Category Archives: Love

Strawberries in February

Happy February!

What do you have planned for this month? For me, February always seems to involve a lot of cooking. The weather in Texas can most accurately be described as “BLAH”  so that means a lot of indoor activities which for me means trying new recipes.

Last month I received the cookbook, Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering, for my birthday.  This is what we’ve tried so far, and we’ve enjoyed allllll of them:

*Garlic Cheese Grits

*White Cheddar Bisque

*Roasted Elephant Garlic Bread

*Baked Chicken with Bacon Bottom & Wild Rice

 


Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering

This is just a lovely cookbook. A joy to look at, read, and cook from. If you’ve ever watched “Fixer Upper” or read anything by Joanna Gaines, I think you’d enjoy this book.

I think I’ll try one of her dessert recipes next, probably her Strawberry Shortcake, since I’ve never made that before.


Speaking of Strawberries

Speaking of strawberries, I’ve been seeing a LOT of strawberries in the stores lately. As a matter of fact, when we stopped by Kroger’s yesterday, they had a booth set up with employees making chocolate covered strawberries right in the entrance! I could have stayed there and watched them forever (it’s so much fun to watch OTHER people work 😉  ) but I needed to get the girls to softball practice and then start supper.

A couple of weeks ago, knowing the strawberry craze was coming, I started thinking about my favorite berry recipes, and wondering if I could make a whole meal centered around strawberries. Guess what, I did! Below are some pictures and recipes  that I hope you’ll enjoy — my family certainly liked them.

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

This is a recipe that my daughter, Kate, found last summer while searching for granola bar recipes. We loved it the first time and have been making it ever since!

https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2018/04/19/strawberry-oatmeal-bars/

This blogger is Chocolate Covered Katie and she writes about her search for and discovery of healthy desserts. We’ve tried several of her recipes and she’s never steered us wrong.

Bread

For starters, I made this wonderfully moist Strawberry Bread.

This is a recipe I found in the Kay’s Kitchen cookbook — a local restaurant that was once very popular in Lake Jackson. Everytime I make this bread, someone asks for the recipe. It’s so easy, and it makes a great gift!

Strawberry Bread

3 c flour

1 t baking soda

1 t salt

1 T cinnamon

2 c sugar

3 eggs

1 1/4 c vegetable oil

2-10 oz boxes of frozen strawberries — thawed and drained

1 c chopped nuts (optional) (of course you know I leave out the nuts)

Preheat oven to 350. Combine first 4 ingredients. In another bowl, cream sugar, eggs and oil. Combine both mixtures. Mix well. Stir in strawberries and nuts (if you use nuts). Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. YUM!

Strawberry Salad

The most difficult task came next, finding a recipe that my family would eat, that included strawberries in the main course. I ended up using this recipe for Strawberry Salad, https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/14276/strawberry-spinach-salad-i/

then added some grilled, marinated chicken.

The salad turned out so, so, so, sooooooo good! My family had mixed reviews on the dressing, but I liked it. What really “made” the recipe though, was the grilled chicken.

It’s simple to make, just put chicken breasts in a baggy with about half a bottle of Italian Dressing and 1/3 cup of Soy Sauce, then marinate it OVER NIGHT. That part’s really important (thus the capital letters). Chicken doesn’t soak up flavor as quickly as fish does, so planning ahead and giving it longer to marinate makes a huge difference.

This is actually one of my go to meal preps. I’ll marinate and grill an entire family pack of chicken breasts, then use it throughout the week for salad, pasta, fajitas….and still have some leftover to freeze.

Desserts

Now comes the fun part, and of course the part with the most recipes — dessert!

This first recipe is one that my mom makes quite often. It involves making a homemade pie crust and individual Strawberry Turnovers — perfect for breakfast or dessert.

I’m not gonna lie, this one can be a bit labor intensive, but it’s still an easy recipe; it just takes a bit more time. And oh, what a treat you have when they’re done!

Strawberry Turnovers

Pastry:

1 1/4 C flour

1/4 C cornmeal

3/4 t salt

1/2 C Crisco (or other shortening)

3 T water

1 C powdered sugar

Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt; then cut in the shortening. Sprinkle in water and mix well. Roll pastry into 6: circles, fill, fold over and crimp edges, then slash the tops. Place on foil or parchment paper and bake at 425 for 20-30 minutes. When done, frost tops with 1 C powdered sugar mixed with 1-2 Tablespoons of water.

Filling:

1/4 C sugar

3T cornstarch

2 C fresh or frozen strawberries

Cook over medium heat until thick. Allow to cool before using.

After you’re done,  you’ll have a pretty and flavorful treat:

Doesn’t that look delicious?

The last strawberry recipe isn’t really much of a recipe. Chocolate Covered Strawberries are easy to make, and there are many different ways to personalize them. Simply wash and DRY strawberries, melt chocolate and almond bark, then dip the strawberries and add decorations.

You can put them on lollipop sticks or skewers as we did here:

Or put them in pretty cupcake liners:

Whether you decide to eat them all yourself, or gift them to someone special, these are always well received!

If you try any of these recipes, please let me know what you think. And feel free to share any of YOUR favorite strawberry recipes in the comments. I love to try new things.

Am I Enough?

I wanted to share the Bible study I am about to start at our church because I am so excited about it:


Joseph – Women’s Bible Study Participant Book: The Journey to Forgiveness

The links in this post are affiliate links, and we may be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links. 

Recently, while reading
It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered by Lysa Terkeurst I was struck by her observation that when we find ourselves overreacting to a person or situation, it’s often caused by past hurts that haven’t been healed.

I began thinking and praying about that statement, and felt like God was encouraging me to deal with a few things in my past that I thought I’d already forgiven. Since another friend had mentioned this Bible study to me, I was happy to discover that our church already had it in the library, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot over the next 6 weeks!

I’ll be sure and update everyone when I complete the Bible study. Who knows, maybe it will be something that you want to put on your “to do” list for the year!


Along with forgiveness, I’ve also been struggling with feeling like I’m not enough.

Enough.

Do you ever feel like you are not enough? I bet you do. I know that I do. Once when I was feeling particularly full of angst and teenage drama (about 3 years ago, when I was actually around 40 and far from being a teenager) I wrote a poem called “Wretched Trinity” about how I was a wife, daughter, and mother…but there wasn’t enough of me to do a good job in any of those roles.

I laugh when I think about that poem now. Oh, not because I don’t still feel that way sometimes, more because I recognize that fact that everyone feels that way at times.

 

The funny thing is, the times I feel the worst are often the times when I am beginning to make progress! For example, this year I decided to try the  Organize in 5 Diary that I read about on moneysaving mom.com

It’s a great resource that you can print out or use online, with one, 5 minute project each day to help clean and organize your entire house. Now, I’m not sure that the creators of this project meant to take on the Mt. Everest of laundry/paperwork/clutter that is MY house, but I and my girls are trying it, and actually enjoying the projects and seeing a noticeable difference each day.

One of the main benefits I’ve found is that I may see such a difference from the little project that it encourages me to complete a bigger project.

For example, today’s 5 minute project was to clean off the refrigerator. Get rid of old pictures, mementos, recipes and only leave the most current or necessary items on the fridge. In some houses this may not be a big deal at all. I wish I’d taken before and after pictures. After removing 4 recipes, 37 pictures, 11 paintings/drawings, 2 bills, a calendar from 2017, and approximately 1042 magnets…my refrigerator is beautiful!

(Actual refrigerator not shown)

Not only is my refrigerator beautiful, but my entire kitchen looks significantly better. It looks better because I looked at the shiny, newish looking, freshly decluttered appliance and thought you know, my refrigerator really deserves a cleaner kitchen than this! So I spent the next 30 minutes in a frenzy of cleaning countertops, washing a window, storing crockpots and instapots that should have been put up last week, going through 3 days worth of mail, sweeping, and spot mopping. Voila! A clean kitchen; all inspired by a 5 minute project.

Sounds GREAT!

Sounds great, right? I thought so. The problem started as I was going through the house this evening, locking doors and closing blinds and generally getting the house settled for the night. I looked at my beautiful kitchen and sighed contentedly. Until I looked through the kitchen at the laundry room. There are 2 baskets of clothes piled in front of the chest freezer, and I mean PILED. There’s an ironing board with jackets and hats on it, and various cleaning supplies in the walkway.

Turning off that light, I tried to shrug off the laundry room and walked through my lovely kitchen into the dining room…where books were spread all over the table, ready for tomorrow’s extra math lesson because we are struggling with figuring the area of triangles and need to do some extra work. Amidst the math books and problems, there’s a theory book that should be on the piano, 3 more envelopes that need to be opened and sorted, and a stack of paperwork on the computer desk…and darnit is that a reindeer in the corner that didn’t get put away with the Christmas stuff? This is the END of JANUARY for goodness sakes!

As you can tell, my mood was plummeting. I’d gone from peacefully enjoying my clean kitchen to critiquing every area of the house that I hadn’t dealt with yet. Instead of being satisfied and content that our house, along with each person in it, is a work in progress, I was feeling drained, discontent, and almost depressed. In that moment I seriously believed that I’d never have everything done at once. I’d never be organized enough or have things clean enough or be prepared enough.

In short, I’d just never be ENOUGH.

The worst part is, I don’t just do this with my house and the physical part of my life. I do it with the spiritual and emotional parts too.

God has moved mightily in my life over the past year. While I’m not a spiritual giant, I’ve definitely had a growth spurt! That often happens with adversity, you know. God is changing my life and my relationships…and giving both Johnnie and I the strength to break some bad health and financial habits that have been part of our lives for a long time. It’s amazing to see how He keeps working in us and through us, even when we mess things up.

 

The problem is, just like with the clean kitchen and the messy laundry room, I find myself focusing on what still needs to be changed in my life. Maybe I used the exercise bike 3 times this week, but why am I not a Ninja Warrior? Maybe I’ve developed the habit of reading my Bible and praying with Johnnie daily; but why haven’t I memorized more than 2 verses in the past year? Maybe we’ve done a LOT better about eating at home, which has to be healthier than Taco Bell; but shouldn’t we all be vegans by now? I’m pretty sure we should be! Maybe we’ve made quite a few changes and grown a bit; but is it enough?!

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is: I will never be enough. Not on my own. The good news is: I’m not on my own, and if you know Jesus, you aren’t on your own either. And because of Him, we are enough.

Why? Because He’s not finished with us. Philippians 1: 6 says that we can be confident of this: that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 As long as you keep waking up, God will keep working on you. He began the good work and He will finish it. It’s not just up to you and me. On our own we can’t be enough. But God IS enough, and he says that he will keep on working on us and with us and through us…until we are complete.

Rest.

So tonight I am going to rest in that, my friends. I am going to rest in the fact that God says He will keep working, and that He is doing a GOOD work in me. My kitchen is clean, and one day more of my house will be clean too. God has strengthened and healed parts of my life over this past year, and one day He will heal the rest.

I am a work in progress and you are too. I hope you can rest in that tonight my friends; and as you rest, know that as I pray for myself and my family tonight, I am praying for you, too.

Christmas Letters

Merry Christmas Eve!

I bet a lot of you have received Christmas card and letters over the past few weeks. Isn’t that wonderful? I love them! Except when I don’t love them.

Let me explain..

My name is Ayme Christian. Have you heard of Christian’s Critters? If you have, well, this is going to be a bit different from the usual family update. But it will tell you (for real) how Christan’s Critters was born.

If you haven’t heard of Christian’s Critters, I will attach (or copy) one of our past Christmas letters in the first comment, so you will REALLY understand (poor you) something about our fictional “company.”

To get started: MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY! We hope this finds you and yours well and happy.

But it might not.

As a matter of fact, today might be one of the most miserable days of your life. I know it has been in past years for me:

Christmas 1988 – 7 months after my oldest brother died.

Christmas 1999 – the year I knew I was getting divorced.

Christmas 2009 – the year Johnnie and I almost didn’t make it (we DID make it, all glory to God!).

Christmas 2015 – the year my next brother died.

And Christmas 2018 – yes, this Christmas. The year that my husband lost his job of almost 30 years with no warnings or bad reports on his record.

Christmas is HARD

Sometimes, folks, Christmas is HARD.

That’s how our “business” started. Somewhere around 2008 (give or take a year) we had a really bad year. We had a roof that was leaking and relatives that were sick and vehicles that broke down every week and kids who weren’t perfect (I know, I’m still trying to figure that one out. We’ve now raised/are raising/helped raise FIVE kids and not one single child is perfect! Geez, what are the odds?)

But we have lots of relatives and they all know that we have a bunch of kids and that I like to take pictures…..so we had to send out a Christmas Letter.

We were receiving all kinds of letters: letters from perfect families with perfect marriages and perfect kids getting into Ivy League schools and serving in the Peace Corps. I am not even kidding. We actually know people like that. And we love them and celebrate them!

But we are not…..THEM. We are US. And our US is messy. But who writes a letter about that?

Well, right after I asked myself that question, we received a letter like “that” – from a mom who confided that one child was in prison for life, and another was on her 27th marriage. AND SHE WASN’T JOKING. And I thought that, perhaps, the Christmas update wasn’t the best place to share all of that, either.

I still needed to write a letter

But I still needed to write a letter.

So I did it. I wrote a letter. Actually, I wrote a very short work of fiction.

Ha-ha, I WISH!

I can’t remember which year it actually began, but I do remember several things from that first letter. I mentioned that:

–Johnnie and I were celebrating our anniversary at the place where we first met, a Monster Truck Rally (In real life: never been to one).

–We all got saved due to those Baptists down on the corner (In real life: Johnnie and I came to know the Lord when we were teenagers).

–We shut down the family business of running the distillery due to our new Baptist beliefs, and were almost broke (In real life: We’ve never brewed any kind of alcohol. Also, financially, this was one of our best years).

Needless to say, both my mother and my mother in law nearly fell out and disowned us all! 😀 (that is not a joke). As a matter of fact, MY MOTHER sent out a Christmas letter for the first time that year – making sure that everyone knew that MY LETTER was a work of fiction.

Bless her heart.

Seriously, she has put up with a LOT from me over the years.

You may wonder: Why in the world is she putting this all in a Christmas letter? So let me explain.

I LOVE Christmas. I am one of those nuts who plays Christmas music year round. I have a Christmas clock and tons of stockings and I love cold weather and hot chocolate and I actually ENJOY wrapping presents!

But I especially love Jesus. And I love the story of His life, which begins in the book of Luke, chapter 2.

Jesus had a rough life here, and it was a real life, and things were HARD for Him and not perfect. He was born to very young parents, away from home. He was raised by people who didn’t/couldn’t understand Him. He served and then suffered. He was tortured, and killed.

All in about 33 years.

His life wasn’t perfect. And yours isn’t either. And neither is mine. We shouldn’t expect our lives to be perfect. My gosh if the SON OF GOD had a hard life here on earth, then we can’t expect ours to be perfect either.

Can we?

But sometimes…sometimes we DO have that expectation. When we start receiving all of the beautiful cards with the smiling faces and the summaries of their past years with the perfect families….sometimes we expect that, too.

I am here to tell you: my life is NOT perfect. That is where Christan’s Critters (with the agreement of my husband) was founded and shared. Life is NOT perfect; but we can support each other and pray for each other and we can laugh. I thank God that we can laugh.

Life is not perfect, but God IS perfect. His love for us is REAL and it is PRESENT and it is NOW. He is with us RIGHT. NOW.

So don’t worry about being perfect. Don’t worry about having the perfect family or sharing the perfect picture or sending the perfect card. Don’t even worry about buying the perfect gift or making the holiday perfect – because it won’t be.

Just rejoice in serving a God who knows you…perfectly. And He loves you where you are, in your perfectly messy life.

And if you need to know that there’s someone without a perfect life, struggling along in the mud and muck right beside you…just remember that I’ve been writing a Christmas Letter that is a work of fiction for the past 10-12 years. I understand.

I love you, my friends. And I am praying for you tonight as we move through this real, messy, life…together!

Merry Christmas!

 

Something to Read

The latest trend in buying Christmas presents this year: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to READ. Yay!

I can’t express how much this pleases me. I love to read GOOD books. Unfortunately, there are a lot of books out there that are NOT good. It’s not just that they’re poorly written, they genuinely contain things that, IMO, shouldn’t be included in the target group that they are marketed for.

Because I am so passionate about promoting good, entertaining, uplifting (and sometimes thought provoking) stories, I’ve compiled a Christmas Book List to help you with your shopping.

In each age category I will include a picture and summary of one of some my favorite books, and list several other choices.

The links in this post are affiliate links, and we may be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links.

If you have any favorites that I’ve missed, please include them in the comments.

Thanks and happy shopping!

For the 2 to 5 year olds on your list:


The Wonky Donkey –I saw this on a display at Barnes and Noble when we were there earlier this week. I picked it up and knew immediately that it was going in the “to buy” stack. I think any 2 – 5 year old would enjoy this book about a cranky, lanky, honky-tonky, wink, wonky donkey! 😀 There’s even a website where you download the song to go with the book for free!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Classic Board Books) — Another classic for the 2-5 year old crew. Our older kids enjoyed reading this book to the younger ones and making all the noises of the swishy-swashy grass, the crunchy leaves, etc.

I Want to be a Lion Tamer — I discovered this book at an Usborne party and thought it was too cute to leave off the list. What do you want to be when you grow up? A dog walker? A vet? A lion tamer? When you grow up, you can be anything you want to be! These oversized board books for our littlest learners perfectly illustrate that the possibilities are endless!


For the 6 to 8 year olds who are starting to read chapter books:

Dory Fantasmagory — As the youngest in her family, Dory really wants attention, and more than anything she wants her brother and sister to play with her. But she’s too much of a baby for them, so she’s left to her own devices—including her wild imagination and untiring energy.


The Flat Stanley Collection Box Set: Flat Stanley, Invisible Stanley, Stanley in Space, and Stanley, Flat Again! — Stanley Lambchop is an ordinary boy. At least he was, until the night his bulletin board fell off the wall and flattened him. At only half an inch thick, Stanley can slide under doors, mail himself across the country in an envelope, and fly like a kite!


The Ramona Collection, Vol. 1: Beezus and Ramona / Ramona the Pest / Ramona the Brave / Ramona and Her Father [4 Book Box set] — Newbery Award-winner Beverly Cleary delivers a humorous portayal of the ups and downs of sisterhood. Both the younger and older siblings of the family will enjoy this book.


For the 8 to 12 year olds:

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle —

Meet Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! She lives in an upside-down house with a kitchen that is always full of freshly baked cookies. She was even married to a pirate once! Best of all, she knows everything there is to know about children.

When Mary turns into an Answer-Backer or Dick becomes Selfish or Allen decides to be a Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has the perfect cure. And her solutions always work, with plenty of laughs along the way. This is the book that started it all!

Perfect for fans of Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee, this classic series is all about learning and problem-solving. Young readers will love this book.

 


Phoebe and Her Unicorn (Phoebe and Her Unicorn Series Book 1) — It all started when a girl named Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond and accidentally hit a unicorn in the face. Improbably, this led to Phoebe being granted one wish, and she used it to make the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, her obligational best friend. But can a vain mythical beast and a nine-year-old daydreamer really forge a connection? Indeed they can, and that’s how Phoebe and Her Unicorn unfolds.


Ages 10 and up:


Kristy’s Great Idea: Full-Color Edition (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix 1) — Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey are best friends and founding members of The Baby-sitters Club. Whatever comes up — cranky toddlers, huge dogs, scary neighbors, prank calls — you can count on them to save the day. Baby-sitting isn’t always easy, and neither is dealing with strict parents, new families, fashion emergencies, and mysterious secrets. But no matter what, the BSC have what they need most: friendship.

 


How to Avoid Extinction — Since the death of his grandfather, Leo’s number one chore has been to chase after his grandmother who seems to wander away from home every few days. Now, Gram’s decided to roam farther than ever. And despite his misgivings, Leo’s going along for the ride. With his seventeen-year-old cousin, Abbey, and an old, gassy dog named Kermit, Leo joins Gram in a big, old Buick to leave their Pennsylvania home for a cross-country road trip filled with foldout maps, family secrets, new friends, and dinosaur bones.

How to Avoid Extinction is a middle-grade comedy about death and food and family and fossils. It’s about running away from home and coming back again. For Leo, it’s about asking hard questions and hopefully finding some sensible answers. As if good sense has anything to do with it. Against a backdrop of America’s stunning size and beauty, it’s also about growing up, getting old, dreaming about immortality, and figuring out all the things we can — and can’t — leave behind.


The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 1): Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy — In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.


For the Teenagers on your List:


Okay for Now — 2011 National Book Award FinalistAs a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who “smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain.”

In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

 


Eragon: Inheritance, Book I (The Inheritance Cycle 1) — Perfect for fans of Lord of the Rings, the New York Times bestselling Inheritance Cycle about the dragon rider Eragon has sold over 35 million copies and is an international fantasy sensation.

Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy—until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save—or destroy—the Empire.
Eldest (Inheritance Cycle, Book 2) (The Inheritance Cycle), Inheritance Cycle 4-Book Trade Paperback Boxed Set (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, In (The Inheritance Cycle)

Pre-order the newest book in the Eragon series and save 20% — due out 12/31/18!


The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaësia (Volume 1: Eragon) (Inheritance Cycle) — A wanderer and a cursed child. Spells and magic. And dragons, of course. Welcome back to the world of Alagaësia.

It’s been a year since Eragon departed Alagaësia in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. Now he is struggling with an endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs, and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. Then a vision from the Eldunarí, unexpected visitors, and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective.

 


Impostors — Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . two edges of the same knife. But Frey’s very existence is a secret.

Frey is Rafi’s twin sister-and her body double. Their powerful father has many enemies, and the world has grown dangerous as the old order falls apart. So while Rafi was raised to be the perfect daughter, Frey has been taught to kill. Her only purpose is to protect her sister, to sacrifice herself for Rafi if she must.

When her father sends Frey in Rafi’s place as collateral in a precarious deal, she becomes the perfect impostor-as poised and charming as her sister. But Col, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her. As the deal starts to crumble, Frey must decide if she can trust him with the truth . . . and if she can risk becoming her own person.
Uglies: Uglies; Pretties; Specials; Extras


The Rule of Three — One shocking afternoon, computers around the globe shut down in a viral catastrophe. At sixteen-year-old Adam Daley’s high school, the problem first seems to be a typical electrical outage, until students discover that cell phones are down, municipal utilities are failing, and a few computer-free cars like Adam’s are the only vehicles that function. Driving home, Adam encounters a storm tide of anger and fear as the region becomes paralyzed. Soon—as resources dwindle, crises mount, and chaos descends—he will see his suburban neighborhood band together for protection. And Adam will understand that having a police captain for a mother and a retired government spy living next door are not just the facts of his life but the keys to his survival, in The Rule of Three by Eric Walters. First book in a trilogy.


And Finally, Something for You 😉


The Masterpiece — New York Times bestselling author Francine Rivers returns to her romance roots with this unexpected and redemptive love story, a probing tale that reminds us that mercy can shape even the most broken among us into an imperfect yet stunning masterpiece.

A successful LA artist, Roman Velasco appears to have everything he could possibly want—money, women, fame. Only Grace Moore, his reluctant, newly hired personal assistant, knows how little he truly has. The demons of Roman’s past seem to echo through the halls of his empty mansion and out across his breathtaking Topanga Canyon view. But Grace doesn’t know how her boss secretly wrestles with those demons: by tagging buildings as the Bird, a notorious but unidentified graffiti artist—an alter ego that could destroy his career and land him in prison.

Like Roman, Grace is wrestling with ghosts and secrets of her own. After a disastrous marriage threw her life completely off course, she vowed never to let love steal her dreams again. But as she gets to know the enigmatic man behind the reputation, it’s as if the jagged pieces of both of their pasts slowly begin to fit together . . . until something so unexpected happens that it changes the course of their relationship—and both their lives—forever.

 


A Woman’s Place: A Novel — They watched their sons, their brothers, and their husbands enlist to fight a growing menace across the seas. And when their nation asked, they answered the call as well. Virginia longs to find a purpose beyond others’ expectations. Helen is driven by a loneliness money can’t fulfill. Rosa is desperate to flee her in-laws’ rules. Jean hopes to prove herself in a man’s world. Under the storm clouds of destruction that threaten America during the early 1940s, this unlikely gathering of women will experience life in sometimes startling new ways as their beliefs are challenged and they struggle toward a new understanding of what love and sacrifice truly mean.


It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered —

Life often looks so very different than we hoped or expected. Some events may simply catch us off guard for a moment, but others shatter us completely. We feel disappointed and disillusioned, and we quietly start to wonder about the reality of God’s goodness.

Lysa TerKeurst understands this deeply. But she’s also discovered that our disappointments can be the divine appointments our souls need to radically encounter God. In It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, Lysa invites us into her own journey of faith and, with grit, vulnerability, and honest humor, helps us to:

  • Stop being pulled into the anxiety of disappointment by discovering how to better process unmet expectations and other painful situations.
  • Train ourselves to recognize the three strategies of the enemy so we can stand strong and persevere through unsettling relationships and uncertain outcomes.
  • Discover the secret of being steadfast and not panicking when God actually does give us more than we can handle.
  • Shift our suspicion that God is cruel or unfair to the biblical assurance that God is protecting and preparing us.
  • Know how to encourage a friend and help her navigate hard realities with real help from God’s truth.

 

I sincerely hope that you have found something on this list that you will enjoy, and that will make your Christmas shopping easier! 

Please let me know what you think, if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned…and feel free to include your own favorites, as well.

Thanks, and happy reading!
Ayme

 

 

One Week After — a Thanksgiving Analysis

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We Survived!

Well, here we are, almost a week after Thanksgiving and we all survived! By now the guests should be gone, the kitchen cleaned, and the fall decorations replaced with Christmas decorations…or something like that.

This year we were blessed to have all 5 of our kids and their grandparents with us for Thanksgiving lunch. With shift work, retail work, fire calls, and in laws, this is an increasingly rare occurrence and we enjoyed it tremendously!

Look who came to dinner!

One thing that I’ve told myself I want to start doing is analyzing what went well, what worked (and what didn’t). Why DID this year go so smoothly even though I only have one burner working on my range and an oven that bases its performance on its moods. Yes, my oven has moods; doesn’t yours?

There were several things that WORKED this year and I think they made things easier and more enjoyable for all of us.

You know the saying If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy? Well, I think there’s another saying that works as well: If mama ain’t stressed…neither is anyone else! We guide the hearts and attitudes in our homes and I am making more of an effort this season to make sure that my heart and attitude are in order.

What worked

So, what worked? Here’s the list, and I’ll explain in more detail below:

*Planned and cooked many things ahead of time.

*Delegated more – yes, someone other than mom can cook – and they probably want to!

*Used paper plates, napkins, and disposable containers – clean up was a breeze!

*Bought a craft kit for the younger kiddos from Hobby Lobby and took turns helping them.

*Had a DVD and some games set up in case it was too rainy to play outside.

*Planned and provided some healthy choices for the littles, so that they wouldn’t get tummy aches from all the desserts.

*Prayer

It sounds simple doesn’t it? It really is, but if I don’t think about it ahead of time, I will surely forget something.

Planning and preparing food ahead of time!

You’re probably thinking well, of course that works, don’t you do that every year? Sadly, no, I don’t. I make a list, and I plan the food, but I usually cook everything the day of Thanksgiving or maybe the night before.

Delegate

This year we started on Tuesday, and I delegated more. Our oldest daughter and our daughter in law both brought side dishes. Kate and Jill made all of the desserts on Tuesday with little supervision, and I successfully tried a new recipe for dressing and prepped the rest of the sides on Wednesday night.

The only thing we had to do on Thursday was warm everything and make the gravy. I borrowed a roaster oven from a friend and Johnnie cooked the turkey in that, which freed up my oven for all of the sides. I’d never used a roaster oven before, but that will definitely be changing. Here is one I’m considering:


Oster CKSTRS23-SB Roaster Oven, 22-Qt, Stainless Steel

Go Disposable

Paper plates, napkins, and disposable containers have been a game changer for me. Growing up, my mom pulled out the best china plates and sterling silver for big family meals, so that’s what I thought I was supposed to do too. It makes for a gorgeous table…and a whole lot of work cleaning everything up.

These days we use paper plates when we are hosting over 8 people and save the “good dishes” for smaller crowds. I ordered some aluminum foil pans with covers from Amazon a few months ago when I was working on freezer meals and have been impressed with their sturdiness and how easily they stack in the freezer. We used the same things for most of the side dishes this year.

Tiger Chef Plastic Dome Lids for Half Size Aluminum Foil Pans 9″ X 13″ (Pack of 50)

 

Craft kits were a huge hit this year. I bought this set at Hobby Lobby on one of their rotating sales for 50% off, then found glue bottles just the right size for small hands. Young aunts and grandmas took turns helping the kids with these and it was something they really enjoyed.

 

DVDs  – I kept all of the Barbie DVDs that my girls watched and we always have those on hand when the little girls are here in case someone gets tired of visiting and playing with the adults (hey, everyone needs a break sometimes!) I have to say that I was hesitant to buy Barbie movies when my girls were little. I wasn’t sure what kind of message they would promote. I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised at the strong female roles, friendships, and morals they display – along with some really catchy tunes. 😀

Amazon has a great deal on the Barbie Princess Collection right now, which includes my favorite: Barbie in The Princess and the Pauper!


Barbie: 10-Movie Classic Princess Collection

Games, games, games. Although we spent most of our time visiting and taking pictures this holiday, my family loves to play games. Some of our favorites are Headbandz, Pictionary, Phase 10, and Uno. If everyone wants to play, Chickenfoot and Jenga are great games that very young children can understand and join.


Dominoes Chicken Foot Double 9, Tournament Size Set with Colored Dots

Healthy choices for the littlest members of the family. I know a lot of people believe that when it comes to meal time, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit and I agree with that too, on a daily basis. But while we’re picking all of our favorite recipes that we’ve had for years, why not consider the ones who haven’t developed a taste for green bean casserole just yet?

It only took one text message to make sure we’d have some favorite fruits on hand for the under 10 crowd – now they would have something to fall back on to keep them from getting cranky or their parents from getting exasperated when the kids wouldn’t eat anything. Definitely worth the effort!

Prayer. Hospitality is not something that comes naturally to me. Even when it is only family, if it’s more than 5 or 6 people, I struggle. Is the house clean enough? Will there be enough food? What will they think of the decorations? And the yard? What if cranky Aunt Agatha shows up and says something to make someone cry? The list goes on and on of things that I worry about not just the night but the entire week before a gathering.

This year every time I started worrying about something, I prayed. I didn’t pray for God to calm my nerves or make everything go smoothly (okay maybe I did that once or twice). I focused my prayers on asking God to use me to bless my family and anyone else I came in contact with throughout the holidays. By thinking of others and their needs, I didn’t have as much time to worry about what might go wrong. And guess what: nothing went wrong!

I hope my list of things that worked this year helps you in some way. If you have anything to add, I’d absolutely love to hear what you have to say. I always need all the help I can get.

 

 

 

Books, Bags, Bonfires, and…..Coffee?

There’s so much to love about October!

It’s October and I plan to spend the month with a few of my favorite things:  books, bags, bonfires, and coffee. It’s no secret that books and I are in an exclusive relationship. I can live without television, Instagram, and maybe even FaceBook (for a limited time 😀 ) ; but please don’t ask me to live without books.

October is the perfect month for creepy supernatural thrillers, and Wendy Webb really delivered!  I was super excited to see her book  in the Kindle First Amazon list. Daughters of the Lake entranced me from the first page:

It was finally time for the lake to give her up. And so, one morning in late summer, her body washed gently into the shallows, as though it, she, had simply been floating in a peaceful, watery slumber. She was wearing a white gown, a long, billowing, delicate thing still tied with a bow at the neck, the sort of garment one might imagine wealthy women of the past wearing to bed. A tangle of auburn hair cascaded around her face. ..Her appearance was all the more remarkable since she had died nearly a century earlier.

Eeeeeek! What happened to her? Where did she come from? How are we going to solve a crime that was committed over 100 years ago? This book is the perfect blend of suspense and eeriness for cool autumn nights. Let me know if you read it!

Rain, rain, go away…

For some of us, October has been a ridiculously wet month so far. I was glad to see some sunshine this morning, but for the past 2 weeks we’ve had rain almost every. single. day.

I don’t know about you, but a couple of weeks of clouds and humidity makes me feel like even my mood is growing mold! The girls and I were starting to snap at each other over math papers and piano lessons, so I knew it was time to change our focus.

A few years ago when our family was struggling with some pretty heavy life stuff, a friend brought something she called a blessing bag or sunshine bag. It was thoughtful and cute, and a great reminder that someone was thinking of us.

I couldn’t remember what all she put in that bag, just remembered that there was a loooootttttt of yellow stuff! So the girls and I hit Walmart, Hobby Lobby, and the dollar store with our bag budget.

I know, I know, the kitchen’s terrible; but some days are just like that, you know?

I meant to get a better picture, but we were so excited after assembling the bags (we made 3) that this is all I’ve got:

I can tell you that all of our attitudes made a complete 180 degree turn while planning, purchasing, assembling, and delivering these bags. And so far, the change has lasted! I saw a quote yesterday that said “When you feel down, go bless others.” We definitely learned the truth in that saying.

Fall means bonfires

Some of my best memories have been made around fires. That may seem a little ironic since I married a firefighter but hey, life is full of contradictions!

Growing up in city limits, I didn’t get to have a lot of bonfires, but whenever we went camping, or to my grandma’s house in Arkansas, they were a highlight of the trip.

My family lives outside city limits now, so you better believe I’m collecting sticks all year and waiting for that first temperature drop! I think my my husband and the girls’ favorite part is the marshmallows; but I love the sparks, the dark, the moon, the music (if we can persuade someone to play their guitar), and the conversation.

It’s also a great time for the kids to enjoy time with their friends, making memories.

Coffee, the new love of my life

Y’all, seriously, why didn’t any of you tell me???????? Okay, maybe a few of you tried, but obviously you didn’t try hard enough. (I’m talking to YOU Mandy and Heather ).

A few years ago, one of the girls in our youth group felt led to start a Bible Study for girls, 7th grade and up. Kate wasn’t old enough to go the first year, but as soon as she WAS old enough, she was excited to join. And, since we knew the girl leading the study and couldn’t possibly ask for or imagine a better role model, Johnnie and I were excited for her to join, as well.

Such amazing girls. They bless me!

It’s been a couple of years now, and the girl who originally started the study is off at college. Fortunately, God called others to lead, and Jill has now joined the study, as well.

I can’t tell you what a highpoint this is for my kids. Weekly meetings with like minded girls, many of them a bit older and who have been where my girls are now.

Usually I just drop them off once I see that some of their friends are there and run a few errands. However, about 2 weeks ago………my  life changed. I didn’t have time to grab a snack before taking them to Bible Study, so I went in and just ordered “something chocolate and cold.”

Hello, my new friend: Iced Mocha. Yum. In so many ways just….yum.

I felt like my life had started over. I was instantly 20 years younger and running, no, WINNING a marathon.

I was an award winning author, a concert singer, a neurosurgeon. I was…. the best of the the best of THE BEST. This is what coffee does for you, my friends.

Because I am a book nerd, and because I am me, I instantly became a bit obsessed with the coffee bean. We made a trip to the local library and collected all of the data we could possibly gather in such a short amount of time:

Hurray for Ms. Jo and the inter-library loan system!

I actually read some in each of these books, and skimmed more.; but the one that caught my attention, because it provided coffee/latte/mocha/mochiato recipes (hello, more coffee) was I Love Coffee! Over 100 Easy and Delicious Coffee Drinks

Wow. Just…..wow. This book has pretty drinks and skinny drinks and fancy drinks…..and it even talks about different machines and beans!

I may have checked it out from the library, but it’s now on my Amazon Wish List.

I’ve shared a few of the things that October holds for me…what about you? And for any of my coffee drinker friends: what’s your drug of choice? 😉

Books, books, and more books: 5 of my all time favorite books to read aloud with your family

Books, books, books

Anyone who knows me knows my love of books.

While other women dream of Prince Charming stopping by to sweep them off their feet, I just want him to drop me off at the nearest Barnes and Noble with a $500 gift card, please and thank you. If he could manage to reserve one of those comfy chairs while I sort through the aisles, that would be great, too.

Reading is a passion, and I’ve spent way too much time and money through the years supporting my addiction. It wouldn’t be so bad if some of that time weren’t wasted reading books that end up in the garbage because they’re poorly written or just plain trashy.

I don’t like to waste time, and I certainly don’t like to waste money, so I’ve often asked my friends for book recommendations, especially when it comes to family read aloud books. While I’ve had some success with their recommendations, I’ve also had some great disappointments.

It turns out that sometimes your absolute favorite book isn’t the best choice as a read aloud book. There’s also the factor that different families have different choices and timetables as far as when they want to introduce their children to difficult topics such as peer pressure, death, and divorce.

That being said, I decided to make a list of several of our favorite read aloud books with a brief synopsis of each one. We’ve read each of these books within the past few years and we have all enjoyed them. So I guess that makes them suitable for ages 8 to 40-something 😉

I’d love to know if you’ve read any of these books and what you think of them.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien


I had to write about this book first, as it is MY favorite read aloud book. Well, one of my favorites. When it comes to books, I tend to have a lot of favorites.

I remember my school librarian, Mrs. Kirk, reading this to my 3rd grade class many years ago. Anything that sticks with me that long has to be good, and I was so excited to share this title with my girls. I wasn’t disappointed.



In this Newbery Medal book, Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse with four small children who is faced with a problem that could destroy her family. With a sick child and moving day fast approaching, she finds unexpected allies in the rats in the local farmyard.

The characters are so well done in this children’s classic. There are mysteries, conflicts, courage, and loyalty repaid in each chapter. We were truly sorry to say goodbye to these characters. This story is timeless and our whole family enjoyed the book.


Whatever After Boxset, Books 1-6 (Whatever After) series by Sarah Mylnowski

This series currently has 11 books with the 12th due out on October 30.

In each book, the main characters, siblings Abby and Jonah, are transported into different fairy tales (Rapunzel, The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, etc.) via the magic mirror in the basement of their new house. Somehow along the way, each tale gets messed up, and Abby and Jonah have to “fix” them. Fortunately and amusingly, they aren’t always fixed in the way we’d expect.

As the series continues, the children are frozen, turned blue, forced to flee from giant spiders, and learn to swim underwater without breathing. The tales are fast paced and perfect for upper elementary readers, especially girls. 

I was happy and surprised to discover that each story covers something that kids who are Abby and Jonah’s age may very well be dealing with: jealousy, choices, friendship, moving, problem solving, and fear of new experiences.

The only concern I had with this series is that the children are keeping secrets from their parents. While I realize that all children keep some secrets, Jonah and Abby have to lie to their parents about the magic mirror in the basement in order to keep the secret. I’m hoping that this is resolved by the end of the series, but as it is now, my family discussed this and the girls have agreed that it really would be best, and more fun, to let mom and dad know if they discover a magic mirror — that way we could all participate in the adventures!

If you enjoy light hearted, fast reads with quick humor, the Whatever After series is definitely for you!


JEREMY THATCHER DRAGON HATCHER (Magic Shop Book)by Bruce Coville

My family discovered this book (which is actually book 2 in a series called the Magic Shop Books) on a road trip from coastal Texas to Dillon, Colorado and oh, how it made the miles go by!

In this book, Jeremy, fleeing from the unwanted attention of a girl (that must be read with the disdain of a 5th grade boy) comes upon a small shop he’s never seen before. He enters and has an odd conversation with the owner before purchasing what he thinks is a marble. Of course, it’s not a marble because what kind of story would that be? The marble turns out to be a dragon’s egg and once it hatches the adventure really flies.

This story is fast paced and hilarious. Our family enjoyed it so much that we purchased and read 2 more in the Magic Shop series during our trip. 

Each book in the Magic Shop addresses issues that children may face in 4th grade and up: bullies, crushes, jealousy, and irrational teachers. I hope you enjoy the books as much as we did!


The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

The title gives a pretty apt description of this National Book Award book that I absolutely loved. (I know, I know….I’ve said that a lot but hey, these ARE my favorite books). 

The editorial review says that the Penderwicks series is Deliciously nostalgic and quaintly witty, this is a story as breezy and carefree as a summer day. I agree! In every page I was pulled back to my childhood vacations in the countryside of Hot Springs, Arkansas — running wild with cousins through the fields, woods, and parks from early in the day to late in the evenings.

Batty, Sky, Rosalind, and Jane are being raised by their father since their mother died of cancer shortly after Batty was born. This summer their father is taking them for a summer holiday in a cottage next door to a mansion. Soon they meet Jeffrey, a boy who is close to their age and the perfect friend for adventures in the lawns, gardens, and attics of the neighboring house.

Of course, what would vacation be without a few close calls, near misses, and frustrated plans? With several sympathetic adults around to guide but not smother them, the children have a summer they will never forget.


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

Poor Claudia Kincaid. She just isn’t appreciated by her family; no one understands her. This being the case, Claudia decides that she will run away.

Since Claudia is a sensible and practical soul (being the oldest of 4 children will often do that to you) she decides not just to run AWAY from something but to run TOWARD something. The something she has settled on is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Realizing that she wants to live in a style that her allowance alone won’t afford her, Claudia decides to invite her younger brother, Jamie, to go along for the adventure. Somewhat reluctantly, Jamie agrees, so long as he is in charge of the finances ( we all have a sibling like that, don’t we?)

After they arrive and settle into the Met, Claudia is entranced by the discovery of a new addition to the museum: an angel statue that some say was made by Michelangelo himself. Claudia and Jamie use their time alone in the Met after hours to research the mystery of the statue and its origins. They soon discover some truths about the statue, and themselves.

As soon as we completed this book, my girls immediately wanted to search for others by this author. It’s one of the classics that we will read again and again.

These are some of the books that our family has fallen in love with while reading them together over the years. They are appropriate and engaging for almost any age.

What about your family? Are there any books that you’ve read aloud and absolutely loved? Please share them in the comments!


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It’s a GOOOOAAAALLLLL! 3rd Quarter Assessment

October 1st

The first day of the last quarter of the year.


Yikes! How did this happen…… again? Anyone else surprised by the way time continually progresses? I’m constantly surprised at the way the holidays roll around every year. Obviously I planned to start budgeting for Christmas in January, and here it is October and the coffee can’s still empty!

That being said, I thought today would be a good day to sit down and take a look at the list of goals I’d made for 2018. Of course this should probably be done more on a monthly assessment basis but weren’t you reading? The time snuck by on me this year!

So let’s take a look and see how I’m doing:

I wanted to plan a date night at least once a month:

(This is a stock photo, not us :D)

 

I didn’t.

I wanted to attend an exercise class and complete it:

I missed almost 20% of the class.

I wanted to be the best wife/mom/daughter/friend EVER:

I’m not.

I intended to send at least one hand written note of encouragement every week this year:

I haven’t

I wanted to be more positive:

I experienced what I would describe as clinical depression for the first time in my life.

Oh, and we just found out that some of our very good friends are moving out of state – that’s THREE sets of good/BFFs who have moved in 8 years. What is happening here?

Oh yes; and I definitely, DEFINITELY had a hard deadline of publishing my blog by June 1st.

It’s now October 1st and while I’m writing, I haven’t gone public. Actually, I’ve had the goal to start a blog for quite a few YEARS. When I first starting thinking about it, our kids looked like this:

 

(blame their father)

 

Now they look more like this:

(They were SUPPOSED to be posing for Christmas pictures!)

 

WOW! How far could one person fall from their goals? It’s almost like I went BACKWARDS. At least, that’s one way to look at it. Orrrrrrrrr……..

OR, I can say:

We had 8 date nights this year — twice as many as the previous year!

I finished an exercise class — for the first time in over 25 YEARS!

I am not the best — but I am a GOOD wife/mom/daughter/and friend – most days. And I am better this year than I was last year!

I have mailed at least 23 hand written notes/cards this year — that’s at least 23 people who have (hopefully) smiled because they opened their mailbox and pulled out something that wasn’t a bill!

(Perfect timing. Didn’t get this in the mail, but when my husband went to clean out the ice chests that a friend had borrowed for a fundraiser, he found this note. A little bit soggy, but it sure made me smile!)

 

I survived a genuine bout of depression — and I can now relate at least a tiny bit to others who have experienced this. I am also regularly tracking my diet/exercise/habits because I never, ever, EVER want to feel that way again!

And during this time God showed me how I can be very real with many of my friends – and how very much they love me.

The fact that I have always had the most amazing friends in the world humbles me beyond description. The fact that all 3 sets who have moved/are moving are in my faith family means that we will always be connected. We aren’t friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime: our futures are connected for ETERNITY!

Oh and on the blog thing, hey, look at me, I’m working on a real live blog post — right now!

 

So friends, if some of you (like me) haven’t exactly met your goals for the year, that is okay. If you haven’t met ANY goals for the year, that is okay. And guess what: you still have 3 months to do something.

If you are still here and trying, that is a victory! Keep going! I believe in you! You are God’s BEST and most BELOVED creation. Don’t give up. He loves you. I do too. And I am praying for you tonight. Let’s finish strong!