{Moments of Inspiration}

by hollycombs

“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them;
for those experiences have left an indelible impression,
and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Dog sitting by hearthIt’s been a sit-in-front-of-the-fire kind of week. Three snows with accumulation in 10 days might not be much according to my northern roots, but it’s a lot for Virginia!

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Book Review: Sabotaged

by hollycombs

Sabotaged by Dani PettreyThe fifth novel in Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series, Sabotaged, rounds out the story of the McKenna clan with a new mystery to solve and everyone on board for the ride.

As the famous Iditarod begins, Kirra’s beloved uncle, a musher, disappears, her cousin is kidnapped, and the fate of the Alaskan wilderness is held in the balance. Kirra and fellow search-and-rescue team member Reef McKenna race to solve the mystery. With a gunman chasing them across Alaska, extreme environmentalists on the loose, and lives on the line, Reef and Kirra learn more about each other with each step to learning more about her cousin’s kidnapping.

Reef and Kirra are interesting characters, and I’ve enjoyed how they have been interwoven into previous Alaskan Courage books. I identify with Kirra because it could also be said of me that I grew up as the “goody-two-shoes” girl. And, ironically, Reef reminded me a lot of my popular, adventure loving brother who wasn’t always on the straight and narrow.

The plot is packed with mystery and some action, as Reef and Kirra race to save her cousin and their beloved Alaskan wilderness. Sometimes the plot became almost redundant, as the two spent most of their time driving or interviewing potential suspects. But as a whole, it was well thought-out and an interesting take on the vulnerabilities of people, passionate environmentalists and those who are out for revenge.

However, I was somewhat disappointed in this last Alaskan Courage book for two main reasons: I would have loved more history and information about the Iditarod. I learned a little, I suppose, but one of the reasons I loved Submerged (Book 1) was because I learned so much about the connection between Alaska and Russia and the history therein. There was such rich opportunity to share more of the culture, history etc. of the Iditarod, but I came away without that.

The second reason, and more integral to the book, was that I didn’t feel Reef and Kirra changed, evolved, grew, etc. at all. Now, if you have read the previous books, you’d have seen how Reef has been changing for some time. But as a stand-alone, you don’t get that at all in Sabotaged. It’s more like both Reef and Kirra are discovering just how much he has changed. That made the story fall flat for me.

I wanted to know more about Kirra, to see her struggles, her personality, not just because of a trauma in her past, but because of who she is as a person. Like I said, I identify with her. But I didn’t feel like she was fully explored and rounded out as a character.

Overall though, I love the Alaskan Courage series, Sabotaged included. I look forward to seeing what new book Pettrey has in store for us next!

Also read my reviews of Submerged, Shattered, Stranded, and Silenced!

I received a complimentary copy of Sabotaged from Bethany House Publishers, but I was not otherwise compensated for this review. All writing, thoughts, and opinions are solely mine.

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{Moments of Inspiration}

by hollycombs

“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them;
for those experiences have left an indelible impression,
and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

Horse and Goat moment

Typical siblings, Jane the Goat stealing Chappy’s grain and vice verse. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side…

House under snow moment

And our first real snow in our own home!

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{Moments of Inspiration}

by hollycombs

“Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them;
for those experiences have left an indelible impression,
and we are ever and anon reminded of them.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

A moment of inspiration as we build a new entrance to the barn.

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Thoughts on Camping

by hollycombs

I came across this recently, which I had written back in the fall when Husband and I went camping last. Reading my own words made me realize that as much as I love hunkering down in my home, I’m developing a bit of cabin fever. I’m ready for winter to be over and warm weather to come again…

I’m going camping. I’m going camping. I’m going camping.

This has been my refrain for days now, looking forward to the blissful 48 hours I get to spend in the mountains, away from life and all its responsibilities. A wet 48 hours to be sure, but 48 of them all to ourselves. And the Giga, always with the Giga.

I think this is my favorite part of camping. Right here. The first night. The tent is set up, firewood is gathered, the pup is settled, Husband is puttering around the campsite adjusting things. I’m sitting by the fire soaking it all in. This.

It’s the anticipation. The “we’re finally here”. The sounds of crickets and frogs and all kinds of amazing things — a sound the drowns out the voices of our temporary “neighbors”. It’s so loud it is overwhelming. And it’s perfect. Because we’re here, doing this. We have the whole weekend ahead of us.

Our campsite at Sherando Lake State Recreation Area

On this first evening, I’m dreaming about sleeping in the tent. In my dreams its just like my childhood, where I slept so soundly cuddled far down in my sleeping bag. The ground wasn’t too hard. The noises weren’t worrisome (I think it necer occurred to me that a bear might visit our campsite, which most definitely happened the last time we went camping). I was a small child, given the shortest spot to lay, by the door or on the step (yes, my “bed” in our pop-up was the step up to the boys’ bed), but it never bothered me. It was never cramped. I don’t think about fitting my 5’7″ frame with Husband’s 6’2″ body and a 65 lb lanky dog in a 2-person tent. In fact, I long for it.

I recollect camping in the heat as a child, just like I remember camping in the freezing cold while in college, but it isn’t quite tangible to me anymore. I forget the sticky sweaty feeling of humid summer camping.

I look forward to waking up with the sun in the morning, somehow blocking from mind that it’s usually the sound of car doors slamming and children squeeling that wakes me at campgrounds. I forget just how hard it is to dress in a compact tent (skinny jeans are NOT the best option here).

I dream about hiking up the mountain tomorrow, about the view from the top and the euphoria of reaching it. I forget that I work a desk job now and am terribly out of shape, that it’s hot and sticky and we don’t have any water bottles. I anticipate the exuberance of the pup while forgetting that she will be pulling my arm out of its socket for at least the first mile or two.

Hiking Humpback Rocks Trail

Yes, the first night my eyes are full of stars. My heart is content, I am looking forward to everything the weekend will bring. Inevitably, it won’t be glamourous. The ground will be hard, the air thick, I’ll sleep fitfully. The hike will be steep, my thighs will burn and I will huff and puff throughout. Cleanup will be a bear. Everything will be sandy and nothing will fit exactly the way it did when we packed it at home. And, more than likely, it will all be soaked by the impending storm.

But when we leave, it will be with a sense of satisfaction. A knowing of having conquered the great outdoors. A rhythm that we only achieve when we get to spend days on end together. A wistfulness from having to leave it all behind. And when we arrive back to our real lives — the messy, over-ful, too busy, hard lives that we live — we will ache to return to our beautiful mountains. We will dream of the simplicity of life there. And we will forget all about the smell of bug spray, the stickiness of sweat, the constant grit of sand between our toes, the hardness of the ground, the reality of our physical condition. And we will wait with anticipation for the next chance we have to embark on such an adventure.

Camping and sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway

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Book Review: Novel Interiors

by hollycombs

Novel Interiors The first time I heard about this book, I was instantly intrigued. Interior design and literature all wrapped up in one high quality book? It had my name written all over it!

When I received the book in the mail, I immediately settled down in the living room with a cup of hot tea and perused the pages. I was enchanted.

I had been concerned that the book would be too theme-y. I didn’t want something instructing me on how to create a Little Women-themed room or even a Jane Austen-themed room. I’m not much into themes. I wanted something more subtle, more mature, more nuanced. This book did not disappoint.

Novel Interiors

My favorite section was easily “Shall I Put the Kettle On?”, which features elements inspired by Sense and Sensibility, Little Women and other favorite novels of mine. The book pointed out small ways to create the cottage feel that Jane Austen describes or the very homey feeling of Plumfield House. Books scattered about, worn rugs and well-loved furniture. It inspired me to remember that beauty is not necessarily in the new, perfectly pristine furniture and decor that comes from the store, but from the way a room makes you feel — at ease, comfortable, snug. This is my dream for my house.

My next favorite was probably “Living au Natural”, which focused more on American literature, like Willa Cather and Henry David Thoreau. The chapter details the use of wood furniture and natural fibers, bringing the outdoors in with plants and florals. Truly though, any literature lover could glean wisdom and inspiration from each and every chapter presented in Novel Interiors.

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent curled up in front of the fire, sipping tea, and being inspired by the thoughtful nuances of this book. The photographs are superb and the quality of the book truly stunning. I will keep this on my coffee table for years to come.

Take a look inside the book!

I received a complimentary copy of Novel Interiors from Blogging for Books, but I was not otherwise compensated for this review. All writing, thoughts, and opinions are solely mine.

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How to do “the horse thing” without breaking the bank

by hollycombs

My baby

I attended a training clinic recently where I learned a lot, but also saw people spending beaucoup bucks on training tools, tack, t-shirts and more (on top of the $50 entrance fee!). In fact, Wells Fargo was there to finance the purchase of roundpens, saddles, automatic waterers and more.

I got my tickets for free and brought my own snacks and proteins to eat in the car during breaks so I wouldn’t have to purchase expensive concession food. My only expenses were the gas to get there, dinner (split entrees with my mom), and a hotel room (30 minutes away because it was more affordable).

It got me to thinking about how it really is possible to do “the horse thing” frugally.

It’s true, I don’t have a $1,299 saddle. I’m sure they’re comfortable, durable and well built. And for someone who has thousands available in disposable income, it may not be a bad investment. But for the girl who brought her own food to the clinic? It’s a little ridiculous.

When I got my first horse at age 13, I bought a used Western saddle for $50. You know what? I still use it today — the only Western saddle I’ve ever bought (also, my English saddle, still in use today, was $30). Is it the best saddle ever made? No. Is it safe? Yes. Does it work? Yes. So no new saddle in my future.

When I was looking for a treat to spruce up my tack, I bought a pretty new saddle blanket for $10.

It is possible to keep a horse on a budget. I promise.

Arabian Horse

Board is the biggest part of just about every horse-owner’s expense. When my husband and I began looking for a house to buy, we knew that we wanted enough property to house my horse and cut out that expense. That said, we couldn’t afford a fancy farm or even 10 acres in the Virginia Beach area. But we did get a lovely 2.5 acres, zoned to house a single horse, with a tiny one-stall barn. Just enough to meet our needs. (We bought a goat to keep her company — low cost, low maintenance.)

But even boarding doesn’t have to be ridiculous. I worked out a deal with someone to work off part of my board cleaning stalls and feeding, even house-sitting when the owners went out of town in exchange for a cut in my rate. I even provided labor (call on your friends and family!) for major barn cleanings and hay deliveries to work off some of the cost. The family I boarded with were extremely kind to me and I hope my efforts and knowledge (I even did some training with them) was a benefit to them as well.

My horse, Chappy

Feed of course is going to be an expense. We source our hay locally from the grower himself (instead of purchasing through a middle-man tack/feed store), and we buy a cheaper mix grass instead of an expensive orchard or alfalfa. My horse gets plenty of nutrition from it and I’m able to give her more in the winter to help keep her warm and keep her gut active without worrying about her gaining weight. We even went to purchasing round bales because they’re cheaper than square bales. I also don’t worry about an expensive grain. My horse gets Original Safe Choice, which I would recommend for just about any horse, the exception perhaps being a senior horse who struggles to keep on weight. What my horse drops, the goat eats so we don’t even have to get goat feed unless we want to. Tractor Supply, Rural King and other supply stores often have sales (BOGO half off) or coupons ($2 off each bag) that I use to get a stock pile of grain at a cheaper price.

Chappy and Jane

Vet care is another biggie. I have cut the cost by taking measures to keep my horse as healthy as possible, like regular deworming (3x/year in Virginia) and keeping her outdoors as much as possible. I have also worked out a deal with a vet to purchase vaccines and administer them myself. Not all vets will do this, but I have a relationship and trust built between myself and my vet. Now my vet visits 1x/year to administer rabies and draw blood for her coggins. She also checks her teeth at this time.

The farrier, of course, is another regular expense. Every six weeks. But in the winter, horses’ hooves grow more slowly, so we stretch it to every eight weeks during that season. Every little bit helps.

Having my horse in our own backyard does involve some extra costs, but most are one-time costs that I will benefit from for years to come: fencing, gates, stall mats, buckets, stock tanks, etc. We were able to save some money by installing electricity to the barn ourselves (or rather, my dad — an engineer — installed it), and installing the wood and electric fences ourselves. There are some maintenance costs, but it is far lower than boarding.

Supplies is a big one that I spent lots of money on as a teenager (when I didn’t have to pay for feed myself!). Instead of expensive horse shampoo and conditioner, I get some from the dollar store. Aside from that, I have a small canister of Carona, a small bottle of BioShield, a bottle of fly spray (I do pay more for UltraShield, but use it less because it’s more effective — also, you can buy the concentrate and mix it yourself), a bit of hoof conditioner and maybe a bottle of thrush treatment. And I keep baby oil on hand for getting the tangles out of her mane.

Chappy girl

Tack is something that will require investment, but it doesn’t have to be a lot, and it doesn’t have to be often. I own two saddles, English and Western (purchased used for $30 and $50 respectively). I own 4 bridles: English, Western, training and bozal. Right now, I only ride in the bozal. I only have a few bits (when I needed something new for my horse, I would borrow friends’ bits to try them out before making a purchase). An English and a Western saddle pad (I do have a few inexpensive saddle blankets to change up the look or colors).

Being frugal requires a little more time, a little more effort, and definitely some forethought, but it is so worth it if it makes having a horse affordable.

Lunging Chappy

Chappy before she got all her adorable “flea bites” (freckles).

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Book Review: Petit Collage

by hollycombs

Petit CollageThe folks over at Petit Collage, a nursery decor boutique, recently released their first craft book: Petit Collage.

The hardcover book is very high quality, with plenty of full color illustrations, step-by-step instructions and special tips. The projects in this craft book aren’t for children to do themselves (most would be much too difficult), but they are perfect for crafty parents wanting to make something special for their littles.

There are plenty of options for nursery decor (not surprising, considering the source), but there are also creative projects for making toys, like a homemade drum or adorable animal masks. To get a good feel for their instructions, I decided to make the owl mask.

The instructions were super easy to follow, though I will admit the project was a little tedious. There were lots of little pieces to cut out, but the patterns and steps were easy to follow and the mask really wasn’t difficult to put together. All in all, I think it took me about 45 minutes to make the mask, and that included gathering supplies and selecting paper etc.

I like how mine turned out:

Petit Collage Owl Mask

Though not a book for children, I would definitely recommend this one to any parent, aunt, uncle, grandparent with a desire to make something fun for a little one in their life. Their subtitle really says it all: 25 Easy Craft + Decor Projects For A Playful Home

Learn more about the book here!

I received a complimentary copy of Petit Collage from Blogging for Books, but I was not otherwise compensated for this review. All writing, thoughts, and opinions are solely mine.

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My home: 2015

by hollycombs

I was recently browsing through a few home design blogs, when I came across this one by Joanna Gaines. A recent post of hers struck me as something I would love to incorporate into my year: Simple and Clean in 2015. Seriously, I definitely recommend it.

2015 tips for home


Growing lemons

Found a lemon hiding in our sunroom.

1. Donate items: Definitely doing this as I unpack/try to find places to put things! Although we’re also saving for a yard sale to see if we can get a little cash for our items since we have so much to get rid of. You would not believe the sheer number of vases I have unpacked. Vases!

2. Fill garbage bags: Absolutely. Anything I can’t identify, is used, in poor condition, can’t be donated. It’s gone. Now. Not “think about it”. Just tossed. Makes life so much easier.

3. Every object has a home: This is the big one for me this year. I’m still unpacking and settling in. Which means I’m still finding homes for everything. And I am in desperate need of shelves so I can start storing things properly. The stacks are driving me crazy.

4. Label: Without kids, this one doesn’t really apply. After all, I’m the only one that cleans up, so as long as I know where everything goes, we’re good.


Goat eating Christmas tree

Jane is doing a good job of purging our Christmas tree.

5. Once a day catch all basket: I don’t have an upstairs, so I don’t need this specifically. But I have a renewed determination to spend 15 minutes at the end of each day putting things away. I did this for the first time last week and it was revolutionary! When I went to clean the house Saturday, I didn’t have to spend a few hours returning things to their homes! Now, I’m not anywhere near perfect at it yet. I’ve hardly been home this week, so Wednesday will be the first time I get to put things away, and I can tell you the kitchen counters are already full of stuff…

6. Once a week purge: Once a week sounds rather refreshing. I’ve generally left the fridge and pantry to Husband, as he is the cook. But things get out of hand sometimes with both of our busy schedules. So I think a regular food purge is in order. Of course, it will help when our pantry actually has shelves…

7. Team effort: This is a great idea, but every house is different. In my house, I clean, Husband cooks. I might ask him to put away some of his own things, but for the most part I think the amount of time he spends cooking (dinners and lunches!), means he’s off the hook for most of the cleaning.

Sitting by the fire

Best part of the day.

8. Whistle while you work: We used to play music constantly while we were at home, working or playing or cleaning or whatever. When we moved, that tradition fell between the cracks. But we have dusted off the iPods recently, so I’m enjoying having the music playing again =).

9. Be grateful: I view cleaning and caring for my home as a way of stewarding the things that God has given me, it helps me have a good attitude about all the work, and keeps me smiling as I thank Him for each and every room and the little blessings that He has provided that make our abode so comfortable.

Also, I like to reward myself for all the stewarding with some time to just enjoy the blessings, this time of year that means sitting by a warm fire and soaking it all in.

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Book Review: The Patmos Deception

by hollycombs

The Patmos Deception by Davis BunnThe Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn was an action-packed adventure tale, involving history, faith and a young woman I found quite relatable.

When Nick is hired to discover how valuable state icons are going missing, he enlists the help of long-time friend Carey Mathers. As they follow the clues, they begin to realize that this is about something much bigger than either of them ever realized. And when they befriend Dimitri, a local boater, they begin to explore how deep the conspiracy goes.

The thing I most appreciated about this book is that Carey is a little like me, an inquisitive learner with a desire for adventure, but generally just an ordinary girl. We’re both nerds in our own right. I loved that this book revolved around someone who was not necessarily extraordinary and possessed few unusual attributes. Instead, Carey is an academic with a love of history and a desire to prove herself outside of her home state.

As with many of his books, Dunn has quite the collection of unique characters. Fortunately, this novel didn’t seem as complicated as some, so it was easier for me to keep up with the plot and characters even as I read half asleep at night. I especially loved some of the supporting characters, like Eleni, whose family I would love to befriend myself. (Somewhere in my heart, I hope I run into this clan if I ever travel to Greece.)

Taking place in Greece, the book does a good job of weaving culture, place and history into action and adventure. While I hope to someday visit Greece, I feel I know now a little more about this place through the eyes of Carey, Nick and Dimitri.

Overall, I thought Dunn’s latest adventure well worth the read and would recommend it to any who appreciate a little action and suspense! I hope a sequel will soon tell us what happens to these endearing characters.

I received a complimentary copy of The Patmos Deception from Bethany House Publishers, but I was not otherwise compensated for this review. All writing, thoughts, and opinions are solely mine.

My other Davis Bunn reviews: Rare Earth and Strait of Hormuz

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