Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Picture Wall in Bedroom

I FINALLY got our pictures hung up in our master bedroom. I was inspired by this wall design that I found on Pinterest:

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Pretty sweet, right? Well, I didn't do the painted stripes on the wall, but I did copy the main style of this picture frame design. Here is my finished product (sorry about the light glare from the lamp):

A tip? Don't bother with nails and a hammer. I used 3M Command Strips from picture frames, and boy do those things work so well! It's easy to put the frames on the wall, and if you need to remove them, that's easy too! Then you don't have to worry about littering your wall with nail holes that will have to be filled in if you ever re-paint the wall. (Or I guess you could just not re-paint ever, but the Command Strips also mean that you never accidentally hit yourself on the thumb with the hammer.)

I'm so glad that this project is finally done. I literally spent a whole morning shopping for just three more picture frames, and I found some really unique ones at Bed, Bath & Beyond (thank you, coupon) and T.J. Maxx. Normally, I HATE T.J. Maxx, but that store does have some good home goods and scrapbooking supplies for cheap. Can't beat that!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island

Probably one of the most famous places on the island is the Grand Hotel. It is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of Historic Hotels of America. The Grand Hotel first opened in 1887 as a summer retreat for vacationers who arrived by boat from Chicago, Erie, Detroit, and Montreal and by rail from across the continent. It has the longest front porch in the world - quite an impressive feat - and several movies have been filmed there: 1947's This Time for Keeps and 1980's Somewhere in Time. It was Somewhere in Time that solidified in my mom's mind that she really wanted to go to the Grand Hotel someday.

You can stay at the Grand Hotel if you want, but it's rather expensive. So my mom and I decided to just go there for lunch! We hired a horse-drawn taxi carriage to take us up to the hotel because we were wearing sandals and dresses and didn't feel like doing a lot of uphill walking.

The Grand Luncheon Buffet is served from noon to 2 p.m. and is $40 for non-hotel guests. (That includes a $10 admission fee just to go inside the hotel and explore. If you are staying at the hotel, it's only $30 for the buffet.) The carriage drops you off in the front of the hotel's front porch, a hotel employee will meet you outside and ask for your admission fee, and then you're off to explore and get lunch!

We were kind of surprised by how few people were there at lunch with us. We tried to get there a little before noon to guarantee that we could get in, but there really wasn't that much of a rush. There are several other places to eat lunch at the hotel, but we figured the luncheon buffet would be the most popular. It didn't matter to us, though! We were glad that we got a nice window table and first dibs at all the food. And boy was there a lot of food!

It was all delicious, and there were so many options! We tried to sample as much of it as we could. I think I ate too much.

After lunch, we went outside and explored the grounds. The sun, which had not been out earlier that day, finally shone high in the sky, giving us a gorgeous look at all the flowers and shrubbery around the hotel. It was really nice! I took so many pictures, but I think the below picture is one of my favorites.

If you've never been to Mackinac Island, it's definitely worth a trip. And if you go, you should totally check out the Grand Hotel. For more things to do on Mackinac Island, check out these previous posts (Butterfly House, Best Western Harbour Pointe) and stay tuned to my blog for more!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - October 28

This is the last week of October! Are you guys celebrating Halloween? I always miss out when Halloween falls on a weekday. Well, the past two years, everyone in New Jersey has missed out because of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Snowtober in 2011. The weather for this year looks good, though, but I get home from work right at the tail-end of the designated trick-or-treat time in our neighborhood, so no handing out candy for me. :( Maybe it's for the best. No handing out candy = no candy in the house!!!

But we do have food in the house, and here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: Turkish Tacos*

Monday: tilapia, rice, and corn

Tuesday: grilled cheese roll-ups and tomato soup

Wednesday: gluten-free bagel pizzas

Thursday: gluten-free waffles and eggs

Friday: Manwich Sloppy Joes

* means it's a new recipe!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Consider the Fork - Book Review

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Much has been written about the history of the food we eat. But have you wondered about the origins of the fork? Or the rice cooker? Or the stove?

These are the questions and answers that author Bee Wilson gives in her book Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat.The book was actually published last year, but it has just become available in paperback this month.

This is a very interesting book that would appeal to foodies and history buffs. The utensils we use to eat and the devices we use to prepare and cook our food all have rich histories. Why don't our forks have two tines? Too devil's pitchfork. Why don't forks have five tines? Too much metal in the mouth.

Even the tiny teaspoon has an interesting history about what cultures used it, why they used it, and how it came to dominate above all the other little spoons that were being used in the olden days. I especially liked reading about measuring cups and how so many of our ancestors had VERY different ideas about what really equaled one cup. And then, of course, there is the metric system used by everyone in the world except for Americans.

If you're looking to learn a few new things and gain some fun trivia and conversation starters for parties, this would definitely be a good book for you!

Consider the Fork is published by Basic Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free copy of the book at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Relic (The Books of Eva) - Book Review

Enter a new dystopian world in Heather Terrell's book Relic (The Books of Eva), the first book in the new The Books of Eva series. When Eva's twin brother Eamon dies, Eva volunteers to take his place as a Testor. This means that she, along with 11 others, will compete to trek across the icy and snowy land in search of relics from the past. These relics are used to help the people understand why the ancient world was so bad and why the Gods destroyed all of it, except for the Chosen people, with a flood 200 years ago. Whoever brings back the best relic with the best chronicle about that relic will be named the new Archon, someone who unearths the memories of the past and serves as a living example of how the people should act.

As daughter of the Chief Archon, this is a title that Eva hopes to claim. But she's facing the odds. No maiden has been a Testor for 150 years, and unlike her brother, Eva hasn't had much time to train with her brother's trainer Lukas. Also, her mother is against Eva's decision to take up her brother's torch, and Eva's suitor Jasper, who is also a Testor and competitor, also worries for Eva on the quest.

Still, Eva perseveres but ends up uncovering more than just relics from the ice. What she learns changes everything.

I thought this book was good and a quick read. This first book really served to set up the story, and I'm anxious to see how it continues to play out in the second book. The press release I have for this book compares it to The Hunger Games, and while there are some similarities (two hot guys - who does Eva choose??), the environment and backstory is different. I feel like this book is skewed toward a younger audience than The Hunger Games' target audience. It would definitely be appropriate for my middle school book club. Not a lot of violence or blood and certainly no bad language.

Relic (The Books of Eva) is published by Soho Teen and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Last Fling Pumpkin Sling

If you ever find yourself in Warren County, NJ on the second-to-last weekend in October, then you should definitely check out the Last Fling Pumpkin Sling. It's an annual event where local Boy Scouts, high school robotics and engineering groups, and other adult groups get together, build giant slingshots, and use their machines to see who can launch pumpkins the farthest. I went last weekend and saw some VERY impressive launches!

The picture to the left is of all the machines that were launching on Sunday. This is a two-day event, but I wasn't able to attend on both Saturday and Sunday.

If you want to get an idea of how far some of these groups are able to get their pumpkins to fly, then check out the chart at right. These were the distance scores from Saturday. The group at the very top launched a pumpkin just over 2,000 feet!

This is a fun family event with a special kids area where kids can practice "launching" their own pumpkins, get their faces painted, make sand art, and more. I'd say that if you have a curious kid who is 8 and up, he or she will enjoy this event. There are certain times during the day when spectators are allowed behind the launching lines to examine the machines up close. I can see lots of kids being really excited to see the machines and talk to the groups who have built them. What a great way to get kids interested in engineering!!

For the adults, there are local vendors selling goods. And then, of course, there is food. The prices are not inflated at all, either. Most of the food is provided by local farms or local churches/scout groups, etc. I had apple cider, a soft pretzel, and homemade pumpkin fudge. Really good stuff!

During both days of the Pumpkin Sling, there are fall foliage tours. You get on a school bus, and the driver and a volunteer give you a guided tour of a historical site in the county. The tour I went on was to Hoff-Vanatta Farmstead. This is a 100+-acre farm with a smaller seven-acre portion where all the historic buildings are located. The buildings are being rehabilitated by grants from the Garden State Preservation Trust Fund administered by New Jersey Historic Trust. Without the work of the Harmony Township Historic Preservation Commission, these buildings might have been bulldozed without a second thought. I think it's cool that these buildings are still standing, and that volunteers are doing all they can to preserve the rich history in this small town.

This was my second time attending the Pumpkin Sling, and it was definitely even better the second time around. There's nothing like spending a sunny fall day sitting around on hay bales, chit chatting with friends, drinking apple cider, and marveling how people are able to build these cool pumpkin-slinging machines.

I can't recommend this event enough! It might seem like it's in the middle of nowhere, but it's definitely worth the trip. Even the drive there is beautiful!

Do you have any fall events that you like to attend each year? Share them with us in the comments!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

New Cookbooks This Fall

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When I was at Book Expo America back in May, I discovered that some new cookbooks were coming out this fall, just in time for the holiday season! Here are a few that caught my eye. You might find that you want to get or give some of these this holiday.

1. For those of you who, like me, like to use your slow cooker, Phyllis Good's Fix-It and Forget-It New Cookbook from Good Books has 250 new slow cooker recipes. And it's not all stew and soups. There are recipes for cooking desserts and breakfasts, appetizers and breads. Pretty cool, right? I sampled some slow cooker brownies at Book Expo America and they were really good!! You can even find more recipes from the Fix-It and Forget-It blog.

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2. For those of you who are on a gluten-free diet or who need other allergy-free recipes, check out Sweet Debbie's Organic Treats, published by Harlequin. (Yes, who knew that Harlequin published cookbooks??!!) This cookbook was written by Debbie Adler who owns the popular Sweet Debbie's Bakery in L.A. Her son was diagnosed with severe food allergies, and so she began making her own allergen-free treats in her home kitchen, which then became her bakery. I love sweet treats, and I am looking forward to making some of these yummy goodies around the holidays for my gluten-free husband. This cookbook will be published on October 29, 2013.

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3. For more allergy-free eating, Julie and Charles Mayfield have a new cookbook out right now: Quick & Easy Paleo Comfort Foods. I got the chance to look at an advance review copy, and I liked that a lot of the recipes were 30 minutes or less to make and cook. The cookbook includes 100 gluten-free recipes that also meet the Paleo lifestyle. This cookbook is also published by Harlequin.

4. And there was supposed to be a new Paula Deen cookbook, but due to Paula's n-word issues, the publisher dropped the cookbook. I read that another publisher had taken it on, but I can't seem to find any more information about purchasing the cookbook. Not sure what's going on with that, but I was kind of excited about it because the recipes were all lighter versions of some of Paula's favorites. I'll keep you posted if I hear anything about it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer - Book Review

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Sixteen-year-old Colette is super excited to be taking a spring break trip to Paris with her French classmates. Things are not going well for Colette at home—her father's mid-life crisis ended her parents' marriage, her mom doesn't have enough money to support both Colette and her younger brother, Colette's best friends are super rich and she's been hiding her problems from them to fit in
—so she is really looking forward to some time away. Far away!

But when she arrives in Paris, she discovers that a murderer is on the loose, beheading his or her victims just like the way Marie Antoinette died. Is it really the ghost of Marie Antoinette come back to haunt the City of Lights? And why is the murderer targeting only the teenagers from prominent and wealthy French families? And is Colette next?

As Colette goes sight-seeing with her group, she also discovers that the necklace she's wearing, the one that was passed down through her family, might be related to Marie Antoinette in some way. And there might be more to Colette's family than she knows.

All of this new information makes Colette take a look at who she really is. Is she the person who hangs out with the popular and snotty rich girls? Is she French? Is she really a duchess? Is she a girl who kisses a cute boy at the top of the Eiffel Tower? Who does she really want to be?

This was a fun and fast-paced mystery novel by Katie Alender. There were a lot of French words and phrases in this book. Obviously. It takes place in Paris. But I don't speak French, and often there were no translations, so I couldn't really follow some of what took place. Kids who are in French class, though, might find this and the history of Paris detailed in the book interesting. The book is for ages 12 and up, but I think that because the characters are in high school and because the story involves a serial killer, maybe it's more suited to older kids.

Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer is published by Point, an imprint of Scholastic and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Land O' Lakes Saute Express Saute Starter - Review + Giveaway

If you read this blog, then you know I love to cook. But I'm really more of a lazy cook. I don't like recipes that involve a lot of ingredients or take a long time to prep and cook. That's why I was excited to receive a free sample of Land O' Lakes Saute Express Saute Starters through BzzAgent.

What are Saute Starters? They are little squares of easy-to-use, pre-measured portions that melt in your skillet, turning chicken, pork, fish, and veggies into a delicious dinner! They come in five varieties: garlic & herb, lemon pepper, savory butter & olive oil, Italian herb, and teriyaki.

Because my family is gluten-free, I checked the Land O' Lakes website to see if the Saute Starters were gluten-free. The website says to refer to the packaging for ingredients. I found that every one of the Saute Starters is gluten-free EXCEPT for teriyaki, which clearly states on the package that it contains wheat. Just an FYI.

If you visit the Land O' Lakes website, you'll find a variety of recipes to make using all the different flavors of Saute Starters. I wanted to use the savory butter & olive oil, and I found a yummy-sounding recipe for BLT Pasta with chicken. It didn't require a lot of crazy ingredients, and the prep and cook time was low. Perfect, especially for a weeknight meal.

Well, my local grocery store didn't carry the savory butter & olive oil variety, so I went with the garlic & herb variety instead. I figured that it wouldn't really make that much difference. And I don't think it did! The flavor was still really good!

You basically heat two squares of the Saute Starters in a skillet and then add your chicken. I pre-cut my chicken because I find that it's easier to cook chicken that way, but you don't have to. I just hate cooking with whole chicken breasts, and the chicken I purchased was THICK.

Follow the directions to add the rest of the ingredients, and you're done! I left out the tomatoes because I don't like them, but if you're really making this a true BLT pasta, you'll probably want to keep the tomatoes as part of the recipe.

We used gluten-free pasta, of course, but that was the only thing we had to change in this recipe. Love that, too.

Just look at how colorful it is all mixed together in the skillet:


I was really impressed with how easy the Land O' Lakes Saute Express Saute Starter was to use. Each box comes with six squares, so I used two in the above recipe, and I still have four left! That's basically three meals in one box! A very good value. (And depending on the recipe and how much chicken/pork/fish you're using, you might only need one square.)

If you want to try out Land O' Lakes Saute Express Saute Starters, I've got four coupons to give away to four lucky commenters. Each coupon is good for $1.25 off the Saute Starter flavor of your choice! Just leave a comment on this post telling me what meat (chicken, fish, or pork) you'd like to make with a Saute Starter. I'll randomly pick four winners. You have until November 1 to enter. (This giveaway is only open to residents of the contiguous United States - sorry, no Alaska or Hawaii.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - October 21

Another week, another meal plan. I was sort of mad that ground beef wasn't on sale this week because I wanted to make a Turkish Taco recipe, but... Here is what we are eating this week. No ground beef at all!!

Sunday: pasta and salad

Monday: tuna melts

Tuesday: chicken pita pockets

Wednesday: Perdue gluten-free chicken tenders and fries

Thursday: penne with ricotta cheese and greens

Friday: out

Saturday: leftovers

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House

So, let's say you go to Mackinac Island for vacation, and you're looking for something to do while you're there.

Well, first you have to get to the island. If, like me, you stayed on the mainland, you're going to need to take a ferry to the island. I rode with Star Line Ferry and have no complaints! I liked that you could order tickets online AND that there was a two-day discount ticket. That worked out perfectly for my mom and I because we were only going to go to the island for two days. The schedules to and from the island were good, too. If you can, try to get on a boat that goes underneath the Mackinac Bridge. That was pretty cool! What else can I say about Star Line? The boats were clean and on time, the staff was super friendly and funny, and the trip was quick and easy.

Okay, so now you're on Mackinac Island. Where to go? How about the Original Butterfly House & Insect World?

There's another butterfly house on the island that you can get to if you take one of the carriage tours, but this one is within walking distance of all the ferry docks and, well, it's the original! It is the first of its kind in Michigan and the third oldest live butterfly exhibit in the United States. 

We found a brochure for the Original Butterfly House at our hotel and there was a coupon inside, so that's what we used for our admission. Not a bad deal. You are also given a map to help you identify the different butterflies flying around and where they are normally located around the world.

The butterflies were so pretty, but as with all butterfly exhibits, you do have to be careful where you walk. These guys fly everywhere and land everywhere, so you don't want to accidentally step on one!

Remember how I said the butterflies land everywhere? Well, they might even land on you. This beauty landed on my mom's shoulder, and she just had to stand there for awhile until it finally flew away. It stayed on my mom's shoulder for a really long time! But I wasn't complaining because I was taking picture after picture while it sat there with its wings open. So pretty!

I'll have more recaps and reviews from our trip to Mackinac Island in the days and weeks to come, so stay tuned!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Jefferson and Hamilton - Book Review

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I enjoy reading about history, so I was excited to pick up an Advance Review Copy of John Ferling's new book Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation at Book Expo America. The book is all about how both Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, though different men with different beliefs, shaped the United States of America and continue to shape the way the nation evolves today.

Much of the beginning of the book deals with, well, both men's beginnings: their early lives growing up and the kind of education they received. Then it moves onto the American Revolution, and I kind of dozed off because reading about war tactics isn't really my bag. I'm more of a visual person. I need maps and charts.

Of course, America won the Revolution, but there was still some fighting among the people as to what kind of government needed to be enforced. From the start, the leaders of the new government were divided on two sides. There were those who felt more like Hamilton, the Federalists, and those who felt more like Jefferson, the Republicans. Jefferson wanted less government and more individual liberty while Hamilton wanted a powerful national government. I thought it was funny that both men disliked each other based on unfounded rumors they had heard about the other guy.

In the beginning, Hamilton's Federalists had the upperhand, and Hamilton was unrelenting in his mission to keep it that way. However, things began to change during John Adams' presidency when Jefferson was vice-president. And by the time Jefferson became the nation's third president, the Republicans were on top, and Hamilton's star was starting to burn out. His passion turned crazed and he made enemies with every essay he published. His penchant for making people angry proved to be his undoing - death by duel with Aaron Burr.

Something I found interesting was that all these men kept journals and wrote letters and kept all of these papers. Without these personal artifacts, we might not know much about who these men were and how they lived their lives outside of the government.

Both Hamilton and Jefferson had some personal issues, but they both had passion for America and trying to make it the best country that it could be. If you enjoy reading about history and want to know more about some of the United States' early founders, then this book would be a good choice for you. It might help to already have some knowledge of U.S. history during this time period - and more than just what they teach you in middle school and high school - because it is a rather collegiate text, and I did have trouble following all of it.

Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation is published by Bloomsbury Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free Advance Review Copy at Book Expo America in May with no obligation to write a review.

Friday, October 18, 2013

365 Slow Cooker Suppers - Cookbook Review

For several years now I've been a follower of Stephanie O'Dea's blog A Year of Slow Cooking. The blog is all about slow cooker recipes, and what I like most is that the recipes are gluten-free or have gluten-free variations. Perfect for my family!!!

Last month, Stephanie's newest cookbook, 365 Slow Cooker Suppers, came out, and I got the chance to review a free e-copy of it! This cookbook has 365 recipes, so basically every day you could cook something different in your slow cooker.

Just going through the entire cookbook left me salivating. The food photography is amazing! I only wish my food pictures turned out as good as these. 

The cookbook is divided into categories, so if you're looking to make something with beef or if you'd rather use pork or if you just want a soup/stew, then there are specific chapters with slow cooker recipes that only use those ingredients. Each recipe also tells you what size slow cooker to use, which I think is helpful, although I only own a 2-quart and a 6-quart, so I'm not really sure what to do if the recipe says to use a 4-quart slow cooker. Oops.

my food photography - not as good as in this cookbook!
Having said that, I decided to try out one of the recipes from the cookbook. The recipe for Chicken Crock Pot Pie caught my eye because it involved ingredients that we already had in the fridge and freezer. (That's another one of the great things about Stephanie's recipes: they are all easy to put together!) The recipe said to use a 4-quart slow cooker, but I just used my 6-quart. I thought it all turned out okay. And it certainly smelled delicious while it was cooking!

If you want to get your hands on this recipe and 364 more slow cooker recipes, then get yourself a copy of this cookbook. It's sure to become a staple in your cooking rotation.

365 Slow Cooker Suppers is published by John Wiley & Sons and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dallas 1963 - Book Review

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In their new book Dallas 1963, authors Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis don't try to figure out who shot Kennedy. They don't spend time going through various conspiracy theories. Instead, this book takes an in-depth look at how the city of Dallas, some of its powerful leaders, and the 1960s culture shaped an environment that was super hostile to Kennedy and those who supported him. There was so much hatred in the city: toward African-Americans, toward Kennedy and his supporters, toward Communists, toward Socialists, toward Jews, toward Catholics. Basically, anyone who wasn't a white Christian. In fact, many people close to Kennedy, including Lyndon B. Johnson, advised him not to visit Dallas in 1963 because they feared Dallas was not a safe place for JFK.

Imagine if he had listened to those people and canceled his trip for November 22, 1963.

This book comes out at an opportune time, as 2013 is the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas. Last year I visited the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, which is located in the old Texas School Book Depository Building where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired the shots. It was very interesting to be there where it all happened. I was in Dallas again for a week earlier this month for work, and the convention I was at was in the same building where the Kennedy luncheon was supposed to take place after his motorcade procession through the city. So reading in this book about what it was like back in 1960-1963 was pretty cool for me.

But even if you've never been to Dallas, this is a REALLY interesting book! It's crazy to think that the same things that were core components of Republicans' message in the 1950s and 1960s—anti-socialist programs, no federal health insurance, taking away the rights of one group of people—are pretty much the same things that Republicans/Tea Partiers are railing against today. (At least they are consistent.) Except instead of stripping away the rights of black people and being paranoid of Catholics, today they are stripping away the rights of gays and being paranoid of Muslims. Back then they were called "Birchers" (because they were members of the John Birch Society) while today they are called Tea Partiers. Instead of H.L. Hunt spewing his "facts" on the radio, now we've got Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Does nothing change in America? Do we not learn from history AT ALL?

Seeing the similarities between Dallas then and America in general now is kind of scary, actually. There's so much passion and hostility right now, one has to wonder if we're stuck in another breeding ground just waiting for the next extreme act of violence.

Dallas 1963 is published by Twelve and is available to purchase now. I received a free Advance Review Copy at Book Expo America in May with no obligation to post a review.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Recent Recipe Round-Up

Here are just a few recipes we've made recently. I highly recommend that you try these out at home.

The first is Beef Alfredo Skillet from A Few Shortcuts:

Then we made Tuscan Potato Skillet (minus the garlic and rosemary), which is a recipe I saw in a potato advertisement in Family Circle magazine. Love that this is naturally gluten-free!

And then we made Tuna Melts inspired by the recipe from Rocco Dispirito's Now Eat This! cookbook. We used Schar gluten-free ciabatta rolls, which are SO GOOD. The tuna is just salt and pepper, chopped up celery, two cans of tuna, and mayo. Put a slice of cheese (we used Sargento Cheddar-Jack) on one slice of bread, then top with tuna. Keep the other slice of bread off of the sandwich, and put everything on a baking sheet to toast under the broiler. YUM.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Scrapping Summer Lunch Memories

I'm not going to lie. I am WAY behind on my scrapbooking. Part of the reason is my scrap room makeover, which has pretty much meant that I haven't been able to scrap in there at all. I'm still in the process of getting my stuff organized and put away, so hopefully I'll be able to share with you the big reveal soon!

In the meantime, I have managed to scrap a few pages out on my dining room table. That, of course, means that my dining room table is a mess. I'm not as active about cleaning that up as I am about doing the same in my scrap room, but alas.

Here are two pages that I created using pictures from May 2013. The one on the left are pictures that I took on my iPhone when I was in Boston for a work lunch. I had some free time before the lunch and ended up walking around the area near the restaurant, which just so happened to be where the Boston Marathon bombing occurred. I was actually in Boston a few weeks later and visited the same site, and I also did a scrapbook page using the pictures I took on my second visit, but I liked the pictures that I got on my first visit, especially the one of the sportswear store's window signage thanking everyone for helping them and other businesses reopen after the tragedy, so I decided that I should scrap those pictures, too. You can never have too many scrapbook pages.

The second page is about the work lunch I had in Boston (mainly the food) and the other work lunch I had in St. Louis (mainly the people). I really enjoyed traveling for both and meeting some of the mommy bloggers that my company works with. It was also nice to pick their brains about how they market their blogs and what company they use for printing business cards because I was looking to purchase cards with my Cook Scrap Craft logo on them.


Doesn't that New England Clam Chowder make you hungry? You can see my review of the Boston restaurant here. So good! Thanks for visiting!!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - October 14

This month is half-way over! I am having fun cheering on my St. Louis Cardinals in the post-season (although I wish I could actually be in St. Louis to partake in the excitement) and trying out more new recipes. Here's what we're eating this week!

Sunday: BLT Pasta (review to come!)

Monday: Classic Chicken (Crock) Pot Pie (review to come!)

Tuesday: Perdue gluten-free chicken tenders & fries

Wednesday: grilled cheese & soup

Thursday: pasta & salad

Friday: Sloppy Joes & fries

Saturday: out

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Best Western Harbour Pointe - St. Ignace, MI

Over the summer, my mom and I went to Mackinac Island on vacation. We didn't stay on the island itself because it was too expensive, but we did stay at a REALLY nice hotel in St. Ignace, Michigan, which is just a ferry ride away from the island.

I was super duper impressed with the Best Western Harbour Pointe. It's divided into several buildings, and my mom and I lucked out by getting the one-level building. Nobody above us to stomp around late at night. Outside of each room were patio chairs so you could sit outside of your room and just enjoy the weather and the water. Oh yes, we were on the water! Lake Huron to be exact. Here are some views from outside our room:

The hotel also had free warm continental breakfast every morning, the staff was friendly, AND there were nightly bonfires with marshmallow roasting. (Marshmallows and sticks were provided by the hotel.) We only participated in one bonfire because the bonfires didn't start until 9 p.m. (it gets dark SO LATE THERE) and it gets cold there at night, even in summer.

I mean, come on! It was August and I was wearing a sweatshirt!

The hotel was also within driving or walking (we walked) distance of the ferries (more on that later) and the main street of town. There are some cute little restaurants and gift shops and a nice boardwalk along the water. The town also seemed to have something going on every night, including outdoor movies and fireworks. We saw fireworks for free, and we didn't even have to leave the hotel! We just sat outside on the patio chairs and watched the fireworks by the water! 

If you ever find yourself planning a trip to Mackinac Island, and you're looking for somewhere really nice to stay, I'd highly recommend the Best Western Harbour Pointe

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Field - YA Book Review

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There are two fields in Tracy Richardson's The Field. The first is the soccer field. Eric Horton is a fantastic goalie. He made the Varsity team and has been able to start as goalie, taking away that privilege from a senior! Eric often feels that he's so good at blocking shots because it's almost as if he can visualize where the ball is going to go before it even leaves the ground.

And that's where the second field comes into the plot. The Universal Energy Field. Turns out, there may be more to Eric's talents as a goalie than meets the eye. When Eric meets a French professor who is doing research in Indiana, Eric discovers that not only could he be clairvoyant, but he could also be able to turn his thoughts into energy, real energy that could light up lightbulbs.

As Eric works with the professor and tries to come to terms with his new talent, he's also got to deal with keeping his position as starting goalie on the school soccer team, dating the professor's daughter, and trying to help his friend who has spiraled into the "party scene" due to issues at home.

There is an underlying theme of alternative energy sources in this book. There is a "clean coal" plant in the community that the kids take a field trip to. And the kids, themselves, are very educated about coal, nuclear energy, and more. (A little TOO educated if you ask me. Some of their conversations didn't seem too realistic, but maybe I'm not giving enough credit to today's teenagers.)

The science aspects of this book aren't too heavy-handed, nor is the theme of alternative energy. The author has a biology degree, and she uses it well to tell this story. I think the soccer and the sci-fi will appeal to teens. The description of the soccer games didn't always keep my interest, but I just don't like reading about sports scenes or listening to someone give me a play-by-play. I have to see the game in person to understand what's going on.

I actually met the author at Book Expo America and was telling her that I'm always looking for new YA books for my middle school book club. She sort of cautioned me against using this book for middle schoolers because there is a lot of bad language in the book. There is also underage drinking. The characters are in high school, and so this book would be better for kids in that age range.

The Field is published by Luminis Books and is available to purchase today. I received a free autographed copy of the book at Book Expo America with no obligation to review the book.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Field Station Dinosaurs

Yes, that is me and a dinosaur.

Last month, my husband and I found a GroupOn deal for admission to Field Station Dinosaurs in Secaucus, NJ. Tickets for the outdoor exhibit were pretty steep and had prevented us from visiting previously, even though my husband is a big fan of dinosaurs. But with the GroupOn deal, we figured it would be worth it to pay a visit.

So, is it worth it?

There's something awkward about being the only two adults there who were not accompanied by small children. And I should also add, small, gullible children. Seriously. These kids were really impressed by the robotic dinosaurs and one kid, who was probably 8 years old, asked one of the employees if these were real dinosaurs. I really hope that kid was joking, but he seemed totally serious and even a little scared of the dinosaurs.

Let me be perfectly clear: These dinosaurs are pretty lame. Unless you have young kids, there is no reason to go to this. If you have kids who are 8/9 and up, don't bother taking them. It's basically a lot of walking around, looking at dinosaur robots slowly moving, and listening to dinosaur robots make cat-like and alien noises. My husband said that if his parents had brought him here when he was a kid, he would have HATED it.

I guess we kind of expected something more. Like, maybe dinosaurs walking. Obviously, they would still be walking behind barricades, but at least they would be taking a few steps to appear realistic. Even the dinosaurs that were "fighting" each other were only slowly moving their heads back and forth. Thrilling.

This kind of reminded us of the arena show my husband and I went to a few years ago: Dinosaurs Alive! or something like that. Totally disappointing and actually hilarious in its disappointment.

Again, my husband and I were the only people at the show without kids.

Aside from the walking around, there are different dinosaur-themed activities for kids at Field Station Dinosaurs. You can watch a movie, listen to some guy talk about something, play dinosaur games, and more. As adults, we did not participate in any of this. But if you have young kids, they will probably want to participate. Without kids, you can do this in less than an hour. With kids, it's going to be longer, but you're going to wish that you could leave in less than an hour.

Maybe robot dinosaurs with more movement would be too scary for young kids. But come on. I'm not asking for Jurassic Park, here. I just wanted something a little more... exciting.

If you're going to pay full price, you can purchase tickets from the official Field Station Dinosaurs website here. Basically, if you purchase in advance and buy the basic tickets without the movie or Commander's Tent admission, it's $17.50 per kid and $20 per adult. (So glad we didn't pay full price!) You also have to pay $10 to park. We actually parked at the Secaucus Train Station for $9 and then walked over to the exhibit. It's really not that far of a walk, and there are sidewalks.

Has anyone else been to Field Station Dinosaurs? What did you guys think?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Set Free - Book Review

When Stephen Owens was 12 years old, his father was brutally murdered. Young Stephen was the one who found his father's body. As if finding the body and losing his father weren't enough, Stephen's mother was arrested and charged with her husband's murder. Turns out, Mrs. Owens was unhappy in her marriage and hired a hitman to kill her husband. She was sentenced to death.

For years, Stephen resented his mother and mourned the loss of his father. He and his brother were sent to live with their aunt, and as much as family members tried to stand in for their absent mother and father, Stephen still strongly missed having his parents and his family the way things used to be.

Because of Stephen's resentment toward his mother, he refused to speak with her or visit her in prison. It wasn't until years later after Stephen had married and welcomed his first child into the world that he decided to reach out to his mother. A Christmas card bridged the gap, and soon Stephen and his mother were communicating via letters. But Stephen wasn't ready to meet with his mother face to face nor was he ready to forgive her for what she did.

It would take several more years for Stephen to come to terms with what his mother did and find the grace to forgive her. Stephen struggles with his own emotions, with his past memories, and with understanding what forgiveness really means. But with the help of his family and his faith, Stephen is finally able to extend true forgiveness and welcome his mother back into his life.

I'm surprised that I haven't seen this story on Dateline or 48 Hours. The parts of the book that deal with the murder, police investigation, and trial are very interesting. But what's also interesting is reading about Stephen's struggle to forgive and how he turns to God to help him through this confusing ordeal. It's interesting to see how God helps Stephen, but ultimately, God gives Stephen free will to make his own decisions and in his own time. Even though it takes Stephen forever to "get there", God doesn't stop putting people, jobs, and other signs in Stephen's path to push him closer and closer to his mother.

Set Free is published by B&H Publishing Group and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review the book.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Head Coolie - Review

So over the summer, I attended a holiday gift guide event and received a free sample of a pretty cool invention: Head Coolie. It's a piece of fabric with space to insert an ice pack. You attach the Head Coolie around your head and secure it via Velcro tabs. You can see me wearing my Head Coolie in the picture to the right.

What makes Head Coolie so, well, cool? It's hands-free! One of the main uses for Head Coolie is to help relieve migraine and headache pain. If you've ever tried numbing a headache or migraine with an ice pack, then you know how difficult it can be to get the ice in just the right spot and keep the ice from falling off your head. With Head Coolie, the ice stays put. You can get up and walk around while wearing this. You can lie down while wearing this. The ice doesn't move.
And because the ice doesn't move, it makes Head Coolie also good for fighting fevers, keeping athletes and outdoor enthusiasts cool while working out, and cooling off on hot days. In fact, when I was painting our master bathroom, it was so hot, and I wore my Head Coolie while painting to help me cool off. Worked great!
Head Coolie comes with two reusable ice pack inserts so that you always have one ready to go when the other one melts. Just keep them both in the freezer until you need them! 
This is a pretty awesome invention, and I'm so glad that I received a free sample to try out. Unfortunately, I have had to use Head Coolie to help numb migraine pain. It's always unfortunate when I get a migraine. But on the other hand, I like using the Head Coolie because it frees up my hands to do other things while still icing down my head.
If you want a Head Coolie for yourself, you can purchase one at Head Coolie is $19.99 (plus tax) and comes in several color options. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Can Spiritual Women Say F#ck? - Book Review

If you're looking for something that is equal parts hilarious and life-changing, and you don't mind the occasional curse word thrown in, then Jess Barrett's new book Can Spiritual Women Say F#ck? might be the book you're looking for.

I was eager to read this book not only to support a fellow Jerseyan, but also because I would really like to be able to achieve inner peace. Jess Barrett has some really good advice! If you think you're going through something, Barrett has probably gone through it, too. And more! So when she's doling out advice, you know that she's for real. She's been there, done that, and moved the f#ck on. 

The advice in this book is great for single women, married women, and women with children. It's all about taking care of yourself FIRST so that you can be your best self for everyone else in your life. You'll read some of the book and think, "Yeah, that makes sense. Why am I not already doing this?" I mean, of course no one wants to surround themselves with assholes. But sometimes it just. keeps. happening. 

My favorite chapter is the one entitled "Watch Your Mouth". Remember that everything you say out loud is being put out into the universe. Don't say something that you can't back up or that you might later regret.

Some of Barrett's advice may be hard to implement. You have to re-train yourself to think and act or react in a certain way to certain stuff. But remember that the end reward will be worth it.

I'm also partial to books that quote J.R.R. Tolkien right off the bat. However, you gotta spell his name right! It's "Tolkien" not "Tolkein".

Can Spiritual Women Say F#ck? is self-published and is available to purchase now through Amazon. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Meal Plan Monday - October 7

Sorry that there was no Meal Plan Monday last week, but I was traveling for work last week so there literally was no meal plan. I'm back this week, though! After carefully perusing our grocery circular to find things to eat that were on sale, here's what I've come up with:

Sunday: Salmon in a Bag with green beans and mashed potatoes

Monday: Perdue gluten-free chicken fingers with green beans (and maybe french fries)

Tuesday: hamburger stroganoff with salad

Wednesday: pasta with salad

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: bacon cheeseburgers and fries

Saturday: tacos

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jesus > Religion - Book Review

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Are you one of the 24+ million viewers of the YouTube video "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus"? If you are, then you'll enjoy the new book from the video's creator. (And if you aren't, well, watch the video and then read the book!) Jefferson Bethke's book Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough takes the basic premise of Bethke's video and expands on it. In each chapter, Bethke points out the difference between "religion" and Jesus. Religion does one thing, but Jesus does the opposite.

I think these differences are very important for Christians and non-Christians to contemplate. The differences point out hypocrisies that some religious folk carry out, the same hypocrisies that turn non-Christians away from Jesus. There is one way that some Christians act, and that is not the way that Jesus would have acted. There may be moments reading this book where you think, "Oh, I do that or I believe that" and you realize that those actions and beliefs are not bringing you any closer to God.

I dog-eared a lot of pages in this book. Bethke makes a lot of good points. Some I don't always agree with. Okay, one in particular—homosexuality. But here's the beauty of Bethke and a difference between how he acts and how "religion" acts. Bethke isn't out to argue with people, and he's not looking for a group to hate. He's open to dialogue, and no matter the difference in opinion, he still loves the other side.

This book points out a lot of reasons—actions and words—why people choose not to believe in God or to stop believing in God. But what Bethke is saying in this book is that those actions and words don't stem from Jesus. And hopefully, that is a distinct difference that non-Christians and Christians can learn to make.

Jesus > Religion is published by Thomas Nelson and will be available to purchase tomorrow, October 7, 2013. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review the book, but I did anyway.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

World Card-Making Day + Giveaway!!

Happy World Card-Making Day! How many of you are spending the day making cards? How many of you like to make your own cards? How many of you would like to WIN some supplies for making your own cards?

Well, in honor of World Card-Making Day, I've got TWO Paper Pumpkin card-making kits to give away. These are leftover kits from the Paper Pumpkin party I hosted over the summer.

For your chance to win one of these kits, just leave me a comment below telling me what your favorite kind of card is (birthday, thank you, get well, etc.) and why. This giveaway is open to residents of the contiguous United States only - sorry, no Alaska or Hawaii or international entries. The giveaway will remain open until midnight ET on Saturday, October 12. Then, I'll use to randomly pick two winners out of all the comments on this post.

So get to commenting!

And don't forget to make some new cards this weekend in honor of World Card-Making Day!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Burial Rites - Book Review

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Hannah Kent's debut novel Burial Rites takes place in Iceland in 1829. Agnes Magnusdottir, along with two others, has been convicted of murder and sentenced to die. While awaiting her execution date, she is sent to live with a family on their farm. The family, comprised of a husband, wife, and two daughters, is fearful of having a murderess under their roof. But this has been asked of them by the District Commissoner and they must obey orders. 

While Agnes is staying at the farm, a young reverend visits her to pray with her and help her return to God when she dies. But he learns that the best way to help Agnes is to listen to her stories - about her past and about what happened the night of the murder. The reverend and the family soon learn that there is another side to the story - Agnes' side.

What makes this book even more interesting is that it's based on a true story! The author researched the original Agnes Magnusdottir and the murder of which she was convicted, and then used facts about Agnes' life and her own interpretation of the events to create this work of fiction.

Burial Rites is published by Little, Brown and Company and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review the book.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Book of Matt - Book Review

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It's been 15 years since Matthew Shepard's murder. His murderers are behind bars for life. There's no question that they were the ones who did it. Case closed, right?

Not according to author Stephen Jimenez who has spent 13 years researching the case and interviewing all the principle players. Jimenez says that even though everyone thinks the murder was an anti-gay hate crime, the facts of the case don't lead to that conclusion. But the public doesn't know the facts. That's because key information has been covered up by the murderers, witnesses, and even law enforcement. The real motive behind the Matthew Shepard murder was drugs and money, but admitting that in the beginning would have put those in the Wyoming drug "family" at risk.

Turns out, Wyoming had, and still has, a large methamphetamine drug culture. Back in the late '90s, it wasn't something that law enforcement was actively trying to minimize. Some cops were even involved in the drug culture, and according to Jimenez, seems that the murderers, their friends, and even Matthew Shephard were part of that drug culture, too. But when the media picked up on the perceived but not confirmed anti-gay hate crime motive, that's what took off and became the popular consensus even before anyone went to trial.

I have to say, this book was very interesting and well-researched. Despite 20/20 doing a story about this back in 2004, it's not something that gets a lot of coverage. I had no idea that anyone felt there was more to the story of Matthew Shepard than what had been reported at the time of his murder.

Initially, I was a little nervous and skeptical about reading this book because I was afraid it might get a little crazy, be a little too conspiracy theorist-y, and denigrate the memory of Matthew Shepard. But after reading the book, I don't think it's any of that. Although, there are some people who do, and if you do a Google search for this book, numerous news articles pop up about this book "causing an uproar". Ultimately, I think this is a book that you can't comment on unless you read it for yourself.

Stephen Jimenez has no hidden agenda for putting all this information out there. He's a gay man himself who felt "a moral imperative to tell Matthew's story". He's not saying that the murder was any less heinous. It was still a terrible murder and one that should not have happened. But was "gay panic" the motive behind the crime? All Jimenez is trying to do with his research and his book is uncover the truth, which is what any good journalist would do, no matter the consequences.

The Book of Matt is published by Steerforth Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy for my honest review.