Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Because you asked....

A few people have asked for my granola and protein bar/balls recipes, so I am posting them here! Some of my recipes aren't "mine" at all, I simply found them online and won't take credit for it. I'll give you the link to go grab it from the original source.

I used Alton Brown's recipe for both granola and crunchy granola bars. You can get the recipe for his granola by clicking HERE and his bar recipe HERE. Head's up though....be sure to take those bars out of the oven at the appropriate time. If you leave them in there just a tad too long, your bars become too crunchy to bite comfortably. As with all my recipes, I substitute a lot and often just use what I have on hand. Alton calls for a large quantity of dried fruit, which I just swap for raisins, craisins, coconut flakes....or whatever I have.

Here's my chewy granola bar recipe:
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups quick rolled oats
1/4 cup flax seed
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 1/2 cup extras (peanuts, chocolate chips, raisins, dried fruit, coconut, etc.)

Mix first 5 ingredients well. Add remaining ingredients until completely mixed. Press
hard and evenly into a 9x13 greased pan. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes. Cool. Flip out
onto cutting board. Cut into bars. Wrap individually. Will keep in pantry for 2 weeks.

Here's my Energy/Protein Ball recipe:

1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup peanut butter (or other nut butter)
1/3 cup honey
1 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
Mix everything above in a medium bowl until thoroughly incorporated.  Let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour.  Once chilled, roll into balls and enjoy!  Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.
**When I made these most recently, I didn't have mini chocolate chips or flaxseed, so I substituted sunflower seeds and crunched up M&M's. The pops of color brought into the mix made it quite cute. I toted these around with us the day we did our home inspection, which kept my family from wilting during the 2 hour process. ;-)

Can you think of other recipes you'd like to check out? Let me know. If I don't have one already, I'll experiment and report back to you! 

*************POST UPDATE************
I wanted to share an example of my substitution habits with you. A few days ago, I needed to make a double batch of the Energy Ball mentioned above....but as usual, I did not have all the ingredients listed. So I swapped things out for other things. Here is what I ended up using instead:

2 cups oatmeal
1 cup peanut butter
2/3 cup agave 
2 cup coconut flakes
1 cup chopped baked almonds
1 cup chopped white chocolate flavored candy (AKA almond bark)
2 tsp vanilla

For recipe swaps to work, the key is to keep the ratio of dry goods to sticky goods the same....and it will probably work out! I didn't mind the taste of the original recipe, the rest of the family thought they were good. However, we all LOVED this combination. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Banton food budget secrets revealed!

So, a few people have asked me to share my coupon techniques. The sad part is that in light of the recent extreme couponing tv shows, I run from advertising my strong satisfaction of couponing. I have watched one episode and felt torn. On one hand, I am amazed at the time, calculator punching, and down-to-the-dollar shopping they do. On the other hand, I am saddened by their need to get so much for free. 
But this post isn’t about the show. It’s about how I make our food budget work. 
My numbers will reflect Virginia prices, since I haven’t fully stocked a pantry, fridge and freezer in Connecticut yet. I also haven’t been cooking like I normally do because of our temporary living situation. I hope to kick this back into high gear once we get settled into our own place. Eventually, I will update on the changes CT has brought our grocery strategy.
My family of four (plus one dog and whomever walks through my front door any given month) currently eat on $275/month. I used to clip and clip coupons. Eventually, I found that I only used a few of them because they expired or the generic item was cheaper than the other brand even with the savings. I will admit to creating and using a coupon notebook to keep things organized, but even that is much slimmer than anything you see on tv. 
My shopping needed to change from a reaction to prices to proactive planning and cooking. I can’t make the stores sell things for what I need them to, but I can do what I can and adjust accordingly. 
Here’s a rundown on my rules for grocery shopping:
  • Prepare to shop once for the month, plus one or two other small trips for more milk, fruit, etc. I know ahead of time what I will make for the month, so I purchase the necessary ingredients for those meals. This shopping trip usually takes about 1 hour of walking fast through a familiar store, selecting almost exactly the same items each month. 
  • I pray before I go. We live off of money that churches and individuals have given, so I filter my purchases through this self-imposed accountability system. Before I leave my car, I pray that God will extend my dollars and make it stretch for the month. He hasn’t left me hangin’ so far. 
  • I don’t browse- except clearance/dent&ding racks. I know what I need in the store, so I go in and get it. I do leave a few things open ended. For instance, I will purchase whatever fresh fruit and vegetables are the cheapest- this typically means apples and grapes, but sometimes I can find others that are similarly priced. For the clearance racks, if I find something that I normally use, don’t normally use but can think of use for it, or have wanted to try, I will grab that too. Sometimes this puts me over budget by a few dollars, but over the course of several months, I think it evens out. 
  • I buy generic almost all the time. Most stores offer a 100% money back guarantee if you aren’t satisfied with their version of the product. In most cases, I find that the generic works just as well. Once, I found a small piece of metal in Walmart’s Great Value macaroni noodles. I called the number on the box to report it and was sent a check for the number of boxes I purchased that day and a load of coupons for free macaroni from another brand. For the few items I really enjoy having another brand, I do search for coupons- such a Yoplait yogurt, Breyers ice cream, the brand of agave I like, Pillsbury cake mixes and Betty Crocker brownie mix. I also buy the cereal in the bags, but will clip a coupon for the mainline brands then watch for a sale. 
  • I hate to pay full price for anything, so I wait for sales if I can. 
  • If I can make it, I do. Almost every time, I have found that homemade goods are cheaper and SO MUCH HEALTHIER than the store bought versions. Example: granola and granola bars. For under $2.00, I can make 24 granola bars! At the store, the nice brand of bars are more than $2.00 for 8 bars. Can’t beat that and my husband and kids prefer the homemade ones, hands down. I make my own cake icing (most of the time), corn bread, scalloped potatoes, cookie dough, yogurt, cold pasta salads, desserts, and most of our snacks. I have never purchased chicken or vegetable stock from a store, since I make it from home. I love knowing what’s in my food and getting it cheaper! This means that a bulk of my dry goods money is spent on things like a variety of flours, sugars, yeast, corn meal, dried beans, rice, oats, dried fruits and nuts, etc. Another way this “if I can make it, I do” theory applies is to vegetables- I don’t buy anything already prepared, so I peel and slice my own carrot sticks (imagine that!) and chop my own celery. The savings is huge. If there is something I don’t know how to make, I figure it out. It took me a solid month of daily biscuit making to figure out how to turn my hockey pucks into something edible. Youtube is an amazing cooking coach....as well as having some pretty rockin’ mennonites nearby to teach me the old tricks of the trade. 
  • I cook strategically. When I plan out my meals (which are pretty much the same every month now), I try to think about what could have or was made 100 years ago. Most likely, the meals were healthier (no preservatives, chemicals, etc.) and the ingredients are almost always cheaper. (I know many people are strapped for time after a long workday, so they need quick meals. However, I think, with some creativity, it can be done. This is how we’ve figured it out to work for us.) In addition to the better quality meals and savings, the older recipes seem to be easier to beef up for more mouths to feed. For instance, it easy to add more of a few raw vegetables to the sides of the big pot of roasted chicken before you throw it in the oven and an extra cup of rice to the bowl when you find out unexpected guests are on their way. 
  • I cook strategically, part 2. We don’t eat expensive foods. I have a hard time cooking a meal that costs me more than $2/person to prepare. My goal is to keep dinners to under $10, with leftovers for lunch the next day for (at least) my husband. On special occasions, such as birthday dinners or holidays, I will splurge a little more and enjoy the fancier things...think Little House on the Prairie style. Let me give you a real-life scenario that I do every month. With the whole chicken I purchased, I will get 3 meals+ by using it well. Meal #1 is roasted chicken with veg&rice. In the roasting pan with the whole chicken, I will fill the sides with carrots, celery, potatoes and onions. The four of us will eat about 2/3 of the meat and almost all of the veggies for that meal. After the chicken cools, I pick the remaining meat from the bones and use it for a casserole, chicken salad, tacos, soup, or something similar that leaves leftovers again.  Lastly, I will either use the juices (AKA stock) from around the roasted chicken for a meal or freeze it in a ziplock for a later soup, delicious rice, etc. Out of a $4 chicken, plus some other ingredients, I served a family a four at least 3 times. Pretty good, eh?
  • I cook strategically, part 3. I find many recipes call for arm loads of expensive ingredients that I’m not willing to part with for that meal or pay for to begin with. I will either replace it with something cheaper, but similar or ignore it altogether. One example of this is a taco casserole (sometimes called a Chuckwagon Casserole). This might sound obsessively cheap to some, but I can’t handle using an entire pound of ground beef for a chuckwagon casserole. If I’m going to use a whole pound of beef, it better be for something I can sink my teeth into- like an awesome hamburger! So, for the chuckwagon, I use a half pound of ground beef and add extra beans + a beef bouillon for filler. There is one place in which I will not use the cheaper version- BUTTER. I will never substitute margarine when the recipe calls for butter. #1, margarine is gross and fake. #2, it probably won’t work in the recipe anyway. I would rather not make the cookies than cheat there. 
  • Buy in bulk.....but only if it’s cheaper. I found stores like Sam’s sometimes hope we aren’t looking and hike the price on an item that Walmart sells cheaper. Personally, the things I buy in bulk are: dog food, laundry soap, dishwasher soap, apple juice, boneless/skinless chicken breasts, 2 pound blocks of cheese, rice, milk, eggs, printer paper (I like their quality!), whole/fresh chickens, and (sometimes) their cheapest fruit. 
  • I became a student of the stores. I pay attention to how stores price their items. However, most of the time, I just grab the store flyers and head to Walmart to price match. In my town in VA, we only had 2 grocery stores other than wally-world, but if I found a Target ad....or ANY store that had an ad with something cheaper, I saved it and brought it to Walmart with me. If it was still “good” or within the dates written on the ad, Walmart honored it (except on buy one, get one free sales). 
  • When it's gone, it's gone. When we run out of something before the pay period ends, most of the time we just wait. Since I have usually spent our entire food budget by that point, there is nothing left in the "envelope" and I fight the urge to go get more. This is when it gets really tough to tell my girls that we will just have to wait for more ______ and that we'll be ok with it. Heading back to the store to get more of something slowly increases the food spending. If I notice that we are lacking that item at the end of the month for a few months, I will make space in the food budget to buy more and accommodate. It may not be a big deal in the long run, but this is a discipleship issue and (I feel) it teaches my girls to get over their human need to satisfy their want immediately. This rule gets hard when I have unexpected guests coming and I want to prepare a huge meal with all the fancy sides or desserts. My internal battle becomes a pride issue and I usually end up asking myself a few questions...."before I knew I was having guests, I was willing to serve my family our planned meal. And if I'm ok with them eating this, why wouldn't I be ok with serving it to someone else?" Then I realized that the people coming over are usually in one of two catagories: Either they are coming over because they like us despite what we are eating, or they are coming over to eat (our college students) and don't care what it is other than it being safely consumable.  
  • I have a Master Shopping List and Monthly Meal Plan tailored to us. There are several examples online. 
  • Lastly, I don’t typically buy cleaners like windex, specialty floor cleaners or bathroom cleaners. Armed with bleach, baking soda and vinegar, I can clean almost any surface in my house. Google the uses of baking soda and you’ll be amazed at the savings your 75 cent box of baking soda can provide. One of my splurges is for the dish washing liquid that is easier on my hands! I do buy disposable things like ziplock bags, but not too frequently. I try to save those for freezing messy foods (like chicken stock or meats) and use my good supply of tupperware bowls for food storage and transport. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Disregard the appearance, please!

If anyone is actually reading this, please ignore the weird look of the blog. I am testing out a few design skillz. (z is intentional) What do you think?

Book Review- Thank You, God, for blessing me (ebook)

I recently snagged a copy a copy of the ebook Thank You God, For Blessing Me by Max Lucado, part of the Hermie series. 
I like the little poem about different things to be thankful for. That’s it. Perhaps it was due to glitches in the ebook world, but the book turned out to be only 3 pages and had very tiny pictures. It seemed that several regular pages had been smashed into one with shrunken pictures. Despite the pictures being small, they were cute. My kids liked them. 
The poem was short and my kids (3 & 5) could have sat longer for a more in-depth story. So, this book would best be for much younger kids...maybe even in a chewable format for the littlest babies to teethe on! 
My kids also wished the book read out loud to them, as some other ebooks do. Maybe Tommy Nelson can add that feature to their children’s ebooks? 
If you get the book, get an actual copy of it- not an ebook version! 
Thanks Booksneeze for this free download. I gave my honest opinion in exchange for this review. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

2 things

1. If you'd like, jump over to my other blog and check out my Top 10 Reasons I Enjoy Itinerating!

2. I have a free copy of Faith & Culture to give away. Zondervan sent me a second copy by mistake and now I can give it to YOU! If you'd like to have it, leave a comment and I will pick a winner later this week! You can read my review of it here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

10 things...

I appreciate about sports:
(in no particular order)
1. The attention to detail given to tracking stats. I mean, where else do you find out how many yards the top 4 running backs covered in any 3 year span.
2. Someone's ( I say someone because I do not know the hero of which I speak) amazing ability to get stains out of clothes.
3. Uniforms. I'm all for uniforms.
4. I little cheat-sheet thing some football players wear on their forearms. I could use one of those on days I need to be on my A-game.
5. The camaraderie an athletic event demands. In what other moment can you gather people from so many races, financial brackets, education, height & weight?
6. The small, yet very precise and clear, little camera that zooms atop the football (and soccer too, maybe?) field.
7. That writing about sports fields makes me practice the elementary grammar rule: i before e except after c. I will always need to practice that rule. I do not like the word "field" for some reason.
8. The level of commitment that teammates have to one another and their coach, typically. I like that. It's not seen in many other areas of life.
9. The commercials.
10. The headsets. Headsets that tell you what to do, when to do, who to have help you....all at the very second you need it. I could use a headset like that. Please?

Book Review: Night, Night Blessings (ebook version) good story

This was my first e-book download....and to my surprise, I really liked it. Last week, I downloaded a copy of Night, Night Blessings by Amy Parker onto my IPad. I was a little hesitant. I have maintained my membership in the real-paper&ink-book-in-hand club, but I was pleasantly surprised. 
Parker did a great job with her poetic, thankful blessings to be read before bed. My girls loved it and loved swiping through the pages on my IPad. Additionally, her pictures were  sweet and gentle. (Can a picture be gentle? I think so. Anyway....) 
Great story. Get it digitally. Read it to your kids. 
Thanks BookSneeze for a free book download in exchange for an honest review.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review: Faith & Culture: buy 2 copies- one for yourself and one for someone else

Faith & Culture (by Kelly Kullburg) is another great resource to add to your booklist and bookshelf. This book was a collection of 15 weeks worth of devotional readings which cover weekly themes in the areas of literature, art, history, science, pop culture, etc. The writing was tight and thought provoking. At the end of the page or two for each reading, questions were provided for further thought. 
I feel this text would best be accepted by younger adults and college students...or anyone with heart for or similar to them. 
I loved that within weeks of reading the book, I found myself coming in contact with people or topics mentioned in the readings. This isn’t some dusty relic hoping to be rediscovered. This is fresh, current, and real stuff. 
Grab a copy for yourself and another young person you know.  
Zondervan provided a free copy for me in exchange for an honest and real review. Thanks Zondervan. You can pick up your own copy here
By the way, I also love the old and dusty relics! 

Book Review: Surprised By Oxford....a keeper

She belonged to the group before she believed anything they said. He lived a life worthy of noticing, in front of anyone wanting to watch. Wonderful and amazing things happened because of it all. Carolynn’s story is normal and exciting, typical and captivating all at the same time. In her memoir Surprised by Oxford, Carolynn tells her own story of the year she spent studying at one of the oldest universities in the world. She shares about the friends she meets, the culture she comes to love, the professors that challenge her and her family back home in the states that are puzzled by what she finds in a far away place. 
I found myself feeling like I was Carolynn’s friend too, sitting right next to her, experiencing all she was experiencing along with her. I quickly read the 440 pages in just a few days. 
Carolynn writes on page 138, “I began to worry that perhaps I was getting in over my head here. It was occurring to me that believing in the Bible was an all-or-nothing affair. Either you believe it is the revealed Word of God, or you don’t. It’s like being pregnant. Impossible. Either you are in or you are out. Having eliminated lunatic, given the unavoidable seriousness warranted of my attention, was it now liar or Lord? I was still not sure. Yet why did reading this text give me goose bumps- literal goose bumps- more consistently than anything else I had ever read? Why did my life and how it related to the lives of others hitherto now make more sense, and yet more than ever, in and of itself, not seem enough?” 
Grab a copy. Here!
I would recommend this book to any student or adult. I would also recommend this book to anyone interested in getting into the mind of someone who grew up “around” Christianity, but really has no idea what this whole Bible-thing is all about. This puts words to something that I feel is really confusing to many trusting people. 
Thomas Nelson provided a free copy of Surprised by Oxford, by Carolynn Weber in exchange for an honest review. Thanks TNP! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Giveaway & Book Review: Nobody's Child- Pass it along rating

This was a first for me. A bioethics suspense novel. I just finished reading Nobody’s Child by Austin Boyd. Set in a small town in West Virginia, Laura Ann fights to save her family’s farm with everything she’s got- literally. As her father is dying, his medical bills mount and the mortgage on the farm needs continual attention to remain their own. The 20 year old heroine (my new favorite word, thanks Jess F.!) works hard to keep it all afloat. The town sends rumors around about her business practices. However, Laura Ann holds fast to her convictions, beliefs, and farm. 
Boyd did a great job at holding my attention well enough to unfold each tidbit of his suspense novel. I seldom read fiction, but I found this to be an enjoyable story about a strong girl. I nice addition to my summer reading. 
As far as my own rating scale, I’d give Nobody’s Child a “pass it along” rating. I think someone else would enjoy it, but it’s not worth the space on my shelf to keep around. 
Thanks Zondervan for a free copy to review on my blog! 

Now for the giveaway. Would anyone like a free copy of this book? I'll happily send along my own copy. All you need to do is leave a comment about your favorite book you've read this summer! I'll randomly pick a winner later in the week! 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: The Blessing: Buying more copies for other people!

Can you imagine the feeling of being accepted fully, forever, no matter the circumstances? Can you imagine knowing that who you are makes someone else happy? 
I recently read The Blessing with a handful of other moms in my community. We met twice a month and discussed our thoughts and reactions to the section of the book we read. I found myself thinking more about my own childhood than for my kids and you’ll see why if you read the book. 
The Blessing begins with explaining the biblical origins of giving someone a blessing. Trent and Smalley use the Old Testament narrative of Jacob and Essau as a scriptural background for this idea of blessing our children. 
The idea is that speaking a blessing over our children was modeled by God and others in the Bible as a way to speak life into particular areas for that child. General and specific details of that blessing are unique to that child and can be spoken over him or her during times of prayer- such as bedtime- or other precious times. 
Trent and Smalley write to say that we, as humans, are born with a desire to be wanted, to grow and to make those that love us proud. What happens when someone is raised in a family where their blessing is never given or the idea of blessing another is unknown? What happens if you are a part of a family that receiving that blessing- the knowledge that you were wanted and loved no matter who you turned out to be- was not an option when you were a child, or even now? Is it possible to be “blessed” as an adult? 
Lastly, Trent and Smalley provide a skeleton with which one can build a blessing for their child, friend, spouse or family member. This is super helpful, especially for those that have not had personal experience with hearing a blessing spoken over them or someone else before. I was glad this section was included in the book. A several page list is included in the back of the book that describes what many people consider a blessing handed down by their parents- again, very helpful. 
I mentioned before that when I read this book, I found myself thinking more of my own childhood than my kids. Parts of this book stirred emotions in me that were surprising. I found myself wanting something, then I felt God opening my eyes to show me how he had so beautifully provided what I lacked. Over and over again I have heard statements of blessing spoken over me- by people I couldn’t have brought into my life on my own. God provides where there is insufficiency- time and time again. 
You can read more about The Blessing at theblessing.com
I was provided a free digital copy of this book by the publishers in exchange for an honest review. Get a copy ASAP and read it. Read it if you have kids. Read it if you have grandkids. Read it if you don’t have kids. Read if it you are married. Read it if you aren’t married. Read it if you have heartbeat. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Women of Faith's REJOICE cd Review: A keeper

After my trip to the gym today, I came home to a surprise in my mailbox! I received a copy of Women of Faith’s REJOICE CD to review! Sweet. I popped it into my laptop on the kitchen counter and my girls and I listened to it while we ate lunch.
Women of Faith did a good job compiling a collection of worship songs that touch the hearts of listeners from all generations. I also love adding a few set of worship songs to my playlist. According to my own rating scale, I give the REJOICE CD “keeper” status. 
Thanks BookSneeze for sending me this free copy in exchange for an honest review! 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Violinist
A little known fact about violinists: in order to hear themselves stand distinct from their orchestra colleagues, they unintentionally tend to tune their instruments slightly sharp or flat in comparison to the other violinists nearby. 
Let me explain. As an orchestra warms up and tunes before a performance begins. The best violinist, known as the first chair or concertmaster, plays her open A string once. The rest of orchestra hears this pitch and adjusts their instruments to match. Concertmaster plays her A again and orchestra joins her forming the sound of one note and one giant instrument. Finally, the concertmaster hands the perfectly tuned orchestra over to the conductor and the show begins. This is the ideal situation. 
However, inexperienced violinists have a hard time making this happen sometimes. The same musicians that can tune any violin in a matter of seconds, struggle. Additionally,  the instrumentalist that can hear a short sound stroked from a violin and judge the pitch correct or incorrect every time, has a hard time adjusting her own sounds to blend perfectly with a group. This is not the ideal situation.
Unintentional out-of-tune violins can be found in orchestras because, as a violinist, you are trained to hear a clear sound with your left ear- the side of your head that the instrument is held on. The left ear hears a very loud and distinct sound during practices, lessons, and small group rehearsals. Each violin has it own sound, much like vocalists singing the same note but with distinction. But, when playing with the orchestra, the sounds of all other instruments make it hard to hear the same violin, even though it is just inches from the ear. So without meaning to, often these violinists alter their pitch so slightly it probably isn’t even noticed by the untrained ear. However, someone that has heard an open A string played for years can tell when one- even among a dozen or more- is out of tune. Out of sync with the rest. 
Thinking about this today made me wince a little because I see it now in light of spiritual things. Without meaning to, this inexperienced violinist must adjust my step, ways, practices just slightly so I can hear myself. Since I can’t hear myself clearly it must mean I am perfectly in tune with my colleagues, right?  Jesus said that his ways were not our ways and his thoughts were not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) I observe two things here. 
  1. I struggle to trust that I am in sync with God when I can’t hear/see/feel Him close.
  2. I am not naturally drawn to doing things someone else’s way, adjusting my step/speed/direction in order to align myself with another. 
You know what this sounds like? Pride. (The reoccurring issue in my life!) “God, I can’t hear myself because of all the chaos around me. So, I think I’ll adjust something. Yes! There we go, I can hear myself again. Everything’s ok now” Or try this one on for size: “God, I just want to hear what I sound like alongside everyone else. I just have to make sure I have that rhythm right. As long as I can hear myself and I can control it all, I’ll get it done right.” Sound familiar? 
Jesus asks us to walk with him and to stay in stride and instep with him. We aren’t to run ahead, lag behind or wander off. Our feet are to hit the ground so in-sync with his, that only one step is heard. It’s hard to do though. It’s hard to remember that his speed and direction is the best when everything is shifting around us. It’s tough to slow to his desired pace when our eyes catch glimpses of the lengthy to-do list. And it’s challenging to  head in the direction he is going, when someone in need is down the road the other way. But, thankfully, Jesus doesn’t ask us to set the pace, chose the stride length, or navigate the course. He simply wants us to obey, to align ourselves with his purposes and plans, to “gel” with his will. 
As long as our violins are tuned to his perfect A-or our spirit is in line with His spirt; then we can rest in perfect peace that we are “in-tune” with what he has asked us to do. We don’t have to use our limited wisdom to adjust our pitch just enough to double check. We can work as unit of one with him. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book Review: What Are You Waiting For? By Dannah Gresh: Keeper/Pass-Along

Dannah Gresh seemed to catch the heart of young women perfectly in her candid work, What Are You Waiting For?- The one thing no one ever tells you about sex. She gracefully answers questions I hear being asked over and over again by young women. Gresh so clearly grabs the issues and targets the pinnings of the female heart; it’s as if she is sitting across the cafe table and offers to share her best kept secrets. She captured the issues and questions perfectly. Gresh didn’t back down from the hard or popular questions; nor did she shy away from telling her own story of confusion. 
From the perspective of a college campus missionary, this book is handy go-to book for the women I spend time with. It is an easy read, so it won’t take much time to consume. On certain pages, small boxes of extra information were popped in, which gave the book almost a magazine feel. Gresh kept the life changing information from getting heavy and burdensome by sticking to the point and keeping it simple. She wasn’t wordy. 
I found two memorable and noteworthy things in this book. First, I LOVED her explanation of yada and shokab. Very good and meaty information. Second, I connected with her story of Lauren (on page 151) so easily- because it is my story, or better  yet- mine and my husbands story. I’ll give you a summary: Lauren met Kevin in college and he told her that he wanted to wait to kiss his bride for the first time on his wedding day. Lauren laughed. Kevin explained that he had fallen before and knew his limitations. He wanted to be the guy that protected girls, especially the girl he most loved. That meant he had to take kissing off the table because it was too much for him. So, his rule was no kissing until I do. Of course, the girl he married was Lauren. The author was present at their wedding and she witnessed, along with a fe hundred others, Kevin and Lauren’s first kiss. “What power was in that kiss. It was ecstasy and forgiveness. Knowing and discovering. It was sexy and holy. It was a faithful beginning.” (pg. 152)
From my own rating scale, I’d give this book “Keeper” AND “Pass Along” status. I give it  a keeper grade because I want to keep the title around to refer women back to it, but I also give it a Pass-Along, because I know other leaders that work with women that I feel should also read it so they can refer young ladies to Gresh. 
Nice work Dannah Gresh, nice work. 

You can get your own copy Here
Moltnomah provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 9, 2011

One of the best biscuit recipes ever.

Baking Powder Biscuits
4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2/3 cup shortening (I’ve used spreadable butter, crisco, butter)
1 1/3 cup milk
(you might need a little more milk to make it cohesive enough to shape)
  1. Heat oven to 425˚. If you have cast iron skillets, put about a tablespoon of shortening each in 3 10-inch skillets and place in the oven to heat while preparing the dough. I use a 10 1/2-inch, an 8 1/2-inch, and a 6-inch skillet because that's what I have. If you don't have any cast iron skillets, grease a large cookie sheet and set aside. Or, use the cast iron skillet and a cookie sheet if you haven't enough skillets.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together. Cut in shortening until mixture is like coarse corn meal (if some pea-size chunks remain, that's okay). Add milk, stirring it in quickly with a fork, to form a soft dough. (If a large portion of the dough is still crumbly and not dough-like, add a tablespoon or so more of milk.)
  3. Turn dough out onto lightly-floured surface; knead about 1/2 minute. Roll 1/2 inch thick, or slightly taller; cut with 2-inch cutter dipped in flour (I use both a 2-inch and a 1 1/2-inch cutter). Place fairly close together in the skillets or on the cookie sheet (not right next to each other, maybe between 1/4 and 1/2 inch; (ou can also brush the tops with melted butter if you like) bake about 12 minutes. Serve hot.

Book Review: Thin Places by Mary DeMuth

I recently got myself a copy of Mary DeMuth’s Thin Places. I stumbled on her site last fall sometime while doing research for my own writings. She has written a book about parenting for people who were not raised as Christians, but want to raise their kids with a godly heritage. I found that topic intriguing. But I was even more fascinated with the idea of reading her memoir. The cover of the book is what caught my attention. A small little girl- maybe 5 or 6 years old- covering her face, wearing well-worn clothes and dirty knees. My heart connected with this little girl for some reason and I needed to know why. 
Within a few paragraphs, I knew that I needed to finish the book as soon as possible. As a reader, I was now a part of her story and I needed/wanted/had to see it end with God getting glory for what had been done to this little child. My heart broke for Mary....but I knew the image I saw of her as an adult on the website and her facebook page....I knew she made it out ok. I just needed/wanted/had to know the how’s-when’s-if’s as fast as possible. 
I quickly absorbed her story and kept thinking the same thoughts throughout....”wow, I bet if ****** could verbalize her story in a succinct way, it might sound like this”.....”I wonder what **** would think of this story, is this what she felt as a child”...”If I could only get my hands on their necks, justice.....”..... “how many other kids-RIGHT NOW, THIS MOMENT- are dealing with this same thing-does God see them? Will he heal them too? Will the kid-hurters receive the judgement their due?” 
I wanted to throw the book across the room and nail the kid-hurters in the eye. I wanted to scream and cry for little Mary- and grown up Mary. 
As far as writing technique- fabulous. When thinking about adding depth to my understanding of the wideness of God’s mercy- done. This book is a keeper for me. I will recommend this story to many, many people. But, with caution. I have a short list in mind of those that I think would benefit from seeing/reading a story of success, but I have encouraged them to set aside a time to read it from cover to cover. The story has the potential to scare, hurt or anger some that are super close to Mary’s because of her vivid portrayal of moments in her life. 
The title- Thin Places- was perfectly chosen for the book. DeMuth sees moments in her life where she knew Jesus was really close as thin places. The veil between the spiritual world and our world gets thinner than normal when one of God’s kids needs Him. 
From my own book rating scale:
*Buying another copy for a friend
*Pass it along to someone else
*Waste of money/shelf space
I give DeMuth’s This Places “Buying another copy for a friend” rating! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons: a keeper

I have taken my time reading Gabe Lyons book entitled The Next Christian because I wanted to absorb the information and really process what he shared. I don’t think I can do justice for this resource. All I can say is GET YOUR STICKY FINGERS ON A COPY AND READ IT! Lyons puts all the churchy traditions on the table and identifies them for what they are- tradition. He asks that true followers of Christ start acting like followers of Christ and fix broken places when they see them. He shares story and after story about people who are actually using their positions in the job market, money, ideas, passions and other areas of influence to bless the people around them. He meets with world- changers that I haven’t heard about from any pulpit. 
Lyons reminds me- the girl who grew up in church- that the lingo, the practices, and the sunday school attendance record are all creations of other people and are not working to bring new believers to saving knowledge of Christ. The simple and life changing concept that people need to feel like they belong somewhere 100% before they will believe anything that’s said is so true. Belonging- Believing- Becoming. We don’t have to copy what the world is doing in order to be relevant to our community. Lyons specifically points out youth group rooms that look like the basement of the guy down the street- with all the video games, tv screens, and screaming loud music. These things are entertainment and our kids are bored with that- they can get that anywhere. What they can’t get anywhere is the truths found in the Bible, the life-shifting hope, the stories of real people who are actually “living” life together. 
The part of his book that has impacted me the most was his description of the three major groups of Christians separated based on how they interact with the current culture; the Separatists (the insiders, culture warriors, and evangelizers), the Culturalists (blenders and philanthropists) and the Restorers (which use the positive strengths of the two former groups, but without the negatives brought about from them). 
This is somewhat of a second book in a series, with the first being UnChristian by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons. This book gets "keeper" status because it deserves room on my shelf. I need to re-read it and remember to encourage others to read it. 

Check out more at www.nextchristians.com 

Moltnomah sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Book review: Sara Sue Learns to Yell & Tell: an arsenal addition

The necessity of covering issues like this with my young girls saddens me. However, the point remains true that there are people in our world that are lurking and waiting to hurt a child. Recently, due to an innocent moment I observed between my daughter and a family acquaintance, I felt the need to arm my girls with the information that might protect them from other people with indecent motives. This book was recommended to me and I purchased it for our own book collection. 
The author, Debi Pearl does a great job informing kids on “clues” that will keep them safe. Through vivid pictures and short rhymes, she clearly explains to kids (in my case- girls since we purchased the book Sara Sue Learns to Yell & Tell....the boy version is Samuel Learns to Yell & Tell) what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior for other people- and what to do if something happens. She warns that simply knowing someone might not mean they are safe and to always tell someone when something scary has happened to you. 
In Sara Sue Learns to Yell & Tell, the girl teaches her doll these concepts in a non-threatening way that doesn’t cause fear in a child reading the story. 
The website also offers coloring sheets: http://www.yellandtellbooks.com Additionally, there are sources offered at www.yellandtell.com This site does not seem to be affiliated with the Pearl's ministry, but it offers helpful information on the matter. 
I have not yet read the book to my girls. I am waiting for a day when I know they are paying attention and will remember what we talk about. It angers me that this is a part of our society, but anger won’t equip my child with the knowledge of how to keep herself safe. I am thankful someone wrote a book like this- not to cause fear to grow, but to inform. 

Debi Pearl also offers other parenting advice and resources through her ministry website: www.nogreaterjoy.org. The Pearls have no idea who I am. I just bought her book and wanted to share my thoughts with the world. I did, however, like that my receipt had a prayer handwritten on it when my book came in the mail! 

Sorry, once I uploaded the picture to the right, I could not rotate it.... You may do some neck stretches while observing the cute illustrations! 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review- Reggie: Pass-It-Along

It probably won’t become a classic, but Reggie Dabbs’ story is a classic God-story. In his book (co-written by John Driver), Reggie shared his life story by intertwining with stories found in “his favorite book”. Reggie’s story is one of victory, protection, and encouragement to anyone who reads this book. His purpose is writing the book was to get his message across- “you aren’t alone” and “ you can’t change the past, but you can change the future”. He effectively communicated those messages. 
As I have said about other books, I think Dabbs provides a good launching pad for someone who is investigating this whole “God” thing. He breaks the honest questions down and answers them with his own personal story. This was an easy read- he even included pictures! 
I gave this book a pass-it-along status because I think it has merit and worth. I think someone will get a great dose of encouragement from this conversation with Reggie. His story is powerful! I won’t relinquish permanent space on my bookshelf for it, but maybe someone else will. 
Thomas Nelson provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Reggie doesn’t know me, although I think he’d be cool to hang out with! =) 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Giveaway #2 Winner!

And my second book giveaway winner is TRACY, from the herman family! Thanks for playing guys!

Tracy, I'll drop your book in the mail!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Journal Entry

January 10, 2011
At church yesterday, Pastor Frank preached on Hannah and the story of her determined strength to pray earnestly for something, faithfully wait for God to answer, then sacrificially give it back to God. Although my situation is not related to bearing a child, I feel like I understand a little of what Hannah went through. Gil and I have prayed earnestly about something, waited on God to answer in his timing, and now we are preparing to sacrifice something. 
A long season of prayer began for us when God dropped something into our hearts- a small seed of an idea to pioneer ministry at the University of Connecticut. At different times, God spoke to each of us about relocating our family, handing off our ministry, and starting over in another small, northern town. We talked together about it and began praying about all it entailed. We allowed it to just sit in our hearts and grow. This tiny seed of an idea began to develop a small and fledgeling sprout.  Over the course of many months, we waiting on God to direct us to the next step in the process. 
Eventually, we began to feel the urge to speak with those in our life that would help us make this happen.Waiting, lots of waiting. But our waiting wasn’t static, it was kinetic. We stayed busy while we waited. We busied ourselves with ministry right where we were. We put a cap on the little seed growing and waited for permission to take the lid off and give it more sunshine. Then one day, we got a phone call. 
We were asked if we still felt called to go pioneer at the University of Connecticut. A quick affirmative answer sent our minds racing forward. Lots of conversing and brainstorming happened. Interviews, assessments, assignments given. Trips made. Timeline established. We were going. 
Now, the sacrificing part. It’s exciting to start a new adventure. It’s invigorating to scan the horizon and see all new opportunities. But it’s scary leaving all things familiar. It’s hard walking away from all of the wonderful people God has brought into our lives, all of the support and encouragement surrounding us. Fear of potential loneliness approaches. Moving away from the home “God built” for our family- the place where I brought my girls home from the hospital after their births, the place we’ve packed with more students than the fire department would deem safe, the place that I have spoken with, cried to, yelled at, and sat with God. Am I really doing this? The place that I can clean entirely during the length of a good afternoon nap. Yep- that’s the place I am packing all my family’s stuff up and moving away from. 
Asking all these questions- and finding answers for a few of them- has caused me to realize the breadth of the sacrifice I am making- or better yet- the smallness of the sacrifice I am making. When it compares to the sacrifices Jesus has made for me- or the sacrifices that countless followers of Christ throughout history has made for the purpose of furthering the gospel- or the sacrifice my friends make daily as they choose to live in communities we, Americans, would say is substandard and hazardous to one’s health- my sacrifice is miniscule. Untangling the entrapping strings of this world gives a lightness to one’s step- kind of like the purging a family does as they pack to move. A purging, filtering, straining that I am anticipating with hopefulness. 
Realizing that we are leaving behind so many wonderful things is hard, but when you sit that sadness next to the bigness of God, it doesn’t seem so huge anymore. I can be ok- even is for just a moment at a time- with walking away from the beauty of a home I always hoped for. 
Hannah, thanks for being brave and tough as you prayed for a child. Thanks for committing that child to God and sacrificing him back to the Lord. Thank you for realizing that you have a great, big God who is capable of so much. Thank you for waiting and wanting- and not giving up on that desire of your heart! ~Me. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book Giveaway #2

I think there are two ways to measure the usefulness of a book. Ask yourself these two questions: would you give a copy to someone else in your life and would you keep a copy in your bathroom to read "when you have a moment". Agree? 

Well, this little toolbox is one of those books. 20 Rules and Tools for a Great Family is another easy read that gives practical tips on making your family great. Endorsed by Focus on the Family, Steve Stephens (what a name, eh?) gives lists, ideas, and thoughts for parents. 

You can win your own copy of this book by leaving a comment under the post. In your comment answer this question: What is your favorite conversation starter with preschoolers or elementary age kids? What is something you'd ask a child while sharing a meal, taking a walk, or driving in the car? What question could get a kid talking? 

Bonus entry- refer a friend and make sure they leave a comment. You can just leave a second comment telling me they are your guest and left a comment.

Contest is open until next sunday

Steve Stephens, Tyndale House Pub., and Focus on the Family have no idea I am giving away this book.  I just want to spread the love with good resources. 

Book Giveaway Winner!

Since I only had a few entries, accepted both facebook links and directly on my blog, my girls helped with my "random drawing" for my first book giveaway! 
(Disregard the crazy eyes from the smallest Banton!) 

Drum roll please.......

Ashley, from OurAdoptionJourney won the free copy of The Missional Mom! 
Congratulations Ashley! Your book will arrive in the mail soon! Enjoy! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Review- Extra Special- A Keeper!

Having author-friends has perks! I just finished reading my friend’s first children’s book, entitled Extra Special. Ashley Clement Frey tells a story of a little kangaroo boy, Boomer who has trouble fitting in due to being different than other kids and how his mom shares her wisdom to help him learn through it. 
The illustrations in Extra Special are beautiful. I felt as though I was holding a piece of fine art in my hands as I read the story to my daughters. It’s obvious that exceptional time was taken to make each picture detailed and unique. 
As far as the heart of the story, I think this book is a keeper in my household. My daughters are approaching the age where they are noticing the differences about themselves and their peers. Hair styles and clothing are already growing in importance to my 4 year old! Most kids- and adults- struggle to fit into their surroundings, but God meant our differences and uniquenesses to be a blessing for others around us. We need to model a healthy confidence to our kids, showing them that sticking out- for the right reasons- is good and part of God’s design. If we were to all look, act, think, feel, love the same as everyone else, life would be boring and we would be like a cabinet full of tupperware bowls. 
Ashley Clement Frey has added another volume to our family bookshelf because of the reality of her topic. Nice work, Ashley, nice work! 
If you’d like to purchase this book, go here and here order one for your family and a friend. This would be a great addition to any Easter basket! (Hint!, Hint!) 

Also, if you'd like to help a first-time author out, go to your local bookseller (such as Barnes & Noble) and ask them to order a copy for you to purchase in the store. This helps the author out because the bookseller will purchase more than one copy to put on their store shelves! Plus, it is just so super fun to walk into a store, buy a book, and walk out with it. 

Don't forget about the book giveaway! The contest is open until next wednesday! Scroll down to see the information~ 

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

GIVEAWAY & Book Review- The Missional Mom

I just finished reading Helen Lee’s The Missional Mom- Living with purpose in home & in the world and happily consider it an excellent resource for hurried, scurried moms that want to truly impact the world around them for Jesus! 
Helen shares her own story of fighting the status quo, rethinking through what our culture says is normal, rejecting the assumption that we all just have to fall into ranks and do things the way everyone else does them. Helen (whom I feel I know personally since we’ve emailed a bunch....super sweet and authentic, by the way) is honest about her own struggles as a mom. She and her husband made hard choices for the benefit of their kids and positioned themselves to be used by God whenever and where ever God wanted to use them. 
The Missional Mom shares the stories of other real-life ladies who are also choosing to live life differently than the norm and from the way they’ve done it in the past. These ladies deal with dirty laundry, time-outs, and homework just like the rest of us...but they are proof that being missional and being real are possible. 
Helen did a great job at making this book read-able for the busy, tired mom. Her chapters are short and quick to read through. She generously offered a free copy as a give-away to my blog readers. All you need to do is a leave a comment after this post. The give-away will end Wednesday, March 9th at midnight. I'll contact the winner and get the book to you!

 Pass the word along to your other “mom” friends. 

You can check our Helen's website at www.themissionalmom.com and you can purchase her book here

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Not Worth My Time~

Lioness Arising seemed like it was going to be an empowering book for women, encouraging us to rise up and take our place in the world as God created us to do. I think Bevere had good intentions. 

Using the image of a lioness, Lisa Bevere clearly describes what she has observed and learned about lionesses in her studies; then compares it to what we, as women, can and should be doing. She had a good idea- but maybe more for a shorter devotional reading or encouraging article- definitely not enough to fill an entire book. Her image of a lioness was stretched too thin and she repeated the same points more than necessary. If you read the back of the book and the introduction, you’ve got it. 

My expectations for a book may be high, but I feel that any time spent reading needs to be valued, any space taken up on my bookshelf needs to be worth it, and any dollar spent needs to be wise. If you think similarly, this book isn’t for you. This book put me to sleep. 
Thankfully, Multnomah provided a copy of this book for me in exchange for an honest review.