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

Friday, August 31, 2012

"Unending Devotion" by Jody Hedlund

Michigan, 1883

In Her Darkest Hours, Is He the Man She Needs?

Lily Young longs to find her lost sister or will die trying. Heedless of any danger, she searches logging camps and towns, posing as a photographer’s assistant. And then she arrives in Harrison, Michigan–and the sights of Connell McCormick.

Connell is determined to increase the fortune of his lumber-baron father and figures as long as he’s living an upright life, that’s what matters. But when Lily arrives in town she upends his world, forcing him to confront the truth that dangerous men have gained too much power while good men turn a blind eye.

Vexing but persuasive, Lily soon secures Connell’s help, drawing them ever closer to each other. Will standing for what’s right cost them both everything?

Lily is a stand-up main character.  Feisty and faithful, courageous and true, her good heart makes her a leader in the logging community of Harrison.  Her spice makes her story enjoyable, despite the heartache within it.

All told, I really enjoyed  Unending Devotion.  Like The Doctor's Lady, much of this story is drawn from history, and Hedlund truly excels at fictionalizing the history books.  She captures the personal struggle of crusading for what's right when the cost is high, and that makes this book dramatic and endearing on many levels.  Throwing in the potential romance between Connell and Lily only serves to make it sweeter.

I don't see how any person could come away from this book not wanting to grab a picket sign or a food basket and go make a difference in the world, but if for some reason s/he didn't get that message in the story, Hedlund declares it in the author's note at the end - in beautiful, nearly poetic prose, no less.  Unending Devotion clearly calls for us to right the wrongs that are in front of us and within our ability - but most importantly, to be open to follow God's leading, in whatever direction He takes us.  

Few messages are more important.

To purchase this book now - and this is definitely a must-have - click here.

I received a free copy of Unending Devotion in exchange for an honest review.

Meet Jody: 

Jody Hedlund is the bestselling author of "The Doctor's Lady" and "The Preacher's Bride". She won the 2011 Inspirational Reader's Choice Award, the 2011 Award of Excellence from the Colorado Romance Writers and was a finalist for Best Debut Novel in the 2011 ACFW Carol Awards. Currently she makes her home in central Michigan, with her husband and five busy children. She loves hearing from readers on Facebook and on her blog.

Visit her website:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Full Disclosure" by Dee Henderson

Full Disclosure

Ann Silver walks into Special Agent Paul Falcon's office and hands him a lead on a long-cold murder investigation.  When the lead promises more information than Falcon's caught in years, Silver catches Falcon's attention - and suddenly she seems to be everywhere.  With friends in high places and myriads of talents, Falcon is interested in learning more about the mysterious and humble Silver.  People are not always what they seem, however; is Ann really what she appears to be?

Full Disclosure is a fantastic read!  Once I flipped past the title page, I could not put this book down.  Silver's quiet and unassuming ways, contrasted with her intelligence and talents, made her a fascinating character.  Pit her up against Falcon's intensity and research abilities, and you've got an exciting match - which is really only a small, though the most important, part of the cast.

One of the exciting things about this story is that it includes the O'Malley family as background characters.  With the O'Malleys providing support and information throughout the book, you not only keep up to date on this amazing family from a previous series, but the plot feels thicker and deeper.

Full Disclosure is both dramatic and exciting throughout its plot.  Henderson provides her signature blend of techno-political information steeped with emotional drama and interpersonal relationships.  I love the way that Henderson has filled this book with opposing forces; it will keep any reader on her mental toes.

Not that any reader of a Henderson book must be female.  My husband, who is not exactly a voracious reader, has read several of Henderson's books before and enjoyed them, so when I mentioned that I had the newest on the shelf, he snagged it - and then we didn't speak again for three days until he had finished it.  Any book that can hold my husband's attention so thoroughly is both action-packed and well written.

You won't want to be on a waiting list for Full Disclosure.  It releases in just a few weeks - so pre-order or request it now.  You won't be sorry.

I received a free ARC copy of Full Disclosure from Dee Henderson in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Over the Edge" by Mary Connealy

Seth Kincaid survived a fire in a cave, but he's never been the same. He was always a reckless youth, but now he's gone over the edge. He ran off to the Civil War and came back crazier than ever.

After the war, nearly dead from his injuries, it appears Seth got married. Oh, he's got a lot of excuses, but his wife isn't happy to find out Seth doesn't remember her. Callie has searched, prayed, and worried. Now she's come to the Kincaid family's ranch in Colorado to find her lost husband.
Callie isn't a long-suffering woman. Once she knows her husband is alive, she wants to kill him. She's not even close to forgiving him for abandoning her.

Then more trouble shows up in the form of a secret Seth's pa kept for years. The Kincaid brothers might lose their ranch if they can't sort things out. It's enough to drive a man insane--but somehow it's all making Seth see things more clearly. And now that he knows what he wants, no one better stand in his way.

This is a rollicking adventure full of humor and drama!  Connealy has penned a Western like no other.  From forgotten wives to "crazy" cowboys, you won't want to put Over the Edge down.  

The story of the Kincaid brothers continues in this, the third adventure in the series.  Connealy does a wonderful job of weaving each brother's story together, layering the depth, emotion, and sheer hilarity of a man who's traumatized enough to forget his own wife.  

Personally, if I was forgotten by my own husband, I'm not sure I could chase after him, but Callie has the strength of character and stubbornness needed for this monumental task - and her courage in the face of adversity makes her totally lovable.  Seth, on the other hand, appears to be so addled that one can't help but feel for him.  You want to cheer him on just as you groan with frustration that he's losing his grip on reality - again.  When these two are joined with several other brothers, children, ranch hands, a few bandits, and a missing fortune, you've definitely got a winner.

I've had the good fortune of reading the first book in this series, and I loved it as much as I did this one.  Now, having read the third, I can't wait to get my hands on the second one.  You won't want to miss a single one, either - this series is just plain fun.

I received a free copy of Over the Edge in exchange for an honest review.

You can read other reviews on this bloggy hop here.  To begin your cavernous adventure now, purchase your copy here.


Mary Connealy writes fun and lively "romantic comedy with cowboys" for the inspirational market. She is the author of the successful Lassoed in Texas, Montana Marriages, and Sophie's Daughters series, and her novel Calico Canyon was nominated for a Christy Award. She lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her husband, Ivan, and has four grown daughters.

Visit her on her Web site

Peanut Butter Apple Nachos

Last week I made this for my lunch.  The kids were happily playing in another room and didn't seem to be hungry yet, so I sliced up my apple, prepped my nachos, and headed off hungrily to eat.

The peaceful lunch I had planned didn't last long.

One of the kids ran through the kitchen, headed to find a specific toy, when she noticed my nachos.

"Oh, Mommy, I want that for lunch!"  she yelled over her shoulder.

Pretty soon the other one came trotting along to see what looked good in the kitchen, and instead of asking, I found grimy little fingers heading towards my plate.

In the end I shared my nachos, but next time I'll just make more.  It'll be easier than batting at all of the hands sneaking towards my plate.

  1. Arrange your apple slices on a plate to maximize your surface area.
  2. Melt the peanut butter, the drizzle it across the sliced apples.
  3. Sprinkle the granola on top of the peanut butter.
  4. Eat quickly before someone else does!
What do you like on your nachos?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

GratiTuesday - A Heart of Service

This past Sunday marked a first for my Big Helper.  Until now she's attended church and Sunday School and VBS.  She's read her Bible and listened to stories of people who lived thousands of years ago.  She's returned carts for older people outside of stores and built Blessing Bags for the homeless.

But this past Sunday she served within the church - officially - for the very first time.

She was the acolyte.

Our pastor taught her what to do after church last week.  She practiced and talked about it all week.  We talked about where to stand and what to do - but we also talked about the meaning of the whole thing.

We attend a contemporary, early morning service and it's quite informal.  My Big Helper was given the choice of wearing the traditional robe (which she declined) and also followed the pattern of keeping the ritual simple for this service.  She merely lit and extinguished the lights, which is the very most important part of being an acolyte.

She was determined to carry that light to the right place at the right time. She wanted to make sure that Jesus was well represented, and I may be biased, but I think He was.

She didn't get all of the steps exactly right.  She walked a bit fast and extinguished a bit early and then waited rather impatiently until she could process out with the light, wanting desperately to serve Jesus.

Her heart did.

Isn't that how we all are?  We're impatient and quick and mistaken, trying hard to get it right but making mistakes here and there.

Jesus sees through our mistakes, however, and He knows our heart.  He knows our desire to get it right and to please Him and He loves us anyway.

As I watched my growing-too-fast girl walk up the aisle, her feet moving quickly and her daddy cautioning her to slow down as she passed us, it made me remember my wedding day.  When I wanted to hurry up the aisle and my daddy tried to slow me down.

It made me wonder what her wedding day will be like, and I wished for a way to slow time down just a bit.  It's flying by too fast.

It doesn't seem possible that she could be big enough and aware enough to be serving within the church, even as the bearer of light, but she is.

I'm grateful that for today, she was hurrying up the aisle to Jesus.  I'm happy that she wanted to be there at all.  I'm glad that she carried in the light, even though she was nervous about being in front of the congregation.  I'm thankful for her sweet and innocent heart and the Jesus who both created it and sees it.

I'm grateful for my Acolyte.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - August 27, 2012

We're in the homestretch now.  School will start in just a few days, and the rest of summer seems to be winding down.  The kids and I have very few things on our calendar this week as life pauses until the new school year begins, and this is exciting.

Except, of course, that my husband is taking a class three nights this week, and the next one features baseball practice.

Since I'll be on my own with the kids as we finish summer and start school, and because my husband will be hungry as he transitions from work to class, we're going with a "handheld" dinner theme this week.  We'll prepare things that I can pack for my husband to eat on his way to class, and perhaps the kids and I will have a few picnics to keep things fun.

So here's our picnic-ready, handheld plan.

- Pancakes, fruit

- Grandma's biscuits with honey or sausage

- fresh peaches with Cinnamon Almond Granola

Lunches will be our usual assortment of leftovers or sandwiches and fruit.

- Turkey burgers, spicy baked black beans, carrot sticks
- Corndog muffins, canteloupe, carrot sticks
- Burritos, chips, apple slices
- Lasagna roll-ups with sausage slices, salad, fruit

- Meat and cheese wraps, fresh fruit, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

- Make-your-own-Pizza night
- Dinner at church

Maybe the kids and I will play with baking small batches of cookies or muffins for some extra treats in there somewhere, but the temperature is heating back up after a few super cool days, so we may just stick with the super cool schedule.

I also wanted us to have a special back-to-school meal, but I hate to do that without everyone being there, so maybe we'll wait.  We might just stick with our super-simple plan for this week.

Do you have any handheld recipes to share?  I'd love to hear them!

For more Menu Plan Monday, visit OrgJunkie.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Potluck Art Picnic

Continuing in our summer tradition of party-style events, like our Water Olympics, yesterday we hosted a Potluck Art Picnic.

 It was exactly what the name implies: a potluck-style gathering where everyone brought their own art project to share with all of the children. The kids wandered freely between the many projects, accomplishing each at their own pace. When everyone was finished being artsy, we threw out some blankets and broke out the sandwiches and had a fun, grassy lunch. The kids played and enjoyed each other's company for several hours after that. Our playset got a good workout!

 The arts and crafts varied greatly.

 The kids and I made colorful icing for everyone to paint onto shaped sugar cookies.

One friend dyed pasta, and the kids strung it to make colorful jewelry. Another brought colorful papers to make paper quilts, as well as shaped objects to dip in paint and stamp. She shared a table with a mom who brought suncatchers and paint. Another friend did marble painting and then brought supplies to turn the painted papers into bookmarks. 

This mom brought tie-dying materials and helped each child dye their own t-shirt.  They really loved this!

 After everyone had finished painting their cookies, I made chalk paint. I tied the cups of paint onto the back fence with bread ties, and then the kids used foam brushes to paint large pieces of black-painted cardboard. After they realized that the paint splattered, they were finished using the brushes traditionally and became graffiti artists. They had such fun!

 This was a great way for our kids to get to do multiple art projects without any one parent being too stressed about supplies or messes - and with everyone pitching in to clean up, it happened very fast! What are your favorite sorts of art projects?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"House of Mercy" by Erin Healy

Beth is a healer.  She seems destined to become a vet and help her family run the cattle ranch when an accident takes it all away.  In a bizarre series of accidents, Beth tries to make amends, but misfortune continues to follow hard on her heals.  Can she find a way to heal her family, or will one tragic mistake wipe it all away?

House of Mercy

House of Mercy is classic Healy - if there is such a thing already.  So outlandish it's realistic but with a touch of the supernatural, you won't be able to put House of Mercy down.  Just as Beth races against the clock in an effort to fix her mistake before the damage multiplies, so you'll turn the pages faster and faster to reach that final, hopefully happy conclusion.

You won't find what you're looking for, though - you'll find something better, and not because Healy wrote a poor ending, because she didn't.  I'm not sure she could.  Healy wrote so many twists and turns into this plot that the ending, when it comes skidding into sight, is nothing I could have predicted.  It's much, much better, and this surprise kept me thinking about Beth's plight long after I closed the back cover.

You can't help but like Beth.  One night of indecision, one night of trying to help a friend, one simple poor choice and years of dreaming are erased.  This would be difficult for anyone, but in Beth's shoes it's made worse by the events following that compound it - and so you feel for her, and yet she never gives up.  I admire that determination, and it's that spirit that makes the story feel so personal and alive.

House of Mercy isn't easily classified.  It's not exactly a romance, though it has an element of that; it's not exactly a mystery, though there's some of that, too.  It's not what I consider to be a fantasy exactly, either, though it has a supernatural element.  Maybe fantastic would be a better term.

Maybe you should read it and decide for yourself.  It's definitely worth the read.

I received a free copy of House of Mercy from B&B Media Group in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chalk Paint

At the beginning of the summer I made a list of fun and creative things for us to do over the warm months.  Chalk paint was on the list, and a few weeks ago we finally tried it out.  I wish we had done it sooner!

This is definitely a fun art project, and it's one that we'll do again and again.  It's easy to make, couldn't be simpler to clean up, and you can use it on lots of mediums.

To make your own street paint, you'll only need a few things:  water, cornstarch, and food coloring.

Mix equal amounts of water and cornstarch, and then dye to your favorite colors with food coloring.  It can't get much simpler than that!

As the paint dries, it whitens and lightens in color a bit until it resembles chalk.  Once dry, you can almost brush it away, and a good rain wish wash it all off.  If you paint with this outside, you have absolutely no cleanup to do, and spills won't matter!

We painted my parents' driveway when visiting a few weeks ago.

We also used this paint to create large cardboard masterpieces on our recent Art Day.  We painted the cardboard black in advance to help the paint show up.

Who's up for some outside art?  

I think we'll go paint the neighbor's driveway this morning.  Fun times.  :-)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

GratiTuesday - A Child's Joy

My kids are pretty different.

One is quieter (sometimes), more likely to notice subtle changes in someone's mood, more often taking to his room in the search for "lonely time," as he calls it, being recharged by downtime and solitude.

I understand that.  I'm that way, too.  I love plans and busyness and excitement, but for me it needs to be tempered by some time with a good book and the absence of anything louder than a cricket.

My Big Helper, on the other hand, is the exact opposite.

While she likes to snuggle in and read together, and now begins each day in bed with her favorite book-of-the-moment, she thrives on friends, plans, projects, and a (un)healthy helping of dessert.

Can't say that I blame her for that last one.  ;-)

Watching her face light up each time she encounters something that she finds totally thrilling, often when I'm more than ready for the next chapter in my current book, often reminds me that time is fleeting.  That she'll only be little once, and certainly not for long.  That no matter how tired or busy or crazy life is, it's only once - and I want to make the most of it.

That God has placed reasons for joy all around us, if only we'll open our eyes to see them.

Last week we visited our favorite pool with friends, and I was finally able to snap a picture of My Big Helper flying off the water slide.  Unlike when we started going there, she no longer needs me to catch her as she hits the water, making it possible for me to hold the camera.

This is the look and the attitude that I imagine Jesus hopes to see on our faces.  He's given us so many gifts - and this particular blond one is a great reminder to keep my eyes wide open so that I don't miss a single one.

What are you grateful for today?

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Win a Nook Color from Robert Whitlow in The Choice Giveaway. RSVP for 8/28 Facebook Party.

Celebrate with Robert by entering to win a Nook Color with GlowLight!

See what folks are saying about The Choice!

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One "choice" winner will receive:
  • A Nook Color with GlowLight
  • A four book Robert Whitlow library (winner's choice)
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on August 27th. Winner will be announced at the "The Choice" Author Chat Facebook Party on 8/28. Meet Robert, get a sneak peek of his next book, try your hand at a trivia contest, and more. There will also be gift certificates, books and a Book Club Prize Pack to be won (10 copies for your book club or small group.)!

So grab your copy of The Choice and join Robert on the evening of the August 27th for a chance to connect with Robert and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book - don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the RSVP today. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 28th!

Menu Plan Monday - August 20, 2012

So after an enforced bloggy break when pictures wouldn't load and schedules were crazy busy, we're ready to get back on track.  We're counting down the days until school starts - well, at least I am.  The kids want to start already and ask every day to begin.  The Little Man has even gathered school supplies together in a pencil box and started carrying them around the house so he's ready on a moment's notice.  I'd better get my ducks in a row quick!

To that end, I'm trying to keep lots of white space in the calendar this week to finish my plans and get the school room completed.  We also have our last summer book club event, homeschool kick-off night, start fall ball practice - a first! - and have company coming for the weekend.

Perhaps I should rethink that white space concept ...

Anyway, here's my super tentative plan for the week.

- Simple soaked pancakes
- cereal and fruit

- Cinnamon Almond Granola and fruit

- Hearty Breakfast Casserole, fruit

Lunches will be our usual assortment of sandwiches and leftovers.


- Slow Cooker Chicken Barbeque Sandwiches, roasted carrots, watermelon

- Grilled Pizza
- Lasagna Roll-ups
- Baked potato bar
- Turkey burgers
- Waffle night
- Dinner at church

I made these to take to church last night.  They're really good!  I can't say they're good for you, but if you're a fan of blondies, definitely check them out.  :-)

My Big Helper and I are still looking for a good snack for tomorrow's mystery book club.  Any suggestions??

What's cooking in your kitchen this week?

For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Annie's Truth" by Beth Shriver

Annie's Truth, Touch of Grace Series #1

Annie Beiler had what appeared to be the perfect life.  With wonderful parents, a secure place in her Amish community, and the hope of a lifelong love just down the lane, her future seemed wrapped in promise - until the day that she learned of her adoption.  Suddenly life seemed topsy-turvy, and Annie feels that she must find her birth mother.  Leaving the community for this type of information isn't well received, however, and Annie begins to question every aspect of her life up to this point.  When trouble rocks the boat, will Annie remain in the Englisch world, or will she return to her Amish roots?

Annie's Truth is full of drama.  The questions she asks upon finding out that she's adopted feel normal to me, although I can't truly know, and it makes sense to wonder about them, at least; however, her Amish elders feel differently and do not allow it.  This causes big problems for Annie, and so much of the drama was difficult for me to relate to.  I did find the entire issue quite interesting, and it was so well written that I flew through these issues, wanting to read and understand more.

Because the church elders do not allow questions of this type, this is a great book for those of us who want to know more about Amish ways.  Most Englischers have a more self-centered world view than do the Amish, who seek to suppress all thoughts of self in the interest of better serving their community, and this book makes this belief quite evident.

With smooth-flowing chapters and dramatic scenes throughout, this is both an informative and fascinating read.  If you enjoy reading Amish fiction, you won't want to miss Annie's Truth.

I received a free copy of Annie's Truth from Charisma House in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Giants in the Land" by Clark Burbidge

There are giants in the land.

And it has always been so as far as anyone can remember. They work side-by-side with the people, and whenever there is a job too difficult or a threat too great they are there to step in. The giants’ presence gives the townspeople a special confidence about life. But they have become much more dependant on the giants than they realize. One morning the people discover the giants have mysteriously disappeared. Fear and panic grip the town. Someone must find them and bring them back! 

Thomas, a young farmer, volunteers and sets out alone on a great journey of danger and discovery. Thomas learns the true nature of giants and what it means for him and his people. Join Thomas in his timeless rite of passage and learn what it means to become something more than you have been, why it is necessary in life, and how to do it.

Learn more about Giants in the Land

Giants in the Land  is a neat spin on what our lives would be like if the intangible were tangible.  If our idols could walk among us and our fears plunder the earth, what would our lives look like?  How would we react to everything we would see around us?

That is Thomas' dilemma.  As Thomas journeys to help his family, facing his fears along the way, we can clearly see what each 'giant' represents in his life - and just how we might apply his wisdom to our own life.

At times the prose begins to sound almost ... well, preachy, but Thomas' journey is so difficult and the lessons so wise that I really didn't mind.  The story is super short overall and the action really holds one's attention.  As a general rule, I'm not a fan of short books because the book tends to end at about the same time I become really fond of the main character, but Thomas' honor and integrity shone through from the very first page, making me want to champion his cause even as he considered leaving home to help his village. 

There is a sequel to this book, and I'm most interested to learn what wisdom Burbidge has to impart next.  If you'd like to shake your reading material up a bit and go for something that is quietly, contemplatively thoughtful, then this is definitely the book for you.

About the author ... 
Clark Burbidge's path to becoming an award winning author had distant beginnings. He received an MBA degree from the University of Southern California and a BS Degree in finance from the University of Utah. His career spans 31 years in banking, project finance, investment banking and more recently as Chief Financial Officer of three separate companies. He has been actively involved in community and church service, including lay youth and adult ministry, for over 35 years. 
It has been his long-term dream to write and publish several works that have been kicking around in his mind for many years. His first book, "Life on the Narrow Path: A Mountain Biker's Guide to Spiritual Growth in Troubled Times" was released nationally in March 2011. His second book "A Piece of Silver" was published in July 2011 and is currently entering its 2nd edition. Clark enjoys life in the foothills of the Rockies with his wife, children and three grandchildren. He looks forward to this next phase of life's wonderful adventures.
Learn more about Clark by visiting

To buy Giants in the Land, visit here.

I received a free copy of Giants in the Land from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

GratiTuesday - A Sister Saturday

Most of the time, it seems as if my sister and I are pretty different.

We're 5 1/2 years apart in age, and we live about 4 hours apart by car.  I'm married with two kids, and she's single with two dogs.  I'm a SAHM, focusing on menu plans, cleaning schedules, and homeschool plans, while she works in a high-powered marketing position and produces television commercials regularly.

But on Saturday, we didn't feel so far apart. 

While the kids and I were visiting my parents - who were also hosting my grandmother - my sister invited all the females out for a pedicure.  Everybody else had plans, but my feet were free, so with my dad keeping the kids, I headed into town.

We spent an hour or so at my sister's favorite pedicurist, our feet in tubs of swirling warm water.  She showed me the wall of polish and we tested them on an index card together to find the perfect shade.  I didn't realize until later that we both chose the same  strawberry one.

We ran errands together after that, eventually heading to a Mexican restaurant that I'd always wanted to visit and that she loves for a late lunch out.

Eventually I headed back to the kids, and she came over for dinner that night.  Afterwards she golfed around the backyard with My Little Man and then gave a gymnastics lesson to My Big Helper.  As a kid she seemed to be upside down more often than not, and it was fun to see her passing some of those skills on to my daughter (although only time will tell if My Big Helper has her innate flexibility and talent or my double left feet).

I wish that our family weren't spread out so much; it would be nice to be closer together.   If we can't all live in the same general area, however, it sure is nice to have days like these, where everyone is talking and laughing and turning fun, fruity colors.  

Especially when those strawberry toes are pointed up to the sky.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - August 13, 2012

Our theme song yesterday could've been On the Road Again, but today we're singing Home Sweet Home and are doing mountains of laundry.  It truly amazes me how quickly that stuff piles up.

Anyway, our meal plan will absolutely, definitely, for-sure change this week since I haven't been to the store yet and I'm not sure what might remain in the depths of our freezer, but I'm planning these basic things.  We'll adjust as necessary.

- pancakes
- scrambled eggs and fruit

- bananas or peaches and Cinnamon Almond Granola
- Cinnamon Rolls and fruit (recipe coming soon)

Lunches will be leftovers or sandwiches and sliced fruit or veggies.


- grilled chicken, corn from Dad's garden, Cheesy Grilled Potatoes, Grilled Jalapeno Poppers

- Pizza Casserole (baked in the toaster oven), salad
- Grilled chicken quesadillas, watermelon

- Grilled Pizza
- Cheesy Chicken and Rice Bake
- Leftovers
- Dinner at Church

I'm making another batch of these Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bars since we devoured the last two batches that I've made this week.  My mom says it's like eating a candy bar.  I love that they taste so decadent but are so good for you!  I have a bit of extra flour to use, so we might prep some more of this cookie dough for the freezer.  I love having it on hand to slice and bake when we need an emergency cookie!

For more Menu Plan Monday, visit OrgJunkie.

Friday, August 10, 2012

10 Reasons the Hardy Boys' Top Contemporary Kiddie LIt

I started reading the Hardy Boys when I was 7.  I read all the old books that I inherited from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and since there are a lot of readers on my dad's side of the family, that was a lot of books.  I loved the old stories and have been eagerly awaiting the day that my own kids grew into them.

Finally last week we began to read the Hardy Boys books ('50s editions) after two years of reading about, ahem, Loonie T, and I'm in love all over again.  I remember the stories, the recipes, the villains and the mysteries; but most of all, I remember why the Hardy Boys - and Nancy Drew by extension - are so much better than many contemporary kiddie chapter books.

Here are my Top Ten Reasons to set aside contemporary kiddie lit and pick up the Hardy Boys:

  1. The Hardy Boys know how to speak English properly.  The author doesn't start sentences with conjunctions or use improper tense.  You won't pick up bad grammatical habits from this series.
  2. The author varies the sentence structure.  Franklin W. Dixon knew how to use more than two types of sentences, and it shows in the excitement and flow of his writing.
  3. As I used to tell my first-grade students, 'said' is a dead word - and not just to me.  You won't find it more than once per page in a Hardy Boys' book.  Dixon knows his synonyms and picks really vibrant ones.
  4. The Hardy Boys are kind and compassionate to those around them.  Instead of showcasing their selfish natures, Dixon capitalizes on the positive and the ways that his characters can help those around them - and not just by solving the mystery.  Frank and Joe voluntarily help out business owners and take food to neighbors in need.
  5. The Hardys' attend church on Sunday and honor the Sabbath.  It's rare to see and even more so to read about.  I love the great example set by these characters.
  6. Frank and Joe honor their parents.  Rather than talking back, being rude when upset, or sneaking around, they ask permission for things - even at 18! - run errands for their mother, and help their father.  Again, uncommon actions in this day and age of super-busy schedules and techno-craziness, at least from where I'm sitting.  
  7. Dixon pens a clean read.  Yes, there are villains and they do bad things, but they are neither glorified nor gory.  Somehow Dixon manages to write stories that are suspenseful but not scary.  Wrongdoing is put into the proper perspective.
  8. The entire family can enjoy these stories.  Because of the clean yet action-filled plot, nearly everyone will pick up something.  Although my kids are hearing lots of new words in The Tower Treasure, they love to read snuggled up with me - and they're learning to ask about things that they don't understand.
  9. The Hardy Boys' books can spark some great conversations.  As we've read our way through this first book and tried Welsh Rabbit for the very first time, we've talked about a wide variety of things, from word meanings to food traditions and career options.  
  10. What do you think?  What characteristic of the Hardy Boys' books would you put here?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"The Guest Book" by Marybeth Whalen

The Guest Book

Macy Dillon has been drawing in the guest book of a beachside vacation rental for 10 years - and a young boy has been drawing her pictures in response.  Until, that is, her father died and Macy's family stopped visiting the beach.  Now, years later, they return to find closure for her father's death and Macy prays that she might find that boy who so ensnared her dreams years before.  With everything in disarray and pain on every side, might the guest book provide the hope and healing that Macy has been searching for?

I really enjoyed my read of The Guest Book.  Macy's young enough to be innocent and spoiled in many ways, and yet jaded enough to have real issues that many of us can relate to.  She struggles on so many fronts - with motherhood, men, independence, grief, and who she wants to be as a woman - that she has a lot to figure out.  The weight of these issues keeps the book from being a for-fun-only read, but the way that God goes about answering Macy's prayer adds a huge element of fun.

More than either of Whalen's previous books, there's a bit of mystery around some of these characters.  With each one so different and inadvertently teaching Macy something new, I couldn't put the story down.  I couldn't wait to find out if she would meet her long-lost picture-pal!

If fun reads are too shallow for you but you're not up for Russian literature on the beach, definitely check out The Guest Book.  The balance of fun, suspense, and depth is right-on, making this the perfect summer story.

I received a free copy of The Guest Book from Marybeth Whalen in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Crazy Cooking Challenge: Chocolate-y Peanut Butter Cheesecake


This month's challenge was an especially yummy one:  cheesecake.

As I searched for recipes, I wanted something that would be:
  1. less difficult and stressful than the traditional water-bath cheescakes.
  2. would bake in as little time as possible (the oven heats up this already-hot house!)
  3. would be a hit with my cheesecake-diverse family.
Kristen at Fiskerelli Bellies shared two of her decadent recipes with me.  One is a Snickers Cheesecake, and the other created an actual Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake.  I loved both options but since my waistline didn't need me to eat two cheesecakes this week, I decided to combine the two recipes.  This is what we got.

Photo: Happy National Cheesecake Day!  This is the cheesecake I made for the next Crazy Cooking Challenge.  You can find the recipe on the blog on August 7th.  Did you do anything to celebrate this yummy day?

With layers of peanut butter cups inside the cheesecake and drizzles of peanut butter and chocolate ganache on top, it had the richness of all three flavors, but none overpowered the others.  The simple creaminess of the cheesecake shone through, the nuttiness of the peanut butter was clearly evident, and the sweet chocolate crust and ganache on top balanced out all that richness.

This cheesecake is super easy to mix and assemble, and baking is a snap:  just plop it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, then turn off the oven for another 15 before removing to cool.

Don't take my word for it, though; this is one recipe you'll definitely want to try out for yourself.

So here's how to make your own Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake:

  • 3 T. melted butter
  • 1 1/4 c. crushed chocolate sandwich cookies
  • 3 8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 2 t. vanilla
  • 4 large peanut butter eggs 
  • 1/8 c. cream
  • 1/8 c. + 1 T. chocolate chips
  • 3 T. peanut butter, melted
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Remove the icing from the sandwich cookies and crush the cooky itself.
  3. Mix the crumbs with the melted butter.
  4. Press into a 9" springform pan.
  5. Slice the peanut butter eggs (or cups) and cover the crust with the sliced candy.
  6. In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese and sugar. 
  7. Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing well.
  8. Pour the cream cheese mixture over the candy slices.
  9. Bake for approximately 30 - 40 minutes, then turn off oven and allow to continue baking for another 15 minutes.  (I baked mine for 45 and it was a bit too long.  I'd start with 30 minutes and check to see if the center has gotten firm.  If it has, go ahead and turn off the oven.)
  10. Remove from oven and cool.
  11. Decorate the top!  Heat the cream until just beginning to bubble on the stovetop, then immediately pour into a small heat-proof bowl over the chocolate.  Whisk rapidly until all is melted and blended, then allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.
  12. Put the melted peanut butter into a bag, snip off the corner, and drizzle on top of the cheesecake.
  13. Drizzle the ganache in opposite lines from the chocolate.
  14. Chill until serving.
  15. Yield:  I have no idea.  Since everybody wanted multiple pieces each time I got it out of the fridge, it didn't survive long at this house.  :-)
Thanks, Kristin, for sharing your wonderful cheesecake recipes!  We're already thinking up a new 'event' so we can make another one.  ;-)