Book Review: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

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Louise Miller’s debut novel, The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, is a hit. After a baking disaster at a club in Boston, Olivia Rawlings flees the scene and escapes to her best friend’s small town, Guthrie, Vermont. Shortly after arriving, Hannah sets Olivia up with a job interview at a local B & B, The Sugar Maple Inn. From big city to a small kitchen, Olivia has her work cut out for her. Her eccentric style and decadent baked goods quickly win over more than a few hearts in Guthrie.

Small town living is one of my favorite things to read about. Since we are going to Vermont in a few weeks, I knew The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living would be the perfect book to read before we left. I didn’t think I would read it so fast, but once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. Almost every character in this novel is so sweet and friendly, except for the horrible Jane White; what a wench! The owner of the Sugar Maple Inn, Margaret, is a bit rough around the edges. I like that she has a backstory that isn’t an easy to tell, it keeps her interesting. Her best friend, Dotty, has an amazing family that Olivia quickly becomes a part of. Dotty’s husband, Henry, is sick, which is ridiculously depressing. Their love story is adorable. Olivia’s dog, Salty, plays a big role in the book, as well.

I really enjoyed reading about the life of a baker. I can barely bake a cake without screwing it up. It always amazes me how people can bake such intricate desserts with such ease. Reading this book made me want to run to the nearest bakery and buy them out. Not good idea for someone who just started a new workout regime in January. Luckily, we did have some pie last weekend that satisfied some of my cravings while reading the novel. One of the major conflicts in the story is centered around an apple pie baking contest that Margaret used to win when her husband was alive. After he passed, the evil Jane White started winning the blue ribbons. At the end of the book, the winning apple pie recipe is featured. I feel inspired to try it out. I have never made a pie from scratch before.

Book Review: Love Unending by Becky Thompson

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I am a huge fan of Becky Thompson. Her blog and her first book, Hope Unfolding, speak to me like nothing else I have ever read. When I found out she was writing another book, I knew I had to read it.

Love Unending is a lot different than Hope Unfolding. Hope Unfolding is about the difficulties (and joys) of being a mother. Love Unending is about learning to like you husband again, after having children. You’re probably thinking, “What do you mean like you husband again?” But if you have had a child, you would know that even though you still LOVE you husband, liking him is sometimes easier said than done.(And trust me, I’m sure our husbands feel the same exact way about  us!)

Becky Thompson’s book is a 21 day challenge that encourages us to fall in love with our husbands all over again. Think about the first time you met you husband. How did you feel? Think about the first time you said, “I love you.” Think about the excitement you had every time you saw him after a long day, or in my case, a long week, since we only saw each other on weekends. Becky Thompson guides the reader through a journey to improve your marriage after taking care of little people all day long.

Taking care of a child is exhausting. Taking care of more than one child? Probably 3x more exhausting. If you stay at home, like I do, you count the minutes until you husband comes home. It may not be because you want to see him, kiss him, or hear his voice, it is probably because you want to hand child raising duties off to him so you can cook dinner, and pee in private.

Throughout your 21 day journey, Becky Thompson will guide you through 21 daily challenges and journaling. Some tasks will be as simple (or as hard) as greeting your husband as soon as he comes in the door, instead of bombarding him with immediate tasks or not acknowledging his arrival at all. Another task will encourage you to thank your husband for things that you may take for granted. Each daily task also includes a daily prayer to help you stay focused and committed to your faith.

Don’t get me wrong, this book is not one of those books that encourage you to “serve your husband because he is always right.” It is not even close to that. It is woman centered, and makes you nod your head and want to say, “Yes, yup, that happens, I could fix that, he could fix that.” Being married is about being a team.

I had an interesting experience reading this book. I like to think that my husband are in love (and in like) still, after almost 6 years of marriage (8 years of dating.) I told him I was reading the book for review so that he wouldn’t see it and think, “What is going on?” He kind of thought it was silly, but asked about it for the first two weeks or so. I told him some of the tasks, and kept some of the other ones private (he could have read the book, too, if he wanted to.)

As my journey through the book played out, I did notice our marriage getting even better than it was before. We weren’t struggling, by any means, but let’s be honest, no one’s marriage is ideal. I told him that I wanted a kiss every night when he came home, and even though we now joke about it every night, and laugh, we do it, even if our son is running a muck during witching hour. I realize that I do obsessively read, and I try to put my books down when he is talking and really listen instead of just half listening. Really listening to someone is a game changer, making eye contact is important, and although we are not big cell phone people, I have tried to put mine down after he comes out from putting our son to bed so we can talk about our day, child free.

We have tried to make cuddling a priority, even if it is just during a TV show, or while we are both reading (it helps that is is winter and he is a furnace of heat.) It’s funny because when we were dating, we would always say how we would NEVER sit on opposites sides of a couch. I truly do feel like we started to appreciate our marriage more during the past 21 days. Many of the days and challenges were things we already did. Jim buys me surprises like flowers, several times a year to show me he cares. I also leave him things to let him know I care. But I found some new ways to show my love and it really did make me think about the beginning. Love Unending made me want to focus on us even more than we already do.

I suggest all moms (and dads even) read Love Unending to make your marriage better. Even if you are not suffering a rut (which we weren’t) you could still benefit from this challenge. I must admit, I did not journal throughout the journey, but if that if you thing, or if you marriage truly is on the rocks, journaling may be the right choice for you. Your marriage should be your priority. Even though little ones need so much attention, if your marriage is suffering (or not thriving as it should) your parenting will start to suffer. To teach your children to love, you need to be able to show them how to love.

Someone should send Becky Thompson on a child-free vacation with her husband, she deserves it. As for me and my husband, we make child-free vacations a priority; once a year is a must. Our third one is coming up in just a couple of weeks. Counting the minutes until we have some alone time. Every marriage could thrive from a few days away without kids.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Happy 2017!

Since it is a new year, I have made a few goals I would like to share:

  • Drink more water. I only really drink water and coffee, but lately, I have been slacking on my water intake. I have to get back on top of that.
  • Workout. Who doesn’t mention this is on their new year resolution list? Honestly though, I have been HORRIBLE since Jimmie was born at working out. It is time to get rid of the baby pooch (and my fat arms) FOR GOOD!
  • Get a job. I am so afraid of this one. What if no one wants to hire me? What if I fail? I feel like this goes through all mom’s head when they decid to return to the working world.
  • Put Jimmie in daycare. This obviously goes with getting a job, but it is HUGE for me. I know he will have fun, he absolutely loves school. It’s just, I’m going to miss him, even though he has been driving me nuts and has stopped taking naps.

I guess that about sums it up. Here are some fun photos from our New Year’s Eve and day! The library had a super fun Noon Year’s Eve party for kids. Jimmie had a blast and so did I.

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2017 stamping

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crown decorating

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The balloons and sparkles dropped at noon. We stayed away from the mess but did manage to get a balloon.

20161231_114538We rang in the New Year by sleeping. My family came over on New Year’s Day to celebrate Christmas. Half of the group was sick, but we still had fun (and ate cookies!)

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Today Jimmie went back to preschool (thank goodness!!) He missed it . I also needed a break. All smiles when he came home.

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Enjoy every minute of 2017, friends!

Book Review: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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There are no words to describe how much I enjoyed reading After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It took me on an emotional roller coaster that ended in lots of ugly tears. This novel is real. This novel is raw. This novel is what marriage is all about. It shows you that the love isn’t perfect, but it is worth fighting for. Love is worth waking up for, it is worth pushing through those hard days, it is worth every minute of your time, because “for better or for worse, till death do us part” is what we promised to do our on wedding day.

Lauren and Ryan met when they were 19, in college. They fell in love, moved in together, got engaged, and eventually got married. After 11 years of being together, they realized they were in a rut. They weren’t having sex, they were fighting over everything and anything, and they just plain old didn’t love each other anymore. After a few weeks of debating what to do, they decided to take a year break, no communication what-so-ever, and see how they feel at the end of it.

Although this concept isn’t typical, and I certainly wouldn’t partake in a year long break from my husband (we are happily in love, thank you very much), it seems to be the right choice for Lauren and Ryan. They don’t want to give up, but they also know they can’t keep going down the dangerous road are on. While on their break, they meet other people, discover themselves, and realize what they want from each other. They also decide if they think they can overcome this obstacle in their marriage.

Lauren’s gramdmom is my favorite character in the novel. She reminded me of my grandmom, whom I lost while I was pregnant with my son. I wish I asked her what her secret to love was. I wish I asked her so much more than I asked her. My grandpop died 17 years before her. I can’t imagine being without my husband that long. I can’t imagine all the pain she endured.

‘Did you love Grandpa the whole time?’ Maybe she didn’t. Maybe she is just like me. Ending up like my Grandma would not be so bad.

‘The whole time,’ she says. ‘Every day.’ Okay, so maybe not.

‘How?’ I ask her.

‘What do you mean, how?’ I had no choice. That’s how.’ Pg. 113

I mean, Grandma gets it, people.

‘You have someone. That’s all I am going to say. Don’t give up on him just because he bores you. Or doesn’t pick up his socks.’ Pg. 303

‘Just because you can live without someone doesn’t mean you want to,’ she says. Pg. 304

Preach it, Grandma. Oh, this is where the ugly tears start.

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid is brutally honest. Whether you’re married, about to get married, in a serious relationship, or single, this book is a must read. Once you dip your toes into the sand, you won’t want to take them out. Get ready to cry hard and feel all the feels that Taylor Jenkins Reid so beautifully portrays.

 

Christmas 2016

It is absolutely amazing to me that this was Jimmie’s third Christmas. Where has the time gone? We had another wonderful Christmas Eve an Christmas day. Granted, it wasn’t 70 degrees like last year, but I’ll take 50 over the normal December weather any day of the week. But really, with Global Warming, there is no normal anymore.

Jimmie was very excited on Christmas Eve for Santa to come. We decided to go on a spontaneous adventure to Sherperdstown, West Virginia in the morning. We were hoping that Jimmie would nap on the way home, making church bearable in the evening. We didn’t just pick Sheperdtown because it looked cute, we also picked it because there was a tuba Christmas event that day. Apparently, tuba Christmas is a big thing in the tuba community. We decided to check it out, and we were pleased with the show.

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We just love small towns. The bakery in Sheperdstown is wonderful. Since it was Christmas Eve, Jimmie and I ate a gingerbread cookie (and a blueberry muffin because, you know, fruit…) for lunch. Jim had a sandwich. (He makes wiser decisions.)

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The tuba show was fantastic! About 35 tuba players participated in the festivities. Jimmie lasted a half hour and then fell asleep on the way home. Christmas Eve win for mom and dad.

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We had an early dinner, tortellini soup and chicken fries, an then went to our church’s Christmas service at 5:30. We were told this was the least crowded. Turns out, it was. We ended up sitting in the cry room, even though it was a Children’s service, because we figured we would be able to enjoy ourselves more without having to worry about Jimmie (he usually goes to Sunday School during the service on Sundays.) We made it through the entire service, including singing Silent Night, in the dark, with glow sticks. It was really cool and magical: It really put me in the Christmas spirit.

We drove around and looked at Christmas lights after the service. Then we came home, had a snack, and went to bed. Some hours later, Santa did his thing.

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Jimmie woke up too early and when we finally got him out of bed, he ran to the tree an cried because the lights were on and he likes to turn them on in the morning. #toddlerproblems

After he finally calmed down, he was happy to open presents.
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And read his new books…

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Another year without a Christmas Day family photo. We have to do better next year.

After a big breakfast of pancakes and eggs, Jimmie played with his toys and then we went to PA to visit Grandmom and Pop.

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We ate tons of food, played games and the piano, and then ate even more food. It was a very, very Merry Christmas.

Looking forward to everything 2017 will bring. Happy New Year!

Book Review: The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle

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The day after their seventh wedding anniversary, Will leaves his wife, Iris, in bed with a beautiful new ring and a promise that he is ready to start a family when he gets back from his business trip in Florida. Iris goes to work thinking that it’s just another day counseling high school students. Little does she know, her world is about to be torn apart. A plane, heading to Seattle, has crashed, and she is informed that Will was one of the passengers. Iris immediately thinks there has been a mistake because Will was going to Orlando, not Seattle. Days turn into weeks and Iris discovers that her life with Will, her marriage with Will, was nothing but a web of lies.

The Marriage Lie by Kimberly Belle should be on everyone’s to-read list in 2017; it would make an fantastic book club choice. As soon as  I finished the first chapter, I was obsessed. Iris and Will seem to be utterly in love after seven years of marriage. I wanted them to make babies and stay in their little happiness bubble forever. Unfortunately, every lie that is slowly unraveled makes happily-ever-after seemingly impossible. This story is uniquely devastating. Imagine thinking you lost someone you love in a plane crash and then realizing you didn’t know that person at all. That is what Iris feels throughout the novel: a series of ups, downs, and everything in between.

There isn’t much I didn’t like about The Marriage Lie. All of the characters are depicted well. Iris’ family is wonderful. They take a horrible situation and make it bearable.  Evan, another person who lost his family in the plane crash, is a great friend to Iris and slowly became one of my favorite characters in the book. I can’t imagine not only losing a spouse in such a horrible accident, but also a child. I also really liked Iris’ twin brother Dave. There are so many characters in this novel, but none of them seem out of place; they all serve a purpose.

I really enjoy a mystery that leaves me thinking, “What the heck could possibly happen to make this book even better?” I thought this at the end of every chapter. There are so many twists in The Marriage Lie, I couldn’t even count them if I wanted to. The end is better than I could have ever predicted and coming from me, that means a lot. I like to pick apart endings, but this one is perfect. I wish I didn’t read this book so fast. I should have savored it longer, lingered on each word instead of rushing through it. It is just that good.

The Marriage Lie will be available for purchase on December 27, 2016.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Interview with Laura Sassi: Author of Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger

I am so excited for today’s post! I had the honor to interview Laura Sassi, author of two of Jimmie’s favorite books, Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger. Not only does Jimmie enjoy listening to these books before bed, we really love reading them to him. The words and pictures are entertaining and full of fun. What a wonderful way to introduce bible stories to children of all ages.

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Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, Rosie. It’s a real treat to connect with my reading family – the moms and dads and little ones who are enjoying Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger.

Growing up, did you always want to be a children’s author?

Actually, when I was little what I really wanted to be was Wonder Woman. I had her twirl perfected and everything. I loved imaginary play and spent hours with friends, or sometimes alone, creating fantastic make-believe scenarios – which, come to think of it, is sort of what I do now as an author. When I learned to read, I also fell in love with books and spent hours each week reading. One thing led to another and soon I was writing my own stories and poems. A few years ago my parents sent me a box full of journals and papers from my elementary school years. Included in the rather musty collection are limericks, riddles, and silly rhyming snippets – all proof that I not only liked to write, but that I also loved to rhyme, even as a child. So I even though never dreamed I’d grow up to be an author (I grew up to be a teacher first, instead), my love of imagination and playing with words has deep roots.

What inspired you to write Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger?

My kids and the weather were the spark that led me to write Goodnight, Ark. We get big storms in New Jersey and when they were little, my kids and the dog would get scared and come piling into our bed. However, I thought that a story about ordinary kids piling into an ordinary bed might be boring, so I kept flipping the idea until—Zip! Zing!—it hit me—I could set the tale afloat on Noah’s ark!

Goodnight, Manger was inspired by my daughter. As a preschooler, she loved playing with the little Baby Jesus that was part of our nativity set. She’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.” Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying. But, he was human (and God) and so he must have cried. With this sweet spark of inspiration, I was ready to write the story that was on my heart – which was to write a fun Christmas bedtime book that kids would want to read again and again and which would point them in the direction of Jesus – the real gift of Christmas.

Do you have any more “Goodnight” books in mind?

I have some ideas, but they still need to be developed. There are,however, a couple of other new books already in the pipeline for publication, so stay tuned for those official announcements. =)

What led you to write Christian children’s books?

For a long time I have had it on my heart to use my writing as a way to point kids towards good and towards God. To write stories that will appeal not just to believers, but to the broader culture as well. So when Zonderkidz said they wanted to publish first “Goodnight, Ark” and then“Goodnight, Manger” and said that the reason they especially appealed was because they were great “cross-over” books I was thrilled. In other words, they are books that anyone might like to pick up and read because the stories are fun. But because they are inspired by Bible stories they can also point little children and their parents towards God.

Have you ever thought about writing a novel?

I do have a middle-grade novel draft collecting dust in my files. But I don’t think that’s my gifting. At least for now, I’ve found my voice in telling stories for the very young. And I LOVE it!

Did you have a favorite teacher growing up that helped you develop you love for writing?

I do. Her name was Mrs. Rebholz and she was my ninth grade English teacher. Her favorite expression was “Keep percolating.” She used the phrase to prod us when discussing literature or to urge us to take our weekly writing assignments in new and unexpected directions. Her point was not to settle for the first idea that pops in your head. Instead, keep thinking. Keep pushing yourself to think beyond the ordinary. That refrain has been foundational to my writing. Indeed, I can see that my best written pieces are the ones I let percolate. Instead of settling for that first idea, I brainstorm, I revise, I revise again, often flipping the idea by trying a new setting, or new point of view, or new metaphor until I create something that really sparkles.

What is your favorite children’s book and why?

Oh, Rosie, this is such a hard question! I love so many books and for so many different reasons, but the one that comes to mind today is Virginia Kahl’s classic The Duchess Bakes a Cake. As a child what I loved most about it was that it was funny and it rhymed. It was a bedtime standard and, in my head, I can still hear my mother reading it to me as I now (or used to when they were younger) read with my children. As an adult, I now also appreciate that it features a mother who, like me, loves to write. In the case of the Duchess, leads to a gigantic baking mishap. Thankfully, so far, I’m a little better than the Duchess at doing both without wreaking too much havoc in the kitchen. =)

Laura Sassi has a passion for writing picture books in rhyme and prose. She is the author of two picture books GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014), GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz, 2015) and is excited to announce that there are more on the way! Laura grew up overseas and in the US, but has spent most of her adult life in New Jersey where she lives with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie. For her reflections on reading, writing and life,visit her blog at http://www.laurasassitales.wordpress.com or on Twitter: @LauraSassiTales. She can also be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LauraSassiTales.

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Click here to see the Goodnight, Manger Book Trailer

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Click here to see the Goodnight, Ark Book Trailer