I think she’ll be using IXL to freshen up her algebra skills after finishing geometry and before moving on to algebra 2. 

Let’s Chat about IXL Language Arts

This aspect did not exist in 2012 when I first reviewed IXL. When we reviewed IXL again in 2013, they had added the LA portion. Though Supergirl functions most closely at a first grade level, she was ready for some of the skills at the 2nd grade level. We did quickly reach a point where the material was beyond her so we set it aside and just used the math portion. I was thrilled that she had made developmental progress and we were able to work through more of the 2nd grade LA skills this time. I was pleasantly surprised by how much more she could do this time.

Like the Math program, the Language Arts section is intended for practice to achieve mastery and is not intended as a full independent curriculum. I used it as a way to introduce concepts to Supergirl and then to practice those concepts. 

In theory both Tailorbear and Turtlegirl are past the skills offered in IXL Language Arts, but Turtlegirl played around with some of the 8th grade skills to refresh her memory of grammar concepts such as when to use commas. In our experience even high school students may benefit from the practice of the 8th grade language skills.

2nd Grade Language Arts ~ Review at Circling Through This Life

New Options!

Let’s chat a moment about the settings in the Settings section you’ll find several neat little options. To find the settings you must be logged in to your parent account. Choose profile & settings and scroll down to settings. Profiles are first and settings is at the bottom.

You can choose to enable audio for upper grades (grades 2-5).  The audio is always on for grades PreK through 1st. This audio option though only applies to the MATH portion of the website. With the audio option students can click a sound icon and have the questions as well as the answers read aloud. This option is NEW and it is huge! Previously audio was only for grades Prek through 1st grade. I am not sure when this option was added but it is new to me this review period and one that I mentioned wanting in both of my previous reviews. We are hoping this option will be added for the LA portion but this is not as critical for us as Supergirl is not working independently in that subject the way she does in math.

Other settings include:

  • Set your time zone
  • Choose to receive report emails
  • Hide the timer
  • Hide grade levels 

Thoughts from Turtlegirl:

This is an excellent tool for practice. I like how they offer virtual prizes to motivate the student. I wish they offered virtual prizes for the grammar/language part like they do for math. The grammar/language arts part was much more difficult than the math part. I recommend this as a way for students to practice concepts they have already mastered.

Thoughts from Supergirl:

I like IXL. I like to play on it on the Kindle. I like math. I like learning about time. I love getting rewards like the medals and then I get to uncover a prize. I love to count. I also like doing the language arts with my mom at her computer. I wish they had prizes but I do like earning the medals.

The Details:

  • The Vendor:  IXL
  • The Product: Subscription to both IXL Math and IXL Language Arts 
  • Format: Online Subscription for full program
  • Age Range: For Math:  PreK-12th Grade  For LA:  2nd through 8th Grade
  • Price: Pricing starts at just $9.95 per month for one child for one subject.  Annual subscriptions for one child for one subject start at $79. Each additional child is just $2 a month or $20 per year.  A month-to-month subscription for both Math and LA for 2 children would be $17.95 and for a yearly subscription, $149.
  • NOTES: 
    • Currently the LA portion is only available for US English
    • Though the LA app is not available for Kindle Fire, there is an LA App available for some iPads
    • You can try IXL for free. Guest users will not have tracking or reports and there is a daily practice limit of 20 questions.
  • Links You’ll Want to Explore:

For more information visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about IXL. You can also read my IXL review from 2012 and my IXL review from 2013. We love this program!

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review. You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.


Random 5 on Friday November 7th

I’ve missed a few weeks so these random thoughts are not all from this past week.

1.  This is has been a rough week. A very dear older gentleman fell asleep in the Lord on Monday.  This amazing man adopted my whole family.  He was like a grandfather to all of us. He came to see all of BooBear’s recitals her Freshman year of college. He gifted us with an amazing evening at the Ballet a few Christmases ago. He was always smiling and always had a story to share.  He lived a rich and full life and I am grateful that my family got to know him.  Memory Eternal, John!  You will be missed!

2.  BooBear is in choir this year and we attended her first choir concert a couple of weeks ago. She also participated as a pianist and a vocalist in a special Evening of Schubert recital.  She did not do a vocal solo but did sing as part of the group. This picture is from her choir concert.  What a beautiful woman she has grown to be!

3. Last week she had another recital.  This one was the keyboard students recital but by keyboard they mean “instruments that use a keyboard.”   All but one of the performers were pianists. The recital ended with the one organist performing.  The organ, by the way, is incredible! Beautiful beautiful piece of craftsmanship and sounds wonderful as well.  No pictures allowed so I have none.  It was custom made and copyrighted so photos are not allowed.

Beautiful Boobear after her concert ~ Random Thoughts from Circling Through This Life

4.  Last week was Halloween and we had friends over. We made (ok ok Honeybear made) homemade pizza. We tried a pizza combo that we had not done in years.  BBQ Chicken.  Use BBQ sauce in place of pizza sauce, topped with cubes of cooked chicken and then a combo of mozzarella cheese and cheddar cheese.  It was a huge success. I think we’re going to be having BBQ Chicken pizza again this weekend.  Maybe I’ll take pictures and do a recipe post.

5.  I did not get pictures of my girls in costume. Boobear did not dress up. She did not trick or treat.  She’s such a grown up now. Turtlegirl was a waiter.  She even used her daddy’s bowtie. Oh how I wish I had picture! She had a pretty white ruffled blouse with a black vest.  Black dress pants and an apron.   Tailorbear opted to do the rock star thing again. I had fun spray painting her hair with a pink dye.  She also experimented with wild eye makeup and used the guitar from the wii band hero as a prop.  Supergirl has been watching Once Upon a Time with us and decided she had to be a blue fairy.

The Blue Fairy ~ Random Thoughts from Circling Through This Life


The Pebble Pond

Come join us over at the Pebble Pond for this week’s Edition of Random 5 on Friday!


Biology from Fascinating Education ~ A Schoolhouse Crew Review

I am not a science oriented person. I did not take a single science course in high school. I avoided Biology completely. I did my best to avoid chemistry as well, choosing to meet my college science with a lab requirements by taking Geology classes. Dissecting a rock is much easier than dissecting a frog! As a home school mom I’ve learned to love science, but even though I’ve had two high school students complete biology in my home school, I still prefer that someone else teach it.

Tailorbear loves biology. The options I used with BooBear and Turtlegirl require more independent study and so are not as suitable for Tailorbear’s temperament. We were excited to see Fascinating Biology offered from Fascinating Education.

Fascinating Biology from Fascinating Education A review by Tess

Dr. Margulies is the founder and creator of Fascinating Education. He is a neurologist, author of three educational textbooks and currently holds the title clinical assistant professor at two universities. As a neurologist he understands the brain. He understands how it works and how we learning. Tailorbear struggles with focusing her attention, Dr. Margulies understands how attention is focused, and on how motivation affects learning. Since Tailorbear struggles with focusing her attention, Dr. Margulies Biology program would seem tailor made.

Fascinating Biology uses an audio/visual approach to present the material. Students listen to a lecture while watching slides. It is designed to cover what you would find in a typical high school course. There are 19 Lessons and each lesson includes the audio lecture with video, a glossary tab, a script and a test. I love that each lesson has a transcript of the lecture that you can download. The average length of each presentation is about 45 minutes.

Fascinating Biology Lesson Screen Shot

The tests can be taken online and automatically graded or the parent can use a special password to access printable tests along with answer keys and administer a paper test. The test questions are multiple choice. Once the student has completed the test, her score, along with the minimum passing score are revealed. Students have the option of retaking the test, or printing the test score.

Fascinating Biology Screen Shot of Test

If you would like more detailed information on how the program works, Dr. Margulies has created a detailed tutorial that demonstrates step by step how to log in to the course and use the tools. The tutorial is presented the same way as course lessons.

Fascinating Biology engages multiple senses read Tess's review at Circling Through This Life

Some Things To Note:

This program does not have a lab option for biology. I think including labs would take this closer to being a college prep level high school biology program. Also, this biology course is written from a biochemistry point of view and the suggested sequence for Fascinating Education curricula is Chemistry, Biology, and then Physics. Tailorbear has completed an integrated Chemistry and Physics course so I felt she had the prerequisite background in chemistry to start with biology.  For students who want to take biology but have not had chemistry Fascinating Education does offer a subset of Chemistry for a $20 add on.

Thoughts from Tailorbear:

"I really like the format of the lectures. It gave me a visual and auditory way to learn the material. And it was very helpful. I really like the test format too. This gave me a way to understand what I missed. Overall I love this biology program! I really feel like I am learning science!"

My Thoughts:

Like Tailorbear, I like the format of the lectures. I also love that a transcript of the lecture is available so that the student can review the material. I do wish however, that the program included labs. I’m also concerned that there is enough material and that is presented in-depth enough for a full high school credit of Biology. This program is wonderful as a spine and I love that my daughter loves it.  We’ll be adding in supplemental material and labs so that I can be sure she has covered enough to earn a full high school biology credit to put on her transcript.

Fascinating Education: Biology Review

The Details:

  • The Vendor:  Fascinating Education
  • The Product: Fascinating Biology
  • Format: Online Subscription
  • Age Range: High School though some middle school students could do the program
  • Price: $79 for Full Year Access 
  • Also Available: Fascinating Chemistry and Fascinating Physics
  • NOTE:  You can view a SAMPLE lesson and read the FAQ to get even more information about Fascinating Education and Fascinating Biology.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read what others have to say about Fascinating Education.  

This Graphic contains the FTC Regulations statement for Reviews.

All information is correct and accurate as of the date of this review.

You can read my other Schoolhouse Review Crew Reviews to find more great products.


Random Five ~ October 24th Edition

October is winding down.  Next Friday is the 31st!

1. The Schoolhouse Review Crew is taking applications for the 2015 crew year.  Hurry though because the applications are scheduled to close on Monday!


2. As the 2014 Crew year winds down I realized that I only have a few more reviews to write. This is bittersweet.  Bitter because it’s the end of the year and sweet because I’ve been on the crew long enough to really appreciate the break. (Yes, I’ve submitted my re-application for the 2015 year. I’ll be ready to tackle reviews again after the holidays but I am looking forward to the break between crew runs!) My very last review of the 2014 year is a game from Out of the Box Games called Snake Oil. Warning this game can be dangerous to health: we have laughed so hard that it hurt!!!  Here is a laughing Turtlegirl. I was laughing so hard I almost couldn’t get the picture! She doesn’t like the picture but I think it truly captures how hard we have laughed. I have her permission to share it.

Turtlegirl laughing so hard ~ Random 5 October 24th Edition

3. I’m challenging myself to NOT turn on the furnace for as long as I can. I’m striving to make it to at least November 1st. We have a gas fireplace and I have broken down and turned that on a twice this week but for the most part we’re pulling on socks and sweaters and using fleece throws.  Oh and drinking hot beverages.  I’d rather be cold than hot but sometimes the cold here just cuts through all the way to the bone. It’s a wet cold which is so different than the dry cold I grew up with in MN.  But I like bundling up and getting all cozy.

4. We’ve had a woodpecker visiting our backyard for several days. He’s beautiful, but drives the cats crazy. He likes to get up on the roof right by the back door. Sometimes he’ll fly from the roof to the tree. Turtlegirl got this great picture of him.

Woodpecker visiting our backyard ~ 5 Random Thoughts October 24th

5. Tailorbear loves the rain.  She also loves the wind so she is especially happy when she can go outside and experience both rain and wind. She doesn’t so much like having her picture taken but we got one anyway.

Tailorbear loves the wind and the rain ~ Random Five October 24th

The Pebble Pond

Come join us over at the Pebble Pond for this week’s Edition of Random 5 on Friday!