Tuesday, December 31, 2013

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

Here are my goals from December first, then 2013:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 30, 2013

This Book Room: Best Books of 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

But then.

Oh, but then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are all sisters in Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

This Book Room: Love and Respect in the Family

Children need love. Parents need respect.

It is as simple and complex as that!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crafty Christmas: Sugared Lemon Body Scrub

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is just 1 week away!

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

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

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

Happy crafting!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

This Book Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional notes: This is the eighth book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here, the fifth book here, the sixth book here and the seventh book here.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Crockpot Swedish Meatballs

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

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

Please enjoy!
-Chef Jason 

Monday, December 9, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a two-way street, after all.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Saving the Moola: November in review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 5, 2013

This Book Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Embroidery Mystery series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here. I don't know for certain, but I assume this series is ongoing.

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Please enjoy!

-Little chef Jess

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

State of Our House Address: November in review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

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

Here's how I did on my November goals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read my full goals for 2013 here.