Pages

Friday, December 31, 2010

year in review

There are just a few hours left in 2010 and I always like to reflect back on the year. This week I've talked about the concerts I've been to this year, songs that impacted me and books I've enjoyed.

So looking back, I started reviewing books this year and have read fifty-eight books! I've had the opportunity to read some great titles and there's still a stack in my room waiting for me.

I've made some progress with my writing by having some other blogs use my work. I have no idea what will come out of this but believe for God to continue to guide me. One of my goals for 2011 is to have one of my novels published (fingers are crossed).

I've had the chance to try some fun recipes and am looking forward to tackling some harder dishes next year. I love being able to mix together different ingredients to create tasty creations (I have a new cookbook just waiting for me to look through).

I'm hoping to delve more into creative projects next year. I follow a blog called "Today's Creative Blog" that offers daily do-it-yourself ideas. There are two on my list to try: desert lotion bars and sugar scrub.
I've done it once before but I'm wanting to read the Bible through next year. I've tried several times since then but end up falling so far behind that there's no way to catch up. Yet a new year brings a fresh start.

My pastor gave us a verse for next year and I'm very excited about it. Ephesians 3:20: "Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]--" (Amplified)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

year in review: books

I've covered music so now we're moving on to books. Thanks to discovering the amazing world of book reviewing, I've been able to read some amazing books...for free (to get started, try out Thomas Nelson and Tyndale House). I did a prior post listing all the books I've read this year but here are my top five:

* "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan
* "Plan B" by Pete Wilson
* "Outlive Your Life" by Max Lucado
* "Dining with Joy" by Rachel Hauck
* "City on Our Knees" by Toby Mac

I've surprised myself for only one fiction book to be on this list. All of these books are ones I'd definitely recommend if you're in need of a new read :-)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

year in review: movies

I've seen quite a few movies this year but there are only a handful I'd watch a second time or more. I know there are more for this list but here are a few...
* Toy Story 3 - I love the humor in the movie! I feel like most of it was actually geared toward adults or maybe I just find random things to be funny. My brother got the dvd for Christmas and we watched it again the other night. Since we have a similar sense of humor, we laughed at the same things but again, maybe that's just us. Out of the three movies, I like the third the best.
* Despicable Me - this movie was just fun. When I went to see it, it was mostly kids crammed in the theater but I still enjoyed it. I think Agnes was my favorite - she was absolutely adorable and yes, I laughed at the "It's so fluffy" line :-)
* Letters to Juliet - I wasn't sure I would like this movie but I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it has some cheesy moments but it was cute.
* When in Rome - again, I don't know if it's just my sense of humor but I laughed a lot when watching this. And since I was at home, I didn't have to worry about others hearing me :-) There were times when I felt Beth was just being too wishy-washy but still, a cute movie.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

year in review: songs

Several songs have become my theme songs for this year. Some were released this year and some just finally meant something to me. The one that stands out to me is "With Everything" by Hillsong United. Oh my. This was the song at youth camp that was THE song. It was the one that stirred all of us up - especially when the bridge hits - and I get chills even now. SUCH a good song!

Francesca Battistelli's whole "My Paper Heart" album is amazing but "Beautiful, Beautiful" would have to be my favorite (the acoustic version is very cool). "Behind the Scenes" became a soundtrack for me this year because I love the message. It talks about how God is working in our lives even when we can't see evidence of it. "Someday Soon" makes me smile - I look forward to being able to live out the lyrics when I get married someday :-)

I'm not a huge country music fan but I really like Rascal Flatts. Their song "Unstoppable" is about, to me, not giving up even when everything inside of you wants to quit. It's about refusing to go back and continue moving forward. I also finally heard their version of Matthew West's "The Day Before You" this year and it's pretty amazing too.

Some Honorable Mentions would go to "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon and"Show Me What I'm Looking For" by Carolina Liar (we actually used this in our Easter program at church). I've also discovered OneRepublic this year and "Passenger" might be my favorite.

There are way more songs I could list that have impacted me this year but these would top the list...

Monday, December 27, 2010

year in review: music

In just a few days a new year will be upon us. I always like to reflect on the past year, looking at things I wanted to accomplish (and did) and things I didn't do but will work that much harder on for the coming year. I also wanted to reflect on things that have influenced/impacted me this year. Today I'm looking at music. This year I've had the amazing opportunity to not only be introduced to new music this year but I've finally seen people in concert I've listened to for years.

The latter occurred when I went with some friends this summer to see Toby Mac and Chris Tomlin together for their "Hello Tonight" tour. I saw Toby a few years ago when he was a part of Winter Jam but this time not only was I seated much closer (thank you Alicia for the awesome seats) but since it was just him and Chris Tomlin, he had more stage time. It was a very cool concert and the highlight was definitely when he walked past our row and my brother freaked out :-)

Some new-to-me artists I've seen this year are all thanks to Dave Barnes. I've been listening to him for about three years but finally saw him in concert this year (again, thank you Alicia). He often has friends of his with him and I've become fans of all of them. I love Dave because he's so real. Not only is he a great songwriter and singer but he's absolutely hilarious (if you've never been to his comedy show, go). Ben Rector, Drew Holcomb and Steve Moakler are the others I'm just now listening to because of Dave. Ben is just amazing. My favorite song is "Moving Backwards" (which I posted about the other day). I love the fact that the first time I heard it was live. I remember he began singing and I looked at the people I was with, a look of amazement on my face. Drew Holcomb has more of a folksy sound but what I love is that his wife sings with him. Together they are amazing. They sang "Baby It's Cold Outside" (Christmas tour) and I loved it!! Steve Moakler is hard to describe. He has this intenseness (I'm not sure what the right word is) about him. My favorite song of his would have to be "All the Faint Lights."

It's been sooo much fun being introduced to new music this year! We'll see what next year holds...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

christmas

Christmas 2010 is almost over. I'm back home after spending the day at my grandparents. All of the presents that were once under the tree have now been opened. The tree doesn't look quite the same without colorful boxes underneath. While some of the gifts I received were things I had asked for, others were surprises. It's been a good day. Tomorrow marks the last week of this year and we'll soon be welcoming in 2011. I don't want to ever forget why we celebrate Christmas. I don't want to ever place more emphasis on the things I hope to get than on the One whose birthday we celebrate. And to top it all off, we had a white Christmas this year. It's been a while since we've seen snow in my corner of the world on Christmas and it was like adding sprinkles to a cupcake - the perfect final touch. I'm looking forward to next year. It's going to be full of amazing things...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

backwards

So I plan on doing another post on some amazing artists I've had the pleasure of seeing in concert for the first time this year but this song has been running through my head this week and I couldn't keep it to myself any longer. The song is called "Moving Backwards" by a guy named Ben Rector. He's not hugely known (yet) but I have a feeling he'll one day get there. And what's really cool about this song is that I saw him perform it which somehow makes it that much better in my mind.

I tried researching the story behind it because I think it interesting to hear the inspiration. My digging didn't turn up anything so I'll give my own take on the song. To me, it's about putting faith in God even when it doesn't make sense. Others may not understand why you choose to believe - to them the Bible may just be a jumble of stories - but it's more than that to you. Life is always moving and we're constantly making choices...

Here's a promo for the video...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

book review: "the clouds roll away" by sibella giorello w/ contest!

Raleigh Harmon has just returned from a transfer with the FBI back to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. On the heels of her homecoming, Raleigh finds herself in an investigation centering around a cross burning at a famous rapper’s home. Her boss is pushing her to solve the case as soon as possible and the deeper she digs, the more complicated things become. Raleigh also begins work on a gang task force. The lines between the two seemingly separate cases start to blur with each new development, leaving Raleigh working frantically to uncover the truth. While looking for those responsible, Raleigh is also juggling her widowed mother and an old boyfriend who wants a second chance. Can she solve her cases and manage to not get her heart broken again?

I had no idea what to expect with this book but I was quickly pulled in. Giorello threw in several unexpected twists, leaving me thinking “no way!” as I read. My only complaint with the story would be the lack of romantic interest. The attraction between Raleigh and her old boyfriend is told in such a cut and dry manner that I found myself wanting to read about those tender moments. Other than that, it’s a definite page turner that will keep you guessing.
Read more reviews by clicking here or go here to buy the book.
I received a free copy of this book from Litfuse Publicity and was not required to write a positive review.

Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Clouds Roll Away by giving away a KINDLE prize pack worth over $150.00!

One Grand Prize winner will receive:
Latest Generation KINDLE with Wi-Fi
$25 gift certificate to Amazon.com
To enter simply click here! Then tell your friends! Winner will be announced January 3, 2011 on Sibella's blog: http://sibellagiorello.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

trendsday: photo op

This picture immediately stood out to me - the colors just seemed to grab me. It reminds me of a small city where you get to one place to another by walking - cars are optional. I love the idea of that!! I have a secret wish to move to such a place, relishing the "small town" feel of it. This picture also makes me think of any number of movies (though I can't think of a single one at the moment) where there's a street chase in Italy or any other European locale. Someone's either on foot and can feel the bad guy following them or they're in a car and trying to evade said bad guy. Ooh, the Bourne Identity would be a prime example (whichever of the three is applicable - I've only seen bits and pieces of each).

I also love the simplicity of the picture. It's a snapshot of an abandoned street but at the same time, it's so much more than that. Who knows what history transpired in that exact place? The idea of not knowing the sum total at what you're really looking at is fascinating to me. I love the idea of everything having a history and every photo telling a story...

Wanna join in trendsday? Click here for more info.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

fa la la la la

Sometimes we need to take a break. We need to momentarily lay down our responsibilities and the plate that's piled high with things we must accomplish. And we need to laugh. I went with some friends this weekend to see Dave Barnes and Drew Holcomb (if you've never heard either of them, google their music - that's all I'm saying) in concert. What I love about Dave is that while you go to hear him sing, he's also incredibly funny (most often in a cheesy kind of way but I like that) and you end up laughing as well. This weekend was no different. He played some songs from his new Christmas album as well as some of his other stuff and he made us laugh. I don't know if we laugh enough. We can be so focused on what we need to do that we forget to find the humor in situations (sometimes that's the only way to deal with what you may be going through). Thank you Dave for giving me a brief respite in this hectic Christmas season. And the "fa la la la la" comes in because he sang "Little Lies" (off his newest album "What We Want, What We Get"). He had the audience sing the chorus which begins with "la la la la la." One of the girls I went with had us singing "fa la la la la" instead since it's Christmas time which actually I liked better :-)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

book review: "fall to grace" by jay bakker

Though Jay grew up in the church, he reached a point in his life when he was through with faith and God. He couldn’t understand why everyone who had once rallied around him and his family were turning their backs on them in 1987 when scandal erupted in the Bakker home. Jay dealt with the upheaval by taking up smoking, drinking and doing drugs. It wasn’t until years later that Jay would return to the message of grace. “Paul’s message wasn’t about guilt and punishment. It was about acceptance; it was about forgiveness; and it applied to me! What I felt instinctively about God – that He must be loving and understanding of human frailty – was right after all.” He had thought he was too far gone for God to still love him. He had messed up one time too many for God to want to take him back. “Grace taught me that I don’t have to run from failure, that God hasn’t abandoned me even when things get tough. I don’t think you ever arrive, fully, at grace. You have to keep it front and center in your mind. You have to remind yourself every day that God’s love for us is complete, irrational and unrelenting.”

I was disappointed in Jay’s message. While grace is key to understanding salvation, I disagree with Jay’s views on a few things, homosexuality being the main one. Jay’s theme is that God loves everyone, regardless of lifestyle, the color of your skin or economic status. I agree with that. Where I have a problem is that since God loves everyone, he’s basically saying it doesn’t matter how you live your life as long as you love God and accept His grace. What he seems to be missing is the point of leaving your old life behind you when you begin a journey with God. He also talks about the apostle Paul a lot, quoting from Galatians over and over. Paul seems to be his basis for Biblical references. What also bothered me was the mild use of language by Jay. Overall, I didn’t care too much for the book.

I received a free copy of this book from FaithWords Publishing group and all opinions are my own.

Friday, December 3, 2010

more than one teacher

I'm a substitute teacher and am constantly reminded of the simplicity of kids. To them, the highlight of the day is recess, no one's a stranger and everyone is their best friend. I was watching my class of kindergartners on the playground today and couldn't help but smile as they ran around, free to be as loud as they wanted. Every so often a few would run over to me, wanting to show me something or tattle (if they only knew I don't respond to tattling) and would then go play some more. I feel like there's so much to learn from kids - teaching is a major give and take because with as much as I teach them, they teach me a few things as well. I think being open minded is one of the most important things for a teacher. Not being there to merely cram information into students heads but taking the time to actually listen to them as well. I love the predictable unpredictability - though you have a lesson plan you have no idea what the day actually holds. No day is the same - every day brings with it a new set of circumstances and new chances to learn. It's pretty cool.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

trendsday: december 1

Today is special for many reasons. It's the first day of the last month of the year bringing us that much closer to Christmas (I've yet to start my shopping) and 2011. Today is someone's birthday (including Woody Allen and Lou Rawls) and there's some historical significance to the day as well but the one thing that I found really interesting is that in 1982 at the University of Utah, a dentist named Barney Clark becomes the first person to receive a permanent artificial heart, prolonging his life for another 112 days. This may not grab your attention but my dad underwent heart surgery a few months ago and it's eerily fascinating how they're able to "rewire" the heart.

Today also marks my wishing a "Merry Christmas" to the cashier/server when going to the store or anywhere else. The window for such a greeting is so small when compared to the rest of the year (I guess you could tell someone "Merry Christmas" in June but it just wouldn't be the same) so I want to take advantage of it. And that reminds me, I need to find my jingle bell necklace :-)
Wanna join in on Trendsday? Click here for more info.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

what i've been reading

What better way to kick off December than with a giveaway (keep reading for details)? This year marked my first year as a book reviewer and it's allowed me to read books that I would've passed by in the store just beause I wasn't familiar with the author or the title didn't sell me enough to pick it up (I've learned not to judge a book by it's cover - literally :-). Some of the ones I've read I did actually purchase but the majority have been freebies (who doesn't love free stuff?). I decided to keep a list of all the books I've read, just for curiousity sake. Let's take a look...

1. "Beautiful" - Cindy Coloma
2. "Take Your Best Shot" - Austin Gutwein
3. "An Amish Christmas" - Beth Wiseman
4. "Engaging Father Christmas" - Robin Jones Gunn
5. "Washington's Lady" - Nancy Moser
6. "Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God" - Sheila Walsh
7. "Twilight" - Stephanie Meyer
8. "New Moon" - Stephanie Meyer
9. "Eclipse" - Stephanie Meyer
10. "Different Eyes: the Art of Living Beautifully" - Steve Chalke
11. "Breaking Dawn" - Stephanie Meyer
12. "Escaping the Vampire" - Kimberly Powers
13. "Pure Scum" - Mike Sares
14. "Never Let You Go" - Erin Healy
15. "Caleb + Kate" - Cindy Coloma
16. "Plan B" - Pete Wilson
17. "A Bride in the Bargain" - DeAnne Gist
18. "A Day with a Perfect Stranger" - David Gregory
19. "God Never Blinks" - Regina Brett
20. That Certain Spark" - Cathy Marie Hake
21. "Happily Ever Laughter" - Ken Davis
22. "Billy Graham" - David Aikman
23. "The Short 2nd Life of Bree Tanner" - Stephanie Meyer
24. "Unburdened" - Chris Tiegreen
25. "Demon" - Tosa Lee
26. "Loving Mr. Darcy" - Sharon Lathan
27. "The Edge of the Divine" - Sandy Patty
28. "Flight to Heaven" - Dale Black
29. "The Mountain Between Us" - Charles Martin
30. "The Will of Wisteria" - Denise Hildreth
31. "Crazy Love" - Francis Chan
32. "Maid to Match" - DeAnne Gist
33. "Raising the Dead" - Chauncey Crandall
34. "Permission to Speak Freely" - Anne jackson
35. "Immanuel's Veins" - Ted Dekker
36. "Love, Charleston" - Beth Webb Hart
37. "Outlive Your Life" - Max Lucado
38. "Power Thoughts" - Joyce Meyer
39. "LOL with God" - Pam Farrel
40. "City on Our Knees" - Toby Mac
41. "The Nativity Collection" - Robert Morgan
42. "Bittersweet" - Shauna Niequist
43. "Almost Heaven" - Chris Fabry
44. "The Preacher's Bride" - Jody Hedlund
45. "Uncertain Heart" - Andrea Boeshaar
46. "Nebraska Legacy" - DiAnn Mills
47. "Nightingale" - Susan May Warren
48. "Hatteras Girl" - Alice Wisler
49. "Dining with Joy" - Rachel Hauck
50. "First Things First" - Kurt Warner
51. "Delilah" - India Edghill

Whew! Out of all these, "Plan B" by Pete Wilson is at the top of my list of favorites. I highlighted things I liked as I was reading it and I've been skimming it, letting those quotes speak to me again. So, because I liked it so much, I want to give a copy away!! All you have to do is leave a comment with your favorite book from this year (and leave a way for me to reach you). The contest will end on Friday, December 31 at 8:00 p.m. (yep, New Year's Eve).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

book review: "delilah" by india edghill

Delilah was given to the Temple of Atargatis when only a small girl. She was raised to be a priestess and had the ability to dance like only few others. It was said that Delilah not only was able to perform the ritual dances but was the dance itself. When she moved to the music she became lost in it, bringing great monetary offerings to the Temple. When she was ten, another girl was brought to the Temple. Her name was Aylah and Delilah came to love her like a sister.

When Samson happens upon the Temple of Atargatis years later, it’s Delilah he meets as she leads a procession through the streets of the city. He catches only a glimpse of her as she dances but it’s enough for him to tell his friend he wants her as his wife. Samson goes to the Temple to ask for Delilah and is told she will be given to him upon his completion of three tasks. The tasks are meant to be impossible but Samson completes them with ease. It’s only after Samson rides away with his new bride after the wedding feast that he learns the truth: he was given Aylah for a wife and not Delilah.

Delilah is heartbroken both for losing her heart-sister and for the man who has visited her dreams since their meeting. She has no idea Samson wanted to marry her but was tricked – she had been told it was Aylah he desired. Delilah is later summoned to kill Samson – the man who has instilled a sense of fear in the city. Tales of his god-like strength have caused the High Priestess of the Temple and the Prince of the City to plot his death. Delilah must choose: will she help in this plan to destroy Samson or will she conspire with him?

I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get into this book. I didn’t have an immediate connection with it but was soon pulled into the story. I loved the idea that Delilah actually loved Samson and wasn’t merely using him in order to deliver him to the Philistines. The idea that Samson wanted to be captured was intriguing. One thing I didn’t like is that while the chapters about Delilah are told from her point of view, the others are in third person. Having the constant change in who’s telling the story was a little frustrating but it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the story.

I received a free copy of this book from Picador and was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

trendsday: turkey recipes

My google trending topic today is about turkey recipes. I'm excited to say that I actually have cooked a turkey before so I feel slightly qualified to tackle such a topic. The instructions were given to me by someone else but the basic jist was put the turkey in an oven bag, sticking four sticks of butter inside it. Cover the turkey with melted butter, brown sugar and honey. Cook for four hours (I think) and baste again every hour. I felt like a proud parent when I finally pulled it out of the oven and it was all golden (I usually try out recipes before making them for others - not always but I try - just in case it doesn't go well the first time. I didn't have a trial run with the turkey so I was super excited it turned out edible).

I heard someone else say to cook a turkey by cooking it for an hour at 500 degrees. You then turn the oven off and let it stay in there overnight.

A few years ago, we deep fried a turkey for our college ministry. This was the same year I learned it takes several days for a turkey to unthaw instead of overnight. I won't even tell how we unthawed it...

I'd love to pick up some new ideas so how do YOU cook a turkey? Wanna join in on Trendsday? Click here for more info.

Monday, November 22, 2010

recipe: rice and cornbread

I've said before how much I love just throwing things together when it comes to cooking. I stumbled upon another such dish today. I was in the mood for Spanish rice so I tossed the packet in the microwave for 10 minutes. While that was cooking, I decided corn bread would go along with it - I wanted something to help with the kick from the rice (I know it's not that hot but I don't do spicy). While the cornbread was baking and the rice cooling off, I shredded some cheese. After everything cooled off, I crumbled the cornbread in the bottom of the bowl, adding some rice and then the cheese. Mix it all together and you're done. It was SO yummy! You could also add other vegetables (I was thinking corn) for more flavor.

Friday, November 19, 2010

book review: "first things first" by kurt and brenda warner

Kurt and Brenda have one goal with their book “First Things First”: to let people know the “real” Kurt and Brenda and show that their life is fairly normal – or as normal as can be expected. Each chapter begins with Kurt talking about a subject and then Brenda gives her take on it. They wanted to take the time to clear up the rumors as to how they met, talk about how they run their household and how they make their marriage work. They both readily admit there’s not a perfect formula for how to be the best parents or how to have a happy marriage. But they’ve found out what works for them. Kurt and Brenda have rules for each other as well as for their children. One rule in their marriage is the importance of a weekly date nights and for Kurt spending time with his guy friends while Brenda spends time with her girl friends. Though they’ve had disagreements, their love for each other hasn’t wavered. He says when they have their date nights or take time away without the kids, he’s putting her first. “That’s what it means to love someone – it means to choose that person first over and over again.” Some of the Warner rules include sharing the favorite part of the day at dinner and having to hold hands with a sibling for ten minutes if unable to get along. Brenda shares her frustrations as a NFL wife and sharing Kurt with his fans. She talks about how when the family is out, Kurt is often approached for an autograph – it’s something she knows comes with the territory but she still struggles with. They talk about their faith and the role God plays in their lives. Kurt talks about what he’ll do after football and Brenda shares her hobbies outside of the home. Through it all, Kurt talks about how he wants Jesus’ love to shine through everything he says or does – with his family and on the field.

It was fun to take a peek into the lives of Kurt and Brenda Warner. I really liked hearing both of their sides on topics. I love how Kurt talks about Brenda – it’s so apparent how much he loves her. One thing he said stood out to me. He was talking about how he told her she was beautiful when her hair was a mess and she had on no makeup. “You’re such a freak,” she’ll say, because she’s always surprised that at the time she feels least attractive, I find her most beautiful.” It’s just so sweet to hear a guy make that effort. I also applaud his stand on his faith. He says, “I love that Jesus says we should love God so passionately. It’s not like some girly “let’s hold hands” kind of love; it’s full contact. Jesus wants us to love God with our entire being – our heart, soul and mind. That’s how I want to love him.” This was a really good read – made me laugh, made me tear up at times – definitely one I’d recommend.

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale House and was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

book review: "nightingale" by susan may warren

It’s World War II and Esther Lange is a nurse at Roosevelt Mercy Hospital. Her fiancĂ© is a soldier and she anxiously awaits his return so they can finally be married. Esther is slightly reluctant though because she doesn’t love Linus. He proposed after finding out she was pregnant, telling her to go to his parents when hers kicked her out after hearing her news. So while Esther wants him safely home, she’s also torn at entering into a loveless marriage. Right before the war is officially declared as being over, Esther receives a letter from a man named Peter Hess. He met Linus while on the battlefield and Linus asked him to mail a letter to Esther for him. The letter begins: “If you are reading this, then I have not kept my promise and your hopes for my safe return are not to be.” He apologizes for her “wasted her wedding night” on him while he loved someone else. He says he feels no attachment for their daughter and essentially frees her from any obligations she felt towards his family, giving her the opportunity to move on. She begins corresponding with Peter, finding a sense of comfort in someone not knowing of her mistakes. It’s when she toys with the idea of visiting him that she begins to question herself. She’s yet to tell Linus’ family that he’s dead and she’s forming a friendship with another man. Things are further complicated when Linus returns from the war…

I liked this book. I’ve read other books by Susan and while this was completely different than those – both in style and it being historical. I read it in my typical two days (the norm if a book is able to pull me in and I have to constantly keep reading to see what happens next). Warren threw in several unexpected twists yet it all came together in the final pages. There were times when I felt lost in the storyline, not really sure what was happening but it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book.

I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group and was not required to write a positive review. You can read more reviews on the book here.

The Letters From Home Giveaway!
Enter the Contest: Nightingale is about letters, the power of written correspondence to convey thoughts and emotions to those far away. And sometimes near. Letters are forever, they are something we savor and pull out to read again and again. They are often cherished and kept in a special place.

To celebrate the release of Nightingale, Susan would like you to write a letter. One grand prize winner will receive a Flip HD Camcorder.5 runner's up winners will win a signed copy of Nightingale. There are two ways to enter the contest by writing letters. 1. Write a letter to a soldier. At the end of the contest we’ll print out and mail your letter for you. 2. Write a letter to a friend, loved one, family member, enemy. Tell them something you wished you’d told them before. Tell them you love them, or maybe how they touched your life. Perhaps an apology is in order or a thank you. Or perhaps you'd like to relate a funny tale or just share life. Whatever it is, submit it here along with your email address and we’ll send it for you. Enter here or at the SHARE page on the Brothers in Arms website.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

book review: "dining with joy" by rachel hauck

Joy Ballard is the host of the popular cooking show “Dining with Joy.” She took over hosting the show after her father passed away three years ago. When the show is sold to a new production company, the new producer wants to add a co-host. Luke Redmond is immediately attracted to Joy and agrees to join the show as the new chef. Overcoming a failed restaurant, he jumps at a chance to get back on his feet. They seem to be the perfect combination. Joy is funny and charming while Luke is a very talented chef. But Joy has a secret and if Luke finds out, she fears he’ll quit. If the new producer finds out, it could be the end of Joy’s career. The closer Joy and Luke become, the harder it is for her to keep the truth buried. Can she trust him with her secret? Can she trust him with her heart?

I really, really enjoyed the book. I’ve read “Sweet Caroline” and was excited to read another of Hauck’s books. I also liked how those characters made a few appearances in this story. I loved Joy and Luke’s banter. It just seemed so real to me, making the story that much more enjoyable. Reading this makes me want to try the recipes that are mentioned in the story and conveniently located at the back of the book (especially Charles Ballard’s Banana Bread). Joy also goes through a time of wondering what it is she’s supposed to do with her life – a feeling I can identify with. At one point she tells Luke, “Haven’t made any decisions about what’s next for me. Kind of enjoying not knowing, leaping out, aiming for the hand of God…” I like the idea of that. I think the ultimate theme of this story is finding that thing that you’re passionate about – that thing God has called you to do – and chasing it with everything you have.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson and was not required to write a positive review.

trending topic: national unfriend day

Jimmy Kimmel is helping advocate National Unfriend Day. This is a time to go through your Facebook friends and clean out the random people you added at one time. Who does he suggest you unfriend? "A random sampling around the Web of who you should defriend: mothers, exes, the guy who keeps posting the political rantings, the woman who takes about her children's bathroom habits" (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/blog-post/2010/11/facebook_unfriend_day_jimmy_ki.html). The whole point of National Unfriend Day is to return back to a simpler time when we aren't so bogged down with what everyone else is doing...

I enjoyed this topic!! While humorous, it's also something to think about. I think some people view it as contest to see who can have the most "friends" on Facebook. To some, more friends = being more popular. Yet why would you want people you either don't know or barely know a personal glimpse into your life through your photos and status updates? Hmmm...maybe less really is more :-) Wanna join in on Trendsday? Click here for info.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

recipe: chocolate trifle

I made this last weekend and oh, it was yummy. My grandmother makes it for Christmas and gave me the recipe last year. I love recipes where you just throw ingredients together and are done - they're my favorite :-) And it leaves room for you to add your own touch to it, again, my favorite kind of recipe.

Ingredients:
Devil's food cake mix
1 large instant chocolate pudding
16 oz. cool whip
6 Heath Bars
Bake cake as directed. Let cool. Mix pudding as directed. Crush Heath Bars. Layer half of cake in a 4 quart bowl. Add half of pudding and 8 oz. of cool whip. Top with 3 Heath Bars. Repeat layers. Cover and chill overnight.

I also added peanut butter chips to the top layer and you could also drizzle some chocolate syrup too. It turned out amazing (not to brag or anything) and I loved the lightness of it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

book review: "uncertain heart" by andrea boeshaar

Sarah McCabe is twenty years old and needing to prove to her family that she’s able to take care of herself. She leaves her hometown of Jericho Junction, Missouri and finds herself in Milwaukee, Wisconsin taking a position as a governess. She meets Richard Navis, a fellow employee and he becomes her first friend in her new home. While Sarah sees Richard as a good friend, Richard is taken with her upon their first meeting. Sarah soon finds herself trying to decide if the feelings she has for Richard are real or how she feels regarding her boss, Captain Brian Sinclair. She loves his children but does she also love him? When rumors begin circulating about Sarah and the Captain, she’s further confused as to who she can trust with her heart. Richard steps in to help but he continues to try to win her and she struggles to keep him at arms length. It’s not until tragedy strikes that she knows who she loves.

I would give this book a three out of five. I liked it but had a little difficult connecting with Sarah. I feel like Boeshaar didn’t flesh her out completely – she seemed a little wishy washy to me. The ending was slightly disappointing – everything was building up to this and it wasn’t what I expected. I feel like she hurriedly tried to tie all the loose ends together instead of continuing to develop the story. I still enjoyed the book but wasn’t completely blown away. All in all, a decent read.

I received this book free from Glass Road Public Relations and was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

book review: "hatteras girl" by alica wisler

Jackie loves living in Nags Head, North Carolina. She loves the beach but also has a dream of one day owning the Bailey House – a bed and breakfast she visited every chance she had while growing up. It’s through her job as a magazine writer that she’s able to meet the man who currently owns the property, Davis Erickson. She’s quickly taken with his charming smile and the kisses they share. She finally feels beautiful to be dating someone so handsome and isn’t the result of a blind date set up by her well-meaning family. Yet Jackie can’t help but have moments of doubt when they’re not together. Her fears are confirmed when she interviews a local business owner – a woman who seems as perfect as she thought Davis was. The woman admits she and Davis used to date but are still on again, off again. Jackie determines to once again focus on what’s important to her – buying the Bailey House. Davis agrees to let her rent the house but has kept from her the true condition of the property. While she figures out how to fix the house and show Davis for who he really is, it’s her family and friends that help her. They put together a fundraiser to help with repairing costs. Yet it’s her childhood friend Buck who has her wondering what she saw in Davis. She’s finally seeing him as more than her brother’s best friend but does he feel the same for her?

I was surprised with how I enjoyed this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I liked it. I liked that Jackie is the one telling the story and I thoroughly enjoyed her sense of humor. The only thing I was disappointed with is her relationship with Buck. She admits she’s in love with him but everything that happens from that point on to him proposing isn’t mentioned. Maybe it’s the romantic in me but I wanted to read more about them. Other than that, it’s a good read and I plan on reading her other books as well.

I received this book free from Bethany House and was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

book review: "almost heaven" by chris fabry

Billy Allman has not had an easy life. On his tenth birthday, a flood came through and washed away his home. His father was injured while trying to save two little girls and was never the same. A few years later, he gave in to his depression, committing suicide. After his father’s death, his mother was never the same, having good days and bad days. The day Billy was going to take her to a nursing home because he was unable to take care of her, she passed away, leaving him completely alone. After his mother’s death, Billy decided to start his own radio station from his home, wanting to share his love of gospel music with others. He encountered obstacle after obstacle to get the station off the ground but felt this is what God wanted him to do – that fact pushing him on.

All during his life, Billy has an angel assigned to protect him. Malachi is present during Billy’s successes and hard times. However, he is given another assignment for a brief span of Billy’s life and it’s what transpires during this time that has a lasting impact on him. Malachi must struggle to understand why he was called away during a crucial time in Billy’s life since God would be the One making the order. Ultimately he trusts God’s sovereignty, amazed that He would have such an unending love for His creations.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I found myself unable to put this book down, constantly wanting to know what happens next. Fabry includes several twists that kept me guessing until the last page. I didn’t necessarily like the ending because it was left open but that’s my personal preference. Reading Malachi’s observations was also interesting – the spiritual perspective added a whole other element to the story.

I received this book free from Glass Road Publications and was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

25 hours

Tomorrow we gain an extra hour - something that only happens once a year. I'm pondering how to spend this extra sixty minutes. Normally, I never get that extra hour of sleep - instead I stay up an hour longer and am still tired in the morning :-) Yet I'm thinking of doing something beyond watching tv for another hour or working on my laptop. There's a new book out (that is now at the top of my "to read" list") called "Sun Stand Still" by Steven Furtick. It's a book about having audacious faith - the kind of faith that believes in the impossible happening. The kind of faith Joshua had when asking God to make the sun stand still. I received an email from the publisher of the book, asking me to participate in something that can potentially change the world. Tomorrow, when we have that 25th hour and the sun seemingly stands still, people will be praying. It's something interesting to think about. Now, I may forget and spend that extra hour doing something else but the idea of Christians asking God for the impossible sounds very cool.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

trending topic: demi lovato

A blog I follow is encouraging others to grow in their blogging abilities by writing about one of many Google trending topics. The topic I picked is about Demi Lovato checking herself into rehab. I'll openly admit that I watch (and enjoy) Demi's show "Sonny with a Chance" -I know it's cheesy but I like the humor. So the fact that she's now in rehab has me torn. On the one hand I'm glad she's seeking help instead of letting things grow worse but I'm also slightly disappointed that someone who so many children and tweens look up to has shown just how human she is. I've found different reasons as to why she's now in rehab. Causes include she is fighting an eating disorder, she struggles with cutting, emotional issues, etc.

What seems so obvious to me is her need for Jesus. I don't know if she professes to be a Christian or not but I hope she can come to that decision during this time in her life. I'm a very strong believer in kids having positive role models and it's frustrating for me when one by one, celebrities give in to the temptations provided by their status and wealth. I applaud those who are able to withstand those temptations and ARE people kids can look up to. Hopefully Demi will receive the help she needs and will come out stronger when this is all behind her.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

recipe: ham, egg and cheese...tacos

I was in a creative mood last night and came up with a yummy recipe. I wanted something hot because the weather was leaning on the cool side - cold weather makes me crave hot soup or a grilled cheese. So I decided on scrambled eggs which led me to adding cheese because I love to add cheese to almost anything. I then noticed we had some soft taco shells lying around and put the eggs and cheese inside. Wanting some meat, I added a few slices of ham. I must say the coldness of the ham and the warmness of the eggs was amazing. I took a picture but it didn't do the end result justice. So try it for yourself and add whatever else you might like...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

defining faith

I'm working on growing closer to God. This is something that I always say I want but it seems as if lately, there's just this desire within me to know Him on a deeper level. I'm struggling to wrap my mind around God and who He really is. I've grown up in church and have been saved since I was seven but it's as though I'm finally starting to own my faith. I'm no longer relying on my parents faith but needing to establish my own - what I believe and why. So all of this comes back to what faith is. Hebrews 11:1 gives a great definition but I've been thinking about relevant meanings in my life. Here's what I have so far:

- faith is trusting God when life doesn't make sense
- faith is trusting God when your heart is breaking
- faith is trusting God when all you want to do is give up
- faith is trusting God when you're too weary to take another step
- faith is trusting God when you don't have a clue what to do next
- faith is trusting God when you feel like He's not listening
- faith is trusting God when you're tired of waiting
- faith is trusting God when nothing goes as planned
- faith is trusting God when you wonder if He'll ever answer your prayer
- faith is trusting God

Saturday, October 23, 2010

book review: "bittersweet" by shauna niequist

In the prologue, Shauna explains her thoughts on the title for this book. “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.” Reading through the book, you learn about moments where she experienced heartache and also pockets of “life is perfect” at just that moment. She talks about grace and how she has a hard time bestowing it upon others though she readily admits to needing it herself. “If arithmetic is numbers, and if algebra is numbers and letters, then grace is numbers, letters, sounds, and tears, feelings and dreams. Grace is smashing the calculator and using all the broken buttons and pieces to make a mosaic. Grace isn’t about having a second chance; grace is having so many chances that you could use them through all eternity and never come up empty. It’s when you finally realize that the other shoe isn’t going to drop, ever. It’s the moment when you feel as precious and handmade as every star, when you feel, finally, at home for the very first time.” She talks about how she faced not one but two miscarriages, the second being doubly hard to deal with because she had been pregnant with twins. She talks about the rough spot she and her husband went through in their marriage and how thankful she is they were able to recover from it. At one point she says, “when things fall apart, the broken places allow all sorts of things to enter and one of them is the presence of God.” She explains the importance of women having other women in their lives – how much those relationships have meant to her. “Bittersweet” is a mosaic of her life experiences all pointing to her belief that we need both in our lives. “…a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through…”

I liked Shauna’s style of writing. While at times it was hard for me to follow what time in her life she was referring to (she jumped around with each chapter), I liked the “realness” in her writing. She wrote as though she was talking instead of trying to use big words and make everything come across as neat and tidy. What struck a cord with me was her chapter titled “twenty-five.” Having just turned twenty-five, I was able to instantly identify with her. The chapter was her giving advice regarding things she learned from that period in her life. One thing that stuck out to me regarded decisions made during this time. “Some of the most life-shaping decisions you make in this season will be about walking away from good-enough, in search of can’t-live-without.” My absolute favorite line from the book was about her love of Christmas. She talked about buying the exact same scarf for several of her girl friends and how she liked the idea of them all living in different places but wearing the same scarf. She talked about thoroughly enjoying Christmas despite what we may be going through. “And I hope that someone who loves you gives you a really cute scarf.” When someone is honest in their writing, allowing you a glimpse into their life, you’re able to connect with them and that’s what Shauna has done.

I received a free copy of this book from Zondervan and was not required to write a positive review. For more on this book, go to Zondervan.com.

Monday, October 18, 2010

book review: "the nativity collection" by robert morgan

All six short stories in this book take place on Christmas though it’s in different places and times. “Ollie” is about a boy and his family going Christmas shopping. It’s 1963 and they spend the day buying presents and picking up the necessary items for their traditional Christmas dinner. Through a series of events, they end up at a neighbor’s house who mistakes them for her family who passed away when she lived in Germany. They celebrate Christmas with her, giving Ollie a chance to change his perspective on what the season is really about.

“Poet Boy” is about Robert Louis Brendleton and the Christmas play he reluctantly stars in as Joseph when fourteen. Brendleton suffers from stage fright and instead of saying his lines the night of the play, he recites various lines from poems he’s read during the many hours spent in the library in his home. For example, when Mary gives her line about being called blessed, Brendleton responds, “Oh Mary,” he said, “how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight…I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.”

“Over My Dead Body” tells the story of Max Schroeder, a gifted woodcarver. Though he mainly whittled sheep, he was inspired to make a nativity. He began receiving offers for the masterpiece but would always give the same response, “You shall have it…over my dead body.” When Schroder finally passed away, no one knew who he left the nativity to. At the reading of his will, it was revealed “he left it to all of them – by leaving it to none of them.” He was buried beneath his church and left the nativity to the church so it would be displayed…over his dead body.”

The final story is titled “Sugarplum and the Christmas Cradle.” J.B. and Sugarplum are newly married and their families are less than thrilled that she’s already pregnant. J.B. sets to work making a beautiful cradle for his son, spending all of his spare time carving and sanding. When he finally shows it to his wife, she’s speechless at the simplistic beauty of it. Yet their son was never to see it. Shortly before Sugarplum would give birth, they were summoned to Bethlehem to take part in a census. And we know how the rest of the story goes.

I liked the uniqueness of each story. Some were light and funny while others a little more deep. I think maybe the last story was my favorite. It was interesting to read about Mary and Joseph in a modern setting. “The Nativity Collection” definitely helped put me in the mood for Christmas.

I received a free copy of the book from Thomas Nelson and was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

twenty-five

So today I turned twenty-five and wanted to get some thoughts in while savoring the last few hours of my day of birth. I'm currently reading a book called "Bittersweet" by Shauna Niequist. Ironically, one of the chapters I read today was titled "twenty-five" and she shares some things she learned upon reaching that milestone. Here are some of her thoughts:

- You are young enough to believe that anything is possible and you are old enough to make that belief a reality.
- Some of the most life-shaping decisions you make in this season will be about walking away from good-enough in search of can't-live-without.
- This season is about becoming.
- Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can and keep traveling honestly along life's path.

I'm excited about this year. I believing for some great things to happen - puzzle pieces to finally fall into place. We'll see what happens :-)

Friday, October 15, 2010

sweetest day

I'm participating in a little blog exercise because I'm all about being up for a challenge :-) Tomorrow is Sweetest Day and I've expressed my shock that I've NEVER heard of this holiday until this year - more specifically when I looked at my calendar this week and noticed it. So as well as being up for a challenge, I'm also all about googling things. I looked up the day and am pleasantly surprised at the beginnings of it. It began in 1922 when Herbert Kingston wanted to do something nice for those in need in his city of Cleveland. He delivered chocolate to the surrounding orphanages and hospitals. Since then it's evolved into more of a second Valentine's Day but I like what Kingston had in mind. Knowing the background, I don't mind sharing my birthday with Sweetest Day. May we all find some chocolate tomorrow to celebrate :-)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

book review: "city on our knees" by tobymac

“All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.” – James Russell Lowell

Throughout “City on Our Knees” are quotes and this one I believe sums up the point Toby is trying to make. He talks about his desire to see all of us truly come together and be united. He talks about how anyone, no matter age or color, can make a difference. He makes this point over and over by sharing story after story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. The first story is of a little girl named Alex who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma before she was a year old. When she was four she had the idea to have a lemonade stand with the profits going to find a cure for her cancer as well as others. She passed away in 2004 but not before seeing Alex’s Lemonade Stands (the organization started by her parents) raise over $1.4 million. Stories like this both break your heart but also show that we are all capable of making a difference.

I really enjoyed this book. It encouraged my faith while giving me that push to do more for God. To reach out to those who are hurting and not do enough to merely “get by.” One line from the book stood out to me: “Faith is at its best when it’s on the move, leading people to places they never thought they’d go, and changing lives for the better. The next time you’re given a chance to follow your faith, wherever it may take you, will you choose to move?”

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House and was not required to write a positive review.

book review: "lol with God" by pam farrel and dawn wilson

“LOL with God” is a devotional for women broken down into seventy-eight different “texts” from God to us. Each text begins with a scripture and ends with an “LOL” – a short real-life story to make you laugh. Some of the themes tackle singleness, stress and trusting God. One text titled “Connecting Dots” discusses the latter and really spoke to me in this season of my life: “We often get so focused on specific details that we can’t see the big picture. In our attempt to connect the dots of our circumstances, we may miss something more obvious that God is trying to show us…no matter our circumstances, God has a purpose behind each circumstance. We can trust Him because He knows how to connect the scattered dots in our lives.”

I enjoyed this book. It’s written with space for you to jot down thoughts as you read along. I felt as if each text was relevant to me and I could take something from each. I liked the humor incorporated throughout so it wasn’t too heavy of a read.

I received this book free from Tyndale House and was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

recipe: apple fritters

I attempted a new recipe tonight and though it didn't quite turn out like it was supposed to, I was still pleased. I made Ree Drummond's (Pioneer Woman) apple fritters and you can see her step by step directions by here.

A word of warning though. She said it would make eight servings and mine made waaaaaay more than that so I'm thinking I made my fritters smaller than hers. I think I also chopped my apples into tinier pieces as well but again, for a first attempt I was excited.

What you need:
2 cups All-purpose Flour
½ cups Sugar
2-¼ teaspoons Baking Powder
1-¼ teaspoon Salt
2 teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
2 whole Large Eggs
¾ cups Whole Milk
2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
2 Tablespoons Melted Butter
2 whole Granny Smith Apples, Peeled And Diced
Powdered Sugar (optional, For Dusting)

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a fork, then add milk, melted butter, and vanilla. Gently fold dry and wet ingredients together until just combined (do not overmix.) Fold in apples. Add enough apples to make a very chunky batter. You want the apples to shine though! Heat a couple of inches of canola oil over medium to medium-low heat. When it gets hot, drop a little drop of batter into the oil. If it sizzles immediately and rises to the top, the oil is ready; if it burns quickly, turn down the heat. Drop teaspoons of batter into the hot oil, six or eight at a time. Sometimes they’ll flip over by themselves; sometimes you have to flip them. Just watch them and make sure they don’t get too brown, but cook them long enough to make sure the batter’s cooked through, about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes total. Remove and drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

ordinary

My pastor made reference to this verse this morning and it's stuck with me. I've heard this verse about a million times before (maybe a slight exaggeration) but never in this translation. Romans 12:1: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." But look at it in the Message: "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering." That just seems more real to me - more applicable in my life than "present your bodies a living sacrifice." It makes the point that EVERY thing in our lives can be given to God as an offering and I don't know about you but that seems pretty cool to me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

fall

With a new season now upon us and an almost new month, I wanted to take a few seconds to share something that isn't a book review or an amazing recipe :-) While there are seasons in nature, we also experience seasons in our lives. Maybe it's the start of a new career or new relationships. Maybe it's moving somewhere new. Whatever it is, we go through times in our lives when one chapter is finished and another begins. A fresh page is waiting to be written on - life to be lived. So I'm encouraging any who come across this to enjoy life - find something each day to be thankful for. I love fall and am excited that it actually feels like it (we had a some 90 degree weather last week - was not happy about that :-). I love the colors of the leaves as they change and hearing the crunch when I step on them. It just seems to say to me, "it's fall!" So I'm wishing you all a "Happy Fall" - be it literally or if you're embarking on something new.

Monday, September 27, 2010

book review: "the vigilante's bride" by yvonne harris

Emily McCarthy is traveling to Montana to marry a man she’s never met. At eighteen, the orphanage where she was staying needs her room to house some young Indian girls. Emily is left with few other options so she boards a train in response to the newspaper ad for a bride the director of the orphanage accepted on her behalf. On the last leg of her journey the stagecoach she’s riding in is robbed, her taken along with $1,000.

Luke Sullivan is going after what’s rightfully his. The money belonged to his father but he was cheated out of it by the man Emily is expected to marry. Taking her with him wasn’t part of his plan. When he found out where she was going, he decided he needed to protect her so he whisked her away, riding into the night. Though he thought he was helping, Emily is outraged Luke would kidnap her. She’s sees him as a thief and not to be trusted. He takes her to the orphanage where he was raised and still lives until he can figure out what to do with her.

Trouble comes when Bart Axel, Emily’s fiancĂ©, comes looking for her. The man orders her to come with him – giving her the chance to see the kind of man he is and making her inwardly grateful Luke kidnapped her. Luke tells the man to leave, giving him the amount of money he paid for Emily and he stomps out, spewing veiled threats every step of the way.

Luke begins to feel things aren’t quite right when the number of cattle he oversees for the orphanage is dwindling. Since cattle equal money, their livelihood is at stake as well as the future of the orphanage. When he finds out Bart is behind the disappearances, he knows he has to do something. Tension continues to escalate until finally Bart dies in a stampede by the cattle he had taken from Luke. Through it all, Luke and Emily forge a friendship as they work to uncover who’s behind the missing cattle. When she puts her life in potential danger, Luke realizes his feelings for her are more than friendly. In the final pages of the story he asks her to marry him and she accepts.

I enjoy Christian Romance and this didn’t disappoint. There were times when I felt the story was more about Luke than Emily (and maybe that’s the way Harris wanted it to be). I wasn’t completely swept away into the story but I still enjoyed it. There were some humorous moments I laughed out loud at and it was overall a good read.

* I received a copy of the book from Bethany House and was not required to write a positive review.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

book review: "power thoughts" by joyce meyer

In the Introduction to her book, Meyer makes a statement that sums up the importance for taking control of our thought life. She says, “I firmly believe that each thing we do in life gives us experience for the next thing we will do and that our thoughtful planning is perfected by God as we place our trust in Him.” She further says “It is impossible to change our lives unless and until we change our thoughts.”

Meyer shares twelve “power thoughts” for us to grab hold of and meditate on in order to give our mind a mental make-over. These are:
1. I can do whatever I need to do in life through Christ.
2. God loves me unconditionally!
3. I will not live in fear.
4. I am difficult to offend.
5. I love people and enjoy helping them.
6. I trust God completely; there is no need to worry!
7. I am content and emotionally stable.
8. God meets all my needs abundantly.
9. I pursue peace with God, myself, and others.
10. I live in the present and enjoy each moment.
11. I am disciplined and self-controlled.
12. I put God first in my life.

I really liked this book. I like the way Meyer has written it so you can break up each “power thought” and study one a week. I definitely want to re-read the book, getting all I can out of it. At the end of each “power thought” she also includes a list of relevant scriptures. Scattered throughout the chapters are questions for you to answer, encouraging us to evaluate our current thought life and what we can do to change it. One thing she said that spoke to me as I’m in a season of waiting is that “Satan often works through or takes advantage of our weaknesses at the precise time God is trying to promote us or lead us to take a step of faith that will advance His Kingdom or move us closer to fulfilling our destinies.”

* I received an ARC of this book from Faith Words and was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

recipe: devil's food marshmallow cake

I was in an Oreo mood and googled recipes that involve the cookie sandwich. This is from the Nabisco website and wow, it was yummy.


Ingredients
1 package devil's food cake mix
20 Oreos
3 cups Cool Whip
2 1/2 cups mini-marshmallows


Prepare cake batter and bake in 2 (9-inch) round cake pans as directed on box. Cool completely. Coarsely chop 12 of the Oreos. Add to 2 cups of Cool Whip in large bowl with 1 1/2 cups of the marshmallows; stir gently until well blended. Place 1 of the cake layers on serving plate; spread with the Cool Whip topping mixture. Cover with the second cake layer. Frost with remaining 1 cup Cool Whip. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Top with the remaining 8 Oreos, halved, and the remaining 1 cup marshmallows just before serving.

I embellished a little and now that I've made it once, my mind is coming up with all kinds of other ideas. Before adding the Oreos and marshmallows to the top, I drizzled some chocolate Magic Shell and let it harden. You could also use colored marshmallows or tint your Cool Whip. I also thought of adding mini-chocolate chips to the middle layer of Cool Whip, Oreos and marshmallows. They could also be sprinkled on the top as well. You could also use the 3 ingredients from the middle and cover the sides of the cake with it. I like being able to see all 3 layers but that's just another idea. The cake was a major hit and super easy: win-win :-)

Monday, September 13, 2010

book review: "immanuel's veins" by ted dekker

Toma Nicolescu and Alek Cardei are assigned to protect Kesia Cantemir and her twin daughters, Lucine and Natasha. The two men arrive at the Cantemir estate in Moldavia to find the women celebrating by hosting a Summer Ball of Delights. Shortly after their arrival, Toma’s filled with unease at the presence of a handful of Russians. These guests stand out from the rest, dressed in all black with the women wearing tight-fitting and rather revealing clothing. Alek’s immediately transfixed by Natasha, deciding she will soon become another of his conquests. Toma is taken by Lucine but because of his loyalty to Catherine the Great, he keeps his interest to himself. At her mother’s prodding, Lucine shows Toma around her home but it’s when they return to the dining room that Toma’s unease returns. They walk in to find Natasha on the floor, her face bloody. Alek threatens to kill the man responsible – one of the Russians who claims he merely kissed her and she fainted. The tension continues to escalate and when the Russian lunges for Alek, Toma shoots him dead.

Natasha soon wakes up, claiming she’s more than fine and admits she did welcome the Russian’s kiss. It’s soon after that she begins going to the home of Vlad van Valerik, where the Russians are all residing. She returns each morning, face pale and lips red. Alek, in an attempt to protect her, goes with her one night. It’s then that they are both sneaking out each evening. Toma is furious Alek doesn’t see the danger in this so he goes to the castle to retrieve them both. Once there he’s unsure what to think. Everyone is merely reclining on chairs or lazily talking with each other, no threat in sight. It’s then that he is offered some of their wine.

Lucine discovers Toma with one of the Russian women and shoving aside the growing affection for him, accepts van Valerik’s offer of marriage. He asks to not only kiss her but to bite her lip. “It’s not a bite as much as a sharing. A mixing of blood. A seal of love between two people. This wins the heart, not merely the drinking of the blood.” Pain begins to flow throughout her and she is scared at what’s happening. Vlad smacks her when she voices her fear. Natasha finds her, telling her when she wakes she’ll feel better. His “kiss” begins Lucine’s transformation into what Vlad is: a half-blood Nephilim, the children conceived from the union of fallen angels and humans. Toma is outraged that Lucine would even consider marriage to Vlad and is arrested for accusing the duke of being possessed. The only way for him to win back Lucine is to convince her of his love – to be her Immanuel. As he battles Vlad but is losing horribly, death imminent, he cries out for the woman he’s doing this for. “Lucine! Oh, God! Lucine, Lucine, Lucine…” These were the guttural groans of a dying man clinging to the last thing that was more precious than life itself. To love.” Lucine is restored by falling into the fountain of water that is now mixed with Toma’s blood. His blood brought her back to life.

This was my first Ted Dekker read. I’ve always wanted to read his work but could never decide where to start. I liked the overall message of the book but it was a little hard to get into at first. I found myself not quite sure what was happening and waiting for everything to fit together – which it finally did. The book tackles the theme of sacrificial love and the question has been posed, “what is sacrificial love?” To me, it means giving entirely of oneself, not expecting anything in return. It’s completely selfless. The ultimate example of this would be Jesus’ death on the cross – He paid the highest price for sin so that we wouldn’t have to. I think as selfish humans, it’s hard for us to fully understand His sacrifice. We try to love others is our own flawed way but we still fall short. Sacrificial love gives and gives, not stopping because of a bad mood or hurtful word. It loves…for the sake of love itself even when we’re so undeserving of it.

Click here to see a video trailer for the book. And Thomas Nelson is letting me share something else with those who read this. If you'd like to win a "Spread the Love" t-shirt, leave me a comment on this post. Contest will end on September 17 at midnight.
* I received an advanced copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers and was not required to write a positive review.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

thank you

Today is National Day of Encouragement and to celebrate the day, (in)courage gave away a bundle of cards from DaySpring. All that was required was to send the cards to friends and then blog about it. For me, that was too easy to pass up. So I looked through the cards, deciding which ones fit which of my friends. One I mailed to a senior at my church. As a youth leader, you become close to the kids you work with each week and she was one of those I've developed a close relationship with. So when she moved out of the state last month, I was a little bummed. She promised all of us it's only for a year and then she'll be back for college but that didn't make her leaving any easier. So I mailed her one of the cards, just letting her know I'm thinking about her. My hope is that she opens the card and smiles, having a tangible reminder that she's missed terribly. I want to bring her a smile just as she's given me countless reasons to smile :-)

Friday, September 10, 2010

book review: "outlive your life" by max lucado

Chapter one asks this question: “we are given a choice…an opportunity to make a big difference during a difficult time. What if we did? What if we rocked the world with hope? Infiltrated all corners with God’s love and life?” And that’s the question woven throughout the rest of the book. Lucado talks about how society has slowly evolved into a “as little social interaction as possible” world. You can pay bills online, speak to a automated system when you call tech support - “You can cycle through a day of business and never say hello.” This makes it hard for us to reach out to people when we never see them. He talks about the man in Acts who’s sitting at a gate, asking for money. Peter and John have nothing to offer except for one thing: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). “Let’s be the people who stop at the gate. Let’s look at the hurting until we hurt with them. No hurrying past, turning away, or shifting of eyes. No pretending or glossing over. Let’s look at the face until we see the person.”

And while we’re called to help those who are hurting, we don’t need to have an audience when we do so either. “Bottom line: don’t make a theater production out of your faith. “Watch me! Watch me!” is a call used on the playground, not in God’s kingdom.” We need to be real with our faith instead of trying to put on a good show. “…when people enter a church to see God yet can’t see God because of the church, don’t think for a second that God doesn’t react.” We shouldn’t strive for anyone to see us when we feed the homeless or pray in church. God’s the only One who needs to see and He already does.

This was my first Max Lucado read but I really liked it. It’s a book that challenges you to stop living a comfortable faith. Why do we keep such an amazing thing like our salvation to ourselves? Why would we not want others to have this too? Lucado asks us to be active in our faith and actually strive to make a difference in the world. “Here’s a salute to a long life: goodness that outlives the grave, love that outlasts the final breath. May you live in such a way that your death is just the beginning of your life.”
*I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers and was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

book review: "permission to speak freely" by anne jackson

Fear soaks into their bloodstream like a paralyzing virus and prevents them from taking a step in the beautiful, wonderful and difficult life in front of them. Fear wants to stop our stories.”

Anne begins her book with a glimpse into her childhood. She grew up as a preacher’s kid and as a result moved a lot as her father would pastor church after church. She had a hard time establishing real relationships and one memory stands out to her. She was in the fourth grade. She and two other girls were best friends and sealed the bond with a friendship necklace. One day the truth came out. While one pushed her down, the other tore her necklace off, telling her “we never wanted to be your best friend! Our parents made us!” Anne ran home, seeking refuge in her room where her mother found her. “I told her that Leigh and Amy hated me. That I hated moving and I missed my old friends and I hated deacons and school and my life and I hated the church. My mom quietly stroked my sweaty hair. I now think she was quiet because she kind of agreed with me.”

About twenty years late, Anne takes a job at a church but meets resistance when wanting to discuss certain topics on her blog. Since working for the church, her views could be associated with the church and therefore they had a say in what she could and couldn’t write about. Anne didn’t like that. “It had been so long since I had been in church, I forgot there were certain things that people were expected to keep quiet about. Like life…” In May 2008, Anne asked the question on her blog “what’s one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?” The response was huge. She tried to find a commonality amid the responses – something linking them all together and ultimately came up with brokenness. “We ultimately want to hide what’s broken, whether it occurs individually or in a community…”

I loved Anne’s honesty. She openly talks about the things she’s struggled with – depression, pornography, being abused when she was sixteen, and her belief in God. She talks about the Gift of Going Second. This is when by someone coming forward and admitting their struggle with something, others know it’s ok to say they’re dealing with the same thing. That’s the basic point of her book in my opinion. She’s giving all those who read it the Gift of Going Second. To know she’s been there and has been able to come through it. “And if you are the one who needs hope today, please take whatever you can of mine…”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

simple things

I think I've blogged about this before but I'm really trying to make an effort to find delight in the simple things. To not be so rushed going to work or running errands that I miss out on enjoying the feel of the sunshine or spotting that cute rabbit before it scampers off into the bushes (which for some reason gives me a "Bambi" flashback). I don't want to be so goal-focused that I forget to live in the now. What's prodded this is a little boy I met yesterday. I was filling in for a resource teacher and he was the last student of my day. He's in third grade and is autistic. After he finished his work he got on the computer (the teacher warned me he would go to the same site he always goes to...which he did) and printed off a picture of a Power Ranger (taking a bunny trail which makes reference to the Bambi comment I made a few lines ago...anywho, I remember the original Power Rangers and yes the fight scenes were unbelievably cheesy but man, you gotta love the classics :-). He then found some blank paper and proceeded to draw his own "armor" like one of the Power Ranger vehicles. He then taped the paper to his clothes, including paper "wings" on his back and then went back to class. I smiled as he left, being reminded again of how amazing an imagination is. I recently read somewhere that the toys kids have today don't require any imagination. The toys make all the sounds, not allowing the kids to come up with their own - as a result, they become bored with them. So here's my challenge for any who may read this: find ways to use your imagination. Remember what it was like to be a kid...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

jump

Sometimes in life you just have to close your eyes and jump. I had a "jump" moment earlier today, thus sparking a blog post. My ultimate career goal is to be a teacher so I'm subbing as a way to get my foot in the door. The hard part of this is the aspect that I'm walking into a classroom, not knowing what grade I'll be with (though I can now do a little legwork to find that out in advance) or any background knowledge of these kids. Each day is a "first day" for me until I become familiar with the school, teachers and students. A big part of me wants to cling to what I know, only wanting to work in schools that I've been to before because it's comfortable. The other part of me knows I need to step out and establish as many connections as I possibly can so my name is out there when hiring time comes in the spring. It's all a matter of deciding to just jump. Back in the summer, my youth group went to a local pool for a fellowship evening. No sermon, no small groups - just hanging out. I had a sudden surge of boldness and wanted to go off the high dive. One of the teens went with me and I watched her gracefully splash into the water. Then it was my turn. I realized about halfway up the ladder just how high this really was. Reaching the top, I looked out and then down. It seemed like a very long way down. If I had continued to stand there, thinking about how far I would soon be falling, I might've chickened out. Instead, I took a deep breath and jumped. It was a surreal feeling because I remember that it felt like I kept falling and falling before I met the water. Coming up for air moments later, I swam to the side and climbed out. Was I glad I had jumped? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably not :-) But I jumped - I didn't let anything keep me from taking that leap and that's something I want to apply to my life in order to enjoy this one shot I have at it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

book review: "love, charleston" by beth webb hart

Sisters Anne and Lish with their cousin Della all live in Charleston. They’ve been close all their lives and Lish lives in their childhood home with her husband and two kids. Married to a doctor and pregnant with their third child, Lish has the life Della secretly longs for. With a daughter of her own, she’s married to a handsome sculptor but most days they make enough money to barely get by. Anne is still single but believes God spoke to her, telling her to “stay and wait” for her future husband in Charleston. Lish suffers complications from her pregnancy and gives birth to her baby when she’s seven and a half months pregnant. Both mother and daughter are fine but it’s when she’s sent home that things began to slowly creep downhill. Lish falls into a state of depression, having to be admitted to the psychiatric ward at the hospital. Her husband tells her she needs to pull through this because he’s been offered a job in Atlanta and he feels he can’t pass the opportunity up. It takes Della and Anne taking care of Lish for her to finally start to pull through the fog she’s been living in. Her husband files for divorce and Della and her family move in with Lish to help with her children. All during this time of family upheaval, a new minister moves into Charleston with his daughter. He’s a widower and is hoping that this might be a fresh start for him. It’s when he meets Anne that he wants to give dating another try after so long. The last page of the book has everyone together, Della deciding if whether the way their lives have taken a turn can be deemed as a happy ending. “Is this is a happy ending? Della asked herself as she watched her daughter suck the meat of the loquat and reach for another. And then she turned to see Lish, who took Cecilia in her arms and kissed her cheek and neck before rocking her back and forth. Della watched her cousin’s hands. They seemed sturdy and capable as they took hold of the toddler, as if to confirm through the sense of touch what every child longed to hear from their parent: “Yes, my little one. I am here for you.” Della took a deep breath as Lish lifted Cecelia up into the sky, the sun filtering through her plump little toes. Yes, Della thought as Anne nudged her elbow and handed her a loquat. This is.

I liked the way the book didn’t end with a conventional “happy ending.” I didn’t like how Hart seemed to barely touch on everyone’s story without really fleshing out the characters. You know what Della’s going through but it seems as though she and Lish are the dominant characters. I like how real Della and Lish are but I wanted to know more about Roy (the minister) and Anne. At times it seemed the solutions the women were going through could be found in each other instead of God but overall, a good read.

Note: I received this book free to review from Thomas Nelson Publishers and was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

still single

I want to encourage my fellow single friends out there. I think I've mentioned before that I want to get married. I want to stand in front of friends and family and say "I do" to the guy God's been saving just for me. I know relationships are complicated and not every day with the one you love will always be happy and smooth sailing. I'm aware of that yet that doesn't take my desire for marriage away. I came across something the other day that's changed how I've been praying for a husband. Maybe this will help you too. Boundless.org is an extension of Focus on the Family. This is their webzine targeted to young adults and marriage/dating is a frequent topic of interest. One article, "How to Pray for Your Husband" caught my eye (http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0002325.cfm). The author says that while quoting verse after verse regarding marriage is good and all, you need to actually pray for your future spouse. Pray that he's moving to the point of being ready for marriage (be it spiritually, emotionally, financially). Pray that God's preparing him for that huge step and for you. This changed how I approach the subject with God. It's taking it beyond "thank You for my husband" but putting feet to that prayer by asking God to help my Mr. Right move to the point of feeling able to take on a wife and maybe family one day.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

another day

I'm making a decision about how I view life. Each day is not just "another day." Pepperidge Farm came out with a slogan saying, "never have an ordinary day." That's my new philosophy. Each day is remarkably unique. There will never be another August 19, 2010...ever. I think sometimes we get so wrapped up in long term goals and things we're striving for that we forget to enjoy each day. We forget to find delight in the little things. We're too busy to not only stop and smell the proverbial roses but we end up trampling them in our haste to reach our next destination, our next "to do." I'm just as guilty of this. I'm all about planning out my day and then expecting it to go just as I plan. We won't even get into how often that doesn't happen :-) We need to find reasons to celebrate each day and soak up every second of life we can. I think we're all aware of the brevity of life. That fact should make us all the more determined to enjoy each day. Make the decision now to not have just "another day."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

anyway

There's a song called "Anyway" by Martina McBride that's my current theme song. I'm not someone who'd be considered a "risk taker." I like to know all details and specifics before agreeing to anything. I'm very much into details and planning. Failure is something I strive to avoid at any and all cost. Yet this song suggests I embrace the opposite of my self-imposed philosophy on life. It says to dream big dreams even if they're scary and slightly overwhelming. It says to love that person even though it may not work out. To me, it's saying pour your life out in your giftings and talents, even if no one sees you. To take that leap of faith...