Monday, March 29, 2010

The Basket List

A few weeks ago, I made a list of all the things I'd like to do while the boys are away on spring break. After two week-long delays, they're finally getting to spend some time at Camp Mamaw & Papaw and I'm getting to my list.

I didn't want to call this a "bucket" list because I have no intention of kicking the bucket when I finish it. I thought a "basket" list was appropriate since these are things I'm doing before Easter and the boys are back home.


1. Went to the dentist. I went in this morning for my semi-annual cleaning. Everything looked great, so I'll see them again in September or October, I can't remember which...

2. Shopped for beads. I'm nowhere near finished with this, but I did check out Hobby Lobby's and Michael's beads. I bought a few things at Hobby Lobby for myself using the gift card I got at Christmas. Everything I bought there was half-price.

3. Bought a few new shirts. I don't think this was on my list, but I decided to stop in Kohl's and was pleasantly surprised to find two shirts I liked. They were half-price, too.

4. Browsed Aldi. The new grocery store is interesting. It's quite a bit smaller than even the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. They have very few recognizable name brand products, but what they do have is lower priced. The produce department doesn't have as much to offer, but what I saw there today looked like good quality and the prices were low. Avocados were 38 cents each; pineapples for 99 cents; a quart of strawberries was $1.49. I started to buy a pineapple and a container of strawberries, but I wasn't sure if I was coming straight home or not.

5. Looked through jewelry design books at Borders. I didn't really see any books I wanted to buy, but I did look through several, and I got some new ideas for things I want to try. I wish they'd get some of these books at my library so I could look at them for an extended period of time. It's always then that I come upon things I missed the first time looking through the book.

6. Made some jewelry. I've been working on a few crystal crosses for pendants and earrings today.

7. Bought some lipstick. I found the lipstick I wanted from Merle Norman. I went ahead and bought it, despite the ridiculously high price, but now I wish I'd just waited to find something else that wasn't so expensive. Plus, it's not quite the shade I remember wearing a few years ago. Of course, that could be my imagination since my opinion has been clouded by the price...

8. Ate supper at a "new" burger place. It's not new, but it's new to us. I can't remember the name, but it's just down the strip from Double Dave's Pizza. The burgers were really good. The fries were overdone with seasoned salt. I'll go back, but not too often. It was a heavy meal after eating lighter for so long now.

9. Looked at shrubs and trees to replace the dead and/or ugly stuff in our front flower bed. We went to Lowe's and Home Depot to see what they had, what their prices were, etc. We have a few ideas...


10. Got my hair trimmed. I haven't had a trim since August, I believe. It was high time! I don't have the name of a good stylist anymore, so I took a chance and walked into a salon. The stylist did a good job of cutting my hair, but she didn't want me to walk out with a wet head since styling is included in the price. I don't use a hair dryer or any other heat appliance on my hair, and I had to tell her repeatedly that I didn't want her to use the flat iron or a curling iron (?) on my hair. I did let her dry it and "style" it, though. I probably won't go back there...

11. Shopped for beads. Yes, again. This time I went to Bally Beads in Rockwall and was pleasantly surprised to find out they now sell wholesale to the public, not just to those with tax ID numbers. Woohoo! They have a great selection of natural stone beads, which I prefer to work with, but they also have some good glass beads. I also think they have the best prices on craft wire and sterling silver wire - but they don't carry a big variety of it.

12. Colored my hair. After I got home, I colored my hair (and rinsed out the dry frizz and itchy clippings out of my hair). For the last few years, I've gone with Chocolate Peanut Butter or Chocolate Caramel, but this time I decided to be a little bolder. I used Sangria for some nice deep red highlights. I like it.

13. Bought some copper washers from Harbor Freight Tools. I'm going to make jewelry out of them. Yes, jewelry. Earrings, bracelets, maybe even a belt. Billy bought some gardening tools. The lady noticed what we bought and laughed that we were backward. :o)

14. Ate a delicious Mediterranean Wrap at Jason's Deli. I started to get a quarter muffaletta and cup of red beans & rice. Then I saw a veggie pizza on their specials menu. Then I saw the low-cal wraps on the menu and went with that and a side of fresh fruit. I'm ready for more!

15. Looked at more shrubs and trees. Yes, again. We went to a different Home Depot to see what they had. We still hadn't made any firm decision on what we wanted - except I definitely wanted gardenias.


16. Completed my third ring sample and all my class instructions for my Beads of Splendor class. Finally! I took everything in to Diana and she put me down to teach a class in May. I told her which weekends were better for me, and she said she'll be in touch.

17. Shopped for beads. Yes, again! I bought a few things at Beads of Splendor, then went up to Rock Barrell for some things, then back to Rockwall to Bally Beads to get a few things for a birthday bracelet party I'm doing for a 13-year-old from church. Oh, and I stopped at Hobby Lobby again to get a few more supplies that were on sale.

18. Looked at more shrubs and trees. We still hadn't settled on exactly what we wanted to plant, but we did buy some gardening tools and concrete block border for the flower bed.

19. Ate supper at Chili's.


20. Attended the Dallas Blooms festival at the Arboretum. This was my first time to go in the more-than-6 years we've lived here. There were brightly-colored tulips everywhere. Beautiful! I took tons of pictures, and I can't wait to see how they turned out.

21. Enjoyed a delicious lunch at Ali Baba. I've been wanting to go here for months. A Mediterranean buffet full of all sorts of delicious samplings... My favorite thing, as usual, was the roasted cauliflower. I ate entirely too much and enjoyed every minute of it. I think there are several things there the boys would enjoy eating.

22. Bought gardenias and a red dogwood tree. We made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy a red dogwood tree. The size was right, and the price was lower than we had seen at other Home Depots in the area. We decided to wait another weekend to get azaleas done.

23. Planted our new garden finds. Rain was in the forecast for Friday, the day we originally had planned to do our planting. We had a good block of time to get things done, so we got right to digging up the old dying scrubby shrubs and pulling weeds. Billy dug up the scraggly tree and hit the main water line into the house. Why they had planted a tree right over that, I'll never know! Water was spraying everywhere! Billy managed to stop the spraying, but water started rushing into the hole. Someone from the water department came out to shut the water off and tell Billy what he needed to do to fix it. We got the gardenias in the ground, then went back to Home Depot, a nearby hardware store, and Lowe's to find what was needed to fix it. Finally Billy found what he needed and we made it home in time for him to repair the line before dark. Then we put the border down and called it a night. It looks so much better than before! I took some before and after pictures, but we still have to replace three more bushes with some azaleas (yes, we finally decided!) before we're truly finished.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - March 22, 2010

Another week, another revision. Last week, Caleb got sick (Tuesday). Then Billy (Thursday). Then me (Saturday). Since we're still not sure of the nature of our various illnesses, we're holding off on spring break for yet another week. So instead of flying by the seat of my pants this week, here's my menu plan.

Panko-crusted Tilapia (with some seasoning, as yet undetermined...), Knorr Parmesan Noodles, and Caesar Salad (which the boys can't get enough of now...).

Chicken & Rice (new unwritten recipe swirling in my brain...), Green Beans, and homemade Dill Bread.

Homemade Pizza Night with the Chisholms. We'll have two large deluxe veggie pizzas for the adults and two smaller miscellaneous pizzas for the boys. (Caleb's will probably be Alfredo cheese.) Deb will probably bring a salad; I'll make Chocolate Lava Cake for dessert. This was supposed to have happened in January, but we had to reschedule after Memaw died since we would be traveling for her funeral.


Out?!? Maybe, just maybe, we can finally take Caleb out to eat at Genghis Grill - nearly two weeks after his birthday. I feel sorry for him that we haven't been able to celebrate it for so long. Yes, we had cake and opened presents on his actual birthday, but we haven't been able to go out as a family for his birthday dinner.

??? - I'm not sure if Billy's parents are coming here or if we're taking the boys there. If they come here, we'll go out; if we go there, Billy's mom will cook us something delicious, as always.

??? - I will have AWANA, which I don't need to miss since I missed last night. Maybe Billy can drop me off for it, then pick me up afterward, and go out to eat or to hang out at the bookstore for a while.

For more menu plans, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When Will It End?

Last Saturday, Caleb's 10th birthday, Jacob woke up not feeling well and running fever. He was still running fever Monday, so I made an appointment for him to see his doctor. The exam showed great ears and throat, and his lungs sounded clear. The main issue was his congested cough, so the doctor gave us two weeks worth of Singulair for Jacob to take at night.

Tuesday, Jacob had quit running fever and was feeling really well. Caleb, on the other hand, had started running fever. His symptoms were identical to Jacob's. Friday morning, I made an appointment for him to see the doctor. It was his fourth day of fever and his cough sounded a lot worse. Like Jacob, Caleb's ears and throat looked fine and his lungs sounded clear, but he did have quite a bit of nasal congestion. The doctor ran a flu test just to be sure, but it came back negative. He prescribed Mucinex to help clear the congestion. Later in the afternoon, Caleb's temperature was normal. Before bed, it had climbed back up to 101. This morning when he woke up, it was normal. By noon, it had climbed back to 100. It's been hovering around that all afternoon. I felt surely his fever would've gone by now. At least it hasn't been hovering near the 102 mark like the last few days. Maybe it's slowly creeping down and will be gone Sunday. If he still has fever Monday, he'll go back to the doctor to figure out why.

Back up to Thursday. Billy came home from work early, not feeling well. He took some Alka-Seltzer cold medicine and crashed in his study for the rest of the afternoon. He called in sick Friday and spent most of the day on the couch in the study trying to rest. At one point he started feeling really warm, so he took his temp and found he was running a low-grade fever. He's been sleeping fitfully because of the congestion. Today he seemed to feel a little better. Maybe tomorrow will be better still.

Friday night I started feeling a bit of a scratchy throat and had a runny nose. I had been hanging on to a sinus headache for a few days. When I went to bed, the stuffiness began. Thankfully it wasn't bad enough to keep me awake. Today I've been alternately stuff and drippy, sneezing and blowing. No fever yet.

I made a quick trip to Wal-Mart this morning to pick up enough meds to last all of us into next week. Hopefully I won't have to get more.

I'm so ready for this to be over with. Why is it that we're passing it on to each other so slowly? Why couldn't we have had it all at once and been done with it? I washed my hands like crazy to keep from getting sick, but it seemed to be for nothing. I have it now, and all I have to show for it are two red, chapped, cracked hands.

Hopefully we'll all be better by the weekend so the boys can go on their much-anticipated trip to Mamaw & Papaw's house. This makes twice we've had to postpone it because we're sick.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - March 15, 2010

Well, Jacob started running a high fever on Saturday so the boys' spring break trip had to be postponed a week. That means this week's play time and next week's menu (part of it anyway) have had to trade places.

Thankfully Jacob's illness is just a combination of allergies and a cold. His cough and stuffy nose started a few days before the fever. The fever drops drastically (from 101 or 102 to below "normal") with a dose of Motrin, which is a good sign. The nighttime coughing had worsened, but his lungs sound clear and this throat and ears look great. The doctor gave us some samples of Singulair for Jacob to take each night before bed to help with the coughing (along with Triaminic) - and it seems to have helped. Last night I didn't wake up hearing a coughing fit in need of another dose of medicine.

Okay, on to the menu:

The boys had some Chef Boyardee; Billy and I had sandwiches. Jacob's appointment was at 4:15, and we didn't get home until nearly 5:30. I didn't feel like thawing anything to cook.

Tuscan Chicken and Caesar Salad (no bread since we'll be having pasta and croutons)
Incidentally, the boys love Caesar salad. Next time Billy and I have our Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, we're going to have to double it...

breakfast sandwiches (scrambled eggs, cheese, and sausage between toast)


Out! We'll make up Caleb's missed family outing to celebrate his birthday. Maybe Genghis Grill won't be too crowded. (Billy took Caleb out to eat at Posados on his actual birthday.) Caleb was still running fever and Billy was sick, so we ate in. I made Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and Seasoned Roasted Potatoes.

Mamaw's Choice
We'll be taking the boys to Billy's parents on Saturday so they can make up their spring break trip at Camp Mamaw & Papaw. (I love how home schooling allows us to rearrange our schedules as needed!)
Caleb was still running fever and I started feeling cruddy so we decided to hold off another week before the boys go to Camp Mamaw & Papaw. I needed some comfort food, so we had Chicken & Sausage Gumbo and homemade Country White Bread.

Quick stop for fast food on our way home. Wendy's is quick and has some great healthy options on its value menu! We ate leftover gumbo. Thankfully we all seem to be on the mend. Hopefully next week will be better!

Next week will be a whatever kind of week. The only thing planned is our make-up pizza night with the Chisholms on Wednesday. The rest of the time we'll eat out or eat light at home. Another week, another menu plan.

For more menu plans, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Break Play List

The boys will be spending next week with Billy's parents, and I've been busy getting lots of housework done so I can spend the week playing instead of cleaning. Here's what I hope to get accomplished:

1. Get my hair trimmed. It's been probably 7 or 8 months since I had a trim!

2. Color my hair. Shall I stick with Chocolate Peanut Butter or should I go with something a little different? I'm thinking something different if I can work up my nerve...

3. Shop for beads. I haven't been to some of my favorite bead shops in a while. I'd like to see what they've got in stock for the new "season". Some of the shops bring in new items for the spring/summer, but a few others just carry the same thing all the time. I might even make it out to a new bead shop or two that I've heard about.

4. Browse the jewelry design books at Borders. I haven't done this in several months. I might even buy one if it has several good project ideas. Plus, I have a 30% off coupon that's valid through Monday.

5. Go to the Dallas Blooms festival at the Arboretum. I've never been and I'm determined not to miss out this year. There are supposed to be countless varieties of flowers in bloom. I'll be sure to have my camera batteries fully charged! I plan on staying a while and taking tons of pictures.

6. Have lunch with Billy at Ali Baba. He keeps telling me how delicious the food is, and I've yet to be able to go with him. I made a point of telling him I want to do that next week. I'm looking forward to some roasted cauliflower...

7. Go to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra! I saw a notice on Facebook the other day that DTS had some free tickets available for next Friday night. Billy was able to get us some, so we'll be hearing Mozart and Handel that evening. I can't wait!

8. Go see Alice in Wonderland. I've been wanting to see this ever since I saw the first news clip about it. A few of my friends have seen it and said it's great, and I've read that it's already broken some records. Any Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration has to be great!

9. Hit some golf balls. It's been almost a year since Billy and I got out to hit a bucket of golf balls, and I'm more than ready to hit some more.

10. Go to the zoo. Yes, I know, the boys and I just went to the zoo on Tuesday. But I want to go with my camera and Billy's zoom lens and spend all the time I want at some of my favorite exhibits, waiting patiently for those perfect shots. My hope is to get some great pics of the gorillas.

11. Get my last few months of photos renamed and organized in iPhoto. I haven't done that since November, I believe. Ugh! I keep telling myself I'll be better about it, but then I get busy with other things. When I finally do think about it, I don't have the time. I need to set aside some time each month to get caught up on that. Oh, and I need to download the boys' photos off their cameras, too. Billy and I scrolled through them just to see what was there, and Caleb seems to have a pretty good eye!

12. Get curtains put up in the boys' bedroom and the master bathroom. I finally found some curtains I like for the boys room. They're striped and match the colors flowing through the rest of the house - and they look masculine. I'm still not decided on curtains for the master bathroom, though. I may just go with the same ones that are hanging over my kitchen sink...

13. Explore the small towns around me, with my camera in hand, of course. This is something I want to do with Billy, though. I'm not sure yet if he's planned to take a day or two off, but if he does, this is high on my list. It's not something I feel I can do with the boys, though they might enjoy it. The main issue there is them getting bored while I'm trying to take pictures; but if they had their cameras with them, too, it might not be too bad...

I'm sure more things will come to mind - certainly more than I'll actually have time to do. If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to add it! I wonder what I'll actually get done...

14. Get an oil change and a car wash.

15. Organize my jewelry-making supplies. A while back I cleaned out a stand of drawers where I kept my Pampered Chef paperwork, supplies, etc. My intention was to store my jewelry supplies there: completed projects, bags and tags, wire, beads, etc., but I never got around to doing it.

Update: Jacob started running a high fever on Saturday, so their spring break trip has been postponed until next week. The only thing on my list that I won't be able to do next week is attend the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Maybe next time things will work out...

16. Check out the new Aldi grocery store. The prices are supposed to be even lower than Wal-Mart's - but you have to take your own grocery bags and "rent" a cart for a quarter (which you do get back).

17. Go to the dentist for my semi-annual cleaning. This was supposed to have happened back in January, but I was sick and had to reschedule for March 3. Then I had to reschedule that appointment for April 27 - but I told them to call me if they had something come open during my free week. I just got called yesterday for an opening next Wednesday morning. I'll be so glad to get this out of the way!

18. Buy some new lipstick. That probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but there's a Merle Norman shade I used that I loved. When I ran out, I thought I could get something comparable from Wal-Mart. Not happening. I've tried a few different shades, but nothing comes close. I have some other shades I like, but nothing beats Rich Raisin. I need to find out where the closest Merle Norman store is so I can get another tube!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Springtime at the Zoo

I'm so ready for spring! Yesterday was picture perfect! The temps were in the mid-70s and the sky was cloudless. I took the boys to the zoo and we studied some of the insects in Bug U (for our science lesson) before eating our picnic lunch and seeing some of our favorite animals. We skipped The Hill (as usual), the reptile building, the monkeys, the tigers, and the far reaches of The Wilds of Africa - and it took us 4 1/2 hours to see everything else, including a 20-minute ride on the Monorail Safari. I guess if we ever want to see everything there, we need to go when the zoo first opens and spend the whole day!

We saw quite a bit of "real life" at the zoo as well. The mongooses (mongeese?) and zebras were especially, um, active. It was funny listening to the comments adults would make when they saw what was going on. The boys thought the animals were fighting. :o) The funniest thing was when the monorail guide was telling about the zebras we would be seeing next. As we rounded the corner, they were being rather "frisky" and the guide got tickled. She continued on with her speech, but she was having a hard time keeping her voice normal. I looked at the other adults in the cars past us and saw that all of us were laughing.

I can't wait for the new zoo exhibit to open at the end of May! Giants of the Savannah is an 11-acre habitat that will house seven or eight elephants, 14 giraffes (that can be fed by zoo visitors!), a pride of lions, some cheetahs, and other animals. There will be a restaurant overlooking the big cat area. The zoo currently has two elephants and three giraffes, kept in small neighboring enclosures. The lone lion died of cancer a few years ago. The three cheetahs are on "The Hill", which is not so fun to walk to (which is why we often skip it). The grand opening is set for Memorial Day weekend; the boys and I will go the week after so we can avoid the sure-to-be-massive crowd.

The Fort Worth Zoo recently had a grand opening for its new Museum of Living Art (MOLA) - a new herpetarium. When we visited the zoo with a home school group last fall, the new one was under construction but the old one had already closed. While I'm not a fan of reptiles and amphibians, they do make great photographic subjects. I can't wait to visit it soon!


I've heard many people make comments about how "bad" the Dallas Zoo is. I think it's great! Maybe it's not up to the same quality as other major zoos or even the Fort Worth Zoo, but it's improving. It's improved quite a bit in the 5 years that we've been going to it. The Dallas Zoo is better than the zoo I grew up visiting, which is better than no zoo at all. I've been a member of the zoo for 4 years now, and I plan to continue my membership indefinitely. Even when the boys think they've "outgrown" the zoo, I know I never will. I love zoos!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Menu Plan Monday - March 8, 2010

Last week's leftovers got stretched out a little more than I had planned, so it was nice getting to eat leftovers instead of blah sandwiches for supper. BUT, I had my Jacked-Up Turkey Sandwiches all week and they are definitely not blah! Sadly, I only have one piece of my homemade cranberry walnut bread left, so that'll be the end of those for a while. (I don't want to burn myself out...) Now, on to this week's menu!

Homemade pizza!
Caleb will have his usual Alfredo cheese pizza with some mushrooms and black olives; who knows what Jacob will choose. Billy and I will be enjoying one loaded with mushrooms, black olives, onion, bell pepper, and jalapenos!

Billy's Chili
We decided we need to have it once more before the weather warms up too much for it.

Sausage Rice Casserole, green salad
I don't think I've ever put this recipe on my recipe blog, but it's a great one! I'll have to be sure I add it along with a picture.

I might be giving hair cuts, so leftovers are great for that, what with all the set up, hair cuts, and clean up.

We'll probably take Caleb out to eat and maybe to Borders or somewhere for his pre-birthday celebration. If not, we'll have sandwiches. (Kind of a bummer of an option...)

Billy's parents will be in town so we'll be going out to eat with them to celebrate Caleb's birthday. I can't believe he'll be 10!

Who knows?!? The boys will be gone to spend a week at Camp Mamaw & Papaw and there's no AWANA for Spring Break. We might go out and grab a bite somewhere, or we might stay in and eat something simple.

Since next week will find the boys not here, I'm not planning anything. We're hoping the Chisholm's can come over one evening for some homemade pizza since our last attempt had to be canceled.

For more menu plan ideas, check out I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 2010 Book List

10. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom graduated from college with big dreams and every intention of keeping in touch with his favorite professor, Morrie Schwartz. But as the years pass and his musical dreams aren't becoming a reality, Albom pursues success as a sports writer, which brings him much financial security. While flipping channels one night, he hears the name of his old professor on Ted Koppel's Nightline. What he learns about Morrie's failing health causes him to return to his simpler past, by way of spending Tuesdays with Morrie for the remainder of his old mentor's life.

I had to keep in mind that this was not a work of fiction because I kept hoping for more to come from Albom's character. Morrie, however, was a different story. He was quite a teacher, shaped from tragic events during his early childhood years. The more I read, though, the better the overall experience became, and I ended the book with tears running down my face.

Since I enjoyed watching The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which followed the book more closely than I could've imagined, I checked Tuesdays with Morrie out from the library's DVD collection. With Jack Lemmon starring as Morrie, it looks to be promising. My expectations are high.

Note: My high expectations were exceeded. The movie was great!

11. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Harry, worried about Lord Voldemort's return and angry that none of his friends from Hogwarts are keeping him informed about what's going on, is suddenly attacked by dementors in his own neighborhood. The Order of the Phoenix, originally formed to counter Lord Voldemort in his earlier days, has reformed to protect Harry. Some of its members whisk Harry off in the middle of the night and deposit him in his godfather's wretched family house. He must face a hearing to determine if he will be expelled from Hogwarts after performing underage magic yet again, this time in front of his Muggle cousin Dudley. In spite of the Ministry of Magic's determination to quiet Harry's claims that Lord Voldemort is indeed alive, he is found not guilty of the charges and allowed to return to Hogwarts.

Harry's fifth year at the wizarding school is his most stressful yet. Not only does he have to prepare for major exams that will determine his future career, he is being ever more closely drawn to Lord Voldemort's thoughts. In the midst of this, Albus Dumbledore is replaced at headmaster by the evil Dolores Umbridge, a power-hungry employee of the Ministry of Magic whose main goal is to get rid of Harry once and for all.

At 870 pages, this is the longest volume in the Harry Potter series - and it's a page-turner just like the previous four books. I hope to start the 6th in the series later today!

12. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter is depressed after the death of his godfather. Dumbledore has sent word that he's coming to pick Harry up from the Dursley's to take him to the Weasley's. Along the way, they recruit an old professor, Slughorn, to join the Hogwarts staff, presumably as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. On board the Hogwarts Express, Harry slips into his Invisibility Cloak to spy on Draco Malfoy, who he has seen acting strangely since a chance meeting in Diagon Alley to buy school supplies. Malfoy realizes Harry is there, hexes and injures him, and leaves him on the train to return to London. Nymphora Tonks, a member of the Order of the Phoenix, finds Harry and escorts him to school, where Professor Snape meets him at the gate and taunts him on their walk to the castle. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are surprised to find out Slughorn is the new Potions teacher and horrified to learn that Snape has finally gotten the Defense Against the Dark Arts job.

In his Potions class, Harry comes across an old textbook with handwritten instructions to improve potions. The book was signed "The Half-Blood Prince", an unknown being with a dark and dangerous side. Harry keeps the book as his own and experiments with some hexes written in the margins - sometimes with horrifying results. Sometimes wondering if the book had been his father's, but realizing it couldn't have been, he's shocked to find out who it really belonged to.

Meanwhile, Dumbledore has decided to take Harry under his wing and teach him about Tom Riddle, aka Lord Voldemort. He has procured memories from people who had run-ins with Riddle, and he shows them to Harry to help him gain insight into who the Dark Lord is. Harry is assigned to get one of Slughorn's memories of Riddle. Once he does, and he and Dumbledore realize what Voldemort has done to make himself immortal, they set off to acquire an artifact where Voldemort has hidden one part of his split soul. Dumbledore is near death as they return to Hogwarts, only to find the Dark Mark above the school, a sign that the Death Eaters, Voldemort's followers, are present and have killed.

This book is darker and more intense than the others, and it's a page-turner. There are several different plot lines to follow, including Harry's, Ron's, Hermione's, and Ron's sister Ginny's love lives; the Quidditch team; classes; etc., but they all flow nicely with the others. I hope to begin the seventh and final book in the series this weekend. I'm sure it'll be as difficult to put down as the others.

13. Here's the Deal: Don't Touch Me by Howie Mandel

Eleven years ago, comedian Howie Mandel was forced to reveal his greatest fear to the world at the end of an interview with Howard Stern. While his adult-diagnosed severe ADHD leads him to do things for laughs without considering the consequences, his OCD keeps him in constant fear of being contaminated by germs. He washes his hands in scalding water. He won't touch doorknobs or elevator buttons or handrails with his bare hands. He won't shake hands with people he meets and greets anymore, preferring to use a fist bump instead.

Mandel chronicles his childhood, adolescence, and adult life with an honest, though sometimes crude, approach. He details pranks he pulled on people that caused friendships to weaken because he didn't know when to stop. He discusses his seemingly haphazard rise to fame through stand-up comedy, dramatic television, feature films, a Saturday morning cartoon Bobby's World, and guest hosting on Regis and Kathie Lee. He describes his descending popularity after his own failed talk show before rising to the pinnacle of his success as the host of the popular television game show Deal or No Deal.

Some parts of Mandel's story made me laugh out loud; others made me feel embarrassed for him. It's an interesting look into the complicated life of a celebrity who craves attention, yet struggles with some of the most basic things in life. If you're offended by vulgarity and foul language, I wouldn't recommend this book. It's not rampant, but it's unnecessary and I was uncomfortable with it.

14. For One More Day by Mitch Albom

Charles "Chick" Benetto was at the end of his rope. The guilt he felt after the loss of his mother eight years earlier suffocated him until his alcoholic escape cost him his family, his job, and almost his life. His story, as told by a second party, reveals how one more day with his mother, the day he almost died, opened his eyes to her love for him and the lengths she went to protect him, in spite of his unreturned devotion to his absent father.

This is written as if it could have been a real experience; I had to double-check to make sure it was indeed fiction. It's a fast read, but one that will make you think about your relationship with your own mother, your father, your children.

15. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling

The final volume of the Harry Potter saga is just as thrilling as the first, second, third, etc. After Albus Dumbledore's death. Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to leave Hogwarts to search for and destroy the remaining Horcruxes containing parts of Lord Voldemort's soul. The Ministry of Magic falls to Voldemort's control and the wizarding world has new rules of order imposed on it. Only pure-bloods are safe: Mudbloods (wizards and witches born to Muggles) and Half-bloods (those born to a wizard and a Muggle) are under attack. Harry has become the number one enemy of the Ministry and everyone on Voldemort's side is searching for him, eager to be the one to turn him in to the evil lord.

When Harry and his friends return to Hogwarts to retrieve a Horcrux, a battle breaks out between the good forces of wizardry and the evil forces of Lord Voldemort. Some of Harry's friends from the Order of the Phoenix are killed, and as Harry finds out what he must do to end Voldemort's reign of terror, he offers himself as a final sacrifice. But Voldemort's plan does not go as he had hoped...

I was surprised by how drawn in I was to this series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I can't imagine reading through the whole series again, though, now knowing the outcomes of all the plot twists. I don't think it would hold the same "magic" as the first reading. I am considering watching the movies now.

Overall, I think the series would be okay for Caleb to read, but the last two or three books are quite dark. Also, as the books progress, probably because the characters age, Rowling is freer in using profanity. I think that was unnecessary, as she could have gotten the feeling across in other ways. If I let him read the first few books, I don't think it would be right to keep from reading the last ones, as the story is a powerful one. Thankfully he's not interested in reading them right now.

16. Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

In another work of non-fiction, Albom becomes reacquainted with his lifelong rabbi. Though he lives in another city and doesn't attend a synagogue regularly, Albom always returns once a year with his parents. His rabbi, who has known him almost his entire life, asks him suddenly to give his eulogy. After thinking it over, Albom agrees and begins getting to know his rabbi on a more personal level, visiting him once a month. To his surprise, the rabbi isn't near death and the visits stretch out over a long course of time. When the rabbi does start having serious issues with his health, Albom realizes how much his rabbi means to him and how much he's taught him about life and love and faith.

Another thread in the story follows Albom's relationship with a black preacher to a congregation of homeless people. At first this storyline seems completely out of place and it isn't until midway through the book that the connection is finally revealed.

I was disappointed with the book. It left me feeling empty. While Albom does make strides reclaiming some of his Jewish heritage and overcomes some of his prejudices, it's his lack of faith in Jesus Christ that is left wanting. The title of the book is Have a Little Faith; I wonder what he's having a little faith in.

Menu Plan Monday - March 1, 2010

Garlic Butter Shrimp and Mushroom Pasta, Caesar Salad

I'm leaving out the bread tonight since the pasta has plenty of carbs...

Dirty Rice, Green Beans, Carrots


Blackened Tilapia, Herb & Butter Rice, Steamed Broccoli

Soup and Sandwiches

The boys have been wanting tomato soup, so I'll make them some grilled cheese sandwiches to go with it. I'm really craving my friend Cheri's Jacked-Up Turkey Sandwich, so I'll be having that! In fact, I'm making a loaf of cranberry walnut bread today so I can eat those sandwiches a few times this week. (I'll post a pic and the recipe on my recipe blog later.)

Hot Dogs/Corn Dogs/Sandwiches

Our small group meets tonight, so we'll need to fix something quick.


Next week, Billy's planning to make chili (one last time before warmer weather sets in), and I want to make some more homemade pizza. We still need to make up our missed pizza dinner with the Chisholms, so maybe we can get that planned soon.

For more menu plan ideas, click here.