And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. Isaiah 54:13 KJV

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I have found another wonderful book to help your little ones learn gratitude! Best of all it features Hermie, the little caterpillar who loves God! Max Lucado gives us a sample of Hermie's prayers in Thank you God, for blessing me.

Hermie will help your littlest ones being to develop their own prayers of gratitude. Hermie prays to God to thnk him for all his blessings in life including friends and more. I love reading to my children and I love teaching them about God. We read many books like this at bedtime when Apple and Speedy were little tots.

I'd recommend this book for ages 2 and under. It is a short read and one that is perfect for bedtime. This begins to show little ones how to thank God for all He has given us! This would be a great stocking stuffer or happy little gift for a special little person in your life!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Speedy Needs Star Wars!! #imabzzagent

Poor Speedy...... all his buddies hum the Star Wars march, they all know all the Star Wars characters names, and they play pretend Star Wars all the time. We don't own the Star Wars movies so Speedy has never gotten to enjoy them. He really wants to learn all about "Dark Vader" too.

If we receive the new Blu-Ray disc set, Speedy will be "up to speed" with his friends. He'll know what that light saber toy he has is really all about. He'll be able to play Storm Trooper with ease because he'll understand the Storm Trooper's purpose.

Daddy & I have seen all the Star Wars movies, but there's something about a little boy seeing them all for the first time that's a special event (And we'd love to see them in this new digitally remastered and available to watch "in order"). Please BzzAgent, Speedy needs the FORCE!!!

10 Tips to Declutter Toys #WallTracks

Let's face it kids have toys and toys easily become clutter. We've tried several different plans of attack against the clutter. I mean no one wants to see us on a special edition of Hoarders: Covered in Toys, right? As Christmas approaches and new toys will be arriving, here are some tips to keep the toys in line:

* Frequently weed through them. We try to go through our kids toys at least 4 times a year: before the big consignment sale in the fall & spring and before Christmas and before birthdays. That way they are gone through to sell and they are gone through before new toys arrive.

* We have toy free zones. Granted we have to constantly remind the kids but generally they are only allowed toys in their rooms not in the schoolroom, kitchen, living room, etc.

* We give them plenty of places to put their toys. Speedy has more toys than Apple so he has severl storage bins. She has one large toy box and a shelf with drawers.

* Especially for younger children, open bins work really well. Speedy has one of the shelves with 9 open boxes on it. He can easily put smaller toys in those as he cleans.

* If your child has a specialty collection, give them a special storage area. Apple has many Polly Pockets, so she has a special carrying bag for them. Speedy has tons of Hot Wheels so he has one of these nifty organizers.

* Limit the number of toys your children own. It is easy for kids to become overwhelmed with their toys. Apple was the first grandchild on both sides so she was constantly receiving toys all through out the year. We were able to talk with family and get those gifts lowered to holidays or special occasions. We even ask for reasonableness during Christmas. We have 2 kids and they each don't need 15 gifts from each family gathering.

* Ask your children to donate some of their toys. They can give them to local shelters, Goodwill, or toy drives. My children are often excited to share a few toys with children that may not have any.

* Books are not toys but they can become clutter too. Each of our children has their own bookshelf in their room. They know that is where their books should be.

* Get your children involved in cleaning their rooms. No matter how young they are, they can help pick up toys. If your child is participating in cleaning their room, they are less likely to make a disaster zone.

* About once a month, I take time to clean their rooms. The rest of the month they clean it themselves, but it's good for me to go through once a month and make sure things are in place, trash isn't lurking around, and nothing is there that shouldn't be.

Our house isn't always perfect. Since we homeschool, we are home majority of the time and we use every inch of our house. These tips keep Apple and Speedy's rooms from becoming overwhelming though. They don't enjoy dirty rooms with toys everywhere anymore than I do!

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Hot Wheels® blogging program, for a gift card worth $40. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

What's Been Missing?

You've probably noticed a lack of couponing posts here at the Chaos lately. If you've been with me awhile, you know I tend to jump from interest to interest. That has a little bit to do with it but.......

I don't know if you've noticed but sales and coupons just haven't been as stellar the last 3 months or so. I personally attribute most of this to the recent "coupon craze" that includes a television program that shows fraudulent coupon use. Also anytime there is a sudden SURGE of something, the rules change. Couponing has become a popular fad. Coupons have been around a long time and I'm sure this isn't the first fluctuation in the coupon realm. However with these less than excellent sales and less than excellent coupons, the deals I'm seeing just aren't as great. Now obviously we all still have to shop, even when things aren't going our way. I still have been shopping, but I have not been stockpiling. I haven't been to Walgreens in about 3 weeks. My last trip to Kroger, I clipped all my coupons, reorganized my binder, and had a list. All that took a couple of hours. I ended up with 39% savings. Not a bad savings but that same trip 4-6 months ago would have had about 60% savings. Our finances are T-I-G-H-T. Our time is tight too so we have to do what gets us the most bang for our time and money.

One new thing I'm involved in is a Freezer meals group. We started last month and you make multiple family sizes servings of one entree to swap with friends. For instance, I made 6 chicken & dressings and I took 5 to exchange with friends. Then I brought home 5 of their different entrees. This saves not only because ingredients can be bought in bulk but also because these meals are easy to pull out of the freezer and cook so we save money by not eating out. We don't get worn out on the meals because they are all different! My group is doing this once a month and I'm hoping to make ahead some more freezer meals just for my family to get us through the winter.

As part of that I'm also shopping more at my nearest bulk store (Sam's Club). I can buy some items in bulk that I will use right away. My best deal there so far has been LARGE cans of crushed tomatos for less than $3 each. I use those in spaghetti sauce, chili, taco soup, and more! I can also buy fruit, cat food, etc there cheaper than I can get it (right now) with coupons and sales. There is also no time spent clipping q's etc.

I haven't totally given up on coupons but the one Sunday paper I receive by delivery is the only one I'm getting. My shopping trips are fewer. I'm also keeping a close eye on Kroger as they are rolling out more and more coupon restrictions. Recently our area has seen a limit of 4 identical coupons. Other areas are losing double coupons. I already have written them to let them know that if they end double coupons in this area, I won't have a reason to return to their store.

So couponing deals won't be frequent but you will still see lots of homeschooling info and product reviews and giveaways! Thanks for keeping up with all our constantly changing Chaos!!!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Giveaway!! Storyland Yoga DVD!!!

Sponsored by

Win your own copy of the Playful Planet Storyland Yoga DVD!!!! Simply follow the easy Rafflecopter form to get your entries in now!

Wanna Get Your Kids Moving?

In Tennessee, our weather is nuts pretty much all the time. In general we usually only enjoy the outdoors in Spring and Fall, which are very short seasons here. This year we didn't even get Spring. It went from Winter to HOT HOT HOT. As a result, our kids have been pent up all Summer long. I was excited to receive Playful Planet's Storyland Yoga. What a great way to keep the kids moving indoors without breaking anything!

 My kids have never done Yoga before so I was curious as to what they would think about it. The stories (there are 2) on the DVD are so engaging! The kids don't realize they are stretching and exercising! I was thinking the host on the DVD would be teaching them by saying "This is downward facing dog, now you try." It's nothing like that! He involves them in a story and gently takes them through various yoga moves by acting out the story.

The recommended ages for the video are 3-8. Apple jumped right in as soon as it began. She enjoyed the stories and was able to follow along with most of the moves right away. I wonder if this will help her with balance and grace? Anyhow Speedy came in about half way through and without asking any questions, he got in the floor and joined right in! The stories are short, each one is close to 20 minutes, so the children don't have time to lose interest! The stories are engaging nature adventures. It went right along with the Animal study we are doing in Science class right now.

Winter will arrive in Tennessee before we know it and while we don't get a lot of snow here, we do get some very cold temperatures! This DVD will become a part of our PE curriculum. Once or twice a week will keep the kids stretching and moving which is so important! I think your 3-8 year olds would love this DVD as well!

To purchase: Storyland Yoga: Yoga for Kids and Families (ages 3 to 8)

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Get Outside and Play! #C2Play2Day

The weather is so nice out in Tennessee lately! All Summer it was extremely hot and we were not able to play as much outdoors as we would've liked. Clorox is encouraging families to go out and play! They have a special website launched to get you to pledge time playing outside for your family! Sign up here to make your pledge and the chance to enter for prizes!

Now how do we enjoy chaos outside? We love to camp! Camping is an amazing bonding experience for a family. You are able to truly enjoy God's creation when you get out and spend a few days in it! Now I'm not a primitive camper (especially not with children!) so we go to campgrounds that are in nature, beautiful, and come equipped with bathrooms and showers! Camping is a great time to enjoy playing outside with your kids. We always carry along a football and now we'll begin taking the soccer balls with us too! You can also take nature walks, fish, play hide and seek, do races, and much more! Our kids love to be in the outdoors! They are in love with constant picnics outside from food made on the grill. It's a great time to spend as a family, reconnecting with one another and with God!

Soccer is our other main outdoor activity right now. The kids have regular games and practices, and we are also spending quite a bit of time in the back yard kicking the ball around. It's hectic to have them both playing but it's fun too! If your children are involved in a sport or team, take time to practice with them either at the field or in your own back yard! Our kids love when we play too!

Hubby loves to take the kids for nature walks. They went out to collect cool rocks last night. The kids were both so excited when they brought their "treasures" home. Small, inexpensive activities outdoors keep you and your children moving, give all of you a new appreciation for God's creation, and it's healthy for everyone involved! Our lifestyles so easily become sedantary. We want our kids to be healthy and enjoy life! We all like television, computer time, reading, etc but as families we need to find that right balance between sitting activities and moving activities. I know for our children, simple expending some energy can be the difference between a peaceful afternoon and a SUPER CHAOTIC one. Most days Apple and Speedy need to get out and just run, swing, yell, and move! That's best done outside for their health and mine!

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Clorox2® blogging program, for a gift card worth $40. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Average CEO's Salary $9-$11 million

President's Salary $400,000

Senator's Salary $174,000

Average Bank President's Salary $90,000-$110,000

Average Yearly Gross for George Clooney $60 Million

Peyton Manning's Yearly Contract Salary $18 Million

Average Yearly Pay for a US Army Soldier $54,000

Average Yearly Salary for a US Police Officer $40,000

Average Yearly Salary for a Fire Fighter $50,000

From " Real median household income in the United States in 2010 was $49,445, a 2.3 percent decline from the 2009 median.

The nation's official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 ─ the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. There were 46.2 million people in poverty in 2010, up from 43.6 million in 2009 ─ the fourth consecutive annual increase and the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty estimates have been published."

This guy needs a serious reality check. Many of us are living well below that $49,445 average income, especially us in 1 income families.

I'm so glad my hope lies in Jesus and not in the government.

“Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before.” Joel 2:23 NIV

Blessings For Your Little One

Bedtime books are always the best! My children still love for us to read to them and now that we no longer do it every single night they find it even more special! When they were very little they loved hard books, those with hard covers and hard pages. They could haul them around and flip through them over and over without tearing them up! Night Night Blessings by Amy Parker is one of those great hard books!

Right from the start, the beautiful illustrations by Marihan Ramlijak are striking! I can see young children rubbing their chubby hands over the pages taking in the pancakes, playmates, and ponies! The book is a great little prayer for your toddler. Although at times the rhyming seems a bit awkward, the words are sweet and simple. The imagination could go wild delving into the character's day of pets, play, and pastimes. This is not a deep Christian novel for your child but a simple prayer from the perspective of a young one. What a great way to introduce your children to prayers of thanksgiving!

I would recommend this book as a night night story for babies through toddlers. For our children, especially at the toddler stage, bedtime was a long routine of bathtime, storytime, and prayer. Try including this one in your own family routine! I can't wait to give it as a Christmas gift to one of my favorite little people!

For more information see

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Wanna Make Your Own Unique Burgers?

I received this nifty little container of Skillet Bacon Jam (Skillet Bacon Spread) to review. It's quite unique looking. It was very hot out the day it arrived and so that day it was liquified in the container. When I opened it up to use it this evening though it had solidified.

I wasn't really sure what I should do with this concoction so I was glad it came with an insert of suggestions! The product description reads:

what is skillet bacon jam?
we make this bacon spread condiment called bacon say what?.. that’s right, we use niman ranch bacon and render it down along with onions, balsamic and other spices . It cooks for several hours until it is a perfect blend of smoky, tangy, savory and slightly sweet….basically spreadable bacony goodness! USDA approved.

more information is available at or contact
It has a unique smell for sure! One of the suggested uses was in burgers. Easy enough, right? So I pulled out some hamburger meat and fired up the grill. Is that cheating since it's called "skillet" bacon jam? Here is what the burgers looked like with the condiment all mixed in:

Hubby cooked them up for us. Once they were done, the burgers definately had a smoky smell to them. The Skillet Bacon Jam gave the burgers a ribbon of bacon and carmelized onion flavor throughout the patty. It was pleasant! We don't regularly put bacon on burgers we make at home but we do put onions on them often. The flavor wasn't overwhelming so it was very enjoyable. I think it would also be a pleasant addition to pork, maybe on a tenderloin or pork chop.

So if you'd like to try this new condiment to add to your next meal, you can order online from their website This would make a great Christmas gift for that person on your list that has everything! It would also be fantastic for any experimental cooks in your family!

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How Much Time is Right for Homeschool?

I seen lots of moms worried recently over how much time is enough time for a homeschool day. I STRESSED over that exact thing our first year of homeschool and occassionally that worry still rears its ugly head. I am so blessed to have a close knit group of friends that also homeschool. That is really important if you are going to take this journey. You need other moms to support you, uplift you, and remind you that everything you are going through is 'normal'.

So onto the issue of time. Each state requires a different amount of time for schooling. In general this is a set number of days and hours each day. If you are going through an umbrella school or online option, your requirements may be different. In general it's good to realize these are a guideline and not meant to intimidate you into making your 5 year old sit at a table and do worksheets for 4 hours straight. Think logically and realize that you need to do what works for you and your child/children. That's one of the HUGE benefits of homeschool.

So when we pulled Apple from public preK she was spending about 6 hours at the school each day. I felt obligated to give her 6 hours of instruction at home. That was just insane for a 4 year old. Wasn't happening! I thought about it, prayed about it, and consulted other homeschoolers about it. I began to peel away the layers of that 6 hours she had been spending at school. She was served breakfast and lunch there. She stood in lines for the bathroom, washing hands, etc. A large portion of their afternoon was spent at stations playing with sand or doing puzzles. She spent time in the library and computer lab. She had PE and recess (basically the same). She also had snack time and rest time. She was only bring home maybe 2 or 3 worksheets a WEEK from preK. Her time spent actually learning at a desk was very limited.

So how do I reconcile that with my state's time requirement? The same way a school does. Movies can be very educational. Don't laugh because I'm being serious! Not all movies are educational. In her short few weeks at school there were several movies she told me she watched that I saw no educational value in AT ALL. However even some Disney movies can be educational if used as part of a theme or lesson. My kids watched The Lion King yesterday and I counted that as school time. Why? Because I watched most of it with them and we talked about Africa (social studies) (and bonus because we thought about and prayed for our special missionary friends there) and we used the movie to review our animal classifications we have been learning in science. Each time a new animal appeared on the screen Apple and Speedy shouted out if it was a bird, reptile, mammal, etc. To go deeper we discussed again that monkeys have tails and apes do not so the crazy monkey is actually a monkey!

What else counts for school time? We play on the playground with friends, it's recess/ PE. We do several field trips throughout the year and they are all very educational. Last year we went to a farm for their Fall Fest, and we will go back this year. We are looking into visiting a local dairy and more! You can visit a fire station, train station, library, zoo, museum, art show, play, and they all count as school time because your children are learning, they are soaking it all in.

Go for a nature walk for science, go talk to a neighbor that is from another country, join a postcard penpal program, think outside that box that we settle into so easily! Let your kids put on a play for you. Let them play with playdoh, blocks, legos, and lincoln logs. Pull out the paint, crayons, markers, and scissors to see what they can create. Give them a poster board and some glitter and ask them to make a display about whatever you've been learning. Let them make macaroni necklaces or glue beans on a paper to review shapes, letters, and numbers. Get creative!

But most of all, don't get bogged down or discouraged about your time. You know if your child is learning or not. At the beginning of the school year choose which subjects you think are the most important. Lay down a framework for how much your child needs to learn in that subject during the semester or the year. The easiest way to do that is to buy a curriculum. Buy a workbook from Sams Club or a whole year's worth of lessons from BJU. Either way get your hands on the information you want to present and then break it down into weeks and then into days. If your child is a super fast learner like Apple, then somedays they will be done with "desk work" in an hour. Fill the other time with supplemental education. Once they are able to read, then let them read! Give them a book and let them read for an hour.

Do they like computers? Find an educational game site and let them have at it for 30 minutes. We even have some educational DS games for our kids. They play them for 30 minutes and it goes into the planner for the day.

Look I in no way consider us to be "un-schoolers." We are definately more traditional, but I do realize that kids learn through play and hands on activities. I'm so grateful I had friends let me know that those count. As the teacher, you need an uplifted fresh attitude everyday or school will become tedious for everyone involved!

I hope this has been an encouragement for you! If not, read Psalm 23. You might even know it by heart. That's our newest memory verses in our class!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I'll Never Forget......

I'll never forget the events of September 11, 2001.....

It was a different sort of morning for us from the start. My husband and I were sharing a home with my mom and stepdad. Hubby was working out of town. Every morning Mom and I would have a cup of coffee together and watch the news. That day for no particular reason we never turned the television on. As I walked to my car to head to work the meter reader told me that one of the World Trade Center towers had been hit by a plane. I rode to work listening to all the confusing information on the radio. When I got to work we had auditors in the office. We were all a little shocked and confused. We rolled the old television with no cable to the front and picked up a news channel. We watched in horror as the next few events unfolded. We saw the second tower get hit, we watched the buildings fall, we heard about flight 93 and the Pentagon....... and we cried.

Thank you to first responders everywhere. Thank you to men and women in all different uniforms that serve this nation in so many ways. Thank you American men and women who love and support our country and go unnoticed everyday.

God bless America.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Winner Winner Winner

Congrats to Chrissy M! She won the Steps4Kids DVD giveaway! Enjoy your prize Chrissy!



Pick the Winners

    • Name: Chrissy M
    • Option: "Like" the Blog Post

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why I Need a Kindle...... #imabzzagent

BzzAgent wants to know why I need a Kindle...............

Well this is why:

And this.........

 Oh and these too......

BzzAgent, this is just a small portion of our stack. We are a family of readers. My hubby loves all books about the outdoors, hunting, fishing, reptiles, and more. I love Christian fiction, regular fiction, cookbooks, and more. Apple loves ALL books right now but especially books for young girls. Speedy is also developing his own love for books about Veggie Tales, Star Wars, and Spiderman. A Kindle would get TONS of use in the midst of all the Carter Chaos...... and maybe we could clear a few of these bookshelves.....

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Silly Soccer

Perhaps we should have invested in one of these Little Tikes Easy Score Soccer sets and explained soccer to Speedy a little more before he began playing.........

He seems to really believe soccer is actually football (perhaps all the international knowledge and cultural learning has been a bad thing)........ Papaw says its because we watch too much football (guilty as charged).........It's not a good thing that Speedy keeps trying to tackle other players during soccer........ It's also not uncommon to see him fall on the ball and protect it..........He was so agressive about it tonight that all the other players just stepped back and watched him.......

The first game is Saturday...... think we can deprogram him by then? Of course in 2 years he'll be old enough to swap to football..........

Sunday, September 4, 2011


Apple got her first teeth really, really late when she was a baby. She ate steak and everything else completely toothless because she didn't get her first teeth until she was over 11 months old. Yes.... I said first teeth. That's because she didn't get 1 tooth at a time. She got 4, then 4 more, then 4 more, then the last 4. She didn't even get her 2 yr molars until after she turned 3. The dentists and dental assistants we spoke with all said it was genetic and that Daddy or I must've gotten our teeth really late. Nope we got them around 6 months. The dentists and dental assistants also said subsequent kids would be late teethers. Imagine my surprise when Speedy popped out his first one at 6 months!

So over the last year to two years, all of her friends and cousins have been losing teeth. She has been bemoaning her full set of teeth all this time. Her teeth finally began getting loose about 2 months ago. We have pushed, pulled, waited, yanked, and tried to get them out. She got bumped in the mouth by her brother a week or so ago and I almost lost my lunch! Her top ones were bleeding and one was all crooked. I half heartedly tried to pull it but couldn't quite stomach it. Yesterday we spent the day with one of my besties and she tried all day to get one out! There were 4 loose ones, 2 on top and 2 on bottom. We got up this morning and they were still loose but not coming out. Well at lunch today Nonna finally yanked one out! Apple is so proud! I'm so grossed out! HA!

I'm sure the other 3 loose ones will be coming out soon!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Life with 2 Athletes

So.......... both kids wanted to play soccer this season. Apple played last year and was luke warm about the whole experience (read she LOVED the trophy, hated being hot, & wasn't sure how she felt about the actual game of soccer) but insisted that if Speedy played this time, she really wanted to play as well. We were a little apprehensive about them both playing because we knew we were looking at 2 teams, 2 practices, 2 games, etc. However being loving parents we decided to go for it! (Actually Hubby is still kicking and screaming but he's quieted down a bit)

They've been placed on teams and have practiced the last couple of weeks. They were able to secure spots on teams with one of my bestie's children (therefore some of their buddies) so that made for happier munchkins. So far things are going pretty well other than Speedy loves to lay on the ground, loll on the ground, roll over the ball on the ground, etc....... so if I post a picture of a cleat embedded into his head, well you've been prewarned.

It's threatened the whole time but tonight it finally happened. Speedy had practice from 5:30-6:30 and Apple had a friendly from 6:30-7:30. I don't know which is worse, back to back games/ practices so we can see both or simultaneous ones where we don't have to be at the fields for 2 hours! It was HOT tonight. Very hot and sweaty. Speedy's practice went well. He tried to stay off the ground this time but he wanted a water break every 2.5 minutes.

Then we went over to Apple's scrimmage. I was a little nervous for her because this is the bigger league, with some very athletic girls and boys. Okay first I was kind of excited because this was the first time EVER, seriously EVER, where she wasn't the tallest kid!! Most of the kids are 7 & 8 so out of 16 kids, 2 were actually taller than her! She didn't even notice. I was very proud of her though, she definately held her own on the field. She needs to polish up a few areas and it looks like I need to learn the actual rules so I can explain them better to her but she did great!

We didn't have dinner until almost 8 pm. I am the schedule QUEEN. I love schedules and my kids "normal" bedtime is 8 pm. We NEVER eat dinner at 8 pm. We usually eat dinner about 5:30. Any other time we would have eaten early before Speedy's practice but an unfortunate series of events earlier in the day led us to a late lunch. Let's just say after dinner at the local pizza buffet and quick showers to get the dirt off, my monkeys PASSED out. Wonder what the chances are that they will sleep late? (In case you're wondering to the chances are about 1 in 50,000. My kids just do NOT sleep past 7:30. E.V.E.R.) One can only dream...........

Can't wait to see what it will be like when the real games start in a little over a week!