"I" is for "Italian Veggie Soup"

I know, it's summertime and who eats soup over summer? We do actually! In fact, using your crockpot to warm up a batch of soup from the freezer is a great way to not heat up your kitchen (& makes for a super easy meal!)  I love making this over summer because all the veggies & herbs this recipe calls for can come fresh from my garden! It's also a warming soup for those cold winter days. This soup freezes well so I will often make a huge batch to have some for a meal, leftovers for lunch and several containers to put in the freezer.

1lb of italian loose sausage (I've used any kind of sausage I get on sale, spicy is my favorite!)
1 cup of diced onions
2 cloves of garlic, minced
5 cups of beef stock (bouillon works as well to save a little $$)
1/3 cup of water
4-5 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup of carrots, chopped
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup tomato sauce
1 medium zucchini, chopped (I cut the zuc into 4 quarters then slice thin)
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (dry is fine as well)
grated parmesan cheese for topping (optional)

Place the sausage in a large pot over medium high heat & saute for 10 minutes. Add the onions & garlic and saute for 5 more minutes. Next add the beef stock to the pot along with the water, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, basil, oregano & tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low & simmer for 30 minutes. Add the zucchini & parsley to taste. Simmer for more 10 minutes (or until zucchini is softened).* Serve with optional parmesan cheese on top in individual bowls.

*optional ingredient, 8 oz of tortellini added into the soup the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Favorite Books for Middle Schoolers

With it being summer, there are many reading programs out there for kids of all ages to participate in. My younger children often read anything I picked up for them at the library but as they got older, they started being more specific in what they wanted to read. I am joining up with the Schoolhouse Review Crew to share some of what my older children have read and enjoyed.

What do YOUR middle school children enjoy reading??

Summer Reading for Middle Grades

"H" is for "Help Us Celebrate". . .

. . .Noah's 4th birthday that is just a few weeks away!!! (July 13th is his birthday, July 14th is his Home-going anniversary)

Over the last almost 4 years, people from all over the world have blessed us with pictures of Noah's name done up in many creative ways! I would love to gather all the photos and make a physical album of them. Feel free to post your photo on my Facebook wall and I will add them to his album. Or contact me here and I will give you an email address to send them to.

If taking a photo isn't your thing, do an act of kindness for someone in Noah's memory and feel free to share it here on my blog or anonymously via email so I can add that to his memory box.

This time of year is bittersweet as we look forward to celebrating our precious sons life and the blessing he is to us yet we can't help but miss him terribly! The best gift to us is having everyone remember and celebrate him with us in a tangible way whether by a name photo, a birthday card, act of kindness or speaking his name.

Thank you to those of you who continue to remember Noah with us!!

My precious Noah's feet in my hand

Ben and Me

My previous #abcblogging posts:

"G" is for "Grilled Chicken and Bacon Shish Kabobs"

Let me guess, I had you at bacon??

As the temps of summer rise, I spend even more time grilling outside (though I do grill year round, even in the snow!) Not long ago when on a camping trip with my brother & sister-in-law, they made some yummy kabobs over the fire (oh yeah, did I mention even though they are amazing on the grill, they are out of this world over a campfire?!)

I made a few tweaks to the original recipe and this is what I came up with. Enjoy!

Grilled Chicken & Bacon Shish Kabobs
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp honey
3 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp ground ginger
About 10 large mushrooms cut into chunks
1 purple onion (or any kind will do)
1 pepper (any color you like)
about 2lbs of boneless skinless chicken breast cut into chunks
1 lb of bacon cut (each slice cut into 1/4, easiest way is to slice the whole package at once)
1 can of pineapple chunks (you may need to cut the chunks in half depending on size)

In a large bowl, add the soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, minced garlic & ginger. Add the diced chicken, mushrooms, onion & pepper to the marinade. Toss well and refrigerate at least an hour (longer is better though, go for all day if you can!)

To assemble your skewers, have the bacon sliced & ready to go as well as the pineapple chunks. (if you are using wood skewers, make sure you soak the skewers for 30 minutes first). Wrap the chicken chunks with bacon and secure on skewer. Alternate with the mushrooms, onions, pepper & pineapple. Grill 15-20 minutes or until the chicken & bacon are cooked.

If you are wondering what is the green stuff in the picture above, I made grilled asparagus. Toss the asparagus with olive oil then sprinkle with garlic salt & pepper. Grill until done to your likeness. You could even sprinkle parmesan cheese on the asparagus when done.

We Choose Virtues

We as parents desire for our children to have an upstanding character and good morals. I am always open to ideas, suggestions and new tools to best to instill this in my children. I was excited to be given the chance from We Choose Virtues to review their Parenting Cards as well as the We Choose Virtues Download Bundle.

The Parenting Cards contain 12 8.5"x5.5" virtue cards printed on thick stock. They are printed in color on both sides and each card contains one of 12 virtues:

  • Diligent
  • Honest
  • Helpful
  • Forgiving
  • Self-Control
  • Kind
  • Perseverant
  • Gentle
  • Attentive
  • Content
  • Obedient
  • Patient

The front of the card shows the virtue being covered along with a brief description of what the virtue is as well as what the virtue is not. On the bottom is a Bible verse that corresponds with the virtue. When ordering the cards, you have the option of choosing which version of scripture you want the parenting cards in, either Old Testament verses or New International Readers Version (NIrV), I chose the NIrV.

The back of the card has several sections.
  • Virtue User Challenge- this lists a challenge for the whole family to participate in, such as going a whole day without needing to be reminded of an instruction.
  • What to say after I'm sorry- this gives an example of how to ask for forgiveness
  • Teachable moments- this section gives ideas of how you can teach each virtue with hands-on examples.
  • The kids of VirtueVille- each virtue has it's own character with a short story of how the kid acts out its virtue in life

The WCV Download Bundle is another addition that can compliment the parenting cards. This package contains:

  • a 56 page teachers handbook (meant for a classroom setting though there are many ways to use these ideas at home)
  • a character assessment sheet 
  • a 16 page kids of VirtueVille coloring book
  • a butterfly award to print out for your child as an award for following through on a virtue
  • a sing along song sheet-the virtues put to jingles of familiar songs like "If you're happy & you know it"
When I first received the cards, I looked through the different virtues to see which one we wanted to start with as they don't go in any particular order. In the teachable moments sections, an example jumped out at me which I knew was a virtue we needed to work on. The example was to make a mess of toys and instruct your children that it doesn't matter who makes the mess, if they are asked to clean it up they should do it with diligence.

It is recommended to cover 1 virtue a week which is what we did. We took a few moments in the morning to go over the virtue. What we typically did was on the first day of a new virtue, we discussed the virtue, read the Bible verse and did one of the teachable moments. Then I hung the parenting card on the fridge so we could all see it the rest of the week. The rest of the week, we mixed up each morning with a variety of activities. We would review the virtue & give examples of ways we saw each other acting out the virtue. We also discussed how to ask for forgiveness & read the kids of VirtueVille story. I also perused the Pinterest Board of We Choose Virtues for even more ideas & activities to reinforce the virtues.

The parenting cards are geared for ages 3-11 though I sat down with all my children to go over them while my almost 3 year old would color the coloring page that corresponded with that weeks virtue. I felt that even if they were passed the intended age, it was a good idea to still discuss these virtues and include them in on the challenges. (though WCV does have a journal intended for older children that some on the crew reviewed). I also had my older children search for more Bible verses that talked about that weeks virtue.

We really enjoy these parenting cards (though I do wish they were laminated).  I felt even I was challenged by not only by the cards but the different quotes Heather McMillan, the author of We Choose Virtues, had in the Teacher Handbook:

"We often insist on proper actions, but proper
actions will only be temporary without proper
attitudes. Whether the request is simple
or difficult, insist upon the right attitude
response, and the right action will follow."
-Heather McMillan

The We Choose Virtues Parenting Cards are available for $38.49.
The WCV Download Bundle is available for $7.99.

Right now from June-August, you can use the promo code BTS20 for 20% off anything in the
 We Choose Virtues Store

Connect with We Choose Virtues:

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"F" is for Fresh Salad in a Jar

As my garden is flourishing and I am starting to harvest salad ingredients, I was reminded of a salad I had tried not long ago. There's been a pin floating around on Pinterest about making a whole bunch of salads at one time and putting them in mason jars for the week. So I set out to see if what they did really worked (making a bunch of salads to sit around in jars).

Guess what?!?! It WORKS!!!!

I made several wide-mouth mason jars of salad and gave them several days in the fridge to see if they still remained fresh and to my amazement they did!

There is a key obviously to making sure they last. I made a homemade dressing which went on the bottom of the jars. From there, I put in chopped up cucumber, tomatoes, pepper, chick peas, etc. After that, I laid in diced mushrooms & hard boiled egg. Then I put in diced lunch meat (ham) and some cooked quinoa. Finally I put in chopped up romaine lettuce & spinach. I covered the jar with a lid and placed them in my fridge. The latest salad I used was 5 days after prepping. I dumped it into a bowl and it was as fresh as the day I had assembled it!!!

This is a great way to prep easy lunches for the week on a Sunday afternoon. Just grab & go and feel great knowing you are eating a healthy lunch!!

I know I only listed a few ideas for salads, but let your imagination run and add in any ingredients!

Progeny Press Review

My children love to read! We are often making trips to the library, both for required reading for school as well as picking out books to read for enjoyment. Some of my children have taken a literary analysis class at our co-op which had them reading some great literature that they might not have discovered on their own. In this class, they had the chance to use a study guide helping them to dive deeper into the books so we were excited when we recently had the chance to review 2 Progeny Press study guides as we knew we already enjoyed them. My 2 oldest chose the study guides for The Hunger Games and Anne of Green Gables.

Progeny Press is a company that offers over a hundred study guides to books (both older classics as well as newer books). The study guides are available for all ages, from lower elementary all the way up to high school. It is their hope that students using the study guides would be able to better understand literature from a christian perspective. The study guides are available in several forms; a physical guide that you can have shipped to you as well as a PDF download you print or as an interactive guide where the student can type their answers in the PDF file directly (eliminating the need for printing it out). We reviewed the interactive guides.

Sarah was excited to try out the Anne of Green Gables interactive study guide as she had just finished reading the book. The study guide suggests reading the book in it's entirety before starting the study guide (we hadn't know that before receiving it, it was just coincidental she had just finished it before we received the study guide). Sarah had the experience in her previous lit class where they read a few chapters a week and completed the pages in the study guide that corresponded with those chapters and in her opinion she preferred doing it that way.

The study guide (and it's accompanying answer key) were very easy to download. The study guide is 61 pages long. We sat down together to go over the notes to the instructor section so we could make sure we were using the guide correctly. They suggest that the student have access to a dictionary, thesaurus and a Bible (they use the NIV version in the guide). Even if you don't have a dictionary & thesaurus, you could just use an online site for the times when you needed one (that's what we did). From there, Sarah was able to do the work on her own!

The study guide has 6 chapters which covers several chapters of the Anne of Green Gables at once. They say it can take 8-10 weeks to fully complete the study guide.  Each chapter of the study contains different sections that cover:
  • vocabulary-they are given a sentence from the book with a word underlined and have to look up that word and write out the definition. Sometimes this section also includes synonyms & antonyms.
  • questions- the student is to answer a question that is given about the book.
  • thinking about the story- the guide gives excerpts from the book which gets them thinking about how different characters feel as well as giving examples of different parts of speech like similes, adjectives, etc. They are also given Bible verses to look up and shown how it relates to areas of the book.
  • dig deeper- the student is given examples from the book and then asked to look up scripture to answer questions about the book (for example, did a certain character handle their response Biblically, how would you have handled it, etc)

At the end of each chapter, there is also an optional section that includes several different activities such as research, writing a report, doing a hands on activity or fieldtrip just to name a few.

Each chapter contains the above sections though they vary in each chapter in how they present each section (sometimes it could be fill in the blank or matching). At the end of the study guide, there is an overview section that could be used as a final test. Sarah completed one section a day which usually involved a few pages at a time. I reminded her to make sure she saved it each day (as the first day she hadn't saved it and lost her work). She found it very easy to type her answers in the blue box on the page.

Anne of Green Gables is suggested for grades 5-8 and the interactive guide is available for $18.99

Susan chose the interactive study guide for the Hunger Games as she had recently read the entire book. This guide was 56 pages long and came with an accompanying answer key. I sat down with Susan to go over the notes to the instructor so we both knew how to use the study guide. There are 8 chapters to this study guide which cover several chapters of the Hunger Games each.

Each chapter of the book contained 4 different sections:
  • vocabulary- involves matching definitions, eliminating words that aren't similar, etc
  • questions- student gives brief answers to questions that are asked about the book
  • thinking about the story- student is given examples from the story to help them think more about why a character said or did something, asked how they would relate to a situation, etc
  • dig deeper- the student is given excerpts from the book and asked to look up scripture to see how they correspond (share how a character acted out a certain verse, how would the student handle a situation if they were in the shoes of a character, etc)
At the end of each chapter, there is also a section that contains optional activities such as discussion questions, research, writing prompts, etc. At the end of the study guide is an overview which can be used as a final test.

The student answers the questions by either typing their answer in a blue box or using drop down boxes at the end of each question. Susan did one section per day which usually involved several pages at a time. She said she really enjoyed being able to do the study guide on the computer instead of how she used to do them by writing everything out on paper.

The Hunger Games study guide is recommended for grades 8-12 and is available for $21.99

Overall, we really enjoy Progeny Press interactive study guides as I found it got my girls thinking deeper about the book and understanding the characters more in depth. It taught them vocab words they hadn't know and got them digging into the Bible. It also helped them think about how they would respond to certain situations and not only how they would handle them but handle them according to the Bible. I also appreciated reading how the study guides can go towards 1/4 credit per study guide completed.

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