Monday, January 28, 2013

Compliments to the Chef

You know those cooking shows where the chefs make perfect little soups, perfect little casseroles, and perfect little cupcakes? They add a pinch of this and a squirt of that, and at the end of the half-hour show they taste their dishes and declare, "Mmmm . . . That's so delicious!"

When I was a little kid, I loved watching those shows. (Who am I trying to fool? I STILL love watching those shows!) It drove my sister crazy, and my parents were sure I would grow up to be a chef one day. Alas, I did not. However, I do enjoy a good meal and trying new recipes.

A couple weeks ago I bought a new cookbook to add to my collection. (This one brings my total to seven, I think.) As I was flipping through the pages, making my mouth water with the tantalizing pictures, I discovered a neat and not-too-complicated recipe for homemade jam. Trying this recipe could be a lot of fun and also save me some money (or help me make some if it turned out scrumptiously delicious.) So, I gathered the ingredients for grape jam and gave it a go this weekend.

The recipe, surprisingly, was not deceiving. The jam was super easy to make and, I must admit, quite enjoyable to tinker with. The neatest part was seeing the sugar bubble and foam up as it dissolved in the crushed fruit.

Before my family and I tasted my first attempt at homemade jam, I decided to also make a batch of cream biscuits, also found in the newest addition to my cookbook shelf. I figured the biscuits would go perfectly with the jam. Of course, now we'd have two new creations to taste-test, but my parents and sister uttered no complaints.

Once I snapped a few photos of the finished products, I almost didn't want to taste them. I was nervous! Thoughts flew through my mind. What if it doesn't taste right? Did my family get their hopes up only to be crushed when the jam and biscuits hit their taste buds?

Throwing caution to the wind, I bit into a jam-filled biscuit. Wow . . . That was my first thought as the concoction melted in my mouth. The biscuit was soft and moist. The grape jam complimented it perfectly as it was not too sweet and absolutely delicious. My parents and sister all agreed: These two recipes are definitely keepers!

Now that I've heard from my food critics, the only thing left to wonder is . . . What flavor of jam should I attempt to make next?



What is YOUR favorite flavor of jam?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hide and Seek

Have you ever been so invested in the plotline of a novel that you found yourself holding your breath in anticipation for the next twist of the tale? That's exactly what happened to me while I was reading Hide and Seek. This military intelligence adventure, written by authors Major (Retired) Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky, plunks you right in the middle of the action and keeps you tight in its grip until the final word on the last page.
Master Sergeant J.J. "Boss Bartley, soon-to-be father of twins, welcomes two new guys to his Special Operations team not long before heading out on a search and rescue mission in riot-riddled Kyrgyzstan to recover an Army-trained Foreign Affairs Officer and the lawyer daughter of Kyrgyzstan's president. As the team fight their way through the streets of Bishkek, the stakes are constantly raised, which adds to the drama and keeps you on the edge of your seat--and turning pages! Each new person you meet along the way adds a new layer of depth to the strong complexity of this search and rescue tale.

On page 188, Sergeant Alan Kinkaid says, "Faith helps me soldier on." I find this to be true in my own life as well. Whenever I am struggling with something and think that there is no way I can make my through the difficult circumstances, God is there to help me through it. Leaning on faith is quite hard sometimes because, as humans, we want to have things well in control. Hide and Seek serves as a reminder that things don't always go the way you think they will. Life comes with speed bumps of all sorts. These trials are put in place to strengthen us, direct us back to the right path (or simply a different one), and correct us when we fall short. When things go awry, our faith in God will surely help us "soldier on."

Hide and Seek is a fantastic story that I couldn't put down. In fact, I read it in only three days. Major (Retired) Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky work well together, telling an intricate story of teamwork, military pride and brotherhood, and the importance of family. I look forward to reading more books by Major (Retired) Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky. You can find Hide and Seek and other books and information about the authors on each of their websites: http://jeffstruecker.com and http://altongansky.com. May God bless you in amazing ways this week.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Wish You Were Here

Last spring, I bought Beth K. Vogt's debut novel, Wish You Were Here, and discovered a spunky, fun, creative story with a fresh voice. The unusual plotline apparently gave Beth buckets of inspiration for her first dip into the world of fiction. I say this because, within the pages of this book, I found a great release for laughter and tears as I enjoyed the unexpected plot twists, unforgettable characters with real-life issues, and important life messages for the reader to glean. This book was a pleasant surprise with a bit of adventure thrown into the mix.

In Wish You Were Here, Allison Denman accidentally kisses her soon-to-be brother-in-law a mere five days before her wedding to the guy's brother. This mistake causes her to doubt her decisions and plans for the future and become a runaway bride. She struggles to confront the trauma of her past and the whirlwind of her present, all the while resisting God's plans for her future. Will she figure out all the pieces of the puzzle of her life and give God a chance to guide her into the safety of His arms?

As you'll see, Alli is a lady trying to do the right thing but finds herself making mistake after mistake that alter the course of her life. As the chapters go by, it seems like her mistakes pile higher and higher until they threaten to topple and bury her alive. Sorting through the mess her life has become is quite difficult, especially when faced with the choice between Seth Rayner--her fiance who has things planned out and in control--and Daniel Rayner--Seth's adventuresome older brother who has sent Alli 'Wish You Were Here' postcards for years. It's a tough decision that gets even harder with every turn of the page. I stayed awake long into the night to cheer Alli Denman on in this unusual love triangle, and I'm guessing you will too!

I recently reread Wish You Were Here in eager anticipation of Beth K. Vogt's second novel, entitled Catch a Falling Star. No doubt, Beth will not disappoint with the talent God has bestowed upon her. In her debut novel, she easily laced complex backstories and multiple heart-gripping themes into the plotline of her sweet tale of finding the right kind of love. I'm looking forward to seeing what literary tricks she uses in her next book, and May 2013 (when the book releases) cannot get here soon enough! For more information about Beth K. Vogt and Wish You Were Here, Catch a Falling Star, and Beth's non-fiction titles, please visit her website at http://www.bethvogt.com.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Family Adventure

My parents took my sister and me up to Lake Murray State Park in Oklahoma for the weekend. We've never gone on a trip in January before, so it felt kind of weird to be going somewhere when the air was so chilly around us. We had a lot of fun, though, and I am glad we got to take this brief little trip. Plus, it came right after I began this blog, too. And, boy, do I have a story to tell you this week!

Since Lake Murray is in Oklahoma, I got a special treat on Friday evening. I got to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game on their home television network, Fox Sports Oklahoma. I was thrilled speechless because, next to the Dallas Mavericks from my home state of Texas, the Thunder is my favorite NBA team. My Okie boys are young, energetic, super talented, and a lot of fun to watch! If you've never seen one of their games, you seriously don't know what you're missing. Best part about seeing their game on Friday was they won by 24 points! Plus, I got to hear coach and player interviews that I wouldn't normally get to listen to. What a delicious treat!

On Saturday afternoon, my parents, sister and I went down to the lodge and walked around by the docks for a while, where I took gobs of pictures. When we came back into the lodge, six or seven elderly gentlemen were lounging on a couple sofas, each eating a banana while watching college football. Too bad I didn't get a photograph of that one! It would have been a hilarious shot.

Afterwards, we went to check out this cool stone water tower, called the Nature Outpost, that's up the street from our cabin. My sister and I decided to go from there to hike on one o the nature trail through the woods. That's where the real adventure began.

As we were trekking through the woods, I would pause every now and then to take several pictures, shifting my heavy backpack to a more comfortable position before heading off again. (This was the first vacation I've had my new camera, and I was eager to test it out.) My sister even jumped up and down on this rickety old bridge for a priceless shot. Soon after that, a large, friendly black dog with a bright orange collar joined us on the trail. It was a great companion, but it didn't know any commands. We tried 'Come here' and 'Sit', and even whistling didn't work when it decided to scramble ahead of us. It came back once, but it didn't return the second time. We never saw or heard its owner, nor did we learn the dog's name as it didn't have a nametag on its collar. It was a sweet dog, and I got a couple of photos of it to put in my scrapbook (and, yes, my blog!).

That's when our leisurely walk through the woods morphed into a huge misadventure.

The trail forked off several times, without a single sign to guide us at these particular forks. Next thing we knew, we were lost. Granted, we were still on a trail. However, we didn't hae a clue where we were anymore--besides in Lake Murray State Park. We kept walking on the trail, hoping to find where it turned back or see some signs that would direct us back to the water tower or the lodge or cabins or any place we recognized. I had joked before about if we had to survive on the Christmas cookies and three inches of fruit punch in my backpack, we could be on my favorite show, I Shouldn't Be Alive. At this point, after not seeing a sign for a while and being out who knew how long--and needing to go to the restroom really badly!--I was really wishing I hadn't said a word about needing to survive.

Sending up silent prayers for God to get us back to the cabin safely, we kept going. Eventually, we happened upon a road--a blessed road!--and saw the sign for an even longer trail than the one we were supposed to be on. Deciding against the eight-or-so-mile hike, we chose to stick to the road that headed directly for the lake. We thought surely we'd be able to see the docks that are behind the lodge from the edge of the lake. No such luck. When we got to the lake's edge, we didn't see the docks, the lodge or the playground equipment that was near the docks. We knew the general direction we should go, so we trudged across the sandy lakeside, figuring we'd happn upon the docks eventually.

There were dozens of ducks floating near the water's edge on the lake. All the ducks were looking at us and chattering amongst themselves, as if reporting to God where we were. We took this as encouragement that God was watching over us. Glancing to our right, we saw a sign for the trail we were supposed to be on. We decided not to go down it, for fear we'd get lost again. Instead, we continued following the lake's edge . . . until we came to a dead end. The lake surrounded us on three sides at this point. Apparently, we had come onto a small peninsula. Instead of swimming through the freezing water, we trekked back to the sign we saw for the Buckhorn Trail. For a while we didn't see anything familiar and worried that we would take a wrong turn. Finally, though, we began seeing familiarities. A log fallen across the trail. A bridge with a missing board. And signs--blessed signs!--that pointed us back to the water tower where we had begun this crazy adventure.

When my sister and I finally reached our cabin, where our parents had just finished cooking dinner, we discovered that we had been gone for over two hours. We had expected to only be gone for about an hour, and it felt like it was a lot longer than the two hours it took. It's a good thing we decided to hike before dinner instead of afterward. If we would have gone with our original plans, we would have been lost in the dark. Not fun. God was truly gracious in His timing as He brought us home in time for dinner and kept us from being trapped in the woods after the sun went down. We were (and are) definitely blessed beyond words.

It was quite an adventure to remember and will make a great story to tell the next generation in future years. We've already gotten a huge laugh out of it, as have our parents, now that we're safe. The best part is, neither my sister nor I ever panicked. We just came up with a plan (sticking to roads and lakes when we found them, and signs or unmarked trails when we didn't) and kept our hearts focused on God. We were glad we were together when we got lost, and truly grateful that God was faithful to bring us safely home.