Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Stray Drop of Blood by Roseanna M. White

"Beautiful is a dangerous thing to be when one is unprotected."

A Stray Drop of Blood is the story of Abigail; Jewess slave and companion to Visibullis matriarch, Ester. Having been brought to the Visibullis household at a young age, she is treated respectfully and quickly earns a place in her owner's hearts.  She is taught all manner of book knowledge and continually proves herself an adept learner. It seems her life has fallen into a peaceful existence, until Jason Visibullis arrives back home after several years of military training in Rome.

As the handsome only child of respected General Cleopas and his wife Ester, he is willful, spoiled, and used to getting his own way; especially when it comes to the women he wants. And after one glance at the beautiful Abigail, she ends up on his immediate want list. With no real choice in the matter, Abigail is forced into an intimate relationship with her master's son, and a short time later, becomes pregnant.

Devastated, she despairs at the shattering of her future dreams, including those to wed. Jason will not hear of marrying a Jewish slave, despite his parents insistence that he be accountable for his actions, but he does agree to care for Abigail as his "wife in deed" responsibility. While not in love with Jason, she has slowly become comfortable in their relationship, and even welcomes his attentions over time. As she grows larger with child, Jason struggles with the development of strong feelings for her and eventually chooses, against his friends advice, to take her as his wife.

They marry, but unrest is permeating Jerusalem, as a man who has created quite a stir with his teachings, gains followers. Violent uprisings result, and the Visibullis men are summoned to quell the rebels by force. One night, during an especially heated insurrection, both Cleopas and Jason are brutally killed by the criminal Barabbas. Devastated, Abigail is determined to witnessed the crucifixion of their murderer, and ventures out on the appointed day. But, amidst the expected chaos and throngs of people, she experiences something else entirely unexpected.

A stray drop of blood that will change her life forever...

To briefly sum up my thoughts after that lengthy story description, I say:

Read this book!


Because Roseanna White is a gifted writer who really has a knack for getting emotions out onto the page in a realistic manner. She makes you connect with her characters deeply and leaves you caring about them long after turning the final page. Biblical stories aren't that easy to pull off convincingly, but Roseanna put in the effort plus research, and it shows.

The plot is thoroughly engaging, with plenty of intrigue to keep you from figuring out what happens next, and so much occurs from beginning to end, that it truly is an epic journey. Also, I thought the romantic scenes gave a nice amount of tension/edge/passion without going too overboard. I appreciated the honest struggles, both emotionally and physically, that Roseanna acknowledged between characters, which added to the overall story connection for me.

So, yes, definitely grab your own copy of A Stray Drop of Blood! I know I'll be adding this author's past and future books to my must read list.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Looking ahead...

I'll be having a week long giveaway of the book, Miracle for Jen, starting on Friday, March 9th!

Here's  a synopsis...

On the night of November 5, 2006, the Barrick family was driving home from church when their van was struck by a drunk driver. Fifteen-year-old Jen suffered multiple skull fractures and severe brain trauma and was not expected to survive the night. But against all odds, she did. As she lingered in a coma, doctors warned that if Jen ever woke up, she would be cursing and screaming in confusion due to her brain injuries. Instead, after five weeks she opened her eyes and began praying and praising God. Jen didn’t remember her middle name, recognize her parents, or recall that she had a little brother—but she remembered Jesus and every word to every praise song and scripture she had hidden in her heart before the accident. As any loving mother would, Jen’s mother Linda wanted God to heal Jen—make her like she was before. Normal. But a loving God had something else in mind—instead of making her normal, God is making Jennifer—and the whole Barrick family—extraordinary, miraculous. Miracle for Jen is the remarkable true story of a family who overcame tragedy and learned to trust God's plan for their lives in a whole new way.

I've just finished reading my copy of Jen's inspirational story and will be posting my review on March 9th, along with the giveaway, so I hope to see you then!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Yesterday's Tomorrow by Catherine West

Yesterday's Tomorrow is author, Catherine West's, debut novel; but you wouldn't know by reading it.

From the very first page, she creates vivid images and characters that you'll empathize with, root for, want to slap upside the head a few times, but, mostly, fall in love with.

Set in war torn Vietnam, here is a brief run down of the story:
She's after the story that might get her the Pulitzer. He's determined to keep his secrets to himself. Vietnam, 1967. Independent, career-driven journalist Kristin Taylor wants two things: to honor her father's memory by becoming an award-winning overseas correspondent and to keep tabs on her only brother, Teddy, who signed up for the war against their mother's wishes. Brilliant photographer Luke Maddox, silent and brooding, exudes mystery. Kristin is convinced he's hiding something. Willing to risk it all for what they believe in, Kristin and Luke engage in their own tumultuous battle until, in an unexpected twist, they're forced to work together. Ambushed by love, they must decide whether or not to set aside their own private agendas for the hope of tomorrow that has captured their hearts.

I guess the best way I can think to describe Yesterday's Tomorrow, is that it's unflinchingly, heart breakingly, sometimes painfully, realistic.

In other words, it's not a light read. But I'm glad, because this era in history is one that deserves to be explored and revisited by someone brave enough to do it justice. I applaud Catherine, especially, for tackling the subject of post traumatic stress disorder, as it's not an easy thing to delve into. She truly does an amazing job of allowing the reader glimpses into what it must have been, and for some, still must be, like to endure.

The writing completely engages you throughout. Each scene propels the story forward wonderfully, plus the interactions between Luke and Kristen fairly crackle with tension, passion, danger, and awareness. You're never quite sure what will happen next, which leaves you on the edge of your seat.  Also, I love the humor Catherine sprinkles into the dialogue, which helps to alleviate some tense moments and off set the serious circumstances which are ever present.

There honestly wasn't anything I didn't like about Yesterday's Tomorrow, and I highly recommend it as compelling storytelling at its finest. This book moved me deeply and I know I'll be putting it on my keeper shelf for future re-reading.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Simple, tender, parmesan chicken

I've always loved chicken parm; the crunch and taste are delicious in my opinion.

While I'm used to soaking it in an egg breading, this recipe calls for butter instead.

Which I think makes the chicken even more flavorful.

Last night I made this for dinner, and it was a hit as usual. And it truly is simple to prepare and have ready within 30-40 minutes.

I modify the breading aspect by just using already seasoned Italian bread crumbs, rather than plain, and mixing that with parmesan cheese.

Simple and delicious Parmesan Chicken!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A special ladybug themed birthday party!

This past Sunday we had a birthday party to celebrate our daughter Ava turning one!

I had so much fun planning it, after deciding to incorporate a ladybug theme throughout. (Ava had previously dressed up as a ladybug for Halloween, and we also jokingly call her our little "bug," so this seemed perfect for her special day.)

I love looking at party pictures, so thought I'd share a few of my favorite highlights. :)

Here is the "sweets" table we set up in our dining room, with chocolate dipped pretzel favors, homemade cupcakes, and red/black licorice in a vase-which is not in this shot. For a little extra decoration, I included a photo of Ava I took in December, framed with a sign-able mat for guests to include a personal note for the birthday girl. There is also an album and ladybug pillow pet we recently bought her.

These were so much fun to do-chocolate bug cupcakes, with chocolate chip dots! I got the idea from Martha Stewart and kinda put my own twist on it. I also didn't use her actual cupcake recipe, just the concept.

This is the one I made: Mom's Chocolate Cupcakes.

And here's the link for  Bug Cupcakes if you'd like to design some of your own!

These red velvet cupcakes turned out so so moist and delicious! I've already posted the recipe I used, but so you don't have to dig, here it is again.
"He Proposed" Red Velvet Cake.

I used the same Vanilla Butter cream Frosting recipe for both cupcakes, and was really pleased with it.

Not pictured here, but I also whipped up a double batch of Mini Cherry Cheesecakes, courtesy of Taste of Home. Love them-the cupcakes and Taste of Home! :)

I made Ladybug Pretzel Bites for the favors, and they were very easy to put together. I dipped the bottom in milk chocolate, and for the top, simply mixed red food dye into white chocolate. Once they were dry, I decorated some of them with black food dye using a toothpick. For wrapping, I picked up clear gift bags plus polka dot ribbon from Walmart, and that was it!

Btw, my pretzels don't look exactly the same as pictured in the recipe, but that's the beauty of improvising, right? :)

Aren't these crackers really cute? I got the idea for these Ladybug Appetizers  from Taste of Home-no surprise there-and just thought they were adorable! I didn't get a chance to pipe black dots on to the tomatoes, due to lack of time, but thought they still turned out nicely anyway.

As far as the rest of the food, we made chili, along with meatballs, and bought rolls for meatball subs. We also had a veggie tray and plate of fresh, sweet, strawberries.

But, best of all, were the wonderful family and friends gathered together at our home; precious memories for Ava to cherish someday.

Finally, a pic of the birthday girl-favorite binky included- since it really was her day...

Hope you enjoyed this peek into my bug's 1st birthday party! :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I want to go to there...

Even if you've never seen the show 30 Rock, most women could probably relate to this wondrous scenario Liz Lemon finds herself in.

Who wouldn't like to open the door to a handsome guy who bakes, and smells like frosting, no less?

Ding, ding, ding. I want to go to there!

Ok, even it that's not your thing, how about a man who consistently washes the dishes without reminder? Then gets the kids in their jammies, helps them brush their teeth, and tucks them in bed with nary a grumble or frustrated sigh? And possibly after all that, he still has the energy to give you a thorough foot rub, just because he wants to...

Pretty nice fantasy, huh?

Not saying there aren't plenty of wonderful boyfriends, husbands, and fathers out there who do nice things for their loved ones, but compared to our built up "dream" dude, he may seem lacking.

With all the female geared romance movies, magazine articles, and not so realistic, reality shows out there, it's easy to contrast what you've got with the perfect billboard male specimen, only to feel dissatisfied afterwards. Or you might find yourself mentally chafing about "your friend Regina's husband Matt who took her to a fancy restaurant last weekend," while the last time you ate non home made food was from a card board Lean Cuisine box.

There are a million other similar instances you may notice and add to the growing list of grievances, that your unsuspecting guy knows nothing about.

As far as he's concerned, things are just peachy keen in paradise, and that look you sent him this morning contained no daggers. In fact, when he gets home from work, he'll probably flip on the sports channel while you put the finishing touches on dinner. Maybe grab a cold drink and settle into the easy chair, while his mind clears from the stress of the day.

Meanwhile, your stress just keeps piling up until the warning light starts flashing "overload" and steam begins coming from the top of your head, rather than the top of the stove. Suddenly, you loath the man in the lazy boy with not a care in the world. Can't he see the kids need to be washed up before supper? Doesn't he smell the pot of macaroni burning in the kitchen?

Your heated musings may contain, but not be limited to:

"The Bachelor" showers his beloved with roses and private jets, Gilbert Blythe would do anything for his one and only, Anne, and didn't Redbook's latest article just warned about "10 signs your husband may be a selfish lover?" Not helping at meal time was number 3!

With these thoughts swirling, you confront hubby then wait for an apology.

None is forth coming. Instead, you get a bewildered, or possibly angry, stare that's even more maddening than the faults themselves. Is it at all possible he didn't comprehend a word you've just ranted? Is he not listening? (Number 5 on Redbook's don't list.) 

Either way, he's on your bad list now. Indefinitely.

All because he can't measure up to your expectations; which you're not exactly sure of yourself. (You just somehow know he hasn't met them.)

And, really, what's wrong with coming home from work and immediately sitting down to relax after a long, hard, day?

Nada. At least from the guy's point of view.

Yet, women often see things differently. And usually we expect men to agree with, or at least concede to our perspective, despite not fully understanding it.

(Yes, I know. We're a complicated breed.)

But, just like we all have our own  unique "I want to go to there" fantasies that will probably never happen, is it then unrealistic of women to place their own individual expectations on a guy?

What do you think?  How much does the culture around us influence our view of the man's role? Do women, in general, expect too much or not enough?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes...

I made some of these delightful cheesecakes over the weekend and still have a few sitting in my fridge.

They're kinda my pretty, yummy, easy, go to dessert when I need the random mini cheesecake fix. And the red cherries on top look so pretty-I love a nice pop of color! 

P.S. I just spoon a can of Comstock cherry pie filling on top of each cheesecake, instead of following what the recipe suggests. 

Mini Cherry Cheesecakes

Happy Valentine's Day! Hopefully, you're enjoying something sweet today. xo

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Super Moist Red Velvet Cake

Aren't the words red and velvet a delicious sounding combo?

(Well, I guess it depends on what exactly that combo entails...)

Happily, this one is a cake. Yum!

While I'm not exactly a red velvet cake connoisseur, I do know a good one when I've tasted it. 

And since I'm having a lady bug themed birthday party for my daughter Ava this weekend, I decided to incorporate some extra red into the mix. 

Last night, the party planning committee (consisting of me, myself, and I) whipped up a test batch in cupcake form. 

I ate three cupcakes, out of a dozen. 

Now there are only 9 left. 

(I know, I'm a math genius.)

But I'll be making more Saturday, so no worries; other than the trillion needless necessary calories consumed.

Here it is, the officially titled "He proposed" Red Velvet Cake!!!

Still unclear on the title?...

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Exceptional Life: 8 Powerful Steps to Experiencing God's Best for You by Stephen Arterburn

Steve Arterburn is a well known motivational speaker, and he's written quite a few  books geared toward helping people achieve the most out of their life.

Here, in The Exceptional Life, he specifically targets those who have been affected by: shame, resentment, fear, anger, instant gratification, learned helplessness, isolation, and addiction.

For each of these undesirable traits, he offers a way of dealing with them along with the "antonym" cure that you'll receive in return. (For instance, letting go of fear in order to gain back trust.)

I really enjoyed the conversational style Mr. Arterburn employed when explaining relate able situations to each obstacle we face. Humor is woven throughout the book, instantly setting the reader at ease-which is important when talking about tough issues.

Certain chapters spoke to me more than other, which I imagine would be the case for most people. We each struggle in different areas, so what I find useful may not pertain to my neighbor, friend, etc.

I did find some of the writing rather long winded, and felt parts of it could have been summed up more quickly. It tended to "meander" a little and my focus slipped during those points. Also, some of the solutions to the problems addressed seemed a bit simplistic. Just letting go, isn't as easy as it sounds. Diagnosing the root of an issue is very important, yet the therapy afterwards is usually the hardest of all.

But as a starting tool for those who want basic connecting dots to their struggles, I'd recommend this. It's not overly complicated and is written engagingly. I haven't read any of Mr. Arterburn's other books, but am interested in checking them out.

I received a complimentary copy of this book by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Ladies, Do You Get the Big Game?

Ladies, do you wonder what’s the big deal about the Big Game? Maybe you share your man’s enthusiasm about the Super Bowl. Maybe you’d rather get him off the couch to go running with you. Maybe you’d prefer to just go shopping. Let me share a few insights with you for Super Bowl Sunday.

While women fantasize about relationships, men fantasize about greatness. While women fantasize about cuddling, men fantasize about conquering. We men want to be something. We crave significance, influence, and impact. This desire for greatness shows up in the wilds we roam, the movies we watch, and the sports we play—or watch.

Football is the closest thing to an organized team gladiator battle in our nation. In it, passion, strength, and power fuse with precision and skill as two teams face off in an epic display of force and will. And a Super Bowl victory is the greatest prize. It’s the best of the best playing for greatness.

Men long to be great. Men were created to be great. Unfortunately, too many men don’t realize it. Yet greatness is the destiny of a Kingdom Man.

A Kingdom Man is a male who places himself underneath God’s rulership and lives his life submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ. A Kingdom Man is a man who rules according to God’s rule. Rule does not mean domination or control—it means leading with wisdom for the betterment of others underneath the overarching guidance and sovereignty of God.

A Kingdom Man is every woman’s dream because when he functions according to the principles of God’s Kingdom, she can rest underneath his covering. To cover someone simply means providing the protection and provision they need as well as an umbrella environment for nurturing and fostering emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Fused within every Kingdom Man’s urge to conquer ought to be an equally strong conviction to cover and take responsibility for that which God has placed in his care.

How does that kind of greatness sound to you?
How can you pray for your man?
Is your man ready to be a Kingdom Man?

Check out the book trailer for Dr. Tony Evans’ upcoming book, Kingdom Man here.
Pre-order copies of Kingdom Man by Dr. Tony Evans here for everyone who attends your Super Bowl party.
Sign up here to receive a series of Kingdom Man Boot Camp emails — monthly challenging and encouraging samples from Dr. Evans’ book.

Need a Super Bowl snack tip? Check this one out:
Big Game Black Bean Dip

• 1 small tomato, diced
• 2 tablespoons chopped red onion
• 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, plus extra sprigs
• 2 (15-oz) cans black beans, drained
• 1 teaspoon hot sauce (or more to taste)
• 1 tablespoon ground cumin
• salt

Using a food processor, pulse tomato, onion, and cilantro until well chopped. Add black beans, hot sauce, cumin, and salt, to taste, and pulse until the mixture is mostly smooth. Transfer to serving dish, garnish with cilantro sprigs, and serve with tortilla chips.

(As a disclosure, I did not write this article but am posting it on behalf of the Tyndale Blog Network.)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

My favorite banana bread!

I absolutely LOVE banana bread. So whenever I come across a loaf, I do a little happy dance inside at the prospect of filling my mouth with this fruity goodness. 

But sometimes, that first bite doesn't live up to my, I'll admit, somewhat high expectations.

And what are those expectations?

Well, tons of moistness and banana flavor are at the top of my list, along with just the right amount of sweetness. 

Add a crunch factor, and I'm a goner.

This recipe satisfies all my cravings and more. And it can also be turned into killer muffins...

Without further ado, I give you The definitive banana bread!

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