Friday, June 28, 2013

This Book Room: lots of new releases!

In this luminous prequel to her beloved Cobbled Court Quilts series, New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick takes readers into the heart of a small Texas town and the soul of a woman who discovers her destiny there. . .

Welcome to Too Much--where the women are strong-willed and the men are handsome yet shiftless. Ever since Mary Dell Templeton and her twin sister Lydia Dale were children, their Aunt Velvet has warned them away from local boys. But it's well known that the females in Mary Dell's family have two traits in common--superior sewing skills and a fatal weakness for men.

While Lydia Dale grows up petite and pretty, Mary Dell just keeps growing. Tall, smart, and sassy, she is determined to one day turn her love of sewing into a business. Meanwhile, she'll settle for raising babies with her new husband, Donny. But that dream proves elusive too, until finally, Mary Dell gets the son she always wanted--a child as different as he is wonderful. And as Mary Dell is forced to reconsider what truly matters in her family and her marriage, she begins to piece together a life that, like the colorful quilts she creates, will prove vibrant, rich, and absolutely unforgettable. . .


My thoughts: Oh.my. What an amazing book! I really and truly love this author. This book officially stands as a prequel to the Cobbled Court Quilts series, but please don't worry about reading that series first (although that is a fantastical series so you'll want to read it anyway eventually!). I really, really hope Marie keeps writing these characters - maybe it is a new series? Her writing is so beautiful, and the story is easy to read and captivating. I could not put this book down.

“There is really no better indicator you’re a mother than acquiring the ability to catch throw-up in a
plastic bag, disinfect your hands, and immediately ask your friend to pass the beef jerky as you put on another Taylor Swift song and act as if nothing has happened.”

This is the type of insight Melanie Shankle offers in this quirky memoir of motherhood.

Written in the familiar, stream-of-consciousness style of her blog, Big Mama, Sparkly Green Earrings is a heartwarming and hilarious look at motherhood from someone who is still trying to figure it all out. Filled with personal stories—from the decision to become a mother to the heartbreak of miscarriage and ultimately, to the joy of raising a baby and living to tell about it—Sparkly Green Earrings will make you feel like you’re sitting across the table from your best friend. A must-read for anyone who’s ever had a child or even thought about it.

My thoughts: If you're a mum, you need.to.read.this.book. There is no option. Run, DO NOT WALK, to your local library and check out this book. This book is everything I've ever felt since becoming a mum just three short months ago (12 if we're counting conception, which I do!). I can't even put into words my feelings on this book. I devoured it in 2 days. And I really want to re-read it and I'm not in the habit of re-reading books anymore (since I was a child). I want to live in this book. I want to meet this author, hug her and be friends with her.

When Marcy’s friend Reggie, Tallulah Falls’ local librarian, asks her to teach an embroidery class as therapy for domestic abuse victims, she gladly agrees. One of the women wants to flee from her abusive husband but is afraid to leave her elderly father-in-law behind. And she thinks Marcy can help.

The elderly gentleman shows Marcy a tapestry his grandmother made, which he believes reveals the location of pirate treasure off the Oregon coast. He’ll move to a shelter—provided Marcy takes the tapestry to keep it safe. But when the police arrive the next day to escort him out, they find the old man murdered and the house ransacked. Does someone want that treasured tapestry desperately enough to kill for it?

Additional notes: This is the fifth book in the Embroidery mystery series. The sixth book is due out later this year. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here and the fourth book here.

My thoughts: Far and away, this is the best book in this series. Marcy finally chooses which guy she wants to officially date (that sounds so high school, but it's not quite like that, I promise!), and she picks the guy I thought would be best for her (ya know because what I think really matters is situations of fictional characters and their fictional relationships!). I really enjoyed this story, anyway. It had a twist I wasn't quite expecting, but one that made a lot of sense. I think that's why I like this series - it all ties up, but not in a cookie cutter way, and the story is logical. Who doesn't need logic?

When Joshua moves to a small cabin on the edge of town, the local people are mystified by his
presence. A quiet and simple man, Joshua appears to seek nothing for himself. He supports himself by working as a carpenter. He charges very little for his services, yet his craftsmanship is exquisite. The statue of Moses that he carves for the local synagogue prompts amazement as well as consternation.

What are the townsfolk to make of this enigmatic stranger? Some people report having seen him carry a huge cherry log on his shoulders effortlessly. Still others talk about the child in a poor part of town who was dreadfully ill but, after Joshua's visit, recovered completely.

Despite his benevolence and selfless work in the community, some remain suspicious. Finally, in an effort to address the community's doubts, the local religious leaders confront Joshua.

Additional notes: There are multiple books in this series, and this is the first book in the series. All the books have been released.

My thoughts: Upon a recommendation from a friend, I checked out this book from the library. This book is thought-provoking and life-changing. Everything Joshua said is what I've been trying (in much more uneloquent words) for years. I truly loved this book. If you are a Christian, read this book. If you are not a Christian, read this book. If you seek God but are afraid - the church has let you down, you are a horrific sinner (Hi, my name is Jess and I'm a truly awful sinner), you don't see how God could love you, you can't follow God's laws so surely you can't be a Christian, you think Christians are radical and don't love everyone, you think Christians are wacky and hate them - read this book. It sums up what true Christianity is in a way that Christians seem to lack the words or actions to say and do (Hi, my name is Jess and I really struggle with loving everyone all the time no matter what). I could write for years on this book, but really, just go read it.

Almost a decade has passed since Andy Sachs quit the job a million girls would die for working for Miranda Priestly at Runway magazine, a dream that turned out to be a nightmare. Andy and Emily, her former nemesis and co-assistant, have since joined forces to start a high end bridal magazine. The Plunge has quickly become required reading for the young and stylish. Now they get to call all the shots: Andy writes and travels to her hearts content; Emily plans parties and secures advertising like a seasoned pro. Even better, Andy has met the love of her life. Max Harrison, scion of a storied media family, is confident, successful, and drop-dead gorgeous. Their wedding will be splashed across all the society pages as their friends and family gather to toast the glowing couple. Andy Sachs is on top of the world. But karmas a bitch. The morning of her wedding, Andy can't shake the past. And when she discovers a secret letter with crushing implications, her wedding-day jitters turn to cold dread. Andy realizes that nothing not her husband, nor her beloved career is as it seems. She never suspected that her efforts to build a bright new life would lead her back to the darkness she barely escaped ten years ago and directly into the path of the devil herself...

Additional notes: This is the sequel to the Devil Wears Prada.

My thoughts: I gave this a two-star rating on goodreads.com, and I really feel that was being generous. I read this book easily, and it definitely caught my attention, but I hated this book. It was horrible. Andy really pisses me off in this book. Like a lot. More than I could ever express. I really wouldn't read this book. I'm very disappointed by it, and I likely wouldn't read a book by this author again.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Crockpot Chicken and Noodles

Jess and I love those thick egg noodles that often come with chicken noodle soups at restaurants. We finally discovered those types of noodles can be found in the frozen area of your local grocery store. We were flabbergasted that's where they were. Then, we promptly raced to our local grocery store to get all of the ingredients for this recipe. This is an expensive dish to make, but it makes loads of servings and it is super duper yummy. Here is our modified version of the recipe.


Ingredients
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 prepared servings of cream of something soup
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 30 oz. chicken broth
  • 32 oz. frozen egg noodles
  • 1 bag of frozen vegetables
Directions
  1. Cook chicken, soup, butter and broth in crock pot on low for 6 hours.
  2. Take chicken out and shred.
  3. Add chicken back to the pot and add the noodles. Cook on low for 1 hour and stir a few times while cooking.
  4. Add the frozen bag of vegetables. Cook until vegetables are fully cooked and stir a few times until the dish is complete.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Homemade: Brownie Mix

I will be the first to admit: I've purchased brownie mix. A lot. Aldi makes a really great brownie mix. But if you're out of brownie mix and no desire or time to run to the store, or if you're like me and want to pinch those pennies even more and make your own brownies with quality ingredients, you might need a brownie mix. You can always make brownies completely from scratch each time, and we definitely do that now and then. But if we're in a pinch and need a dessert quickly, we turn to this brownie mix. I originally saw this recipe here.


Here's what you need to make homemade brownie mix:
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Directions
  1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a whisk.
  2. Transfer mixture to a ziplock bag
  3. Repeat 3 times.

I keep this recipe in my kitchen binder along with the directions for how to cook the brownies. Here are those directions:
  1. Dump bagged mixture into a bowl.
  2. Add 2 eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla.
  3. Spray a 8 x8 pan with cooking spray. Dump mixture into the pan and spread evenly.
  4. Cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Our favorite way to eat these brownies is this:


A brownie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce = yummy!!!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Life & Style: Snack Organization Ideas

We used to store our snacks in a shabby cardboard box on the floor of our dining room. And.it.drove.me.nuts. It was so unsightly and so annoying. It wasn't even really organized, so it was just a box full of food.

I took to Pinterest to find a better way, and here's our new snack system:


The three-tier bin cost about $10 at Target - $10 very well spent. I needed something that would not be an eyesore, but it couldn't be stored away, otherwise Jason just tends to forget about it {which would be fine, except when he's hungry and asking what to eat, then it's annoying because he *knows* where the snacks are but if he can't see them, he thinks he forgot}. This bin works perfectly.


The bottom drawer is filled with random snacks. Snacks that appear in this drawer include pretzels, crackers, filled crackers, chocolate candy {Skinny Cow - yummmmmmy!}, graham crackers, Cheerios, fig bars, etc.


The middle drawer is our nut drawer. Our favorites are almonds and pistachios. I also include homemade trail mix in here when I have all the ingredients.


The top drawer is our fruit and baggie drawer. Right now, we just have applesauce {all without high fructose corn syrup - you can find that kind of applesauce at Walmart and Target, but not Meijer. Trust me, you don't want corn syrup in your applesauce. It's icky. Just check the ingredient list and you'll be good to go!}. We also will buy little cans of fruit and stock them in there.

To keep costs down and because we're just crazy frugal, we wash all our baggies and reuse them. If you didn't do this, you would pay a lot just to bag up your snacks. I will be the first to admit that washing baggies is my absolute least favorite chore. Well, maybe taking out the trash is my least favorite. But you get the idea. Despite that, however, it's so much better to reuse them from an economical and environmental standpoint. If you really, really despise hand washing baggies, might I interest you in purchasing small plastic containers you can reuse? I opted for baggies instead because I wanted to spend very little money. Do whatever works best for you, but please keep the environment in mind.

If you want a snack system that's out of sight, I really loved this idea:

photo credit
In addition to the snacks we have in our bins, we also keep bananas, cookies and muffins on the counter. In the fridge, we keep hard-boiled eggs, celery, carrots and fresh fruit {such as strawberries}. We decided we didn't really need a snack system for the fridge, but if you desire one, I thought this one looked great:

photo credit
Having a snack system works so well - whenever one of us is preparing for work, we make three quick stops: the fridge, the counter and the bin. We keep leftovers in handy-dandy containers so we can just grab one container that has a serving of that particular leftover. Then, we grab snacks and when it's called for, breakfast as well {either a muffin from the counter or frozen burritos from the freezer}.

Each Sunday, I take about 15 to 30 minutes to refill the snack bin. I use the serving size suggested for each item {Cheerios, nuts, etc.} to determine how much goes in each bag. The system is really very automated, so it's just kind of thoughtless. Which... as new parents and very busy people, we need!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Beauty Fix: Best Bargain Buys, Part 2

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. Here's Part 2 of the best bargain buys of beauty that I've tried and loved. Next month, I'll 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.

Bar soap is the cheapest way to go when it comes to cleansing one's body, but I much prefer body wash. I find that it's more moisturizing and easier to use than bar soap. The scent in body wash is also usually stronger than bar soap scent. It's still subtle, but I typically just use body wash and skip perfume. My favorite body wash is extra moisturizing and has an amazingly clean, refreshing scent. I buy it in bulk at Sam's Club. My pick: Olay Ultra Moisture body wash

I am a stickler for good hygiene. I think that's
obvious by the simple fact that I write this Beauty Fix series. The first thing I notice about a person is their smile. The second - their nails. It kills me when a person doesn't have well groomed nails. A crystal nail file is an essential item when it comes to well groomed nails. It's reusable forever, so need to keep purchasing emery boards. It's gentle on the skin and files nails easily. You can read even more about why I love crystal nail files here. My pick: Sephora Collection crystal nail file

Body lotion is tricky for me. I use it nearly every day on my feet and occasionally on my legs. Most body lotions don't irritate my skin, but I'm not a fan of most body lotions and they way they feel on my skin. It took me many years but I finally found the perfect body lotion. It's super moisturizing and absorbs well into the skin. The scent is super subtle, which I like because I don't prefer a heavy scent in a lotion. It comes in a big bottle and is super affordably priced. My pick: Jergens Daily Moisture body lotion

I rarely wear color cosmetics, but I need
something to keep my lashes in place once I've curled them. I also have unruly eyebrows. Enter: clear mascara. This beauty item is so essential for everyone! Guys and gals alike can use this item. It keeps my lashes and brows in place so I can go about my day without giving them a second thought. You can read more about this essential beauty item here. My pick: Cover Girl clear mascara

Lip balm is a true bargain beauty buy. Ranging in price from $1 to $10 at drugstores and mass retailers, it's one item that's easy to use to brighten one's smile or attitude. You can find colored lip balms, scented lip balms - really, any balm for any attitude. At times, I prefer to wear color on my lips, but I find it easiest to go without color. But I love, love, love lip balm. It keeps my lips soft and makes me feel girly and fancy. One particular lip balm is extra moisturizing. I can find it for a buck when I get it on sale. My pick: Carmex moisturizing lip balm

There you have it - part 2 of my favorite bargain beauty buys! So tell me: what are your favorite bargain beauty buys?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Spunky Spinach Dip

We've made a lot of spinach dip recipes over the years, and this is the best one we've ever made. Jess is kind of iffy on it, but I think it's growing on her. This recipe was originally found in a Gooseberry Patch cookbook.


Ingredients
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 2 cups salsa
  • 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
Directions
  1. Mix all ingredients together.
  2. Put mixture in an 1.5 quart baking dish. Cover.
  3. Cook at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until mixture is bubbly and hot.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Day in the Life

This documentation is from Saturday, June 15. I would preface this day by saying this day was extra busy, but lately, I've found every day is extra busy. So here's a non-typical typical day!

1:06 AM: Feed Bug.

4:28 AM: Feed Bug.

7:06: I wake up to a howling cat demanding breakfast.
Mama, where's breakfast?
7:10 AM: I remember that I'm supposed to be documenting my day for ya'll, so I grab a notebook and pen and fill in my day so far.

7:14 AM: I pump milk for Bug while I wake up. While pumping, I check my email, Facebook and Words with Friends.

7:36 AM: I've been trying to get my computer to work for awhile now and it's just not working. This is very frustrating since I'm trying to get my computer to work so I can work.

7:41 AM: Praise the Lord! My computer is finally working, and I log on to work.

7:56 AM: My computer shuts off since it apparently wasn't plugged in. I can tell my computer and I are not going to have a good day today.

7:58 AM: While my computer is rebooting, Bug wakes up. I feed her.

8:13 AM: Bug seems content and ready for more sleep so I lay her down and start working again.

8:16 AM: Never mind. Bug is definitely awake and not ready for sleep. I stop working to feed her and change her diaper.

8:30 AM: Jason arrives home. He's working the third shift for his primary job, and after work, he drove to Caro to pick up a side of beef. He's pretty much the best husband ever.

180 pounds of beefy goodness
8:36 AM: I log back onto work.

8:59 AM: Bug has a meltdown, so I scoop her up for cuddles and log off work. While we cuddle, I complete my daily Swagbucks chores (poll, NOSO, 1 search win), we sing, and I eat breakfast.

9:20: Jason's still pretty amped up from his night at work and driving 3 hours to Caro and back, so he reads a story to Bug after changing her diaper and clothes. While he reads to her, I pump milk for her.


9:38 AM: I hop back onto work while Jason and Bug settle in for a nap.

10:49 AM: Bug is awake so I scoop her up for cuddles. I also feed her and while feeding her, I update her goodreads.com account with the book Jason read to her earlier.

Cuddles!
11:15 AM: I pop Bug in her stroller so I can get some chores done. She loves, loves, loves being in her stroller and wheeled around our house. And she loves, loves, loves "helping" me while I do chores. I park her in the kitchen while I freeze breast milk, hand wash dishes and load and run the dishwasher. I wheel her around the apartment while I declutter, and I park her near the door while I start a load of laundry in the washer. She talks animatedly the whole time.

11:48 AM: Bug's acting hungry, so I feed her. While I feed her, I check in with Facebook and update my chore list for the day.

12:09 PM: I start to believe Bug is on a sleep strike. I head to the kitchen for a snack and grab my Bible and devotional to read.

12:25 PM: I switch the first load of clothes to the dryer, then start a second load in the washer.

12:33 PM: Bug's eyelids look really heavy (YES!) so I wheel her around the apartment a few times.

12:35 PM: Success! Bug is passed out in her stroller. I hop back on work.

1:24 PM: I bring in the first load of laundry and put the other load in the dryer. I start folding the clothes.

1:30 PM: I woke Jason up, then head back to the laundry.

1:49 PM: Time for a shower!

2:55 PM: I'm all clean. Bug has ate and been changed. Time to head out to our new favorite diner for what we call "linner," the farmer market and Target.

Arriving at the farmer market
5:27 PM: We arrive back home. I take care of what we brought into the house and change my clothes.

We bought all these luscious berries and wheat rolls at the farmer market. We're planning to eat the rolls with chili for lunch on Sunday, and we're going to can two batches of strawberry jam with the berries and just eat the rest. We scored a great deal on the berries since we arrived to the market just before closing time, and our favorite vendor was eager to get rid of these (they were the only remaining berries).
6:22 PM: Jason is taking another nap before his next shift tonight. Bug is fed and pretty happy, so I declutter the house and process that day's mail.

6:35 PM: Bug seems hungry again, so I feed her... again.

6:40 PM: I prepare snacks for Jason for work, unload, reload and run the dishwasher and eat a piece of cake. Yum!

6:52 PM: I fold the second load of laundry.

7:08 PM: I get all our clothes ready for church the next morning. This helps our morning go a lot smoother.

7:10 PM: I start to get the jars, lids and rings ready for our canning the next day, but Bug is unhappy so I set aside my task to change her into a onesie and a fresh diaper, and I feed her.

7:30 PM: I finish getting the canning things together and re-organize the other canning things in the pantry.

7:41 PM: While organizing the canning, I found hooded towels for Bug! Score! They were in a bag of canning things my mum had given me. I just tossed the bag into the pantry, not realizing other items were in this bag. I feel kind of silly since my mum gave me this bag about 9 months ago. Time for a break now that the organizing is finished. I grab Bug and my computer. While I snuggle Bug, I print the church's worship team song list for Sunday for Jason and the new menu for the week.

7:53 PM: Bug has managed to get her onesie completely wet from drooling and spit up, so I change her into a fresh onesie and put a bib on her in an effort to keep her clothes drier.

8:00 PM: While snuggling Bug, I research diaper rashes. The reason we went to Target was just to buy a package of disposable diapers. We use cloth diapers normally, but she's developed a really nasty rash. Her skin is raw in a couple of places. I discover this is considered a normal rash. After I've discovered this, I upload and edit photos on my computer for the blog.

8:15 PM: Unexpected score! Bug has fallen asleep in my arms. I lay her down and quickly write up a blog post, then log onto work to finish out my day. I'm blessed enough to have a job where I primarily work from home and I have the ability to flex my hours. I work a bit on Saturdays so I can flex my hours during the week since I'm largely in charge of taking care of Bug. Working on Saturdays really sets my week up for success.

8:45: I wake Jason up so he can get ready for work.

8:55 PM: I got in 3 hours of work total today - yay! I log off and start prepping for bed. This includes getting a snack (or two) together, bringing everything I need to the bedroom, etc. It takes awhile!

9:28 PM: I'm done getting ready for bed. I take Bug from Jason so he can leave for work. I feed her until she's kind of asleep.

9:50 PM: I lay Bug in bed next to me. She's having a party, but I let her carry on until she tires herself out. Meanwhile, I eat a snack and read a few pages of Revenge Wears Prada.

10:18 PM: I finish up this post, then get another snack (I blame it all on the nursing!!!!) and my book. Then, I pass out.

Upon reflection of this day, I'm realizing just how fragmented my days really are now. That's mostly thanks to Bug. And while I did accomplish a lot this day, I also didn't accomplish a lot. I had to move a lot of chores from Saturday to Sunday because I just didn't get to them. I think I've yet to adjust just how much I can get done in a day now that Bug is here. And I'm also realizing that Bug eats a lot. She doesn't eat necessarily for long periods of time, but boy, does she eat frequently. She's quite the snacker.

As am I. I'm off now so I can go rustle up another snack to eat and read my book. It just got really, really interesting!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Saving the Moola: need extra cash? donate plasma!

photo credit
It's no secret that Jason and I have made bad financial decisions in the past. This led to a period of being absolutely broke. While we were broke and he was working at a fast food restaurant, he and I both vividly remember me being angry because he would get to eat something other than Ramen noodles or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on days he worked. It's a time of our lives that we have no wish to ever live again.

But in that time of feeling desperate, lonely and completely broke, something beautiful happened. We learned we would both do whatever it took to make ourselves survive and even thrive. To that end, Jason and I both did a lot of odd things - things we wouldn't gladly do again. One of those things was donating plasma.

Jason donated plasma for several years and earned about $5,000 while doing it. To us, then and even now, that's a nice chunk of change. Screw change - that's a serious wad of dough!!!

If you're wondering where you're going to get money for gas to drive to work or money for groceries to feed yourself and your family, please consider donating plasma. Is it fun? Not necessarily. But it is easy. You can donate plasma generally whenever you want so long as the plasma center is open, and you generally don't have to schedule an appointment in advance. You can just walk in whenever. Every center pays differently, but Jason earned between $50 and $60 per week for donating plasma {when donating twice in the same week}. Plasma centers generally pay in cash, although some will issue checks. Plasma centers are generally safe. Those who donate plasma are generally hard for cash {otherwise, they likely would not be doing it}, but Jason never had any issues with safety during the time he donated plasma.

Every center is different, but there can be a waiting time to donate the plasma and actually donating the plasma can take some time. But if you're broke and needing cash right now, this is a surefire way to walk out of somewhere and have earned money. $50 a week can make a huge difference. When we were broke, this was the difference between us eating only Ramen noodles and us eating real food (meat, produce, etc.). When we were broke, this was the difference between my parents giving us money for every.single.expense. we had and them only paying our rent. $50 a week is huge for most people, especially if you're living pretty frugally.

Jason no longer donates plasma, in large part because where we live now, the center isn't very close to our house. He also works two jobs where he makes more per hour than he could make donating plasma. And we both didn't really like him donating plasma. I always worried {only God knows why, but I'm a horrible worrier}, and it was really boring for Jason. Donating plasma was never a long-term plan for us, and it never should be for you.

But if you need money for your family today, donating plasma is a wonderful way to bring in some much needed money. Prayerfully consider whether donating plasma could be something you could do. Jason and I are so grateful we were able to bring in money this way during a time when we saw no other way to bring in extra income. It really made all the difference for us.

If you're in a position where donating plasma might be something you need to consider for whatever reason, please know you are in my prayers. I've been where you are. I've been broke. I've been in a place where I wondered if we'd be able to pay the electricity bill. I've been in a place where I've had the walk through the grocery store with a calculator - not because I enjoyed seeing if we could make the budget, but because if I didn't and I spent more than I thought, I'd have to tell the cashier I didn't want a certain item because I literally only had so much money. But you can pull yourself up, you can make your life better. You can turn your life around and become independent. And donating plasma might just be the thing to help you do that.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Cheese Ravioli with Mushrooms and Spinach

Jess and I both enjoyed this recipe. It was a pretty simple dish to throw together, and we enjoyed leftovers for lunch the next day. We plan to make this one again soon. We found the recipe in the March 2013 edition of Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.


Ingredients
  • 18 oz. fresh cheese ravioli
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 oz. sliced white mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 oz. baby spinach
  • EVOO
Directions
  1. In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the ravioli according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Stir in the bread crumbs and season lightly with salt and pepper. Toast until golden, 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Wipe out skillet.
  3. Return skillet to medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and melt. Add mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until the mushrooms are tender and browned, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the spinach in handfuls, tossing to wilt.
  5. Add the reserved pasta water and the ravioli to the mushrooms and spinach. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter; toss.
  6. To serve, top the ravioli with bread crumbs and drizzle with EVOO.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, June 10, 2013

This Book Room: Barefoot Summer

Madison’s heart closed the day her twin brother died.

Since losing her twin, Michael, in a drowning incident, Madison has rejected the faith he lived by. Instead, she’s devoted her life to fulfilling Michael’s dream—winning the River Sail Regatta in their small Indiana town, Chapel Springs.

As she trains for the regatta, Beckett O’Reilly is teaching Madison to swim. But he’s keeping a painful secret from her—and as they grow closer, that secret threatens to upend their lives . . . and the lives of both their families.


My thoughts: This book was a fun summer read but not very hard hitting, as some of Denise's other books have been {check out the New Heights series - so good!}. I haven't been as much of a fan of Denise's latest books, and this was somewhat the case here as well.

I felt for Madison and the struggles she faced - it can sometimes be hard to reconcile why God calls a person home before his or her loved ones are ready to say goodbye. I kind of felt, though, the struggles in this book were very on the surface. I didn't really feel Beckett or Madison's agony. I understood the situations they were in could be agonizing, but it didn't really come across to me that they themselves were in agony. The writing felt forced at times. The emotions the characters displayed did not flow naturally.

I liked the book, but I would not necessarily recommend it to others - unless you're just looking for a fun summer read. If you are, by all means, pick up this book. If you're looking for something a little more thought provoking, skip this one.

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

Friday, June 7, 2013

Saving the Moola: May in review

This month was just full of frugality and squeezing everything we can out of every penny. Jason has been working so many hours at the library and at the security company he works for - even to the point where he earned overtime pay! This was much appreciated by our family. His boss even gave him a gift card for a gas station because he filled in so many hours for others at the last minute. Woot woot!

I went back to work May 1. This was a bit sooner than I had originally planned, and while I know every pregnancy/birth experience is different for everyone, I really felt good. Almost too good! It was time to go back, and I am so, so glad I did. Now that I'm earning a paycheck again, we have paid off all the medical bills we've received to date {note to all of you out there: even with insurance, giving birth to a little is crazy expensive! just a word of caution to save, save, save if you're expecting or want to be}. Now that the medical bills are taken care of, we're back to paying down our last piece of debt: a student loan. We're making fantastic traction, and I'm so happy.

We're being super frugal and some of our frugal activities from May included:
  • garage saling for all the clothes Bug will need for the next 12 months
  • using cash for gas and grocery expenses
  • careful menu planning
If you follow our Facebook page, you know we've been following the 7 things in 31 days challenge Money Saving Mom is hosting. We also started a challenge for ourselves on Friday, May 17 - a fast food fast. We're doing this for our general health and to save money. To date, we have held ourselves to this challenge and haven't had any fast food. We do allow ourselves to eat at Subway and other restaurants that serve up healthy fare (no burgers or fries), since at this season of our lives, there are just some occasions where eating out is a good way to go. This has helped our blow money envelope tremendously!

We're on track to have paid off the student loan by the end of the year, and I really, really hope we can pay this off a little earlier so we can start ramping up our emergency fund. Now that we have a little, we see the extreme benefit of having a four-door car, although I will really miss having a two-door car. Next on our list after the debt is a new-to-us car which will be so appreciated - our car is 14 years old and is starting to show its age. I'm so geeked to get a new one!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

This Book Room: all brand new releases!

For years Libby Morgan dreamed only of making partner in her competitive, high-pressure law firm. She sacrificed everything for her career—her friends, her marriage, her chance at creating a family. When her boss calls Libby into his office, she assumes it will finally be good news, but nothing can prepare her for the shocking reality: She’s been let go and must rebuild her entire life . . . starting now.

With no job prospects in sight, Libby reaches out to old friends and spends her afternoons at A Good Yarn, the local knitting store. There she forms a close bond with Lydia, the sweet-natured shop owner; Lydia’s spirited teenage daughter, Casey; and Casey’s best friend, Ava, a shy yet troubled girl who will shape Libby’s future in surprising and profound ways.

As A Good Yarn becomes a second home—and the women a new kind of family—Libby relishes the different person she’s become. She even finds time for romance with a charming and handsome doctor who seems to be her perfect match. But just as everything is coming together, Libby must make a choice that could forever change the life she holds so dear.

Warmly told and richly textured, Starting Now is filled with the promise of new beginnings and the unending delights of companionship and love.

Additional notes: This is the ninth and latest book in the Blossom Street series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the Christmas book here, the fifth book here, the sixth book here, the seventh book here and the eighth book here.

My thoughts: Oh my, was I so glad to see this book finally released! I absolutely loved it, but it was so heartbreaking. I related to everything the main character was going through. If you find yourself thinking your job is everything {and I often do this, though not as much as before Bug was born!}, you may want to read this book. Your job is not everything. I know it may seem like it is, but I promise it's not. There's so much more to life! There were so many great parts to this book. I really, really hope Debbie writes a tenth book for this series!

Stephanie London led a life of comfort and ease in St. Louis before feeling inexplicably drawn back to her father's roots in the tiny Southern town of Hope Springs. Charlotte Willoughby has lived there all her life and longs to make a new life somewhere else. Stephanie doesn't know exactly what she's doing there--or how to occupy her time. And Charlotte doesn't understand why, despite her overbearing family and reminders of her failed engagement, she's suddenly led to stay.

Despite its small-town charm, Hope Springs itself is at a crossroads. After a failed reconciliation attempt by two well-meaning pastors, the town is split along racial and cultural lines, with little hope for redemption.

When a terrible tragedy puts Hope Springs on the national radar, the entire town is tested, and both Stephanie and Charlotte feel their lives unraveling. In the midst of heartache, though, they'll discover the true color of hope...

Additional notes: This is the second and latest book in the Hope Springs series, although please be rest assured: you absolutely can read this book without reading the first. You can read my review of the first book here.

My thoughts: This book... this book. There aren't really a lot of words. You must read this book. It all just broke my heart. When I think of my Bug growing up in this world... this world. I take such comfort knowing our Jesus will come back for us all. Without Him... there are just no words. This book left me breathless and speechless. It was that good.

Alan Christoffersen lost his heart when his wife was killed in an accident almost one year ago. He lost his trust when his business partner stole his advertising business. He lost his home when the bank took his house. So Alan decided to leave his painful memories behind and walk from Seattle to the farthest point on the map, Key West, but in St. Louis, he is forced to stop.

Because his severe vertigo is diagnosed as the side effect of a brain tumor, Alan must go to Los Angeles for treatment. He is surrounded by those who care most for him: his father, who is happy to have Alan back in his childhood home; Falene, who has been by his side through his most difficult times; and Nicole, who helped him recover from a mugging in Spokane. One by one, Alan alienates them all, and he resumes his journey in angry loneliness. The people he meets as he walks the dusty southern back roads have lessons to teach Alan about accepting love. He just has to have faith that life can be worth living again—and that the woman he rejected will be willing to forgive him.

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

My thoughts: I love, love, love this series. I recommend it to everyone I know. If you haven't read the Walk yet, you must read it today. Right now. Run, don't walk, to your local library. I have a feeling this series will end with the fifth book. That will be a sad, sad day. I'm not a fan of this author's work in general, but this series is fantastical.

Life is close to perfect for Charlotte and Curtis Black--except that their son Matthew's girlfriend, Racquel, is eight months pregnant and Racquel's mother, Vanessa, and Charlotte can't stand each other.

On the day of Racquel's baby shower, Charlotte and Vanessa have a major blow up and the stress sends Racquel into early labor. Curtis is displeased with Charlotte's behavior, something that slowly but surely drives a new wedge between them. At the same time, Curtis is consumed with church business, and trying to uncover who is behind a series of mysterious letters that threaten to expose Curtis's biggest secret. Increasingly furious with his mother, Matthew gives Charlotte an ultimatum--treat Racquel and her mom with respect or she'll be cut off from seeing the baby altogether. This sends Charlotte down a road of revenge. Once again, the Black household is torn apart, and it will take a miracle for anyone to recover.

Additional notes: This is the tenth and latest Reverend Curtis Black book. You can read my review of the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here, the fifth book here, the sixth book here, the seventh book here and the ninth book here. I don't know what happened with the eighth book review, as I read the book while having this blog, but apparently did not review it on here! My apologies.

My thoughts: I'm not really sure why I keep reading this series... the characters are so malicious! It's truly awful. But it's so scandalous and juicy! I just can't stop myself. I really can't. The story is like a train wreck you can't look away from. My advice: stay away. It's like Cheetos - once you eat one, you just can't stop. Save yourself from this series!!!

Tully Hart has always been larger than life, a woman fueled by big dreams and driven by memories of a painful past. She thinks she can overcome anything until her best friend, Kate Ryan, dies. Tully tries to fulfill her deathbed promise to Kate--to be there for Kate’s children--but Tully knows nothing about family or motherhood or taking care of people.

Sixteen-year-old Marah Ryan is devastated by her mother’s death. Her father, Johnny, strives to hold the family together, but even with his best efforts, Marah becomes unreachable in her grief. Nothing and no one seems to matter to her . . . until she falls in love with a young man who makes her smile again and leads her into his dangerous, shadowy world.

Dorothy Hart--the woman who once called herself Cloud--is at the center of Tully’s tragic past. She repeatedly abandoned her daughter, Tully, as a child, but now she comes back, drawn to her daughter’s side at a time when Tully is most alone. At long last, Dorothy must face her darkest fear: Only by revealing the ugly secrets of her past can she hope to become the mother her daughter needs.

A single, tragic choice and a middle-of-the-night phone call will bring these women together and set them on a poignant, powerful journey of redemption. Each has lost her way, and they will need each one another--and maybe a miracle--to transform their lives.

An emotionally complex, heart-wrenching novel about love, motherhood, loss, and new beginnings, Fly Away reminds us that where there is life, there is hope, and where there is love, there is forgiveness.

Additional notes: This is a sequel to Firefly Lane. You must read Firefly Lane before reading this book!

My thoughts: What a terrific follow-up to Firefly Lane. These books are seriously life changing. At least, they were for me. The second book wrapped up some things I had questions about from the first book, and the stories presented here completely redeemed the characters I didn't like from the first book. These books are must read books and perfect for summer reading!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In the Kitchen with Jason: Best Ever No-Bake Cookies

This is Jess' go-to cookie. If she needs to whip up cookies for a friend or family member or she's doing the baking that week, she almost always makes these cookies. They are the best no-bake cookie we've ever eaten.


Ingredients
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups oatmeal
Directions
  1. Mix the peanut butter, vanilla and oatmeal in a big bowl. Set aside.
  2. Mix sugar, butter, cocoa powder and milk in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute.
  3. Pour the boiled mixture into the big bowl with the other ingredients; stir until peanut butter is melted.
  4. Drop spoonfuls of the mixture on wax paper. Allow to set and cool completely.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, June 3, 2013

State of Our House Address: May in review

We hardly had a second to breathe in May, but looking back, we accomplished so much! I'm so pleased.

On May 1, I returned to my career. The transition was surprisingly easy, but it has its difficult moments ,too. Jason and I both work full time, and taking care of our Bug all on our own presents challenges, but nothing we can't overcome.

Garage sale season started early in May here in Michigan. We couldn't wait to hit them up to fill out Bug's wardrobe for the next year! I definitely learned a lot while garage saling this year. If you're new to garage saling and looking for some quick tips, check out my posts here and here. I wrote these a couple of years ago and am thinking I may need to write a follow-up post or two at some point. Even with all of my learning and some mistakes I made, we managed to fill out Bug's wardrobe all the way up to 18 months. I found some great deals. Here's a pic of her hang-up items from 3 - 12 months {she also has a dresser stuffed to the gills with clothes}:


Bug is a very well dressed baby. We'll just leave it at that.

I'm so excited about the gardening we're doing this year! We're growing 4 tomato plants {1 more than last year}, and we were recently gifted with 2 cherry tomato plants and 2 flower plants. The cherry tomato plants look kind of sickly, but we're working on bringing them back to life. Hopefully, we will get some tomatoes from them! I've always wanted flowers but couldn't justify the cost. Since these were free, I get to enjoy flowers and not spend a dime! Our regular tomato plants just made their final transfer to our 5-gallon buckets and in the last week of May, we placed all the plants on our balcony. Here's a peek at their progress {we moved them to the balcony the night this picture was taken}:


Speaking of growing things, Bug is growing so much! I really can't believe it. Jason keeps telling her to stay little, and of course, she's still little, but she's not as little. The last time we weighed her, she was about 12 pounds (!). We started a Goodreads account for her so we can track our reading to her. Our goal is to read 200 books to her by the end of the year. That's a pretty lofty goal but if we read 1 book a day to her, we'll more than achieve the goal. We're continuing tummy time, and her neck muscles are growing so strong. She coos and smiles a lot. She's a whole little person now!


As for Jason and I, we've been staying really busy. Jason has continued to sing in the worship team at church. We made a meal for a family who just has their third little. So precious. We've been continuing weekly freezer cooking sessions at our home, and we've made a lot of homemade maple syrup lately. We purged more than 275 items from our home in May. I finally got around to printing some updated photos of our family and refreshed the photo frames in our home. In general, every second we've been home, we've been homemaking. It's been a little crazy but so rewarding.

We're making it a point to reduce our out-of-the-home time. Every other Sunday, we strictly spend at home, no matter what. We try to limit how much we leave the house on Saturdays and throughout the week in an effort to manage our home effectively and spend quality time with Bug. It's a struggle and not always easy, but it's always worth saying "no" to something else so we can say "yes" to us.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Life and Style: June goals + an update on May goals

Here's how I did on 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

I did okay on my sleep goal. I did not get 7 hours every night, but some nights, I did. I definitely woke up every morning when there was a 6 on the clock, and most mornings when there was a 4 or 5! Jason and I did not have a movie night or date night in May, but we did spend as much time together as we could. While we're committed to our marriage, we are definitely focusing on Bug right now. I didn't have any time to sew, but I'm committed to crafting in June.

Here are my June 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 June, I'm working on getting 7 hours of sleep per night {again}
-Work on one other habit per month - for June, I'm doing a fast food fast - no fast food!
-Craft weekly - for June, I'm planning to can two batches of strawberry jam and sewing a heating pad for a Christmas gift

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

Mothering
-Continue tummy time with Bug
-Read to Bug each day
-Continue gross motor activity skills with Bug
-Pray with and for Bug each day

Financial
-Send as much money as we can to my student loan institution

You can read my full goals for 2013 here.