Wednesday, December 21, 2011

December 2011 Book List

26. Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah

Joy Candellaro is spending her first Christmas as a divorced woman. She always dreams of adventure, but she never goes in search of it - until her sister, who's now living with Joy's ex-husband, hand-delivers a wedding invitation and announces she's pregnant. Joy immediately leaves and finds herself at the airport.

Hope. That looks like just the place to get away from it all. She books a last-minute flight aboard a chartered plane and is on her way.

She never makes it. After the plane goes down, Joy finds herself walking away from the crash site and toward a new adventure. She wanders around until she finds a run-down lodge, run by a sad, lonely man and his young son. She imagines herself becoming a part of their life, and while Bobby seems to cling to her like she's a replacement for his recently deceased mother, Daniel barely notices her existence. As she heals from her heartbreak, she works to help them heal theirs in her limited time there.

I found myself feeling a range of emotions as I read this book. There's a huge plot twist about halfway through the book and I found myself wondering how things could ever be resolved. Unfortunately I can't say more without giving away important plot points...

If you get a chance to read this book, do it. And have some Kleenex handy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

November 2011 Book List

Well, this one is going to be short and sweet. I didn't finish reading anything this month. That doesn't mean I didn't try. In fact I tried two books...

The Man Who Broke into Auschwitz sounded promising, especially since I had recently finished reading Unbroken. I had the hardest time getting into that book! I have a rule for reading: If it hasn't grabbed me by page 50, it's not worth my time. I don't think I even made it to page 50...

Through My Eyes by Tim Tebow looked like it would be good, too. For the most part, it was - but I got bogged down a few times trying to read through the details of his college football games. After the first few games, I started skimming until I got back to "life", but there were just too many of them. By the time I needed to renew the book, someone else had it on hold so I had to turn it in.

For December, I decided to load my library bag with a few Christmas novels, but I've been so busy with things that I haven't had much time to read. I am in the middle of a good one though, so watch for the December book list post coming soon.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just Be Cos

We've had Netflix for over a year now, and I have to say it's one of the best decisions we made as far as entertainment goes. We had cable, but it was so overpriced, and you never knew when one of your favorite channels was going to be cut over pricing disputes. There's not much to watch on network TV most of the time, either. Yes, there are a few shows like The Biggest Loser and American Idol, but good shows the whole family can watch are few and far between.

With Netflix, we've been able to watch some of the old shows we used to love. The boys have watched Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, The Munsters, The Addams Family, and Flipper, as well as some of their more recent cartoon favorites.

A few months ago, we introduced them to The Cosby Show. They were already familiar with Bill Cosby, having watched Little Bill when they were much younger. They had also seen a few episodes of Fat Albert. After watching the first episode of The Cosby Show, they were hooked. They watch it almost daily now - sometimes during lunch, occasionally in the afternoon after they've finished with school, and usually an episode or two in the evenings (when BL and AI aren't on...). When they recently realized they were nearly finished with the series, they announced, "When we finish, we're going to start from the beginning again!"

Why aren't there ANY shows on anymore like The Cosby Show? It was great, family-friendly comedy that approached more controversial issues with a light, loving touch. There was always a lesson to be learned - and it revolved around respect for parents and love for family. Watch anything these days and inappropriate behavior is thrown in your face and the parents are made to look like idiots.

I will say that there are some sit-coms I like to watch, but they aren't anything I'd let my children watch. Dramas aren't any better. And most of the "reality" shows are too edgy for children to watch. My children, anyway.

Why can't there be a current show that is as uplifting and funny as "Cos"?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Slowing Down a Bit

I've gotten to the point where I really don't like to go places much. Maybe it's the traffic or the crowds. Maybe it's the price of gas. Maybe it's getting older. Maybe it's that our "busy days" are so long and so busy, they absolutely wear me out. Maybe it's a combination of some or all of it. I don't know why really, but I know I'm ready to slow down our weekly trips into Mesquite/Garland.

I checked the Forney library yesterday to see if it's comparable to our favorite library in Garland. It's not. Not by any means. There are two rows of books for elementary/junior high students: one row of non-fiction and one row of fiction. Still, I talked with the librarian about the possibility of getting a library card, but since we don't live inside the Forney school district, we'd have to drive out to our district, get a card from there, then get a TEX-Share Card so we can get things from other libraries in other places.

I was thinking about skipping it altogether, but Billy came up with a good idea. Get the cards through Crandall, then check the elementary school around the corner from us and see if we could use their library from time to time. It's worth a try! They'd have all the books we'd need, and they're literally right around the corner from us. I think we'll look into that next week. If they say yes, great. If they say no, that's fine, too. We don't always make it to the library each week anyway.

The other issue deals with grocery shopping. I love shopping at ALDI. They have great products (mostly) at low prices - lower than Wal-Mart, even. I can usually get out of there with a week's worth of groceries for less than $70. Sometimes I go a little over that; more often I go under it. The things I'm not so wild about there are their white bread (stale from day 1) and their produce. Some of it's okay, but most of it is packaged in bulk (which I won't use in time) or looks a little . . . old. I end up having to stop by Wal-Mart or Brookshire's to pick up bread, apples, lettuce, bell pepper, etc. A lot of what I buy at ALDI keeps for a long time. Billy made another recommendation: Go to ALDI once every two or three weeks and get the things I need that will keep. The other weeks, go to the nearby Wal-Mart or Brookshire's to get the fresher stuff. Problem solved.

Now I just need to work out a schedule of when we're going where. We went earlier this week to the library, but we didn't stay long. It was mostly to drop off some books and pick up a few others. Now that we'll be going less often, I'll need to check the boys' school topics in advance and make sure to be prepared for two weeks at a time instead of one. I guess we'll start our limited in-town time after next week.

I'll also have to get back to more detailed menu planning so I can buy what I need at ALDI and only have to get the produce and more frequent staples on our "off" weeks from somewhere else.

So there's my plan to slow down a bit. I hope to get the details worked out over the next few weeks so that I can actually implement it soon.

Update: I realized this morning (Thursday, Dec. 15) that a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that there's nowhere I really want to go. If I wanted to go somewhere, I'd feel a lot different about it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

October 2011 Book List

24. License to Pawn by Rick Harrison

If you've watched any of Pawn Stars on the History Channel, you know a lot of the day-to-day running of their store, but this book gives more insight into the lives of Rick, Old Man, Big Hoss, and Chumlee.

One of my favorite things from the book was learning how Rick gained his vast wealth of knowledge that makes him so interesting on the show. He may be a high school dropout (for health reasons mostly), but he loves to read and learn things the average person finds difficult.

I also have a new respect for Big Hoss and Chumlee after reading about the difficult lives they led for a while. They have made huge strides to be where they are now, and they're determined to not go back.


25. Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

This was my first experience with a Kristin Hannah novel, and it was a touching one. Firefly Lane follows the lives of two unlikely best friends from junior high school through college and beyond. One girl comes from a traditional family and hates that her mother wants to be involved in her life; the other lives with her drugged-out mother who frequently abandons her. They have their ups and downs, but one betrayal causes a division between them that seems like it'll never be bridged.

My few big complaints with the book were the author's style (run-ons, comma splices, etc.) and the fact that the book seemed to go on too long. A more minor complaint is the author's too-frequent use of dropping pop culture items into the storyline. Sometimes they fit, but after a while, it was annoying. It was kind of like someone name-dropping to impress...

Still, the last quarter of the book had me in tears. I don't mean a trickle here and there; I mean sobs and streams of tears and a running nose. If you read this book, which I highly recommend despite my complaints, have a full box of tissues nearby.

September 2011 Book List

23. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I can't say enough good things about this book. Hillenbrand did excellent, extensive research in her biographical study of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner-turned WWII airman whose plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. Weeks later, he and one fellow crewman washed up on a Japanese-controlled beach, where they were taken into captivity and later moved into POW camps. Just when you think things can't get any worse, they do.

While reading this book, I couldn't help thinking about my grandfather, who was a navigator in WWII. He flew missions all over the world. Thankfully, my grandmother plotted all his flights on a map, then later had it framed and displayed on a wall in her house. My daddy has that map now, and he's going to make a copy of it for me. Anyway, I wondered what type of plane he flew in, but I'm not sure anyone knows that. The war just wasn't talked about then like it is now. I never gave it much thought, but they didn't have all the technologically-advanced equipment that we have now. I wish I knew more about it...

It's not a fast read, but it's a good one. In fact, I bought my own copy, which a friend borrowed to read with her husband. They're thinking of getting their own copy as well. I also gave two copies as gifts. Yes, it's that good.

I sort of hope they make a movie about it, but it's going to have to be an extraordinary effort to stay as true to the book as it should be.

Weight Loss Revelation

I watched The Biggest Loser for a while. I've read some diet books and weight-loss blogs and articles. Still it's something I read in a Biggest Loser cookbook just the other day that has really sunk into my brain. I don't know why it's taken seeing/hearing that little tidbit so many times before it finally stuck, but I'm so glad it has.

Here it is: The best way to lose weight is to watch what you eat. Exercise is good, but if you don't put the unwanted calories in, you won't have to work them off! Duh!

I just need to change my thinking. If I want that chocolate chip cookie, just how much will it take to work it off? What about all those little bites of random bits here and there? Those add up, too.

So tonight we'll celebrate Thanksgiving one more time with leftovers: turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce; ham and sweet potato casserole; corn casserole and black olives; and pumpkin cake with spiced pumpkin pecan ice cream. I'll limit my portions of everything, but enjoy what I do eat. Then tomorrow, it's back to the portion control - and mindfulness of what I eat.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Texas Virtual Academy

The boys (and I) will start our new school year tomorrow. A teaching job never came available for me, so we're homeschooling again this year. Thankfully I found a program that takes a big load off me - Texas Virtual Academy (TXVA).

TXVA is an online public charter school. The boys will receive all their books and supplies (minus paper and pencils) next week sometime, and we'll be on our way! In the meantime, I'll be doing "Learning Coach" training and new family orientation, and they'll be testing in math and reading proficiency for the beginning of their year. (They'll test again at the end of the year and their progress will be measured.)

They each have a teacher who plans their lessons, conducts online classroom sessions, and grades their work. All I have to do is follow her plans and guide the boys through their lessons. The burden of planning and searching for curricula I'm happy with is no longer on me!

Jacob will study math, English/language arts, science, social studies, health, PE, art, and music.

Caleb will study math, English/language arts, science, social studies, health, PE, art, and Latin. He has music on his schedule, but I'm going to have it changed to Latin, which he'll study for the next 3 years if we stay with this program. (Jacob will start Latin when he reaches 6th grade.)

Since it's public school, the boys have to "attend" 180 days, and they're required to work approximately 6 hours a day on schoolwork. I will have to be diligent with recording their attendance and progress each day, but that's just something I'll need to work into our daily schedule.

It's going to be interesting to see how this works out. The boys are excited, but I'm not sure they're grasping the amount of work they'll be doing now. When I homeschooled them on my own, I taught the basics: math, English/language arts, science, and social studies. Now they'll have health, PE, art, and music/Latin thrown into the mix - things I never really felt much like pursuing on my own.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 2011 Book List

20. American Idol: The Untold Story by Richard Rushfield

As a big American Idol fan, when I saw this book prominently displayed in my library's "new" section, I snatched it right up. I wasn't sure if it was one of those "unofficial" tell-all books or if it was from a truly legitimate source (which it is). Rushfield, as a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, had full access not only to the creators of the hit phenomenon, but to the crew, the stars, and the contestants.

The book begins with a semi-interesting history of American Idol, introducing Simon Fuller, Nigel Lythgoe, and Simon Cowell. From there, the book follows a logical progression of the quickly-thrown-together first season, the second break-out season, all the way through to Simon's final season (season 10) - all the while highlighting the various forms of contestants that paraded through them.

Interviews with Idol semifinalists sheds a lot of light on the rigorous schedules the contestants must face and the bonds they form with their fellow competitors.

There's also a chapter devoted to dealing with the Idol-hater website, Vote for the Worst. Amid cries every year of conspiracies and faulty voting, VFTW also gets its share of the blame for great singers being sent home while the more mediocre one get to stick around week after week.

The judges and host are also highlighted: Simon Cowell's attitude, Randy Jackson's congeniality, and Paula Abdul's. . . incoherence. When Kara DioGuardi was introduced as a new judge, there was quite a rivalry, not just between Paula and Kara, but between the three original judges and the "freshman". After Paula's departure, Ellen Degeneres' stand-in (and stand-up) did nothing to help ratings in Simon's tenth and final season.

There's so much more here, as well. If you're an Idol fan, this is definitely a book worth reading.

21. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

The title of this book intrigued me every time I saw it, but I never picked it up to read the inside cover. After seeing the movie previews on TV, I decided I wanted to read it, but by then I had to wait to get it from the library. When I first put it on hold, I was somewhere in the low 30's in line for it. It was finally ready for me last week. Once I got started, it was extremely hard to put down.

Jacob Jankowski is an old, old man - somewhere in his 90's, but he can't really remember. He's living in a nursing home after falling and breaking a hip, and he's alone. A circus comes to town and sets up next to the nursing home, causing Jacob, a former circus vet, to remember his first stint as a circus worker - and the secret he's been keeping for over 70 years...

He is preparing to graduate from Cornell University with a veterinary science degree when tragedy strikes his family. In a stupor, he leaves school and jumps aboard a train - the Benzini Brothers Circus train. An old man takes pity on him and saves him from being tossed off. Before long, he's placed in charge of the care of the menagerie, a mix of horses, giraffes, big cats, an orangutan, and a chimp, among others. He is immediately drawn to the lovely Marlena, wife of August, a madman. And there the trouble begins...

I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie and seeing if they can do the book justice. It's on my Netflix queue, but they haven't released it into circulation yet. Once they do, it'll go to the top of my list!

22. Jeannie Out of the Bottle by Barbara Eden

I loved watching reruns of I Dream of Jeannie when I was growing up. I wish I could find some now, but we don't have cable and it's not on Netflix streaming. Maybe one day...

Barbara Eden is a breath of fresh air in the whirlwind mess of Hollywood lives. Though she's had plenty of heartache in her life, she's still a beautiful person inside and out. She hasn't become bitter or tried to drown her sorrows in drugs and alcohol. Instead, she tried her best to "rise above it", as her mother often told her when she was a young girl.

She shares her rise to fame before her role as "Jeannie", her work on that series, and how that one role has defined much of her life after the show ended. She doesn't shy away from detailing her romance with first husband Michael Ansara, or the traumatic events that led to their separation and divorce. She's also candid about a marriage she entered with blinders on and how she eventually came to her senses and escaped before something horrible happened. Her only son Matthew, the child she wanted for so long and loved so much, struggled with addiction for much of his life. Yet, through it all, she found a strength to go on - and love with a man who has stood by her during some of her darkest moments.

The thing that bothered me most was her frequent use of the term "Jeannie blink" when she wanted to fast forward or flash back to a different time than what she was writing about. Thankfully that was used mostly during the prologue and only a few other times throughout the book. I honestly don't know if I could've read it if she had kept it going any more. Other than that, it's a great book.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Lessons Learned (Hopefully)

Jacob has had quite an eventful week - and it's only Wednesday morning.

Lesson One
Sunday at church, he got the bright idea to stick his name tag on his bare leg. Maybe if he had peeled it off immediately, it wouldn't have been such a big deal. But he didn't try until Billy picked him up after church, and by then it was stuck and stuck good. He had to soak in the tub for a while, with a good covering of soap over the name tag, to get it to peel away. And even then, the sticky part still stuck. We tried rubbing alcohol to get it off, but it didn't. He's going to have to go around a few days with sticker residue stuck on his leg until it finally wears off.

He always likes to be "funny" with his name tag. I think he won't bother with it anymore. I asked him where he always puts his name tag to begin with, and he said, "My shirt." I told him I expected it to stay there every Sunday from now on.

Lesson Two
Last night he was too "lazy" to take his dirty clothes to the hamper in my bathroom, so he left them in a heap on his bedroom floor. He assured me he'd take care of it in the morning. When he woke up this morning, the first thing he said was, "There are ants all over my clothes from last night." I asked how he could see them since the boys' room is always pretty dim in the mornings. "They're obvious," he responded.

Not sure what I'd find, I eased in and tiptoed to the light pull on their fan. Before I turned the light on, I could see his white shirt was covered in ants. Big ants. Oh, no!

I sprayed an empty clothes basket with Raid, then did a quick spray on his clothes before dropping them in. I lightly sprayed the menagerie of books, MP3 players and headphones, and miscellaneous LEGOs, then took his clothes to dump in the washing machine for a quick, super hot wash. When I went back in the room, I checked around the window, the most likely place they'd be coming in. Nothing. I looked all around the baseboards and the ceiling/wall corners, but I didn't see any there either.

Now my stomach is in knots because now I have to look under the bunk beds. That entails taking Jacob's bottom mattress off, removing the support boards, and pulling out all the tubs of toys stored under there. I really hope I don't find any more ant-infested clothing! I have a fear there may be some ant-infested Webkinz, though, since they shove them between the bed and the wall at night. Other stuffed animals get bedded down there, too, but they usually don't come out again until I do my big cleaning.

Speaking of big cleaning, I'm afraid that's what I get to do today. Here goes...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Culinary School?

I've always enjoyed cooking, and I've toyed with the idea of going to culinary school for a few years. I never really looked into it until recently...

What got me started on the idea again is the book I'm currently reading: The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn. I'm just halfway through the book, but the things she's had to do as a student at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris have led me to rethink my dream.

Curious, I checked out the website for Le Cordon Bleu in Dallas and read through the course descriptions for Culinary Arts. The first two "Foundations" courses seem okay: terminology and organization, stocks and sauces, safe food handling, slicing and dicing, following recipes, soups, and cooking with vegetables, grains, and eggs. All that I can handle.

It's the third "Foundations" class that gets me squeamish: butchery and pork products (as in making sausage, etc.). That, I don't think I could handle. I'm not one for filleting fish or beheading chickens and rabbits, and I prefer to buy my meats already prepared, already ready for my seasoning and cooking.

There's a second option: Baking and Pastry Arts. That would be fun, but it's not what I'd like to focus on. Sweets are fine, but I prefer savory foods.

Tuition is another hang-up. While I don't expect it to be cheap, I don't want to spend $17,000+ on certification in something that I'm not sure I want to do professionally. This is more along the lines of something I'd like to learn for my own personal enjoyment. You know, like taking fun cooking classes.

As I was perusing the website, I found just the thing that interests me: MasterChef Non-Professional Cooking Classes. They offer a range of classes from basic culinary skills (including some of the lesser-desired classes like butchery), basic baking skills, seasonal/holiday cooking, and - my favorite - international cuisine! You can opt to take only a class or two that you like, for $99 each, or you can sign up for a whole series of 6 classes for just $479. (You can also take a year of 24 classes - all six classes in each of the four categories - for $1,499, but I'm not interested in that.)

The series that most interests me is "International Cuisine 101". The six classes feature foods from France, the Mediterranean, Italy, Asia, Spain (tapas), and Latin America. This is exactly what I'm looking for! The only catch is the class on French cooking is this Saturday - which is too soon for me. The other classes don't pick back up until January, then run one each month (except for May) until June. The classes are on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., so they wouldn't interfere with Billy's work or classes. Most Saturdays, we're home not doing much of anything. That might also be an incentive for my sister Lindsay, who also loves cooking and taking cooking classes, to come for those weekends and join me.

I'd love to know if the next French cooking class will be scheduled for July 2012. If so, that might be perfect timing for what I want to do. I'd be able to save up some money from birthday and Christmas to pay for it. I might even ask my family for money instead of gifts to help pay for it. That would be an excellent gift!

I'll do a little more research and see if I can find out about that French cooking class. I think it'd be my least favorite of the six, but I'd rather pay $479 and include it than pay $500 and take the classes individually.

Update: I take it back. I would like to try the French cuisine class. I just remembered the savory crepes from La Madeleine, as well as their potato gallete, seasoned, I think, with herbs de Provence. They're wonderful, and I would love to learn to make something similar! Bring on the French!

Friday, July 15, 2011

July 2011 Book List

15. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Lily Owens' mom died tragically when Lily was just 4 years old. Now 14 and at the breaking point in her relationship with her father, she leaves town with her caretaker, Rosaleen, who she has sprung from under police guard at the hospital. Guided by a picture of a black Virgin Mary glued to a piece of board with "Tiburon, SC" written on the back, Lily and Rosaleen head out to find out about Lily's mother's past.

This is a wonderful story about love and forgiveness, friendship and family. Though I wasn't sure about it when I decided to read it, I found it hard to put down. I've added the movie to my Netflix queue, and will hopefully get to watch it in a few weeks.

16. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Henry DeTamble has a genetic anomaly that causes him to time travel. That's how he meets Clare, his future wife, when she's just a child of six. When they meet in "real time", Henry hasn't met Clare yet; only his future self has. But Clare knows him and loves him and is thrilled to be "reunited" with him. In spite of the uncertainty of his life, of what may happen to him at any time, they marry and build a life together.

The story is told through alternating "his and hers" viewpoints, but each is clearly indicated, along with the time of each incident and the ages of both Henry and Clare.

This book was really confusing at first. I felt like I needed to take detailed notes in order to follow what was happening, but after I got used to the whole time travel idea, it wasn't so complicated anymore. Even through the initial difficulties, the story was so intriguing that I couldn't put the book down.

It is graphic in some places (a strong R rating, if not X at times), so be warned. But overall, the story is a good one. I've got this movie on my Netflix queue as well. I've heard it's good. My mom even said so, so I'm thinking maybe the movie didn't get quite as "steamy" as the book.

17. The Scarlet Thread by Francine Rivers

Sierra Madrid's world is turned upside down when her husband Alex takes a high-paying job in Los Angeles and moves the family there without any input from her. Holding on to her anger, she refuses to enjoy anything Alex tries to do to help her adjust to their new life. As they grow apart, they begin to hurt each other with their words and their actions. Shortly after a tragedy in Sierra's family, Alex announces that he's moving out and wants a divorce. As she fights him and deals with her hurt and anger, as well as the reactions of her children, she begins to find her way to Christ. Reading a journal written by one of her ancestors, she sees parallels between their distant lives.

At first I was a little disappointed with the book. It seemed to follow a standard Christian romance formula, and the characters seemed too predictable and boring. I stuck with it, though, and after a while, the characters became more real to me - so much so that I cried a few times during the story. It's not one of Rivers' best works, but it's still a good read.

18. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

Kathleen Flinn had long dreamed of attending Le Cordon Bleu, but it wasn't until she lost her job in London that she even considered it. Urged on by her boyfriend, she used her life savings to spend a year in Paris and attend the famed culinary school. She shares her life as a student in the Basic, Intermediate, and Superior levels of the school's culinary arts program, as well as her life as an American in Paris. It's masterfully written and hard to put down.

I've loved to cook for as long as I can remember, but when it came time for college, I didn't give culinary school the first thought. I wasn't passionate about it then, but I've toyed with the idea some over the last few years. Reading about Flinn's experiences at Le Cordon Bleu made me realize I don't want to go to a full-fledged culinary school. Not for a degree, anyway. Many of the things she had to do are things I don't want to experience. Also, I don't have the money to put into a full culinary arts degree program since I'm not wanting to make a career of cooking. Still, it made me think, and it gave me an idea...

19. Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

My only knowledge of this book came by seeing it on the "new" shelf at the library. The title and cover caught my eye, and after reading the description inside the book jacket, I stuffed it in my book bag for later.

Kavita, a poor Indian woman, gives birth to her second daughter in secret. Her husband Jasu took their first daughter away to be disposed of because she wasn't born a son. After grieving for her, she vows he will not do the same with her second one, whom she names Usha. With the help of her sister, she secretly travels to an orphanage in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and gives her up, hoping for a better life than she would get otherwise. She finally gives birth to a son, Vijay, and Kavita and Jasu pin their hopes on him.

Somer Thakkar, a pediatrician in California, is devastated after she learns she will never be able to have a child. Her husband Krishnan, an Indian, encourages her to consider adoption from an Indian orphanage his mother has recommended. She eventually agrees and they adopt Asha (Uhsa).

The story focuses on the lives of Kavita, Jasu, Vijay, Somer, Krishnan, Asha, and Krishnan's mother Sarla over a 25-year period as they deal with loss, guilt, uncertainty, anger, and, finally, love and understanding.

This book touched home in many ways. I have friends who are serving as missionaries in India. I have an Indian friend, a missionary, who, with his wife, will be returning to serve there after serving several years in the Philippines. I have friends who are in the adoption process, both domestic and international. Adoption has also played a major role in my own family. It was interesting to see the various perspectives surrounding adoption and to learn about the cultural influences on it.

I also felt some conflicting emotions regarding the characters in this novel. I initially felt like the one American woman was stereotyped as cold, distant, selfish, and weak, while the Indian characters were warm, open, and loving. Of course, things evened out over the course of the story, but it took a while.

Overall, it's a great read, and I can see someone making it into a movie.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On Wearing Shoes

When we're in our house, we don't wear shoes. There are several reasons for that. Mostly it's because we don't want to track in all the grossness from outside and spread it around our floors. Another reason would be the wear and tear they do on the carpet. It's inconvenient to put them on when I'm just staying inside. Also, it's just more comfortable to walk around in socks or bare feet.

I don't expect other people to take their shoes off when they come in my house, but if they feel comfortable enough to do that, I definitely don't mind. When I go into someone else's home, I follow their lead. If they're shoeless, I'll most likely slip mine off. If they're wearing shoes, I'll most likely keep mine on. If I'm with family, they almost always come off. It's that comfortable feeling again.

Yesterday, however, I was reminded (again) of why I do need to put on shoes when I'm working out. They do a good job of absorbing the shock from jumping jacks, jumping rope, high knees, and butt kicks (Jillian's terms). They also help out with balance when I'm standing on one leg, doing lunges, etc. Probably most importantly, they protect my feet from injury. I must've landed wrong yesterday when I was doing my Jillian workout. In bare feet. I feel bruised underneath/on the side of my little toe on my right foot. It's not swollen or visibly bruised, but it hurts. And I know if I had been wearing shoes during my workout, like I'm supposed to do, I wouldn't be complaining about that today.

I'll continue going barefoot in my house - or with socks on when the weather is cold - but from now on, when I'm preparing to do any sort of exercise, I will stop and take the little bit of time necessary to put on socks and shoes.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mid-Year Review

On January 1 of this year, I blogged about my goals for 2011. As I was thinking about this the other day, I knew I was falling short in most areas, if not all of them. I need to refresh my memory not only with what my goals for the year are but also why they were important to me at one time...

1. Bible Study - D
Sad to say, I've really dropped off here. I was doing well with my own personal study, but I had to change my focus in order to write some articles for a monthly (now bi-monthly, if at all...) e-magazine that a friend of mine was putting out. I'd be so intensely studying for the article that once I finished writing it, I'd "take a break". A lengthy break. A 3-week-long break before starting work on the next one. And now, since I haven't had to turn in an article since late May and I don't know when my next deadline will be, the break has turned into over a month now. I need to return to what I was studying before the magazine articles took my time...

2. Weight Loss - C
Well, the Christmas holidays set me off and I'm just now getting back to losing weight again. Of course, the weight I'm losing now is the 7 pounds I put back on... But it's going well right now. I've lost 5 pounds of that over the last month. I've been exercising more regularly. First it was through 20-minute segments of strength training and cardio, based in part on Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred. More recently it's been through swimming laps at the pool a few times each week. I'm noticing a difference! That's encouraging! Now if I can keep it up, I'm on a good track to lose some more. I'm dreading the plateau I always seem to hit, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve this time...

3. Cooking - A
While I haven't tried many recipes yet from Cooking Light or Now Eat This!, I have been more adventurous in my cooking. I chalk that up to a wonderful book called How to Cook Without a Book. Yes, I know. Funny title. But it's such a great book! Basically, you learn cooking techniques. Then you should be able to cook a wealth of recipes without having to rely on a recipe. I now make my own pasta sauce for a lot less than I was paying for jarred sauce - which I always tweaked anyway! I can make a frittata and I know how to vary ingredients based on what I want or what I have. (Of course, since those are baked, they'll be on our fall/winter rotation. I don't like to turn the oven on if I can help it during the spring/summer...) I've also learned about various pasta dishes that are quick, easy, and flavorful - and I can make it any way I like. Bring on the experimentation! Soon I hope to try a pasta/spinach/ricotta dish, maybe with some Italian sausage mixed in for protein and spice. I also want to try my hand at spanakopita (Greek phyllo pies with spinach and feta). I love what I learned and I'm excited to be able to use it! Yes, I'll still use some cookbooks and actual recipes for things, but I'm no longer afraid to jump out on my own and try something new.

4. Photography - F
I have done soooo little with this. I think it's mainly because I'm overwhelmed with photos on my computer that need to be edited, renamed, and filed into iPhoto. I won't say how many months worth, but I will admit that this is the worst I've let it pile up. I thought summer would be a great time to get it under control again, but it seems we're busier now than we were during the school year. Actually, it's just that when I think about it, I'm busy with something else. When I'm not busy and have some time to work on it, I don't think about it. I need to make a list.

5. Reading - C
Earlier this year, my reading started slow. I think a lot of that had to do with reading classics. While they aren't bad, and it's something I wanted to do, they are definitely a slower read for me. And the fact that I spent a lot of time watching six seasons of Grey's Anatomy on Netflix instead of reading makes for slower-growing book lists. I gave up on reading one classic a month in April, I believe. I had started rereading Lord of the Flies, a favorite from high school, but it just wasn't a great as I remembered. Then I got Decision Points from the library and needed to hurry with it because it was a popular book. I had been 11th in line for it when I placed a hold on it. It was a good book, but it took me a while to get through it. When I had the chance to get back to LOTF, I just wasn't interested anymore. Plus I have too many other library books on my shelf that aren't classics that I need to get read - that I want to read more than classics right now. I'll go back to my old habit of picking up a classic every once in a while... This month, I did read four books, though. I think my total for the year is currently 14...? I've got a long way to go to reach my goal of 36, which I still want to achieve. I can do it!

6. Blogging - D
January was good. February and following months, not so much. I still put some blame on Facebook. I've often come up with statuses for FB that would be better suited for a blog post, but I just shorten them and go on with life. I watched - and enjoyed - Biggest Loser and American Idol this year, but I never felt the need to blog about it. I did write about some articles from my current magazine subscriptions, but not many. And I've let my magazine perusing slide, too. I'm a few months back. I've decided to let Real Simple lapse when renewal comes up. I like it, but it's not one I use much. Cooking Light, on the other hand, has some really useful tips throughout, as well as some great-sounding recipes. Of course, I need to try those recipes instead of just looking at them... My 6-month gift subscription from Lindsay runs out with the August issue, but I decided it's one I want to keep around for at least another year. Last week I renewed it. Maybe I'll pick up blogging about some of that again. As for blogging about life, there's a lot I could do right now. But I feel the need to hold back sometimes. Maybe I'll blog and save the entries as drafts for posting a little later when there's some distance between me and the situations... (I tend to not share a lot of things with a lot of people... That's a big admittance right there.)

So, what does this mid-year review show me? Of the things I thought important at the beginning of the year, only some have held true. I need to decide which of these goals are most important and focus on them. The others can hold off a little longer. Priorities change for various reasons, and right now Bible study and health need to take a higher place in my life. And reading has just always been a pleasure I can't let go of. Writing is an important outlet for me that I've let slide. I need it, and I need to get back to it. I'll work in photography when I can, but I won't worry if I don't do all the things with it that I'd like to.

Monday, June 13, 2011

June 2011 Book List

11. Brainiac by Ken Jennings

If you're a fan of Jeopardy! - and maybe even if you aren't - you know who Ken Jennings is. He won 74 straight games in 2004, becoming the biggest winner in the history of the show.

Brainiac isn't just a memoir of Jennings' historical rise to fame. He includes much of the history of trivia (at times getting a little too trivial and long-winded about it), looks at the social world of trivia, and peppers the chapters with questions. (You'll find the answers neatly stated at the end of each chapter.)

While I liked learning some of the history of trivia and finding out about the various degrees of trivia competitions across the U.S., I was more interested in Jennings' preparation for the show and his experience on it. I never imagined the security details in place to prevent another quiz show scandal like the ones in the '50's. It was also interesting to read his take on the way he was treated backstage by his competitors.

Jennings' quirky sense of humor is present throughout the book, and I often found myself chuckling or downright laughing at his jokes and snide comments. He's a guy I'd like to have a conversation with!

This is a must-read for trivia-minded people.

12. With Love and Laughter, John Ritter by Amy Yasbeck

I don't remember which night Eight Simple Rules... came on, but we always watched it. I do remember feeling shocked when I heard that John Ritter had died. And I remember feeling sad when Eight Simple Rules... wrote in his death, then ended. He had always seemed like a fun, happy guy.

Reading about Ritter's life, through the eyes of his widow Amy Yasbeck, confirmed my ideas about him. He grew up loving making people laugh - and he had quite the knack for physical comedy, as was evidenced (though a bit much...) on Three's Company. Two things made a big impression on me. First, because of his love for his family and his desire for them to know that love, he put them first. Sure, there were instances when he did take a little time out from family outings to sign an autograph or pose for a quick photo, but his kids always knew he put them first. Second, regardless of his huge success, he stayed humble. He loved his fans and was always wanting to make people laugh. His ego never took over.

Though I didn't recognize Yasbeck's name, once I read her story, interwoven with Ritter's, I realized I had seen her act in many things. Mel Brooks' Robin Hood: Men in Tights is probably where I knew her best, though she did star opposite Ritter in Problem Child and Problem Child 2, and had a part in Pretty Woman, as well as other movies and TV shows. (She is also well-known for her role on Wings, but I never watched that show. Now that's it's on Netflix, maybe I should give it a try...) Yasbeck's strong Catholic upbringing is evident throughout the book, but I never saw a mention of any religious leanings of Ritter's.

Yasbeck goes into some detail about aortic dissection, which was the cause of Ritter's untimely death in 2003. The media inaccurately portrayed his condition as undetectable. Unfortunately I don't remember hearing much about it after that. Just as others have taken up causes to educate the public about diseases and health conditions that have claimed the lives of loved ones, Yasbeck has made Familial Aortic Aneurysm and Dissection her cause. It has helped save lives, including that of Ritter's younger brother.

This was a quick read - funny and sad, informative on so many levels. And even after 8 years, I find myself still missing him.

13. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I'm somewhat of a Julia Roberts fan, so when I saw she had made this movie, I wanted to read the book first.

While Gilbert and I are not like-minded politically or religiously, I did enjoy her writing style. I liked reading about her time in Italy (somewhere I've always wanted to go, especially since I'm Italian...), India, and Indonesia. My favorite parts were about the people she met.

As for her search for balance and "finding God", I found much of it tedious. I think my least favorite section was on India, where she spent her entire four months in an ashram studying under an absentee guru. At times I was tempted to put the book down and forget it, but I wanted to get on to Indonesia and see what she experienced there, which was more interesting.

Overall it was an okay book. Not one I'd want on my own shelf, and not one that I'd really recommend to anyone - especially someone who isn't a Christian. (I'd hate for them to think I, in any way, condone her search for spirituality.) Then again, I'd find it hard to recommend to a Christian, too, just because so much of what she believes is contradictory.

And now that I've finished the book the movie is no longer streaming on Netflix. (I rarely see movies when they're showing at the theater.) I remember thinking as I was reading that it would be difficult to make this into a great movie. Apparently critics agreed. My youngest sister and my mother-in-law both said they weren't impressed with it. Lindsay only enjoyed seeing all the Italian food; Ginny didn't watch much of the movie at all because she got bored with it. I'm not going to waste my time ordering it from Netflix to watch at home. If they put it on streaming again, I might give it a try, but most likely I won't.

14. Gather Together in my Name by Maya Angelou

Earlier this year, I finally read the highly acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, part one of Maya Angelou's autobiography. It left me wanting to know more.

Gather Together in my Name is the second part, covering 3 years - the late teens - of Angelou's life. So much happened during her childhood, and so much more during her late teen years, that it's hard to imagine the full, revered life she would come to have.

This book picks up where Caged Bird left off, with Angelou (then known as "Rita" Johnson) trying to make ends meet for herself and her infant son. She sees herself as big and ugly, and she has such a desire to be loved and taken care of that she falls into bad situations with tough characters. Somehow she always lands on her feet, bruised and scarred, but with a greater determination to make things work out rather than laying down and dying to her dreams.

As Gather Together ends, Angelou is once again at the bottom of the ladder, having made a (hopefully) wise decision to return with her young son to her mother's house, even though it's full of denial and sadness. Now I have an urge to read the third part. I know the end of the story - the fame and success and honor she's attained. The amazing part is her journey there.

I would definitely recommend I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Gather Together in my Name, but be warned that a lot of the content is seedy and, at times, graphic.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

May 2011 Book List

9. Decision Points by George W. Bush

I'd been wanting to read this book ever since I heard it was coming out, so as soon as I knew my library had it, I put it on hold. It took a while before it was finally my turn, but it was definitely worth waiting for.

Decision Points is not a full-scale autobiography, but rather a presidential memoir of the key decision points that shaped George W. Bush's presidency - and the key decisions in his life that led up to it. He shares experiences with his father, former President George H. W. Bush, and with his mother, Barbara - which made me want to read her autobiography as well. (I've started it twice, but it's so long, I ended up putting it down both times. Maybe the third time, whenever that will be..., will be the charm.) He also goes into detail about the importance of family through his relationships with wife Laura, daughters Jenna and Barbara, and others in his extended family. He's quick-witted and humorous, and that comes through in his writing.

It was very timely that I happened to be reading about his war policy toward Afghanistan when news came that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Reading the background information helped put things into perspective - many years after the fact. Events and reasoning get cloudy and forgotten, but this book cleared things up. I felt immensely proud that George W. Bush had been my president.

At times, I felt a little bogged down by so much information in areas that didn't seem so important to me. Then again, I'm not politically-minded at all, so it's to be expected. It's not a fast read; it took me about 5 weeks to finish it. Overall the book was well-written and informative.

10. Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle by Ann B. Ross

It was time again for another guilty pleasure. I needed a quick, light read, and Miss Julia books always fit that bill.

This time, Miss Julie is taking care of Hazel Marie, waiting for her to give birth to her twins. In the meantime, she's promised Sam that she won't get involved in anyone else's business - which always gets her into some crazy predicament. Unfortunately a dead body is found in a neighbor's toolshed - with a blank check of Miss Julia's in his pocket. Now it's her business too, and with Sam and Mr. Pickens out of town, she decides it's time to take matters into her own hands. And to complicate matters, Hazel Marie goes into labor during a blizzard and it's up to Miss Julia, Lillian, and Etta Mae to deliver the babies. The usual Miss Julia hilarity follows, complete with hair-brained schemes, misunderstandings, and happy endings.

When I read these books, I like to picture the characters as if they're being played in a movie. Here's my cast: Miss Julia - Shirley McClaine; Sam Murdoch - Hal Holbrook; Lillian - Cicely Tyson; Hazel Marie - Rene Zellwegger. I'm not fixed on the others yet, but if you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: May 30

This is going to be an easy week! The boys are out of town, and Billy and I have coupons/gift cards for a few free meals here and there! I'll cook one night because I have some mushrooms I need to use, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of leftovers to get us through the rest of the week.

Monday
FREE Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad from Chick-Fil-A (calendar coupon)

Tuesday
FREE dinner at Corner Bakery (gift card from Christmas from Billy's boss)

Wednesday
Pasta with Garlic Butter Mushrooms
Caesar Salad

Thursday
???

We need to go by Costco for a few things, so I'm thinking I might want to eat out at La Madeleine...!

Friday
leftovers, maybe with a little grilled chicken tossed in...

Saturday
sandwiches

We'll be meeting and lunching at Cracker Barrel to pick up the boys, so supper will be light.

Sunday
sandwiches

Our church is holding its first of three summer fun family nights. This night we'll be entertained by a ventriloquist and his troop of crazy puppets. Then we'll have a fellowship afterward with lemonade and cookies. We'll need something a little more substantial when we get home!

Next week we have a fairly easy summer schedule with just one day out, so I'll plan on cooking more next week. I've got several things in mind I want to try: pasta with spinach and ricotta, and Fiesta Rice with Chicken (a recipe I'm noodling over in my mind...); as well as some family favorites: a breakfast supper, and spaghetti with meatballs.

Green Frozen Treats

(Green, as in environmentally friendly - but color could work, too!)

Billy and the boys love to snack on popsicles during the summer, and it seems I have to buy a new bag of them every other week. The plastic sleeves make a mess everywhere, and I usually end up with sticky drips on the floor between the snack bar and the trash can.

A few weeks ago, the boys saw a big bin full of mesh bags of popsicles at the grocery store and their cravings began. Last year, it seemed every bag I touched had sticky popsicle residue on it. I was in no mood to wander around the store with sticky hands, so I put the boys off, telling them we'd get some later. Then I remembered the plastic popsicle molds we used to have a long time ago. In our many moves, they'd been lost or misplaced, or maybe I sold them in a garage sale or threw them out. I was on a new mission.

I spent about $6 on three sets of popsicle molds at Wal-Mart, enough to make 12 popsicles at a time - and they're a perfect fit inside the freezer door!

We started out making ice pops from tropical punch-flavored Kool-Aid, which the boys love. They were a hit!

Next we tried strawberry yogurt. (Jacob's big thing lately has been putting his yogurt containers in the freezer, but then he struggles with digging the frozen yogurt out with a spoon. He loves the taste, but after a while he loses interest and sticks it back in the freezer. I've ended up throwing a few away because he never finished it or he left one on the counter to thaw and forgot about it...) These were great! Now the boys can have easy-to-eat frozen yogurt on a stick in the flavor(s) of their choosing.

I can also eat them because they're only 50 calories each. I've gotten so used to eating plain fat-free yogurt with homemade granola for breakfast every morning that I find the flavored yogurts too sweet. But this is the perfect amount - and it's more like an small ice cream bar.

We've also talked about freezing fruit or chocolate chips in with the yogurt or making pudding pops. I think the boys are eager to try banana chunks in chocolate pudding or banana cream pie-flavored yogurt. They're also looking forward to lemonade pops and some made from different fruit juices. I want to try watermelon! We're also considering filling the molds with homemade ice cream and seeing how they freeze up. We've got plenty of options to carry us through the summer!

We're reducing our trash by not having to throw away those troublesome plastic sleeves or the mesh bags - and we're reusing our popsicle molds on an almost daily basis. Now that's $6 well spent!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: May 23

Last week's menu got changed up some (as usual), and I ended up cooking quite a bit over the weekend - which is very unusual! Saturday night we had blackened tilapia, scampi-flavored pasta (Lipton/Knorr package mix), and steamed broccoli. Sunday we trekked out to a nearby farmers market and bought some delicious fresh veggies. I ended up cooking quite a bit for supper: sausage with fried cabbage and onions, cornbread, purple hull peas, creamed corn, and stir-fried/steamed zucchini and summer squash, served with fresh sliced tomatoes and bread & butter pickles (which we also bought from the farmers market). It was delicious - and we have leftovers!!!

Since I did so much cooking over the weekend - and since the boys have testing three days this week - it's going to be a fairly easy one...

Monday
Peperoncini Roast with tortillas
Caesar salad

Tuesday
scrambled eggs
grits
bacon
toast

Wednesday
leftovers

Thursday
leftovers
mac & cheese for the boys

Friday
out

Saturday
chili cheese corn dogs/hot dogs
It's home team night...

Sunday
???
I'm not sure what's going on with us and the boys and grandparents for the weekend/next week... Guess I need to find something out.

I'm looking forward to an easy week. It's been a while!

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

Monday, May 16, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: May 16

I never got around to planning my menu for this week before I went to the grocery store last Friday, so I tried to wing it. I didn't do too badly, but we seem to be eating a lot of sausage this week...

Monday
Tuscan Sausage Pasta
Caesar salad

Tuesday
soft tacos
chips, salsa, & guacamole

Wednesday
breakfast burritos

Thursday
blackened tilapia
rice pilaf
broccoli

Friday
leftover buffet

Saturday
Peperoncini Roast
creamed corn
salad

Sunday
leftover Peperoncini Roast sandwiches (on toasted hamburger buns with some melted provolone...)

Now that AWANA is over for the summer, I have to start planning meals for one more night. We might just continue with sandwich night on Sundays. As much as I like to cook, I don't want to do it all the time.

So, there's Italian sausage Monday night and breakfast sausage in Wednesday's burritos. I'm also planning to have some Sausage with Fried Cabbage and Onions one night next week... Then I think we'll have some chicken.

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lost: Inspiration

One of my goals for this year was to blog more about life in general instead of playing the meme game so often. I did a little of that, but I seem to have fallen off that horse in March or April. I don't know why. Life didn't get any busier than normal. I think I just lost my inspiration.

I've also dropped off quite a bit in my reading. By this time last year, I had read more than 20 books. I'm currently reading book #9. It was Lord of the Flies, my classic for April. But I got George W. Bush's Decision Points from the waiting list at the library, so I had to focus on it. I put LOTF away, lost interest, and returned it to the library. I also lost my interest in reading one classic a month. I just want to read what strikes my fancy, when it strikes my fancy. I'm still reading Decision Points. It's a slower read for me than most books - non-fiction usually is - but I'm really enjoying it. I'm also finding it very timely, what with Osama bin Laden's recent death.

Another area I've lost inspiration: photography. I WANT to take pictures, but I just haven't taken the time to do it. What I want to photograph is hard with the boys in tow. I haven't participated in the weekly Photo Friday meme in months. I haven't gotten back to my Project 52 since I rethought my angle two months ago. I found my new angle, but I haven't done anything since. I've also basically quit participating in a Facebook photography challenge group.

Maybe I just need to finish out this school year with the boys. We have just over a week left. Maybe then I can find some new inspiration.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: May 9

Last night, my next-door neighbor sent over a paper sack with a few big handfuls of serrano peppers inside. I've never cooked with them, only jalapenos, but I did read that they're hotter. I have a plan to work some of them into one of our meals this week, but I want to do something different with the others... I'm thinking about stuffing some with mozzarella cheese, coating them with Panko bread crumbs, and baking them until they're tender. Kind of like jalapeno poppers, but smaller and hotter. Am I asking for trouble on this? :o)

This week will be easy since we'll be heading out to see family for the weekend: two nights of cooking, one night of leftovers, and one night of whatever you can find. :o)

Monday
new recipe! Szechwan Chicken Fried Rice w/ Peanuts

Tuesday
Tony Chachere's Dirty Rice
steamed broccoli

Yeah, I didn't get around to this over the weekend...

Wednesday
Chicken Enchiladas (from the freezer) with a fresh-made cheesy serrano sour cream sauce
mac & cheese or hot dogs for the boys

Thursday
leftovers

Friday
We'll probably grab a bite to eat on the way out.

Saturday
We'll be having our belated Mother's Day weekend with Billy's and my parents at a cookout. And my sister Melissa and her friend Stacy will be cooking us a Caramel Apple Crisp over coals in a Dutch oven for dessert. Yum!

Sunday
sandwich night - After a day of traveling, I'm not going to feel like cooking. At all.

Now I need to get to work planning next week's menu so I'll be ready for Friday's grocery shopping. I have a few ideas...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: May 2


I'm getting off to a slow start this week, but a pressing deadline has come and gone and I'm ready to get back into my routine.

This week's menu has a little carried over from last week's because of some sudden changes of plans. The boys were invited to go to a pizza/play restaurant with a neighbor for his birthday, so Billy and I ate light instead of cooking. Then I was busy with mopping and vacuuming the next day and didn't feel like cooking. Oh, and Billy and I had a quick project to finish up that we had forgotten about the night before - when the boys were gone...

Monday
Pepperoni Pasta
garden salad

(This is the recipe Jacob found in a kids' cookbook. We made it, but I tweaked it with my own sauce recipe and a few ingredient substitutions. It was surprisingly good, especially considering I'm not a fan of pepperoni. Yeah, I know I'm Italian...)

Tuesday
pancake night
(regular for Billy, blueberry for me, and chocolate chocolate chip for the boys)

Wednesday
leftovers

Thursday - Cinco de Mayo
Black Bean Quesadillas
chips with guacamole and salsa

Friday
Southwestern Cornbread Salad

Saturday
Tony Chachere's Dirty Rice
salad

Sunday - Mother's Day
OUT!

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

Monday, April 25, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: April 25

As evidenced by last week's menu changes, my mid-week grocery shopping interferes with planning a menu every Monday. Everything from Wednesday through Saturday changed - and much of it is being carried over to this week. However, this week's busy day will be Friday, so I'm prepared to plan through Sunday. Next week, who knows?

(New recipes are in italics.)

Monday
Smoked Sausage with Fried Cabbage and Onions
Glazed Carrots
Cornbread

Tuesday
Hot Dogs/Corn Dogs - It's Billy's late night.

Wednesday
Pepperoni Pasta (a recipe Jacob found in a kids' cookbook, which will be modified)
Garden Salad

Thursday
Tony Chachere's Dirty Rice (best box mix EVER!)
Green Beans
Garden Salad

Friday
leftovers

Saturday
sandwiches - home team night

Sunday
AWANA Picnic in the Park (hot dogs, chips, etc.)

For more menu inspiration, check out these other menu plans

Monday, April 18, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: April 18

Yeah, I know it's been a while since I posted a menu plan. Now that our schedule has changed and we're busy (including grocery shopping) on Wednesdays instead of Fridays, my Monday-Sunday meal planning is off. Now I typically plan Wednesday-Tuesday. I'm considering changing my Menu Plan Monday to What's Cookin' Wednesday... But for now, here's my Menu Plan Monday for as far as I can think to make it. (New recipes are in italics.)

Monday
Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad

Tuesday, National Garlic Day
Pasta with Chicken & Veggies
Tonight's veggie and seasoning selections: broccoli, mushrooms, garlic, and red pepper flakes

Wednesday
breakfast burritos
BBQ chicken take-and-bake pizza from ALDI

Thursday
Sausage with Fried Cabbage
Cornbread
The boys ate mac & cheese; Billy and I ate leftover pasta.

Friday
leftover buffet
Taco Layer Dip

Saturday
Tony Chachere's Dirty Rice Mix
green beans
leftover Taco Layer Dip

Easter Sunday
Out! We'll have a light lunch at home in preparation for a heavier evening meal - and going out on Easter Sunday night (for us) has proven to be quite a lonely choice. The restaurants we've been to have been virtually empty. :o)

Well, I was able to plan for a week this time. Last week was nearly impossible, and I never got around to posting my partial MPM post... We'll see how this goes.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 2011 Book List

8. The 13th Hour by Richard Doetsch

Nick Quinn has been wrongfully arrested for the murder of his wife. While he waits in the interrogation room for his lawyer, a mysterious stranger enters and gives him a letter and a pocket watch, with the instructions not to lose either one. He has been given the ability to go back in time, one hour at a time for 12 hours, to save his wife's life.

As he searches for answers to saving his wife' life, he learns that time is a precious gift, not to be wasted. He vows to make the most of every moment with his wife - if he can save her. He also learns that one action can set into motion a chain of events causing devastating consequences for those he loves - and for hundreds of strangers as well. Can he find the answer, or will time run out?

This is such an intriguing story! It kept me on my toes. Just when I thought I had figured something out, I was thrown for a loop with a major plot twist. Doetsch kept me guessing to the end - and left open the possibility of a sequel.

One thing that drew me to this book was that it ties in with what our small group from church discussed one night: If you could go back and change one particular thing in your life, would you? And if so, what would it be? What consequences would it have erased, and what would it have possibly caused? Although it's not a possibility, it does make you think.

I've added this to my list of 5-star books for when friends ask me for recommendations.

---------------------------------

Currently Reading:
9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding Decision Points by George W. Bush

Monday, March 28, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: March 28

Our schedule has been different the last month or so, and that, combined with spring break two weeks ago, has totally messed up my regular menu planning routine. With the higher cost of gasoline, and my interest in a knitting group at church, our new errand day is now Wednesday. That means grocery shopping on Wednesday instead of Friday. That means I need to plan my menu differently. That also means that I need to reset my mental organizer so I can actually plan a menu and grocery shop more efficiently than I have been doing the last few weeks. :oP

I did make two new things last week: a frittata with sausage, onions, and peppers on Wednesday and homemade pasta sauce on Friday. Both were big hits! And both are from a wonderful library book I'm reading: How to Cook Without a Book. The basic idea is to learn a few techniques and vary them to cook a wide range of gourmet (or basic) foods - without having to rely on cookbooks, recipe cards, etc. It's a great reference book, so I'm considering ordering it for my own personal library.

The frittata will be a new fall/winter dish since it's baked in the oven. What I love about this is the wide variety of fillings to choose from. I can use whatever is on hand, or I can plan for something a little more extravagant - like the bacon, spinach, and feta I'm dying to try.

The homemade pasta sauce will be a year-round staple. Billy loved it (said it was the best he's ever had) and nearly begged to have it again really soon. (Love that he loves it!!) It's something else that I can vary with ingredients on hand. My favorite part is that a 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes only costs 25 cents (from ALDI), as opposed to a jar of Prego for $2 or so. I always doctor what's in the jar anyway, so making my own sauce took the same amount of effort and time - but saved me soooo much money in the long run. (Well, about $1.75, but it adds up!) I can make the sauce with meat or mushrooms, add whatever veggies I want, season it differently for different uses (spaghetti, lasagna, or pizza), etc. (We like our sauce a little on the sweet side, but since I add sweet Italian sausage to my lasagna, it doesn't need to be as sweet. Pizza sauce can be plainer since most of the flavor comes from the toppings.)

Here is the plan for this week: (New recipes are in italics.)

Monday
BBQ chicken tenders
Smoky Potato Pancakes (modified, from the Jan/Feb issue of Cooking Light magazine)
green beans

Tuesday
baked potatoes with the works
green salad

Wednesday
grits
bacon
scrambled eggs
toast

Thursday
grilled pork chops
Butternut Squash Risotto (from a box...)
green salad

Friday
Camp food! Billy will be taking the boys to a Dads & Dudes camp out at a local Christian camp/ranch, and I'll be joining the seminary wives for part of a weekend retreat in the opposite direction.

Saturday
??? I know I'll be too tired to cook and clean up. We'll either have sandwiches or order pizza or Chinese take-out.

Sunday
AWANA Pizza Party

For more menu plans, check out No comments: Links to this post

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 2011 Book List

5. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Married, but with an absent husband, Hester Prynne finds passion with another man, resulting in the birth of a baby girl, Pearl. Shortly after Pearl's birth, Hester stands in front of the townspeople, with a bold letter A embroidered on her bodice to shame her for her part in adultery. As she looks out at the crowd, she sees her husband. He meets with her later in the prison and tells her he's changed his name and won't interfere with her life anymore. However he is curious and makes it his mission to discover the man she refuses to name as her lover. For seven long years, Hester, always wearing her scarlet letter, and Pearl are ostracized. Her husband has discovered the secret offender, and he secretly torments him. Finally Hester realizes what's going on and vows to put an end to things, but they don't turn out the way she planned.

This book was easier to read than Emma (from January), but it was still difficult because of the language. I found myself mentally summarizing what each chapter was about, based on a technique I read about several years ago in The Well-Educated Mind. Of course, since the chapters had titles instead of just numbers, it was easier to recall what happened in each one.

I enjoyed this book and often found it hard to put down. Earlier I saw a recent novel exploring a current author's creation of Hester's earlier life. I might see if I can find it again and add it to my ever-growing stack of books.

6. Wally's World: Life With Wally the Wonder Dog by Marsha Boulton

Yes, another animal book. I'm a sucker for a good animal story, and this one was superb. The start was a little slow, with the author going into detail about all the dogs she had previously owned, from childhood until she got Wally. I kept wondering if she'd ever get to him. Once she did, though, the story flowed beautifully. Wally led quite a life, full of love, play, and pain. From his experiences living on a farm to staying in 4-star hotels, and everything in between, Wally's world was fun. He made sure of it.

While I do rate this book highly, I was able to put it down for days at a time to do or read something else, especially in the beginning. But I always came back to it because I wanted to know what Wally was up to next - and there was always something to laugh about.

7. Quesadillas by Donna Kelly

Yes, I read a cookbook. Actually I peruse cookbooks frequently, but this is one I actually read from cover to cover.

I make quesadillas often, but they're usually the same: black beans with corn and a few other varying ingredients, based on what I have on hand. This book inspired me to put all sorts of things between flour tortillas and "glue" them together with various cheeses. Then there was the dessert section... YUM!

While it's not a cookbook I feel I need to have on my shelf, it did serve as a springboard for all sorts of creative ideas. I made BBQ chicken quesadillas, and BLT quesadillas are not far away. I really want to try a few of the dessert ones, too, but I feel like I need to justify eating them. I'm trying to watch my fat and sugar intake (again!), and tasty desserts aren't conducive to success in that area...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Cheesecake Blunder

I love cheesecake and have always wanted to learn to make one. Last Thanksgiving, among the many desserts were a cheesecake and a sweet potato pie. I couldn't choose one or the other, so I put a thin slice of each on my plate. And I ate them together. What a smooth blend of flavors! I immediately wanted to make my own sweet potato cheesecake.

Obstacle number one was easily overcome. Billy's mom had a springform pan that she never used, so she gave it to me.

Obstacle number two was easily overcome after a little thought. With two Christmas parties coming up, which one would I make the sweet potato cheesecake for? When the clipboard for the Sunday school class party was passed around the next week, I saw several people had already signed up for desserts. That worked perfectly, because I could sign up for something else and save my cheesecake for a smaller group of guinea pigs friends - my home team.

I scoured the internet looking for recipes for sweet potato cheesecakes. I read reviews. I studied the directions on the ones that sounded scrumptious. I finally chose the one for me. I found all the ingredients I needed at my friendly "neighborhood" ALDI store (20 minutes away, since there's not one in my little part of the pasture). I was ready!

The day arrived. I started that morning cooking my sweet potatoes, crushing cookies for my crust, and rereading the directions several times to be sure I didn't mess anything up. Oh, and I did plenty of sampling the mixture to make sure the taste was going to be good.

I'm glad I started in the morning, because it was an all-day affair. The prep work, the cleaning, the baking, the cleaning, the chilling, the cleaning. Oh, and the cleaning! I messed up soooo many dishes and utensils! I'm typically a neat cook, and this was nowhere near my norm.

Finally, about two hours before time to leave for our party, I put the caramelized pecan topping on my beautiful masterpiece and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Just before time to leave, I gently set it on the base of my cake carrier and sprung the pan. It was standing! The topping was still a little oozy, dribbling slightly down the sides, but it was beautiful.

I carefully balanced my work of art on my lap as we made our way through heavy holiday traffic. When we got to the church, I took it inside and took the lid off to check it once more before I put it in the refrigerator to chill a little more. I was so excited about how beautifully gourmet it looked. I only gave it about 20 minutes in the 'fridge before I just had to set it out on the dessert table and bedazzle everyone who saw it.

After a time of chatting and eating our meal, it was dessert time. Time to cut the (cheese)cake. I made the first cut and it wiggled a little. Hmmmm... I made the second cut and slid out the first slice. It fell. Another slice out. The center of the whole cheesecake fell. My heart fell. My face fell. I hoped and prayed it wasn't still "raw" in the middle.

Everyone raved about the flavor, which really was good. Still, the texture left a lot to be desired. I worried that someone - everyone - would get sick from the eggs that possibly hadn't thoroughly cooked. I made sure I ate plenty so I would suffer right along with the others.

When we got home with about half the cheesecake left drooping all over the place, I couldn't bear to throw it out. I had worked so hard and had such high hopes that my first cheesecake would be perfect and talked about for years to come. (Well, the second part is most likely true, though not for reasons I like...) I made room for it in the refrigerator with the intention of taking care of it the next day.

After Sunday lunch, I took the cheesecake out, curious about what might have happened to it overnight. It looked firm, like a cheesecake should be. It looked really tasty, regardless of the mess it had made all over the plate. I braved a bite. Wow! It was delicious! The texture was perfect, and the flavors had time to blend together better. What a difference a longer refrigeration time had made! I was belatedly impressed - as well as encouraged to attempt another cheesecake (which I haven't done yet...).

As I thought back over the last few days, I grabbed my recipe and read over it again. Had I missed instructions about refrigeration times? Did it say that I should've made the cheesecake a day earlier? Nope. Nothing of the sort. Why not? Why take for granted that anyone who's making a cheesecake - especially a first-timer! - should know those things?

I decided to check my local library and see if I could find any sort of cheesecake guide book. I happened upon The Ultimate Cheesecake Cookbook by Joey Reynolds and Myra Chanin, which looked promising. Once I got home with it, I put it on my library book shelf, where it sat a few weeks until today. I found that very bit of advice in "Chapter 4: Twenty-Three Tips for Making Perfectly Baked Cheesecakes Every Time". It's under the bold heading "5. Never Bake Cheesecakes at the Last Minute". It goes on to say that they should be baked about two days early and "allowed to mellow before serving".

I wonder what other wonderfully necessary tips I'll learn as I keep reading... Then I plan to make another cheesecake. I just need to pick my occasion.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: February 28

Yes, I know. I'm a day late. Again.

I hard the hardest time planning my menu for this week. Uninspired? Not so much as a mental block that suddenly lifted overnight. I made a quick trip to Brookshire's today to pick up a few sale items, and now I have something for the week, including a new recipe to try.

Monday
Well... I was going to make Shrimp Alfredo with Broccoli and Mushrooms and Caesar Salad. But... I thawed out chicken instead of the shrimp. Instead of going ahead with Chicken Alfredo, I decided to hold off and do something totally different.

I stir-fried the chicken with some olive oil and some Asian seasoning, then I tossed in some sliced onion, carrot matchsticks, broccoli florets, and fresh mushrooms. After those had cooked a little, I added some teriyaki sesame sauce I had bought at ALDI during their Asian food week. I served it over some leftover steamed rice from our fried rice a few nights earlier. It was a hit!

Tuesday
hot dogs
mac & cheese
It was National Pancake Day at IHOP, and I took the boys for brunch. Not only was that my breakfast and my lunch, but it's most likely going to be my supper, too! Well, I'll probably eat some granola and yogurt... The boys will be hungry, though.

Wednesday
Shrimp Alfredo with Broccoli
Caesar Salad
Italian Herb Bread
Yeah, the mushrooms are gone now...

Thursday
Chipotle Pork Chops
Fried Cabbage and Onions
Cornbread
Today was the last day of Brookshire's sale on the family pack of pork chops. Now we're good to go for three meals!

Friday
leftover buffet

Saturday
sandwiches (Home Team night)

Sunday
sandwiches (AWANA)

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

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: February 21

Last week's Pepperoncini Roast was a huge hit with Billy and me. The boys, not so much. Still, it's definitely something I'll make in the future. Since it was mainly Billy and me eating it, we managed 4 meals from the one 3 lb. roast!

This week I'll be making up another recipe based on something we're wanting to eat, but I haven't taken the time to look up a recipe for it...

Monday
cheese quesadillas
I needed something quick and easy, as the afternoon was...not good. I'll post about that another time...

Tuesday
sausage, egg, and cheese on English muffins
I'll have bacon on mine in an effort to cut some fat from my diet, but still have a little meaty goodness.

Wednesday
Fiesta Nacho Casserole
This is what I don't have a recipe for, but I do have ingredients for something like this. I hope it's good! After enjoying typical cheesy nachos at a sports arena, we decided we want fancier nachos at home...

Thursday
fried rice - without a mix this time!
crab rangoon
mini pork egg rolls
ALDI had Chinese food items on sale last week...

Friday
leftover buffet

Saturday
chicken & sausage gumbo

Sunday
leftover gumbo for lunch
sandwiches for supper (after we get home from AWANA)

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

Who's on your Bookshelf?

According to my cyber friend Cindy, she found the following meme through me. It's been so long ago, I don't remember it! I guess that means I need to play again. :o)

This is how this meme works: copy this list, delete the names of the authors you don't have on your home library shelves, and replace them with names of authors you do have. Bold the replacements. Then link to me.

Danielle Steel
Louisa May Alcott
Jane Austen
Agatha Christie
J. R. R. Tolkien
Charles Swindoll
Ted Dekker
James Herriot
C.S. Lewis

That's quite an assortment! Everything from classic authors to mainstream, from romance to mystery to biography, from both Christian and secular viewpoints. I must say, however, that my shelf space is limited. While those I listed are on my own bookshelves, I have one shelf dedicated to library books and that's where the majority of my reading these days comes from.

Thanks for reposting and playing, Cindy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: February 14

Last week's chaos is over, and this week looks to be a little more normal.

Menu plans are always subject to change, but especially on Fridays and Saturdays. Last Friday when I was grocery shopping, I saw a bin of fresh pineapples for 99 cents each. We love fresh pineapple, so I couldn't resist. Then I remembered we had a partial package of hamburger buns that needed to be used. So I grabbed a package of lunch meat ham and a tray of jalapenos so I could make some grilled ham & jalapeno pineapple sandwiches. They turned out great, even though I forgot to get some teriyaki sauce for them. Billy worked his magic in the kitchen and made a honey soy sauce to help hold the sandwich mixture together and add a little more flavor. The boys were disappointed to find there were no leftovers. And we polished off the rest of that pineapple with our supper. Maybe they'll have some more this week...

I also bought some strawberries for tonight!

Here's this week's menu (which is subject to change based on anything interesting I see while grocery shopping at ALDI - and this week they're featuring Asian food...):

Monday
blackened tilapia (unless I decide to do something with some of those jalapenos I bought...)
whole kernel corn
salad
chocolate-dipped strawberries

** I've changed two of today's menu items: Chipotle Grilled Tilapia and Mexican Corn (recipe from allrecipes.com). We shall see...

Tuesday
baked potatoes
salad

Wednesday
We'll be eating at the Dallas Mavericks game! The boys' basketball award was free tickets for all the players, and parents were able to get discount tickets. And it's Billy's birthday, too!

Thursday
Italian roast
mashed potatoes
roasted cauliflower
homemade bread

Friday
leftover Italian roast on hoagies
chips
fresh fruit

Saturday
sandwiches (It's home team night.)

Sunday
leftovers or sandwiches

The Italian roast is a new recipe, but I've eaten it before and it's melt-in-your-mouth scrumptious! I enjoyed it for the first time a few days before Thanksgiving at a luncheon at Billy's office. I've been dying for more, but I've been waiting for a good sale on chuck roast, which Brookshire's has this week and which I'll be purchasing tomorrow morning. I can't wait!

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