Monday, December 19, 2011

Favorite Novels for Teen and 20-Something Girls

It is hard these days to walk into a bookstore and find good fiction for young women around my age.  And by "good" I mean literature that supports my worldview and Christian values.  Does this mean that I have to agree theologically with every idea in a book to be able to recommend it?  No, not at all.  (In fact, it is intellectually stimulating when I disagree with an idea and have to work through why I disagree.)  But it does mean that I look for books, even fiction books, that give me examples of the character I would like to develop more fully in my own life.  And it means that I'm careful about what I choose to spend hours of my life reading, because I know that what I mentally nourish myself with affects me just as much as what I nourish my body with.  The following books are just novels, but most are fast-paced and have intricate plots.  While they all have some element of romance in them, there isn't anything trashy or cheap.  They are influenced by Christian values, even though some of them aren't overtly Christian.  When the best the local bookstores have to offer young women are vampires and sorcerers (their message is not even subtle!), I hope you will dig a little deeper and find literature that is consistent with our faith.


#1- Not My Will by Francena Arnold
(Moody Classic Fiction)

I received this book for Christmas as an early high schooler and have read it four or five times since.  It follows the life of a young girl who is orphaned and raised by her aunt who is bitter towards God and men.  She is left a large fortune upon the death of her aunt but cannot receive it until her 25th birthday, and only if she remains unmarried.  There are several unexpected turns in the plot that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I've cried through this book every time!

 #2- Pearl Maiden by H. Rider Haggard
(Published by Christian Liberty Press)
#3- Lysbeth by H. Rider Haggard
(Published by Christian Liberty Press)
#4- The Brethren by H. Rider Haggard
(Published by Christian Liberty Press)

These three books are historical fiction centered around the Roman Empire in the first century after Christ, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Crusades, respectively.   I just finished reading The Brethren last night and really enjoyed the action-filled plot.  Of these three, Pearl Maiden was my favorite with Lysbeth coming in at a close second.  But all three are adventurous, romantic and action-packed reads.

#5- The Hawk and the Dove Triology (3-in-1 Volume) by Penelope Wilcock
(Available from Amazon)

I read this every summer during high school, and would gladly read it again if I could find my book!  I love the character Father Peregrine, who comes to the monastery a proud and difficult man, and through crushing circumstances is humbled and changed.  The book summary says, "They belonged to another century, yet their struggles are our own-finding our niche; coping with failure; living with impossible people' and changing when we realize that we are the impossible one.  These humble seekers, called to live together in brotherhood, discover in the daily rhythm of their work and worship that the whole of life is a love story about a tender and passionate God.  Rich with imagery and emotion, their tales depict love in action, and love given in the most trying of circumstances."

#6- The Hidden Hand by Eden Southworth
(Published by Lamplighter)

It's been a long time since I read this book, but it, and the Lost Clue (below) were so full of mystery and suspense that I could barely put them down.  These books were written in the 1800's, but have been updated into modern English.  They are more pricey than most of the books I have listed in this post (about $30), but have excellent binding and hard, dimensional covers.  That Printer of Udell's (below) is by the same publisher and has a leather cover.  With basic care, they should last for many years to come.

#7- The Lost Clue by Mrs. O.F. Walton 
(Published by Lamplighter)

#8- That Printer of Udell's by Harold Bell Wright
(Published by Lamplighter)

This was one of President Ronald Reagan's favorite books.  His letter is included in the book, and a copy of it is below (click to enlarge).  The publisher's webpage contains this summary of the book:

"Has someone crossed your path recently that might have needed your help? Were you paying attention closely enough to have noticed? This wonderful book from Harold Bell Wright is just as alive and relevant in this century as it was to those to whom he was writing over 100 years ago. That tramp printer that ends up working for George Udell has so much to teach us about living by an honor code."

Wedding Crasher

(Don't you just love the "rubber bands" around his chubby arms and legs?)

You would never know that this cherubic looking little boy was once a wedding crasher.  21 years ago, he was a ring bearer at his mom's sister's wedding.  His mom was the maid of honor, his dad performed the ceremony and his older sister was the flower girl.  
I had already heard the story of how, at age 2 1/2, he threw the wedding rings (the real ones!) off his little pillow, sending them clattering under the pews at the candle-lit service.  
This week, I also found out that he escaped during the ceremony and was found in the church basement eating carrots out of the fridge.  Someone brought him back upstairs, where he crawled around his dad's feet while he performed the ceremony and shook the microphone stand.  Later, he laid down on his stomach in the church aisle with his head in his hands, looking up at everybody who attended the wedding.  He started wandering around the church and went up to his aunt, the bride, and was trying to look under her veil to see if it was her under there.  When picture time came, he was totally uncooperative (apparently because of a missed nap), so all the pictures of Nathan show him with a carrot in each hand, mouth wide open, screaming.


With these ornery genes, the moral of the story for me is to never say "my child would never..." 
But still, really, all of that at one wedding?  I'm hoping those genes skip a generation! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

These are the good old days... little brother is not always going to want to call me a few times a week and talk to me for 20, 30 or more minutes.  Our conversations aren't anything earth shattering- mostly a blow-by-blow of his day, and lately, what I think he should buy different people for Christmas- but it's not always going to be "cool" to call his big sister.  I have lots of messages saved on my phone that say, "Leah, this is Isaac....I was just calling to chit-chat, so call me back!"  10 years from now, he'll probably have a different girl on speed dial, so I try to treasure the sweet innocence now.

...Eva's not always going to be a 7-year-old begging me to sit on the floor and play Strawberry Shortcakes. In fact, it doesn't seem like too long ago that I was the one who loved to play with those dolls.  Yesterday I helped her organize the toys in her bedroom- seeing the paper dolls, American girl dolls and art projects brought back a lot of memories.  She has a lot of mature characteristics, but can be super silly and little girlish at the same time.  She came over on Saturday and helped me bake peanut blossoms.  She got the giggles as she exaggerated my instructions to make all the cookies uniform in size.  I just love these two little guys.  Before I know it, they're going to be all grown up.

Is this the right size???
Oh, maybe if I make it a little bigger....
...and bigger...
How's this???
(Yes, she was having a silly afternoon!)

...even though it feels like I haven't quite found the perfect rhythm to keeping my house clean, laundry done and dinner on the table (it seems like once a week our house looks like it "threw up" the contents of its cabinets and closets), I know it's never going to be easier than now.  When we have kids and happy chaos someday, I'm sure there will be times that I'll look back fondly on how streamlined my days are now.

...I think one of the things that makes marriage great in the long run is when each spouse works to understand the other more fully, learning something new about the other every day.  As much as we loved each other when we got married, almost a year and a half later, our relationship is even closer than it was then.  I am so happy to have time with Nathan almost every day to just enjoy our marriage.  Whether we're actually working on a project together, hosting friends, or just tackling our individual to-do lists in the evenings, I'm grateful to have these days and years to study Nathan as a person.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

This Week's Recipes:

I realized last week that I was in a cooking rut.  I was turning to my two or three quick-dinner standards almost every night, and I was ready for a change!  Nathan would never complain- I'm pretty sure I could make spaghetti every night and he would be happy.  But, I was ready for something new, so I went to and found some things to try.  Here are some favorites so far.


Ham and Potato Soup

3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup diced cooked ham
3 1/4 cups water
2 Tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk


1. Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water in a stockpot.  Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes.  Stir in the bouillon, salt and pepper.  (*I used 3 or 4 cups of chicken stock instead of the water and bouillon.)

2.  In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat.  Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute.  Slowly stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added.  Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot, and cook soup until heated through.  Serve immediately.

*The only other change I made to this recipe was to saute the chopped onion in a little butter before adding them to the soup.  Nathan isn't a big fan of onions, and this seems to make them less strong.


Spinach and Sausage Quiche

1 pie crust
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar)
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 pound sausage, browned (I used maple flavored)
3 cups of fresh spinach, finely chopped

1. Prepare pie crust and place in pan (do not poke holes in the bottom).  Bake at 450 for ten minutes.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk eggs.  Add milk, cheese, pepper, sausage and spinach.  

3. Remove pie crust from oven and fill with egg mixture.  Cover edge of pie crust with foil to prevent burning.  Reduce oven temperature to 350.  Bake for 40-45 minutes or until eggs are set.

I served this for dinner with cooked carrots and french bread (I cut slices of french bread, buttered one side and toasted them directly on the oven rack while the quiche was baking).  We had leftovers, so for breakfast I warmed it in the oven and served it with fresh fruit.  It works well for either breakfast or dinner.


Mozzarella Chicken

This is a favorite dinner in our house because it is quick, simple, and very yummy!

4 chicken breasts
1 jar spaghetti sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese
4 cups rice

1. Place four thawed chicken breasts in a glass baking dish.  Bake at 400 near the top rack for 10 minutes, flip over and bake for 10 more minutes.  

2. When chicken is fully cooked, remove from oven and pour spaghetti sauce over chicken (I usually add basil, oregano and pepper to the sauce).  Sprinkle cheese over the top. 

3.  Return to oven for 10 more minutes, or until cheese is melted and spaghetti sauce is bubbly.

4.  Serve chicken over white rice.  I make ours in a rice cooker- we received it as a wedding gift and love it!

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    The last week in bullet points.

    •  I finished my Christmas shopping on Monday evening.  What a nice feeling to have everything wrapped and under the tree so that I can enjoy the coming month stress-free.  Last year, I finished the semester about ten days before Christmas and hadn't done any of my shopping.  I came down with shingles (yes, only old people get that) a few days before Christmas.  I didn't know what it was until after Christmas, but I just did not feel good!  It was my first Christmas with the Sweeney side, meaning that I had a lot more gifts to pick out than usual, and didn't know some of my in-laws well enough to confidently pick out a gift.  I was so thankful for a sister-in-law who asked us to split a couple of bigger gifts.
    • We took our Christmas card pictures last Saturday.  I know we haven't really changed since last year, but it's so fun to send them out.  It's practically the only snail-mail I send, besides bills, all year.  Plus, I had a $10.00 coupon for Shutterfly and a free shipping code, which helped me to save over $20!
    • We babysat our 10-month-old nephew, Benjamin on Sunday afternoon while my sister had an orchestra concert.  He is the happiest baby!  He was content to snuggle with Nathan on the couch watching football, but after a few minutes, he was all about crawling around, checking out the Christmas tree, and scooting along the furniture.   He moves fast though, so we created our own baby gates using an ottoman and two of our upholstered chairs.  Yes, we were very proud of our contraption!
    • When I went through graduation ceremonies in May, I still had one class to finish- a music history course.  I've been writing my final paper for my final class this week.  Even though I don't really like writing papers, it's so much better when I know it's my last one ever.  My class is on the music of the Black Caucasus which is a particularly interesting region because of the diversity of influences in that region.  The region's Northern border is with Russia; Turkey and Iran are neighboring countries.  The region is sandwiched between Europe and Asia.  All of these influences add up to a very interesting musical sound coming from this region!  My paper is a comparison of duduki dasta and sazandari ensembles in Georgia.  If you've gotten to this point in my paragraph without falling asleep, congratulations!  Now, time to move on to other things...
    • I did a little Christmas decorating last weekend.  I turned my clothes budget into my decorating budget this month, and I was pretty pleased with what I could do with $50.00  I bought stockings and stocking holders, three ornaments to represent this year, garland for the fireplace mantle, six springs of this silver sparkly stuff to fill out the garland that was $5 for 8 feet (read: sparse!), and a pack of 20 snowflake ornaments.  I made a garland out of some of the ornaments for our downstairs bathroom mirror while watching the news Saturday morning.  I just tied them together with fishing line.   I also hung the same snowflakes from my kitchen window, also with fishing line.  Then, of course, we have our tree, which has turned out really well, considering that I did not spend a single penny on it!

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Picture Post

    My sister stopped over on Saturday and took some photos of Nathan and I for our Christmas cards this year.  Thank you, Therese, for doing a great job!

    Friday, December 2, 2011

    And The Winner Is....

    I asked Nathan to pick a random number between 1 and 13 (the number of comments), and he picked 7.  So the ProActiv giveaway goes to comment number 7, Victora from The Winters.  Congratulations, Victoria!  Send me a message with your address and I'll send this right out to you!