Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review: A Sensible Arrangement

I now have the pleasure of being on the Bethany House Publisher's review team. The first book I've chosen to review is A Sensible Arrangement, by Tracie Peterson. This is Tracie's 100th book! I'm writing number three and that feels like a big accomplishment--but a hundred?!?! Congratulations to Tracie on this amazing milestone.

I've read many of Tracie's books and I'm a big fan of hers. She's a well-known, well-loved author in the Christian writing community, and for good reason. Tracie's books are engaging, thoughtful, and full of romance. She also has the ability to weave in spiritual truths that stay with the reader long after the last sentence has been read.

I wasn't disappointed in A Sensible Arrangement. The story has a feisty heroine who is independent, courageous, and compassionate. She's flawed, as we all are, but in a way that is redeemable and relatable. The hero is brave, strong, and honorable. He's also flawed, but in a way that leaves us cheering for him until the final page.

Marty Olson leaves her past behind in Texas to marry a stranger from a newspaper advertisement. She was widowed four years before, and no longer desires to live the life of a rancher. She will marry in name only, as both she and the groom are eager to keep the marriage as more of a business venture.

Jake Wythe is managing a bank in Denver, but longs to return to his ranching roots in Texas. His boss insists a man in his position should be married, so Jake advertises for a Lone Star Bride to come fill the part. He is disillusioned with marriage, and only wants a wife to be a companion and to attend the necessary social obligations of her position until he's saved enough money to return to Texas.

But when Marty arrives in Denver, their sensible marriage arrangement might not work the way they had hoped.

This book has a strong plot, is easy to read, has enjoyable characters, and has a thread of suspense that kept me turning the pages. The story is set in the opulent neighborhoods of Denver in the 1890s, with a hint of Texas woven in. I thought the book would end in a predictable way, but it didn't turn out like I had imagined at all!

My only complaint is that I didn't feel the hero or heroine had very strong goals. They responded to the circumstances around them, but neither one had a significant noble quest. Marty becomes involved with the orphans, and tries to help find them a home, but that isn't a very important thread in the story, and only feels like a secondary goal. Other than that, I felt that the characters were well developed, and the story was believable.

It's the first in the Lone Star Bride series, so I didn't feel like it had a clean ending, though most of the main story threads were tied nicely by the last page. I was left with a few unanswered questions, so I'm eager to read the next book in this series.

Overall, the book was a good read and I would recommend it to anyone.

This book is available on April 1st from Bethany House Publishers. You can find it here.

Your Turn: Have you read any books by Tracie Peterson? Which one is your favorite?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Frozen Party Ideas

When Frozen arrived in the theater, my girls went crazy for Olaf, Elsa, and Anna. We went to the theater twice to see the movie, which is something I don't believe I've ever done for another film.
My girls watched Frozen clips on YouTube and memorized almost the entire soundtrack (much to my husband's chagrin). Our three year old twin boys were even singing Let it Go and Do You Want to Build a Snowman.
About a week before the DVD released, some of our neighbor girls were over and they were all talking about the movie. In a spur of the moment decision, I told the girls to plan on coming to our house the Friday after the DVD released for a Frozen Party. I was met with a round of cheers!
I'm a busy mom (aren't we all?), so I wanted to do something fun, yet stress-free. Here are just a few ideas to get your own mind turning for your Frozen Party.
Before the girls arrived, I draped some blue tulle in the dining room. Nothing fancy (or expensive), but enough to set the mood.
As the girls arrived and put their slumber party gear in the family room, I offered to do Elsa and Anna hairstyles, depending on their hair length and preference. I forgot to snap some pictures, but you can see some of their hair styles in the photo below. One chose not to have her hair done, and that was fine too.


After everyone's hair was styled, it was time for supper. I decided to serve "frozen" (a.k.a. "easy") food for the party. Frozen pizza (baked, of course),  frozen Orange Julius (recipe at the bottom), and frozen yogurt. I also threw in some fresh fruit so I didn't feel completely terrible about the junk food.

The Orange Julius didn't come until later, when it was time to watch the movie. I also served popcorn--because the girls informed me you can't watch a movie without popcorn.

An Orange Julius mustache.
After the pizza, we played some games. Remember, this is all super easy. I was the only adult at the party (my hubby took our boys to Grandma's house). All of this was fun and simple to prep.

First, I divided the girls into two teams and then gave them two bags of marshmallows and toothpicks to build their own Frozen castles! Some were even making little Olaf snowmen for their castles. 

After the castles were built, we played a guessing game. I taped a character on each of their backs and they had to figure out who they were by asking the other girls yes and no questions. This got loud and there were many giggles. Here's a link to the Frozen characters.

Next, they each got a white balloon and they blew it up, then they could make their own Olaf snowman with a Magic Marker. :) It was fun to see what they came up with.


None of the activities were competitive, but I did buy some Frozen toys from Wal Mart for a $1 a piece. We had eleven girls, so I bought twelve, just in case. We played the dice game to win the prizes. The girls sat in a circle and I put all the prizes in the middle. Then two plates were sent around the circle with two dice on each plate. When a girl rolled doubles, she picked a prize from the center. After all the prizes were collected (each girl had one), I played In Summer, which lasted for two minutes. If the girls wanted, they could roll again, and if they got doubles, they could swap their prize for someone else's prize. You could keep going until the song stopped. This was fun and caused even more giggles.
Just a few of the prizes. We also had yo-yos, a dry-erase
marker board, and some sketch pads.
After the food, games, and prizes, it was time for the main event! The girls cuddled up in their pajamas and blankets and took over my family room to watch their favorite movie, Frozen.

I had a good time and I enjoyed watching my daughters laugh with their friends. We could have done a Frozen trivia, but some of the girls hadn't seen the film yet, and I didn't want them to feel left out.
This was a simple, fun, and inexpensive party, but I know they'll always remember it.
Your Turn: What are some fun ideas you have for a Frozen Party?

Orange Julius Recipe:
6 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate
1 cup milk, low fat is okay
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
8 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients, except ice cubes, in blender.
Blend 1-2 minutes, adding ice cubes one at a time, until smooth.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Busy Season

I started this blog two years ago and I was faithful to post three times a week, without fail, for over a year and a half. Until this last fall.

As I sat down and contemplated why my blog has fallen to the bottom of my priority list, I've realized it was pushed there because I added one more thing to my already busy schedule: homeschooling.

We have two daughters (ages 9 and 7) and twin boys who will be 4 at the end of this month. I was homeschooled when I was younger, and it was always my dream to homeschool our children. After the boys were born (when our oldest was in Kindergarten), I realized I wouldn't be able to homeschool at that time. We put our oldest in a private school, followed by our second daughter last year.

I still wanted to homeschool, and I found a great curriculum that started in 3rd grade, so we decided to keep our children in their private school until they enter 3rd grade, and then we'd start homeschooling. This year our oldest entered 3rd grade.

It's been a great experience and I'm very happy we made the decision. Our second daughter will remain in the private school next year for 2nd grade, and then she'll start homeschooling in 3rd grade, as well. The year she starts homeschooling our boys will enter Kindergarten at the private school.

This has worked well for our family--but it's required me to sacrifice in other areas, including this blog.

I will keep blogging when I can, but it's not at the top of my priority list for this season in my life. I am writing a new novel set in 1927, and when I'm not homeschooling, I am researching or writing. Thankfully my hubby's work is seasonal, so he's home during the winter and that allows me to still write.

I hope to have my first draft of my new story finished by the beginning of April. I'll work on edits and revisions for the month of April and hopefully send it off to my agent by the beginning of May. At that time (if this winter ever ends), my hubby will be going back to work, my daughter will be finishing up her first year of homeschool, and I will take the summer off from writing. I'm hoping to rekindle my blog at that time and get back to my blogging schedule.

Thank you for being a faithful reader! As my schedule allows, I'll be back with fun posts. I have some friends who are releasing books this spring and I hope to host them here and offer some great giveaways. I'll also post periodically about my story's progress. (I am having so much fun writing this book!)

Enjoy these fleeting days of winter! :)

Your turn: Is this a busy season of life for you? What have you had to give up to follow a dream?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Our Owl Curtain

I tend to love elegant, old-fashioned décor. Bead board wainscoting, eyelet lace, and Craftsman style furniture are at the top of my list. While I enjoy the convenience of modern living, I'm always attempting to recreate the nostalgia of a bygone era in my decorating.

Last week I decided it was time to buy a new shower curtain. The one I had before was a white, eyelet lace curtain, but it had became stained from dirty little hands and feet over the years.

I went to the store, fully intending to replace it with a similar style curtain--until my eyes fell on the owl curtain above. It came with some fun little owl accessories and made me smile. But, more than that, it made me think of my oldest daughter. She loves owls.

As I put the shower curtain back on the shelf and continued to look for an elegant option, I couldn't stop thinking about how much my daughter would love to have an owl shower curtain. I went back to it three times, before I finally put it in my shopping cart.

It occurred to me that my children's opinions need to be validated. At the moment, I share this bathroom with my children (until our master bath is finished), so I'm only one of five people who uses it. Why should I be the only one who decides what we look at in there?

I'm not advocating that our children should take over the decision-making process, but I'm becoming very aware that my children are growing up and forming their own likes and dislikes. I want to find areas where I can let them express their individuality in a safe way--and more than that, I want to celebrate each of them for the way God made them unique.

The shower curtain is a small gesture that will make a lasting impact in my daughter's life. I put the curtain up to surprise her, and when she saw it, her eyes lit up and she squealed. I often tell her she's a valuable part of our family, and her opinion matters to me, but this was proof that I mean what I say.

Styles will come and go, but my daughter's heart will last a lifetime. I would have loved to buy another elegant shower curtain, but, for me, knowing my daughter smiles every time she sees her owls is far more important.

Your Turn: When you were younger, did you help decorate your home? What's your current style?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Chiseling Away Their Innocence

My mom asked if she could take our two daughters, ages 9 and 7, to the annual MCCL (Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life) Banquet in town on Sunday. My husband and I readily agreed, thinking it would be a good opportunity for both of them to support a wonderful organization.

On the way to the banquet hall, I realized our 7 year old didn't know what an abortion was. The subject had come up two years ago with our older daughter, which I wrote about here. Knowing our 7 year old was about to enter a building where the topic would be discussed, my husband and I felt it was best if she heard it from us first...

I abhor, with all the passion inside of me, the look on my sweet children's faces when I tell them the horrible truth for the first time. It's this terrible, tragic, devastated look of unbelief, followed by an avalanche of questions--many of which I have no answer.

Memorial for Unborn Children, by Martin Hudáček
Our second daughter's reaction was a bit different than our first. Our first daughter was devastated, and her eyes filled with tears. Our second daughter was devastated, but she instantly began to debate the issue and tell us all the reasons why it was wrong.

As our beautiful little girl walked inside the banquet hall to learn about the millions of lives taken tragically at the choice of their mothers, I couldn't help but think we had been forced to chisel one more notch out of her innocence. And that makes me sadder than almost anything else I've experienced as a mother.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Minnesota Monday Trivia Answers (On Wednesday!)

It's another cold night in Minnesota. Right now it's 0 degrees--and that's the high for today! The temperatures are falling and later tonight it will reach -3 (with a wind chill of -24). A fluffy snow has been falling all day and it's beautiful.

Remember, it could always be worse...
Photo courtesy of Weatherman Paul Douglas Blog
I've never been much of a complainer about weather--after all, I live in Minnesota. I try* not to complain for three reasons.

1. This is Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes and 10,000 Extreme Weather Patterns. I should never have a reason to complain. Instead, I should fully expect it to be either really cold, really hot, really dry, or really humid. If it's something other than those four extremes, then I count myself blessed and I take advantage of the beautiful weather. Thankfully, in Minnesota, we have many wonderful weather days (or, we don't, and we just appreciate the few good days because of all the bad!). :)

2. I can't change the weather by complaining! I think this one is self-explanatory.

3. Whenever I hear people complaining, I think of the Israelites in the dessert for 40 years. Those people complained. A lot. And where did it get them? No where--literally. What must God think when He's blessed me with a warm house, a full belly, and a healthy family? If all I can do with my time is complain, then I've missed something. Instead of focusing on the weather, I try to focus on my blessings. I also try to see each weather pattern as a blessing. God knows what He's doing.

I giggle when I pass people in Wal Mart and hear a conversation that goes something like this:

"Hey, Phil."
"Hey, Marge."
"Boy, it's cold outside!"
"You ain't kidding."
"Nice seeing you."
"Stay warm."

I heard this conversation just the other day. I love that we tell people something they already know.

Anyway, I digress. I was going to share the answers to my Minnesota Trivia Questions from the other day. I hope you learn something new!

Minnesota is a large state, but how large is it compared to the other states?
a. Fifth largest state
b. Tenth largest state
c. Twelfth largest state
d. Twentieth largest state

The name "Minnesota" is a Dakota name, but what does it mean?
a. "Land of Sky Blue Waters"
b. "Big Water Country"
c. "Many Waters"
d. "Clear Water"

The Minneapolis/St. Paul Metro Area is called the Twin Cities and is densely populated. What percentage of the population of Minnesotans lives in the Twin Cities?
a. 30%
b. 40%
c. 50%
d. 60%

Minnesota is known for its extreme weather (the wind chill was -60 here last week and today it was 38 degrees!). What is the record high and low span of temperature across the state?
a. 106 °F
b. 133 °F
c. 156 °F
d. 174 °F

Minnesota ranks high in the nation for many things. Which one of these things does Minnesota NOT rank high?
a. We have some of the best roads nationwide
b. We have the highest percentage of citizens who participate in regular physical exercise
c. We're one of the highest voter turn out states
d. We have the second highest percentage of high school graduates nationwide

We're also ranked the lowest in all but one of these areas:
a. Lowest percentage of overweight and obese children in the nation
b. We're one of the lowest taxed states in the nation
c. One of the ten states with the lowest percentage of unemployment nationwide
d. Our teen pregnancy rate is the 8th lowest in the nation

Your Turn: What do people complain about the most where you live? I have a feeling it's probably weather! :)

*I try not to complain, but inevitably I slip up. When I do, I remind myself it could be much worse...and I think about Spring and Summer. That usually helps me put things back into perspective.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Conversation to Remember

It all started when my second daughter (age 7) came running into the kitchen in tears.

"She told me I'm fat!" My daughter wailed, her face red from tears and pain.

"Who told you you're fat?"

"My sister!" She cried even harder.

My oldest daughter (age 9) ran into the kitchen a second later. "She told me I'm fat first--"

"Stop!" I said, holding up my hand. I took both their hands in mine and I led them to the dining room. I pulled three chairs out and put them in a triangle--the whole time praying for wisdom from God.

"I want both of you to sit down and I want to tell you something very true and very, very sad."

The tears instantly stopped as I gained their attention.

The entire time I was praying, not quite sure where this conversation was going, but I knew God had a message for my little girls...and for me.

"When God created life, do you know what He made last?"

They shook their heads.

"Eve. As his very last act of Creation, before He rested, He created a woman."

Both of my girls stared at me.

"And when Satan came to the Garden to put into motion the fall of mankind, who did he go to?"

"Eve," they said in unison.

"Yes, Eve. God created Eve last, and I've always believed He saved the best for last. God loves women. He calls the whole body of believers His bride. He chose a woman to bring Jesus into the world. Women are very, very special to God. And that's exactly why Satan went to Eve in the Garden, he knew she was especially important to God. And from that day, when sin entered the world, until this day when you two called each other fat, Satan has been working at destroying women. One of the craftiest ways he does this is by making women believe they are ugly, fat, stupid, worthless, and on and on."

"We can fight him back by calling him those names too!" My oldest said very seriously as she punched the air with her fist.

I shook my head. "No, we can fight him back by never making a woman believe any of those things are true. We can fight him back by building up our sister and telling her she's beautiful and perfect exactly how she is. It's our job to tell other women how wonderful they are, but more importantly, to tell yourself how beautiful you are."

My girls looked at me and I stared straight into each of their faces, one at a time. "You are beautiful and perfect exactly how God made you." I said to both of them. "I don't want you to ever forget this conversation for the rest of your life. I want you to remember where we were sitting and what I've said, because it's one of the most important things you'll ever learn. You are very special to God."

I hugged each of my girls and then asked them to apologize to each other. My oldest jumped up and went back to her room, but my second daughter, the one who had been in tears just moments before, looked at me with her beautiful green eyes and said: "Just today, when I was taking a spelling test at school, I told myself I'm tall and beautiful."

I pulled her to my side and nodded. "Keep reminding yourself of that every single day, and don't let anyone else ever tell you different."

After the girls were both gone, I thanked God for this special conversation and I pray, with all my heart, that my girls will never forget what I said.

Your Turn: Do you remember an important conversation you had with your mom? If you could tell all the little girls in the world one thing, what would it be?