Sprucing the blog up a little….

Thanks to the lovely Giselle at A Book and a Cup of Coffee for my blog header!  I’m graphics challenged, so I really appreciate her designing the header for me.

What do y’all think?  🙂

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Book Review: Jilted by Varina Denman

Jilted CoverTitle:  Jilted
Author: Varina Denman
Genre: Drama
Publisher: David C. Cook
Date: June 1, 2016

Lynda Turner has struggled with depression since her husband abandoned her and their young daughter fifteen years ago. Yet unexpected hope awakens when a local ex-convict shows interest. As long-hidden secrets resurface, Lynda must fight for her emotional stability and for a life where the shadow of shame is replaced by the light of love.

 Jilted tells of a woman who has lost the joy of living, a man determined to draw her back toward happiness, and a town that must—once and for all—leave the past where it belongs. It is a gentle reminder that all things can work together for good.

 Don’t you hate it when you read a book or watch a movie and the main character is perfect? Or if they have flaws, they’re the adorably cute kind that everyone loves? I can’t relate to characters like that.  And that’s why I always enjoy it when I open a Varina Denman book. She doesn’t sugar-coat life and make it all seem perfect. Her characters have real lives, real struggles, and real issues. And through each journey, they need to learn how to deal with these issues.

Lynda Turner is one of those people. Life has dealt her some hard knocks, and she’s learned to deal with the pain by withdrawing, by remaining aloof.  Some of the people in Trapp, Texas, the small Panhandle town where she lives, think they know what kind of woman she is.  Clyde Felton is another.  Unjustly accused and sent to prison, he’s back home in Trapp now, and people think they know who he is – Clyde Felton, convicted felon.  He’s known Lynda for years, and he wants to let her know how he feels, but he’s not sure how she’ll take it.  When she realizes Clyde’s feelings for her, Lynda isn’t even sure how she’ll take it.  Can she let hope and love take root and grow?

There are moments in this journey that were difficult to handle. A couple of times, I felt like I was watching a movie through my fingers. Lynda’s feelings were turbulent and hard to handle. But the step by step journey as she took apart the bad memories and redefined her thoughts of herself and her situation were beautiful. Sometimes we all need to take a step back and see ourselves from a different perspective.

I really enjoyed this final chapter in the Mended Hearts series. The entire series, as a whole, gave an in-depth look into life in a small town, and as I grew up in a small town, I can relate to that. From those who spend their time focused on everyone else’s issues to those who feel that they are infallible, Denman nailed it.

This is one of those books you might want to tuck into your bag for the beach. A fast read, but one that doesn’t negate the depth of the characters. Entertaining from cover to cover, Jilted is a story that will stick with you in the best way possible.

Author Bio

Varina Denman is author of the Mended Hearts series and a native Texan. She spent her high school years in a rural town and now writes stories about the struggles women face in similar small town settings. She and her husband live near Fort Worth, where they enjoy spending time with their five mostly-grown children.

 Note: I received this copy of Jilted as a part of the Radiant Lit Jilted blog tour. The book is available for purchase at Amazon.com.

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Tuneful Tuesday: Josh Garrels

I don’t remember where and how I came across the music of Josh Garrels – oh, wait, yes, I do.  I was looking for some ambient-type music to try to help Thing One sleep (he preferred dubstep – definitely NOT restful, settling-down music, and that boy needs all the help he can get going to sleep), and came across some references to Christian ambient music.  I thought, huh, well, let’s see what that’s all about.  And behold, Josh Garrels.

While his lyrics aren’t always Bible-thumpin’, whack-you-over-the-head-with-Jesus, they are clearly influenced by a faith in God.  Here are two of my favorites:

Bread and Wine:

This song speaks to our need for community.  From the beginning, we were not intended to be alone, and a community of friends is one of the most important things we can have.

“If I fall, I fall alone, but two can help to bear the load
A threefold chord is hard to break
All I have I give to you if you will share your sorrows too,
Then joy will be the crown upon our heads
My friend”

And this.  The first Josh Garrels song I ever heard, and I was immediately taken with it.

The Resistance:

“Hold fast like an anchor in the storm
For your love, we will rise and overcome
Through the fire

“Hold fast my people and sing
Through peace and through suffering
All for the joy that it brings, to be free
It’s gonna cost us everything
To follow one Lord and King
True love endures everything
To be free”

Hold fast.  Endure.  Press on.  Love.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. — Hebrews 12:1-3, NASB

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Happy Hug Your Cat Day! And National Adopt a Cat Month!

Did you know that June 4 is designated as Hug Your Cat Day?  In honor of this momentous feline occasion, I want to introduce our two cat-beasts.

This is Camille.

Camille at rest

Our cat Oscar had died in 2013 after living as Queen Sassy Cat for 20 years, and we hadn’t yet had the heart to bring another cat home.  Thing One was at his dad’s for Thanksgiving in 2014, and he called all excited, wanting to know could we bring a cat home from his dad’s house.  They had three cats and were looking to rehome them.  He chose the little gray and white one (who was named Oreo at that time, for reasons we can’t fathom – Oreos aren’t gray and white!)  We decided it was time, and Oreo the gray and white cat came home with us.  We promptly renamed her Camille.

She was a little bitty thing when we got her, with long, long fur she hadn’t yet grown into.  But she grew.  Oh, she grew!  We think she may have a little bit of Maine Coon in her, because she’s a sizable cat, with a lot of fur and big ol’ feet.

She is the cat who says, “if it fits, I sits”.

Commander Camille and Her Cardboard Spaceship

Commander Camille and Her Cardboard Spaceship

She’s a jumper.  The first time she ended up on the highest cabinet in our kitchen, we could hardly believe it.

Camille on the Cabinet

She’s fond of water.  She’ll come stare at the faucet when I’m at the sink with water running.  We often find her in the bathtub or the bathroom sink (but only if there’s no water actually in it).  And she does like fruit.  And books.

Camille and Bananas

Camille goes bananas

Camille with Books

Is that really a comfortable place to sit?

And since June is also National Adopt a Cat Month, how appropriate that we have another cat to write about!  Camille had lived with us a few months, and I happened to look at our parish’s shelter page.  I saw that a tuxedo cat, female, also (originally) named Oreo, was scheduled to be put down that Friday if she didn’t find a home.  I told Brian she was an Oreo cat, too, she needed to come live with us!  So I went to the shelter and brought her home, and she has been my cat ever since.  (And I do mean my cat.  If I sit down, she’s in my lap in about 3.2 seconds.  Anyone else, she pretty much looks at and runs away most days.)

We thought Oreo was kind of an obvious name for a black and white cat, so we renamed her Truffle.  Truffle is the longest, lankiest, skinniest cat I’ve ever seen.  If I didn’t know how much she eats, I’d swear she didn’t eat and was malnourished.  She’s not.  She’s just built this way.  Truffle is all long legs and big ears and big eyes.

Truffle helping with my work

Truffle helping with my work

Truffle at rest

Truffle at rest

Alien Truffle?

Alien Truffle?

We’ve joked that Camille is our therapy cat, because she’s big and fluffy and lets us pick her up and hug her, and Truffle is our cat that needs therapy, because she’s nervous and twitchy and always startled when someone walks up on her (on a serious note, we do wonder if maybe her previous owner wasn’t kind to her).  We love them both and are constantly entertained by them, and we hope they live long, healthy lives like Oscar did.

Now, go celebrate National Adopt a Cat Month by visiting your local shelter and bringing a new feline friend home.  And always have your cats spayed or neutered, so as to reduce the number of cats who end up in shelters and who end up running wild.

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Gardening as faith

Gardening Faith

“Gardening is a demonstration of faith; it’s belief in a tomorrow.”

So said my friend April on her Instagram account.  Those words spoke to me, and she was kind enough to let me use them.  The picture above is a picture from our garden, the first tomato to turn red.  Our tomatoes have really gone bonkers this year – it’s a contest to see which will take over the garden first, the tomatoes or our one cucumber plant.  We were thrilled to see the first fruit turning red, and we delight to see the plants laden with tomatoes just waiting to ripen.  (Tomato and cucumber salad, spaghetti sauce, salsa….)

But what April said really rang true with me.  Those of you who read my ramblings at bigfatf.com know that we’ve been kind of hanging on by a thread financially since I was out of work for a big chunk of 2014.  I loved the job I got with the state, loved my co-workers there, but the salary wasn’t enough to make ends meet, so we stayed in the hole even when I was working.

Praise God, I started a new job April 18 (there will no doubt be more on that later), and it does pay more.  But we’re *still* trying to dig our way out of the hole.  (Eight months of unemployment can put you in something that very much resembles a crater.)  We aren’t on an even keel financially yet, we’re facing the prospect of going back into default on the mortgage if we can’t get it caught up, and it’s tough.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.

But our garden.  We’ve planted it.  We’ve planted flowers.  Irises, my favorites, that come back and grow and bloom year after year.  Sunflowers (we had a random one pop up in the compost bin this year, and it was beautiful, and we had nothing to do with it).  If we move, whether by choice or by have-to, a garden isn’t exactly something we can pack up and take with us.  We planted those tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers in anticipation of being here to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

So like April said, our garden is belief in tomorrow.  We plant in a demonstration of faith.  We believe that God can make a way, that He is bigger than our finances, than our mortgage, than the mortgage company.  He can make the math work where we can’t, and He can make a way where there is no way.  And, God willing, we’ll be right here in this house to enjoy our tomatoes.

“We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed.”
2 Corinthians 4:8-9

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Onward!

Big Fat F has moved.  The budget just didn’t allow for self-hosting right now (paying for our house is a little more important), so I’ve moved here.  If you’d like to keep following along, you can find us at https://bigfatfblog.wordpress.com.  🙂

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Giveaway winner!

My apologies, y’all – this was supposed to be up yesterday.  But I’ve had one child with an injured knee, and the other with strep, and it’s been a mite hectic!

So without further ado, the winner of the Rhinestone Jesus giveaway is…

Melinda Zedekar!

I used random.org to select the winner based on the number of comments made to enter the giveaway.  Yours came up.  🙂  I’ll get your book ordered and sent on your way!

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Why sparkle when you can shine? Rhinestone Jesus review and giveaway

If you’ve been reading along the past couple of months, you know that our life situation has changed somewhat.  We’ve gone from me working full-time outside the home to trying to make it working from home, and it’s been challenging in a number of ways, not the least of which is financial.

Last week, though, Brian felt very strongly convicted about something – so strongly that he didn’t wait until he got home that evening to discuss it with me, but called me right away.  Our general mode of operation is that if one of us feels very strongly that God is leading us as a family in a particular direction, and the other one doesn’t share that strong leading but also isn’t getting the sense that God *doesn’t* want us to go that route, then we go ahead.  This was one of those situations.  Brian felt very much that we needed to make a commitment to give regularly to something that God could use – not necessarily a big commitment (because goodness knows it doesn’t feel like we have a lot right now), but a regular commitment.  An offering above our tithe, if you will.  We found such an opportunity that we both agreed on, and made our commitment.

We were talking about it that evening, discussing how Brian had had the feeling for some time that we needed to do something outside our regular tithe, and how we’d often said, “If only we had more room in the budget to do more with.”  It occurred to me, and I commented, that maybe it’s not so much a change in finances as a change in perspective – we don’t wait for God to make our finances better, we just ask Him to point us to opportunities and help meet those needs in faith that He will meet our needs.

And then I picked up Rhinestone Jesus: Saying Yes to God when Sparkly, Safe Faith Is No Longer Enough by Kristen Welch.  Kristen is the founder of Mercy House Kenya, and Rhinestone Jesus is her story of how Mercy House came to be.  It is a story of heartbreak, dreams, and one small yes that led to big things.

Rhinestone Jesus 2

Kristen visited Kenya as a guest blogger for Compassion International, and the things she saw there broke her heart and changed her life.  She saw that there was a need for maternity care for young unwed girls, and said yes to God’s urging to start Mercy House, having no idea how that simple “yes” would change her life, her family, or her faith.

And after our discussion about giving and perhaps the need for a change in perspective, I read this:

I can remember from a young age hearing my dad say, “You can’t outgive God,” and I watched as he opened one hand to give to others and opened the other to receive from God.  My dad once emptied our family savings account to give it away, and we watched God replace every dime.  This picture of open hands for giving and receiving shaped me.  We can all be part of that conduit, standing in the middle between God and people in need, ready to give spontaneously. – Rhinestone Jesus

This book was already moving me to tears on just about every other page, but that?  Man, that hit home.  You can’t outgive God.

You.  Can’t.  Outgive.  God.

Y’all, I was convicted in a big, BIG way.  Here we are, feeling kind of sorry for ourselves because our finances aren’t all that right now, thinking, “Oh, if only we had more in the bank, we’d give more, wouldn’t it be nice if we had the resources to really help meet needs that we see, blah blah blah.”  We can’t outgive God.  If we give in faith when He puts a need in our path, He will be faithful to meet our needs.  I had let that slip to the back of my mind, or maybe I never really understood that, not heart-deep.  I had to apologize to God for putting Him in the tiny little box of my thinking, of seeing what He can do only through the lens of what I perceive as my lack.

And when Brian opened his Bible that night, he found this:

“If only My people would listen to Me and Israel would follow My ways,
I would quickly subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes.” But He would feed Israel with the best wheat. “I would satisfy you with honey from the rock.” – Psalm 81:13-14, 16

It all came together.  I’ve been feeling that God wants me to do SOMETHING for a while now.  And all He wants is my yes to whatever opportunities He puts in my path.  That’s the something.  God isn’t waiting on me to make more money to do more for Him.  He isn’t waiting on me to have a neater house, or a better job, or a picture-perfect family.  He’s just waiting for me to say yes to what He asks of me, right here, right now, right in the middle of my mess with a pile of laundry to put away and toy weapons strewn up and down the stairs and dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.  Yes.  That’s all He wants, that’s what He’s waiting on.  And that’s what Rhinestone Jesus is all about – not waiting until everything is just so, not clinging onto what’s safe and known, just stepping out in faith, pursuing the dream God puts in your heart.  Thank you, Kristen, for taking your step of faith, for saying yes, for putting your heart into words to inspire me and touch my heart when it was most needed.

Rhinestone Jesus is one of those books I am going to read over and over, and highlight in, and cry on, and carry around until it falls apart.  It has touched me so deeply that I want to share the love, and  I’m giving a copy away.  (No, not mine – I’m keeping that one!)  For the winner of this giveaway, I’ll order a copy from Amazon and have the book sent directly to you.  Just leave a comment on this post to enter with a way to get in touch.  The winner will be announced on Monday, May 5.  And if you don’t win, please, please, please get yourself this book.

Rhinestone Jesus Pre-Order

Pre-order by May 1, and you’ll get a free e-book, Saying Yes to God as a Family, and part of the proceeds will go to benefit Mercy House.  It’s moved me to look for ways to say yes to God every day.  I’m looking forward to seeing what He can do through me, and to seeing my faith lose some sparkle and begin to shine.

 What is God asking you to say “Yes” to?

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Faith, Giveaways | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Free ice cream at Carvel!

Free ice cream AND a chance to support a good cause?  What’s not to like?  For those of you who have a Carvel nearby, pay them a visit on May 1.  They’re celebrating their 80th anniversary and kicking it off this Thursday with Free Cone Day.

carvel-free-cone-thursday

Carvel…America’s Freshest Ice Cream® is launching its summer-long 80th anniversary celebration with Free Cone Day Thursday, May 1 from 3-8 p.m. Participating Carvel® shoppes will treat guests to a free junior cone filled with their choice of freshly made vanilla, chocolate or their all-new salted caramel soft-serve ice cream.

In addition to enjoying free ice cream, guests can support a good cause on Free Cone Day. Throughout the day, Carvel will offer a $2 coupon book worth more than $20 in savings. 100% of all proceeds from sales of the coupon books will go towards a $30,000 donation to the American Red Cross® to support Disaster Relief. This effort will raise the company’s total contributions to the American Red Cross to $80,000 over the last three years.

Go out, get yourself a yummy ice cream cone, pick up a coupon book, and support a worthy cause.  I mean, salted caramel ice cream – how does anyone turn that down?!

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Taco Stuffed Bell Peppers

So excited to be posting my first recipe that I’ve come up with myself!

I was in the mood for stuffed peppers last night, but couldn’t find a recipe that was precisely what I thought I wanted.  So, I came up with my own – Taco Stuffed Bell Peppers!

First, you brown 1/2 pound of ground beef and 1/2 pound of ground turkey.

Meat Browning

When it’s nearly browned, add chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery (I use the pre-made seasoning mix because I don’t want to spend my life chopping the Holy Trinity of veg to go in almost every dish I make, but if you’re chopping fresh veg, I’d estimate about 1/2 large onion, 1 good-sized bell pepper, and a couple of ribs of celery).  Continue cooking until the meat is browned and the vegetables are soft.

Add one packet of taco seasoning and a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes.

Add Tomatoes

Add one can corn and one can black beans; mix until thoroughly combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  I also added some Slap Ya Mama to kick it up a bit – we like things well seasoned around here.  Let it simmer about 10-15 minutes.

Add Veg

While the meat mixture is simmering, wash your bell peppers and slice in half lengthwise.  Remove the seeds and clean out the inside of the peppers well.  Place your peppers in a 13 x 9 inch baking dish and add about 3/4 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.  I find this helps keep the peppers from sticking.

After the meat mixture has simmered, add three cups cooked rice and combine.

Stuff the pepper halves generously.

Ready to Bake

Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.

Remove foil from pan, top with shredded cheese, and put back in the oven long enough to get the cheese bubbly.

Finished

Brian and I loved it.  Thing One and Thing Two tried it and declared it not their favorite.  My kids are weird.  If yours are normal, they may love it.

Taco Stuffed Bell Peppers

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print
Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound ground beef (I used 85/15)
  • 1/2 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 medium bell pepper, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 15 1/2 ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 15 1/2 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 packet taco seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cajun seasoning of your choice (optional)
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 3 large bell peppers (I used green, but any color will do)
  • Shredded cheese to taste (I used queso Chihuahua and Colby Jack, you pick your favorite)

Directions:

  1. Brown ground beef and ground turkey in a large skillet.
  2. When meat is almost browned, add chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery.  Cook until meat is browned and vegetables are soft.
  3. Add taco seasoning and crushed tomatoes.
  4. Add corn and black beans.  Mix until well combined.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste, and Cajun seasoning of your choice if you want to amp up the spice a little (I recommend Slap Ya Mama or Tony Chachere’s).  Simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  6. While meat mixture simmers, wash bell peppers.  Cut in half lengthwise and clean out seeds.  Place into a 13×9 inch pan with about 3/4 cup of water in the bottom of the pan.
  7. Add cooked rice to meat mixture and combine.
  8. Stuff peppers (and stuff the heck out of them – this makes a lot of filling!).
  9. Cover pan with foil and bake for about 45 minutes.
  10. Remove pan from oven, top peppers with cheese, and return to oven long enough for cheese to get bubbly.
  11. Enjoy!
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