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Monday, November 30, 2009

The Unfinished Gift and The Christmas Dog Reviews + Giveaway!

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I was offered the chance to review The Unfinished Gift and The Christmas Dog by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I jumped at the opportunity. I haven’t read much fiction at all this year and love to read.

The Christmas Dog by Melody Carlson

I started with this book. The adorable pup on the cover beckoned me. This is a lighthearted story of an older woman who is not at all in the Christmas spirit, especially when it comes to her neighbor Jack. Through a series of events, she finds herself not just one but three unexpected visitors for Christmas and learns what Christmas is really all about. It is a cute story with a happy ending; just right to get you in the right spirit for Christmas! The plot is quite simple, as are the which makes it easy to read in the spare moments throughout the day. In hind sight, it would have made a nice story to read in the evenings as a family. I finished it quite quickly. When I finished, I knew I would pass this book on to my grandmother who is in the hospital. I am sure she will enjoy it as well.

She slowly got out of the car, and out of habit ever since that notorious Jack Jones had moved into the neighborhood, she securely locked her car’s doors. Then she sat her purse and Bible on the hood of the car and peeked around the right side to see the front fender. The horizontal gash was about a foot long with a hook on one end, causing it, strangely enough, to resemble the letter J. Betty just shook her head. It figured . . . J for Jack. So she continued to obsess over him—and over today’s sermon and her futile prayer. How was it possible to love someone so completely disagreeable and inconsiderate and downright evil? She grunted as she struggled to lower the
garage door. Really, she thought as she stood up straight, even Pastor Gordon would be singing a different tune if he was forced to live next to Jack Jones.

Read the entire excerpt from the Christmas Dog here.

The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh

This was a great read as well, especially since I have a soft spot for historical fiction. It starts with a little seven year old boy, Patrick,  in 1943. Patrick has lost his mother in a car crash, his father is fighting in Europe and he is taken to live with a stranger, his grandfather, until his father can come home. Though there is tension between the prickly grandfather and himself, he is quickly taken under wing by the neighboring widow. Through tragedy and tears, a family is reunited, a little boy gets both his Christmas prayers answered and a man finds his Christmas spirit and the true meaning of forgiveness. I was in tears at the end of the book. Tears of happiness, that is. Yes, I am a bit of a sappy person. On of my favorite parts of the book was reading the letters from Patrick’s dad to his mother while he was at war. Heartwarming and filled with truth, they touched my heart. I found the characters to be engaging and was quickly caught up into Patrick’s world. The author did just the right amount of Character development (in my opinion) for the book, especially when it comes to the grandfather. I had an instant dislike for him instantly, which I am assuming the author intended. This emotional connection made the ending all that much sweeter, especially knowing that it could only be God who could work such a miraculous change. I know there is a sequel coming out and I look forward to finding out what happens next!

Instead he thought about his father. He had been gone for a long time, but Patrick still remembered what he looked like. He had studied the picture every night before bed, trying to remember the sound of his voice. It was deep and strong, like the voice of the Shadow. And he was tall with dark wavy hair. He was a pilot on a B-17, dropping bombs on Hitler and all the bad people in Germany so the world could be free. That’s what his mother had said. But right now, Patrick didn’t care if the world was free. Or if his dad flew bombers or drove a milk truck. He just wanted him home. Read more here.

Finding Christmas by James Calvin Schaap

While I didn’t have the opportunity to review this one, I do have an excerpt for you. Enjoy!

The Christmas Dog and The Unfinished Gift  would both be great reads with the Christmas season almost upon us. They would also make a wonderful gift or stocking stuffer! All are available at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.


One lucky reader will receive a copy of the Unfinished Gift.

Main Entry:

Are you finished your Christmas Shopping?

Bonus Entries:

Subscribe to Beautiful Calling (two entries)

Blog about this giveaway

Visit Revell and tell me another book that caught your eye

Disclosure: Thank you to Graph-Martin for providing these books to review.

Chicken Journey: Roast the Backs!


Last week we talked about How to Break Down a Chicken. After breaking it down, we froze the thighs, wings and breasts but the chicken backs and wingtips we roasted right away. A little salt and pepper and onto a baking sheet for 400 deg F for approx 2 hours, then let them cool and removed back meat. Though you would be hard pressed to find backs for sale at the store because they are generally tossed, there actually is more meat on them than you would expect. A couple of our favorite uses for the back meat: chicken soup, chicken pot pies, chicken shepherd pie, chicken and cauliflower gratin. Watch for some good recipes coming up.


As for the bones and wingtips, they make a fantastic stock. Pop them into a pot, cover with water and simmer until dark. The bones have even more flavor once you’ve roasted them!

Depending on the number of backs you are roasting, you may or may not have a good amount of liquid left in your pan. We poured and scraped the pan liquid into a cup and skimmed the fat off. The brown liquid left will make for a super fantastic gravy. Use it right away or freeze until needed. DH was adamant that we save the chicken fat after straining it well. I’m a little skeptical about this part LOL. We poured it into a mason jar and popped it into the refrigerator. DH assures me that we will find a good use for it. Did you know that duck fat is $8.00/kg and has a variety of uses including confit?

Anyone have a good use for chicken fat?

  • This post was a joint effort by my DH who blogs at ebabble and of course me!
  • This post links to Mouthwatering Mondays, Tasty Tuesday, Tempt My Tummy Tuesday, and Works for Me Wednesday since it seems to go with them all.

  • Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    Saying Goodbye to Jaiden


    In Fall of 2008, I began watching Jaiden, a little girl from church, a couple days a week. Chloe and Jaiden are only 2 months apart. When Jaiden first started coming, her and Chloe weren’t even two yet. They were hardly able to talk.

    Where has the time gone? Our babies have grown up and have gone from toddling babies to big girls in such a short time. Chloe looks forward to her friend coming to play each day. It has been a blessing for her to have a little friend to play with and it has been a blessing for me to have that income as well.

    Alas, things change and Thursday is Jaiden’s last day. A bitter-sweet moment for me. It’s been fun and I know we will miss Jaiden; Chloe especially. But it also marks the start of a new season for our family. Chloe will be three in January and I’m all set to start ‘school’ with her. DH and I also have some other plans in the works as well for Yummy Bunwiches; a catering business we’ve been dabbling with. I’m pretty excited about these two new ventures and ask for your prayers in both endeavors.

    Since today is Jaiden’s last day, I thought I would post some pictures in honor of that. It’s amazing all the adventures we’ve had. What precious memories!!

    (TUT will be back next week.)

    Fall 2008 Park Play

    Fall 2008 Baking Brownies

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    2008 Sleepy Time

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    2009 Playing, Baking Cleaning

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    2009 Egg Coloring

    Spring 2009 Picnicking


    Dressing Up, Camping under The Table and Other Silliness

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    My Little Helpers


    Friends and Watermelon – Yummy!


    Just Chillin’ 2009

    Vacation Bible School 2009


    Super Heros to the Rescue!

    Water Play!

    African Lion Safari – ROAR!


    Story Time with Friends

    The Dancing Spot

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    Trail Time

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    Fun Times with Friends

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Reindeer Reviews: In the Land of Nod Review

    Land Of Nod

    There is a place called the Land of Nod and let me tell you, when the FedEx man arrived with a box from them, I was excited!


    We received the Wooden Slice and Bake Cookie Set by Melissa and Doug and it looks fantastic. Since everyone knows that Chloe and I love to bake, I am sure she will enjoy playing with this immensely. Aside from exercising the imagination, this set, like most things, can be used in a teaching manner as well. On the back of the packaging it comes with several tips on how to make play fun and educational. Having your child sort the cookies into groups with the same icing, several different suggestions that involve counting and a few that work on memory. I just love that they encourage learning and play hand in hand!


    We also received the Melissa and Doug Sandwich Making Set. It is packaged in a sturdy wooden serving tray and again, the back is chock-full of educational games to keep you and your tot busy. DH loves this one; a big sandwich fan he is :)


    This is another favorite of mine that I was delighted to receive. Melissa and Doug have once again combined fun with learning and in their Play with Your Food set you will find 4 crates representing the four food groups and 21 miscellaneous items to fill those baskets. Plenty of opportunity to talk about healthy eating, colors shapes and more!

    Melissa and Doug have amazing wooden products for littles that are hand-crafted with non-toxic coatings. These will stand up to the rigors of toddlerhood and you know there are no toxins to worry about!

    But that isn’t all that Land of Nod has to offer! They really do have something for everyone and to fit every budget. Their store has gifts that are over the top, and for the every day. They also have a great sale selection where I saw a set of three wooden delivery vehicles for $4.95 the set. They looked adorable!

    Many items have free shipping (USA only) so that is certainly something to take advantage of. A word of caution to Canadian customers: you will have tax and brokerage fees to pay upon arrival.

    Land of Nod customer service is phenomenal; customer satisfaction and going the extra mile is very important to them!

    So I highly recommend Land of Nod for your shopping needs this season and completely skip the hustle and bustle that you are likely to experience at the store.

    Thank you Land of Nod for the fabulous products and the stellar service. Chloe is going to love finding these under the tree!

    Update: Following up on a link left in the comments it turns out there is a recall on the Cookies. I tried following up with Melissa and Doug and received no reply whatsoever. I actually had contacted them a few months ago about a different matter and received no response. I have to say: Melissa and Doug, your customer service stinks!

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    The Chicken Journey: How to Break Down a Chicken

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    We have been trying to utilize as much of anything we buy as possible. I once heard someone say, in reference to kitchen scraps, that anything you throw away was something you paid for. Our first step in making use of everything was making our own stock with bones from our meat. We’ve since then learned how to use even more. Read on!

    We’ve got in on some great chicken prices lately. Last week we bought 4 @ $1.29/lb for whole chicken and this week 8 @ $0.99/lb for a whole chicken. While we do eat whole roast chicken too (and I’ll share a great recipe a bit later), DH broke the chicken down into more usable (for our family) pieces.

    Start with a whole chicken and a boning or thin-bladed knife. Our knife is from an Italian grocery store which cost us a whopping $6.00.

    Grab the wing and pull it down and away from the chicken then with your knife you simply cut between the wing and the breast. By bringing the wing down and away to do your cut you are better able to get between the joint. Then cut off the wingtip at the joint and set aside. Repeat with the other wing.

    Look and see where the thigh and the leg meet the breast. That is just skin and you want to cut between that. Bend the thigh down until you hear/feel a bit of a cracking sound which means the joint is separating, then run your knife along the bottom of the thigh and make your cut freely through the joint.

    Scissors make this part a little easier. What you have left is the breast attached to the back. Where the ribs meet the back there is no meat so, on either side where the meat starts, I make a cut with scissors. Then the only connection left is at the front of the breast. Fold the breast away from the back and again just separate with the boning knife away from the joints.


    Then tada! We have four nice piles of chicken: Backs, thighs, wings and breasts. You also have a pile of wingtips. Bag the breasts, thighs and wings into portion sizes that work for your family. Label and freeze. The backs and tips are then roasted. You can break it down further however these cuts work really well for us. Over the next little while as our family prepares and eats up this chicken, I will share pictures and recipes. You won’t want to miss that so think about subscribing (wink, wink).

    I would like to mention that I have never broken down a chicken. As a northern girl, I did a lot of hunting in my pre-baby days and have shot/cleaned many a partridge. I also had the privilege (tongue in cheek) of shooting and cleaning a duck once but never a chicken but not for any reason other than DH always does it. I just said to him that it was too bad that we didn’t have any whole ones left for me to try do myself based on this post. DH assures me that it will seem challenging the first time but practice makes perfect.

    Do you have any chicken breakdown tips? Please share!

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