Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Daniel Plan - Book Review

The Daniel Plan is all about getting healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually in 40 days. It's not so much about losing weight but about gaining health.

Written by pastor Rick Warren and doctors Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman, The Daniel Plan helps readers create their own 40-day health plan modeled after the plan adopted by Warren's church members. Why is it called "The Daniel Plan"? It's based on the prophet Daniel in the Bible. You might remember him as the guy who ended up in the lion's den. This was a guy with a strong mind, strong body, strong character, and, most importantly, strong faith.

While food and fitness are obviously key elements to staying healthy, the authors of this book also believe that you need to change your focus, surround yourself with a supportive community, and trust in God's power to give you the strength to make the changes you need to make.

This isn't just a book. It also contains recipes and exercises as part of its 40-day plan. There is also a 10-day detox plan, if you want to do that, which cuts out dairy, gluten, sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol, and processed or fast food.

(Just a note from me: if you think you may have Celiac disease, GET TESTED! Don't go on a gluten-free diet before getting tested or your test results will not be accurate. If you think you might only have gluten sensitivities, just know that gluten is in more than just the normal food items, such as bread and oatmeal. It's in A LOT of things, so you really need to read labels and educate yourself outside of the limited information in this book about hidden gluten sources.)

There are lots of other resources to help you on your Daniel Plan journey, including a journal, an app, a cookbook, and a website. This is a plan that wants you to succeed, and it's filled with true stories of people who have seen success by starting this plan.

Reading this book is definitely eye-opening. You know all these facts about what is bad for you and what is good for you, and yet there's such a large number of us who don't follow the healthy guidelines. Now is the time to make the change, you guys!

I actually think that I will try to implement the 40-day meal plan in this book as a supplement to the exercise that I already get throughout the week. I think there is always room for improvement when it comes to the food my husband and I eat, especially when one of us has certain dietary restrictions.

I haven't decided yet, but I'm thinking of trying the detox for the first 10 days just to see what happens. I already cut out a little dairy by switching to unsweetened original almond milk, and now I just can't drink regular milk. It tastes DISGUSTING! How did I drink that for so many years? And even though I do eat gluten-free food, I'm not 100 percent off gluten, and I would just like to see if further reducing my gluten intake has any effect on my migraines. Experimentation time in 2015!

If you're looking for a way to get healthier in the new year both physically and spiritually, then definitely check out The Daniel Plan.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What to Do When You're Behind on Scrapbooking

It's the end of 2014, and I have gotten started on putting together my 2014 scrapbook. I had scrapped a few pages from the winter and summer already, so that was helpful. And apparently, we didn't really have much going on in the first part of 2014, so I didn't have that many pictures to scrap.

However, I am still WAY behind.

April 2014 pictures finally done!

What do you do when you get behind? How do you keep all of your pictures and memorabilia organized so that you can remember what you still need to do and where all the elements are?

Here's what I use. Page protectors!

anniversary cards
I gather all my pictures, ticket stubs, cards, and even specific embellishments that I want to remember to use and place it all in a page protector.

Because I scrap exclusively with three-ring albums, putting my organized page protectors into the actual scrapbook album is easy. This way, if I make my pages out of order, I still have the page protectors in place so that I remember in what order everything needs to go.

BEA stuff
These aren't the only page protectors I've got right now. I place a few page protectors in my album at a time, and then when I get those done, I go back to my scrapbook binder where all the other page protectors are and take out a few more to start working on.

June trip to St. Louis
Do you think this system would work for you? Give it a try in the new year if you need help keeping your pictures organized before you're ready to scrap them. It works for me!!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Food: A Love Story - Book Review

Comedian Jim Gaffigan loves food. And so he decided to write a book about it.

Is it as funny as his last book, Dad is Fat?

Uhm, YES.

Once again, it took everything in my power to not LOL while reading this book in public. I was actually reading the chapter on Subway restaurants in a Starbucks, and I just couldn't hold it in. I kept laughing through my nose AND I started crying tears of laughter. I might have looked even weirder than the lady sitting across from me at the table who was putting on her makeup.

I loved the inclusion of personal photos sprinkled throughout this book. And even though some of the material in the book was recognizable from Gaffigan's stand-up routines, it was still so very, very funny. (Yes, even the bit about Hot Pockets. Again.)

What I love about Gaffigan is that he's basically saying what everyone is thinking but are too chicken to say or just don't want to admit terrible things about themselves. It's all so true!

Yes, grits is delicious. But you do have to add a slab of butter and a pound of salt to it. (I'm not sure about the thirty candy canes, but whatever floats your boat.)

St. Louis' toasted ravioli even gets a mention!

And then there's the bit about American cheese. I'm so glad to find someone else who detests American cheese. As Gaffigan says in a letter to Kraft, "You say in your commercials there is some part of a glass of milk in every slice. Is it the glass?"

If you like to laugh and you like reading about food and you like your comedy smart, clever, and relatively clean, then this is the book for you.

Food: A Love Story is published by Crown Archetype and is available on bookstore shelves now. I received a free review copy through the Blogging for Books program for my honest review.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The 5-Year Journal

If you've got some time off this holiday and are looking for something creative and crafty to do, check out the 5-year journal. It's a fun way to record your thoughts, goings-on, and other information throughout the year for the next five years, and then you can look back and see how things have changed from year to year!
the cover of my journal
I started mine at the beginning of this year, and so 2015 will start my second year/round of answering the 365 questions in the journal.

You can find more information about how it all works and the journal questions for each month at Tiare Smith Designs, the creator of this cool idea. You can see samples of Tiare's journal pages on her website or you can just make up your own journal however you want. That's what I did!

I had a bunch of blank journals just wasting space on my bookshelf, and my mom had given me a chipboard album kit that she wasn't going to use. So I combined all these supplies!

I had to buy large binder rings so that all the pages in my journal would fit. Then, I tore out the pages of the blank journals, cropping the pages to fit in the chipboard album. Then I punched three holes in the pages so I could slide them on the binder rings. Each month, I wrote out the questions for that month in advance. My hand would have been hurting something crazy if I had written out all 365 questions at once!

I'm excited to go through my journal again this year and see if anything has changed. I'm not sure my weight has changed (despite the multiple zumba and yoga classes I take every week), but maybe my attitude toward certain things has changed as I've grown one year older.

I hope you participate in the new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I'm Glad I Did - Book Review

image credit
Cynthia Weil's YA book I'm Glad I Did doesn't come out until next month, but I really enjoyed it and couldn't wait to tell you about it! Put this book on your after-Christmas wish list!

If the name Cynthia Weil sounds familiar, there's good reason for it. Cynthia Weil is one part of a songwriting duo, along with her husband Barry Mann, responsible for hits such as "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling", the theme song to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, "On Broadway", "We Gotta Get Out of This Place", "Somewhere Out There" (from An American Tale), and sooooo many more songs!

Not only is Weil a great songwriter, but she's also a pretty great novelist! I was so happy with this book. It's got a great female main character. There's a bit of a love interest angle, but it doesn't make the girl go all stupid as in other YA novels. Here's the story:

Set in 1963, JJ is a 16-year-old aspiring songwriter. She gets a summer job working for a music publisher at the infamous Brill Building in New York and must get one of her songs recorded by the end of the summer or her mom is going to make her become a lawyer. Yikes! JJ ends up meeting a boy, and the two of them realize that they work well together as a songwriting duo. They write lyrics and music for a song, and then find the perfect person to record a demo of the song for the music publisher. However, it all comes to a stop when someone close to JJ is murdered. The cops say it was a suicide, but JJ knows that's impossible. So she and her new songwriting friend become amateur detectives to find the truth!

This book is recommended for ages 12 and up, and I think that is spot on. There is nothing inappropriate in the story. It's got a great message about believing in yourself and following your dreams. And it's written really well!! This would be a perfect book for music-loving teen girls.

I'm Glad I Did is published by Soho Teen and will be available on bookstore shelves on January 27, 2015. I received a free autographed advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Leftover Stuffing Frittata

It's Christmas week, you guys! And because of that, our regularly scheduled meal plan is a little off-kilter. Instead of sharing with you what we'll be eating this week, I decided to share something that we recently made and enjoyed.

This is probably better suited to Thanksgiving instead of Christmas, but better late than never, right?

If you're EVER looking for a way to use up leftover stuffing, you have got to try this Leftover Stuffing Frittata recipe. I made it twice (because we had leftover stuffing twice) and it was just so good and easy to put together.

starting it out in the skillet - you'll need an ovenproof one

Our stuffing recipe contained pork sausage, so when you added in the egg and cheese, it was like eating all the best parts of breakfast in one bite.

This is a GREAT way to use up leftover stuffing, and it really doesn't matter what kind of stuffing you have. It all works!

Yum yum yum.

And here it is on my fork!

Whatever you're eating this week, I hope it's delicious, too!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cancer on the Brain - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Christmas Food Gift of 2014 is ...

Grinch cookies
Grinch Cookies AND Lump of Coal Cookies!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Food Network Kitchens vs. Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Real Children - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - December 15

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

Here's what's on the menu:

Sunday: loaded baked potato soup

Monday: eggs, bacon, and waffles

Tuesday: leftovers

Wednesday: pasta

Thursday: french bread pizza

Friday: on our own

Saturday: out

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Road to Shine - Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

More December 2013 Scrapbook Layouts

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Light Mason Jars

Oh my gosh, y'all! I actually did something crafty! I made Christmas Light Mason Jars!

Okay, so there is really nothing to this, and it's not a unique or original idea. I'm sure you've seen stuff like this before on Pinterest. But goshdarnit, I finally made it!

I say "finally" because I started these last year. Yep. Last fall to be precise. I spray painted silver spray paint on the bottoms of these mason jars in my garage last October. And then I went on the hunt for battery-operated Christmas lights. You'd think that would be an easy thing to find, especially during the Christmas season.

But no. I couldn't find stupid battery-operated lights ANYWHERE.

Until last month at Walmart.

I like these lights because they have an "on" option and a "timer" option to preserve the battery life. The timer option also means you don't have to ruin the set-up by reaching your hand in there to turn off the lights.

Don't you just love the way these look at night?

I placed them on a burlap table runner that isn't actually a table runner but an American Crafts embellishment that I found in the scrapbook section at Target. I just cut the length of the burlap that I needed to fit my table. I guess I'll use the rest of the burlap on my scrapbook layouts. This was such a fun find!

These were the first of my Christmas decorations that I put up. Is your house all ready for the holiday season? Did you make anything fun this year as home decor?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Zodiac - Book Review

Everyone knows there are 12 signs in the zodiac. However, the new YA novel Zodiac introduces us to a 13th sign - an evil zodiac.

Rhoma "Rho" Grace of the House of Cancer is just your typical 16-year-old. She's in a band with her friends, going to school, and loving her life at home with her older brother and dad. But when a surprise attack on Cancer leaves Cancer without a leader, the stars point to young Rho as the new Guardian of House Cancer. Thrust into the spotlight without much training, Rho must make her new and older advisers, along with the rest of the zodiac, believe that she knows who is behind the attack on Cancer and that more attacks are imminent. But can she convince everyone that a childhood myth is reality and that they must all work together to protect the zodiac?

This book definitely has an interesting premise and basically gives us a new twist on the standard good-versus-evil/young-person-saving-the-world sci-fi plot. There is also a love triangle, of course. Because you can't have a story with a female heroine struggling to figure out who she is unless she's also struggling to figure out which boy she likes.

This is the first book in a series, so while there is some action, it really serves as a set-up to the rest of the plot. While I'm intrigued to see where the story goes next, I do have to say that I found parts of the plot to be confusing. There are lots of characters, and each one has distinct characteristics per his or her zodiac, and remembering who was who and who looked like what was a little difficult. I can see this book working as a movie or TV miniseries, though.

Zodiac is published by Razorbill and is on bookstore shelves TODAY. I received a free advance review copy for my honest review.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - December 8

In an attempt to not buy too much at the grocery store this week, we are REALLY trying to use up some stuff that is in our pantry, fridge, and freezer. We had a couple crazy commute days last week, which meant we didn't make what had originally planned, so I was able to bring those meals over into this week. And yes, we are going to eat out one night, but that's because I have a free shake at Red Robin, plus a Red Robin gift card, plus we are so close to a free burger with my Red Robin Royalty card! So, it's justified!

Here is the full meal plan:

Sunday: baked ravioli

Monday: homemade egg mcmuffins

Tuesday: grilled cheese and tomato soup

Wednesday: waffles and scrambled eggs

Thursday: Cherokee Casserole

Friday: out

Saturday: on our own

What are you guys eating this week?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth - Book Review

The Flowers in the Attic book series continues with a new series-within-the-series, starting with Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth. In this new modern-day tale, readers are introduced to Kristin Masterwood, whose mother was a distant relative of Malcolm Foxworth and the Dollanganger children. Kristin's father is hired to look into the remains of Foxworth Hall, and on one of these expeditions, he finds an old diary. Intrigued, Kristin begins to read it and discovers that it was the diary of Christopher Dollanganger, the oldest of the four children who had been locked in the attic at Foxworth Hall. Kristin's dad doesn't want her reading the diary, but she persists, and soon she's finding parallels between Christopher's life and her own life.

The way the book ends, well, I assume that the second book in this series is going to be soft-core porn.

If you're a fan of Flowers in the Attic and the subsequent books, you'll probably enjoy this new take on the story. But much of it will be familiar to you because it really is just a re-telling of what happened in the first book. There's not a whole lot of action happening in Kristin's world because she spends most of her time reading the diary. Kristin does have a boyfriend, Kane, and some nosy, gossipy friends, but that action doesn't take up a whole lot of room in the novel.

Another issue I had with the book is that this is apparently set in the present-day, but up until a reference to a cell phone, I thought it was taking place in the 1980s. What other time period but the '80s and '90s did anyone refer to kids who hung out at the mall as "mall rats"? The dialogue, especially from Kristin and her teenage friends, didn't feel realistic or modern. Perhaps my favorite Kristin quote is this one: "I knew they were thinking Kane and I had been dilly-dallying and that was why we were late." And what present-day 17-year-old boy knows the lyrics to songs from Grease?

I liked the original Flowers in the Attic, but I'm just not really feeling this new extension of the series.

Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth is published by Pocket Books and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free review copy of the book for my honest review.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

TBT - Old CD Mixes: Love to Love Ya Vol. 2

started off 2006 with a road trip to Colorado
Because I'm sure you have all been wondering what kind of music I was TOTALLY in love with in the year 2006 when I was a senior in college/graduating from college, I'm sharing with you a mix CD I made around that time. This is one that I recently pulled out of my "mix CD" CD case and have been listening to a lot on my commute to and from the bus stop. (It's so nice to have an automobile CD player that works.)

The name of this mix is "Love to Love Ya Vol. 2". I was making, like, my own Time Life series of mixes or something, compiling all of my all-time favorite songs (at that point in my life) onto multiple CDs. I think I got to volume 6, but I can tell that I was really stretching it.

So, without further ado, here is volume 2 of this series, complete with little comments to explain or defend myself and YouTube links so you can take a listen:

1. Love Machine - Girls Aloud (At this point in my life, I wasn't listening to as much British music. I didn't even subscribe to the is-it-or-isn't-it-a-real-teen-British-magazine Sugar. So I have NO IDEA how I discovered this exquisite gem of sugary bubblegum girl band pop.)

2. Bohemian Like You - Dandy Warhols (God, I still love love love love love love this song.)

3. Somebody Else's Song - Lifehouse (Lifehouse. I guess this was a highschool holdover.)

4. She Don't Love Me Like You - The Magic Numbers (I don't know where this one came from. I've never seen this band in my life.)

had a somewhat The Life Aquatic-inspired spring break
5. I Wish - Drain sth (Some Swedish - or something - all-girl metal band that a friend turned me onto in high school. I listened to this album NON-STOP. NON. STOP.)

6. Rocks - Ben Jelen (Couldn't find a video for this one, which is a shame. My friend Teresa and I were pretty into this hot pianist.)

7. I'm So Sick - Flyleaf (Don't be fooled by the pretty-boy pop music above. I was pretty hardcore. Even if it was for Jesus.)

8. Taxi Cab Messiah - kidneythieves (I wanted to create a modern dance routine to this in my modern dance class senior year.)

9. Parting Gift - Fiona Apple (The album Extraordinary Machine came out during my senior year in college, and I first heard it as a DJ at my college radio station. This song is my favorite from the album.)

10. Sister in Love - Envelopes (Another band that I don't have any recollection of.)

11. Nowhere Again - Secret Machines (Did I have a stroke that no one told me about that caused me to forget where I first discovered some of these songs?)

12. Pantera Fans in Love - Nerfherder (As a Star Wars fan, how can I NOT like a band with this name? Especially when the band makes such catchy songs?)

played lots of Sorry over bagels with Alicia
13. Jetsetter - Morningwood (I was so obsessed with this band's debut - and probably only - album in college. I even wrote a review of the album for my magazine writing class. Granted, the review was not my best effort, but I was so blinded by my love for this CD that I didn't notice. I also didn't notice the reference in the band's name, so I most likely missed A LOT in the actual lyrics to the songs. I just liked the sound and singing along.)

14. By All Means Necessary - Robbie Williams (Robbie Williams ALL THE TIME.)

15. TKO - Le Tigre (This is a good song, but the band also does an awesome cover of The Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited".)

16. Feathers - kidneythieves (Mix CD faux pas - two songs from one band? I guess I just couldn't wait to put this on volume 3.)

17. Instant Messenger - Muse (Oh, the kids these days have no idea what this song will be about. Instant message, what? Is that like texting?)

18. The Widow - The Mars Volta (One of the few songs that I liked by this band.)

19. For the Rest of Us - Lorene Drive (I really liked this CD. I should give it another listen.)

graduated from Truman and still miss midnight Pancake City runs
& Burger Buck night at Ryan's

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Christmas Scrapbook Layouts

It's December, you guys! And that means I'm just now finishing up scrapbooking LAST YEAR's Christmas photos. At least it's fun to look back and remember. Kind of gets you more in the mood for the season.

So, here are a couple of the layouts I've completed recently. I actually thought that I had more pictures to scrap than I did, and so I put together a whole giant Christmas kit using stuff in my stash, but it turns out, I didn't have that many pictures at all! I think I'll save the leftovers from my kit for my December Daily.

(I probably won't be finishing this year's December Daily until next year, at this rate. I don't even have a December Daily album yet!! I'm so behind!)

Sorry for the poor quality on these pictures. Sometimes it's just really hard to get the lighting right, especially when using my phone. The lighting kind of makes it hard to see the title on the layout above because I used white Thickers, but it says "The Family", and the letters are divided between the two 4x6 pockets on this page.

You should really just come over to my house and look through the physical album!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking - Book Review

Reading Anya von Bremzen's memoir Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is like getting a Russian culinary education and a Russian history lesson in one. The book takes you through 10 decades of Russia starting in 1910 as seen through the eyes of von Bremzen's mother and von Bremzen herself. And each decade also has its own food.

Russia has an interesting history, and the author has an interesting relationship with her home country. She lives in America now but still has a special affinity with Russia due to her good food memories, despite some of the bad memories. I didn't think that all of the food von Bremzen talked about sounded good (I can't stand reading about "aspic". Just the word "aspic" makes me want to throw up.), but it was interesting to read about how food changed in Russia depending on the economy and who was in power.

Should you choose to throw your own Russian party, the last section of the book, "Mastering the Art of Soviet Recipes", includes 10 recipes (one for each decade).

While the book didn't inspire me to want to get in the kitchen and cook some traditional Russian dishes, it did make me want to read other Russian memoirs and books about Russia's history.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking is published by Broadway Books. I received a free review copy through the Blogging for Books program for my honest review.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - December 1

It's the first of December, and we've already had one day of snow! I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and safe travels. We've got a full week this week, and so here is what we are eating:

Sunday: cheesy sausage and potatoes

Monday: stuffing frittata

Tuesday: homemade egg mcmuffins

Wednesday: hot dogs in mac and cheese

Thursday: on our own

Friday: ravioli and salad

Saturday: hamburger stroganoff

Friday, November 28, 2014

Hit - Book Review

Mr. Haddings is a 21-year-old student teacher at Sarah's school, and 18-year-old Sarah has a major crush on him. She thinks Mr. Haddings likes her, too, and so she writes him a poem to express her feelings. But on the way to school that rainy morning, Sarah is hit by a car. Haddings' car with Haddings behind the wheel.

The rest of the story follows the next three days of recovery for Sarah and restitution for Haddings. How does one come to terms with what happened and find the good in the bad and the ability to forgive?

This was a pretty fast read told both from Sarah's and Haddings' points of view. At times, I didn't feel that some of the dialogue was very natural. It felt kind of stilted, like a bad play.

But the gist of the story is a good one with slight Christian undertones. Nothing overpowering, just reinforcing the importance of grace and not holding onto negativity. This is a YA novel, which I didn't know going in, and I think it has more of an appeal to middle and high schoolers, although the message is appropriate for everyone.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Change How You Look at Being Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving! For today's blog post, I was hoping to share with you a bunch of responses from my Facebook friends on what they are thankful for this year. Instead, I only got two responses to my Facebook post:

"Thankful for the health of my family and a fun work environment!"

"My family. Don't know where I'd be without them!"

(Great responses, by the way!!)

At first I thought, "Well, maybe people aren't thankful for anything this year!!" Then I thought, "Well, maybe people are having a hard time feeling thankful due to certain circumstances in their lives." We all go through hard times. Some of those hard times are longer than others, and it can be difficult to find the good.

But I recently read something online that made me change the way I look at being thankful. No matter what is happening in our lives, we can always be thankful that God is near. This post from Relevant magazine is all about about redefining gratitude and it totally spoke to me:
Most of us have been there. Sometimes, when I was down about things, someone would say, “Be thankful. There are so many people who are worse off.” I know it was well intended, but it made me feel guilty and ashamed, so I hid those parts of me that suffered. 
That doesn’t sit right with me anymore. In my journey to heal, I’m experiencing a new freedom and intimacy with God that comes from confiding in my wounds and fears. 
I don’t think God wants to guilt us into feeling better about our struggles because others are suffering more. 
Jesus didn’t say to the blind man, “Be thankful you can walk.” Jesus had compassion for each person’s plight and condition, never comparing.
If you're feeling sad or scared about something, but you don't feel like anyone around you understands, you can be thankful that Jesus lets you feel those emotions. You can be thankful that Jesus loves every part of you, even those parts that are sad and broken. You can be thankful that you can always turn to Jesus to carry you through the hard times, no matter how long it takes you to get through them.

Hopefully reading that article will change the way you think about "thankfulness" and realize that you do have some things to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

How to Use Laser Cut Scrapbook Overlays

I don't usually use what I think are called laser cut scrapbook overlays, but my mom gave me one a few months ago for scrapbooking the pictures I took at last year's Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze. It looked like there was space for two pictures, but I had lots more pictures to showcase, so I wanted to share with you how I turned one laser cut scrapbook overlay into a two-page layout.

I just traced the overlay onto another piece of scrapbook paper, and then ever so carefully cut it out. This is definitely something that is easier to do if you have small scissors!

Here's the first original page:

And then here is page two, the page that I traced:

I actually wanted it to be the mirror image of the first page, but I realized I didn't trace it the right way, and then I was just too lazy to go back and do it again.

I added some Martha Stewart Halloween stickers as embellishments. Kind of fitting seeing as how Martha Stewart endorses the Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze!

Have you guys used scrapbook overlays like this before? How did you use them?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Power of God's Names - Review

God has many names. Did you know that? Reading the Bible in English, you don't really get a sense of the variety of descriptive words used by the original authors. But Tony Evans' book The Power of God's Names introduces you to 14 of these names and what they mean for taking your relationship with God further.

Understanding who God is - creator, provider, healer, master - helps us trust in God no matter what our situation. God is multi-faceted. There's a lot we don't know about Him. But there's a lot we do know based on the words the writers of the Bible used to describe Him.

But it's more than just recognizing these aspects of God. It's about embracing them and using them to draw closer to God and accepting His help.

To paraphrase Jay-Z, you've got 99 problems, and there's a God name for each one.

The Power of God's Names is published by Harvest House Publishers and is on bookstore shelves now. I picked up a free review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - November 24

Time to eat! Thanksgiving (or Turkey Day, as some like to call it) is in just a few days! I'm prepared (and hoping) for more leftover stuffing so we can make more stuffing fritatta! I'll definitely be sharing that recipe with you later!

Sunday: tacos

Monday: grilled cheese and soup

Tuesday: pancakes and eggs

Wednesday: on our own


Friday: pasta

Saturday: out

Friday, November 21, 2014

Euphoria - Book Review

In the 1930s, three anthropologists, Nell, Fen, and Bankson, are exploring the indigenous tribes of the Territory of New Guinea in Lily King's novel Euphoria. Nell and Fen (an American and an Australian) are married and trying to have a baby in the midst of living in the jungles and studying and befriending the native peoples. Bankson (a Brit) is exploring and studying on his own, which makes him want to kill himself, but meeting up with Nell and Fen revives him. He is eager to have their company, Nell's in particular.

Unfortunately, tensions among the three of them begin to arise. Fen resents the success of Nell's books and how easy she and Bankson seem to get along and think alike. He has his own idea of how to achieve published success, but he doesn't take into account what it might cost him.

This is a really beautifully written story about love and passion (passion for people and for knowledge) in a remote and sometimes unknown setting. The story is told through the eyes of Bankson and through Nell's diary entries, which is a really nice juxtaposition.

While a work of fiction, the story is inspired by the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead and her few months together with Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson in 1933 on the Sepik River of what was then called the Territory of New Guinea. Definitely makes me want to read more about these real people.

Euphoria is published by Atlantic Monthly Press and is on bookshelves now. I picked up a free review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Top 10 Gifts for Book Lovers - Holiday Gift Guide

How could I, a book reviewer, NOT include books in my holiday gift guide? So far this year, I've read 67 books. (Not my best year, actually.) I decided to pick my top 10 books for book lovers out of all the books I've read in 2014. Hopefully, my list contains something for every type of reader. Check it out and see for yourself!

(Links take you to my reviews of the books on GoodReads. If we're not GoodReads friends already, let's be friends!)

1. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
Perfect for: people who have the patience to get through 550 pages, people who saw the movie, all people

2. Before I Go to Sleep - S.J. Watson
Perfect for: people who plan on seeing the movie (Nicole Kidman! Colin Firth!), people who like thrillers

3. Bringing Up Bebe - Pamela Druckerman
Perfect for: new parents - moms especially

4. Returning to Shore - Corinne Demas
Perfect for: teen girls who aren't into all that mushy romance nonsense, real girls

5. The Final Silence - Stuart Neville
Perfect for: people who like thrillers, people who like detective novels

6. Soldier of Change - Stephen Snyder-Hill
Perfect for: activists, gay rights supporters, people on the fence about supporting gay rights (if you're feeling bold in your gift-giving)

7. Falling from Horses - Molly Glass
Perfect for: people who appreciate great literature, a grandparent who might remember the 1930s

8. How Star Wars Conquered the Universe - Chris Taylor
Perfect for: Star Wars fans, of course, and anyone who enjoys reading about how movies get made

9. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain
Perfect for: introverts, people who need to understand how introverts can contribute even though introverts might not be talking

10. Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
Perfect for: people looking for a good book club discussion

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

2-Page Layouts & Kit Copying

I decided to try my hand at copying another scrapbook kit. This time I went for another Scrapbook & Cards Today kit. Here is the fall 2014 kit:

And here is my kit: 

This time, I didn't look through my stash. I actually went to my local Michael's because at one time, that particular store had an amazing selection of scrapbook paper. But I found putting this kit together very difficult because the selection just wasn't there. I did find some good stuff, though, and for about $12 cheaper than ordering the actual kit. (Next time I might attempt using I'm all for experimentation.)

Here are the 2-page layouts I made using this kit. "Gravesites of the Rich & Famous" is a bunch of pictures from the self-guided tour my husband and I took of the Sleepy Hollow cemetery last year. We saw Washington Irving's grave! (It's picture No. 2.)

And "Headless" has the map of the cemetery on it along with some of the Headless Horsemen stuff in the cemetery and in the area:

I still got to use up pieces in my stash, including some excess embellishments, which is always nice. Are there any kit clubs you like to copy? Any kit in particular that you want to see how to copy? Let me know, and I'll do a blog post about it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Top 4 Tech Gifts - Holiday Gift Guide

Technology makes our lives easier, and it also makes a great Christmas gift! But just what do you get for the technophile on your list this year?

Whether you need accessories or an actual device, I've gotten the chance to test out some pretty cool items that fit into both categories.

1. The Nest Earbud Case - Digital Innovations
I use The Nest all the time! If you or someone you know is tired of having twisted earbud cords all the time, then you have to check out this awesome product. It fully protects your earbuds, releases the earbuds easily and tangle-free, and fits easily in a pocket or purse. Plus, it's under $10!

2. Scratch Wireless
If you've got a teenager who wants his or her own phone, but you don't want to pay lots of money on a phone AND an expensive data plan, then check out Scratch Wireless. You buy the Android phone and ... THAT'S IT! Connect to a wireless network (either at home or on-the-go) for texting, surfing the web, and making phone calls. But even if you're not near wi-fi, you can still text for free! You can also purchase voice and data passes so your teen can make a phone call even when not near wi-fi.

3. Fire HD 6 and 7 - Amazon
Amazon has two new tablets out right now: the Fire HD 6 and the Fire HD 7 (pictured). The difference betwen the two? Screen size. One is six inches and the other is seven inches. (I bet you can figure out which is which.) You get wi-fi, front- and rear-facing cameras, a Gorilla Glass display, cool colors, 8 or 16 GB, and all starting at $99!

4. The Original Pocket Port - SCS Direct
If your phone is always losing battery power while you're on the go, then you might want to invest in SCS Direct's line of Pocket Ports, portable chargers for phones, tablets, and MP3 players. There are four sizes to choose from depending on how many devices you need to charge, but they all fit in a pocket, backpack, or purse. They work with your existing chargers and remain fully charged for months when not in use.