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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury {TOS Review}

One perk of being on the Homeschool Review Crew is that I get to review for companies I might not find on my own.  The Familyan is one such company.  Todd Wilson is a homeschool father of eight, author, speaker, and former pastor.  He started Familyman Ministries as a way to reach out to fathers and remind them of what is most important.  Even though the mission targets fathers, The Familyman still has encouragement and products for everyone.  Recently we were given the opportunity to review The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection.  These are original Christmas stories that are engaging, without confusing truths with myths.  They also come in book form.
The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
The audio collection includes six CDs with one story each, but as part of the review we received the Digital Downloads of all eight stories, and I received one of the stories on CD as well!  Even though it wasn't quite the Christmas season when these arrived, my family loves audio books and it was a fun little way to get us in the Christmas spirit.

Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster
Cootie McKay's Nativity
The Stranger
The Bishop's Dream
Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest
Gladys Remembers Christmas
The Secret of the Snow Village
It's Called Christmas

The stories are all written by Todd Wilson.  The audio versions are read by Jim Hodges, who is a master storyteller in his own right, and one we've enjoyed in the past.

We received The Bishop's Dream on CD, so the kids listened to that one first while I was busy downloading the digital files and taking care of the toddler.  We've been listening to the others during lunch.  Food {usually} keep little mouths quiet so everyone can hear, and a story {usually} keeps little bodies still so they can concentrate, so this works well for us when we don't want to wait for the next car trip to listen to a story.

Though I have four kids, it was mostly the 7 and 9 year old boys that I targeted with these stories, since the girls are only 1 and 3.  Overall, I found the stories acceptable for all ages.  We found the stories interesting and engaging.  They are rather short, ranging anywhere from about 13 minutes to about 30 minutes.  I find this ideal for their ages.

The stories have a wide range of depth to them, and the story lines are vastly different from one book to the next, with very different approaches.  While some stories are silly, and some are more serious, they all explore the truth of Christmas.  For instance, The Bishop's Dream was about St. Nicholas, and had a very traditional ("Christmas play") feel to it.  However, when we listened to Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest, you have this image of a grumpy old man and walk through his transformation, and it kind of had that sentimental Hallmark movie feeling.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Captain Chaos the toy blasting away the manger and eliminating Christmas altogether, and a story like It's Called Christmas, which talks about colonizing Mars and sending messages from the future.  What boy wouldn't be immediately drawn into stories like these?  I feel like Todd Wilson has done a superb job writing to different audiences, capturing a range of emotions for both the young and young at heart.

It's hard to find new Christmas stories that aren't twaddle, but these are well written, and the audio versions are engaging.  Overall, we liked the stories, and I like that we have new Christmas stories to add to our collection.

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews
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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Make Tasty Dinners Quickly with MyFreezEasy {Review}

Confession . . .

I'm a terrible meal planner.  I'm that person, that at least once a week, becomes frantic about half an hour before it's time to start cooking dinner, because I realize I don't have anything planned for dinner.  Truth is, I usually have a general plan in my head, but there's always that day I forget to defrost meat, or we have to hurry out the door for church, or we get home from co-op and I'm exhuasted and don't want to cook.  You know . . . there's always something.  It's hard to balance homeschooling, a clean house and healthy meals all in one day, so when I was given a Freezer Meal Plan Subscription, I didn't know if I should be worried or optimistic.  Erin Chase, creator of $5Dinners, created MyFreezEasy as a way to provide a freezer cooking strategy for busy parents to get delicious meals in the freezer and ready for those busy days! Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

Another truth?  I don't particularly love to cook.  My husband finds baking a stress reliever.  Not me.  I love trying new recipes, but I cook because I have a family to feed, not particularly because I enjoy it.  I was already familiar with freezer cooking, and had dabbled in it minimally (usually right before a baby was born), but the idea of MyFreezEasy was a little intimidating.  It basically meant I'd have to go through recipes, and lists, and prep TEN meals at one time.  Yet . . I liked the idea of prepping several meals in nearly the same time that it would normally take me to make just one.  I got especially dreamy-eyed thinking about busy nights, and having the ability to just whip out a no-prep, minimal clean-up meal, and still being able to get out the door on time.  Wednesdays, I'm looking at you.

MyFreezEasy can be used in multiple ways with the Premium Annual Membership, which is what I am reviewing.  The quickest, easiest way to use it is to download the new monthly meal plans each month, do your shopping and prep your meals.  Each month there are eight (8) different meal plans to choose from:
  • Traditional Meal Plan
  • Gluten-Free Meal Plan
  • Slow Cooker Meal Plan
  • Clean Eats Meal Plan
  • 20 Meals Plan
  • All Chicken Meal Plan
  • All Ground Beef Meal Plan
  • All Pork Chops Meal Plan
Most of the meal plans are designed to create 5 recipes, twice each, for a total of 10 prepared meals.  The "all meat" plans are available if you are taking advantage of a great sale on a specific meat and want to combine the sale with these time saving techniques.  The 20 meal plan contains 10 recipes, which gives you a total of 20 prepared meals.

You can also choose to Swap a Meal.  So if you like most of the recipes in a meal plan, but perhaps one won't work for your family, you can choose the Swap option, follow the step-by-step directions, and it will allow you to substitute in another recipe that better suits your needs.  

The third major way to use this website is the Build a Menu option.  You can create a completely customized meal plan for your family from all available recipes.  This is a drag-and-drop template, so not too difficult to use.

The supplies needed are simple.  You'll either need freezer bags or the disposable trays, but everything is listed out in the meal plan.  If you don't want to print the labels, I'd suggest a fine point sharpie for writing the date and cooking instructions on the baggie.

When I first got access to the subscription, we had already done our grocery shopping, so I decided to do the Build Your Own Meal Plan, so that I could choose recipes that utilized the ingredients we already had on hand.  It generated a custom meal plan for me.

Now, here's what makes MyFreezEasy awesome.  Once you choose (or create) a meal plan, you'll have a full PDF file of recipes, various styles of shopping lists, and assembly instructions.  The instructions are designed to help you move through the prep time as quickly and efficiently as possible.  So perhaps you'll start browning meat for one recipe, then chop veggies, drain the ground beef, brown/season more meat, open any canned products, chop more veggies, etc . . .

 I did make sure to organize all my ingredients and supplies in stations, as suggested.  I left the instructions pulled up on the computer on the far counter.  (I don't like papers everywhere, so if you're like me, you might consider pulling up the shopping lists on a mobile device too.)

The prep and assembly instructions tell you exact how much of each ingredient to put in each freezer bag or disposable baking dish.  There are printable labels that give any final cooking instructions, and if you print them on address labels, you just peel and stick to the baggies.  Just another user-friendly element!  Visual learners will probably appreciate that there are videos online for the meal plans.

So . . . what do we think?
I noticed there are a lot of versions of traditional meals, especially chili and tacos/nachos.  I don't think this is a problem though, because having a variation of a base meal can be good for families with "picky eaters," or in my case, it would have been great to have a few alternatives for Taco Tuesdays when my kids were still in that phase.

I really like that most recipes don't require any real work to cook.  You defrost, and then put it in the slow cooker, a large pot or bake it off in the oven.  Most of the work is preparing a side/accompanying dish, or the toppings for some meals.   There are side dish suggestions--usually fruit, rolls, salad or a generic "vegetables" so you can do whatever you like.  I just do whatever works for us with that meal that night.  I've even cooked some of the slow cooker recipes in the pressure cooker when I don't defrost a recipe until late in the day.  We did the slow cooker taco soup this way, and it turned out just fine!  If you're hesitant about making duplicates of a recipe before trying it, you can see the single meal option and try it out first before using it in a freezer meal plan.  We've done this a few times too.

So far we have liked most of the recipes.  The slow cooker chicken cacciatore reminded me of a recipe my aunt used to make me all the time, and the husband and I really liked it.  The kids thought Frito Pie sounded neat, so we decided to try it out.  It was easy to tweak for our preferences based on what I had on hand, since I prepared it on a whim one night, and although I won't use chips in dinner often, it was a fun treat for them.

Taco Soup, Chicken Cacciatore, Frito Pie

Overall, I really feel like MyFreezEasy delivers on its promise.  The meal plans are easy to follow, the meals are good, and the work involved for actually cooking and cleaning up after dinner is very minimal.  I also love that the recipes are regular foods that regular families eat, with normal ingredients that most families probably already use.  Only occasionally did I see something something "extra" that I wouldn't normally have on hand or buy.  Nothing too fancy, exotic or crazy.  I said I like trying new recipes, but that's just for variety--my family falls squarely between picky and adventurous eaters, with my 9 year old being the most willing to try new things, so I like to slowly branch out with new recipes to get them eating a lot of variety.  My plan, hopefully, is to start taking one Saturday morning a month and prepping 10 recipes at a time, giving me 20 meals in the freezer--unless I save one out for dinner that night, but 19 meals is still nearly a month of easy meals!

Having a stocked freezer saves on "pick up a pizza" phone calls, or the last minute rush for a quick dinner.  If you have a membership and know a new mom, or maybe someone who's had surgery or an elderly person who doesn't get around the kitchen well anymore, or someone who's lost a loved one recently, preparing some of these freezer meals may be just the blessing they need.  I was also thinking it would be great for part of a home economics or cooking class for teenagers.  For my family, it's a great way to fill that "What's for dinner!?" void on a weekly basis! Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

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Sunday, October 9, 2016

52 Lists: Our Daily Routine

This week's list was Our Daily Routine.  It's interesting, because although we have a good routine when we're home, our days are drastically different on days we leave the house.  Obviously, weekends don't follow this routine since husband's home, there's no school and Sundays are completely different.  Wednesday evenings are different and bedtimes harder since we get home late, and now that we've started co-op, we'll have another day that doesn't follow routine either since we're out of the house most of the day.

These times are all estimates:  

7:30 AM- Cry internally as my early birds wake me up.  I'm not a morning person, and one of those early birds still doesn't sleep through the night, so I don't set an alarm unless we have to be somewhere relatively early.

8:00 AM - Husband is off to work by now, so it's on to my morning routine and making breakfast.

9:00 AM - Kids back upstairs to make beds, get dressed, brush teeth . . . then they have free time while I clean breakfast dishes, work on laundry, check emails, and just kind of mentally prep for anything that needs to be done for the day.

10-12ish - Quick snack, then this is the bulk of our school time.  The order of our subjects may change depending on the toddler's nap schedule, because some subjects are easier to do when she's asleep. On co-op days, we'll be heading out the door right before 10:00 and will be gone until close to 3:00 PM.  

12:30ish - 1:30 PM- Lunch Hour.  I often read something out loud.  Then I tidy the kitchen and eat a quick lunch, while they have a little free time.

2:00 PM - We finish up any school work leftover from the morning block, and then study for AWANA, do poetry memorization, sometimes a project.  It varies.  Sometimes one, or both, of the girls will take an afternoon nap.

3:00 PM - We're usually finished with school by now, so we clean downstairs, then have quiet and/or free time.

5:00 PM - I usually head into the kitchen to start preparing dinner.  As long as the house is tidied up, the kids have free time while I cook.  After dinner is dishes, tidying up, then some downtime.  We might watch a show together, go for a walk or to the park . . . just depends.  Except Wednesdays, where I'm mad dashing to get everyone fed, dressed and out the door for AWANA.

7:00 PM - Start winding down for bath/bed time

8:00 PM - Kiddos in bed, though the boys are allowed to have quiet time before lights out.  Wednesday bedtimes run a little late.  The husband and I usually talk, do laundry, or watch TV until we go to bed.

9:00 PM - Husband and I talk, do laundry, clean if necessary, watch television or a movie, until we go to bed.  Wednesdays are exhausting, and we usually just binge watch TV for awhile.

Obviously, those times are estimates.  You can't really schedule diaper changes, walking the dogs, cranky toddler meltdowns, or the other everyday happenings.  However, it gives you a general idea as to our routine on a "regular" day.

52 lists with Chasing Slow

©2011-2016 Mom’s Heart.  All rights reserved.  All text, photographs, artwork, and other content may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the written consent of the author.