September 30, 2013

Recipe: Almond Sheet Cake

If you love almond flavor, you will not be able to get enough of this cake. Actually, I can't make it very often because I will eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's SO good and SO easy!

Helpful Tip: My mom taught me that the secret to making a great cake is following the recipe exactly, adding each ingredient exactly in the order that the recipe calls for it. It will make your cake so much more moist and delicious!

Thanks to Sweet and Savory by Sarah for this recipe and photo!

To make the cake:

1 cup butter
1 cup water
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 tsp. almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. In a small sauce pan, boil the water and butter, remove from heat.
3. In a separate bowl, mix flour and sugar.
4. Pour the boiling mixture over the flour and sugar. Mix well.
5. Add baking soda, almond, sour cream, and eggs. Mix well.
6. Pour the batter into a greased 9x13" pan.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the middle is set.
8. Allow the cake to cool completely before adding icing, about 2 hours.

To make the icing: 

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup milk
4 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. almond extract

1. Boil the butter and milk in a small sauce pan, remove from heat.
2. Add the powdered sugar and almond to the mixture. Mix well.
3. Pour it over the cake, as evenly as possible.


September 26, 2013

Easy Outdoor Centerpiece

We absolutely love spending family time outside when the weather is nice. Lately, the weather has been absolutely perfect! This means that my little family has been enjoying many meals outdoors. We even drag the high chair out onto the patio. It's the only way to keep Baby Boy still long enough to eat. :-)

To enjoy the patio even more, I put this little centerpiece together for the table and we love it! Just 3 little flower pots (still filled with soil), 3 pillar candles, and some clippings from the trees in our yard. Easy as can be!

It's just a slower pace of life. No clocks. No phones. No television.
We take our time enjoying each other and the gorgeous weather.
I wouldn't have it any other way.

Have a great day!

September 24, 2013

Peace in Suffering

I had an opportunity to hear a woman's story that touched my heart and put my own trials in perspective.

This woman suffered from disease as a child, living in hospitals for much of her childhood, endured three miscarriages, lost her precious two-month-old son, contracted a debilitating disease in adulthood, and recently lost her husband to another woman. Talk about suffering! Yet she still spoke with hope and love and peace. She knows that God is using her suffering for His glory. I was touched by her story, but even more touched by her love for our Savior and the obvious refuge that He offers her spirit.

She spoke about the son that she lost. He was born with a heart condition and had a successful surgery shortly after birth. He was recovering so well that is doctor mistakenly decided to take him off his medications. Tragically, he died shortly after. In the midst of her pain and suffering, her friend (a songwriter) wrote a song about her precious boy and the Living God who wrapped His arms around her soul. Take a moment to listen to it:

This song has been a blessing to so many people grieving over the years This mom thanks God for using her son's short life in such a meaningful way.  When you take comfort in the Lord because of this song, it's a blessing to the mommy who lost her sweet baby boy.

I can't begin to imagine the sadness that this woman has endured. Life has been unfair to her in so many ways. Her message was simple: God can use our suffering for good. He is doing it in her life, even as her story is still being written. .

In this life we will have trouble. We will suffer. It's not fair, but it's just the reality of living in a fallen world. I am so thankful that we have Jesus to cling to in times of such intense pain.

My prayer is that He uses whatever suffering I endure during my life for His glory, that His light will shine through me in a way that others cannot deny Him.

If you are suffering today, cling to Jesus. He will hold you.

September 23, 2013

Goddess Tithe by Anne Elisabeth Stengl Cover Reveal

I have the great honor of sharing a special treat today, my dear friend's newest book cover! Anne Elisabeth Stengl writes wonderful fantasy novels intended mostly for young adults, but my husband and I have also greatly enjoyed reading them. You can find all of her books on or any major bookstore.
Title: Goddess Tithe
Author: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Series: Tales of Goldstone Wood
Expected Release Date: November 12, 2013
Publisher: Rooglewood Press
Page Count: 130 pages

The Vengeful Goddess Demands Her Tithe

When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil goddess of the sea. Such is her right, and the Kulap Kanya's only hope to return safely home.

Yet, to the horror of his crew, Captain Sunan vows to protect the stowaway, a foreigner in clown's garb. A curse falls upon the ship and all who sail with her, for Risafeth will stop at nothing to claim her tithe.

Will Munny find the courage to trust his captain and to protect the strange clown who has become his friend?

You can learn more about Goddess Tithewhich novel it's connected to and read Chapter 1, here: 

About the Cover Design:

I had the fun of designing this cover—finding reference photos, inventing the composition, applying the text, etc.—but the actual artistic work was done by talented cover artist Phatpuppy (, whose work I have admired for many years. It was such a thrill for me to contact and commission this artist to create a look for Goddess Tithe that is reminiscent of the original novels but has a style and drama all its own.

The boy on the front was quite a find. I hunted high and low for an image of a boy the right age, the right look, with the right expression on his face. Phatpuppy and I worked with a different model through most of the cover development stage. But then I happened upon this image, and both she and I were delighted with his blend of youth, stubbornness, and strength of character! It wasn’t difficult to switch the original boy for this young man. He simply is Munny, and this cover is a perfect window into the world of my story.

You can’t see it here, but the wrap-around back cover for the print copy contains some of the prettiest work . . . including quite a scary sea monster! Possibly my favorite detail is the inclusion of the ghostly white flowers framing the outer edge. These are an important symbol in the story itself, and when Phatpuppy sent me the first mock-up cover with these included, I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, including Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, and Dragonwitch. Heartless and Veiled Rose have each been honored with a Christy Award, and Starflower was voted winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.


Anne Elisabeth is offering two proof copies of Goddess Tithe as prizes! (U.S. and Canada only) 

September 20, 2013

Apple Crisp Oatmeal: Crock Pot Recipe

I doubt I'm alone when I say that I'm starting to look forward to (and crave) yummy fall recipes. Today I'll share one of my new favorites with you:

Image from

Crock Pot Apple Crisp Oatmeal 
(serves about 6)

5 apples (I used 4 Granny Smith and 1 Red Delicious)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 cups of oatmeal
4 cups water

Crumb Topping 
1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1. Wash, peel, & slice apples and place them in the crock pot.
2. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on top of the apple slices.
3. Pour oatmeal on top, then add the water.
4. Do not stir the mixture.
5. Bake in the crock pot on high for 4.5 hours, or on low for no more than 6 hours.

6. About 30 minutes before the oatmeal is done, make the crumb topping.
7. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder) together.
8. Add the brown sugar and melted butter.
9. Mix together with a fork until crumbly and sprinkle on top of the oatmeal mixture.
10. Allow it to bake for another 30 minutes or so and enjoy! 

Start with apples: peel, core, slice. Use your favorite flavors. This is my favorite combo. 

Add the brown sugar and cinnamon. Don't stir it up, just sprinkle on top.

After you add the oatmeal and water, it will start to bake and look like this. No need to stir.

And here it is, right before serving with the apple crisp topping added. The warm oatmeal mixture will start to bubble up through the topping when it's ready to serve. Yum! It goes great with a tall glass of milk. :-) Enjoy!

September 19, 2013

Seeing the Signs of Human Trafficking [1]

Before I begin, let me tell you that this problem seems so much bigger than me. I am just one small voice, but I feel compelled to at least try to make others aware, if nothing else. Modern day slavery is what they call it, but it seems much more like a living Hell for its victims.

I recently attended a training session that opened my eyes to evils of this world that I never really wanted to know about. I heard details of horrific conditions that thousands of women, children and even babies are sold into on a daily basis. Details so horrific, I don't even want to write the words. I heard from police in my own area about recent cases of sex trafficking that I never knew existed. I heard from a survivor who was kidnapped, thrust into sex slavery, escaped..and lived to tell about it. I left the conference with a heavy heart and a killer headache. It seems like such a hopeless world filled with so much unthinkable evil. I had a hard time processing what I heard, much in the same way I had a hard time processing the depravity of abortion.

Human trafficking is another terrible violation of basic human rights. People are bought and sold for various reasons, but the most common are labor and sex.  Thousands of children are sold daily here in the Land of the Free. They can be kidnapped or sold by their parents/caregivers. And not all traffickers are men. In fact, some traffickers are mothers and elderly women.

Human trafficking is a lucrative business where women and young children are ripped from their homes, beaten and raped repeatedly. It's sex abuse on steroids. The crazy thing's not about sex. It's about power and money. Lots of money. Why is it so lucrative, even more than drugs?  Because drugs can only be used once but a woman or child can be used many, many times per day, like 30 times or more. I read that the average life expectancy of a sex slave is about 7 years.

Just think about that.

It's happening in America.

It's happening in my town.

Chances are, it's happening in your town, too.

At the conference, I was given resources to help respond if I ever suspect or witness human trafficking in my area. After learning what I learned, I have to share.

In my opinion, the first two steps in helping to stop human trafficking are:

  1. Know what it is.
  2. Understand your community's risk factors.

I learned that your town is at risk of human trafficking if you have any of these things:
  • oceans
  • ports
  • major highways
  • tourism
  • military bases
  • children
  • drugs
  • minority communities
  • entertainment (massage parlors, bars, strip clubs, etc.)
  • poverty 
  • organized crime
  • internet communication
  • secrecy

So now you know (1) what it is and (2) if your community is at risk. Later this month, I'll post again about how you can get involved in your community to help fight this. 

However, if you can't wait for my post, check out Women At Risk International for ways to get involved. This organization provided the training session that I attended and they provide many ways for the average American woman (like me) to get involved. Watch their video below:

Just thinking about this topic makes my head swirl. I have to remind myself of my Precious Savior who said these words,

"...In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33

 How thankful I am that there is hope in Christ!

Seeing The Signs of Human Trafficking [2]

September 17, 2013

Fun Find: Crystal Lamps

Every once in a while I find something completely by accident and can't seem to leave the store without it. This time it happened while I was shopping for bread and milk. I just happened to stroll through the furniture isle at my warehouse club and what do you know...a pair of gorgeous crystal lamps.  They were whispering for me to take them home.

So I did. :-)

To make the deal even sweeter, I sold some "junk" in the garage and completely made up for the cost of my little splurge. I love it when that happens!

Maybe someday I will feel like saying goodbye to summer and decorate for fall...but not yet!

Have a great day!

September 10, 2013

Teacher Confessions: 5 Things Teaching Taught Me About Parenting

Although I left my teaching career behind with the birth of my son, I can't forget the lessons in parenting that I learned from the families I met and worked with during the course of my career.

I had the rare opportunity to get to work closely with many types of families as a teacher. When you work closely with children, you get to know the family dynamics. It plays such a critical role in the child's development. I worked with families even more in-depth when there were problems with learning or behavior and I couldn't help but notice some recurring themes. I'll share them with you today.

1. Be the parent, NOT the friend. It still surprises me how some parents prefer to be viewed as the "cool" mom or dad. They do not want to take responsibility for the discipline of their children. Rather, they think it's alright if the child figures life out for himself.  I've actually had parents tell me that they are tired of hard situations, ask me to stop telling them and "just deal with it" at school. They spend lavish amounts of money on parties and activities with little structure or boundaries. I have witnessed that children raised this way can learn to become manipulative, prone to tantrums and lying, disorganized, and can have more behavior problems at school when compared to peers raised in a home where the parents are viewed as respected authority figures. I must remember: if I fill my home with love, acceptance, and boundaries, my child will follow suit. The same goes for filling a home with sarcasm and disrespect. Even if I think they will pick up the "right stuff" over time, they are learning daily from me. They are following my lead, whether I like it or not. They will pick up my values, so I'd better take responsibility and teach by example.

2. Care about the little things. Occasionally my class would prepare events for parents to attend (plays, poetry recitals, projects). Eventually, after several weeks of hard work and preparation, the students would be ready to show me (and their parents) the fruits of their hard work. Every time there would be one kid whose parents said they would try to be there, but ultimately would not show up. It broke my heart a little every single year. But it's not only that. Parents were often too busy to help with homework or sometimes even stay for a sporting event where their child was participating. I know this because I was sometimes invited to kids' games in the place of an absent parent. That's rough. These things mean a great deal to kids. They feel accepted and loved when their parents care about the seemingly small things. They will strive to achieve when they know it matters to their parents. It's a lesson I'm glad I learned before having kids of my own.

3. Be flexible and understanding. One of the most sad things I witnessed during my last year of teaching was a child crying in the corner of the restroom, terrified to come out for fear of what the father would say about a grade. Terrified. Shaking. Refusing to get off the bathroom floor. I made a mental note that day to never be so rigid and demanding that my child would be so scared to tell me about anything. Of course there should be consequences for disobeying and a little bit of fear of those consequences is healthy, but the expectations and consequences should be reasonable. My child should know that regardless of a mistake, he will be loved unconditionally.

4. Kids need structure. It's not up for debate. There's truth to the saying "early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise".  It makes kids alert, better behaved and more organized. I know this is a fact. I've seen it over and over and over again in the classroom. We owe it to our kids to put them to bed at a decent hour, to keep them on a fairly regular schedule, and help them feel secure by knowing what to expect on a "normal" day. It was sad but not surprising that kids who had no idea who was picking them up from school or where they were sleeping that night were an emotional wreck.  May I never do that to my son.

5. Above all else, never withhold love.  I've said this before and I'll say it again. It doesn't matter how much excess stuff you can provide for your kid. Seriously, the name brand clothes, expensive toys, lavish vacations and whatever else you can imagine really don't matter in the end. All a child really wants is to know that his parents love him and are taking care of his needs. He also feels far more secure when he knows his parents love each other. It may be controversial to write that statement, but time and time again, I witnessed that it's true. I will love all my children equally and love their father...period.

Sometimes I might have to stay up a little later in order to make time for homework help. I might have to get up earlier every day to make sure a healthy breakfast is prepared before school. I might have to postpone an important meeting to be at my kid's school play. Maybe dinner out with my girlfriends isn't quite as important as making it to that baseball game. I will have to discipline my child. I will have to show love and grace when someone doesn't deserve it. I want my son to feel so loved and secure in our family that he never feels the need to seek for it in destructive ways. I hope that my husband and I are creating a family atmosphere where we can be our son's rock and his soft place to land.

September 9, 2013

Coming Soon!

A few days ago I helped shop for (and find) an absolutely stunning sofa and recliner.

Tonight I ordered 13 different fabric swatches for choosing new curtains.

Tomorrow I am delivering an antique chair and chandelier.

This can only mean one thing...

I'm working on another room! And I'm really excited about this's probably the most luxurious room I've worked on yet and it's not my house (although I wish it was)!

Stay tuned. :-)

September 7, 2013

DIY: Fall Foliage Wreath

Fall is almost here and I am looking forward to decorating!

Several years ago, I was looking for a fall wreath that I liked for under $30. Let me tell you, it's not an easy task. I couldn't find one so I made it myself.  Here's how it turned out:

You can make one, too:
I bought a plain wreath like the one below for around $6 and then found all the different types of foliage that I liked on sale. Most of the pieces ranged in price from $0.70 - $2.00. I also bought some wire specifically for making wreaths. 

There lots of different textures in my wreath. Some of the leaves, for example, are velvety soft while others are your typical silky feel. I also added several types of berries and some fruit. I think it looks more interesting with lots of colors and textures. Of course, you choose what you like best for your wreath. :-) 

  • After you have all of the materials, play with the foliage, arranging it however you prefer until you get the finished product you love. 
  • Stick the ends deep into the center of the wreath where it will be fairly secure. There is no need to glue anything permanently; that's why you have the wire. 
  • When you have finished arranging all of your "stuff" on the wreath, use the wire to wrap it in place. 
  • Weave the wire wherever you feel like more support is needed and tuck the end into the center of the wreath (so you won't get scratched later). 

It doesn't have to be pretty. Nobody will be looking at the back!  

And then it's done! Hang it up and enjoy it.

You don't have to spend a lot to have a very pretty fall wreath. If you don't use glue, you can change out the foliage whenever you please with no hassle. Easy as pie. :-)

Click the picture to find out how to make a different type of wreath:

Have a great day!

September 5, 2013

Must See: The Roxbury

We went on vacation lately and found this place to stay. It's an experience, really. You've got to see it!

Nestled in the Catskills and the small town of Roxbury, NY, this crazy awesome place looks pretty quaint from the outside...but don't let it fool you. It's anything but ordinary.

You can see the official website here.

They do a great job with the grounds. Pretty plants and flowers are everywhere! There's even a fire pit and a beautiful garden path that leads to a gazebo. 

Not only are the grounds beautiful, they are also funky and awesome. Black, white and lime green. 

Seriously, I want this furniture.

There are spaces like these, where you can just relax and socialize, scattered all around the property.

And as you walk around, you will find more little interesting details. I thought the murals were lots of fun!
(Check out the light. Yes, the place glows green at night!)

You have to forgive the quality of the next picture. I don't have a clear one, but the room was too crazy fun to be left out. How did they find yellow crystals for the lights? I personally loved that there was gourmet hot chocolate and [really good] cookies set out for guests all day in this room. Yum.

And in here, too!

We found several of these large murals painted all around the place, all with a design theme. I loved it!

This chandelier was another funky and unexpected detail. Never mind that the stairwell is shockingly green! Seriously, this place was so exciting to explore.

Perhaps the best detail is that all the rooms are different. Yep. They are themed! You'll have to check out their website to see all of the rooms, but I want to share ours with you. 

My husband accused me of taking "man points" from him for having him stay in this room. What are "man points", anyway? Hey, there was a big TV mounted to the wall. That made up for the sparkles and pink. :-)

Hard to see here, but the chandelier actually had green crystals. Where did they find this stuff?!
There was a great kitchenette where Baby Boy had a blast hiding in the bottom cabinets.

Little details will make you happy at this place. They even provided some Godiva tasting squares upon our arrival. Yum.

Shimmer & sparkle overload! Fun!!

Even in the bathroom they didn't forget to leave a note framed in a fluffy, pink, bejeweled frame. Ha!
Now, the Roxbury had the most soft and fluffy towels of any hotel I've seen in a long time. Another great detail: they didn't cheap out on the TP. It's the small things, folks.

They had other great things, a massive movie collection and board games of all types free to checkout for guests. Snacks galore. The friendliest staff. Even the housekeeping services were above standard. I left some baby dishes in the sink, totally planning to wash them later, and when I got back to the room that evening, they had been washed and dried for me. Now that's great service.

So if you're looking for a fun place to stay in the Catskills, a quaint NY boutique hotel, affordable rooms, fun atmosphere, and excellent service, try the Roxbury. You won't be disappointed.