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 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.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Purposeful Parenting: Develop Routines to Stimulate Your Child and You

"Bicycling" your baby's legs help fine tune his or her gross motor skills at an age where s/he can't work on them themselves.
Within a month after Bug was born, I was desperate to get into a routine. I was in a weird temporary state - Jason was fully back to work, but I was not. So any routine I set up, I knew it would be temporary. Now that I'm staying home with Bug, I've settled into a very nice routine that often includes naps with my Bug.

There are little routines you can set up that will satisfy a need for normalcy and stability and stimulate your child whether or not you're in a temporary state of life or a stable one. One routine I love, love, love is praying with and for Bug during most feedings. I keep a list of people/places/etc. that I'm actively praying for on my computer desktop {and in a pinch, I can remember most of the people/places/etc. on this list if I am not near my computer}, and first, I pray for all of those people. Then, I pray for our family: Jason, me, Bug. Then, I pray for Bug's future husband. I also take time to thank God for the work He's doing in our lives. I love this routine because it's already introducing Bug to God and prayer. I pray out loud and right near her ear in a quiet voice so she can hear me.

Another routine we developed that we all love is working on Bug's gross motor skills after most diaper changes. First, we start with "biking" - bicycling her legs for her. Jason also does running, walking, hop skipping - you name it. If you haven't caught on yet, he loves doing these with Bug. Then, we move onto "swimming" - the front crawl, doggie paddle, back stroke, butterfly. Jason also throws in a little YMCA. Bug really enjoys these exercises and gets a big 'ol smile on her face when we do them. We did these exercises for the first six or so months of her life.

For a bedtime routine, it's a bit difficult to set one up when they're not getting a bath every night. In general, babies should not be bathed every day. We started with bathing Bug twice a week, and when she was about 3 months old, we upped it to three times a week. On bath nights, we bathe her, feed her, read her a story and lay her in bed next to me until she's asleep. We did this for about the first six months of her life. On non-bath nights, we feed her, read her a story, lay her in bed next to me... and feed her again as necessary. A bath really helps get her ready for bed - she loves, loves, loves baths. It's so soothing, calming and fun for her. I'd bathe her every day if I could, but she's just not there yet in terms of her skin being ready and all that.

After Bug was about six months old, we developed a new routine. Each day at dinner, Bug gets to sit in her high chair and participate in dinner. She enjoys noodles, green beans and steak best. After dinner, she goes on her potty. Then, if it's a bath night, it's bath time. After bath, it's straight to bed. If she's not quite tired yet, we play in her room together until she tells me it's time {she'll give me cues, she can't actually speak yet}.

We don't have a daily routine, although Bug has been working on getting on a sleep schedule. At around 3 months, she sleot from about 9 PM to 9:30 AM every day {waking for feedings and some active time, but very little}. She slept from about 11 to 1, then was very active from 1 to 5 PM. She took a short nap around 5, often waking by 6:30. Then, she was up time until bedtime.

Bug is about eight months old now and her routine has really solidified. She wakes up anywhere from 7:30 to 8:30 in the morning and takes a nap around 11 or 12:30. She falls asleep every night between 6:30 and 8. It just depends on what we did that day as to what time she goes to sleep. A busier day means an earlier bed time. Just yesterday, we had a very non-busy day. She fell asleep shortly before 7. She has fallen asleep by 6:45 before (and even once right at 6).

Routines are so crucial to a little one. Littles need something they can depend on - something more than you. They need to know what's happening when. It calms their minds and bodies. It doesn't mean you can't have spontaneous fun. Certainly, not every day is the same around here. We might go grocery shopping for several hours one day. When that happens, we just work with Bug. We encourage her to sleep if it will be during a nap time. We might bring a book, a stuffed animal, whatever we think will help her stick to her own routine. And if she's really not feeling her routine, that's okay. We'll fly by the seat of our pants!

A life with littles is one that will be crazy, no matter what you do. I think that's generally part of the fun. But developing routines where you can will save your sanity and help your child grow into a healthy, responsible individual.

photo credit

Friday, November 8, 2013

Saving the Moola: October in review

October was a really good month in terms of reminding me that God will always, always provide.

And provide He did. It was a rather exciting month, to say the least! We paid off my student loan in full! Woot woot!

Since I am currently unemployed, this was a tad unexpected. I will happily explain how we did this, but before I do so, I just want to encourage and remind you all that you have to make the best decisions for you and your family. The decisions we make might not be the best decisions for you (and vice versa).

I had more than enough money in my 401k account at my former employer's to pay off my student loan. In general, I wouldn't recommend cashing out any retirement accounts ever. However, cashing out the account, which was a very minimal account, would allow us to free up some of our monthly income so we can better pay for health insurance for all of us in the new year.

And when the option is health insurance versus retirement account... I'm going to choose health insurance. And I would recommend that for all of you. You can't control when you might fall and break your leg. When you have a little one, you can't control... pretty much everything. While Bug does not go to the doctor often, we absolutely would take her if she became sick. I'm sure, at some point in her young life, she will fall ill. Health insurance for our daughter isn't an option. It's necessary.

Suze Orman always says that if something makes you afraid, that's an indicator of what you should do. I am afraid of not having health insurance. I was unhappy I owed money on a student loan.

So you can probably guess how joyous my entire household is right now! We're on track to pay off our car loan by about the end of March, which will free up even more of our monthly income. I'm very excited about the future!

In addition to paying off my student loan, we were blessed this month by so many others. My cousins gave me a huge tote full of green tomatoes, and more than half ripened! We canned several quarts of tomatoes which we will use to make chili, among other meals. The librarian at our town's library, where Jason used to work, gave us a big bag of apples from her apple orchard. We used the apples to make apple crisp twice. It was so good!

Jason's mom, Nana, is quite the gardener and homemaker. Over the summer, she and her husband brought six chickens into their family and they are quite good layers. We visited them in October and they gave us two dozen eggs, an apple pie and a head of cabbage. We happily ate the eggs and pie and used the head of cabbage to make a big batch of vegetable soup. We ate the soup for quite a few meals and also canned six quarts of soup for our pantry. When I say we made a big batch of soup, I'm not joking!

We celebrated our third wedding anniversary and my birthday in October, and our parents were very generous in giving us gifts for these occasions. This helped our budget tremendously. We used some of the money to buy Bug's Christmas pajamas and Christmas dress, and I'm going to use some of the money to get my hair cut in November.

Jason was able to earn some extra money by mystery shopping and by tutoring a high school student in physics. He will be continuing tutoring in November and will also continue to pick up assignments for mystery shopping as his schedule allows. We are both very excited about the tutoring opportunity and hope he can grow his base of students!

I sewed two more hats for Bug for this coming winter, and my brother also blessed us with a big bag of winter gear, including a fleece and windbreaker-type snowsuit-type items, several hats and several pairs of mittens. Nana knit Bug a pair of mittens and also knit her Christmas stocking. I'm so excited to decorate our house for Christmas and hang all four of our stockings!

All in all, October was just plain fun. Our budget worked out incredibly well, and we continue to be abundantly blessed. Part of that is that we make it a point to look for and be aware of God's blessings. And the other part is that we just have wonderful people in our lives who share their talents with us!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

This Book Room

For years, sixteen-year-old Hattie's been shuttled between relatives. Tired of being Hattie Here-and-There, she courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle's homestead claim near Vida, Montana. With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends--especially Charlie, fighting in France--through letters and articles for her hometown paper.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers. But she feels threatened by pressure to be a "Loyal" American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent. Despite everything, Hattie's determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

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

My thoughts: I absolutely loved this book. I think I read it all in one day - I absolutely devoured it. If you're a fan of Little House on the Prairie, you will so enjoy this book. For young women, this book would be perfect! Hattie is such a plucky character. The plot flowed well and was so gripping for me. The ending was a bit sad (and by bit, I mean I sobbed). You will remember this book for years after reading it. It is just that good.

In an urban community where poverty, senseless violence, racism, and AIDS seem like
insurmountable problems, Joshua manages to sow seeds of renewal with his words of love. He reaches out to every person with transforming openness, showing how to regenerate the city and bring about undreamed-of economic revitalization. Yet many other problems remain that money cannot help. And it is, most importantly, to these that Joshua addresses his healing message. In a world of despairing doubt, Joshua and the City gives the reader hopeful answers that lead toward peace and understanding.

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Joshua series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here.

My thoughts: While I would recommend reading all the Joshua books as there are nuggets in each one that are relevant to anyone, this wasn't my favorite book. Certainly, the concepts Joshua introduced here were really interesting. I don't know how sustainable the ideas presented in the book are, though, given today's society. I would love for this kind of city to exit (you'll have to read the book to know what I'm talking about), but I think greed kind of rules the day. Anyway, this book had a lot of interesting ideas, and the plot moved along fairly quickly for me.

There comes a time in every new mother’s life when she finds herself staring at her screaming, smelly "bundle of joy" and wishing someone had told her that her house would reek of vomit, or that she shouldn’t buy the cute onesies with a thousand impossible buttons, or that she might cry more than the baby.

Best-selling humor author Dawn Dais, mother to a one-year-old and author of The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women, is convinced that there is a reason for this lack of preparedness. She believes that a vast conspiracy exists to hide the horrific truth about parenting from doe-eyed expectant mothers who might otherwise abandon their babies in hospitals and run for it. In The Sh!t No One Tells You, Dais tells it like it is, revealing what it’s really like to be a new parent and providing helpful insights, humor, and hope for those who feel overwhelmed by the exhausting trials they’re suddenly facing. Eschewing the adorableness that oozes out of other parenting books, Dais offers real advice from real moms—along with hilarious anecdotes, clever tips, and the genuine encouragement every mom needs in order to survive the first year of parenthood.

My thoughts: This was a laugh-out-loud funny book. The author definitely, finally tells it like it is: motherhood is... odd. And crazy. And scary. Finally, someone talks about the difficulty in breastfeeding. I understand to say it is hard would scare people off. To NOT tell me it's hard was scary when it was hard. And then I wanted to quit. Parents everywhere tell their kids honesty is the best policy. And we all know kids learn by example. So the next time your kid tells a lie, maybe you should examine yourself and the lies you're propelling! Anyway, I digress, I think. Mamas have to be honest with each other about motherhood and finally, someone steps up to the plate and lets all things mommyhood fly loose.

Rick Stanton was a promising professional baseball player with dreams of playing in the major leagues and starting a family with his young wife, Francesca, when World War II changed everything.  Rick returns from the war with his body broken and his dreams shattered.  But it was not just body and spirit he sacrificed for the war. He and Francesca volunteered their beloved dog, Pax, for the Army’s K-9 Corp, not knowing if they’d ever see him again.

Keller Nicholson is the soldier who fought the war with Pax by his side, and the two have the kind of profound bond that can only be forged in war.  Pax is the closest Keller has to a sense of family, and he can’t bear the thought of returning him to the Stantons.  But Rick and Francesca refuse to give him up.  Instead, an arrangement is made: Keller will work as Rick’s live-in aide. And thus an unlikely family is formed, with steadfast Pax at the center.   As they try to build a new life out of the ashes, Keller and Francesca struggle to ignore their growing attraction to each other, and Rick, believing that he can no longer give Francesca what she needs and wants, quietly plans a way out.

All three of them need healing. All three of them are lost. Pax, with his unconditional love and unwavering loyalty, may be the only one who can guide them home.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed the first part of this book. But as the story progressed, particularly in the second half, I really felt lost. This book did not move the way I expected, and I found myself just wanting to give up. It wasn't that it wasn't predictable. It almost actually was, and I expected it not to be predictable. I expected there to be more life to the story, and there wasn't. The characters fell flat for me as the story went on and while I truly enjoyed the very ending, the author didn't elaborate on certain aspects that I felt she should have. This story was just really odd for me. I would skip this one, unless you love all stories that involve pups, then you'd probably enjoy this story despite its flaws.

Regina Calcaterra's memoir, Etched in Sand, is an inspiring and triumphant coming-of-age story of tenacity and hope.

Regina Calcaterra is a successful lawyer, New York State official, and activist. Her painful early life, however, was quite different. Regina and her four siblings survived an abusive and painful childhood only to find themselves faced with the challenges of the foster-care system and intermittent homelessness in the shadows of Manhattan and the Hamptons.

A true-life rags-to-riches story, Etched in Sand chronicles Regina’s rising above her past, while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together through it all.

Beautifully written, with heartbreaking honesty, Etched in Sand is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American Dream is still within reach for those who have the desire and the determination to succeed.

My thoughts: I sobbed through this book. Absolutely sobbed. I also stayed up way too late to read the first half of this book. The story is absolutely gripping. And horrifying. My heart absolutely broke for the children. I don't know how much I can recommend this book as while it is a good read in that the story is gripping, it is also a very sad story. If you're an advocate for children's issues in any way, you should absolutely read this book. If you're naïve about the way children are treated, read this book. This is a true tale of horrendous abuse Regina and her siblings suffered at the hand of their biological mother. Another reviewer of this book said it was not for the faint at heart, and I think that was a perfect way to describe this book. Read at your own risk and keep tissues handy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Apple Butter Muffins

Jess will be the first to admit that she often makes things that don't turn out so well or that neither of us like. She got an idea to make apple butter with a bunch of apples we had, and it turns out: we don't like apple butter. Well, if you know us at all, you also know we refuse to waste things when we can help it. So Jess found a recipe for apple butter muffins, and they are surprisingly yummy.

So if you have apple butter on hand that you don't like, here's a way to use it up! Jess also wanted me to note that she has been looking for good muffin recipes that don't use butter. Butter, per pound, costs more than ground turkey and chicken breasts, and she wanted to try decreasing our use of butter. This muffin recipe uses no butter.

  • 1 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup apple butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix together oats, milk, apple butter, and eggs.
  2. Whisk together flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
  3. Spoon muffin mixture into greased muffin pan. Sprinkle tops of muffin batter with sugar.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until done.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, November 4, 2013

State of Our House Address: October in review

October is always a special month because our wedding anniversary and my birthday fall in the month. We kept our celebrations low-key, but the two days were very special and filled with love.

Jason took some vacation time from work in October, and it was the perfect time to have extra time off. We spent a day at Nana and Bob's house (Jason's mom and stepdad), and we had a blast! Bug so enjoys loving on her Nana.

Bug has been sitting up really well on her own, so we started putting her in her high chair for meals and putting her on her potty each day after dinner. Lately, we've been putting her on her potty naked, and in late October, she peed in her potty! I am so proud. We use potty time as story time which keeps the time fun for her.

While Bug doesn't yet crawl, she does creep all over the house. She pretty much tortures Preston. She just really wants to play with him and he's small, like her, and fuzzy, like her (at least, like her head).

I am really enjoying being able to manage our home so well. We finally finished up all our canning, and even though I'm already thinking of next year's garden, I'm glad to be done.

I've been busy baking, cleaning, cooking, preserving, sewing, crafting - you name it, I've been working on it. Not that I'm complaining! This time is so precious and I don't know how long we'll be in this exact situation. I'm going to enjoy every single second of it while I can and I just pray it will all work out that I can continue to enjoy this time for as long as God allows.

Our mama group at church started back up this month at church, and I am helping to lead the group with three other mamas. I am so excited for our year ahead for this group. It has been such a blessing to me. I also started attending a women's Bible study group on Wednesday mornings. I plan to continue through November and assess after that if I will continue. Jason has Wednesdays off from work, so I'm not sure if I will continue. But it is so nice to have options as to what to do instead of working and thinking about work even when I am not working!

Jason's been busy with work and Bug. They have papa-daughter dates every week. She attends story time on Fridays at the library with Jason, and they usually go on Tuesdays, too. He sings in the worship team at church and started tutoring a high school student in October. As I type this, he's sewing a Christmas gift. We all keep busy, but enjoy down time when we can as well. I may just talk him into playing a game with me later (and by talking him into, I mean I will casually suggest it and he will quite literally jump for joy and race off to the game closet I'm sure!).

November is the start of Christmas and holiday season, so I'm looking forward to decorating our house for the season and eating good food. We're working on compiling our bucket list for winter 2013. So far, I know we want to drive around and look at Christmas lights and watch a Christmas movie every week from Thanksgiving to Christmas. And of course, we're going to make sugar cookies. I can't wait for the season to officially begin! Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I am listening to Christmas music as I type. But I tend to listen to Christmas music all year long so...

May November bring you peace and joy!

Friday, November 1, 2013

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

Here's how I did on my October 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 October, I'm purposing to take a walk each day with Bug.
-Work on one other habit per month - for October, I'm organizing several areas of our home, including the closet in Bug's room, end table and night stand drawers, coat closet, and pantry, and I also want to update our blog pages and Pinterest with blog posts.
-Craft weekly - for October, I'm putting together busy bags for Bug. I don't know if I'll do all the ones I have planned, but I want to at least get started on these. I have 10 planned out to make. I will be canning apple butter and sewing another fleece hat {in a larger size as her head grows often and a lot} for Bug. I am also going to start working on Bug's photo album and update it to her six-month birth date. And if time really allows, I'd love to start sewing puppets for her.

-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights {celebrate our third wedding anniversary!}
-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

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

Bug is now sitting up great, so we started putting her in her high chair for meals. She loves it! Her favorite foods so far are green beans and noodles. We weren't really sure if she was actually eating anything until we found green bean pieces in her poop. She's still very much just exploring, and we're quite content with that.

Since Bug is now sitting up better on her own, we started potty training. I hate to use that term, potty training, since we're very much just letting her explore what being on her little potty feels like. We set her on her potty every day after dinner to establish a routine. Eventually, over time, we'll work up to before sleeps, after sleeps and after each meal. She really enjoys being on her potty and we use that time as story time with her.

Here are 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}

You can read my full goals for 2013 here.