31 Days to a Heart of Hospitality – Review and Giveaway!

If you read Edie Wadsworth’s blog, Life in Grace, you quickly get a sense of her gift for combining the thoughtful, spiritual, and inspirational with down-to-earth style and practical tips.  In her new e-book, 31 Days to a Heart of Hospitality, Edie uses the same approach, creating a book that gets to the center of why we feed and care for our families and neighbors, why we strive to make our homes beautiful and welcoming places of refuge, and how to put hospitality into practice while maintaining the right motivation and attitude.

Since my word of the year is “connect” I appreciated how the book began with our need for connection, and how it ties in to biblical commandments to feed and clothe and love our neighbor.  Hospitality, Edie writes, is not so much about entertaining (although using your best china and making pretty table settings can be a way to encourage and show people we value them) but about taking the time to really consider others, and to welcome them into your life and help meet their needs, physical and relational.

Another great aspect of the book is how Edie progresses from hospitality as a spiritual concept, to how it impacts our marriages and children.  I was challenged by the idea that we have to be hospitable to our families, not just friends and neighbors.

In addition to a strong spiritual and theoretical foundation, the book includes a lot of practical ideas for ways to make your home more welcoming, make your kitchen, living areas, and guest rooms more useable, and make your preparations for hospitality smoother so you can spend more time enjoying and encouraging your guests.

Throughout the book, I found encouraging and convicting things to think about.  As the title claims, the book really does seek to get to the heart of hospitality–why we do it and what the point is–and I found that very helpful.  You may feel like it’s important to teach your kids manners, or have people over for dinner, or invite someone to stay with you for  a weekend.  But sometimes it’s helpful to really consider the reason behind those things, so we can focus on serving others rather than impressing them, and really build connections and community rather than just putting on the dog.

While some of the content in 31 Days to a Heart of Hospitality will be familiar to Edie’s blog readers, at 117 pages the e-book contains a lot of additional content, especially the deeper and more challenging aspects and implications of hospitality.


Edie graciously offered two giveaway copies for readers of A Spirited Mind.  If you’d like to win a copy of 31 Days to a Heart of Hospitality, leave a comment and let us know one aspect of hospitality you think you do well, or one that you struggle with.  The giveaway will be open until February 13.


Disclosure: Edie sent me a complimentary review copy of the e-book, but the opinions in this review are my own.


Young House Love

If you’re looking for inexpensive, low time commitment, high impact ways to update your house, you should read Young House Love: 243 Ways to Paint, Craft, Update & Show Your Home Some Love.

I found a long list of ideas of simple things to do for every area of the house, plus entertaining tips.  I like how sometimes the author just lists the idea while other times they gave instructions and pictures.  With books like this I often get weary of reading through countless steps for simple projects, or feel overwhelmed when the idea doesn’t give me any hint of how to achieve it.  The authors of this book had a good sense of when to go into detail and when to skip it.

I also appreciated how the ideas could be used in different ways for different styles of decorating.  It wasn’t 243 ideas for modern Swedish minimalism or 243 ideas for New England farmhouse or 243 ideas for Anthropologie-aholics.  Rather, it was 243 solid ideas you could use in a variety of settings.

Finally, I liked how each idea was ranked by cost, time commitment, and sweat factor.  These are things it’s good to know when it’s 11:30pm and you feel you’re going to jump out of your skin if your living room is not a neutral khaki with slightly warm green undertones.  Not that I’ve been there or anything.

I found Young House Love a great resource: charmingly written, inspiring without being intimidating, and just the thing if you feel you need some updating but don’t have the time or money to go all out all at once.  I’d recommend it.

What one small change or project has made the most impact in your home? 


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

The Apple Lover’s Cookbook

It’s that time of year again.  The time of year when all I want to do in the kitchen involves pumpkin or apples or both.  I love autumn!

So I was thrilled to find this fantastic resource: Amy Traverso’s The Apple Lover’s Cookbook.  The book is, of course, a cookbook, and does have a lot of really great recipes, both for things you’d expect like pies and crisps and buckles and whatnot, but also for things you wouldn’t expect, like Bacon-Wrapped Goat-Cheese-Stuffed Dates with Curried Apple Hash (I’m SO trying that, and SOON).

But it’s not just a cookbook.  In fact, the real value to the book, in my opinion, is in the extensive reference section at the beginning of the volume.  The first section of the book includes pictures and descriptions of an exhaustive list of different varieties of apples.  I learned so much about apples from reading it.  Moreover, and this is really great, I marked the varieties of apples I have seen in grocery stores and markets where we live, so now I know exactly what each one of them is best used for.  Just today I found a deal on two different types of locally grown apples, and because I had read the book I knew which of the two varieties I would like better and what sort of recipes would be best to use them in.

I also enjoyed the sections on apple horticulture and the ways different orchard owners are preserving different types of apples and developing new ones.  It was fascinating to read about the different ways apples are grown in different countries too.

If you like to eat apples or cook with apples, especially if you like to shop for apples in out of the way places anywhere around the US, UK, or France, you really ought to read The Apple Lover’s Cookbook.

What’s your favorite apple recipe for Fall?


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Organized Simplicity

Doesn’t the phrase “organized simplicity” make you feel inspired to get your home and family on a better track?  It does for me!  In her book Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living, Tsh Oxenrider lays out a vision for how small steps toward organization and simplicity can improve your life and your family dynamic.

If you’ve read the Simple Mom blog before, you’ll feel like the content in this book is familiar, but unlike some books based on blogs, this one doesn’t feel like a series of blog posts stuck together.  I think it’s helpful to consider topics in different ways, so even though I’ve read many of these ideas in blog posts, reading them in a more structured narrative was helpful.

The author defines simple living as “living holistically with your life’s purpose.”  She gives helpful pointers on how to identify a purpose statement for yourself and your family, and then how to structure your activities, commitments, and home around that purpose. I think this is a really profound point – all the organization and paring down in the world will be useless to you if the system you’re devising doesn’t line up with your particular and unique priorities and goals.

The first half of the book explores ideas related to simple living, identifying your purpose so you can live simply within it, and gives guidelines for how to take concrete but manageable steps toward a more workable and sustainable life.

The second half of the book focuses on how to make your home more organized and simplified.  Once you’ve identified your purpose and goals, it’s much easier to figure out how to apply those to your space.  The book walks through each section of an average home and makes suggestions for how you might get it under better control.  Reading this section made me feel like I could actually do this and that it would be effective, rather than seeming overwhelming or of questionable utility.

Overall I found Organized Simplicity to be a helpful and inspiring little book and I’d recommend it.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Chocolate! Balloons! Pudding! Mess! A Craft Your Kids Will Love

Inspired by this great post at Bakerella, I set out to be Fun Mom by engaging in a messy, chocolate-related craft with the kids.

First we melted some chocolate in the microwave and blew up some water balloons.  When I say “we” I mean “I” and you should know that I nearly passed out from the balloon blowing up part.  Yeesh, water balloons are tough to inflate!

When Bakerella’s instructions said to let the chocolate cool, she wasn’t very specific so we dipped some balloons in it when it was too hot and they popped noisily.  The kids loved it!  Eventually we had to put the chocolate in the freezer for a bit and then the bowl making went more smoothly.

Hannah got to make the first chocolate bowl because she dearly adores any chance to show the little kids how to do stuff.  She is always reminding us that she was “the first baby.”

Next, Jack got to try.

Jack also takes his older sibling teaching responsibilities seriously.  Eventually Sarah got a turn.  Then she monitored who got to go next.  “Hannah TURN! Zhack TURN! Sawah Soo TURRRRRRN!”

After they finished making the bowls, they began arguing over who should get to lick the bowl.  As I tried to mediate the dispute, I started twisting the bowl against the spoon to see if I could get some of the chocolate out to dispense in three equal portions when CRASH!

The bowl hit the floor and smashed into smithereens.  The kids looked at each other like “Shoot, Mom is really mad.  We should stop arguing now.”  I wasn’t mad, of course, but it did solve the dispute!  It was everything we could do to keep them from coming to lick at the glass shards.  Hannah asked, incredulous, “So you’re just going to throw it AWAY?  WITH the chocolate on it still?”

While we waited for the bowls to harden, we made the pudding.  I got all the ingredients ready in advance so the kids could mix.  If you don’t have some of these multi-sized nesting bowls, you should get some.  They are invaluable, super handy, great for cooking with kids, and are made of some sort of less breakable glass.  If only I had used one for the melting chocolate part of this project!

The kids enjoyed mixing the pudding.  Again with the TURNS!  Then we watched for the pudding to develop bubbles “like volcanos” on the stove.

I forgot to take a picture of the part where we popped the balloons to get them out of the chocolate bowls, but that was fun.  It was hard to get the balloon bits out of the bowls even though I had used cooking spray like Bakerella advised.  I had to use tweezers.  But we prevailed and got the pudding in the little bowls and the kids applied sprinkles liberally.  We invited my in-laws over to help us consume this feast of chocolatey goodness.

Annnnnd this is the face of a child who has consumed a LOT of sugar!!!!

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

It is possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control.

Sign me up.

In Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen lays out a simple but proven way to get control of all the open loops of half thought out projects and tasks and slips of paper and vague goals and plans and actually get things accomplished in your life.  Allen is one of those life coach/organizer people and his clients include CEOs of major corporations so it seems he knows of what he speaks.

I found the book to be tremendously helpful.  Allen’s system is not very complex, but it is exceptionally thorough.  His premise is that as long as you have loose thoughts and tasks running around in your brain or spilling all over your workspace, you will spend so much time trying to remember your commitments and keep track of your details that you won’t have time to really be your best creative and most effective self.  I think he has a real point there.  I spend an awful lot of brain power trying to keep track of miscellany.  I’d rather not.

The plan, then, begins with capturing everything in your physical and mental “in box” – all in one place at one time – and examining each item in light of what it means, what your role is, and what the next action step is.

Defining your in box and deciding on the next action step are the two pillars of the system, which then branches out into ways to define and organize your projects, keep track of your life, get your commitments under control, and establish your life plan at various levels.

I like that the system is easy to understand and implement and that it is comprehensive.  I took a lot of notes and look forward to setting up some of the processes Allen advocates.  As he says, even if you just do one or two of the things he suggests you will be a ton more productive and organized than most people.

Unless you’re already bizarrely organized and on top of your life from the ground level to the birds eye view, I would absolutely recommend you read this book.  Even if you only take a few ideas from it, I think you’d find it quite helpful.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

What To Do With Kids Books

I like to read to my kids.  In fact, the curriculum I sort of cobble together for our preschool is based on books.  I like the kids to be able to pick up books whenever they want and just sit and look at them.


The mess, dear readers, overwhelmed us.  You see, because I am using books for our preschool subjects, I had the kids books organized by subject.  It made perfect sense to me when I was putting the books away (Bible, ABCs, Mother Goose, Poetry, Art, Music, Manners, Math, Science, History, Folk Tales, Social Studies, Literature) but I was the only one who could put the books away.  The kids didn’t get the system so they couldn’t help.  They would stack the books up at the end of the day, but I would wind up reshelving.  We have roughly four jillion books.  It was not working.

Thus, I decided to move to a new system.  Most of the kids toys are organized in baskets and boxes and stored on another shelf so that they can only get out one mess at a time and more easily pick it up before starting the next mess.  I decided to transfer that idea to books.  I used a gift card I earned from taking a survey a long time ago to purchase six plastic boxes.  Using those and one wicker basket I divvied up all of the books into seven boxes, with a few from each category in each box.  Now each day we can get out a new box and at the end of the day all of the books go back in that box.

It almost worked.  Except the boxes were too small (I believe I mentioned the four jillion number…).  So I put a small bookshelf in Hannah’s closet and another basket in Jack’s room and filled each of those up with books that they can look at during afternoon rest time.  With one additional box for books related to the country we’re learning about currently, we are set.  The freed up space on the playroom bookshelf holds toys.  It’s SO much easier to clean up now!

So much better!

Out of curiosity, how do you store your kids books?  Who does the picking up?

From Clutter to Clarity

You may remember that I previously reviewed From Clutter to Clarity last year, and that it even made my Year in Books list for 2010.  I found it so helpful that I recommended it for my church’s new book club and we’re discussing it this coming Monday night so I read it one more time for good measure.  It might be too late for you to order the book and read it between now and Monday night, but if you’re in the area and would like to come to the book club anyway we would love to have you!  Email me for details.

From Clutter to Clarity: Simplifying Life from the Inside Out is a very helpful book because it expands the definition of clutter beyond what lurks in your cabinets to include clutter in your thoughts and on your calendar and in your heart.  The book also digs more deeply to help the reader discern the root causes of physical and scheduling clutter – why do you have 50 tubes of toothpaste under your sink? Why do you have the two foot high stack of papers on your desk? What causes you to say yes to everything so you’re always running around without time to focus?

Any time you want to change a habit and have it really stick, you need to understand it well enough to be able to replace it with something better.  I think this idea really comes through in From Clutter to Clarity and I’m looking forward to discussing it with the book club!

Speaking of which, I really am serious: you’re more than welcome to join us Monday night!  If you can’t make it this time, our book for April will be What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage (link is to my review), another fantastic and thought-provoking book. Now you can’t say you don’t have time.  🙂

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Gifts From the Kitchen

My mother-in-law recently surprised me with a very interesting book of ideas for homemade gifts. Gifts From the Kitchen is full of gift ideas, but would also be a good addition to your library if you enjoy making jams and natural bath products and things like that.

The section on jams and jellies and conserves is extensive and not just basic “strawberry jam” type recipes.  Plum Jam with Walnut Brittle sounds particularly tasty to me!  The preserves section also includes recipes for flavored oils and vinegars and marinated and pickled things like Marinated Cheese with Herbs and mixes like Blended Spice Tea.

I also enjoyed the section on truffles and chocolates – the pictures show you step by step how to achieve professional results with various types of chocolates and candies, which make a very impressive looking gift to judge by the pictures!

The part of the book I found most interesting was the bath products section.  I had never read such detailed instructions for how to do herb infusions and use essential oils.  The section includes instructions for bath foam, baby shampoo, soap, hair rinse, shampoo, moisturizer, hand cream, lip balm, and more.  If you’re interested in all natural and organic body products, I don’t doubt that you could save money by making them yourself.  The instructions in the book are so detailed that I think it would be easy to try it, and I can also see how you could build up a small business with products like this if you were so inclined.

Throughout the book the instructions are detailed and accompanied by several pictures per recipe, which I think would make trying the recipes quite simple.  I think this is a helpful little book and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the suggestions it contains.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Great Cookbook/Memoir

I wish I could remember who recommended A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table because I would find that person and thank him or her profusely.

The book is a combination memoir and cookbook, with each short section composed of a short story from the author’s life and a recipe that reminds her of that story.  I enjoyed reading about the author and her family, and following the story of how she coped with loss and change and learned to love Paris.

Usually when I read a cookbook I come across a handful of recipes I want to try, but as I read A Homemade Life I found myself wanting to make nearly every recipe.  The author uses whole foods and generally seasonal ingredients, and she gives great tips for how to get better results for even basic recipes like pancakes.  A few of the many recipes I bookmarked include:

  • Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
  • Red Cabbage Salad with Lemon and Black Pepper
  • Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider, and Vanilla Bean
  • Chana Masala
  • Fennel Salad with Asian Pear and Parmesan
  • Carmelized Cauliflower with Salsa Verde
  • Pistachio Cake with Honeyed Apricots
  • Pickled Grapes with Cinnamon and Pepper

If you enjoy reading food blogs, you might want to check out this author’s food blog, Orangette.  I haven’t followed it before, but it looks good.  Now if I could figure out how to make it show up in full post form rather than digest on my feed reader, I could keep up with it!  But in any case, I highly recommend the book!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.