Saturday, May 31, 2008

Flowers From Our Yard

I have really enjoyed the blooming plants in my yard. Everything in our yard was here when we moved here. We haven't done anything to the yard except spray for weeds.

Now that most of the blooms are gone, I'd thought it would be nice to look back at the blooms.

It seems such a shame that they are only in bloom for about two weeks out of the year.

But, it's worth it, especially with the solid grey sky that we have overhead for three straight months.

I love when this lilac bush blooms and when the leaves fill in. When we sit in the hot tub, it blocks our view of the neighbor's ugly ad-on to their house. Always something to be thankful for!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Book Review - Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann

When Tedric, the crown prince of Ustanzia, is in danger while visiting the United States, Navy SEAL Joe Catalanotto is called on to stand in as a double. The two men look like twins, but Joe’s New York accent and manners are not princely. Prince Tedric’s media consultant, Veronica St. John, has the duty of training Joe to be a prince. With only 48 hours to prepare Joe, Veronica doubts he will be able to impersonate the prince, but Joe thinks he’s up to the task.

As expected, Joe and Veronica fall for each other, but due to communication problems, each thinks the other isn’t interested in a long-term relationship. Will they figure it out before the terrorists kill one of them?

Again, this really is not an adequate summary for such a wonderful book (read – hot sex scenes plus a decent plot and good writing). Brockmann does an excellent job of giving us enough information about the plot, but doesn’t overload us with boring details. I very much liked Veronica. The difficulty in her and Joe’s relationship was due to mixed signals, not due to the fact that she was stubborn (that’s my least favorite quality in a woman in a romance novel – when the difficulties in the relationship are due to a woman’s stubbornness and unwillingness to accept what she’s feeling.) There is one scene where Veronica insults Joe, and I went to bed thinking – I just wish she would admit she was wrong and apologize, and the next day when I picked up the book – she did! She apologized. We almost never see this in a romance novel – a woman who speaks directly and is confident enough in herself to apologize. You may ask, if she is able to speak her mind so well, why the mixed signals in regard to the relationship – that has to deal with both her and Joe’s insecurities, which I think is very real aspect of any relationship that must be overcome.

Overall rating: three stars – go read it!

Book Review - Code Name: Princess by Christina Skye

Hawk MacKenzie, a Navy SEAL, has been assigned to recover a missing top-secret government animal. While checking in to a local hotel, he discovers a woman showering in his bathroom. Assuming she must be one of the enemies, he takes her down and waits for her to regain consciousness.

Hotel investigator Jess Mulcahey awakes restrained in the bedroom of the hotel suite. She escapes only to crash into the Navy SEAL on his motorcycle down the road. Hawk’s team brings Jess and him back to the hotel to recover from their minor injuries and to get a good night’s sleep. In the morning, Jess and Hawk find themselves stuck for several hours in an elevator for some hot sex before the story continues.

Jess and Hawk’s paths keep crossing until Jess finds herself in the middle of a shoot out and ends up helping rescue the stolen animal.

If you can get past the very ridiculous plot (a transgenic animal that’s so valuable people have to die to recover it) and the fact that Jess and Hawk’s path’s keep crossing, Code Name: Princess is a pretty good read. Some of the details are a little sketchy or just plain missing. I found myself reading back to see if I had missed something, but no – nothing was there.

Overall rating: two out of three stars

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day Dinner

We had friends over for dinner on Memorial Day. We made Cathy's BBQ Chicken, Kielbasa Sausage, corn on the cob, potato salad, and Broccoli-Grape Salad. It was my first time making my mom's Broccoli-Grape Salad, and it turned out really well.

Broccoli-Grape Salad

1 and a half large bunches of broccoli
2-3 stalks of celery
1-2 green onions
2 cups green, seedless grapes
1 1/2 cups purple seedless grapes
3 oz bacon bits
6 oz slivered almonds, toasted

1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar

Cut vegetables small. Cut grapes in half. Mix broccoli, celery, onions and grapes in large bowl. Add bacon bits, almonds, and dressing when ready to serve.

Nicole brought the dessert - Pots de Creme (recipe here on Pioneer Woman's site).

Don't be fooled. We added lots more whipped cream after I took the picture. We just wanted you to be able to see the chocolate mixutre. It was so smooth and delicious - thanks Nicole!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Gym Etiquette

I'll keep it simple and give you a list based on my observations and experience:

~If you are going to wear a full-bodied underwear, pick your wedgy in private; by all means, don't wait until you're on the treadmill for all of us behind you on the ellipticals and bikes to watch.

~Don't wear those sweat pants that have a word written on the butt, especially words like "juicy."

~Don't wear a black lacy bra under a woman's version of a wife beater. Not cool.

~Try not to grunt as you're lifting weights. (Guys are always grunting as they try to outdo themselves, but what's even scarier is hearing a woman grunt and growl - just breathe through it, or don't lift so much!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Book Review - The Charm School by Susan Wiggs

The Charm School is…charming. No really. This is a very enjoyable book about Isadora Peabody of the Beacon Hill Peabodys. But, she has never fit in with the rest of her family and accepts her fate to be a spinster for the rest of her life. Physically awkward and socially shy, Isadora would rather keep company with a good book than attend stifling soirees. Having been schooled by her late aunt, Isadora is fluent in many languages and has a good understanding of sciences and math.

Isadora sees a temporary escape from her life when she learns that a good acquaintance, the owner of a merchant ship headed to Rio, is in need of a translator. Captain Calhoun, the typical brute sea captain, is also a misfit in his own right.

Through her days at sea, Isadora earns the respect and companionship of the crew. She and Ryan keep their distance – she because couldn’t fathom that someone would be interested in her and he because he doesn’t want to break her heart, but things heat up once they reach Rio. Even though this story is set in the mid 1850’s, what happened in Rio stays in Rio, and Isadora and Ryan try to ignore each other on the journey home. Will they figure out that they love each other? Will their love survive the adventures at the end of their trip?

My summary is not worthy of this book. There is so much more to the book, so go out and read it.

RATING: Three stars - you must read this book--you won’t be disappointed

SPOILER ALERT: I was a little disappointed by the ending – just a smidgen. I envisioned Isadora going back to Rio to be with Ryan’s mother. That didn’t happen, which is okay. Other than that, when she and Ryan meet up at the end, I wanted Ryan to commit to her without Isadora first telling him that she’s pregnant. I thought that would have been more congruent with each of their characters.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Book Review - As Long as She Needs Me by Nicholas Weinstock

Oscar Campbell (read - Weinstock's alter ego) is the assistant to Dawn, the head of Dawn Books. He executes her decisions, makes many of them himself, and plans every aspect of her life yet receives no gratitude in return. He is even planning her top secret wedding.

When attending a wedding of his college roommate, he meets Lauren LaRose, a theme-wedding magazine columnist. They have a mild attraction to each other and Lauren agrees to help Oscar plan his boss’ wedding. Of course, Oscar can’t tell Lauren that the wedding he is planning is for his boss (because it’s top secret), and he lets her believe the wedding is his. Thus, Lauren is guarded and does not return his phone calls.

Oscar and Lauren have one date after they meet at the wedding in which Lauren helps him with the details of planning his boss' wedding. She reveals that she does not want to be involved in the plans of her wedding – if indeed such an event were to occur. Oscar knows his boss’ wedding is not meant to be, but plans it anyway in hopes that it might be his own.

This book has so much promise, but I have to say it was let down. Other than the initial meeting at the wedding, we only get to see the interaction between Oscar and Lauren the one time at the date. The rest of the book is filled with witty and very clever remarks about the world of being an assistant – a nobody and about the world of wedding planning (boring). Weinstock’s writing is enjoyable, but it is not well suited for a novel. I can imagine enjoying his rants as written in a blog or in an editorial column, but trying to squeeze a romance/love story into his witty view on the life of an assistant doesn’t quite work. The endless paragraphs about the wedding details were boring. We saw more of his conversations with Carl, one of his co-workers than we did with his love interest, Lauren. I really wanted to read more about the interactions of the two main characters. Actually, I’m not sure we can call Lauren a main character as she does not get more time in the book than Oscar’s boss and other miscellaneous characters.

Because Weinstock is a clever writer, I can’t completely say don’t waste your time reading this book, but I definitely won’t be raving about it and recommending it. I’m thinking my rating system needs more than three stars…but that involves making some decisions, and I like to put off making decisions. So for now:

Rating: 1.5 stars - don’t bother unless you absolutely have nothing else to read, then it’s not that bad

Book Review Rating Key

I've decided to rate the books I read from now on based on this scale:

One Star: a real let-down
Two Stars: a good light read
Three Stars: you must read this book; you won’t be disappointed

I will list this key on the side of my blog for easy reference.

Book Review - Feels Like Family by Sherryl Woods

Feels Like Family is the third book in Sherryl Wood’s Sweet Magnolias series. It centers on Helen Decatur, a driven and successful family attorney. She has helped so many other women get divorced that she became jaded to the idea of marriage. But when her friend, Maddie Maddox has a baby, she realizes that the dream to have a baby of her own is still alive. Helen is not involved in any relationship and her biological clock is ticking. The idea of artificial insemination seems too “artificial” to her (what would she tell the child about its father?). The ambitious Helen sets out to seduce her good friend, Erik Whitney. Erik, a widower afraid of committing his heart again, thinks he’s just scored a great deal - sex with no strings attached. Helen lies about using birth control, and you can imagine the result. Erik and Helen have a lot of electricity between them, but will it be enough for a forever relationship?

I enjoyed this book, but unlike the first book in the Sweet Magnolias series, I did not support all the actions of the main characters (like lying and betrayal). So, it was a little hard for me to sympathize with Helen – she got herself into her own predicament.

Overall Rating: Two Stars - a good light read

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chicken Caesar Salads

I just wanted to share these pictures of our Chicken Caesar Salads. They were so good and easy to make (I don't think I really have to describe how to make them right?). It worked really well too, because it was a hot day, and we could have even done the chicken on the BBQ, but I used chicken tenders, so they cooked within minutes in a skillet on the stove, which didn't heat up the house. We use Cardini's Caesar dressing - this is important.

I just love my purple dishes!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Donivan's Pork Fried Rice


Cooled Rice
Pork steak and/or bacon
Bacon grease (if using pork steak)
2 or 3 eggs
Frozen Peas and Carrots
Kikkoman's Soy Sauce
Garlic Powder

Cut up the meat into small pieces. Add 1 tablespoon or so of bacon grease (or oil) to a large skillet on medium-high heat and cook pork all the way through. (Bacon grease not necessary if using real bacon instead of cut up pork. If using bacon, drain out most of the grease after it cooks.) Scramble the eggs in separate bowl. Move meat to the sides of the pan. Pour the eggs into the middle of the pan. Scramble and cook eggs. When eggs are cooked, add a little more bacon grease, if necessary. Add cooled rice and frozen peas and carrots and soy sauce to taste - enough to give it some color. Sprinkle in garlic powder to taste. Keep frying and stir occasionally until heated through.

We eat it with the Kikkoman's Soy Sauce bottle with us at the table in case we need to add more. This recipe has been honed over the last year. Hubby first started trying to make fried rice many years ago. We followed a recipe, and it was a disaster! The recipe wasn't specific about moving the meat to the sides of the pan so the eggs could be cooked, and it wasn't specific as to using cooled rice. Hot rice will end up all sticky and mushy.

Depending on how much you want to make, we use at least one batch of rice (1 cup dry). I got a tip from my friend Nicole that has helped us always have cooled rice on hand. Whenever I make rice as a side dish, we never eat it all, so I save it in a Ziploc freezer bag and freeze it (sometimes I make extra on purpose so I can freeze it for the next time hubby has a craving for his Pork Fried Rice). When we need to use the rice, we let it defrost on the counter. Thanks Nicole!

Book Review - Sing Me Home by Jerry Corgiat

I read it, I liked it; it was a refreshing change from Debbie Macomber; but I probably won’t seek out other Corgiat books to read. Here’s the dime store summary (I’m not even sure it’s worth a dime – maybe it’s a nickel store summary). In Sing Me Home, country-music star Jon Van Castle marries small-town widow, Lil. It is a marriage of convenience. Jon needs a mother for his kids so that he can keep them out of his abusive ex-wife’s hands. Lil no longer has a job and faces working in the chicken processing plant. Her and Jon work out a three year business plan during which she will act as his wife in public and take care of the kids at home. After the three years, they will get divorced and Lil would be a rich woman and would have visiting rights with the kids. Can Lil forget her dead husband long enough to fall in love with Jon? Can Jon live a small-town life so he can spend more time with the kids and Lil? Will the ex-wife be successful in regaining custody?

Sorry, that’s the best I can do. I’ve been trying to read other reviews to see what makes them good, and they mostly just set up the plot and don’t give away the ending. I can’t seem to do it without a sarcastic note though…

Friday, May 16, 2008

Brand Names

Hubby is a picky eater. He will not eat casseroles, except Kimi's Tator Tot Casserole. This actually works just fine for me, because I don't eat casseroles either. He doesn't really like stir-fry or stews, and I can't get him to eat a quesadilla. He absolutely will not eat any noodle dish with a white sauce or homemade Macaroni and Cheese (much to his mother's chagrin). He wouldn't even wolf down the Muddy Buddies I made last week! If I am making spaghetti and ... oops, we don't have spaghetti noodles, just penne noodles - the whole thing is off. Me - I don't care. I figure it's the same pasta in a different shape. But, it matters to hubby. He has a good nose and can tell whether I’ve used Best Foods Mayonnaise or Kraft Mayonnaise. He can tell whether it was light or regular mayonnaise. If I put the cocktail sauce in a clear bowl, he can tell whether or not it’s Skipper’s brand. This makes is very difficult to fudge things if perchance I forgot to purchase the right kind of sauce (or noodle) at the store. The whole meal is off if we don’t have the right kind of sauce.

Hubby is all about the right brand, especially when it comes to sauces. Hubby is big on sauce. Hubby even said this last weekend, “I want something with ketchup…what should I have?” That need for ketchup prompted this meal: Grilled Onion Burger with Cheese (his own creation) and homemade French fries based off a Cooking Light recipe (but hubby omitted the garlic).

*Note, that on the left piece of bread, hubby put the mustard in a smiley face for my picture.
*Here’s the exception – hubby doesn’t care about mustard, it can be any cheapo brand.

Here are the DELICIOUS fries.

To help myself, I’m making a list of what brands hubby likes.

The most important one is: Taco Bell Hot Sauce (note, this is only sold at Safeway – at least around here).

Cardini’s Caesar Dressing

Wishbone Italian Dressing

Heinz 57 Ketchup

Kraft BBQ Sauce

San Francisco Sour Dough Bread

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese - the Delux version

Best Food’s Mayonnaise

Skipper’s Tartar Sauce

Skipper’s Cocktail Sauce

Tillamook Cheddar Cheese

Well, it sure seemed like there were more things he was picky about; maybe I’m not remembering them all right now…I might have to do an addition to the list if I think of more.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Black Forest Mini Cheesecakes

I made these little nummies for Bible Study, and they were all eaten! The recipe can be found here. I've had this recipe for a while but have never made it before. I chose it because the cupcakes would be easy to distribute at Bible Study. I only had one cupcake left at home to take a picture of, and well, it didn't turn out very well, but nonetheless, here it is:

I had trouble finding the foil cupcake wrappers. I tried two grocery stores and had to end up using the foil disposable muffin tins and cut out the cupcakes...oiy! I know I can get the foil cupcake papers at Joanne's or Michael's, so next time I'm there, I'm getting 12 packs!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Your Opinion is Needed

This dress is for my brother-in-law's wedding in late June. I have been asked to read a poem at the wedding, so suddenly, my dress is of the utmost import. It's an evening wedding, so I wanted a long dress, but there just weren't any that worked for me (they were too senior prom-ish). So, I went with short dress, which brings my question - what color of nylons should I wear? These are not necessarily the shoes I will wear, they are just what I already have. What do you think of the shoes? I would like it better if they didn't have the chunkiness to them, but I've never walked in stiletto heels before. I think I want to stick with a strappy shoe.

I also got myself some more hair from an Asian lady in the mall who didn't speak a licketysplit of English. She also sold me on the two decorations that are in my hair. The hair cost almost three times as much as my dress! But, I don't think I'll regret it. Now I can be confident up there reading the poem.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Muddy Buddies

Seeing as how my favorite dessert/food is melted peanut butter and chocolate, Muddy Buddies are the perfect snack for me. I love Muddy Buddies! The recipe can be found here. Babycakes helped me make the snack, which was fun for him. He got to stand on the step stool and see what was going on at the counter. He helped stir (and took bites throughout - it starts young I guess).

Friday, May 9, 2008

Book Review - Stealing Home by Sherryl Woods

I absolutely loved Stealing Home. It's the best book I've read in a long time. You know I'm pretty bad at summaries, so I'll just tell you why I loved it so much. We got to read about the main character, (Maddie, a recently divorced mother of three), and we also got to see what the men in her life (Bill, the ex-husband and her new love interest-her son's baseball coach-Cal) were going through as well. I really liked delving into each of those characters instead of staying up at night wondering what was going on in their heads (as I do with the secondary characters of Debbie Macomber's novels). Also, the two main characters, Maddie and Cal had obstacles to overcome if they wanted their relationship to work, but none of those obstacles were a result of the character's own foolishness (as in a Susan Wiggs' novel). I thought Maddie and Cal were very sensible and very believable, and I thoroughly enjoyed their story. There's no need to tell you that I have more of Sherryl Woods' novels on order from the library. More to come!

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is my favorite recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies. It is Crisco's Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. I make it wheat-free by using Bob's Red Mill Wheat-Free flour along with 1.5 teaspoons of xanthum gum. (Pretty much any recipe can be made wheat-free by using wheat-free flour and the correct amount of xanthum gum. The xanthum gum makes whatever you are baking stick together. So, you don't need any xanthum gum if you are making a crumble topping. It's been my experience though that homemade wheat-free muffins and breads really don't turn out - they get too moist.) My wheat-free version of these chocolate chip cookies is even good enough for hubby who normally doesn't touch my specialty foods. I'm glad he eats them too, or else I'd be left to devour the whole batch by myself, and I would.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Free Free Free

My friend Patty from Bible Study invited me to join her at step class. She mentioned that they have FREE nursery!!
"Great," I said, "How much is the class?"
"It's free too."

Wow! I was totally there this morning and worked my butt off. Babycakes did great, even though it was a nursery he'd never been to before. He did have some green marker on him when I picked him up, but hey, it was free!

I walked into the class (in the basement of a church) and felt like I'd walked into a Debbie Macomber novel. I knew Patty, of course, but there were also three other women I recognized from the gym, and two other ladies from Bible study. For the first time since moving here, I felt like I lived in a small town with friendly people, instead of living at the edge of an industrial zone which is at the end of miles and miles of suburbia.

Well, the class was this morning, and already my calves hurt. I'll let you know how the next couple of days go. My left hamstring was already sore from when we moved the wood pile at the end of our deck. It's part of our deck renovation project, and I'm really glad we got it done. And I got hubby to help me!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Book Review - Back on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

Back on Blossom Street, the third book in Debbie Macomber's Blossom Street Series is my favorite of the series. Instead of the book having four main characters, it only has three, and it has 50 more pages than the previous book, which translates to more details per character -just what I've been waiting for. Lydia Goetz, the yarn shop owner is one of the main characters. We read about the changes with her mother and her sister. Alix Townsend, from the first book in the series, returns as another main character. We get to watch her get married to Jordan Turner. The third main character, and my favorite, is Colette Blake who is recently widowed. I won't ruin the story about Colette, but I really liked the fact that Macomber took the time to give us more details about the characters, especially Colette. A good read!

Book Review - A Good Yarn by Debbie Macomber

I enjoyed A Good Yarn the second book in Macomber's Blossom Street Series. Macomber finally stopped ending the chapters in the middle of a conversation, which drove me nuts. I think she would want each chapter to end on a cliffhanger, and so she would end the chapter right when something big had been revealed or something big had happened, and we never got to see how the character handled it. Then the next chapter would be about another character and two or three chapters later we would read the synopsis of how the character dealt with the situation. I'm not going to summarize A Good Yarn because I've actually just finished the next book in the series, Back on Blossom Street, so now all the details are mixed up.

Friday, May 2, 2008

It Is Finished

I started crocheting this afghan last September after seeing pricey afghans in a cottage magazine. I said, hey I can do that. I took crocheting lessons in 4-H when I was in sixth grade and for several years entered crocheted items into the county fair. I chose this design because I liked it and because on a scale of 1 to 5 (five being the hardest), it was level 1 - easy. Well, eight months later, I have finally finished. I don't know what I was thinking. First of all, I don't like having to crochet those squares and then sew them together. Everything has to be so perfect and there's all the loose ends to sew in. Then, the "easy" pattern required that I learn 4 new stitches to complete that frilliness on the edge. I had to look up stitches online, print out the instructions, and refer to them for every stitch for quite a while before I really got the hang of it. This took a long time.

Sometime during the many months I've been working on this afghan, hubby claimed it as his. I was pleased and he encouraged me to finish it (many, many times). This was the blanket that never ended. After completing the squares and sewing them together, then crocheting the edging, I had to weave in all the loose ends of yarn. But today, while watching Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty online, I finished it!!!!!!! Just in time for summer.