Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders - Book Review

Three generations of women. Grandmother, her daughter, and her two granddaughters.

Harriet, the grandmother and a famous author, tells her story posthumously through a hidden manuscript. Eleanor, her daughter, is living in her late mother's home and trying to keep her youngest daughter close in order to have the kind of mother-daughter relationship Eleanor and Harriet never had.

Ruth, Eleanor's oldest daughter who ran away from home at 16, is in the middle of her second marriage and second divorce when she's forced to return home. Is this her chance to keep the promise she made to her younger sister Tilton all those years ago?

Tilton, who has been waiting for Ruth to "return and save" as their pact stated, lives at home with her mother and lives under her mother's super close supervision. She's very bright but under the impression that she's allergic to the outside world. But is she or is Eleanor merely trying to protect Tilton and keep her close, something Eleanor obviously couldn't do with Ruth?

Eleanor and her daughters have their issues, which all stem from Harriet's secrecy about her past. Eleanor doesn't know who her father is. Eleanor doesn't know why her mother acted certain ways and did certain things. And Eleanor is tired of her mother's fans pestering Eleanor about a mysterious seventh book Harriet may or may not have written. Can Eleanor and her daughters piece together the missing pieces and keep their family intact?

It took me until after the first three chapters to really get into this book. But once I reached that point, I was hooked. This is an interesting look at mothers and daughters, and it's a book that I think would make a good book club pick. I like that it's told from the point of view of each woman and that each character has such a specific voice.

I actually saw the author, Julianna Baggott, speak at a seminar at Book Expo America, which prompted me to stand in line and get an autographed copy of this book. Well worth it! You can also read an essay by Baggott in the January issue of Real Simple magazine!

Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders is published by Little, Brown and Company. It's available on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

December Daily 2015

I've done a December Daily album every year for the past couple of years. Sometimes I'm more prepared than others. This is not one of those prepared years. I have no album. I have no scrapbook papers and embellishments in mind to use. I'll probably be making the actual album well into January. But I have been taking a picture a day and sharing them on Instagram so that when I do finally get my act together, at least I'll have pictures ready to print.

If you want to see all my December Daily photos so far, be sure to follow me on Instagram (@cookscrapcraft). You'll see a bunch of other pictures, too, but all my December Daily photos are tagged #decemberdaily.

Are you doing a December Daily album this year? How far along are you? What are your tips for getting the album done in a timely fashion?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - December 21

Christmas is this week! Who is ready for it? We have an abbreviated meal plan this week due to the holidays, which makes things really easy for us. So here's what we're eating:

Sunday: baked chicken parmesan

Monday: mac and cheese

Tuesday: creamy mushroom pasta

Wednesday: out

Thursday: out

Friday: out

Saturday: meatballs and rice (My birthday dinner!)

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lights Out - Book Review

Happy holidays! The world is going to end soon!

Okay, not really.

Well, sort of.

If you're the kind of person who likes to prepare for natural disasters that may or may not occur, then you'll probably want to know that Ted Koppel along with many former governmental employees and current security executives believe that sometime, not right now, but in the future, terrorists will take over the United States' electric grid. It's the new form of warfare.

Why should you prepare for doomsday? Because our government is not prepared. Are you surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. Our wonderful Congress, in typical congressional fashion, has failed to pass/vote on any laws or bills or whatever it is that they're supposed to vote on in order to get the ball rolling on government preparations for when terrorists knock out all power and we're all sitting in the dark without any way to communicate or get food or get clean water. And most government personnel today are too busy trying to figure out how to battle stuff that's happening right now. They don't have the time or resources to try to figure out how to battle stuff that could possibly happen in the future.

But if you think this book will be a survival guide, it's not. It just raises awareness of this very possible scenario and asks you to think about how you would prepare. Koppel gives examples of states that are prepared without waiting around for the federal government to step in and religions that have banded together to create a network of support for its members. I don't know if you want to convert to Mormonism just to take advantage of that network, but it could be worth a shot if you've got nothing better!

I received this book from Blogging for Books for my honest review.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Holiday Food Gift of 2015 - Chocolate, Apricot, and Pecan Cookies

So you know that every year I make a special treat to send out to long-distance family members, and this year I was inspired by a recipe from Real Simple. The magazine's idea was to make cookie dough and give the dough as a gift, but I'm pretty sure that raw cookie dough will not travel well even in a USPS Priority Mail flat rate box. So I just made the dough, baked the cookies myself, and sent them off!

The cookie dough recipe for Chocolate, Apricot, and Pecan Cookies was super simple to put together. From one recipe, I got about four dozen cookies. I actually had to make this twice because, if you can imagine, I needed to give more than four dozen cookies.

The first time I made the cookies, I didn't have any brown sugar and I only had one egg (you need two). I was like, "Now what do I do?" Well, the question really should have been "What did people do in the time before Google?" I just Googled brown sugar substitutions in baking and egg substitutions in baking and made my first batch with all white sugar and a single-serve cup of applesauce. Tasted great!

My second batch was made the correct way with no substitutions.

You could also use your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe and just add in some chopped pecans and/or dried and chopped apricots for a fun twist.

I did NOT make these gluten-free because I was giving them to people who don't have dietary restrictions. However, if you're using a gluten-free all-purpose flour or one of those 1 to 1 ratio flours, this would be super easy to adapt without having to do math to try and figure anything out. Just make sure your dried apricots and chopped pecans are gluten-free. The apricots I purchased were actually processed in a shared facility with wheat.

For more food gift ideas, check out my Pinterest board The Gift of Food.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Everything, Everything - YA Book Review

image credit
Remember John Travolta in that movie about the boy in the bubble or whatever it was called? Or how about the funny Bubble Boy movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal? Well, now we've got a female main character in Nicola Yoon's YA novel Everything, Everything that has the same "bubble boy" disease as John and Jake.

I can't compare the story to the John Travolta movie because I never saw it, but I have seen Bubble Boy (many, many, many, many times) and this new YA novel reminded me of Bubble Boy only without the comedy.

Girl is quarantined in her house. The only human interaction she has is with her mom and her nurse. Sometimes a tutor will come over, but most of her schooling is done online. But then a cute boy moves in next door, and it's love at first sight for girl and boy when they see each other through the girl's window. They strike up an online correspondence, and their relationship is enough for the girl to want to risk everything (everything?) for the boy. But if she does, what will she really be giving up?

Throughout the story, there are illustrations (done by the author's husband) that help tell the story. Each chapter is pretty short,too, so that combined with the illustrations means this is a quick read.

The buzz was ALL OVER this book at Book Expo America, and I was super excited to read it because of the hype. But I have to say, it's nothing groundbreaking. It's your typical teenage love story novel, and I actually had a feeling that this book was going to end the way it did. I didn't really think it would go there because it's been done before (advice: probably don't watch Bubble Boy before reading this book if you want to avoid spoilers) but no. The book went there, and I totally saw it coming.

But if you don't overthink it, it's a good story about a girl just trying to live her life on her own terms.

Everything, Everything is published by Delacorte Press and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed advance review copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

12 Days of Christmas Gifting

This year, I took a cue from the Six Sisters book I reviewed a few weeks ago and did a little 12 Days of Christmas gifting for my husband. I'm not supposed to buy him anything for Christmas, but I still wanted to get him a few little things. This was the perfect way to do it!
the cute onesie for day 9

So, here was the 12 days of gifts line-up:
1. one ironing board cover
2. two gloves
3. three packs of gum
4. Die Hard movie 4-pack
5. $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card
6. six single-serve gluten-free mac and cheese cups
7. a Mega Millions lottery ticket (I wanted to buy him a lotto ticket called Lucky 7 but no one was selling it, so I just went with the Mega Millions. We didn't win.)
8. a Die Hard-themed Christmas T-shirt (the movie came out in 1988)
9. a panda onesie for our daughter to wear when she's 9 months
10. $10 QuickChek gift card
11. a CD with 11 songs from the year we met
12. a 12-pack of Arnold Palmers

You can be as creative with these as you want. I sort of stretched the numbers a bit. You know, instead of eight or nine of something, I just bought one thing that had something to do with the numbers eight and nine. And all gifts were under $20. I actually think the only thing that was more than $10 was the ironing board cover. Why are those things so expensive? (Also, before you ask why I bought something weird like an ironing board cover, we needed it!!! Or should I say my husband, the only one who irons, needed it. The old one was ripping at the seams so that you were basically just ironing on the ironing board's metal rim.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - December 14

We're kind of playing it by ear this week. We have stuff in the pantry, freezer, and fridge that we can eat, so we'll just see what we feel like as each day comes. Here are some ideas that we can do:

1. ham steak and eggs

2. sloppy joe's

3. pasta

4. grilled cheese sandwiches

5. macaroni and cheese

What are you guys eating this week? Do you ever have weeks like this?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Women Are Scary - REVIEW

I picked up Melanie Dale's book Women Are Scary at Book Expo America back in May thinking it was just a general book about how difficult it is to make female friends as an adult. Which is oh so totally true, anyway.

But now as a mom-to-be, this book couldn't be more relevant to my life because it's all about how to make mom friends, whether you're a working mom or a stay-at-home mom.

Bottom line: it's like dating.

I know, I know. You thought you'd given up how horrible dating was once you married your significant other, right? Well, think again. Because you're gonna have to go on mom dates if you want to make some mom friends and develop some deep "momlationships".

Why is it so important for moms to have mom friends? According to Dale, mom friends can help strengthen your marriage, provide you much-needed support as you all navigate the crazy world of motherhood together, and change the world. Dale writes, "As we develop these momlationships that grow and shape our families, we get to create space for other mamas, for the ones around the world and the ones around the block, for the ones who are struggling. We need each other. We aren't just moms. We are just a connected organism of nurturing world changers."

I've been lucky enough to find a mom's group in my neighborhood filled with nothing but supportive women. No matter what you do as a mom or why you do it, it's totally cool and it's the right choice for you. If you're a mom who has just moved to a new area or you're a new mom looking for other local mom brains to pick, you might want to pick up this book and run the mom dating bases with Dale.

Women Are Scary is published by Zondervan and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Top 10 Meat Recipes

Meatless Monday recipes these are not! Gear up, carnivores! These are the top 10 favorite meat recipes in my house:

1. American Shepherd's Pie
We just ate this last night. It's the perfect mesh of meat, mashed potatoes, cheese... and some vegetables.
Italian Sausage and Potato Roast

2. Italian Sausage and Potato Roast
This is a very easy meal to put together on a weeknight. I like to cut up the potatoes, peppers, and sausage in advance, and then the night of, you just toss it all on the baking sheet and bake it.

3. Sausage and Cheesy Potatoes
This was a family favorite of mine growing up, but we have to make it from scratch instead of using Betty Crocker Au Gratin Potatoes because those are not gluten-free. It's really easy to make, though, especially if you have a vegetable chopper like I do!

4. Smoked Sausage Alfredo
(I know there is a pattern of sausage here, but we really do try to spread out our sausage consumption.) This was the BEST recipe I randomly came across thanks to a Hillshire Farms magazine advertisement. It is so good and so easy, too. We like it so much, it was also on our Top 10 Pasta Recipes list.

5. Hamburger Stroganoff
We love meals that are easy to make during the week. This recipe comes from a cookbook that is all about fast and easy weeknight dinners, and it's definitely a winner with us.

6. Popeye Turkey Burgers
Okay, so these are actually semi healthy. Ground turkey mixed with feta cheese (which I can't have right now while pregnant) and spinach and grilled on our George Foreman grill. The original recipe says to cook these under the broiler, but it's so much easier on the George Foreman.

7. Tacos
Nothing says quick and easy like Taco Tuesdays! We make our own taco seasoning just to ensure that it's gluten-free. Most hard corn tortilla shells that you buy at the grocery store are gluten-free (we always buy Ortega) or you could do soft tacos using gluten-free soft corn tortillas. (NOT flour tortillas.)
Popeye Turkey Burgers

8. Ron's Chili
Here's a recipe that always rings in the fall season for me. It's not spicy like you would expect chili to be. It's kind of sweet, actually. This year we poured some of swirly gluten-free pasta noodles. (I think those type of noodles are called rotini??)

9. Meatballs in Lemon Sauce
This is MY FAVORITE meal ever. We had it all the time growing up, and it's now my birthday meal. Of course, now we have to make it gluten-free, which isn't really that hard. Just use gluten-free beef broth!

10. French Bread Pizza
This may be a stretch in the "meat" category, but we always make our pizza with pepperoni and that's a meat. So! This is another easy meal to make during the week. Just split in half a gluten-free baguette, spread some cheese and sauce and pepperoni (or whatever your favorite toppings are) and bake them in the oven. You could also do this with bagels and make bagel pizzas.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

4 Ways to Save Money on Scrapbook Tools

Holiday budget stretched thin? Don't have any spare cash this season to buy some much-needed scrapbooking supplies for yourself? (Because it's all much-needed!!) Here are some of the tricks I use so that I don't spend an arm and a leg on scrapbooking supplies.

1. Michael's coupons
Michael's is the best option for me in terms of a store that carries nothing but crafts and scrapbook stuff. The only problem? It's expensive! Thankfully, if I do have to purchase something at Michael's, I usually end up receiving a store coupon to use on my next purchase. These coupons could be 40 percent or 50 percent off one item.

There are some drawbacks to these coupons: They are only good for the following week, so you HAVE to go back quickly in order to redeem the coupon. Also, pay attention to store sales because the coupons are only good on regularly priced items. If you want to buy a scrapbook but the albums are already 30 percent off, then your coupon is no good. (This tends to happen to me often.)

2. Walmart
Target used to have a really great scrapbooking aisle, but then the store changed it to an arts & crafts aisle with an emphasis on kids' crafts. That's fine, but I miss the Target scrapbooking aisle! It was so pretty!

However, Walmart actually has a pretty decent scrapbooking aisle that is perfect if you're on a budget. I actually saw a gold chevron American Crafts/Project Life binder album there for $9.99!

The actual selection will vary by store. The above picture was taken at my local Walmart, but there is another Walmart a few miles farther that I think has a better scrapbooking aisle. So shop around at all the Walmarts near you until you find one that has a good selection to meet your needs. I would definitely say, for me, Walmart is the go-to place for page refills, albums, and cardstock paper packs.

3. TJ Maxx
This store is pretty hit or miss for just about everything it sells, but if you find yourself near one, it's worth it to take a peek in its stationery/home aisle to see what scrapbook stuff is available. This aisle is usually near the back of the store, and if there aren't any scrapbook tools available, then it can be hard to find. I went the other day and only found some embellishments and stamps, but on a good day, I've found Studio Calico paper packs and American Crafts Thickers!

4. Big Lots
Though Big Lots is also hit or miss, I've found some really great page kits, albums, and American Crafts Thickers here! Right now, my local Big Lots had NOTHING scrapbook-related. I think because there were about 10 aisles dedicated to Christmas stuff so the store's plan-o-gram was a little off. But again, if you find yourself near a Big Lots, just pop in and see what they've got!

What tricks do you use when buying your scrapbooking supplies? Know of any good discount websites or stores that carry discounted supplies? Share in the comments!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Meal Plan Monday - December 7

We're in the swing of the holiday season! Although, it's hard to feel like it's winter when the temperatures are in the 50s. Not that I'm complaining.

And Hanukkah started last night, so Happy Hanukkah if that's what you celebrate!

Here's what we're eating this week:

Sunday: gluten-free lasagna and Against the Grain gluten-free baguette

Monday: turkey burgers and fries

Tuesday: leftover lasagna

Wednesday: shepherd's pie

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: on our own

Saturday: out

Only two and a half weeks of work left until the holiday break! Can't wait!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Make It, Gift It - Book Review

Buying holiday gifts not in the budget this year? Try making your gifts!

The crafty book Make It, Gift It by Mari Bolte offers a bevy of handmade gift ideas that are perfect for giving around the holidays (edible ornaments! homemade marshmallows in the shape of mittens!) or any special occasion throughout the year (birthday cake body soap! Mother's Day cupcake bouquet!). This is one versatile book.

Technically, it's geared toward tweens and teens, but even adults can find gift-making inspiration in this book. There are edible gift ideas, and you know how much I love giving yummy treats around the holidays. There are also packaging ideas to make your completed gifts look their best when wrapped.

If you've got a crafty kid, are looking for fun crafts for moms and daughters to do together, or are overwhelmed by the number of homemade gift ideas on Pinterest, then definitely give this book a look. It'll be a handy addition to your craft book shelf during the holidays and all year long!

Make It, Gift It is published by Capstone Young Readers and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free review copy for my honest review.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Accidental Saints - Book Review

Nadia Bolz-Weber is not your traditional Lutheran pastor. She's tattooed. She swears. This could put some people off, but it shouldn't. Because even though she might not look like your perfect idea of a pastor or like you, Bolz-Weber is imperfect, just like you. And that's okay.

In her second book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Bolz-Weber writes about all the times that God has made her see how the imperfect people, the sinners, the least likely to be chosen are the ones who get chosen by God, who show God's love, who serve to further God's message.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is titled "The Best Shitty Feeling in the World". In it, Bolz-Weber writes about how she hates disappointing people but in an attempt to juggle many different plates (mother, wife, pastor, speaker, author), sometimes a few plates get dropped. And that's okay.

Because it's in those moments, even if you don't want those moments to happen, that grace gets extended to you. Even if you think you can avoid disappointing people around you because you can do it all on your own. Just accept the situation and accept the grace.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Life is Short (No Pun Intended) - REVIEW

Anyone who has watched the TLC show The Little Couple knows how likable the reality series' stars, Jennifer Arnold and Bill Klein, are. But if you want to know more about the couple, check out their memoir Life is Short (No Pun Intended).

This book, where each chapter is told by either Jen or Bill, takes us from each person's childhood to their roles as parents today. And don't worry - there are pictures!

Both Jen and Bill have skeletal dysplasia (or "dwarfism"), resulting in numerous surgeries over the course of their lives and moments of bullying and discrimination. But the pair didn't let the hardships of recovering from surgery or dealing with ignorant people shape who they are.

They also didn't let Jen's inability to have a baby, two failed surrogacies, and Jen's cancer get their spirits down. If you've watched the show, you know what happens, but if not, you'll enjoy discovering how the pair lent on each other and their faith to guide them through tough times.

I read this book over the Thanksgiving weekend, and it was the perfect book to read at a time when everyone is giving thanks for what they have in their lives. Jen and Bill, along with their adopted children Will and Zoey, are living examples of gratitude.

Life is Short (No Pun Intended) is published by Howard Books and is on bookstore shelves now. I received a free autographed copy at Book Expo America with no obligation to review.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

10 Charities to Consider on Giving Tuesday

You may have spent your Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday shopping (phew!), but today is the day for giving back! That's right! Today is #GivingTuesday, the day that kicks off the charitable season. It's a day that encourages people to give of their time,
resources, and/or talents.

There are so many different charities and nonprofits out there, and I encourage you to find some that really speak to you (and vet them through Charity Navigator, of course), but I did compile a list to help you get started.

1. Angels of America's Fallen
The mission of this nonprofit is to provide mentoring and developmental activities to children of fallen military and first responders.

2. I Am That Girl
This nonprofit aims to raise the standards for how girls treat each other, themselves, and the world.

3. Dress for Success
This global nonprofit promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a support network, and career development tools. (Volunteer opportunities are available with your local Dress for Success chapters, as well as opportunities to donate work clothes and accessories, should you not be able to give monetarily. I have volunteered my time with Dress for Success in the past and would personally recommend it.)

4. Yoga Foster
The mission of Yoga Foster is to help teachers integrate yoga curriculum into the classroom during the school day. The organization does this through online training and the donation of yoga mats.

5. Women's Sports Foundation
Tennis legend Billie Jean King founded this organization, which is dedicated to advancing the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity.

6. Watsi
This is a fairly new nonprofit that enables donors to directly fund healthcare for people around the world.

7. Toy Industry Foundation
Donating to the Toy Industry Foundation means donating to children battling life-threatening illnesses, families in extreme poverty, families experiencing the aftermath of natural disasters, innocent youth who are the victims of abuse and abandonment, and children whose parents face military deployment.

8. Imagination Library
Started by Dolly Parton, this organization aims to foster a love of reading among preschool children and their families by providing them with the gift of a specially selected book each month, regardless of the family's income.

9. Pajama Program
This organization provides new pajamas and books to children in need. Many of these children live in group homes, shelters, and temporary housing and often don't have the comforts of warm pajamas and a bedtime story. (This is another nonprofit that I personally volunteer with, and I know the donations of pajamas and books are always greatly appreciated from the organizations who receive and distribute them to the kids.)

10. World Vision
If you're still doing your holiday shopping, consider purchasing a gift from World Vision, such as this Mango Wood Beaded Bracelet (pictured at left). This item, along with more than 100 humanitarian gifts available through the World Vision catalog, impacts people in need both internationally and in the U.S.