Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Review: Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider

Many months ago I got an advance copy of Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider. Then I took a break from writing and never got around to writing my review of this book. Well today I've finally got it done! 
The author Tsh, is the founder of the well known blog  Simple Mom. I greatly enjoyed Tsh Oxenreider's previous book Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living so when I saw she had a new book I was excited to get my hands on it.  This book tells the story of her family’s ongoing quest to live more simply, fully, and intentionally. It's part memoir, part travelogue, part practical guide, Notes from a Blue Bike takes you from a hillside in Bosnia to a Turkish high-rise to a congested Austin suburb to a small town in Oregon. 
I came away from this book with some great ideas for how to be more intentional in my own life and especially with my children. Tsh has a gift for making the overwhelming feel manageable. I appreciated her stories and honesty about her struggles. She demonstrates through a variety of stories how to focus on the little things that really matter. She speaks of traveling internationally with small children and how valuable it is for kids to experience other cultures. Through her stories she's motivated me to be more willing to overcome the difficulty of traveling with kids for the chance to let them see more of the world.
Overall I loved this book! It's composed of small chapters that are easy to get through quickly which I like since I read non-fiction slowly. I appreciated her stories and honesty about her struggles. She exhibits how to focus on the little things that are what truly matter.
BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ultimate Homemaking Library of Over 80 Resources

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Natural Rodent Control for the Backyard Gardener

For over 5 years I've asked Joe to build me an owl box so I could have owls in the backyard. And for 5 years Joe has ignored my request. Finally I found some plans on the Internet, texted them to him and then accompanied him to the hardware store. He spent 20 minutes shopping and then informed me it would cost $30+ in tools and materials and probably 20+ hours of work and was I CERTAIN I wanted a stinkin owl box. At that point I pulled out my iPhone and looked up how much owl boxes cost on Amazon. You know what? They really aren't much at all and I found a great one for $45 with free shipping. Done! And Joe saved 20 hours of woodworking he didn't want to do.

So why did I decide 5 years ago I wanted an owl? We saw the Wings of America Show Birds at Dollywood when we were on vacation in Tennessee and I learned of the benefits of having owls in the neighborhood. Especially the benefits to gardeners since owls are nighttime predators that eat annoying little rodents that like to eat my veggies. I'm all for natural pest control and what's more natural than an owl eating my pests?

Joe got around to putting up my new owl house in a tree back by the compost pile pretty quick. I haven't noticed any owls taking up residence yet but I'm optimistic they'll show up soon.
My owl house is the right size for an Eastern Screech Owl and their main diet is mice, voles and annoying little chipmunks that dig in my flowers.
Please little owl- won't you come nest in my tree?

Monday, March 31, 2014

I Made it 21 Days Without Sugar!

I don't have a sweet tooth, I have a sweet fang. I love sweets way too much and for years I've struggled with trying to restrain myself. I know sugar is bad for me but that doesn't stop me. 

Last year I discovered Diane Sanfilippo's blog Balanced Bites and I read all about her 21 day sugar detox program. It sounded just awful and awesome at the same time. The thought of actually not having anything remotely sweet for 21 days sounded akin to torture and far beyond any sort of discipline I possessed. It also sounded like just what I needed to reset my carb and sugar cravings.

I stewed and considered and finally put the book on hold at my library. When I held the actual book in my hands I still thought I'd get out of actually putting in any effort. Then I read The 21-Day Sugar Detox: Bust Sugar & Carb Cravings Naturally and it moved me to action.

Here's a brief description of the book: Use the easy-to-follow meal plans and more than 90 simple recipes in this book to bust a lifetime of sugar and carb cravings in just three weeks. Three levels of the program make it approachable for anyone, whether you're starting from scratch or from a gluten-free, grain-free, and/or Paleo/primal lifestyle. 

At the beginning of January I started my 21 days and I gotta say the first week was HARD. No afternoon chocolate? No berry smoothie? No sweetener in my morning cuppa tea? All of these things were SUPER hard for me the first week. My way of compensating was to eat, eat, eat. This isn't a calorie/portion restriction diet so I ate a lot of delicious food. The first big change I noticed toward the end of the first week was that food tasted better and things that normally aren't sweet enough tasted amazing. For example, I usually need some stevia or sugar on my grapefruit because it's just too sour but after having nothing sweet for a week it tasted perfectly sweet with nothing on it. I usually don't care for bananas either but they started tasting better too.

I'm an all or nothing kinda gal so having clear cut rules to follow for 21 days worked for me.

The book is full of some delicious recipes that I cooked for our family dinners. Joe's favorite was the Double Pork Tenderloin which is a tenderloin rubbed in spices and wrapped in bacon. Our other favorite recipes from the book: Beef Jerky, Apple Streusel Egg Muffins, Lemon Chicken, Asian Style Meatballs, Healthy Homemade Mayonnaise and Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing (now my very favorite salad dressing).

It was the most difficult to stick just to the approved whole foods when I was eating outside our house. When I met a friend at Chipotle for lunch I ordered a salad with all the allowed toppings and brought my salad dressing. That worked fine but when we spent a weekend with the in-laws it was a little trickier. I brought along my own food and was as careful as I could be without being weird.

I highly recommend giving this 21 day program a try. I felt so good physically and mentally at the end of the 21 days. I even lost 5 pounds and never felt hungry. I'm already thinking ahead to when I'll do another 21 day detox...maybe in the summer. For now I am back on chocolate and it does taste so good.

I received nothing for this review, not even a free book. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book Review: The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn

I recently had the chance to read The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn. I don't read many non-fiction books and rarely anything to do with marriage. I'm pretty lazy about reading marriage books because my marriage is easy and good so I focus on other areas that are more of a struggle for me. I chose this book though because I love Shaunti Feldhahn and when I saw she'd put all her research power into finding out the secrets of happily married people I was intrigued.

As usual Shaunti delivered! I absolutely loved this book. It's full of common sense secrets that when put into action can truly change any marriage.

A large part of the reason I was so eager to read this book is because I wanted to know if these "secrets" were things I was already doing. I've often been stumped when people ask me why my marriage is good. I say things like we both have the same primary love language of quality time and we communicate very well. Really though it's been hard for me to figure why marriage is easier for us.

When I dove into this book and read what the research revealed I found out that Joe & I are doing most of the "secrets".  Not all, but most of them are things we've been doing our whole marriage. For example in chapter three the secret is that happy couples believe the best of each other and assume that their spouse cares deeply for them. YES, we do that! Even when we legitimately hurt each other we refuse to believe it was an intended hurt and instead look for the most generous explanation.

Even after 15 very happy years of marriage I learned so much. Every married person should read this book. If you are interested in checking it out you can Read Chapter One  for free.

If you'd like to know more about Shaunti and her books check out these links:

  • Author's Website
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • More Info
  • Read Chapter One
  • Author Bio

  • I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review

    Thursday, February 6, 2014

    Book Review: Modern Life Study Bible (NKJV)

    I had the wonderful opportunity to review a copy of The Modern Life Study Bible which is a full-color NKJV study Bible. I grew up using the King James version at my very strict Christian school and I don't care for it at all. Thankfully the NKJV is a modern version and much easier to understand and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

    Study Bibles bring such depth to understanding the ancient context of the scriptures. I love digging deeper and getting beyond my own world to what the writers meant in their place and time and this Bible makes that easy.

    Things I loved about this Bible:
    Focus sections.  Whereas the Life Application Bibles will normally give background on a single verse, the Modern Life Study Bible focuses on a section of scripture.
    Timelines. In Daniel the reign of Nebuchadnezzar is laid out with major events included on the timeline. I love understanding how different Biblical characters fit together in the historical timeline.
    Full-color illustrations
    Maps and diagrams
    Special information on occupations of the Bible

    66 inspirational biographies of believers who put their faith to work including Corrie ten Boom, C.S. Lewis, Eric Liddell, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Amy Carmichael, and Augustine.

    Overall I found this Bible very easy to use and I'm pleased to use it for my personal devotions. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good study Bible.

    Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

    Banana Chocolate Muffins (Gluten-Free)

    I've been baking A LOT lately. It might have something to do with the never ending winter and constant snow. Yes, it definitely has to do with that. At least when I turn on the oven it warms the house up and I get something yummy for my efforts. I'm always on the lookout for good things to pack in school lunches that aren't just junk food and this sure fits the bill.

    I wasn't so sure about this combo of banana and chocolate as I don't much like bananas. They just don't appeal to me the way a good apple or raspberry does. I thought I'd go ahead and try this though and I'm so glad I did. My very picky 9 year old son (who also doesn't like bananas) said in reaction to his first bite "I don't like this muffin, I LOVE it!" OK, so this one is a keeper.

    Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
    Makes 22-24 muffins. Adapted from Gnowfglins.

    • 3 cups combination of gluten-free whole-grain flours (millet, buckwheat, amaranth). I like Namaste Gluten free flour blend from Costco.
    • 2 cups whole milk kefir or yogurt
    • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
    • 2 mashed bananas
    • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 3 tablespoons melted coconut butter or butter
    • 1 teaspoon sea salt
    • 2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 3 tablespoons flaxmeal
    • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
    • 3/4 cup chocolate chips
    Stir all flours together and mix with the kefir or yogurt. Cover bowl and let soak overnight, 8 to 12 hours. This makes the grains easier to digest. 
    The next day, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease your muffin tins. In a separate bowl mash the bananas and mix them with the eggs, syrup, vanilla and melted butter and add them into the flour bowl and stir it together. Sprinkle sea salt, baking soda, flaxmeal and shredded coconut over the top of the wet ingredients. Stir until just mixed then add chocolate chips.
    Using a spoon, fill the muffin molds 3/4 full. Bake for 20-22 minutes until muffins are golden brown on top. Let them cool in the pan a few minutes and then pop them onto a cooling rack and start eating.  You can top them with butter, banana slices or almond butter- use your imagination!

    Does gluten free baking intimidate you? What's your experience baking this recipe? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

    Wednesday, January 1, 2014

    My Favorite Reads of 2013

    Instead of blogging for the last few months I've been spending my time reading books. I mean voraciously filling my Kindle with a variety of genres and picking up lots of bestsellers at the library. I've also been keeping a much better record of what I read on Goodreads and even writing a few reviews.

    In the past I'd pick up a novel from the library, read it in a day or two and then promptly forget about it. I have no idea how many books I read in a month or year. Since July, 2013 I've been doing my best to remember what I've read in the last few years and recording it on Goodreads and also setting lists of what I want to read next. Part of my 2014 plan is to be more organized, be more deliberate in my reading choices and read more of a mix of non-fiction and fiction from a variety of genres.

    As always, non-fiction is hard for me as I have to read it slowly, put it down often and take time to process what I've read. I speed through fiction purely for enjoyment and to find out what's next in the story so consequently I read MUCH more fiction.

    So here's my list of my favorite reads of 2013. Not all were published in 2013 but they were the books I loved most. You can see my full reading list here...at least what I remember.

    My dear husband bought me Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by
    Susan Cain for Valentine's Day. He knows I'm a Super Introvert and he thought it looked good. I gotta say at the time I wasn't impressed but by June I started reading it and couldn't put it down. Quiet helped me to better understand my natural introverted personality. I "discovered" I'm a highly sensitive person and found a self test by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D and also a test you can take for your child. I have one highly sensitive boy and Quiet is also helping me understand and parent him better.
    I discovered that I love the Young Adult genre in 2013. I also enjoy dystopian, science fiction a lot although it does mess with my mind a bit. I loved Divergent and read it in a day. The characters were vivid and intruiging and the setting of a futuristic yet very different Chicago was exciting to me. I quickly devoured the second book Insurgent too although I didn't care for the third book in the trilogy and in many ways it ruined the story for me...I like to just pretend it doesn't exist.

    Partials by Dan Wells is another Young Adult dystopian science fiction novel. I loved the tv show Battlestar Galactica and you can feel the heavy influence it had on this book. Partials has many twists and turns to keep readers intriguingly off-balance. It takes place in a fantastically complex post-apocalyptic landscape, and is full of thought-provoking twists to a classic story of humanity creating its own doom. I also enjoyed the sequel Fragments and I'm anxiously awaiting the upcoming final book of the trilogy Ruins.

    Until WOOL I wasn't sure I even liked science fiction. I absolutely love WOOL and it's sequels Shift and Dust. The main character Juliet is a strong, independent, intelligent woman who carried the story for me. The mystery of what the silos are, how the people ended up there and how the world ended is fascinating. This was another book I could not put down. WOOL is frightening, exhilarating, and addictive.
    Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes is a collection of essays about family relationships, friendships, and the meals that bring us together.  It's about the ways God teaches and nourishes people as they nourish the people around them. This book is a funny, honest and vulnerable spiritual memoir that I enjoyed very much. You can read my full review here.

    The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism is a fascinating non-fiction book that gives a peek into the mind of Naoki Higashida. Using a special keyboard this Japanese autistic boy who is barely verbal demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions like: “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) This book took me less than 2 hours to read but the insights it gave me into my own child on the spectrum are priceless.

    I've read some amazing books in 2013 and I'm eager to get reading for 2014. I'd love to hear more book suggestions to add to this years list so offer me some in the comments or friend me on Goodreads

    Time to go read!


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