Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Favorite Sunday Slow Cooker Recipe

This is my favorite throw-in-the-slow-cooker-before-church meal because it's super easy, yummy, and is one of the rare meals to have earned the approval of my picky preschooler.  (He will not eat beef in any other form.)  I adapted it from this recipe at Menus4Moms to make it even easier (frozen peppers and onions!) and a little broth-ier, and to use mostly Trader Joe's ingredients.

Slow Cooker Mexican Meatball Soup, Trader Joe's edition

1 bag Trader Joe's Party-Size Meatballs (frozen)
1/2 bag Trader Joe's Grilled Peppers and Onions blend (frozen)
2 t. Trader Joe's jarred garlic
1 container Trader Joe's beef broth (32 oz.)
1 16-oz. jar salsa (your choice, but we like mild)
1 T chili powder (or less, if you prefer less spicy)
1/4 t. ground cumin
1 c. Trader Joe's Orecchiette (or other small pasta)

Combine first seven ingredients in slow cooker.  Give it a good stir. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours.  Toss in pasta for the last hour of cooking, or cook separately and toss in right before serving. Depending on your slow cooker, you may want to add a cup or two of water towards the end.

Garnish with sour cream or plain yogurt and shredded cheese.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Brief YA Review: Like No Other

Like No OtherLike No Other by Una LaMarche
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when two teens from very different backgrounds fall in love? Thankfully, this is no Romeo and Juliet, but it is realistic and satisfying, even if there can be no happily-ever-after.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley for review through NetGalley.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

My Experience with Essential Oils

Disclaimer: I do not sell essential oils.  I do not have any sort of financial affiliation with any of the resources I am going to mention.  And I truly don't want to offend anyone I know who sells essential oils, since they are honest and lovely people, but here goes...

Suddenly, essential oils are everywhere -- in my Facebook news feed, taking over blogs I follow...maybe you've noticed it too?  Maybe you are a little "crunchy" like I am (using cloth diapers, trying to eat whole foods) and you're intrigued by the thought of using something all-natural to treat ailments or clean your home. Well, that was me.  And my first introduction to essential oils was through the two big MLM (multi-level marketing -- think Avon or Thirty-One) companies, who shall remain nameless.  When I saw the prices, I balked.  With a husband who has been unemployed or under-employed for over a year now, just trying a few oils seemed like a huge investment I couldn't afford. But I thought I could at least do some research (hey, I'm a librarian) for the far-off day when I might be able to.

And boy, did I learn a lot.

First of all, I learned that the prices being charged by the MLM companies aren't necessarily an indication of quality, but are higher most likely because a lot of people are getting a portion of the price of every oil sold. (For more on these quality claims, see this article from Granola Living.)  I also learned that some of these companies were promoting irresponsible uses of oils (i.e., applying them undiluted or taking them internally without being supervised by an aromatherapist).  I joined a few Facebook groups to learn more; one woman claimed she had esophageal damage from drinking water with a few drops of lemon essential oil in it for several weeks at the recommendation of her sales consultant.

I also joined a group sponsored by an MLM comapny to learn more and saw firsthand that unsafe recommendations are being made.  I also found out that the page is policed and censored.  I had a few comments deleted.  One was just a link to a different company that sells essential oils; someone asked for where to buy supplies for mixing up your own oils, since this particular MLM company doesn't sell them, and I posted a direct link to the page where these items are sold -- not the oils themselves, mind you, just the supplies, on Plant Therapy. Another resource I shared (not a commercial one) that was a reminder of some essential oils that aren't safe to use with children was deleted as well.

Which brings me to the company I have ordered a few oils from: Plant Therapy.  Direct sales (i.e., much lower prices), high quality, and free shipping, as well as certified aromatherapists on staff (who answer questions in their Facebook group, Plant Therapy: Safe Essential Oil Recipes). The Calming the Child synergy is a miracle in a roll-on bottle for helping my little guys go to sleep at night, and I've been happy with all of the other products I've gotten from them so far -- I was able to order quite a few when they were having their Christmas in July sales.  What has most impressed me so far is their new line of "KidSafe" essential oil blends, which were developed in collaboration with Robert Tisserand, who literally wrote the book on Essential Oils Safety.

My conclusion: essential oils can be helpful for a lot of things, but they're not meant to be a cure-all. The oils I've found most helpful deal with emotions, like anxiety or depression, and are very effective when inhaled. They also don't have to cost a fortune. I don't have any sort of arrangement with Plant Therapy, but I have learned from my research that there are lots of non-MLM companies that sell high-quality essential oils, and usually at much lower prices, Plant Therapy among them.  So if you're interested, shop around like I did!  And if you want to do more research for yourself, I'm leaving you with a list of the best online resources I found for educating yourself on essential oils, including a free online class from the Aromahead Institute.

Learning About EOs (a website by a certified clinical aromatherapist)
Using Essential Oils Safely Facebook group
Plant Therapy: Safe Essential Oil Recipes Facebook Group
Robert Tisserand
Aromatherapy 101 -- free class from Aromahead Institute

And where I've purchased from:
Plant Therapy

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Two Book Reviews: The Latest in Christian Fiction

All Right Here (The Darlings #1)All Right Here by Carre Armstrong Gardner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Tyndale House

I absolutely loved spending time with the Darling family of small-twon Maine. Even the secondary characters are believable. I've seen comparisons to the TV show Parenthood, and it was like Parenthood, in all the best ways. Plus -- and I hate to say this -- it was a Christian novel that didn't read like a Christian novel. The ending made it clear that there will be more to come about the Darling family -- and I can't wait.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an egalley through NetGalley for review.

View all my reviews Here to Stay (Where Love Begins, #2)Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Bethany House

This was my first Melissa Tagg book, and I enjoyed it very much. I'd like to read the first in the series to get more of Blake's backstory, and I'd like to spend more time in Whisper Shores, a Stars Hollow-like town in Michigan.

My only complaint: overuse of the word "dude."

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

More on the Nightingales

The Nightingale SistersThe Nightingale Sisters by Donna Douglas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As soon as I finished the first title in this series (see previous review), I rushed to request the next two from NetGalley. And then I did what could only be described as binge-reading -- staying up late several nights in a row to finish them. And then I did something I very rarely do: I purchased the fourth in the series for my Nook, because it's only available as an e-book. And now I have to wait (sigh) for the next one to be published. If you're interested in England, the 1930s, the history of nursing, or just strong female characters with plenty of drama and romance in their lives, then you will enjoy this series. 

You're welcome.

View all my reviews

(Thanks again to the publisher and NetGalley for the egalleys!)

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Book Review: The Nightingale Girls

The Nightingale GirlsThe Nightingale Girls by Donna Douglas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was billed as a good choice for fans of "Call the Midwife," and since I am one, I thought I'd give it a go. And indeed, it was quite enjoyable. Set in 1930s London, it follows several girls who start their nurses' training at Nightingale Hospital through their professional and private lives. The historical setting and medical details were interesting, and the girls themselves were fun characters to get to know. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

*Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an e-copy to review.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book Review: Surprised by Motherhood

Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a MomSurprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a Mom by Lisa-Jo Baker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lovely memoir of losing and becoming a mother. As I read this book, many tears were shed and much head-nodding occurred. This is a beautiful book that I will be sharing with every new mom I know from now on. As a mom and a librarian, I have read many parenting/motherhood books, and this is among the very best of them. It's not a "how-to," but a "why" -- and don't we need more of those?

*Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley for review through NetGalley.

P.S. For more from Lisa-Jo Baker, check out her blog.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mommy Guilt vs. Mommy Shame

I shared this in my Real Moms group a couple of weeks ago and thought I would share it here, too.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought the choice to breastfeed was a no-brainer.  After all, how many times have we heard that “breast is best?”  I did everything I could to prepare  -- read books, took a class, and stocked up on all those nursing necessities (who says breastfeeding is free?).  But when Evan came along, it just didn’t work.  I got help from lactation consultants and my aunts and even La Leche League, I tried everything from herbs to prescription drugs to a hospital grade pump, but after six weeks, I gave up.  That’s how it felt, too, like giving up, like failing, like being a bad mom from the very beginning.   I think I spent those first six weeks crying.  So when I got pregnant with my second, I was determined that things would be different.  I made an appointment with a lactation consultant to find out what I could do to prepare to “succeed.”  Of course all my plans were upended when Bennett came along ten weeks early, and it was back to the pump.  This time, though, I saw the NICU lactation consultant, and she diagnosed me with what amounted to a physical inability to nurse.  Anyway, I’d spent the first two years of Evan’s life beating myself up over something I couldn’t help.  And it got me to thinking, don’t all of us do that?  Isn’t that what “mommy guilt” is all about?

Not too long ago I read an article that discussed guilt vs. shame.  I don’t remember what the article was about, and I don’t even think it was a Christian article, but it really struck me.  It said that guilt is feeling bad about something we did or didn’t do. Shame is feeling bad about who we ARE. 

Guilt isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It can be a nudge from the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to change.  But when guilt turns into shame – when a thought like “I am going to try harder to breastfeed next time” turns into the thought “I am a bad mom who can’t even breastfeed her babies” – that’s not the Holy Spirit, that’s Satan.  Shame has no place in the life of a Christian, because who I am is a forgiven child of God. 

So the next time you experience mommy guilt, whether it’s over losing your temper, or not doing enough crafts with your kids,  or letting them watch too much TV, take that guilt and use it constructively.  Don’t let Satan turn it into shame.   Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Recipe Success: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

My boys love Mimi's pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.  She uses the Trader Joe's mix, so for muffins they're relatively healthy, but I hate how crumbly they are because, well, I'm the one who cleans up the crumbs!  So I've been searching for an even healthier recipe that they will actually eat instead of whining that they want Mimi's muffins instead.  And I finally found one!

I discovered a new recipe site, the Meal Makeover Moms, when consulting Google, and adapted their recipe.  The original recipe can be found here.  My adaptation is below.  I hope your kids enjoy them just as much as mine do.

And hey, chocolate chips count as healthy in my book.  I use bittersweet (60%), so, you know, antioxidants.

1 c. all-purpose (unbleached) flour
1/2 c. white whole wheat flour
1/4 c. ground flaxseed
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 t. salt
1 c. canned pumpkin
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 c. coconut sugar (can use brown sugar)
1/2 c. unsweetened almond milk (can use other milk)
1/3 c. grapeseed oil (I'm going to try coconut next time)
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 350. I used paper liners in my muffin tin.
2. Whisk together the first 6 (dry) ingredients in a large bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk pumpkin, eggs, sugar, oil, milk, and vanilla until well-combined. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
4. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until toothpick in center comes out clean. Transfer pan to wire rack and cool 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from tins and cool on rack for another 5 minutes before serving.  (I like eating them warm, when the chocolate chips are all melty and gooey.)
5. Feel virtuous that your children are getting fiber, omega 3s, veggies, and, of course, antioxidants from something so delicious.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Review: Notes from a Blue Bike

Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic WorldNotes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a casual, occasional reader of Oxenreider's blog, and the subtitle of this book was what really drew me, since I'm trying to live more "intentionally" this year, whatever that means. And there's the rub -- it may mean a million different things to a million different people, and I found it very hard to relate to Oxenreider's lifestyle, with all of her international travel with children and online ordering from farmers' markets. I appreciated what she was trying to do in encouraging and inspiring her readers to make choices congruent with their values, but unfortunately I felt like her tone came off as a little bit superior, and many of the choices she and her family made seem completely out of my family's financial reach. (She did address the issue of finances in an afterword, and I think if that had been addressed in the forward, I would have found her advice to be a lot more relatable.) Overall, the book did offer some food for thought and might be a worthwhile read.

*Thanks to the publisher for providing an advanced e-copy for review.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Book Review: The Tyrant's Daughter

The Tyrant's DaughterThe Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing view of life in an oppressive Muslim country vs. life in America through the eyes of a teenage girl who barely escaped her home country with her life. Laila's father, the non-religious King of her nameless homeland, was assassinated by his ultra-religious brother, and what's left of her family is offered asylum in the U.S. -- but in exchange for information and political wrangling, as she soon learns. As she tries to adjust to American high school, take care of her little brother, and figure out just what her mother is doing for the C.I.A., she is also piecing together her own history, and learning the truth about her father's legacy. Laila is brave and resourceful, and her story is well worth reading.

* Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-copy for review through NetGalley.

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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Book Review: Dangerous by Shannon Hale

DangerousDangerous by Shannon Hale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Shannon Hale and would follow her into any genre, including sci-fi...but this one wasn't her most successful. Maybe it would have worked better as a trilogy. The initial set-up was slow-going, but then the rest of the plot proceeded at breakneck speed. The love triangle was pretty weak - the (very) bad boy or the (literal) boy next door? I'm no scientist, so I can't comment on that aspect of it, but I managed suspension of disbelief just fine. Overall, it was entertaining enough, but a bit of a disappointment.

*Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an e-copy for review.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

eBook Review: Worth the Fight

Worth the Fight - Kayse PrattIf you're like me, you've read your fair share of Christian marriage books and might not want to invest the time in another.  But Kayse Pratt's brief eBook, Worth the Fight: Lessons Learned in a High-Maintenance Marriage, is a great little primer on bolstering a marriage.  While I found nothing earth-shattering in its chapters, I did find plenty of helpful reminders and strategies for making my marriage a priority.  And as a nice little bonus, it includes some pretty Bible verse printables.  You can buy your copy here.  And, today only, receive 20%  off with the code worththefight20.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

VERY Brief Book Reviews

We Were LiarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

King Lear for teens. With more tragedy.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley for review through NetGalley.

What Nora KnewWhat Nora Knew by Linda Yellin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fun, breezy bit of chick lit for fans of Nora Ephron movies.

Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley for review through NetGalley.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: The Here and Now

The Here and NowThe Here and Now by Ann Brashares
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How could I resist a dystopian novel from the author of one of my favorite YA series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? I couldn't. The only thing that disappointed me about this novel was its brevity, and I am hoping that this indicates a forthcoming sequel. The premise is intriguing: what if there are time travelers from the future sharing our present? Add in philosophical questions, cult-like oppression, and a forbidden romance, and you have The Here and Now. Thanks to the publisher for providing an e-galley for review through NetGalley.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Two Brief Book Reviews

Ophelia and the Marvelous BoyOphelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An atmospheric middle-grade fantasy loosely based on the tale of the Snow Queen, this should delight children seeking a spooky adventure. Ophelia is a reluctant heroine, still reeling from the death of her mother three months before, but she is clever and ultimately brave enough to save the world.

She Is Not InvisibleShe Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Laureth, a blind sixteen-year-old, is convinced that her writer father is missing, and sets off to New York from London with her seven-year-old brother to find him. I read this in one setting and thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters are well-developed, the plot was strong and fast-moving, and the ending was satisfying. What more can a reader ask for?

*Thanks to the publishers for providing e-galleys for review through NetGalley. My opinions are just that -- my own!

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