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

Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Prayers of a Stranger" by Davis Bunn


Amanda Vance loves babies.  So much that she's a nurse on the maternity floor - or was, until she lost her own just before Christmas last year.  Now she's trying to hold things together with her husband, who's company isn't doing well.  Suddenly she's given a trip to the Holy Land, where she meets a stranger and becomes an answer to prayer.  Can Amanda then find faith enough to trust in answers for her own prayers?

Bunn has written an intense yet inspirational look at a couple's journey through the loss of a child.  Walking through mourning with Amanda as she searches for healing is both educational and inspiring.  It's all too easy to think that those who have suffered a loss should be ready to move on when we are, but we all must heal on our own God-given schedules.  Bunn offers a very compassionate view of this dilemma, painting vividly the issues this can create in our families and friendships but also showing how valuable true understanding and friendship can be.  I hope that I can be that same kind of friend if tragedy of any form strikes someone I know.

*Slight spoiler alert! Next paragraph only.*

While to me this was a side plot within the book, Bunn adds issues to Amanda's husband's life as he struggles to save the business he loves.  I appreciate the description of the stress that Chris felt as he tried to support his family and the seriousness with which he took God's calling to be a leader within the home.  Even more, I appreciate the stand that Chris took for what he knew was right.  It would have been easy to sell out for money, but much harder to hold firmly to what he knew was right.  We need more people who do this when hard times come.

Prayers of a Stranger is definitely not a fluffy read, but it is a thoughtful, inspirational one.  I'm glad I read it.

I received a free copy of Prayers of a Stranger through the Booksneeze Program in Exchange for an honest review.


Earn Free Amazon MP3 Credits!


There's a great new promotion happening at Swagbucks this month!  For every gift card that you redeem through the SwagBucks program, you can earn Amazon credit for music!  I'm looking forward to redeeming some points and buying a few new songs.


Here's some more information about this promotion directly from SwagBucks:

When you snag an Amazon.com Gift Card during the month of September, you will be rewarded with a $1 promotional credit for Amazon MP3. With over 20 million songs, they're sure to have that new song you're dying to hear again or an oldie you don't already have in your collection. Start earning reward points with Swagbucks.com today to snag your Amazon.com Gift Card and $1 Amazon MP3 promotional credit before Sept. 30th.

**The above links are my affiliate link.  If you join using that, I can earn matching SwagBucks for your first 1000.  There is no other benefit for me.  Thanks for sharing!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Denise Hunter’s “The Trouble with Cowboys” Facebook Party & Kindle Fire Giveaway


To celebrate the release of The Trouble with Cowboys Denise is hosting a fun Author Chat Party on Facebook. She'll connect with readers and give away some amazing prizes - including a Kindle Fire! 
Save the Date for October 11th!

Grab your copy of Denise Hunter's latest book and join her for an Author Chat Party on October 11th at 8:00 PM EST (that’s 7:00 Central, 6:00 MST, & 5:00 PST)! Haven't read The Trouble with Cowboys yet? That's okay, don't let that stop you from coming to the party! (You may win a copy!)

During the evening she’ll be sharing the story behind the book, posting discussion questions, testing your trivia skills, and of course, there will be plenty of chatting and fun giveaways – books, gift certificates and – a Kindle Fire! She’ll also be giving you a sneak peek of her next book too!

RSVP today and then come back on the 11th … and bring your friends!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"The Trouble With Cowboys" by Denise Hunter


ToubleWithCowboysFinalAnnie is Moose Creek's answer to any problem with a horse - whether you need someone to work with yours or just to answer your questions through her magazine column.  That is, until her column gets replaced with a lovelorn column, leaving Annie unable to help a single writer - for how can someone who's never been in love give advice about how to keep it?


When Dylan Taylor, a single, flirtatious cowboy begs for help with his blind horse, Annie makes a deal:  she'll help train Braveheart if he helps her answer the letters.  Annie doesn't expect problems on every homefront, however, especially not to have feelings for Dylan, an "unreliable cowboy."  Can Annie overcome her past hurts and find love with this cowboy?

I've always liked to read books that have meaning and importance to them.  Ones that have drama and suspense and emotion and really tie you to your chair until you've turned the last page.

All that intensity, however, can be a little hard to handle - and now that I'm a busy mom, I appreciate switching up my reading style more than ever.

That's why I loved The Trouble with Cowboys so much.  It's a love story involving a cowboy (read: fun) and while there is action and drama and emotion, it's more of the variety that any of us might face.  We all have to deal with childhood hurts and to face the fear of trusting our hearts to another, and Denise Hunter gives these issues the weight they deserve; at the same time, because you can see into each character's heart, you have information that makes you omniscient, which keeps the tension resting solely on the characters' shoulders and off of your own.

Besides all of that, the characters in this book have fun.  They ride horses.  They pretend their lives are Jane Austen novels and they mentally shop for Batman capes and have water battles.  They cry, but they laugh.  This book is just plain enjoyable.

Order a copy here.

Denise Hunter


Denise lives in Indiana with her husband Kevin and their three sons. In 1996, Denise began her first book, a Christian romance novel, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her books often contain a strong romantic element, and her husband Kevin says he provides all her romantic material, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too!
Find out more about Denise at http://www.denisehunterbooks.com/.
I received a free copy of The Trouble with Cowboys from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Apple Pie Enchiladas


A few days ago I was thinking about all the things I'd like to do with a few bushels of apples - but I only had two Granny Smiths in the fridge.  After thinking over my options and our need for a quick, yummy breakfast, I came up with this dish.

The kids and I loved the cinnamon sugar snowflakes we made out of tortillas last winter, and crepes stuffed with cinnamon apples make a great treat, so I combined the two to get these breakfast enchiladas.  They're quick and healthy but "fancy" enough for company, too.

So here's how to make your own Apple Pie Enchiladas:

Ingredients:
  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 3 T. butter, softened & divided
  • 1 1/2 t. cinnamon-sugar mixture
  • 2 8-inch whole wheat tortillas
  • 1 t. cinnamon
To make your enchiladas:
  1. Peel and slice your apples into thin pieces.
  2. Place them in a small frying pan with the cinnamon, honey, and half of the butter.
  3. Saute the apples over medium heat until they are caramelized and cooked through.
  4. Spread a thin layer of the remaining butter over the tortillas.
  5. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the tortillas.  I keep a shaker of this in my cupboard, and I don't measure how to make it.  Just mix a few teaspoons of cinnamon with a few tablespoons of sugar until it's a happy soft brown color.  
  6. Place half the apples into a tortilla.  Roll the tortilla up and place it in a baking dish. Repeat with the second tortilla.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until tortilla begins to get crispy.  Watch carefully - you don't want it to burn!
  8. Enjoy plain or with whipped cream.  This would be a super fun dessert with ice cream, too, and lots simpler than making an apple pie - though those are fun, too.
What's your favorite way to eat an apple?


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

GratiTuesday - A Table of "Continents"


We had a first in our house today.  Our Big Helper finished her very first book!

A few weeks ago we traveled to Old Salem Village in Winston-Salem, NC, for a field trip.  My goal for the kids was to get a feel for what life was like before electricity  - to start thinking about where early Americans' food came from, what their clothing and houses looked like, etc.

My Big Helper had a much bigger goal.

The day before the trip, as we looked at maps and planned our strategy for the day, she announced that she wanted to write a book about her trip to this living museum.

We agreed on assignment parameters, and off we went.


Upon returning, she immediately picked out 18 pictures that we had taken during our trip for use as the photographs for her book.  Then, for the past week and a half, she's been writing, editing, revising, proofing, and carefully printing her words onto each page.  

When she was about halfway finished, she looked at me with a twinkle in her eye and announced, "Mommy, I want people to learn something from my book!  I want to have lots of information - even a table of continents!"

I loved her enthusiasm, but it was still really hard not to laugh.  I love her word mix-ups, and I love even more that she wanted her book to be just right - she wasn't willing to settle for the minimum requirements of the assignment but worked for a long time each day, adding lots of extra pieces until it was exactly how she wanted it.

Today she put the finishing touches on her book.  It now has a cover page, title page, table of "continents," a blurb on the back cover page, as well as a short bio of the author.  Not counting all of those pages, there are 17 pages of information, carefully arranged in order.  

She's wildly excited about finishing, and I'm excited for her.  I can see her wanting to do lots more writing in the future - this girl is going to keep me busy!

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - September 24, 2012

This week promises to be another busy one, and the weather is finally cooling off, making us all think of fall.  This week we'll be all about what we can stretch, make easily, or add apples or pumpkins to.  Our schedule does allow us to be home a few afternoons this week, so we're going to be both utilizing the Crock Pot and trying to get a few things in the freezer for busier weeks.  A cold knocked me for a loop this past week and has made me realize the value of having a few things ready-to-go on hand!

Here's the plan:

Breakfasts:
- Apple Pie Granola (recipe coming soon), fruit, yogurt
- Homemade poptarts - I'm determined to make these this week!


Caramel Pumpkin Doughnut Hole (Muffins)  I just found out that these will be featured in an upcoming Taste of Home cookbook.  Whoo-hoo!
- Scrambled eggs, toast

Dinners:

Parmesan Potato Veggie Soup , banana bars
- Hawaiian Chicken Sandwiches
- Tomato Basil Parmesan SoupRoasted Turkey and Brie Grilled Sandwich


Kid-Friendly Pasta Florentine

Pizza
- Turkey burgers, baked black beans, apple crisp
- Leftovers

These are the things that I'm hoping to get made for the freezer this week:
Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies (CCC)
Caramel Pumpkin Doughnut Hole (Muffins)
Pizza (Crusts made and semi-baked)
- Homemade Poptarts

What are you cooking up this week?

For more Menu Plan Mondays, visit OrgJunkie.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Serpent of Moses" by Don Hoesel

Serpent of Moses



Archeologist Jack Hawthorne has a lead on the Nehushtan, the pole topped with a bronze snake that Moses created at God's command to heal the Israelites of a snake-punishing plague.  He's not the only one who wants it, however, and the Israeli Mossad and the Libyan government are not likely to let a civilian walk away with it.  Jack can't just walk away from it, however, and his friends can't help but follow him - especially after he's kidnapped.  Can Jack, Romero, and Esperanza survive this treasure hunt?
If you're an Indiana Jones fan, you won't want to miss this book.  Like the famous trilogy, this story is about a famous archeologist who finds himself in over his head all too often but is able to use his incredible smarts to get himself out of tight spots.  The story is action-packed and dramatic, and while this particular book (there is another book in this series) doesn't take place in the jungle, it does span beautiful Italian streets, London museums, and Libyan deserts.  Also like the trilogy, Hawthorne seeks Biblical treasures of mythical proportions that possess power beyond human belief.  This ups the ante throughout the story as more and more people head out in search of the Nehushtan, which also ups the danger level.
I'm a big fan of mysteries and suspense, and  Serpent of Moses has both in spades.  There's also a bit of love-gone-wrong, which adds just the right amount of heart and mushiness to the strong male lead.  I also prefer to read Christian books, and after that good clean books, and this hovers somewhere between the two.  While Hawthorne has had mysterious encounters with God that he can't explain, and he has returned to faith, he's certainly not over the top, pushy, or preachy about any of it.  While there is no racy or raunchy material in this book - nothing that would prevent, say, an advanced pre-teen boy from reading this story - the faith lessons are also applied softly.  This is just an all around great read.
This story enthralled me so much that I immediately went out and got the first one.  While you can read them in any order, you might understand the characters' shared past better if you read them in the correct order.  Whichever you decide to do, don't wait - you won't want to miss this book.
I received a free copy of Serpent of Moses in exchange for an honest review.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

GratiTuesday - Muddy Men


Last weekend my husband and kids participated in a mud run.


I've never seen anything quite like it.  It was organized by state troopers to benefit a scholarship fund, and so the course was designed to mimic things that troopers might have to do - almost military in style.  Knowing that, my husband has been training hard.


The kids practiced running a bit, too, having lots of fun playing in the mud as they went.  Their race was first. It encapsulated the last 100 yards of the adult race.

It looked rather like this:







The kids all had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed the mud.  My two, seen above with friends, stuck together well to make sure that each made it through the course safely.  Our Little Man just barely made the age cut-off, and we didn't want him to get lost or stuck in mud somewhere.  Our Big Helper stayed on him like glue and made sure they got out together.

Then, it was time for the adult race.  This was a grueling 5K race up and down hills, stairs, over cars, through creeks, between fires, over stacked hay bales, and through obstacles such as sewer pipes and mud mountains.

It began, however, with a 50-foot water slide into a super-deep mud pit.


video


Missed that?  It looked like this:


My husband was completely submerged in mud at one point in this pit.  One of his contacts rolled under his eye and had to be removed by a paramedic after the race - and so he ran the entire thing with one eye closed.

This is not my idea of fun.  Not. one. single. bit.  My Big Helper agrees with me and has chosen to stay out of the mud next year.

However, my muddy men loved it.  They're already making plans for next year's training schedule and race, and I like that.

I'm glad that they're excited to be out there, bonding together, being tough manly men - even if they have to get muddy to do it.  I'm proud of them for enduring the tough physical challenge to overcome the obstacles in their paths.  I'm glad that they're listening to the call that God placed in their hearts to be a bit rough, to be tough, to get down and dirty and compete and provide.  Because when the time comes for them to work hard, to push to overcome, to provide, defend, or protect, they'll be ready.

They're men.

Manly men.

Muddy Manly Men.

And I'm proud of them.

Even if I am scrubbing mud out of the bathtub for the next six months.

Smiles.

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.

*Some of the pictures in this post were taken by friends - namely Susan B., Susan C., and Brooke S.  Thanks for sharing, guys!  You're amazing photographers!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - September 17, 2012

We've had a really, really busy weekend around here.  It all started last Wednesday, really ...


We traveled a few hours for a field trip that lasted 15 hours ....


Saw rescued animals the next day - yes, that's a lion just past my Little Man ...


Participated in our second family race (and this one involved a lot of mud) - more on this tomorrow ....


And then yesterday attended a major Christian concert - and got front row seats!

We're scheduled to have a much calmer week this week, and I'm looking forward to it.  My goal is to fit a few "regular" meals in there, too - though today's will still fall into the 'quick and easy' category, because I'm one tired Mommy.

So here's the tentative plan, always subject to change, of course:

Breakfast:


Cinnamon Almond Granola over fruit


- Scrambled eggs & Toast

Dinner:
- Nacho bar (carry over from last week)


- Grilled Mesquite Chicken, "Best Ever" Cheesy Grilled Potatoes, Salad


- Stuffed taco baked potatoes, salad


- Leftovers
- Dinner at church

I'd like to make these things for the freezer or for desserts/snacking:







What are you cooking up this week?

For more Menu Plan Monday, visit OrgJunkie.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Short Straw Bride" by Karen Witemeyer


Meredith Hayes was rescued by Travis Archer as a young girl.  As a woman, she continues to dream of her cowboy in shining armor - until she overhears that his enemies want to steal his land.  Meredith can't let down the man who helped her so many years before - but will the price be too high?

This is such a fun story!  The layers in this book make it both suspenseful and a joy to read.  On one hand, you've got a group of handsome farmers who haven't been off their land in years - and a few spunky young women brave enough to venture inside their gated enclosure.  On the other, there are ruffians determined to remove these rightful landowners by any means possible - and they're willing to go to great lengths to achieve their goals.  Shy preachers, mouth-watering cinnamon rolls, loyal horses, and danger all mix together to create an action-packed, yet romantic story of faith and trust.

I'll definitely be seeking out more of Witemeyer's work.  I love how she discussed spiritual lessons that each character needed to learn and issues each had to work through without beating you over the head with it.  Each spiritual truth is timeless and something that most of us work through at one time or another, and so the reader can really glean something from this more-than-fluff work, but she'll have a great time doing so.

I received a free copy of Short Straw Bride from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"With Every Letter" by Sarah Sundin


With Every Lettter


Book 1 in the Wings of the Nightingale series

Lt. Mellie Blake is looking forward to beginning her training as a flight nurse. She is not looking forward to writing a letter to a man she’s never met–even if it is anonymous and part of a morale-building program. Lt. Tom MacGilliver, an officer stationed in North Africa, welcomes the idea of an anonymous correspondence–he’s been trying to escape his infamous name for years.

As their letters crisscross the Atlantic, Tom and Mellie develop a unique friendship despite not knowing the other’s true identity. When both are transferred to Algeria, the two are poised to meet face-to-face for the first time. Will they overcome their fears and reveal who they are, or will their future be held hostage by their pasts?

Combining a flair for romance with excellent research and attention to detail, Sarah Sundin vividly brings to life the perilous challenges of WWII aviation, nursing–and true love.

With Every Letter is a really fun book, despite the seriousness of the characters' situations and the war happening in the background.  Mellie and Tom are brave and persistent, using humor to defuse the tenseness of their situations and leaning on each other to push through the hardest times.  Throw in Tom's rat-loving dog, and you've got a cast of characters who are honest, real, and would make great friends.  

Sundin paints a colorful picture of the war in North Africa, vivid enough to make picturing the war campaign easy but without the gruesomeness that surely accompanied the reality.  The details kept the story firmly entrenched in the time period, making this historical fiction better than many.

I was surprised with just how much I liked this book.  While a pen pal romance isn't exactly new, the character sketches make this story unique.  With each pen pal a near-total outcast in his/her own circle for reasons beyond their control, you can't help but wish the best for them, and as they emerge from their shells, each transforms into a beautiful butterfly.

You can purchase this book here.


Sarah Sundin

Sarah Sundin received the 2011 Writer of the Year Award from the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, and her second novel A Memory Between Us is a finalist for an Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award. Her stories are inspired by her great-uncle who flew with the U.S. Eighth Air Force in England during World War II. Sarah lives in California with her husband and three children. www.sarahsundin.com

Find out more about Sarah at http://www.sarahsundin.com/.

I received a free copy of With Every Letter from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Slow Cooker Caribbean Chicken & Veggies


Sometimes, you just need something that's quick and easy.

That's this dish.  It's perfect for those days when you're going to be in and out or just all around busy and don't have time to mess around in the kitchen but still want to serve your family a yummy, healthy dinner.

It can even be made as a freezer meal - just pop the ingredients into a large zip-top bag and freeze.  On the morning of the day you want to serve it, just dump the entire contents of the bag into the slow cooker and let it go to town.  When life gets crazy, I love dinners that cook themselves!

When I put this in front of My Little Man, having not cooked this in a while, he looked at me rather skeptically.  Then he tried it - and the next thing I knew, his bowl was empty.  He said that he especially liked the chicken.  For my veggie-lovin' man, that's saying a lot!

So here's how to make your own Caribbean Chicken and Veggies in a slow cooker:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. chicken tenders
  • 1 c. diced pineapple and accompanying juice
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 c. Caribbean-style marinade
  • 2 c. black beans
  • 1 lb. broccoli, cleaned 
Directions:
  1. Combine chicken, pineapple, onion, pepper, and marinade in a slow cooker.  
  2. Cook at low heat for 4-5 hours or until nearly finished.
  3. Add black beans and broccoli to the slow cooker.  
  4. Cook for another hour or until broccoli is tender.
  5. Serve over rice.
What's your favorite kind of no-fuss meal?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Baseball & Other Life Lessons


Our Little Man is playing baseball for the first time this season.

It's hard.

Oh, he loves it.  He's having a great time, and he's doing really well.

But I think his daddy and I are more nervous about the whole shebang than he is.


Not because we care how he does, exactly.  I mean that I'm not pushing for him to grow up to be the next Babe Ruth or anything.  Though he did walk up to me today and casually announce that he plans to play for the Bulls when he grows up. 


But because he's now doing something that he loves out there, on display, for others to watch and see and critique.  Hopefully not to criticize, but we both know that it will happen.


Unlike most of the other kids on his team, he's never played Little League before, so while he can bat and run, he doesn't have the grasp on the rules that the other kids do.


The coaches have been really great about helping him along - giving him the support he needs to learn new skills and going alongside him as he does things for the first time.


Still, it's hard to watch your baby out there, standing alone beside home plate, new metal bat grasped firmly in his still-pudgy little hands, knowing that every eye on the field is trained on him.    


And you wonder: will he remember what you taught him?  Will he remember to keep his eyes on the ball?  Will he make it to base?  Will he get tagged out - or will he make it home?


You know that it's just a game; that they're only five, and that chances are these players won't remember this game for long, even if it is their very first one.  You know that they're still developing hand-eye coordination and that they haven't even grown into the extra-small baseball pants yet and this is just a game, after all.


But maybe this is where he'll start to learn big-time lessons about life.  He'll learn that you don't always get a hit.  Sometimes you sit on the bench.  Sometimes someone will say something that hurts your feelings.  Sometimes you'll get tagged, and you might not get the homer you wanted.

But he'll also learn about how to shake off the negative words.  He'll learn how to cheer on his teammates and how to give it his best the next time he's up to bat.  He'll learn how to care for his equipment and yank up those too-big pants and be a big boy.  He'll learn how to lose a game and look the other players in the eye and say, "Good game" and really mean it.  

Those are all important lessons.  Good lessons - lessons that we all need to learn.

I'd rather he begin to learn them now, as he's young, when he can learn to roll with the punches and go with the flow and have fun doing it all with his daddy.

So this baseball thing is a good thing.

Really.

But if you see me out running alongside the baseball field, chasing my Little Man with my camera, could you bring me some chocolate?

For more GratiTuesday, visit Heavenly Homemakers.