Thursday, February 28, 2013

This Book Room: The Tutor's Daughter

Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?

The baronet's older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems--and secrets--of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father's academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.

When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor's daughter figure out which brother to blame... and which brother to trust with her heart?

My thoughts: Julie's writing is so easy to read, and the story lines are captivating. If you like story lines that are historic and mysterious, you will enjoy her work. With that being said, I have to say I was not a fan at all of the summary of the book that is written on the back of the book. I don't feel it encapsulates the heart of the novel at all! The summary doesn't do the story justice.

Here's what you need to know: this story involves many, many characters. First, there are the four brothers. Then, there's Emma, her father and her aunt. Then there's the baronet, his wife and his ex-wife (though to be fair, his ex-wife is deceased). At the baronet's home, he employs many, and there's also guests of the manor and Mr. Teague. All of these characters absolutely play important roles in this story. The back of the book certainly doesn't tell you about all of them, or even half.

And the story really isn't necessarily about which brother to trust and which to blame. It's more about getting to know someone you may have thought you knew before but maybe didn't. It's about learning the truth, even when it seems no one is being honest or straight forward. And it's about learning to enjoy your lot in life, whatever it may be.

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Breakfast Burritos

This recipe is not for a single meal, unless you are feeding an entire sports team. It makes about 3 dozen burritos, and we like to wrap them in paper towel and then aluminum foil and freeze them for when they are needed. A good time to make these up would be if half of your relationship is going to give birth to a small child in the next month. Having 36 burritos ready and waiting for a grumbly belly to call for them is a good idea in that instance.

  • 4 or 5 Large potatoes
  • 1 onion, chopped up
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped up
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped up
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 lb breakfast sausage
    • This comes in a 1 lb tube at the grocery store; don't use links.
  • 4 oz Monterey Jack cheese
  • 36 6 in. flour tortillas
    • This is a guess. The type we buy come in packages of 10 and we got 4 (40 total). I would recommend that you do something similar.
  • Put potatoes in a pot and cover them with water.
    • If you cannot cover the potatoes with at least an inch of water your pot is too small and you need to use a bigger one.
  • Over high heat, bring the potatoes to a boil and then let them boil until they are fork tender, about 30 minutes.
  • Drain the potatoes and dice them into 3/4 in. cubes.
    • Watch out they are hot. :-)
  • Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a large skillet.
  • Add the onions and peppers to the heated oil/butter.
  • Cook them until the onions start to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes and stir well.
  • Press the potatoes down to get as many of them in full contact with the bottom of the pan as possible and let them cook, untouched, for about 8 minutes.
  • Flip them and repeat the previous step.
  • While the potatoes are browning with the veggies, brown the breakfast sausage.
    • For those of you unfamiliar with breakfast sausage, you brown it the same way you would ground beef.
  • Drain your sausage if you have to.
  • Add the sausage to the potato mixture once they are both done cooking.
  • Add the cheese as well and give it all a good stir.
  • Using an ice cream scoop, dole out the sausage potato mixture into warm tortillas and either eat or freeze immediately.
    • I warmed my tortillas 4 at a time in the microwave for 30 seconds on high.
This is actually the conglomeration and adjustment of two related recipes found at the The Pioneer Woman. Just hop over to the tasty kitchen side of things and search for breakfast burritos and/or basic breakfast potatoes and you will find the originals. Our recipe has been heavily modified from hers.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Thursday, February 21, 2013

This Book Room

Life Without Limits is an inspiring book by an extraordinary man. Born without arms or legs, Nick Vujicic overcame his disability to live not just independently but a rich, fulfilling life, becoming a model for anyone seeking true happiness. Now an internationally successful motivational speaker, his central message is that the most important goal for anyone is to find their life’s purpose despite whatever difficulties or seemingly impossible odds stand in their way.

Nick tells the story of his physical disabilities and the emotional battle he endured trying to deal with them as a child, a teen, and a young adult. “For the longest, loneliest time, I wondered if there was anyone on earth like me, and whether there was any purpose to my life other than pain and humiliation.” He shares how his faith in God has been his central source of strength and explains that once he found his own sense of purpose—inspiring others to make their lives and the world better—he found the confidence to build a rewarding and productive life without limits.

Nick offers practical advice for realizing a life of fulfillment and happiness by building trust in others, developing supportive relationships, and gaining strength for the journey. He encourages the reader by showing how he learned to accept what he could not control and focus instead on what he could. 

My thoughts: I really, really enjoyed this book. It was incredibly inspirational. Nick, the author, offers so much encouragement in this book for whatever journey the reader may be on. And reading Nick's story and how he overcame his own struggles - it just really makes me want to shake people and say, "You can overcome this. You can DO this!" Not because Nick did and his situation was worse or something, but because people, in general, can do whatever they set their minds to. Just set your mind to it and DO it! If you need encouragement, this book is a must read.

Laura Ingalls Wilder is beginning her life with her new husband, Almanzo, in their own little house. Laura is a young pioneer wife now, and must work hard with Almanzo, farming the land around their home on the South Dakota prairie. Soon their baby daughter, Rose, is born, and the young family must face the hardships and triumphs encountered by so many American pioneers.

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

My thoughts: I was sad to see this series end, but so happy I finally read it! Jason, my darling husband, recommended I read the series, and I'm so glad he did. I just love the time period in which Laura and her family grew up - things were much simpler then and in our household, we attempt to live as simply as possible. I'm sure we fail in millions of ways, but however simple we can get, the better we are for it. If you haven't yet read this series, you definitely should! You won't be sorry.

In the small Colorado town of Summit View, a surprising multi-generational mix of women from Grace Church meet once a week to pass a hot dish and to pray. But the Potluck Club, as they call themselves, is a recipe for disaster when they send up enough misinformed prayers to bring down a church. And the funny thing: the more they pray, the more troubles seem to come their way. It isn't until they invite God to the table that they discover friendship is the spice of life, and a little dash of grace, just like salt, goes a long way.

Additional notes: This the first book in the Potluck Club series. There are currently six books in this series. 

My thoughts: The characters in this book are highly entertaining. That is really what is special about this series. It's not necessarily the plot lines - sure, there's drama, romance (kind of), blah blah blah. But the characters will have you laughing out loud with their crazy antics and silliness!

Lindsay took to marriage like a starlet to stilettos, but her husband had a deeper love for his business. Left alone after his death, Lindsay must find out who she is when there isn't a party to plan or another person's life to be organized. Can she find her way Back to Life?

Lindsay realized when she married Ron, a man seventeen years her senior, that the odds were he'd see heaven before her, but she never expected to be a widow at thirty-five. She knows there's too much of life remaining for her to just sit around in mourning, but she can't seem to kick-start the rest of her life. Then unexpected help arrives...when Ron's first wife, Jane, shows up at Lindsay's front door.

The executor of their late husband's estate, Jane is everything Lindsay's not: strong, stubborn, independent...and a lot older. There are other surprises as well, including Ron Jr. (whom Jane insists is not "really" Ron's son). But against all odds, a most unlikely friendship begins to develop--as each woman discovers how to own up to her past mistakes and to reevaluate what is really important. Told in the alternating voices of Jane and Lindsay, and featuring the return of many of the unforgettable characters introduced in The Trophy Wives Club, Back to Life is a lighthearted, relatable read about where to turn when life goes in a direction you never planned. 

Additional notes: This is the second and last book in the Trophy Wives Club series. You can read my review of the first book here

My thoughts: Sadly, this book was really blah. The characters are annoying and blah. The story line is not compelling and very blah. Even if you read the first book and enjoy it, skip this one. It's all very blah.

Sophie has spent a lifetime guarding her heart and a long-held secret. It will take all of her courage to speak the truth and embrace the future God has planned for her.

The year is 1886, and Sophie Robillard returns to Hickory Ridge, Tennessee, after living in Texas for 15 years as the ward of Ada and Wyatt Caldwell. Now that the town's population has exploded, her intention is to reopen the long-defunct newspaper office that so captivated her when she was still an orphan. The rejection she experienced as a child because of her mixed parentage has left deep scars that she hopes can be healed by succeeding in this new venture.

Ethan Heyward was uprooted from his home as a boy following an unspeakable tragedy. Horace Blakely, a millionaire businessman, took Ethan under his wing and eventually put him in charge of the construction and opening of Blue Smoke resort in Hickory Ridge.

They meet when Sophie arrives at Blue Smoke to interview Ethan for her newspaper. As their attraction deepens, each hides a secret that, if revealed, could end their relationship.

Additional notes: This is the third and last book in the Hickory Ridge Romance series. You can read my review of the first book here and my review of the second book here

My thoughts: I was super excited that Sophie was the main character for this book as she very much intrigued me in the first book. The romance in this book fell a bit flat for me, but wanting to know about Sophie's heritage kept me going. This book is very much plot driven and not as much character driven. There's a lot of adventure that keeps the story going.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Cheesy Chili Nachos

Who doesn't like nachos? If you are one of the four people in the world who don't, this post is not for you and you should consider one of my other recipes. For everyone else, this recipe was super delicious. Though we doubled the amount of chips used and only made two servings out of it instead of four (who only wants 160 calories for a dinner?) it was the best home made nachos I have ever made.

Side note: It's the only successful attempt at homemade nachos I have ever made.

The original recipe can be found in the Eat More of What You Love cookbook for you purists out there. Our edited recipe is presented below.

  • 8 oz. ground beef
  • 3/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
    • This will be about 1/2 the pepper. I chopped the other 1/2 into strips and had a tasty snack while preparing the rest of the meal
  • 1 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp butter
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • pinch of garlic powder
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 6 oz tortilla chips
  • Heat a skillet sprayed with cooking spray over medium heat.
  • Add the meat, onion and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes.
    • Break the ground beef apart with a spatula while cooking to make sure it all gets good and cooked.
  • Stir in chili powder, cumin, tomatoes and water.
  • Bring to a boil and then cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes.
    • If it gets done before your cheese sauce, leave it covered and on the burner, but turn the burner off.
  • In a saucepan over low heat, melt margarine and whisk in the flour until smooth.
  • Add chicken broth and garlic powder, raise heat to medium and bring to a boil stirring regularly.
    • This took about 7 minutes and I would lean closer to constantly with the stirring.
  • Boil for 1 minute while stirring continuously.
  • Turn off the heat and add the cheese.
  • Stir until the cheese it completely melted.
  • Divide up the chips onto plates.
  • Evenly distribute the beef mixture over the chips.
  • Evenly distribute the cheese sauce over the beef mixture.
  • Try not to complain when you finish it all and there is no more left.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saving the Moola: mystery shop your way to extra income + free food!

photo credit
There are so many ways to earn a little bit extra here and there. One way that Jason has taken on to earn extra money is mystery shopping.

It all started when a friend of his told him about fast food mystery shops. His meal would be completely reimbursed, plus there was a fee he would be paid just for completing the assignment. He signed up, tried a shop and completely fell in love {I don't think it hurt that he received free food}.

Jason's been mystery shopping for about nine months and has really gotten into lately. He's saving up all his mystery shopping money for a Kindle Fire - an item he's wanted for a really long time. There's no money in our budget for fun items like this. Last year, I shared my journey of saving up extra money to buy an iPod, Bose headphones and an electronic Bible. Jason wanted to save up extra money in much the same way but was unsure where he would get extra money until he discovered secret shopping.

You can find a list of reputable mystery shopping companies here. Jason currently only shops for one mystery shopping company and has completed assignments at fast food, fast casual and grocery stores. He really enjoys doing these as he walks away with either a free meal or free groceries which also helps our budget! For some of the assignments, he's able to get a free meal for me as well, which is a nice added bonus.

Here are some of Jason's best tips for a successful mystery shopping experience:
  • Read the instructions thoroughly for each assignment. This will ensure you feel confident in whatever assignment you are completing, and it will ensure your assignment is accepted. Jason has never had an assignment not be accepted - in other words, he's been paid for all the assignments he's ever completed. 
  • To get as many assignments {and money} as possible, really think through what you have going on each week/month. If you're traveling to another area of your state for whatever reason {maybe your parents live in another area, you're making a trip to a special grocery store, etc.}, check to see if there are any assignments in that area. If possible, you could also create a little route for yourself with shops along the way to your destination! 
  • Once you have been paid the first time, be sure to keep some money in a mystery shopping envelope. You'll want to keep some money month to month to ensure you always have money on hand to complete the assignment. For all the assignments Jason takes, whatever money is required out of pocket, he is reimbursed later. However, he does need some money up front, so he always makes sure to have at least $50 or so in his mystery shopping envelope so he can complete the assignments. 
  • Never, ever go by your gut on where a store is located for the assignment you are completing. Always double check the address and use a GPS or print directions in advance. After all the time and money you're putting into the assignment, the last thing you want to do is have shopped the wrong store. 
  • When budgeting your time, make sure to budget at least a half hour after you arrive home from a mystery shop assignment to enter the results from your experience. One half hour is usually sufficient for one assignment. Jason always enters his results the second we get home. 
Mystery shopping is relatively easy for the right person. I've seen Jason in action, and I really don't think I would make a good mystery shopper. There's a lot to observe and remember, and I think I would be too nervous. Jason is very confident when completing shops and observes everything! 

By mystery shopping, we have eaten countless free meals and received a lot of free groceries. It has definitely impacted our grocery budget in a positive way when I know we will be eating out for a lunch or getting some free groceries. Jason is excited to finally be able to purchase a Kindle Fire. For us, mystery shopping has been a win-win experience all around! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

This Book Room: Threads of Grace

Grace's beauty almost cost her everything.

This new start is all she has left.

When Grace Beiler was only a girl, she was married off to an older Amish man in order to save her family's farm. Years later, she finds herself newly widowed and a mother to a young son. She has finally fled her sad past and plans to settle into a quiet life in Pennsylvania.

As soon as she arrives, she captures the attention of Seth Wyse, the most eligible bachelor in Pine Creek. Seth is candid about his feelings for her, and for her son Abel, but Grace is determined to protect her heart. Her determination falters when her brother-in-law reveals the troubling contents of her late husband's will.

Seth offers Grace his hand in marriage, and thus a means of escape. But despite his having saved her from another loveless marriage, Grace is slow to trust her new husband. And as the months wear on, Seth wonders if he has made a mistake. But God is quietly at work in their hearts, and Seth and Grace soon discover that threads of grace bind them together in a tapestry rich in hope and love.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Patch of Heaven series. You can read my review of the first book here and my review of the second book here. This is the last book in this series. 

My thoughts: This book starts amazingly. The story line is so riveting - my eyes were glued to the pages! I have to give up for the author - this book is definitely unlike any other Amish fiction book I've read. Once I hit the middle of the book, it started to drag a little, but it picked back up again. The ending, particularly the bit about Silas' brother, was completely unpredictable. If you're a fan of Amish fiction, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you did not read this series. If you're not a fan of Amish fiction {yet}, I would say to start with this series. It'll leave you wanting more and more and more!

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are not your usual oatmeal cookies. The oatmeal is almost hidden in these gems which makes for a pleasant change from the overabundance of too-much-oatmeal cookies that are out there.We found this recipe in the Cook This, Not That Comfort Foods cookbook.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips {or as a fun alternative, use M&M minis instead!}
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  • Put the remaining non-chocolate ingredients in a bowl and mix together with an electric mixer.
  • Pour the flour/oats mixture into the creamed butter/sugar mixture and mix again.
  • Fold in the chocolate chips.
  • Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.
  • Drop about 2 tablespoons of dough onto the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.
    • Will make about 16
  • Bake for 12 to 14 minutes.
  • Cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack to cool.
    • Instead of cooling further on a wire rack, you could eat them right then.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, February 11, 2013

This Book Room: Safe in His Arms

Margaret suspects the new foreman on her father’s ranch is hiding something. Though Daniel promises she’s safe with him around, how can she be sure?
Born and raised on a sprawling ranch in Texas, Margaret O’Brien prides herself on her competence as a rancher.She’s convinced she can do as good a job on the ranch as her brother who died in the war. But her father believes she’s made for more than just dawn-to-dusk work. He wants her to have the love of a good man, to have children, to build a life. But she gave up hope for such dreams years ago. The ranch is her life now.

When Margaret’s father hires Daniel Cutler as a new foreman, she’s frustrated and suspicious. Daniel swears he’s turned over a new leaf and isn’t involved with the thieves he used to run with, but Margaret is unconvinced. When she finds out he’s an undercover Texas Ranger, sparks fly. Can she help Daniel extricate his younger brother who is still involved? And can Daniel convince her he’s the safe haven he’s promised for her heart?

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

My thoughts: While I enjoyed the first book more, this book was full of adventure, romance, and mystery. Colleen is an expert at weaving mystery into her novels, which really adds a bit of richness to the story. The characters are well developed, while not always lovable. Daniel seems a bit aloof at first, but the reader can instantly sense there's more to his story.

Margaret's story is what struck me the most because most anyone can identify with the feeling of never being good enough for one reason or another. While the story is predictable in that I knew it would be a happy ending, the twists and turns along the way made the journey of getting to the end a treasure.

One of my favorite bits of the story was reading about the gang who robs banks. I can't really explain why these types of characters intrigue me - possibly because I just know there's a better way to live and it's fascinating to me that they believe they can find fulfillment in earthly treasures.

This story has something for everyone, but if you're really not into boy-meets-girl literature, you may be put off by that {I was not}. As another side note, it is definitely not necessary to read the first book in this series to read this book first. This one stands on its own, if that's what you would prefer.

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

Thursday, February 7, 2013

This Book Room

Join one of America’s beloved storytellers on a walk like no other: one man’s unrelenting search for hope. Reeling from the sudden loss of his wife, his home, and his business, Alan Christoffersen, a once-successful advertising executive, has left everything he knew behind and set off on an extraordinary cross-country journey. Carrying only a backpack, he is walking from Seattle to Key West, the farthest destination on his map.

Now almost halfway through his trek, Alan sets out to walk the nearly 1,000 miles between South Dakota and St. Louis, but it’s the people he meets along the way who give the journey its true meaning: a mysterious woman who follows Alan’s walk for close to a hundred miles, the ghost hunter searching graveyards for his wife, and the elderly Polish man who gives Alan a ride and shares a story that Alan will never forget.

Full of hard-won wisdom and truth, The Road to Grace is a compelling and inspiring novel about hope, healing, grace, and the meaning of life.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Walk series. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here. The fourth book is due to be published in 2013. 

My thoughts: The author is absolutely talented. I'm not a fan of his other work, but this series just blows my mind. It's so compelling. If I haven't yet convinced you to read this series, please tell me what more I could say or do! This book of the series, in particular, was awesome - the "mysterious woman who follows Alan." I loved that story line. It really brought the whole story together for me and cleared up a lot of the background that I was dying to figure out. Read, read, read this series!

The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as Laura grows up in the little town on the prairie. Fifteen-year-old Laura lives apart from her family for the first time, teaching school in a claim shanty twelve miles from home. She is very homesick, but keeps at it so that she can help pay for her sister Mary's tuition at the college for the blind. During school vacations Laura has fun with her singing lessons, going on sleigh rides, and best of all, helping Almanzo Wilder drive his new buggy. Friendship soon turns to love for Laura and Almanzo in the romantic conclusion of this Little House book. 

Additional notes: This is the eighth 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, the sixth book here and the seventh book here.
My thoughts: It was really fun to read about Laura's adventures of leaving home for the first time. The characters in this book, particularly the characters of who Laura lives with while teaching, are strange, but funny at the same time. They don't really make sense, but most characters in real life do not make sense, so in a way, the characters make sense! Anyway, I was so happy for Mary that she was off to college, but I missed her terribly. It's a sad but joyous thing all at once to grow up.

On the longest night of the year, Jenny Majesky loses everything in a devastating house fire. But among the ashes she finds an unusual treasure hidden amid her grandfather's belongings, one that starts her on a search for the truth, and on a path toward a life that she never imagined. The Winter Lodge, a remote cabin owned by her half sister on the shores of Willow Lake, becomes a safe refuge for Jenny, where she and local police chief Rourke McKnight try to sort out the mysteries revealed by the fire. But when a blizzard traps them together, Jenny, accustomed to the safe predictability of running the family bakery, suddenly doesn't feel so secure. For even as Rourke shelters her from the storm outside, she knows her heart is at risk. Now, following her dreams might mean walking away from her one chance at love. 

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Lakeshore Chronicles series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are currently nine books in this series. 

My thoughts: More than anything, this book was wonderful because it had so much mystery and intrigue. The first book hardly wrapped up anything other than the romantic storyline between Olivia and Connor. I wanted to know what happened to Mariska! This book finally clears all that up for me, but it also delvers deeper into Daisy's story so now I want to know what happens to her! So all in all, I would say Susan is very clever at just making me want to read the next book and the next book and so on. The characters are interesting, and the plot lines push the story forward easily.

In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.

My thoughts: I had really high hopes for this book, even though I'm not a fan of this author's other work. The book started out well, and I was drawn into the story. But just about the time Mr. Lincoln is shot, the story somewhat died for me. And not because he was shot, although the timing is funny that the President is dead and so is the story. I just felt like the rest of the book was blah. Maybe it was just me, I don't know. If you like historical fiction, I would still give this one a go, but otherwise, I'd skip it.

Haley Cutler is the consummate trophy wife. Perhaps was is the more accurate term. Haley married Prince Charming when she was only twenty--back in the day when highlights came from an afternoon at the beach, not three hours in the salon.

Unfortunately, after seven years as Jay Cutler's wife, a role that provided significance and what she thought was love, Jay walks out, and Haley finds herself with few life skills that translate to the real world, not to mention a sense of amnesia about who she used to be. But before Haley can find her way, she must meet with Jay's lawyer, the strikingly handsome Hamilton Lowe. Although she can't stand his self-righteous contempt for her divorce, she takes his suggestion to attend a group at his church called "The Trophy Wives Club," a Bible study composed of women who have been dealt a raw deal. Haley's never been into the whole Jesus thing but could really use some friends to walk her through this phase (how do you apply for a credit card anyway?).

As Haley begins to realize that she really can stand on her own two feet, she also learns that sometimes in losing we find the real reward. 

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Trophy Wives Club series. There are two books in this series, and both have been released. 

My thoughts: This is the first book by Kristin I have ever read. The book is quick to read - I read it in one afternoon. At times, the writing was kind of weird. The characters, at first, are not well developed at all. I didn't really understand the dialogue between Haley and Hamilton. It was just weird. But as the story progresses, I felt that at least the dialogue made sense. The ending was great - I didn't expect the ending between Jay and his business partner at all. And I enjoyed reading of the other wives in the club. If you like chick lit with a Christian slant to it, you'll want to read this book.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Delicious Noodles and Mushrooms

This recipe was originally named Mushroom Rigatoni Bake and can be found in the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook. I decided to rename it after we made it and it was fantastically delicious, and we immediately planned to make it again about a week later (this had nothing to do with us having enough cheese to make it at least one more time, I promise!).

  • 8 ounces uncooked rigatoni
  • 2 tsp butter
    • Yes you read that correctly, that's teaspoons. I just eyeballed this from my stick butter so I highly doubt there would be an issue if you did the same.
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • 12 ounces mushrooms
    • The original recipe calls for two different types of expensive mushrooms, but Jess and I made it with just boring white mushrooms that are easy to find a the grocery store. They were delicious so you don't have to waste money one fancy mushrooms.
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp red wine
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
    • Recipe calls for 2% but we used prepared dry milk.
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated Asiago cheese, divided in half
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Cook the noodles according to their package, drain them and set them aside.
  • While the noodles cook, melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes.
    • Make sure to enjoy the fantastic aroma of onions fried in butter as it is one of the most delicious smells ever to come from a kitchen.
  • Add mushrooms, thyme, salt, pepper, and garlic and cook for 8 more minutes.
  • Add the wine and cook for 1 final minute, stirring regularly.
  • Remove from heat, but do not turn off burner.
  • Over the already-on burner, put the flour in a large sauce pan.
  • Gradually add the milk while whisking the whole time.
  • Bring to a boil and let it go for one minute, making sure to whisk it the whole time.
  • Remove from heat and add half of the cheese, whisking until it is completely melted. 
  • In a large bowl, combine and mix the pasta, veggies, and sauce.
  • Dump the noodley goodness into a 8 or 9 inch square baking dish,
  • Top with the remaining cheese and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Servings 4
  • Calories per serving: 474
  • Fat grams per serving: 16
  • Carbs per serving: 61.4g
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, February 4, 2013

State of Our House Address: January in review

I'm a little geeked it's 2013, even though the year started out with all kinds of news, and we started to feel very uncertain about the future. But we remind ourselves daily that the future is uncertain and we just have to rest in the knowledge that God loves us and has plans for us!

We focused on keeping the house clean in January and working on special projects. As part of my goals for this year, I knit a scarf for Jason. Doesn't he look so handsome in it?

Originally, we were keeping little Monster's room very neutral, since we don't know until little one comes out if it is a boy or a girl. But with the nickname Monster, the room kind of developed a monster theme, which we think is appropriate for either gender {and we know others will disagree, particularly my mum!}. Here's the monster decals we added to Monster's wall above the crib:

As far as the pregnancy itself, I'm starting to feel a little bit like I did in my first trimester, minus the sickness. I only want very specific foods and I have very strong cravings. Let's just say that Monster loves sugar and carbs. That's all I want to eat! Thankfully, this means I can eat as much fruit as I want as our grocery budget will allow and little one is satisfied with that. And while it's certainly fun not to have to worry about calories so much since I've gained minimal weight {little one currently weighs more than I've gained}, it's a bit annoying to always crave french fries, burgers, soda, etc.!

Speaking of fruit, we recently purchased a Vitamix blender. We had been wanting one for years and years. Once we knew we were expecting, we knew it was time to get one. And boy, was it worth the wait! Here's one of my favorite smoothies {blackberry and banana}:

We plan to make Monster's baby food in there once Monster is of that age. The Vitamix is one of those appliances that can save money in the long run. Even with how expensive the Vitamix was, we believe we will break even on our purchase in about 32 weeks. Yay for saving money!

This pregnancy also seems to be a season of learning. We took Financial Peace University classes in the fall, and since the fall, we've been taking Bradley birthing classes. We finished those up in January, then promptly started taking adult instructional classes at our church to learn more about our Lutheran faith. The classes will run until the end of February - I'm just praying we keep up our record of perfect attendance for all these classes and Monster doesn't arrive too early!

February will be a little crazy busy with all the plans and goals we have. There's quite a bit yet to do before Monster arrives. We have a list, though, and we're ready to tackle everything on it! We pray your February is productive and rewarding!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Saving the Moola: January in review

2013 is already proving to be an interesting year! We started the new year with receiving a lot of information that would either hurt or help our financial goals. A lot of things are still up in the air, so while our goal remains the same, to be debt free by the end of the year, it will truly be by the grace of God. We're taking our finances month by month. We remind ourselves often that we have no clue what God has in store for us for the future and remind ourselves frequently of our past in order to remember that He's brought us a long way - we're sure He won't give up on us now!

Thankfully, we managed to save what our goal was for January. The money we saved was put in a new savings account, titled Debt Savings. Once Monster arrives and our lives are back to whatever normal our lives will be at the time, we plan to put this money toward my last student loan. But as we all know: we plan, God laughs. So we shall see!

We spent a lot of time dreaming, hoping, and planning in January. We're dreaming big for the future and have hopes that there will always be a way. We're being diligent with our money, but also making sure that we're spending quality time with each other. And when that involves money, for date nights and things, we're making sure we're sacrificing across the board so we can splurge a little now and then. This has been really helpful toward keeping ourselves sane in such an uncertain time! With Monster on the way and just our lives being what they are right now, we feel really uncertain about a lot of things for the future. But we know how to manage our money well and we know we love God. And honestly - that's enough.

If you haven't yet checked it out, you'll want to read this post we published in January. We use the break-even analysis for major purchases that we believe we save us money in the long run and for making big decisions.

We're praying February brings opportunities and grace to our family and yours.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Life & Style: February goals + an update on January goals

I am loving having set goals that I'm sharing with you all! It's holding me much more accountable to them than I would hold myself otherwise. So thank you for just clicking on this post and reading it - when I see how many people have read the goals posts, I kick myself into gear even more!

You can read about my goals for all of 2013 here. As a recap, here's what my January goals were and how I did on them:

-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women} --- I did this almost every single day. I think I missed about 5 days, but I'm caught up now.
-Read my Amplified and regular Bible each day for a total of 3 chapters between the two each day --- I missed about five days with those one, too, but I've been super faithful in this since mid-January. I think I'm back into a routine!
-Read 9 books --- I met this goal just in the nick of time! Whew.
-Count calories each day on MyFitnessPal --- Let's just say this goal fell completely flat. I think for the time being, ie. until Monster arrives and is out of my belly, I'm going to not focus on this goal. It's just too hard when I'm hungry all the time!
-Work on one fitness habit - for January, I'm working on sleeping 8 hours per night --- I did so good with this one! Monster makes it really easy. I've been a lot more tired.
-Work on one other habit per month - for January, I'm working on making our bed each day --- Jason and I did this together. It's so much easier to make the bed as a team because it takes seconds then. We did miss quite a few days of this, probably around 10, but we've gotten so much better at making the bed! We'll continue practicing this habit throughout the year.
-Craft weekly - for January, I'm working on making two felt ornaments, a knit scarf for Jason, and embroidering a tote bag. --- I finished both felt ornaments and Jason's scarf, but sadly, I didn't do any work on the tote bag. I think I'm procrastinating there a little bit.

-Pray for husband daily --- I'm doing much better on this goal now than I was at the beginning of January. I think I may re-read the Power of a Praying Wife {and I think I really need to buy this book so I can just keep re-reading it} to re-motivate myself!
-Have monthly date nights --- We chose to go out to dinner and Jason chose Big Boy's. We had a wonderful time!
-Have weekly game nights --- This is kind of sad to say, but our cat, Preston, is really making this difficult! He keeps thwarting our efforts by laying on our cards, our board games, etc. once we get them set up. We had a couple game nights, but pretty much failed here.
-Have monthly movie nights --- Jason borrowed Ice Age: Continental Drift from the library. It was a really goofy movie, but we had a really relaxing evening watching it.

-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.} --- We did great on this goal. We saved the amount we had in mind for January.

Here's my February 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
-Work on one fitness habit - for February, I'm working on drinking 64 ounces of water each day
-Work on one other habit per month - for February, I'm working on cleaning the kitchen each day
-Craft weekly - for February, I'm planning to make homemade baby wipes, glass gem magnets, three felt ornaments and embroider 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 life is back to whatever normal it will be, 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.}
-File taxes