Friday, December 15, 2017

Out of the Ordinary ~ A Bethany House Review

Jen Turano is a writer of hilarious tales of historical fiction. Her unique characters stand out on the page because they are so achingly human. We can all identify with that moment when we misunderstood what someone else said and our response made matters worse, or we had a wardrobe mishap at the worst possible time. 

Out of the Ordinary is Jen Turano's latest book in her Apart from the Crowd series published by Bethany House. Gertrude Cadwalader is a paid companion, a respectable occupation for women of good manners and excellent moral standing in the high society world of New York City in 1883. The problem is, Gertrude's employer is possibly the most eccentric society matron roaming the current social scene. Mrs. Davenport has a mysterious past, but more troubling to Gertrude, is the jail she finds herself in while trying to fix Mrs. Davenport's present issues.

This is a hilarious book that I enjoyed immensely. It arrived when I had a few days at home, and I though to read a bit each day. I was enjoying it so much that by the end of the first day of reading, when I was 3/4 way finished already, I quickly looked up Mrs. Turano's other books on our library's website.  In the four weeks since this arrived - I have read it twice, plus six of Mrs. Turano's other novels. Out of the Ordinary is full of mishaps, characters who make mistakes, and the grace of God that covers them all. At one point I had to hold in a belly laugh because Arlene was asleep on the couch next to me and I didn't want to wake her up.

Spoiler alert: here comes the plot...

Gertrude grew up with wealthy parents, but her father lost their family fortune, right before it became known that he was being unfaithful to his wife. His wife then turned melancholy and eventually took her own life when Gertrude was only 10. The rest of Gertrude's childhood was paid for by her extended (still wealthy) relatives, but now that she has reached adulthood, the money has stopped and she has taken the position of a paid companion. Not only is she responsible for attending society events with Mrs. Davenport, she is often called upon to replace the things Mrs. Davnport's sticky fingers have purloined along the way. While Gertrude has made some friends near her own age, who want her to enjoy her life, she still struggles with understanding why God took her parents away, and why Mrs. Davenport is frequently so melancholy.

Gertrude is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, and it is only when circumstances go way beyond her control, that she realizes it is not up to her to fix the world, only to be obedient to what God has called her to. Along the way there is some romance, a look into high society life in New York during the 1880's, and some really unusual outfits. Gertrude has begun a tenuous friendship with Harrison Sinclair, because of her friendship with Permilia, who recently became engaged to Harrison's best friend. Everything seems to come crashing down on Gertrude's small world of fragile order when Mrs. Davenport purloins some items from Harrison's sister, and then asks Gertrude to return them.

This novel is full of descriptions of society and its whims, and charming, if slightly eccentric, characters. Overall it reminds me of a more modern take on Jane Austin themes, with a definite nod to American societal norms and their oddities. I would encourage readers to also pick up a copy of Behind the Scenes, the first book in this series, because while there is no harm in reading them out of order, there is much fun and laughter to be found reading them in the order they were written.

I look forward to Mrs. Turano's next release, and in the meantime, I still have a couple of her earlier books left to read. I for one, will not be melancholy! :)

Out of the Ordinary  is available in both paperback and E-book formats from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

Connect with Jen Turano

Blue Evolution Superfood Seaweed Pasta ~ a review

sustainable seaweed, seaweed-infused pasta, blue evolution

Sustainably harvested seaweed is a superfood that is high in vitamins and minerals. Seaweed can help clean the ocean and still provide a great source of nutrients when eaten. It has taken a while to catch on as an American food staple, probably because we are so picky - and because it works best when balanced with other great ingredients. Enter Blue Evolution - a company specializing in harvesting the best tasting, nutrient-dense seaweed from their own Pacific Coast farms and turning it into dishes everyone can enjoy!

Blue Evolution has worked some kitchen magic by finding just the right balance of seaweed in their four varieties of pasta, and in their marinara seasoning mix. For this review we received the Rotini, Marinara seasoning mix, the Gluten-Free Shells & Cheese, and the regular Shells & Cheese. Each one was its own blend of deliciousness!

Our first try was the regular Shells & Cheese. A box makes two adult-sized servings. Arlene loves mac & cheese, but I was not sure, even at 17, what she would think about pasta with seaweed in it. It was good. The seaweed added color and nutrients, but was balanced well so as to not taste seaweed-y, just good!

Our next test lunch was the Gluten Free Shells & Cheese, it also serves two. This ended up being my favorite. Sometimes  gluten free pasta is bland- but this was not! It had a complex taste, and combined really well with the cheese sauce to make a delightful lunch. We both wished there was more in the box! Next time we will need to make two boxes. :)

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Our final taste test was the Rotini pasta, which Arlene topped with the Marinara seasoning.  This was unlike any other marinara I had tasted - it had a real kick to it - which Arlene and Kurt both enjoyed! It has both black pepper and cayenne pepper combined with other seasonings and seaweed, so it has a unique bite to it. I thought it was tasty, but a little strong for my palate. The package says to combine it with canned whole tomatoes, but since we already had a couple cans of unseasoned petite-diced tomatoes, Arlene used those instead. Same end taste, slightly different look.

The Rotini makes 4 adult-sized servings, and since Arlene had made it for lunch, we put the leftovers in the fridge and Kurt had his serving with dinner that night - cold pasta salad style. He enjoyed the taste and Arlene told him it was good for him because it has seaweed. Arlene ate the fourth serving a couple days later for lunch and said it held up well and still tasted good.

Our overall thoughts: this is yummy pasta! A word of advice: cook it only to minimum time listed on the box, and you will get a just barely al-dente pasta that holds up well to a fork, without getting mushy. Be aware that the Marinara seasoning does require you to add tomatoes, and it has Cayenne pepper in it. I know a few people that are allergic to cayenne, so always ask before serving it to your friends. I would suggest that the marinara seasoning is geared towards adults while the Shells & Cheese are perfect for kids. Although once you try the Shells & Cheese, your kids are going to need to learn how to share. :)

Arlene said her favorite was a tie between the gluten-free Shells & Cheese and the Rotini with Marinara. She hopes to have both again soon!

All of the varieties we tried would make great options for a healthy lunch. You could also consider them a great option for a present for your foodie friends of all ages.

Blue Evoltion pasta & seasoning are available both on their company's website, and on Amazon - prime eligible! So if you are still wondering what to get those people you adore for Christmas - go get them some seaweed - Blue Evolution style!

Connect with Blue Evolution
We received free product in exchange for an honest review. We were not required to write a positive review, nor were we compensated in any other way. All opinions are ours. We are disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Juicy Gems Giveaway ~ 3 winners!

Christmas giveaways, Juicy Gems, Pomegranate arils

How did it get to be Wednesday afternoon already? Time is flying by! I wanted to let you know about another fun giveaway we are having here on the blog: a Juicy Gems Giveaway!

Our friends at Juicy Gems are going to provide three of our readers each with a $5 Wal-Mart e-giftcard so they can pick up their own 10 oz. bag of frozen Juicy Gem Pomegranate Arils!

Just in case you've missed our post about how much we love Juicy Gems, go read it now! Hopefully it will give you lots of ideas about how to eat your juicy gems if you are one of our winners. If you want even more ideas, Juicy Gems has a wonderful collection or pomegranate recipes on their Pinterest boards!

Christmas giveaways, Juicy Gems, Pomegranate arils

Because I was busy helping a certain college student I know study for her finals, I forgot to post this giveaway last weekend. No worries though - the giveaway will run through midnight EST on Monday, December 18th, and I will contact the winners on Tuesday the 19th. Since Juicy Gems has already graciously provided the prizes, if you are a winner, you will still have several days to print out your certificate and get yourself some Juicy Gems to enjoy for Christmas!

Remember, three of our readers will be enjoying some delicious and nutritious Juicy Gems next week, will you be one of them?

This giveaway is sponsored by Juicy Gems and ends at midnight EST, December 18, 2017. US Residents, 18 and older.

Oral Essentials ~ better oral care for everyone!

*This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase using them, it won't cost you any extra, and it will help fuel our blog - Thank you!

Oral Essentials, fluoride-free oral care, oral essentials discount code, dead sea salt

Back in mid-October we were introduced to an amazing company called Oral Essentials. I've been wanting to write a review of their products for a while, but - true to our form - I just could not write a review on just a few days' worth of use. We wanted to give you our long-term thoughts on the products, so I've waited six weeks - it has been really difficult for me to wait this long to tell you about these amazing products! If you've been following our Facebook page or our new Instagram feed, you will have noticed some shout-outs to Oral Essential - because we are sold on their products!

Let me tell you a little more about our backstory with oral care...
We found out several years ago that fluoride was one of the triggers that causes Emily's psoriasis to flare up. If you are not familiar with psoriasis, just let me tell you that those people who struggle with it will avoid their trigger foods or substances as much as possible because a flare-up is both annoying and painful. So for the past five years or so, we have been trying out one natural, fluoride-free toothpaste after another. Some of them are good, a couple are awful. When Arlene (age 17) and I heard that Oral Essentials was going to be at the Moms Meet WOW Summit we got excited. We were hoping to find a new fluoride-free toothpaste for Emily (age 19) because while her current one is decent, and does not taste bad, it is nothing to brag about either.

The first day of the WOW Summit I had the opportunity to talk with the ladies from Oral Essentials during the Blogger-only time in the exhibit hall. I was excited to be able to read the ingredients list, actually know what those ingredients were, and get a travel sized tube of their Whitening Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth to take home and try. Oral Essentials products are made with Dead Sea Salt, Organic Aloe Vera, essential oils, and Non-GMO xylitol from birch trees. That night was the cleanest my teeth have felt in years! I was AMAZED! I told  Arlene right then that she needed to go back by the booth with me on Day 2 so she could get a sample as well and we could take it home to Emily. Little did I know that Oral Essential's toothpaste would also be a HUGE hit with Arlene. She has been warning me for two weeks that we were about to run out. Redheads can be persistent!

We spoke with the ladies from Oral Essentials again and found out that they had recently launched a kid's toothpaste: a strawberry flavored toothpaste (with a Unicorn on it!) We also talked about their whitening strips and got a couple samples of those to bring home to try. Both of our girls had asked me about the possibility of using whitening strips this past summer, but because I had suffered sensitivity issues when trying to use name brand varieties a few years ago, I had been putting them off. No longer! I have to say I was impressed with how well these whitening strips did on just the very first use! I decided to wait a couple weeks before trying my samples, because I wanted to see just how well the Whitening Toothpaste worked on its own. It was superb! The whitening strips are fantastic!

Oral Essentials, fluoride-free oral care, oral essentials discount code, dead sea salt

So how does that lead us to today's review? Simple: the awesome people at Oral Essentials emailed me a few weeks after the Summit and asked if I would be interested in helping promote their Holiday Sale. Because we were already overjoyed with how well the samples had worked - of course I said yes! They graciously sent us a tub with some more samples to try- including their other toothpaste varieties and cute little travel-sized samples of their mouthwash. This stuff is awesome!

I've been hesitant to write my review too soon, because I wanted to make sure these were products I would continue to use before I told you about them. The Holiday Sale has actually been going on since December 1st, and I felt bad about not telling you on day one - but fear not - it continues through December 31st! There is a 15% discount on any online order at if you use our discount code: holidaysmile21. You REALLY need to enter the entire code, including the 21!

Today I ordered us a two-pack of the Whitening Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth because that way I can combine the regular two-pack savings with the Holiday Sale and make sure we will not run out of our new favorite toothpaste! It was super easy, and the standard shipping was only $0.99!!!

So, to prep you for your order, because I know sometimes we get tired of hunting for the magic boxes during online shopping, and you might too, here is how it goes...

First: head over to

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Then click the Products tab on the top-right above the smiling blond lady

Oral Essentials, fluoride-free oral care, oral essentials discount code, dead sea salt

Scroll down and choose which items to add to your cart, and then, before you even think about entering your customer information, click on the Discount box on the right side of the screen and enter: holidaysmile21

Oral Essentials, fluoride-free oral care, oral essentials discount code, dead sea salt

Once you hit Apply, it will show your discounted price, and you can go ahead and enter your customer information and payment - unless you'd rather use PayPal, then just click the PayPal logo box!

Oral Essentials, fluoride-free oral care, oral essentials discount code, dead sea salt

You will then accept the standard shipping option, because if you order now - by Friday, you should have plenty of time to get it for Christmas. I'm not sure if the mouthwash costs more to ship, but I was super-stoked that this is the first online order I've made this season where the shipping was so inexpensive!

Oral Essentials, fluoride-free oral care, oral essentials discount code, dead sea salt

Once you've chosen your shipping, place your order and wait to be amazed! It took less than two minutes from the time I finished checking out until I received my order confirmation email. If you're one of those package-tracking types, you can sign up to get text messages about your order.

Now I know some of you are still thinking about Christmas presents, and wondering if you should really get someone Oral Care for their present? The answer is yes! Oral Essentials' formulas were developed by a periodontist and an award-winning cosmetic dentist. They've been lab tested to be just as effective as those OTC brands that have fluoride, artificial colors, and SLS, but without the yucky and the risk to your tooth enamel that peroxide and bleach can cause. 

Because you might want to consider Oral Essentials products for stocking stuffers, I want to make sure you see this tab on the left side of the products page, down near the bottom, right above the whitening strips link, is where you find the Travel Size products. You can purchase 4 travel tubes of either the original Clean and Fresh or Whitening Toothpastes, or a six-pack of travel sized mouthwash in any of their four formulas.  What a great way to bless someone with good oral health, or get yourself ready for your next trip! There is nothing worse than leaving your favorite toothpaste behind for the family to use when you travel because you only have one tube. (Go back and re-read paragraph three if you don't believe me!)

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Now remember, you need the discount code: holidaysmile21 for your 15% off savings.

Go get some Oral Essentials products and get your teeth clean, and healthy! 

If you're like 80% of other Americans aged 18-49 and want whiter teeth, pick up a package of their amazing whitening strips as well - they're also on sale with the discount code:holidaysmile21 !

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P.S. A couple of our readers are going to get Oral Essential samples instead of Christmas cards - you won't be disappointed!

Disclosure: I received free product from Oral Essentials in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, and I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions are mine or those of my family. I am disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

What Would Happen? ~ A National Geographic Kids book review

book reviews by teens, what would happen, national geographic kids books

What would happen?

It’s a fascinating question isn’t it? People as a group have lots of questions that we ask every day. Questions are things we ask from almost the time we can talk as a small child and something we still do even when we get older. Well if you are a parent you probably have a kid who has lots of questions that you either don’t have the answer to or simply don’t have time to answer all of. Well now to help you out is this new book from National Geographic Kids. 

What Would Happen? Serious answers to silly questions is written By Crispin Boyer and published by National Geographic. It answers the interesting questions like: What if you had wings like a bird? What if we could speak to dolphins? What if the sun disappeared? What if you were related to royalty?

This books tells kids that while everyone wants to be a super hero, if you really got bitten by a spider, got hit by cosmic rays or lightning it wouldn’t really make you have super powers. In fact it could be quite harmful. 

The book answers all of these questions and more in a fun and easy to understand way. Talking about what might happen, and if it really could happen or not. 

I loved the fun answers that also taught what really could happen. It was fun and easy to read. 

The book itself has over 160 full color pages of information and pictures and is a good size for children to carry around. This book was written for ages 8-12, but I think it would work fine for a read-aloud with kids as young as six. Retail price of What Would Happen? is $14.99.

On a side note to anyone who believes in a young earth and is raising their children with this belief. National Geographic is a secular organization and so the historical science questions are answered with numbers into the millions of years. 

This review brought to your by Arlene, age 17. To read her weekly column: Books With Bean, click here.

Disclosure: We received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. We were not required to write a positive review. No other compensation was received. We are diclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.