Bible Verses to Encourage You — Favorite Things {Day 24}

31 days 2014

If I were to include all the Bible verses that are meaningful and personal to me, this blog post would go on forever!

Suffice it to say that I’ve had to narrow it down quite a bit just to make today’s post readable.

Just like yesterday’s “Words of Wisdom” post, I’m using images to share a sampling of my favorites with you. All these images are from Pinterest. If you go to my Pinterest boards, you can find these pins and the links to their original sources.

Enjoy!

Bible Verses to Encourage You Today

2 Timothy

1 peter
zephaniah
weary rest
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Be encouraged, dear soul. You are loved beyond measure!

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Words of Wisdom — Favorite Things {Day 23}

31 days 2014

Today I’m sharing with you some favorite quotes. I’m purposefully not including scripture with these, because I’ll post those on a different day.

Instead of typing these out, I’ll let the images speak for themselves. All the photos were found on Pinterest. If you like to read more of my favorite quotes, you can check out my “Words of Wisdom” Pinterest board here.

wonder quote
albert einstein quote
maya angelou quote
madeleine l'englue quote
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I hope you love these quotes as much as I do. Or I hope it inspires to search for some favorite quotes of your own!

Happy Thursday!

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The Kindergarten Question — Favorite Things {Day 22}

31 days 2014

I don’t have much time for today’s post, so it’s going to be short and sweet.

What’s the question kindergartners ask each other?

Favorite color.

My favorite color is green.

green collage

I love green. I have green in all my decorating, in every room of my house. I love growing green things. My bridesmaids’ dresses were green.

To me, green symbolizes new life and growth. But most of all, green just makes me happy.

Now it’s your turn. Want to share your favorite color with me?

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This post is part of the 31 Days Link-up. To see what other bloggers are writing about, click here. To see all my 31 days posts so far, click here.

A Mom’s Guide to the Best Christmas Toys Ever — Favorite Things {Day 21}

31 days 2014

It’s not too soon to start your Christmas shopping you know.

With two months to go, it’s time to begin thinking about your holiday plans (if you haven’t already!)

Being the mom of four kids who are all school-age, I have been through pretty much every kind of toy out there. I’ve experienced the inundation of plastic parts and AA batteries and those loud, noisemaking gadgets that the grandparents seem to love so much!

So I’m going to make it easy on you. Today I’m sharing with you the toys that have stood the test of time. These are the toys that my kids actually still played with say, in March or April. In fact, some of these toys are still going strong after several years.

You’re going to love me for this:

An Experienced Mom’s Guide to the Best Christmas Toys Ever

1. Fisher-Price Little People Play Sets

Classic toddler toys. My kids don’t play with these anymore, but I still have the farm and the house that I use periodically with my Kindermusik students. The last time I pulled one of them out to take to class with me, my seven-year old went nuts over it. Kids love the Little People. Chances are, you had one of these when you were little. If you’re as old as I am, your people were probably made of wood. Invest in one of these playsets and I promise you’ll get your money’s worth.

 

2. Lego Duplo Blocks

These are Lego blocks for the younger set, but even older kids will play with them. Again, they are classic. Any combination and any set will do. Boys and girls love them and building with bricks fosters creativity. These are one of the few toddler toys that I still keep around.

3. Thomas Wooden Train Sets

We love the Thomas trains and collected so many sets over the years that we had to give some of them away. There are also knockoff sets you can buy, but the kids tend to get attached to the Thomas train characters which are expensive. Start with a simple set and build it up. We had a train table set up for at least 10 years that went through all four of my kids. Although we gave the table away a couple of years ago, my youngest STILL loves to play with his trains. I’m planning to keep these around for my grandkids. An investment that is well worth it!

4. Baby Dolls

We still have some of the first baby dolls my daughter received. She doesn’t want to part with them. Truth be told, though, when my middle son was four, he begged for a new baby doll for Christmas and of course he got it. Dolls and stuffed animals are so wonderful for girls and boys to engage in imaginative play and emotional bonding.

5. Play Food and Dishes

These are always a big hit when I bring them to Kindermusik, and my kids loved them when they were younger as well. Tea sets, play kitchens, little push-around shopping carts — they all make great toys for encouraging imaginative play. There are even some really cool ideas on Pinterest these days about how to make a play kitchen out of an old nightstand or entertainment center. . . if you’re handy enough.

6. Fisher-Price Imaginext Play Sets

These are like the Little People play sets, but for the slightly older child. We still have the Bat Cave and the Jungle sets, and my seven-year old still loves playing with them. They come with their own little figures, but I’ve often found the Little People intermingling with Batman and dragons and the jungle gorilla.

7. Dress-Up Clothes

We have a pretty large collection of dress-up clothes that we’ve collected over the years. Much of it has been passed on since everyone was too big to wear it, but we still have plenty of pieces left in our arsenal. Hats, wigs, scarves, funny glasses, leftover Halloween costumes, and especially super hero capes are popular with kids. You can scout thrift stores or party stores for items to include. My kids went through our bin just this last weekend so they could dress up for a Harry Potter party.

8. Lego Bricks 

When it comes to school-age kids, you just can’t go wrong with Legos. These are the very best toy for fostering creative building and engineering play. I am always amazed with the things my kids (especially Travis) can build. These come in a million different sets, which my kids always build following the instructions, but they inevitably end up getting taken apart and made into something else. I don’t think my boys especially will ever get tired of Legos.

lego building

9. Snap Circuits 

These are awesome. We got our first junior set about seven years ago and have since added other sets to it. The kids love it and it’s a great learning toy. Snap Circuits are very highly rated on Amazon. . . with good reason.

10. Basketball

I mean, duh, but kids love balls. A good basketball is just a must-have. ‘Nuf said.

11. Nerf N-Force Warlock Axe

This is maybe — at least in our house — the Coolest. Toy. Ever. I don’t even know how long we’ve had this but it has outlasted all our Nerf guns. It’s made of Nerf foam and it’s just a great big battle axe. Travis loves this. He carries it around when he’s mad at people, but guess what? It’s soft!!! So much better than those hard plastic lightsabers! Ours has stood the test of time, even though the dog has chewed on it a little. It’s expensive but we’ve definitely gotten our money’s worth.

 

I hope you’ve gleaned a few ideas from this post! Merry Christmas toy shopping!

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This post is part of the 31 Days Link-up. To see what other bloggers are writing about, click here. To see all my 31 days posts so far, click here.

*There are Amazon affiliate links included in this post. If you click on a link and make a purchase from Amazon, a small percentage of the sale helps to support this site. You will never be charged more for any item, and I only link to items that I personally recommend.






Twelve Novels You Need to Read — Favorite Things {Day 20}

31 days 2014

If you look at my profile on Goodreads, you’ll see that I have way more than twelve titles in my favorite fiction. For this post, however, I’m going to narrow it down.

I’ll leave out the classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and Little Women and focus on fiction that is fairly recent. Here they are in totally random order.

Twelve Novels You Need to Read

1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

I just discovered Moyes last year and I’m working my way through all her books. This is the first one I read and my favorite so far. It’s a love story, yes, but so much more. My heart was pounding up to the end and I cried myself to sleep the night I finished it. An emotional roller coaster and a definite MUST-READ!

2. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

I read this a couple of years ago before the movie came out (the movie is excellent, by the way). Set in Nazi Germany and full of truth about the power of words, of story, and of human kindness.

3. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I read this over ten years ago, then reread it before the movie came out. It is a book about religion, but so much more. Although it took me about 75-100 pages to get into it (as it sets up the background), it was well worth it. One of the best books I’ve ever read. My husband and I argued over the ending ten years ago, and again after we saw the movie. It’s the kind of book you can talk about for days.

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Just plain creepy and scary because you wonder if something like it could really happen. Before The Hunger Games and Divergent and all the other dystopian fiction out there, there was The Handmaid’s TaleExcellent writing and a believable story that will keep your mind questioning.

 

5. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver has been one of my favorite authors for over 20 years.  The Poisonwood Bible is, in my opinion, her best novel to date. This is the story of a Baptist preacher who takes his wife and four daughters to the Congo in 1959 to serve as missionaries. Although it’s been years since I’ve read it, there are scenes from this novel that still stick with me. It definitely needs to go onto my “books to reread” list.

6. The Kite Runner  by Khaled Hosseini

A story of friendship, family and redemption set in 20th century Afghanistan. This is Hosseini’s first novel and my favorite. It is NOT easy reading and much of the subject matter is for mature readers only. But the story is superb. Again, worth reading first, then seeing the movie.

7. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

A story about a teenage boy with autism, this novel is heartbreaking and hilarious all at the same time. Full of f-bombs and other questionable language, but the best read I’ve found for really getting into the mind of an autistic individual. I read this long before my son was diagnosed, by the way, and had to go back and reread it afterwards.

 


8. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

I debated whether or not to include this novel, but the truth is I loved it so much I just couldn’t leave it off. I have to confess that I listened to this on audiobook about a year ago when Christian Audiobooks offered it as their free selection of the month. I saw it had good reviews so I thought, “Why not?”

I was completely blown away. I gave a copy to my dad for Father’s Day though, and he thought it was just “meh.” So I guess it definitely depends on the reader.

This is not an action-packed novel, but the characters and the language are so beautifully written, so detailed, that it’s definitely worth the read. I’ve also read Berry’s Hannah Coulter, and it’s just as lovely.

9. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

I’m going to have to reread this one in the near future. There is so much in this novel that there’s no way to really catch it all the first time through. It’s a story about a little boy with a growth impediment and an abnormally squeaky voice and how he believes he is “God’s instrument.” Excellent writing and a deep story that will you have you thinking about God and life circumstances and how they’re connected.



10. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe  by Fannie Flagg

Fannie Flagg is a hilarious writer and I’ve loved everything of hers I’ve read. This one is my favorite of the bunch. Funny but also full of heartache and suffering and friendship and love. The movie is excellent, too, but still doesn’t do the book justice.


11. The Green Mile by Stephen King

In my twenties I devoured Stephen King books. I read them all. Back then, this one came out in installments and I anxiously awaited the release of each one so I could find out what happened. Unlike much of King’s writing, this book is not a horror novel. I think it’s his best writing. The movie starring Tom Hanks is a good adaptation, but definitely read the book first.

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

I put off reading this book for a long time because I thought it was one of those Southern fiction books about a ladies’ quilting group (it’s not). When I found a copy at my local Goodwill for 50 cents, I took the plunge, brought it home and read it. I’m so glad I did! It’s about the occupants of Guernsey during the German occupation of WWII, and a writer in 1946 who gets to know the characters and their stories. I loved this novel.

So now it’s your turn! Will you share some of your favorite fiction reads with me?

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This post is part of the 31 Days Link-up. To see what other bloggers are writing about, click here. To see all my 31 days posts so far, click here.

*There are Amazon affiliate links included in this post. If you click on a link and make a purchase from Amazon, a small percentage of the sale helps to support this site. You will never be charged more for any item, and I only link to items that I personally recommend.

 

Classic Texas Food — Favorite Things {Day 19}

31 days 2014

I love food. 

One look at my thighs and you know it’s true.

I’ve been picking the last of the okra in my garden this week, so I thought good old Texas food might be a mouth-watering topic. A favorite thing worth writing about.

So here goes.

My Favorite Classic Texas Foods

1. Fried Okra

It’s what inspired me to write this post. I’ve got a bunch in my fridge right now that needs to be fried up. It might not be the healthiest vegetable (at least when it’s fried) but it sure is delicious.

okra

My method: Mix 3 parts cornmeal to 1 part flour in a gallon ziploc bag and add a little salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Meanwhile, wash and slice the okra and soak it in buttermilk for about 10 minutes. Transfer in batches to the cornmeal mixture, seal the bag and give it a good shake until the okra is coated. I fry it in batches in about an inch of hot oil, turning as necessary until the okra is golden. Remove to paper towels to drain and give it a generous dose of salt when it’s still really hot.

Fried okra is delicious. My kids eat it like popcorn.

If you live in the South, grow it in your backyard in the summertime. It thrives in hot weather. Otherwise, buy it in the frozen food aisle.

The other way we like to use okra is in gumbo. My recipe isn’t authentic Cajun so if you’re from Louisiana, don’t get mad at me. I think it’s adapted from Southern Living, and is more tomato based than the Cajun kind. But my family loves it. Serve it over rice with a big piece of cornbread and I’m in hog heaven.

Here’s my recipe:

Print Recipe

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Serves:6

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1-2 stalks celery chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper chopped
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/2 lb. okra sliced
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 2 c. water
  • 1/2 t. hot sauce
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 t. thyme
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and chopped
  • 1/2 lb. smoked sausage, sliced
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
Directions
  1. Combine oil and flour in Dutch oven; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until roux is caramel colored (10-15 minutes). Stir in celery, onion, pepper and garlic; cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fry okra in 1 T. hot oil until browned. Add to gumbo, reduce heat to low and stir well. (At this stage, mixture may be cooled, refrigerated or frozen for later use.) Add broth, water and undrained tomatoes, worcestershire, hot sauce, salt, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 1 hour. Cook sausage in skillet to brown; add to gumbo with chicken. Cook 30 more minutes. Serve over hot rice.

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2. Chicken-Fried Steak

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Quite possibly my favorite food ever. For the uninitiated, it’s cube steak (an extremely tenderized cut of sirloin) that’s breaded and–you guessed it–fried like chicken. Most Southerners like it with cream gravy, but I veer off the beaten path here and eat mine with ketchup. My husband has threatened a few times to divorce me over it, but luckily he’s been able to look past it and stick with me anyway.

I’ve never actually made chicken-fried steak at home. Here in Texas, we have so many delicious options that I’ve never had to. In fact, if you are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, you need to eat at Babe’s Chicken. Their chicken-fried steak, fried chicken, homestyle vegetables and biscuits are all to die for. I’ve never had creamed corn so good anywhere outside my grandmother’s table.

3. Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is as much a part of Thanksgiving in Texas as pumpkin pie ever was. For those of you who aren’t Texans, the pecan is our official state tree and if you have one growing anywhere near you, your yard will be covered with pecans in the fall. Or in the spring, you’ll be digging up pecan seedlings everywhere.

pecans

The squirrels love them and so do we. I’m just going to go ahead and declare the humble pecan: Best. Nut. Ever. We Texans use pecans on and in everything. But my favorite way to eat them is just by themselves. Mmmmm.

I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve never baked a pecan pie. My mom says they’re super easy to make, but since she keeps making them, I just keep eating hers.

4. Tex-Mex

Well, duh.

There are as many Tex-Mex restaurants in Texas as there are churches. Maybe more. And that’s saying something ’cause there are churches on every street corner. Some of the best Tex-Mex often lurks in little hole-in-the-wall places. I pretty much like all of it, and if I ever had to move away I’m sure I would have wicked withdrawal symptoms. 

Photo: Dallas Observer

Photo: Dallas Observer

I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain this but for those of you living elsewhere, Taco Bell is NOT in any way, shape, or form Tex-Mex.

Herrera's Dallas (Photo: Dallas Morning news)

Herrera’s Dallas (Photo: Dallas Morning news)

One of my favorite times for homemade authentic Tex-Mex food is during the Christmas season. Lots of the local Hispanic population make homemade tamales and sell them at Christmas time and there’s just nothing quite like homemade tamales. 

5. Barbecue

We Texans love our barbecue. Although I love me some good barbecued pork ribs, the focus in Texas tends to be more on beef. A good barbecue beef brisket is pretty much a staple for any summer cookout. If it’s cooked right it just melts in your mouth. And just like the Tex-Mex joints, sometimes you find the best barbecue at a little shack with a smoker out back. A pretty common sight in Texas.

Meshack's Barbecue Shack in our hometown. We drive by it every day on our way to school.

Meshack’s Barbecue Shack in our hometown. We drive by it every day on our way to school.

I could go on and on about Texas food. But instead I’ll just make this offer: if you come to Texas, look me up. We can go eat together!

Just leave your skinny jeans at home.

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This post is part of the 31 Days Link-up. To see what other bloggers are writing about, click here. To see all my 31 days posts so far, click here.