Thursday, January 31, 2013

This Book Room

Alan Christoffersen, a once-successful advertising executive, wakes one morning to find himself injured, alone, and confined to a hospital bed in Spokane, Washington. Sixteen days earlier, reeling from the sudden loss of his wife, his home, and his business, Alan left everything he knew behind and set off on an extraordinary cross-country journey. Carrying only a backpack, he planned to walk to Key West, the farthest destination on his map. But a vicious roadside stabbing has interrupted Alan’s trek and robbed him of his one source of solace: the ability to walk. Homeless and facing months of difficult recovery, Alan has nowhere to turn—until a mysterious woman enters his life and invites him into her home. Generous and kind, Angel seems almost too good to be true, but all is not as it appears. Alan soon realizes that before he can return to his own journey, he must first help Angel with hers. From one of America’s most beloved and bestselling storytellers comes an astonishing tale of life and death, love and second chances, and why sometimes the best way to heal your own suffering is by helping to heal someone else’s. Inspiring, moving, and full of wisdom, Miles to Go picks up where the bestseller The Walk left off, continuing the unforgettable series about one man’s unrelenting search for hope. 

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Walk series. There are currently three books in the series, and the fourth book is due out later this year, in 2013. You can read my review of the first book here.

My thoughts: This book is just as riveting as the first. Angel and Alan are quite the characters. You just find yourself rooting for them all the way through - not necessarily in a romantic way, but in a "I hope they can work out their weirdness and be friends" kind of way. This series is actually refreshing in that it's not about romance - it really is about one man's quest to find, what I believe, will be God. With finding God, I imagine he'll find hope, joy, himself - all the things a human needs to persevere in the tough times. This series is good for anyone - man, woman, teenager, families, etc.

The little settlement that weathered the long, hard winter of 1880-81 is now a growing town. Laura is growing up, and she goes to her first evening social. Mary is at last able to go to a college for the blind. Best of all, Almanzo Wilder asks permission to walk home from church with Laura. And Laura, now fifteen years old, receives her certificate to teach school.

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

My thoughts: While it's fun to read about Laura now as a teenager, I find myself yearning for the earlier books, when the girls were all girls and young. I imagine that's pretty much how I'll feel all the time once my little Monster {who isn't even here yet!} reaches his/her teen years. There's just something so precious about a young child. Once a kid is a teen, it's like s/he sees the world for what it really is, which is typically disappointing compared to what they thought it would be. Sigh.

The Darlings have just begun their second semester of ninth grade, and love is in the air.
Victoria: The sweetheart
Jack: The irresistible songwriter...but is he writing off Victoria?
Natalya: The overachiever
Colin: The perfect match, if only the game were less complicated
Jane: The drama queen
Simon: The Greek god... of mixed signals
In the face of both joy and heartbreak, the Darlings know that they'll always have each other. Boys come and go, but the Darlings are still forever.

Additional notes: This is the second and latest book in the Darlings are Forever series. You can read my review of the first book here

My thoughts: When I read teen fiction books like this, it's always enjoyable, but painful, too. I try to convince myself I wasn't like the character in the book when I was a teen, but it's a lie - I totally was! So much drama, so much angst. I tell you this: I am so glad I am a mature adult! Er, at least, I'm mature sometimes :) Anyway, the characters in this series are lovable, mostly. Natalya and Colin's story is most interesting to read. Victoria and Jack are just kind of sappy and annoying, and Jane and Simon are predictable. This book is mostly innocent, so if you have a teen girl, I would say this book is fine for her to read.

Real estate expert Olivia Bellamy reluctantly trades a trendy Manhattan summer for her family's old resort camp in the Catskills, where her primary task will be renovating the bungalow colony for her grandparents, who want one last summer together filled with fun, friends and family. A posh resort in its heyday, the camp is now in disarray and Olivia is forced to hire contractor Connor Davis -- a still-smoldering flame from her own summers at camp But as the days grow warm, not even the inviting blue waters of Willow Lake can cool the passions flaring or keep shocking secrets at bay. The nostalgic joy of summers past breathes new promise into a special place and people...a promise meant to last long after the season ends.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Lakeshore Chronicles. There are nine books in this series and all have been released. I can't say for sure, but I would imagine this series is ongoing. 

My thoughts: If you can get past the few moments of seriously ucky romance, this book was intriguing. I love that there were several subplots for the reader to follow and that the author used flashbacks to fill in the story. Olivia has quite the family! I've been a camp counselor before, and while my experience was relatively tame since I was counselor for a Girl Scout camp, Susan definitely gets the setting and feel right for a camp experience. It made me want to go back up north, camp in a tent and make a fire!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Whole Grain Oatmeal Muffins

These muffins were very good for breakfast. Just remember that as you are making them home made, they will become 'fuzzy' long before muffins purchased at the store would. The original recipe can be found in the Eat More of What You Love cookbook.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated no-calorie sweetener
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with cooking spray.
  • Whisk together  milk, eggs, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  • In a large bowl combine all remaining ingredients other than the shortening.
  • Cut the shortening into the flour until incorporated.
    • This took a couple of minutes.
  • Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir with a spoon just until mixed.
  • Divide up the batter evenly into the muffin cups.
  • Bake for 12 to 15 minutes.
  • Cool for 5 minutes.
  • Remove to a wire rack.
  • Eat before they go bad.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, January 24, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Banana Muffins

These muffins are quite possibly the best banana muffins I have ever had the pleasure of eating. They are everything that you could want in a banana muffin, and they are slightly over-the-top large which just make them fantastic fun. The original recipe can be found here.

  • 4 bananas, smashed and divided {if you have only 3, that works fine too}
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • Put half of the bananas in a mixing bowl along with the sugars.
  • Blend with a mixer for 3 minutes.
  • Add in the butter, eggs, and vanilla and mix again.
  • Add the flour, other half of bananas, baking soda and salt and mix just until combined.
    • Do not over mix.
  • Scoop into greased muffin tins.
    • As noted earlier, they will be very full.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Book Room: Secretly Smitten

Summer, fall, winter, spring--Smitten, Vermont, is the place for love . . . and mystery!

There's a secret in Grandma Rose's attic--a forgotten set of dog tags belonging to her first love. But David Hutchins was killed in action and never returned to Smitten. How did the dog tags end up in the attic?

The mystery intrigues Rose's three granddaughters--Tess, Clare, and Zoe--and they decide to investigate, though their mother, Anna, warns against meddling. But as the seasons turn and the mystery unravels, the three young women and their mother encounter some intriguing mystery men of their own. Has a sixty-year-old puzzle sparked something new for this close-knit family of women?

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

My thoughts: The four stories by four different authors are expertly woven together. I loved the story arc of Rose's long-lost love. That plot line propelled me to read this entire book as quickly as I could, while still savoring the other plot lines, so I could find out what happened in the end.

Each author brings her own flavor to the four different characters. My favorite story was Anna's and Clare's, but really, all four were wonderful. The town of Smitten is so easily imagined, and I really wish it were a real town I could visit! The cover art of the book is so yummy and cozy. I really cannot wait for the next installment of this series. I am definitely smitten with Smitten!

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saving the Moola: the break-even analysis is one key to good money management

photo credit
Each year, right before Christmas, we get a not-so-nice present in the mail from the apartment complex office. It's a letter indicating it's time to renew our lease, and it includes what the management thinks is the market rate for our apartment, which is always, always higher than what we are currently paying.

Negotiations are always rough, and it always involves, rightly so, give and take from both sides. We never get the rent we want, but either do they (which is very, very good for our wallets). The grump in me often thinks negotiating isn't worth it. If I'm so unhappy, why not just move?

Besides the fact that I'm truly happy with where I live, and Jason is too, there is a way to calculate if moving is really worth it. And you can use this analysis in several areas of your finances to ensure the cost you're paying isn't truly exorbitant.

In this example, there is a cost to living here month after month and there is a cost to not living here. Let's say our rent is $100 (don't I wish!?!?!), and the management wants to raise it to $103. I have found that a 3 percent increase per year is pretty standard, if the landlord/management attempts to raise rent. We lived for several years in an apartment where we never had an increase in rent, and certainly, there are cases where management may ask a tenant to pay more than a 3 percent raise or less than a 3 percent raise.

Is the $3 extra per month worth staying? If we moved, we would hire movers. Let's say movers cost $50. We painted some walls in our house (which we do every where we have lived, minus our first home). We would need to purchase white paint to paint them back. That would cost, let's say, $10. Then, we would need to purchase paint to paint our new home. Let's say that would cost $50. Then, we would possibly need new items for our new house. For instance, when we moved from our previous home to the home we live in now, we needed curtains in other sizes as our previous curtains didn't fit the new windows. Items like this, let's say, run $100.

I do research and discover that if we moved to a comparable place that we would be happy living at, our rent would be $90, a savings of $10 off what we're currently paying and $13 less than what the management is asking us to pay with our renewed lease.

Let's keep in mind that I haven't even yet figured the cost in time of packing boxes, unpacking boxes, etc. I'm not a big fan of moving, so this isn't fun and isn't something I'm really all that willing to spend time on.

The cost of moving, minus the cost of time in moving, runs about $210. Assuming we agree to pay the full rent the current management is asking us to pay, which is $103, versus what we could pay at a new apartment, which is $90, it would take us about 16 months of living in the new place before we would break even. The money we spent in moving would then be covered, and anything after the sixteenth month, we would actually see the savings of $13.

That is a very long time to break even on moving from one apartment to another and also assumes that after the first 12 months is over, the new property management doesn't attempt to increase our rent, which is unlikely.

We have found, in this particular example, that we can always negotiate our rent at least 1 percent down from what management is asking. In this case, that would save us $1 per month which means it would take almost 18 months before we broke even.

That's not worth it to us. It's better to just stay where we are, especially since we truly love our home.

Other examples you can use this analysis for to determine the right financial action is any tangible item that could save you money in the long run but costs money to obtain. These items may be:
  • A blender for making smoothies (instead of buying smoothies from a restaurant/diner/etc.)
  • Dryer racks to dry your clothes (instead of using electricity/money/etc. to dry your clothes)
  • A heating blanket/mattress pad/pad (instead of using a conventional heater to keep warm)
  • Cloth diapers (instead of using disposable diapers)
And the list could go on and on. In most cases, it is better to spend a little bit more money up front to see a savings in the long run, but it's always up to you and your particular situation as well. Someone else may think seeing a savings of $12 a month in rent after 18 months is a great deal. We do not. Someone else may not think dryer racks are really worth it. We do.

The important thing is to use this analysis in your life using your own situation to determine if you're doing the right thing for you and your family. It will help you from making decisions you may regret later, and it will make decisions easier and clearer.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

This Book Room

The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as Pa, Ma, Laura, Mary, Carrie, and little Grace bravely face the hard winter of 1880-81 in their little house in the Dakota Territory. Blizzards cover the little town with snow, cutting off all supplies from the outside. Soon there is almost no food left, so young Almanzo Wilder and a friend make a dangerous trip across the prairie to find some wheat. Finally a joyous Christmas is celebrated in a very unusual way in this most exciting of all the Little House books.

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Little House on the Prairie 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 nine books in this series, and all have been released.

My thoughts: This book was difficult to read, in that it was definitely depressing. But it was also a joy to read - to see how families used their resources to the best of their abilities, how they had hope and stuck out the hard times and to see them all come through at the end. This book had a ton of adventure.

In the 2012 London Olympics, US gymnast Gabby Douglas stole hearts and flew high as the All-Around Gold Medal winner, as well as acting as a critical member of the US gold-medal-winning women gymnastics team. In this personal autobiography, Gabby tells her story of faith, perseverance, and determination, demonstrating you can reach your dreams if you let yourself soar.

My thoughts: This book is an easy read, but the writing is very... interesting. The phrase "LOL" is actually used in the book, which isn't something I would do personally as a writer, and as a reader, I have to say it did put me off a little. But I imagine this story is written in much the way Gabby would talk, so in that sense, the book was written perfectly. Anyway, the story was interesting to read and the book comes with great pictures.

"My name is Alan Christoffersen. You don’t know me. ‘Just another book in the library,’ my father would say. ‘Unopened and unread.’ You have no idea how far I’ve come or what I’ve lost. More important, you have no idea what I’ve found." —Prologue What would you do if you lost everything—your job, your home, and the love of your life—all at the same time? When it happens to Seattle ad executive Alan Christoffersen, he’s tempted by his darkest thoughts. A bottle of pills in his hand and nothing left to live for, he plans to end his misery. Instead, he decides to take a walk. But not any ordinary walk. Taking with him only the barest of essentials, Al leaves behind all that he’s known and heads for the farthest point on his map: Key West, Florida. The people he encounters along the way, and the lessons they share with him, will save his life—and inspire yours.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Walk series. There are currently three books released for this series and the fourth book is due out in 2013. 

My thoughts: I am so glad I picked up this book. I had tried to read this author's Christmas-y type books and could not get into them. But this book is fantastic. I cried, I laughed, I yearned to hike with this guy. I love the idea of walking away - or is it really, walking to something? I can't wait to read more of Alan's journey and what he discovers along the way. I highly, highly recommend this book.

Jane, Victoria, and Natalya. Together, they are the Darlings. Best friends forever. They have matching necklaces, their own table at Ga Ga Noodle, and even a shared motto: "May you always do what you're afraid of doing." When the friends begin freshman year at three different high schools in distant corners of New York City, they promise to live by their motto and stay as close as ever. The Darlings know they can get through anything as long as they have each other. But doing scary new things is a lot easier with your friends beside you. And now that the girls aren't spending all their time together, everything they took for granted about their friendship starts to feel less certain. They can't help but wonder, will they really be the Darlings forever?

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Darlings are Forever series. There is one other book out in this series. 

My thoughts: I have mixed feelings on this book. If I were a teenager, I probably would've liked it a lot more. But I've been desperate for reading material and thought this book looked good, so I committed myself to reading it. It definitely reminded me of high school: all the angst. Argh. I'm so glad I'm not there anymore! But if you're into teen fiction, you will like this book.

Coming Home is a novel about tremendous victory and unprecedented loss, a story of faith and a forever kind of love, love that will stay with you long after the last page. This stand-alone novel will serve as either a grand introduction or a beautiful conclusion in the saga of the Baxter Family. The Baxters make plans to come together for a summer lakeside reunion, a celebration like they haven’t had in years. But before the big day, the unthinkable happens. As the Baxter Family rallies together, memories come to light in the grief-stricken hours of waiting and praying, memories that bring healing and hope during a time when otherwise darkness might have the final word. In a season that changes all of them, the brilliance of family love overshadows even the valley of heartache as the Baxters draw closer to God and each other. Along the way, secrets are revealed and the truth about the Baxter Family history is finally made known. Ultimately, in this portrait of family love, the Baxters cling to each other and to God’s promise of forever. 

Additional notes: There are several series written by Karen Kingsbury that involve the Baxter family, such as the Redemption series, the Firstborn series and the Sunrise series, among others. This book can be read as a stand-alone or I would recommend reading all of the other series first (I did not), then end with this book. 

My thoughts: Well, I had thought I had read all the series with the Baxter family, but apparently, I had not. I actually found this was totally okay, as while the family had progressed without me, it doesn't really matter. This book was absolutely fantastic. If you can't stand to read so much of Karen's work (and I wouldn't blame you as the writing can get a bit dull), just read this book. It's so amazing. I loved it. I cried a lot, but I smiled and was inspired by this family's steadfastness. I highly, highly recommend this one.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Easy Crock Pot Lasagna

Who would have thought that I would find a delectable lasagna in a 'diet' cookbook? And who would have believed that it would be a crock pot recipe? Well not me, that's for sure. But nevertheless this recipe was made and enjoyed. We added a couple slices of buttered bread to make this dinner fantastic. Also, we discovered a love for fennel seeds. The smell, oh the smell. Our house smelled so Italian-y!
We didn't even try to get a 'perfect' piece for this as there was
no chance of getting one out of the pan.  :-D

  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 15 oz low-fat ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat cottage cheese
  • 6 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 3/4 tsp oregano, divided
  • 1 jar marinara sauce (or spaghetti sauce if marinara is hard to come by)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 9 lasagna noodles, uncooked
  • 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Note: Whenever you are told to put a layer into the crock pot, spread it into a flat, even layer.
  • In a frying pan add the ground beef, fennel seeds, and garlic powder.
  • Cook until the beef is done.
  • Mix together the ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and 1/2 tsp oregano in a medium sized bowl.
  • Pour the marinara sauce into a bowl.
  • Rinse out the marinara jar with the water and pour that into the bowl with the marinara sauce.
  • Put 1/2 cup of the marinara into the bottom of the crock pot.
  • Mix the beef in with the remainder of the marinara mixture.
  • Place 3 noodles over the sauce, breaking them if you have to to get them to fit.
  • Cover the noodles with 1/2 of the cheese mixture
  • Add 1 cup of the meat sauce to the crock pot.
  • Place another 3 noodles, followed by the remainder of the cheese mixture, and then 1 more cup of the  meat sauce.
  • Top with the remaining noodles and cover these with the remaining sauce.
  • Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese, remaining oregano, and all the mozzarella cheese over the top.
  • Cook on low for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.
  • Turn the crock pot of and let it sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
  • Servings: 4
  • Calories per serving: 563
  • Grams of fat per serving: 15
  • Grams of protein per serving: 36
  • Original recipe: Eat More of What You Love cookbook
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Gaming Corner: Sorry!

Here is another classic game that I loved as a kid. The idea is simple: move your four pieces from the start space to the home space before any of the other players. The fun comes in when you have to apologize (say that you are Sorry!) for sending other player's pieces (and, if you're silly, your own) back to their start location.

Game in progress. Please ignore the glare, winter doesn't allow for the best of lighting. :-)

Set up is simple:
  • Open board.
  • Each player places their pawns on the start position.
  • The cards get shuffled and placed on the board to create a draw pile.
Play is almost as simple. On your turn, you do the following:
  • Draw a card, showing it to everyone.
  • Do what the card tells you to do.
  • Play continues to the next player.
There are a couple of special rules:
  • The only way to get a pawn out of the start space is with a 1 card, a 2 card, or a Sorry! card.
  • If you can move a piece, you have to, even if you don't want to.
  • If you can't follow the entire directions on a card, then you can't use it and your turn is over.
The cards:

Note: There are no sixes or nines.
I'm sure this was to prevent confusion.
Each card has its own special rules and if you cannot follow them, then the card is wasted along with your turn.
  • 1: This card allows you to move a single pawn 1 space -or- take a pawn from your start space and place it directly outside it.
  • 2: This card allows you to move a single pawn 2 spaces -or- take a pawn from your start space and place it directly outside it. You then get another turn.
  • 3, 5, 8, 12: These are the boring cards. You can move a single pawn forward a number of spaces equal to the number on the card.
  • 4: This card allows you to move a single pawn backwards 4 spaces.
  • 7: Move one pawn 7 spaces -or- move 2 pawns a number of spaces equal to 7
  • 10: Move one pawn 10 spaces -or- move one pawn backwards 1 space
  • 11: Move one pawn 11 spaces -or- trade the positions of one of your pawns and an opponent's pawn.
  • Sorry!: Take a pawn from your start position and 'bump' an opponent's pawn back to start, placing your pawn where it was.
Special spaces:

  • Slides: If you land on the first space of a slide space that does not match your color, you move your pawn all the way to the end of the slide, 'bumping' all other pawns on the slide back to their respective start spaces. Be careful - you can bump your own pieces this way.

  • Safe Zone: If your pawn in in the safe zone, it cannot be the target of a Sorry! card or an 11 card. You can move your own piece out of the safe zone with a 4 or a 10 card, though, so be careful!
  • Start: This is where your pawns start, and where they are returned if they are bumped. It's right next to your home and safe zones.
  • Home: This is were you want to get all your pawns. It is even more safe than the safe zone as once a pawn gets there, it cannot be removed. In the picture above green has won as all his pawns are home.
  • Occupied spaces: If your pawn ends its move on another pawn, that other pawn is 'bumped' back to its start. You cannot bump yourself in this way; you just lose your turn if the only possible move would do so.
Simple Joy!
This game is so simple and fun, it's crazy. The fun comes because for the whole game you feel like you are one card away from breaking away and being the closest to winning, while at the same time feel like you are one card away from your opponent's doing the same.

Grown up variation:
Instead of drawing a card at the beginning of your turn, you are dealt a hand of 5 cards at the beginning of the game and you must play a card from your hand each turn and then draw a new card to replace it. If you can't use any of your cards, you have to discard and redraw while loosing your turn. This way adds even more strategy and causes you to think harder. (Who knew that a kid's game would require so much thinking?)

If you have never played Sorry! I recommend that you find a copy on sale at your local retailer and give it a try right away. It is one of the best board games available!

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, January 10, 2013

This Book Room: Sunrise series

While I really enjoy Karen's writing overall, it can get a little boring and predictable at times. With that said, if you read the Redemption series or want to start reading it, I would encourage you to read the Firstborn series and this series as well. The Baxter family is in all of those books, and reading all of these books was certainly worth the time and effort for me. I particularly enjoyed the second book in this series, and overall, all of the Baxter family series' have been inspiring and encouraging for me. Here are the summaries and pics of the books:

In preparation for their long-awaited wedding day, Dayne and Katy are determined to keep the ceremony a secret from the paparazzi. Their relationship grows closer and stronger as they plan together, but in the end it takes the help of the Baxter family and many of the CKT kids so that they'll even have a chance at a private wedding. John Baxter is thrilled that his oldest son will be settling down a few miles away, but he isn't sure how any of his kids will handle a situation he can no longer run from--the feelings he is having for his friend Elaine. In the meantime, the Flanigan family is struggling with their young boarder, Cody Coleman, Jim Flanigan's star receiver. After an alcohol overdose, Cody fights for his life. Only God's grace and a miracle can bring him back from the brink of death--physically and spiritually.

A NEW BEGINNING: Hollywood actor Dayne Matthews and Katy Hart are married and living in Bloomington, Ind., where Dayne has found a solution to his on-camera love scenes--he wants Katy to star in his next film. Katy wins the part and is cast opposite her super-star husband. The story of a small town girl's dream come true is too much for the press to resist, and in an effort to appease them, the couple agrees to a 12-episode reality show. It seems like the perfect compromise but by the time they finish filming the movie, they feel cracks around the edges of their marriage. Now they face an uncertain future, and possibly the end of everything that truly matters to them. 

AN UNFORGETTABLE SUMMER: The Baxter family learns that Ashley and Kari are both pregnant, but an ultrasound reveals that something is wrong with one of the babies. As the summer progresses, the sisters pray for a miracle while trying to face the unthinkable. It's in this trying season that they must all learn the lesson God has been trying to teach them--He is still in control, and He will be with them regardless of the outcome.

AN EMOTIONAL FAREWELL: The Flanigans continue to draw closer to their only daughter, yet Bailey struggles to find her way amidst the turmoil of adolescence. She has always made good decisions, but she wants to experience more of life. Her friendship with Cody Coleman--the young border staying with the Flanigans--continues to blossom in this summer after his graduation. But when Cody decides to enlist in the Army, he'll have to say goodbye to the family he's come to love and the girl he'll never forget.

Pressures of the celebrity lifestyle weigh heavily on Dayne and Katy Matthews as they take on separate movie projects. Tabloid rumors talk of trouble and unfaithfulness between the two, but finally something drastic catches Dayne's attention and makes him realize the destruction they're playing with. But will it be too late? The Flanigan family recognizes the deep loss of the Christian Kids Theater program, and they lead a final effort to keep the theater from being torn down. Meanwhile, John Baxter takes the next step in his growing relationship with Elaine, giving him a season to contemplate selling the Baxter house and, along with it, losing a lifetime of memories made there. As the rest of the family considers the future and what may lie ahead, they must pull together like never before. Only their undying love for each other can help the Baxters get past the trials of today for a life they know is possible . . . someday.

As John Baxter makes plans to marry Elaine, one of the Baxters enters into the most trying season of all. During a time of renewed love and hope for the future, the Baxters try to come together to establish the sacred ground of marriage and to chart a course for the future. Memories of times gone by meet with the changes of today in a story that proves only the support of faith and family can take a person into the sunset years of life.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Cinnamon Apple Crisp

Crisps are one of my favorite comfort desserts but you have to make sure to make the topping is right or else there is no reason to make it at all. This recipe has a quite good crumb topping that is easy to make and even easier to eat. We found this recipe in the Eat What You Love cookbook.

  • 2 pounds of apples, peeled and sliced
  • 3/4 cup Splenda, divided
  • 1 1/4 tsp cinnamon, divided
  • 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp flour, divided
  • 6 Tbsp rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup crushed graham crackers
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp cold butter, cut into about 12 little squares
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Mix the apples, 1/4 cup Splenda, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and 1 Tbsp of flour together in a large bowl.
  • In a different bowl mix remaining Splenda, remaining cinnamon, remaining flour, oats, graham cracker, and brown sugar.
  • Cut in the butter with a fork until the butter is the size of peas.
    • This will take a couple of minutes.
  • Spray an 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  • Line the bottom of the dish with the apples and cover the apples evenly with the crumb topping.
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Cool slightly and serve with vanilla ice cream for an extra treat.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, January 7, 2013

Life & Style: January goals

You can read my full list of goals for 2013 here. Here are my specific January goals:

-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 9 books
-Count calories each day on MyFitnessPal
-Work on one fitness habit - for January, I'm working on sleeping 8 hours per night
-Work on one other habit per month - for January, I'm working on making our bed each day
-Craft weekly - for January, I'm working on making two felt ornaments, a knit scarf for Jason, and embroidering a tote bag.

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have weekly game nights
-Have monthly movie nights

-Save any extra money we have into our Debt savings account {after Monster arrives happy and healthy and I am back to work, we will immediately put all this money toward our student loan debt. We just want to be sure we have maternity leave and medical bills covered first, in case our expenses are higher than we budgeted.}

Saturday, January 5, 2013

State of Our House Address: December in review

December is such a fun month, but it's also very, very busy. We tried to make it a priority to focus on activities we truly wanted to engage in, and I think, overall, we succeeded. Here's some highlights from our December:

We spent a day making and decorating sugar cookies. 
I surprised Jason one evening by making Grinch punch - lime sherbert and Sprite. His face when I showed him the mug and told him what it was was priceless! Needless to say, he drank it all, then made himself some more. We watched the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which is his favorite Christmas movie ever, while he drank it. 
On Christmas morning, we made homemade cinnamon roll biscuits.  The pan lasted us for quite a few mornings!  We plan to make this breakfast every Christmas morning now. I love starting new traditions.
We are not quite finished with Monster's room, but here's one portion that's done: organizational cube from Target with a monster lamp on top for Monster! Also pictured is a hamper full of items that need to get washed for baby Monster and a diaper bag.
The crib area is done in Monster's room as well. Buggles is clearly anxiously waiting for his new pal to come home. The mobile pictured is one we ordered from that is an award-winning mobile. We wanted one that was simple and didn't make noise or have lights. This one is designed to help our little one develop in all kinds of ways. Now, we just need a little Monster to put in the crib!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Saving the Moola: December in review

It is strange to think another year has come and gone! Time sure does fly by quickly, and it makes Jason and I all the more appreciative to set goals, financially and in every other aspect of our lives, because time goes by whether or not we're doing something productive.

Jason and I look back on 2012 with happiness, and we're looking to 2013 with joy and wonder in our eyes! We're happy to share we made our savings goal for little Monster who is due in March. It is truly unbelievable and we're so grateful to our families for their generous gifts this past season. We're gearing up to buy a Vitamix blender, cloth diapers and a few odds and ends to finish Monster's room. We're so thankful to God for allowing all of this to happen.

December was a pretty easy month in terms of finances. We know December is easily a time when we spend a bit more money, and we did. But we planned for it, we knew it would happen, and we had such a great time relaxing with our families. We were pretty stoked every time we looked under our Christmas tree at the stack of presents there, knowing that 90% of them contained items that were homemade and thus, cost next to nothing. That, all on its own, was such a joy. But the greater joy came when we gave those presents, particularly when we gave monster stuffed animals to the little ones. I'll never forget the sight of my two nieces (one from Jason's brother, one from mine) hugging their pink monsters. It brought us such happiness!

In December, we shared our best tips for saving at the grocery store, and not a single trip included using a coupon! We do use coupons, but truthfully, this is not our main form of savings. You can read all about our best tips right here. You will never know how many times I was sure we were going to blow our grocery budget {particularly in December} and somehow, the amount at the register was exactly the amount we had in our grocery budget. The week before Christmas, we actually walked out of Meijer, shaking our heads and feeling like criminals because we had no clue how the exact amount our groceries were was the exact amount we had in our grocery budget and we got everything on our list and then some! Only by the grace of God.

More than anything, though, we just want to encourage you to reflect on 2012 - the best moments, the not-so-great moments, and the moments that if you knew then what you know now you would have made different choices. These moments, if you let them, will define and shape your 2013 into your best year ever. We're anxious to see what the new year brings - we literally have no clue. We have goals: the major goal to be debt free by the end of 2013. I have no clue if we can make it. At this point, we could not. But I know that I'm not the Master. I'm not the One with a plan. I mean, I have plans. But let's face it: I plan, God laughs. So I can have all the plans I want, but in the end, it's all on Him. Jason and I have adopted this motto for 2013:
Pray like it all depends on Him. Live like it all depends on you.
We're going to give everything up to God daily, but we're going to bust our butts and make smart choices like it's all up to us. It's not, thank GOD, but we know we can help God or hinder Him. And we're determined to do everything we can to carry out His best plan for us, even if it's not the plan we had for ourselves.

We wish you a very happy new year and pray the new year brings insight, smart choices and grace!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Texas Chili Cheese Fries

If you like french fries, chili, and cheese, this is the recipe for you. And if you are like Jess and I, you will find yourself wishing that you had made more potatoes once you finish your plate. The chili and the cheese sauce make a whole bunch of servings (8-10) so leftovers are almost a guarantee.

  • 1 big potato for each serving you would like to make (4 potatoes would make 4 servings), chopped into 8 wedges
  • 2 Tbsp EVOO
  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated
    • This is the first time I have ever even heard of grating garlic, and it's so much faster and easier than chopping it by hand. I recommend this method to anyone who uses garlic.
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 2 Tbsp cumin
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 12 oz. dark beer
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp flour
  • 3 Tbsp boring yellow mustard
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
I know this is more ingredients than our usual recipes, but this one isn't that hard to make so get everything together and move onto the...

  • Preheat the over to 450 degrees.
  • Put the potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle them with EVOO (this is extra EVOO and is not mentioned in the ingredients) and then toss to get them evenly coated.
  • Spread the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray and bake for 40 minutes, turning the wedges once at 20 minutes.
  • While the potatoes cook, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add the EVOO and ground beef.
  • Cook the ground beef for a couple of minutes, breaking it up with a wooden spatula while you do so.
  • Once the ground beef is mostly broken up and starting to brown add in the onion, garlic, chili powder, and cumin.
  • Continue to cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until the ground beef is fully cooked, stirring with the wooden spatula and breaking up any large chunks of beef as you go.
  • Add tomato paste and cook for a minute stirring constantly.
  • Add Worcestershire sauce and beer and bring to a boil.
  • Cover the skillet and lower the heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 minutes or so.
  • While the chili simmers (and potatoes bake) melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium high heat.
  • Whisk in the flour 1 tablespoon at a time.
  • Cook for about a minute after all the flour has been added.
  • Add the mustard and mix it in well.
    • This will make it the consistency of paste.
  • Stir in the milk and chicken stock and continue to heat and stir over medium high heat until it starts to boil.
  • The second it starts to boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the shredded cheese.
  • All the things should get done around the same time.
    • When I made it, the order that things got done was cheese, potatoes, and then the chili but they were all within 5 minutes of each other.
  • Serve a plate of potatoes covered with a scoop of each the chili and the cheese sauce.
If you don't mind doing a lot of dividing, the recipe for the chili and the cheese will work just fine cut in half. It's just that I don't have a use for a 1/2 bottle of dark beer. And all those ingredients that use 3 tablespoons would then be 1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons and that just feels like a lot of extra work.
Also on a side note, this needs some form of colorful vegetable to be served with it. Otherwise your dinner seems a little one sided.

We found the original recipe in Rachael Ray's Big Orange Book.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Life & Style: goals for 2013

For a time in 2012, I posted weekly goals and shared updates on my goals regularly. You can read about our financial goals and updates in our monthly Saving the Moola review posts, but in 2013, with a little Monster on the way and with a lot of uncertainty floating about in our lives, I wanted to share clear-cut goals here for accountability and encouragement. I will provide monthly-ish goals to show how I'm tackling each goal, and I will provide regular updates on how my goals are coming along.

I've chosen, for now, to stick with three areas for goals:

After Monster arrives and certainly, as s/he grows, I will add Child to my goals to track goals for what we want to teach little one and what activities we want to pursue with him/her.

Without further ado, here are my 2013 goals:

-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 - 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

These goals seem daunting, but I know if I break them down into weekly/monthly/etc. goals, I can achieve them.

Do you set goals each year? Please feel free to share your goals in the comments section or on our Facebook page. I would love to offer encouragement and pray for you as you work toward your goals!