Friday, December 19, 2014

Cancer on the Brain - Book Review

When I attended Book Expo America in May, I received an autographed copy of the memoir Cancer on the Brain by Jay Lefevers. I told him that I reviewed books on my blog, and he asked me why I hadn't reviewed his book. So I told him that I would.

His story is an interesting and inspiring one. This is a guy who didn't let a little thing like a brain tumor stop him from living his life: being a dad, growing his business, and coaching Little League. And he didn't slow down a second time when he was later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

It was no surprise to Jay that he survived both diagnoses because from the beginning, he always thought he would survive. There was just no question. He credits his positive outlook, his supportive family and friends, and continuing to live his life as normal for helping him survive.

The book wasn't as baseball-focused as I had thought. Judging by the book cover (it has a picture of a baseball cap on it) and the blurb on the back of the book, I expected the book to be about a guy who beat cancer and learned a lot from the kids on his Little League team while also teaching them a thing or two. While there were stories about coaching, it wasn't the main focus of the book. I guess I felt the book could have been organized a bit differently.

But if you're looking to be inspired, then you should check out this book. It could make a nice read to start off the new year.

Cancer on the Brain is published by Emerald Book Company and is available to purchase now. I received a free autographed copy of the book at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Christmas Food Gift of 2014 is ...

Grinch cookies
Grinch Cookies AND Lump of Coal Cookies!

That's right - I picked two cookie recipes to make and gift to family this year. The Grinch cookies were really cute and clever, but I just couldn't resist the cookies that looked like lumps of coal (but taste like sugar cookies!). I knew there were a few people that I could have a little fun with this holiday season by giving them coal cookies.

The Grinch Cookies were very easy to make, however, I couldn't find heart-shaped sprinkles. I guess Christmas isn't really the season for hearts. You'd probably have better luck finding heart sprinkles during the Valentine's Day season.

So, instead of sprinkles, I used three red mini M&M's to form a heart shape on each cookie. They looked cute, but then I baked them, and well, they weren't really a heart anymore. But I played into it by attaching a tag to each batch of cookies that said, "It might not look like a heart, but when the cookies baked, the hearts grew two sizes, kind of like the Grinch's."

Lump of Coal cookies
The Lump of Coal Cookies were a bit more difficult to make, mainly because the directions were not super awesome. I used the creator's sugar cookie recipe, which was supposed to make about two dozen sugar cookies. HOWEVER, I had enough dough to make FOUR DOZEN sugar cookies, and it was way too much dough for my KitchenAid mixer to handle. If you choose to make these cookies, definitely cut the recipe in half!!

The other problem I had was getting the cookies to turn black. It was super easy to create black food coloring. You basically just mix 10 drops of red food coloring, 10 drops of blue food coloring, and 10 drops of yellow food coloring in a bowl. But I think I added the mixture at the wrong time when mixing the dough. Add it in BEFORE you add the dough.

When I rolled the dough into balls, I had to roll the balls in the black food coloring before placing them on the cookie sheets. My hands were stained black pretty much the whole week.

Do you guys give baked goods as gifts? What's your favorite cookie to make and gift?

You can find more food gift ideas on my Pinterest board The Gift of Food.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Food Network Kitchens vs. Reality

I don't know about you, but my kitchen doesn't look like the kitchens of Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman), Ina Garten, Trisha Yearwood, Damaris Phillips, and my other favorite Food Network personalities.

On any given day, my kitchen looks something like this:

It's messy. We can never keep up with the amount of dishes that need to go in the dishwasher, and pots and pans that need to be washed by hand. We have ugly kitchen cabinets that hang too low over the countertops. I have one oven and one regular-sized fridge. Our flat-top stove is NOT the wisest choice for messy cooks. I don't have all the kitchen tools I probably should have. And the organization system among all the paperwork on our fridge is non-existent.

But it's not just the way my kitchen looks that differs from the Food Network kitchens. It's also the way I look when I'm cooking.

No make-up. Hair pulled back. Wearing pajamas. No wedding ring or jewelry. (Seriously, how can you bake or handle raw meat/poultry while wearing your rings??)

All this is to say that this is what a real kitchen looks like. Perhaps the Food Network personalities let their kitchens get out of control when they're not on TV. Or maybe they're just filming in a studio kitchen.

But you don't have to have a Food Network kitchen to cook delicious food and nourish your family and friends. (Although, I really would like new cabinets and countertops.) You don't need multiple ovens, a separate lodge with full kitchen, a cooktop grill, or all the other fancy stuff that you see on TV.

I'd love to start a movement. A real kitchen movement. Share photos of you in your kitchen or just your kitchen, and let's forget our Food Network fantasies and embrace our #kitchenreality.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Real Children - Book Review

Jo Walton's My Real Children is a mind-trip of a novel, reminiscent of the movie Sliding Doors but without all the rom-com.

Patricia Cowan wakes up one morning in a nursing home. It's 2015 and according to Patricia's charts, she is "V.C." or "very confused". She knows who she is. She knows she was born in 1926. She knows her life, and yet, she doesn't. At one point in her life, Patricia made a choice. She said "yes". But at that same point, she said "no", and her life diverged into two lives. Now Patricia can't remember which one was real and which children visiting her are her real children.

This isn't just a story of one woman's two lives. It's also a story of two worlds very different from the reality readers are living in. These are fictional worlds where President Kennedy doesn't get assassinated, where Prince Charles marries Camilla the first time, where the Russians beat the United States to the moon. It almost makes the reader wonder if these are memories of a confused old woman or if the reader is the one who is confused. You keep looking for things that are real, that you KNOW, so that you can latch onto something and say, "Well, this one is the real one." But there's nothing!

It's a very interesting and captivating novel. I think it would make a great read for a book club. Lots of discussion potential!!

My Real Children is published by Tor and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - December 15

One more week until Christmas! I got my presents wrapped this weekend. I am ALL set for the holidays. Well, sort of. Does anyone else feel like it's not really the middle of December already? I got this way two years ago. It just doesn't really feel like the holiday season. Oh well. It's not keeping us from eating!

Here's what's on the menu:

Sunday: loaded baked potato soup

Monday: eggs, bacon, and waffles

Tuesday: leftovers

Wednesday: pasta

Thursday: french bread pizza

Friday: on our own

Saturday: out

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Road to Shine - Book Review

Laurie Gardner's The Road to Shine is a self-help memoir chronicling the travels, triumphs, and heartbreaks experienced by the author and how she came through all of those things to figure out how to make her life shine.

I picked up this book at Book Expo America, probably more because the author and I have the same first name than any other reason. But I was also interested to read about Gardner's story and see if the book had any tips that the average reader could use to also find the "shine" in their lives.

I didn't think the book really offered concrete tips until the very end, but it's the worth the read to get there. Laurie Gardner has lived a pretty interesting life, traveling the world, meeting new people, trying new things, and doing what she loves. She may not have always known in advance what she wanted to do or what she was truly called to do, but all of her life experiences helped shape the person she became. Without going through the things she went through and seeing the things she did, she wouldn't have realized her true life calling.

Of course, we can't all graduate from Harvard and work in inner-city schools and take time off to work on a sheep farm in New Zealand and go on a four-day cleanse in the desert as the author did. But we can do thinks for ourselves that help us live a more fun, free, and full life.

This would be a good book for anyone who is interested in figuring it all out. The back of the book says, "For anyone who's ever sensed that there must be something more..." Laurie Gardner is proof that there can be something more if you're willing to go on the adventure to find it.

The Road to Shine is published by Central Recovery Press and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

More December 2013 Scrapbook Layouts

I totally forgot to share these layouts with you last week, but they are also from last December. This first layout is one that my mom sent me. She and my dad went on a tour of this church that has Christmas trees decorated in each room. In one of the rooms, there was a cardboard stand-up of the Pope! So, of course, they had their picture taken next to it! It almost looks real.

My mom wanted to use this as their Christmas card picture, but as a non-Catholic, she didn't want to offend any actual Catholics. 

Next up are pictures from Christmas Eve last year. We always go to church with my grandmother-in-law, so that requires us to put on nice clothes. I like to get pictures of everybody in their nice clothes before we had off for church. 

Of course, my parents, my husband, and I took some group photos when we got home from church, and we got a little silly with these special glasses I have that make Christmas lights look like Santa's face, trees, and reindeer. 

On this layout, I also cut a Starbucks cup sleeve into a Christmas tree just to add some depth and texture. I have a whole bag of cup sleeves in my scrap stash. I went a little crazy one year saving all of them because I was certain that I was going to use them all in some way to make my own embellishments. I guess I should get on that, huh?