Thursday, December 27, 2012

This Book Room

Madison Parker has discovered that not all publicity is good publicity. After turning herself in for stealing some bling, the reality star is stuck doing community service while her Fame Game castmates soak up all the screen time. Not that newcomer Kate Hayes needs more attention—ever since her breakout song became an overnight sensation she's suddenly acting like she's Katy Perry. Aspiring actress Carmen Curtis is finally making a name for herself, but she's finding it harder than ever to get out from behind her famous mother's shadow. And in Hollywood, leading men are a dime a dozen, but a good man is hard to find. So when two of the girls have their eye on the same guy, that can mean only one thing: on-camera drama.

In the second novel in bestselling author Lauren Conrad's Fame Game series, friendships are tested, lines are crossed, and fashion crimes are committed—and that's before the cameras even start rolling.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Fame Game series and was just released. You can read my review of the first book here.

My thoughts: I love that I was able to have empathy for Madison in this book since she's not been a very lovable character. This series is such fun to read, especially this latest book. Kate's becoming a bit of a snob, though, but I think one could guess that would happen. It's probably rare to be someone who lives in LA among the infamous and not become a snob. Knowing that these stories are likely infused with real-world happenings makes the book that much more fun to read.

Pa heads west to the unsettled wilderness of the Dakota Territory. When Ma, Laura, Mary, Carrie, and Grace join him, they become the first settlers in the town of DeSmet. And Pa begins work on the first building in what will soon be a brand-new town on the shores of Silver Lake.

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Little House on the Prairie series. There are nine books in this series and all have been released. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here and the fourth book here.

My thoughts: This wasn't my favorite book in the series. When the family moves to the new territory, it seems very lonely. There isn't really much to say. I felt bad that the family was all alone. I like the country, but not that much country.

For the second time in ten years, Grace Stone is starting over on Cedar Key. Grace first moved to the serene island to escape a disastrous relationship. Now a visit with her Aunt Maude is interrupted by unwelcome news: Grace's apartment and coffee shop have been destroyed by fire. Grace is devastated, yet ever-practical Maude has a plan. While she helps Grace resettle, Maude even has a business venture in mind--weekend knitting retreats where women can craft, chat, and support one another. The return of Grace's estranged sister, and a tentative romance with the local bookstore owner create even more chaos in Grace's neatly planned life. Knitting together her past and future will mean untangling the painful threads Grace has left behind, but the result could be a vibrant new life--and the courage to live life to its fullest.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Cedar Key series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, and the second-and-a-half book here. The fourth book in this series will be released in 2013.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I like that there's a bit of a mystery to each novel. Aunt Maude is a supremely lovable character, and I love that we're able to catch up with characters from other books in this series. If you enjoy knitting or just reading about knitting, you'll want to check out this series.

Welcome to Appleseed Creek, the heart of Ohio’s Amish Country, where life is not as serene as it seems.

While her Cleveland friends relocated to Southern California and Italy, 24-year-old computer whiz Chloe Humphrey moves with some uncertainty to Appleseed Creek to direct technology services at a nearby college. Her first acquaintance is Becky, an ex-Amish teenager looking for a new home.

While driving Chloe’s car, Becky collides with a buggy, killing an Amish elder. But what looks like an accident is soon labeled murder when police discover the car’s cut brake line.

Now, Chloe must take on the role of amateur sleuth to discover who the real intended victim was before the murderer makes a second attempt. Becky’s handsome Amish-turned-Mennonite brother, Timothy, a local carpenter, comes in handy along the way. With God’s help, they’ll solve the mystery that’s rocking this small community.


Additional notes: This is the first book in the Appleseed Creek series. The second book will be released in 2013.

My thoughts: This book was interesting. At times, I didn't like it, and at times, I was riveted. There were a lot of little subplots that I thoroughly enjoyed. The best aspect for me was that this book didn't center on romance as so many Amish books do. The main plot of the book was mystery, and that was great. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this series.

Love is in the air—but what does that mean for Greg Heffley?

A Valentine’s Day dance at Greg’s middle school has turned his world upside down. As Greg scrambles to find a date, he’s worried he’ll be left out in the cold on the big night. His best friend, Rowley, doesn’t have any prospects either, but that’s a small consolation.

An unexpected twist gives Greg a partner for the dance and leaves Rowley the odd man out. But a lot can happen in one night, and in the end, you never know who’s going to be lucky in love.


Additional notes: This is the seventh book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and is the latest release as of this writing.
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: The beginning of this book was freaking hilarious. Being pregnant while I read this book made it all the better! I knew the book would end up just the way it did - but somehow, these books being predictable doesn't take anything away from them. It just makes them better. I really enjoy watching Greg slowly grow up and experience new life lessons.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Tater-Tot Casserole

We love this recipe. We probably make it once every other week due to the awesomeness that is this recipe. Jess found it on Pinterest some time ago and we have been making it ever since.


Ingredients
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Cook the ground beef and onions together in a frying pan.
  • Mix the soup with the beef and put the mixture into a 9 x 9 baking pan.
  • Top this with the tater tots.
  • Bake for 35 minutes.
  • Top with the cheddar cheese and bake for another 3 minutes.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This Book Room: Christmas Edition 2012, Part 2

You can read Part 1 in this series right here!

After her husband, Shep, loses his latest job, Jennie Davis is grateful to be in a car en route to beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Shep has inherited a house from a distant cousin, along with the cousin’s long-established bicycle shop. The move gives Jennie, Shep, and their two children a welcome chance for a fresh start.

While Shep dives into his new venture at the bike shop, Jennie carefully restores their broken-down house. She loves being a stay-at-home mom but yearns to find some fulfillment outside of her family—particularly as they struggle financially. On morning walks, she forges a friendship with her Amish neighbor, Mattie Fisher, who opens up about her modest way of life. Mattie’s unswerving good character in the face of adversity encourages Jennie to seek practical solutions to her own difficulties. A passing remark by Jennie’s son transforms desperation about their finances into inspiration, leading her to embark upon a candy-making enterprise.

Soon, Jennie’s newfound purpose collides with Shep’s growing stress at work and long-simmering tensions between husband and wife rise to the surface. As the holiday season approaches, their family is challenged as never before—until an unexpected visitor arrives to give Jennie the greatest gift of all.

My thoughts: While Jennie, at times, annoyed me, this story was incredibly uplifting. I loved how the family slowly came together again. A lot of families are facing brokenness right now: change of lifestyle, death, illness, etc. Jennie pulled herself up by her bootstraps, though. If you're feeling like there's nothing you can do to help your family's situation, read this book.

Christmas in Icicle Falls... Between Yuletide traditions, winter sports and mistletoe hanging everywhere, Christmas is the best time of year in Icicle Falls, Washington. But this year it's not so merry-for three of its residents, anyway.

Cass Wilkes, owner of the Gingerbread Haus bakery, was looking forward to her daughter, Danielle's, wedding...until Dani announced that she wants her father, Cass's ex, to walk her down the aisle. Seriously? And, since every B and B is full, it looks like he, his trophy wife and their yappy little dog will be staying with Cass.

Her friend Charlene Albach arrives at their weekly chick-flick night in shock. She's just seen the ghost of Christmas past: her ex-husband, Richard, who left her a year ago, running off with the hostess from her restaurant, Zelda's, to start a new life (and restaurant) in Seattle. Now the hostess is history and he wants to kiss and make up. Hide the mistletoe!

And bring out the hot buttered rum, because the holidays aren't so easy for Ella O'Brien, either. Ella, who's newly divorced, is still sharing the house with her ex while they wait for the place to sell, and they are still fighting over all the things they fought over when they were married. The love is gone. Isn't it?

But Christmas has a way of working its magic. One of these women is about to rediscover love, another is going to remember what's important in life and the third will find a new dream in the new year. Merry Ex-mas, ladies!


Additional notes: This is the second book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. You can read my review of the first book here. The next book in this series is due out in 2013.

My thoughts: First, the cover of this book is so much fun. I love it! This story was really interesting to read on several levels. 1 - I love Sheila's writing. It's fun and the characters are so relatable. 2 - All the different story points were so on key. I felt like I had lived each story line in some way, and Sheila got each one just right. Jack and Ella's story just reminded me not to care what others think and life for yourself {and God}. I cannot wait to read the next book in this series!

There's something truly magical about Christmas. Filled with remarkable true stories of the kindness of strangers and the blessings of answered prayers, this collection with its small miracles truly captures the spirit of the season.These stories of hope, faith and joy are a moving tribute to the true meaning of Christmas and remind us all that the greatest gifts in life can't be gift wrapped.

My thoughts: Okay. This review won't be so glowing as the others. I really struggled with whether I liked this book or not. I enjoyed a select few of the stories. Most of the stories didn't hit me in any way. One in particular stands out, I remember I liked a couple others, and the rest just missed me. I ended the ones I didn't like with, "Huh?" Some of them just didn't fit with this book theme! The good news is that the book is short and the stories are easy to read {if you ignore the fact that some of them just plain don't seem to make sense}. I wouldn't gift this to anyone or give it a permanent spot on your bookshelf, but you could check it out from the library and give it a whirl.

Marva Fergusen has a very personal Christmas tradition that happens every December 26th. As an aging widow, the tradition means more to her now than it ever has. Her newest neighbor, nine-year-old Charlee Alexander, loves Christmas too. But her family has fallen on hard times and things get worse when Charlee becomes critically ill. Then, on December 12th, Charlee makes a wonderful Discovery. A mysterious note is delivered that promises twelve days of gifts and stories that will reveal the truth behind the beloved Christmas song "The 12 Days of Christmas." As the days go by, the gifts hint to a possible lost lyric. Was there once a thirteenth day of Christmas? And if so, could it's magic change - or save - a life? Filled with laughter, tenderness, and hope, The 13th Day of Christmas invites us to see how an old Christmas favorite can become a true Christmas miracle.

My thoughts: First things first - this book was amazing. Seriously. You must read it. I laughed. I cried. Well, really, I sobbed. For various reasons, not all of which I can share with you at this moment. But I can tell you this: the characters in this story will embed themselves into your heart and soul. You will want to pray for them, bake them cookies and buy a fun apron {you'll have to read the story to know what I'm talking about with the apron thing!}. If you are looking for a great Christmas gift to give or read yourself, you found it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Do you like chocolate? How about peanut butter? And who doesn't like cookies? Well, roll all three of those up together and you end up with these delectable cookies that everyone will love. Plus, you only need four ingredients!


Ingredients
  • 1 package devil's food cake mix
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 egg
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Beat all ingredients with an electric mixer on low for 2 minutes.
  • Turn the mixer up to medium for 2 more minutes.
  • Shape the resulting blob of yummy goodness into two dozen 1 inch balls.
  • Place the cookie balls 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets.
  • With a fork that was dipped in sugar flatten each ball twice making a lattice design on the top of them.
  • Bake for seven to eight minutes.
  • Cool for two minutes on the cookie sheets before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Did I mention that they were super easy to make? No... well, they are super easy to make. I recommend that the next time you are looking for some yummy cookies, you bake up a batch of these.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saving the Moola: our best tips for saving on groceries

photo credit
This fall, Jason and I took Financial Peace University classes. While we had already been Dave Ramsey fans for years {and even went to a Total Money Makeover event back in May}, we really wanted to take the classes for encouragement and any smart tips that would be new to us. I can tell you we have learned so much, particularly about insurance.

While in the class, Jason and I felt convicted to really crack down on our grocery bill. Our expenses are pretty pared down, so to gain any extra traction with our financial goals, we had to really look at what could be cut. We especially wanted to be able to grow money in a "blow" envelope and to grow money in our grocery envelope for when items we use regularly hit rock bottom prices so we can really stockpile.

Of the money we use for groceries, which includes everything from food to toiletries to odds and ends {like duct tape!}, we decided to earmark 25% of our total budgeted grocery money per week and add that to our newly-created blow envelope. We kept the remaining 75% in our grocery envelope and decided to really become serious about not just effective menu planning, but effective grocery trip planning.

Here are some of the tips we've used to be able to grow our blow envelope money and our grocery envelope money just over the last two months:
  • Take extreme stock of your pantry. For every item on the grocery list, absolutely check to be sure you don't have it. If you don't have it, can something else be used instead? A recipe we tried recently called for marinara sauce, but that is costly in the store {usually around $3 or so}. Regular pasta sauce is not only cheaper {at $1 per jar on sale}, but we had lots of that stockpiled. So we skipped marinara sauce and used pasta sauce instead. Instant savings of $2! We also make it a point to use ground beef instead of ground turkey for everything since we regularly buy a side of beef from Becker Farms. This saves us $6 every time we do this.
  • Plan at least half of your dinners around your pantry and freezer. This also usually means simple meals. Our standby favorites include Taco Bowl, Creamy Chicken Soup, pasta with a green salad on the side and frozen pizza from Aldi {so unbelievably tasty and a whole pizza is just $1.99!!!!} with a green salad. We make a couple of new dinners each week.
  • Keep breakfasts, lunches and snacks simple.... although we warn you that this might be where you spend a lot of your money! We definitely spend the majority of our money in the Produce department of the grocery store. We always have apples in the house along with at least two other types of fresh fruit: right now, we have bananas and grapes. We also keep canned fruit on hand. For breakfast right now during pregnancy, I'm eating toast, eggs and sausage. Jason eats cereal bought at $1.50 or less per box and homemade instant oatmeal. Lunches are leftovers, PB and J sandwiches or a green salad with fruit {this is what I've been eating most days since being pregnant}. Most of the time, we have leftovers in the fridge and Jason eats those for lunch.
  • Know the prices of items. You can use a price book to know the cheapest place to buy certain items, but it's also important to know the actual prices of items, whether they're on sale or not. Every Monday night, I finalize our menu plan and grocery list. As an item is added to the grocery list, which I type on the computer, I have a running total of what our bill will be. I add romaine and iceberg lettuce, so the total is $4. Add a tomato, and the total goes up to $5. If I'm getting close to my limit and I'm not yet done, I need to reconfigure what we're eating. If I'm not getting close to my limit and I'm already done, I take serious stock of all the sales ads {viewed online for free} and see if there are any rock bottom prices on items we regularly use. If so, I add those to the list for that store. If not, I leave the list as it is, and as the week goes on, if we run out of something, I add it to the list.
  • On Thursday evenings, Jason makes a trip to the ATM {one that does not charge us a single penny to pull money out of our credit union checking account} and pulls out the cash for our cash expenses for the coming week. This is usually only gas and grocery money, but at other times, it includes other items as well. He puts all of the cash into its correct envelope, including pulling out 25% of the grocery money and putting it in our blow envelope.
  • Here's the most important tip Jason and I could ever share with you... ready? When you go to the store, add up the cost of each item as you place it in the cart. I've been told there are apps for this on a smartphone. I just bring along a pencil and write down the prices of each item and periodically add up the prices. Sometimes, the prices are higher than I thought. Most of the time, though, they're lower. Either way, it's important to do this because you only have the money you have in your grocery envelope and you cannot go over that amount. Trust me - you want to be sure you're within your limits before you're at the register and you don't have enough money for all the items that are rung up and bagged!
Just by being diligent and following these tips, we have managed to grow money in our blow envelope, even after using our blow envelope many times for eating out and miscellaneous items/activities we've done, and we grew our grocery money envelope. Once our blow envelope reaches a certain amount, we plan to put any extra money after that toward our other financial goals. There's a lot you can do to save money off your grocery bill that doesn't include coupons or eating poorly. In fact, our diet consists of mainly fresh foods. We eat a lot of meat, vegetables and fruit. And you'll find you have enough money to pick up a treat or two at the grocery store. During this pregnancy, I have been going crazy for Ghiradelli chocolate. At $2 a bar {even though the bar lasts quite a few days between Jason and I}, it's kind of expensive! We have been able to buy two bars a week for a month now because we've been so diligent in only buying what we really needed and planning simple meals.

Groceries is the one area we can all blow money in very easily, but this is also an area that you can really save money in and eat a well balanced diet. Some weeks may be better than others, but after a few weeks, I promise you'll notice a difference at the register. You have nothing to lose... and a whole lot of savings to gain!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Applesauce Carrot Muffins

This recipe makes a fantastic little muffin. They taste fantastic and are not a pain to make. We had to make them a second time because the first time we ate them all before a picture could be taken... not that we're complaining, they are yummy! We found this recipe in a little apple cookbook that doesn't really have a name. And we don't even know where we bought it. But we're glad you can now enjoy this recipe along with us!


Ingredients
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 3/4 cup grated carrots
Directions
  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • In a large bowl combine the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • In a second bowl whisk together the egg and sugar until well combined.
    • The recipe states 'until fluffy' but I don't quite get what they are aiming for. Once I got past well combined, the mixture turned frothy and I decided that fluffy just wasn't in the cards.
  • Whisk in the oil, vanilla, and lemon extract.
  • Stir in the applesauce.
    • Note the switching from whisk to stir, you can now just use a spatula instead of the whisk.
  • Pour the applesauce mixture into the flour mixture and stir just until combined.
  • Quickly fold in the carrots.
  • Spoon evenly into 12 greased muffin tins.
    • Each one will be about 2/3 full.
  • Bake for 15 to 18 minutes.
  • Let cool for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.
  • Try not to eat them all right then and there.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, December 10, 2012

This Book Room: An Amish Kitchen

Fall in Paradise, Pennsylvania always brings a brisk change in the weather. This time also provides unexpected visitors, new love, and renewed hope for three women.

Fern has a green thumb for healing herbs and flowers, but longs for love to bloom in her life. The next-door neighbor's oldest son Abram comes running into Fern's kitchen seeking help for his little sister. The crisis soon leads to a promise of romance--until an incident threatens to end their growing attraction.

Nearby, Hannah runs her parents' bed and breakfast, Paradise Inn--but her life feels nothing like Paradise. She longs for a man of integrity to enter her life, but never expected him to knock on the front door looking for a room. Will she be able trust Stephen with her future once she discovers his mysterious past?

When a storm blows a tree onto Eve's farmhouse, she has little choice but to temporarily move her family into her parents' home. Outside of cooking together in the kitchen, Eve and her mother can't agree on anything. But this may be just the recipe for hope in healing old wounds.

My thoughts: These authors, Kelly Long, Amy Clipston and Beth Wiseman, have released several anthologies over the years, and I adore reading them all! I love that these stories are based around the kitchen - the true heart of the home. While I've read other books by all three authors and sincerely enjoyed them, my absolute favorite story {and the real standout in this particular anthology} was Beth's. This is likely because it wasn't so much centered on boy-meets-girl as it was centered on a mother-daughter relationship. And the subplot between Eve's twins - funny, but sad all at the same time!

The stories are quick and fun to read. If you enjoy Amish fiction, you'll definitely want to read this book. And if you haven't read Amish fiction but are curious, an anthology like this is a great place to start. The three authors are some of the best Amish fiction writers in the market, so you'll get a good taste of what is available and what you may like.

The recipes at the back of the book are truly wonderful. I copied three out of the book to test in the future myself!

Thanks to booksneeze.com for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Crafty Christmas: Bookprint Ornaments


Christmas Countdown: Christmas is 2 weeks away!

After making and loving this homemade version of Mod Podge, I was excited to use it on something. When I saw this idea on Pinterest, I knew I just needed bookprint ornaments for our Christmas tree. It also looked like a fairly easy, frugal idea.

Here's what you need to make bookprint ornaments:
Unfortunately, a book is harmed in the making of these ornaments. You can pick up a used book for a dime or sacrifice one of your own. I sacrificed one of my own that I was going to donate to the library. It took some time to figure out the best size of the strips. The strips of pages should be small enough that when you place it on the ornament, all of the strip can lay flat on the ornament. If it's too big, you'll see that the strip doesn't lay flat on the ornament.

Here's how you make a bookprint ornament:
  1. Rip several book pages into strips. You can rip several pages at once.
  2. Lay down a newspaper on your work space. Do not use a crafting sheet when using glitter; trust me on this. Newspaper is much better, especially if you can get one for free (a relative's day-old paper, a paper left laying around at Starbucks, etc.).
  3. Hold a strip of ripped paper on a clear glass ornament. Dip your sponge brush into Mod Podge and brush Mod Podge onto the paper and ornament.
  4. Keep holding the piece of paper to the ornament. Grab another piece of ripped paper and layer it next to the first piece. Brush Mod Podge onto the second piece of paper and ornament.
  5. Repeat several times, until the entire ornament is covered. You do not need to keep holding all of the strips; just hold the most recent one you put on until the Mod Podge dries a bit.
  6. When the ornament is fully covered in paper strips, it should be fairly wet from all the Mod Podge. Even so, brush on one last final layer of Mod Podge over the entire ornament, effectively cementing in all of the pieces of paper together.
  7. Let the ornaments dry overnight.
  8. Using a paint brush, paint Mod Podge onto the top of the ornament, where the hook goes (what is that piece of the ornament called? who knows!). Glitter the top of the ornament.
  9. Brush Mod Podge over the entire ball of the ornament. Sprinkle glitter on it.
  10. Let dry overnight.
I made six ornaments, and while I'm not always a fan of glitter, the ornaments went from just okay to fabulous with the addition of glitter. The cost of this project is about $1 per ornament and more than 40% of the cost is in the clear glass ornament itself. Search garage sales - you may be able to pick these up for much cheaper than that. I bought mine new with a coupon.

Just as an aside, now that our tree is up and these ornaments are on there, OMG! These ornaments are gorgeous. My hubby and I adore them!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

This Book Room

The author of the acclaimed "Spinning Forward" welcomes readers back to the lush Florida island of Cedar Key, weaving together heartwarming moments and real-life challenges in a beautifully crafted, uplifting novel.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Cedar Key series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are currently three full-length books in this series, and a fourth is due out in 2013.

My thoughts: Terri's plots are always interesting, and this plot really gripped me, however, her characters could use some redeeming qualities. Monica is not so lovely. I just felt so bad for Clarissa, Monica's stepdaughter, throughout this whole book.


The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as they leave their little house on the prairie and travel in their covered wagon to Minnesota. Here they settle in a little house made of sod beside the banks of beautiful Plum Creek. Soon Pa builds a wonderful new little house with real glass windows and a hinged door. Laura and her sister Mary go to school, help with the chores, and fish in the creek. At night everyone listens to the merry music of Pa's fiddle. Misfortunes come in the form of a grasshopper plague and a terrible blizzard, but the pioneer family works hard together to overcome these troubles.

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Little House on the Prairie series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here. There are nine books in this series and all have been released.

My thoughts: This was such a lovely and fun book, but definitely not without its struggles! This little family has traveled to their new home, but the land there and what occurs is so strange to them {and to me!}.

In 2000, Daniel Suelo left his life savings-all thirty dollars of it-in a phone booth. He has lived without money-and with a newfound sense of freedom and security-ever since.

The Man Who Quit Money is an account of how one man learned to live, sanely and happily, without earning, receiving, or spending a single cent. Suelo doesn't pay taxes, or accept food stamps or welfare. He lives in caves in the Utah canyonlands, forages wild foods and gourmet discards. He no longer even carries an I.D. Yet he manages to amply fulfill not only the basic human needs-for shelter, food, and warmth-but, to an enviable degree, the universal desires for companionship, purpose, and spiritual engagement. In retracing the surprising path and guiding philosophy that led Suelo into this way of life, Sundeen raises provocative and riveting questions about the decisions we all make, by default or by design, about how we live-and how we might live better.

My thoughts: So, I heard of this book through goodreads.com's best books of 2012 voting contest. It looked interesting, so I thought I'd give it a go. While I'm still glad I read it {it helps that the story is written in an easy-to-read manner}, I really had no positive feelings for Daniel. His views are a bit... well, delusional, in some aspects. And I'm not sure I'm surprised as he doesn't live clean {ie. he takes drugs}. So of course, he's delusional! There were a lot of parts of this book that bothered me, as a Christian and a woman and a person who desires to leave a good footprint on this Earth. I would not recommend this one at all.

It’s revenge of the nerds when Jon grabs Garfield’s traditional lead role and takes center stage with a delightfully dorky new book of his own.

Through classic comics, blog entries, and a wealth of other wacky new material, experience Jon’s dating disasters, phone call faux pas, wardrobe malfunctions, and mirthful mishaps—and cheer the geek with a heart of gold as he finally finds true love with Liz, the veterinarian. (Who’d have thunk it?)

So, rejoice, Jon fans, and enjoy the fun. The moment of goof has arrived!

Additional notes: There are so many Garfield books out and I've read just about all of them. You can search for reviews for all Garfield books by typing "Garfield" into the search bar located on this blog.

My thoughts: I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that this book didn't have me laughing quite as hard as other Garfield books - Garfield was not the main character! And we all know how much I love the little orange furball. Jon is hilarious, though, and he definitely deserved his own book. I loved hearing Jim Davis' take on this character - his comments are sprinkled throughout the book and add a lot to discerning Jon's nerdiness.

It’s no secret that breastfeeding is the normal, healthy way to nourish and nurture your baby. Dedicated to supporting nursing and expectant mothers, the internationally respected La Leche League has set the standard for educating and empowering mothers in this natural art for generations. Now their classic bestselling guide has been retooled, refocused, and updated for today’s mothers and lifestyles. Working mothers, stay-at-home moms, single moms, and mothers of multiples will all benefit from the book’s range of nursing advice, stories, and information—from preparing for breastfeeding during pregnancy to feeding cues, from nursing positions to expressing and storing breast milk.

My thoughts: First, I have to start by saying this is a terrific book for any woman who's feeling nervous about breastfeeding and/or has no clue what she's doing {oh, that's me!}. I found this book so helpful and useful that it even made it on my Christmas list. However, there are a couple of chapters that I will definitely never read again. One was a chapter on nursing toddlers. Included were quotes children had said, and it was obvious the authors thought these quotes would make someone want to nurse a toddler. I don't know why, as the quotes absolutely made me cringe and never want to nurse a talking child. So that didn't really work out too well in the book's favor, but that's okay. It's still a useful and practical guide to breastfeeding. Every breastfeeding woman should read this book.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Steak Fajitas

So it seems that I can no longer make a recipe without changing something in it. Take out the jalapenos? No problem. Skip the last 5 steps and replace them with a few made up ones? Par for the course. So when we decided that the 'Fajitas on the Fly' recipe found in the Dollars to Donuts cookbook needed fixing, that's exactly what I did. Please see the new and improved recipe below.


Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp EVOO, divided
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 to 1 1/4 lbs steak, sliced into 1/4 inch thick strips
  • 1 whole green pepper
  • 1 whole red pepper
  • 1 whole onion
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • Salsa and or sour cream to taste when serving
Directions
  • Mix together 1 1/2 Tbsp EVOO and the next 7 ingredients together in a bowl.
  • Add in the steak and toss to coat. Set aside.
  • Slice the peppers and onions into 1/4 inch thick strips.
    • If you are quick with the slicing, make sure that the steak marinates for at least 15 minutes.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium high heat for about 3 minutes.
  • Add the remaining EVOO and the steak. 
    • Don't add the extra juices from the marinade.
  • Cook, stirring a couple of times, for about 4 minutes until the steak is cooked through.
  • Transfer the steak to a large plate.
  • Add the peppers and onion to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the steak back to the skillet and cook and stir for an additional 2 minutes.
  • While the steak and veggies are cooking together, wrap the tortillas in a paper towel and place them in your microwave on high for 30 seconds.
  • Serve the steak mixture in a tortilla with salsa and/or sour cream to taste.
The steak mixture should look like this when you are done with it, but before it has been added to a tortilla, as pictured above.
 

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, December 3, 2012

State of Our House Address: November in review

November is really a special month. Fall is definitively here, the holidays are coming, the nighttime is long. It makes one just want to snuggle up with one's husband and read all day. Not that I would know anything about that!

We continued our FPU and Bradley classes this month. As a result of our FPU classes, we are really challenging ourselves in our grocery budget. From the start of this year to now, we have cut our grocery budget by about 40%. One reason was to cut out some money due to excellent menu planning - we really did not need part of the extra money. This was cut out in April. At the start of November, we chose to cut another part but put that specific money in a blow envelope. This has worked incredibly well so far, and we're so pleased with it. The easiest way to effectively cut your grocery bill and not panic is to add up the things you're putting in your cart at the store. I just do this on a piece of paper and use head math - no need for a calculator {although to be honest, I am not the best at math, so Jason's head comes in handy at times when I just cannot figure it out!}. I will elaborate on this more in an upcoming Saving the Moola post. We're learning a lot in our Bradley classes, too, so it's been an educational season for us.

We're making it a point, even more than ever {if that's possible}, to put our time and effort into the things we truly care about and desire to spend time on. This usually results in a lot of relaxation time, but we make sure to have plenty of craziness in our lives, too! We traveled to Ann Arbor to see Pentatonix, an a capella group, this month. The concert venue was... well, not somewhere we would ever go again, but the group was amazing. For us, that was truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment. We don't go to concerts like that often {the last one was seven years ago}. Here's a picture of us out to dinner in Ann Arbor before the concert:


We both got very little sewing done in October, but we made such progress in November. Here is a picture of the nursing pads and burp cloths I finally, finally finished:


Jason made gifts for Christmas, so I won't share those here in the instance the gift recipients will see this blog post {hi Mom!}, but here's a stuffed monster he made for our little Monster growing in my belly. His name is Buggles:


We make it a point to stay home for Thanksgiving, and this year, I was more than thankful for that tradition. I didn't feel very well the week of Thanksgiving, and the only thing that got me through was knowing we were staying home on Thanksgiving, and I could relax and chill. Thanksgiving weekend was so lovely, I nearly cried when it was over because I didn't want to say goodbye to it! We worked on a couple of sewing projects together, cooked, ate, slept, read and decorated the house. That, of course, involved putting up our tree and decorating it. Here is a picture of our gorgeous tree:


As we head into December, we're focusing on the true reason for the season and planning our Advent activities around Him. This will mean that we're saying "no" to more things than ever... so we can say yes to time spent in prayer, time spent together as a family, and time spent in growing - whether in our classes, in worship team at church, whatever it may mean for us. We pray your December is filled with glory and joy.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saving the Moola: November in review

November was such a wonderful month in terms of our finances! We had a goal in mind for what we wanted to save for child expenses {medical bills, cloth diapers and other necessities, etc.}, and we are almost.there. Our goal is to have fully funded our Monster {aka the baby growing in my belly} account by December 27. I originally thought there was no way we'd make it, but assuming no unexpected emergencies arise, we will! Glory to God!

Through this entire pregnancy, I have not made it a secret by any means that I'm disappointed we will not be debt free by the end of the year. All of the money we would have funneled toward my last student loan went instead to the Monster account. I find it hilariously ironic that the exact amount needed to pay off my student loan is the exact amount we needed to save for the Monster account. I've been praying a lot and giving this all to God... and I've been working on an attitude adjustment. I'm so blessed, but I felt so sure God was calling me to live this life debt free now and to know that can't happen just yet... well it was slowly killing me. I felt very drained. Some days, I still feel drained.

My last student loan is, to me, such a small amount and to not pay it off even though the money is in the bank is just the worst feeling ever. I know the money is there for a reason. I know the money will eventually be needed and spent on worthwhile things {like rent while I am on maternity leave!}. Honestly? It's just very difficult to have set a specific goal and not meet it.

It's been incredibly humbling. I've been broken this last half of 2012. I'm only just now, as I write this in the last week of November, starting to feel slightly put back together. But I tell you: I am not the same person I was in June. My heart's been broken and put back together - it's not the same. This pregnancy, and what it means for me in this specific aspect of using this money for another purpose other than being debt free, has been an extremely difficult journey.

Am I excited about Monster arriving? Of course! I can't wait to see his/her little face and get to know him/her. I'm ready to fulfill my calling of teaching little one all I can, immersing him/her in our church and, with my husband, homeschooling little one when the time comes. And of course, by me saying I'm ready, I really mean I'm not because what the heck do I know about little ones? But I'm ready to learn as I go!

I'm grateful there is one month left in the year for us to meet our Monster account goal. But I am even more grateful that a new year is just about on us, soon Monster will be here, and assuming s/he is happy and healthy, we can get back to our debt-free journey.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

This Book Room: Christmas Edition 2012, Part 1

Jaime and C. J. Fitzpatrick began their married life as most couples do--in love and looking forward to a bright future together. But four years later they've drifted apart and are almost ready to call it quits.

Mattie Riehl was hoping to give her husband Sol the Christmas gift they have both longed for--news that a baby was on the way. But as usual, she is disappointed. The holidays bring an acute awareness to Mattie that her dream of a big family isn't likely to become a reality.

Then a winter storm raging outside blows the Fitzpatricks into the Riehl home--and into a much slower pace of life. Can these two couples from different worlds help each other understand the true meaning of love this Christmas?

With her trademark plot twists and attention to detail, Suzanne Woods Fisher offers readers a beautiful Christmas story of love, forgiveness, and what truly matters in life.


Additional notes: This book is technically part of the Lancaster County Secrets series. You can read my review of the first book in this series here, my review of the second book here and my review of the third book here.

My thoughts: Jaime, as a character, is supremely annoying, but this book had a great heart to it and a great lesson. I love Christmas Amish books because I feel like they, more than any other book, cut right to the reason of the season.

Eight-year-old Lucy Turnbull knew better than to wish for a pony that Christmas in 1937. Her mother had assured her in no uncertain terms that asking for a pony was the same as asking for the moon. Besides, the only extra mouths they needed at their boarding house were the paying kind. But when an interesting pair of strangers comes to town, Lucy starts to believe her Christmas wishes might just come true after all. The queen of the Christmas novel, Melody Carlson pens another magical tale of expectation and excitement as one little girl dreams big and the impossible becomes possible.

My thoughts: This story was such fun to read. It's quick and easy. I love that it's set in 1937 - a wonderful period of time for a Christmas story. Lucy is a doll, and while one should never judge a book by its cover, this book's cover is just divine.

All Margaret Campbell wants for Christmas is a safe journey home. When her plans for a festive holiday with her family in Stirling crumble beneath the weight of her brother’s bitterness, the young schoolteacher wants nothing more than to return to the students she loves and the town house she calls home.

Then an unexpected detour places her in the path of Gordon Shaw, a handsome newspaperman from Glasgow, who struggles under a burden of remorse and shame.

When the secret of their shared history is revealed, will it leave them tangled in a knot of regret? Or might their past hold the threads that will bind their future together?

As warm as a woolen scarf on a cold winter’s eve, A Wreath of Snow is a tender story of love and forgiveness, wrapped in a celebration of all things Scottish, all things Victorian, and, especially, all things Christmas.


My thoughts: This book was predictable, but a really great story. Romance, adventure, mystery - all set during the Christmas season of course! What more can I ask for?

Experience the magic and wonder of the holiday season with this collection of four irresistible stories, headlined by #1 "New York Times"-bestselling author Fern Michaels. Includes tales by Cathy Lamb, Mary Carter, and Terri Dulong.

Additional notes: The story by Terri Dulong is considered book 2.5 of her Cedar Key series. You can read my review of the first book in this series here. As of this writing, I have read the second book but not yet posted my review.

My thoughts: First, I did not like this book. Second, there was way too much romance. Third, the best story in the book, by far, was Terri's. I may be biased since that's why I picked up this book in the first place, but oh well. I would definitely skip this one, unless you're reading the Cedar Key series, then I would read Terri's story and skip all others.

While visiting the Holy Land, Amanda answers the prayers of a stranger . . . and begins an amazing Christmas journey.

Amanda Vance is ambivalent about her husband’s idea for a big family holiday up north. Last year she planned a special Christmas in their own home, carefully preparing a nursery and the keepsake ornaments for their newborn. Now that room stands as empty as her heart.

Then a neighbor’s mishap turns into a last-minute chance for Amanda to take a much-needed vacation to tour the Holy Land.

An extraordinary turn of events allows Amanda to help answer a young mother’s plea for healing. Then, filled with a sense of awe, Amanda visits the place of Jesus’ birth. There she discovers anew the miracle of the Christ child—God incarnate as a tiny, vulnerable baby.

Her return to Florida marks a momentous shift in her soul and in her marriage as she begins to realize that her journey didn’t end in the Holy Land. And that God doesn’t just answer prayers of strangers . . . but also those of her own heart.


My thoughts: I thought I wouldn't like this book. I picked it up, thinking it would be one of those books where I read ten pages and toss it aside {really, I toss it back into the library bag to go back to the library, but same thing!}. But I really fell for this book. I fell for the story, the characters, the love, the anguish, the journey. A great read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Birthday Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Jess recently had a birthday and said that she would like some carrot cake cupcakes. Always willing to please, I found a recipe online here.


Ingredients for cupcakes
  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
  • 3 cups grated raw carrots
  • 4 eggs
Ingredients for frosting
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 lb. butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 lb. powdered sugar
Directions for cupcakes
  • Mix together all the dry ingredients.
  • Add the vegetable oil and carrots.
    • This will make it very thick, but this is ok as the eggs will even it out.
  • Mix in one egg at a time, beating well after adding each.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Distribute the batter into 24 lined cupcake tins; they will be filled about 3/4 full.
  • Bake for 14 or 15 minutes until the tops spring back when you touch them.
  • Let cool, removing from the cupcake tins once they are cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes.
 Directions for frosting
  • Set out the cream cheese and butter when you start making the recipe; this way they will be plenty softened when you get around to making the frosting.
  • Beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla.
  • Add the powdered sugar and beat until fully mixed.
  • Spread over the cooled cupcakes.
  • Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Notes
  • This will make 24 cupcakes. Halving the recipe will be difficult, as there is a 1/3 cup of oil which would be very hard to halve.
  • I took half of them to work with me and my coworkers really liked them.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Book Room

While Laura Ingalls grows up in a little house on the western prairie, Almanzo Wilder is living on a big farm in New York State. Here Almanzo and his brother and sisters help with the summer planting and fall harvest. In winter there is wood to be chopped and great slabs of ice to be cut from the river and stored. Time for fun comes when the jolly tin peddler visits, or best of all, when the fair comes to town.

This is Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved story of how her husband Almanzo grew up as a farmer boy far from the little house where Laura lived.


Additional notes: This is the third book in the Little House on the Prairie series, according to goodreads.com. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here. There are nine books in this series and all have been released.

My thoughts: It took me awhile to get into this book, but I have to say this book and the ideas presented completely resonate with me. I love how Almanzo's father rationalizes things for his children to understand. I try to live my life as simply as possible to take a bit of the "old days" with me in the here and now, but I would have loved to have lived during this time period.

Since the Bradley method was first introduced in 1970, a growing number of expectant parents have opted for natural childbirth, knowing that it's safer than medicated or surgical delivery. But where can parents-to-be go for information on how to have a successful Bradley birth? This book provides all the answers, offering sound advice on how to prepare physically for labor and what to expect during each of its stages.

My thoughts: Despite the near-pornographic pictures, this book is amazing. Jason and I both learned so much from reading this book. If you're looking to give birth naturally and want to feel empowered, this book is definitely for you. But don't say I didn't warn you about the pictures!

Justin Bieber has come a long way from being your average schoolkid, busking on the streets of the small town of Stratford, Ontario, Canada. And he wouldn't be where he is today without his legion of loyal Beliebers who have been with him every step of the way on this incredible journey. Now Justin wants to give something back to you, his very special fan: a VIP backstage peek at life behind the scenes, in his incredible new book.

Starting from the first night of his debut world tour, Justin invites you to follow him on his rollercoaster ride to superstardom--as he visits the far corners of the globe, makes his very own movie, records his new album, wins numerous awards, and pens a bestselling book, to name just some of his amazing accomplishments over the past few years.
My thoughts: Let me just first start by saying I'm a Belieber and I don't care who knows it. Ha! I actually am not a crazed fan, but there is something about a young person having a dream and working to make it come true that really resonates with me. It's encouraging and uplifting. If you have a JB fan in your life, this book is clean, easy to read and full of photos.

Garfield, the furry desperado, is at large again in this most-wanted new collection of comics. Whether he’s getting in a pickle or a jam, when it comes to trouble, the fat cat is always a glutton for punishment!

Additional notes: This is the latest release of the Garfield comic strips. You can search "Garfield" on this blog to see reviews of all the other Garfield books.

My thoughts: I can't help it - I'm crazy for Garfield! If you like comics, you will definitely enjoy reading Garfield books. Jason and I literally laugh out loud when we read these books.

Sweet Dreams Chocolate Company has been in the Sterling family for generations, ever since Great-Grandma Rose literally dreamed up her first fabulous recipe. But now it looks as if they're about to lose Sweet Dreams to the bank—and that would be a disaster, not only for the family but for the town of Icicle Falls, Washington. Can Samantha, the oldest daughter and new head of the company, come up with a way to save it?After Samantha does some brainstorming with her mother and sisters, inspiration strikes. They'll have a chocolate festival! Time's running out, but the Sterling women are determined and the town's behind them, so everything's bound to go smoothly….

Or not. Events seem to be conspiring against Samantha, and her mother's attempts to help aren't helping. To make matters worse, the fate of her company is in the hands of her archenemy, Blake Preston, the bank manager with the football-hero good looks. It's enough to drive her to chocolate. But Blake's also enough to convince her that (believe it or not) there's something even better than chocolate.


Additional notes: This is the first book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. A second book with a Christmas theme, Merry Ex-Mas, has already been released.

My thoughts: This book had romance, suspense and small-town charm: what's not to love? I'm a huge fan of this author. She writes such lovable characters and stories. I can't wait to read Merry Ex-Mas!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Crafty Christmas: Felt Cross Bookmark (or any design you desire)

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 4 weeks away!

I'm notorious for not ever having a proper bookmark and for being so craft illiterate, the ones I make look horrendous. You would think this would deter me in my quest for handcrafted bookmarks, but it just spurs me on even more.

You can buy all kinds of bookmarks at brick-and-mortar stores - plastic, metal, paper - and the options grow exponentially when you search online. I found these bookmarks on Pinterest and immediately thought, Oh, I can make those myself! Here's where you all respond with a snicker.

Laughter aside, my bookmarks actually came out pretty well, considering I designed and crafted them myself, despite my crafticappedness.


Here's what you need to make any felt bookmark:
  • Felt
  • Needles
  • Pins
  • Paper
  • Pencil/pen
  • Thread
Directions for making this cross bookmark:
  1. Draw a cross template.
  2. Pin the cross template to a bit of felt. I chose white for the cross for both bookmarks.
  3. Cut out the cross.
  4. Fold a bit of red felt in half, then cut out one half of a heart (when you fold the felt in half and just cut out one side, you're really making one whole heart).
  5. Pin the cut-out cross to one piece of felt. You can choose whatever color of felt you desire; I chose purple for my bookmark and black for Jason's.
  6. Stitch the cross onto the piece of felt. You can use any stitch you desire.
  7. Pin the cut-out heart to the cross and felt; stitch heart onto the felt.
  8. Depending on how well you stitch and how pretty the backside looks, you could opt to be finished here. For the second bookmark I made, which was the black one for Jason, I did a surprisingly good job, and a back was not needed to cover my oopsies.
  9. If you opted not to be completed with Step 8, cut out a second piece of felt to stitch to the piece of felt with the heart and cross. This is what I did with the purple bookmark.
The designs you can make are endless - using dark blue felt, you could stitch on a bit of small yellow stars. Using yellow felt, you could stitch on a red and orange sun. You could stitch the letter of the gift recipient's name onto a piece of felt.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Festive Fruit Punch

This recipe was so fantastically delicious that we made it twice in two days (it didn't hurt that the ingredients come in quantities that make it easy to make it twice). It's great with a couple of ice cubes when you are just sitting and relaxing at the end of the day. We were inspired to come up with this recipe after reading and trying many fruit punches over the years.


Ingredients
  • 3 cups cranberry juice
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 lemon juice
  • 4 cups ginger ale (if you happen to only have it by the liter, 1 liter is just as good)
Directions
  • This is really hard so make sure that you have your thinker turned on for this. Mix all ingredients together in a pitcher.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, November 19, 2012

Homemade: Glass Cleaner


The solution I'm sharing today is the second glass cleaner solution I have tried. I wasn't so much a fan of the first, but this one is drastically different, easier and better. If you prefer store bought products, and I understand there are some who do, I highly, highly recommend Perfect Glass cleaner. That is far and away the best store bought glass cleaner I have ever used. You can buy a large refill bottle for about $7 and change, and it lasted our household for a year and a half.

But since we prefer to make our own, I came up with this solution that worked for us. Here's what you need to make glass cleaner:
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • Rubbing alcohol
Mix equal parts of all three ingredients into a spray bottle. This solution works best with newspaper or a microfiber cloth as opposed to paper towels. Jason and I both recommend microfiber as you can wash the cloth and use it again and again. If you don't yet have a set of microfiber cloths, we cannot recommend purchasing a set enough. The cloths will save you money. This is the set we purchased about two years ago and we love these cloths.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

This Book Room: Lovelier than Daylight

When her nieces and nephews fall victim to their alcoholic father's mistakes, Susanna Hanby vows to rescue them.

In 1875, Susanna Hanby travels to her sister's Ohio farm-but no one is there. Her sister's alcoholic husband claims that she has run off and dumped their six children at the county orphanage, and he doesn't care. Desperate to keep the family together, Susanna seeks help from her uncle Will in Westerville.

Johann Giere is heir to a thriving German-American brewery in Columbus. When he helps a saloon owner take beer to Westerville, Johann expects a fight between the new saloon and the driest town in America. He doesn't expect to meet Susanna, a pretty temperance crusader who wins his sympathy. The small town erupts in gunpowder and fire, but Johann vows to help Susanna rescue her nieces and nephews. Susanna grows to admire him even as she detests his business. He finds her lovelier with every passing day, until they both face an impossible choice between passion and principle.


Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the Saddler's Legacy series. You can read my review of the first book here and my review of the second book here.

My thoughts: Rosslyn is a seriously gifted author. This story was thought-provoking, interesting and educational... not to mention just plain entertaining! As one who abstains from alcohol (aside from communion), I could absolutely relate to Susanna. As the story unfolds, however, I love how Rosslyn brings the other side to light and shows that love is what is most important, not judgements.

The characters are delightful, and while it's not necessary to read the other books in this series (truly, each book can be read alone), it's fun to hear what Will and his family are up to now. This family has traveled quite the journey through Rosslyn's stories. They've dealt with a myriad of social issues and laws. They've dealt with people who desired to be their enemy, and they've surrendered to their Lord, time and time again. This series, and its characters, is truly encouraging and inspiring.

Thanks to booksneeze.com for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Apple Cider Tea

This beverage is amazingly simple and quick to make for a warm drink that is exactly what is needed on these cold nights. Jess was inspired to make this recipe after reading several apple cider tea recipes.


Ingredients
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 apple cinnamon tea bag
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
Directions
  • Heat the water in a small pan on the stove until boiling.
  • Turn the heat off, but do not remove the pan from the burner.
  • Add the tea bag and cover.
  • Wait for 5 minutes and then discard the tea bag.
  • Mix in the apple cider and serve warm.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Friday, November 9, 2012

Crafty Christmas: Tree Light Ornaments

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is 6 weeks away!

In case you haven't yet noticed, one of my favorite gifts to give is anything involving felt and anything Christmas-y {particularly anything that can hang on a Christmas tree!}. Put the two together, and I'm in craftiness heaven.

These ornaments are super cute and mostly easy, though they do take time:


Here's what you need to make this project:
  • Felt scraps in desired colors {I chose yellow, purple, orange, blue and red}
  • Felt scrap in green {or you could do the top part of the bulb in another color}
  • Ribbon in desired color
  • Threads to match each ornament
  • Needle
  • Templates
  • Scissors
  • Pins
  • Fiberfill
Felt is extremely economical. The cost for this project is minimal if you have to buy all the materials. I would guess that you would spend about $15 out of pocket and you would have enough materials to make at least eight sets of five ornaments. That works out to about $2 per gift.

Here's how to make this project:
  1. Draw a template for the bulb part of the ornament. Mine was about one inch wide at the biggest part and about two inches long, from top to bottom.
  2. Draw a template for the green top of the ornament. Use the bulb template to decide the dimensions for this template. You want the green bit to completely cover the color bit from side to side.
  3. Pin the bulb template to your first color choice and cut out all the bulb pieces you will need. And here's a handy tip for you: don't cut 16 separate pieces of orange if you're making eight sets. Instead, fold over the felt so you can cut a pair at the same time.
  4. Repeat the bulb template process until you have all the pieces you need of each color.
  5. Pin the green top template to green felt {or another color if you chose a different color for the top piece}. Cut out all the green pieces you need. Folding over the felt to cut a pair at one time was not easy for me, so I just cut out all the green pieces individually.
  6. Store all the pieces together in a container so you don't lose them.
  7. Thread your needle with the color of the first bulbs you're going to sew. Pin the two pieces of felt together for the bulb and start sewing. You can use any stitch you'd like.
  8. After you've sewn it all except for an opening, stuff the bulb with fiberfill. You may need a blunt object in which to thoroughly and completely stuff the bulb. I prefer using a knitting needle for this.
  9. Sew the opening closed; set the bulb aside.
  10. Repeat this process with all of the bulbs.
  11. This is where it got a bit tricky for me, and my lovely husband, Jason, who has a ton of sewing experience stepped in and really helped me. I'm not very good at sewing things together, unless there are pins holding the two pieces together. The green tops are small, and a pin was not working to hold them together. I would suggest trying a pin first to see if you can get it to work. If not, no worries. My husband is available.
  12. Just kidding. He's really not! Haha. Okay, so if the pin idea doesn't work out, no worries. You can do a variety of things to get this part done. I personally suggest sewing each one on the bulb bit, just at the the bottom, sewing the ribbon directly on the bulb, then sewing all the pieces together, like shown in the picture. You can see the stitches that are going across, in the middle, at the top. This makes the top extremely secure, which is never a bad thing. But play around with this if pins aren't working for you to find the most comfortable way to do this.
  13. Repeat sewing on the green bits and ribbon for all of the bulbs.
This is more of a time-consuming project, but honestly, I had so much fun making these. The time was beyond worth it. I made a few sets and of course, I made one for our tree.

Happy crafting!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

This Book Room: Firstborn series

We first heard of the Baxter family in the Redemption series. Author Karen Kingsbury penned a second series that features the Baxter family and others called the Firstborn series. My thoughts on this whole series is that while I enjoyed the series overall, at times, it was a little long-winded and drawn out. By far, the last book in the series was the best. If you read the Redemption series and enjoyed reading about the Baxter family, which I did, this series will be worth your time. Here's a summary on all the books:

As Dayne Matthews returns to Hollywood after his shocking discovery in Karen's best-selling novel "Reunion, " he faces the dangerous world of fame and paparazzi. Meanwhile, Katy Hart receives the offer of a lifetime--starring opposite Dayne in a Hollywood film. Dayne and Katy's choices will change their hearts and lives forever.

A-list Hollywood actor Dayne Matthews wrestles with the shocking information he learned about his past in Karen's best-selling novel "Reunion." Now Dayne must come to terms with the reality of his situation and find both forgiveness and family along the way.

John Baxter hires a private investigator to fulfill his wife's dying wish--that they find their firstborn son and make him part of the Baxter family. Meanwhile, top Hollywood actor Dayne Matthews undergoes a personal search for truth despite great loss, and Christian Kids Theater director Katy Hart makes a decision that could take her from the simple life she has grown to love.

In the wake of finding his firstborn son, John Baxter looks for a way to tell his other children the truth about a secret he's kept from them all their lives. At the same time, a sensational Hollywood trial brings Dayne Matthews and Katy Hart together again, this time in a very public way. Just when love might have the chance to win, doubts and presumed scandals place them farther apart than ever. In the midst of this crisis, the truth is clear for all of them--never in their lives has family been more important.

Katy Hart is thrilled about her future with Hollywood's Dayne Matthews. But as she plans a wedding and looks for a house on the shores of Lake Monroe, she receives tragic news. Now she and the members of the Baxter family must travel to Los Angeles and sort through their options. While paparazzi open fire on the Baxter family, Luke Baxter must wrestle with feelings that have troubled him for nearly a year. Ultimately, the Baxter family must pull together one last time in an act of service and love to help Katy and Dayne find what they've always been looking for--a chance at forever.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beauty Fix: my favorite scents!

I am one of those gals who always has too many bottles of perfume. Since I've realized just how many bottles I have, when I really, really like a perfume, I buy the absolute smallest bottle. Fall and winter are, in my humble opinion, the best times to wear fragrance. Spring and summer are laden with bugs, sweat, pools - I'd rather be fragrance free then.

But fall and winter are truly the times to embrace wearing a lovely scent, even if it's just your own! Here are my favorite scents and why I think you'll love them, too:

Nina by Nina Ricci is one of the most unique scents I've ever experienced. This perfume first caught my nose years and years ago from a magazine sample. I saved it and literally smelled it every day until I made it Sephora when I promptly purchased the largest bottle. When I want to feel decadent, I use this perfume. I hooked my mother on this one as well and she regularly uses up her entire bottle and promptly replaces it. The scent is so unique - I honestly can't even describe it. How horrible is that?! It is described on retail websites as being a fresh, fruity, floral fragrance. That's quite a mouthful. I think retailers aren't sure how to describe it either!

Every year, we make it a point to go somewhere and relax for at least two days as an official vacation. And by every year, I mean, every year since we were married. On our honeymoon, which was our first official vacation, we popped into a little store on Mackinaw Island and I fell in love with this next fragrance:


Lollia Relax is such a wonderful fragrance. It truly is relaxing. I love this scent on days where I'm wearing cozy sweaters, planning a romantic night with my husband or just snuggling up in bed with my kitten and watching a movie. It makes me feel cozy and warm. Lollia's website describes this scent as: A rich exotic blend of Lavender, Bee Blossom Honey with White Orchids and warm, woody undertones of Indian Amber delicately completed with a touch of Tahitian Vanilla. Does that not sound just delicious? I could almost eat it. But I won't. This fragrance is perfect for any adult. It's a bit too sophisticated for girls, but for any woman would love this.

On our second official vacation, we traveled to the Petoskey area. I could not love this area more. We actually also went there on our third vacation as well but I refrained from buying any perfume. That took serious willpower! While on our second vacation, we traveled a bit to this wonderful orchard called Friske's. The food there is phenomenal, there are wonderful outdoor activities and there are great little shops inside. That's where I found this scent:

Love + Toast's sugar grapefruit perfume is fun and flirty. It has notes of pink grapefruit, orange citrus, warm musk and lily. I use this currently as my everyday go-to perfume. It's perfect for everyday wear, and while Lollia's Relax is perfect for women, this fragrance would be well suited for younger girls. Anyone could wear this, but for younger girls, I think this perfume is perfect. It's not sexy, but it smells good and it's fun.

I would love to hear what fragrances or scents you adore and why! Share with me in the comments below or on our blog's Facebook page which can be found here.