Feb 23, 2015

elle's book reviews // february books

I am fully aware there is still a full week left of the month, but I highly doubt I'll finish my current books in that time, so I wanted to share the four books I read in February. Two historical fiction, one memoir, and one Christian apologetics. Quite the mix! Each were truly wonderful in their own way.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
 Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Written fully as letters to various characters, TGL&PPPS is a bit hard to follow at first (because, really, how many books are written in this format?), but give it a few pages and you'll feel like you've just discovered a treasure trove of lost letters full of history, love, and sacrifice.

Based mainly in a small island in the British channel, Guernsey, during the German Occupation of WWII, the book mixes quaint with the spectacular as well as the horrific. The quaint lives of the Guernsey villagers before and after the Occupation made me want to hop on a plane and visit the spectacular scenic island to discover all of its beauty documented throughout the novel. I admit, I did quite the Pinterest search while reading this book, wondering how I could one day visit!

But amidst the beauty of the island is the horrid experience of being cut off from any communication from the neighboring Great Britain and France, exposed to the brutality of Nazis who were convinced capturing Guernsey was their ticket into Great Britain and beyond.

I am always amazed how some books can weave humor and heartache through it's pages, and TGL&PPPS is no exception. The myriad of characters -- and writing styles and personalities of each -- each hold their own richness that is so fun to unfold letter by letter.

And the Mountains Echoed
Khaled Hosseini

If you've read Hosseini's bestseller, The Kite Runner, you'll be reacquainted with the culture and history of the brave Afghan people as they face seemingly insurmountable odds through cultural prejudices, ravages of war, betrayal, sacrifice, and emotional wounds. Each chapter is told from a different character's perspective, interweaving characters from different races and societal classes. A child's pain as he loses the person most precious to him, a servant's regrets of past mistakes and the ramifications that ensued, a Greek pediatric surgeon living in Afghanistan who recounts his journey towards the war-stricken country, an Afghan woman living in Paris but discovering secrets from her childhood that make her question everything about herself, and many other heart-gripping tales that paint a portrait of Afghanistan throughout a span of 50-ish years.

I checked out both the audiobook as well as the hardcover. The narrators varied based on the particular chapter's character and I think all where Afghan, which made the audio version so rich. Hosseini is a master storyteller and it was icing on top of the cake to be able to hear the accents of Afghan people bring depth to his remarkable stories.


Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message
Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias is a brilliant leading Christian apologetic scholar and speaker who digs deep in major world religions and comparing them to Christianity in Jesus Among Other Gods. He deals with questions such as "Aren't all religions fundamentally the same?"and "Was Jesus who He claimed to be?" He starts the book by countering the leading postmodern ideology of tolerance by stating that all religions cannot all be right. Quite the statement to start with! He then systematically looks at claims Jesus made that are written in the Bible and contrasts them with the founders and basic principles of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age spirituality.

I read this book along with a group of girls over the course of a few months, which helped me understand more of the complex ideas of the book as well as brought application to all of the theory. It's a challenging, yet important, read for those who want to dig deeper in their understanding of the claims of Christianity and how they differ from other religions.


I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou's debut memoir (the first of seven) looks back at her tumultuous childhood and adolescence, exploring the joyous as well as painful moments that marked her life. Maya and her younger brother, Bailey, were put on a train by their divorcing parents to travel across the country from California to the small town of Stamps, Arkansas as toddlers (she was three years old!) to live with their religious and self-sufficient grandmother ("Momma"). Here the children grew up in their grandmother's general store and were exposed to the prejudice of being African Americans in the South in the 1930s. At age eight, Maya and Bailey travel to St. Louis to live with their mother and Maya is attacked by a man, leaving her confused, hurt, and choosing to be selectively mute as a way to protect herself and those she loves (for she felt the assault was her fault). They eventually travel back to Stamps and eventually to San Francisco with many more heartaches in store for them both.

Maya Angelou's writing is poetic, powerful, and honestly raw. She writes from the eyes of a child peering into a world that could be so hateful, yet finding hope and joy amidst the pain. Her personality and strength develop into a strong and brilliant female voice that is willing to put up a fight for issues like equality, defending her loved ones, and learning to extend love to herself after years of shame and guilt. It is no wonder that this book is a beloved classic. And what a special treat to hear Maya narrate her memoir by audiobook! Whether reading page after page late into the night or listening on my commute to work or while jogging, I was captivated by I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.


Currently Reading:
Mending: Pieces of a Life Made Whole by Angie Smith

The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Success by Dave Ramsey

[ Check out my GoodReads page for more of my favorite books]

Feb 18, 2015

cooking with elle // crockpot quinoa enchilada


I made this delicious crockpot quinoa enchilada recently and thought it was delicious. Adapted from Chelsea's Messy Apron , it is semi-paleo but can be tweaked. If a more paleo version is desired,  skip the cheese and sour cream and skip the tortillas. It is perfect for a chilly night and packs a great amount of healthy protein. Try it out and let me know what you think!

1 pound ground turkey
1 1/2 cups uncooked quinoa
1 can (15 ounces) black beans (I used 1/2  can)
1 cup frozen corn
1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chilies (do not drain)
1/2 cup salsa
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup sweet bell peppers, I used orange
1 cup water
1 can (19 ounces) enchilada sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, 
dollop sour cream
1/4 cup green onions
1 chopped  avocado
2 cups cheddar or Mexican cheese
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped and stems removed

  1. In a large skillet, cook the ground turkey until brown. Drain out any grease, then place in the crockpot.
  2. Add in the quinoa, the black beans,  frozen corn,  diced tomatoes and green chilies, the salsa, minced garlic, and chopped veggies (onion and sweet bell pepper)
  3. Add in the water, enchilada sauce, chili powder, and cumin.
  4. Stir everything together really well. Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours or until the liquid is absorbed.
  5. Stir in the cheese and fresh cilantro
  6. Add optional toppings such as fresh lime juice, a dollup of sour cream, and chopped green onions. 
  7. Serve with tortilla chips or warmed up tortillas

See other recipes from Cooking with Elle 

Feb 11, 2015

January Book Reviews

I read three amazing books in January and wanted to share a short synopsis for each. Feel free to check my GoodReads page for more books that I have enjoyed recently.


Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis' UK broadcasted talks during WWII that defended and explained common Christian doctrines were compiled into one of the most beloved and thought-provoking theology books written. His rational, intellectual, and metaphorical method of digging into fundamental Christian beliefs brings a whole new way to look at these beliefs, while still remaining true to the Biblical foundations. His brilliance is visible on each page as he dives from morality and human nature towards Christian beliefs, christian behaviors, and the doctrine of the Trinity. Not an easy task, yet Lewis' Mere Christianity is readable for both believers and nonbelievers alike.

It took me nearly six months to get through this book because my boyfriend and I read it together and would discuss it through emails and FaceTime dates. At the outset, I was not used to Lewis' intellectual way of writing. I felt like I was not smart enough to start such a book. Yet, G.W. (who read this book many years ago and loves it) encouraged me to press on and that I would understand it and come to really enjoy it. He was right; once I read a few more chapters, I was hooked. I am a lover of metaphors, so it came to my delight to remember that Lewis' writings drips of metaphors (the Narnia books are a great example of his metaphorical genius). His use of a three-dimensional cube to explain the Trinity (Book 4; Ch. 2), "obstinate" toy soldiers to explain our human nature to deny God (Book 4; Ch. 5), and pride as a spiritual cancer (Book 3; Ch. 8) are but a few examples.

Readers will quickly recognize oft-quoted theological phrases and paragraphs that originate from Mere Christianity. Likely most common is one of my favorite paragraphs from the book:
"I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be great moral teacher. He would be either a lunatic -- on a level with the man that says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with the patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to". (Book 2, Ch.2, page 52)

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible With Both Out Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin 

Written for women, but applicable for men as well, Women of the Word starts out by explaining what has gone wrong with the bulk of Bible study techniques. Wilkin mentions counterproductive Bible study methods (aptly named the Xanax, Pinball, Personal Shopper, Magic 8 Ball, Telephone Game, or Picky Eater) and explains that though we are all likely guilty of using one or all of these methods, we are only skimming the surface of understanding the Bible when using them (see here for a great info-graphic of these methods). They focus on us rather than God, turning our attention from His Truth transforming our lives into using our circumstances and societal norms to dictate the Bible. It leads to picking verses out of context to create mantra-like slogans to get us through our rough days, while missing so much depth and pure gold that is waiting to be excavated and treasured.

So how can we start digging into this treasure? Wilkin introduces the Five P Method of Sound Bible Study. She explains that this method links both the heart and the mind in studying the Word:

  • Purpose || How does the text your studying fit into the metanarrative (the Big Story) of the Bible, namely creation-fall-redemption-restoration? 
  • Perspective || Understanding the archaeology of the text, also known as historical and cultural exegesis. This includes:
    • Who wrote it?
    • When was it written?
    • To whom was it written?
    • What style was it written? 
    • Why was it written?  
  • Patience || Don't rush through the text or skip to commentaries  or studies. Take time to dig.
  • Process || Methodically reading for comprehension, interpretation, and application.
    • Comprehension answers the "What does it say?" and  includes repetitive reading of the text, looking up unknown words in a dictionary, outlining the passage, reading other translations of the text, and noting repeated words or phrases as well as attributes of God.
    • Interpretation: Answers "What does it mean?" by looking at cross-references, paraphrasing the text, and studying commentaries.
    • Application: "How should it change me?" is answered by looking at what the passage says about God, how that truth about God changes our personal view of self, and what we should do in response.
  • Prayer ||  Asking the Father to guide you in the study before starting, during the study, and afterwards.
I do not have enough words to say how this book changed the way I desire to study the Bible. It gave me a surge of energy to start a two-month study on Philippians using the 5Ps and I am pumped after the first week! I made myself a cheat-sheet with the 5Ps and have used it to guide my study. I wholly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fresh and Truth-filled way to study the Word. 


Surprised By Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber

Carolyn poetically, charmingly, wittingly, and candidly shares her story of becoming a Christian during the first year in her graduate studies at Oxford. Issues such as fatherhood, feminism, doubt, and love are beautifully explored in a memoir that reads as easily as a novel (and as hard to put down as well!). As a Romantic literature major, she was immersed with religious texts (such as Milton's Paradise Lost), lectures, and conversations amongst students and faculty that led her from agnosticism to questioning and eventually to faith. She intricately weaves stories of her childhood, classic poems, and candid stories from her time at Oxford to create a tapestry showcasing God's grace and love. 

Surprised By Oxford constantly left me in awe (and yes, surprised!) by Weber's magnificent gift of writing, but even more so, by God's magnificent way of bringing light to the eyes of our heart and mind to better understand Him. I cried. I laughed. I sighed when it was over (and immediately scoured the internet for the name of her newest book, Holy Is The Day. This is one book that I will treasure for years to come. Two cherries on top: 1) It is reminiscent of another Oxonion, the aforementioned C.S. Lewis' writing style and his own story of becoming a Christian  2) I recognized many of the Oxford locations she writes from my beloved day-trip to Oxford a few summers ago. 

Feb 9, 2015

delighting in 1000 gifts // the end of the beginning

"Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives . . . the manifestation of our YES to His grace . . . When I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me".
Ann Voscamp

The past several months, I have shared some of my favorite "gifts" or blessings that I journaled during October 2013 until November 2014. It was a year full of mountain-top joys and dark valley sorrows, yet it was all (yes, all of it) a gift that taught my heart to look to God's faithful hand over my life. 

Here is a recap of the first seven posts:

#893. Stopped by a cute little apple orchard on my day off and picked up some delicious organic apple cider and apples in late September.

#901-#910. I visited Seattle in October for a nurse practitioner continuing education conference and got a change to hang out with friends, visited beloved corners of the city I love so much, and learned a lot during the actual conference. I love Seattle!

#921-#940. I visited G.W. in October in Texas. We had a day trip to Austin (hiked & picnicked, kayaked at the Hamilton Pool, had dinner with friends, and spontaneously danced under the moonlight at the top floor of a garage as live music played nearby), biked through the historic King William District of San Antonio & ate at two of the districts best restaurants (The Guenther House and Liberty Bar), attending our first wedding together at a beautiful plantation full of Southern charm, fancy dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse downtown, serenaded by GW's guitar (Jack Johnson's Belle), reading and journaling for introvert time at a french-themed cafe, and celebrated a friend's birthday in Gruene.

#967. Being able to share my heart with my community group leaders and their prayers for me during a season that was full on anxious thoughts. I am so thankful for friends of all ages who pour so much compassion and intentionality into my life.

#987. Took a trip to explore Portland's Japanese Gardens with my sisters in November. The leaves of the trees were in various vibrant autumn shades. SO gorgeous!

#991. Going through She Reads Truth's Hymns study during an especially stressful few days. It's amazing how God's faithful hands provides us with His truth in the time we need it most! Each hymn and scripture passage spoke directly to my heart each of the five days of the study.

#994. Short surprise trip to see G.W. A few days before the trip, I was full of anxiety (the same days I was going through the study in #991) and God brought a lot of peace, joy, and hope during the five days with GW. We said those special three little words, had lots of quality time and conversations, and enjoyed a ballet of Vivaldi's Four Seasons in Gruene (I love that little town near San Antonio!). It was a restful trip without tourist attractions and was absolutely perfect. 

#1000. The grace of God carrying me through a whole year-worth of gifts of all shapes and sizes! Some were joyful and fun. Others were hard, but brought tremendous growth and healing. 

Through it all, God brought so much blessing in my life while journaling "gifts" or evidences of His presence in the every day moments. It was a lesson of looking around with an expectant gaze, knowing that His hand is at work even when not clearly evident. It may be in the glorious hues of a sunset, a comforting cup of tea and good book, an encouraging discussion with a friend or coworker, life-changing lessons from studying the Bible, weekend trips full of memories with family and friends , or  (my favorite) a budding new romance with a man that reflects God's love and watching it grow into a love that stands strong against distance an tough days. Through it all, His hand held me up and holds you up as well. 

So, I finished my 1000 Gifts journal in November, but I don't want it to be an end to this intentional thanksgiving. Rather, it is an end to a beginning. I hope it propels me forward this year into continuing to have a heart that looks for gifts everyday and that I would have a heart of thanksgiving that looks to the best Gift Giver there is. 

"Thanks is what multiplies the joy 
& makes life large & I hunger for it"
Ann Voscamp, author of One Thousand Gifts

 Seattle from underneath Pike's Place Market
King Wiliam Historic District in San Antonio

Portland Japanese Garden 

Vivaldi's Four Seasons ballet

Feb 5, 2015

currently . . .

I am linking up today with Jenna + Anne to share what's going on currently at A Beautiful Hope!

Currently . . .

loving  . . . my two days off during the middle of the week. I am so productive and have a chance to rest after super busy Mondays and Tuesdays at the clinic. 

reading . . . A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias

wishing . . . I was in Texas with my mister. I miss that guy so much! 

pinning . . . photos of Guernsey, an island in the British Channel near Normandy. I just finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and began to dream about visiting this beautiful little hideaway that is full of so much beauty and sad history of German Occipation during WWII. 

listening to . . . Pandora stations (Solo Piano Radio and Ray LaMontagne Radio have been constant the past few days) and my audiobook (A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini)

anticipating . . . my first 5K race at the end of the month! I am training for it but will be running with a few other people and slightly nervous that I will be slowing them down since I am a pretty slow runner.

eating . . . I ate delicious chicken and vegetable pho a few hours ago! It was really good, pho real! And my sweet neighbor just dropped by with some homemade mushroom brown rice risotto.

I took a walk with my mom last month and was in awe of this beautiful winter day

Feb 1, 2015

Goodbye January, hello February!

Happy February, y'all!  I didn't get a chance to blog too much last month since it was a busy month, but wanted to share January's completed goals as well as February's goals. And I am going to toot my own horn for just a second and say that January was the first time in the past 12 months of having monthly goals that I completed every single goal! It felt awesome to slowly cross off each one and realize I did everything I hoped I would for the month! Let's see if I can ride that same wave through February!

January's Goals

>> Read all of Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin 
(YES! I LOVED IT!! I'll need to blog about it soon!)
>> Make a study guide/cheat sheet with the "5 P's of Sound Bible Study" presented in Women of the Word to help me dig deeper in specific books of the Bible
 (YES! I printed it off and am exited to start using it this month!)
>> Schedule hang-out with a friend 
(YES! Lebanese food, here we come in a week!)
>> Schedule my well-visit for Feb.
>> Finish one book
 (YES! I finished three! Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber, and Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. ALL AMAZING BOOKS!!)
>> Get a manicure before my trip to see my boyfriend in Texas for our one year anniversary!
 (YES and it was the perfect shade and an even more perfect trip!!)
>> Write to the child I sponsor through Compassion International
(YES! I love getting letters from her!)
>> Register for two nurse practitioner continuing education events 
(YES and I attended one of them so far)
>> Clean out closet & separate clothing I do not wear anymore.  Prepare to take it to Plato's Closet
(YES! 4 bags of clothing & shoes!)
>> Buy a new iPhone charger 
>> Start working out again
(YES! I went to the gym a few times as well as went jogging a few times too!)
>> New recipe/month 
(Yes! I made a paleo quinoa crockpot enchilada that was delicious!)


February Goals
>> Finish 2 books: Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
>> Take my 4 bags of clothing to Plato's Closet to try to sell & make some ca$h
>> Meet with my "little sister" that I mentor and catch up
>> Book NYC tickets for May!
>> Book NYC AirBnb apartment!
>> Start a book on finances, such as The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey
>> Train for a 5K and then run it at the end of the month in Texas with friends and my boyfriend!
>> Check my Mint account/bank account atleast once to track spending and budget
>> Buy a nice skillet to replace my old one that has lived past it's prime.
>> Get a library card at my local library and look for audiobooks to check out
>> Write a letter to the child I sponsor through Compassion International. 
>> Study Philippians using the 5P Bible Study method from Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin
>> 1 new recipe 

(I love running around this area. So calming!)