Thursday, May 30, 2013

This Book Room: Middlefield Family series

I've always enjoyed Kathleen Fuller's novellas in Amish fiction anthologies I've read, so when I heard of this series and the summaries intrigued me, I knew I had to give the series a go. Overall, I'm really glad I read the series. The first book was far and away the best for me. It was unpredictable and suspenseful. I really like when authors aren't afraid to show that not all Amish people are good. Just as with any other religion, there are people who aren't really living for God and who are... well, evil. The second book helped the tie up the loose ends from the first book as the third book tied up the loose ends from the second book. I really liked that the same characters were in each book, although I felt the books, as the series continued, became more and more predictable. I particularly enjoyed Sawyer's and Cora's journeys - both their individual journey and their journey together. That plot line reminded me of a bit of Beverly Lewis' Heritage of Lancaster County series. If you've read that series and enjoyed it, you will likely enjoy this series, too.

Adam was her first love and best friend. But then he went away. Determined to experience the freedom of living in the Englisch world, he left Emma heart-broken. How could he have chosen the world over her?

Now Adam is back in Middlefield and Emma can't seem to keep him away from her family's farm. But this time she's determined to guard her heart. It might be love that keeps him there . . . or perhaps just guilt.

When a newcomer arrives in town and shows an interest in Emma, she dismisses Adam's insistence that she be cautious. All this attention is new to her and she doesn't know quite how to accept it. Emma knows her Heavenly Father treasures her. But will her new beau?

Laura Stutzman leaves her Kentucky community for Middlefield,
Ohio, with one purpose: to find Mark King, the man who pledged his love to her, then left. She can’t move on with her life until he explains why.

Sawyer Thompson is a Yankee who spent his teen years in an Amish home. Now an adult, he has to make a decision—go back to the life he knew as a child or join the church. Having suffered loss at a young age, he understands Laura’s anger, but is determined to follow God’s will and forgive. As their friendship grows, Laura begins to let her guard down.

New information about Sawyer’s past threatens the couple’s budding relationship. Both Laura and Sawyer will need to release the anger they’re storing in their hearts and forgive the people who’ve harmed them. As Laura struggles to trust God, will Sawyer do whatever it takes to remain faithful to Laura?

Katherine Yoder has loved Johnny Mullet since they were children, but he never actively returned her affections. Like so many things in their world, he assumes Katherine will always be there. Once his horse farm is a success, then he will court her in earnest.
For several weeks, Katherine has been plagued by severe headaches and dizziness. While resting at home, Johnny unexpectedly visits, but when dizziness strikes, she loses consciousness. She awakens hours later in a hospital bed, unable to remember how she got there.
Seeing Katherine injured and vulnerable stirs something in Johnny, and his guilt compels him to spend time with her while she heals. Soon his heart begins to stir with questions: Does she even remember why he’d come to her house that day?
As Katherine struggles to recall recent memories of Johnny, a surprise visitor arrives in her already unsteady world—a man named Isaac who claims they had been writing letters to each other, even considering marriage, before her illness.
With two men vying for her attention and her memory still elusive, Katherine has never felt so divided. The answer may lie behind a door she never considered opening
Thanks to booksneeze.com for providing a copy of Letters to Katie in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Linguine with Spinach-Herb Pesto

I had never had pesto before making this recipe. This dish smells like a garden - so fresh and green. Jess and I devoured our bowls and went back for more. We found this recipe in the March 2013 edition of Cooking Light magazine.


Ingredients
  • 4 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable broth
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons EVOO
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz. uncooked linguine
Directions
  1. Place spinach in a microwave safe bowl; cover bowl with plastic wrap and cook for 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Remove plastic wrap; cool slightly.
  2. Place spinach, almonds and next 5 ingredients in a food processor. Process until chopped. Add broth, juice and salt; pulse 5 times. With processor on, slowly pour oil through food chute; process until well blended. Scrape into a bowl; stir in half of the cheese.
  3. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Toss pasta with 1/2 cup pesto. One serving is 1.5 cups pasta. Add 2 tablespoons pesto on top of your pasta serving if you so desire. Top with 1 1/2 teaspoons cheese.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Friday, May 24, 2013

This Book Room: The Offering

After growing up an only child, Amanda Lisandra wants a big family. But since she and her soldier husband can’t afford to have more children right away, Mandy decides to earn money as a gestational carrier for a childless couple. She loves being pregnant, and while carrying the child, she dreams of having her own son and maybe another daughter. . . .

Just when the nearly perfect pregnancy is about to conclude, unexpected tragedy enters Mandy’s world and leaves her reeling. Devastated by grief, she surrenders the child she was carrying and struggles to regain her emotional equilibrium.

Two years later she studies a photograph of the baby she bore and wonders if the unthinkable has happened—could she have inadvertently given away her own biological child? Over the next few months Mandy struggles to decide between the desires of her grief-stricken heart and what’s best for the little boy she has never known.

My thoughts: This book was absolutely stunning and positively gripping. It held my attention from the first page. The characters are a little odd - I'm not sure I could relate to them, but the plot was insanely good.

I've struggled inwardly with whether procedures such as IVF are truly a good idea. I won't share my ultimate view points on that kind of thing here, but I will say that this author did a wonderful job in presenting reasons why it is and is not a good idea. That's not really what this book was about - I think this book really is whatever you want it to be. If you just want a really good book to read, this is it. If you want a book that links Biblical truths to everyday life in new ways, this is it. If you want a book that questions scientific procedures, this is it.

If you're not a fan of Christian fiction, no worries - this book probably technically is, but you won't notice it reading it if you're not a Christian. I really think this book would be great for any woman, but perhaps particularly so for mothers.

I was such a fan of the preacher's epiphany of sorts that Mary was a surrogate when carrying Jesus. What a profound truth. That blew me away. There are so many good parts to this book - I don't want to name them all. I'd rather you check out this book for yourself! This is one of the best books I've read all year.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

This Book Room: Ray of Light

After all the uproar over his grandparents' secrets and his younger sister's engagement, Roman can't wait to head to Pinecraft, the Amish Snowbird community in Florida. He plans to enjoy a week's vacation with Uncle Sam and Aunt Judith and his cousins. The warm weather is a welcome break from the bleak Ohio winters, and Roman is ready for a break from the drama. But the condominium next door is home to a young widow, Amanda, and her daughter, Regina. It soon becomes obvious that there's something special brewing between Roman and Amanda.

There's something attractive about Roman that Amanda can't deny. But in the two years since Wesley died, she's never looked at another man. She certainly doesn't intend to get married again. But as the week comes to a close, she knows she's given Roman part of her heart in spite of her attempt to remain distant. And Regina seems to have fallen in love, too.

Is there hope for a second chance at love for Amanda? Or will Roman return to Ohio, and forget about the two sweet girls who have captured his heart?

Additional notes: This is the second and latest book in the Days of Redemption series. You can read my review of the first book in this series here. The third and final book is expected out later this year.

My thoughts: This series is truly unique because this Amish family has a lot of problems. It's rare for an author to be brave enough to show that an Amish family isn't so different than a non-Amish family. We all have problems - no one is perfect.

That's definitely true with the Keim family. Roman's dad has alcohol problems, his grandmother and grandfather are having trouble accepting their pasts, his mom is suffering with a sickness of some sort, his sister has an eyesight problem and his other sister is going to live in Belize with her now-fiance, eventual-husband.

Roman then meets a girl, who also has issues. This is definitely a classic story of boy-meets-girl, a conflict ensues and so on. I enjoyed the story, overall. I liked the continuance of the plot lines from the first book and am really looking forward to the third book. The author definitely left me wanting more, and I'm especially anxious to see how Elsie's story ends.

If you're a fan of Amish fiction, you'll definitely enjoy this series. It's the most unique Amish fiction series I've ever read.

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

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: October Feast Casserole

This is one of the tastiest dishes we've ever had, and it's quickly become a staple meal in our home. The recipe comes to us courtesy of my Grandma Dorothy - thanks, Grandma!


Ingredients
  • 4 medium potatoes, cooked
  • One onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon, thyme
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 pound smoked sausage, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups frozen peas, rinsed and drained
Directions
  1. Slice potatoes.
  2. Cook onion in butter until tender.
  3. Blend in flour and seasonings. Gradually add milk, stirring until smooth.
  4. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is slightly thickened.
  5. Place half of sausage in bottom of 2 quart casserole.
  6. Add half of potatoes, half of peas and half of sauce. Repeat layers with remaining ingredients, ending with sauce.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, May 20, 2013

Beauty Fix: Best Bargain Buys, Part 1

I'm all for saving money where I can, and beauty is one area in which I don't like to spend a lot of money. I keep my beauty routine incredibly simple and rarely wear color cosmetics. Over the next few months, I'm going to share the best bargain buys of beauty that I've tried and loved. I'll also share the few beauty items that are worth splurging on. Please always keep in mind that I'm sharing what my own experience has been with these items - you may choose to buy the cheapest item if that item has worked for you, or maybe you need to purchase a higher quality item if you've had problems with less quality items.

Onto the bargains!

This is one bargain buy that really isn't a bargain buy, in terms of the fact that you can get the same type of item for much, much cheaper. But if you have issues like I do, you'll want this item: clinical strength deodorant. Clinical strength deodorant is much more expensive than regular deodorant, but regular deodorant doesn't work for me. Even if I just sit on my butt and work for 8 hours typing, I smell like a man who's worked in the fields all.day.long. I've tried regular deodorant and it only minimally takes away my natural scent. Clinical strength deodorant completely masks my natural scent so I don't scare away my husband. You'll also appreciate clinical strength deodorant if you have sensitive skin. I do - particularly in my armpit area. I itch a lot less when I use clinical strength deodorant and the appearance of my skin improves over time when I regularly use it as opposed to when I use just any deodorant. My pick: Secret Clinical Strength Deodorant in Lavender scent

A smile is truly the most beautiful thing anyone can wear. And teeth is one of the first things I notice about a person. Taking care of one's teeth can be a struggle, at least when it comes to flossing. Floss picks make flossing easy and quick. You can read more about why I love floss picks so much here. There are many brands of floss picks one can purchase. I've tried many kinds, but there's one brand that clearly stands out. My pick: DenTek Comfort Clean Floss Picks

One odd thing about me is that I really don't like hand cream. My hands feel icky and wet after I use it, so I just generally tend to stay away from hand cream. But my skin is really, really dry and this past winter/spring, my skin started cracking. I don't know if it was all the pregnancy/new mom hormones or what, but the cracks hurt and were ugly. Despite the fact that I don't use hand cream, I always have a lot of it on hand. I knew just which hand cream would take care of my hands, and it certainly did. You'll find no better hand cream. My pick: Neutrogena Norwegian Hand Cream

I think one thing every woman collects to a certain extent is perfume/scents. I have several and really enjoy being able to put on whatever scent best matches my mood that day. If you enjoy simple, clean scents, though, and are on a budget (and who isn't on a budget, really?), you'll get the best bang for your buck and scent by using essential oils. Just put a little dab wherever you desire - I prefer my wrists, neck and behind ears. A little goes a loooong way and a big bottle will last for months and months. My pick: lavender essential oil

There you have it - part 1 of my favorite bargain beauty buys! So tell me: what are your favorite bargain beauty buys?

Friday, May 17, 2013

This Book Room: Once Upon a Prince

Susanna Truitt never dreamed of a great romance or being treated like a princess---just to marry the man she has loved for twelve years. But life isn’t going according to plan. When her high-school-sweetheart-turned-Marine-officer breaks up instead of proposing, Susanna scrambles to rebuild her life.

The last thing Prince Nathaniel expects to find on his American holiday to St. Simon’s Island is the queen of his heart. A prince has duties, and his family’s tense political situation has chosen his bride for him. When Prince Nathaniel comes to Susanna’s aid under the fabled Lover’s Oak, he is blindsided by love.

Their lives are worlds apart. He’s a royal prince. She’s a ordinary girl. But everything changes when Susanna receives an invitation to Nathaniel’s coronation.

Additional notes: This is the first, and currently only, book in the Royal Wedding series.

My thoughts: There are several things I liked about this book that I felt were unique: the characters weren't struggling with their relationship with God. The book reminded me a lot of the Princess Diaries - the first book since that series that was similar enough but still unique. The story line was predictable but not overly so - the struggles seemed real, and I was genuinely curious as to how to the plots would wrap up.

If you did enjoy the Princess Diaries as I did, you will enjoy this book. I don't really follow any royal news because... well, I just don't care that much. But I find it interesting to read fiction accounts of royal life. This account is honest, if nothing else. More than anything else I've read or seen, this book portrays the struggle one faces when taking care of an entire population. As Nate put it in the book, his life is not really his own.

I seriously appreciated that the two main characters had a firm grip on their relationships with God. Too often, I feel like Christian fiction books include characters who don't yet believe in God or did believe and don't anymore. I'd rather read about someone firmly entrenched in their relationship - it's so uplifting and encouraging. Susanna was such a breath of fresh air - in fact, she reminded me of a friend, particularly when she leaves herself open to whatever God has planned for her. That's so courageous but so, so good.

I walked away from this book feeling happy and joyful. A fun, fun book.

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

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Peanut Butter Crispy Rice Treats

This recipe has simple but fun ingredients. The treats are easy to make and tasty to eat. We will definitely make them again. You can view the original recipe here.


Ingredients
  • 6 cups rice cereal
  • 3/4 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 2/3 cup dried chopped cherries
Directions
  1. Measure out the cereal in a big bowl and add the chopped cherries. Stir.
  2. Put peanut butter and honey in a pot. Stir while heating on medium heat on the oven until the peanut butter and honey are melted and thoroughly mixed.
  3. Add the peanut butter and honey mixture to the cereal and cherries. Stir until all the cereal is coated.
  4. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Press the mixture down.
  5. Refrigerate until ready to serve (at least 1 hour).
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Friday, May 10, 2013

This Book Room: The Face of the Earth

When Mitchell Brannon’s beloved wife of twenty years kisses him goodbye one morning, he has little idea that his life is about to change forever. Mitch returns from work early that evening, surprised Jill’s car isn’t in the garage. But her voice on the answering machine makes him smile. “Hey, babe, I’m just now checking out of the hotel, but I’ll stop and pick up something for dinner. Love you.” Hours later, Jill still hasn’t returned, and Mitch’s irritation turns to dread.

When the police come up empty, Mitch enlists the help of their next-door neighbor, Jill’s best friend, Shelley, to help search. As days turn into weeks and weeks into months, Mitch and Shelley’s friendship grows ever closer––and decidedly more complicated. Every lead seems to be a dead end, and Mitch wonders how he can honor the vows he made to a woman who has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.

My thoughts: This book was absolutely riveting. In most disappearance cases, it seems there's always some sort of evidence, some way to find out what happened in a timely manner (although it may not seem timely to loved ones). But in a case where someone disappeared and there are no leads? I can't imagine what that would feel like.

Unfortunately, Mitch knows exactly what that feels like. I felt such empathy for him - not knowing where his wife was or if she was alive. As the story continues, it's obvious how much Mitch's wedding vows mean to him. "For better or worse, until death parts us." But he doesn't know if his wife is dead or alive!

For me, this struggle made the story. What would I do if Jason disappeared but I never knew if he was dead or alive? Could I move on and find another? Perhaps it is morbid, but we regularly have conversations about what we each should do if the other should die before Bug is grown. I've made it quite clear that Jason should find a wife and a role model for Bug. But what if he doesn't know that I'm dead? What if I'm just gone?

I read this book in less than 24 hours. That's how good the story was. The ending was bittersweet - that's all I say. You must read the book to find out how the story ended!

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

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Crockpot Chicken Tacos

We love our crockpot. It makes cooking with Bug so much easier. We throw something in there the morning of or the night before and we don't have to worry about if Bug will be sleeping when we need to prepare dinner at 5 PM. This recipe was really, really easy, and it tasted good, too. It has earned a spot in our kitchen binder, that's how much we liked it.


Ingredients
  • 2 large or 3 medium skinless, boneless chicken breasts {we used 2 large}
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 cup of cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup of salsa
  • 1 cup corn {frozen or canned}
  • Sour cream
  • Tortillas
Directions
  1. Plop chicken breasts at bottom of 3 quart crockpot.
  2. In a small bowl, mix chili powder and lime juice.
  3. Slowly pour about half over the chicken breasts. Flip the breasts and pour the rest on the other side.
  4. Cook on low for 5 to 6 hours.
  5. Shred the chicken and add salsa and corn. Stir and cook for another 45 minutes.
  6. Set the crockpot to off and stir in the cheese.
  7. Grab a tortilla and plop some chicken mixture on it. Top with sour cream.
You can view the original recipe here.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, May 6, 2013

Saving the Moola: April in review

I know I say it practically every month, but boy, this year is sure going by quickly! I'm so happy with how well April went. Jason started a new job! He'll keep working at the library for now, and we're both so excited about his new other job. He's been working a ton of hours, but we know it'll all be worth it in the end. When he's gone, he misses Bug a lot, and she misses him, too, I can tell, but the harder and smarter we work now, the more we can enjoy her later on when she'll actually remember making memories with us. And believe me - the second he gets home, he scoops Bug up and loves on her until he goes back to work again.

Jason starting a new job really helped our finances. And I know it'll help in the coming months. Our goals are on my heart and mind every day: to be debt free by the end of this year and have saved a fifth of our emergency fund. I'm praying every day to stay strong in our budget. While it seemed we spent a lot of money in April, when I review just what we spent money on, it was all groceries. This doesn't really bother me since most of our expensive purchases were for a trip to Sam's Club where we buy things in bulk (and then these things last us for several weeks or months). But starting in May, I plan to be as diligent as I have been in the past when it comes our grocery budget. This won't be fun necessarily, but it is necessary.

I'm heading back to work in May, and I'm so excited! I've never not worked for this long. I'm looking forward to working, but I'm anxious about how everything will work: Jason working two jobs, me working one job and us taking care of Bug. I know everything will work, though. As Jason and I always say to each other, "We'll make it work. We always do."

We said that a lot to each other mid-April when we started having car trouble. Since we have one car we share, when we have car trouble, it's not really fun. In fact, it can be a downright disaster. Thankfully, this time, it really wasn't! For part of the car trouble, we just needed a new key made. We knew both of our keys were going and it was just time (after the car didn't start one too many times). We also had a scare 45 miles from home when our battery died. Thankfully, someone gave us a jump for free and we had our battery checked later on in the month. It was bad, so we replaced it. We also discovered one of our tires was nearly bare, so we ordered a new tire and had that put on. So all in all, the month of April wasn't very fun in terms of our car, but it just spurs us on toward our financial goals all the more. We're planning to buy a new-to-us car in 2014 - or at the very least, hoping we'll have saved enough to be able to do this. The sooner, the better. Our car is 14 years old, so it's really getting up there in age.

Changes to our budget in terms of household expenses were needed. We upped our laundry budget due to the fact that Bug uses cloth diapers and a lot of clothes and other items. We also bought a second cell phone and added another line to our cell phone plan. We're very grateful that Jason's working a second job to help cover some of these extra costs, but we're also planning to be very diligent in every area of the budget we can so we don't really feel the extra costs.

If you're like us and trying to meet your financial goals and looking for ways to earn extra money, you'll want to check out Plink. You can read about this program in detail here. Plink is a fantastic way to earn gift cards while enjoying a night out shopping or dining. If you link your Plink account to a rewards debit or credit card, it'll be like getting double rewards!

May is promising to be an exciting and challenging month. I can't wait to see how it all turns out!

Friday, May 3, 2013

State of Our House Address: April in review

April was jam packed of activities, fun and settling into a routine with our family now that it's grown! So much happened in April. To start with, Jason was offered a job at a local business, which he accepted. He now works there and at the library. It's quite a juggle, especially since I'm back at work as of May 1, but I know we can make it work!

Early in April, Bug was baptized. It was such a joyous day. I haven't shared much of my faith journey here {maybe I should at some point!}, but I was baptized as an adult, just four short years ago. Unlike others who are baptized {except for those who are Baptists as they are baptized at a later age}, I actually remember every moment of my baptism. Bug won't be able to remember her baptism, but I will share every memory I have of hers - and it was a really, really special day. To see my little girl bathed in the Word and water. Oh my. It was a moment. I'll just say that. Here's a photo of Bug actually receiving the water. She did so good - no crying!

 
Our tomato plants are growing so well - I have one prized sprout. He was the first one to sprout, and he's so tall! The other three have all sprouted, too, and per usual, there's a weakling. We just moved them to the next size pot, so I'm excited to see how they grow in May. Last year, I didn't keep a gardening journal and about halfway through the season, I was so mad I didn't do that. This year, I'm keeping one. It'll help me to remember when to plant the seeds, when about to transfer them, when we got our first tomatoes, how many tomatoes we got, etc. I'm really excited about keeping the journal! I think it'll help me grow as a gardener.

Also in April, we had the privilege of watching a co-worker of mine marry. It was really cool - she married her now-husband during their regular church service. It was an odd experience for me. I had never been to a Catholic service before, and after, I mentioned to Jason how weird it was. He grew up in a Catholic church and has attended services by several churches. But he actually agreed with me! He said it was unlike anything he'd ever seen and that he'd have to take me to a "regular" Catholic church at some point {we're both Lutherans but we enjoy visiting other churches a couple of times a year}. It was really nice to see my co-worker marry, though. Whenever I attend a wedding, I always remember, more than anything, my emotions on the day of my wedding. I was so happy! I was so anxious, too, to walk down the aisle and officially become Jason's wife. It's an awesome experience.

On the topic of church, I just have to brag up my church family a little here. The outpouring of love and support we've received since Bug's birth has been amazing. Other moms from church brought us meals, anything we've needed {baby bath, jeans, you name it} they've jumped in and given us what they no longer use. The emotional support has been awesome, too. We're really blessed to have found our church and to be accepted wholeheartedly. One friend from church is so amazing - she's a mum to four wonderful kids and is a wife to a doctor. Her husband sings with Jason in the worship team at church. They're a terrific family. Anyway, she's an amazing photographer and took photos of Bug for free!!! The photos are so good - I had to share one!


Bug has really been growing a ton, and she's an incredibly alert, active baby. She was super active in my womb {to the point that the ultrasound tech and my doctor commented on it all.the.time.}, so I'm not really surprised at how active she is, but oh boy! She gets a little frustrated when we do tummy time - she's trying to go somewhere and she's not really moving so she gets frustrated at her lack of going somewhere! It's really cute, but I feel bad when she gets frustrated. I'm sure she'll be moving soon enough, though! As part of her progress, she's started giving us real smiles. I shot a series of pictures one day when she was going to town with her smiles. I took the pics on my iPod, though, so they're high quality or anything, but here's the best one:


I think it's really cute and appropriate that she has ladybug clothes and we call her Bug. It makes me smile.

I kept super busy in April with all kinds of crafting projects, but now that I'm back to work, I plan on keeping things really simple and just trying to now get into a real routine. Our routine in April was great, but the entire time, I kept thinking it was just temporary because let's face it, it was! It'll be many years again before I sleep in until 9. In fact, I get up most mornings at the ripe hour of 4:30 AM now. It's not always fun, but it's necessary to getting everything done in the day that needs getting done.

I'd love to hear what awesome things you did in April! Feel free to share in the comments.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

This Book Room

Years ago, the day before Ellie moved from Georgia to California, she and her best friend Nolan sat beneath the Spanish moss of an ancient oak tree where they wrote letters to each other, and sealed them in a rusty old metal box. The plan was to return eleven years later and read them. But now, as that date arrives, much has changed. Ellie, bereft of the faith she grew up with, is a single mom living in a tired apartment trying to make ends meet. Sometimes she watches television to catch a glimpse of her old friend —Nolan, now an NBA star, whose terrible personal tragedies fueled his faith and athletic drive in equal measure. But Nolan also suffers from a transcendent loneliness that nothing has ever eased.

My thoughts: I'm so, so glad there's a stand-alone Karen Kingsbury book that's this.good. I feel like she writes a lot of series and while they're fun to read, they take a lot of time. If you're looking for one really fantastic book to read, this one is for you. It was a little predictable at times, but super easy to devour!

The author of the popular blog Enjoying the Small Things recounts the first year of life with her
daughter Nella, born with Down syndrome-a celebration of the beauty found in the unexpected, the strength of a mother's love, and, the gift of experiencing life in a wondrous new way

Love me. Love me. I'm not what you expected, but oh, please love me.
That was the most defining moment of my life. That was the beginning of my story.

When photographer Kelle Hampton learned she was pregnant with her second child, she and her husband, Brett, were ecstatic. Her pregnancy went smoothly and the ultrasounds showed a beautiful, healthy, high-kicking baby girl.

But when her new daughter was placed in her arms in the delivery room, Kelle knew instantly that something was wrong. Nella looked different than her two-year-old sister Lainey had at birth. As she watched friends and family celebrate with champagne toasts and endless photographs, a terrified Kelle was certain that Nella had Down syndrome-a fear her pediatrician soon confirmed. Yet gradually Kelle's fear and pain were vanquished by joy, as she embraced the realization that she had been chosen to experience an extraordinary and special gift.

Bloom takes readers on a wondrous journey through Nella's first year of life-a gripping, hilarious, and intensely poignant trip of transformation in which a mother learns that perfection comes in all different shapes. It is a story about embracing life and really living it, of being fearless and accepting difference, of going beyond constricting definitions of beauty, and of the awesome power of perspective. As Hampton writes, "There is us. Our Family. We will embrace this beauty and make something of it. We will hold our precious gift and know that we are lucky."

My thoughts: Okay. I liked this book. I read other reviews for this book while reading this book and while I agree with the fact that the author appears to want everything to be perfect, I don't think the author means that in quite the horrible way everyone else seems to think. As a new mom, I can tell you that I absolutely worried about my unborn baby. I knew a perfectly healthy baby wasn't guaranteed (just as tomorrow isn't guaranteed). I prayed for a healthy baby. At the end of the day, that's all I wanted. Even if I died in childbirth, I wanted a healthy baby. Kind of morbid, but I'm a realist and I know in every moment of life, there is risk the next moment on earth won't exist for me. So, I liked the book. The pictures were phenomenal, and I think the author was incredibly honest in sharing her journey from what she expected to what was reality. I think it was brave to share her feelings. The book is, at times, difficult to read because I kind of wanted to shake her and tell her, your baby is FINE! Get over it. But I know any sort of condition is difficult over the course of a lifetime, so I totally could empathize. Anyway, I recommend the book.

Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor's mansion for over twenty-five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart. Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life--anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten--when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole. Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It's about tending hearts as well. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie's heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover. A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, "The First Gardener" reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all.

My thoughts: This book was one of my favorites I've read this year. It was heartbreaking, so heartbreaking. It had a bittersweet ending. It was just a really unique, interesting book. I can't even put it into words! The only negative for me with this book was Mack's mother and her mother's friends. They were just annoying. For me, they really took away from the book. But other than that, I loved it.

The famous fat cat with the awesome appetite sings for his supper, dances for his dessert, and acts for
his snacks in this all-new collection of hilarious daily and Sunday comics. On with the show!

Additional notes: This is the fifty-fifth Garfield book, plus there are tons of other Garfield books. Search "Garfield" in the search bar of this blog to read my reviews of the other books.

My thoughts: This book was particularly funny, even more so than the other Garfield books. Some of the memorable strips that come to mind are the Sudoku-themed strips and the strips with the fish bowl. Jason and I both laughed our butts off at this book and agreed it was one of the funnier ones (even though they're all funny!).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Life & Style: May goals + an update on April goals

For the first half of the month, I rocked out my goals, but then I really fell off the bandwagon mid month and never got back on.

Personal
-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 8 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for April, I'm working on walking each day... again!
-Work on one other habit per month - for April, I'm working on getting up when there's a 6 on the clock each morning
-Craft weekly - for April, I'm planning to sew napkins, create/organize our kitchen binder, plant and water tomato seeds and sew an earwarmer.

Marriage
-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights

Mothering
-Start tummy time with Bug
-Read to Bug each day

Financial
-Spend as little as possible while I am on maternity leave

I did not read my Bible and devotional each day. I did not walk each day, but I will say I did lots and lots of chores so I was moving a lot! I did not get up every day when there was still a 6 on the clock, unless getting up at 8:06 AM counts :) I did get better with waking up early as the month continued on. I did not read to Bug every day, but between Jason and I, we read to her most days. I engaged her in conversation as much as I could and we also enjoyed listening to Veggie Tales songs together. I think when Bug is old enough to speak, her first words to me will be asking me not to sing the songs! {I have a terrible singing voice!}

As of today, I'm back to work, so my goals aren't going to be too crazy. I don't want to aim for something I absolutely cannot achieve, but I want to aim for something a little bit out of my comfort zone. Here are my May goals:

Personal
-Read my chosen devotional each day {this year, I'm reading 365 Meditations for Women by Women}
-Read my Amplified Bible each day
-Read 8 books
-Work on one fitness habit - for May, I'm working on getting 7 hours of sleep per night
-Work on one other habit per month - for May, I'm working on getting up when there's a 6 on the clock each morning {again}
-Craft weekly - for May, I'm planning to sew a heating pad for a Christmas gift

Marriage
-Pray for husband daily
-Have monthly date nights
-Have monthly movie nights

Mothering
-Continue tummy time with Bug
-Read to Bug each day

Financial
-Pay all medical bills from Bug's birth
-Send a large amount of money to my student loan institution

You can read my full goals for 2013 here.