Friday, May 17, 2013

Girl who Played with Fire #BookReview

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Even better than the original. This second book picks up roughly two years after the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, bringing back Blomkvist and Salandar as the central figures, along with a cast of familiar and new faces.
I really enjoyed reading Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, despite having seen the movie first-- a practice I abhor.  I love this follow up in Girl who Played with Fire, because as a reader, I didn't see every plot twist--I didn't anticipate how it was all going to end from some previewed movie ending.  I love the way Larsson methodically reveals clues and plots as the investigation unfolds.  I have great admiration for Larsson's ability to tell the story from multiple vantage points, which guides the reader through glimpses, but leaves room for the reader to actively piece together the greater picture. For those who love crime and murder  investigations, this is a great read.  Even for those who don't typically go for that sort of thing, like me, this is still a great page turner.

View all my reviews

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Review: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere CastleLady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carnarvon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As the title implies, this is the story of the real family who lived in Highclere Castle.  One can't help but make comparisons to Downton Abbey.  There are definitely some similarities, as well as strong differences. The rich family history makes for a fascinating tale. The historic and somewhat factual tone allows the reader to envision the "characters" as real people, if only at the cost of loosing that personal and emotional bond to the "story." 
A remarkable quantity of personal family research is included, including private family letters and photos, which make the overall story very real. In reading, one gets the sense that the author spent hours scouring through boxes of family archives.  Unfortunately, from an historians stance, the text is overflowing with subjective bias. The author clearly has strong connections to the subject and only wishes to cast them in the best light; given that the author is the current Countess, this should not surprise the reader. Overall, a great read for anyone enthralled by turn of the century English country house lifestyle, not so great for those wishing to read a more conventional history on the subject.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Adventures in the ER

I am not a medical professional.  Please do not take any of my rambling opinions as sound advice.

I hate how I so often second guess whether it is right to take my son to the ER.  In the past, I have felt like I've waited and waited... tried to treat him at home, use home remedies to bring down the fever, put him in a steam filled bathroom to ease his breathing.  Only when it became painfully obvious that my efforts at nursing were failing did I take him in to the hospital, at which point they give you the "why didn't you bring this kid in three hours ago" look.  I'm sure medical professionals aren't nearly that judgemental, but as a mom, it's easy to feel guilty.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Check Out #Looksima

Spring is a great time to do some spring cleaning.  I love cleaning my closets because I feel it make room for the potential for a new, more stylish me.  Nothing makes your day better than receiving a few compliments.  For example, today I paired a new skirt with my styling new glasses and a string of pearls.  For the first time in quite awhile I had multiple compliments from coworkers... really made my day.

So this post is for all of my fashion conscious followers, and all those who aspire to be just a little more fashion forward with their looks.  I've recently discovered Looksima, a great service for those who are looking for their next great look, but don't have the time to browse dozens of magazines and shop all over town.
 Looksima's mission is to make professional stylist services affordable for a wide audience. Your personal online stylist will help you determine your look, then build customized fashions for different occasions. Then, like the latest online magazines, you will be linked directly to partner stores where you can buy the item online.  Oh, and this personalized styling advice is all yours, FREE.
Discover Looksima today!

Connect with Looksima to learn more:

What's better than free?  How about a $50 Looksima giveaway?  Check it out here!


Monday, April 15, 2013

Hosting #mommyparties featuring #FastMetabolismDiet by @HaileyPomroy

Sometimes I can't believe my luck.  I was blessed with the opportunity to host a mommy party for my friends and family featuring Hailey Pomroy's new book The Fast Metabolism Diet: Eat More Food and Lose More Weight.

The Fast Metabolism Diet promises to help you lose 20 lbs in 28 days,  all while eating an amazing 5 times a day.  The trick here is to control what you eat during prescribed parts of the week. Each week is divided in to three major portions.  During Phase 1 the goal is to calm your metabolism by eating lots of healthy carbs, natural sugars (from fruits) and some lean protein. During phase 2 you "unlock" stored fat and build muscle by eating lots of protein and vegetables (no carbs, low fat).  During phase 3 you "unleash" the burn by eating some healthy fats, moderate cabs, protein, and low sugar fruits.

Each phase is accompanied by recommended exercise styles that will maximize your efforts during that phase.  Phase 1: Cardio, Phase2: Strength training with weights, Phase 3: Stress Reducing: like yoga or massage.  At the party we shared great ideas for different exercises and routines we could do throughout the week.  I recently found a great zumba set at the library--one disc contains typical zumba dance stuff--a fun way to cardio.  The second disc incorporates free weights with lots of reps--I know, maybe more cardio than the rules require, but I think it might be a good place for someone like me who doesn't typically do serious strength training activities.

Naturally, there are some big diet rules.
You must eat five times a day, every 3 hours... which seems like an aweful lot of food compared to the typically diet.  I think the idea is to keep you filled with good foods so you don't feel hungry enough to stray.  This would really be a problem for my schedule, as I only get the one lunch break at 10:30, and can't eat in front of the kids.  I want to try this diet, but won't have any luck with it until school is out for summer.

Next rules, eat within 30 minutes of getting up, stick with it for at least 28 days, follow the prescribed foods religiously and in order (again, probably easier in the summer since I'll have fewer family functions that would throw the diet off). Also, you must drink half your weight in ounces of water... oy! that's a lot of water... I should get working on this one now. 
As a rule, you should eat organic when possible.  I love that the party came with an opportunity to try Applegate Organic meats!  They were super delicious and everyone loved the meats we tried.  Organic can be so costly at the grocery store, so I had been reluctant to give it a try before.  Now that I know it's so good and good for you, we will have to find a way to make better food choices happen for us.

While I may have to wait to start the diet proper, I think the "don'ts" list offers some tips we can incorporate now.  No corn/no wheat.  The logic being that wheat/corn/soy have been genetically modified to withstand pesticides, poor weather, etc. that they are hard for the body to properly digest and gain nutrition from.  Also, no dairy... they are high in sugar and fat.  (don't read yesterday's article on my new obsession with making homemade ice cream).  No caffeine, no alcohol, no dried fruit or fruit juice and no artificial/ fat free or "diet" foods.

While I confess being scared a little by all of the rules, the what you can eat when, of this diet, I love that there is a complete menu for all 28 days, with all of the yummy recipes to go with it.  Before the party, I made a delicious phase I chili with scores of different beans. It was very filling and warming--it has been an unexpectedly cold gloomy and grey weekend.  I made it in the croq pot and and it filled the house with a great smell.
During the party, guest made and sipped phase III Berry Nut Oatmeal Smoothies...  (this was super good and may replace my typical protein shake in the morning).  We also made Phase III Sweet Potato Hummus which was an interesting twist on hummus.  In addition to sampling the Applegate meats, we also sampled Artisana's Cashew butter, which was as delicious as it sounds.

Guests received coupons and samples of Celestial Seasonings Tea to take home along with their own copy of Pomroy's book.

Big Thanks to Mommy Parties, Random House and all of the party sponsors.  We had such a blast and can't wait to start losing weight with the Fast Metabolism Plan.

Disclaimer:  I received books, recipe cards, a $20 Target gift card and other extra coupons and recipes from brand partners Applegate, Artisana, CrockPot and Celestial Seasonings to help put together my party. 


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Yum. Homemade Ice cream

I've always had a sweet spot for ice cream.  Lately we've been making our own at home.  It's really pretty easy once you have an ice cream maker. We bought ours at the end of last summer when they are heavily discounted.  I think we only paid $15 for a 4 qt maker.   When you factor in the cost of cream, making ice cream at home probably isn't any cheaper than just buying it at the store.  But I prefer the taste of homemade, and feel slightly better knowing exactly what is in the ice cream without those unnesissary additives.

Over spring break we made Mint and Chip Ice Cream using this recipe from

Because of the cooking required for the eggs, this wasn't nearly as two year old friendly as the first recipe.  Cooking with the eggs results in a very cus

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Spring Break Gardening

Most of my students came back from spring break from exotic and warm locations.  Our spring break wasn't nearly as sunny. I really don't have an aversion to sunshine, and wouldn't have minded a day at the beach.  Still, I loved our staycation just the same.

You see, we had these seriously hideous bushes in the front yard.  Maybe they weren't hideous, but they came with the house, were pretty hollow, pretty big, and a lot more maintenance for looking so mediocre than I really cared to invest.  Bottom line, they just really didn't do anything for our front yard. We decided to pull them out.
Pulling out 8 very old bushes turned out to be a bit of an adventure.

Step 1: Use large pruning shears to clear out most of the branches.  Use smaller pruning clippers to cut branches down so they fit in a lawn bag.  (after getting frustrated with the dumb bags, learn that bundling the limbs with twine is far more time efficient).

Step 2: With a shovel, clear dirt from roots around the base.

Step 3: Attach log chain to our truck's tow hitch. Wrap other hook around base of bush/roots.  I think this is the point where I started to feel just a little redneck about the whole process.

Step 4: Drive forward, preferably in 4 wheel drive.

Step 5: Reverse truck and repeat until bush is pulled.
Our first bush, which was on the very hollow and lean side  pulled out with just one good tug.  This feat really suckered us in to feeling invincible.  The remaining three we took out that day were by far less willing to be removed.  There was a bit more patience, shoveling to loosen roots, wrapping the chains lower and lower around the base, etc.

It took us two days to rip out all 8 bushes.  In truth, we usually didn't get started until after little man was at his afternoon session of daycare.  Another afternoon was spent amending the soil with some organic fertilizer and top soil from family friends.  Then planting and mulching.

We planted a boomerang lilac and japanesse maple in the corners.  The boomerang lilac claims that it will bloom twice, which is exciting.  I've always liked lilacs, but was never able to plant them growing up--my father is allergic. We planted a couple phlox, hoping they will slowly fill in as ground cover.
We also planted blueberry bushes, which I am super excited about. They are bushes, they flower, they have fruit... what's not to love.  At least it's a front yard plant that has a purpose!  We have three different varieties, Tophat, Bluray and Northern Chippewa.  The tophat came from a local garden center, while the others came from a big box store.  I'm curious to see how they turn out.

I'm a little worried to have planted outside so early, and we have had some coolish weather.  I'm looking forward to warmer weather, when the garden centers will have a greater selection.  I think I'll likely add more lavender, and a few hydrangea to fill in.  I may even plant a flat of annuals, just for color.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Break: Getting ready for spring

Spring Break started Friday at the Toledo Zoo.  Little man had the day off from day care, so it was time for a family picnic at the zoo.  During the day, they had special Easter egg themed activities for the animals and story times for the kids.  We just liked that for a change, it was a sunny day to get out and walk around.
While at the zoo, we stopped at the polar bear exhibit; one of little man's favorite stops.  He really likes to point out that there is water in the exhibit.  There was a large crowd around the polar bears, as the two adult polar bears, in Little man's words were "wrestling."  They were playful, it was all very fun and cute.  That is, it was fun and cute until the two polar bears decided to do their part to keep the polar bears off the endangered species list.  Lets just say, the crowds around the polar bears dissipated quickly.
Later that night, Little Man and his cousin met at Grandma's house to color eggs.  This was an interesting experience.  The concept of gently placing eggs in the color was a little lost on them.  Splashing commenced and the newspaper below was very colorful when all was said and done.

Saturday was spent with my family.  We took our bird nest treats (see this post) I also made a hot artichoke and spinach dip that was amazingly simple to make. Alton Brown's Artichoke and Spinach Dip Recipe. 
Little man and his cousin had a great day.  After nap time, they had a blast searching for Easter eggs in my parents back yard.  We did an Easter egg hunt last year too, but I was surprised by just how much he remembered.  He didn't need a reminder as to why he should go gather Easter eggs this year--he knew what was inside!  Little man had a zigzag method to searching that must have burned tons of energy.  He would spot an egg at the edge of the yard, then come back for one near the house, only to spot another at the far corner of the yard.  His cousin was far more methodic in her approach.  Surprisingly, they ended up with the same number of eggs. 
After eggs we played Frisbee and blew bubbles outside.  It could have been a little warmer, but we couldn't have asked for a better day at the rate nice days have been coming.

Easter was spent driving up to visit Little Man's other Grandma up north.  We hadn't planned to go because Grandma is recovering from surgery and we didn't want little man to cause her to "overdo it."  We decided to travel the night before, on the suggestion of my father who said that grandkids were probably the best medicine out there.  They still have snow up North, but it was totally worth it to surprise grandma. We sent little man in the house first, to a grandma who didn't even hear him come in.  It wasn't until she looked up from the deviled eggs she was making that she noticed he was standing there, smiling.  That may have been the best part of spring break.

When we arrived home, we noticed that our first crocus bloomed. This week we are tackling some major outside projects.  I know it's too early to plant outside, but I really can't wait for spring.  It wasn't a hard winter hear, but it just seems like winter won't let go quite yet.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter treats: adventures with chow mein birds nests.

My family never made the chow mein noodle birds nests. Sure my friends moms made them all the time for the Easter parties at school, but this never was in my family repertoire. They really aren't hard to make, or expensive, it just takes some forethought.
This Easter, as I was deciding what to take to my parents for Easter lunch, I wanted something special that little man and his cousin would enjoy. Then I remembered the birds nest, and how much they remind me of spring. I vowed that I could learn.
Unfortunately, there are scores of different varieties.... The chow mein noodles are a staple. Some use marshmallow only... Like a rice noodle version of rice crispy treats. Some even use chocolate chips. In short, there are at least a dozen recipes out there, so you can probably find one that works with things already in your pantry. It's also a pretty good project for kids to help with... You could use the microwave instead of the oven for an even safer kid friendly cooking method.

We opted for a butterscotch chip/ peanut butter concoction,
I melted 1 bag butterscotch chips over the stove with 1 cup peanut butter. I am vey protective of my pans, so I coated the pan in about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, melted... This probably wasn't necessary.
Most recipes call for 2-4 cups noodles. I bought a 12 oz bag, which measured out a little more than 4 cups. I slowly added all of this. I couldn't fit all 4 cups at once, so I started to make nests, then added the rest of the uncoated noodles.

To make the nests spoon out 1 scoop. I used a heaping tablespoon, but I think next time, I'd go for smaller nests... Maybe teaspoons. You want to scoop on to a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Once on the paper, try to hollow out a nest depression in the center.... I wasn't too good at this either. I read one tip where they buttered a muffin tin, and scooped into the muffin spaces. While you would have likely got more contained nests, I am pretty sure I would have ended up with more than 12 nests. I ended up with 16 tablespoon nests, that weren't very nest shaped.

You can decorate with eggs of your choice... They help sell the nest feel of the treat, if the shape doesn't. I used what I had, jelly beans, but peanuts and candy coated chocolate candies, especially the egg shaped ones, would work equally well.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Splash N Boots Review and Giveaway

I promise, we did try to keep little man from commercial efforts and to minimize his television exposure.  That said, commercial images and television still managed to find Jack.  I've come to the realization that as noble as my intentions were, I am not going to keep peanut TV free.  In fact, as a working parent, sometimes you need 15 minutes to get the dishes done, 20 minutes to work on dinner etc.  With a super active kid like little man, finding something that will hold his attention ensures that he will be in the same place without injuring himself.  Somehow, finding quality programing helps ease the guilt I often feel in doing this.

For these reasons, I am grateful to have been offered the opportunity to review a recent DVD and CD release from Splash N' Boots.  Ever hear of them?  I hadn't before the review, yet their work is highly acclaimed, awarded and extremely popular in Canada.  Having witnessed their work, I can honestly say I agree with the hype.
Splash N Boots are the infectiously enthusiastic duo of Taes and Nick Adams.  Their music and programing is very imaginative and energetic.  Lyrics are clever and very catchy--be careful, songs will get stuck in your head--while maintaining semblances of educational content that makes the programing mom approved.  I listened to their "Coconuts don't fall far from the tree" album and their "Act 2: A whole lot of Awesome!" DVD.  The DVD can be described as" a mash-up of over 50 minutes of infectious melodies and hilarious music videos with a plethora of skits featuring dedicated Splash'N Boots fans."  While there are a few random for Canadians only references, and the alphabet ends in "zede", these small things do not detract from the overall enjoyment.  In fact, if your children are like my son, they will likely not even notice. They will be too busy spinning, dancing and clapping along.  Splash N Boots really offers entertaining programming your children will love.

Want to know more: Connect with Splash N Boots:
INSTAGRAM: username: splashnboots

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Couldn't Wait to Tell You about #ConsciousBox #Giveaway

As a product reviewer, there is nothing I like more than coming home to a delightful surprise in my mailbox.  Its like a small glimpse of Christmas morning as I'm pulling in the drive at the end of a long day.  Despite this insanely gray winter, surprises in the mail are my little rays of sunshine that lift the soul.

That's probably one of the biggest reasons I am so glad to bring you a review and giveaway from Conscious Box. Conscious Box is a subscription based service that once a month delivers to your door a little ray of sunshine.  Their box made of recycled materials is crammed full of the "purest, most natural products on the planet." 
Get New Eco-Friendly Products Delivered Right to Your Door! You can subscribe for one month, three months (you could win 3 months below!), six months or even a year.  I happened to get a Classic Box, but you can also select a Vegan or Gluten Free box. Each month of your subscription, Conscious Box will deliver new, exciting and earth friendly products to your door step.

I received a free box to try this month.  I could hardly wait for it to arrive!  Inside my box I found 2 Two Degrees quinoa, chia and millet bars which really look scrumptious. I also found a 1 day adult and 1 day kid smarty pants gummy vitamin supplement.  I am excited by the OldeMan Granola that genuinely  looks like granola that I would have made. My husband tried the Zarbee's All natural cough syrup, which seems to be predominately comprised of dark honey. For the tea drinker, there are multiple packets, and Nektar honey crystals--which sounds like a fascinating way to travel with honey. There's also a bottle of wheatgrass boost--which looks a little like 5 hour energy for the green crowd -- I don't think it makes the same 5 hour energy claims. The small tube of Motherlove diaper rash cream looks like it should be cloth diaper okay, so that's always something good to have on hand. 

The last product, I'm really not sure about.... it's a box of disposable iPhone sleeves. It's from a company called chef sleeve, and the idea is you wrap your phone in these protective sleeves while cooking so you can still access the recipe on your phone, without caking it in flour.  I get the concept, and truth be told, if the sent one for iPads, while I might not use it for cooking, I so would use it to guard the screen against Peanut.  Honestly, you have no idea how embarrassing it is to go to work with all of the grime Little Man gets all over the screen--I don't know how he does it.  HOWEVER, I was a little taken aback by this selection... most of the products were organic, eco-packaged.... Even though it's recyclable--it's still a throwaway product.  The packaging doesn't make clear what number plastic it is, so I'm not even sure if my city can recycle this product... Jury is still out on this.  But that's just me, and this was only one month's box.  Next month may have an even bigger and better haul of treasures.

Overall, for someone who doesn't have a Whole Foods in her neighborhood, I feel that the box provides a good way to trial some of the products I browse on the shelf, but might be shy to commit to.  I happen to appreciate that many of the products in the box I received are also made in the US. 

Want to give conscious box a try for your self?  Head over to their website now!  Use promocode: DISCOVERNATURAL and receive 50% off any subscription!  Wouldn't this be a great Earth Day/Mothers Day gift for that hard to buy for someone?

Half off is pretty good, but FREE is definitely better.  Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter for your chance to win a free 3 month conscious box subscription--that's a $59 value!

This was not a paid post. I received the product mentioned above in exchange for my honest opinion. The opinions are solely my own. Thank you to Conscious Box who supplied the product for review and giveaway.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Overdue Book Reviews

Oy! I have been doing a lot of reading lately, even if I haven't managed to post.  I loved my kindle, and now the iPad... both provide me free and instant access to scores of library books.  Even better, I'm now a fan of audiobooks---I listen to them on the iPad in the car or at home while washing the dishes at night... I feel like I can get twice as much done.

So here's a short rundown of a few of my latest reads. 

Moon over Manifest---a book probably better suited for the junior high/tween crowd.  In essence, the main character lives during the Great Depression.  She's sent to live with friends of her father in a small town as he seeks work.  While there, she meets friends, has adventures and attempts to uncover secrets of the town's past. Grade: B
The Night Circus--
Several of my students really loved this one, but for me, it was just alright.  Set near the turn of the century, the reader is invited into the world of an indescribable circus, which acts as the forum for two magical giants each attempting to outdo one another.  However, like the circus, the story reveals itself in slow glimpses, which keep the reader puzzling to understand how it all fits together. And of course, what YA would be complete without an element of romance. While the payoff comes eventually, I really couldn't get behind this one. While otherwise well written, too frequent shifting makes it hard for the reader to connect to the ever changing cast of charecters.  Grade: C+

This one actually is a class read for one of the classes in our school.  That said, I was initially shocked by this selection--probably due to language.  Futuristic dystopian literature in which each brain is wired to receive constant "computer like" feed.  Walk in to a mall, and your mind is flooded with enfticing advertisements customized to your preferences.  No need to converse at the dinner table, you can think and send a text messages.  I can see why the teacher chose it; there are eerie parellels to the direction we as a society are headed; search engines already cater advertisements based on your search history.  That said, I can see why students might struggle with this one. Dialog occurs in the futuristic vernacular of the author's creation; if you can't master the parlance, you really will be lost.
Grade: B+

The Mercy Falls Series
This is the series I listened to as an audiobook.  Well, having read Twilight (I know, I know), I can say, at least it's not Twilight. No sparkling vampires and werewolves;  just werewolves this time.  The teen depiction seems a little more realistic, even if no one seems to go to school, or be missed when not there.  No decernable major typos every few pages--then again, I was listening rather than reading, so poor punctuation could have been a possibility.  The language isn't as forced and doesn't feel like it was written by a high school student attempting to use those "SAT words" to make the teacher give her a good grade.  That said, it is still high school sappy romantic drama depicting the mostly absent parents who just don't understand. 

It's okay--and like I said, at least it's not Twillight. Still, it's hard not to draw parellels.  The male interest also has that oh so dreamy poetic/musical soul, if he lacks "Adonis like features".  The female lead is at least slightly logical and not nearly as flighty as Bella. In short, it was a great story to not have to pay complete attention to in order to follow the  plot.
Grade: C

More to come. StumbleUpon

Sunday, February 24, 2013

#Win Sew Red: Sewing and Quilting for Women's Heart Health #Review and Giveaway

Every 90 seconds, a woman in the United States has a heart attack. 
Both men and women suffer heart attacks, but they are often more fatal in women.
More than 10,000 American women younger than 45 have a heart attack every year.

Sobering statistics reported in the Heart Healthy Living section of my latest product review and giveaway.  I am honored to have the opportunity to bring you Sew Red: Sewing and Quilting for Women's Heart Health. Sew Red is part of author Laura Zander's  and her Jimmy Beans Wool heart healthy campaign Stitch Red, which hopes to educate the public  and raise awareness  of the startling reality of these statistics.

As a book, Sew Red is a beautiful compellation of 30 red themed sewing and quilting projects, each brought to you by some of the biggest names in the crafting world, including some of my favorites, Anna Griffin, Nancy Zieman, Kaffe Fassett and Ty Pennington.  Each project features a bio of the designer, and his/her tip for a heart healthy life.
The projects represent a good variety of style, time required, and skill level, showcased in its full photo table of contents. Each project includes material requirements, supplies, cutting instructions, and sewing instructions.  Illustrations are plentiful helpful, making instructions easy to follow. Patterns are enclosed in an envelope at the end of the book and are made of good quality paper (not the flimsy tissue paper patterns), making storage and reuse of the patterns possible.  I also love the spiral binding of the book, making it much easier in the sewing room to fold the book flat to a single page. 
As someone who aspires to sew so much more, I really love the rich variety of fabric patterns represented within the single color theme.  I especially love the sweet sixteen skirt, the Sonoma purse, and the Fleur Rouge Quilt.  I hope to bring you photos of my work--probably not until the summer.

Beyond what you would typically expect to find in an average sewing book, you will find a heart healthy living section, which features information, tips, resources and even recipes.  I'm very excited to give the heart healthy macaroni and cheese recipe a try... I'm sure it has to be tons better for me than my current family favorite.

Sew Red retails for 22.95, a portion of the proceeds benefit the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health in support of The Heart Truth®, a national awareness campaign for women about heart disease, sponsored by the NHLBI. The Publisher has generously offered to share a copy of Sew Red with one of Kat's Adventure Book's lucky readers.  To enter, please use the Rafflecopter entry below.

Please note that I received a free copy of Sew Red in exchange of my fair and honest review.  I received no additional compensation.  All opinions are my own." rel="nofollow">a Rafflecopter giveaway


Monday, February 18, 2013

Updates: Resolutions

As you may recall I recently posted about my New Year's resolutions. As expected, I was unable to keep nearly as many as I had hoped to. In some ways, I'm glad that I put these thoughts in writing. They are proof of my efforts if also proof of my failings. So here's my progress, for those of you keeping track. I'm count one my desire to stay in better communication I've been semi successful. I did write at least three different emails to keep in touch with friends. However, I didn't place all those phone calls I had hoped to.
Diet and exercise has been a complete disaster. There were too many holiday leftovers to enjoy, too much hectic schedule,too many family visits to really get into it. This week I'm resolving the start over smaller steps same goal and with a much stronger desire to not disappoint.
Reading has been going extremely well. Since my school is adopting one-to-one technology program, I now have an iPad which I used to listen to books during my commute, also while I'm doing dishes. I've also been using the iPad to do quite a bit of reading of electronic books which means I am never without something to read. Look for more book reviews soon.
And finally on the issue of being more grateful... I believe I struggle with this one the most. It is my goal this month to work toward letting people know how much I appreciate them and how grateful I am for all they do. StumbleUpon

Friday, February 1, 2013

Progresso Recipe Starters Game Day Review and Giveaway!

It sure has been a long time since I've had the opportunity to bring you a great product to win.  Where does the time go?
Want to win an amazing appetizer kit like this?  Read more.

Today I'd love to tell you about our experience with Progresso's Recipe Starters.  Its just the sort of thing to get you ready for the big game.  As a mother, it's also just the sort of staple to keep stashed in your pantry for a quick but satisfying weeknight meal.
Remember all of those casseroles your mother used to make using a can of cream of mushroom? Well you can make those and so much more with Progresso's Recipe Starters.  They come in five great varieties:
Creamy Parmesan Basil
Creamy Portabella Mushroom
Creamy Roasted Garlic
Creamy Three Cheese
and Fire Roasted Tomato

For the purposes of this review, we received a can of Creamy Roasted Garlic.  If you are ever at a loss for what to make for dinner, I love that each can has a great recipe printed on it.  The other night, nothing sounded good, so I nearly made the Chicken Pot Pie recipe printed on the can.  Instead, in the spirit of getting prepped for game day, we tried the Easy White Chicken Chili.  I'm a huge white chicken chili fan--a local restaurant serves the best white chicken chili--if they were closer, I think I would have to pick some up for lunch daily--it's sooo good.

As it is written, this is a super easy, super tasty meal that would be so quick. Combine these ingredients, warm through, top with tortillas and sour cream--super easy.
  • 2 cans (18 oz each) Progresso™ Recipe Starters™ creamy roasted garlic with chicken stock cooking sauce
  • 2 cups cubed deli rotisserie chicken
  • 1 can (15 oz) Progresso® cannellini beans, drained, rinsed
  • 1 can (4.5 oz) Old El Paso® chopped green chiles
  • 4 teaspoons Old El Paso® taco seasoning mix (from 1-oz package)
Of course, I never do things the easy way.  I only had the one can of recipe starters, and I'm cheap and never buy already cooked chicken.  I think rotisserie chicken is a brilliant idea though--I've read in multiple places how it makes cooking so much easier. I really should aspire to be a rotisserie chicken buying girl. 
 As it was, I took two chicken leg quarters I had--and boiled those down in a small pot of water (seasoned with some fresh garlic, parsley salt and pepper) for about 30 minutes--ish. I pulled the chicken, cooled till I could handle it, then proceeded with the next steps.  Lacking both cans of recipe starter, I cut back a little  on the beans, chiles and spices.  It felt like I had too much chicken--even though I like a pretty hearty soup, so I added a little of the stock from cooking my chicken.  (of course, I then proceeded to add too much stock-- so I tempered some sour cream in to the mix).

The moral of this story: There are easier ways--and for the game on Sunday, I will be resorting to those far easier methods. I find ways to make what should be a simple meal into one that's fairly complex.  The good news, it tasted awesome, was very filling and with the recent arctic blast here, I was glad of a meal that warmed our house.

Need some ideas for the big day?  Check out these other great recipes.

 Bacon Stuffed Mushrooms featuring Creamy Portabella Mushroom
Chicken and Ham Slab Sandwiches featuring Creamy Portabella Mushroom
Chorizo Con Queso featuring Creamy Three Cheese
Pulled Chicken Sandwiches featuring Fire Roasted Tomato 
 Want some help getting started?  Check out this great coupon:

In addition to my can of Progresso Recipe I received an entire Recipe Starters gift set of a beautiful 10 piece cheese and appetizer set--including a gorgeous bamboo cutting board. 

Disclosure:  The information, products and Progresso™ Recipe Starters™ gift packs were provided by Progresso through MyBlogSpark. I received no additional compensation.  My opinions are 100% my own. 

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Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

I often make a mental list of things I'd like to do better in the new year. Naturally, I usually fail on some level not to meet all of my expectations.  Perhaps this is what makes New Year's Resolutions so cliche. Because it's a mental list, no one really knows if I disappoint myself by not fulfilling my obligations. So this year, I'm going to strive for a limited list.  There's a laundry list of improvements to be made, but the goal is to try to stick to at least these few.  Putting them in print some how makes it seem more binding.

1) I need to live a more healthy life.  Better diet, more exercise, fewer excuses about why I don't do either.  I will lose 50 pounds this year--that's an average of less than a pound a week, which somehow makes it seems like an attainable goal.  I want to try a new recipe at least once a month too.

2) One book completed in a month--no more of this putting off, reading 3 books at at time and finishing none--12 books this year minimum.  Look for more blogged book reviews.

3) More meaningful communication.  I never write people as often as I mean to.  Once upon a time I called friends weekly.  With Jack as my crutch, I've really slacked in this department and I can do better to foster the relationships which mean the most to me. I want to improve my blog writing too.  I have neglected to post many of the thoughts and experiences I would have liked to.  This year, I will do better.

4) Be more appreciative.  I will make a concious effort to let people know how much they are valued.  I will not take what I have for granted. I will be more generous and share my blessings with others.  

How about you?  Any resolutions you feel like sharing? StumbleUpon

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Good, the Bad and the @GameStop

As some of you may know, our home was broken in to just before the holidays.  I should probably  give more details from that experience in another post--maybe I will.  I'd like to share some of my recent experiences with the GameStop store in my neighborhood.  GameStop is a national chain store where you can buy new and used video games/devices.  You can also trade in these devices for payment.

When our home was broken in to, the thieves really only targeted our newer electronics--specifically our Wii, accessories, games and flat screen TV--our older tvs/ DVD players, etc. were left in place.  Naturally, we assumed that the criminals had probably done this sort of thing before, as they cleverly thought to use the kitchen trash can to presumably haul out the cords, games and accessories.

Assuming that they'd done so before, they likely weren't keeping our things for personal use, but to resell--which led us to think that the quickest way to legitimately unload the electronics was a mere two minutes from our home.  When we inquired if products matching our description were traded within a few days of the theft, we were very rudely informed that store policy prohibited the sharing of that information, because it kept the store from being help libel for our actions based on that information. We weren't asking for names, or a violation of trader confidentiality and we certainly weren't anticipating an "Ah ha" moment, in which we demanded the store return the stolen property. We simply had a general question about a potential transaction history over the past week, in which we could potentially inform the police to further investigate, possibly leading to the discovery of a string of offenses.  On the other hand, its equally likely that our things weren't sold to GameStop-- suspicions alleviated, case closed, no hard feeling.

 Is fear of a victims actions, actions which only that person should be held accountable for, really a reasonable excuse for GameStop to hide behind?   Are we simply to allow companies in our communities to make crime easily profitable?  In attempting to selfishly protect its own interests, is GameStop also enabling and protecting the method under which criminals operate?   If GameStop chooses to claim no responsibility for self-monitoring the integrity as a corporation, then who is responsible?

Prior to this point, we had had a total of 4 dealing with GameStop, two of which were rather unpleasant, and we swore we would not come back.  Our first trip was a window shopping trip while we price checked some games we were considering after we just purchased our console.  We found the store well organized and the staff reasonably helpful. Our second trip followed the break in; the disappointment of being so brusquely pushed aside is detailed below.  Our third trip shortly followed the holidays, and the store was very busy.  We were unhappily shocked by deceptive pricing tactics that made a bundled console and accessories appear to be priced collectively at a savings, rather than individually--again we swore never to return.

Thankfully, yesterday I gave GameStop one last chance and it was able to redeem a spot in my good graces.  Their website features a pick up in store option.  Essentially, you chose the items you would like and request the item be placed on hold.  Upon entering the store with a confirming email print out, you simply pick up your item, pay for it and are on your merry way in no time. Its very similar to the same services offered by our public library.  No time wasted wandering the shelves to discover the item you want isn't really in stock or severely misplaced.  Toting peanut around while I ran my errands, spending just two minutes in an otherwise fairly busy store made me elated beyond words--especially when he began throwing a tantrum in beside me for no known reason. Seriously, the service is a blessing to multitasking mothers everywhere.  If only my supermarket and other stores would offer such convenience.

The clerk who helped us was also super friendly, not just compared to the unenthusiastic to down right rude experiences we'd had in store before, but by any store's comparison, this gentleman truly appeared to enjoy helping others. From his genuine greeting upon entry, through his offer of any further assistance, for a mom stressed by her son's tantrum, it was a delight to have such a warm reception. I feel this a quality one finds very lacking today, especially on a Friday afternoon, especially following the holiday.  I believe this employee has truly single handedly saved my ability to conduct business with GameStop.

At any rate, below you may read my letter to GameStop.  I am semi-confident that at best, all I will receive in response is a thoughtless mass email showing that no actual person even read my thoughts or concerns, nor will the company make any movement to addressing it's practices.  I outline both my possitive and negative experiences, as well as a plea for improvement.  While I don't anticipate great change, I feel citizens of communities have a moral obligation to call upon each other to do better.  We should all be held more accountable.  This maxim is relevant on all level--politicians, and gun owners, as a recent example--we need to do a better job of looking after each other and at voicing our disappointment when others fall short of our expected level of acceptable moral standards.  

I have two comments.
First, I used your pick up in store option for a recent game purchase and absolute love this service.  I have a two year old son who is very hard to keep wrangled while running errands.  It was very nice to place an order that morning and pick it up after work while my son was with me.  I walked in to the Navarre Ave location, went right to the desk, met a super friendly staff member who helped me complete the transaction.  I spent more time walking to and from my car than in the store even though the store was surprisingly pretty busy.  Really a positive experience, which has abated some of my negative feelings toward GameStop.

My second comment is far less glowing.  Can you please reveal more about your policy toward purchasing trade ins?  Just before the holidays, our house was broken in to and among other electronics, our game console, accessories and several games were taken.  We thought it might be worth asking around if anyone had sold these items to GameStop.  We certainly didn't want the names of the people, just the possibility that we could report it to authorities who could investigate further.  Our logic being that if we were crooks, we'd want to unload "hot items" as quickly as possible, and there is a GameStop which will pay for the items in our neighborhood.
When we inquired at our local store, we were very curtly informed that it was store policy not to release that information on the ground of being libel--in case we decided to take action against that party.  To my way of thinking, we weren't asking for a breach of confidentiality; we didn't want names or addresses.  We only wanted to know if someone had traded in a game system with our own customizations, serial numbers, a sensor bar missing a cover, game titles that we had owned, etc. 
I've never traded anything with GameStop, so I am unclear on the process one goes through. Can you explain to me what if any precautions GameStop takes to ensure that it is not abetting the laundering of stolen property? To what extent does GameStop assist local law enforcement in the recovery of stolen property?
Honestly, I understand that there are a million ways a thief can unload stolen property, ebay and craigslist for example.  I would just feel better as a consumer knowing that GameStop was taking proactive measures--to ensure the accountability of those trading in.  I know it is not in your best interest as a business to do so, but it is in your best interest as a member of any local community. 
My own experience with reporting our break in shows that law enforcement is overwhelmed with the number of thefts, especially house break-ins like mine. I feel as members of a community, we must all do our part to decrease the ease and anonymity under which criminals operate. Why not provide consumers armed with a police report the information that recently a bundle of items matching that description was traded in so they can ask law enforcement to follow-up. (In the case of our Wii, how hard would it have been to check the Mii Characters we could name?)  Better yet, why not provide law enforcement a searchable database detailing dates and items traded?  As a national chain with international presence, don't you have an obligation to lead by example on this issue?

Thank you for your patience.  I know you did not steal my items, and are not directly responsible for their theft. In fact, I really have no basis to hold such a conviction that our stolen property was traded in at GameStop.  Perhaps my resentment largely stems from the rude and insensitive response we received in store which led me to feel the store did have something to hide and has no sense of moral obligation to practice any degree of due diligence.  I feel as a whole, as a society, we can and must do better.  In an era of  increasing population sand by extension, therefore anonymity coupled with decreasing law enforcement staff and budgets , we must expect more of each other.

With my sincere regards, StumbleUpon