Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Until We Find Home, a review

I do not review a lot of fiction books but this one intrigued me with the promise of WWII, the Lake District of England, favorite children's books, C. S. Lewis, and a young American showing up with French Jewish refugee children to her aunt's home in England.  A mixture of intrigue, rejection, and coming to know restoration.

I admit that when I first started reading it, I didn't like Claire very much.  Then I found out later that is exactly what the author, Cathy Gohlke, intended.   The reader walks out the process of Claire's growth as a person and later as a believer in Christ.  This is not a story of shallow faith but instead the difficult process of restoration that comes only in Christ.

The author also weaves in the stories of other characters going through their own pain and grief, dealing with their own rejections and fears, and the process of finding peace and even joy in the midst of a world at war. 

I can't say anything more without giving up the plot but I can encourage anyone who loves a good story to read this book.  It is the kind of book one can lose themselves in and to me that is a good story.  Just remember, as you read the beginning of the book, you will come to love Claire later.

Until We Find Home was provided by Tyndale publishers for the sake of review but the opinions are my own.

Further information can be found... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate links.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Tea - My 10 Favorite Books of 2017

I keep a reading journal throughout the year, which is a good thing if one wants to remember what they read.  The past year was different than my usual reading because of eyesight issues the last half of the year.  Which is why I read very little fiction last year even though I have a stack of books to be read.

Yes, my eyes are better although my right eye is still not back to normal.  The world is a little fuzzy when looking just through that eye.  However, I'm better and I'm still getting monthly injections of medicine in each eye.

So... here are my favorite books read last year in no particular order (and only choosing from first time read books).  It includes two fiction books and two books by Sally Clarkson.  I didn't include them because I was on the launch team for both, they were just that good.

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
There was a lot of buzz about this novel from people whose taste I admire so I decided it was a "must read".  How could I not love a novel about people who love books and a magical little village?

The only issue with the book that I had was the ending.  It left us not quite clear about what Prudencia Prim was actually going to do.  However, it doesn't ruin the book for me and it does leave one hoping for a sequel.  Soon.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson
This last book by Eugene Peterson was a surprise Top 10 book from last year.  I knew I wanted to review it because I find much of his writing interesting.  What I didn't plan on was keeping it on my shelf to come back to and read chapters over.

The book contains his favorite sermons he preached over a very long pastoral career.  It may sound boring but if you love good writing like I do, there is nothing boring about it.  Peterson was called "the pastor's pastor" but I'd say he could teach a layperson a whole lot of Truth.  As with all theologians, you may not agree with everything written but you will find enough to desire a stronger walk with God.

The Turquoise Table by Kristen Schell
This was another surprise Top 10 book for normally a book about a hospitality ministry would be interesting but not make the list.  This book is different not only because the concept is brilliant and would be easy for many to incorporate in their lives but it is full of stories from people who have used their own turquoise table.

There is a Turquoise Table community online and I still receive emails even though I live in the country where such a ministry would not work in the same way.  However, she does offer options for those who need to tweak the concept for their own circumstances.

At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
I followed Tsh's family in their travels around the world so I knew I would be interested in reading the book.  I just wasn't sure how much I would enjoy it because I am not the traveling sort of person.  Even before developing a chronic illness, I dreaded upcoming trips even though I loved the experience once I was home and it was tucked away in my memories.

Having said that, I absolutely loved this book.  It is written in such a way that you can easily read one chapter, set it aside, and come back to it later.  Tsh is a good writer so you feel as if  you are experiencing their travels along with them.  As I read the book, I kept thinking of those I know who would also love it... which is a sign of a good read.

Unseen by Sara Hagerty
I have read a lot of Christian Living books to review that have disappointed me but I chose this one because it also had a lot of buzz among readers.  It not only did not disappoint but I found myself shaking my head and agreeing with so much of Sara's story for I also have been in both paid and unpaid positions where I felt God was really using my talents and then found myself... home and unseen.

The subtitle of this book is "The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed" and Sara's writing about God seeing us in "the secret places" can be a life changer to anyone who feels their best days are behind them.  This is one book I wish I could put in the hands of every Christian who desires to "do great things for God".  Really good. 

Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors
I didn't think it possible I could enjoy the new book by Katie as much as I did Kisses For Katie, the story of a teenage Katie Davis who goes to Uganda for a short term mission trip and ends up starting a ministry and adopting a bunch of girls.

However, I enjoyed this book just as much or more for we find out what has happened in the years since that book.  Both the good days and bad days, the joy and the pain, and how she met her husband.

There are many reasons for reading this book.  It reminds us that God uses average people to accomplish a great deal when they submit to His will for their life.  The stories will help build your faith and honestly... if nothing else it is an interesting read that is real life.

They Came For Freedom by Jay Milbrandt
I agreed to review this book when I read that it was about the real story of the Pilgrims.  I love to read American history, especially from the early settlers through the American Revolution.

The author answers questions I have long had about the pilgrims, including why they are so associated with the founding of the country when in fact there were other people here already.  We find out what happened in Europe leading up to the pilgrims leaving for America and what happened to them in further generations.

This book is my favorite kind of history book and the style I used when we were homeschooling.  It reads like a novel but has plenty of material to back up what is written.  

Different by Sally Clarkson and Nathan Clarkson
This book by Sally and her son, Nathan (her "different" child), should be required reading for anyone who has a "different" child, whether they are mildly ADHD or have a significant mental illness that affects every part of their life.

One thing I loved about this book is that their experiences are told from a mom's perspective as well as the child's perspective.  We homeschooled our son because he was ADHD and had challenges in the public school.  Sally's book shares how being "different" is both difficult and a blessing.  (Many severely ADHD kids are often gifted and above average in intelligence.)

Sally covers many aspects from the more common condition of ADHD to children dealing with more significant forms of mental illness.  I know of so many families who would benefit from this book.  It truly is important to read to know you are not alone.

The Life Giving Table by Sally Clarkson
This is the book I've been hoping Sally would write since I first started reading her books in the 1990s (we were both much younger, then).  She continues to be one of my favorite writers.

Sally shares how they incorporated hospitality in their family and ministry, most of which takes place around the table.  From tea time to their annual Christmas Eve shepherd's dinner, from dinner time conversations to special occasions, this book is fun to read and full of valuable information... and recipes.

It is the kind of book that is enjoyable to read but will also find a place on the shelf as a reference book to come back to over and over.

Devonshire Scream by Laura Childs 
I love Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mysteries so much that when a hurricane was once heading for Charleston, South Carolina... I found myself praying for the safety of Theodosia and her staff before I remembered they were not real!  Although they are very real to her readers.

In this story, Theodosia is catering a special event when a thief crashes in (literally) and the fiance of her friend's niece is killed... this is in the first few pages.  The rest of the book is full of Theodosia and her staff trying to solve the mystery in between working in her tea room.

I read every book that comes out but I thought the previous two weren't quite as good as her earlier books.  However, Devonshire Scream was so good!  I enjoy this series so much that I have some of them on my bookshelf and reread them every year or two... even knowing "who done it".

If you are new to the Tea Shop Mysteries, her first three books in the series are available in one edition called Tea For Three.  I will include the link to that book below, too.  It is an excellent introduction to the series.

Books Mentioned in this Blog Post:
The Awakening of Miss Prim... here.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire... here
The Turquoise Table... here.
At Home in the World... here.
Unseen... here.
Daring to Hope... here.
They Came For Freedom... here.
Different... here.
The Life Giving Table... here.
Devonshire Scream... hereTea for Three... here.

Disclaimer:  Most links to are Associate Links

Image:  Artist, Duncan Grant

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - How I put together dinners

I was asked how I plan meals given our circumstances of two special diets, one small budget, and the cook with a chronic illness.  Well, it wasn't easy and it took a few years to get a meal plan that works most of the time.  Especially when I was only cooking for the two of us.

Although I don't go along with the cooking for two philosophy most of the time.  If I am cooking a dish that can be used as leftovers the next day, that is what I will do.  I can't see taking the time to cook something for just two people and one meal when in that same time period in the kitchen... I can cook for two meals.

I plan meals around the main protein each week, although with multiple planned leftovers it is actually more of an eight to ten day period.  This came about over time when I realized the way I purchased meat had a lot to do with the menu plan.  Especially when I had to start cooking with organic ground beef.

We eat seasonally and in the winter I depend on frozen vegetables to supplement the root veggies.  When I can get fresh veggies and fruit in season at a good price, then I go for fresh.  I buy meat at the beginning of the month and I do stock the freezer when I can.

In my menu plan, I also assume there will be times I am not feeling well enough to cook.  By having planned leftovers, it cuts down on the cheese/fruit/bread meals.  Not that they are bad, especially in season!  I could live on good cheese, good bread, and seasonal fruit. 

We purchase a few items that my husband can easily warm up on nights I'm not feeling well and we have no leftovers.  He likes Amy's Soups for this purpose.  I don't use a lot of processed foods but I do usually have a few boxes of Annie's organic mac and cheese for last minute meals.

So a typical cold weather menu for seven to ten days is this:

A whole chicken:
I roast the chicken and the planned leftover is chicken soup of various kinds.  We have roasted chicken and then chicken soup all year.

Ground beef:
In cold weather it is often chili with planned leftovers or a casserole with planned leftovers.  In hotter weather it may be goulash with planned leftovers.

Usually frozen tilapia so I can defrost just what I will use that evening, sometimes salmon patties.  No planned leftovers.

Breakfast for Dinner:
I often make a vegetarian crustless quiche that I serve with Aldi Mild Organic Salsa on the side.  When I have MSG free sausage defrosted, I make sausage, eggs, and potatoes fried with onions and peppers.  Once in awhile (it is definitely a rather unhealthy treat), I make sausage gravy over biscuits.  I actually like biscuits from the pop up tin, that is what my mom made so it is what I was used to eating.

2nd Chicken or Beef:
I look for either deboned or split chicken breasts on shopping day and purchase what is the best price.  Sometimes I will buy chicken thighs on sale for a specific recipe although they are not my husband's favorite.  They are cooked in various ways and usually with planned leftovers.

If chuck roast is on sale, I may buy it so I can make oven stew (which lasts two meals at least) or veggie beef soup.  Especially if I have tucked a package of beef bones in the freezer and do not get me started at how ridiculously expensive beef bones are these days!

Having planned leftovers helps the budget and my energy.  For instance, at the beginning of the month, I usually buy only four packages of organic ground beef at Aldi so the price makes it necessary to stretch each pound of beef.

For instance, I serve chili the first day with shredded cheese and corn chips (sour cream added for me) and sometimes I freeze some of the chili to use at another time since it freezes well.  I leave enough overnight so the next day I can serve baked potatoes with chili on top (one of my husband's favorite meals).

As you know, I love cookbooks and when I feel well enough, I love to spend time in the kitchen.  So I have recipes marked in favorite cookbooks to make when I have the energy.  That is when having items in the pantry (freezer included) helps to make an unplanned meal.

I hope that helps.  It is not set in stone but it does work, especially in cold weather.  For instance, last week I made chili with the ground beef and this week I am making Holiday Spaghetti (a favorite casserole that has planned leftovers).  I may go back to chili the following week. 

If I didn't have some kind of plan, fixing dinners would be very frustrating... and eating out is usually not an option.

Image: Vintage - Actress Mary Deegan making dinner for her children.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Hello Mornings, a review

I know I promised a review of Kat Lee's book last week but I've been buried beneath a box of tissues and a large jar of Vick's Salve.  Except for the cough drops on the table, I'm much better.

I must say that my delay in reviewing Kat's book has nothing to do with how much I liked it.  The subtitle of this book is "How to Build a Grace-Filled Life-Giving Morning Routine" and this is a rare instance where the promise offered on the cover of the book is completely fulfilled within the pages.

Kat begins by sharing her story, then builds up to explaining why slowly changing how we do our morning routines will make a significant difference to our lives, and ends with a large section of practical ways to meet the goals of getting closer to the Lord and walking with Him.

Part One:  Why Mornings?
One: Setting the Stage
Two: Do Our Mornings Matter?
Three: Are You Ready?
Four: Laying the Foundation for Your Morning Routine

Part Two: Your Morning Routine Blueprint
Five: God Time
Six: Plan Time
Seven: Move Time

Part Three: Your Morning Routine Toolkit
Eight: How to Build Habits
Nine: The Power of Preparation
Ten: Community and Accountability
Eleven: Call to Action

I highly recommend this book, not only to people wanting to change their morning routines but for anyone who has a goal they want to reach.  This is one book I'd say get the paperback version and not the Kindle for you will want to go back and mark up parts of it over and over.

Hello Mornings was provided by the publisher for the sake of review but the opinions are my own.

More information can be found... here.

Disclaimer: Most links to are Associate links.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Tea - My Word for 2018

While I have been choosing a Word for the Year so long that I cannot recall when it all began, I must admit that I use the word "choose" loosely.  For the Word tends to be chosen in the way the cats I have known and loved were chosen... they actually chose me.

Every year around Thanksgiving, I ask the Lord for a Word... that which will reflect where He wants me to concentrate in the next year.  It never ceases to amaze me how He brings it to my attention as it first tends to circle around my thinking before coming in for a landing.  Then it seems I hear and see that word everywhere!

That is exactly what happened this year except with a twist, for the first time ever... I did not like the Word.  I kept thinking that I could not possibly have heard it correctly but there it was, popping up in my reading and my watching and my listening for weeks upon weeks until there was no more doubt.

My Word for 2018 was... Kindness.

Lest you think I don't want to be kind, it is just this... the Word before has always been a goal which narrowed down my thinking and pondering and writing for the coming year.  I didn't understand what Kindness had to do with any of this.  I don't think I have a problem being nice to people.  Well, most people.

Until that evening when I happened to overhear a round table discussion on PBS.  I would never have tuned in to this program on purpose for 1) I am staying away from pretty much all political discussions on media, and 2) I certainly am not interested in hearing a group of twenty something feminists go on and on about the world.

But something one of the very young women said caught my attention.  At first I was quite upset for it was absolutely insane thinking.  Then the Lord began to speak to me, calming me down and showing me what He meant by my Word... Kindness.

As I think most readers know, especially those who have been with me over ten years (and I thank you!), I am a conservative Midwestern wife, mother, and grandmother.  The latter of which never ceases to amaze me for that means a lot of years have passed in a whirl of activity which I can hardly remember.  But I digress...

The statement by the young woman was that she finally realized why her Midwestern mother and aunts tended to continue in their (wrong) conservative values... they did not have access to real news.  They were being led astray by fake news.  She said this with a straight face, quite serious in fact, so I can assume she believed it.

At first I was angry and then I must admit to laughing.  Out loud.  To the point of a good giggle... which did my heart good.  I did what I complain to my husband about doing, I talked back to the television.  From my living room sofa, I informed the young woman that, much to her dismay I am certain, we in the Midwest have both cable and satellite television.  We even have computers and... gasp... the Internet.

Here is where that Still Small Voice spoke to me about my Word for the Year and what it means. He reminded me that this young woman is only saying what she has been taught as Truth.  It is not True but she believes it and I am to look at her not in anger... but through a filter of Kindness.

That is what the new Word is all about, not so much in acting with Kindness (although that is what we are always to do)... but in looking at the World through a filter of Kindness.

When I taught a class on Worldview to homeschool students, I reminded them that the Worldview is our filter on the world.  It is how we take what we see and hear and feel and make sense of it all.  It is the lens in which we view the world.  My worldview is that of a Midwestern woman who is not a fundamentalist Christian (I detest legalism as much as the average non-Christian) but I do believe the Bible is true from Genesis through Maps... and that is not welcome in the 21st Century.

So what God is asking me to do is to filter everything I see and hear and do with kindness.  I need to realize that what a person believes is important but so is treating them with value, taking the time to understand why they believe a certain way... and hoping they do the same.

I admit that 21st Century America is pretty much foreign to anything I knew in 20th Century America.  This is not the world I grew up in and it is not even the world I raised children in (at least my older child).  Although I saw the changes coming all along, I was still surprised... no I'd say shocked... at where we are today.

But I think what God is reminding me in my Word for 2018 is this... we must be careful that we do not win battles but lose the war. 

For instance, my husband is a Jeremiah type who sees the world in black and white and has always fought for what he believes is right... whether in Vietnam or in the political process.  Through the years I have had to remind him that while we stand with Biblical Truth... we are not to turn away anyone from the Person of Christ with our behavior.

Is it easy?  Not at all.  The Bible shows us over and over that it is never easy and that few will understand.  The early Church was full of stories of the faithful being stoned to death and set on fire and not welcome at the table of modern culture. 

However, in the midst of it all the Church grew and went out into the known world with the message of repentance, salvation, and the love of Christ.  I believe we are nearing that point today in this season before the return of Christ.  The second Advent is nearly upon us and the way the world looks is the way the Bible said it would look before His return.

So I know His message for this Midwestern grandmother is to keep faithful to His Word while looking at others through the lens of His Kindness... for I was once one of the last and the least and the little and the lost... chosen to be asked to a revival service at a church by a classmate because I was the last person she thought would come to Christ.

Sometimes I stop and think of what I would have been like if Jesus had not knocked at the heart of my own soul.  If He had not asked to come in and turn this life from one which was going downhill fast to one He could take and mold and shape and give gifts to be used in the Kingdom of God.

When I think of what might have been... I can only agree to what He asks in the coming year and that is to look through a lens of Kindness and listen to others with the same mercy He showed unto me in those teenage years.  I came to Him needing a whole lot of refining and I am certain there were times He would have thrown up His hands in disgust if He was not God. 

I think most of us, if we were to look at where we have come from, would admit that we are quite thankful for those who looked at us through a filter of Kindness all those years ago.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Getting out of Holiday mode

I'm not sure why it has been hard to get back to normal this year.  While Christmas was far from perfect, it was good and there was a lot of sparkle.  So very different than last year when I was numb from Victoria's death in early December.  For some reason, this year I could have kept Christmas going another week or two or three.

However, in this home, once I have decided to take the tree down and pack up the ornaments... it must be done immediately.  There is no (and was no) little at a time here once Christmas 2017 was to be packed away on the designated shelves in the garage... between the dryer and the deep freeze.

Having said that, it has taken all of last week to get back into regular life again.  I didn't get any review reading accomplished so that takes priority this weekend.  It took all week to decide how to put back the hutch, breakfront, etc.  I think my brain is frozen with lows dipping to -17, -16, -12, etc. at night.  Our old battery in the van had to be replaced (gosh have they gone up in price!) but so far the pipes in the house are fine.

I wasn't able to get out for the immediate after Christmas sales.  Partly due to staying inside to get better from the cold but a lot had to do with the frigid temps and being snowed in a couple of days. When I finally did get out, I checked the Christmas clearance section at Meijers and found a few Christmas gift bags and a package of poinsettia "picks" for cupcakes but little else. 

I have a small collection of cupcake liners, picks, etc. to pretty up simple cupcakes.  Mainly because I can't decorate them like my daughter (do you remember the cupcakes she made for her brother's wedding reception?). 

The top shelves of the yellow pantry.

So what about the Christmas stock up?  That was better!  I have a clearance priced turkey and a clearance priced ham in the deep freeze.  They will be available should we have family over for a meal this winter.  There are plenty of packages of cranberries in the freezer, too, for baking through the year.

I replaced a few spices this Christmas due to being sent excellent coupons from Meijers and Kroger. The only spice I paid full price to replace (and the tin was empty) was not on sale at Kroger but the vintage looking tin looks better (than the plastic jar on sale) on the shelf hanging on the wall in my kitchen.  ;)

Much used items in the kitchen cabinet.

I'm trying to keep my kitchen cabinet full of mainly canned goods planned for weekly menus.  Although right now the shelves also hold Campbell's Homestyle Chicken Noodle soup for when I need it.  Nostalgic, I guess.. when I have a cold.  By having five main meals that I'm rotating most of the time, I have room for the basics on kitchen shelves and in the freezer in the refrigerator.

For instance, I made chili last night and used the last of the ingredients needed for it.  Since chili is a winter staple, I need to purchase the canned tomatoes and beans for it again.  I add a can of pinto beans, kidney beans, and black beans to the chili as well as canned tomatoes.

I hope to once again deepen the pantry to have cases available of the most used items in the garage.  We lost a lot of food in the garage with the mice infestation last winter but we certainly learned a lot and we are thankful it happened when we were not depending on the food to survive. 

So far we have not had any mice this winter and I'm fairly sure it is because there is no food there to attract them.  They ate everything from pasta and dry beans to coffee (no wonder they were running around in the garage at night).  When we resupply the shelves, everything will go into containers with lids to be protected.

The food may have drawn them in but they destroyed more than it.  They ate through paper, Christmas gift bags and wrapping paper, wicker, and left a mess that we are still cleaning.  So be sure to take the warnings about storing food where varmits cannot get to it seriously!  I got away with it for about ten years but it only took one infiltration to do the damage.

Which is why, as my daughter says, I prefer my mice in watercolors with pinafores.