Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Life & Style: update on 2013 and December goals (and a reflection on goal setting)

Here are my goals from December first, then 2013:

-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 4 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for December, I'm focusing on enjoying all the good food this month brings. So in short, no fitness habit for me this month!
-Work on one other habit per month - for December, I'm focusing on deep cleaning the house more often - vacuum, sweeping/mopping, dusting and cleaning the bathrooms. My goal is once per week for all of these things but truthfully, I do them about once every other week right now.
-Craft weekly - for December, I'm making many Christmas gifts and continuing to put together some busy bags for Bug.

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights
-Start reading Love and Respect and completing the accompanying workbook together

-Read to Bug each day
-Pray with and for Bug each day
-Continue signing to Bug each day - we're teaching num nums, mama, dada, Bug {the sign we made up for her}, sleep/night night/tired, book/read, all done, more, eat, drink, bunny, kitty/brother {we call Preston brother as well so this is just an all-inclusive sign for him}, bear, potty
-Continue potty training. We're putting Bug on it after dinner. I expect absolutely nothing. We're just getting her used to the potty, diaper free, and experiencing this part of life.
-Continue baby-led weaning

-Send as much money as we can to our car loan holders {aka my parents}

My 2013 goals, from when I posted them way back in January:

-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified and regular Bible each day for a total of 3 chapters between the two each day
-Read 100 {or more!} books
-Count calories each day on the app, MyFitnessPal {if you don't have a device with apps, you can use myfitnesspal.com - the app and the website are both free}
-Work on one fitness habit per month {such as drink more water, walk, etc.}
-Work on one other habit per month {such as sweep daily, memorizing Scripture, etc.}
-Craft weekly {we make most of the Christmas gifts we give, and we also like to make items for our own home}

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Re-read Love and Respect
-Complete Love and Respect workbook together
-Have weekly game nights
-Have monthly movie nights

-Pay off last student loan
-Save one-fifth of our emergency fund

In all, I feel like my goals didn't really work for me this year. In my heart, a lot of this can be attributed to my season of life. I became a mother to a human for the first time this year. My job situation continues to change and evolve, as we continue to grow in our side businesses. My heart continues to move me in different directions, depending on what is most important that day.

Knowing all of this will help shape whatever goals I set forth for 2014. I may not announce them publicly here (I'm still working out the details of that), but if I don't, know that I absolutely have goals. I may not be able to cross off everything on my list, but failing to plan is planning to fail. And we all know I just can't have that!

Monday, December 30, 2013

This Book Room: Best Books of 2013

I've always wanted to do a compilation of the best books I've read in the year. I didn't manage to get this done in 2012, but I'm doing it this year and could not be more excited!

For this list, I only chose books that I read in 2013 (um, duh!), only books that were published in 2013 and only books that I gave a 5-star rating to on Goodreads.com. Here's my list of must-read, run-to-your-library-and-get-right-now books:

Fly Away was a book I think we all waited a long time to read. And Kristin Hannah did not disappoint. This is one I definitely would read again and again. If you haven't yet read Firefly Lane, do so immediately. Literally. Leave right now. That's right. Grab your purse and your keys and GO. Thank me later. You can read my full review of this book here.

Fellow mamas, you've got to read Sparkly Green Earrings. It was just the kind of book I needed to read my first year as a mama. Funny, relatable, and at times, crazy, Melanie is definitely a mama. I so wish we could chat over tea about how we found ourselves in these situations! My full review can be found here.

If I could pick one author to release a book every week so I'd always have something to read, it'd be Marie Bostwick. I absolutely adore her. Between Heaven and Texas gave readers what we've all been waiting for: an inside look at Mary Dell's life. This character is so fun and loving that we had to know more, and Marie delivered. My heart broke for Mary Dell, which is a good thing essentially, right? Read more of my review on this book here.

Why are you still reading? Didn't I tell you to run to the library to get Firefly Lane? If you're still here, you definitely need to get up and GO. Magic Marks the Spot is a book that will stay with both Jason and I for a long time. We are both anxiously awaiting the second book. In fact, Jason was downright cranky the other day when he said the second book must be coming out soon, and I said it probably wouldn't until fall of 2014. He was not a happy camper! So now, you may run to the library and get Firefly Lane and this book too. Read about the adventure that awaits you in this magical book here.

Living in today's world can be confusing. What this world says and what God says often conflict. Courtney Joseph provides an in-depth Christian lifestyle book for women, Women Living Well, that really changed the way I lived my life. I plan to read this book often as life goes on, so I can stay on track. My full review can be found here.

That's it! My best books of 2013. I'm ready for new books and a new year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: Be a Supportive Mama to all Mamas, Papas and Caregivers

photo credit
When I first knew I was pregnant, I felt, well, not joy. But after the shock of God's plan for me wore off and I began to embrace the changes I was experiencing inward, outward and any way one can experience change, I became so excited about finally becoming part of the mommy network.

You know what I'm talking about. All you women with kids - you all congregate together. You discuss all things child-related, and you, whether intentionally or not, leave out anyone who doesn't have kids.

It so made my heart hurt. Never mind the fact that I'm a debt-busting, freakily frugal, make-my-own-jam, laundry soap, hand soap, you name it, I've made it woman. Never mind the fact that I love to sew and garden and craft and love on animals and I love the Lord our God. We could have a million things in common, but I didn't have kids. That one fact separated our worlds.

So just let me tell you, I was elated when I knew I was finally part of the mommy network.

But then.

Oh, but then.

The criticism. The judgment. I assure you that if you're reading this and feeling a little defensive, it's probably you that I'm talking about. Not just you. Oh no. There were loads of you. You were all over.

"You're going natural {in child birth}? Why would you want to do that?"

"You're cloth diapering? You must have a lot of time for laundry."

"You're breast feeding? I bet your milk won't come in."

"You're home schooling? You'll change your mind."

"You're not vaccinating? Don't you know kids can die from not being vaccinated?"

"You're co-sleeping? Did you hear about that lady that rolled over and killed her kid?"

For every positive tidbit I was sharing about our plans with Bug, I heard at least one negative statement. It was painful. I started to withhold myself from sharing plans. People asked questions, and I gave short, brief answers.

Why is it that we, as mamas, judge other mamas? Mamas firsthand know what it feels like to be judged all over. Up, down, sideways, backways, frontways. All we are, at least it feels like all we are, is judged.

Mamas, I'm calling you to love one another, just as Jesus commanded us. Whether or not your fellow mama is doing anything you believe in. You may be the very opposite of her. Maybe you had a planned C-section, and she believes in natural birth the Bradley way. Maybe you breastfed, and she planned to give her baby formula from the get go and never put baby to breast. Maybe you visit your pediatrician on schedule, and she only takes her baby when medically necessary.

We are all sisters in Christ.

And I definitely found sisters who proved that mamas can be so supportive. The wonderful mamas at the church I attend were unbelievable in giving support no matter what I was deciding for my Bug and I. They were supportive so long as I was doing whatever was best for us. I may not have been part of the mommy network before having Bug, but oh my, being part of this group was totally worth the wait.

But there are still mamas out there who never came around. Who judged when I was desperate to induce naturally. Who judged when I wanted to sweat it out in labor for as long as humanly possible before coming to the conclusion that a section was right for me and my baby. Who judged when I was adamant that I would breastfeed my baby if it was the last thing on Earth I accomplished.

Mamas, we need to love and support one another. We're all so different, but at the end of the day, we're all the same. We're mamas. We're here to nurture littles: kiss boo-boos, give big hugs when coming home from work or from being separated for any length of time, seek out our littles hiding in the pantry. We're here to cook dinner, fold laundry, bathe and tuck in littles for the night. We read stories, put together snacks, and encourage and support our littles in all of their crazy ambitions.

"An astronaut rock star sounds like a great goal!"

If you can say that to your little and believe it {and I believe you do believe it, as you rightly should, when you say it}, then we can support mamas in any of their endeavors with their own littles.

The support doesn't end with mamas. We need to love on papas and all other caregivers, too. We just need to love.

At the end of the day, all anyone wants is love.

Our littles remind us of that every day. So love. Love on each other. Support one another. Be the daughter of Christ He made you to be.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

This Book Room: Love and Respect in the Family

Children need love. Parents need respect.

It is as simple and complex as that!

When frustrated with an unresponsive child, a parent doesn't declare, "You don't love me." Instead the parent asserts, "You are being disrespectful right now." A parent needs to feel respected, especially during conflicts. When upset a child does not whine, "You don't respect me." Instead, a child pouts, "You don't love me." A child needs to feel loved, especially during disputes.

But here's the rub: An unloved child (or teen) negatively reacts in a way that feels disrespectful to a parent. A disrespected parent negatively reacts in a way that feels unloving to the child. This dynamic gives birth to the FAMILY CRAZY CYCLE.

So how is one to break out of this cycle? Best-selling author Emerson Eggerichs has studied the family dynamic for more than 30 years, having his Ph.D. in Child and Family Ecology. As a senior pastor for nearly two decades, Eggerichs builds on a foundation of strong biblical principles, walking the reader through an entirely new way to approach the family dynamic. For instance, God reveals ways to defuse the craziness with our children from preschooler to teen, plus how to motivate them to obey and how to deal with them when they don't. In the Bible, God has spoken specifically to parents on how to parent. This book is about that revelation. 

My thoughts: Jason and I both read Love and Respect years ago and it is on my re-read list (maybe in 2014?). We also have the workbook we have yet to complete. Anyway, I really recommend that book for all married couples. 

This book is a fantastic resource for parents. It is full of practical advice. I like that it not only delves into the why of things: why children crave love, why parents need respect, but it also breaks down how to love your children well and what you can do to help your children learn to respect you. 

The book is very much a Christ-centered book, but please don't shy away from this if you're not living your life for Christ. Even if you're not a Christian, this book is just a plain good resource for how to love your children well. I do like that Scripture is peppered throughout, giving what the author suggests real credibility. This book has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf, and I plan to read it again and again as my Bug continues to grow and assert herself in new, and what I'm sure will be often scary, ways. 

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crafty Christmas: Sugared Lemon Body Scrub

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 1 week away!

If you're in need of a last minute gift, this one takes just minutes to put together and will be a huge hit for any lady on your list! This would be extra perfect for anyone who works laboriously - I'm thinking of gardeners and construction workers in particular. This body scrub is best used on arms, legs and hands. I would not recommend this for use on one's face or in any other area where one's skin is more delicate.

I made this for one gift last year (I test almost every new homemade or gift idea on my mom), and it was a huge hit! My mom specifically requested I make two more jars for her this Christmas. She said she used it on her legs prior to shaving. After using the scrub, she then shaved her legs, without any cream or other type of shaving gel, and she said she had never got a closer shave or smoother legs. She's pretty much in love with this scrub now!

Here's what you need to make this homemade body scrub:
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup EVOO
  • Zest of one large lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract (optional, but I did use this)
Here's how to make homemade body scrub:
  1. Mix sugar, salt and EVOO in a mixing bowl. Mix all together.
  2. Zest the lemon right into the mixing bowl and mix that in with the sugar mixture.
  3. If you desire an extra lemon-y smell, add the extract.
  4. Scoop the mixture into a half pint canning jar.
The scrub mixture yields 2 half pint jars. Feel free to double, triple or quadruple as needed. I doubled my batch for gifts this year.

Happy crafting!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

This Book Room

Tori Spelling is the first to admit that the reality behind her popular television show, Tori & Dean, isn't always real. Not even Star Magazine could invent the true chaos that happens behind the scenes. Luckily, Tori is famously honest and self-deprecatingly funny when it comes to her personal life. She's always Spelling It Like It Is

Life is never boring at Tori's house, but since her New York Times bestselling memoirs sTORI Telling, Mommywood, and Uncharted terriTORI, things have been especially unpredictable: Finding out she was pregnant with her third baby after nearly vomiting live on the Home Shopping Network; trying to hide her fourth pregnancy so soon after giving birth (as her stylist said, who would be that crazy?); being rescued from a paparazzo by a mom lynch mob; stalking her celebrity neighbor; and allowing cameras to film every personal detail of her life from the most challenging time in her marriage to the only time in six years when she really felt as though those cameras invaded her privacy.

Tori shares these stories and many more with the usual humor, candor, and down-to-earth charm that her fans love. She also writes openly about her biggest challenges: the terrifying health problems surrounding her high-risk pregnancy with youngest son Finn, her guilt over missing baby Hattie's early months because she was in the hospital on bed rest, her struggles (and failures) to live within her means after growing up in opulence, discovering how much she has in common with her late mega-producer father, Aaron Spelling, and falling in love with Dean all over again (hint: it didn't happen at their vow renewal ceremony).

After years of intimately revealing her everyday antics onscreen, Tori's life is still full of surprises. Slowing down long enough to enjoy them? Now that's another sTORI.

My thoughts: I find Tori to be a really humorous person, but this memoir really made me feel Tori is anything but genuine. I get it that reality television is anything but reality (and I don't watch television at all, so I'm not even half aware of what is out there versus reality because I only immerse myself in my own reality), but I think the fact that she shares in her book what lies she's said and which actions she didn't really mean are going a bit too far. She talks a lot about how she wishes her life weren't so public. If that were true, why is she sharing intimate details of her life with the world? That doesn't make sense. I also felt she was very, "Everyone should know who I am. I'm so important." I was really turned off by that. I would definitely skip this one.

Middle-class incomes are stretched more than ever. Feeling the strain himself, personal finance
columnist Brian O’Connor decided to put his own family’s spending to the test. He began a ten-week experiment to see if his family could cut its monthly living expenses by $1,000—without sacrificing anything truly important. From groceries and transportation to entertainment and insurance, O’Connor ruthlessly tackled his family’s Top 10 spending categories with an eye on rooting out big savings. As he shares his family’s cost-cutting adventures, O’Connor offers helpful strategies for getting your own finances back on track. Whether he’s sharing secrets to shrinking your grocery tab or helping you scour bills for unnecessary fees, O’Connor tackles the frustrations and fears of controlling your own financial fate.

My thoughts: I was really intrigued by this book - all the while knowing there is literally no way we could scrap $100 a week from our budget. Why? Well, because I don't have a storage unit, we own one car and stay home as much as possible, we eat out very minimally (and when we do, it's usually reimbursed through mystery shopping), we don't spend money on child care, we don't really have an entertainment budget, etc. This guy was spending a LOT of money on unnecessary things. So he had a lot of unnecessary things he could cut. Simply put: if you've already cut out all the extras, you won't learn anything new from this book. In fact, I kind of just think this author is nuts. He was paying for a lot of stuff that he didn't know he was paying for. I always know what I am paying for. Who has extra money to throw around like that? For a guy who claims NOT to have money to throw around like that, he certainly was throwing money around.

Greg Heffley's on a losing streak. His best friend, Rowley Jefferson, has ditched him, and finding new friends in middle school is proving to be a tough task. To change his fortunes, Greg decides to take a leap of faith and turn his decisions over to chance. Will a roll of the dice turn things around, or is Greg's life destined to be just another hard-luck story?

Additional notes: This is the eighth 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, the fifth book here, the sixth book here and the seventh book here.

My thoughts: I really do go back and forth as to whether or not I think this series is a quality series for children. At the end of the day, the series is seriously funny. If children can see beyond Greg's selfishness, I think this series is great for humor. But if your children read this series and you haven't yet done so, you probably want to have a conversation with them about this series and Greg's character.

It’s Christmastime in Amish Country, and Chloe Humphrey has begun settling into her life in Appleseed Creek excited to see where her new relationship with Timothy Troyer will lead. Unfortunately it leads to murder when the couple discovers the body of Amish teenager Katie Lambright while on their first date.

Near the scene there is evidence that Timothy’s friend and auto mechanic Billy Thorpe is involved with the crime. The police reveal Billy is not really who he said he was and has been living the last decade in Knox County under a stolen alias. Now, Chloe and Timothy must find Billy, bring him to justice, or prove his innocence.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Appleseed Creek Mystery series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here.

My thoughts: This was a really interesting book. I was surprised at the backstory of Billy's character, and the villain in this story is surprising as well. This is a well thought-out mystery series. You'll definitely be left guessing as to who the villain is until almost the very end. I highly recommend this series, even and especially if you're not a fan of typical Amish fiction.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Crockpot Swedish Meatballs

This is by no means a fancy meal, but it's quick to put together and very tasty. Jess and I have been making this dish for years.

  • 1 lb. frozen meatballs
  • 2 cans golden mushroom soup
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup sour cream 
  • 2 Tbsp. flour 
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  1. Place all ingredients except sour cream, flour and pepper in a 3 or 4 quart crockpot. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. 
  2. In a bowl, combine sour cream, flour and pepper. Add a spoonful of the hot liquid from the crockpot and mix that in with the sour cream mixture. Add mixture to crockpot and mix thoroughly. 
  3. Cover and cook for another 30 or so minutes. 
We liked to serve this over hot egg noodles, but you can also use rice or mashed potatoes. 

Please enjoy!
-Chef Jason 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: How I Parent is Not a Judgment on How You Parent

First, can I just say that us mamas are so hard on other mamas? I don't really get this. We should be united together to raise our children because Lord knows, I need some good mamas in this battle.

Thankfully, the good Lord does know and has placed some wonderful mamas in my life {you ladies totally know who you are!}. And one particular mama warned me of something that I have personally experienced numerous times since Bug was born. She told me that when I share how I'm raising Bug, in a conversation where it is naturally mentioned, that others will hear what I'm saying about what I'm doing and believe it's a judgment on them if they are not doing or did not do what I am doing.

In other words, if I share that I'm going to keep Bug rear facing in her car seat until she's 2 years old because that's the safest way to transport her and you did not, then I'm basically saying you don't care about the safety of your child.

Because I'm only giving Bug breast milk because it's the best food for a baby {in rare circumstances, it may not be, but I'd wager that 99.999999% of the time, it is} and you chose to give your baby formula, then obviously you're the worst parent ever because you formula fed.

Because I co-slept with my baby for the first six months of her life because sleeping near each other helps regulate her own heartbeat and breathing and because it forms a good bond between mama and baby and you did not, then obviously you should be shot because you didn't do this.

In case it isn't obvious, I really and truly do not believe you are a horrible parent if you don't parent the exact same way I do. In fact, if you're even reading this post or any part of this ongoing series, I'm going to assume you're a fantastic parent!

We all parent differently. God has made all of us individually and has placed certain beliefs on our hearts. I don't judge others by what they do or do not do, assuming of course that we're all keeping our babies clothed, fed and housed. If you're abusing your baby, I definitely have no respect for you at all and think you should be shot but again, I assume if you're reading this post, you're probably not one of those people.

Just because I'm sharing what I do doesn't mean I'm judging you when you share you don't do that. Or if I share I don't do something and you share that you do, that's okay too! I'm pretty liberal when it comes to parenting decisions. But please note the key word there: decision. I don't know how okay I am with the parent who doesn't educate him or herself and just goes along with what this world calls normal. For instance, many people just follow the regular vaccination schedule without even questioning if they should do that. They just listen to their doctor and do whatever he or she says. This is just one example.

Not to sound like your grandfather, but if your doctor told you to throw your baby off a bridge, would you?

Maybe not.

I'm totally fine with you deciding to vaccinate your baby {not that you're seeking my approval, but I think you get what I'm trying to say}. But you should actually make a conscious decision to do that and know what you're really agreeing to.

I actually never thought we would co-sleep. I kept saying all the way up until Bug was born, even after researching a minimal amount, that Bug would always and only sleep in her crib.

Clearly, I changed my mind. Bug developed a slight case of jaundice. Due to that, we put her in a bassinett for the first few weeks or so of her life so she could sleep in the sunlight, then so she could sleep in our bedroom. After that with all of the additional research I had done, I made a conscious decision that she would join us in the bed each night.

Most doctors don't advise you to sleep with a baby in your bed. "You'll roll over her and kill her!" they'll say.

In most cases that I've heard of, there were other factors at play that involved a child dying while sleeping in a bed with adults. Maybe you were sick and took medication which affected your awareness of your baby in the bed. Maybe one of you drank a glass of wine at dinner.

This is definitely why I'm really glad Bug did sleep in her bassinett rather than with us when she was first born and brought home. I was on fairly heavy medication from the birth and it would not have been safe in any way for Bug to sleep in the same bed as me.

Years and years of sleeping with Preston, our cat, has made Jason and I very aware of someone else in the bed with us, especially since Preston comes and goes and we never know just exactly where he is in the bed. We sleep well, but we're always in tune and aware of lumps in the bed. We never had a single issue with Bug sleeping with us.

But anyway, I digress. You have to complete your own research and form your own conclusion on parenting matters. Different things work for different people, and even once you decide on how you're going to handle a certain issue, I promise that down the line, something can happen or you'll hear of another's experience, and you may just decide to change course.

The point is to be active in your parenting decisions and to be involved with what's going on.

And the true point of all of this is is that I'm not judging anyone with the decisions I'm making. I'm just doing what I believe is best for my daughter. What's best for her might not be what's best for your little one. That's not my call to make. I'm not your little one's mama. You are. The difference between my kid and your kid is me.

You decide what's best for her or him. You're the mama. You're in charge.

But please respect that I'm in charge of my little and I decide what's best for her.

It is a two-way street, after all.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Saving the Moola: November in review

Each year, I forget that we spend extra money in November. It probably doesn't help that we don't spend extra money each November on the same things.

We spent money this month on replacement lights for our Christmas tree. Quite a few were out, and we used up all the replacement bulbs that came with the tree. We ordered extras and had them shipped.

We don't always shop deals around Thanksgiving, but this year, we did. We shopped at CVS the week of Thanksgiving twice, and we shopped at Kohl's and Babies R Us. There were a few good deals that I just couldn't pass up, including a $10 off any $10 purchase coupon at Kohl's. We make Christmas gifts for others, but we buy a few things for our stockings. I wanted to get something at Kohl's for a stocking, so this worked out well. I also had a $10 Babies R Us gift card, so I used that at Babies R Us toward everything I picked up.

We've been watching our gas costs closely, but we traveled quite a bit in November. We visited Nana (Jason's mom) and Bob (his stepdad). We visited a family who lost a loved one, and we stopped in to see Jason's grandpa and uncles. We visited a couple of families from church, and we visited my parents. It was really busy, but really fun!

With all of the extra spending, it was really great to be able to make a bit of side money. Jason's continuing with tutoring a student in physics. Over time, we're hoping to expand his student base, so if you're in Michigan and know of any student who needs help in these areas, please consider Jason! We've been told his rates are very reasonable. He also worked a lot of overtime.

Jason picked up quite a few mystery shopping gigs, and this helped our grocery budget a ton. Plus, we've been eating very, very well! Speaking of our grocery budget, we get a produce pail delivered to our home once a week. It's a really great service and has helped us lower our grocery and gas budget. If we need produce, I prefer to shop at Meijer instead of our local Walmart and Spartan store. Walmart doesn't have quality produce, and the Spartan store is very expensive. But Meijer is about 10 miles away, so it takes more gas to get there. With the produce pail, we can skip going to the grocery store for produce! We didn't shop at all one week in November, and another week, we just shopped for butter and chicken - both were on sale at rock bottom prices.

I've been making it a point to get as many Swagbucks per day as possible. I complete the regular Swagbucks tasks in the morning while Jason spends time with Bug (he works third shift). I get one search win, complete the NOSO task and answer the daily poll. In the evening, after Bug is asleep for the night, I check in with surveys. I've been able to redeem points for $25 in amazon.com gift cards in October and November, for a total of $50 in gift cards. I'll have enough for December too, at the current rate I'm going. I'm going to use all my gift cards in December to buy a few Christmas gifts and get a big bag of cat food for Preston. His food is rather expensive ($31) so Swagbucks is really useful in helping our budget!

December looks to be a much more quiet month, so I'm looking forward to spending more time at home. I plan to spend a lot of time cooking, baking, and crafting.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

This Book Room

In the isolated rural community of Unity, the people of The Movement live a simple life guided by a set of religious principles and laws that are unique to them. Polygamy is the norm, strict obedience is expected and it is customary for young girls to be assigned to much older husbands.

Celeste was born and raised in Unity, yet she struggles to fit in. Perhaps it's because of Taviana, the girl who has come to live with them and entertains Celeste with forbidden stories, or Jon, the young man she has clandestine meetings with, or maybe it's the influence of Craig, the outsider she meets on the beach. Whatever it is, she struggles to accept her ordained life. At fifteen she is repulsed at the thought of being assigned to an older man and becoming a sister wife, and she knows for certain she is not cut out to raise children. She wants something more for herself, yet feels powerless to change her destiny because rebelling would bring shame upon her family.

Celeste watches as Taviana leaves Unity, followed by Jon, and finally Craig, the boy who has taught her to think "outside the box." Although she is assigned to a caring man, his sixth wife, she is desperately unhappy. How will Celeste find her way out of Unity?

Torn from the headlines and inspired by current events, Sister Wife is a compelling portrait of a community where the laws of the outside world are ignored and where individuality is punished.

My thoughts: I could not tell you why, but I am so intrigued by the world of cults, particularly cults who claim to be religious and practice polygamy. This book was incredibly compelling. I was gripped from beginning to end and really didn't want the story to end! This is a fantastic fiction book with a story line clearly inspired by events that have occurred in real life. It gives a real glimpse into the lives of those who have this life style. I highly recommend this book.

Born to slave-holding aristocracy in Richmond, Virginia, and educated by Northern Quakers,
Elizabeth Van Lew was a paradox of her time. When her native state seceded in April 1861, Van Lew’s convictions compelled her to defy the new Confederate regime. Pledging her loyalty to the Lincoln White House, her courage would never waver, even as her wartime actions threatened not only her reputation, but also her life.

Van Lew’s skills in gathering military intelligence were unparalleled. She helped to construct the Richmond Underground and orchestrated escapes from the infamous Confederate Libby Prison under the guise of humanitarian aid. Her spy ring’s reach was vast, from clerks in the Confederate War and Navy Departments to the very home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Although Van Lew was inducted posthumously into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame, the astonishing scope of her achievements has never been widely known. In Chiaverini’s riveting tale of high-stakes espionage, a great heroine of the Civil War finally gets her due.

My thoughts: Generally speaking, I am not really a fan of Jennifer Chiaverini. She has an incredibly popular quilting series that I never got into (even though many relatives of mine love that series). I read her first historical fiction book last year and the first half was good, the second half was not. This book, however, has changed my mind about Jennifer. I am really looking forward to her next historical fiction book! This story is unique and one that I haven't heard before. It is also one that will stay with me forever. Weeks later, this story is vivid in my mind. That's the mark of a really great book.

Zack Dylan made a promise to God and his college sweetheart as he left his family's horse farm in Kentucky to compete on the popular reality television show Fifteen Minutes: If he makes it, the fame won't change him.

Overnight, Zack is the nation’s most popular contestant, a country singer with the looks and voice of a young Elvis. As his star rises, Zack is asked to compromise and quiet his beliefs, and also something more. Just as America is falling in love with Zack, just as he’s on the verge of winning it all, his choices lead him to the brink of personal disaster.

At the same time, Reese Weatherly, a therapeutic horse instructor, is no longer sure about her relationship with Zack, or the wedding they had dreamed about. While Zack advances from one round of the competition to the next, an offer comes to Reese--one that will take her to a home halfway around the world.

Then Chandra Olson--reigning diva pop star and one of the Fifteen Minutes judges--intervenes. Chandra has suffered so much public pain and private agony since her days as a Fifteen Minutes contestant. Now she wants just one thing: meaning.

Can Chandra's private losses help Zack find his way, or will his fifteen minutes of fame cause him to lose the life he once loved? Fifteen Minutes is a story of character, compromise, and the cost of having it all. A story that raises the question: Who are the real winners?

My thoughts: Usually I am such a fan of Karen Kingsbury, but I have to say this book fell really flat for me. I wanted to know more about Zoey's story. I wanted to know more about Chandra and Kelly. I wanted more, more, more. I felt like it was too much focused on Zack. There wasn't enough character development for the other characters, so the whole book just felt very lacking. I would skip this book.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a
mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

My thoughts: Our librarian (who also happens to be Jason's old boss and the mother of a student he tutors) recommend this book to me. I am really, really glad I read it. I highly recommend this book to middle school grade students and up. This book lifted me up, made me giggle and allowed me the chance to empathize in a very real way for those who are suffering (from any kind of pain). I have a new kind of respect for any person who feels less than and a new willingness to always be kind and smile.

Embroidery shop owner Marcy Singer is about to find out that show biz and sew biz don't mix!

Marcy's mom Beverly is the costume designer for a lavish, Bollywood-style production...and she suggests Tallulah Falls as a great place to shoot part of the film. Everyone at the embroidery shop, and around town, is in a flutter that a glamorous movie production is taking place in their midst. But when the star of the film is found murdered, the police suspect Marcy’s mom, who made it no secret she did not care for the diva’s attitude regarding her wardrobe.

Marcy might as well issue an open call for suspects, because the star had a long list of enemies. To save her mom’s career and keep her from accessorizing with handcuffs, Marcy and her friends will need to stitch together the clues to catch one crafty killer who may have designs on Marcy next…

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Embroidery Mystery 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. I don't know for certain, but I assume this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: Even though I feel like series like this are completely unreasonable and complete and utter fiction (how many deaths with malicious intent could one person witness or be part of it in one liftetime?), this series is just such fun to read. Even though people are murdered. Which is kind of sick and weird. But anyway, I really enjoy Marcy as a character and the supporting characters are humorous and quirky.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Peach Crumb Dessert (and a homemade yellow cake mix recipe!)

This is little chef Jess here! I'm part of the mommy group at our church, and this past week, I was in charge of bringing a sweet snack to our meeting. I wanted something simple but super tasty, then foolishly decided to try a new recipe.

Thankfully, the dessert was a huge hit! I love that this recipe serves a lot, is very low cost and all the ingredients can be stocked in your pantry and fridge for months.

  • Yellow cake mix (see below for a homemade version)
  • About 30 oz. canned peaches (I used peaches in light syrup, but if you have peaches in juice, that will work too!)
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  1. Open the cans of peaches and dump them and their juice/syrup into a 9 x 13 cake pan. Cut the slices of peaches. I sliced mine in half; feel free to do yours smaller if you prefer.
  2. Dump the yellow cake mix on top of the peaches and spread it out a bit so all the peaches are covered.
  3. Cut the stick of butter into 18 to 20 slices. Place slices of butter on top of the yellow cake mix in rows.
  4. Dump brown sugar on top and spread it out a bit so all the butter and other yumminess is covered.
  5. Bake the cake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for 40 minutes.
I actually chose this recipe, in part, because I had two boxes of yellow cake mix in our pantry. I have a good habit of checking expiration dates before I use anything and unfortunately, they were both expired (why I used to buy food without a plan to make it is beyond me). I used flour, sugar, baking powder and dry milk to make yellow cake mix.

Directions for yellow cake mix
  1. Measure out 2 cups flour, 1.5 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder and a half cup dry milk into a bowl. Mix well.
  2. If you're using this cake mix in the peach crumb dessert recipe, mix 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in with the peaches in the cake pan.
Please note: You can also make up bags of yellow cake mix using the above recipe to store in your pantry if you regularly use yellow cake mix (I don't, in case that wasn't obvious before). If you do use yellow cake mix often and desire to store it in your pantry and use later, please note that you will need to always add 1 teaspoon vanilla to your recipe as you're making it as store-bought mixes have this added in already to their mix.

Please enjoy!

-Little chef Jess

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

State of Our House Address: November in review

This month felt ultra busy with special projects and chores around the house. We decorated our home for Christmas and visited several people. We had a couple of play dates for our Bug and took meals to a couple of different families. It is so nice to bless another family! It really does more good for us than it ever could do for them.

Bug has been having a blast learning new things. She adores buttons and zippers, and she Army crawls to her potty on a regular basis. She loves to sit on her potty. It's really funny. Bug also enjoys joining us for dinner each day. She doesn't really eat anything yet (she has no teeth... even at 8 months of age!), but she likes to sit in her high chair and bang her spoon on the tray.

We get a produce pail delivered to our home once per week. This has helped us save money and also try new foods we wouldn't normally try. Once the pail is empty, we set it by the door for the next delivery. Bug Army crawls all over the house and one night she discovered the pail. That girl had the best time rolling the pail around and sticking her head inside. It was really fun to watch.

Right before Thanksgiving, one of our car's tires became flat. One of us ran over a nail. Sad, but that's just part of driving. We had it towed to a local repair facility, and the guy fixed the tire and didn't charge us a thing. Right there, that's incredible, but what's even more incredible were the circumstances. Jason was there with the car and we talked several times via phone that day. He told me how busy the place was and that they were literally turning customers away!

And still. Still, the guy told Jason, "No charge." It literally takes my breath away. It's not the money. If it were about money for us, we'd probably have already forgotten about it. It's the kindness. I desire to live my life like that. I want to do for people in a way that lights up their face. I want to be the face of God for them. I want to be as much like Christ as I can possibly can be (all the while knowing I will always be a sinner and will never be perfect because I am human, but the joy is in serving no matter what!).

I'm not sure it has to be said, then, that we had a terrific Thanksgiving. Jason picked up a lot of overtime in November and worked 48 hours Thanksgiving week. So he spent the better part of Thanksgiving sleeping, and he missed out on our annual tradition of watching Miracle on 34th Street. But we had a terrific dinner and spent quality time together while he was awake. Doesn't it look like we had a great time?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Life & Style: December goals + an update on November goals

Here's how I did on my November goals:

-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 7 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for November, I'm focusing on upping my water intake each day and decreasing my caffeine intake.
-Work on one other habit per month - for November, I'm sweeping the kitchen floor each day. I really need to make this a daily habit now that Bug is creeping everywhere.
-Craft weekly - for November, I'm making many Christmas gifts and putting together some busy bags for Bug. I'm also going to deck out our house for the Christmas season.

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights
-Start reading Love and Respect and completing the accompanying workbook together

-Read to Bug each day
-Pray with and for Bug each day
-Continue signing to Bug each day - we're teaching num nums, mama, dada, Bug {the sign we made up for her}, sleep/night night/tired, book/read, all done, more, eat, drink, bunny, kitty/brother {we call Preston brother as well so this is just an all-inclusive sign for him}, bear, potty
-Continue potty training. We're putting Bug on it after dinner. I expect absolutely nothing. We're just getting her used to the potty, diaper free, and experiencing this part of life.
-Continue baby-led weaning

-Send as much money as we can to our car loan holders {aka my parents}

I think I finally hit my stride with goals in November. I'll attribute a lot of that to not working outside the home at all, even though my not working outside the home at all is likely a temporary measure. We'll see what God has planned for us! I'd love to stay home with Bug forever, but until Jason's situation changes, I'll head back to work at some point.

But since for the time being, I'll be staying home with our Bug, I'm going to keep setting and meeting goals, God willing! Here are my goals for December:

-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 4 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for December, I'm focusing on enjoying all the good food this month brings. So in short, no fitness habit for me this month!
-Work on one other habit per month - for December, I'm focusing on deep cleaning the house more often - vacuum, sweeping/mopping, dusting and cleaning the bathrooms. My goal is once per week for all of these things but truthfully, I do them about once every other week right now.
-Craft weekly - for December, I'm making many Christmas gifts and continuing to put together some busy bags for Bug.

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights
-Start reading Love and Respect and completing the accompanying workbook together

-Read to Bug each day
-Pray with and for Bug each day
-Continue signing to Bug each day - we're teaching num nums, mama, dada, Bug {the sign we made up for her}, sleep/night night/tired, book/read, all done, more, eat, drink, bunny, kitty/brother {we call Preston brother as well so this is just an all-inclusive sign for him}, bear, potty
-Continue potty training. We're putting Bug on it after dinner. I expect absolutely nothing. We're just getting her used to the potty, diaper free, and experiencing this part of life.
-Continue baby-led weaning

-Send as much money as we can to our car loan holders {aka my parents}

You can read my full goals for 2013 here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A List

photo credit
I belong to a terrific Lutheran church in my hometown. My husband sings in the worship team and volunteers when he can to help maintain the property. I co-lead the mama group with three other wonderful mamas and volunteer when I can to help with fundraising efforts to build a new and larger church.

There are so many young families at our church. It actually takes my breath away when I reflect on how many mamas, daddies and little ones there are. I could not name them all if I tried. I actually don't even know all of their names!

When I was pregnant with Bug, I watched the mamas interact with their littles in an effort to learn anything at all about what would soon be my life. Honestly, these women taught me much of what I know.

When Bug was born, I took seven weeks off from work to be with her. Then, I was back at work. Jason was working 50 hours a week. I was working 40 hours a week. And we took care of Bug all by ourselves.

It was anything but easy.

It was a careful juggle of time and energy. We had a pretty good schedule beforehand and were very productive. My career was all about productivity, so honestly, productivity was an art form for me and becoming and being a master of it came easily to me.

This was incredibly useful for our family when we were working more than full time and caring for our newborn without any outside help. I don't know how much I would recommend doing this, I do have to say. I certainly wouldn't want to do it again in the future.

But we did it. To be honest, we actually excelled at it. Instead of becoming weary, I powered through. Instead of wanting to give up, I leaned in and gave motherhood, being a wife, my home and my career everything I had in me.

The result? Everyone believed I was Superwoman.

So much so that the other leaders of the mama's group at church asked me to lead the group this coming January and share how I manage my time.

This is an incredible honor to be asked to speak with the group. I am both terrified (I'm not such a big fan of public speaking) and thrilled.

In thinking about our upcoming meeting and all I desire to share with our group at church, I've come to realize there's a lot of good things I don't do. In short, I really and truly am not Superwoman. I'm so far from it, the line is a dot to me (Friends, anyone?). Your list will differ from my list, but I hope this dispels the belief any of you dear readers have that I'm a rock star. I'm not. I'm a wife, a mama, and a sinner saved by grace. That last part? If I'm a rock star, it's only because of that. Nothing else.

What I Don't Do

I don't shave every day. Sometimes, I don't even shave every week.

I don't put away my husband's clean laundry.

I don't grind my own flours.

I don't deep clean the house on a regular basis.

I don't make our bed.

I don't have a very stylish wardrobe.

I don't wear makeup.

I don't raise chickens, cows or any other livestock.

I don't own a home, so I get to skip all the joys of home ownership (like learning how to be a plumber and electrician and mowing the lawn).

I don't volunteer outside of opportunities within our church.

These are things that some of you do in your day-to-day life. And they are all really great things. If these are things you do, that's great. Some of these things don't matter much to me. I honestly don't care if our bed is made every day. I straighten out the sheets and blankets before bed because I can't stand the feel of wrinkles on me. Other than that, I'm pretty good.

I focus my energy and time on the things I can do well and the things that benefit my family and home in a real way that matters to us. My husband doesn't care if I shave often or wear makeup, but he definitely cares if I shower and brush my teeth every day. This works well for me because I care about showering and brushing but not shaving and wearing makeup.

My husband doesn't care if the house is perfectly scrubbed, but he does care if clutter is around. I declutter the house every day (sometimes multiple times) so it's always generally picked up.

For all the good things I do, there are many good things I don't do. Next time you're admiring someone and think they've got it all together and they do everything from scratch and they're perfectly put together... just know I've got hairy armpits and an un-made bed at home. Superwoman, I am not.

Hairy lady? That I definitely am.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

This Book Room: Christmas 2013 Edition

There are a few more Christmas-themed books I'd like to read that just came out this year, but I may not get to them all by Christmas this year. So there may be a part 2 coming, and there may not be. But I can at least share a few books I've read, and I hope you get a chance to check some of these out. One of my favorite parts about the Christmas season is reading Christmas-themed books!

A sacred season is about to unfold for three women whose hearts belong to God. Elizabeth is barren, yet her trust in God remains fertile. Mary is betrothed in marriage, yet she is willing to bear God’s Son. Anna is a widow full of years, yet she waits patiently, prayerfully for the Messiah to appear in the temple courts.

Following in their footsteps, you too can prepare for the Savior to enter your heart, your mind, and your life in a vibrant, new way. Best-selling author Liz Curtis Higgs explores the biblical stories of Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna, unwrapping each verse with tender care and introducing you afresh to The Women of Christmas.

My thoughts: This is quite possibly one of the best Christmas books I've ever read, and I have read quite a few. I study the Bible every day, but I always appreciate specific Bible study books that really delve into the Word and help unpack it for me. This was a terrific book and helped me gain new perspective and understanding for these three women's situations. I consider this book an absolute must read.

It was a simple idea that became the worldwide ministry of Operation Christmas Child—to minister
to children in war-torn and famine-stricken countries.  In just two decades it has inspired everyday people to provide more than 100 million gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children in 130 countries. This beautiful book weaves the moving, God-saturated story of the ministry’s beginning with the soul-stirring, Christ exalting stories of lives that have been forever changed by a simple shoebox. Operation Christmas Child is filled with full-color photos of children whose smiles help tell what is a thoroughly hopeful story. Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham provides insight as the incredible stories of life transformation are told. Proceeds from Operation Christmas Child go to support the ministry it seeks to celebrate and honor.

My thoughts: I haven't yet packed a box for Operation Christmas Child - keyword: YET. I plan to make some items through the next year to help pack boxes next season. I honestly just wasn't prepared this year, and our church has their packing party in the evening (and my Bug is an early sleeper so that doesn't really work out for us yet). I'm looking forward to making OCC part of our Christmas tradition in the future, even more so after reading the stories included in this book. I do have to say, in the interest of total honesty, that the editing of this book is absolutely terrible. There is no flow of any sort. But the stories of the children who received the boxes, packed the boxes, promoted the boxes will move you to action. The pictures included were a great companion for the stories. This is a ministry you definitely want to consider supporting.

Journey along with American settlers who learn that despite where the trail takes them or how primitive their lodgings may be Christmas is all about the heart. Determined to honor Christ’s birth, these pioneers find a way to make Christmas happen in places like a cave, a tipi, and a dugout. Modern readers will enjoy a peek into life before commercialism took over the sacred day, distracting us from the true blessings of faith, hope, and love. Enjoy nine original novellas of Christmas romance as penned from many of today’s leading Christian authors, including Lauraine Snelling, Kathleen Fuller, and Vickie McDonough.

My thoughts: Each year, I wait with anticipation and excitement for the latest collection of Christmas stories. I love, love, love these collections. They are heart warming and perfect to read snuggled up in bed with a hot cup of tea. I feel such an extreme level of contentment while reading these stories. This is partly due to the fact that I don't have to hunt for meat. I can buy my meat from our farmer friends or at the store. I don't have to clean the chamber pot out each morning (but it is generally expected that I clean the toilets every couple of weeks or so). If you're a fan of Little House on the Prairie books, you'll likely enjoy this collection of short stories.

It's a warm summer evening when Jonas King, the bishop within his church district, finds himself
faced with an enormous test of faith. For several months, he is left pondering his losses and how it fits into God's plan. How could God desert him when he has been such a pious follower of His Word? The community tries to help him through his trials but Jonas is resistant. It takes an amazing Christmas miracle to open his eyes to the every day nature of God's gifts to the world. Can his faith be saved in time?

My thoughts: I found this book by complete and total accident while browsing books online one day. I was looking for a different book but stumbled across this one in my search. It looked interesting and my library had a copy, so I requested it. I was quite shocked when I saw the book - it's only 67 pages! So if you're someone with not a lot of time, this novella is definitely for you. It's a good, quick read and will help put you in the Christmas spirit of forgiveness and faith.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Cranberry Cornmeal Muffins

We have been trying out new ingredients lately, and fresh cranberries was one of them. The tartness of them is balanced out well in this recipe. One fresh bag of cranberries includes enough berries to make this recipe three times. If that doesn't work for you, put the berries on a cookie sheet in the freezer for one hour. Then, store in a Ziploc bag. You can use fresh or frozen berries in this recipe.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a muffin pan and set aside.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together flour and baking powder. Mix in cornmeal.
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture, alternately with the milk, until well blended. Fold in the cranberries.
  4. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin pan. Bake for 20 minutes, until muffins turn light golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out mostly clean.
  5. Cool in pan for 5 minutes before removing muffins and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack. 
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: When You Feel Like a Failure

Before we were parents, we used to joke that if any future children ever yelled, "I hate you!" we would know we were doing our jobs as parents correctly. The goal isn't to be their friends. Our goal is to be their parents. A tough, unappreciated role.

Since we've grown in our role as parents, since we knew we were pregnant, and since we have fallen deeper in love with our Savior, we have a bit of a different view on how to know if we're succeeding as parents.

On nights like this one, I have to really remind myself what successful parenting looks like.

Our poor Bug. She's working on teeth, I'm sure of it. Why else would she cry and cry and cry but not be hungry? Not want to sleep even when her eyes are rimmed with red from lack of sleep? My heart breaks a million times over for her, as I can't imagine the pain she must be in.

Even if not from pain from her teeth, Bug is clearly unhappy and unable to tell me what's wrong. It makes my mama heart hurt.

Jason works third shift, so he slumbers peacefully (as peacefully as one can when a babe is crying in the home) as I just scramble to get Bug happy and preferably, asleep.

Eventually, I succumb to the fact that I'm just worn out and in need of a break. I reluctantly wake Jason up and ask him to bathe her - maybe that will help sleep come for our Bug.

Within an hour's time, Bug is asleep, peaceful in her crib. Jason goes back to back for another couple of hours. I am left feeling broken.

Clearly, I suck at this parenting thing. Clearly, I'm just failing.

According our standards of successful parenting, however, I'm winning!

Our standards of winning at parenting:
  1. Your child is alive.
  2. Your child knows and loves God.
That's it.

By those standards, I've won.

So why do I feel like I've failed?

It's really easy to give into what this world calls a success. Are your kids in fashionable threads? Are your kids involved in swimming, music lessons, tumbling, dance and play dates? Are your kids being socialized at a daycare? Do you take your kids on vacation to Disney?

That's what this world calls success.

But I don't adhere to this world's standard. I'm held to another standard - God's. I'm not walking the wide path. No, I've been called to walk the narrow, windy, bumpy and oftentimes lonely path, despite the fact I'm not walking by myself. God is there with me, in the darkness, in the rain, in the sun, in the fog and in the absolute treacherous storm.

Others are there - others who have been called to live this life, too. God's placed those people squarely in my life, so I can keep walking this path with companions. With supporters. With others who share my same dream.

But in the dead of night, when this world tells me I've failed, I struggle to keep my eye on the prize. Heaven!

Weary moms, take heart. God has conquered this world! He gave us His only Son so that we may have eternal life!

So that our children may have eternal life.

How much does it matter if our children don't have the latest toys, gadgets and clothes? How much does it matter if they never see far-away places their friends have visited?

It only matters that they know and love God. If your children do, I'm telling you you've won.

You've got this parenting gig figured out. You are a champion!

When you feel like you've failed, look at your sleeping babe and reflect on the countless times you've told him God loves him. God will never forsake him. God has plans for him - to prosper him and give him a future.

Take joy in your babe's breaths - steady in and steady out. Place your hand upon your baby's warm head and place a kiss against her forehead. Breathe in her smell and relax.

You're a winner.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Crafty Christmas: Chai Tea Mix

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 4 weeks away!

I have been waiting to make this for years and years. I could not make it until we had a blender. We bought a Vita Mix earlier this year, and I have to say it was one of the best purchases from this year for our family, especially since I can now make this gift!

My cost for this project was about $8. As you can see, I made six gifts. But I have enough ingredients to make another batch of this chai tea mix. So you can make at least 12 jam-sized jars of chai tea mix. The cost per gift, then, is about 67 cents.

For that price, feel free to make this for your neighbors, bus drivers, hair stylist, children's teachers, strangers you meet on the street, your friendly neighborhood cashier, etc.

I'm not a fan of chai tea, but many of our relatives and Jason are fans. Jason taste tested this for me and said it tasted great! I don't even need six jars of this to give away, so I'm holding a couple back for Jason. I plan to make another batch early next year to use up the ingredients. Jason will have chai tea for quite a while!

Here's what you need to make chai tea mix:
  • 1 cup powdered milk
  • 1 cup non-dairy powdered coffee creamer
  • 1 cup French vanilla flavored non-dairy powdered coffee creamer
  • 2.5 cups sugar
  • 1.5 cups unsweetened instant tea
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
Here's how you make chai tea mix:
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl using a whisk.
  2. Working in batches, add the mixture to a blender and blend until the powder becomes fine.
  3. Add the fine powder to jars.
  4. Add a label to the jar instructing the recipient to use 1 to 2 tablespoons of chai tea mix to an 8-ounce cup of hot water.

Happy crafting!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

This Book Room: Beloved Daughter

In a small North Korean village, a young girl struggles to survive. But it is her father's faith, not the famine of North Hamyong Province, that most threatens Chung-Cha's well-being. Is Chung-Cha's father right to be such a vocal believer? Or is he a fool to bring danger on the head of his only daughter? Chung-Cha is only a girl of twelve and is too young to answer such questions. Yet she is not too young to face a life of imprisonment and forced labor. Her crime? Being the daughter of a political traitor. The Beloved Daughter follows Chung-Cha into one of the most notorious prison camps of the contemporary free world. Will Chung-Cha survive the horrors of Camp 22? And if she does survive, will her faith remain intact? "The Beloved Daughter" is Alana Terry's debut Christian novel and was a winner in the Women of Faith writing contest.

My thoughts: I am one of those people who isn't really a fan of indie things. Indie movies - I'll pass. Indie music artists - I'd rather listen to Kelly Clarkson. So when I was approached by the author herself to read this book and review it, I was a little nervous and apprehensive. I checked out the book on barnesandnoble.com to read the summary, and I was seriously intrigued! It sounded just like my kind of book.

In a word, this book is haunting. I stayed up way too late two nights in a row to read this beautiful, harrowing book. Chung-Cha is brave beyond all measure, but my heart absolutely broke for her many times over. Alana Terry has weaved a wonderful tale of a place I will fully admit to always being curious about. North Korea holds so many mysteries, and even though this tale is fiction, I can't help but believe this story has absolutely happened. Probably many times over. I highly recommend this book. It is a book I will never forget.

Thanks to Alana Terry for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Here's some additional fun information about this book!

  • The audiobook version of Alana's bestselling debut novel is narrated by Kathy Garver, a four-time Audie award winner and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient from the Motion Picture Council. (You might also recognize Kathy as Cissy from the TV show Family Affair.)
  • You can purchase a copy of the paperback book here. But could I also recommend you request your local library purchase a copy? This is a great book and if the library purchases a copy, other readers can enjoy this story!
You can also enter this great giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Cream of Tomato Soup

We had an abundance of canned tomatoes, due to our garden and free tomatoes that were gifted to us. We mostly use our canned tomatoes for chili but also tried this recipe. We would definitely make this soup again. It's really easy, healthy and tasty.

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 28 oz. canned tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  1. In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the canned tomatoes and the chicken broth. Simmer the tomato mixture for 10 minutes.
  4. Working in batches, add the hot tomato mixture to a blender or food processor, and process until very smooth.
  5. Add the smooth soup back to the sauce pan and add the cream. Stir to combine and serve right away.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, November 14, 2013

This Book Room

After leaving Uncle Chester's homestead claim, orphan Hattie Brooks throws a lasso around a new dream, even bigger than the Montana sky. She wants to be a reporter, knowing full well that a few pieces published in the Arlington News will not suffice. Real reporters must go to Grand Places, and do Grand Things, like Hattie's hero Nellie Bly. Another girl might be stymied by this, but Hattie has faced down a hungry wolf and stood up to a mob of angry men. Nothing can squash her desire to write for a big city newspaper. A letter and love token from Uncle Chester's old flame in San Francisco fuels that desire and Hattie jumps at the opportunity to get there by working as a seamstress for a traveling acting troupe. This could be her chance to solve the mystery of her "scoundrel" uncle and, in the process, help her learn more about herself. But Hattie must first tell Charlie that she will not join him in Seattle. Even though her heart approves of Charlie's plan for their marriage, her mind fears that saying yes to him would be saying no to herself. Hattie holds her own in the big city, literally pitching her way to a byline, and a career that could be even bigger than Nellie Bly's. But can making headlines compensate for the pain of betrayal and lost love? Hattie must dig deep to find her own true place in the world. Kirby Larson once again creates a lovingly written novel about the remarkable and resilient young orphan, Hattie Inez Brooks.

Additional notes: This is the second and final book in the Hattie series. You can read my review of the first book here.

My thoughts: Sadly, this book did not live up to my expectations. It was very unlike the first book, and the plot just didn't grip me. It was an okay book and one I would recommend to younger readers, but it's not one that's very appealing to all ages. I would skip this one.

With Lizzie’s father fighting in World War II, her mother takes on the job of a zoo keeper to provide
for her family. Lizzie, her mother, and her eight-year-old brother Karli have become especially attached to an orphaned elephant named Marlene. The bombing of Dresden is imminent and soon, so the zoo director explains that as a precautionary measure all the animals must be destroyed so that they’re not running wild through the city. Lizzie’s mother persuades the director to allow Marlene, the elephant, to come stay in the family’s garden.

As predicted, Dresden is bombed, and the family, including Marlene, is forced from the city. Lizzie and her family aren’t alone. Thousands of Dresden residents are fleeing to find somewhere safe to stay. Lizzie’s mother has to find a different route out of the city to keep the elephant and the children safe from harm. Once they reach the abandoned home of their relatives, they come across Peter, a Canadian navigator who, by putting himself at risk of capture to save the family, gains their trust.

This unlikely grouping of family, elephant, and enemy turned ally come together beautifully to illustrate the importance of love, resolve, and hope.

My thoughts: This author, who also wrote War Horse which was turned into a movie, has an amazing storytelling ability. My goodness, I was just sucked into this story. First, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Second, the characters are determined and fierce. There is just nothing about this story I didn't enjoy. This is a must read story.

Normal people are stressed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Many of their relationships are, at best, strained and, in most cases, just surviving. Even though we live in one of the most prosperous places on earth, normal is still living paycheck to paycheck and never getting ahead. In our oversexed world, lust, premarital sex, guilt, and shame are far more common than purity, virginity, and a healthy married sex life. And when it comes to God, the majority believe in him, but the teachings of scripture rarely make it into their everyday lives. Simply put, normal isn't working. Groeschel's WEIRD views will help you break free from the norm to lead a radically abnormal (and endlessly more fulfilling) life.

My thoughts: If you're looking for great, comprehensive Christian lifestyle book, you don't need to look any further than this book. I particularly enjoyed the author's chapter on Time. If you've read books on any view presented in this book (money, for example), you may not necessarily learn anything new from that section. I've read many Christian money books and didn't learn anything new from the money section. Overall, however, I think the author did a fantastic job of putting together this book. I would highly recommend this to anyone - particularly people who not only are not Christians but talk negatively about them. This book may help you understand why we do what we do and why we think what we think.

For the first time ever—a comprehensive biography of one of the twentieth century’s most innovative creative artists: the incomparable, irreplaceable Jim Henson

He was a gentle dreamer whose genial bearded visage was recognized around the world, but most people got to know him only through the iconic characters born of his fertile imagination: Kermit the Frog, Bert and Ernie, Miss Piggy, Big Bird. The Muppets made Jim Henson a household name, but they were just part of his remarkable story.

This extraordinary biography—written with the generous cooperation of the Henson family—covers the full arc of Henson’s all-too-brief life: from his childhood in Leland, Mississippi; through the years of burgeoning fame in Washington D.C., New York, and London; to the decade of international celebrity that preceded his untimely death at age fifty-three. Drawing on hundreds of hours of new interviews with Henson's family, friends, and closest collaborators, as well as unprecedented access to private family and company archives (including never-before-seen interviews, business documents, and Henson’s private letters), Brian Jay Jones explores the creation of the Muppets, Henson’s contributions to Sesame Street and Saturday Night Live, and his nearly ten-year campaign to bring The Muppet Show to television. Jones provides the imaginative context for Henson’s non-Muppet projects, including the richly imagined worlds of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth—as well as fascinating misfires like Henson’s dream of opening an inflatable psychedelic nightclub or staging an elaborate all-puppet Broadway show.

An uncommonly intimate portrait, Jim Henson captures all the facets of this American original: the master craftsman who revolutionized the presentation of puppets on television, the savvy businessman whose dealmaking prowess won him a reputation as “the new Walt Disney,” and the creative team leader whose collaborative ethos earned him the undying loyalty of everyone who worked for him. Here also is insight into Henson’s intensely private personal life: his Christian Science upbringing; his love of fast cars, high-stakes gambling, and expensive art; and his weakness for women. Though an optimist by nature, Henson was haunted by the notion that he would not have time to do all the things he wanted to do in life—a fear that his heartbreaking final hours would prove all too well founded.

An up-close look at the charmed life of a legend, Jim Henson gives the full measure to a man whose joyful genius transcended age, language, geography, and culture—and continues to beguile audiences worldwide.

My thoughts: If you want to know everything about Jim Henson, this is definitely the book for you. If, like me, you wanted to know more about those crazy Muppet characters you grew up watching, this book is probably for you, but be ready for a lot of extra stuff you didn't want to know about. Jim is definitely a genius. This book delves into all areas of his life, and I can tell you that Jim and I could have been friends, but we definitely didn't agree on a lot. I still love the Muppets though and really wish his company could release the original A Muppet Family Christmas on DVD. If you've ever been privileged enough to see this television special, count yourself blessed. It is the best hour of television I have ever seen. Anyway, this book is a bit difficult to get through, but I found it to be worthwhile, overall.

Garfield believes that a full belly is a happy belly—and he intends to keep his stomach ecstatic. Fans of the fat cat will gleefully fill up on this latest smorgasbord of fun!

Additional notes: This is the fifty-sixth Garfield book. You can read my reviews of the first 55 books, including reviews on special books by searching Garfield in the search tab on the blog.

My thoughts: Jason and I laughed out loud while reading this book. Our favorite part of reading the book is to share with each other our favorite comics - sometimes they're the same, and more often than not, Jason will show me one that he thinks is hilarious that I just don't see as that funny. I think reading the comics together is part of what makes reading them so much fun.