Thursday, August 13, 2015

Our Eclectic 9th Grade Homeschool Curriculum Plans

{This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.}

"Buddy" is starting his Freshman year this week. I cannot believe how quickly time has flown by.

We are excited and a little anxious as we embark on this new adventure. We have been a bit more "relaxed" in the past then we will be during our high school years.

In the past, we always studied the usual subjects, but also did quite a bit of student-inspired learning. We didn't do student-led or unschooling, but definitely with a little nod in that direction. If Buddy was interested in something in particular, we would often change things up to include his special interest as much as possible. We will probably do that just a little even in high school, but try to fit it into what we are "supposed" to be studying. I don't want to squash his love for learning.

I plan to use the "sticky note strategy" or something really similar (explained here) when something we are studying doesn't fit into whatever we are currently doing.

I still remember talking to a homeschool friend several years ago and telling her that I wasn't sure what to call our style of homeschooling. She said that we were, "Christian, eclectic, child-inspired, relaxed, homeschoolers with a focus on living books." Yes! That describes us.

The only thing that has changed over the years is that we really got into documentaries and video lessons this last year. Buddy absolutely loves Crash Course, Hip Hughes History  (some of his have a bad word, so might want to pre-screen), Mister Canton, and anything by Brian Unger.

So, here is what we are planning for Buddy's 9th grade year:

World History

World Geography



Survey of Sciences ~ From the Wonders of Creation Series

We only needed to choose 4 specific sciences from this series to create a year of science, but Buddy really wants to study all 5 of these.... so here we go! (There are a few others to choose from, too.)


JavaScript Programming



  • This is also included in our Notgrass World History. The passages to read and questions are included in the Student Review Book and the Bible Commentary for the passages can be found here.

We also are loving Traveling Through History With Doctor Who - Six Week Course (we have already started). We did the semester one course (which is longer) last year. We thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot. 

Buddy is taking the following classes at our local homeschool co-op this first semester:
  • Speech and Debate (as well as joining the team)
  • Cardio Kickboxing
  • Success for Teens
He is also continuing on the Special Athletes All-Star Cheer Team that he joined last year. They just added a weekly tumbling class that he is taking, too.

Buddy is also a part of our church's youth group and the local Navigators' Chapter.

If you would like some more ideas for homeschooling your high school student, you can check out my 9th Grade Homeschool Board and my Homeschool High School Board on Pinterest.

What curriculum do you use for your homeschooled high schooler? Please, leave a comment with your recommendations below.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guacamole Burgers and Garlic Parmesan Fries ~ Easily Gluten Free

It has been awhile since I have made these extremely tasty burgers, but I have been only making these fries of amazing garlic yumminess for a few months. The original recipe I received for the fries says that these are like the ones at Red Robin. I have not had their version, because I do not know if they are gluten free or not. That's OK... I now make my own at home.

These burgers and fries definitely go well together, but it's not a meal that you will want to have TOO often if you are trying to eat healthy.... so just pace yourself and enjoy from time to time, because these recipes are too good not to enjoy every once in awhile.

I usually use lean ground turkey these days, but when it comes to this recipe, I just go ahead and go for ground beef. The flavors call for the spurge.   ;)

Guacamole Burgers


8 bacon strips ~ Gluten Free if needed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can (4 oz) chopped green chilies
2 lbs ground beef
4 slices Monterrey Jack cheese ~ GF if needed ~ I usually use Havarti 
4 buns, toasted ~ GF if needed
1/4 cup guacamole ~ We like more.  ;)


Check out the yummy filling of green chilies and onions!
They season the burgers from the inside.
Cook bacon until crisp, drain, and set aside. (I usually cook this ahead of time with another meal that includes bacon.)

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine onion and green chilies; set aside.

Shape beef patties into 8 relatively thin patties. Top half of the patties with the onion mixture. Cover with remaining patties and firmly press edges to seal.

Grill, covered, over medium heat for 5-7 minutes on each side or until no longer pink. (I believe that ours take longer. Just make sure that they are done.) 

Top each with 2 pieces of bacon and a slice of cheese. Grill one minute longer or until cheese is melted.

Serve on toasted buns with guacamole. These honestly do not need any other seasonings on the meat or condiments on the burgers. YUMMO!


Garlic Parmesan Fries

* I actually 1/2 everything except the fries when I make these, because "Buddy" does not want anything on his fries and 1/2 of the topping is more than enough for us. 

Original Ingredient Amounts

1 bag steak fries ~ Gluten Free if needed ~ I use Ore-Ida Steak Fries
1/2 cup or 1 stick butter ~ GF if needed 
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated ~ GF if needed

* Ingredient Amounts That I Use

1 bag steak fries ~ Gluten Free if needed ~ I use Ore-Ida Steak Fries
1/4 cup or 1/2 stick butter ~ GF if needed 
1 tablespoon minced garlic ~ I usually use a bit more.... imagine
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/8 cup Parmesan cheese, grated ~ GF if needed


Cook the fries until crispy, using whatever method you like (baked or fried). I just bake them. It is easier and healthier.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan. Then stir in the garlic, parsley, and Parmesan cheese.

When the fries are done, place them on a platter or individual plates. Pour the garlic butter mixture over the fries. Enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Crockpot Italian Cabbage and Sausage ~ Easily Gluten Free

I make this extremely easy, inexpensive, and super tasty slow cooker dish quite often. It's one of my son's favorite meals with cabbage.

I don't have a picture of it, even though I made it again tonight.... mostly because it isn't as attractive as it is yummy.   ;)

With short and extremely easy prep and inexpensive ingredients... this recipe is definitely a winner!

I usually double the recipe.  It then barely fits into my 6 quart crockpot, but my family truly loves this and remember... the cabbage cooks down quite a bit.


(* See note below.)
1 medium cabbage
1 package of kielbasa ~ Gluten Free, if needed (I use John Morrell Polish Sausage)
2 cups tomato sauce (16 ounces)
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey


Slice cabbage. Place in greased 5/6 quart slow cooker. Slice sausage and place on top of cabbage. 

In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Pour over cabbage and sausage. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or until cabbage is tender.

* If I do not double the entire recipe, I will then get a larger cabbage and usually double the sausage.

I also have another yummy cabbage recipe that "Buddy" loves: Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls ~ Quick and Gluten Free.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Reno Special Athletes Cheer Team Needs Your Help Getting To National Competition!

The Reno Elite Diamonds are an amazing group of special athletes currently from the age of 8 to 19. The team is growing and at this time has 10 girls and 3 boys who have a wide range of special needs. If you are a regular reader of The Journey, you may recognize someone in the team pictures (although he has grown quite a bit lately). Yes, that is my son "Buddy" at the upper left in the top picture, as well as in the lower left picture and down at the left bottom portion of the picture over to the right. He absolutely LOVES his team and coaches!

The Diamonds are working hard to make enough money to be able to compete at a National Cheer Competition at the end of March in Anaheim. The Family Sock Hop I tweeted and posted about was a great success, but we still need quite a bit more money.

KOLO Channel 8 came to the Diamonds' practice this last week and produced this wonderful news piece.

The Diamonds have a GoFundMe page set up here! Be sure to check out the creative way one of our team moms wrote about their journey and their desire to compete in Anaheim. It has a Disney-twist, since they are really hoping that if we can get them to the competition that we can also take them into Disneyland the next day. Most of them have never been and it's definitely a dream of theirs. While the story is creative, it is true and heartwarming.

Tax deductible donations can be made for the team, too. You can contact me, another Diamond parent, or the gym for more information. Please remember to designate "Team Diamonds".

We can also really use your help in getting the word out. After you have checked out the video and GoFundMe page, please spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, in person.... anyway you can think of. There are even some handy little sharing links at the bottom of this post.

Please, help this special team get to Anaheim! Thank you in advance!

Death By Didgeridoo ~ Audio Book Review

{This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.}

I have been given the opportunity to review the audio version of Death By Didgeridoo: A Jamie Quinn Mystery by Barbara Venkataraman.

I love to read and listen to cozy mysteries, because I prefer an intriguing mystery to solve without all of the gory details of the murder and/or the intimate details of someone's relationships. I can often share my cozies with my son, "Buddy". We sometimes listen to audio books together in the van. He also still loves for me to read to him... partially because of the cuddling that is naturally involved with me and our dog while we are reading. That is my favorite part, too.

This cozy peaked my interest because one of the main characters has Asperger's Syndrome and it is centered around music. My fourteen year old son has Asperger's Syndrome and music is obviously one of my favorite topics. If you didn't know that, you probably haven't seen my Music Adventures series.

First of all, you may be wondering, "What in the world is a didgeridoo?"

The didgeridoo is a musical instrument developed by Australian Aborigines. It's played by buzzing the lips and blowing (similar to how brass instruments are played). The didgeridoo is traditionally made out of an eucalyptus tree branch or trunk that has been hollowed out by termites.

You can watch and listen to a talented young woman playing a didgeridoo in the video below.


But what about Death By Didgeridoo by Barbara Venkataraman?

I chose the audio version of this book to review, but I am going to break this review down into the book itself and then the audio version. I did not actually "read" the book myself, but I have listened to the audio version several times (especially in some particular places) in order to be accurate in this review.

The character development of the story was exceptional. I definitely felt like I personally knew all of the characters and could easily picture them. I also could easily see myself as a close friend of the protagonist, Jamie, if that were possible. She is so personable and someone that you would want to have in your corner.

Slight spoiler in this paragraph:  My only question in respect to character development has to do with all that was said about Spike at the very beginning. With everything we learn throughout the book... I would think that Jamie would have a slightly different view of him after everything was said and done, but nothing was ever mentioned about the few (but significant) respectable things he did (especially for her nephew). Jamie is telling about Spike after she has learned at least a little bit of these things about Spike, but there is no mention when she is describing him. I felt that she should have said something about most people not seeing the good things he did, especially because of the relationship between Spike and her nephew.

I appreciate the character development of Jamie's cousin Adam and his mother (Aunt Peg). I believe that Adam's characteristics and behaviors were "written" in a quite realistic manner. Several of his behaviors are common with people who are on the Autism Spectrum and who have Asperger's Syndrome, especially.

I loved how Adam's hyper-focus interests were showcased throughout, because (at least in our experience) this is a major part of the lives of those who have Asperger's Syndrome. Ms. Venkataraman nailed it in the way she weaved Adam's focus on music throughout everything in his life and how he used it to help him cope.

The feeling of being overwhelmed a lot as a mother of someone with some sort of special needs also came through with his mother's character. I did feel that she was a bit over the top at times when things seemed to be going OK (or she was thinking they were going OK), but there are some parents who are just a bit more tightly wound regardless of if they are parents to special needs kiddos or not. If Adam were much younger and/or was much lower functioning on the Autism Spectrum, I could see her being a lot more like she was. He was now 22 years old, however, and seemed to be pretty high functioning before the story began. Aunt Peg also has me shaking my head when she nonchalantly mentions something much later about something that turns out to be key evidence.

The story was wonderfully written and went at a quick pace. There were enough other suspects to keep you guessing and they were all handled in a plausible way. I enjoyed the humor scattered throughout and how realistic and open with her emotions our protagonist is written. It was also neat that the story takes place in Hollywood, Florida. I have never been to this location, but I used to have cousins-in-law from there.

It most definitely fits the genre of "Cozy Mystery" which clearly pleased me! My only "complaint" here is that it takes only 2 hours and 12 minutes to listen to the whole book. That translates into 111 Kindle pages. I honestly wanted the story to keep on going. This particular mystery was nicely finished, but I still want to know more (especially about Jamie and Adam). Thankfully, this is the first book of a series!

Now, onto my review of the audio narration by Carrie Lee Martz.

For the most part, I enjoyed listening to Ms. Martz throughout this book. I feel that she did Jamie and Aunt Peg well. My issues were with Adam and the private investigator, Duke.

The issues I have with Ms. Martz's portrayal of Adam are:

  • Adam is 22 years old. Even though he has Asperger's Syndrome, he is not going to sound similar to a 5 year old in regards to his pitch. The voices of  people who are on the spectrum change just like everyone else's voices. I honestly had to try to remind myself (after I first went back to see if I misunderstood his age) that Adam was supposed to be 22 years old. It was difficult. To enjoy the story more, it was easier to think of Adam as somewhere in the tween years. The voice was still too young for a tween, but his activities were similar to someone who was at least a tween, if not much older.

  • Although people who have Asperger's Syndrome are just as different as each other as those who do not... I have never met someone with Asperger's Syndrome with this speech pattern. Especially at the age of 22. MAYBE if Adam had a more "traditional" (for lack of a better word) form of Autism, he MIGHT speak this way, but I don't think so. He actually sounded as if he had some other developmental delay. Even the son of one of my friends, who is almost non-verbal and has Autism, doesn't speak in this particular manner. 

  • From what I have experienced, people who have Asperger's Syndrome often talk rather well (in fact, often better than neurotypicals). When they are talking about something they are hyper-focused on... watch out!  ;)   They are not often called "little professors" for nothing. Even those with some problem speaking on other subjects (putting the words together), can often just talk a mile a minute when it comes to something they love. Adam's speech pattern didn't even get more realistic at these times. 

  • The part where Adam was speaking with his doctor was actually my favorite part of Ms. Martz's portrayal of him. He still had a high and broken voice, but he very likely would have had a broken-type of speech to some extent in this circumstance. ~ By the way... This part was SO emotional for a mom of a teenager who has Asperger's Syndrome. I just wanted to go and hug my son when Adam started crying. 

Now for Duke, the private investigator:

I truly did not like the character of Duke at all the first time I listened to this audio book. When I thought about it, though, I realized that it could just be because of the narration of him. I was correct. 

After I listened again, I discovered that it was totally Duke's accent that was so irritating. He wasn't written that way. No, he isn't a great but I liked the character much more when I listened focusing on the words and not the way they were being said. 

So, what is my verdict?

I definitely enjoyed Death By Didgeridoo. I totally recommend that you check it out for yourself, but I honestly suggest the E-book version. I love the fact that there is a high quality cozy mystery series that has a main character who happens to have Asperger's Syndrome. I would love to see him grow even more in future books of this series. I do hope that they get much longer, though!  

If you get the audio version, just remember what I said and you can enjoy it, too. I have listened to it several times, occasionally fast-forwarding over a couple of parts if I'm in a mood that makes me easily irritated.  ;) 


Disclosure:  I received a copy of this audio book for free in exchange for an honest review. This, however, did not affect my review in any way. I will only post my genuine opinions here at The Journey regardless of any form of compensation.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Our Gluten Free Thanksgiving

{This post contains affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.}

This will be my second year of making a totally gluten free Thanksgiving.

My biggest tip is to think about what you and your family traditionally enjoy on Thanksgiving and see how you can change the recipes up a bit to make them gluten free.  You can then add in some new dishes wherever you find holes in your menu.

Be sure to watch for easily hidden gluten sources and products that have cross-contamination issues in production.

You can also simply use my menu below and skip the headache.  ;)

Our Menu

Main Meal:
Turkey ~ I'm using Jennie O's Premium Basted Young Turkey, which is Gluten Free.
Mashed Potatoes ~ homemade using unsweetened almond milk and a GF butter.
Gravy ~ I'm making this gravy. You can also use Mayacamas Gravy or this McCormicks.
Dressing ~ I'm using Glutino's Cornbread Stuffing this year with this chicken broth.
Country Potato Casserole ~ We're having 2 kinds of potatoes so everyone is happy.  ;)
Green Beans with Bacon and Onions ~ I use this BEEF broth (not chicken) & Kirkland's bacon.
Creamed Corn ~ Drain 1 can corn & mix with 1 can GF creamed corn. Add pepper & heat.
Dinner Rolls ~ Purchased at our local Gluten Free dedicated Haven on Earth Bakery and Deli.
Cranberry Sauce ~ Ocean Spray is gluten free.
Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Grape juice ~ All of Martinelli's juices are currently gluten free.

Deviled Eggs ~ This basic recipe, but usually a bit heavier on the mustard and vinegar.
Pickles ~ Vlasic is a good brand that is currently gluten free.
Pumpkin Dip  with Tart Apple Slices~ I double this & we enjoy it for a couple of days!
Artichoke and Jalapeno Dip with GF Chips ~ I found this dip at Costco.
Veggie Tray

Pumpkin Pie in a GF Pie Crust ~ I use my mom's old Betty Crocker recipe & get my crust here.
Chocolate Pudding Pie in GF Graham Cracker Crust ~ Jello Pudding is GF & here is the crust.

What gluten free dishes do you make for the holidays? Please tell me in the comments section and leave a link if you have one.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Loaded Baked Cauliflower and Marinara Meatloaf ~ Gluten Free and Low Carb

The Journey: Loaded Baked Cauliflower and Marinara Meatloaf ~ Gluten Free and Low Carb
We enjoyed this tasty dinner tonight. The Loaded Baked Cauliflower reminded me of a twice-baked potato casserole, but "Buddy" wasn't too impressed with it since he could taste something "strange" aka sour cream. He would prefer his cauliflower raw.... Thank you very much.  ;)

He really enjoyed the Marinara Meatloaf, though. He definitely wants me to make that again. I will be adding this to my repertoire of meatloaf recipes with my other two that we all love.

I will definitely make the Loaded Baked Cauliflower again, because it's crazy good! I will just have to make sure that I have some raw cauliflower on hand for Buddy when I do.

It's been a great week for hubby's and my taste buds and somewhat hard on Buddy's when it comes to cauliflower. I also made Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin early this week. The good news is that Buddy has now decided that he likes the Gratin more than he thought he did after having the Loaded Cauliflower (since the Gratin was more simple and didn't have sour cream).    ;)

Anyway, here are the recipes:

Loaded Baked Cauliflower
Low Carb and Gluten Free


  • 2 1/2 cups (1 lb) cooked cauliflower (I used frozen. Can cook in microwave until tender.)
  • 1 cup sour cream (low-fat or full-fat)
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese ~ divided (full fat works best - I used sharp cheddar cheese.)
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped ~ divided
  • 3-6 sliced cooked, crumbled bacon ~ divided (I used 6 this time.)
  • salt and pepper


Pre-heat over to 350 degrees.

While cooking the cauliflower... Mix the sour cream, 1/2 of the green onions, 1/2 of the bacon, salt and pepper to taste into a medium bowl. 

Chop the cooked cauliflower into small pieces and stir into the sour cream mixture.

Now pour cauliflower mixture into a medium-sized baking dish and sprinkle the remaining bacon and cheese on top.

Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining green onions on top right before serving.


I originally saw the Loaded Baked Cauliflower recipe at


The Journey: Marinara Meatloaf ~ Low Carb and Gluten Free

Marinara Meatloaf
Low Carb and Gluten Free


  • 2 lbs lean ground turkey (or ground beef, like original recipe)
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce (no sugar added) ~ divided
  • 1/2 cup diced onion (white, yellow, or red)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a regular loaf pan or small baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix the meat, 1 cup of the marinara sauce, diced onion, eggs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.

Place the mixture in the pan, patting it down evenly with your hands to form an even top.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes.

Remove from oven. Drain any excess fat or liquid, and then top with the remaining marinara sauce and all of the mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes. or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees. Drain fat from pan again and let rest 10 minutes before cutting into 8 squares.

I changed this meatloaf up a bit, but the original recipe was found at Low Carbing Among Friends. Basically, I changed the meat to lean ground turkey, doubled the onion, used yellow instead of red onion, and only used two eggs instead of three.

These two dishes worked great together, too, since they both go in a 350 degree oven. I will definitely be doing these two again.

What are some of your favorite cauliflower and/or low carb recipes? Please share in the comments section below.