Aug 31, 2015

August Book Reviews

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
Maria Semple
This is probably the most enjoyable, hilarious, and easy-to-follow novel I have read in awhile. It was so quirky, witty, and sarcastic. I whipped through it within a few days and then practically mourned once I got to the last few days (that's a good sign it's a good book!). I was impressed that it surprised me with the many twists and turns that kept me reading late through the nights. I can usually catch the foreshadowing or hints in novels, but I was blindsided with how this book ended --- and loved that! And the bonus was that it is set in one of my favorite cities, my home away from home for two years: Seattle!

The book is written almost exclusively through emails and letters of the main characters. It follows notoriously witty, opinionated, stubborn, and quirky Bernadette Fox --- specifically the events that led to her sudden disappearance. Get ready for an entertaining ride with this one! 


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 
C.S. Lewis (narrated by Derek Jacobi)
In the past six months, I have gone through five of the seven Narnia books exclusively through HarperCollins' audiobooks and I am still as pumped at book 5 as I was back in March when I decided to go through them all in 2015. They are a perfect way to relax after a long day at work since I had a long commute from work. And the British accents of all the narrators in the Narnia books make them feel like Lewis himself is reading his own tales (wouldn't that be something truly awesome?!). 

I have a soft spot for this Narnia tale because I loved the Disney motion picture version and it helped me visualize a lot of the scenes. I especially loved Eustace's change. That's all I'm going to say about that because some people (like my handsome fiancĂ©!) have not read Voyage of the Dawn Treader and I don't want to spoil what I think is the best part of the book (and movie . . . I cried like a baby!). 

Prince Caspian and his mighty men are sailing aboard the Dawn Treader to find the seven lost noble lords who were banished under Caspian's evil uncle Miraz's ruling. Adventure awaits them all as  Lucy, Edmond, and their rude and selfish cousin Eustace enter the world of Narnia. 


Jo Baker
The tagline boasts that "Pride and Prejudice was only half the story". In a Downtown Abbey sort of way, Baker imagines what the servants' lives were like. Their passions, their regrets, their frustrations. Longbourn follows the Pride and Prejudice storyline but from the servant's perspective. The familiar storyline is nostalgic as Jane meets Bingley, Elizabeth denies Mr. Collins' proposal, and foolish Lydia runs off with conniving Whickham. But it is told through the lens of Sarah (an orphaned housemaid), Mrs. Hill (head housekeeper), and James (the new footman). Their own drama takes center stage with the Bennetts' in the background.

I wanted to like Longbourn. I really did. It's based on Pride and Prejudice, for crying out loud . . . I LOVE Pride and Prejudice. I had high hopes and read glowing reviews online, but alas, I was sorely disappointed. The only thing I enjoyed was that the story followed the original P & P, and I finished it only because I have an OCD thing about not finishing books, but believe me, I came thisclose.  There was far too much crude language and content for my liking --- especially since Austen's characters are marked with a sense of grace and propriety. I know, I know, this is certainly not Austen and it's the servant's perspective, so it's not as prim and proper in their corner of Longbourn estate, but come on! I won't elaborate, but I was not impressed. I guess I am a bit protective of Jane Austen's Bennett family because I was annoyed and frustrated at Baker's version of this beloved family, most notably of Mr. Bennett. I won't spoil anything, but his character was trampled in this book. Furthermore, there was odd, sudden transitions between characters as well as first and third person transitions that made some of the book hard to follow. One of the main characters, Sarah, annoyed me throughout the book. Longbourn is a far departure from Austen's unforgettable tale, which I suppose  is fine because this is not written by Austen, but when a book ties in a classic like Pride and Prejudice, you better bet your bottom dollar that some people are either going to love or hate the characters or plot line.  I was one of the latter. I am typically not one to write a scathing review of a book, but here we are. 

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
Jen Hatmaker
I heard great things about Jen Hatmaker's books, so I was eager to start this one. I was interested in what she'd write about since I have been going through a season of simplifying and cleaning up as I moved out of my apartment at the end of July. I was pumped to read about Jen's seven months of intentionally minimizing distractions and excess to better love God and those around her. It ended up being different than what I expected, but I still really enjoyed the book overall.

Each chapter is dedicated to seven different areas that Jen, her family, and several friends who became "The Council" took a month to purposefully evaluate. Food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, and stress. We need them all in some degree, but if we're not careful, each can easily usurp our control and become obsessions, time-consumers, and dangerous impediments in fellowship with God and with people. Jen spends the first month eating only seven foods cooked in a variety of ways as she researched about those who didn't have basic foods on their table. She eliminated seven types of media and found more time to enjoy the simple things of life. She gave away seven things a day as she pondered how possessions were "possessing" her. And in the last chapter, she took seven sacred pauses throughout the day to release stress of busyness. 

Hatmaker's style in 7 is journaling as she shares funny conversations as well as honestly writing about days she fails miserably. Although some of her humor is not my cup o' tea, it didn't detract from the overall theme of the book, nor the though-provoking research she presents as well as her own heart-stirring thoughts about what God has taught her through each month. Interwoven in the book is also snippets of her adoption story as she deals with paperwork and waiting patiently for two children who had her heart before she even knew their names. It made me think about the ways I waste precious time, energy, money, and rest on things that can be decreased or eliminated. I will definitely come back to this book from time to time to revisit a lot of what stirred my heart and mind. 

Currently Reading:

Lunch in Paris  by Elizabeth Bard
You & Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan

Aug 29, 2015

Southern Cooking & Everyday Detox Cookbook Reviews

It's a bit ironic that I am reviewing two different cookbooks today seeing as I have not really cooked anything in the past month. Ever since moving back in with my parents at the end of July, life has been a whirlwind with wedding planning, commuting to work one hour away, preparing for a garage sale, looking for nursing jobs and preparing for my move in Texas. Needless to say, life has been hectic and I've been pretty spoiled by my mom and grandma's Romanian cooking. That said, I am really excited to  start cooking with Greg once we're married. We typically cook together at least once during our visits and it's always fun to see how we work together during those times. He is the meat expert and I do the baking and salads.  When I saw these two cookbooks available for reviewing, I eagerly chose them and have been flipping through the pages, daydreaming of homemade meals in the apartment that will soon become ours. 

Southern Cooking For Company: More Than 200 Souther Hospitality Secrets & Show-Off Recipes
Nicki Pendleton Wood

How can you go wrong with a title like that?! This Northwest gal is making her way down to the South this autumn and she is ready to learn a thing or two about southern cooking, y'all! Some tasty down-home comfort food sounds like a fun challenge! I look forward to growing in hospitality, so this book is a treat. Greg and I are excited to invite people around our table and to share stories and encourage one another . . . and to fill their bellies with some good meals.

I love that this is more than just a cookbook about southern food. Each of the chapters (Appetizers; Burnch, Breakfast, & Bread; Main Dishes; Side Dishes; Desserts) starts off with a little blurb about making the home a warm and inviting place to share a meal. Nicki shares that "gracious hosting comes from a place of purposeful caring. The warmth you share with guests suffuses the part with a spirit of pampering and the generosity of an open hand". Gosh, I love that. Hospitality does not just happen. It is an intentional way of serving with your heart and your hands. 

Ok, so let's get to the food, shall we? YUM! I love that fresh fruit is a mainstay for lots of the recipes (there is even an easy recipe for strawberry milk!). Fresh-squeezed lemonade with blackberries and peaches (p.15) and winter hot spiced tea (includes peach and  cranberry and orange juice!) sound like the perfect way to cool down on a hot Texas summer's day. Or pick up some veggies and try zucchini fritters (p. 24), lemon guacemole (p. 39), black-eyed pea and edamame succotash (p/173), and lemon miso sweet potatoes (p.191). Don't skimp on the proteins: turkey pablano soup (p. 160), texas-style chili (p. 141), and crab cake mac & cheese (p. 156). Is anyone salivating yet? Save room for dessert with creations like a Tennessee jam cake (p.227), rhubarb crisp (p.263), and peach galette (p. 257). 

The recipes are easy to follow and the presentation is impeccable with mouth-watering food photography. I am looking forward to trying many of the recipes in this cookbook!

**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through Icon Media Group  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Everyday Detox: 100 Easy Recipes to Remove Toxins, Promote Gut Health, and Lose Weight Naturally
Megan Gilmore
Expertly combining the science of gut mechanics with the science of delicious cooking, Everyday Detox has delicious recipes that won't leave you feeling bloated or unhealthy. Each recipe has gut motility and overall gut health in mind, but don't let that sound like the recipes taste like cardboard. The look fresh and delicious! And there is a lot of great information about overall healthy eating with tips on creating naturally detoxifying meals and how to cook with all-natural, whole foods. 

I am excited to try the cauliflower flatbread pizza (p. 129), curried sweet potato bisque (p.102), almond butter freezer fudge (p. 147), thai-style lettuce wraps (p. 107), southwest stuffed sweet potatoes (p. 124), skillet fish tacos with citrus slaw (p. 109), and maple mustard glazed salmon (p.142) 

Many of the recipes are paleo and gluten-free, offering a healthy alternative to fad diets. These are principles and recipes that are not a quick fix, but a way of eating responsibly and purposefully without sacrificing taste. 

**** 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.

Aug 22, 2015

Book Review: Peter's Perfect Prayer Place

Peter's Perfect Prayer Place is a children's book about prayer written by Stephen and Alex Kendrick. It is inspired by the feature film War Room and is joined by four other books for older audiences: This Means War: A Strategic Prayer Journal, Fervent: A Woman's Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer, The Battle Plan for Prayer, and Prayer Works: Prayer Training and Strategy for Kids. Every member of the family has a book that targets prayer.

Peter sees his parents praying and wants to find a special spot in his home to pray. He searches in the kitchen, his play area, outside in his yard, and in his bedroom. He eventually learns from his dad that it is not specifically about the place you pray, because God is with us everywhere.

A simple and sweet book with adorable illustrations and rhyming verses, Peter's Perfect Prayer Place is a great introduction for children about the importance of prayer. It also has a prayer poster and stickers that say "I Prayed!".

**** Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free through Icon Media Group  in exchange for this review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Aug 19, 2015

journal of a miss to mrs // the proverbs 31 woman

"You is smart.
You is kind.
You is important".
(The Help by Katherine Stockett)

The Proverbs 31 woman is hailed by many as the ideal godly woman. There are many reasons to rightfully think so: She is an excellent wife (v.10-12, 28-29), mother (v. 21, 28), and member of her community (v. 20). She is also a manufacturer (v. 13), importer (v.14) , manager (v.15), realtor (v.16),  farmer (v. 16),  seamstress (v. 19, 21), upholsterer (v.22), merchant (v. 24), and a wise teacher (v. 26).  She is not idle (v 27), but industrious and resourceful, showing integrity in how she manages her household and her business. If she was living in today's generation, there's a chance her garden would be showcased in Home & Gardens magazine or her wise advice (v. 26) on a blog or in a book. But there's also a chance that she would be ridiculed as being an over-achiever or legalistic because of all she does.

I have studied "her", this Proverbs 31 woman, in the past and now this weekend studied her again alongside my fiancé who just finished a year-long in-depth study of Proverbs. We decide to look at Proverbs 31:10-31 together and it was such a blessing to hear his thoughts on the passage as well as his prayers for me while studying. In the past, I have read blog posts and magazine articles where this woman is praised and revered as someone to aspire to be, a superwoman. But I have also read of those who once saw her this way but soon grew bitter of her because they realized there are not enough hours in the day to do all she does. Sarcastic comments about how this woman is unrealistic and how it is unfair to expect the modern woman of today to reflect her.

I think there needs to be a balance of both of these extremes. Yes, she is an amazing woman who is worthy of praise (v. 28). Yes, there are so many things to look at and aspire to be: a wife who cares for her husband, a mother who provides and loves her children so much they "stand and bless her" (v. 28), a good employer (v. 15), a compassionate and generous neighbor who serves the needy (v. 20), a responsible manager of finances along with the needs of the home (v. 18). Just like the rest of the book of Proverbs, there is a plethora of practical advice and instruction on how to be wise and make good decisions. And this is all good.

However, she is not to be seen as a blueprint of what a godly woman (whether single, married with children or without, or a widow) should mirror perfectly, because yes, you'll realize you just cannot measure up. But, don't throw out this woman as an unrealistic ideal. Don't grow sarcastic or bitter and assume the author of this proverb is against any form of rest or recreation for women. I would fall over in exhaustion if I tried to mimic every one of these twenty-one verses. And, hey, I enjoy relaxing with a good book and a cup of tea or going on vacations.   But the good news is this, ladies: We are not expected to!

I doubt very much that the heart of this passage lies in just the work that this woman does. Yes, this is what is mainly mentioned in the verses, but do not miss the heart of this woman. Don't miss the why behind that works she does, or else she will look more like a robot than a woman who loves her God, her husband, her children, and her community. 

I believe that this woman would not be able to do half the things listed here where it not for a heart deeply rooted in love. I don't know about you, but if there was not love behind my actions, I would get pretty annoyed with cooking, cleaning, or doing anything helpful for my family. I'd also be constantly annoyed with many of the patients I treat as a pediatric nurse practitioner, because really, hearing screaming toddlers and rude teens distracted on their phones in my exam room rather than answering my questions, is not my favorite way to spend nine hours of my day. I would find short-cuts and quietly murmur (or, likely loudly exclaim, if we're being honest) my complaints at both home, work, and anything I help with at church or the community. But this woman was ready to serve others and I believe this is mainly because of where she finds her strength -- Her wisdom and grace are found in her reverence for God (v. 30). This is the bedrock behind her actions, abilities, knowledge, productiveness, and compassion. It's not really about the Proverbs 31 woman after all, but about her God who supplies all she needs to do what He has called her to.

I cannot imagine this woman trudging along her hallway steps, complaining about waking up before sunset (uhhh, I am guilty) or thinking her life is unfair because she has a to-do list the size of Texas. Rather, I trust her deeds are done in joy. And, this, my sweet ladies, is what is an inspiration to me. Not the long list of accomplishments, but the heart behind it. Because we all have different responsibilities and different passions. We all have different roles in our families and community. So, don't aspire to imitate this Proverbs 31 woman, but look at her as an inspiration to live a life that points to the One who strengthens your every step. Live a life that aspires to be selfless and ready to serve, not out of obligation, but out of love and joy. Live a life that echoes in a small but powerful way, the life of Jesus on this earth two thousand years ago. Live a life of love. This transforms your everyday chores into opportunities to work as if you are working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:7). No, it doesn't mean you'll love scrubbing and soaking and folding, but you're attitude about this seemingly insignificant things will change.

Brother Lawrance writes in The Practice of the Presence of God, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” He worked in the kitchen of a monastery and lived a life determined to see even things like scrubbing dirty dishes and washing floors as a way to serve and praise God. Anything you do, when done out of a heart that loves God and desires to obey and praise Him, can be seen as worship and praise to Him. And that is what this Proverbs 31 woman is doing. Her hard work is not so that she will be praised, though her family do (v. 28-29), but as an expression of her love for God, which then spills over to the way she loves her family and her community. She lives her live on mission, serving those who are destitute and hurting (v. 20). 

Do not miss the point of Proverbs 31. Look past the works she does (though they truly are admirable!) and look at this woman's heart. Her noble character, loyalty to her family, compassion to those who are needy and poor. She is a woman in love with her God and ready to live each day reflecting that love through her actions for others. 

As I inch closer and closer to my wedding date in two months, I want to pause and process Proverbs 31. I want to prayerfully examine her but not be bogged down with expectations to be a "perfect" wife (whatever that means anyway). And since I tend to teeter towards making Productivity an idol that makes me feel accomplished and worthy, I want to be careful to examine my heart and the motives behind the ways that I help Greg. I texted him this morning as we discussed a lot of the thoughts that have been written thus far: "I don't want to be so productive that I lose my focus to love God, love you, and love people." I am excited to come alongside him and encourage him, pray for him, cheer him on, lovingly correct him when needed, and also have a whole lot of fun adventures too. But I want to see everyday things, like folding laundry or putting ingredients in a crock-pot (we love our crock-pot recipes, y'all) as a way to love Greg too. When done out of love, these are not domestic duties to be scorned, but a way to that Love puts on working gloves. And they're not merely boxes to be checked off on my Evernote to-do list, but an expression of my love for him. 

This Proverbs 31 woman is a treasure more precious than jewels (v.10). She has a husband that trusts her (v. 11), children that love her (v. 28), and a community that is blessed by her compassion (v. 20). Rather than being mentioned for her outward beauty (she isn't at all, actually), she is more concerned with the unfading beauty of a gentle spirit, that is precious to God (1 Peter 3:3-4), living purely and in wisdom (Titus 2:3-5) both in the home and in her business,  is ready to help those in need (Romans 12:13), and gives generously through her purse as well as her hands (Ephesians 4:28). 

Whatever life stage you're in currently, I hope you can see this Proverbs 31 woman a little bit differently today. May she not be the exact ideal to mimic, nor a satirical woman to be brushed off as archaic or a slave to her family. She is strong because of her strength in God and that allows her to be the excellent woman that is worthy of praise. And that, yes, that is a good thing to be inspired by even today in our culture and society. He is able to mold and make us into women who are not concerned with ourselves all the time, but who love Him and love others through our words and actions. 

"Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears (has reverence for) the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands and let the works praise her in the gates"
(Proverbs 31:30-31)

Aug 11, 2015

journal of a miss to mrs // our engagement photos

Several weeks ago, after jointing my family for our Yellowstone trip, Greg was able to spend the weekend in town, so we had a close friend (who's an amazing photographer and our soon-to-be wedding coordinator!) spend an hour with us as the sun was setting to snap some engagement photos. I am in awe of how well she captured us so well. Our goofy sides as well as the glances full of love and excitement for what is to come. Jen, you rocked it!

This season of planning and preparing for our wedding -- and even more importantly, our marriage -- has been full of busyness and emotional roller coasters. From packing up boxes and preparing to move to Texas, to saying goodbye to patients that I have been privileged to work with as a pediatric nurse practitioner, to soaking up every minute with my siblings before I am halfway across the country, there has been so much to do and to process the past few months. As I look at these engagement photos, however, I am so excited for each day that passes because I am one day closer to marrying my best friend and my beloved. This man who took a chance on me over a year and a half ago and decided to pursue me so intuitionally and patiently. This man who values my purity, modesty, my opinions, my desires and plans. This man who loves me even when I say and do things that are unlovable. This man who points me to the greatest Love there ever will be: the Love of Jesus Christ for us. Greg's love is a portrait of what love is meant to me. It's not perfect and he fails me at times as do I many times. We are imperfect in our own attempts at loving one another but the perfect love of God has been leading and teaching us thus far, and I am so excited to grow in that love more and more.

I prayed for a man like Greg for many years before we met. I started a journal eight years ago that was filled with prayers for my future husband and letters to him about both joyful life events (like graduating  undergrad and grad school, getting my first nursing job) as well as writing about periods of loneliness and anxiety when I wondered if he'd ever come into my life. I held on to that journal, hoping and trusting that one day a man would sweep me off my feet and love me for all of me, faults and all. And then, one wintery day in San Antonio, he appeared and my life has never been the same. He filled my days with joy, encouraged me when I felt I was slipping, and trusted me with his own heart.  I am so honored and blessed to soon be this man's wife! 


"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine . . . " 

Aug 5, 2015

NYC // part three

We had a blast exploring NYC in May and I especially loved the last full two days since my handsome mister joined our little crew. If you want to see the first few days of the trip, visit the links below:

These two days were both sunny and warm, which was perfect for all of our outdoor adventures. We started off the day by renting bikes near Central Park. 
 We then grabbed our Top of the Rock tickets and ooh'd and ahh'd over the iconic Manhattan view. It was packed with tourists of course, but this view just cannot be missed!
 I was still awe-struck by my one-week old engagement ring, so I ended up taking a lot of photos of it. I didn't ever want to be one of "those" girls that was obsessed with taking photos of her ring, but when in New York, I think I am allowed a few, right? 
 Well, "a few" is subjective, really, so it turned it a bit of a photoshoot of sorts and it soon got goofy.
The next day, we decided to visit the 9/11 Museum and  Memorial. We knew it would be emotionally heavy remembering the lives that were lost that day, but it was even more devastating than we'd imagined when we walked through the basements of the two towers and read countless stories and heard audio from personal voicemails and new stations. 
It took awhile for us to process what we saw in the museum, but after talking and walking around Lower Manhattan, we knew we needed to eat something. We headed to Little Italy and found Lombardi's, which certainly did not disappoint. Afterwards, we walked down a few blocks and grabbed some gelato for dessert
Eventually, we made our way towards the Brooklyn Bridge. We caught a magnificent sunset on the bridge and tried to soak it all in since it was our last evening in NYC. 
 It got a tad windy, but it was still warm, so we didn't mind
 We even made time for some photo-bombing 
We got a little dose of photo-bombing from random people walking by :)
We finished off the day watching the sunset from (the free!!) Staten Island Ferry

NYC was an amazing! I love traveling with my sisters and it was long-standing bucket list goal to take a trip together. And icing on the cake is that my Greg going us a few days in the trip and we got to have adventures together one week after he proposed. The giddiness and excitement were still in full gear, so it was extra sweet… I'm saying call-your-dentist-you-have-a-cavity type of sweetness!