Striving to create a home strong in the foundations of love, respect, and God's truths ...

Friday, September 30, 2011

"The Crossing" by Serita Jakes & A GIVEAWAY!

Cheerleader Claudia King refuses to leave her teacher and friend when she's shot aboard the athletic bus following Friday night's football game.  Her boyfriend Casio Hightower is also shot in the altercation, but unlike Ms. Remington, he survives - though their relationship does not.  Ten years later both have moved on - Claudia is married with a child, and Casio is dating seriously - but neither have forgotten their experience on board the bus.  When Claudia's lawyer husband decides to reopen the case, can he and Casio find the elusive killer - before anyone else dies?

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  The characters are not the cardboard Christian type - they're real and flawed and confused, much like any other human on this planet.  For that reason, I was enthralled by the mystery in this story and couldn't wait to solve the case.  I cheered Claudia for taking steps toward her healing even as I mourned the way she was often hurting those who loved her most.  I wanted to like Casio as I could see great potential in him, but his flaws made him difficult to like.  Ultimately, I would have liked to see more of Claudia's husband Victor as he seemed to have the best handle on what was happening.  Without him, this would have been just another mystery - but his faithful influence made all the difference.

As much as I liked the authenticity of the characters, I disliked the ending.  A sudden twist at the end kept me from predicting the ending entirely, but the conclusion came abruptly, and even though all loose ends were wrapped up, I felt at odds when the book ended.  The major issues that kept Claudia suffering from PTSD for a decade seemed gone too quickly, and with faith issues on the peripheral of the main characters' vision for much of the book, the resolution just seemed too fast.

Ultimately, this book explored trauma and our reactions to it in several different ways.  Many books pull you in and make you feel as if you've experienced what the characters have - and so you can see yourself taking similar actions if you're ever in that kind of situation.  Not so with this story - I felt as if this was more of a "what not to do" than "here's how you do it."

I thoroughly enjoyed Jakes' writing style and am interested in reading more of her work for the realistic characters - but this story is not one I'll read over and over due to the negative feeling I was left with.

I received a free copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

To preview this story for yourself, go here to read an excerpt from the first chapter.

From reading other reviews of this book, I seem to be in the minority.  Many others think that The Crossing presents a very positive view of dealing with PTSD.

Want to read it for yourself and see what YOU think?  For a chance to win this book, ...

1.  Rank this review.  You will automatically be entered into a drawing from the publisher.  They're giving away one copy to a reader who ranks a review.

2.  For a chance to win a copy from me, leave a comment on this post.

3.  For a third chance to win a copy, rank my review and leave a comment telling me that you did so.

 I'll choose a winner randomly on October 26th.  The winner will then have 24 hours to reply or a second winner will be chosen.  Please be sure to leave a way for me to contact you.

* I can only ship packages to US addresses.  Thanks for understanding!

Good luck! 

** After putting the numbers 1 - 10 in a hat, My Little Man pulled out the number 4.  Congratulations, Moneezzy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Women of Faith - A Look Back

This past weekend was Women of Faith Charlotte!  This was truly a fantastic event.  

If you've never attended a large women's conference, this is definitely the one to start with.  All of the speakers and musicians were very professional and yet very authentic.  You didn't leave with the impression that they didn't have issues or were somehow better than you; in fact, we left with a very good idea of what all of their issues are - but we also learned about how they deal with them Biblically.

Throughout this two day event, I laughed, I cried, and sometimes I laughed until I cried.  

This year's theme is "Imagine."  Here's how it went:

Sheila Walsh was up first, and she's brilliant.  Her story is amazing and I love the way that she teaches from the Bible.  She also had us all in stitches from her second sentence, and we pretty much stayed there for the rest of her sessions, despite the depth of her information.

Let me make one thing very clear, however:  I would be happy to pay the WoF fee just to sit and listen to Sheila speak  for two days.  Her accent is amazing, her jokes are funny, and if she were the sum total of the conference, it would all be worth it.

That there's more is just icing on the cake.

Each guest left me with at least a few nuggets.  Dr. Henry Cloud left me with many.  I loved the format of the first day as Dr. Cloud and Sheila Walsh alternated speaking.  They complemented each other well and provided great information.

The nugget I left this final session with, however, I think needs to be made into a t-shirt.  Dr. Cloud told us about how humans are made for connection, both with God and with each other.  How this type of close, trusting relationship lowers our stress levels, improves our overall emotional health, and is just a great thing.  He told us about a study done with monkeys that proves this scientifically, and then asked us:  "Who's your monkey?"  I'm happy to report that I have several close monkeys whom I can call on in good times and bad - and I'm adding this new catchphrase to my everyday vocabulary.

The worship team had amazing voices and reminded me of Point of Grace.  Through both familiar and unfamiliar songs, they opened each session and got me ready to worship and to learn.

After a break for dinner, Ken Davis reminded us that God is the author of joy.  He inspired quite a lot of it with his stories that night - this man is funny!

Natalie Grant closed the evening with a concert.  She sang "It Is Well With My Soul" a cappella as her final song, and her sweet voice just did wonders to those lyrics.  I'll never hear it the same way again.

The entire Women of Faith team took the stage to end the evening.  Seeing everyone together and dancing ended the night on a high note - and hearing 7000 female voices raised in song was inspiring!

The format of Day Two was more like the other conferences I've attended.  Each speaker took turns sharing.  Lisa Harper gave her testimony and somehow kept me laughing, all at the same time.  She has a new book out called Stumbling into Grace, and I'll definitely be looking this one up.

Nicole Johnson did a few skits during the course of the event, and she also spoke about anger and how women typically deal with it.  This was probably the most serious and heavy session of the entire conference.  I could relate to much of her information.

Karen Kingsbury was the only speaker whom I had heard before coming to this conference.  I fully expected to hear a repeat of what I'd heard before - after all, she's a busy lady - and while some of the information was the same, many of the illustrating stories were different.

Several of the authors and musicians did meet and greets and signed their work, and I tried several times to make it into Karen's line, but no matter how early I went, the line was always closed.  This is my only regret from the conference - I would have loved to have met her!

Luci Swindoll was up next.  Sharing a bit from her colorful life as well as the Gospel message, I loved Luci's outlook on life.  If nobody tells you not to, do it!  Think outside the box!  Dream big!  What a great philosophy - and a great way to try new things and put yourself out there creatively.

Mary Mary gave a concert on Saturday afternoon.  Being unfamiliar with much of their music, this was a great introduction.  They were high energy and funny and told great truths through their music.

Even the ceiling was pretty.

All in all, I was sad to leave the Women of Faith arena.  Encouraged, inspired, and excited for more, my monkey and I headed home, already making plans for 2012.

Do you live within driving distance of Charlotte, NC?  Women of Faith will be making a stop there on October 19-20, 2012, and tickets are on sale now!  They're also stopping in Greensboro, NC, for a single-day event in March.  All the details can be found at the Women of Faith website.

The thoughts and views expressed here are solely my own, but I was given a pair of tickets from Thomas Nelson in exchange for sharing my experience.  Thanks, Thomas Nelson - I'll be back!

Have you been to a Women of Faith conference?  How was your experience?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

GratiTuesday - A Weekend Away

This past weekend I traveled with a friend to a Women of Faith conference in Charlotte, North Carolina.  We got up super early on Friday and headed out into a dark and rainy morning, intent on making it to the Time Warner arena before the emcee took the stage at 10.

Despite a few stops and seriously heavy rain (it wasn't raining cats and dogs, it was more like elephants and giraffes), we drove past the arena at 8:59 and found parking.  The clouds later cleared and allowed us to venture outside on our breaks.

During our dinner break we explored the Epicenter, a multi-story outdoor mall area full of eateries and shops.  After eating, with time left, we took off to explore another area a block away.

While we weren't able to get to the recommended shops, we did find this:

and this:
and this:

and got to use this revolving door.

There's something fun about revolving doors - I can't help wanting to go around and around in them!

While we didn't get nearly enough sleep before or at the conference to be completely comfortable - it's hard for a woman to go away for her family! - it was a great time away.  The city was as beautiful as all that concrete could be, and watching limos and valets changed up my people watching views from the usual kittens and squirrels.

I was sad to leave - though looking forward to a full night's sleep - when we spotted an IKEA as we drove out of the city.  Like any self-respecting women, we crossed several lanes of traffic and drove all over until we figured out how to get to it.  We didn't have nearly enough time to do that store justice.

I will never want to move to a city because I much prefer the sounds of birds and squirrels to that of car horns and braking buses, but it's a fun place to visit, and Charlotte was excellent.  With lots to do packed in a small space, we were never bored - and could have used much more time.  The benches by some of those fountains looked like great places to plop down with a slushy drink and my Bible.   I hope my next trip there moves at a slower pace!

Today, I'm grateful for the ability to get away.  For a husband who encourages my retreats and takes wonderful care of the kids while I'm gone.  For the opportunity to visit a new place and see new sights.  For a clean place to stay and free chocolate while there.  For the ending of the rain and the appearance of the sun, for yummy dinners out and a Sheetz along the way.  For safe travels and family waiting for my return.  For Sunday afternoon naps and a slow re-entry to the real world.  

I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Charlotte - and my next retreat, whatever and whenever that may be.

What are you grateful for today?

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Come back tomorrow for more about my Women of Faith Experience!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Multitudes on Monday - September 26, 2011

It has been such a good week here.  Hectic and crazy busy, which is unusual for us, but good.

The highlight of the week came at the end for me - when I traveled with my morning walking buddy to Charlotte for Women of Faith.  More about that later this week! (But not only did we have a fabulous time - but our tickets were free!)

In addition to the trip itself, two of my other friends stepped in and took care of my children on Friday so that I could go to the conference.  They took care of meals and picking up the Big Helper from school and even arranged a play date for them.  They had a wonderful time!

Often coming home from these types of trips is crazy because you never know what state you'll find your house in when you return.  This time, however, I came home to a sleeping family and a full dish drainer - of clean dishes!  The children were fed, bathed, ready for church the next morning - and the dishes were done, too.  Thanks, Dave!

If you've ever read this blog before, you know my Little Man doesn't usually look like this.  For several weeks we've been visiting doctors and trying to figure out what's going on.  His nose and eyes swelled, turned reddish-purple, and he strongly resembled a sleepy raccoon who was too tired to eat sometimes.  We finally have a diagnosis, though - and it's only fall allergies!  Getting the right meds took  time, as there were crazy insurance issues, but we have those, as well, and he's now on the mend.  I'm so thankful that it's something simple and treatable and that we's getting well!

One day after school we found this snake on the deck.  At first we were too scared to go near it, but after it stayed put for a while, I ventured closer and realized that it was only half of a snake.  Eventually even that part disappeared.  I think the cats are doing their thing - and I'm so grateful that they not only killed it, but even removed it for us.

Speaking of cats, we said goodbye to Tiger the kitten last night.  She was fun and feisty and always up for an adventure, but someone called in response to our posters, and she has a new home with a little girl.  Two more and mommy cat to go!  Anybody want a free kitten?

My Big Helper called and talked to her grandparents one day last week - for quite some time.  I love that they are responsible with the phone and are eager to talk with their family - and equally thankful that their family wants to talk with them!

What blessings did you receive this week?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Menu Plan Monday - September 26, 2011

We're in the final stages of preparation for Disney!  I'm centering our meal plans this week around foods that we already have on hand - and around foods that will be easy to prepare, giving me more time to pack and work on other preparations.


- Pumpkin pancakes x 3 (we really love these!)
- scrambled eggs, fruit
- cereal, bananas
- pumpkin bread - one for now and two to freeze for the trip

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers or simple sandwiches, sliced fruits and veggies, and cheese or yogurt.

- Crispy southwest chicken wraps, cantaloupe
- Spaghetti with bolognese sauce, garlic bread, homemade applesauce
- baked chicken with pineapple salsa, rice, roasted carrots
- vegetable soup, grilled cheese sandwiches, sliced apples
- Grab it and growl - clean out the fridge night
- dinner out
- dinner with my in-laws (she's cooking!)

My last minute kitchen prep for our trip will include:
- some sort of whole wheat cookie
-  no bake chocolate chip energy bites
- chocolate chip granola bars

- pumpkin brownies

For more meal plans, visit Orgjunkie!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This week we ventured to Raleigh to go to the State Farmer's Market.  This place is amazing - multiple huge shelters full of locally grown fruits and vegetables, plants, trees, meats, nuts, and crafty things like homemade soaps.

The place is enormous - this is only half of one shelter, and there are two others.  With many farmers offering samples of watermelons, grapes, apples, and cantelope, we ate our way around the market.

Today was  Apple Day, and free samples of apple products were advertised.

We were disappointed to learn that this apple crisp and some stickers was all they had - but the farmers more than made up for it.

This kind gentleman passed out samples of ice cold apple cider.  It was fabulous!

Peaches were available, too, and we had to bring a few home.

There was an abundance of produce available, and we couldn't decide exactly what to bring home.  These tomatoes - with their funny sign - were on the list!

We couldn't bring home nearly as much as we wanted to -but we met several nice people and had a nice picnic outside.  We also found one farm willing to let us build our own box of apples - any varieties we wanted - and another who sold us two boxes of seconds at a great price.

Applesauce, here we come!

What are your favorite apple recipes??

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Brownies

My Little Man and I made these today, and there are only a few left!  We've been able to share some with friends, and some others with the people my husband works with, and we've eaten a few too many - we can't seem to leave them alone!

Fortunately, these brownies are fairly healthy and jam-packed with flavor.  They taste like a rich pumpkin cake with chocolate thrown in.  YUM!

First, stir together the dry ingredients:

2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. brown sugar
2 t. baking powder
2 t. cocoa powder
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. allspice
1/2 t, salt

In a separate bowl, blend the wet ingredients:

1 c. pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
4 eggs
2 T. vegetable oil

Slowly add the wet to the dry, stirring as you go.  Add 1 c. of chocolate chips when all mixed together, and spread in a greased 15"x 10" jelly roll pan.  Bake for 15 - 20 minutes at 350.


Monday, September 19, 2011

GratiTuesday - An Empty Day

As a teacher, I'm accustomed to having a schedule.  Having certain activities on certain days and one thing leading smoothly into another.  It makes the Type A part of my brain feel calm.  

I've struggled with finding a workable schedule for teaching the children, having fun time with them, and keeping up with my household responsibilities since deciding to stay home, but this year I figured it out.  Suddenly my Little Man and I were not slaves to the washing machine, we were spending more time hanging out together, and we were looking forward to this last school year together - and then the wrenches started flying.

I'm helping out a friend a few mornings each week for an undetermined time period.

My Little Man's medical issue still isn't quite cleared up.  We spent Sunday afternoon at the doc's and go to another one tomorrow  morning.  Nothing serious, we don't think - but we want to stay on top of things.  

I'm heading off to Women of Faith in Charlotte this weekend - yippee! - but I must have meals and plans ready for my family to use while I'm away.

And the list continues.

These are all good wrenches.  All good things.  There's nothing wrong with doing these things, but they are making it more difficult for me to stay on top of the basic things I need to do.

I certainly can't say 'no' to them, but I am glad that they are only temporary.

And in the midst of this unusually busy season for us, we have tomorrow - with absolutely nothing on the calendar except for one short doc's appointment.  

And my husband even has the whole morning off from work.  How cool is that?

So tomorrow, we're going to read stories,  Lots of them.

We're going to take advantage of the cooler temps and do some fun baking for our Disney trip.

We're going to spend some time outside playing in the yard, with the kittens or whatever we find that interests us.  

Thank you, God, for this empty day!  I can't wait to fill it - with my family.  

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Menu Plan Monday - September 19, 2011

We're really gearing up for Disney now, and with our in-laws out of town, we're also the resident stablehands!  Throw in a day of meetings out of town, a big field trip, a school committee meeting, and Women of Faith for me - woo-hoo! - it's going to be a crazy week.

Here's the plan:


- Baked oatmeal x 2  (the Perfectly Pumpkin pancakes made so many that we never made oatmeal last week)
- Pumpkin scones
- Baked Amish doughnuts, bananas X 2
- Scrambled eggs, toast
- cereal, fruit, milk

Lunch will be our usual assortment of leftovers and sandwiches with fruit, sliced veggies, and cheese or yogurt.

- Southwestern Crispy Chicken Wraps (got the filling mixed up last week, but that's as far is it got!), Corn, grapes
- Veggie/stuffing casserole (recipe to come later this week), applesauce
- Slow cooker tortilla soup, tortilla chips
- Fish and chips (Oven baked parmesan cheese fries), steamed broccoli
- Chicken sandwiches, scalloped potatoes, buttered limas
- Grab it and growl

Prepping for Disney:
- Breakfast cookies
- Chocolate chip pumpkin brownies
- Chocolate chip pumpkin bread

What are you eating this week?

For more meal plans, visit OrgJunkie!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Multitudes on Monday - September 19, 2011

It's been particularly crazy around here this week.  The Big Helper's mysterious spots are gone, but my Little Man's issues are not gone yet, and the docs told me today that they don't know what's causing them.  Scary, but among the items on our list this week are:

- We don't  know what's causing his issues, but God does.
- They don't seem to be bothering him much.

- I only got to catch a small portion of the Lisa TerKeurst/Ann Voskamp webinar, but my Little Man watched it with me - and even took my seat!

- I have a good friend, who not only meets me at 5:30 for exercise and babbling, but was willing to put herself out there to teach us about Korea.

- My husband and the surprise the chocolate he brings me. :-)

- The two loaves of yummy-smelling peach bread My Little Man helped me make and put back for Disney.

- Dinner out with my family.  I couldn't fit us all in one shot, and the lighting was wacky, so I took a picture of my lunch, a few minutes in.  What a yummy salad!

- While out shopping just before lunch, my husband stumbled upon a big sale at the Bass outlet and bought us both new shoes - and I got two pairs!  I'm so excited - my old ones were definitely worn out - and these are so comfortable.

- My in-laws are away on one of their many trips this week, which means that we're filling in as stable hands.  It's nice to know that they trust us with this big responsibility.

- When learning how to care for Belle after school on Friday, I did something goofy inadvertently; I wrapped the lead around my upper arm so I could help lift the saddle on.  I meant to move the rope afterwards because Belle sometimes backs up when you cinch the saddle, but I forgot - and she did.  I ended up running after her as I tried to get the rope off.  Fortunately, she responds well to verbal commands and stopped after only a few steps - and so while I have some crazy bruises on my arm, I'm not hurt.  My Big Helper happily told her daddy, "And Mommy didn't even fall down!"  Mental note to self:  keep rope in hands at all times.  :-)  Lesson learned.

What blessings have you been given this week?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Ten Most Thought-Provoking Authors

I love to read - I always have - and the types of books I reach for has changed throughout different seasons of my life.  The one thing I've never enjoyed reading is fluff.

There's gotta be a point.

A book should reach inside and grab you, shake you up, and change you in some way.

When I'm reading, I want to be so absorbed in the story that my own world falls away: there's no awareness of hunger, heat, or looming to-do lists.  I want to see the backgrounds and feel the full range of characters' emotions.

The really good ones lodge themselves in your head and stay there for weeks.

Doesn't matter if it's fiction, non-fiction, mystery, suspense, contemporary or historical, romance or fantasy, there should be more to a book than just words on a page.

So these are the authors that have most messed with my head and my heart through their writing.

  1. Ted Dekker (Circle Trilogy and Heaven's Wager)
  2. Joel C. Rosenberg (The Last Jihad Series)
  3. Karen Kingsbury (Who can pick just one??)
  4. Terry Blackstock (Last Light series and Predator)
  5. Randy Alcorn (Courageous)
  6. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind Series)
  7. James Scott Bell (Presumed Guilty)
  8. Robert Whitlow (The List)
  9. Kristen Heitzmann (too many to choose)
  10. Kathy Herman (Baxter Series)
Whose work do you like to read?  What's your favorite book?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Calling All Chocolate Chip Lovers ...

Do you have a cookie recipe that calls for chocolate chips  that is TOTALLY AMAZING?

I'm getting ready for the next Crazy Cooking Challenge, which will post on October 7th, and I'm looking for a great chocolate chip cookie recipe.

The only requirements are:

  1. It must be from a real person's blog - not a commercial website.
  2. It must have chocolate chips in it somewhere.
  3. It must be some sort of cookie.
I'd be happy to bake your cookies and feature your recipe on my blog as part of this challenge - and more than 100 people are currently signed up to participate!  That means lots there will be lots of people checking out this recipe - and the blog it comes from - on October 7th.

So go ahead - send me your links to your best and most creative chocolate chip cookie.  I'll try out the one that stands out the most.  

I can't wait to start baking!

Monday, September 12, 2011

GratiTuesday - Behind the Tequila

A few days ago my husband came home with a big grin on his face and a strange-looking object wrapped in a bunch of plastic grocery bags in his arms.  He proceeded to tell me a story:

My husband's job is basically to help clients.  Sometimes he's problem solving, sometimes he's matching clients up with products that will help them, but his days are never the same.

One man has asked for help with a variety of things - all regular things within the realm of my husband's job, but when added together over the course of several visits, my husband has been able to save this man a significant amount of money.

This man is from another country - and he recently returned home for a visit.  When he came back, he came to visit my husband.  He said that he appreciated all that my husband has done for him and had a gift for him - and could he meet my husband in the parking lot after work?

Curious, my husband agreed to meet this client later.  He was surprised to find that the man had purchased a bottle of tequila in his hometown and brought it through customs and all the way across the country - as a gift for my husband.  He also brought two 8x10" postcards for my husband.

These days, big corporations don't seem to say 'thank you' much.  As a man whose love language is words, it's sometimes frustrating to my husband to go the extra mile - as he always does - and not hear those simple words.

My husband is not a drinker, but this has been an exciting gift.  To know that someone thinks enough about your help to carry a gift across a continent is special.

How often do I take the time to thank the people who work every day to make my life easier?  The mail carrier, hair dresser, police officer, doctor, banker?  Those simple gestures mean a lot and they don't have to take much time or money, but they can really brighten someone's day.

I have no idea what will eventually happen with Jose Cuervo, but for now, he's residing on our dresser, where it makes us smile and laugh every time we see it.  My husband is getting a kick out of  telling me about how happy this man was to share this gift with him - and I love seeing the smile on my husband's face, knowing that he's pleased to have been of service.

So today, I'm thankful for the gratitude behind the tequila.  For a man who trusted my husband for help and took the time to express his appreciation afterwards.  For a man who went out of his way to show his thanks - and to make my husband smile.

When's the last time you expressed appreciation for a 'community helper?'  What did you do?  

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers!

Multitudes on Monday - September 12, 2011

School is definitely back in session and life is getting busier!  Most of our current craziness is because random things beyond our control have been thrown in the mix, but life is definitely hopping.  So this week we're thankful for ...

Last week's unit about dinosaurs.  My Little Man and I really had a chance to be technical with animals and scientific vocabulary, and he really liked it.

A great day at the museum with friends.  :-)

The healing rest of the young (he even fell asleep on Daddy's shoe - now you know he's tired!)  Still not feeling well but workin' hard to keep truckin' ... until sleep just wins out.  The innocence and trust of youth is beautiful!

Despite a re-occurrence of an old back injury, my husband has willingly pursued his medicine and is taking care of it - even reading a book I recommended.  He's being such a good sport - even though I know he's in pain!

So since our men were out of commission tonight, My Big Helper and I snagged the opportunity to go for ice cream!  She was disappointed that I forget my camera - the battery is all but dead - but then she decided that we'd just have to go out again so I could take a picture of her Moose Tracks cone.  She's so funny!  I love getting some chocolate time with my girl.

The kids spent a night with their grandparents and a cousin.  They love staying there and playing with everybody!

They also got to play more with Belle - and give her a bath, too.

Also ...
- a successful surgery for my grandmother
- a safe trip to PA for my parents
- receding flooding surrounding my grandmothers and other extended family in PA

What blessings have you received this week?