Thursday, March 31, 2011

Book Review: Rest in Peace

Rest in Peace by Frances Devine
Rest in Peace (Hometown Mysteries)

Victoria Storm, who owns a boarding house for senior citizens, is once again thrown into a murder investigation when she discovers the body of Clyde Foster, the local pet store owner, in a pool of blood in his store.  While searching down clues that seem to involve a World War II jewelry theft, Victoria's life is threatened and one of her seniors, Miss Aggie goes missing.  Will they find the murderer in time?  Will the 60 year old hidden jewelry finally appear?

Rest in Peace is part of the Hometown Mysteries collection and is the third book featuring Miss Aggie from the Misadventure of Miss Aggie Mystery series.

My Thoughts:

This was a quick read, but I felt it was just an OK book.  There were a lot of characters in the book and at times it was hard to keep them all straight.  Even though the book seems to tout itself as a murder mystery, it seemed more like the murder was a side plot.  Most of the mystery elements in the book involved Miss Aggie's disappearance and the mystery surrounding emeralds stolen from the Jews in World War II. To me the final solution to the murder was very anti-climactic.

I enjoyed reading this book; however, it's not one that I will gush over to my friends.  I just feel like the story could have been developed a little more.  I was also a little disappointed that this book pretty much told you everything that happened in the first two Miss Aggie books.  I would have liked to read those two books, but I feel like I'd be wasting my money now because I know who did it and why.

I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

Thanks to netGalley for providing me the Kindle version of this book to read.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When it's OK to change the schedule

I'll admit it, I like schedules.  I like them a lot.  I might even go so as far as to say, I LUV schedules.  When my kids were babies, we lived by a schedule - feed them at 8, 12, 4 and 8; nap from 10-12 and 2-4.  It worked great for me us.  Now that my kids are older, we still operate on a schedule - up at 7, leave for school at 7:45.  They do the same things in the same order everyday before school because routine helps them remember what they are supposed to do.  Weekends are more relaxed, but there is still a schedule involved - sleep in, get breakfast, do chores, lunch at 12, etc.  I LIVE by schedules.

So when is it OK to break the schedule?

When it helps us spend more time together as a family. 
When it helps us connect.
When it reminds our kids that we love them.
When it means that the kids won't fight for a little while :).

A couple weeks ago we had just that experience.  It was Saturday, which as we tell our kids, is "sleep in day", i.e. don't come in and wake up Mommy and Daddy early.  LET US SLEEP!!!

They did great with that.  We woke up late and I fixed us a nice big breakfast.  ...OK, so my husband helped too.  I made the eggs; he did the bacon; Julie toasted the bread.  Working together, we had fixed a HUGE breakfast - much bigger than normal - and it was late, around 9:30.

I had had recent surgery so I wasn't up to doing much.  That gave Julie the bright idea to play a board game all together.  She had received the electronic version of Monopoly (much more realistic property values, but no paper money involved) for Christmas and really wanted to play it.  So we set it up.

And we played...and played...and played.  Noon came and went.  No one was hungry so we didn't stop our game.  Around two I made everyone take a lunch break.

TWO!!!!  Who eats lunch at two??!!  We certainly never do.  But we did that day. 

The kids had to eat at the bar so we wouldn't mess up the game board on the table.  We NEVER let them eat at the bar.  But we did that day.

Want to know what we were all wearing?  Our pajamas!  Yup, that's right.  I didn't even make anyone get dressed.  I ALWAYS make my kids get dressed.  But I didn't that day.

After our super-late lunch, we finished our Monopoly game - Julie creamed us all - and we had a late dinner on the deck.  Was it nice enough to eat outside?  Not really.  It was still pretty chilly.  But the kids suggested it and we let them.  And we had a great time.

Did we fix wonderful food that day?  Um, not exceptional.
Did we spend a lot of money on an excursion?  No, definitely not.
Did we let the kids veg in front of screens all day?  Nope.

So why did we all love that day?

Because we were a family.  We spent time as a family.  We enjoyed each other as a family.  And even though we played a cut-throat game like Monopoly, we still laughed. We still were nice and gracious and granted each other free rides on our airplanes (yes, the new version has airports instead of railroads). 

In short, we just showed each other how much we loved them.  And that made it a great day. 

Great days make my family happy.  And that makes ME happy.

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Farm Rich blogging program, for a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”

What I Learned Wednesday

I have a great new topic for my What I Learned Wednesday series and I will tell you all about it....
next week.

This week is Spring Break for my kids, which means there will be absolutely no learning in our house this week and I MEAN IT!!

Originally we had planned to go to Dollywood today but there is a 90% chance of rain :-(.  Seeing as it costs almost $200 for the 4 of us to go for the day, we decided to wait for a better day to go.

I'm off to console my sad kids...and to make sure that they are not learning ANYTHING this week.

See you next week!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

More on Cutie

In response to my video yesterday, my kids decided they wanted a crack at directing.  So they have each made up a video about their new (first-ever) pet, Cutie the hamster.

Warning:  A 5-year old held the video camera, you might get motion-sickness from watching this.

Freezer Cooking 101: Final Tips and Tricks

Read all my Freezer Cooking 101 posts here

Well, ladies (and any gentlemen that may be reading), we've come to the end of my Freezer Cooking 101 posts.  We have learned so many things about cooking ahead and having a month's worth of meals in our freezer.

  1. We planned our menu and cooking location.
  2. Then we learned some tips and tricks for shopping for our big cooking day.
  3. We made up our cooking plan.
Now, all that's let is to...
Yay!!  Time to finish the work and get rewarded.  Cook once, eat for a month.
So here are some things to remember on your big cooking day.
  1. Think through your recipes and bring all the appropriate pots/pans and utensils.  If you have slow cooker meals, bring your crock pot.  If you have lots of stovetop meals, bring lots of skillets.  Don't forget LOTS of bowls, LOTS of spoons, potholders, paper towels, dish soap, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, sharp knives, cutting board(s) and comfortable shoes.
  2. We like to cook in aprons because, lets face it, we're cooking 15 meals - we're going to make a mess.
  3. Be ready to wash dishes a lot.  Depending on your recipes, you'll probably have to take a dishwashing break between every 2 recipes or so.
  4. Fix yourself a lunch ahead of time or spring for a Happy Meal.  You are NOT going to want to fix a lunch while you are doing all the other cooking, so plan ahead and have that ready before you begin.  
  5. To go along with the last one - take a break for lunch.  No one needs to get so hungry that they become a cranky cook.  Stick something in the oven for 30 minutes and sit down and eat lunch.
  6. Take an afternoon, feet-up 20 minute break.  You'll thank me later.
  7. Be realistic about the amount of time it will take to cook.  We cooked 17 meals each in about 7 hours.  So if you are cooking for a month, it WILL take all day.
  8. Have dinner taken care of.  Have it already cooked at home and ready or, better yet, put your husband in charge of dinner for the night.  Just like #4 above, you don't want to cook all day, then have to think about dinner.
  9. If possible, have your children elsewhere for the day.  Cooking lots of meals is much easier if children are not underfoot wanting to "help."  If you can't find a babysitter/available daddy, rent some fun, non-scary videos for them to watch and let them veg in front of the TV while you cook.
  10. Have fun!!  Yes, it's a lot of work.  Yes, you and your cooking buddies may get on each other nerves some, but if you can't have fun, why do it?  So relax, talk, laugh and enjoy the process.
Sadly, we've come to the end.  As I close out this series, remember:
Planning ahead will make your cooking day (and your life) SOOOOO much easier.

I'd love to hear if you have done a freezer cooking day or if you are planning to.  Share your own tips and tricks in the comments below.

This is my family's all-time favorite freezer recipe:

Cornflake Chicken
Dinner - Main Dish

6 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup corn flake crumbs
1 tsp salt
1 dash pepper
3 Tbl butter

Spray baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Place pats of butter (one for each piece of chicken) on baking sheet. Dip chicken pieces first in evaporated milk, then in corn flake crumbs. Place each on a butter pat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and top each with another butter pat. Bake for 30 minutes at 350บ. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Cover chicken on baking sheet with plastic wrap. Place in freezer. Allow to freeze at least 3 hours. When frozen transfer chicken to a freezer bag. Label and freeze.

To serve: Thaw. Heat in microwave or covered in oven.

   6 Servings

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Anticipating Easter

When I think about Easter, I smile because I know Spring is on it's way, flowers and children will bloom and I'll get reminded of new birth - the yearly new birth of the Earth and my new birth in Christ.  So when I was asked what I liked about Easter, I couldn't help but smile because there are so many things to love.

I LOVE celebrating the resurrection of our Savior.  Jesus's sacrifice and resurrection is our main focus at Easter.  My children learn about the Easter story every year at church and we read it to them every year at home.

I LOVE Easter music at church.  Our church has a wonderful choir and orchestra.  They put on an Easter cantata every year.  It's upbeat and energetic and gets us in the Easter spirit.

I LOVE getting a new dress in the latest fashion but even more I LOVE seeing my kids in their new clothes.  I'm not a matchy, matchy person, so we don't always coordinate, but we individually look good.  I also believe in letting my 5-year old son be comfortable in shorts and a polo shirt.  The more he is comfortable, the less he squirms in church.

I LOVE finding a new hairstyle for my girlie and fixing her all up.  We have discovered hair blogs and visit them often.  When Easter approaches, there are LOTS of hair ideas posted out there.  This basket weave has been my favorite so far.

While we're on the subject of Easter, I just want to interject that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE tulips.  You can see some of my buds in this picture.  I get so excited when my tulips bloom every year.  I literally go outside to visit them once a day.  I LOVE it when I get to take Easter pictures in front of my tulips!!

I LOVE playing the Easter bunny.  Since my kids get lots of candy everywhere else, I try to give other little trinkets and toys in their Easter baskets, like Star Wars shirts and Zhu-zhu pets.

In typical Easter fashion, we have a big Easter meal, complete with ham, roast beef and lots of vegetables that my kids won't eat.  (They eat the meat and a baked potato.  They are missing out!)

I LOVE helping our kids search for Easter eggs at my parent's house.  We put initials on the eggs so they each get to find the same amount.  The hunt is repeated over and over and over and .....

Best of all, I LOVE Easter candy. The kids always find candy in their eggs.  I can't eat chocolate but I LOVE Smarties and Skittles and Nerds and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE jelly beans.

Easter, to me, is a very happy holiday.  We get to celebrate outside (at least most years, one year it snowed), we get to eat our weight in good food and Easter candy and we get to see everyone in their Sunday best.  What's not to love about Easter?

I thought I'd end by asking my kids what their favorite things about Easter are.

David - "I like the chocolate bunnies and I like to do the Easter hunt and I like to see my cousin."
Julie - "I like to see my cousin and I really like to get the candy in the eggs when we go Easter egg hunting and I like all of the chocolate in the candies."

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Hop blogging program, for a gift card worth $25. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

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Friday Funny

Setting - A late lunch at home where David wasn't too hungry.

Me: David, you haven't even touched your macaroni!

David (reaching out a finger and touching his macaroni) :  Now I did, Mommy.

 At this point Tim and I started dying laughing. 

He looked so serious and a little confused, which made it even funnier.

David:  What so funny?  Why are you laughing?  Didn't you want me to touch it?

Me - laughing even harder now, I have to grab my side I'm laughing so hard. 

I just love it when kids are so innocently funny!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

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Review: The Lightkeeper's Ball

The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble
The Lightkeeper's Ball (A Mercy Falls Novel)
Third in the Mercy Fall's series, this book follows debutante Olivia Stewart as she travels west to California to investigate her sister's suspicious death.  Set in the early 20th century, Olivia's sister, Eleanor, accepts a marriage proposal which will join her family with that of her father's business partner.  Shortly after arriving in Mercy Falls for her wedding, Eleanor is found dead from an apparent drowning suicide.  Olivia, knowing her sister's fear of the water, is convinced that Eleanor was murdered.  She decides to travel under an assumed name to Mercy Falls to find out the truth.

Will she learn the circumstances surrounding her sister's death before she becomes a victim herself?  Will she push away the man she is falling for?

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed this book.  It is the third in a series and I have not read the other two.  However, this book could definitely stand alone and be understood without reading books 1 and 2. 

The mystery really kept my attention and I didn't figure out "who dun it" until the very end, which I like.  The romantic parts were really romantic, almost enough to make me cry.  My only complaint was that at times it seemed like the action was very slow and at other times way too fast.  It didn't seem consistent throughout the book.  But that did not detract from the book enough to really bother me (just a little annoying).   I also liked the historical references to turn of the century technology, such as aeroplanes, and motor cars.  There was also an interesting Haley's comet thread running throughout the book.  It let me know that the author had really done her research.

This is a pretty quick read.  And I've already ordered the other two in the series!

I give this 4.5 stars out of 5.
(Hey, it's my blog, I can give half stars if I want to.)

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me the Kindle version of this book to review.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

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Freezer Cooking 101: Planning for your Cooking Day

Want to cook for a month in just one day? Check out all my Freezer Cooking 101 posts here

All right y'all, we're making some progress here and almost ready to cook it all up!  Let's review:
  1. We planned our menu and cooking location.
  2. Then we learned some tips and tricks for shopping for our big cooking day.
  3. Now you have your ingredients and it's time to make your cooking plan.  Remember:  Planning is key!
Now, before I get too much into this, I need to make a disclaimer.  I'm an Industrial Engineer by degree and Industrial Engineers are all about efficiency and doing the most in the least amount of time.  So before you just tag me as weird and anal, just remember I went to school for 6.5 years to learn how to be this kind of weird and anal (and no, I didn't fail a lot, that 6.5 years includes co-oping 4 semesters and getting a Master's Degree).

So now that you know where I'm coming from, I'll tell you the 2 ways of planning that I have done in the past as well as their pros and cons.  Then I'll tell you the new way I'm planning next time and why.

Do for all the plans:
 I looked at all the recipes first and wrote down the big steps in each one.  For example, it might be:
- Cut chicken into pieces on a cutting board
- Mix up sauce on stove in saucepan
- Put chicken and sauce in a pan
- Cook in oven 45 minutes

I made sure to have all the key components meaning all the places and pieces of equipment that we would use. In the above example, it's important to know you'll need the cutting board, the stove, a saucepan and the oven.  Those are limited resources: one stove eye and one oven.  They will be taken up when cooking that recipe.  You will need to wash the cutting board, saucepan and baking pan before you cook something else in them so they are important to note as well.  The specific ingredients are not that important to note on this step.  They are not limited resources (at least not if you planned your shopping trip well).

After you have written out the steps to each recipe, look at the places where a lot of time is involved in waiting for something, i.e. simmer for 20 minutes, bake for 30 minutes.  Also note where 2 people are not needed (if you are cooking with others).  In the above example, you can both add ingredients for the sauce but only one person needs to stir it on the stove.  Both of these times, the wait time and the solo cooking times are times when you can start on the next recipe and get it going.

By doing this ahead of time, you'll figure out the best order to cook your food.  Keep all your oven cooking together if possible, so you don't have to keep turning your oven off and on or leaving it on with nothing inside it.  But don't plan to cook two recipes at the same time, then realize too late that they both need to take up the oven. Same thing with the stove.  Make sure you are not taking up all the stove eyes and still needing more.  Also remember two big pots don't fit next to each other very easily on the stove.  Don't plan for 4 stockpots to all fit on there at once.  It won't work.  Look for these kind of scenarios when you are ordering your recipes for the day.

OK, so that's what you'll do no matter which plan you decide to do.  Then you'll choose one of these (or make another equally brilliant plan on your own):

Plan 1
Everybody works together on every recipe.  For example, you all cut up the chicken together (obviously multiple cutting boards and multiple knives are needed for this).  Then you would all work on finding and adding ingredients to the saucepan.  One person would stir and the others would start the next recipe.  Then once recipe #1 is in the oven, the stirrer would join the others and help out with recipe #2 that they have started.  In this method, you would only do the prep work on one recipe at a time, i.e. instead of cutting up all the chicken for all recipes at once, you would only do it for one recipe at a time.

  • Everyone will be on the same page.  You know what you are making, what went into it, what step you are on, etc.
  • Each individual recipe will go faster.  If you are goal-oriented like me, you'll enjoy getting a recipe completely done, in the freezer and "checking it off" your list.
  • You'll all be on the same page - literally.  There will be 2 or 3 of you trying to read the same recipe at the same time.  Or if you make copies, there may be miscommunication about what has been added and what hasn't.  The phrase "too many cooks in the kitchen" could apply here.
  • For me, this method is not efficient enough and there seemed to be a lot of wasted time.  If you are going for speed, this is probably not the method to choose.
Plan 2
Each person has their own plan to follow.

I'll tell you up front, this took a lot more time to plan out.  There were 3 of us cooking so I made 3 documents, one each for person 1, 2 and 3.  Then I looked at my steps and tried to combine like steps.  I started with the chopping.  One person chopped all the veggies - onions, garlic, etc.  One person chopped all the chicken for all the recipes - cube this many pounds, half this many pounds, etc.  One person starts browning meat for all the hamburger recipes - one skillet has 3 lbs meat for one recipe, one has 4.5 lbs meat for another recipe, etc.  Then we would start on the pastas and cook all those up.  And go on from there.

Then after all the prep stuff was done, each plan called for that person to assemble a particular recipe.  For instance, I would take the 3 lbs browned meat for the Almost Ravioli, and the cooked pasta to go with it, then assemble the meat, pasta, cheese and sauce and separate into 6 freezer bags, 2 for each person.  While I was doing that my sister would be working on the chicken, broccoli, rice casserole assembly.  And Erika would be working on yet a third recipe.

So instead of us all working together on recipes, we would each work on our own recipe until completion.

  • We really liked doing all the prep work first.  I made lists for each skillet with the name of the recipe and what needed to be done in that pan, such as "Brown 3 lbs ground beef, 3 cups onion and 4 garlic cloves."  That helped us keep the ingredients separate.
  • I did the same for saucepans, and bowls.  That way, you could look at your little list paper and know which recipe it was for and exactly what went in there.  The papers were already multiplied out for the number of times we were making the recipe, i.e. if one batch called for 24 oz spaghetti sauce and we were doing the recipe 3x, I wrote 72 oz spaghetti sauce, or 3 jars spaghetti sauce.  Once again, overall we liked this little list method.
  • It went a lot faster and we cooked more recipes in less time than we had done the time before.
  • We did like mainly having one person do a whole recipe.  You didn't wonder if someone else had put the ingredient in before you and you aren't stumbling over each other trying to read the recipe.  But there were also problems with that (see below).
  • Sometimes what one person was supposed to do next on their plan depended on another person doing something first.  And sometimes things took longer than I anticipated.  So, I may have thought the onion chopper would be done before the meat browner needed the onions, but they weren't.  It was almost TOO planned out (as if that's possible!).
  • With the amount of food we were cooking, working on a recipe by yourself got overwhelming.  You were stirring 3 bowls worth of stuff and trying to spoon it evenly into pans and you just needed someone else to assist.
  • My wonderful plan didn't account for time to wash dishes.  Yes, sadly, that is an integral part of cooking day - lots of dishes to wash.
  • It took longer to complete a single recipe.  It seemed like it was several hours before we had one completely done.  That can be a bummer for your self-esteem :).
OK, so those are the 2 ways I have planned before.  They are each good, but could be improved upon.  So here's what I'm going to do next time.

Plan 3
Make out a list similar to what I did in plan 2, but instead of divide it among all the people, I'm going to have one big master list.

I'll try to explain.

Last time the list said, Person 1 does this first, then they do this, then this, etc.  Then on a separate list, it did the same for person 2 then person 3.  So if person 1 needed to chop onions before person 2 could do their next step but person 1 hadn't gotten to that, person 2 was kind of stuck.  Then you had to check all the other lists to find out who was supposed to do it, etc.  It was too confusing (heck, it was confusing trying to write that all out on here!).

This time, I'm going to have a master list of what needs to be done:
Step 1 - chop 3 cups onions
Step 2 - chop 6 lbs chicken, etc.

One person starts with step 1, one with step 2 and one with step 3, then when you are done go to the next step whatever it may be.  Everyone looks at one list.

I'm still going to make the mini-lists for the skillets, saucepans and bowls.  Those seemed to work well.

This method frees us up to help each other if we need it, gives leeway for washing dishes and taking breaks (yes, those are very important too!), and gets rid of the problem with depending on someone else to do something on their list before you can do your next thing.

So as you can see, this whole planning thing is a work in progress.  Maybe someday we'll perfect it...maybe.  But the key to remember is, you HAVE to have a plan.  Whatever method you use, plan it out and your cooking day will go much smoother.

I'll leave you with a recipe we made last time that is very good and kid-friendly.  This comes from our church's cookbook.  (Let me know if you'd like to buy one.  They are $15.)

Pizza Casserole
Michelle Strasser
Dinner - Main Dish

1 1.5 lb ground beef
1 sprinkled minced onion
1 28 oz can tomato sauce
1 8 oz rotini pasta, cooked
1 1 Tbl Italian seasoning
1 1 tsp garlic salt
1 .5 tsp garlic powder
1 .5 tsp basil
1 .25 tsp oregano
1 8 oz Mozzarella cheese
1 1 package pepperoni slices

Brown ground beef and drain excess grease.  In skillet add tomato sauce, onion and other spices. Stir.  Add beef and simmer 10-15 minutes.  Stir in cooked rotini.  Spray 9 x13 dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Layer dish with 1/2 meat mixture, then layer of cheese, layer of meat mixture.  Top with pepperoni slices. 

Thaw.  Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

6 Servings


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Taking the day off

Usually on Tuesday I post a Freezer Cooking 101 article.  However, we have had a busy and somewhat emotional 2 days with the services for my husband's grandmother (Mamaw Ruby to my kids).  And since I am still recovering from surgery and tired out, I'm going to choose to take today off from posting. 

Freezer Cooking 101 will be up tomorrow and will resume on Tuesdays next week.  Thanks and relax a little today if you get the chance.

I just noticed that I'm now at 50 followers!  Yay!!  I love new followers.  Welcome all!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Deal of the Day

AllWhites and Better'n Eggs

Enter to win a year of AllWhites® or Better'n Eggs®! You'll also get monthly emails with recipes for low-calorie entrees, low-fat desserts and protein-packed smoothies. Click Here

Fundraiser at Crystal's Craft Spot

Hey all!

I'm helping out my blogging buddy Crystal over at Crystal's Craft Spot.  She is holding a special fundraiser this week for a little boy named Austin.

He is 3 and needs a kidney transplant. His parents are trying to raise money for the transplant and anti-rejection medicine.  Crystal is holding a giveaway fundraiser this week to help out.  Here's how it works:

1)  Go to Austin's site and donate any amount you would like.
2)  For every $2 you earn an entry into one of Crystal's 6 giveaways (You'll find all the giveaway info in the right sidebar).  You choose which giveaways you'd like to enter and how many of your entries go to each. (There is a form to fill out for each giveaway.)
3)  If you win, you'll be required to send an email copy of your giving receipt which includes the address you'd like your prize to be sent to.

That's it!!

I have donated a few Creative Memories items for the fundraiser and there are a host of other really cool things to win.  As well as a cute little boy who needs our help.

I plan to donate at least $10 and I'd like to challenge each of you to do the same.  As we have seen from relief efforts all over the world, a bunch of people each donating $10 can really go a long way!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Much Loved, Missed Much

Mamaw Ruby, You are Much Loved 
You will be Missed Much.