Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This Book Room

Home at last after a visit with their daughter Missie, Clark and Marty come to terms with his new handicap.

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Love Comes Softly series. There are eight 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 was a really heart wrenching book. I read it at the exact moment in my life I needed to read it - I love how God works in mysterious ways! This series is such a must-read - I really could not encourage you enough to read it. It's so uplifting and true. Love, love, love.

In the fifth and final novel of the Kauffman Amish Bakery Series, three young women are about to change their lives. Lizzie Anne and Samuel have decided to get married, and Lindsay is about to be baptized in the Amish faith and is courting Matthew. While Katie Kauffman is happy for her friends who seem to have settled their futures, she is also finding herself something of a fifth wheel. When Lindsay's sister Jessica returns to Bird-in-Hand, she finds that Jake Miller has moved on with his life. He lost hope that Jessica would ever be satisfied to settle in rural Pennsylvania and takes comfort in becoming close friends with Katie. However, it's not an easy road as Jake is Mennonite and Katie has just been baptized in the Amish faith. Her father forbids them to see each other, adamant that his daughter marry an Amish man. A Season of Love is filled with surprising twists that will grip you to the very last words. As the stories of your favorite Amish community draw to a close, join Lindsay, her friends, and all the people of Bird-In-Hand for one last volume.

Additional notes: This is the fifth and last book in the Kauffman Amish Bakery series. There are also a couple of novellas for this series. You can read my reviews for one of them here. You can read my review of the first book in this series here, the second book here, the third book here and the fourth book here.

My thoughts: This book was a little weird for me. Actually, this whole series was. I really liked it starting out because it wasn't typical Amish fiction - meaning, the story wasn't just centered on boy and girl like each other, blah blah blah. But the series ended up turning into that... and not really in a good way. I wasn't a fan of this last book...

Another heartwarming tale of life and love on Blossom Street. On the anniversary of his beloved wife's death, Dr. Michael Everett receives a letter Hannah had written him. In it she reminds him of her love and makes one final request: "I want you to marry again." To that end she's chosen three women she asks him to consider.

Additional notes: This is technically the seventh book in the Blossom Street series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the Christmas book here, the fifth book here and the sixth book here. There are currently eight books in this series with the ninth book due out next year.

My thoughts: This was such a great story. I haven't been a huge fan of books in this series that have plots off Blossom Street, but this story was fantastic. I loved it. I loved the characters, especially the main character. And the fact that he was a man made it all the better. Love!

Just because the students at New York College have flown the coop doesn't mean assistant residence hall director Heather Wells can relax. Fischer Hall is busier than ever, filled with squealing thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls attending the first ever Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp, hosted by pop sensation Tania Trace herself—who just happens to be newly married to Heather's ex-boyfriend, heartthrob Jordan Cartwright. But the real headache begins when the producer of a reality TV show starring Tania winds up dead ... and it's clear that the star was the intended victim.

Grant Cartwright, head of Cartwright Records, wants to keep his daughter-in-law (and his highest-earning performer) alive. So he hires his oldest son, black sheep of the family and private investigator Cooper Cartwright—who just happens to be Heather's new fiancĂ©. Heather should leave the detecting to Cooper. But with a dorm full of hysterical mini-divas-in-training, she can't help but get involved. And after Tania shares a really shocking secret with her, this reality suddenly becomes more dangerously real than anyone ever anticipated.

Additional notes: This is the fourth and latest book in the Heather Wells series. You can read my review of the second book here and the third book here.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this book. It had good parts and it had bad parts. Really, I just wish the characters would grow more. They can be a bit... shallow.

Lara Madigan has a gift. She can help you find your soulmate—your canine soulmate, that is. As a dog trainer with a soft spot for strays, she’s found perfect homes for sulky Shih Tzus, broken-down Border collies, and diabolical Dalmatians. But while she’ll always make room for one more rescue mutt, she’s not sure she’s ready to commit to another human being. Especially after her live-in boyfriend drops the bomb: He’s not a dog person.

Horrified and temporarily homeless, Lara and her furry pack move in with her mother, a wealthy fashionista who forbids even a single drop of drool. As word gets around the exclusive gated community, Lara is overwhelmed with demands for her services. A model wants personal training for her overweight “flabrador”; an aging socialite preps her pedigreed puppy for dog show domination… If Lara can survive the breakup, the outrageous requests of her high-maintenance clientele, and her dogs’ systematically destruction of her mother’s McMansion, she might finally find the rescue dog who rescues her in return– leading her straight to the guy who could be her perfect match.

My thoughts: I so enjoyed this book. I love any book that involves animals in some way, and this book was just a delightful, fun read. I look forward to reading many more of Beth's books!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Life & Style: time budgeting equates to freedom and success, part 2

Last week, I shared that you need to truly examine your list and get rid of a list of items you don't truly want to do. This week, we're going to talk about how to cross items off your list.

The best way you can ever achieve anything is to have a plan. Your plan may end up being different than my plan. Each person is different, and so different things will work for you. Be patient with your plan process. You may go through several different plans before you find the one that really works for you.

Over the years, I have found the one plan that works perfectly for me. Each day, I have a time budget. My day typically starts around 6 AM or 7 AM, and I like to end my day around 7:30 PM, when I then have free time until 9 PM, which is my bedtime.

During those 14 or so hours, I have a lot to fit in. Clearly, I get more done on the weekend than I would during the week, in general. Here's what a time budget for a Monday might look like for me:

6 - 7:30 AM
-Morning wake-ups {this consists of reading my Bibles and devotional, morning SwagBucks' time, posting that day's blog post, and reading}

7:30 - 8 AM

8 AM - 4 PM
-Work {I work from home on every day but Thursdays, so I save time here by not having to drive. I eat breakfast and lunch while working.}

4 - 4:15 PM
-Declutter {I can declutter the entire house, minus kitchen, office and dining room which are typically Jason's jurisdiction for decluttering, in ten minutes. It's crucial to do this every single day, but the entire house is picked up after Jason and I both do this, and it's well worth the ten minutes.}

4:15 - 4:30 PM
-I will either start a load of laundry in the washing machine, assist Jason with hand washing clothes, or fold a load of laundry from the previous day. Each day, I am either folding or washing. There is never a need to do both in the same day {unless we traveled for a vacation or something like that, but those times are uncommon}.

4:30 - 5 PM
-Write a blog post

5 - 6 PM
-Watch a TV show online and craft {I like to multi-task when I can, so when I craft, I either watch something online, listen to music, or listen to a podcast}

6 - 6:30 PM
-Clean an area of the house {This might be that I'm unloading and loading the dishwasher, organizing the office, sweeping/mopping, dusting, etc. Whatever needs help the most.}

6:30 - 7 PM

7 - 7:30 PM
-Evening SwagBucks' time {This typically doesn't take a half hour. It depends on if I qualify for a survey or two or not. Sometimes, this only takes five minutes, sometimes, it takes 45 minutes.}

7:30 - 9 PM
-Read/relax/etc. {I typically spend the majority of the time reading, but I will occasionally spend part of this time on Pinterest, searching bandn.com for new books to read, playing games on my iPod, etc.}

Planning out each hour of my day works perfectly for me. But maybe you have small children, or maybe you have a lot of other distractions during the day, and you can't plan what exactly you will be doing at 8:11 AM. No worries - there are 24 hours in the day. Just plan out how you're going to spend that time. You might write something like this:
8 hours - sleep
.5 hour - shower
.5 hour - changing diapers
1 hour - extra time for distractions/etc.
.5 hour - laundry

And so on. That way, you still have a plan for your day.

During the weekend, I do not always plan out each day hour-by-hour. I may just have a written list of things I want to get done that day. And since I work for my day job as minimally as possible on Saturdays and not at all on Sundays, I can get a lot accomplished on the weekends.

Likewise, I would encourage you to use some of your vacation time if you have that available to you through your day job or time away from your kids and husband to get items crossed off your list. As I write this post, I am on a five-day weekend from my day job. I will absolutely use some of this time to visit friends and family and do fun activities with my husband, but I also made plans to get some special items crossed off my list, like writing this blog post. In October, I will be taking a 9-day vacation from my day job, and I will be staying home and getting things done around the house. And I use some of my vacation time for actual vacationing, too.

The idea you need to embrace is that you need to work hard and play hard. I make it a point not to waste my time. I know of someone who regularly wants things done around her house, but she watches a lot of TV. I'm talking about a serious amount... an amount so high that it's hindering her ability to get things done in the timely manner she would like them to get done in. I would encourage all of you to have fun time each and every day, but to treasure that time and make it a treat.

Life isn't necessarily supposed to be all fun and games, but if you work hard, trust me when I say you will enjoy your leisure time so much more. You can rest at the end of the day, knowing you did what you felt was real, true and genuine in your heart during the day. You can rest, knowing you put in a good day of work and knowing that there's always more you can accomplish the next day.

The secret to getting things done in life isn't waiting for retirement or a rainy day or a time when you have more time. The secret is getting things done, slowly but surely, during each day and over the course of a week, month or year.

I pray you all feel encouraged and wake up each day, ready to get working and cross some items off your to-do list.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Crafty Christmas: Hand-Painted Snowman Candle Holder

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 17 weeks away!

This idea was fused from two different books in which I saw snowman candle holders. I'm not the best painter in the world, nor would I ever claim to be, but I think there's something so wonderful about a hand-painted item, even when there's flaws (how else would one know the item is hand-painted? hehe).

The beauty of this is that it's so simple to make, really anyone can do it - I promise!

Here's what you need to make this snowman candle holder:
  • Candle holder
  • White paint that can be used on glass
  • Dimensional orange paint
  • Dimensional black paint
  • Sponge
Here's how you make it:
  1. You can either "cure" your glass (follow the directions on the white paint bottle that's designed for use on glass), or just start painting (I just start painting).
  2. Pour white paint onto either a paper plate or paper towel or something disposable.
  3. Gently dip the sponge onto the white paint and sponge white paint onto the candle holder. Cover the glass in a sponge-like fashion.
  4. Let glass dry completely (paint designed for glass dries pretty quickly, usually within one hour).
  5. Gently dip the sponge into the white paint again and apply a second coat. This will be the last coat, so make sure you get the glass covered well.
  6. Let glass dry completely again.
  7. Follow the directions as to how to open the black and orange paints (such as "shake well"). If you have fabric paint, like I did, be sure to use a very, very light hand when applying the paint to the candle holder.
  8. Lightly apply the dots for the smile; do not squeeze the bottle more than gently.
  9. Paint the outline for the snowman's eyes. Within the lines for the eyes, you may squeeze the bottle so a bit more black paint comes out. Spread the paint around within the eye lines with the tip of the bottle. Use a light hand.
  10. Use the orange paint to draw the outline for carrot nose. As with the black paint for the eyes, squeeze the orange paint bottle a bit more within the lines for the carrot nose, then spread the paint around within the nose lines with the tip of the bottle.
  11. Let dry completely.
  12. Stick a tealight candle inside, light it and enjoy your homemade candle holder! Or wrap and give as a gift (without a lit candle, haha!).
Preston was not happy that I was crafting the day I made these. Instead, he thought I should just hang out with him. We hung out til he got tired of being a model... he's so handsome!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Life & Style: time budgeting equates to freedom and success

The thing I hear most people say when they hear the word "budget" in any capacity is that they don't need to do it. It's confining, they say. I will have less money, they say, if we're talking about a money budget. I will have less time, they say, if we're talking about a time budget.

Here's the kicker:
If you sit down and make a written plan, you will have more.
More time.
More money.
More {and an improved} sanity.

Most of the inspiration for this blog comes from people we talk to. The inspiration to encourage you all in your journey came from one such conversation we had. One person was talking to us about retirement and telling us {multiple times in one meeting} how he wanted to retire and if he could just retire and he just really, really wants to retire.

He was so adamant about retiring that we thought he must have some great plans for retirement! When I asked, "What will you do when you retire?" thinking maybe he has a home business he'd like to create, maybe he has travel plans, maybe he wants to take a part-time job at a store he really likes.

His response: "Oh, I don't know. Just the rainy day things I never get around to."

Let's just say we didn't think that was a great response. Why? Because if you budget your time appropriately, that will never be a reason to retire. Jason and I fit in all our activities, both the uncommon and common ones, into our day, month, year, etc.

So first, I want to tackle the idea of putting off "rainy day" sorts of activities, the uncommon activities that you're saving for a time when you have more time.

I used to have a list of books I wanted to read. This list was 14 pages long. If I had a low month in reading, meaning that not many new books were coming out that I wanted to read, I could read a book or two from my huge list. This worked for a little bit... until I read all the books I really wanted to read.

Then, the only books that were left were books that at the end of the day, I had no real desire to read. Some were books I thought I should read, some were books I thought I would like - but whenever I looked at the books remaining on my list, I felt no desire at all to request a book from my list from the library.

I started to resent my list for dictating my {reading} life.

I could have kept that list for a rainy day. I could have said, "When I retire, I'm going to read all these books."

But if I don't want to read those books today, if I don't want to take the time to read those books today, guess what?

I don't want to read them.

The list of books wasn't truly important to me. I had made it important to me for stupid reasons. So I deleted the list. I got rid of the list.

If you truly want to do something, if you truly have the desire in your heart, you will make time for that activity today, this week, this month, this year.

If you keep putting off an activity, like say, having a garden, you don't really want a garden. Maybe you keep finding excuses. "Time just got away from me this summer," "I heard it wasn't going to rain much this summer," "I don't know the first thing about gardening," you might say.

If you won't plant a garden this year, you won't when you retire. You won't when the conditions are perfect. You'll find another excuse, another reason not to follow through on your plan.

Make a list, a real, passion-filled list, of things you'd like to achieve ever. Right now, I have a list of projects to complete this year and a list of projects to complete next year. I have a list of special cleaning activities to be completed, like washing the baseboards and washing the windows. I have a list of uncommon activities, meaning activities that are once-a-year, or one-time only.

Once you have a list of things you will actually complete, then you can make a plan for how to cross items off your list. But so long as you have a list that makes you cringe and a list that makes you want to bang your head against the wall in frustration, you will never get anywhere... retirement or not, free time or not, rainy day or not.

We'll tackle how to actually make time to complete the activities remaining on your list next week.

Friday, August 17, 2012

This Book Room: Almost Amish

Julie Charlton is at the breaking point. She's overwhelmed and burned out, and in today's unrelenting society, her kids are, too. When her sister-in-law Susan, a Martha Stewart-in-training, lands the chance to participate in a reality TV series promoting simple living, and needs another family to join her, it seems like the perfect opportunity. The location is an idyllic farm outside an Amish community in Tennessee. Julie, with her two children, joins Susan and her teenage daughter for a summer adventure. Susan needs to succeed in order to become self-sufficient after an ugly divorce, Julie needs to slow down long enough to remember what her priorities are and regain a sense of purpose and meaning. It becomes clear from the start that "living simple" is no simple matter. With the camera watching every move, Susan's drive for perfection feels a lot like what they left behind, while Julie suddenly finds herself needing to stand up for slowing down. With each new challenge, their season of "going Amish" gets more and more complicated, as each woman learns unexpected lessons about herself and her family.

My thoughts: This book was fascinating to read, in that the premise was interesting. I enjoyed reading about the behind-the-scenes of a reality television show. But, overall, this book was just okay for me. While I really liked that there were a lot of characters, the book was also difficult to follow because of the number of characters. Also, the characters were incredibly annoying, particularly Susan. I kept waiting to really fall in love with Susan and for her redemptive qualities to show through. While she became better, I still didn't like her at the end of the book.

Thanks to Bethany House Publishers for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Beauty Fix: filing nails shouldn't be painful! and it's not with this special tool...

Jason and I have to balance our frugal lifestyle with our desire to be incredibly well groomed. It's not always easy, but we usually find a way to make it work.

If we didn't care about where our money went, we could easily go the salon twice a month for manicures and pedicures. It drives us nuts when our nails are not well groomed! Several years ago, we came up with the idea of foot bath night. We each clip and file our own fingernails each week - we prefer all our nails to be kept super short. About once a month or so, we'll fill up a plastic tub with warm water and bubble bath and let the other soak his/her feet in it. Once that person's feet is good and supple, the other will groom that person's feet.

The result is free fun and well groomed feet! We both prefer to file every nail, finger and toe, after clipping. Clipping with a nail clipper often gives nails a ragged edge, or at the best, it's just not a smooth edge. Filing ensures the shape of the nail is how you desire, and the nail won't catch on anything since the edge will be smooth.

Jason, in particular, always filed his nails but hated the feel of the nail file. It was rough, painful and just all around, no fun.

Enter: a glass nail file!

photo credit
There are so many reasons why we love using a glass nail file. The cost is pretty minimal to own one. They range in price from about $5 to $20, and we paid about $8 for ours. We have owned this one for a few years - no more throwing away nail files! A glass nail file could last forever. So while there's a greater cost up front than buying disposable nail files (which typically run two for $1), you could save money, over time, by buying a glass nail file now.

The best part of a glass nail file (also referred to as a crystal nail file) is that it's super gentle on one's skin. There is no more pain when we file our nails! It's so gentle, you can use the file side on your skin, and it does not hurt (in case you accidentally "file" some skin while attempting to file a nail!).

For such a minimal cost, this is one beauty tool that is a must-have for anyone's beauty bag.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saving the Moola: get cash back on purchases without using credit

photo credit
While Jason and I have each had credit cards in the past, we do not make it a habit to have and use credit cards now. There is one caveat to this, though, that I want to share in the interest of full honesty: I do have a Kohl's charge card that I use when I shop there. I use the card to pay for my purchase, then I immediately head to the customer service desk, take the total from my receipt and pay the amount in cash at the desk. Thus, my credit card bill is always $0 when it arrives at my house.

Why do I use my Kohl's charge? Isn't it simply easier to pay in cash or use my debit card? I get a lot of perks by using my Kohl's credit card. I regularly get 30% on top of all the sale prices. Granted, I don't shop at Kohl's often - maybe three or four times a year. But their prices are competitive, so long as you shop only the sales and use a 30% off coupon. We've bought many items lower than our buy-now prices.

That is the only credit card we have. We do not have a regular credit card we could use wherever we wanted. Just as the Kohl's card comes with its own perks in the form of coupons, there are many credit cards available that have their own perks.

Most of those perks are never redeemed. Most of those perks aren't useful to me. Most of the perks aren't worth it to me to have a credit card.

But I want to make the most of the purchases I make. Jason and I both listen to Dave Ramsey and often hear him talk about the PerkStreet debit card, which offers cash back on every purchase. I am the more skeptical one in our family, but Jason really latched onto this idea. I told him if he wanted to research it and set it up, that would be fine, but I wasn't sure it was a worthwhile investment of our time and energy.

And as it often turns out, my husband was absolutely on the money with this idea. We've been using our PerkStreet card for a over a month now, and we are huge, huge fans. It's a debit card, so there's no credit. You earn cash back on literally every purchase you make, from either 1 percent to 5 percent. You can opt to have the cash back on your debit card, but it will incur a cost - for every $20 you can have put on your card from your cash back perk, you'll use $22 perk dollars. Or, and we are absolutely opting for this idea, you can use $20 to get a $20 gift card. You can get gift cards to restaurants, Target, amazon.com, etc.

As one example, we used the PerkStreet debit card to purchase Preston's food from amazon.com. This is where we always purchase his food as he eats a specific brand that is not sold at regular pet stores. We earned 2 percent back on our purchase from his food!

We don't yet use the PerkStreet debit card for everything, but the money we earn back from what we do use it for is adding up over time. We are appreciative that there is a way for us to make a little bit more of the money we have without using credit.

If you want your money to work a little bit harder for you, you should definitely check out perkstreet.com.

Friday, August 10, 2012

This Book Room: another week of books in a series!

Reuniting with their daughter's family, grandparents Clark and Marty's hope and faith are tested by a tragedy.

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Love Comes Softly series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here. There are eight books in this series, and all have been released.

My thoughts: I was so happy when Marty and Clark got to visit Missie and her family! The story was so powerful and magical. I am so glad I am reading this series. It brings me so much joy.

Anne Marie Roche wants to find happiness again. At thirty-eight, her life's not what she'd expected--she's childless, a recent widow, alone. She owns a successful bookstore on Seattle's Blossom Street, but despite her accomplishments, there's a feeling of emptiness. On Valentine's Day, Anne Marie and several other widows get together to celebrate...what? Hope, possibility, the future. They each begin a list of twenty wishes, things they always wanted to do but never did. Anne Marie's list starts with: Find one good thing about life. It includes learning to knit, doing good for someone else, falling in love again. She begins to act on her wishes, and when she volunteers at a local school, an eight-year-old girl named Ellen enters her life. It's a relationship that becomes far more involving than Anne Marie intended. It also becomes far more important than she ever imagined. As Ellen helps Anne Marie complete her list of twenty wishes, they both learn that wishes can come true--but not necessarily in the way you expect.

Additional notes: This is technically the sixth book in the Blossom Street series, counting the Christmas book that is also part of this series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here. There are currently seven books in this series and the eighth will be out sometime next year.

My thoughts: I so enjoyed this book. It even received 5 stars out of 5 stars from me on goodreads.com! I loved that Anne Marie found love where she didn't expect it - in the form of one very special little girl.

Harriet Kirk is certain that becoming Ladreville's schoolteacher is just what she needs—a chance to put the past behind her and give her younger siblings a brighter tomorrow. What she didn't count on was the presence of handsome former Texas Ranger Lawrence Wood—or the way he slowly but surely claims her fragile heart. But can Harriet and Lawrence ever truly put the past behind them in order to find happiness?

Additional notes: This is the third and final book in the Texas Dreams series.

My thoughts: It had been awhile since I had read books 1 and 2, which is probably a good thing. The books are similar in that boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, the end. It was nice to read this book after going so long without reading that exact same predictability from this author.

In her fifth high-octane thriller, bounty hunter Stephanie Plum sets out to find her missing uncle-- and along the way smacks slam-bang into: a dead body, a nasty bookie, her stun-gun-toting grandmother, two very sexy men, an angry little man who won't leave her apartment, and a Mafia wedding...

Jersey's favorite bounty hunter has never been better! With high hair, street smarts and plenty of attitude, Steph's sure to nail this case-- or risk life and spandex-clad limb trying...

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Stephanie Plum series. There are currently 18 books in this series, with the 19th due out later this year. There are also a few between-the-numbers available for this series. 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 may be confusing. I really liked this book. I like this series. But these books are very much the same, and I'm getting a little tired of it. I will be taking a break from this series. I don't know if I'll come back to them - even though I love Stephanie Plum and Janet's witty writing. But this book was fun. See, I told you this may be confusing!

Sometimes less is more (more or less), which is certainly the case in this unique GARFIELD book featuring comics without dialogue—though an occasional sound effect might “SPLUT” in your face! Filled with silly sight gags (out with the catcalls, in with the pratfalls), Garfield Left Speechless provides visual fun for everyone in a colorful collection with universal appeal. Great for kids who can’t read yet. Even dogs will be drooling over it!

Additional notes: There are many, many Garfield books. You can read my reviews of many of them by clicking on the label "Garfield."

My thoughts: I am not always a fan of this special Garfield books. In fact, there were a couple I ended up not reading because I just didn't get it. But this book was flat-out hilarious. I can definitely see kids enjoying this book because you don't have to be a reader to "read" this book. Love!

Monday, August 6, 2012

State of Our House Address: July in review

July was full of challenges, prayer and relaxation. It was just what we needed to keep our focus back where it should be: on our little family.

We spent what seemed like a good part of the month traveling. We traveled to pick up a side of beef and many chickens for our freezer. We traveled to multiple towns to visit family and friends. We traveled up state for a mid-week vacation that was much needed.

And of course, no vacation would be complete without some good food! We had homemade fries and steak pizza at this great restaurant downtown. It was so good!

Our tomato plants grew bigger than we had ever imagined, and two tomatoes finally started turning red! They are a bit cracked at the top, though, and some leaves on the plants are yellow. It's our first year gardening, so we're being patient with it and learning as we go.

We visited my parents early in the month and had a seriously good time. I don't think I have ever laughed harder in my life - we played pool games all day long. I think in total, Jason and I each spent seven hours in the pool! I got a little crispy, but it was well worth it. Here's a pic of Uncle Jason telling the little ones what's up {he's really good at the tough love bit} and my dad, brother and his girlfriend engaging in a water fight that had basically been going on all day.

Jason has been volunteering at our local library for a few months now. He loves giving back to the community... but when the librarian offered him a paid position, he couldn't say no - love for the community or not! It's been a little crazy with him working two jobs, but I've never seen him happier. I love hearing about his time at the library.

Life has been busy, but it's been really, really good. It takes a lot of sacrifice and work to live our loves according to what we believe is right, but at the end of the day, when we're in bed and drifting off to sleep, we feel really good about what's going on in our lives.

We pray you all had a happy July and we're praying August is filled with adventure and love for all of us!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

This Book Room

Clark and Marty's daughter, ready to start her own life, must rely on faith in the face of homesickness and mounting hardships.

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

My thoughts: This is absolutely my favorite book in this series so far. The first half of the book is laid out very cool - if you've ever played Oregon Trail, you would love to read this book! I was so enjoying it and told Jason all about it as I read it. It was seriously so much fun. Even if you read no other in the series, you should definitely check this book out.

Greg Heffley is in big trouble. School property has been damaged, and Greg is the prime suspect. But the crazy thing is, he’s innocent. Or at least sort of. The authorities are closing in, but when a surprise blizzard hits, the Heffley family is trapped indoors. Greg knows that when the snow melts he’s going to have to face the music, but could any punishment be worse than being stuck inside with your family for the holidays?

Additional notes: This is the sixth and latest book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here. The seventh book will be released later this year.

My thoughts: This was my most favorite Diary of a Wimpy Kid book out of the entire series. The humor and situations were spot on. I was giggling while reading it!

There's a new shop on Seattle's Blossom Street--a flower store called Susannah's Garden, right next door to A Good Yarn. Susannah Nelson, the owner, has just hired a young widow named Colette Blake. A couple of months earlier, Colette had abruptly quit her previous job--after a brief affair with her boss. To her dismay, he's suddenly begun placing weekly orders for flower arrangements. Susannah and Colette both join Lydia Goetz's new knitting class. Lydia's previous classes have forged lasting friendships, and this one is no exception. But Lydia and her sister, Margaret, have worries of their own. Margaret's daughter, Julia, has been the victim of a random carjacking, and the entire family is thrown into emotional chaos. Then there's Alix Townsend. Her wedding to Jordan Turner is only months away--but she's not sure she can go through with it. Her love for Jordan isn't in question; what she can't handle is the whole wedding extravaganza engineered by her mentor, Jacqueline, with the enthusiastic cooperation of her future mother-in-law. A reception at the country club and hundreds of guests she's never even met--it's just not Alix. Like everyone else in Lydia's knitting class, Alix knows there's a solution to every problem...and that another woman can usually help you find it.

Additional notes: Including the Christmas book released under this series, this book is the fifth book in the Blossom Street series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here and the Christmas book here. There are currently nine books in this series, and I recently discovered the tenth will be released next April.

My thoughts: This wasn't the best book in the series, but it was an easy read. Alix bothered me in this book a lot, and so did Colette and her former boss. Margaret and her family's story line was what kept this story moving for me.

Working for her bail bondsman cousin, Vinnie, Stephanie is hot on the trail of revenge-seeking waitress Maxine Nowicki, whose crimes include bail jumping, theft, and extortion. Someone is terrifying Maxine's friends, and those who have seen her are turning up dead. Also on the hunt for Maxine is Joyce Barnhardt, Stephanie's archenemy and rival bounty hunter. Stephanie's attitude never wavers - even when aided by Grandma Mazur, ex-hooker and wannabe bounty hunter Lula, and transvestite rock musician Sally Sweet - and even when Stephanie makes an enemy whose deadly tactics escalate from threatening messages to firebombs. All of this pales in comparison, though, with an even greater danger Stephanie faces, when, homeless and broke, she and her hamster Rex move in with vice cop Joe Morelli.

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Stephanie Plum series. There are currently 18 books in this series along with a few between-the-numbers books. The nineteenth book will be released later this year. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here.

My thoughts: This book was especially entertaining. The different plot lines and characters were hilarious and intriguing. I am loving this series!

Recently orphaned, eleven-year-old Cathy Benson moves to the small town of Kersey in the Texas Panhandle, a community that lives and dies by its Friday night football games. She is quickly befriended by classmates John Caldwell and Trey Don Hall, up-and-coming gridiron stars with whom she forges a bond that will determine the course of their lives. Set initially against the delirium of Texas high school. football, teenage love, and a tragic event that shadows the boys into adulthood, the novel expands to follow the careers and lives of the three friends, uprooted from one another since graduation, until they reunite in Kersey at forty years of age. With all of Meacham's signature drama, unforgettable characters, and plot twists, readers will be turning the pages, desperate to learn how it all plays out.

My thoughts: I love Leila Meacham's writing. She is just magical at how she tells a story. I deeply implore all of you to read this book and to read her first novel, Roses {which is even better than Tumbleweeds}.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Cranium

"A foot. No, a finger. Confetti?  Wait, a megaphone!"

If you have ever been present for the aforementioned conversation you have probably played Cranium. This ingenious board game of random trivial knowledge, conveniently sprinkled with drawing and crafting skills make this game quite fun.

Recently, we were able to play the game following the proper rules when friends came over for a visit. It was good fun.

Before I get into how to play the game, let's go over the most important part of the game: the cards. Here they are and what is on them:

Data Head
These cards check your known knowledge or your guessing aptitude.

Factoid: These cards are a trivia question. If you know the answer, you win. If not, you get to guess and most likely your guess will make others laugh.

Odd Couple: These cards give you a hint and then a list of 5 words or phrases. You then need to pick the 2 items from the list that don't belong.

Polygraph: These cards have you decide if a statement written on the card is true or false.

Selectaquest: These cards have a multiple choice question on them.

Word Worm
These cards are about your knowledge of words.

Blankout: Ever play hangman? These cards come with a hint and then the answer. The only problem is that the answer has about 80% of the letters missing. For example, hint: You are reading it right now. Answer _ H _     G _ _ I _ _     C _ R _ _ R  (look in the title of this blog before the colon for the answer).

Lexicon: On this card, you are given a word and four choices for a definition. You then pick which of the four choices are the real definition.

Mindmeld: This card is an odd one. Each person on your team has to write down 3 words that come to mind about a topic that is given on the card. If any of the words written down match what another player wrote down, then your team wins the round.

Team Gnilleps: These cards make you spell a word. The part that makes this card fun is that you need to do it backward and your whole team needs to do it. One letter per person around your team until you are done.

Zelpuz: On these cards, you are given a hint and then a puzzle. The puzzle has all the letters of the answer in it, and you just need to rearrange them and then you will say to yourself, why didn't I see that sooner? I'm just going to use a card provided in the game as coming up with a real puzzle is way out of my ability right now. Hint: Penniless Picasso, Puzzle: It Starts Raving (Answer can be found on this page. Double points if you don't need to cheat).

Creative Cat
These cards involve drawing or sculpting the Cranium clay to get a teammate to say the word in question.

Cloodle: It's a complete ripoff of Pictionary. For those of you who haven't played Pictionary, a player is given a word and then only with pictures drawn, they need to try and get their team to guess the answer.

Sculptorades: Its like the previous card but instead of drawing pictures, the 'artist' needs to sculpt the Cranium clay (read: play dough) into something that will get his team to shout out the right word.

Sensosketch: This card is pure evil. It is a cloodle card with one twist: the artist needs to keep his/her eyes closed the whole time (I open them when I need to get a new piece of paper, but I'm not drawing then so it shouldn't count).

Star Performer
These cards involve acting, singing, or pretending one of your team members is a mannequin.

Cameo: Charades rip off (wow, this game is like a rip off of half a dozen other games all rolled into one). Get your team to guess a word by acting it out while using no words.

Copycat: This card requires the player to try and get his/her team to guess what famous person he or she is pretending to be. Words and actions are allowed but the mentioning of people or places are not.

Humdinger: You get to hum or whistle a song. Your team needs to guess what it is. Not as easy as it sounds, but it is that easy to try.

Sideshow: Using a teammate as a mannequin, you need to get your team to guess a word or phrase. This one is a lot of fun, though my explanation leaves something to be desired. Trust me, you will like this card.

The next unique thing about this game is the board. I have taken a picture of it so you can see.
Puppa Bear liked a game that was very long.
Mumma Bear liked a game that was too short.
But Baby Bear liked a game that was just right.
With just the one board that comes with the game, you and Goldilocks can choose the length of game you would like to play. Cool, isn't it?

Game play is simple. On your turn, the other team draws a card matching the color of the space you are on. If you are on a purple space, you get to pick. If you get your question correct or win the challenge on the card, you get to roll the die and move to the next space on the track that matches the color you rolled (think Candy Land with questions).

Once your piece makes it to the center of the board, the giant brain space, the other teams get to decide which color card to pull for you but if you get it right/succeed at the challenge, then you win the game.

Oh so simple and yet oh so fun.

-Gamer Jason

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Saving the Moola: July in review

This month was really interesting. Our season of life is changing rapidly and in many ways, which seemed to result in a lack of saving on our part.

I took several days of vacation from my day job in July, which resulted in a bit of extra traveling. For our long vacation, all of our expenses were planned for and saved for, but I also took some time off around the fourth of July. We traveled to a few different cities to visit family and friends, and this took a huge toll on our budget.

Then, a tire on our car went flat, so we paid for a brand new tire. That was definitely an unexpected expense! But that's also what the emergency fund was for, and we're so thankful for that.

All in all, I'm proud that we were able to pay off some more of my student loan and chock some away in savings. This month wasn't our finest, but it wasn't the worst we've ever had {since we now have sense about our money!}.

The rest of the year is looking really crazy: Jason was offered a paid position at our local library. He accepted, of course, but he's going to be working that job and his other job at the same company I work for. He's going to be one busy, busy man, but I've never seen him happier. He's thrilled to be working at the library in a larger capacity {he has been volunteering there for quite a few months now but is limited in what he's legally allowed to do as a volunteer} and so happy and grateful to be able to work from home for his other job.

In July, we shared here the one crucial thing everyone should know if they have a car and want to drive it. I cannot tell you enough how much going to Sam's Club to get gas has made a difference in our gas budget. We had already increased it once this year, and we're hoping we can keep it the same for awhile by utilizing the station at Sam's Club.

Giving is truly the greatest joy of our lives - whether we're giving of our time or resources. We invite you all to read about giving here and join us in giving whatever you can each month to a cause near and dear to your heart. Giving may not always be easy, but it's always worth it.