Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Scrapbook Pages from Start to Finish


Today I thought it would be fun to show you my usual scrapbooking technique. Scrapbooking from start to finish!

First, I check out what pictures I'm working with. Do they have a theme? For example, the pictures I was working on for these layouts were from a Cleveland Indians game, so I knew that I wanted to use some baseball stuff.

I had gotten some baseball rub-ons at a scrapbook crop, so I used those as a starting point. I looked through my stash for papers that had similar colors as the rub-ons, not necessarily baseball-themed papers but just papers that would coordinate.

I also knew that I was going to use a Project Life photo sleeve, so I wouldn't need too many embellishments or a lot of paper.


If I'm not using a Project Life photo sleeve, I'll usually browse my scrapbook board on Pinterest or sketches in my scrapbook notebooks for some inspiration. 

On this one, though, I just used black cardstock as a base and then layered the patterned paper on top. I also used parts of the baseball program on the layout, and I still wanted to use the ticket, so I just cut the ticket in half and divided it into two of the photo sleeves.


These divided photo sleeves are definitely an easy way to get a bunch of pictures scrapped in little to no time. How do you guys use them?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - September 29

September ends this week, you guys! And then it's October!! Who has their Halloween decorations up? I managed to get mine up this past weekend (after cleaning up the house a bit first, which is always a pain).




I've already had some pumpkin spice lattes this fall season, but I'm excited to undertake other traditional fall events, such as doing the Hudson Valley Pumpkin Blaze, finding my way through a corn maze, carving pumpkins, and making pumpkin bars.


What fall activities do you like to do?

Until all of that, we're still going to work and making some easy weeknight meals. So here's what's on the menu for this week:

Sunday: mini chicken pot pies

Monday: penne with ricotta cheese and greens

Tuesday: on our own

Wednesday: sloppy joe's

Thursday: soup and grilled cheese

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: smoked sausage alfredo

Friday, September 26, 2014

Afterworlds - Book Review

image credit
I got to see Scott Westerfeld, author of the new YA novel Afterworlds, speak at Book Expo America this year about the world he created for the novel, and luckily I was able to pick up a review copy of the book, too. It's a long book, but it's very interesting, and yes, Westerfeld did create a pretty intriguing world.

There are essentially two stories being told. First, there's 18-year-old Darcy Patel who has moved to New York instead of going to college in order to work on rewrites of her soon-to-be-published debut novel, Afterworlds. She's on her own for the first time in her life, renting her own apartment, making new friends, and trying not to let her inner critic keep her from finishing her first book and writing her second.

Every other chapter, though, is the plot of Darcy's novel. Lizzie survives a terrorist attack by playing dead. The problem is, she does such a good job of pretending that she really ends up in the Afterworld. Because she's not really dead, she is able to return to the land of the living, but she's intrigued by her visit and her newfound power to see dead people, and she's constantly traveling between the two worlds.

As you're reading the Darcy chapters, you're also getting to see how she comes up with what she's writing in her novel (aka the Lizzie chapters). I've never read a book like this before, and while it's an interesting plot concept, there were times when I just wanted to find out what happened next with Lizzie and found Darcy to be kind of annoying. I mean, you've basically got two stories to remember over the course of 500+ pages. It can be a little much.

I also kept thinking that at some point, the two stories would converge, like the world that Darcy creates in her novel would actually turn out to be real. Whoa! But that doesn't happen, even though it would have been kind of cool.

I don't mean for this review to sound negative because I did like the book. All 599 pages of it! I liked how Darcy wrote her novel during the month of November. Might that be a nod to National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November? I also think the book would make for a good discussion, such as juxtaposing Darcy (the real girl) and Lizzie (the character Darcy creates). And of course, you can't have a novel about writing novels without the Book Expo America mention! Loved it!

Essentially, this is a novel within a novel about writing a novel. Budding YA authors will enjoy this book's look into how the sausage is made. It's not all just write a book, get it published, and done.

Afterworlds is published by Simon Pulse and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

TBT - Winter Guard

"Is the guard ready?"

Those are the words you hear as you stand on a big white tarp, decorative backdrops all around you, and flags, rifles, and sabers strategically placed. One person or the whole group will make a move to signal readiness, and then the music starts. This is winter guard.

"Zip" show featuring music by Prodigy - freshman year

Most people will have no idea what I'm talking about. I also did color guard in the fall with the marching band, and I was wearing our team jacket to my orthodontist appointment when the orthodontist asked me about it.

"I'm in the color guard," I said.

"Oh, we really appreciate everything you do," he said.

I just smiled (as best I could with his hands in my mouth) and nodded, not really understanding what he was saying. After all, NO ONE seemed to appreciate what we did, judging by how many people went to the concession stands during our Friday Night Football halftime performances. But then it hit me. My orthodontist thought I was military color guard, like high school ROTC or something.

"Funk Soul Brother" show featuring music by Fatboy Slim
- sophomore year

Among the cheerleaders, pommers, football, soccer, volleyball, wrestling, softball, baseball, cross country, and other high school sports, winter guard doesn't get a lot of coverage. Most people at my high school thought we were weird or called us the "gay-ard", which never really made much sense to us. At some schools winter guard doesn't even exist. So, if you don't know what winter guard is, instead of me trying to describe it, just watch this video:





When I was in high school, there was no YouTube and nobody had phones or digital cameras for taking digital video of our performances. So, unfortunately I have no video footage to share with you of my four high school winter guard years (FHC Spartan Elite Winter Guard) and one college winter guard year (Truman State University Indigo Question).

"Newsies" show - junior year (I broke my thumb tossing rifle.)

But I do have photos in my scrapbooks! Looking back at these pictures, I'm reminded at how much FUN we had. And not just performing, but riding the bus to competitions; doing each other's makeup on the bus or in a hallway; getting our costumes on on the bus or in a hallway; running like mad to break down all our backdrops, pick up all our flags, rifles, and sabers, and roll up our tarp at the end of our performance; and just hanging out.

"Fallin" by Alicia Keys - senior year

Winter guard is its own special group. If you didn't do winter guard, you just don't know. But when I meet other people who did winter guard, it's like, "Yes! You are my kind!"

Indigo Question Winter Guard - sophomore year of college

I had so much fun performing in winter guard, even when we didn't win big trophies at competitions. If winter guard could be a full-time career, that's what I'd be doing!


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Beetle Boy - Book Review

image credit
18-year-old Charlie Porter is a former semi-famous child author who published several books about a character named Beetle Boy based on the bedtime stories his mother used to tell Charlie and his little brother. But that was Charlie as a kid. Now Charlie is an injured house guest in his girlfriend's house nursing his wounds, both physical and mental.

Charlie's mother left the family when Charlie was a kid, Charlie's dad forced Charlie into publishing the Beetle Boy stories and touring Michigan to sell them, and Charlie's little brother resents Charlie (or so Charlie thinks) for being a bad big brother.

The reader, much like Charlie's girlfriend, doesn't get all this information at once. The story of Charlie's past is told through flashbacks. And as the story progresses, Charlie's past starts affecting his present and now he's got to deal with old friends and old family before he can move on to the future.

The author of Beetle Boy, Margaret Willey, also wrote the YA novel Four Secrets, which I reviewed earlier this year and really liked. Beetle Boy was also good with a message about forgiveness and family ties and independence. It's recommended for ages 13-18, and I think it's probably best for kids on the older end of that age range.

Beetle Boy is published by Carolrhoda Lab and is available now to purchase. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

You Might Remember Me - Non-Fiction Book Review

image credit
I was just a kid in 1998, but I do remember hearing about the death of actor Phil Hartman. I didn't really know who he was. (I didn't know that he voiced The Simpsons characters until just recently!) But that's where Mike Thomas' new book You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman comes in.

This book chronicles Hartman's childhood in Canada (back when he was Hartmann with an extra "n" at the end) to his large family's move to California and his eventual rise to fame on the improv comedy scene, on Saturday Night Live, and NewsRadio.

The book also looks at Hartman's relationships - his first marriage, his second marriage, and his third marriage. It was that last marriage that caused his death. His wife shot him while he slept and then shot herself.

Through interviews with Hartman's siblings, mother, friends, and ex-wives, Thomas gives you an in-depth look at a man who you couldn't always get a deep look at while he was alive. Hartman was great at doing impressions and taking on the role of different characters, but he wasn't always so great at just being himself. However, the "himself" portrayed in this biography shows you that Hartman was more than just a talented guy.

If you were a fan of Hartman, you'll enjoy reading this book, and if you just want to know more about the guy you may have seen or heard on TV, then you'll also enjoy reading this book.

You Might Remember Me is published by St. Martin's Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - September 22

Here we go again! Time for another week of meals. Luckily, last weekend I stocked up on some gluten-free goodies, plus our pantry is still pretty stocked with stuff I brought home from the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo. So planning this week's meal plan has been pretty easy.

Sunday: chili with Garden Lites corn bread

Monday: Evol burritos with tortilla chips

Tuesday: eggs, bacon, and Garden Lites banana chocolate chip muffins

Wednesday: leftover chili

Thursday: bacon and cheese waffles (inspired by IHOP)

Friday: chicken tenders and fries

Saturday: out

What are you guys eating this week?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Founders as Fathers - Non-fiction Book Review

image credit
If you love history, then you'll find Lorri Glover's Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries fascinating. The book takes a look at the personal lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, James Madison, and Patrick Henry and juxtaposes them with each man's public and political lives.

I found it interesting that these revolutionary leaders seemed so reluctant to serve in the political sphere because they wanted to be able to spend time with their families. George Mason's contemporaries kept nominating him for stuff, and he kept turning them down because he just didn't want to be away from his wife and children. Thomas Jefferson was fined for not showing up to stuff because he wanted to stay home with his sick wife.

Things began to change, though, in the later years after the revolution, and many men sought out political roles, looking to the new country as their family and wanting to do right by America.

But that's just what it was like for men during this time period. The book also talks about women's roles and slavery. It seems like many men wanted to abolish slavery, but they were just too lazy to do any housework themselves, so they just decided to keep the slaves, even though they felt slavery was morally wrong. These men even compared themselves to slaves under British rule, and yet, they just couldn't do without their own slaves.

And boy did these people have a lot of kids and name them some really weird names, i.e. Bushrod Washington. Where the heck did "Bushrod" come from? And not all their children were upstanding citizens like their "founding" fathers.

If you read nothing else in this book, at least read the Epilogue. It talks about how each of the founding fathers' homes have been turned into museums and tourist attractions, but that's not a modern convention. These homes served as tourist attractions even when all five men were still alive! Imagine having random people show up at your house and wanting to be let inside to see where your father or grandfather lived!

I also have to point out that the author of this book lives in St. Louis, Missouri, but that in no way influenced my review of the book! It is pretty exciting, though, and I'm glad to be able to support a fellow St. Louisan in this way.

Founders as Fathers is published by Yale University Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Top Gluten-Free Tips from the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo

Aside from meeting with lots of gluten-free vendors, another cool part of the Gluten & Allergen Free Expo was attending the different classes and presentations. Over the two-day Expo, I attended four different presentations and learned a lot of new things, which I'm going to share with you right now!

Gluten-Free Chef Tips: How to Successfully Cook and Bake Easy and Delicious Dishes
Presentation by Amy Fothergill, amythefamilychef.com
#glutenfree problems

1. Invest in the following:
    - large plastic cutting board 
    - sharp knife
    - food processor and immersion blender
    - hand blender or stand mixer
    - bread machine or loaf pan
    - parchment paper or silicone mats for baking
    - silicone or rubber spatula
    - instant read thermometer

2. Always use a hot pan for meats and veggies. This is not a gluten-free tip but rather a general cooking tip.

3. Even if the gluten-free pasta package says to cook the pasta for 15 minutes, test the pasta after 8 minutes. It might already be done.

4. Add 1/8 tsp. of ginger to gluten-free baked goods to add one to two extra days to their shelf life.

some of the health risks if not thinking smart
and eating smart on a gluten-free diet
Can a Gluten-Free Diet Cause Other Health Problems?
Presented by MeriTeresa Racanelli, MS, cCAWM, Food Scientist/Nutritionist

1. Many Celiacs are now having issues with cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension, and high blood pressure due to the high sodium and sugar content in processed gluten-free foods.

2. When on a gluten-free diet, look for packaged goods that contain 140 mg or less of sodium.

3. Guava has more potassium and fewer carbs that bananas.

4. The lack of natural Vitamin D in gluten-free foods means that many Celiacs are not getting enough Vitamin D, which can lead to osteoporosis. Look for foods with D2 and D3 in them, and do not rely on supplements because your body only absorbs 10% of Vitamin D from the supplements.

5. Kale, strawberries, dark chocolate, tea, and beets all contain oxalates, but too many oxalates can lead to kidney stones and kidney disease. Be aware of what you're eating and mix it up!


basic all-purpose flour blend from
Delight Gluten-Free Mag
Nutrition and Gluten-Free Baking
Presented by Vanessa Maltin Weisbrod, Executive Editor of Delight Gluten-Free Magazine

1. The new Delight Gluten-Free cookbook comes out later this month and contains 150 recipes!

2. Some good whole grains to add into your gluten-free diet include: teff, millet, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, oats (gluten-free), quinoa, cornmeal, and popcorn.

3. Six almonds can curb your hunger for four hours. Think of what using almond flour can do for you when used in your baked goods!

4. When using zucchini in baked goods, drain the cooked zucchini before adding it to the other ingredients!

5. To prevent cross-contamination in shared households:
    - don't boil gluten-free pasta and regular pasta in the same water
   - strain your gluten-free pasta first
   - use squeeze bottles for condiments
   - don't share wooden cutting boards with gluten-containing and gluten-free items because gluten can seep into the wood
   - gluten particles can also remain in frying oil, so don't share the oil
   - wash your pots and pans between each use
   - set a designated storage space for gluten-free items and place the gluten-free items higher up so that gluten-free flour dust falls onto everything else instead of gluten particles falling onto your gluten-free stuff
   - wipe down your shared toaster between uses
   - never use wooden utensils, bowls, etc. because the wooden stuff can't be thoroughly washed (see the cutting board tip above)

6. Instead of using butter, use avocados, apple sauce, or greek yogurt.

This bottle of Tropicana juice has the same
amount of sugar as 6 scoops of ice cream!
Gluten-Free Belly Blaster
Presented by Kathy Smart, livethesmartway.com

1. Calories are a myth. Counting points is a myth. The best weight loss secret ever is to just eat real food.

2. Figure out what your body fat is. Your body composition is more important than your weight.

3. Getting lean muscle is 80% nutrition, 10% working out/fitness, and 10% genetics.

4. Have 25g of protein within one hour of waking up. You also need protein at lunch and dinner.

5. Cinnamon helps stabilize your blood sugar. Add it to your coffee in the morning!

6. Going to sleep before midnight is worth double than if you go to sleep after midnight.

I hope you learned a lot of new and helpful things about eating gluten-free (and just eating healthier in general). Don't forget, I'm giving away a prize pack of gluten-free goodies that I received at the Expo. Go to this post to enter! 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing - Book Review

image credit
I got through 28 pages of Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, and I just couldn't do it anymore. It felt like I was reading a bunch of words that had no meaning. The premise of the book sounds interesting: it's the story of a young woman's relationship with her brother, who almost died of a brain tumor as a child. The back cover blurb says the book "isn't always comfortable". Well, it's also not always readable. It sort of reminds me of Finnegan's Wake or Ulysses, two books I also gave up on reading. I just had no idea what was going on in this book!

I sort of got the gist of things in the first few chapters, but then the protagonist started talking to people or they were talking to her or she was listening in on a conversation. I really had no idea who was supposed to be talking and what the heck was going on.

Apparently, it took the author nine years to get this book published, and I understand why. It's kind of a hard sell! Some people like it, apparently, because it's won or been longlisted for a few awards. If you're willing to take the time and have the patience for this book, by all means, give it a whirl. But there are too many books on my to-read list to waste time on this.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is published by Coffee House Press and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top 10 at Gluten & Allergen Free Expo + GIVEAWAY

On September 6 and 7, I had the privilege of attending the Gluten-Free & Allergen-Free Expo in New Jersey as an official blogger. It was such an honor to be part of the blogging team and really cool to get the chance to meet with gluten-free companies and advocates and to see all kinds of new gluten-free stuff.



There were more than 100 vendors at the Expo plus four classes/presentations each day. I saw a lot and learned a lot, and it was so hard to narrow down my top 10 favorite gluten-free items but narrow it down I did. And if you stick around until after my top 10 list, you'll even be able to enter a GIVEAWAY featuring some of the cool samples I received at the Expo.

1. Garden Lites Muffins
These muffins, available in the freezer section, are AMAZING. And they are gluten-free, dairy-free, and nut-free. They are also made with 1/3 vegetables, so they are nutritious, too! I received a whole bunch of these muffins in different flavors to review, so stay tuned to the blog for more on this brand!




2. Hoboken Farms
This NJ-based company makes two "sauce-um" (instead of "awesome") sauces: Big Red Marinara and Big Boss Vodka. These are sugar-free, gluten-free, and made with fresh whole tomatoes. Hoboken Farms also has its own sandwich shop, complete with gluten-free offerings, in Summit, NJ.



3. Coconut Bliss
There was a lot of gluten-free, dairy-free ice cream at the Expo, but the stuff I liked the best was Luna & Larry's Coconut Bliss. It's made with coconut milk and agave syrup and available in a variety of flavors.




4. The Bacon Jams
Everything is better with bacon, right? How about using it as a spread on burgers, pizza, and vegetables? That's what Bacon Jams is all about with three sweet and smoky flavors: All Original, Black Pepper, and Red Chile and Garlic.




5. Maddalena's
If you love cheesecake, you'll love NJ-based Maddalena's cheesecake. They even have cheesecake on a stick! YUM! Plus, they'll do gluten-free cheesecake designs for weddings and special events.

(I didn't get a picture at this booth because I was too busy eating my cheesecake on a stick. YUM.)


6. GoPicnic
The idea behind GoPicnic is to provide gluten-free eaters with ready-made snacks, breakfasts, and meals to prevent "hangry" episodes and to ensure that you always have something safe to eat wherever you go. The company has 15 gluten-free items.



7. Wellaby's
It's so hard to find good gluten-free crackers, but Wellaby's has succeeded! The crackers and pita chips are made from 24% real cheese, and the cheese-ups are made from 43% real cheese. These baked snacks are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility and contain no GMOs, trans fats, soy, MSG, preservatives, peanuts, and tree nuts.



8. Luce's Gluten-Free Artisan Bread Mixes
When my husband first went gluten-free, we thought we might have to buy a bread machine to make our own gluten-free bread. If you think that, think again. With Luce's Gluten-Free Artisan Bread Mixes, you can make your own gluten-free bread NO BREAD MACHINE REQUIRED.



9. Gluten-Free Labels
These reusable labels help prevent cross-contamination at potlucks or in your shared home kitchen. The company makes silicon tags, toothpick labels, and water-resistant stickers.



10. Ahh...Vacations
Traveling gluten-free can be hard. (See my Paris blog post as evidence.) But Ahh...Vacations aims to make it easier for you to travel and eat safely. This travel agency connects you with tours and ensures that the included food includes gluten-free food and that the tour guides are able to provide you with gluten-free restaurant options when sightseeing on your own. The 2015 tours are Costa Rica and Italy! (Italy is with travel company Globus.)


Now onto the giveaway! Here's what I'm giving away to one lucky winner, and all you have to do is enter with the Rafflecopter below:


- Gluten & Allergen Free Expo tote bag
- Organic Surf Sweets
- Juice Plus+ Chewables
- Nogii Paleo Bar Nuts About Tropical Fruit
- Nogii High Protein Bar Cocoa Brownie
- Mayacamas Skillet Toss Mix Garden Style Recipe
- Envirokidz Corn Puffs Gorilla Munch
- TeeChia Blueberry Date
- I Heart Keenwah Chocolate Sea Salt
- StoreHouse Foods Gluten Free Creamy Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup
- Raw Rev 100 Spirulina Dream
- Explore Asian Organic Black Bean Spaghetti
- Soy Joy Dark Chocolate Cherry
- Udi's Vanilla Granola
- Coupons for Shiloh Farms, Namaste Foods, HomeFree, Nature's Path Organic, Send Me Gluten Free, and Red Apple Lipstick


Monday, September 15, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - September 15

It's September 15! Pay day! And it's also Meal Plan Monday. We have a short eating week this week due to planned evening activities, so I didn't have to come up with many meals for us to eat. We do have a fully stocked freezer and pantry, which makes things helpful when trying to come up with dinners. So, here's what we're doing:

Sunday: veggie lasagna roll-ups

Monday: chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, green beans

Tuesday: beef stroganoff

Wednesday: on our own

Thursday: creamy potato cheddar soup and grilled turkey/cheese/bacon sandwiches

Friday: out

Saturday: out

What are you guys eating this week?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Wasted Prayer - Non-fiction Book Review

There's an old phrase: God helps those who help themselves. To me, that means that sitting and praying is not enough. At some point you have to act. But how do you know when God wants you to act? That's what Wasted Prayer by Greg Darley aims to help you figure out.

It's not that Darley doesn't want you to pray. Obviously, prayer brings you into a closer relationship with God. But it's when prayer leads to procrastination, isolation, and pride that it hinders us from fulfilling our God-given duties and possibly hindering others from fulfilling theirs.

If you feel God nudging you to do something or if you feel strongly that this is what God wants you to do, don't waste time praying over whether or not you should do it. Just do it. Even if you don't know how or you're feeling nervous about how it would affect and uproot your life, do it anyway and pray to God for guidance along the way. It's called faith.

And if you don't feel a specific calling from God, then just act on what God calls us to do in the Bible. Be obedient to God's word, and through that, finding a specific calling may get easier.

If you're struggling in your prayer life, don't despair. Pray continually to stay in constant communication with God and strengthen your relationship. This book is a good place to start with examples from scripture and the author's own life to help you see how to take that prayer and turn it into action.

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.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Soldier of Change - Non-fiction Book Review

image credit
Between 1993 when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was introduced and 2011 when it was repealed, 13,000 U.S. soldiers were discharged because of the policy. (Of course, the number of DADT discharges dropped after 9/11 because, well, it doesn't matter your sexual orientation during wartime.)

One soldier serving during the long era of DADT was Stephen Hill (now Stephen Snyder-Hill). Stephen was a closeted gay soldier wanting to fight for his country, struggling to understand his identity, and fearful of losing his job simply because of his sexual orientation. Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement tells Stephen's story of confused young adult to public gay right advocate.

You might have heard of him if you were watching primary debates in 2011 or if you've watched the third episode of The Newsroom. He was the gay soldier who, while serving in Iraq in 2011, submitted a video question to the Republican presidential candidates at a primary debate asking them if they would reinstate DADT if elected president.

The audience booed him.

(And then Rick Santorum answered that sex doesn't belong in the military even though the question was not about gay soldiers wanting to have sex but rather wanting equal spousal benefits and to not be discharged based on sexual orientation, but why don't you take that answer to all the female soldiers who have been raped by their fellow male soldiers. No sex in the military, indeed.)

Stephen's story is an inspiring one both for gay people (soldiers and civilians) and those who support the cause. Gay rights has made progress, but there is still more to be done.

Because I read an advance review copy, I'm not allowed to directly quote anything from the book, but I'd like to share some paraphrased points the book makes:

1. So many people use religion as the basis of why they don't support gay marriage, but what about when Jesus said IN THE BIBLE to "love your neighbor as yourself"? Along those same lines, if the concern is over preserving the ideal of Christian marriage, then how come atheists are allowed to marry?

2. People in this country seem to forget about history. Once upon a time, the military was racially segregated. Yep. Black people weren't allowed to serve alongside white soldiers. It's the same issue today but the persecuted group has changed.

I'd also like to leave you with two pieces of food for thought. First, words from the Declaration of Independence: All men are endowed with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ... whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it".

Also, remember who else persecuted gay people: Nazis.

Soldier of Change is published by Potomac Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

TBT - School Days

School is back in session! Last week was the start of the school year for kids in New Jersey, so I thought it would be fitting to show some scrapbook pages of when I was in school.


Growing up, I had an elementary school "school days" book where my parents would paste my school picture, keep my report cards, and write down what I liked to do and what I wanted to be when I grew up. Some years ago, I took the pictures and information from that book and put everything in a scrapbook. It was kind of fun to see the things I aspired to be when I was 6 and how that changed over the years.


As you can sort of see from the above layouts, I wanted to be a dance teacher and baseball player when I was 4 and a mother, dance teacher, school teacher, and model when I was 6. Hmmmm.


I need to revamp this scrapbook a bit because my parents gave me a whole bunch of my school paraphernalia - artwork, school play/musical programs - that had been stored in a Rubbermaid container and I'd like to add all that to this album.

Where do you have your school pictures or your kids' school pictures? Have you done a themed scrapbook like this one?


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Make Your Own Scrapbook Kits

Scrapbook kits take a lot of pressure off of scrapbooking. Instead of having to figure out what papers you want to use and what embellishments go with it and purchasing more than you really need, scrapbook kits give you coordinating papers and embellishments so that you can easily get started creating your pages and cards.

However, sometimes kits can be expensive, especially if you sign up for a subscription service. There are some really great kits out there, but they cost upwards of $40-$50 per kit, and if you don't act fast, they often sell out.

I used to participate in challenges over at Counterfeit Kit where, each month, you were challenged to use stuff in your stash to copy a scrapbook kit club's recent kit. This challenge blog still exists (and I should really participate more often), but I recently decided to copy a kit on my own, specifically Scrapbook Cards & More's summer 2014 kit.

Here's what the original kit looked like:


So pretty! It's actually all sold out, so even if I had wanted to purchase it, I couldn't. I also tried looking up all the supplies on Scrapbook.com to see if I could just purchase the items separately (and to see how much it would cost if I did it that way), but a lot of the items are no longer available and it really wasn't going to save me any money.

So it was onto my stash. Keep in mind, you're not going to be able to match the colors and patterns EXACTLY unless you happen to have some of the exact supplies in your stash. The main point is just to get the gist of the kit, to find things that have similar color schemes or similar patterns, and to use up your stash!!

Here's what my copied kit looks like:


This is something that I would highly recommend. Putting together your own kits also comes in handy when you're attending a crop and want to make sure you have every supply you could possibly need with you. Just add pictures and you're done! Have you guys ever tried doing this?


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Glimpsing Heaven - Book Review

image credit
I picked up Judy Bachrach's new book Glimpsing Heaven at Book Expo America this year partly because I find books about near-death experiences interesting but mainly because of the book's subtitle: "The Stories and Science of Life After Death".

The "science"? Now that's intriguing.

I wasn't sure if this was going to be a book that discredited near-death experiences or not, but either way, I wanted to hear what science had to say about it.

The first thing I learned is not to call them "near-death experiences". These people didn't nearly die. They were clinically dead, and then they weren't. So, in essence, these are death experiences.

"Well, what these people claimed to have experienced is just the result of the brain losing oxygen," you might say. This book, and science, addresses that argument and so much more to really make you think about how the brain functions as the body appears to be going through its death stages - and there's still a lot that science doesn't know about that.

I don't want to give anything away in this review that might hinder your own sense of discovery and thought should you choose to read this book. And you really should choose to read this book. There is so much we don't know about a dying body because the medical instrumentation doesn't exist to measure and study what happens, especially in those first few minutes after someone is technically dead. I find the study of this fascinating, if not only to better understand how the human body works, but also to better understand the death experiences that so many resuscitated "travelers" (as they are called in the book) have experienced.

Glimpsing Heaven is published by National Geographic Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - September 8

After two four-day weeks, we're finally back to full-day, non-holiday weeks. Argh. So here's our big meal plan for this looooooong week:

Sunday: egg mcmuffins

Monday: Italian sausage and potato roast

Tuesday: turkey burgers and warm potato salad

Wednesday: on our own

Thursday: on our own

Friday: grilled cheese and soup

Saturday: chicken tenders and fries

What are you guys eating this week?

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Jewel - YA Book Review

image credit
The Jewel by Amy Ewing is a totally engrossing YA novel. In fact, while reading this at a Starbucks, someone I knew tried to say "hi" to me, and I didn't even notice them.

Violet has been trained for the past four years to be a surrogate to a royal family. It's also been four years since she's seen her family, and the path her life is on (which was decided for her by a DNA test) will prevent her from seeing them again and having a life of her own. Once Violet is auctioned off to her royal family, she learns that she's expected to do more than just have a baby to carry on the family's line. Violet's life lacks choices, but she finds that there are a few things she can choose, like falling in love and deciding how much she wants to risk to get her freedom.

The book reminded me of The Hunger Games in terms of the setting: an opulent and rich district with poorer districts all around. I thought the premise was interesting and probably also has something to say about a women's right to choose what happens to her body. 

When I saw Amy Ewing speak about this book at Book Expo America, she said a scene from the movie Taken had inspired the book. (Good to know that movie was good for something aside from doing bad Liam Neeson impressions - "I have a special set of skills" - whenever the movie is on TV.) I could totally tell that the author used the part of the movie where the girls are being auctioned off as the model for the auction scene in The Jewel.

This is just the start of a series, and I can't wait to find out what happens next. The book is for ages 14 and up and really doesn't contain anything too inappropriate.

The Jewel is published by HarperTeen and is available to purchase now. I picked up a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review the book.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

TBT - My First New Jersey

Labor Day weekend 2006, I moved to New Jersey to start my first out-of-college job (and my current job) in New York. That was eight years ago this past weekend!



I remember my car was jam-packed with as much as could fit in it so that I could drive all my stuff from Missouri to New Jersey. My mom drove with me, and I remember stopping at a Country Inn & Suites in Ohio for the night and then continuing on to New Jersey the next morning and getting lost trying to get to my new apartment. (Getting lost became a theme for me in New Jersey. If you've never driven in New Jersey, you just don't understand.)

We ordered a mattress. No box spring or bedframe. I just slept on a mattress on the floor. We also bought a desk at Target and a folding chair to go with it. And I had my trusty Rubbermaid shelving units that had gotten me through college to get me through the next five years. (That's right. My husband and I continued using them as bedroom furniture even after we bought our house.)



I had a roommate who owned the place - it was actually a two-bedroom condo - but she was rarely around, so I often had the place to myself. However, there was one time when I wished she had been there. I came home from work one evening, and the alarm system in the apartment started going off. My roommate had told me that we wouldn't use the alarm, but I guess her mom had come in during the day and set the alarm when she left. So the alarm company called and asked me for the password, which, of course, I didn't know. And then the police showed up, and I had to explain to them what happened. Good times.

And the commute into the city was FANTASTIC! Half an hour at most every morning and evening. You bought a monthly pass that gave you unlimited bus rides. And the bus picked me up right outside the building.



The town was really cute, too, with a library that I could walk to, a train station, and lots of different restaurants. I didn't live there for too long, but I did enjoy my time there and the after-work walks I would take around town, just randomly turning left and right as I went to explore the area.

This was also the time when I realized how intricate scrapbooking could be. I discovered Scrapbook.com, I visited a local scrapbook store for page kits, and I really started to take my scrapbooking to a new level, as evidenced by the pages I've shared here. I love looking back at how my scrapbook style evolved.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Walmart's Great Value Brand is Gluten-Free

The other day I was at our local Walmart, and I walked down the gluten-free aisle (well, really just a small portion of the aisle, but still...) and found Walmart's Great Value brand gluten-free products.

You heard me right. Great Value, the Walmart store brand, now has gluten-free products.

Gluten-free pasta, pretzels, cookies, and "hamburger helper"-type boxed meals.


I picked up a box of the Great Value Gluten-Free Beef Stroganoff because I thought at $1.48 a box, we certainly wouldn't be losing money if it ended up tasting disgusting.

Luckily, it tasted delicious.

Seriously.

These are not available at every Walmart, sadly. We have several Walmarts in our area, and only one of them seems to carry any gluten-free products, including the new Great Value gluten-free products. (The same cannot be said of Target. It seems that every Target I visit in our area carries large quantities of gluten-free food throughout the grocery area.) Maybe someday each and every Walmart will carry gluten-free food or at least the Great Value stuff. It was really good and it was a really good value!


What do you guys think? Have you seen the Great Value gluten-free food at your local Walmart? Have you tried any of it? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Where I Belong - Book Review

image credit
When I was in elementary school, I read every Mary Downing Hahn book I could get my hands on. I thought it was so cool to see an author with my last name. Plus, I really enjoyed Mary Downing Hahn's ghost stories, such as The Doll in the Garden and Wait Til Helen Comes. So when I was at Book Expo America in May and saw that she had a new book coming out, I HAD to pick up a copy to review.

Where I Belong is not the "ghost story Mary Downing Hahn" I remembered. Instead, it's a general middle grade novel about a 6th grade boy named Brendan struggling in school and in his personal life. To get away from bullies and a cold foster mother, Brendan retreats to his treehouse in the woods. But even that can't keep him safe from the real world. Luckily, as his summer continues, new friends find their way into Brendan's life to help him see that he's not alone and there just might be hope for the future.

This book is geared toward ages 9-12, and while some of the literary references might be over the heads of kids in that age bracket (I'm sure not all 5th and 6th graders have read Shakespeare like Brendan), the story is still one that will resonate with kids. Kids who feel bullied, kids who don't have many friends, kids who are smart but aren't challenged in a regular school setting, kids who are artists and dreamers.

Where I Belong is published by Clarion Books and is available to purchase now. I received a free advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Meal Plan Monday - September 1

It's September! Happy Labor Day! If you, like me, have the day off of work, then I hope you are doing something fun.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: shepherd's pie with side salad


Monday: chicken and mushroom quesadillas


Tuesday: tuna sandwiches and fries


Wednesday: leftovers


Thursday: hash browns, eggs, bacon


Friday: cheesy ground beef casserole


Saturday: leftovers

What are you eating this week?