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Monday, December 29, 2014

A Homemade Christmas

This Holiday Season was difficult for me, more so than last year even. I just didn't want to do anything.

Which is one reason I decided to make gifts this year, instead of buy them. I worked on homemade gifts all of December and even opened an Etsy shop to sell some items. I had over 14 sales so I was happy. :) Anyhow, I didn't take as many photos of the gifts before giving them so will sneak over to my mom's house and snap some photos and write a whole post of my new venture very soon, including a link to my Etsy shop once I get it organized! (Hint: It's hand stamped and it's jewelry!)

I wasn't the only one that was a busy little elf this December. My sister Rachel made these awesome books...out of bricks!!! This picture doesn't do them justice as they really, really look like actual books! A spine, cover, and back cover (and pages on opposite side of spine!). She made a collection of the Pooh books for me, with my favorite quotes on back, and a huge Star Wars Trilogy book for Ben. So many options with these...outside in a garden, used for a doorstop, a pile on the porch, etc.  
My sister Emily used these small boards that she had gotten from my Grandma's scrap bin after she had passed away to paint a special Bible verse. Double special.
My brother made a lot of special homemade gifts, such as car emblems, drinking glasses, and t-shirts. Another brother gave out gift certificates to our favorite local restaurant. My mom got me the perfect mug with my favorite Bible verse. It was such a special, personalized Christmas. Not because of the gifts, but because of the gift of each person present. The love. The I totally get you and what you like awareness. LOVE.

And as Amy rocked on her new horse and the kids built their new toys, and as I drank coffee on the couch and took it all in I obviously felt the immense empty spot that Jacob leaves.  
But I also felt the stillness. The peace. The presence of God. Jacob is with Him and HE is with us...which comforts me greatly. So as we celebrated Christmas I thanked God for his greatest gift of all - the chance to all be together again someday. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Nature Girl

My 11 year old daughter has always been the "nature girl", it's even what my mom called her after finding out that she would play outside for hours in the summer, carrying around her bird identification book and pretending to be a bird. When I saw the book Nature Girl by Karen Whiting and Rebecca White I knew it would be something she loved.

What I like best about this book is that it isn't just about caring for the earth, but about caring for God's earth. It brings to light an environmental as well as a moral concern. As a homeschooling mother I wanted to incorporate this into our science lessons immediately upon receiving it.

It's a fun book. Filled with facts, projects, and crafts you barely know that you are learning because you are too busy having fun. Becca was spouting the fun facts off to me from another room and pointing out several projects that she hopes to do. It got her even more excited about nature and she has learned a lot from this book. Even I read through it when it arrived, finding it interesting though I am well above the age group this book was written for (mainly tweens). I think it would be great for a whole family to read together as it isn't exactly "girly" to me.

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

U.S. Cellular Hottest Apps

This was the first year that I've had a smart phone (iPhone 5s) during the holidays. What's strange is that it actually does make things simpler at times! For example, I've been using it to take and store my photos. Then I use the app Chatbooks to order an adorable little bound book of my Instagram photos. For $6 shipped! So much cheaper than printing photos and buying an album and much cuter, I think. Amy even has her own book that she looks through over and over and over again.

Have you ever thought about giving apps or accessories as gifts though? It never crossed my mind until this holiday season. The majority of the population (yes, even teens and younger) have phones and ipads and it there are products that are both beneficial as well as educational that can be gifted. 

*Beats Solo HD 2 Headphones are all the rage these days, it's no longer the mini earbuds!

*An app for those that love grilling?! Yes, seriously! iGrill gives you tips, ideas, and helps you while you are grilling. The customizable alarm even lets you know when your steak is perfectly done.

*You no longer need game consoles when you can use a controller to play games with your smartphone! Moga Pro Power not only lets you play, but charges your phone as you play!

*For those who don't have a mobile device yet but are begging for one, U.S. Cellular has all the season must-haves including the Samsung Galaxy S5, iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, and iPad Air.

Why not think of gifts that keep giving throughout the year? What is your favorite app? Why?

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by U.S. Cellular Blogger Brigade but all opinions and thoughts are my own.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Little Lace Box December Review

After hearing about the Little Lace Box and their awesome November box, I had to subscribe! 

I haven't been feeling PopSugar Must Have anymore. While some of their boxes this year were great, most items seem more general now and not extra special. So I decided to switch over to the Little Lace Box, which is the same price ($39.99 a month) to see how I liked them. I also was able to use a discount code so got this box for $29.99. 
My box arrived later than other bloggers so I had already seen spoilers before opening the box today. I wasn't too impressed from the spoilers but still thought it looked worth the $29.99 I had spent. Included in the December box was:
*Three Sisters Apothecary soap ($3.99). Different scents were in different boxes and I received the Lemongrass, which smells amazing!!!! It's a tiny bar of soap, probably something I wouldn't buy on my own, but certainly a little special item that I'm loving!
*Fresh Water Pearl Bracelet by Stia Couture ($34.99) This bracelet is made of 14-carat, 18-gauge, gold-filled wire and fresh water pearls. 
*Fresh Water Pearl Necklace by Susan Meier Jewelry ($48.99). It features freshwater pearls in a classic, simple oval shape with two single gold plated pyrite stones. the chain is 14-carat gold-filled. I honestly wasn't too stoked to get two pearl jewelry pieces in my box, which is why the spoilers didn't excite me. They seemed too delicate to be the type of jewelry I wear.

After receiving the box today I changed my tune. They are delicate pieces, but holding them I realized they can be heirlooms for my girls. I plan to wear them on special occasions and then pass one to each of my daughters either when they turn 16 or get married (whichever comes first...haha...I kid!!). Because every girl should have some pearls.   
*Whitney English Mini Day Designer ($48.99). I'm not sure why this is considered mini as it is a good size (think large cookbook sized). I've been wanting an Erin Condren planner for the past year but did not want to pay $60+ for a planner! This Day Designer seems to be almost the exact same, yet scores bonus points for not being dated (unlike the EC ones that are for 365 days in a particular year). I like it undated much better...I can either use a page a day, or a week, depending on how much I have planned. 

I'm actually quite excited about this planner and love the sturdiness, the envelope in the front cover to store important papers, and the way the pages/notes are laid out, along with an encouraging quote on each page. I would have been happy with just this for $29.99!!
So after receiving my box today I am much happier than I was when seeing the spoilers. I love this box! I love how this box is curated by three sisters and seems to put that special touch in their selections. These are not items that I have ever seen in another subscription box! Total value of this box (including the Priority shipping), was $148.76!! Total score for the $29.99 I paid.

The January Little Lace Box theme is out and it is....drum roll..."The Dining Car", to commemorate the beginning of the fifth season of Downton Abbey. It's all about vintage and beauty and you. Be still my heart, this sounds like my type of theme! I can't wait to see what it includes! I hear that it's sold out on the monthly program (though those signing up for a yearly plan can still receive it) but if you subscribe soon you can ask to be put on the waiting list for this box and keep your fingers crossed that you get one of the Dining Car boxes. And if you go here and use the code LLB10 you can get $10.00 off your first box, making it just $29.99. That's an incredible value for the type of items this box has been sending out!

Disclaimer: Referral links included in this post. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned by Rene Gutteridge (based on a Screenplay by Rik Swartzwelder) is the first book I have read based on a screenplay. It's a bit different, because while reading it you totally see it more as a movie than a book. But in a good way. 

"Turning his back on his reckless lifestyle, former frat boy Clay Walsh has settled down to run an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town...and to pursue lofty and outdated theories on love and romance. But when Amber Hewson, a free-spirited woman with a gypsy soul, rents the apartment above his shop, Clay can't help being attracted to her spontaneous and passionate embrace of life."

As the interview with Rik in the back states, "I'd say I believed there was a story that wasn't being told at all and I felt compelled to try." THIS sums the book up perfectly. In a day when sex and lust is in every story, every movie, every aspect of our life it was refreshing to read a book that showed love and not lust, purity instead of sex. 

With that said, it seems the ball was dropped in normalizing purity. The fact is, sexual abstinence and old-fashioned romance is rare these days, but making the main character so weird in his ideas almost pokes fun at the idea of purity. Going to a marriage counselor on a first date? A financial adviser on a second date? It seems more like a spoof than a story of a man wanting to do right.

I love the idea of a person changing from a wild life to a more chaste one. I love the idea of a book showing a couple who decides to wait for sex until marriage. Or even a couple being careful with how far they will go while dating.

But this book seems so far fetched. One, without giving a big piece of the plot away, is I don't believe that Clay's previous girlfriend would have dated him at all when she was waiting until marriage to have sex, yet he was a complete creep (once you find out what his "job" was you will understand). I know good girls often go for the bad boys but that part of the story didn't jive at all.

Second, the ending was too romanticized. I get it, it's based on a movie where you either have to go big or go home, but it was quite unbelievable. I didn't even understand why or how the "sand" at the end got in the story (again, you'll have to read it to understand this reference). 

With all the negatives said, I did enjoy the book. I liked how different it was than the typical love stories. I just wish it has normalized purity instead of turning it into an extreme case of weirdness. I do look forward to the movie and think it's kind of neat that it will be opening the same weekend as "Fifty Shades of Grey". Two extreme views competing against each other. 

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by Tyndale Publishing in exchange for my honest review.    

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Novel Interiors

What is better than reading a novel? Living in a house decorated around one! Novel Interiors by Lisa Borgnes Giramonti is a beautiful book highlighting rooms/homes that are inspired by literature.  "You don't just read a good book, you inhabit it."

This book is filled with gorgeous photographs. Also quotes from over sixty works of literature, which help tie in even the smallest decorating element.  

Can't you just imagine what the room from Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence should look like with this passage from the book: "He was rather proud of his home...The chairs were only wooden, and the sofa was old...{but} there was a simplicity in everything and plenty of books." 

What about "I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers...Look at these maple branches. Don't they give you a thrill- several thrills? I'm going to decorate my room with them." Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.

This is the perfect coffee table book for any book lover and designer. Such original, classic ideas tying our love for reading into a relaxing home in which to read. :)

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review.

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes

Kat Varland has had enough of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry.
 At twenty-six years old, Kat is still living in the shadows of her family in Bayou Bend, Louisiana. Still working shifts at her Aunt Maggie’s bakery. Still wondering what to do with her passion for baking and her business degree. And still single.
 But when Lucas Brannen, Kat’s best friend, signs her up for a reality TV bake-off on Cupcake Combat, everything Kat ever wanted is suddenly dangled in front of her: creative license as a baker, recognition as a visionary . . . and a job at a famous bakery in New York.
 As the competition heats up, Lucas realizes he might have made a huge mistake. As much as he wants the best for Kat, the only thing he wants for himself—her—is suddenly in danger of slipping away.
 The bright lights of reality cooking wars and the chance at a successful career dazzle Kat’s senses and Lucas is faced with a difficult choice: help his friend achieve her dreams . . . or sabotage her chances to keep her in Louisiana.

   I'm a sucker for chick-lit, especially one with such a delicious cover and dealing with one of my favorite topics...cupcakes! I instantly gravitated to this book. Reality tv cupcake competitions are another delight of mine so the book seemed like a perfect score.
    I was pulled in from the beginning and thoroughly enjoyed the book until about half way through. While I knew this book would be a bit fluffy, as are many chick-lit/romance, I begin to get frustrated with the characters, as well as with the author herself. She took two loveable characters and made them seem less naive' about love and a little more like stupid. Both have feelings for each other yet both don't want to ruin the friendship by bringing it up in case the other does not feel the same way. This continued throughout much of the book to the point that I wanted to roll my eyes. "Just friends" don't sit there brushing hair out of each others eyes, or having tickle fights, or having so much touching going on. The mystery of their attraction was too forced and too present for either of them not to notice.
   The end, having to tie up loose ends, seemed to move too quickly for me. Suddenly the reality show airs on television within a few days of the taping? Things with the cupcake shop get heated and settled within a few days time as well? It wasn't realistic and I felt as though the middle of the story could have been dragged out less which would have allowed for more closure in the end.
   With that said, it still was a lovely book and since one does expect a little cheesy aspect to chick-lit romance I won't fault this book for that. I liked the story-line and appreciated that the romance in the book stayed pure, something one would hope with a Christian book. I actually hope that the author decides to do a sequel so that we can follow these characters into their future.
   This book would appeal to any chick-lit/light romance fan. This is a quick read which may be a bit predictable but is fun nonetheless. 

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

In the Heart of the Dark Wood

"Almost two years have passed since twelve-year old Allie Granderson's beloved mother, Mary, disappeared into the wild tornado winds. Her body has never been found." In the Heart of the Dark Wood by Billy Coffey

And so begins the adventure of a girl, her friend, and her dog who follow the compass, given to her by her mother shorty before her disappearance, which suddenly begins working again two years after it stopped.

This is such a hard book to review. It kept me riveted to it's pages, yet I disliked the ending. 

It's a very supernatural book, with a Christian slant. Yet, I didn't get the feeling at the end that the story was Christian at all. The main focus didn't seem to be "good" at all (really I could say so much more on this but don't want to give away the plot!).

I loved the boy in the book. He reminds me so much of my Jacob that I rooted for him throughout the whole book, whereas I really started to dislike Allie. 

The tromp through the woods soon became quite tedious. It seemed too drawn out, too repetitive. 

I suppose I was looking for a symbolism that just never came. In the end I was like "what?!" Had it just been a supernatural book, and not Christian, I would have been perfectly happy with the ending. I was looking for more.

With all those negatives I still was pulled into this book and had to know how it ended. That is the sign of a good book to me. :)

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.    

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Laundry Routine

Laundry is a bit of a no-brainer and I doubt you need a tutorial on how to do yours. But since it's basically the only part of my housework that I have down to an exact science I felt like sharing my routine with you. :)

It's the one chore that I enjoy (except for the putting it away part). 

I have a nice sized laundry room right off the kitchen, which makes this job a little easier. We throw our dirty clothes in a hamper in the bathroom and upstairs, which then gets sorted in a separated hamper in the laundry room. All kids clothes together, all my clothes together, all Ben's clothes together, and then all towels together. I do not separate by color and so far have had no problems because of this.

When one part gets full I do a load of laundry (it averages 1 to 2 loads a day). I wash on cold (except for towels, which gets hot).

In the summer I try to hang out everything on the line, weather permitting. In winter I hang as much as I can on a garment rack which is right across from the dryer in the laundry room. I do this for two reasons. One is that it saves money, by cutting my dryer use in half. Two, I buy certain brands of clothing that just fare better without being in a dryer. Some resale pages I belong to specify no dryer so I get more in return when I do not dry these specific pieces.   

The rack is right in front of a heating vent so these items dry within 12 to 24 hours.

I fold the clothing in the laundry room, pile into a basket, and then get them put away sometime within the week. :) My linen shelf is in the laundry room so towels go directly from the dryer to the shelf, all fluffy and warm. 

Stain control is done in the laundry room. I experiment with different stain removers. Right now my favorite is a squirt bottle with a bit of blue Dawn dish detergent, a bit of peroxide, and the rest water. This seems to get most stains out when spot treated. For ink stains (which we get a lot of around here with a pen loving toddler) my aunt told me about using a bit of hand sanitizer on the spot. It works like a charm!!! I'm loving that tip.

That sums up my laundry routine. What is yours?     

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Decorating

A glimpse into my Christmas decorations. I don't go all out and usually try to use items that I already have, occasionally picking up something cute at Goodwill.

My first stop was Jacob's Ladder, where we hung a flannel JOY banner that we assembled, bought at 90% off last year at Target. After snapping the photo I realized it was time to take his Halloween toys down. :) 
Next was our tree, which we call our Charlie Brown tree. It's a very sparse artificial tree, which is what you get when you buy one of the cheapest. But I kind of like it better this way. It's cute. We put fuzzy owls throughout the tree this year which gives it a bit more of a woodland feel.   
And it's been knocked down once already by the cat.
Here is a photo where I am just keeping it real. While I'm busy decorating the kids were busy making a mess. Luckily, in black and white it looks more artistic than just plain messy!

This is the first time we put the big tree up since Jacob passed away. We found some ornaments that he made on it, which was very bittersweet. 

I'll post more holiday photos from around the house as I get things out and organized.

I'm following the Come on In series on Christmas Decorating!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Blast From the Past

I saw a recipe on Facebook that I just had to try. It must be from the 70's, when JELLO and JELLO molds were all the rage. 
Buy a can of sliced pineapple (in 100% juice) and a box of Jello (I used lime). Drain the juice from the can of pineapple, reserving it. Make the Jello as directed on the box, but instead of using cold water use the pineapple juice from the can.

Pour the Jello over the pineapple while it's in the can (there will be lots of Jello leftover so just put that in a bowl in the fridge for an afternoon snack!). Put the can in the fridge until set up. Slide a knife around to loosen it and invert it onto a plate.

Then slice each pineapple slice and eat. It's disgusting. Disgustingly good! The kids loved it and I even enjoyed it. A simple, different dessert.


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