Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: Judah's Wife by Angela Hunt

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I love finding books that highlight a part of history I know very little about. This is one of those books. Despite a lifetime of Christian upbringing and a fairly healthy knowledge of the Old Testament, I know nothing about the Maccabees or the 400 Years of Silence between the Old and New Testament. At first, I was a little wary of Hunt's quotations from 1st and 2nd Maccabees, but in the author's notes at the end, she explains that while they aren't inspired (and thus canonized in the Christian Bible), they are historical and useful for understanding a period of Jewish history that isn't recorded in the Old Testament. 

Hunt's research is impeccably done and she writes beautifully, but the story just wasn't exactly what I enjoy. I hate lowering my rating based on personal preference, but I received this book free in exchange for an honest review, so I'll be honest in my estimations of it. 

The book had very little romance and many descriptions of battles - complete with strange names of Kings, Generals, Commanders, and the like. I have no interest in the strategy of war and felt myself growing tired of the constant battle scenes. Beyond that, the family life and religious persecution were interesting and well told. And I loved the growth Leah's character experienced. Hunt writes almost allegorically at times through the experiences Judah and Leah share throughout their marriage. It was a beautiful reminder of God's compassion, love, and sacrifice. 

I hated the ending because it had to remain historically accurate instead of tying up in a neat bow of happily ever after that I enjoy!

If you're looking for well-researched Biblical fiction with a bent toward war and light on the romance, this is the book for you. Thanks to the publisher for a free review copy.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Saturday 7

1. In the past couple of weeks, Levi has really started getting interested in reading. He used to tolerate flipping through a book as long as it had lots of truck pictures. But he's actually been bringing me stacks of books and sitting through them (for the most part - haha). We went to the library on Wednesday, and he struck gold with a whole shelf of car/truck books. He kept bringing me more and more, exclaiming excitedly, "Mo![more]." He was pulling from the non-fiction shelf, so they're pretty dry reads. Haha. I've been paraphrasing generously about low-riders, hot rods, and fuel efficiency.

Double chin photo courtesy of Lena. #keepingitreal
2. I'm half way through season 3 of When Calls the Heart. I have kind of a love/hate relationship with it. I do love most of the characters and the town, but I've noticed some major anachronisms. Like the women's hairstyles. Way too modern. I also can't help but laugh anytime there's an "action" sequence. Shoot-outs and hand to hand combat are not Hallmark's forte. But the worst is the repetitive storylines. How many times is a woman going to fall in love with a con man only to realize the terrible secret he's keeping? Haha. It won't keep me from watching.

3. The diet is still going strong. I lost 4 pounds in the first week, so that's encouraging. I expected it to make me feel motivated to continue, but it's kind of had the opposite effect. I feel like, "Meh. I lost some weight. I can be a little more lax now." But I'm still trying. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the week:

- Roasted Veggies [Win]: I eat roasted brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and/or carrots pretty much every day - usually with bacon. I try to fill up on that before anything else. And I'm proud of myself for figuring out flavor combinations that I like (usually Italian, parmesan, lemon pepper, and/or seasoned salt) and not being neurotic about sticking to a recipe. I've also found some flavor combos I'm not a fan of. I tried garlic lime sweet potatoes last night. They were sick nasty. So sad I wasted all those sweet potatoes.

- Homemade Dressing [Mostly Fail]: I've tried two versions of ranch dressing and didn't like either. Nothing can replace Hidden Valley for me. But the copycat Olive Garden dressing I made was decent. Not as good as the real thing, but definitely better than homemade ranch! 

- Baked Goods [Meh]: After a week of eating healthy, I started to feel desperate for something sweet. We had a bunch of rotting bananas that I wanted to use up, so I scoured Pinterest for some kind of banana bread/muffin that didn't have added sugar and little in the way of grains. I also got the idea in my head that I wanted to add spinach. I had a bag that was starting to go bad and I've baked with spinach successfully before. I'm all about hiding veggies - even from myself. Haha. I ended up with this recipe. It just calls for oats, bananas, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. (I know the chocolate chips are technically added sugar, but that doesn't count in my book. Lol.) I blended the oats, bananas, and peanut butter, then added spinach to that mixture. The end result was not pretty:
But it tasted ok. Not as sweet as I would've liked (I used natural peanut butter), and a little on the dense side, but better than nothing.

- New Recipes [Win]: I got out of my comfort zone and tried a recipe my cousin recommended to me for Egg Roll in a Bowl. Confession time. I've never bought cabbage before and didn't know that bags labeled "coleslaw mix" are actually just shredded cabbage. Haha. Now I know. And once I bought all the weird ingredients I don't usually use (cabbage, sesame oil, ginger), it was pretty easy to make, and surprisingly delicious!

Ok, sorry. I'm sure you're all as ready for me to be done dieting as I am. Don't worry. I'm a quitter. I'm sure I'll be done soon.

4. I got some great bargains this week. Today was the dollar sale at Once Upon a Child. All clearance clothes and shoes were $1. My total before the sale was applied was $109. After the sale price, it went down to $20! Win!! (If you missed it today, the bag sale is next Saturday. Fill a grocery-sized bag with as many clearance items as you can stuff in it for $15!) Earlier this week, I hit the Christmas clearance at Meijer. Prices were marked down 90% and I found some steals!
Craft kits, napkins, cards, an ornament, matchbox car, lights, and a boxed set of Old Spice body wash/deodorant/body spray that apparently was marketed for Christmas and marked down to $1.09! I LOVE getting deals!
5. I only read one book this week (because I've been spending all my free time watching When Calls the Heart): Falling Like Snowflakes [affiliate link] by Denise Hunter. It was good! I immediately requested the 2 sequels from the library after finishing it.

6. I've been trying to get back into podcasts again. I don't really understand their popularity. My kids are always running around screaming like banshees. I can never hear a podcast. But one thing about this stupid diet is that it requires me to spend a lot of time in the stupid kitchen. Between chopping veggies, pureeing homemade dressing, and cleaning up after myself (over and over and over again), I spend a good portion of my day at the kitchen counter. And my kids generally leave me alone while I'm doing dishes, so I've been trying to listen to a podcast or two to make it more bearable. My favorite is Risen Motherhood. I listened to an old one this week featuring Ruth Chou Simons and she gave this quote: "You don't have to be blooming to be growing." I feel like I'm very much in the seed planting stage right now and not always seeing a lot for my efforts - both with my kids and in my own personal spiritual growth. It's an encouraging reminder that growth often happens without flashy/immediate results. It takes tiiiiiiiiime. And I'm a millenial in that I expect immediate change. (Which is why dieting has never worked for me in the past.)

7. Pictures
Snapchat fun with Lucy

Giggling in bed with me while she was supposed be reading her book. (It's like pulling teeth to get her to read. Drives me CRAZY!)

Sweet baby Nova wearing the hat Lucy made for her!

Levi loves his hat, too, and hates taking it off.

Showing off her finished Lego set.

Levi wanted to pose too. Lol.

When the doors are closed, Levi's not allowed to go in and bother Grandpa and Grandma. He likes to push the boundaries . . . (and Grandma can't tell him no . . .)

Sweet kids praying before lunch. (I snapped the picture a second too late as Levi opened his eyes and unfolded his hands.)

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter

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Amazon Synopsis:
Former free spirit Zoe Collins swore she'd never again set foot in Copper Creek or speak to the man who broke her heart. But return she must when her beloved Granny dies, leaving the family legacy to Zoe--a peach orchard nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
When Zoe returns home with her daughter and boyfriend Kyle, she finds that she's the only person in town who doesn't expect her to give up the life she's established far away from Copper Creek. Everyone believes she was born to run the orchard, but how can she make it her home after so many years?
Cruz Huntley never quite got over his first love, Zoe Collins, the little sister of his best friend Brady. Not when she cheated on him during their "break," not when she took off to parts unknown with good-for-nothing Kyle Jenkins, and not even now--five years later.
As life-changing decisions and a history with Cruz hang over Zoe's head, tensions rise between her and Kyle. Even as she comes to terms with the shifting relationships in her life, Zoe still isn't sure if she can remain in Copper Creek with her new responsibilities . . . and her first love.
My rating system looks something like this:

5 stars: Holy cow. I can't breathe. That was amazing.
4 stars: I liked it. No complaints, but not heart-stopping.
3 stars: Good, but have some issues with it.
2 stars: Pretty bad.
1 star: Awful.

I think Blue Ridge Sunrise falls at about 3.5 with this rating scale. I liked the story and Cruz as a leading man. But Zoe was annoying and hard to root for. I'm also disappointed that the faith elements in this book were very weak. I hate that Zoe went from living with her boyfriend to singing a solo on stage at church without any kind of "come to Jesus" moment. Maybe that makes me a legalist, but I feel like it should be addressed.

I was also confused about Noah and Josephine. Am I supposed to know them? This is book one in the series, right? Why so much back-story about these minor characters?

Recap: cute story, good romance/chemistry, weak faith elements, annoying main character

*I received this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.*

The Saturday 7

1. I picked a terrible week to start dieting.
It's seriously been so cold I want to cry anytime I have to leave the house. But my tears would just freeze to my face, so I tough it out. And I know I was complaining last week because I couldn't leave the house. But there's a difference between taking the kids to the library at 1:00 in the afternoon when the sun is shining and getting all the kids in the car before 8:00 am when it's dark outside, the wind is howling, and the temperature is literally -10. #whiner #shouldhavechosenhomeschool
The problem with living so close to school and driving a beater vehicle is that my van doesn't heat up before we get to the pick-up line at school.

2. Anyway, back to the diet. As Lena would say, "This is the worst thing ever in my life!" I hate it so much. (Would you really expect any less from me?) Because I don't deal well with total deprivation (not to be confused with total depravity 😉), I'm trying to focus on the "just eat real food" fad. It's a little bit Whole 30/a little bit Paleo, but not 100%. Because let's be real - I'm not totally going to give up sugar, carbs, or dairy. I'm just focusing on cutting back on them and filling up on veggies and protein. I've been eating a lot of sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, eggs, and chicken. It honestly hasn't been that bad, except that I really miss snacking. (And I'm sorry but a handful of carrots or almonds does not count as snacking in my book.) Strangely enough, giving up Dr Pepper hasn't been that hard. I don't really even miss it. But I do miss gorging myself on chocolate and eating whatever the heck I want whenever the heck I want to - especially after the kids are in bed. That's when I usually break out a bag of chips or brownie in a mug or 35 mini candy bars. I have to talk myself out of quitting my diet every 30 seconds from about 8:00-11:00 at night. And tonight, I had Subway for dinner. Processed meat. Cheese. Full fat, preservative filled ranch. But I got wheat bread and I took the bottom half off. That counts for something, right? I'm going to keep trying. I haven't weighed myself yet, because it's only been 4 days. I'll report back next week. Until then, enjoy these food pics, because diets don't exist unless there are pictures to prove them.
Sweet potatoes, chicken, broccoli, parmesan

Spinach, romaine (no e.coli), chicken, hard-boiled eggs, homemade (almost Paleo) ranch - it was gross

Roasted sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and bacon. I'll probably just eat this every day until I lose 20 lbs.
3. We rang in the new year with our wonderful small group. We ate yummy food then spent 3 hours discussing the Bible and sharing prayer requests. (#holierthanthou) We watched "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve" for about 4 minutes - long enough to wonder how Mariah Carey didn't get frostbite, watch the ball drop, and google "Is Dick Clark dead?" We were all shocked to learn that he died in 2012! Where have we been?? Then we stumbled home to bed. Not because we were drunk, but because we are old and it's hard to stay up til midnight these days. (I'm speaking for them. I stay up 'til midnight all the time reading. Lol.) 

4. Speaking of reading, I read 2 books this year to jumpstart my 2018 Reading Challenge. The first was a parenting book my mother-in-law got me for Christmas. (Be The Mom) It wasn't my favorite parenting book ever, mostly just because the author is so different than me (had a successful career before becoming a mom, wealthy, extroverted, people-person). Her struggles of taking on too much and being too busy and working too hard to please others don't really mesh with my struggles of sitting on my butt, ignoring my kids and to-do list. But she did have some good points about bonding with our children when they're young so we'll have a relationship when they're older. I've been trying to be a little more intentional about spending time playing with my kids - doing puzzles or Legos or playing games. It's sanctifying because it reveals how irritable and impatient I am. Lol. I need to read a parenting book about 5 times a year to remind me that what I'm doing is important and give me ideas on how to do it well. The other book I read was Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter. It was cute, but nothing special. [affiliate links]

5. I started a new series on Netflix this week. A few of my friends finally wore me down and convinced me to try When Calls the Heart. I've watched 5 episodes in 2 days and am loving it so far. I appreciate that it's clean enough that I can watch it with my kids around. It's definitely going to be my new laundry-folding show.

6. I can't think of a 6th, so on to pictures . . .

This is the girls' shared closet. But it's still out of control.

I found this while organizing spices this week. It has apparently been in that drawer over 35 years. At this point we need to keep it, because it's an antique!
Christmas gift from my brother. (Not entirely accurate because I usually only have one cup a day, and I put so much cream in it, Lorelei would have a heart attack, but still a fun mug!)

Lucy finished her first hat on her weaving loom! (The one on the doll, not on the human.)

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017: Year in Review

It's time for 2017 Year in Review: wherein I look back on some of the high(and low)lights of our year.

1. In January we took our first big family vacation. Thanks to some amazing deals and some incredible generosity from loved ones, we were able to fly to Florida, stay with my brother, and create some awesome memories with our kids at Disney World, the Crayola Experience, and the Lego Store.

2. While we were in Florida, we got to celebrate Lena's 4th birthday with a trip to Clearwater Aquarium (home of Winter and Hope from Dolphin Tale).

3. We finished paying off our student loans and were debt free for a hot minute!!!!

4.I finally got Lena potty trained and overcame her various fears along the way (wearing undies, using a public restroom, pooping on the toilet, etc.)!!!

6. Levi learned to scoot just before his birthday, and walk at 16 months (with a little help from Early On)

7. We celebrated Levi's 1st birthday with a fishing theme.

8. I got my hair permed

9. I went to Traverse City for a Moms' Weekend with my best friends.

10. After a couple months of being debt free, Justin's car literally fell apart, so we went back into debt to buy him a "new" car.

11. I discovered how to get free books in exchange for reviews.

13. We went to a hotel for Lucy's 7th birthday.

14. Justin and I went to a Craigslist cottage for our 12th anniversary (and didn't get murdered). It was a glorious weekend of reading, fishing, and relaxing.

15. Levi had lots of ear infections, a visit to the ENT, and an allergic reaction to amoxicillin.

16. Lucy started 2nd grade and Lena started school for the first time!

17. We survived another weekend of Labor Day camping.

20. My sister and I threw an adorable book themed baby shower for our niece.

21. The girls started gymnastics. Lena was awesome at it, but they both hated it after a few weeks.

22. I struggled a lot with overcoming selfishness/laziness/irritability.

23. I became a great-aunt!!

24. I set and accomplished a reading goal, keeping track of everything I read on Goodreads. My goal was 75 books, but I actually made it to 101 (including 2 novellas that I count as 1 book.) According to Goodreads, I read 32,510 pages this year! Thanks to the Goodreads community, I discovered a few new Indie authors that I love: Pepper Basham, Jenny B. Jones, Hallee Bridgeman, and Julianne Donaldson. I also fell in love with a few more well-known (in the Christian fiction community) authors: Laura Frantz, Lori Benton, Kara Isaac, Connilyn Cossette. I gave 15 books a 5 star rating this year:

1. True to You by Becky Wade
2. Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade (book 2 in a series - reread)
3. Love's Reckoning by Laura Frantz
4. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
5. An Aria for Nick by Hallee Bridgeman (book 2 in a series)
6. A Twist of Faith by Pepper Basham
7. The Thorn Keeper by Pepper Basham (book 2 in a series)
8. The Thorn Healer by Pepper Basham (book 3)
9. Shadow of the Storm by Connilyn Cossette (book 2 in a series)
10. Wings of the Wind by Connilyn Cossette (book 3)
11. Honor's Disguise by Kristen Heitzmann (book 4 in a series - reread)
12. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson
13. Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson (book 2 in a series)
14. Desperate by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson (nonfiction)
15. Church of the Small Things by Melanie Shankle (nonfiction)

My favorite TV shows this year were: Hawaii 5-0, Bluebloods, and NCIS

Here's to a great 2018!!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Saturday 7 (just a few minutes late!)

I did it again. I accidentally deleted half of the entry I wrote. Seriously. I am not 10 years old. I've been blogging for many years and using a computer longer than that. How do I keep having this problem? Ugh. I was mad and shut my computer in favor of taking a nap this afternoon, and just remembered I never finished this. So here's a quicker version of the original:

1. We had a wonderful Christmas. Everyone came to us this year so I didn't have to go out in the snowy cold. We ate lots of good food, got lots of great gifts, played lots of great games, and enjoyed spending time with family. I'm going to save all the pictures for the end, so hold your hats . . .

2. It was weird having Christmas on a Monday, because Justin and my mom went back to work on Tuesday just like normal. My dad took the day off and helped me take the Christmas tree down. I'm not usually as efficient about being done with Christmas, but the tree was so dead and the pine needles were so out of control.

3. The rest of the week was kind of brutal, though. Justin's car was having problems and was in the shop from Tuesday to Thursday, so he took my van to work. If it wasn't bad enough being stranded at home for 3 days, the weather has been unseasonably (unbearably) cold. With wind chills below zero, I couldn't really send the kids outside to play. And because of the way we heat our house, when it gets horribly cold and the wind whips from the west, we close off a big area of our living space and use the indoor fireplace to supplement the heat. So we shut the doors of our main living area and huddled around the fire like stinkin' pioneers all week. If that's not a recipe for disaster, I don't know what is. Haha. I was actually amazed at how long we made it before cabin fever set it. It helped enormously that my kids had all their new toys to play with (and mine - "Alexa, what's your favorite color? Alexa, tell me a joke. Alexa, you're beautiful. Alexa, when's your birthday? Alexa! Alexa! Alexa!). The girls each got a big Lego set and a bunch of other crafty stuff (weaving loom, perler beads, library kits, beados, etc.) plus a couple games that kept us all entertained. And Levi was pretty content with his piles and piles and bins and bins of cars. God gave me grace to not lose my mind until late in the week. But don't get me wrong. There was plenty of impatience and whining and short-tempers this week. And by yesterday, I was literally lying on my bedroom floor partially hidden under my bed so Lena couldn't find me. (Justin was home. Don't get your hackles up.) I just needed a break. Oy. I think I'm going to write a whole entry soon on some of the stuff I'm struggling with in motherhood lately, but now is not the time.

4. The other reason this entry is so late is because I was feverishly reading my last book to reach 100 tonight!! I read 4 books in 4 days this week, plus another novella. I also remembered 2 books in a series that I read a few months ago and never recorded! Ta-da! 100 books in a year! I was planning on making my goal for next year 100 (since this year's was technically 75), but Lucy says I have to make it more than what I read this year. So how about 101? Haha. I've loved keeping track of everything on Goodreads and will have a more thorough recap in my "2017 Year in Review" post coming up soon.

5. I tried to find out what my top 10 posts from this year were, but blogger doesn't let me see my stats by year - only day, week, month, or all time. But while I was searching, I came across some other interesting statistics. For all time - so 7.5 years, I've had over 220,000 views. In the past year, most of my entries were viewed around 200 times each. My most viewed entry of all time is the recipe I shared for chicken and dumplings (that I stole from another blogger! ha - I gave her credit, don't worry). My second most viewed is the pictures of my stomach before during and after my pregnancy with Lucy. But what really gets me is the audience. In the past 7ish years 190,000 views came from the United States. But the other 30,000 are from Russia, Canada, Ukraine, France, the UK, Germany, China, Poland, and Ireland. That mildly freaks me out. Haha. I know I had some friends in Russia for a while, but I don't think I know anyone in those other countries. That's a lot of complete strangers reading my blog. Does it stop me though? Nope! Lol.

6. We have one more Christmas party tomorrow, a New Year's Eve party, and my sister's birthday on Tuesday (with the obligatory and wonderful trip to Olive Garden), but then it's back to reality . . . and dieting. I've been gorging hard-core for the past couple of weeks knowing that the end is near. I don't have a plan, really, for dieting. No Dr Pepper. Way less sweets. I think I'm going to stick with my same (unhealthy) breakfast (bagel with butter and coffee with sugary cream) because it's quick, easy, and filling. But I'm going to try my hand at "meal prepping" chicken and roasted veggies for my weekday lunches. And maybe just try to make meals for dinner that aren't quite as heavy on the cheese and fat. For the most part, though, I'm just planning on starving myself and being really ornery for a while. Consider yourselves forewarned.

7. And now for pictures!
Cookie decorating on Christmas Eve

We have a tradition of hiding the kids' stockings on Christmas Eve. Levi's was pretty tricky. ;-)

Checking out their haul after finding their stockings Christmas morning.

Driving his new cars on the stack of presents. 

We always take a picture of the kids in front of the tree on Christmas morning. This year was a fail. Lucy refused to cooperate, Levi wouldn't sit still, and Nova was asleep. But won't this picture be fun to recreate in 10 years? Lol

The two willing participants. (Don't judge our present pile - that's for 19 people!)

Family game time.

Bible reading time.

Present time!

Lucy with her favorite person.

And her second favorite person.

Pie face

Lena pie face

Christmas selfie! 
Craft table

Another hit from Christmas: a tie-your-own fleece blanket. Lucy loved it, and I enjoyed making it with her!

Lena trying on Levi's new tool belt.

What our poor house has looked like for days. So many new toys plus limited space to play.

One time, many moons ago, I counted how many matchbox cars Chase (the kid I nannied for) had, and made a snarky facebook post about how spoiled he was. This is karma. (And this picture doesn't even come close to representing how many Levi actually owns.)

Thursday. Lol. Fortunately, Justin got home half an hour after this picture and we went to the library for a while.
Sorry for the delay. Thanks for bearing with me - this week and for the past 7.5 years of blogging. I hope none of you are mass murderers scoping out my pictures and plotting your kill. (You don't want to kill me! You'd miss this weekly dose of wit and wisdom!) Stay tuned for my Year in Review coming up soon!
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