Monday, March 5, 2012

I've Moved!

After much thought and research, I've moved to WordPress. Here's my new home: Chapter Four. (Yes, the name's the same.)

All my old Blogger posts have been moved over to my new site, and I hope to even import all my old stuff from LiveJournal before too much longer.

I like the fresh look of my new blog, and I hope you'll enjoy the change!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Smile!

Since it's Leap Day! I'd like to spend my bonus day this year smiling - or better yet, laughing. How about you?

I'm linking up at The Vintage Apple today for Oh, How Pinteresting! Wednesday.

I'll start off with a few cute animals...

Let's get warmed up with a little smile first. Isn't this little penguin adorable? He looks like he's smiling, too.



I love giraffes! They're my favorite animal, hands down. Isn't this little guy cute? He sure brightens my day!

Source: piccsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest



Get ready for a belly laugh as you check out this crazy llama. I laugh out loud every time I look at it!

Source: flickr.com via Ashley on Pinterest



Baby pictures make me smile, too. These are too cute.









Then they grow up some...



Last one, I promise. In honor of my Wednesday night Zumba class...

Source: tumblr.com via Ashley on Pinterest



Hahahahahahaha! Have a great Leap Day!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Falling Behind

Last week was really busy with me working on taxes, working on a jewelry order, and taking a fun day to take four boys to the zoo and basketball practice. That left little time for working in the refrigerator/freezer. I know, I know... Excuses, excuses...

Let's just say I took a week off from the organizing challenge and will get back on track this week. In fact, I've already tossed a few things already today. I know of a few more things that need to be trashed, then I'll start wiping down the shelves and drawers.

I did peek ahead at coming challenges, and I saw one for organizing coupons. Since I don't use coupons (for various reasons...), I can skip that week and jump ahead to the next - and be right on track again.

If I'm really good, I might finish last week's challenge and get right onto this week's: organizing recipes and cookbooks. Yes, that definitely needs to be done around here! If it has to wait until next week, though, that's okay too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jewelry Inspiration

It's "Oh, How Pinteresting!" Wednesday! Once again, I'm linking up with other Pinterest-lovers at The Vintage Apple to share what we've found lately.

I'm getting ready to get back to business with my jewelry-making, now that the holiday season and the boys' basketball season are over. Well, almost over. We have one more weekend of games, then it's back to my regular jewelry-making Saturdays again. I've enjoyed basketball, but I'm ready to get back to work!

I've found several things through Pinterest to inspire me - great ideas to try when I'm not feeling very inspired on my own.

I started working on soldering amoeba links for a necklace back in October, but seasonal busy-ness put a stop to that. And the price of the gauge of sterling silver I need to make the links is really high right now. I think I'll switch over to an amoeba bracelet, or maybe a necklace using a few amoeba chain components mixed with some beads or pearls... Anyway, if I want to sell any, they don't need to cost as much as it's looking like one amoeba necklace of a decent length will cost. Here's something similar to what I'm working on...

Source: flickr.com via Ashley on Pinterest



Here's something I found intriguing: bracelets made with vintage earrings. I'm not much into wearing vintage stuff myself, but these are beautiful. And I know just the place to find what I'll need!

Source: etsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest



Speaking of vintage, a pair of these would be a perfect complement to one of those bracelets!

Source: etsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest



And a necklace, too...

Source: etsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest



I love this idea of using coordinating components as a toggle instead of using traditional toggles, though there are some pretty ones out there. One like this would have to be an over-the-head piece, but I could work something similar that would be a front closure instead. I've got lots of ideas swirling now!

Source: etsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest



Since I also stamp and punch metal, I've found several things I can make as "mommy" or "grandma" necklaces (or bracelets):

This one could be for moms, grandmothers, new brides, etc.

Source: etsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest



I like this one a little better...

Source: etsy.com via Ashley on Pinterest



But this one is my favorite. It's so sweet, and there are so many sentiments (or lines from children's books!) that could be used.



And these are just a few of the jewelry pieces that have given me inspiration! Looks like I have my work cut out for me! I'm ready!

Monday, February 20, 2012

New Meal Planning Template

I've been wanting to change up my meal-planning form that I hang on my refrigerator for several weeks now. I got tired of printing out a monthly calendar and writing in our meals for each week. I had to squeeze it all into one block, and most times I couldn't plan in advance for any side dishes because they just wouldn't fit.

I searched a little while on the Internet for meal-plan templates, but I couldn't really find what I was looking for. I decided to make my own. Using Excel (because the Numbers program was too complicated...), I made a two-week plan with enough space for me to write in main dishes and sides. At the bottom I left a place to list the dishes I have ingredients for, things that are ready-to-make. If there happens to be one or two little things I've forgotten to buy, I have a column to the right of that where I can write them down.

To start, I list the main dishes that I'm ready to cook at the bottom. As I put them in place on my two-week calendar, I check them off. If I realize I need something from the store in order to make something, I'll add it to the grocery list space and add that meal later in the calendar, with an asterisk beside it.

I like the way it looks, and I'm really hoping it'll work for me. Something else I've done is to print one page, then put it in a page protector sleeve. With that on my refrigerator, I can easily see what's planned for and wipe off and rewrite as I need to. When the two weeks are up, I can just wipe it all off and start over again without having to print out another form, wasting time, paper, and ink.

I made a PDF file and tried to upload it, but for some reason, I got an error message saying the file was corrupted or unusable. I'm not sure what that means exactly - or how I can change it so I can upload it later. I'll play around with the file and see if I can figure something out...

Organized Home Challenge #4: Refrigerator and Freezer

I'm still going strong with Challenge #1 (countertops and sinks). Well, okay, I've been great in the area of my sinks, but I have let the countertops slide a bit. I have a few things I need to put away. I went through some old magazines and clipped recipes, but I haven't put them in my recipe binders yet. And I washed out the canister and filter parts of my vacuum and they've been drying out for a few days now... I'll get all that put away today.

Last week's pantry challenge was fairly easy. I rearranged a few things and threw several things away. Then I went to the grocery store so my pantry wouldn't look so bare anymore. In the process, I came up with an idea I might like to use for my meal planning (but that challenge is 4 weeks away...). I guess I can try it out for the next few weeks and see if it's something I'd like to use more permanently. If not, no big deal. I can always switch again.

This week's challenge is getting the refrigerator and freezer cleaned out and organized. Again, I'm fairly organized in this area, but I do know of a few things I need to throw away. The biggie here is cleaning the refrigerator. I've wiped off the shelves from time to time, but I really need to take everything out and do a thorough cleaning. The pantry challenge only took me an hour; the refrigerator/freezer challenge is going to take several, likely spread out over a few days.

One of the steps is to declutter the front of the refrigerator. After this weekend, the boys' basketball schedules can be tossed, but the AWANA calendar needs to stay. And my current menu planner. I could find another place to keep our cell phone numbers for the sitter... And I really need to get rid of all those magnets on the side of the 'fridge. They're on the hidden side, but I don't use most of them.

Another of the steps is to reload the refrigerator and freezer according to zones, which I already do for the most part. Eggs, jellies, and Billy's snacks stay on the top shelf of the refrigerator. The next shelf is for condiments: mayonnaise, mustards, pickles, salad dressings, etc. (This is the main shelf that needs to be purged.) The next shelf is for opened box mixes (Bisquick, powdered milk for breads, etc.) and leftovers. The bottom shelf is where I keep most of my other bread-making ingredients (flours and yeast), as well as the rare leftover overflow.

My refrigerator drawers are also organized by type. The shallow top drawer holds apples, oranges (when we have them), carrot sticks, and mushrooms. The middle drawer is for leafy greens, peppers, onions, celery, etc. The bottom drawer is for lunch meats, cheese, and flour tortillas.

The door holds butter, milk, juice, other drinks, yogurt and/or pudding for the boys, and more condiments at the very bottom (ketchup, chocolate syrup, BBQ sauce, soy sauce, Louisiana hot sauce, etc.). I'm sure I have some things there that need to be thrown out! Out of sight, out of mind!

Then comes the freezer... I don't think that will be too hard. Most of what's in there is meat, which gets eaten pretty regularly. There are a few bags of frozen purple hull peas that are from the summer, but I want to be sure we eat them soon. (We enjoyed some not long ago. They are so good! I need to remember to buy some more salt pork for when I cook them again...) There's also lots of homemade chicken broth, but most of that's fresh as well. The only really old things I can think of are some mashed sweet potato from over a year ago and a package of crepes that came with us when we moved two and a half years ago. If we haven't eaten them by now...

The final step of the challenge is to develop a system of habits to maintain the organization. I already pay attention to what leftovers we have and make sure we eat them within a week. And I'm pretty good about throwing things out weekly. One idea I'd like to start using more regularly, maybe monthly, is to have an "eat out of the freezer and pantry" week. My pantry isn't very big, so most of what's in there gets cycled through pretty quickly, but sometimes things will stay in the freezer a while. This is something I'm turning over in my brain right now, something I'd like to work into my weekly meal-planning change. I'll noodle on it a while longer and maybe I'll have something worked out by the end of the week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Soup is Good Food!

Soup is my focus for this week's Oh, How Pinteresting! post, which is hosted each week by The Vintage Apple.

A few years ago we started having "soup night" every week from October through March. For some odd reason, I seem to have forgotten about it this year.

Maybe it's that I just got bored with the soups I've made in the past. Nahhh... We all love those - and it's been a while since we've had them.

More likely it's because I haven't been doing my menu planning before my grocery trips, but rather after... Not such a great plan.

Whatever the reason, I can probably count the times we've had soup this fall/winter on one hand. Sad! Now that I've realized it, I can change it.

One soup we have had this season was a new one I found through Pinterest. We love mushroom soup, and this one looked wonderful:



It was pretty good, but it needed something to add a little richness. Butter, maybe? The recipe didn't make a lot, but we all liked it and decided it's a keeper. I just need to be sure I make it along with something like baked or grilled chicken, salad, bread,...

Here are a few I'm wanting to try soon - and since tomorrow is grocery day, I should probably decide which one I want to try next...

This taco soup looks wonderful - and it's a Weight Watcher's recipe!



Or how about this Weight Watcher's Summer Corn, Bacon, and Potato Chowder? (I know, it says "summer" corn, but I don't have summer corn, and I don't make soup in the summer. Not in TX, anyway...)



And speaking of chowder, this Cheesy Chicken Chowder looks tasty! It's definitely not Weight Watcher's...



Here's a flavor I absolutely crave: coconut curry. This Thai Coconut Curry Soup looks great to me, but I doubt it's something the rest of the family would like. I showed it to Billy and he said he thought it would be a bit much for soup, as opposed to the delicious coconut curry sauce I always get on a chicken dish I order at Mai's. I guess I need to visit Mai's more often...



Hmmmm... What to do...?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Organized Home Challenge #3: Pantry/Spices/Food Storage

Two weeks into my new habit of keeping my countertops and sinks clean is going really well. I haven't missed a day yet! It's been easier than I thought it would be. Not waking up to a sink full of dirty dishes every day is freeing and it gives me a little more time in the mornings to do what I want to do instead of what I have to do.

Last week's challenge went well, too. I found a few things to add to our garage sale boxes, and Billy even cleaned out/reorganized his coffee cabinet! And I made the time to wipe down all the cabinet/drawer fronts.

This week's challenge is to clean and reorganize the pantry, spices, and other food storage areas (except the refrigerator/freezer, which is next week's focus). Since I store my spices on the top shelf of one of my kitchen cabinets, I took care of that one last week. I did realize that I need some sort of wipe-off list to hang there so I can write down what I'm out of. I found that I only have one bay leaf left, and there was something else that I'm running low on... Yeah, I've already forgotten.

That leaves my pantry as this week's area to work on. My pantry is small, which I sometimes don't like, but at least it doesn't give me a lot of space for hoarding things I'll forget about before I get around to using. The four central shelves are the most used, and they're organized according to food type: snacks; breakfast foods and baking ingredients; breads, chips, and crackers; and canned/packaged goods. The top shelf is where I put things I don't use often. I can reach the things near the front of the shelf without having to stand on a chair. The things beyond that are, for the most part, out of sight and out of mind. I wonder what I'll find up there? Since I don't know, I obviously haven't missed it, so I can probably throw it out, right?

The floor of the pantry is where I keep my garbage can, lunch bags, large items that won't fit on a shelf, and new boxes of cereal or bags of chips (all unopened, of course) that are waiting for the others to be finished. Whenever I sweep and mop, I don't take everything out and clean. I just sweep/mop "at" it. This week, I'll get it good!

One suggestion I saw was to keep a pantry inventory list handy so I can know what in there, what needs to be used soon, and what I'm out of. That would be a great help when I'm trying to figure out what to cook (on those occasions that I haven't planned out a menu) or needing to make a grocery list. I'm sure I can find a great idea for a wipe-off board on Pinterest. :o)

Another suggestion is to keep like things together in a basket or box of some sort. I use that idea already, and I find it very helpful! On the top shelf, I keep a plastic tub of my homemade granola supplies, so when I'm ready to make a batch, I can just pull it down (it's at the front of the shelf) and everything is there. Whenever I buy something for my granola, I just toss it in that tub when I'm unloading groceries and it's ready for me. I also use a basket for the boys' snacks. Whenever I unload groceries, I open up the snack boxes they've chosen and put the individual packages in the basket. It's easy to see what and how much is there, and I don't have half-empty (or completely empty!) boxes taking up valuable space. Billy got a red metal basket full of goodies for Christmas, so I've started using it (the basket, not his goodies) in the pantry to hold bags of microwave popcorn or individually-wrapped snacks the two of us like to eat.

There is one basket that holds some unknowns... It's where I put packets of taco seasoning mix, Ranch dressing mix, bags of rice or beans, dip mixes, etc. You know, those smaller things that get lost among the cans and boxes... I cleaned it out not long ago, but I don't remember exactly when or what's in there now. This will be a good time to purge - and replenish.

It's a good thing grocery day is Thursday this week. I have 3 days to prepare - and make a good list!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Deleted

I realized that I just don't have the time right now to keep up with my "Documenting Domesticity" photo blog, so I deleted it. I did import the few posts with photos into this blog, so they're not lost. The other posts, where I described what I was trying to do and explained my various challenges and revisions on my idea, have been deleted since they no longer pertain to anything. As I have the time (and interest and ability) to keep up with the weekly photo challenges at Photo Friday, I'll post them here. Those challenges just aren't meshing with my other goals for this year.

That said, I still intend to be more active with my photography this year. I've taken several food photos the last few weeks, as well as pictures to document my 52-week home organization challenge. Those images will be sprinkled throughout this blog and my recipe blog (Ashley's Cafe), which I fully intend to keep up.

I am considering moving my blog from Blogger/Blogspot to WordPress, but I haven't made a decision on that just yet. It's under consideration as I check out what WordPress has to offer vs. what Blogger offers. I initially wasn't interested in WordPress at all, but since a friend of mine blogs there and I've been visiting it frequently, I'm curious to see how it could change the look and feel of my own blogs. My main reason for moving there would be to better optimize my currently-under-construction jewelry business blog (Ashley's Bead Box).

The possible move to WordPress isn't high on my list of priorities right now, but if I decide to switch, I'll give plenty of notice to you, my faithful reader.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

February 2012 Book List

3. Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo by Betty White

I'm a sucker for animal stories and a sucker for zoos - and so is Betty White! She learned to love zoos at a young age, as she visited them often with her parents. In 1974, she became a trustee for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, a nonprofit support group for the Los Angeles Zoo. Her love for animals shines through as she shares her up-close and personal visits with the zookeepers and their charges. She also shares tidbits of animal trivia here and there, in between the dozens of beautiful color photos of her animal friends.

This book was a pleasant surprise - and a nice, easy read.

4. Zumba by Beto Perez

I first heard about Zumba about 5 years ago, so I was surprised to find out it's been around since the early '90s. I saw a group of fit ladies performing a routine for the grand opening of a fitness center. Watching them, I hated Zumba. They moved too fast and looked too good doing it,and it made me feel extremely uncoordinated and slow. However, I fell in love with Zumba the first time I tried it - last September, in a fitness class for ladies at my church. And I found out I'm a little more coordinated and quick on my feet than I thought!

In my effort to continue with Zumba at home, I searched the library holdings and found this book, complete with an instructional DVD.

Beto Perez goes into interesting detail about his childhood and adolescence, leading up to his creation of Zumba. His descriptions of how Zumba affects the mind and body are spot-on, too. I remember thinking, "That's so true!" about many of the things he said about the workout and its benefits.

The next section of the book highlights the basic dance moves of Zumba: the merengue, the salsa, the cumbia, and the reggaeton. Not only are there descriptions of the moves, but there are photographs of each step to show readers what to do. The steps are also demonstrated on the DVD, slowly, one-at-a-time, then building up. I didn't know any of those dances at the beginning, but now I can do them at the mention of their names. Wow! Also included in the dance section are basic exercises that can be incorporated into the routines, as well as how to put the moves to whatever music you like. It doesn't have to be Latin music, though that does help!

Finally there's the diet portion of the book. Perez provides three different Zumba diet plans for targeting different areas. One is a jump-start weight loss plan; the others target the abs and the thighs. I'm not fond of diets at all. I read through it, but it's not something I want to focus on.

Sprinkled throughout the book are testimonials by people who started out overweight and feeling hopeless. They started exercising with Zumba, lost weight, improved their self-esteem, etc., and many of them went on to become certified Zumba instructors. Very impressive! In fact, it actually got me wondering if that's something I might like to do...

Whether you're a seasoned Zumba fan or someone who's just curious about what it is, I'd recommend reading this book. Be open to trying the different steps. Do it alone or with a good friend - or with a whole group! Don't be worried about how you look. Just enjoy the music and the movement and get yourself into better shape. And enjoy this:

Source: tumblr.com via Ashley on Pinterest



5. A Place Called Wiregrass by Michael Morris

After 30 years of marriage to an abusive husband, Erma Lee Jacobs calls it quits. She leaves the pain and hatefulness of Cross City, LA, behind and, with her teenage granddaughter Cher in tow, settles in Wiregrass, AL. She's just hoping to get away from her past and get by in a place no one knows her. What she finds is love and acceptance and, finally, peace.

A Place Called Wiregrass is a good attempt at a first novel by Michael Morris. Most of the characters are a little two-dimensional, but Erma Lee and her new employer/companion Mrs. Claudia Tyler are more developed. All is not as it seems when their seemingly opposing worlds of redneck-meets-high-society come together. I enjoyed the confidante/mother-daughter relationship that grew between them, especially given the history of Erma Lee's own mother.

There were a few interesting plot twists, but most of them were formulaic. I can't go into detail without spoiling the story... Regardless, it's a good read. It's not gripping or fast; I wasn't brought to tears any during the two weeks it took me to read it. But it's pleasant - and a nice change from what seems to be the current trend of Christian fiction to lean toward Amish- and Quaker-influenced stories. (Yes, I do judge books by their covers sometimes...)

Reading this book also helped fulfill one of my goals for this year: to read some things from my own bookshelf. A secret pal from many years ago gave me this book, along with several others. I moved it, still unread, from the shelf to a stack last fall when I had to clear shelf space for the boys' school books. Now that I've read it, it's time to pass it along to someone else. If you're local (Dallas area) or family and would like it, let me know.

Knifty Knits!

What? It's already Wednesday again? That means it's time for another "Oh, How Pinteresting!" post! Join me and other Pinterest-lovering bloggers as we link up at The Vintage Apple to share some of the things we're pinterested in.

Since I've been busy knitting almost every evening, I thought I'd share a few knit items I like from my Hooks & Needles board. (I also love to crochet, but all the patterns I'm sharing today are knit.)

I'm currently working on knitting a ruana for myself, similar to this one:



I'm using variegated yarn in fall colors. It's slow going, but it'll be worth it. I've wanted one of these for a long time.

Here's another ruana pattern I really like:



The color is great, and I love the detailed work along the edges.

For the spring and summer, I'd love to be able to knit myself a top like this one for when I wear my jeggings:



Here's another cute knitted top, but I don't think I'm skilled enough yet for all the lacework:



And speaking of skills..., I'd love to eventually make something with this gorgeous entrelac pattern:

Source: google.com via Ashley on Pinterest



In the past, whenever friends were having babies, I'd almost always crochet baby afghans for them. There were a few times when there were too many pregnant friends to do that for, so I'd crochet a cute little sweater/cap set instead. (They work up much quicker, but I still prefer afghans, which can be used for years if they're made large enough. My 9-year-old son is still able to use his, although he is outgrowing it and has asked me a few times already for a larger one.) Now I've found these adorable baby bunting sets:



Isn't that sweet?!? How about this football bunting for boys?



Precious! But I think my favorite is this "Hungry Little Caterpillar" set:



I'm dying to try making one of these! I don't know that I'll be invited to any baby showers any time soon, so I may just have to practice one on my own!

What have you seen on Pinterest lately?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pinterest Peeves

As I was browsing some pins this morning, I got irritated with something I saw in someone's pinning. That got me thinking about other things on there that bother me.

1. Pinning everything to the same board.
(Or just pinning things to the wrong board. Consistently.)
It drives me nuts when someone pins everything to one board. If you don't have much and you don't have a specific board, that's fine. But don't pin food, decorating ideas, crafts, jewelry, etc., to a board called "Books Worth Reading"!

2. No descriptions.
Don't put a dot or two or three in the description space. Or a smiley face. I know it's not always easy to find something to describe the pin, but come up with at least one word. I find it hardest to describe photographic images that I'm repinning, but I try to find something to say about it, even if it's "beautiful" or "funny". Words of inspiration can also be hard. Find one or two words to sum it up.

And if the pin is a craft idea or something with a process, don't write "I can do this!" or "This is so easy!" Describe what the craft is. Tell me that it's a way to recycle old candle wax, or that it's a math game for kids.

3. Lengthy descriptions.
I'm likely to not repin anything if the description is a long, drawn-out set of instructions on how to make something. I don't feel like reading all that, and when I'm ready to do whatever that pin is depicting, I want instructions from the source. If you're the source, blog about it - or shorten the description.

4. Not changing the description to fit your circumstances.
It drives me batty when I see someone has repinned something without changing the description - and it has absolutely nothing to do with them. I don't post descriptions about the daughter I don't have (though I do have a board called "If I Had a Little Girl...") - especially if someone is named. I've seen my own pin descriptions used by others who don't have boys or who don't make jewelry.

5. Grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors - especially in the pin itself.

Yes, being a teacher, I notice those things. A lot. I've opted to not repin things I like because there's a glaring error in it. When it's in a description, I can overlook it because if I repin it, I'll correct it. If I see an error in my own descriptions, I hit the "edit" button and fix it.

I'm sure there are a few other things that get under my skin when I'm perusing Pinterest, but those are the biggies. I know I shouldn't let them bother me, but sometimes I just can't help myself. :oP

Monday, February 6, 2012

Organized Home Challenge #2: Kitchen Drawer/Cabinet Organization

I was successful with the kitchen countertops/sink challenge last week. From Monday through Sunday, I made sure my kitchen was completely clean every night before I went to bed. Even after last night's major cooking marathon for our delicious Superbowl Snacks, every dish was washed before I went to bed. Of course, there were lots of clean dishes left out to dry, but putting them away (and unloading the dishwasher) this morning was easy. This is a habit I can keep up!

This week's challenge is to declutter and organize kitchen drawers and cabinets. For the most part, that'll be easy. The only drawer that needs organizing is my junk drawer. All the others have organizing trays and are kept in order whenever I put things away. I may need to scan them to see if there are items in there I don't use and don't need to keep, but there won't be many of those, if any.

The cabinets are another issue. I know for a fact I have things stored in some of my cabinets that need to be purged. That will be my big project this week. Luckily we already have some garage sale boxes started, so I can just drop them in there and be done with it. Then there's Billy's coffee cabinet. Mugs seem to multiply around here! I remember we sorted through mugs when we moved into our house 2 1/2 years ago, but we've since run out of space again... Another big cabinet project is going to be the one with all my spices.

One of the organization steps on the linked page is to place the items into drawers/cabinets into strategic zones according to where they will be used. Thankfully I did that when I was setting up my kitchen after we moved in, so that part is already done! And since I already use dividers and trays in my drawers, and most of my cabinets aren't cluttered, I don't have to try to come up with ways to sort/store them to save space. Whew!

It's going to be a fairly easy week, so I think I'll add one more thing to my kitchen drawer/cabinet list: wipe down the outsides of them. You know the dust that collects - and the residue from spills and splashes? Since my countertops and sink look nice, I want the other surfaces to be clean as well. Looks like I've got a plan!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Superbowl Snacks

It's Wednesday! That means it's time for another "Oh, How Pinteresting!" post. I've joined several other Pinterest-fan bloggers at The Vintage Apple, where you can see what other goodies people are pinning these days.

Superbowl weekend is always busy for us. Family will be in town for Jacob's birthday, and our church always has the AWANA Grand Prix on Superbowl Sunday. With all that going on, there's no time to plan or host a party, and we never know of any friends who are hosting one. Instead we stay home and watch the game and have our own little family party, complete with fun Superbowl snacks for supper.

I'll be looking over my Happy-tizers and Snack Time! boards over the next few days to decide what snacks we'll be enjoying this year. Here are a few things I'm considering.

Little Smokies with BBQ Sauce
No question about it. My family has to have these.



Skinny Baked Mozzarella Sticks
Ooooh! I'm a sucker for mozzarella sticks, but they're so bad for you. Until these!



Pizza Pinwheels
The linked recipe is for pepperoni filling, but you can make it with whatever you like. I'm thinking veggie pizza pinwheels...



Hot Corn Dip
We've got to have a dip!



Apples with Salty Caramel
And for dessert...



Okay, maybe another dessert, too...

Chocolate Lava Cake - which will be leftover from Jacob's family party #1 on Saturday. (There's no pin because there's no picture. I can't believe I haven't taken one before! I'll remedy that this weekend, though. You'll be amazed at how quick,easy, and delicious this cake is!)

I'm always looking for more great snack-type recipes for parties/gatherings. What have you found?
__________________________________

For various reasons, I wasn't able to make all the things on this list. Here's what we ended up having:

Little Smokies with BBQ Sauce: A+
These are always a hit and always great! We had a few left over, so the boys will be enjoying them with today's lunch.

Skinny Baked Mozzarella Sticks: C-
I had high hopes for these, but I was not impressed. They made me really miss the traditional deep-fried mozzarella sticks. If I had to choose between eating the skinny baked ones whenever I wanted or never eating cheese sticks again for the rest of my life, I'd have to choose never eating them again. The only reason I'm giving them a C- is because the boys liked them. Of course, they prefer the "real" ones, too, but they didn't think these were so bad. I won't be making them again.

Hot Corn Dip: A
Billy and I loved this dip! It wasn't hard to make, and it tastes great! Jacob thought it was okay, and Caleb, who was looking forward to it more than any of us, didn't like it at all. He couldn't pinpoint why, but I'm thinking maybe it was a little too spicy...? (I didn't actually measure my ingredients; I eye-balled and guesstimated everything...) I will definitely be making this again, but more for a group instead of just the family.

Roasted Cauliflower: B
Usually I would give this an A+, but this time, for some reason, it just didn't brown and crisp like it usually does. Of course, I did try to roast the florets from two heads this time instead of just one. I think that was probably the biggest factor. It was the only thing I did differently. One head is not enough, but two heads are evidently too much. As long as I heat up the leftovers on a baking stone in the toaster oven, they should be just as tasty as usual.

Guacamole: A
Billy and I love the store-bought guacamole we get from ALDI. It's fine straight from the package, but Billy usually doctors it up a little with a little lemon juice and some finely diced onion and fresh jalapeƱo. I'm looking forward to snacking on the leftovers with some chips - and spread on my turkey sandwich!

Chocolate Lava Cake: A
This is a family favorite, but I'm thinking of tweaking it a bit. I think 5 scoops of icing makes too much of a runny mess. The next time I make it, I'm going to see how 4 scoops does.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pristine

I missed the deadline for entering these into the weekly Photo Friday challenge, but I wanted to go ahead and post them anyway.

My first thought for "pristine" was a fresh blanket of snow, but that doesn't look like it'll be happening around here anytime soon. (Thankfully!) It had recently rained so I thought maybe I could get a picture of a few raindrops clinging to the bare tree branches, but I was too late for that. Instead, I decided to clean the boys' bathroom. When I finished, it was indeed pristine!

All nice and white and sparkly!


And since I was on a cleaning kick, I decided to go ahead and scrub out the kitchen sinks. Pristine!

Nice and shiny and stain-free!


There were no raindrops to be found, but our garden lights were all clean...


...and the cloudless sky was a beautiful shade of blue.


For more examples of "pristine", visit Photo Friday.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Organized Home Challenge #1: Kitchen Countertops and Sink

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that one of my goals for this year is to get organized. One way I plan to do this is by joining in the 2012 Organized Home Challenge, which I am starting this week.

The first challenge is getting the kitchen countertops and sinks organized. For the most part, the things that stay on my counter are in their right places: the bread machine, the toaster oven, my recipe box, the salt and pepper shakers, the trivet and the spoon rest, the metal stand with the colored dishes, the paper towel holder, the canisters, and Billy's coffee caddy and Keurig. I know it sounds like a lot, but I have 15 feet of walled counter space (not counting the stove and sink spaces) in addition to a 7-foot-long bar, which I try to keep clear.


Jacob does his schoolwork at the bar, and sometimes Caleb does, too. By mid-afternoon, there are usually a few stray books and pieces of paper, a handful of pens, and maybe an art project in progress littering the counter. I'm usually pretty good about getting those things put away when we're done for the day.

Billy drops off my mail on the counter when he comes in from work. I usually try to get to that pretty quickly, but sometimes it'll stay there for a day or two before I take the time to look through it. That's one area I'm working on and getting better at. But what should I do with the sale papers for the grocery stores? I usually keep them on the kitchen counter because that's where my menu planning and grocery-list making happen. I don't like to throw them away; I prefer to take them with me to the store with the discounted items I'm planning to buy circled with my Sharpie. Maybe I need to keep them with my purse...

The biggest thing I need to work on in this area is keeping the dishes at bay. By the time supper is over with, I'd much rather sit in my rocking chair and read or watch TV and knit. I convince myself that I'm too tired to deal with the dishes, when it actually takes less than 20 minutes to get it all done. I also use the excuse that the boys are getting their showers and I don't want to use up all the hot water... (Well, it has happened before.)

My goal for this week is to get into the habit of clearing my sink (and counter) of dishes at least twice a day: after breakfast and after supper - even if it's late and/or there's something else I'd rather be doing. I have to admit that it is more relaxing for me to walk into a clean kitchen each morning - and it gives me the freedom before school to do something I'd like to do (read a little, maybe?) rather than something I have to do. And while I'm at it, I think I'll scrub my stovetop and give my counters a good, thorough cleaning. (I scrubbed out my sinks last week.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

January 2012 Book List

1. One Call Away by Brenda Warner

Strong. It's the first word that comes to mind when I hear the name Brenda Warner. She's not just physically strong (farm girl, cheerleader, U.S. Marine, mother of 7), she's also emotionally strong and spiritually strong.

I first heard Brenda Warner, wife of former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, speak at a Women of Faith conference in Dallas last August. I was impressed with what she had to say, and once I heard she had written this book, I knew I wanted to read it. As soon as I saw it in the new book section of my public library, I snatched it up. I was hooked before I got to the bottom of the first page, and I was captivated until the very end.

The continual thread of One Call Away is how certain instances in Brenda's life - often coming through phone calls - have changed her and helped shape her into the woman she is now. The book begins with her then-husband Neil calling her at work to tell her their 4-month old son isn't breathing right. She rushes home, then they rush him to a hospital. Her son Zack's brain is swelling for some unknown reason, and Neil keeps reiterating that "he just started breathing funny". Twenty-four hours and multiple tests later, Neil admits that he dropped Zack and accidentally hit his head on the side of the tub while bathing him. Then her nightmare gets worse...

Brenda then takes us back to her childhood and the first phone call that changed her life. From there, she leads us chronologically through her teen years; life in the Marines; marriage, betrayal, and divorce; raising two young children as a single mom; the sudden death of her parents; etc. Her life looks nothing like what she dreamed it would be, but instead of giving up and giving in, she does what she can to make the best of what she has. She learns to rely on God instead of others or herself.

I was brought to tears many times as I read. Some of the things she went through are things I have no experience with - and hope to never have to deal with. I connected with her story the most when she described what it was like to suffer a miscarriage. She felt some of the same emotions - dealt with some of the same inner turmoil - that I had dealt with. Even now, many years after the fact, she comforted and encouraged me.

I hate that I have to return this book to the library. This is definitely one to buy and keep on your shelf to read over and over again. Brenda Warner is an inspiration.

Click here to watch a clip of an interview with Brenda Warner about One Call Away.


2. Create Your Own Blog: 6 Easy Projects to Start Blogging Like a Pro by Tris Hussey

Although I've blogging for more than eight years now, I felt the need to read this book. Not only was I curious about how to make this blog better, I wanted to learn some tips on how to design a blog for my jewelry business.

This book is basically for beginners. The first four chapters explain what blogging is, detail the history of blogging, and lead the reader through the set-up process.

The next section is more of what I was interested in: types of blogs. While I didn't really learn anything I could use for my personal blog, I did learn some valuable tips for creating my jewelry blog. At first I was thinking I should consider it a business blog, which it is, but the tips in that section weren't applicable to me. The business blog chapter is more geared toward writing corporate blogs. Instead, my idea for my jewelry business blog falls more under his "Portfolio Blog for Artists" chapter. Once I get my jewelry blog up and running, I hope to incorporate Hussey's ideas to make my images pop on the screen - and to include writings about my processes, ideas, etc. - but without giving away my "trade secrets" or techniques.

In actuality, I only read about half this book. I skimmed parts I was already familiar with, and I skipped parts I wasn't interested in. Probably my biggest complaint about what I actually did read, though, is the author's bias toward WordPress. He mentions Blogger and other hosting sites briefly, but since he prefers WordPress, he doesn't do much to help those of us who choose to use something else.

Overall, I think it's a helpful book for people who are new to the blogging world and want some great tips for getting started. For a seasoned (though by no means professional) blogger like myself, I would look for something different.

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Every so often I come across a few books that I just can't read, for whatever reason. I've had two of those this month already!

1. I Didn't Ask to Be Born (But I'm Glad I Was) by Bill Cosby

The first chapter was funny. It was based on a YouTube video clip of You Bet Your Life, featuring a lady who was trying to explain to him where North, South Carolina was. I saw that just a few weeks ago, so it was fresh in my mind and made the retelling funnier. The second chapter wasn't quite as funny, and it made me realize I'd rather watch/listen to Billy Cosby than read his book.

2. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

I really wanted to read this - something to help me get better organized this year. After the first page, I started skimming and looking ahead to see if it got better. It didn't. I dropped it in the return slot of the library on my way out the door. I'll have to see if I can find something else like it, just more interesting.

3. Food Network Star: The Official Insider's Guide to America's Hottest Food Show by Ian Jackman

This isn't so much a reading book as it is a remembering book - if you've followed the show. The book is broken down by season, with each chapter highlighting the contestants, their experiences on the show, and some of their recipes.

Having seen the first six seasons, I was familiar with the contestants throughout most of the book, so I just skimmed it. It was good for jogging my memory about certain contestants and for finding some interesting recipes to try.

The chapter about the seventh season was brief, as the show hadn't been completely edited when the book went to press. I think I would have either waited or left it out altogether. I wasn't particularly interested in seeing the contestants but not knowing much about them. That may also have something to do with the fact that we no longer have cable TV, and that was why I missed watching season seven... Still, it seemed like a weak way to end the book.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Let's Hear it for the Boys!

It's Wednesday (already?!?) and time to join The Vintage Apple for another "Oh, How Pinteresting!" post. Since my two boys have birthdays coming up soon, this week's focus will be on things I've found for them.

I mentioned birthdays. Jacob will be 9 on February 6, and Caleb will be 12 on March 13. We're not sure yet what we'll be doing for their birthdays, but one of their options is to take them and one friend each to celebrate at... Medieval Times!



We went last summer for the first time and we all loved it! The food was delicious (Caleb discovered he loves ribs.), and the show was outstanding! I was amazed at how perfected the fight choreography is! Caleb really wants to go back for his birthday, but Jacob is leaning in another direction.

Another option is to have a birthday party for each of them. Caleb's only one was when he turned 7 (I think...); we used a pirate theme that turned out really great. Jacob has never had one - therefore, his other direction. I know, I know, they're seriously deprived in that area. But this tends to be a busy time of year with family coming in (usually over 3 different weekends) and spring break (when the boys spend a week with grandparents). Oh, and I'm just not a big party planner anyway...

But I've found a few cute ideas that might be doable if we decide to go the party route. Check out these fun cupcake ideas!

Jacob is a big fan of Despicable Me,...



...and Caleb is a huge Harry Potter fan.



I could easily use cream cheese icing on the owl cupcakes to make them like Hedwig.

And I know I can find tons of other great cupcake ideas if those aren't what they want. (A few words about cupcakes vs. one birthday cake... Everyone gets the same size piece, and the birthday boy isn't blowing/spraying spit and germs over the whole thing. Plus, you can do really cute things with them!)

Before their birthdays/celebrations, they're going to need haircuts. When the boys were small, my mother-in-law would trim their hair. As they got older and needed cuts more frequently than we'd see her, I opted to buzz their heads with the clippers. It was fast and easy - and I didn't have to pay someone to do it for me. A few years ago, they decided they wanted to let their hair grow out, so we were back to Mamaw's cuts again. In between times, though, they would get pretty scraggily-looking. Sometimes we'd wait it out. Other times, I'd take them to SuperCuts - but I hated paying $25 for trims for the two of them! It wouldn't be so bad if they didn't need a trim so often! Then I found this:



They were in dire need of trims before Christmas, but I was too busy with projects and preparations to take them. I knew Christmas weekend would be busy, but I hoped Mamaw could maybe squeeze in a quick trim. Not so. On January 2, I got sick of looking at their ratty mops and got out my scissors. I pulled up the tutorial on my screen and set my laptop on the kitchen counter in easy view. I read the instructions, made my cuts, and scrolled down to see what was next. It took 45 minutes for me to complete each one, and I had cut their hair shorter than they wanted - but I did it! And it looked good! I'll definitely do it again, but I'll try to leave their hair a little longer next time.

Now I guess I need to get back on Pinterest and look for some more birthday-themed cupcakes ideas - just in case. Do you have any great ones to share?