Soldier On – Review and Giveaway

Reading is always a good idea. But in the busy-ness of life, it often gets pushed to luxury status. I’ve got too much “important” stuff to do, too many “real” issues to deal with. And when I do sit down to read, I’ve got a mission: solve a problem.

My TBR (to be read) list has grown remarkably over the last year – as parenting issues and ADHD have moved to the forefront of my mind, my bookshelf reflects my real-life stresses. For the last year, you could always find me with nonfiction, delving further into our reality and attempting to learn and apply.

I didn’t know I needed an intervention.

I got it.

For the past few years, my friend-since-middle-school Vanessa Rasanen has been working on a novel. I’ve watched her wrestle with the plotlines, create these characters, and change her entire schedule to write more. So when her “baby” was finally born, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

Turns out, it was exactly what I needed.

Instead of being caught up into my own reality, I was transported into the lives of a military couple as they navigated another deployment, personal tragedy, and a crisis of faith. I couldn’t put it down!

Vanessa has the gumption to tackle reality without sensationalism. She artfully weaves real-life issues in the storyline with humor and authenticity in Soldier On. The characters leap off the page, so I felt like I was curled up eavesdropping on two friends or choking dust and bad coffee alongside the troops.

The reality of our hope in Christ is woven throughout the storyline on a practical level. Yes, this is a book with a Christian worldview. I’ve avoided mainstream Christian fiction for a long time due to the unbiblical emotional drivel that it’s usually filled with. Who knew that independently published, military themed, Lutheran fiction would be more up my alley? :)

My return to fiction is a welcome respite from daily life, even if it involves explosive devices and weighty secrets. Especially if it involves humor and coffee.

Speaking of coffee… Vanessa has put together a fantastic prize pack for two lucky winners:

  • 1 “rest” mug from MudLove
  • 2 wood coasters from Rush Creek Rustics
  • 2oz Rainy Day soy candle from Mitten Candle Co.
  • Rise and Chai tea from The Tea Spot
  • Campfire Roast coffee from Snowy Elk Coffee Company

Visit the Rafflecopter link for all the info!

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Or here: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e368d67a2/

Pick up your own copy of Soldier On in these convenient spots:

AMAZON–  http://amazon.com/dp/B07J1H6FKV

NOOK–  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/soldier-on-vanessa-rasanen/1129617353

ITUNES– https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/soldier-on/id1437109314

KOBO– https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/soldier-on-3

And check out some other blogs featuring Soldier On and more chances to win!

October 30 – Review – Mary J Moerbe
October 31 – Review – Grit & Grace
November 1 – Review – Cammo Style Love
November 2 – Review – Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife
and First Line Friday – Faithfully Bookish
November 3 – Interview – The Nap Time Author
November 5 – Guest Post – Christian Shelf Esteem
November 6 – Review – Pure Joy Creative
November 7 – Review – Lights in a Dark World

 

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Vegetarian for a Week – And My Family Didn’t Notice

I had a secret.

There’s nothing unusual about me meal-planning, but one week I had an undercover theme. All my dinner plans had something in common. Or rather lacked something in common.

Meatless Mondays are trendy, and our family already lands way below the national average for meat consumption. But I wanted to put myself and my family to the test and see if I could cook family-pleasing vegetarian meals all week.

I have vegetarian, vegan, and reducitarian (love that word) friends, so cooking meatless is hardly an innovative concept to many who might be reading, but I wanted to do this to encourage families who might think this isn’t possible or who want to cut back on meat for health, budget, or treatment reasons and think their families will protest.

Maybe they won’t notice. Mine didn’t.

Here’s what I did.

Monday: Loaded Fries

These are homemade roasted potato wedges that everyone got to top with their choices. I did sautéed peppers and onions, pickled jalapeños, cheese, and sour cream. Sour cream doesn’t photograph well as it knocks off the color balance, lesson learned.

Tuesday: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas

These were my personal favorite of the week. I loving using Trader Joe’s Wheat & Corn tortillas for enchiladas because they don’t crack apart like corn tortillas but have a better texture than straight flour tortillas. I roughly adapted this from my go-to enchilada recipe from Good Cheap Eats – used roasted diced sweet potatoes, black beans, and pepper jack cheese. Hit the spot on a cold, rainy night, though the kids thought the sauce was too spicy. No objection to the weird filling, just the heat level, haha.

Wednesday: “Sausage” and Veggie Pasta

Did you know Aldi carries a lot of vegetarian and vegan products? Their meatless Italian Sausage is quite tasty, with good texture and flavor. I have one girl who won’t eat sausage, but I get some protein in her by whispering to her that it’s not actually sausage. ;) This was probably the kids’ favorite. I added diced tomatoes, butternut squash, spinach, and basil. Served with Caesar salad mix.

Thursday: Thai Peanut Butter Tofu

This was the only one this week that I actually used a recipe. (I’m not a great food blogger, and this post is intended more for inspiration than instruction) Thai Pra Ram Tofu was Brett’s favorite of the week. It was easy to make, and my kids like Thai dishes with peanut butter. Served with Thai cucumber salad, brown rice, and broccoli.

Friday: Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole

This was a gamble for me because my kids didn’t like any recipe with spaghetti squash last year. But this was a good start to fall squash season 2018! I think I won them over with the black olives. Served with garlic bread. I used my usual recipe for spaghetti casserole and just substituted cooked spaghetti squash.

Are we turning vegetarian? No. But this week showed me it’s not as hard as I thought to come up with meatless meals, and they were better-received than expected by the five other mouths I feed.

There are a lot of benefits to cutting back on meat consumption. Budget is a good place to start. Health is another one as meatless meals have more vegetable servings. Very few people get the recommended daily amount, and this is an easy way to get more.

(Keto people, don’t send me hate mail.)

Meatless Mondays are a great place to start as a mindful way to introduce change. And I admit I’ve gotten in a rut! This was a great way to find some new recipes and experiment with new family-friendly meals.

What are your favorite meatless meals?

What I Can’t Buy at Aldi

Y’all know I love Aldi. It saved our grocery budget, and my comparison shopping with favorites is my top post on the blog.

Buuuuut, one of Aldi’s main benefits is also a downside. I love that the choices are minimal, and I can shop quickly and easily with no decision fatigue. However, there are a few items that I found myself missing.

On a recent trip to Hy-Vee (more on that later), I took the chance to stock up on some of my necessities that I can’t buy at Aldi.

Clockwise starting upper left:

Whole wheat pasta – Aldi just started offering ww spaghetti, but for more choices I have to look elsewhere.

Wheat buns – This is only a summer seasonal item at Aldi.

Unbleached flour – I use both white whole wheat flour from Trader Joe’s and unbleached flour. Aldi only sells bleached.

Poblanos (in bag) – Chile rellenos are on the menu, and Aldi can’t hook me up.

Uncured bacon – Other stores are often cheaper than Aldi’s price on uncured, nitrate-free bacon, so I stock up and throw it in the freezer.

Petite diced tomatoes – These are my preferred style of canned tomatoes, and sadly Aldi no longer carries them.

Squeezable jelly – This is a necessity with my independent PBJ-makers. I buy the reduced sugar kind.

Hiding under the bacon, you can see what prompted my trip to Hy-Vee. BudgetBytes recently posted the tip on her Instastories about getting homemade pizza toppings from a salad bar.

So I picked up a little bit of a few things, and Brett and I will enjoy some mushroom, bacon, and artichoke pizza while the kids chow down on their black olive pie. Easy way to get a little bit of several things!

My Aldi love isn’t going to fade any time soon, especially since they’re currently remodeling mine, but I do have to be strategic in buying some of my necessities when I get the opportunity. Worth it!

If you’re a major Aldi fan like me, what are some of the things you have to find elsewhere?

We Remember. They are Learning. – The Next Generation on 9/11

I’d purposely waited to bring it up.

There are a lot of topics that I want to be the first to broach with my kids. This one I was curious to see what other would say.

“Did you talk about 9/11 at school today?” I asked casually over dinner. “Did your teachers say anything about it?”

Both of my school-age girls shook their heads. Violet seemed confused. But Hannah spoke up.

“No, but we talked about it at lunch. Like a lot.”

I’m always curious about what third-graders pass off as facts. “Cool. So what kind of stuff did you talk about?”

Hannah proceeded to relay information, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was mostly factual! Since this wasn’t addressed in the class apparently, I’m presuming that most of the other kids got their information from their parents.

We also had a good talk about why we don’t just call people “stupid” when “evil” is a much more accurate term. Vocabulary is important.

But I came away from the conversation with appreciation for the other parents of Hannah’s classmates. The line on 9/11 is “We Won’t Forget.” And it was clear that other parents of my generation, the generation that went through it during our college and early adult years, is not forgetting and is not letting their kids forget. 

So around a lunch table in Kansas City today, a bunch of eight-year-olds showed there is remembrance. Good job, parents.

Noodle Nostalgia

Just reading it on the menu transported me back 17 years.

Cold Soba Noodles

I sat up on my bedroll in the hostel and glanced at my watch. After a long day sightseeing in the Japanese countryside, our last day, I’d slept through dinner. My stomach told me this was not a good situation.

Luckily, when I connected with the rest of my group downstairs (and yelled at my brother for not waking me up), I found a contingent walking to a convenience store, and I tagged along hoping to find something edible. I pictured the greasy rotating hot dogs at 7-11 and a bag of chips, but I was so hungry that I’d settle for anything.

I should have known better. Food is different in Japan. The convenience store offered an array of healthy prepared foods. I wanted something simple but filling, so I selected some cold soba noodles. Soba noodles are thin buckwheat noodles and can be eaten hot or cold. These came with a sauce and sesame seeds.

We walked back from the convenience store in the dark. I was so hungry. I plopped down on the tatami mat, cracked the chopsticks open, and shoveled cold dark noodles into my mouth. As elevated as the Japanese are about food, they are not so particular about table manners, so my noodle consumption style was entirely appropriate.

In that moment, I hadn’t tasted anything so good. I was still sad about leaving a country I now loved, and nervous about the travel the next day, but at least my tummy was happy.

All this came rushing back when I sat in the Sushi House in Leawood, Kansas. It was a girls’ night out for the moms of littles on our street celebrating the soon arrival of a new baby girl. (Over a dozen new babies on our street since we moved in!)

It’s amazing how a food can conjure up such vivid memories. It’s not just about the physical taste – it’s the experience, the atmosphere, the company.

This bowl of soba had much nicer presentation than a plastic container from a convenience store. I also had some spicy salmon rolls and veggie tempura to round out the meal. The food and the company were wonderful.

A comfort food with some of my favorite people. A flood of memories from a favorite place.

Noodle nostalgia.

 

Jello Cups and Judgy Planks

My little Peanut is having surgery. After many minor issues over the last year, she’s getting her tonsils and adenoids removed. While she is fairly oblivious to the impending situation, the other girls have had friends go through the same thing and are both stressed about her going through surgery and also excited to take part of the special foods that are encouraged during recovery.

Last weekend, I added these special soft foods to my grocery list at Aldi. I stood in the snack aisle thinking about what fun it would be to buy these things for my girls. Jello cups, pudding cups, fruit cups, flavored oatmeal packets – never on my normal list, so I excitedly grabbed multiples of things, glad that there was something for the girls to look forward to. 

As I was shoveling pudding cups in my cart, the lady next to me loudly declared to her husband, “I’m so glad we don’t buy sugary food for our kids any more.”

Ouch.

I’ll give her a momentary benefit of the doubt. Maybe she wasn’t talking about me. Maybe she hadn’t even noticed me and my cart full of pudding. But it sure seemed like weird timing to make a random declaration of personal buying habits.

I was immediately defensive. Food is important to me, and the way I feed my family is very important to me. I spend a lot of time and effort making meal plans and encouraging healthy eating habits. I want to look right.

Then felt convicted. While I definitely wouldn’t have said it out loud, if I had been in that woman’s shoes observing my sugar-filled, pre-packaged snack binge, I would have thought the same thing.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Matthew 7:1-3

Food is important to me, but it shouldn’t be a source of self-righteous pride. I wanted to launch in and set her straight – provide an extensive explanation of what was happening in our family and justification about why those particular items were on my shopping list this week only.

Her speck of a rude comment certainly illuminated the plank of food pride in my own eye.

Instead of looking at other’s carts, I’m going to practice Ecclesiastes 9:7. “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.” Because I really wanted wine after that.

Just kidding. More like “Whatever you eat or drink, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.” 1 Corintihians 10:31

I shouldn’t feed my kids a certain way for my own glory. So I can post a nice pic on Instagram.

It’s for the glory of God, fueling their bodies to grow and serve Him.

It also showed me the lesson that a snapshot of a person’s life does not necessarily represent the whole. Yes, maybe a mom shoveling jello cups in her cart feeds her kids junk food every day.

Or maybe she’s trying to entice her already-underweight kid to eat after surgery.

So I finished shopping. Yogurt squeezers, popsicles, apple sauce, ice cream, avocados, and dino chicken nuggets filled the checkout belt. All Cora’s favorites and soft things.

I’m going to get the plank out of my eye and go back to focusing on helping my kid heal. And I’m going to try not to care what the lady next to me at Aldi thinks about what’s in my cart.

Family Fun Near KC: Joplin and Ft. Scott

With a new baby, trips are hard. There’s the schedule or lack thereof, there’s all the stuff, there’s the lack of sleeping, all the crying… it’s just rough to go places with an infant let alone three other kids! But sometimes it’s worth the effort for family gatherings. Last summer, Brett’s grandpa turned 85, so we loaded up our new crew of six for the first time and headed to Tulsa for a family celebration.

While we were on the road, we figured we’d maximize our outing with some family fun on the way back. But at first glance, I thought it was a lost cause. There is nothing to do between Tulsa and Kansas City, blah. Wrong.

We did this all as stops on our way back from Oklahoma, but this would be a fun mini-trip if you’re looking to get out of KC for a night!

Joplin

In preparation, I googled around for a park because I knew the kids would want to get their wiggles out after hours in the car. I found something far beyond your average playscape.

Cunningham Park was built in there area where the 2011 tornado flattened the town hospital. The park features a small Western-style town, a huge playscape, a toddler playscape, a fish pond, and a memorial to the 158 people killed in the tornado.

The day we went was a bright and sunny 96 degrees! It was sooooo hot. But the park was so fun that the girls didn’t want to leave. It was sobering to watch my kids play next to the tornado memorial and think about the families that were impacted by such a disaster.

We needed a little snack after all that playing, so we headed over to Hurt’s Donuts. There is not a Hurt’s location in the Kansas City area, but their reputation goes far. Their selection produced awe and glee from the girls.

We left with Starry Starry Night, Grape Balls of Fire, ET, Cotton Candy, and Red Velvet.

There are several other activities in Joplin that I noticed as I was looking around. The Rangeline Golf Center has a mini-golf course that looked fun. And there is a Museum Complex with some unique offerings, but they are closed Sunday and Monday (when we were there). The best source of information was the JoplinMOLife blog.

We were excited to find a Homewood Suites in Joplin as it is our first choice of hotels for many reasons. For our family size with a baby, suites work the best for getting everyone a good night’s sleep. And it’s not just a half-wall between a little couch and a bed. There is a small kitchen, a living room, and a separate bedroom and bathroom. The Joplin location only has one-bedroom suites, but some offer two-bedroom options.

The breakfast is fantastic, but on Monday-Thursday nights they also serve dinner! Included with your stay. Very convenient, and they even offer adult beverages. We were sad to miss this on our Sunday night stay and instead headed to McAllister’s for their 99 cent kids meals.

Ft. Scott

In the morning, we headed north to our next destination. This was a very spontaneous stop, and I had done no preparation beforehand. As we drove down, I saw the actual Ft. Scott by the road and thought it might be an interesting place to check out.

We stopped in first to get the map and were introduced to their Junior Ranger program. There was a book with activities for each building plus a bag (which you return) with hands-on items.

Since it was ridiculously hot and we only had one for which it was age-appropriate, we didn’t end up doing much, but it was a fun surprise as I hadn’t be sure how kid-friendly they would be. We will definitely do more when we go back.

The Junior Ranger program may be kid-friendly, but the buildings and stairs are not stroller-friendly.

Inside each building were exhibits that provided good information about daily life in the 1800’s, not just military life. We had just read “Little House on the Prairie,” so the girls had some context to the time period. I was amazed at the logistics of running the place. We learned the men took turns in the bakehouse cranking out 100 loaves of bread a day!

We went through quickly due to the heat, but I am looking forward to going back when the kids are a little older and the weather is better. When we returned the Junior Ranger bag, Hannah took an oath promising to preserve the landscape and respect history.

As we left, Hannah said, “I figured this would be boring, but it’s actually super cool.”

Our stops in Joplin and Ft. Scott were so much more fun than I anticipated. In a short amount of time, we were able to do a lot of things without being too far away from home. With a family of six including a refluxy cranky baby, I did not have high expectations. But we made some good memories and look forward to repeat visits!