What I Read: July 2015

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TheRavenCycle

 

The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – I’ve continued my rampant reading of Stiefvater with these, #2 and #3 in the Raven Cycle books. Stiefvater has a wild imagination and sometimes I get confused about everything in this world she’s created. But the characters are solid, interesting, and fascinating. Dream Thieves honestly lost me a little. But Blue Lily, Lily Blue was so good that I couldn’t put it down. The story really developed, and I’m excited for the final book in the series – and sad that it doesn’t come out until February.

landline

 

Landline by Rainbow Rowell – After being enamored with Eleanor & Park and Fangirl, I felt pretty eh about Landline. Rowell does her best writing about young romance. She incorporates some of that here in flashbacks, but I never felt strongly about the relationship between Georgia and her husband. None of the characters are especially likeable. It’s readable and quick, but not anything I would really recommend.

aschimneysweepers

 

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley – I don’t know why I stopped reading the Flavia de Luce books without reading this one, the seventh and most recent (January 2015) book in the series. (P.S. In the tradition of J.K. Rowling, Bradley taught me in this book how to pronounce Flavia’s name. Flay-vee-uh. “The first part rhymes with ‘brave’ and ‘grave.’ ” Yep, I had been doing that one wrong in my head. Just like I thought Hermione was Her-mee-own.)

While it was interesting to see Flavia in another setting – another country, even – I missed the familiar characters of the rest of the series. And a body falling out of her chimney the first night she’s there seems too convenient, even for a murder mystery series. But still, I continue to be charmed by Flavia and will read any more books Bradley chooses to write about her.

winnerscurse

 

The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski – I think I read about this book on Marissa Meyer’s blog. Usually Meyer’s YA recs have been stellar, but this one fell a little flat for me. The romance felt contrived and I honestly don’t care what happens in the rest of the story. The writing really is good, but the story just didn’t back it up. (Tell me if you loved it and what I am missing!)

justonesummer

Just One Summer by Nicole Deese, Tammy L. Gray, Amy Matayo, and Jenny B. Jones – I am not usually a fan of novellas. There just isn’t enough time to flesh out anything. But I was pleasantly surprised by this collection, which Jenny B. Jones’s publicist sent me to review. (I’m a huge fan of Jenny’s!) The collection features four best friends, all going into their senior year of college, as they spread out for the summer on adventures. My favorite story was actually the first one by Nicole Deese, about Joss, who goes back to her parents’ beach house alone as she tries to understand their recent divorce. I did like Jones’s story, too, and her obvious talent for family tales as well as romance shone. In fact, I liked all four stories, the four girls having different weaknesses and strengths and ways of falling in love. So although it’s not my normal thing, I really enjoyed this collection as a fun summer read.

faithfulplace

 

Faithful Place by Tana French – I really wanted to love this book. Modern Mrs. Darcy (Anne) and Hollywood Housewife (Laura) both love Tana French, and given how highly I esteem their recommendations I was expecting to adore French’s thrillers. But somewhere in between the Irish dialect, the copious use of the f-word, and the not-that-mysterious mystery, I kind of gave up. Reading thrillers is a new thing for me, period; I haven’t read many except Gone Girl and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. So maybe it’s just me. Probably.

So what have you been reading lately? One of these days, I’m going to tackle some nonfiction. Really. (Right now I’m reading Real Church by Larry Crabb, even.) I just love stories.

My Best Tips and Tricks for Jamberry Nails

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Disclosure: I am not a Jamberry nails consultant, they are just a product I love! I have a friend who is, so I did set up a party in case anyone wanted to buy some – but she did not ask me to do this.

EasyJamberryTips

I talk to people a lot about Jamberry nails – probably because I am wearing them pretty often. Most of the time this is what I hear: “Oh, I tried them once and it was too hard.”

(In the case you don’t know what Jamberry nails are: the nails are “wraps” AKA stickers that adhere to your nails. Tons of fun patterns, and they last a long time if you do them right.)

My first time applying them didn’t go awesome, either. It took me a loooong time, and I had some issues with the nails peeling off once I had them on, too. I had to replace a few during the 9 days I wore my first “Jamicure.”

Jamberry nails

That’s a picture of the first Jams I ever tried. My nails were SHORT. My cuticles were icky. But I adored this pattern. Sadly it was a monthly special and they don’t make it now.

Even my friends who are consultants or Jamberry lovers seem to have issues. My friend Dawn (the consultant here) says it’s hard to get them on her toes. My friend Carrie loves them on her toes but not her fingernails.

My favorite thing about my Jams is that they keep me from biting my nails and chewing on my cuticles. I love that my nails are longer now and look nicer.

So after a solid six months of wearing Jamberry nails pretty often, here are my best tips and tricks for you. I wear them mostly on my fingers, although I have done a couple pedicures, too.

Jamberry nails Marsala in Bloom
Marsala in Bloom

  1. Follow the instructions. I realize this seems like common sense, but sometimes I’m not great at rule-following. Basically, make sure you actually wipe down your nails with an alcohol wipe or vinegar, push back your cuticles, and heat the Jam properly, then heat your nail afterward. If you need help, there are plenty of YouTube videos showing how to apply.
  2. Wash your hands with blue Dawn before starting. The same stuff that gets grease spots out of your shirt and can strip your cloth diapers will also remove the oils from your nails, helping the Jams to adhere well.
  3. Wipe your nails with white vinegar. Even with the dish soap, I found I was having trouble getting the metallic or shiny nails to stay on. (Like Gala, one of my favorites!) The white vinegar really helps prep your nails. I just put some on a paper towel and wipe it right onto my nails before application.
  4. Use a flat iron for heat. This is my own crazy invention, but it totally works. As long as you’re careful not to burn yourself. You are supposed to heat the nails before they go on your finger and then again to smooth them out after they are on. Most people use a hair dryer for this, but I don’t use a blowdryer on my hair, so I would have to dig one up. Plus I am not sure I am coordinated enough to hold the hair dryer and the nail at the same time. And I have heard some people having trouble with the nail folding over, etc., when it is blown. So I use a flat iron as my heat source. It is stable, very hot, and works great for me. (One of my Facebook friends says she uses a rice sock for that second heat. That will give you pretty direct heat. Good idea!)
  5. Clip, don’t file. The Jamberry instructions will tell you to file the nail down once you have the Jam on it. I find that can bend back the Jam and it just doesn’t work well for me. I cut off the rest of the Jamberry with nail scissors, then clip off the end, usually including a tiny bit of nail. This gives it a clean edge that won’t catch on things or push back.
  6. Speaking of … use good nail scissors. My mom gave me this Jamberry nail care kit, and the nail scissors that come in it are heavy duty. The ones I got from the dollar store are really flimsy and do not work well at all in comparison. So make sure you have good scissors and an orange stick/cuticle pusher thingy.
  7. It’s better to go too small than too big. When the Jamberry hits skin, it will peel back eventually, causing the whole Jam to come off. That is a pain. It’s better to pick Jams that are slightly small for your nail bed and have them not touch any skin. Trust me: no one will be able to tell that there is a sliver of nail on each side of your Jam.
  8. I won’t tell anyone if you use your fingers to put them on. Touching the sticky adhesive will get oils from your fingers on it, and that’s not good. But I cut mine too long on purpose, and then if I need to touch the upper part (that won’t go on my nail) to adjust it, I can. Usually applying to my left hand, I just cut, heat, and apply the Jam using nail scissors so I don’t touch them. But sometimes on my right (applying with my non-dominant hand), I just need a little more help adjusting the position. So as long as you’re not touching the part that goes on your actual nail, it’s OK.

Jamberry nails
Gala, Glitz, and Fizzy Grape – I get tons of compliments when I wear Gala, the chevron ones. So fun!

Junior Jamberry
Libbie in retired Jamberry Juniors (her “Elsa nails”). It’s harder to do hers because she hates me to push down her cuticles, but they still look cute

Valentine Jamberry NailsRetired “Love Spell” set that I adored

So now that you have all my tricks, I would encourage you to try Jamberry nails (again, if you have before)! Honestly, it takes a couple tries before you get the hang of it. I think it was probably my fourth time that I felt like I was doing an OK job. But the nails are so much cheaper than going to get a manicure, they last a long time (usually 7-10 days for me on my fingers), and they are just plain fun.

If you have any questions, send them my way! If I can’t answer them, my friend Dawn the consultant can.

Menu Plan Monday

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mpm2

 

I cannot lie: I am getting to the point in the summer where I hate making a menu plan and I am ready to eat in the dining hall again. This week I just asked around the table what everyone wanted to eat this week. They all had ideas except Joshua, who just repeated what everyone else said. He is a parrot. But I got four good ideas and ran with it! (Then added meatloaf, because Libbie asked for cheesy potatoes and the meatloaf is a family favorite.)

Sunday: Hot and Sour Peanut Noodles with broccoli and carrots (I just use a pinch of red pepper flakes since the kids and I are not spicy food fans. Mr V. puts sriracha on everything I make.) (Libbie’s choice)
Monday: Low-Country Boil (Mr. V’s choice)
Tuesday: eating at a friend’s house, bringing salad and dessert
Wednesday: kielbasa, macaroni and cheese, carrots, zucchini (David wanted mac and cheese – which is the only thing he ever wants right now.)
Thursday: Smokehouse Maple Fajitas, corn on the cob (my choice!)
Friday: Meatloaf, Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes, broccoli
Saturday: Date Night

I’m looking forward to these two weeks at home with all our kids while my husband is still off work and Libbie hasn’t started school yet. How about you?

Going Home Is Good for the Soul

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On Monday night, I was a pretty good mess. After I posted this, I had some issues arise and some talking, and I went to bed in tears a little worried I’d offended people I love. While I realize the post was certainly triggering for some, I was simply trying to make the point that just because we’ve done something one way for a long time doesn’t make it the right way.

(And if you have issue with it, I would much rather you talk to me to my own face, phone, text, or email rather than to other people. Ahem.)

But we had plans to visit old friends in Richmond, Virginia, the city where I grew up, on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I was determined to enjoy those friends without concerning myself too much about something I couldn’t change.

me and Emily

We left early Tuesday from my parents’ house in Greensboro, NC, my husband and me and our three kidlets, only one of whom had ever been to Richmond. And that was when Libbie was just five months old and I flew out with her for my friend’s brother’s funeral.

We went to the home of my friend Emily. We were summer missionaries together the summer after our freshman year of college, and the two of us were peas in a pod: romantic, goofy, ready to fall in love and get married and have kids. We did. And this was the first time our kids have ever met, even though our daughters (who are only 10 days apart in age) are nearly 7 years old.

After our lunch-and-playdate where Libbie and Lily Grace quickly bonded, we went on to the University of Richmond, my and my husband’s alma mater. We walked around campus, visited some of my husband’s old professors, made a stop in the bookstore (where I worked all four years of college!), and visited the memorial bench for our friend Mike. It was humid and we all sweat like crazy, but for me it felt a little cathartic to visit after so many years. Even though there have been many changes since we graduated in 2004, the Great Hall where my English professors’ offices are still smells the same. The bookstore accounts manager remembered me and was so kind to my family. I was flooded with memories of picnics and concerts and dorm rooms and staring at stars. It was much-needed.

Mike's bench

Then we went to my friend Jen’s parents’ home, where I spent at least half my time during high school. It was refreshing to still be a “refrigerator friend” and so fun to see my kids hanging out with her 3-year-old twin boys. We went out to dinner, talked a long time, and my family spent the night.

Jen and Jessie

We took a driving tour this morning of the small part of town where my church and house were and where I went to elementary and middle school. Unlike the last few times I’ve been to Richmond, I didn’t feel lost or immediately like a 16-year-old again. I felt comforted in the sweetness of old friendships that have expanded and multiplied through children. It was just the tenderness and love for me, my whole self, from those who knew me in my teens, that I needed.

my childhood home

And even though my parents don’t live there, it felt a lot like home.

 

The God of Patriotism

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Christianity Is Not American

source: crabby_gabby via Flickr

Here is what I think needs to be said to the church today:

Christianity is not American.

Do you realize that? That it’s not ours (assuming you are American yourself, as I am) to claim? It didn’t start in America, and it certainly won’t end there.

I’ve always felt pretty strongly about the separation of church and state. Even in a land started by (at least supposed) Christians (Thomas J, I’m looking at you and your “copy-and-paste” Bible), we are flooded with people from many nations, tongues, and belief systems. That is what America decided to be: a place that would embrace other cultures. (Other than those Indians that we forced right out into the wilderness … ahem.) We haven’t always been refined about it, but it’s our heritage.

So I don’t understand when people think the government should rule with a Christian mindset. Because although 78% of Americans will claim to be Christians, and we can call America a Christian nation all we want, they are two separate entities. We are Christians because we follow God, because we confess faith in Jesus’s death on the cross and His resurrection. We are Americans because we were born in this country or came here and worked to achieve citizenship.

Lately there have been so many upset and appalled Christians at the government legislature. My stance is this: if Christian does not equal American, laws of the land are not going to regulate what is sin and what is not sin. I firmly desire that homosexuals have the same legal rights in this country as anyone else, including partner/spouse rights. I absolutely do not think the church should have to perform homosexual marriages. Because American marriage is not the same as Christian marriage. 

We’ve gotten used to Christianity being easy. This isn’t something that is experienced worldwide, y’all. There are places where being a professing Christian means putting your life at risk. I believe our ease in a culture where mainstream has equaled Christian has led to a lot of lukewarm Christians, those who go to church but never consider the biblical implications of following Christ. Who live completely selfishly yet “know where they’re going when they die.” We’ve created a place where many people think they hate Christians or want no part in a church that does nothing like what it says it can and will do.

But man, is that Christianity patriotic. We love some America.

Please do not get me wrong. I do love America, and I am so proud to be American. I give nothing but honor to those who are serving in our military, including the five military men whose lives were taken in my own town of Chattanooga last week. I love patriotic songs.

But I’m not sure I love them in church.

Rob Tims, who was at one time the youth pastor at my church in Nashville, wrote about this in his wonderful little book Southern Fried Faith. He writes, “Whenever a group of people who are designed to primarily unite around one thing try to unite around something else, the result is devastating for all. … Any idol in the church — including the god of patriotism — can divide a church. The allure of American virtue is strong enough to blind us to the truth.”

Our fourth of July service at church made me uncomfortable this year. Pledging to the flag. Singing “God Bless the USA.” The whole shebang. We honored veterans. The government was chastised in prayer.

All the while, a lovely young woman from Iran was sitting in the service.

Is it fair to her to feel ostracized from a church because that church happens to be in the United States?

American Does Not Equal Christian

Wherever we go the church should be preaching the same message: Jesus. That’s it. The Bible. God. The unity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

If I went to church in France, or Malawi, or Taiwan, I wouldn’t want to be paying allegiance to their government in church or being presented with reasons why it stinks. The language barrier would be difficult enough to get through. I would want what I want whenever I enter my own church home: to worship freely the God of the universe. Not the God of America. The God who sees all souls equally with love.

I am an American, and so happy to be one. But I am first a Christian.

__________

I am sincerely not trying to start controversy or upset anyone; I simply would love you to consider this, what has been on my heart for weeks. I am closing the comments to avoid any public arguments. You are welcome to e-mail me at vanderbiltwife@gmail.com if you like. 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread {Secret Recipe Club}

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Libbie has been asking for banana bread lately, and since I had a bunch of very brown ones on the counter, my choice for Secret Recipe Club this month was a no-brainer. Well, sorta.

My assigned blog was It’s Yummi, written by Becca, a trained chef who shares her classic, nutritious dishes with some treats thrown in. I eyed the Bacon Cheddar Cornbread (sadly I had no creamed corn – but how genius is that to keep it moist?), and I’ve actually bought the ingredients to make her Morning Glory Muffins, but in the end I settled on Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread.

I adore peanut butter and bananas together, and I think chocolate balances them out well. And apparently so does Joshua. I almost didn’t get to take pictures of this bread, because while it was cooling, he pulled a stool up to the oven and my husband found him scraping off chocolate chips with his palm and saying, “Mmmm! MMMM!”

But we mostly rescued the bread, Joshua got a bath, and all was right with the world. Two-year-olds.

I loved Becca‘s banana bread recipe. It’s super moist, the peanut butter added a nice touch, and it baked up high and beautiful. It’s one I will definitely go back to. Or maybe try her banana bread with chocolate chips and chocolate ganache. Because HOLY MOLY. YUM.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: 1 loaf

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Peanut butter adds complexity to banana bread and chocolate chips make it irresistible. Recipe source: It's Yummi.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 ripe bananas
  • 1/3 c. melted unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8x4-inch loaf pan.

Mash bananas in a large mixing bowl, then stir in melted butter until well-incorporated. Stir in peanut butter.

Add sugar, egg, and vanilla and mix well.

Sprinkle baking soda and salt over the top and stir. Then stir in flour, just until it is all incorporated - don't overmix.

Spoon batter into the loaf pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips over the top and press them into the batter gently.

Bake 60-70 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool, then slice and enjoy.

http://www.jessieweaver.net/2015/07/peanut-butter-chocolate-chip-banana-bread-secret-recipe-club/