Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Last Chance to Complete New Year's Resolutions

Alright, time to look back at what I did or did not accomplish from my 2013 to-do list:

1. buy door mat for sliding glass door in the living room
2. paint the guest bedroom and buy a bed and mattress
3. remove another wall and a half of wallpaper in the craft room
4. paint the trim on the wall in the living room/dining room
5. apply to be on an HGTV show
6. fix/redo the master bathroom shower stall
7. buy an electric drill to hang a curtain rod (buy) and curtains (buy)
8. attempt to make my own roman shades for dining room windows
9. buy 3M Command Strips for hanging picture frames in the bedroom
10. buy more white picture frames for the bedroom
11. buy color and black ink for the printer to print out pictures and finish some scrapbook pages
12. spend 15 minutes a day writing my novel
13. move the side table from the basement to the reading room
14. make a book wreath for the reading room


If there is time and money:
1. buy a new dining room table set
2. buy a side table, lamp, and armchair for the living room and hang a picture on the wall

I didn't make my own roman shades, mainly because I looked at the instructions on Pinterest and got SUPER overwhelmed. Like, whoa. I also didn't paint the guest bedroom or buy a bed and mattress for that room. Whatever. The downstairs of our house is still a major work in progress.

And I am rethinking the whole side table, lamp, armchair in living room business. I think I'll forget about that for now and move on to our entryway.

We did get a new dining room table, courtesy of my parents. It was my 30th birthday present! Yes. I am now 30.

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 30, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - December 30

Now that the holidays are almost over, I can get back to my once-a-day posts, including the always-present Meal Plan Monday. Here is what we're eating this last week of December/first week of January:

Sunday: tacos

Monday: chicken parm with parmesan green beans

Tuesday: out

Wednesday: hamburger stroganoff and rice


Friday: eggs, bacon, and toast


Sunday, December 29, 2013

My Year in Books + GIVEAWAY!

So over at GoodReads, I'm able to check out my 2013 reading stats. I read 105 books this year and only gave two books a one-star rating. The longest book I read was Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. I gave 25 books a five-star rating, and in case you missed them, here they are complete with links to my reviews of them on GoodReads.

In no particular order:

1. The Organic God - Margaret Feinberg
2. Look Again - Lisa Scottoline
3. What Alice Forgot - Liane Moriarty
4. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
5. Deadly Spin - Wendell Potter
6. Shine - Lauren Myracle
7. The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson
8. The Borrower - Rebecca Makai
9. In the Garden of Beasts - Erik Larson
10. The Leftovers - Tom Perrotta
11. The Lantern - Deborah Lawrenson
12. The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton
13. Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs-Christians Debate - Justin Lee
14. The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
15. From the Dragon's Mouth - Ana Fuentes
16. Just What Kind of Mother Are You? - Paula Daly
17. Lock, Stock, and Over a Barrel - Melody Carlson
18. Firecracker - David Iserson
19. SYLO - D.J. MacHale
20. The Real Skinny - Julie Upton & Katherine Brooking
21. Bread & Wine - Shauna Niequest
22. Intentional Walk - Rob Rains
23. Waking Up in Heaven - Crystal McVea
24. Dallas 1963 - Bill Minutaglio & Steven L. Davis
25. In the Blood - Lisa Unger

I know the holiday break is over and so is spending the break catching up on your reading, but if you're making it a point to read more books in the new year, then definitely start with the ones on this list!

Or you could also enter my Book Lover's Giveaway! Just leave a comment on this post telling me which of these 25 books sounds the most interesting, and you'll be entered to win a grab bag of books that I've reviewed this past year. (Also, please make sure I have a way to contact you.) There will be one lucky winner!! This giveaway runs through January 5 at midnight EST and is only open to residents of the contiguous United States - no Alaska, Hawaii, or international entries.

Happy reading!

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Wounded Name - YA Book Review

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Dot Hutchison's A Wounded Name takes the characters from Shakespeare's Hamlet and attempts to bring them into a modern-day setting. The story is told through Ophelia's point of view, however, and in this version, Ophelia is a 16-year-old attending a prestigious and somewhat outdated private boarding school where her father works. Dane (Hamlet) is her sort-of-boyfriend, and his father is the headmaster of the school. When the headmaster dies and Ophelia starts seeing his ghost haunting the campus cemetery, things begin to take a turn for the crazy, and well, if you've read or seen Hamlet, you know the rest.

First, the good. The author's writing style is very poetic and flowery. She did a great job of capturing Ophelia's tortured soul and describing the ghostly scenery of the school grounds.

That said, at times the descriptions of the school, the dialogue, and the clothing that the students and adults are wearing did little to make me believe this was actually happening in present day. You can't just mention cell phones and computers one time and then go back to talking about corsets and stays and quoting Shakespearan dialogue verbatim. The school itself lent nothing to the idea that this was taking place in a modern-day setting either. There was a sort of archaic sensibility to the school, a notion that women should be seen and not heard, which I guess the author needed to help explain the actions of some of the adult characters. You know, they are set in their old ways, blah blah blah. But if this is taking place in 2013, how old are the adults that they are stuck in the 1950s?

As pretty as the author's writing is, I also wish that the dialogue had been modernized a bit. No way do kids today speak like Victorian Englishpeople. And the use of Shakespeare's dialogue was a little off-putting. I mean, this book is for ages 12-18. I didn't read any Shakespeare until my Honors Brit Lit class senior year of high school when I was 17/18. I took a Shakespeare class in college, and I still don't understand half of what the characters are saying. You really think a 7th grader is going to follow this?

This brings me to the last thing that put me off with this book. The relationship between Ophelia and Dane is nothing if not abusive and controlling. Ophelia, wanting to help Dane through his grief over losing his father, basically lets Dane treat her however he wants, even if that means leaving her bruised and bloody and having his way with her. And Ophelia is all, "Oh, it's okay. I have to bear his pain for him." Uh, says who? Come on, Ophelia. Be a modern girl and grow a pair.

Reading the chapters that detailed Dane and Ophelia's interactions reminded me a bit of Fifty Shades of Grey only with less description. Since when did today's women decide that being abused physically and verbally by a cute guy (no matter how cray-cray he is) is romantic and indicative of love? Since when is it fun to be used? If that's what you ladies out there are looking for in your relationships, well, then I'm really sorry for you. And to the 7th graders who are reading this book, aim higher. PLEASE.

Basically, I liked the idea of this novel, but it didn't meet its full potential.

A Wounded Name is published by Carolrhoda Lab and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Losing It - Book Review

Losing It is a collection of original short stories all about losing one's virginity by some of today's popular YA authors.

The stories in this book are very diverse. Instead of soft-core porn stories about horny teenagers getting it on, these stories are humorous, moving, and real. The stories are told from the points of view of guys, girls, gay characters, and even an Indian character who talks about honor killings. The stories aren't just about sex. They are also about being a virgin. I was glad to read that some of the stories actually dealt with sex as a thing that should be given serious consideration before action. And spoiler alert, not everybody ends up having sex.

Most of the stories are written by British writers and, therefore, the stories take place in England and use English slang. I'm not sure that American teens would understand the slang and the references. I certainly don't know any teenager, or adult for that matter, who has read a Mills and Boon novel. I've only read one because I had to as part of a Romantic & Gothic Literature class I took when I studied abroad. (GREAT class, by the way. Also, Mills and Boon is like Australia's version of Harlequin.)

The book is geared to kids ages 14-18 (grades 9-12), and I'd say that's pretty accurate.

Losing It is published by Carolrhoda Lab and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Meal Plan Monday (sort of) - December 23

Well, my friends, the holidays are here. If I gave you this week's real meal plan, it would be pretty boring. I think we're only making food ourselves one night this week! And that night would be my 30th birthday dinner. Per tradition, we're making Meatballs and Rice, and I feel bad because I've mentioned this meal before but never shared the recipe.

I think it's time.

Note: This recipe is not gluten-free, but you can easily substitute regular beef broth for gluten-free beef broth or beef stock. Glutino also makes gluten-free bread crumbs. I have been told that it doesn't taste the same, but I've eaten both versions, and I don't notice a difference.

Ingredients:
1 egg
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 cans beef broth
1/4 tsp pepper

Directions:
Beat egg slightly in large bowl. Add beef, crumbs, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Combine and form into balls. In dutch oven (large pot), heat broth to boiling. Add meatballs. Lower heat and poach gently for 15 minutes, turning once. Remove meatballs from broth and set broth aside to make the gravy.

Gravy Ingredients:
3 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice

Gravy Directions:
Stir cornstarch with water to make a smooth liquid. Once meatballs have cooked and been removed from the broth, add the cornstarch mixture slowly to the broth, and stir with a wire whisk until the sauce thickens. (The sauce will be thin.) Stir in the lemon juice. Simmer for five minutes.


We're also going to serve green beans and buttermilk sage biscuits. For dessert, a two-tier gluten-free vanilla cake with chocolate frosting that will hopefully have some cool decorations on it courtesy of my Cake Boss lesson and Cake Boss tools.

Whatever you're eating this week, I hope it's with family and friends and that you have a Happy Holiday!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

December Daily Week 3 Pictures

Well, we had another day of snow on Tuesday. I managed to get to work, though. I mean, how could I miss our company holiday lunch??



And to keep everyone from feeling Bah Humbug on Wednesday, my morning bus driver left this on everybody's seat! So nice!!


Friday I went by the Macy's holiday windows during my lunch break. They were very pretty!


And then Friday night, Santa drove by our house! He even waved at me!


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Simple Skincare - Review + Giveaway

Last month (has it been that long ago?) I got to host a Simple Skincare party through House Party. Part of being a host included receiving free samples of Simple product to try. I received the moisturizing facial wash, oil cleansing facial wipes, and replenishing moisturizer. I used a coupon to purchase the smoothing facial scrub you see in the photo to the right.

What is Simple, you ask? It's a line of facial skincare designed for sensitive skin. The products don't use dyes, artificial perfumes, or harsh irritants. So basically, it's made exactly for people like me! The line of products is pretty extensive. There are actually at least four different types of facial wipes plus eye care products.

You can find out what products are a good fit for your skin and ways to take care of your skin by taking the Simple Sense Quiz.

My three top skincare priorities:
Deep Cleanse - to remove dirt, impurities, and makeup
Polish - to renew and refine my skin's surface
Be Happy - stress and lack of sleep can impact how my skin looks

I like the Simple line. However, during the winter, I'm pretty loyal to my Burt's Bees Intense Hydration stuff. But for my spring and summer skin routine, I would totally use Simple products. I love the facial wipes because they are just so easy to use, especially on lazy nights when I don't want to remove my makeup before bed but know that I should.

Do you want to try out some Simple products for yourself? I've still got some extra Simple goodies to share and one lucky commenter will win! Just leave a comment on this post by midnight eastern time on December 28 telling me what one of your skincare priorities is. I'll randomly pick a winner from all the comments! (Also, please make sure I have a way of contacting you.) This giveaway is open to residents of the contiguous U.S. states - no Alaska, Hawaii, or international entries. Good luck!

Friday, December 20, 2013

In the Blood - Book Review

When I receive advance review copies of books, I normally try to post the reviews on the day the books hit store shelves. But I just can't contain myself when it comes to Lisa Unger's new book In the Blood. The book doesn't come out until January 2014, but this is definitely one that you'll want to put on your to-read list, so get ready!

Lana Granger is a college student who takes a babysitting job to make some extra money before graduation. The boy she's babysitting is troubled, but Lana, who also has a mysterious troubled past, thinks she can handle him. Or maybe he's really "handling" her. Then, one of Lana's friends goes missing, and the past that Lana has tried to hide slowly comes out into the open, which is exactly what someone wants to happen. But who?

This is a book that you'll read and think you know what's going on, but by the time you're 75 percent through the book, you'll realize that everything you thought you knew is completely wrong. Oh man, oh man. This is a page-turner, for sure. Make this the first book you read in 2014.

In the Blood is published by Touchstone and will be available to purchase January 7, 2014. I received a free autographed advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Road Trip Pictures

It's taken me awhile, but I'm finally getting more of our summer vacation photos scrapped. I had some October Afternoon papers and embellishments that I knew would be perfect for some of our vacation photos.

Here is a two-pager that I created for the pictures of our hotel in St. Ignace, Michigan.

    

And then here is a one-pager I did, also using October Afternoon supplies and Bazzill cardstock, for our lovely (and TINY) Fiat rental car and driving over the Mackinac Bridge. I loved the cassette tape embellishment that says "Road Trip". Do people even make "mix tapes" anymore?


Thanks for looking! How are you coming along on your summer vacation photos? Before we know it, summer vacation will be here again!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December Daily Week 2

A little late, but here are some of my December Daily pictures from week 2! I was super excited because FINALLY after four years of marriage, we have stockings!


Last week we also had three days of snow: Sunday, Tuesday, and Saturday. I had already planned on taking the day off on Tuesday, so there was no issue with the commute for me. My husband had a snow day, so we spent the day putzing around the house and enjoying our Christmas tree!


Saturday we did have plans, but we had to cancel. Our area of the state was supposed to get 5-10 inches of snow. I was a little peeved at the weather on Saturday because my plans involved an Ugly Sweater Run 5K. There was supposed to be ugly holiday sweaters, knit caps for everyone, stick-on mustaches, and hot cocoa! That whole thing just screamed my name! The race did go on, but there were a lot of people who didn't attend because we didn't want to be stuck driving around in the snow. But instead of being upset, I made cookies. Cookies make everything better.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What We Lost in the Dark - YA Book Review

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What We Lost in the Dark is a new YA novel by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Yes, THAT Jacquelyn Mitchard. Author of The Deep End of the Ocean. You know, that book that became the very first Oprah Book Club pick? I read that book a few years ago for a book club and gave it 5 stars. 5 stars, people.

I was excited to see how Mitchard transitioned into the world of YA, but once I started reading this book, the enthusiasm waned.

The story is about Allie Kim and her two best friends Rob and Juliet. All three of them have a fatal allergy to sunlight that prevents them from going to school and leading lives like "normal" kids. Compounding their unique lives is the fact that Juliet is dead - an apparent suicide - but Allie knows better. She knows that Garrett Tabor is behind Juliet's disappearance. She believes that Garrett Tabor murdered Juliet.

Allie's obsession with proving Garrett's involvement threatens her relationship with her mother and Rob. It could also mean threaten Allie's life.

I don't know if it was because the copy I was reading was an uncorrected advance copy, but I found this story hard to follow. There were so many times that I had to go back and re-read a passage to clarify things, and sometimes, even then, I still felt lost. The other problem could also be that I didn't read the prequel, What We Saw at Night. I would definitely say that before you read this book you should read the first book because the background information that you get from this sequel is not enough to help you understand who all the characters are and how the past evolves into the present.

Also, there is a part toward the end that gets kind of gruesomely descriptive. I don't have an age-grading for this book, but the characters are 17 and 18, so I'd definitely recommend that kids of those age and up read this book as long as they can handle some not-so-nice descriptions of what essentially is torture and murder. Yep.

What We Lost in the Dark is published by Soho Press and is available to purchase today. I received a free autographed advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review the book.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - December 16

It's our last week of work before the holidays start! Here is what we're eating this week:

Sunday: chicken caesar salad

Monday: leftover beef stew

Tuesday: on our own

Wednesday: pasta pronto carbonara

Thursday: Perdue gluten-free chicken strips and fries

Friday: on our own

Saturday: I don't know. I'll figure it out on Saturday.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

For the Good of Mankind? - Book Review

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For the Good of Mankind by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein is a very interesting book that would be perfect for your curious teen. The book presents in an age-appropriate format "the shameful history of human medical experimentation."

While we have certainly benefited from medical experimentation, oftentimes it has come at the expense of unwilling human guinea pigs. From orphans to black slaves to pregnant women and people in third-world countries, scientists and doctors have experimented on them all throughout history. Even when sanctions were put into place to ensure that humans were giving their consent to be part of medical experiments, many medical groups found ways around those sanctions to get what they wanted.

The book even mentions Henrietta Lacks (about whom the awesome book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was written), a poor black woman whose cancerous cervical cells were taken and experimented on without Henrietta or her family's consent or knowledge. Those cells are still in use for experimentation and were even used in the development of the polio vaccine. But Henrietta and her family were not compensated for the use of Henrietta's cells.

What is really scary is the state of medical experimentation today. With so many pharmaceutical companies competing to make the next big drug for profit and with so many doctors receiving compensation for recruiting volunteers, it can often be difficult to know if you're volunteering for a drug trial with all the facts. People today are still becoming very ill and even dying because of shifty drug trials.

This book really gets kids thinking about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to testing new drugs and medical procedures on human beings. The back of the book includes discussion questions for kids to answer on their own, with friends, or in a classroom group setting.

I'm not sure if this is the kind of book that kids would read at home or read in a classroom. It's for grades 6-12 and for kids ages 11-18. Some of the content in the book might be a little too gruesome for kids at the younger end of that age range. (I was questioning my decision to read this book while eating lunch.) I feel that it's best for ages 14-18 and kids who have an interest in science and medicine.

For the Good of Mankind? is published by Twenty-First Century Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Christmas Treat of 2013 is...

Cowboy (or Cowgirl) Cookies by Bakerella! 

This is a fun make-in-a-mason-jar gift that allows you to put cookie ingredients together and then your recipients can actually make the cookies! You layer all the dry ingredients into a mason jar, and then wrap it up all pretty with a nice bow. The Bakerella website even has free printables so you can make nice labels for attaching to your mason jar. And you'll definitely want to take advantage of those! The label with the directions for baking the cookies is ready to go, so you don't have to type it up!


These cookie mixes were supposed to have walnuts in them, but I ran out of room in my mason jars! Still, the cookies taste great. I made a batch for myself just to test it out, and they were pretty yummy. Very soft and chocolatey.


I even had some of these for breakfast. They have oatmeal in them, so that means they are breakfast-appropriate, right? Ha ha!

Note: These are not gluten-free. I made these as gifts for people who do not need to be on a gluten-free diet. If you make these gluten-free, you'll need to make some substitutions, including using gluten-free oats.

Friday, December 13, 2013

DIY Sharpie Mug Decorations

By this time, all of my holiday packages have been mailed and should have arrived to their recipients. Whether or not the recipients opened the packages and the gifts inside, I can't say. I only wrapped these little beauties in newspaper and bubble wrap, so if you opened your package, there wasn't much else to unwrap. I also hope these arrived in one piece. If not, at least the recipients can see what they were supposed to look like!

I can't take credit for this DIY craft. It's all over Pinterest. But what I can take credit for is the design because I designed them myself!!

For the folks I know who are from Missouri but no longer live in Missouri, I made them these super cute mugs! (Well, I think they are super cute.)

All you need are some plain white mugs (mine came from the Dollar Tree) and a Sharpie marker. Oh, and an idea of what you want to write on your mug. Because I was making these for former Missourians, I chose to do what you see at right.

I printed out a small outline of the state of Missouri and traced it on my mugs with a Sharpie. Then I drew a heart where St. Louis would be within the Missouri state shape (because the recipients are all originally from that area) and wrote words on the mug.

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and place your mugs on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes. And you're done! The reason you bake them is to keep the Sharpie from smudging or washing off in the dishwasher.

I had fun making these and hope to make more for future gifts. It was really easy to do, which is always a nice plus.

Have you guys ever made your own Sharpie mugs? I'd love to see what your designs look like!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sex & Violence - YA Book Review

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Hearing the title Sex & Violence made me think this YA novel was going to be about abusive relationships, teenage pregnancy, etc. Not so much.

The story is about 17-year-old Evan who moves around a lot because of his dad's job. Due to never being in one place for long, Evan doesn't waste time trying to make friends. He does, however, scope out "easy" girls and have sex with them, then cast them aside and never call them again. Once he moves again, he starts it all over.

Unfortunately, Evan hooks up with the wrong girl and ends up getting beaten up by the girl's ex-boyfriend and his ??'s roommate. This ugly incident results in Evan's father taking Evan out of school and moving to a lakehouse in Minnesota for the summer. In this small lakeside community, Evan is forced to befriend the local teens and all their summer drama while learning how to get over his fears and form long-lasting relationships with people, including girls. Can he do it or will he fall into the same trap that got him beaten up before?

At the same time he's trying to work through all of that, he's also dealing with daddy issues and uncovering family history.

Basically, this book is full of reasons why teenagers should not have sex. Number one reason, they are too immature to handle it. The amount of ridiculous drama that ensues because everyone in this tiny town is sleeping with everyone else (practically) just kills me. And the parents don't seem overly concerned.

I can't really say that I enjoyed reading this book. Many parts were just painful or hard to get through. But that's just my assessment. Maybe kids in the target age range will be able to relate, although I sincerely hope not. I'm sure this book is supposed to have some kind of message for teens, but I can't think of what that message might be. Perhaps simply don't have frivolous sex?

This book features characters who are 17 and 18. I would only recommend this book for kids who are of that age or older. Parents, if you're reading this, you also might want to read the book so you know what your kids are reading and can talk to them about it. Aside from sex, other content in the book includes cursing, underage drinking, and drug use by both teens and adults.

Sex & Violence is published by Carolrhoda Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Yummy Grilled Chicken & Slaw

This would be a great dinner to make during the summertime on an outdoor grill, but if it's winter where you are, you can still grill up a yummy chicken. I used my George Foreman grill.

This recipe is based on this pork recipe from Hatchery. When I received my first Hatchery box (as part of a free three-month subscription), I was so impressed with all the little ingredients that came in the box that I immediately wanted to start using them.

First up was this recipe that used Butcher's Bunches Get Your Guav On, a jam made from guava. I didn't have pork, but I did have chicken breasts in the freezer. Feel free to use pork, but this is just as good with chicken. Marinate it. Grill it. Spread the guava jam all over it.

For the slaw, I had no idea what a jicama root was, and I didn't feel like learning. So I bought a pre-packaged bag of plain slaw and made my own honey-djion dressing using the recipe for our chicken wraps. Tasted pretty good!

We also added Bob Evan's mashed potatoes. We really like mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss - Review

Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss is a new cookbook from the star of TLC's Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro. When I went to the Cake Boss/M&M's event, I received a free copy of this cookbook AND Buddy signed it for me! Pretty cool.

Obviously, I was not required to review the cookbook, but because I do book reviews on this blog AND I enjoy cooking, I figured I'd better give you guys my take on this cookbook.

Verdict: It's really great!

Buddy and his family may be known for cakes and desserts, but this cookbook is not only desserts. It's about complete meals that you can make at home for every holiday/family gathering throughout the year, from New Year's Day brunch to Mother's Day to a birthday party to New Year's Eve. And then, of course, each event requires its own decorative dessert! The back of the book gives you the directions for making different cakes, frostings, and fillings along with some helpful decorating tips. Although, I think the decorating portion of the cookbook will take a little bit of practice and patience. I doubt I could make a cake look like a wrapped Christmas present on my first try!

This cookbook is like an all-in-one! You've got your appetizers, your sides, your main courses, and your desserts, perfect for your next family gathering. And most of the recipes, including the cakes, could be made gluten-free with just a few substitutions. (Or you can buy gluten-free boxed cake and make your own frosting. That might be what I do. Don't tell Buddy!)

Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss is published by Atria Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free autographed copy with no obligation to review.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - December 9

And here we go! The second week of December! Are we all in the holiday spirit? Our Christmas shopping is complete, and now we're just waiting for things that we ordered online to arrive and wrapping up what we do have. Oh, and trying to remember to water our tree. This is the thirstiest tree we have ever had!

Anyway, here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: Ron's Chili

Monday: pasta and salad

Tuesday: Italian Sausage and Potato Roast

Wednesday: leftovers

Thursday: hot dogs and fries

Friday: Sloppy Joe's or leftovers

Saturday: on our own

Sunday, December 8, 2013

December Daily Album

Okay, I lied. I DID start putting together my December Daily album. I had a very productive day yesterday, and while that did not involve cleaning the house (which is what I'm doing today), it did involve spending the evening assembling the cover and a few pages. So, I thought I'd share them with you today!

This is my cover page! I used a Bo Bunny 9x9 chipboard album that I got for Christmas last year. It is a D-ring album, which I love. 


I'm thinking that I'll use some of my glitter Mod Podge (which I got at work) to cover this so that the letter stickers don't fall off. The blue present paper is actually a transparency and those blue presents are felt, so they don't make the best surface for adhesives.

Like I said yesterday, I'm dividing my album up into weeks. There are tabbed chipboard dividers inside my Bo Bunny album, and I'm using four of them for each week of December. Here are my pages for the first week. You'll probably recognize some of these pictures from yesterday. 


To make this album, I cobbled together a bunch of stuff from my Christmas paper stash and my Christmas embellishment stash. I have A LOT of Christmas stuff!


I'm also using one of the dividers to make a Christmas cards section. 


I still have red pockets from my very first December Daily album, and those are just perfect for holding cards. Our Christmas card is in there, but I've tried to cover it up so that you can't see it. I'm not sure if everyone has received their cards from us yet!


And that's it! That's the start of my 2013 December Daily album! If you're working on one, be sure to let me know how it's going. I'd love to see pictures of DDs in progress!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

December Daily Week 1

I am doing my third December Daily album this year. Like last year, I am not worrying about trying to get a festive picture each and every day. I have an album that I am dividing into four sections, one for each week. And then I'll just add pictures from the week in their respective sections. The last section of my album will be for storing the Christmas cards we receive this year.

Last year, I made my album ahead of time. I had planned on doing that again this year, but it just didn't happen. No biggie. I've already sorted through my paper and embellishment stash to find the items I want to use in my album. So all that's left is putting it all together.

What I'm showing in this blog post are the pictures from week 1 of December. It seems that I got all my festive stuff out of the way in November. We got our tree on November 30, and I also spent that evening wrapping presents that I had already purchased. I guess I'll count November 30 as part of the first week.

Earlier in the week, I also got to spend some time at New York City's Bryant Park. I watched the ice skaters skate at the rink there (the same rink where somebody got shot a few weeks earlier - joy) and took this picture of the big Bryant Park tree in the background. There is also a Bryant Park holiday market happening right now, which is always kind of fun to check out. There are a lot of food vendors, including one of my favorites that I haven't eaten at in awhile, Max Brenner. There was a time where I think I took everyone who visited me to eat dinner/dessert at Max Brenner, Chocolate By the Bald Man in Union Square. The next time I decide to go into New York for fun, somebody better come with me and eat chocolate for a meal. It's so happening!

That same day, I cam home and watched my favorite terribly awesome Christmas movie, The Christmas List. It is NOT on ABC Family this year, as far as I can tell. And God forbid ABC Family respond to its viewers when we contact them via Facebook and email.

But, thank goodness, some lovely soul put the whole movie on YouTube. This was probably recorded and uploaded illegally, but I don't care! I didn't get to watch the movie while eating the traditional pizza and Oreos, but I still got to watch it. I can check it off the list this season!

And really, even among all of its bad acting, cheesy script, and finger-pointing picture poses, The Christmas List does have kind of a nice little message: don't wait for things to happen to you or for Santa to grant your wishes. Make them happen for yourself!

Who out there is doing a December Daily album this year? What is your strategy for completing your DD? Do you strive to take a picture a day or are you a little more lax like me? I'd love to hear your tips in the comments below!

Friday, December 6, 2013

One Word That Will Change Your Life - Book Review

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Every year, scrapbookers pick one word for the coming year and scrap about it. I've never really done it, but I'm rethinking that after reading One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton, and Jimmy Page. This book is an updated and expanded version of the original book from 1999.

The One Word process is not about making a New Year's Resolution. It's not about setting to-do goals. It's about setting to-be goals. By choosing just one word, you can focus more on transforming yourself in spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, financial, and relational ways.

This book walks you through the steps needed to figure out what your One Word is and to live that One Word throughout the coming year. While this book is very short (and I finished it in one day), the process of discovering your One Word might take you more than one day. It's all about finding a way to unplug and focus and prepare. But then you also have to listen. The authors of this book say that everybody has One Word that suits them for where they are right now in their lives. It's more than just finding a good word; it's finding a God word. (I love that!) As we all know, God doesn't always speak to us right when we want him to, so it's important to keep your heart and ears open so you can hear from God about what your One Word should be for the year.

And then it's all about living your word and spreading the word about your word. This book shows examples of how sports teams, corporations, and more have used the One Word process to boost morale and drive within the teams and companies, not just in people's personal lives. It's very interesting and inspiring to see some of the things that people have done after reading this book.

Obviously, I can't review how well the book works because I'm still in the process of trying to figure out my One Word for 2014. But when I figure it out, I'll let you know!

One Word That Will Change Your Life is published by John Wiley & Sons and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest opinion.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Baking with the Cake Boss










Yes, that's me with Buddy Valastro from TLC's Cake Boss! A super awesome friend and fellow blogger invited me to go along with her to a flash-baking session with Buddy at the M&M's store in Times Square. Of course, I accepted! Who doesn't love meeting celebrities and eating food?

image: Diane Bondareff

All of the attendees were given our own little decorating area with supplies. The supplies were all from Buddy's new Cake Boss line of baking and decorating supplies. What I love about these supplies is that they are designed to make it easy for the everyday baker be his or her own "cake boss" at home!




I don't know if you can see it in the picture above, but the baking sheet has little indentations on it to help you know where to plop your cookie batter so that it's all evenly spaced and just the right amount. Spacing and dough amount really help your cookies bake more evenly and deliciously!




Buddy showed us how to decorate two cupcakes and two cookies using frosting and icing. And when I say he showed us, he really showed us. He was demonstrating on his own cupcakes and cookies and coming around to make sure we were all doing it right. I got a personal lesson on giving myself the finger (proper technique!) when writing on a cookie with icing! 

image: Diane Bondareff
What do you think of my attempt at a clock cookie for New Year's Eve? This cookie design is actually in Buddy's new book Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss, which I got a free and autographed copy of. Don't worry! I'll review it soon!


Had a great time learning some decorating tips with the Cake Boss and decorating cupcakes and cookies with M&Ms. Using colorful M&Ms on your cookies and cupcakes is an easy way to add some zest and festiveness to your goodies! It's easy for kids, too, and they'll love using M&Ms to decorate their own stuff. Plus, it's fun! And you can snack on the M&Ms as you work. At least, that's what I'd do!

Here's one last image for you that I thought was pretty funny. I'm totally intense about the proper way to hold an icing bag! Such a good student!

image credit: Diane Bonareff



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Give the Gift of Books + Giveaway!


Do you have a teen who likes to read? Then how about a Soho Teen Book of the Month Club subscription? I've reviewed a couple Soho Teen books, including the very good Relic, and there are tons more books from Soho Teen that are part of this subscription. You get one book per month for $9.99 plus 50% off backlisted titles, complimentary Soho Teen swag, free shipping, and discounts in the Soho Store! The books can be delivered to your doorstep or as e-books. Click on the picture above for more information! 

Soho Teen also has a giveaway that you can enter to win a Soho Teen Black Box - a surprise pack of 12 hardcover and paperback books! a Rafflecopter giveaway  The giveaway ends December 31, so click on the link to enter. Good luck!


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fage Greek Yogurt - Product Review + GIVEAWAY!!!

This is quite possibly the easiest product review I've ever done. Why? Because it just so happens that Fage (pronounced "fa-yeh!") is already my favorite brand of Greek yogurt! So, it was a no-brainer for me, a BzzAgent, to say yes to be part of the Fage BzzCampaign and receive coupons for free Fage split-cup yogurt!

There is something so satisfying about the texture of Fage. Unlike other Greek yogurt brands I've tried, Fage is super thick and not watery. With the split-cup varieties, you're in charge of how much fruit you want to add to the yogurt. I add a little bit of the fruit at a time. How do you split-cup it?

My favorite flavor is blueberry. The blueberry compote is so thick and perfectly sweet. Blueberry is definitely my go-to flavor, but Fage makes so many different flavors, including honey, strawberry, cherry, peach, raspberry (also good!), strawberry goji (good!), cherry pomegranate, mango guanabana, blueberry acai (also good!), apple cinnamon raisins, orange cinnamon, and passion fruit clementine. Is your mouth watering yet? You can also purchase plain Fage yogurt, which I like to use for cooking. It makes a great and healthy sour cream substitute!

Fage is a family-owned company located in New York state. The yogurt is made from 100% natural ingredients with no evaporated cane juice (a fancy way of saying sugar) or protein powders. It's available in 0% non-fat, 2% low-fat, and classic in 6-ounce, 7-ounce, 17-ounce, and 35-ounce containers.

Fage is readily available at most grocery stores. Prices will vary, but usually my local A&P sells Fage on sale 10/$10. That's a pretty good deal and gets me yogurt for two weeks. I like to bring Fage with me to work as a morning or afternoon snack.

Have you guys ever tried Fage? Do you want to try Fage?

I have four coupons for a free split-cup container of Fage, and I'm giving two coupons each to two lucky commenters. Just leave me a comment below letting me know what Fage flavor you'd like to try, and I'll randomly pick two winners. This giveaway is open to residents of the contiguous U.S. only - no Alaska, Hawaii, or international entries. The giveaway closes on December 13, 2013. Good luck!


Monday, December 2, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - December 2

Hard to believe it is December already, right? Pretty soon we'll be celebrating Christmas and my 30th birthday. Where has 2013 gone???

I don't have the answer to that question, but I do have what we're eating this week!

Sunday: leftovers

Monday: Guava-Glazed Chicken & slaw (based on this pork recipe)*

Tuesday: on our own

Wednesday: Chalupa-Style Tostadas

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: pancakes and eggs with Tonic 02 syrup

Saturday: Ron's Chili

* new recipe!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Honey-Dijon Chicken Wraps



Originally, I saved this recipe from Family Circle as something I could make for myself for lunch. But it sounded so good, and healthy, so I decided we should have it for dinner.

The original recipe called for flour tortillas, but because we have to eat gluten-free, we used corn tortillas. They don't fold that well for wraps, and honestly, they aren't as good as flour tortillas. I wish somewhere out here sold the Udi's gluten-free flour tortillas so we could try those. But alas.

This is basically a chicken salad with chopped up chicken (I poached a chicken breast), celery, grapes, walnuts, honey-dijon mustard, milk, and mayonnaise. It's got a nice tang mixed with sweet along with a good crunch. This is supposed to have spinach in it, but I forgot to buy spinach. I think it tasted fine without spinach.



After we ate this for dinner (with chips), I decided I wanted to have leftovers on my own with LOTS OF GLUTEN in a pita pocket. And then I tried to find pita pockets, and I couldn't. Is our little town so uncultured? So, I went with option two: whole wheat sandwich thins. It wasn't a pita pocket, but it was still good. Just toast up the sandwich thins and plop a few fork- or spoonfuls of this chicken salad on top.

While we liked this for dinner, it was really a better lunch. I would definitely make this again for lunch. And hopefully I'll be able to find some pita pockets next time. I really want pita pockets!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Believe - Book Review

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In Sarah Aronson's Believe, 16-year-old Janine just wants to live a normal life. The only problem is, she's been part of a not-so-normal experience. 10 years ago Janine was the only survivor of a synagogue bombing in Israel. Both of her parents died, and Janine might have died, too, if a visiting American named Dave Armstrong hadn't pulled her from the rubble. Every day Janine is reminded of the bombing when she looks down at her scarred hands.

Now that the bombing's 10-year anniversary is near, the media and Dave Armstrong are taking more of an interest in Janine than they normally do. Janine can't even leave the house to visit her parents' graves without being harassed by reporters and photographers. Janine doesn't want the fame. Or rather, she would like to be famous but on her own terms. However, her friends think she should use her fame for something good, to make a statement, to maybe help them save an old tree from being torn down and the land being sold.

But Janine really doesn't want to talk to the media about ANYTHING.

Unfortunately, Janine's actions - or lack thereof - cause disappointment and betrayal, and Janine must turn to the people she doesn't want to for guidance. Is she a healer as Dave Armstrong says? Is she a fashion designer like she wants to be? Is she a believer?

I thought this book dealt with the subject of faith and loss in a very real way. While most kids probably have not lived through a bombing, they probably have experienced death and loss and the complications of having friends in high school. Some kids might even be struggling with their faith, asking questions that don't have easy answers.

While I kind of felt like Janine's friends in the book were a little bit on the rude side to her, making her do something that she felt uncomfortable doing and then calling her selfish when she didn't want to do it (even if it was for the good cause of saving a tree), I still enjoyed this book and think that it has a very interesting message. This book is recommended for ages 12-18, and I think the sweet spot would be somewhere in the middle of that age range.

Believe is published by Carolrhoda Lab, a division of Lerner Publishing Group. It is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Friday, November 29, 2013

There Are No McDonald's in Heaven: Waiting on God - Book Review

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There Are No McDonald's in Heaven: Waiting on God is just the book for me. I am not a patient person. I feel like most people today, especially those who are part of my generation, are not patient either. And, as author RL Keller points out, usually has to do with today's technology. We live in a time where it's so easy to get what we want when we want it.

But God doesn't work like that. God is not modern technolo
gy. And this can be frustrating for those of us who are waiting and waiting and waiting for a prayer to be answered, to hear anything from God, for something good to happen in our lives.

In this book, Keller writes about how important it is to have patience with God and the many attributes that we as Christians should have that can help make the waiting more bearable.

Remember, there is a reason that we are waiting. God gives us what we need, not what we want. And God knows when to gives us these things. We may think that we know best, but we really don't. It can be hard to just "let go and let God", but that's exactly what we have to do. And if we have faith in God, then we can be sure he will come through for us. And we should keep our eyes open to how he'll come through for us because it could be different than what we expect.

This is a short book, and could be a quick read. However, this book is probably best taken in chapter chunks. Let it all sink in. Journal about how you're feeling after reading each chapter. Pray. I think this book would be great for discussion in a small group or Bible study. Its message is definitely one that most of us need to hear over and over again.

There Are No McDonald's in Heaven: Waiting on God is published by Westbow Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Box-Office Smash - Book Review

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Jason Hart is not the greatest student, and he's seen his fair share of troubles in his life. But he does have a talent for making movies, a talent that has not gone unnoticed by millionaire Harmon Holt. Mr. Holt invites Jason to be part of a summer internship on a movie set in LA. Jason, of course, accepts the internship and is excited to be on a real movie set and meeting one of his favorite horror movie directors.

But once Jason arrives for his first day on the job, he's assigned less-than-interesting jobs. Jason wants to direct, not make coffee, collate scripts, and make sure the food table is stocked. He also wants to spend more time helping the movie's star, Becca, and his new crush, run her lines.

Jason's attitude toward his work has repercussions not just with his bosses, but also with his chances with Becca. Jason soon learns that he has to take any and every job seriously. No matter what he's doing, he's responsible. And it's the little jobs that help make the bigger job possible.

Box-Office Smash by D.M. Paige is the first book in a new series called The Opportunity. All of the books are about kids with big dreams who learn valuable lessons as they take the opportunity of a lifetime. The book is a very quick read, which is perfect for teens who want to progress beyond middle-grade chapter books but who don't want to invest in the time to read a longer YA novel. This book series will also appeal to teens who have an interest in making it in the biz, whether that's movies, music, modeling, sports, or politics.

Box-Office Smash is published by Lerner Publishing Group and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

My New Scrap Room!

I know, it's been several months since I finished painting my scrap room, and I haven't shared ANY photos of the finished product. The scrap room isn't completely finished in terms of organizing, but I do have it set up in a way that I like, and the rest is still coming together. Below is my little nook.


I have a dry-erase board on the wall as well as two stick-on chalkboard panels for sketching layouts and making notes. You can see my homemade Clip It Up on my desk. This is probably the best the desk has looked since I got it set up this way. I'm still trying to figure out where to put things, and I really need some desk organization tools, but at least I feel like I can scrap in my scrap room again!

And then THIS is probably my favorite part of my new and improved scrap room.

                         

In our old apartment, we had used this shelving unit (purchased from Bed, Bath & Beyond) for use in our tiny, tiny kitchen. Well, we don't need it in the kitchen anymore, so it was just collecting dust hanging out in its box in the basement. At first, I was thinking of using it to store board games downstairs in our "weird" room, but that required us to renovate the "weird" room, and I just wasn't ready to go there yet.

So I thought, why don't I use it for storing my scrap stuff? And voila! Here it is! I still want to purchase more of those white 12x12 drawers. Just one or two more. I'm using them to store papers from specific companies and papers for specific holidays. If I get one or two more, I'll use those for storing random patterned paper.

And then there's the closet. Still kind of sketchy. What I want is a white bookcase for storing my craft books, scrapbooks, and binders. I also need some sort of filing system for organizing and storing my homemade cards. And yes, there is still wallpaper in the closet. I don't really care. I am SO DONE with wallpaper. I have this vision of hanging peg board in the closet, too, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen.

                          

Then there is the other side of the scrap room. This desk is my husband's, and the plan is to move it downstairs where he can actually use it. And then I'll have that whole side to myself, and I want to make it into my yoga/exercise "studio". But moving his desk downstairs requires us to get rid of TWO other desks that were left downstairs by the previous owners, and I'm not able to have the Habitat for Humanity Restore come pick them up until next year. So.... deep breaths. Patience.

                          

Overall, I am happy with the minty green color of the walls. The carpet really needs to be replaced, and I'd like to add having Empire Today come out and give us an estimate to my 2014 to-do list. This room, like most rooms in the house, does not have overhead lighting, which makes it difficult to scrap and craft at night. My little desk lamp is basically like working by candlelight. So maybe I'll look into the cost of installing lights (preferably in the form of a ceiling fan) in this room for 2014. Wish me luck!