Mar 26, 2015

March: [5] book reviews

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand: A Novel 
Helen Simonson

Major Ernest Pettigrew is a retired man living in the small, picturesque English village of Edgecombe St. Mary. When the reader meets him, he has just heard about his brother's death. He is weak with grief and almost faints if not for the perfect timing of the town's shop owner, Mrs. Ali, coming to deliver some purchases and helping him get some rest. This encounter sets the stage for the budding friendship of the Major and Mrs. Ali, both widowed. But with her Pakistan heritage and lowly shopkeeper job, this friendship has a few bumps in store.

Everyone has an opinion in Edgecombe St. Mary, whether it's Major's adult son, who lives a glamourous life in London and contacts his dad only for financial or social gain; his deceased brother's wife, who is trying to sell a precious family heirloom to fund a cruise vacation; the village people who each have their own agenda; or the new American millionaire who is befriending Major in hopes of acquiring the much-desired family heirloom (a pair of guns). What ensues is sometimes hilarious (some of the villagers are ridiculously funny) and other times aggravating (some of the villagers are inconsiderate, selfish, and mean).

I had mixed feelings about Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Major and Mrs. Ali are both sarcastic, witty, and wise. But they both tend to get stepped on quite often by those in the village and their own families. I wanted to say a few words to certain characters and I kept thinking, "When are you going to tell her/him off, Major/Mrs. Ali?" which may go to show my own character flaws, but in some cases I just had to put the book down because I was so annoyed with the characters. Overall, though, it was an interesting read and enjoyable to peek into the this village as if I was a passerby peering into the daily lives of the villagers.

The Total Money Makeover 
Dave Ramsey

I heard many extended family members and friends sing praises about The Total Money Makeover, but it seemed complicated and unrealistic to me. Paying large things (like cars) off in cash? What?! But when my cousin gave me the book for free (she bought several copies to give to people because she loved it so much), I accepted it. It took me me about 7 months to pick it up, but I am so glad I finally did!

The Total Money Makeover is a revolutionary way to think about finances. It is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Rather, it takes years and years to go through the seven steps presented in the book. It is practical and the principles are relatively easy to understand -- even for a financially illiterate person such as myself.

Before presenting the seven steps to financial freedom, Dave Ramsey lays some groundwork. He tackles some myths about debt and money, explains how ignorance and a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses attitude is dangerous, and explains the folly of being in denial of the devastating affects that debt can have on a person. He then introduces the steps:
  1. Save $1,000 fast (within a month, ideally) as an Emergency Fund.
  2. Tackle smallest to greatest debt with the Debt Snowball (paying the largest amount possible on the smallest debt first and then making your way up the other debt as you pay one off at a time. Other debt should be paid at the lowest amount possible so that all your attention can be focused. This step takes iron grit and intensity. Budgeting, selling things to make money, and limiting unnecessary expenses dramatically are all pivotal to paying off debt. His goal is around 2 years but may take shorter or longer for each person).
  3. Once debt is paid off, add on the Emergency Fund until you have enough to live on for 3-6 months in the event that you get fired from a job, sick, or any other unexpected life event occurs.
  4. Invest in retirement through growth-stock mutual funds that have impressive 5-10 year track records and Roth IRA (which grows tax-free). 
  5. Save for college funding with Educational Savings Accunt (ESA) that is funded in growth-stock mutual funding and averages around 12% (grows tax-free when used for college funding). Avoid prepaid college tuition, savings bonds, baby life insurance, or with a simple savings account because the percentage of return is not enough to make a difference with the growing college tuition.
  6. Pay off the mortgage on your home in 15 years (rather than the traditional 30). Avoid Adjustable Rate Mortgages and "balloon" mortgages because of increasing interest rates. 
  7. By this step, there is no debt, the Emergency Fund is funded, retirement and college funding is on its way to a great investment, and the house is totally paid off. Wow! It's not time to lose steam, but rather, to continue to build wealth as well as enjoying some fun and generously giving financially (though this should be done throughout all seven steps but will be considerably increased during this step). Enjoying and sharing the blessings you've received while not becoming entrenched in materialism. 
It sounds a bit crazy, but according to tends of real-life stories throughout the book (as well as thousands more who attest to Dave's methods), it works. And I figure, hey, if I managed to get through a book on finances and not wilt away or freeze from fear, I can get a bit more crazy and actually start the Total Money Makeover journey. It may be slower than others, but I am determined to kick debt it the boot-ay!


Mended: Pieces of A Life Made Whole
Angie Smith

Mended is a beautifully written book of redemption found in Jesus in the midst of feeling broken and shattered by fears, circumstances, and past hurt. Angie Smith writes from the depths of pain and joy, intermingled by God's grace. She uses everyday events to display Biblical truths (while also adding in a bit of her quirky wit).

Angie uses the analogy of a broken pitcher to frame her book, with the purpose of showing that God is magnified in the broken pieces and is visible in between the cracks that we often feel are useless, shameful, or disqualify us. Instead, He uses those broken areas to mend us because of His unfailing love for us.

Mended can be read as a 31- day devotional with action steps at the end of chapter. Adapted from Angie's blog, the chapters each look at different areas of brokenness that threatens to steal our joy and peace. Areas addressed include contentment, comparison, resting in God's unfailing love, the childlike joy of anticipation, surrender, God's presence and sovereignty.

Angie's honest (and witty!) style gripped my heart, especially as she shared some of the most heartbreaking seasons of her life, such as giving birth to a baby girl she knew would only survive for a few hours because she was born with severe birth defects. I will go back to this book often for encouragement and to be pointed to Jesus through the seasons from brokenness to being mended again (and every season in between!).


The House Girl
Tara Conklin

The House Girl is a fictional account of a house slave named Josephine and her journey towards freedom. Written in the voices of both Josephine (in 1852) and a modern-day New York lawyer named Lina who discovers secrets surrounding Josephine, it is full of suspense and heartbreak.

Josephine is a house slave and nurse for her invalid mistress, Lu Anne Bell, who is an artist and teaches Josephine the art of painting. The Bell household is filled with artwork by both women, though no one knows of Josephine's talent except for Lu Anne. After years of servitude and abuse, Josephine decides to run, leaving a faint trail behind her . . .

Lina is an aspiring lawyer who learns about Josephine because of a historic class-action lawsuit for financial reparations for descendent of American slaves. Her own personal life much of a mystery, Lina grapples with new discoveries about her own history at the same time as she discovers the controversy surrounding Josephine as evidence arises that well-known artwork attributed to Lu Anne Belle could actually be Josephine's masterpieces.

I enjoyed The House Girl's suspenseful narrative and thought it was well-written. Set in the backdrop of Virginia in a time brimming with racism and hate, it was heartbreaking to read of the many ways African American slaves were mistreated and abused. Conklin has obviously done a lot of research to bring lifeblood to the characters of her book and depict what life in the South was like.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew
C.S. Lewis

One of my reading goals this year is to read all of the Narnia books. I've watched the movies and read part of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when I was younger, but never fully read any of the others. So I decided to start with The Magician's Nephew, which gave a lot of background on Narnia itself. 

Digory and Polly are new friends who are neighbors in London and find themselves hurled into another world by the scheming of Digory's uncle, a magician. What -- and who -- they find in this new land opens the door to both a scary and awe-inspiring adventure into what is eventually called Narnia. 

I LOVED the story! Even when writing to children, Lewis still maintains his wit and literary genius. The characters are masterfully created, and to top it off, I listened to the whole book in audiobook format, and the narrator was incredibly good at creating different voices. I literally laughed out loud when he narrated conversations between animals in Narnia! One animal sounded like Kermit the Frog while another had an Irish accent, and others sounded just as awesome. Hurray for libraries that carry audiobooks!

What books have you been reading this Month? Have you read any of these books before, and if so, how did you like them?

Mar 25, 2015

Book Review: Against the Grain

Against the Grain: Extraordinary Gluten-Free Recipes Made From Real, All-Natural Ingredients
Nancy Cain
[ Find on Amazon  ]

Today's an awkward sort of book review since I did not read this book cover-to-cover, and rightfully so, since its a cookbook! But I have flipped through the different sections and bookmarked a few recipes I am sure to try soon!

The front cover alone had me nearly salivating at the gluten-free delicacies in store within the pages of this cookbook. The large photos only doubled that effect! I may need a snack while I am writing this review!

Cain lays some groundwork before diving into the world of gluten-free recipes. She has a chapter on the fundamentals of gluten-free baking, focusing on "building blocks" such as healthy fats and oils, starches, and proteins -- with specific emphasis on eggs, "basis of many flour less recipes" (p.23). Basic tools, which are pretty generic for any time of cooking, are mentioned as well as diving into the "naturally gluten-free pantry" (including milk, chia seeds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, nuts and nut butter, cocoa, coconut [oil, milk, butter, flaked, cream], dates, cinnamon, raisins, beans, molasses and honey, bananas, avocados, potatoes, vinegar, baking soda and powder). Likewise, an important pantry item for gluten-free cooking is the type of flour to be used, which is discussed next in this portion of the book. I never realized there were so many gluten-free flours until I started cooking occasional gluten-free meals about a year ago.A few examples are: brown rice, oats, teff, sorghum, almond flour, arrowroot starch, buckwheat flour, fava flour, coconut flour, flam meal, quinua flour, tapioca flour, and potato starch. 

Once she lays the groundwork, Cain jumps into the recipes, neatly categorized by the following:
  • Traditional breads and flatbreads 
  • Quick breads, breakfast foods, and muffins
  • Savories
  • Cookies and bars
  • Cakes
  • Pies and desserts
  • Recipes featuring pre-made breads

I am looking forward to trying a lot of these recipes out. Currently, I've got my eyes set on the olive flatbread (p. 104), lobster rolls (p. 177), italian cream cake (p. 265), sponge shortcakes (p.305), and coconut eclairs (p. 338).  bon appetit!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through Blogging For Books  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Mar 23, 2015

Portland Spring Dates

Last month, Susannah from Simple Moments Stick emailed me and other bloggers to share some spring date ideas for a post that she shared today. The first 'spring date' that came to mind was my first spring date (week) ever: last year in April, my boyfriend came to visit me for the first time since we started dating a few months prior. So naturally, that week is very dear to my heart! Take a stroll down memory lane with me as I share some of our Portland dates last spring . . . 

City of Roses, Bridge City, Rip City, PDX. 
So many nicknames for this urban masterpiece called Portland! It was hard to pick the dates we'd go on since Portland is full of so many unique sights, but it was a good reason for him to visit again some day!

 Without further ado, here are my Portland spring date ideas:

 Portland's Waterfront
If it's a sunny day in PDX, the Waterfront is where it's at! We walked alongside Waterfront Park, crossed the Willamette via Hawthorne Bridge, hung out on the docks of Eastbank Esplanade, then made our way back to Waterfront via the Steel Bridge. The total walk was somewhere between 2-3 miles and was perfect on this lovely sunny day. We made a full circle to Waterfront Park and rested on the grass before heading to dinner. 
our first "couple" photos. Awwww :)

Pearl District
A few days later, we explored another corner of downtown Portland, the swanky Pearl District. Brimming with local specialty shops, cafes, restaurants, and the urban Jamison Park and Tanner Springs Park, the Pearl has become an iconic pearl of downtown, pun certainly intended. 
 Tanner Springs Park

Portland Saturday Market
 If you and your date find yourselves in downtown Portland on a Saturday, do not miss the Saturday Market! We goofed around, smelled all the homemade soaps and lotions, and our tried hard to tame our growling bellies while smelling of all the delicacies around us. 

Pittock Mansion
We ended our tour of downtown Portland by watching the sunset at Pittock Mansion, which boasts a gorgeous view of downtown and is just minutes away from my favorite downtown shopping area, 23rd Avenue. 

Laurelhurst Park
Quite possibly my favorite park in Portland, Laurelhurst boasts several miles of walking paths, a spring-fed pond, and plenty of trees under which to read a book or share a picnic. It is a few minutes away from Belmont, a hip area full of great restaurants, so it is a great place to work off some calories before or after enjoying a good meal!

Day Trips Near Portland
We also took a few short trips out of Portland, which made for gorgeous northwest scenery for my Texan handsome mister to enjoy!

Seaside & Ecola State Park
The Oregon coast is something beautiful to behold no matter the season. This spring beach trip was a bit windy, but we didn't mind since it was dry and sunny! We walked around Seaside, enjoyed sushi at Tora Sushi Lounge , threw the frisbee on the beach, and relaxed on a bench overlooking the gorgeous view from Ecola State Park.  Less than 2 hour drive from Portland, it makes for a great escape from the busy city!

Angel's Rest
This beautiful hike is located about 45 minutes outside of Portland, on the western end of the Columbia River Gorge. It boasts an exposed bluff that gives a nearly 360 degree view including Beacon Rock, Silver Star Mountain, and the Columbia River. It is a 2.4 moderately-easy trail and is worth the view. G and I made 3/4 up this time around because we wanted to relax and chat at a nice spot we found, so we let my brothers go ahead to the top. 

Spring in Portland is gorgeous! G and I loved exploring the city as well as escaping to the coast and the gorge, especially since the rain stayed away all week (which is quite a miracle in April!).  

What are your favorite spring date ideas in (or around) your city? Be sure to visit Susannah's post for a myriad of ideas from other bloggers!

Mar 11, 2015

the story of Beautiful Hope // The Circle

I am linking up today with the fabulous Kiki from In Its Time and the wonderful community of bloggers at The Circle to share the meaning and stories behind our blog names. Without steering off on a tangent too far, I want to first share that I find names so fascinating. Whether expectant parents looking through hundreds of name options for their soon-to-arrive bundle of joy,  a new business that is looking for a brand to identify itself, or a nickname that a best friend or beloved has for someone, names are fascinating. They are chosen with care and intentionality, eagerly anticipating for the meaning behind that name to bear fruit as time passes on. 

Beautiful Hope was born out of a desire to experience and reflect on the hope that comes from Jesus. Originally, Beautiful Feet of Hope, my blog name was inspired by Isaiah 52:7 (and cross-referenced in Romans 10:5)   . . .

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion:
 “Your God reigns.”

As a Christian that has been redeemed by Jesus -- given hope when I was hopeless, peace where there was restlessness, good news when I only saw bad news of shame and guilt -- I desire to have beautiful feet that walk in the valleys as well as the mountains "publishing" the good news found in Jesus. I desire to show the beauty of hope throughout my everyday, be it while I am typing a blog post in the wee hours of the night, talking with a friend who's experiencing fear and anxiety, or teaching my little sunday school kids. I want to spread hope. I want to show that there is a hope that is true and worthy. A hope that is more beautiful than can be explained with mere words. And, I believe that hope is found in Jesus. 

"I pray that more would be burdened to have beautiful feet  . . . 
Go, go, go. Run with those beautiful feet"

Around the time I started thinking about blogging (2011), I  came across a song by LeCrae named "Beautiful Feet". To this day, I cannot listen to that song without tearing up. Above are a few lines in the song that gripped my heart as the Holy Spirit impressed that we are called to walk where others would rather avoid; for our feet to step towards the hopeless and forgotten, showing them that they are named as loved, cherished, and forgiven by the God who came down to earth to give us abundant hope and redemption through Him. 

The idea of "Beautiful Feet" is not about perfectly manicured toes or a pair of strappy Jimmy Choo heels. Our willingness and obedience to walk towards where God is calling us, bringing the Gospel message (and the peace, hope, joy, and salvation that springs out of the Gospel) gives us beautiful feet

I chose to shorten the blog name from Beautiful Feet of Hope for the logistical reason of having an easy-to-remember and easy-to-post blog name. At times, though, I miss the original name since it reminds me of the original reason for starting the blog, but I do feel Beautiful Hope encapsulates the original meaning and hopefully brings curiosity to the reader as to know more about how hope can be truly beautiful. 

What's your blog story? Share it in the comments or visit us at The Circle and visit other bloggers for the stories behind their names!

P.S. I want to give a shout-out to Kiki for my blog header! Not only is she an amazing writer and blogger, she's got mad design and photography skills as well!

Mar 10, 2015

Travel Tuesday // San Antonio Dates: Food!

San Antonio has become very dear to my heart since I met my boyfriend there and have visited him four times in the last year. So, I thought it would be fun to share some fun date ideas for those traveling to (or living in) San Antonio. I am sure there are still plenty things to add to the list, so it is in no way exhaustive, but it's a start! So whether your significant other, a group of friends, or even your mom, here are some date ideas to explore what San Antonio has to offer!

I'll start it off with something that is always on my mind: food! San Antonio is bursting with the food scene! There's a bit of everything! Of course you have your Tex-Mex and authentic mexican food, but there are also a myriad of other choices if you can't look at another taco for a few days. Bonus points: For the gluten-free, each of these have delicious GF options!

||| Where to Eat in San Antonio |||

Modern Tex-Mex: Urban Taco near the Alamo Quarry Market, Iron Cactus on the River Walk, and  Acenar on the River Walk all have upscale Tex-Mex delicacies such as the duck chalupas at Acenar. They each combine iconic Latino flavors and spice it up with contemporary twists.  A bit pricey and all three are sit-down restaurants (which may not be ideal if you're trying to save time), but were worth the unique experience! Torchy's Tacos in the Alamo Quarry is a quick stop, but once you bite into one of their signature masterpieces, you'll likely want to hang around a while and try a few more! With taco names like Trailer Park, The Democrat, The Republican, Dirty Sanchez, and the Independent, you're in for a surprising twist on classic tacos! The price is reasonable (around $3.50/taco) but can add up if you want to try a few (you definitely will!). 
(G's duck chalupas were delicious!)
Classic Tex-Mex: You can't go wrong with the classic! Whether an enchilada, tacos, sizzling fajitas, or any other favorite, we were definitely satisfied after meals at Rosario's , Chuy's, Pappacito's. And I cannot forget to mention this historic gem: Casa Rio. As the first business to open on the River Walk, it boasts both history and a delicious and authentic menu! Plus, if you visit during the weekend, you can catch the iconic mariachi band serenading you as you eat outside beside the river. 

Breakfast: The perfect way to start the day is with a great breakfast. We had the breakfast of champions at Cracker Barrel, Magnolia Pancake Haus, and The Guenther House. Whatever you like for your breakfast fix (omelets, bacon, pancakes, waffles, sausage, etc), you will get a delicious and hearty start to your day at each. They each have their own charm: Cracker Barrel has a general store full of gifts and knick-knacks; Magnolia Pancake Haus has a German theme and an outside porch to sit on a warm day; The Guenther House has a museum, gift shop, and the location is in the historic King William District).

BBQ: You can't leave Texas without tasting some authentic BBQ, y'all! For a quick, affordable, and lip-smacking-good BBQ, take your date to Rudy's. Don't even think about leaving without trying the brisket, creamed corn, sausage, and slaw. For a fancy dinner

Meat, Meat, & More Meat: Along with BBQ, quality steak is a Texan staple. San Antonio has a myriad of fancy steakhouses to choose from. G and I enjoyed delicious, fancy, meat-themed dinners at Saltgrass on the River Walk and downtown's Texas de Brazil. I am not a huge meat eater, but dating a Texan certainly changed that, especially with the help of these two restaurants! Texas de Brazil was extra fancy and had the best salad bar I have ever seen as well as hostesses who did acrobatics behind a glass window to retrieve wine bottles!

Don't Forget: These restaurants don't really fit a category, but are worth a try as well! Liberty Bar is a pink former convent and packs a punch with various creative appetizers and drinks. Located in the heart of King William District, it was a perfect lunch spot after we toured the district on rented bikes. We loved the Pear & Stilton Salad, Chili Relleno en Nogada, and the Smoked Fish Plate. Yum! So much flavor. Are you craving Mediterranean? Pasha's is our favorite! Want a fancy dinner to celebrate an anniversary? Head up the Tower of America to the Chart House (and make sure to order their lobster bisque!) for a 360 view of downtown San Antonio. We celebrated our one-year of dating up at the Chart House and it blew me away! I felt so spoiled! And, I'll just mention that lobster bisque again because it was that good!


These are my favorite restaurants in San Antonio so far, though I am sure I have left out many that I have yet to discover. For those who've been to San Antonio, what are your favorite places to share a meal?

Mar 5, 2015

Book Review // Hope Rising

Last summer, I read Hope Rising by Compassion International's VP Scott Todd. I never got around to reviewing it, but wanted to share a short snippet of my overall thoughts on the book.

Todd's Hope Rising is a call to action. It is encouraging an inspiring in joining the fight against extreme poverty, showing that it truly is possible. He mainly focuses on Christians' opportunity to serve the broken and impoverished, showing how Christ's example (and Scripture itself) backs this up and  explains what he believes is meant by confusing texts such as Jesus saying "the poor you will always have among you" (Matthew 26:11). He explores both individual as well as collective ways that poverty is currently being battled around the world by the rich and middle-class alike.

With an estimated 18,000 children dying daily from preventable causes, Todd emphasizes that the time to act is now. His compassionate heart is clearly evident and his position as vice-president of Compassion International backs up what he says in the books nice he is living out what he is calling others to do.

His call to action is assertive but not condescending, as some other authors or speakers may accuse readers as being lazy or disobedient because they are not on a mission in some impoverished country. He balances the book well by explaining that the general sense of powerlessness at the millions affected by extreme poverty can be daunting and even paralyze us into apathy, but his encouragement to get involved is meant to propel the reader into action, not smack them on the head for not being involved yet.

Here is a promotional video about the book that is very well done:

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Mar 3, 2015

Goodbye February // Hello March!

February flew by! It was a great month of reading (4 books!), traveling (Texas), productivity (cleaning, organizing, learning more about finances), & I finally ran a 5K (a goal I've had for many years, but never got around to actually doing!). Let's see what March has up it's sleeve!

February Goals
>> Finish 2 books: Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyby Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows) (Yes! I finished 4 books in February. I reviewed them here)
>> Take my 4 bags of clothing to Plato's Closet to try to sell & make some ca$h (I only made $7 off 3 things. But I joined a FB local group and sold a few more things!)
>> 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! (Yes! We had a blast running our first 5K together!)
>> 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
(I got through 2 chapters in February and am LOVING this Bible study method!
>> 1 new recipe  (Yes! Check out the crockpot quinoa enchilada recipe I posted!)
>> Get tax documents ready for filing


March Goals
>> Sell at least 4 items (clothes and apartment decor) on Facebook local buy-sell-trade groups.
>> Check mint account weekly and work on budgeting
>> Continue reading The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey & start brainstorming budgeting ideas.
>> Clean up my iPhoto albums, deleting unwanted photos
>> Call Comcast about my super slow internet
>> Pray specifically & intentionally encourage/reach out to one friend a week
>> Study Philippians chapters 3 and 4 using Jen Wilkin's 5P Bible Study method from Women of the Word. (See more info about this here)
>> Meet with my "little sister" that I mentor and catch up
>> Write back to my Compassion International sponsor child (she sent me a sweet letter!)
>> Book NYC tickets for May!
>> File taxes for me and my siblings through TurboTax
>> New crockpot recipe

(Race day at Mission Concepcion in San Antonio!)