Thursday, August 21, 2014

This Book Room

Christina Kempf has always known that God chose Aden Reese to be her husband. As children, he was there to save her when she fell through the ice, and he’s been by her side ever since. After his parents died in a car accident ten years ago, the Kempfs raised Aden as one of their own, and everyone sees Aden and Christina as brother and sister. But Christina has never given up hope that Aden will one day ask her to be his wife.

Aden always planned to court Christina. But losing his mother and father changed everything—except his love for her. Her parents generously welcomed him into their home and treated him like a son. He can’t betray their kindness by admitting his feelings for the girl who is like a sister . . . yet so much more.

Pressured by her parents to court, Christina begins to accept the attentions of Sugarcreek’s young men, and now, Aden must make a choice. Will he stand by and watch the love of his life slip away? Or will he risk losing the love and trust of the family he holds dear to tell Christina how he truly feels?

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Return to Sugarcreek series. You can read my review of the first book here. The third book in this series will be out later this year.

My thoughts: This was very much a trite boy/girl love story, but I enjoyed the depth of the story. Christina was very fearful and really let it get in her way of living. It was a good reminder to me to let the past go and live in the now. We can't let past fears stop us from living the life we desire to.

At a car boot sale in Sussex, three very different women meet and fall for the same vintage teaset. They decide to share it - and form a friendship that changes their lives.

Jenny can't wait to marry Dan. Then, after years of silence, she hears from the woman who could shatter her dreams.

Maggie has put her broken heart behind her and is gearing up for the biggest event of her career - until she's forced to confront the past once more.

Alison seems to have it all: married to her childhood sweetheart, with two gorgeous daughters. But as tensions mount, she is pushed to breaking point.

Dealing with friendship and families, relationships and careers, highs and lows, The Vintage Teacup Club is heart-warming storytelling at its very best.

My thoughts: This was such a fun read! I really wanted to just sit and devour this book. It reminded me a lot of Kate Jacobs' knitting series and books like that. I sincerely hope the author writes more books similar to the Teacup Club.

Marcy can’t wait to see the new exhibit at the Tallulah Falls museum on antique tapestries and textiles, including beautiful kilim rugs. But her enthusiasm quickly turns to terror when, the day after the exhibition opens, she discovers a dead body behind her store, the Seven-Year Stitch, wrapped up in a most unusual fashion.

The victim appears to be a visiting art professor in town for the exhibit. Did someone decide to teach the professor a lesson, then attempt to sweep the evidence under the rug? Along with her boyfriend, Detective Ted Nash, Marcy must unravel an intricate tapestry of deception to find a desperate killer.
Additional notes: This is the seventh book in the Embroidery Mystery series. As far as I know, this series is ongoing. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here, the fifth book here and the sixth book here.

My thoughts: Generally speaking, it is hard to imagine one tiny town could have so many deaths and mystery. But maybe that is the point - to be so far outside what is real so you can really just delve in and enjoy this whodunit. If nothing else, this series always inspires me to craft a little bit more and I can always use motivation in that arena.

Life hasn't been a bed of roses for Londoner Molly Taylor lately. Newly divorced and struggling to
find a new home and a way to support her three boys, she's stunned when her beloved Aunt Helena dies and leaves her Harrington Hall, a three-hundred-year-old manor house on the Devon coast, where Molly grew up. But does Molly really want to run a bed-and-breakfast in an old house where the only thing that doesn't need urgent attention is Aunt Helena's beautiful rose garden? Or care for Uncle Bertie, an eccentric former navy officer with a cliff-top cannon? Or Betty, his rude parrot that bites whomever annoys it? Yet Molly's best friend Lola is all for the plan. "My heart bleeds. Your very own beach, the beautiful house, and Helena's garden. All you have to do is grill a bit of bacon."

But with Molly's conniving brother running the family hotel nearby, the return of a high school flame with ulterior motives, and three sons whose idea of a new country life seems to involve vast quantities of mud, this is not going to be easy. And then Harrington Hall begins to work its magic, and the roses start to bloom...

Warm, witty, and chock-full of quintessential British charm, A GOOD YEAR FOR THE ROSES is a story for anyone who has ever dreamed of starting over...with or without bacon.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, particularly Molly's children. They were absolutely delightful and hilarious. They made the book for me. The characters reminded me a lot of the characters in Gil's other novels, which was somewhat confusing at first. Overall, I'm a fan of this book and can't wait for her next one!

Ramona the Pest takes a pint-sized perspective on the trials and delights of beginning school. Ramona can't wait to learn all the important things. But she's disappointed when her teacher can't fill in missing parts of story lines, such as how Mike Mulligan (of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel) went to the bathroom while digging the basement of the town hall. Nonetheless, Ramona loves her teacher, and loves going to school in spite of the torments--having to wear hand-me-down boots, for example, or having to (sometimes) suppress the urge to pull on another girl's "boing-boing" curls. Ramona's energetic take on life appeals to children who have passed through this stage, or who are dealing with a kindergarten-age sibling who is exhibiting Ramona-ish tendencies.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Ramona Quimby series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are eight books in this series and all have been released.

My thoughts: Oh, Ramona. You are far too silly for your own good. I loved her view on her kindergarten teacher. Ramona and her family crack me up, and I'm so excited to keep reading about them!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Skillet Corn Bread with Scallions and Cheddar

This corn bread recipe worked like a charm. The corn bread was fantastically yummy. Be warned that the 8 to 10 servings stated in the cookbook are very big servings and most likely you will be cutting it into more.

Sign me up for a slice of that!

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • Put the canola oil in a 10-inch oven safe skillet and put the skillet in the oven for 10 minutes.
  • While the skillet is heating in the oven combine the flour, corn meal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl and give it a quick stir so it is evenly mixed together.
  • In a smaller bowl, whisk together the butter, egg and buttermilk.
  • Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients.
  • Before stirring, add the scallions and cheese and then stir with a spatula only until it is all incorporated.
    • Note it is ok if 'all' the flour and/or cornmeal doesn't get mixed in, it is more important to not over stir.
  • Remove the skillet from the oven (with an oven mitt or similar device to avoid burns) and pour the mixture into it.
  • Return the skillet (again with protection) to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, turning the skillet for even browning half way through.
  • Remove the skillet (once more without burning yourself) from the oven and let it sit for 10ish minutes.
  • Place a plate upside down over the cornbread and flip the skillet so that the cornbread falls onto the plate.
  • Serve warm or at room temperature.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, August 18, 2014

Life & Style: The What, How + Why Behind a Success Notebook, Part 2

You can catch up on what a success notebook is in this post here.

Once you have your success notebook set up, you're officially ready to take action on the behaviors, attitudes and actions you've determined are what makes a person (aka YOU!) successful.

But to just look at your list can be incredibly overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you take any action and get where you want to be?

It's time to break down each successful action into bite-sized chunks. If you've determined that a successful mother will have her child potty trained by 2 (this is something that is in my success notebook under mothering), you can't just start today and your child will be potty trained tomorrow... at least not at this early age.

Instead, I broke down this successful action into small actions. Jason assists a lot with this particular action as he is the primary care-giver of Bug while I'm at work. We are slowly building up how many times we put Bug on her potty each day. We also avidly listen to and watch her cues as she is notoriously helpful for letting us know either when she needs to go potty or when she has recently gone.

We have routinely always put Bug on her potty once per day. Starting in early August, we starting putting her on her potty twice per day. Each week, we up how many times a day we put her on her potty. We sign potty to her, we say potty to her, etc.

If, as another example, you want to read 52 books this year, that means you need to read 1 book a week. Once you know which book you're reading for the current week, you can break down the book goal even further by figuring out how many pages or chapters you need to read each day to stay on track.

In essence, each week, you're going to create goals. Your goals will directly come from your success categories. For instance, my goals list often includes these items:
-Read 1 book
-Read 7 books with Bug
-Complete a couple of crafts
-Play a game with Jason

Each week, I write my goals list down in my success notebook. I also share my weekly goals on our Facebook page as a way to hold myself accountable. Honestly, this really helps me stick to my goals. When I share my goals with our community, it helps me continue on with my goals, even when I don't really want to.

Writing down my goals helps me stay focused (most of the time). I check them off as the week goes on, and seeing my progress always spurs me on.

Your goals list for each week may not include something from every category in your success notebook. It's important to keep the goals list aspiring, but achievable. You don't want to wear yourself ragged just trying to achieve goals. The point is to have fun and enjoy life, too! I make it a point to include fun activities on my goals list, and this is a great reminder that I can complete goals and make progress and that includes building memories with my family.
Now it's time to make your goals list and get started on achieving all the successes you've set your sights on!

Friday, August 15, 2014

This Book Room

The Reverend Curtis Black hasn't spoken to his son, Matthew, in over a year-not since Matthew dropped out of Harvard to marry his girlfriend, Racquel, and be a full-time father to their infant son. Curtis knows that it was he and his wife, Charlotte, who drove Matthew away, but he prays that one day his son will forgive them and come home.

Matthew, however, can't seem to forget the pain his parents caused him and Racquel. Still, he wonders if maybe they'd been right, as fatherhood is not what he expected, and Racquel's behavior has become increasingly erratic. Matthew genuinely wants to be a good husband, though, and swears he'll never repeat his parents' mistakes. But when an old friend expresses her desire for Matthew, the temptation may be too great to resist...

Then, there's Dillon Whitfield-Curtis's long-lost-son-who has settled in as a member of the Black family. Yet the transition has been anything but easy. Charlotte, convinced he's only after Curtis's money, wishes he would move back to where he came from. Dillon, however, has no intention of going anywhere. After a lifetime in the shadows, he's determined to take his rightful place as Curtis's first-born son and heir, and he'll do whatever it takes to win his father's affection-even if it means playing dirty...

As jealousy builds and secrets pile up, both of Curtis's sons will be pushed over the edge and forced to take drastic action. Can these two troubled young men find their way back into the Black family fold, or will their family ties be undone once and for all?

Additional notes: This is the eleventh book in the Reverend Curtis Black series. You can read my reviews of other books in the series by searching "Reverend Curtis Black" in the search box on the blog.

My thoughts: Sometimes, I really question why I even read these books. They're just so full of drama and craziness. The books are enjoyable to read, in that I always feel much better about my own life, and they are just quick reads, too. Read at your own risk is what I would say!

From Mary Hunt comes a collection of tips on saving money and time in the areas of home, auto,
travel, clothing, cooking, shopping, finance, kitchen, gifts, special occasions, kids, yard and garden, laundry, health, organizing and more. It contains sound advice for getting out of debt, managing money, curbing spending, finding creative solutions, and “bringing dignity to the art of living below your means.”

My thoughts: The good news is that I found a few really good tips and tricks I had never heard of before, including a nifty way to clean one's hairbrush. The book was a quick, easy read and was perfect for on-the-go and bathroom reading. I would highly recommend reading it and seeing what new tricks you discover.

In the Amish town of Sugarcreek, love comes in many forms. But will it come at all for Miriam?

Miriam Zehr has worked at the Sugarcreek Inn longer than she cares to admit. The restaurant is a favorite of town residents as well as the many tourists who come to taste the famous Amish fare. Though she always tries to have a smile for every customer, deep down Miriam knows something's missing: a family of her own.

Miriam has never felt particularly beautiful, especially because she's always been a bit heavier than other girls her age. When Junior, the man she's pined for all her life, suddenly seeks her out, she's thrilled to be noticed . . . until she realizes he's only asking her to help get the attention of Mary Kathryn Hershberger, her pretty friend.

If Miriam helps Junior court Mary Kathryn, she'll get to spend a lot of time with him, but she might lose him in the process. Are these few stolen moments worth a lifetime of sacrifice? Is Miriam right to even hope for the life she dreams of?

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Return to Sugarcreek series. The second book has already been released, and the third book will be released soon.

My thoughts: I was so happy to see a new series from the author and one in which we re-visit a familiar land! Of all the Amish books I've read, this author is one of my all-time favorites. If you're a fan of Amish fiction, you've got to check out her books.

Nine-year-old Beezus Quimby has her hands full with her little sister, Ramona. Sure, other people have little sisters that bother them sometimes, but is there anyone in the world like Ramona? Whether she's taking one bite out of every apple in a box or secretly inviting 15 other 4-year-olds to the house for a party, Ramona is always making trouble--and getting all the attention. Every big sister can relate to the trials and tribulations Beezus must endure. Old enough to be expected to take responsibility for her little sister, yet young enough to be mortified by every embarrassing plight the precocious preschooler gets them into, Beezus is constantly struggling with her mixed-up feelings about the exasperating Ramona.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Ramona Quimby series. There are eight books in this series and all have been released.

My thoughts: I know I read some of these books as a kid, but that was at least 20 years ago. I'm thoroughly enjoying getting into the series and Ramona's crazy antics. It also helps me envision what sort of craziness I am in for as Bug grows older. This series would be a fantastic read-aloud series for your littles.

In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life... until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

My thoughts: This is a tragically wonderful read and perfect for middle-schoolers on up. The characters are so lovable and well developed. I was rooting for them all and was very happy with how the book ended. If you're looking for a great book to end your summer reading with, this is the one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

In the Kitchen with Jason (and David): Smoked Gouda-Bacon Cheeseburgers

These were delicious. So good in fact that we altered our schedule to have them again, only a week after the first time we had them (don't tell anyone that we had leftover ingredients that would go bad if we waited any longer than that).

Yummy cheesy goodness in a bun. Sign me up for 2.
  • 5 bacon slices, uncooked and diced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 lb ground chuck
  • 4 oz gouda cheese, cut into 4 pieces
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • Heat your grill.
  • Place the bacon in a large skillet and cook over medium heat, for about 6-8 minutes.
  • Add the onion and spinach and cook for about 2 more minutes.
  • Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  • Remove from heat and set aside.
  • In a large bowl whisk together the egg, liquid smoke, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
  • Using your hands, mix in the beef and the bacon mixture to the egg mixture.
  • Shape the beef mixture into 4 patties.
    • This will be a little less firm than normal hamburgers; this is okay.
  • Put a piece of cheese in the center of each beef patty.
    • You will probably have to reform the patty a little bit after adding the cheese as well.
  • Grill for about 7-8 minutes per side over medium heat.
  • No ketchup or mustard is needed (but you can use it if you want to).
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, August 11, 2014

Life & Style: The What, How + Why Behind a Success Notebook, Part 1

photo credit
A few months ago, I was feeling very much like I was in a rut. I had a lot of goals and dreams, but I felt clueless how to go about achieving anything of any importance.

I've always set goals and made it a point to slowly chip away at them, but I needed something more concrete for every area of my life. As I was thinking on how to do this, I just decided to sit down with a spiral bound notebook and write down everything I wanted to do.

What is a success notebook? It's a dedicated notebook for all things success in your life. My success notebook will be different than yours because what is success to me will mean something different than what success means to you.

Organization is key to my life and keeping my sanity somewhat in check, so I organized all my dreams and goals into categories. The categories that are part of my success notebook are:
  • Mother
  • Wife
  • Finances
  • Fitness/Health
  • Business
  • Homemaker
  • Personal
What does being a successful mother look like? What that means for you will be different than what it means to me, but here are some of the things I wrote down:
  • Read to Bug every day
  • Concentrated playtime with Bug every day
  • Potty trained by age 2
  • Do new activities with Bug (like crafts, sensory bins, etc.)
To give another example, here's some of what I wrote down for Wife:
  • Demonstrate and display patience
  • Say only what is kind, necessary and true
  • Concentrated playtime (playing games, watching movies, etc.)
To set up your success notebook, I recommend sitting down with a spiral-bound notebook, a pen, and a cup of something nice. Be sure to choose a quiet and calm time to complete your notebook - kids should be asleep or out of the house and you should make it a point to be in a calm, focused and positive state of mind. No negativity is allowed when setting up your notebook. The sky is the limit here and confidence is key.

Once you determine which categories are relevant and important to you, write those down on the first page. You can add on to this list later; my list of categories doesn't take up half the page.

On the next page, write down the first category name at the top of the page. Contemplate what being successful in that category means to you.

I can't stress that enough - do not compare yourself to others. Do not think about what your friend is doing in this area of her or his life. Do not consider what your mother would call successful. This notebook is a reflection of you and only you.

Depending on your own situation, you may want to chat with your partner and children about what success looks like in certain categories. I did not speak with Jason regarding my success notebook but I absolutely considered what he would call a successful wife and integrated those characteristics in that particular category.

For each category, write down what success is for you in that category. How do you use this notebook to actually achieve something? Check out part 2 of this series next week when I reveal how to put your success actions and attitudes into action.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Purposeful Parenting: Play Ideas for Infants

Your baby (less than 1 year old) may not be able to do a whole lot on his or her own quite yet, but believe me - they are definitely interested in playing. Their playing can be limited, but there are still a ton of activities they can and want to engage in. Here are a few to get you started:

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall
One of Bug's favorite games early on (as young as 6 weeks) was to look into a mirror at herself. You'll need to hold the hand mirror for your little or hold your little up to a mirror, but it's a great time for littles to look into a mirror. It can also be a good learning tool for identifying body parts, identifying people and so on. You can point to baby and say "baby" and they will see the baby (themselves) in the mirror.

Bath Time
Bug's favorite activity was bath time. We didn't soap her up every night, but once your infant is about 5 or 6 months, I see no reason why he or she can't play in the tub every night. No need to buy special bathtub toys if you don't or can't spend the money: measuring cups, regular cups, wash cloths, etc. are all game for toys for baby.

Bubbles can be a great thing for baby to see. They're so fun and don't require a lot of activity on baby's part beyond just seeing and feeling. Bug loved bubbles (and still does).

Sensory Activities
If you have a high chair, you have the perfect set-up for sensory play with your infant. We put Bug in her high chair and put flour or water on her high chair tray. That was good fun for her to play with.

Board Books
Bug obviously cannot read, but that doesn't stop her from loving to flip pages in a book. Before she was 1, we did expose her to real books so she could start to learn to turn paper pages. She is really good at it, but I recommend starting with board books. As your baby progresses with board books, slowly, gently and patiently introduce real books. You'd be surprised how gentle your baby will learn to be with books with a bit of guidance and a lot of practice.

Smile for the Camera
My girl's already outgrown this activity for now, but she was quite obsessed with the camera early on. I would bring it in close so she could see it, take it out further and encourage her to play and be silly for the camera while I took photos. She really enjoyed doing that for a long time, but now she's over the camera. Sniffle.

Sing Your Heart Out
I'm a terribly awful singer, but Bug has loved music since she was in my womb. Even in the car, if she's a little fussy, all we have to do is turn on worship music and she settles right down. It's magic. She has heard worship music since she was 1 month in my belly, and she loves us to sing to her. When she was just a wee one, she would be so transfixed. Now she tries to sing along with us. It doesn't really matter so much what you sing as long as you're confident about it. I stick with worship songs or Christmas songs because I know the lyrics and music. Sing what you know and be happy while singing. That's all your baby really cares about.

Play Cards
Kids love high-contrast ideas. Playing cards are perfect for them. I would just take a deck of cards and slowly show each card to an infant Bug. She was so mesmerized by them.

Touchy Feely
Touch and feel board books are great for kids because they love to touch new textures. Another idea you can do is create your own textured cards: gather up a bunch of textured items and make textured cards. Think sandpaper, textured cardstock from a crafts store, a painted surface, etc.