Book Review: Refining Fire

#2: Refining Fire  -     By: Tracie Peterson<br /><br />

Refining Fire is the second novel in best-selling author Tracie Peterson’s Brides of Seattle series. (Read my review of Book One, Steadfast Heart.)

Like the first novel in the series Refining Fire takes place in 1889 Seattle, at a live-in Bridal School where young women learn homemaking, entertaining, and housekeeping skills. Three very proper old ladies run the school. From the synopsis of this novel, we expect to learn about the relationship between Militine, an abused runaway who enters the school as a safe haven, and Thane, a young Seattle firefighter volunteer with a troubled past of his own. However, like Book One of the series, it soon becomes clear that the redheaded, spitfired Abrianna steals the show, and Militine and Thane become secondary characters much like Lenore and Kolbein in Steadfast Heart.

Abrianna continues her mission to help the poor of Seattle as she did in the first novel.

The relationship between Abrianna and Wade really strengthens in this book, and we begin to wonder if they will eventually forge a romantic interest, despite attention from ne’er-do-gooder Priam Welby who wants to court the young lady for his own selfish purposes.

I enjoyed this novel moreso than the first in the series as it had a lot more action, but I do wish the synopses would just start mentioning Abrianna and Wade as the main characters, since they obviously do drive the plot. Also, while I’m sure it’s how proper ladies spoke back in that day, it got kind of old hearing every other sentence begin with “Goodness”, or “Honestly”.

Despite the occasional dragging, I think I will probably read the next book in the series, just because Abrianna and the old ladies are so likeable, and I want to know what happens next in their lives.

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

15 Screen Free Boredom Busters for Kids

15 Screen Free Boredom Busters for Kids

My Tater Tot is turning 7 in two weeks, and is all hung up on this Minecraft thing. She would play it all day long if I let her. And when her friends come over, and I tell them they can’t play video games, they sit and talk about Minecraft. I seriously don’t get it. But, then again, I spent way too many hours playing Oregon Trail and Roller Coaster Tycoon in my younger days, but these new video game obsessions are beyond me.

Anyway, we’ve decided to take a 6 week summer break from school, which means she’s had more freedom to play Minecraft and watch Netflix than she would during the school year, but I still hear “Mommy, I’m bored!” more often than I would care to admit.

Since it’s tempting to just turn on a show or computer game when the kids complain about being bored, here are 15 non-screen time ideas for keeping the boredom out of your home this summer.

1. Invent Something
-We love to invent things in our house. From straws to tape to rubber bands, little “useless” pieces of stuff are perfect for encouraging the imagination.
[See My Post “20 Household Objects for Inventor Kids“]

2. Two Words: Cardboard Box
Cardboard boxes are the ideal blank slate for kids. They can decorate them, turn them into houses, or rocket ships, or race cars, or forts. Small boxes and big boxes alike are an immediate boredom buster for kids of all ages.

3. Do a Science Experiment
-Tater loooovvvvesss science experiments. But, I don’t always have the time to supervise, and I need something that can entertain 3 year old Junior as wel.. So, sometimes I will set them up with Fizzy Colors, my favorite kid friendly science experiment with ingredients you already have at home. All you need is a baking sheet, baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring! This keeps my kids occupied for a long time, and it’s educational! (Shhhh, don’t tell them :)

4. Go On a Scavenger Hunt
You can get all fancy and print out a list of things for the kids to find around the house and outside, but my favorite at-home scavenger hunt is a simple Alphabet Hunt. Kids look around the house for things that start with each letter of the alphabet…in order…(A is for apple, B is for bathtub, C is for car keys, etc.) Add even more time to this activity by having them write out or draw a picture of the things they find.

5. Create an Obstacle Course
-My kids love doing obstacle courses outside (and for extra bonus points, Junior’s OT recommends them as part of his at-home therapy!) Tater is also super obsessed with my timing her, so this is a fun afternoon “it’s only 2pm, how am I going to survive until Daddy gets home” activity. It doesn’t have to be ornate…it can be as simple as “Jump 3 times, kick the ball, touch the fence, throw the Frisbee, and run back to start”.

6. Build a Truck/Car/Marble/Ball Run
-Using household items and toys such as blocks, wood, even pipe , make ramps and runs for cars and/or marbles.

7. Family Olympics
-I used to be athletic…then I had kids and my body was never quite the same. However, I can still play a mean game of balloon volleyball, and my long jump isn’t too bad either. The kids love competing against each other (and me!) when we do a Family Olympics.

8. Design Your Own ______
-When we studied Ancient Rome a couple months ago, I had Tater research Roman food, and create a menu for a restaurant she would theoretically open. It was fun and educational. Have your child design a menu for their own restaurant, a newspaper or magazine for kids, or a house. You may have a little architect in the making!

9. Take a Different Road
-When Junior was a colicky baby, the only thing that would help him get to sleep was a car ride. So, every afternoon about naptime, I would drive. And drive. And drive. And bored of the normal roads we took, I started exploring alternate routes. We found a mushroom farm (stinky!), a couple of horse ranches, and a bunch of shortcuts I never even knew existed. Even though the kids are 3 and almost 7 now, sometimes we will just pile in the car to drive and explore a different road.

10. Cloud Pictures
This is one of my very favorite summer activities ever. It so reminds me of my childhood to lay in the backyard and cloud gaze, and Tater has begun to enjoy it as well. Right this moment out my window, I can see a crab, a submarine, and a woman playing a trumpet.

11. Look Through Old Photos
With digital photos I never seem to get around to getting them off my computer, but pull out those snapshots from the 80s and 90s and show your children some photos from when you were younger. They may be shocked that you had a life before they were born!

12. Lend a Helping Hand
Do you have an elderly neighbor or relative? Ask if there are any odd jobs they need help with and volunteer with your children. If they don’t need anything, they will always appreciate a handmade “Thinking of You” card your child can draw.

13. Play a Game
One time I was babysitting in college, and I asked the little boy if he had any games. He led me to their Nintendo. I asked if he had any “real” games, and his baffled look said it all–they owned no board games. I have always been a board game aficionado, and I’m trying to pass that love on to my kids.  Some of Tater’s favorite board games include: (affiliate links)


14. Craft with Old Magazines
-I try to keep some of my old magazines for crafts, and the kids love making collages by cutting out pictures and letters from magazines and gluing them on to a piece of construction paper.

15. Play Hide and Seek
-This is an oldie, but a goodie. Especially because kids can play this by themselves (minus the inevitable “Mom, have you seen ____” question every 45 seconds ;)

What is your favorite Screen Free activity for kids?


7 Ideas for One Pound of Ground Beef

 7 Recipes for 1 Lb Ground Beef

Ahhhh, yes. It’s Thursday at 4pm, you need to make dinner, but all you have left in the fridge is a single, measly pound of ground beef. How could that possibly feed a family? Here are 7 delicious, quick recipes that stretch your ground beef while still satisfying that meat craving.

1. Fajita Burritos
A pound of ground beef probably won’t feed a hungry family on Burrito Night if it’s the only filling. In these Chipotle-esque burritos, fill a tortilla with 1/4 lb of seasoned Ground Beef, Beans (check out my recipes for Slow Cooker Black Beans, Slow Cooker Refried Beans, and 10 Minute Black Beans) Rice, Sauteed Bell Peppers, and whatever Salsas, Guacamole or Cheese you have on hand.

2. Hobo Packets
Check out this delicious and simple Baked Hobo recipe from The Stay At Home Mom Survival Guide, using a pound of ground beef with potatoes and veggies cooked in foil. An all-in-one meal that requires little prep, and even less clean up! 

3Organic Lime and Cilantro Chili
I love the bright and fresh flavors from this Organic Lime and Cilantro Chili from Mommy’s Slice of the Pie (it uses 1.33 lbs of ground beef, but you can use 1 lb if that’s all you have.) Added bonus: instructions to make this a freezer meal so you can prep ahead and eat later!  (See 5 Recipes for Leftover Chili )

4. Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
This meal couldn’t be easier! Simply brown a pound of ground beef with a half diced onion, 3 cloves of chopped garlic, and salt and pepper, and stir into your favorite spaghetti sauce. This stretches the meat further than making meatballs, but you still get that extra heartiness.

5. Sloppy Joes
My favorite Sloppy Joe recipe is a definite crowd pleaser and it fills at least 4 happy tummies! Serve with Baked Fries and a Salad.

6. Quick Enchiladas
I brown up a pound of meat with taco seasoning, stuff about 1/4 C of meat into a large flour tortilla, sprinkle 2 tablespoon of cheese, and roll them up. I top with Enchilada sauce (jarred or homemade), more cheese, and olives, and bake at 375* for about 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Delish!

7. Burger Sliders
There’s something about mini food that makes me eat less, even when I think I’m eating more. Form 1 pound ground beef into 8 mini patties, sprinkle with seasoning salt, and cook on a grill pan. Serve 2 sliders per person, along with Onion Rings and a Fresh Fruit Salad.

Book Review: Murder Freshly Baked

I enjoy reading Amish fiction as well as mystery novels, so I was especially intrigued by the third book in Vannnetta Chapman’s Amish Village Mystery series, Murder Freshly Baked, which combines Amish charm with mystery and peril.

The book is written as a literary sandwich…it begins with the murder of local playboy Ryan Duvall, flashes back to the weeks leading up to the deadly event, and ends with finding the killer. Amber Bowman, the manager of an Amish Artisan Village, is the main character, and apparently was mixed up in two previous murders within the Village, which encompass the first two books of this series.

One of the shops within the Village is a bakery, and Amber is alarmed when suddenly rhyming notes begin to accompany pies, claiming that the sweet treats have been poisoned. Amber’s attention is focused on the “Poison Poet”, and she and her friends vow to find the culprit before anyone gets hurt.

Also a major story within the story is the character Preston, a former soldier who is suffering from PTSD and violent flashbacks of his time in the Middle East. Preston tries to cope with his PTSD, but is the recipient of a service dog, who gives him hope that he can conquer this.

Not all the characters are Amish, which makes things a little confusing.

I have mixed feelings about Murder Freshly Baked. On one hand, I really liked several of the characters and enjoyed the concept of an Amish Murder mystery. But, this book just seemed a bit disjointed from the start.

There were too many characters (having not read the first two books, I suppose I was at a bit of a disadvantage, but even in a sequel, a dozen plus characters is still too many), and there were too many subplots. I didn’t really know what the main point of this book was. Was it the Poison Poet? Was it the wayward ways of Ryan Duvall? Was it Preston’s PTSD? Was it Amber’s recovering from the last two murders? There were so many vignettes of other characters, it was hard to pinpoint a main idea. And the ending happened so quickly, I didn’t feel closure. I’m not sure if this is the last book in the Amish Village Mystery series, but if you enjoyed the first two books in the series, you might have better luck than I did in keeping everything organized while you’re reading.

I received a free copy of this book from Zondervan Publishers via BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and have not been influenced in any way.

Cookbook Review: Infuse

Most cookbooks I review have a lot of recipes for main dishes, sides, maybe dessert, and occasionally a drink or two. But the cookbook I’m reviewing today, Infuse, by college buddies Eric Prum and Josh Williams, is almost exclusively drinks, with recipes for infused oils.

I love the concept of infusing. Between making my own salad dressings, oils for drizzling, and infused water, I think it’s a fun and fresh take. The basic gist of infusing is using an herb/fruit/pepper/whatever, steeped in a liquid, to make the liquid subtly flavored with whatever you steeped it with.

Some of the recipes include:
-Kale and Apple Salad with Orchard Vinaigrette
-Greek Vinaigrette
-Popcorn with Honey Sriracha Oil
-Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes with Blueberry Infused Maple Syrup
-Jalapeno Spiked Grapefruit Water

I really liked how many of the infusions also had a food recipe to go along with it…a suggested use of sorts.

I’m not a drinker, but there are a lot of alcoholic drink recipes in this book such as peach infused bourbon, coffee liqueur, and spiced pear liqueur.

Though I don’t really drink alcohol, I still found this cookbook to be fun and useful…not only the recipes, but the proper method of infusing and what ingredients go well together. I also loved the pictures in this book…the photography was wonderful. Each recipe had a graphic ingredients list which made it very easy to read.

I only wish that the mason jar flip cap lid designed and touted by the authors to cleanly pour the infusions was more readily available, or there was an alternative suggested. It’s great they have this product to dispense the oils/water/drinks, but it doesn’t do me any good if there’s no way to get it.

Just for the cookbook, though, it’s a neat little book to have on hand.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.