What I Read in January 2016

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Please take a deep breath and proceed with caution. I’m going to be as brief as I can about the TEN books I read in January. Hellooooo, winter hibernation!

lifechangingmagic

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – I’m about a year behind on this book, but got it from the library Overdrive just in time for the new year. While Kondo is wayyyy woo-woo for even me (I’m fairly certain my possessions don’t think or need thanked), the basics are excellent and I’m starting to put them into practice.

gardenspells

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen – This is the prequel to First Frost. I should have read it first, but I didn’t. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, though. We were just back from Christmas travel, and I read this in one day, tired but happy to be back in the land of the Waverly family. Magical realism is one of my favorite genres, and Allen does it perfectly.

scorpioraces

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – While I continue to eagerly anticipate the final book in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle series (April! The anguish!), I am pretty much plowing through everything else she’s written. Which is a lot, considering she is just my age.

The Scorpio Races is a stand-alone fantasy work published in 2012. On the Island of Thisby (in the UK), Puck Connolly fights for the family she has left in the only way she can think of: racing in the legendary Scorpio Races. Did I mention that this island is known for having carnivorous water horses wash ashore every fall? That the people then try to tame enough to race?

Sean Kendrick, meanwhile, has won the last three races with his capall uisce (water horse), Corr. Only it’s not his horse; it belongs to the farm where he’s all but enslaved due to his orphan status. He longs of freedom from it and the owner’s son, the aptly nicknamed Mutt.

I found Stiefvater’s voice just as intriguing as in the Raven Cycle books. Here again, she takes a legend and runs with it and makes it her own. I did feel like the first half of the book dragged a little and I wasn’t as invested in it. Really, I wanted the romance, which she writes so wonderfully. This book is chaste, yet the electricity between Puck and Sean is kind of amazing.

So in all, I really liked but didn’t love it. Still, I will read anything Stiefvater has written. Even if it’s way outside what I normally read. Because she is awesome.

choosejoybook

Choose Joy by Sara Frankl and Mary Carver – While I didn’t “know” Sara Frankl while she was alive, I certainly had heard of her and her struggles through (in)courage and some friends. I was so thankful to finally read her words, put together my her (and my) friend, Mary Carver. Choose Joy is a compilation of Sara’s blogging interspersed with explanation from Mary. Over the course of her chronic pain and debilitating illness, Sara kept her eyes on God. I think Sara understood God more than most, drawing near to Him in and through her pain.

Her words gave me much to dwell on in my own faith-journey, and I am sure I will come back to them often. Choose Joy was a beautiful, quick read that I won’t be quick to forget. (This book was sent to me by the publisher.)

shadowsodthehidden

Shadows of the Hidden by Anne Riley – I think after the heavy of Choose Joy, I needed something lighter. I dug into Shadows of the Hidden quickly. At first I was sure I was going to abandon it, but (as another Amazon reviewer said) “it sneaks up on you.” I am just not a big fantasy reader, and the framework for this novel was a little creepy and weird. But as you get to know the main character, Natalie, and the quirky Liam, the novel becomes quickly engrossing. It was a big change from my norm, and a fun YA read.

statprobability

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith – Based on the two books of Smith’s I’ve read, I will say her books are kind of like watching a chick flick. They read very quickly – for me, one or two sittings. There’s romance. They are fun. Nothing deep or sticking, but entertaining. In this one, two teens connect why flying from the U.S. to England for various endeavors.

beggarking

The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness by Joel ben Izzy – Recounting a trying time in his life, professional storyteller ben Izzy parallels his story to some of the tales he’s told or heard. The short autobiography is a reflection on learning about one’s own story, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This has been on my physical bookshelf for years; I am hitting myself for not reading it until now.

theguestroom

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian – I have to preface this by saying that I adore Chris Bohjalian. He is not afraid to tackle any tough subject. He interacts with his readers on Twitter and Instagram, consistently and kindly. But man, his books are a wild ride. This one approaches the topic of sex slavery: a wealthy man throws a bachelor’s party for his brother, and everything goes wrong. This book should have a warning label for graphic sexual scenes and language. But the story itself, told alternately from the best man and one of the sex slaves, is solid and horrifying. It’s not a beach read. It will make you think. It will make you shudder. I recommend considering your emotional state before you read this (or any) Bohjalian novel. (I still have nightmares about The Night Strangers.)

columbinedavecullen

Columbine by Dave Cullen – As I look at this and The Guest Room, it’s becoming fairly apparent why my depression has been slightly out-of-control the last couple weeks. I think I am pretty affected by what I read. Only happy books for awhile!

Columbine is Cullen’s 2009 work detailing how things really happened before and after the 1999 school shooting that left 13 dead in Colorado. Going back and forth between the years leading up to the massacre and the aftermath of the investigations, lawsuits, and healing, Cullen reveals police cover-ups, journalism missteps, and how the public clung to what they wanted to. He unveils the journals and videos left behind by the shooters, showing how they didn’t snap, but planned this for over a year, with their real plan being a much larger-scale killing.

Laura recommended this on the Sorta Awesome podcast. I probably never would have read it otherwise. But I was a 16-year-old junior in high school when this happened, and so I was very affected by the situation and its aftermath. I prayed and I read She Said Yes and I was scared to go to my school. So to read this truth was very difficult but also fascinating.

everythingeverything

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon – In Yoon’s debut novel, protagonist Madeline lives in a bubble. Her house is air-locked, anyone who comes in has to go through decontamination, and she takes all her classes online through Skype. Diagnosed with a disease that means she’s allergic to everything, she hasn’t left home since she was a baby. Newly 18, Madeline is mostly content. But then Olly moves in next door. They develop a strange friendship, and suddenly Madeline wants everything she can’t have. This is a really sweet, shocking, and wild story, very reminiscent of The Fault in Our Stars. The best part is the illustrations, charts, “Spoiler Book Reviews,” definitions, and other creative illustrations throughout the book, contributed by David Yoon, Nicola’s husband.

I just listened to Nicola Yoon interviewed on the First Draft podcast, and it was really interesting, whether you’ve read the book or not. Yoon talks about her background in finance, her Jamaican childhood, and being a voracious reader.

So what did you read in January? Do you cozy up and devour books in the winter, like I do?

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy

What’s Saving My Life This Winter

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Do you survive or thrive in the winter? I don’t mind our not-too-cold weather here in Tennessee, although I kind of despise snow. We lived in northern Indiana when I was really little (until age 8), and I think I had enough snow then for the rest of my life.

Modern Mrs. Darcy talks about the things that “save her life” during the winter months. So today we’re sharing things that are helping us get through the cold weather, too. Here are mine.

Frost on my {dirty} window 22/365
source: marcyleigh via Flickr Creative Commons

Hot baths with books. Always. This is kind of my year-round thing, but it’s especially crucial during the winter! I almost always take a hot bath before bed and read. It warms me up, calms me down, and I get in some good reading time.

Podcasts. The last several months, my podcast listening has maybe gotten out of control. It helps me make it through cleaning spurts, treadmill time, and car trips. I squeeze in as much as possible. I listen to:

Playing Games. My husband and I are getting good use out of the games he got for Christmas, especially Tokaido and The Castles of Burgundy.

Exercise. I’m throwing myself back into a gym routine lately, battling the ugly outside and also a bout of depression I’m dealing with. Besides the other obvious benefits, it helps me stay more chipper and positive. I love my water aerobics classes, and I’ve also been doing some weight lifting.

Paring Down My Wardrobe. I am not a clothes horse, partially due to being more frugal and maybe because I almost always have a kid with me when I am trying to shop. I’m more likely to hit up eBay or ThredUp than the mall. But after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I attacked my winter wardrobe even more fiercely, weeding out anything that doesn’t make me feel confident or joyful when I wear it. I am basically wearing the same things every week, but they are things I love and honestly I don’t think ANYONE CARES. Or even knows. Because really, I don’t pay that much attention to what other people wear. And it really helps eliminate decision fatigue.

Katy Kinard’s Lullaby Hymns album. It’s from 2010, but we just discovered this album. The hymns are sweet and heartfelt, and it’s perfect music to put Joshua to sleep at rest time.

So what’s saving your life this winter?

Top Ten How I Met Your Mother Moments

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I found this post in the archives. I think I wrote it originally in about 2010, before many of the HIMYM seasons aired. Even though the show is long gone, and I mourn the ending quite regularly, I thought it might be fun to stir up some old show memories. 

Have I mentioned lately that Mr. V and I are a wee bit obsessed with How I Met Your Mother?  Even if it hasn’t been great since, say, season 3, we are still devotees. And it definitely has its great moments, still. Last night I caught “The Pineapple Incident” episode in syndication and laughed my way through it.

In honor of Top Ten Tuesday, here are ten of my favorite moments from my favorite TV show. (Although I’ve been watching Modern Family and am almost caught up. And it’s definitely in the running for Best Show Ever.)

1. Marshall’s charts. (Season 4, episode “Right Place, Right Time.”) This is probably my favorite five seconds of the whole show.

2. Convincing Ted to go blonde. (Season 5, episode “Doppelgangers.”)

tedblonde

3. Unveiling of Slapcountdown.com. (The first clip on this video.) (Season 3, episode “Wait for It.”)

4. Marshall’s tribute videos. (Season 5, “The Sexless Innkeeper.”)

5. Barney makes up stories about his first time. (Season 2, episode “First Time in New York.”) – Barney tells the story of Dirty Dancing like it was his first “experience” because he was embarrassed about the real story.

barneydirtydancing

6. Barney’s one-man show. (Season 2, episode “Stuff.”) – Barney makes Lily take back her word about saying only nice things about a friend’s play by putting on a long, one-man show mostly consisting of him saying the word “moist,” spraying people with a water gun, and being a robot.

barneysonemanshow

7. Marshall “doesn’t sing everything he does.” (Season 3, episode “Spoiler Alert.”) – The gang spoils everyone’s views of the others by pointing out their biggest flaws.

marshallssongs

8. Everyone makes fun of Ted as he shaves. (Season 3, “Wait for It.”) – As he shaves off portions of his “break-up beard,” Marshall and Lily mock Ted.

tedsbeard

9. Revertigo (Season 3, episode “Sandcastles in the Sand.”) – Revertigo: when people revert to old versions of themselves when they’re with people from their past. (Language warning on this video.)

10. Barney’s weird proposal (Season 8, episode “The Final Page.”) – Yes, it was crazy. But sweet. In that Barney kind of way.

________

I realize this is so weighted toward the beginning of the series. A, because the beginning of the series is way better, especially season 2. And B, because I wrote the majority of this before about half the series aired. There are so many moments that I haven’t mentioned! If you’re a HIMYM lover, what’s a favorite moment of yours?

Sweet Potato and Sausage Hash

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Sweet Potato and Sausage Hash

Many years ago, I did this thing called Bargain Meals of the Week with 5 Dollar Dinners. I would take the Publix ads and find dirt-cheap deals, and then share recipes that would use the deal items.

I haven’t added most of these meals to my recipe archive, because I didn’t try them out or picture them. I found them at other places. But the Chile Sweet Potato Hash from Rachael Ray was one that I have made, often. Back when Mr. V and I were kidless, we ate this regularly for dinner, because it’s inexpensive and satisfying, and a nice mix-up for breakfast for dinner. I think I saw Rachael make it on “30-Minute Meals” once.

The only issue I have with this dish is the sweet potatoes. It’s difficult to get them to cook through unless you slice them very thin. I suggest slicing as thinly as you can. If they still aren’t cooking through, after your initial 10-15 minute cook time, change the heat to low, put a baking sheet or lid on your skillet, and steam them for a few minutes. Alternately, you could partially cook the sweet potatoes ahead of time in some boiling water. I may try that next time!

If you like heat, use hot breakfast sausage and throw in some cayenne or chipotle chili powder. If you don’t, this isn’t too spicy, but you can cut down on the chili powder if you want.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potato and Sausage Hash

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 lb. breakfast sausage
  • 2 large or 3 smaller sweet potatoes - peeled, then cut in half lengthwise, then into half-moon thin slices
  • 1 small onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. dried cilantro or coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. dried turmeric (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • for serving
  • salsa
  • eggs, cooked over easy
  • cheese

Instructions

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil. When it's hot, add sausage to the pan and break up with a wooden spoon. Brown the sausage for about 3 minutes, then add the sweet potatoes, onions, spices, and some salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring frequently and continuing to break up the sausage, for 10-15 minutes, until sweet potatoes are soft.

Serve with choices of salsa, eggs, and cheese.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2016/01/sweet-potato-and-sausage-hash/

What’s your favorite breakfast for dinner?

4 Books and 2 Series I Recommend All the Time

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There are books that I love, my five-star books. Some of my all-time favorites are Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler, Echoes by Maeve Binchy, and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But you know, those aren’t the books I recommend to people. Maybe because in college I had some friends read Saint Maybe with me and they hated it and it broke my heart. I hold those stories too close and I am afraid for other people to be disappointed. Or they are just not mass-appeal sort of stories.

But there are books I recommend, over and over again, to people. So if you’re looking for a great new read, here are some I recommend to you, too!

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – My best friend, the English professor, recommended this book that she teaches a couple years ago. I was hesitant because it is science fiction, and that is not usually my thing (although it’s growing on me slowly). I found, though, that this novel wasn’t really about the sci-fi issues but about sex, religion, and linguistics. Life is found on another planet, and a group travels there to connect with the alien species, learning their language and culture. It’s absolutely fascinating. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book when I finished it; it’s not exactly happy and uplifting. But it’s stuck with me, causing me to think over the story and topics again and again, and I often recommend it to my friends who have any interest in sci-fi (especially the Catholic pals).

Cinder (and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer – There’s a reason this young adult sci-fi series, full of fairy-tale retellings, has been so wildly popular. The characters are vivid, lovable, and funny. The romance factor is there, but clean. The stories are fast-paced and classic good versus evil. I’ve recommended it broadly to friends, family, and even my husband. I will admit that Scarlet, the second book in the series, is my least favorite and may make you wonder if you want to keep reading. But the answer is YES. Keep reading. Cress and Winter are well worth the ride, and you need to read Scarlet for the complete story.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving – I don’t think I’ve ever read a more beautifully crafted novel than Owen Meany, Irving’s 1989 novel with pretty much the most gorgeous first line ever, next to Charlotte’s Web: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

Every action, every line in Owen Meany is there for a reason; the ending will take your breath away after you journey through childhood and into the young-adult lives of Owen and narrator John. It is a long read, but in my opinion, pretty much perfect.

Wortham Family Books by Leisha Kelly

Wortham Family Books (Julia’s Hope, Emma’s Gift, Katie’s Dream) + The Country Road Chronicles by Leisha Kelly – This is all one series; I’m not sure why it’s split into two series names. But if you like Christian or inspirational fiction at all, you should read all these books! They are set during the Depression, as Samuel and Julia leave Pennsylvania on foot for Illinois, going toward the promise of work and a home with their two children. The novels chronicle the new life Samuel and Julia make. The neighbors, who have 10 children, are a source of crazy throughout the books. I truly adored reading all these books, and I was heartbroken when Leisha Kelly died in a car accident (with her 16-year-old son) in 2011. So these are her only books (other than one published in 2010 that I am just seeing and will have to read) – and a delight and treasure in the world of inspirational fiction.

birdbybird

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – If you are a writer and for some reason have never read Bird by Bird, you need to remedy that immediately. I insist. I still get great amusement that Lamott’s book was first given to me by the then-editor of the Religious Herald newspaper, the Virginia Southern Baptist publication where I interned one summer. Because Lamott is not shy about her use of, ahem, strong vocabulary. But her voice is stellar, and I love the simple advice she gives to writers. I know many have the same enthusiasm I have for this, but if you haven’t read it for some reason, get your hands on a copy!

thepassage

The Passage by Justin Cronin – I would be the first to tell you that I don’t do horror. The only Steven King book I’ve read is 11/22/63, because I don’t like being scared and I am afraid of his other books. (And there was plenty of gruesome in that one, too, but enough good time-travel story to balance it out.) My husband stormed through The Passage, though, and then insisted I read it, too. The librarian at his school described it to him as “a vampire novel, but not teenage vampires kissing.” This is much less a vampire novel and more about a science experiment gone wrong in a not-distant future. Cronin’s detailed explanation of life inside a small colony and the band of people who venture outside it is breathtaking and vibrant. There is a small chunk of 50-100 pages that might make you want to quit; it’s necessary information for the rest of the novel. But the last, oh, 600 pages will fly by. I think this is a pretty mass-appealing read about human nature, science, and fear.

_____________

I asked on my Facebook page about books my friends there find themselves recommending a lot, and here are the answers I got.

The only one of those books I’ve read is Tam Lin, so I guess I have a list for me, too!

What about you? Are there books you recommend often?

Strawberry-Beet Popsicles (or Smoothies)

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Strawberry Beet Popsicles

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: my kids will eat basically anything if I puree it and put it in popsicle form.

Spinach? Yep. Mango? Uh huh. Flax seed, chia seed, coconut oil, coconut milk, carrots – basically anything healthy that they normally won’t touch, they will eat in frozen form!

I finely shredded a beet for Sweet Beet Cookies and had a little bit leftover. I decided to dump it in my Vitamix and add frozen strawberries for a fun, richly red freezer pop. Seriously, the beet gives these a really gorgeous color and an added punch of folate, vitamin C, and potassium, among other nutrients.

I used homemade almond milk in these because we have David off dairy at the moment, but you could definitely use any kind of milk or yogurt you want. Enjoy!

Strawberry-Beet Popsicles (or Smoothies)

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 4 smoothies or about 8 popsicles

Strawberry-Beet Popsicles (or Smoothies)

Ruby-red popsicles with boosts of nutrition from some shredded beet and chia seed.

Ingredients

  • 2 c. frozen strawberries
  • 1/4 c. shredded raw red beet
  • 1 1/2 c. almond milk or other milk
  • 1 tsp. chia seed (optional)
  • 1/2 a ripe banana
  • water as needed

Instructions

Add all ingredients except water to a high-powered blender. Blend until completely smooth, adding water if needed for it to blend smoothly. Serve as is or freeze in popsicle molds.

Notes

If you make this with fresh strawberries and want to serve as a smoothie, you will need to add ice for the proper frozen texture. If you are making it into popsicles, it doesn't matter if it's more liquidy than icy.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2016/01/strawberry-beet-popsicles-or-smoothies/