Sunday, January 31, 2010

a new year, a new me?

I've had some health problems lately, and my doctor told me to eat a low fat, high fiber diet. In the past month, my eating habits have changed drastically, and I've lost seven pounds in three weeks!!! I'm glad I wasn't told to cut out the carbs or sugar, though I'm sure I've eaten much less sugar recently. I've also been exercising more frequently. And ... I bought a shake weight! I love it. I don't expect to ever look like the woman on the dvd, but that doesn't matter. It's the one part of my workout I actually look forward to!

One of the things I've been doing recently is baking my own bread. I've always enjoyed baking bread, but I often am too lazy to take the time to do it. I do have a bread machine, but there's something cathartic about mixing, kneading, and shaping the dough. I take a basic bread recipe and then experiment with it--adding oatmeal, substituting wheat flour for white, adding herbs and spices. And really, is there any better smell than the scent of fresh bread?

Tonight, I'm making Wicked Cinnamon Rolls. I've been craving cinnamon rolls lately, but my favorite recipe, Pioneer Woman's cinnamon rolls, is quite decidedly not low fat. Not even close. I don't have the pastry flour called for in the Wicked recipe, so I just used regular flour. Right now, the dough is on the second rise. I'm hoping the flour substitution won't make too big of a difference.

Two hours later, I've just eaten the first roll. I adapted Pioneer Woman's maple frosting recipe instead of using Wicked's icing. Next time (if there is a next time), I'll use less cinnamon in the rolls. The recipe calls for two tablespoons, and I love cinnamon, so I used what it called for, even though I thought it sounded like a lot. I'm thinking one tablespoon would have been sufficient! Overall, the rolls are decent, but they aren't nearly as good as they would be with a little fat involved!

The flour I used for the rolls. I found it at Walmart--Wheat Montana is the place we got our amazing cinnamon rolls on our summer road trip!

Rising in the oven. 

The finished product. Not as beautiful as I'd hoped!

Friday, January 29, 2010

"tea with hezbollah" by ted dekker & carl medearis

Love your enemies. Love your neighbor as yourself. 

In Tea with Hezbollah: Sitting at the Enemies' Table, Our Journey Through the Middle East, authors Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis travel to the Middle East to find out how people feel about those teachings.

I began reading this book with great anticipation. I love Dekker's fiction, and I thought the concept for this book--visiting with America's "enemies" to learn about them as human beings--was genius. As someone who knows little about Islam, I was very interested to read about what Muslims believe and how that shapes their lives. At the end of the book, I realized that I hadn't learned much about Islam, mainly because the Muslims interviewed had such varying beliefs. (I suppose this is similar to many American "Christians" who claim to know God but have no idea what the Bible really teaches.)

I appreciated the authors' decision to reproduce full transcripts of their interviews because that really gave insight into the person being interviewed without any editorializing, unintentional or otherwise, by the authors. I also liked the variety of their interview subjects: Osama bin Laden's brothers, a member of Hamas, a Muslim cab driver, a Bedouin prince, an Orthodox Jew, a Samaritan leader, and numerous others. I tend to think of anyone who lives in the Middle East (with the exception of Israel) as Muslim, just as many who live in that region think of all Americans as Christian, so I appreciated hearing from people from a variety of religions. What I found especially interesting about the interviews was the way the interviewees answered Dekker's main question (phrased in different ways but always with the same basic meaning): "What do you think of Jesus' teaching that we should love our enemies?" Most of these people agreed that Jesus was a prophet and his commands should be followed--but when it came right down to it, only a few really believed in loving their enemies.

My favorite portion of the book was Nicole's story. Nicole is a young American woman who discovered she had roots in the Middle East. Dekker tells her story in seven chapters interspersed throughout the book. As I neared the completion of each chapter about Dekker and Medearis' journey, I always hoped a chapter about Nicole came next. Something about Nicole's story captivated my attention in a way the rest of the book did not.

And that's the book's downfall. While some people will love reading about Dekker and Medearis and their journey through the Middle East, I was frequently bored. As I said, I loved the interviews and the chapters about Nicole. But much of the book details the time between interviews--the travel through countries; the quest to score meetings with important people; Dekker's constant fear of being in the region. While I appreciate the necessity of those details--knowing what led up to each interview added to the impact--I still found them boring.

I would recommend reading Tea with Hezbollah for the glimpse it gives into the lives of Middle Easterners. But I'd also say not to feel bad if you find yourself skipping ahead to the more interesting parts!

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. You can purchase it here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

book giveaway #1 winner!

This is the week my Tea with Hezbollah review is going up (look for it tomorrow or Friday), so it's time to announce the winner of the book giveaway! Using a random number generator, I've chosen Karen (comment #8) to receive the free copy. Karen, email your address to christianchicksthoughts[at], and I'll get the book sent off to you right away. Congrats, and thanks to all who entered!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"dug down deep" by joshua harris

I had mixed emotions when I first heard about Joshua Harris’s new book. First, I thought it sounded interesting. Titled Dug Down Deep: Unearthing What I Believe and Why It Matters, it struck me as something I should be doing as well—getting beyond the surface to really examine the beliefs I claim. Then I read the back cover copy and realized that it was going to deal with “scary” words like doctrine, theology, and orthodoxy. Any time I hear the word “doctrine,” I automatically flash back to my exceedingly boring junior year Bible class: Bible Doctrines. Today, I couldn’t tell you a thing that we learned in that class precisely because I didn’t learn anything—I merely memorized information for the tests and then promptly forgot it. And “orthodoxy”? I couldn’t have told you what it really meant, just that it conjured images of old, ornate European churches that focused on ritual. (I think I was confusing “orthodoxy” with the Eastern Orthodox Church!)

Fortunately, Harris’s book isn’t at all boring, scary, or confusing. Sure, sometimes I had to stop reading at the end of a chapter and spend time processing what I’d just read, but never did I think, “This is too hard,” or, worse yet, “I’m so bored!”

In the first few chapters, Harris makes a convincing argument for “why it matters”: “because God is real, and he has acted in our world, and his actions have meaning today and for all eternity” (p. 15). He goes on to say that doctrine is important because it helps us know Jesus and understand how to relate to him (p. 31).

Using personal stories and engaging illustrations, Harris then dives into core doctrines of the faith, but he does it without using the “-ology” words that so bored me in high school. He packs so much good information into this book that I can’t begin to discuss it all, so I’ll just touch on a few things that really resonated with me:
  • The entire chapter on sanctification is great. My favorite portion was Harris’s description of indwelling sin, a.k.a. “the flesh.” He uses cartoon figures to illustrate our relationship with the flesh before and after salvation. It’s entertaining, but more importantly, it’s clear and memorable.
  • I grew up in a conservative Christian community where, at least in my recollection, the Holy Spirit was … well … not really mentioned. Couple that with my charismatic friend who “weirded me out,” and I never really had any desire to learn about the Holy Spirit. I realize now that my knowledge of God is rather lopsided—I know a lot about God the Father and God the Son but not much about God the Spirit. Harris devotes an entire chapter to the Holy Spirit, explaining his view that neither the charismatics nor the fundamentalists (or whomever the opposites of the charismatics are) have it all right. No matter our view on tongues and prophecy, we need to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is living and active! Reading this chapter helped me see where I’ve been closed-minded, and I now long to know more about the Spirit. (I hear Francis Chan has a good book on that subject ...)
  • I've heard the question, "What's your spiritual gift?" more times than I could count. So I found Harris’s statement about gifts refreshing and incredibly practical: “ … you don’t need a badge to be useful. Just serve. It’s not about you and your gift; it’s about serving the needs of others and glorifying Jesus through your life” (p. 186).
  • Those familiar with Harris’s book Stop Dating the Church know that Harris is passionate about encouraging believers to join a local body. So the fact that he devotes a chapter to the church shouldn’t surprise anyone. As a 20-something who has just recently begun thinking about church membership, I thought this chapter was convincing, convicting, and motivational.
To sum it up, Dug Down Deep is an excellent book. Read it, chew on it, and read it again. You won’t regret it!

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. You can pick it up here.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

book giveaway #1!

As you know, I'm just getting started with WaterBrook Multnomah's blogging for books program. My first review will post later this week (I have to write it first!), and my second will go up next week. One of the things I really like about this program is that they sometimes will offer an extra copy of the reviewed book for bloggers to give away to one of their readers.

My first giveaway book is Tea With Hezbollah by Ted Dekker and Carl Medearis. I just started reading the book this afternoon, and so far it's incredibly engaging. Here's a snippet from the promotional material:
Tea with Hezbollah combines nail-biting narrative with the texture of rich historical background, as readers join novelist Ted Dekker and his co-author and Middle East expert, Carl Medearis, on a hair-raising journey. They are with them in every rocky cab ride, late-night border crossing, and back-room conversation as they sit down one-on-one with some of the most notorious leaders of the Arab world. These candid discussions with leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas, with muftis, sheikhs, and ayatollahs, with Osama bin Laden’s brothers, reveal these men to be real people with emotions, fears, and hopes of their own. Along the way, Dekker and Medearis discover surprising answers and even more surprising questions that they could not have anticipated—questions that lead straight to the heart of Middle Eastern conflict.

Through powerful narrative Tea With Hezbollah will draw the West into a completely fresh understanding of those we call our enemies and the teaching that dares us to love them. A must read for all who see the looming threat rising in the Middle East.

 If you're interested in entering the drawing for this book, just leave a comment on this post. I'll randomly draw a name and will announce the winner when I post the review the week of Jan. 25. (If you choose the "anonymous" option when you comment, be sure to give your first name in the body of the comment.)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

the bra brouhaha

On Thursday night, I started seeing odd status updates on my facebook news feed. Girls would post a color, often followed by a :-). I didn't think too much of it at the time. By Friday afternoon, I'd seen numerous color updates--enough to make me curious. So I googled "color status update on facebook" and discovered that the color was the color of the poster's bra. Ostensibly, this was being done to raise awareness for breast cancer.

My first thought was that this was funny. But a split second later, my amusement was bumped aside by these two questions:
  1. How is sharing the color of my bra doing anything to fight breast cancer? Once I knew what the colors meant, my mind was not instantly transported into thinking about what I could do to fight breast cancer. Rather, I thought about what my friends color choice in bras said about them.
  2. Why would I want guys thinking about my underwear? Perhaps if my facebook friends were only female, this would be a harmless (yet still pointless) exercise. But my facebook friends include male relatives, friends, coworkers, and students ... none of whom I want to be thinking about my choice in undergarments. I wouldn't post a picture of myself with my bra showing, so why would I purposely post something that could give them a mental picture of the same?
Later on in the day, I came across a blog post from Lisa Anderson of Boundless (a Focus on the Family ministry geared toward young adults). Her sentiments nearly mirrored mine, and she got to what may be the root of the problem:
But I didn't think of this blazation as bloggable until a Boundless Show listener emailed me this morning and brought up the same scenario. And it got me thinking again: Has "much" become "too much" when it comes to sharing on Facebook and beyond? Is social media making us shameless? Or at the very least, sloppy?
I know I have posted things I probably shouldn't have because it feels "safe" to say something on the web that you wouldn't say to someone face-to-face. So if nothing else, this insanity has served to remind me to be careful about the things I post online.

Today, things seem to have calmed down. I haven't seen any more color statuses, but I have seen some people posting breast cancer facts and figures ... things that will do far more to raise awareness than posting a bra color will. I also incited quite the debate when I linked to the Boundless post on my facebook page--as of now, there are 18 comments on the post--some agree with it, and some definitely don't!

"the lightkeeper's daughter" by colleen coble

I have recently become a fan of Colleen Coble’s writing. I read Lonestar Secrets as a book review blogger selection, and I’ve since read a few of her other books. So when I learned of an opportunity to read and review her latest book, The Lightkeeper’s Daughter, I jumped at the chance.

Addie Sullivan’s world is rocked when a man claiming to be her uncle appears and tells her that the people she believed to be her parents were really strangers who took her in when she washed up on shore by the lighthouse her “father” kept. Her uncle takes her to live with her real father, one of the wealthiest men in Mercy Falls, under the guise of becoming a governess for her nephew Edward. As Addie tries to figure out who she is and how she fits into her father’s world, she runs headlong into a conspiracy surrounding her mother’s death and her own abandonment at sea.

First, the good: I greatly enjoyed the mystery surrounding Addie and her mother. The story took twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting and kept me on my toes. Coble does a great job (as always) of keeping you guessing until the end.

Now, the bad:
  • At the beginning of the story, I had a hard time keeping the characters straight. When characters spoke to one another, they referred to each other as Mr., Mrs., and so on, but in the narration, characters were referred to by first name. I felt like I needed a cheat sheet to keep everyone straight.
  • Normally, I’m all for a romantic plot line. This one, however, was actually too sappy for me. I found it unlikely how quickly Addie and John (Edward’s father) fell for each other, though I suppose it could happen that fast. More aggravating, though, was the sappy dialogue between the two. Perhaps people do speak that way to each other in real life, but it just served to give my gag reflex a good workout!
While I would not recommend this book, I still highly recommend the other Coble books I’ve read (Lonestar Sanctuary, Lonestar Secrets, and Anathema), and I look forward to reading more of her writing in the future—but I think I’ll stay away from the rest of this series.

***I received a free copy of this book to review through an offer in Coble's e-newsletter.***

Thursday, January 7, 2010

thoughts from the couch

We're a week into the new year, and I haven't posted anything but book reviews for about two weeks. I have another book review finished, but I thought I'd give you a different kind of post first!

We are headed into our third snow day in a row. While we still call them "snow days," these days have been more like "wind and extreme cold days." I am so excited to be able to sleep in again tomorrow, and I'm hoping for Saturday's speech meet to be canceled, too!

Other things that have happened recently:
  • I hosted a Holiday Bowl party where we watched the Huskers obliterate the Arizona Wildcats 33-0.

Janet shows off the easy chocolate cookies we made. She said she never bakes because it's too hard, and she was quite fascinated by my cake mix cook book.

Scott & Levi "throw the bones" ... or something like that! I believe it had to do with the defense.
  • We finally made it to Kansas (minus Dad, who had to stay behind to make sure sidewalks were cleared for the beginning of school on Monday). We celebrated Christmas with Grandma, and she was feeling well and was in a great mood. 

Grandma inspects the family calendar we made for her. She loved looking at the pictures of her kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.

We had a great dinner and then watched a dvd of an interview done with my great-grandparents in the '90s.

Grandma & I pose with the yule log my uncle buys every year to go with our Christmas dinner. Because of our Christmas blizzard, he had to return to California before we could get to Kansas, so we had to eat the dessert without him.

In the evening, we went to Wichita--to Target (yay!), Panera (double yay!), and the Warren (triple yay!). We'd planned to see Avatar in 3-D, but it was sold out, so we saw Sherlock Holmes instead. It was okay, but I would have appreciated knowing that magic played so heavily into the plot before we went.

Mom savors her broccoli cheese soup. Why don't we have a Panera around here???
  • Engagements abound! My cousin Jon just announced his engagement to Lauren. Not that he needs or wants my approval, but I give it completely :-) Lauren will be a great addition to our family!!! Also, dear friend and college roomie Jen just got engaged, and she's giving me the honor of being part of her special day! I couldn't be happier for her!

Jen and I were last together in October--I can't wait to see her again!
  • I've done a lot of reading recently, and I've started reading my first Blogging for Books selection--Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris!!! You may recall that a few months ago I mentioned how excited I was about this book. I got so excited when I saw it was available through Blogging for Books! I started reading it in earnest today, and so far, it's excellent. I'm looking forward to reading more; look for the review the week of Jan. 18.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

"the sweet by and by" by sara evans with rachel hauck

Jade Fitzgerald seems to have it all: a thriving business, wonderful girlfriends, and a fiancé who is crazy about her. But underneath her confident exterior lies a girl whose heart has been beaten down by life. As her wedding day approaches, Jade will have to deal with the pieces of her past that she’d rather leave buried--her hippie mother, her absent father, her childhood sweetheart, and the secret she's carried alone for the past thirteen years.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Jade’s character is well developed, and one can’t help but sympathize with her as her past is revealed. However, I never warmed up to Max, Jade’s fiancé, though I’m pretty certain the authors intended for me to like him! Also, I was disappointed by the scene where Jade is reunited with her first love; it felt incomplete and rushed, and it was ultimately unsatisfying.

This book was an enjoyable read, but there was nothing too special about it. I’d recommend waiting for it to arrive at your local library.

***I received a free copy of this book for review through Thomas Nelson's book review blogger program.***