Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book Review: "Good News for Weary Women" 
Being a mother is the hardest job in the world. Being a mother to a special needs child adds just a little more of everything. More stress, more exhaustion, more second-guessing, and more expectations. I've been going through a rough patch lately in dealing with all of Junior's appointments, trying to keep up on his therapy routine at home, homeschooling, and keeping the house in order with food on the table. I'm tired and often weary, so I was very much looking forward to Elyse Fitzpatrick's new book Good News for Weary Women: Escaping the bondage of to-do lists, steps, and bad advice. 

Every woman knows that there are certain societal pressures put on her from "them". (Who exactly "they" are, we may never know.) Things like: "you must prepare all your family's meals from scratch using only organic ingredients." Or: "You must always be perfectly groomed with make-up done and wearing attractive clothing to keep your husband's eye from wandering." Or: "Your house must always look like something from a Pottery Barn catalog, spotless and smelling like fresh linen." As a result, we feel like we must do it all, but quickly become disillusioned when we realize we can't do it all. So, what are we, women who can barely keep their heads above water in dealing with the tasks of life, to do?

This book was a breath of fresh air. Elyse basically says that these expectations do little more than make us feel worthless. They do not encourage us, and take our eyes away from what really matters. What God wants from us. The one good work God wants us from us is to believe in Him. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, "you're only a good Christian girl if you make all your cleaning supplies from scratch and wake up at 5am to make fresh bread before your family awakens." 

The most important thing we can do for our children is to model a strong relationship with the Lord for them, and to make them feel safe and loved. Elyse argues that impossible expectations put us on edge, and keep us from fulfilling those most important things. (How many times have I told my kids I couldn't play because I had to clean, or yelled at them for making a mess on my clean floors? How can I model grace when I'm too busy focused on outward appearances?) 

This book really encouraged me, and it made me feel better about some of the judgmental comments I've received in my parenting journey. (The most painful being, "If you had more faith and prayed better, Junior would have been healed.") It reminded me that the opinion that matters most is from God, and we remember what He said about Mary and Martha. Obviously, tasks need to be done, and the house does need to be cleaned, and food does need to be served, but sometimes the act of doing these tasks becomes more important than the outcome. (Such as, "I did all these things because I'm Supermom and I'm awesome.", not "I did all these things so I could show my family how much I love them.)  The main point? Give yourself grace, and put more time into the relationships in your life than the to-do lists.

As a con, I think this book was a bit repetitive, and could have been a blog series instead of a book, but I did like the overall message, and have been telling my family and friends about it.

Bottom Line: 7.5*/10*   

Thank you to Tyndale Publishers for a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest and unbiased review. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ask Sara: Where Do You Shop?

"Where are your favorite places to shop? I never know if I'm getting the best deal on something."

Hi Courtney,

If you're happy with the deal you got, then it's a good deal! But, I have found my "favorites" when it comes to purchasing specific things.

Here are some of my go-to places to shop for various items...

Primary Groceries: Trader Joes
Trader Joes has basically everything I need for the week. I purchase most of my canned/jarred items, dairy, and frozen goods there. Not only are they significantly less expensive than our local grocery store, but the items are often organic.

Meat: Costco
Costco has good meat quality at a reasonable price. They also have organic beef and chicken for half the price of the grocery store.

Produce: Sprouts or Costco
When Costco has their organic fruit in season, I typically purchase most of my fresh fruit there. If not, I get fruit at Sprouts. While Sprouts can be more expensive, they typically have several produce items on special every week that we will pick up. As for vegetables, I like the frozen organic vegetables from Costco. They taste fresh, and don't cost too much.

Kid's Clothes (New): Gymboree, Children's Place
We have been blessed with many hand-me-downs, but if you prefer to purchase your kid's clothing new instead of gently used, I have had good luck at Gymboree buying on clearance with a 20% coupon or Children's Place online using coupon codes which they have frequently. I don't spend more than $3 per new item for my toddler, or $5 per new items for my 6 year old (who is in size 8, thus more expensive clothes). But, because I buy quality clothes, I can sell them for $1 to $2 each at a yard sale, and almost make my money back! 

Kitchen Items: Costco Business Center, Homegoods, Ikea
If you happen to have a Costco Business Center in your area, don't be fooled by the name, you can find some great deals for your home. Since it's built for businesses and restaurants, the Business Center doesn't carry the fun stuff (clothes, books, toys, etc), but they carry a ton of restaurant (ie kitchen) supplies at very low prices. They have pots and pans, utensils, servingware, and other items. One of my favorite items to get there is the digital meat thermometer, only $3 each. Similar thermometers are $10-12 anywhere else. I also like Homegoods for good cookware, and Ikea for miscellaneous items, such as spatulas and straws.

Women's Clothing: Target, Nordstrom Rack
I love the tank tops at Target. They go under anything, and I can often get them for $4 each when they have a sale and a clothing coupon. I've gotten many cute outfits at Target for a fraction of the cost anywhere else.
Nordstrom Rack is hit-or-miss. You have to be patient, but on occasion you can find some incredible deals. My daughter was recently the flower girl in a wedding, and I found an amazing white satin flower girl dress marked down from $100 to $24.99. I could not have purchased the fabric to make the dress for cheaper than that!

Toys: Homegoods, Costco
Homegoods has a really nice toy section, and they're often good quality, such as Melissa and Doug. When I'm purchasing for a birthday party or baby shower, Homegoods is my first stop. During Christmas season, Costco has wonderful deals on toys, which I often purchase to use as birthday gifts throughout the year.

Where Do You Like To Shop? Let me know in the Comments!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Leftover Chili Tortilla Pie

I made Chili this week, and wanted something different than my other ideas for leftover chili, so I came up with this Leftover Chili Tortilla Pie. It was SO easy, and so good. Both kids loved it, and so did I. (My husband likes everything.)

Okay folks, this is seriously simple. I'm a little embarrassed at how easy it comes together, but that's what makes it beautiful. (And the Frito topping. That makes it beautiful too.)

Leftover Chili Tortilla Pie
Serves 4-6

-4.5 C leftover chili
-4 flour tortillas
-1.5 C shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese
-1 C crushed Fritos (I buy the organic Trader Joes variety because they're less greasy)
-Lime wedges, Avocado slices, and Sour Cream for serving

1. Start by putting 1/2 C leftover chili on the bottom of a greased 8x8 pan (I had to use a 9x9 since my 8x8 was dirty and handwashing is my nemesis.)

2. Add 2 tortillas (I like the double layer so it doesn't get soggy).

3. Add 2 C of chili on top of the tortillas, and top with 1/2 C shredded cheese.

4. Layer again. 2 tortillas, 2 C chili, 1/2 C shredded cheese.

5. Finish by sprinkling 1 C crushed Fritos on the top.

6. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Let sit for 5 minutes, cut, and serve with lime wedges, avocado slices, and sour cream.

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Book Review: Your Family In Pictures

Last year, I took all my birthday and Christmas money and bought myself a nice, new Canon Rebel. Since then, I've been enjoying taking photos with it, but have never been brave enough to take it out of auto mode. When I had the chance to review Me Ra Koh's photography book for beginners, Your Family in Pictures, I was hoping it would give me the confidence I needed to get out of automatic and into manual shooting mode!

The book is meant for parents who want to document the lives of their family. Each chapter is divided into "recipes" for taking the best pictures, whether for holidays, everyday life, vacations, or family portraits. These "recipes" are incredibly helpful, and tell you the best time to take a certain photo, and how to get the look you want, including what settings your camera should be set on to get the desired effect (there are instructions for both point and shoot and DSLR cameras).

Your Family in Pictures really took the intimidation out of all the scary settings in my camera, and I think I will keep this book ready at all times as a resource, since it details where, when, and how to get the best photographs possible. 

The only thing I would add to this book would be a handy chart of f/, ISO, and shutter speed with desired effect, so I don't have to look through each chapter when I'm unsure of something. But, besides a better appendix, I was quite happy with this book, and would recommend to any of my friends who are looking to learn about photography.

Here are a couple pictures I took at our local Farmer's Market on manual mode after reading Your Family in Pictures. I think they turned out okay for my first day knowing what ISO meant!

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher and Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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