Monday, May 2, 2016

April Book Recap

Read in April
April 2015 Book Recap
April has flown by, and I was actually able to make a small dent in my to read list.  Maybe not even a dent, maybe like a nick?  But anyways, thanks to my $20 challenge, I was able to resist adding anything new, and actually read some of the books that have been sitting on my shelf for a while.  Here's the recap:

The Joyful Christian by C.S. Lewis is a collection of excerpts from several of Lewis' books on a variety of topics.  I don't think it's any secret that I love C.S. Lewis at this point so of course I found this book enjoyable.

A Praying Life by Paul Miller is far and away the most helpful book I've read on prayer.  It made me realize that I was way overthinking prayer.  There are no rules, no requirements, no definite way you have to do it.  There is not a specific formula to get God to hear you and and there is no magic code that you need to know.  It's made my mornings so much more enjoyable to go for a walk and just pray and listen to the birds and watch the clouds and enjoy being outside.  I've felt closer to God in the last month than in anytime I can remember.  Which is amazing and also scary.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel was okay.  But I didn't really enjoy it.  To be honest, I was glad once I was finished with it.  I like fantasy fiction and I like regular fiction, but this book straddled the line too much for my taste.  I know it's considered magical realism, and that's kind of the whole point of the genre, but it just didn't appeal to me.  I also felt like there wasn't enough development of any of the characters to make me really care what happened to them and I thought Pedro, Tita's one true love, was pretty much unworthy of her, and couldn't understand what she saw in him.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson is a book I had won in a blog giveaway from Just Bee and actually had put it on my reading list last October but never got to.  It's considered a young adult read appropriate for grade school or maybe middle school and it would make an awesome read out loud book.  I remember my mom reading out loud to me and my brother when we were kids, even once we were old enough to read on our owns, and I loved it.  Having someone read you a story is one of those pleasures that should not just be relegated to childhood.  Anyways, the story is good, with some funny parts and while I was out of the target demographic, I did enjoy it, and will keep an eye out for the next ones in the series.

The Secret Place by Tana French is book five in the Dublin Murder Squad series.  Every book seems to revolve around a story that in the end, leaves one of the protagonist detectives utterly destroyed- whether mentally, career wise, or just family wise.  So, I was totally expecting Stephen to come out of this one burned to a crisp.  Stephen Moran plays a minor role in Faithful Place and it was nice to see him take the wheel this time.  He's older, and wiser to Frank Mackey's tricks so I enjoyed seeing them reunited on a more level playing field.  This book went farther into uncharted territory of what is possible, places that French had kind of hinted at, but never really explored.  I enjoyed it and in the ranking of Murder Squad books, I'd put this one in at a solid second, behind The Likeness

So, that's what I tackled for April.  What about you, did you read anything good or interesting that I should be checking out?  If so, let me know!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

5 Things Exercise Has Taught Me

I have never been a fan of exercise.  At best, I viewed it as a necessary evil.  At worst, it was a waste of time.  But, after a hike this fall, that proved that I was severely out of shape, one of my New Year's resolutions was to exercise more.  I know it's good for a person's health, both physical and mental and many great writers swear getting outside and walking is necessary to the creative process- Henry David Thoreau, C.S. Lewis, Stephen King, Charles Dickens, and I venture many more.  As a sufferer of long Wisconsin winters, I figured it would help with my self-diagnosed seasonal affective disorder.  I also was hoping it would help my clothes fit better and give me more energy.  So, basically I was expecting a lot and not sure exercise would be able to deliver, but in the past four months I've realized quite a few things.  Here are my top five. 

  1. You can start slow and still reap benefits.  In January, my goal was to exercise three times a week for twenty minutes a time.  Since it was January and we had cold, snow, and darkness, I used the treadmill.  Then I upped my goal a little each month.  Just getting active made me feel better and more positive.  And now I walk outside most days for 45 minutes.
  2. You can multitask while you exercise.  If I use the treadmill, I often just listen to some upbeat, loud, EDM music.  When I walk outside, I listen to podcasts that I downloaded or work on praying for family and friends.  If I ride my bike, I'll often pack snacks and books, and read and write in the park for a while.  If you feel guilty just going for a walk for a walk's sake (which you shouldn't- but if you do), have a goal in mind.  Walk to the library.  If you only need a couple things, walk to the grocery store.  Walk to visit a neighbor.
  3. You can just walk.  Some of the best days of exercise are ones where I just walk and think.  No music, no podcasts, no end goal just the sounds of the birds and thinking.
  4. You can eat more if you exercise.  I love chocolate.  Good quality chocolate.  When I did the cleanse at the beginning of the year, I felt great, and was losing a lot of weight, but I knew once the cleanse was done, I'd want to eat cheese, bread, and chocolate.  Exercising gives you more wiggle room in your food choices.  I am making better food choices, but I still love a nice Chocolove Toffee and Almonds bar occasionly.  I have kept off all the weight I lost during the cleanse and even lost a few more pounds.  Without exercising, I'm sure I would have gained a lot of this back. 
  5. You can skip a day, but don't be surprised if you don't want to.  At first, I had to push myself just to get three days a week in.  Now, there's been weeks where I go everyday, or only skip when it's down pouring.  I feel so good after a nice walk that I crave just getting outside. 
So what's keeping you from exercising?  Or, why do you exercise?  What motivates you?

Friday, April 15, 2016

My $20 Challenge

My $20 Challenge

So one of my goals this month was to limit my pocket money to $20 for the whole month of April.  My most frequent splurges are lunches out with friends, coffees, books, thrifting, the occasional trip to Target or Joann's, and online shopping when I find a good deal for something I think I need or it's cheap so I should "stock up".

It was kind of a spur of the moment thought due to several things.  Here were a couple of my reasons.
  1. I don't know how much I spend each month.  I don't have any limits on how much I can spend a month.  I mean, I think if I was charging up hundreds of dollars a month, my husband, Jim,  might say something.  But, as it is he always encourages me to spend time with friends or treat myself if I feel like I need to.  And while I love his support and trust in me, I feel like I should be more responsible with how I use our resources. 
  2. I want to take two trips this summer.  One up to Lake Superior and another to Colorado.  While I'm traveling with friends, and we travel relatively frugally, it's still going to take some dough to fund these.  While Jim and I have a joint checking account, and we never talk about my money or your money, I feel like I should be making some cuts to my spending to make up for the extra travel.  After all, if I was single I would have to do this.
  3. I have too much stuff!  I am always seesawing between trying to declutter my house and finding great deals or the perfect something.  I know I have too much stuff- whether it's books or fabric or lipsticks or stationery, I have a tendency to hoard things.  But, then I justify it to myself by saying that I'll use it all eventually.  Time to start using it all.
So, how's it going so far?  Well, to be truthful, it was harder than thought.  Here's my expenditures so far:

April 3     $3.00     for Persians rolls
April 13   $11.00   for lunch out with a friend
April 14   $4.00     for DairyQueen blizzard for treat for Hubs.
total        $18.00

It's going to be a rough go to only spend $2 the rest of the month, but even if I go over, I've already realized a lot about my spending habits, and I do plan on tracking what I spend more closely in the future.  What do you think?  Do you track your monthly spending?  Where does most of your pocket money go?  Any tips to help you keep your money in your pocket longer?  And I'll be sure to update you all on how the second half of the month goes.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

April Goals

Ugh!  April is flying by.  My goals group met March 30 to go over our plans for April but I never got around to posting them here.  There's been a lot going on around here, and I'll detail it all out in a future post or two, but for now here's a recap of March and look at what I'm hoping to get done in April.

Chair in the Shade April Goals
March Recap
  • Read four books- No go, only got through three.
  • Daily devotions- Did pretty good.  We'll call it a win.
  • Exercise five times a week for 30 minutes a time- Only managed about four times a week.
  • Finish kitchen curtains- Ah... no.
  • Make one item of clothes for me-
  • Plan meals- Worked on it.  Made some things that allowed leftovers for work lunches and worked at making good food choices, but didn't actually plan meals.
  • Write daily in some form: mail out a card to a friend, journal, writing exercises- Did better, but still didn't make it everyday.
 So, while I made progress on a lot of goals, I just didn't get as much finished as I had hoped.

April Goals
  • Read four books.  I know I list this one every month, but my goal is 48 books a year, so I need to break it down to bite size chunks.
  • Daily devotions and prayer time.  I've been reading a book about prayer and have really been striving to incorporate it into my daily life.
  • Exercise five times a week for 30 minutes a time.  Repeat of last month's goal, but now that it's getting a little nicer, I'm hoping to get out more.
  • Limit myself to $20 pocket money.  This is for things like coffee, snacks at work, online shopping, clothes, ect.  I'm trying to declutter my life and by not bringing in a bunch of new items, I'm hoping to make headway.
  • Declutter home.  I've thinned out my clothes last fall, but there's things like dishes, craft supplies, books, and more that I can do better at.
  • Write daily in some form.  Just can't seem to get this down!  We're trying again in April.
 You can follow along on the link up over at My So Called Chaos to see what everyone else is working on this month, or if you blog, join in!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

April Reading List

I'm hoping for a more productive reading month in April than I had in March, but it's already the ninth, and I still am finishing a book from last month.  I have lots I've wanted to write, but it's been very busy and between work and other things, I haven't had much time home alone to work out my thoughts, but I'm hoping to remedy that in the coming week.  Anyhow, here's my reading picks for the coming month.

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel- I knew a movie was made based on this book, but that's about all I knew about it.  My mom picked it up for me at a book sale, thinking I'd like it.  It looks intriguing and I unfortunately don't read a lot that is not written by white American or European writers, and I really need to broaden my book horizons.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett- Goodreads describes this one as being similar in style to The Orchid Thief, which I surprisingly enjoyed, and Erik Larson wrote a little blurb calling it "Compelling, with elegant suspense." and I really like his books so I decided to pull it off the shelf.  I got this one from my Broke and Bookish Christmas swap partner last December.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty- I haven't read any of Moriarty's books yet, but they always sound intriguing.  Waking up to discover I'd become the exact type I've always vowed I'd never be would be horrible and I can't wait to unravel this one.  It came from Diana at Book of Shadows in the January Book and Cuppa Swap.

And finally... Emma by Jane Austen- I love the movie with Gwenyth Paltrow, but I've never read the book.  I really need to remedy that.  Plus, it's a good excuse to watch Emma (and Clueless for that matter) afterwards.

What are you hoping to get read this month?  Let me know in the comments below.  I'm always looking for books to add to my lists. :)

Sunday, April 3, 2016

March Book Recap

March was not a very big reading month, but I did find quite a few new books. Some that I had been on the lookout for for quite a while.

What I Read
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.  This is the second Erik Larson book I've read now.  I really like his style of writing nonfiction that reads almost like fiction.  He meticulously researches his books and provides a lot of details you wouldn't get in a history book.  This time, he focuses on the Dodd Family.  William E. Dodd, the father, was appointed U.S. Diplomat to Germany in 1933, between World War I and World War II, shortly after Hitler became Chancellor to Germany.  He takes his wife and two children, who are both in their twenties, with him.  Dodd faces opposition from other U.S. Diplomats due to his no frills lifestyle and directness.  His daughter carries on several affairs with everyone from Nazis to Soviets to other countries' diplomatic officials, which was quite scandalous and his wife just wishes they could be back home.  It was not an uplifting or happy read, but did help fill in some of the extensive gaps in my knowledge of history during this time.  It was very interesting and I can only imagine how frightening it must have been to reside in Germany during this time.  Granted, diplomats were given special treatment due to their status, but just to witness this time period would have been frightening.
  • Murder in Three Acts by Agatha Christie.  This is a Hercule Poirot mystery and went places Christie's novels do not traditional go, which was refreshing.  I like the character of Egg and Poirot is always fun, the story was unique, but it wasn't even close to being one of my favorites of hers.  But, there's really no such thing as a bad Agatha Christie mystery.
  • Be Wise by Warren Weirsbe is a commentary on the book of 1 Corinthians.  I love his commentaries, because they provide a lot of information, but they do it in a way that is still easy to read and comprehend.  They're like a nice refreshing salad- variety and everything you need, without anything you don't.
Now, on to the big stack...

What I Acquired
If you want to read more about any of these books, just click the title to be taken to the Goodreads page of each book.

2016 Totals:  
Read 10
Acquired 20

Guess I better get reading!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Big Bowls Hearty Vegetarian Meals Class Review

I love Craftsy.  I've talked about it here and here and here and probably even some other times.  I just made Babka (using the recipe and techniques I learned in the artisan bread making class a few years ago) for Easter brunch this Sunday.  The other day I was checking out my Craftsy profile and realized I've enrolled in thirteen different classes!  But I've only taken two all the way through.  So, I decided I should go back and finish some of the other ones!

I focused my attention on Big Bowls Hearty Vegetarian Meals because this class was a little out of my comfort zone, but not beyond my skills.  When I signed up for the class, I was in a bit of a food rut and looking for some new ideas.  This class definitely supplied them.  It was six different lessons- each featuring a whole grain topped with unique veggies and proteins along with homemade sauces or seasoning mixes.  In this class you learn how to cook farro, wild rice, beans and rice, bulgar, black rice, and quinoa.

I made the traditional style beans and rice and was really impressed with the tips provided and step by step instructions.  I also made the farro recipe which was topped with a savory mushroom ragout.  It was super tasty and it was fun to use a new type of mushroom.  The black rice with Mediterranean peppers was good, but not a favorite.  I guess I'm just not that big of a fan of cooked peppers and tomatoes.  The wild rice bowl involves marinating and baking tofu, which I'm interested in trying.  I've never been a big fan of tofu, but think a marinade might help.

The recipes are very clean, with very little canned ingredients and a wide variety of spices.  It really gave me a lot of ideas for trying new vegetables and incorporating more whole grains in my diet.  If you're new to vegetarian eating, or just trying to eat cleaner, this class may be just the thing you need.  The instructor, Martha Rose Shulman really walks you through every step of the way, provides lots of tips for getting the most flavor out your veggies and how to cook them.

If you're interested in learning more, just click the link to be taken to the class page.  You can take the class at your own pace, and your access never expires, so even after you're done, you can always go back and review if you want to see something again.  There's also a super handy printout that includes all the recipes.

Note: All links are affiliate links, which means if you click on them, and then decide to purchase the class, I receive a small commission.  However, all thoughts are my own.  I paid for this class myself, and would not recommend anything I did not feel confident in.