Don’t Forget to Enter My Music Curriculum Giveaway ~ Ends 9/30/16

Did you get to read my review of Gena Mayo’s wonderful 25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation?  Just click on the link to read more about this excellent digital music course—which includes history and links to actual performances.  It’s truly phenomenal.

And you can enter to  win a copy for yourself!  Just enter via the Giveaway Tools form below.

Enjoy!  –Wren

“25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation” ~ A Review & Giveaway

Keep reading and enter to win below!

**Affiliate links included.**

Last fall, I had the privilege of reviewing Gena Mayo’s wonderful curriculum, 21 Lessons in 20th Century American Music Appreciation Course.  My son and I thoroughly enjoyed the course.  And this year, Gena has published another fantastic course, this time teaching about music from two other continents:  25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation.  I’m excited to share this course, and our experiences, with you.  And Gena is even providing one lucky reader with his or her very own copy of this curriculum…plus a discount code for you to use if you don’t win!


What is 25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation?

Gena Mayo is a trained musician who’s also the homeschooling mother of eight children.  She teaches her own children as well as others in homeschool coop classes.  Gena and I “met” while serving on the TOS Review Crew, when I discovered that not only did Gena review homeschool curricula well, she also wrote delightful and user-friendly music appreciation curricula!  Her latest, 25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation, provides homeschoolers (whether they’re musically-trained…or especially, if they’re not) with a wonderful resource to teach about the dramatic and fascinating musical movements and changes of the 20th century.

With this curriculum, you and your children will learn about, and hear the music of, 25 musical greats of the 20th century, ranging from the more-familiar:

  • Giacomo Puccini, from Italy
  • Maurice Ravel, from France
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff and and Sergei Prokofiev, from Russia
  • Bela Bartok, of Hungary
  • Andrew Lloyd Webber, of England

to the less well-known (to the American palate, anyway), such as:

  • Aram Khachaturian from Soviet Armenia
  • Alberto Ginastera, of Argentina
  • Heitor Villa Lobos of Brazil
  • Manuel De Falla, from Spain
  • and even the British invasion!

How does this curriculum work…do I need to be a musician to teach it?

Now, perhaps that list seems intimidating.  How would you even know what to teach about these composers; what is important about them; and how would you go about finding examples of their best works and compositions?

Gena Mayo has taken care of all of that for you!  You absolutely do not have to be a musician, or even musical, to teach this.  25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation is an online course which can be printed.  (In fact, that’s what we did; I printed a copy for a folder that I used in lesson planning, while we kept the digital copy saved on the computer to access the musical links.)  In it, she has devoted a section to each of the 25 composers included here.  For each one, she shares defining details of his life, famous compositions, important dates, and how the composer impacted the era he lived in and composed for.  Best of all, she has included online links to YouTube performances of some of the composers’ best works.  (Gena does recommend that parents preview each performance prior to showing it to their students.  We all know that the Internet can change quickly!)

25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation could easily be used in either a coop class or at home with just a few students.  It can be used for all ages, and can provide 1/2 credit when taught to high school students.  The curriculum even includes an excellent appendix, full of links to great music sites, additional books or other music resources, a list of further composers to study, and excellent notebooking pages for music observation.  Gena even includes short descriptions of various music theory here and there!


eurosa-pic-1How we enjoyed it

I love the questions that the author answers–and asks–with this curriculum.  What is impressionistic music–and how does it connect with the art movement of impressionism?  How did national identity influence a composer?  Did a composer write both music and words to an opera—and why, or why not?  Because of her extensive musical training, Gena knows and shares information that the average (unmusical) person might not think to ask.

We began with Puccini, whose contributions were primarily in the world of opera.  Two of the three Puccini performances Gena linked to were incredibly familiar to me (and I didn’t even enjoy opera, until recently!); however, if I’d had to tell you their names I’d have failed utterly.  The performances were—and I’m really not exaggerating here—sublime.

I wasn’t personally looking forward to hearing Gustav Mahler’s work; I really hadn’t enjoyed much of what I’d heard of his over the years.  Was I ever surprised to discover that he did actually compose some beautiful, uplifting music!

And then, there was Debussy.  And Sibelius; a hymn you might never have known he composed.  And then, a lovely section on musical theater, featuring the compositions of Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, and others.  And, so much more!  The links feature everything from historical presentations, to symphonies, to single arias…even a Google Doodle.  The range of talent and type, even above the musical performances themselves, keep a student’s interest level and enjoyment high.

My son and I had very different reactions to the various musicians presented in this course; while we both just loved hearing the presentations and learning about the musicians, we preferred different types of music.  And Gena included so many!  I have a choral background; Jackson has never been interested in choir but has played piano for years and enjoys orchestral and piano music primarily.  So I adored the vocal performances (I’d never have imagined that I’d come to appreciate opera), while he thoroughly enjoys the symphonic and orchestral.  Yet regardless of our preferences, we were exposed to the wide range of musical styles and movements of the 20th century, from European and South American artists.

Music Appreciation Curriculum: 25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music

If you’ve been looking for a genuinely wonderful music appreciation course–that you yourself can teach–look no further!

Where can you purchase this?

Simply visit the I Choose Joy store!  You can purchase 25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation there (as well as Gena’s other wonderful music curricula).  The regular price is $39, but Gena is having a sale through next Friday (9/30/16), and you can purchase it for only $29!  It is worth every penny.  🙂

Music Appreciation Curriculum: 25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music

And now…the giveaway!

Gena Mayo has provided one copy of 25 Lessons in 20th Century European & South American Music Appreciation, that one reader will be blessed with!  Simply enter the Giveaway Tools entry form below for your chance to win.  Giveaway closes on Friday, September 30, 2016.


Enjoy–and best wishes!  –Wren
Disclaimer:  From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

An Awesome Freebie for You ~ From My Favorite Online Storyteller, STAR TOASTER!

Our readers know how much our family has adored Star Toaster.  And now, this incredible company is going to make it possible—entirely free!–for you to come to love them too!


What is Orphs of the Woodlands?

Last fall, we received this app, which features the incredible adventure story of a squirrel.  (Our Orphs of the Woodlands tells all about it, and you can see how we adored it by clicking on the link!) Star Toaster, which produced this app, weaves lessons on science, nature, cooking, good character, language arts, and more into the captivating story of this animal on a quest to solve a mystery while caring for tiny orphaned animals.  The whole experience is just incredible for kids AND parents!

And now….as a back-to-school gift from Star Toaster….

You can receive it free from the App Store!

free-orphs-bannerJust click on this link:  Free Orphs of the Woodlands App which will take you to the download page at the App Store and you can get it free.  It’s suited for both iPhone and iPad.

And just so you know, I don’t work for Star Toaster or anything.  I just adore them, their company and its values and messages.  And this story is too good to miss, so go and download it today!

Enjoy!  –Wren


“The Biggest Story” DVD & CD ~ Review & Giveaway

Have you ever read the spectacular picture book The Biggest Story?



We had the distinct pleasure of reviewing it last fall.  It is the amazing story of Jesus all through the Bible, from the book of Genesis all the way to Revelation.  It was a fantastic book with incredible artwork and illustrations.  And now, it’s available in DVD form as The Biggest Story: The Animated Short Film AND The Biggest Story: The Audio Book on CD, narrated by author Kevin DeYoung.  Best of all, I have a copy of both the DVD and CD to bless some wonderful reader with!

the-biggest-story-dvd-pic-1The Biggest Story: The Animated Short Film DVD

First, let me tell you about the DVD.  It retells The Biggest Story, chapter by chapter.  It includes Don Cook’s fantastic illustrations from the book, bu this time they are animated!  Author Kevin DeYoung narrates the book.  In 10 chapters, it tells the story of God’s promise of Christ throughout the Bible, as it appears woven in the lives of the men and women of God’s word:

  • Adam and Eve
  • Noah
  • Abram, who became Abraham
  • Isaac
  • Jacob, his 12 sons, and Egypt
  • Moses and the Law
  • King Saul and King David
  • The Prophets…and then the 400 years of silence…..
  • and then!  The shepherds, Joseph, Mary….and Jesus!

Of course, the story doesn’t stop there.  There’s also Jesus’ ministry, disciples, and His death on the cross.  But then, His resurrection!  The Holy Spirit!  And the end of the book….where we get to go back to the Garden.

So how does Jesus appear in these varied individuals’ lives, years before Jesus ever even appeared on the earth?  Well, first He’s mentioned as the Snake Crusher to Eve and Adam.  He’s part of the blessing promised to Abraham and illustrated by the deliverance from Egypt.  His perfection is shown in the Law.  As Mr. DeYoung says…”Judah’s Lion, David’s Son!”  And His goodness is seen over and over as God intervenes in the lives of fallen, broken men and women.

The Biggest Story is faithful to the Biblical accounts, told in an engaging and, at times, humorous way.  But even more important, the hope of the Bible and God’s good plan for all of us, past, present and future, is brilliantly revisited by both words and illustrations.

With the DVD, you also receive a code for a free digital download of the video.  You get beautiful illustrations not only on the DVD case and on the DVD itself….but a double-sided free poster with two different pieces of Don Clark’s artwork!

The Biggest Story: The Animated Short Film is a wonderful addition to a Sunday school class (whether for adults or children), personal enjoyment, or family devotional times.  Its vivid words and beautiful pictures bring to life again for viewers the beautiful story of God and His redemption for us.


the-biggest-story-dvd-pic-2The Biggest Story: The Audio Book

In the audio CD of The Biggest Story, listeners receive the wonderful story told in the book and in the DVD.  Each of the ten chapters is read by Kevin DeYoung, and each lasts just a couple of minutes, with the total length of 26 minutes.  Original music (also featured in the DVD) by composer John Poon plays alongside Mr. DeYoung’s words.  And there’s another piece of 2-sided art included, that’s different from the one in the DVD!

And now…the giveaway!

FlyBy/Propeller Promotions and Crossway have provided one DVD and one CD copy of The Biggest Story for one of my readers!  Simply enter via the Giveaway Tools entry form below.  Giveaway ends on Wednesday, September 21 at 11:59 PM, so enter today!


Oh, and you can also purchase these on Amazon, just in case you’re not the winner.  🙂


Enjoy!  –Wren

“Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”


“Getting Started With French” ~ A Review

Are you thinking of studying a foreign language in your homeschool?  If so, I have a wonderful resource for you–Armfield Academic PressGetting Started With French!  We received a copy of this book to review via the Homeschool Review Crew.


What is Getting Started With French?

Getting Started With French, authored by William E. Linney and Brandon Simpson, is a beginning language learning textbook especially written for homeschooled students.  In fact, its subtitle is “Beginning French for Homeschoolers and Self-Taught Students of Any Age.”  It’s ideal for homeschoolers or those who are learning French for the very first time for many reasons.  It’s extremely affordable ($21.95 at Amazon); it is incredibly easy to use even if the user is unfamiliar with French; it’s divided into clear, simple lessons; and it has an audio component.

Getting Started With French is composed of a softcover book and accompanying free audio downloads from Getting Started With French.  The book contains lessons 1 through 172; an answer key in the back for the lessons’ exercises; a pronunciation guide; a glossary; and an index.  The audio downloads can be retrieved two ways; either by downloading zip files to your computer or by simply accessing each lesson’s pronunciation file via the website.

The lessons start very simply; with new French words and their correct pronunciation, and then each subsequent lesson builds on the ones before it.  The audio files use a native French speaker from Paris to pronounce each word or phrase for the student.  So first, the student reads the lesson in the book and learns a little about new vocabulary or pronunciation rules in French.  Then, he can listen to the audio file and practice his own pronunciation.  Last, he’ll (usually) do written work.

The authors also include fun Expressions Françaises (French expressions) here and there; familiar French phrases that even English speakers would know, along with the stories behind those phrases.  They are fun pieces of trivia especially created for French students.



How I used it

My son is preparing to resume studies of another foreign language and was concerned about learning two very different languages at once.  So this time, I was the person who got to use the curriculum!  I’ve always enjoyed French (whether it’s the food, the fashions, the country’s beautiful architecture, or the language itself), but it has been years and years since I studied it in high school and college.  I really looked forward to picking it up again.

To begin, I selected a composition notebook to use for the written portion of each lesson.  I downloaded the audio zip files from the Downloads tab of Getting Started With French (there are both pronunciation files and author commentary for each lesson; this is like having a French teacher right in your own homeschool) to our PC.  However, because our PC sits in one area of our dining room I often work elsewhere with audio or video files using my Kindle Fire, just because I can be anywhere in the home (or away, if there’s wi-fi) to do it.  So I simply used the audio files straight from the website almost all of the time as I studied.  This worked perfectly.  I followed the lessons as they are presented in the book; first, I’d read the first few paragraphs, then I’d listen to and repeat aloud the audio vocabulary, then I’d write the exercises from the book in my composition notebook.

The lessons are very simple and easy, yet profound at the same time.  Who could have imagined that with only a softcover textbook and audio files, a French class focusing on grammar, pronunciation rules, vocabulary AND correct voicing of the French language could be achieved?  And yet that’s exactly what Getting Started With French has done.  The authors recommend that a student study one lesson per day, rather than clumping together many lessons at once.  There might be the temptation to do that just because the lessons are on the shorter side.  However, true learning will occur much more effectively and smoothly if students learn just a little at a time and learn it well.  Then, each following lesson will build on the ones before.


getting-started-french-picture-2My impressions

Personally, I found Getting Started With French incredibly enjoyable.  I loved using it!  It was truly wonderful to get back into French language study, and even though I have a busy day nearly every day of my life, I was able to fit in study times with no trouble.  (And because of the audio access via my Kindle, I could do it in any room of the house!)  I did remember a good portion of French vocabulary and grammar rules, but what I appreciated most was the fact that the audio files modeled for me the correct pronunciation.  Since my college years, I spent several years studying and speaking (well, attempting to speak) Russian and, as you can imagine, the pronunciation and even the placement inside the mouth of voicing different vowels, vowel combinations, or vowels with consonants was dramatically different.  And yes, every single student benefits from hearing words spoken by native speakers.  But in my case, I found that I had to retrain my palate (so to speak) from Russian pronunciation to French.  Thanks to the audio files, this was easily accomplished (although honestly, it’s still a work in progress as I haven’t completed the entire course yet!).

One thing that a person can find challenging when learning a foreign language is putting grammar together with vocabulary.  Why would a French speaker say or write  “l’orange” instead of “la orange,” for example?  What does the cédille do to the French pronunciation rule of a “C,” or “ç” in a word?  All these questions, and many more, are explained little by little to students.  I really appreciate the way the authors don’t separate grammar lessons from everything else (which I think makes language-learning very challenging), but place them in context by weaving them into lessons where the students are also working on pronunciation and building a vocabulary.

I would definitely recommend Getting Started With French for any student (child or adult) who’d like to begin to learn this beautiful language…and also for any homeschool parent!  Even if there is no French experience or ability whatsoever in the home, authors Linney and Simpson have created lessons which are incredibly easy for both the teacher and the student to apprehend, and just as important, to truly progress with.  Getting Started With French provides a fantastic foundation for further language study by its excellent pronunciation, conversation, translation, and vocabulary/grammar lessons.


getting-started-french-picture-3Other resources from Armfield Academic Press

Armfield Academic Press also has other fantastic introductory language learning books available; Getting Started With Spanish and Getting Started With Latin.  They’re also planning to publish Getting Started With Russian soon.  Although I’m really enjoying studying French again, I must admit that there are foundations that I missed when I studied Russian the first time.  I was actually living in Russia and studying Russian at a university there with a native Russian speaker; and she was fantastic.  However, because it was more of an immersion experience, I missed some basic yet crucial grammar and pronunciation information (like how exactly to form my mouth around “ы” or managing the dipthong “лю.”)  I feel completely confident, based on using Getting Started With French, that Mr. Linney will be more than capable of unlocking the secrets of the Russian language to me….at last!  (When Getting Started With Russian is published, that is!)


If you’re or your child are interested in studying French, do check out Armfield Academic PressGetting Started With French.  It is affordable, understandable, and so user-friendly.  I truly loved it, and am looking forward to more from Armfield Academic Press!

You can visit Armfield Academic Press‘ Facebook page at

Enjoy! –Wren

Introducing Getting Started with French {Armfield Academic Press}

Crew Disclaimer

“Together at the Table” ~ a review of Hillary Manton Lodge’s newest

Recently, I had the opportunity to review the third in Hillary Manton Lodge’s newest Two Blue Doors series:  Together at the Table.  What a satisfying conclusion to the series!


The Two Blue Doors series is an engrossing delightful series about a Portland culinary family, secret identities, France, and World War II.  The narrative shifts throughout the stories.  First, we experience Juliette and her first-person observations and experiences with food, the family restaurants, and long-distance love.  Our second perspective is offered by Juliette’s grandmother, now deceased, but whose letters richly tell a story that neither Juliette, nor her large extended foodie family, knew.

We also get to see Neil again.  (Spoiler ahead!)  Although he and Juliette had broken off their relationship, they’re back in touch…or at least Juliette hopes they will be via email.  She has written so much that she wanted to share with him: her mother’s recent death; the three-month anniversary of her family’s restaurant, Two Blue Doors; her own grief journey; and that she really is sad about the way their dating relationship ended so very abruptly.

However, like its predecessors, this email goes into the drafts folder.  And doesn’t get sent.

Juliette’s mother’s illness and death also put an end to Juliette’s search of the mysteries behind the photograph of the handsome man and her grandmother’s letters.  But the questions remain.  Who was that  man?  Who was he to Juliette’s grandmother?  Why isn’t there a record of her grandmother’s connection with him—and what happened in France to Juliette’s family during WWII?

When she least expects it, Juliette runs into Neil–who lives in Memphis, but suddenly pops up in a park in Portland–while, of all things, she’s on a picnic date with Adrian, her brother’s sous chef.  Awkward!  Yet the meeting is a blessing—as Neil and Juliette are reminded that some things are worth working for and saving.

Join Juliette on her journey back into love, back to France where she finally discovers the rich and amazing heritage of her family, and solves her grandmother’s secret.  You’ll love every bit of the story.  I think that this book is my favorite in the series!

You’ll also enjoy the fabulous recipes that Manton has placed here and there following key chapters; beautiful and delightful foods that the characters just made–and enjoyed–themselves.  You may even want to try them out yourself.  Who could resist Roasted Tomato-Basil Soup, or Goat Cheese with Pistachios and Cranberries, or Polenta Rounds with Cherry Tomatoes and Roasted Garlic?  Amazing food to eat while you read a lovely story!

Read more about the author at Waterbrook’s page about Hillary Manton Lodge.  Visit Waterbrook’s page on Together at the Table.  And do be sure to check out the other two books in the series, A Table by the Window and Reservations for Two.  You will want to know the backstory before you jump into book three, I promise!

Enjoy!  –Wren





I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Disclaimer:  From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.


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