Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Carrot Muffins

This is another of the delectable treats Jess has found on Pinterest. This is our absolute most favorite muffin ever and we make it often.

  • 1 8oz. package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp ginger
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup grated carrots, slightly packed
    • This is about 2 large carrots or 3 medium carrots
  • Unwrap the cream cheese.
  • Microwave the cream cheese for about 45 seconds to make it much more stir-able.
  • Add 1/4 cup of the sugar and stir until well combined.
  • Set aside the filling portion until later.
  • In a large bowl mix together the remaining sugar, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, water and oil.
  • Pour the mixed liquid into the dry ingredients and stir only until mixed.
  • Stir in the carrots.
    • I recommend not using an electric mixer for this recipe as it makes the muffins tougher.
  • Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with cooking spray
    • Or use muffin cups, but I have had good results with the spray.
  • Put 1 heaping tablespoon of the carrot mixture into each muffin cup.
  • Put a dollop of the cream cheese mixture into each muffin cup.
    • Evenly distribute the remaining cream cheese if your dollops don't use all of it.
  • Top each muffin with another heaping tablespoon of the carrot mixture.
  • If any carrot mixture remains top off the muffins that look a little low.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Some of the muffins may crack and show a bit of the cream cheese filling. This is ok.
  • Cook for 5 minutes in the muffin pan before removing to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Monday, October 29, 2012

Homemade: Toilet Bowl Cleaner

I am so excited to be sharing a brand new homemade solution! It seems our household ran out of everything in October, and a couple of the items were cleaning items we had purchased from a store many, many months {and for some of them, years} ago. Since we now make our cleaners rather than buy them, Jason and I were both excited to try out some new solutions.

I found this toilet bowl cleaner solution on Pinterest, and this one seems the best and easiest solution to me. Here's the solution:
  • 1.5 cups baking soda
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp castille soap with tea tree
Alternatively, you can use regular castille soap and add in tea tree oil or really any oil you prefer. I personally think it doesn't really matter. You will want to use a condiment-type bottle for this solution. I found mine for rather cheap on and ordered a pack of 3. This solution fits in one bottle and should be enough for at least 4 toilet cleanings {if not, more}.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Crafty Christmas: Customized Coasters

Christmas Countdown: Christmas is 8 weeks away!

When I first saw the idea for coasters on Pinterest, a light bulb went off in my head. Instantly, I imagined all my friends and family receiving gorgeous coasters, all customized to their hobbies, likes and preferences.

There so many reasons why I love this gift idea! Let's go through a few of them, shall we? First, the number one complaint of homemade gifts I hear from people is they never know what to make for the men in their lives. Customized coasters are the perfect gift! These are guy-approved and a practical and fun gift to boot.

Not only are these perfect for men, but they're perfect for anyone. I especially love the idea of giving them as teacher appreciation gifts, graduation gifts, house-warming gifts - seriously, the list goes on and on.

This gift idea is good for everyone at any time of year, and it's a rather frugal gift idea. The cost is about $2 per set of four, assuming you have a well stocked crafting box. Here's what you need to make fantastical customized coasters:
  • Felt
  • Four tile pieces {13 cents each at Home Depot - SCORE!}
  • Glue gun and glue stick
  • Paper to match your recipient's hobbies, likes and/or preferences
  • Ruler
  • Cutting instrument {I personally used a rotary cutter and a self-healing mat with most of my sets, but a pair of scissors works just fine too}
  • Pencil
  • Homemade mod podge
  • Sponge brush
  • Clear acrylic coating spray paint
Here's how you make customized coasters:
  1. Using a ruler and a pencil, measure on the back of the paper where you are going to cut all four pieces. I measured just a little shorter than my piece of tile.
  2. Using a cutting instrument, such as scissors, or to be perfectly precise, an Xacto knife or rotary cutter on a self-healing mat, cut out all four pieces.
  3. Dip your sponge brush into homemade mod podge and dab off excess inside the mod podge container. While holding the piece of paper on the tile, brush the sponge brush over the paper. Make sure you brush the sponge on the sides of the tile as well. The paper on the tile should be thoroughly wet all over and should stick on its own after you stop holding the paper.
  4. Repeat with remaining pieces of tile.
  5. Spray all four pieces of tile with clear acrylic coating spray paint, making sure to follow the directions on the spray can.
  6. Let dry overnight.
  7. Measure out four pieces of felt in the color of your choice to complement the colors in the paper on the tiles. Cut them all out.
  8. Heat up your glue gun. Once heated, apply glue on the back of the tiles, working just one piece of tile at a time.
  9. Place a piece of felt over the back of the tile, onto the glue. Press down with your fingers.
  10. Repeat with remaining pieces of tile.
The red felt backing fits over the entire back of the coaster, so the coaster doesn't scrape against the table it's on. You could also do felt pads in each of the four corners, but I found it easiest and simplest to just do the whole back.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This Book Room

This touching story allows us to see into the lives of the Baxter family as Erin and Sam attempt to adopt a child. As the family looks forward to a heartwarming reunion, they find out that Mr. and Mrs. Baxter have a secret that could change their lives forever.

Additional notes: This is the fifth and final book in the Redemption series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here and the fourth book here.

My thoughts: I was a bit disappointed in this book as it didn't focus on Erin and Sam as much as I expected it to. The one drawback to this series, for me, was that so much of it focused on Landon and Ashley's story. That annoyed me. But I still enjoyed this series and am in the throes of reading the second Baxters' series, Firstborn.

A family travels from the big woods of Wisconsin to a new home on the prairie, where they build a house, meet neighboring Indians, build a well, and fight a fire.

Additional notes: has this book listed as the second book in the Little House on the Prairie series {but other sites have it listed as the third book, so read in the order you desire}. There are nine books in this series and all have been released. You can read my review of the first book here.

My thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this book. At times, the book made me tear up, want to yell in anger at Pa {particularly the Jack scene near the beginning} and in general, I just want to live in this era. My absolute favorite part of this book was the Christmas bit. I want my children to grow up with a sense of awe of their stockings {my husband and I are only stuffing stockings, there will be no stand-alone presents under the tree}. I loved how the girls shared their awe of their stockings. It was so great.

“Never marry a man unless he’s short, bald, fat, stupid, and treats you badly.” That is the advice that twenty-nine-year-old Lily Burns has heard her entire life from her grandmother Dolly and her mother, Selma. Despite this, when she meets Gogo, the handsome, successful pediatrician who treats her like a queen, she has no choice but to let her heart take over. When she agrees to marry him, Dolly and Selma are inconsolable. They decide it’s time to tell her the truth: their family is cursed. If she marries for love, there will be unimaginable consequences.

Nevertheless, Lily and Gogo elope. Unable to believe her good fortune, Lily asks Gogo to pinch her—to make sure all this isn’t just a dream. The moment he does, Lily finds herself transported back to the house she lived in when she was single. Gogo is gone. When Lily tracks him down, she finds that he’s married to someone else and has no memory of her. In this modern fairy tale, Lily must find a way to break the curse and turn her nightmare back into a dream come true.

My thoughts: This book is really fun and fanciful. Adena is fantastic at taking a situation that could never happen and making it fun and funny to read. Her books are kind of along the same vein as the movie 13 Going on 30. Such fun. This is a great chick lit book perfect for summertime or a cold winter's night.

In the bestselling tradition of Kate Jacobs' "The Friday Night Knitting Club" comes a wonderfully assured women's fiction debut, brimming with warmth and wit, about starting over and crafting an ideal life.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Cedar Key series. There are a few other books out for this series, and as far as I know, this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: I remember I picked up this book a year or so ago and tried to read it, but didn't enjoy it. I'm glad I picked it up again this year and read it, but if you're looking for characters to love, this is not the book for you. The characters were quite annoying for me. But if you like quirky characters {even if you don't really like the characters themselves}, this book will have redeeming qualities. The book was a little too predictable for me, but I love knitting series' so much that I'll definitely keep reading this one.

When Anna spots a cat in the yard behind her parents' doll shop, she is excited. Then she realizes the cat is about to have kittens--even better! And Anna has something else to look forward to: her cousin Tania is coming from Russia to stay with Anna's family. Anna already has two sisters, but she and Tania are the exact same age--eleven--and she imagines they will get along perfectly. But Tania doesn't respond to Anna's friendly overtures, and her sisters don't seem to like Tania at all. Luckily, Anna finds a creative way to use her love of dolls and cats to bring everyone together.

My thoughts: I cannot say enough how much I love this book {as well as the The Doll Shop Downstairs which you should read first}. There were parts of this book that made me seriously tear up and vow anew to do everything I can to help animals because so many people are just plain cruel and I don't get it. Thankfully, Anna and her sisters and her cousin come to the rescue. These little girls are so lovely. I adore them. Every little girl needs to read these books. They are so wonderful.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: French Toast

Nothing beats a hot plate of french toast for breakfast. The problem is who wants to spend all that effort right after waking up to make a batch of it? Not me! Well, I have a solution for you! Make it ahead of time, toss it in the freezer and then all you need to do when you want some is pop a couple pieces into your toaster. Tah dah! Near instant french toast with no work.

  • 6 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 loaf texas toast
  • Mix together all non-bread ingredients.
  • Heat a skillet or frying pan over medium heat.
  • Dip a piece of texas toast into the batter, making sure both sides are covered.
    • Let the excess drip back into the batter bowl.
  • Fry the battered bread until browned on each side
    • This took about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side for me but may be different for you.
  • If using a skillet, you can make multiple pieces at a time, but either way, repeat until all the bread is gone.
    • You will have a little left over batter.
  • Lay flat and flash freeze in your freezer for about 15-20 minutes.
    • I had to do this in batches.
  • Return frozen french toast to texas toast bag and place in freezer.
  • Toast in a toaster and serve with maple syrup whenever you want some delicious french toast.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saving the Moola: conscious choices make all the difference

photo credit
Jason and I are a little tight fisted when it comes to our money. I'm sure this isn't a revelation of any sorts to readers who've been with us for awhile! This winter, we noticed a slight increase in our rent bill, which includes rent, a fee per month to have Preston, water, sewage, etc. The slight increase was due to water. Apparently, we were using a little extra water somehow each month.

The slight increase caused us to have to adjust our rent payment each month, and this highly annoyed us. So instead of just complaining, we decided to do something about it.

And this started our journey toward making every moment a very conscious one. Jason started cutting his showers shorter, and I decided to flush less. Before ya'll think we're crazy {or rather, that I am crazy}, let me explain all of this.

Not that you think Jason is crazy since spending less time in the shower isn't really that crazy, but Jason does love his showers. He could spend an hour in there each night if I let him. I've always hounded him to some degree about his showers, but honestly, after we saw our water portion of our rent bill, I didn't have to say a word. He took it upon himself to spend five minutes or less in the shower. This is the goal, and he doesn't always hit it, but it's a good goal to have and he's much more conscious of the time he spends in the shower. We choose not to set a timer since we're not that concerned, but this is a great idea if you're someone who's not so conscious of time, even when you're trying to be.

Some of our expenses are weird - for instance, we use more TP than other couples who both work out of the home. Since I work primarily from home and Jason works at the lib and at home, when his company has work for him, we're using TP a lot at home and not at work. In that same instance, this means every time I use the bathroom, I'm using our bathroom. I'm using our TP, our hand wash, our water to flush the toilet, and on it goes.

Now that I'm expecting a child, I find I need to use the bathroom more than ever. So that doesn't really help matters! By not flushing every time I use the toilet, I'm seriously saving money. I flush, on average, one of three times I use the toilet, and it has never, ever been an issue. Obviously, if you're expecting company, I would encourage you, for the comfort of your guests, to have a flushed toilet. But most days of the week, it's just me and Jason. We have two toilets, and oddly, we each use our "own" and tend not to use the other person's toilet. While Jason is not such a fan of an unflushed toilet, he doesn't tend to use the toilet I primarily use and so I can not flush to my heart's content.

And wouldn't you know it - we've not only cut $5 from our water bill, we've cut $7 every month since we started this!! It's been several months now and our total rent bill has been decreased by $7 or so each month. Over the course of a year, that's a savings of $84!

Which brings me to the more relevant reason of why I'm sharing that conscious choices make all the difference: recently, we noticed our energy bill was crazy high. Even when I started making conscious choices to lower it, it was not lowered by what I had expected.

That's when things started to get serious. I made a vow that I would set the heat at 59 degrees, and I would not ever touch it. I always liked having our light over the oven on and the lights over our breakfast bar on. It just felt home-y to have these lights on. But when I realized this could be part of the cause of our energy bill increase, I turned off all the lights and never left them on unless someone was in the kitchen. I started turning off all other lights at night and in the early morning, if I was just on the computer and didn't need a light to read.

I have yet to see if all of these conscious choices will make a difference. I'm anxiously waiting for our bill to arrive around October 27.

But now that I can see how it's every moment that can make the difference, it's inspired me to really live every moment well. I'm a big-picture kind of person. I live my life now with the end in sight - what is my end goal? And what do I need to do now to get there? And I tend to forget that what I'm doing right now, that is unrelated to that goal, may impact that goal.

For instance, our goal is to have enough savings to cover all our medical bills and leaves from work for our child by Christmas, essentially, this year. We're cutting things out of our budget and cutting back on groceries. We're staying home more and making more things ourselves in an effort to save money.

But we weren't thinking about every day moments. Moments where one would normally flush the toilet. Moments where one would leave the toaster plugged in after breakfast because you just don't think of it.

It's those moments that absolutely can make or break you. It can affect your goal. Every moment brings a choice of some kind - whether you're going to keep using your computer, whether you're going to leave your TV plugged in {or on}, and whether you're going to line dry your clothes instead of conveniently using a dryer.

Making conscious choices usually mean you're shirking convenience. I'm not saying it'll be easy. Some days, it's easier to just throw the clothes in the dryer. Some days, it's easier to plop the kids in front of the TV and let them watch a movie. But consider how doing that will affect your end goal. Will you meet your financial goals? Will your kids grow up with the characteristics you desire them to have?

There is one quote that has been running through my mind lately: God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

I know I'm not qualified. God didn't call me to live this life because I was naturally good at it. In fact, my upbringing was just the opposite of the life I'm living now. But God called me to this life and he qualified me. I'm nothing without Him. I wouldn't be here, in this moment, living this life without Him.

If you have a goal in your heart, make sure you're doing everything you can to reach that goal and don't stand in your own way. Examine all your bills and really contemplate what you can do to help your family along. Complacency is not an option for being a winner in life. And when you feel discouraged, as we all will because life is never easy, know that you're doing this for a greater purpose. Whether or not you serve Him, you have a goal for a reason. Keep that reason in sight. Keep pushing yourself to get to where you want to be. It won't always be easy, but it's always, always worth it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

This Book Room

This latest release in the Redemption series reunites readers with the continuing saga of the Baxter family. Brooke Baxter has achieved everything this world has to offer-a prestigious career, a beautiful home, and two wonderful children. Her recent return to her faith is an encouragement to her family. But if she faces tremendous loss, can her fledgling faith and her rocky marriage survive?

Additional notes: This is the fourth book in the Redemption series. There are five books in this series, and all have been released. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here and the third book here.

My thoughts: This story was difficult to read in that the plot line of Brooke's daughter broke my heart. I think that's what this series is best for: taking situations that you think could never happen to you and making you realize no one is invincible.

This first volume, covering the first two and a quarter years of the strip, will be of particular fascination to Peanuts aficionados worldwide: Although there have been literally hundreds of Peanuts books published, many of the strips from the series' first two or three years have never been collected before in large part because they showed a young Schulz working out the kinks in his new strip and include some characterizations and designs that are quite different from the cast we're all familiar with. (Among other things, three major cast members Schroeder, Lucy, and Linus initially show up as infants and only "grow" into their final "mature" selves as the months go by. Even Snoopy debuts as a puppy ) Thus The Complete Peanuts offers a unique chance to see a master of the art form refine his skills and solidify his universe, day by day, week by week, month by month. This volume is rounded out with Garrison Keillor's introduction, a biographical essay by David Michaelis (Schulz and Peanuts) and an in-depth interview with Schulz conducted in 1987 by Gary Groth and Rick Marschall, all wrapped in a gorgeous design by award-winning cartoonist Seth.

Additional notes: All of the strips are being released in Complete books. This is the first Complete book, and all the strips up to 1986 are released as of this writing.

My thoughts: I didn't really think I would like this book as I haven't read Peanuts throughout the years. But oh my, the strips are funny. But so mature! I really don't see how little ones would understand the jokes of the 50s era {and in the pursuit of honesty, some of them were over my head!}. I am looking forward to reading all of the Complete books now, though. Peanuts is a lot different than what I had thought - I highly recommend reading this book and seeing what you think.

Wolves and panthers and bears roam the deep Wisconsin woods in the late 1870's. In those same woods, Laura lives with Pa and Ma, and her sisters, Mary and Baby Carrie, in a snug little house built of logs. Pa hunts and traps. Ma makes her own cheese and butter. All night long, the wind howls lonesomely, but Pa plays the fiddle and sings, keeping the family safe and cozy.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Little House on the Prairie series. There are nine books in this series and all have been released.

My thoughts: I don't know how went my whole life without reading this series, but I'm really glad I'm reading it now! I seriously long to live in this period. Some parts of this book are a little scary, but I think this series is still appropriate for children.

Nine-year-old Anna and her sisters love to play with the dolls in their parents' doll repair shop. But when World War I begins, an embargo on German-made goods-including the parts Papa needs to repair the dolls-threatens to put the family's shop out of business. Fortunately, Anna has an idea that just might save the day. Inspired by the true story of Madame Alexander, this is a timeless tale of family and imagination.

My thoughts: I love, love, love this book. Every little girl needs to read this book. It is so informative of the time period, but the story line is so, so sweet. It's fun and insightful and all around just a wonderful delight.

If forgiving your ex-husband was easy, everybody would do it.

Brent had cheated on Dayna and coldly said goodbye to her seven long years ago---dashing her hopes of having children or growing old with the love of her life. Working hard to make herself successful as a hospital executive, Dayna has moved on, finding comfort in a new dating relationship with a faith-filled colleague, Warren.

But when Brent resurfaces on her doorstep at just the wrong time, Dayna's heart threatens to come unglued. Why is Brent asking for forgiveness now? And why are he and his new wife, Tamara, interested in reconciliation with Dayna? The unbelievable answers begin to surface as Brent boldly asks Dayna to support him at the most crucial time of his life.

While Tamara's heart brims with guilt, both women will discover what it means to reach beyond pain and baggage to love unconditionally, leaving the consequences to God.

Additional notes: This is the first book in the Winds of Change series. The second book in this series is expected to be released in 2013.

My thoughts: This book was interesting. I liked it but I didn't like it. The characters were incredibly annoying, but the plot was interesting in concept. I felt disappointed overall with the book, but I'm a fan of this author and the next book looks far, far better than this one turned out to be.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Creamy Crockpot Chicken Noodle Soup

Jess and I have been making this recipe for a while now and have enjoyed it each time we do. We found the original recipe on Pinterest, which is why we haven't shared it before. And anything we make this often needs to be properly shared, not just mentioned with a link in what we are eating this week.

  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 4 chicken boullion cubes
  • 2/3 cup cream of something soup mix
  • 1 cup milk
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 to 1 1/2 lbs chicken cooked chicken, shredded with 2 forks
  • pepper
  • minced onion
  • basil
  • 1 lb. of noodles of your choice
    • We recommend cavatappi.
  • Put all ingredients other than the noodles in a 5 or 6 quart crock pot. 
    • Guesstimate a good amount for the spices. I use about 1/2 as much pepper as I do the other two. 
  • Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours.
  • Cook the noodles separately according to the package instructions.
  • Serve the soup portion over a bowl half filled with noodles.
    • If you mix the noodles in with the soup, when you go to have leftovers, there will be very little broth as the noodles will absorb the majority of it. By keeping them separate until they hit the bowl, you prevent this from happening.
If you choose to make the original recipe, there is one error/typo in it; do not use 4 to 5 chicken breasts, instead use the 6 tenderloins or only 1 breast, 2, if you like a lot of chicken.

Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Life & Style: unplugging brings focus back to our family

photo credit
My husband is a pretty wise man, and a month or so ago, he came up with an idea: he wasn't going to use his computer on Sundays. The instant he said it, I knew I had to follow suit - not only as a show of support and to spend time with him, but for myself, too.

We've been going tech-free {or nearly tech-free} every Sunday since then, and while it isn't always easy, the pay off is way worth it. We never touch our laptops, and while I did use my iPod one Sunday {I was extremely ill and bored and could not read too much as it hurt my head}, I never used my Facebook or Pinterest apps. We do use our cell phone, although our cell phone is just a basic phone, so when we use it, we're using it to catch up with family and friends by calling them.

Our TV is stored in a closet most of the time, and I actually thought we'd end up pulling it out more on Sundays to watch a movie - and I was so, so wrong. It never even occurred to us to do that. We were too busy!

The first Sunday, we hosted my parents for dinner and an afternoon of fellowship. I also sewed a bit. On other Sundays, we've played games, baked, cooked, sewed, played for hours with our cat, went for walks, read and napped.

And every Monday morning, I am both excited and resentful at the thought of waking up. I'm excited because I like to use Facebook to catch up with blogs, friends and family. I love Pinterest because it gives me so many good craft ideas, recipes and general inspiration. But I often resent my computer because I'm on it so much for work and have to use it for eight or so hours each weekday.

Every Sunday is a balm for my soul - and for Jason's. He loves Sundays. He's never said it, but it's obvious he wishes every day were Sunday, even though he also enjoys using his computer for fun. We need a break, though, from staring at screens all day. We need a break to get back to our reality and doing what we love - homemaking.

And oh, how we love it. There's nothing better than waking up to the smell of hash browns and sausage. There's nothing better than being able to call my mum and chat for an hour. There's nothing better than going to church and coming home to lazily go about our days. We love baking and cooking together, sewing, reading, napping, and just talking. We've spent many a Sunday hour or two just catching each other up on the little things in our lives that we never got around to sharing during the regular week.

You could probably do all of those things and use your computer in the same day, but I think you'll find that your attention is distracted. That you might tell your partner to, "Hold on. I'm busy for a second." That you're reading statuses on Facebook when you could be baking a treat for the week. That you're pinning on Pinterest when you could be picking up items around your house. That you're spending time on frivolous things when you could be loving on your family.

Because of Sundays, our bond is stronger. We both look forward to that time on Saturday night when we both turn off our laptops, unplug them from the wall, and stack them together in the corner. And when we wake up on Sunday morning, it almost feels like Christmas morning. Like we just know that day is going to be special.

And our Sundays are special - because we're spending time the way we long to spend it... with each other and without distraction.

Friday, October 12, 2012

In the Kitchen with Jason: Mum's Chili

Now this is a delicious recipe that the whole family will enjoy. How do I know? Because my whole family enjoys it... well, my in laws do. The recipe came from Jess's mom, who isn't big on measuring (she told us to add chili powder until it smells like chili). We have worked out some measurements that make this recipe good for us and you can take our base and expand upon it yourselves if you so choose. Just don't be surprised when you don't change a thing!

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 40 oz can mild chili beans
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3 Tbsp chili powder
  • Cook ground beef and onions in a frying pan.
  • Drain grease from beef and onions.
  • Mix cooked beef, onions, and remaining ingredients into a big pot.
  • Heat to boiling over medium-high heat.
  • Cover and reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Serve.
You can also opt to add in your favorite toppings. We like cheddar cheese added on top of our chili.
Please enjoy!

-Chef Jason

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This Book Room

This touching novel reunites readers with the Baxter family and focuses on the only Baxter son, Luke. He is determined to leave his faith and his past behind and embrace a new, free-thinking future. But what he doesn't realize is that his past holds a secret even he doesn't know. When Luke finds out, his comfortable new life is turned upside down, and he must turn back to his roots.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Redemption series. There are five books in this series and all have been released. You can read my review of the first book here and the second book here.

My thoughts: This book was really interesting and easily one of the best books, if not, the best book in the series. Luke is an amazing character - so full of emotion and turmoil. His journey was lovely to follow - although nail-biting at times.

Every year, millions of women wait with anticipation as they watch their test strip change from white to pink, thus beginning the awesome adventure of becoming a mother. This latest "Chicken Soup" book will find a place in the loving hearts and anxious minds of expectant mothers (and some fathers, too ).

Written by expectant mothers, veteran moms and fathers-to-be, these stories relate the physical, emotional and spiritual joys and challenges of each stage of motherhood, from "barely showing" to the awkward last months, from labor and delivery to watching and caring for Baby.

Some stories offer hope when the pregnancy isn't medically perfect; others offer light-hearted humor to cope with weight gain, morning sickness and other pregnancy woes; and still others offer words of wisdom for the seemingly daunting responsibilities of choosing a name, going through labor and bringing a new life into the world.

By relaying the insecurities and triumphs of a variety of moms and moms-to-be-including multiple births, premature births, adoptions, and single-parent families-this book will tug at the heartstrings and ease the fears of any expectant mother, regardless of her situation. Chapters include: Special Moments, Delivery Day, Challenges, On Adoption, Advice from Others, For Expectant Fathers and The First Few Years.

My thoughts: This book didn't touch me as much as I thought it would, which is kind of weird. I enjoyed reading it, though, and the chapters covered a wide variety of topics, all relating back to expecting a little one. Maybe this all just feels too surreal for me to be emotionally touched yet, I'm not sure. Either way, in five or so months, it will be real!

When other little girls were dreaming about becoming doctors or lawyers, Alex Garrett set her sights on conquering the high-powered world of Wall Street. And though she's prepared to fight her way into an elitist boys' club, or duck the occasional errant football, she quickly realizes she's in over her head when she's relegated to a kiddie-size folding chair with her new moniker—Girlie—inscribed in Wite-Out across the back.

No matter. She's determined to make it in bond sales at Cromwell Pierce, one of the Street's most esteemed brokerage firms. Keeping her eyes on the prize, the low Girlie on the totem pole will endure whatever comes her way—whether trekking to the Bronx for a $1,000 wheel of Parmesan cheese; discovering a secretary's secret Friday night slumber/dance party in the conference room; fielding a constant barrage of "friendly" practical jokes; learning the ropes from Chick, her unpredictable, slightly scary, loyalty-demanding boss; babysitting a colleague while he consumes the contents of a vending machine on a $28,000 bet; or eluding the advances of a corporate stalker who's also one of the firm's biggest clients.

Ignoring her friends' pleas to quit, Alex excels (while learning how to roll with the punches and laugh at herself) and soon advances from lowly analyst to slightly-less-lowly associate. Suddenly, she's addressed by her real name, and the impenetrable boys' club has transformed into forty older brothers and one possible boyfriend. Then the apocalypse hits, and Alex is forced to choose between sticking with Cromwell Pierce as it teeters on the brink of disaster or kicking off her Jimmy Choos and running for higher ground.

Fast-paced, funny, and thoroughly addictive, Bond Girl will leave you cheering for Alex: a feisty, ambitious woman with the spirit to stand up to the best (and worst) of the boys on the Street—and ultimately rise above them all.

My thoughts: This book was absolutely riveting - it is definitely a must read. It's certainly chick lit, but it's funny, entertaining and a fun, fun read. I will be anxiously waiting for Erin's next book to come out, and I think it would be entirely warranted for her to write a follow up to this one. I want to keep reading these characters!!

Ellie Jerome is a young-at-heart seventy-five-year-old who feels she has more in common with her twenty-nine-year-old granddaughter, Lucy, than her fifty-five-year-old daughter, Barbara. Ellie's done everything she can to stay young, and the last thing she wants is to celebrate another birthday. So when she finds herself confronted with a cake full of candles, Ellie wishes more than anything that she could be twenty-nine again, just for one day. But who expects a wish like that to come true?

29 is the story of three generations of women and how one magical day shakes up everything they know about each other. While Ellie finds that the life of a twenty-something is not as carefree as she expected, the sheer joy of being young again prompts her to consider living her life all over. Does she dare stay young for more than this day, even if it means leaving everyone she loves behind?

Fresh, funny, and delightful, 29 is an enchanting adventure about families, love, and the real lessons of youth.

My thoughts: What a fun, fanciful read. The author takes the reader on a journey of what-ifs and never-can-happen-in-real-life. But it was fun. Ellie cracked me up. The characters all are quirky which is fitting for a book with a plot that is definitely make believe. Ellie's world sounds fun to live in - both the 29-year-old version and the 75-year-old one.

Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, close friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share her life with, however, she just can't seem to get it right. When her latest relationship implodes, and her best friend announces she's engaged, Anne impulsively calls what she thinks is a dating service--only to discover that it's actually an exclusive, and pricey, arranged "marriage" service. Anne initially rejects the idea, but the more she learns about the service, the more she thinks: "Why not?" After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world; maybe it could work for her.

A few months later, Anne is traveling to a Mexican resort, where, over the course of a weekend, she meets and then marries Jack. And initially, everything seems to be working out. . . .

My thoughts: The plot absolutely intrigued me. I loved reading about a modern-day arranged marriage and how exactly that would work out. And while I confess the book didn't delve into this as much emotionally as I would have preferred, the plot contained twists and turns I never expected, which kept me gripped to the end. The characters aren't incredibly well developed, but the style of writing is easy to read and the plot catches you right away.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Beauty Fix: an essential item everyone needs to have

This item may surprise you. It's underrated, really. It's inexpensive, it's readily available at most supermarkets, drugstores, etc., and it's a multi tasker. It's useful for both men and women.

I'm talking about clear mascara.

I will never, ever forget about you again.
Maybe some of you already have clear mascara and know you can't live without it. I discovered its greatness in high school, then proceeded to spend many foolish years not even having it in my beauty bag {gasp!}.

I purchased a tube of it a month or so ago and have fallen in love again with this product. First, there's the price. For an essential item, it's important that the price not be too exorbitant, otherwise, it makes the item seem less essential. My tube was $4 and change and made by CoverGirl. I admit I had to hunt for it at Target {could it be that other people don't see the value in this item, thus it's not made so much anymore???}.

My main uses for clear mascara are two-fold. While the hair that grows on my head isn't the blondest, the hair that grows on the rest of my body is very, very light. My eyebrows and eyelashes are very blonde. I personally find it odd to wear black mascara when it's obvious my hair is not black. It's just my personal preference not to have that look. I am addicted to curling my eyelashes {click here to read about the most fantastical eyelash curler ever} but without any product at all on them, they tend to droop halfway through the day. While some people claim to love Vaseline for this, I find that it's messy to use my fingers for that. I'd much rather use a wand. Enter: clear mascara. I coat my lashes with clear mascara, and it works like a charm. My eyelashes hold their curl better.

My other main use is for my eyebrows. While I, at times, like to use eyebrow color to fill in my eyebrows and give them more definition {due to the fact that they are very, very blonde}, 99.9999% of the time, I prefer a completely natural look. 1 - I save money by not spending it on cosmetics. 2 - I save time by not putting the cosmetics I paid money for on my face. 3 - I simply prefer a natural look because it's more real to who I am. With all of that said, I have the most unruly brows. Unruliness to the point that my aesthetician regularly gives my brow hairs a trim after waxing away the excess hairs. It's that bad, friends. I love using clear mascara and the wand to tame my brows. Super quick, super easy.

Men can use clear mascara for the same reasons. It's clear {if the name didn't make that obvious enough} so it's not like anyone can tell you've used it. This is just a great product that I could not live without. I honestly have no clue how I went several years without it, even when I knew how amazing it was.

So there you have it! This is definitely the cheapest beauty item I've shared, and I hope you all give clear mascara a go and see if you love it as much as I do!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saving the Moola: September in review

Since we're now expecting a new member of our family in March, many of our financial goals have changed. We are very excited and blessed to be expecting a child, but there was a little bit of mourning on my part for the financial goals we're having to set aside for now. Many others enjoy sharing pregnancy news early, but I have to say that I would never have wanted to share our news differently... actually, I think we will probably wait longer if there is a next time! It was truly a blessing to have a couple of months to ourselves to digest the news, re-work our goals and become truly and abundantly joyful at the coming blessing.

But now that the mushy stuff is over, it's time for us to share our financial progress. And this fall has definitely felt like a "git 'r done" season of life. We were really working hard toward paying off my last student loan, but we're saving money with even more zeal than before! To date, we've saved $1,200 more than we had budgeted for our expected child. This is really, really good. I am, to be honest, a little nervous about hitting our goal for right after Christmas. Jason's goal is more laid back, and we have had many, many conversations, particularly in the last week of September about our goals, how to achieve them, accepting they might not be able to happen, etc.

We are off to a good start, and we know what we have to pay for medical bills and we know how much to save so we can take some time off work and spend the first couple of months with our child. We have goals, we're working toward them - I can't really ask for much more than that.

Along with re-working our debt free plan, we've absolutely had to take a look at what we expected to accomplish in the next 10 years and change our mindset there as well. While we still dream of paying for a home in cash and we are praying and leaving it in God's hands (along with working our butts off and being good stewards of our resources), we know that our expenses will look a bit differently now that we'll have added costs each month, particularly as the child grows older. We know nothing's impossible with God, and that brings us great comfort.

We want to encourage you as much as possible, and this post resulted from a urge to encourage you and lift you up, even when you feel like you're not much making traction with your goals or lifestyle changes. It can be hard to beat a defeatist attitude, but we encourage you to keep fighting and keep plugging away at this crazy game of life. You can turn your life around, you can keep going on your path to financial freedom, you can really do this.

We also feel it's incredibly important to know your price points on everything you buy. I know my price points for things like cereal and a really great sweater. This helps keep me in check when I'm tempted to spend a little more, but it also allows me a lot of freedom when there is a great deal on something I need/want. We recently stocked up on canned vegetables at Meijer for 33 cents a can. We were completely out of canned vegetables and ended up buying 36 cans in total. We felt comfortable buying that many cans (after we checked to ensure they wouldn't expire for quite awhile) because they were at a great price and we needed them.

We would love to hear how your financial goals are coming along! There's only three more months left in the year, but we know we can all make great progress.

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Gaming Corner: Yahtzee Hands Down Card Game

Card games of your favorite classic games seem to be the in thing this year. The problem is that we magically picked up the good ones first and have gradually picked up the remainder, and they just are not as good. The more I play this game, the less thought out it feels.

Let's start with the cards:

There are many different types of cards as you can see, and at a glance, you are probably wondering why they have different colors. Well, that is because in Yahtzee Hands Down, you can only use cards of matching colors.

COMPLAINT #1: Why add colors to this game? They are pointless and extend a game that doesn't
need extending.

Across the top row of the picture, you see the normal number dice cards. Each color has the same number of these cards. There are three of 1, 2 and 3 and then only two of 4, 5, and 6.

COMPLAINT #2: This game was based on a dice game, so there should be an equal chance of getting each number.

In the next row are our double dice. They can be used for either face showing.

COMPLAINT #3 and #4: Real six-sided dice are arranged in such a way that opposite sides add up to seven, so you will never see a real die like this and if you do have dice that are wrong like that, no one will ever let you play Yahtzee with them. Oh yeah, when was the last time you ever rolled a die and had it land exactly on an edge so that you could choose which side to use? These were not thought out well.

Then, we come to the wild cards. I'll just call them COMPLAINT #5 and move on (what side of the normal die is wild?)

Then, there are the multi color cards... please refer to COMPLAINT #1.

Then, there are chance cards (blue) and combo cards (yellow) which are your main form of scoring (which we will get into in a moment).

And the final card: The starter card. This is used because people are now too lazy to remember who went first in the last round. So if we give that guy (or gal) a card that says so, then we won't have to think to know who goes first in the next round. If it isn't obvious, I would call this COMPLAINT #6(there is a side chance that there was 1 space left in the big sheet of cards when they were planning out the cards and they just threw this in for space filler, but I would rather get a completely blank card than something that insults my intelligence).

The Play
Each player is dealt a hand of five cards. They then take turns discarding as many cards as they want and then drawing that same number of cards (this is to represent the rerolling of Yahtzee, I believe). When one of the players has a combo, he needs to say "Hands Down" and place his cards face down on the table in front of him. The different combos available have all been pulled from Yahtzee: 3 of a kind, 4 of a kind, Full house (2 of a kind and 3 of a kind), small straight, large straight, and Yahtzee!.

Play then continues as normal, except the player whose hand is down has his turn skipped and now just gets to stare at the ceiling until another player gets a combo as well. Those two players then compare their hands. The player who completed the combo for the most points wins that combo card while the player who had the losing combo gets a chance card. If the players completed the came combo, then the player with the highest numbers in his hand wins, and if those are also the same, the player who called hands down first wins.

COMPLAINT #7: If two players both roll a Yahtzee in the dice game, then both players get to score their Yahtzee. They even get bonus points and free turns if you got any extra Yahtzees (Yahtzi?) but in this game, if you and another player get the same combo at the same time one of you is a loser.

The two players then discard their hands of five cards and draw new cards. The starter card is handed to the next starter and play starts over until all the combo and chance cards have been taken.

COMPLAINT #8: As there are only two combo cards for each combo, many players will not be able to finish their 3 of a kind combo, which is exactly the opposite of the real Yahtzee rules where every player has the chance to fill every combo.

The players then add up the point totals on their combo and chance cards and the player with the highest points wins.

COMPLAINT #9: In real Yahtzee, adding up your score was actually some adding. You could use it as a sneaky way to get your kid to do some math. Adding up this game, you are lucky if you break 20 points.

My opinion (if you couldn't have guessed this already): Sorry, Hasbro, but this game gets a thumbs down. This game feels like it was rushed and released without a lot of thought. If you get a hankering for Yahtzee, just grab some dice and avoid this game. At least I got my new card smell fix from this game.

COMPLAINT #10: I didn't have a tenth thing to complain about.

-Gamer Jason

Thursday, October 4, 2012

This Book Room: You Don't Know Me

Sometimes the secrets we keep to protect ourselves can be our undoing.

To all who know her, Annalise Decker is a model wife and mother. She’s a permanent member of the PTA, never misses a sporting event, and is constantly campaigning for her husband’s mayoral race.

No one knows that Annalise was once Deidre O’Reilly, a troubled young woman whose testimony put a dangerous criminal behind bars. Relocated through the Witness Security Program to the quaint harbor town of Deep Haven, Deidre received a new identity and a fresh start, which began when she fell in love with local real estate agent Nathan Decker.

Twenty years later, Annalise couldn’t be more unprepared for her past to catch up with her. When Agent Frank Harrison arrives with news that the man she testified against is out on parole and out for revenge, Annalise is forced to face the consequences of her secrets. Will she run again, or will she finally find the courage to trust those she loves most with both her past and her future?

Additional notes: This is the sixth book in the Deep Haven series, but I really cannot express this enough: for this book, in particular, you do not need to read any of the other books in this series. This book really stands on its own and the main characters are all new. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here and the fifth book here. So far as I know, this series is ongoing.

My thoughts: I really was unsure if I would pick up another Deep Haven novel after I had read the fifth one. I was not such a fan of that book. But I wanted to read this book a. because the cover was gorgeous {even though one should never judge a book by its cover} and b. because the summary of the story really caught my attention.

I was very quickly pulled into this book once I started reading it. It had incredible suspense - I really could not put the book down because all I wanted to do was discover how the story would end.

The characters were relatable - some of the most real characters I've had the pleasure to know. An added bonus to the plot: Frank and Helen's story. I was rooting for them all the way through!

The book ends on a pleasant note, and the reader will definitely not be disappointed. After this book, I'm more than excited to see what the author has up her sleeve for the next Deep Haven novel!

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity Group for proving a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Book Room

Leaving her little prairie town, Belinda Davis never dreamed that the excitement of living in Boston would leave her restless and empty inside. Wealth, literature, travel, and romance touched her life with choices and decisions that brought dissatisfaction rather than joy. She discovered that only when God had first place in her life was her peace restored. Belinda once again faces decisions about her life that are no less difficult than before. A very unexpected responsibility makes the choice even harder.

Additional notes: This is the final book in the Love Comes Softly series. You can read my review of the first book here, the second book here, the third book here, the fourth book here, the fifth book here, the sixth book here and the seventh book here.

My thoughts: This one wasn't my favorite in this series, but it was still well written and enjoyable. I highly recommend this series to anyone. I don't know how it took me this long to read it.

Fifteen years ago, Lainey O'Toole made a split-second decision. She couldn't have known that her choice would impact so many. Now in her mid-twenties, she is poised to go to culinary school when her car breaks down in Stoney Ridge, the very Amish town in which her long-reaching decision was made, forcing her to face the shadowed past. Bess Reihl is less than thrilled to be spending the summer at Rose Hill Farm with her large and intimidating grandmother, Bertha. It quickly becomes clear that she is there to work the farm--and work hard. The labor is made slightly more tolerable by the time it affords Bess to spend with the handsome hired hand, Billy Lapp. But he only has eyes for a flirty and curvaceous older girl. Lainey's and Bess's worlds are about to collide and the secrets that come to light will shock them both. Beautifully written, "The Search" is a skillfully woven story that takes readers through unexpected twists and turns on the long country road toward truth. Fans both old and new will find themselves immersed in this heartwarming--and surprising--tale of young love, forgiveness, and coming to grips with the past.

Additional notes: This is the third book in the Lancaster County Secrets series. You can read my review of the first book in this series here and my review of the second book here. This is a Christmas book that goes along with this series. There are no other books in this series.

My thoughts: This was, by far, the best book in this series, and I really don't know why Suzanne chose to stop at three books! I feel like there should be more in this series. That's how much I liked it. By far, some of the best Amish writing around.

This story vividly illustrates that people must value others more than themselves. As readers follow the hopes and struggles of the Baxter family, they explore key relationship themes as well as the larger theme of redemption.

Additional notes: This is the second book in the Redemption series. You can read my review of the first book here. There are five books in this series, and all have been released.

My thoughts: This book focuses on Ashley, although at the time of this writing, I have now read all five Redemption books and I feel like all, to a certain extent, focus on her. I'm not such a huge fan of that. Her story is definitely interesting though, and her little boy is a darling. I really like that this series reminds me of Parenthood in a way, in that the series is all about an extended family and their dynamics.

Even as a pregnant, unwed teen in 1974, Sandy Lincoln wanted to do the right thing. But when an ancient woman approached her in a convenience store with a mysterious prophecy and a warning, doing the right thing became even more unclear. She made the best choice she could. But now, thirty-four years later, another pregnant, unwed teen has come into her life, and Sandy's long-ago decision has come back to haunt her. The stakes rise quickly, leaving Sandy with split seconds to choose once more. But will her spur-of-the-moment decision bring life . . . or death?

My thoughts: This is a really intriguing book. I was gripped to the near-end, when I felt things became somewhat dicey and odd. I wasn't a huge fan of the big climax at the end, as I just felt it was somewhat lacking. But that's not to take away from the gripping story. If you like suspense stories, you'll want to read this one.

Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is in trouble. For years, she has been the caretaker of her psychotic mother, Camille-the tiara-toting, lipstick-smeared laughingstock of an entire town-a woman trapped in her long-ago moment of glory as the 1951 Vidalia Onion Queen. But when Camille is hit by a truck and killed, CeeCee is left to fend for herself. To the rescue comes her previously unknown great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell.

In her vintage Packard convertible, Tootie whisks CeeCee away to Savannah's perfumed world of prosperity and Southern eccentricity, a world that seems to be run entirely by women. From the exotic Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, who bathes in her backyard bathtub and uses garden slugs as her secret weapons, to Tootie's all-knowing housekeeper, Oletta Jones, to Violene Hobbs, who entertains a local police officer in her canary-yellow peignoir, the women of Gaston Street keep CeeCee entertained and enthralled for an entire summer.

My thoughts: A co-worker lent me this book, and I am so glad she did! I had tears in my eyes at certain points of this book, and I was rooting for CeeCee to feel like she belonged. She did, at the end, and I promise, you will find yourself cheering for her. This story wove itself together nicely. I hope Beth writes more stories to share with everyone.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

State of Our House Address: September in review

This year just keeps flying by! This month was fantastic for us. We announced we were expecting a new member of the family in March. Jason stayed busy working his two jobs, but not so busy that he didn't have time for crafting, cooking, and riding his bike.

Speaking of crafting, Jason gave me a lesson on our sewing machine. He's been using it for more than a year now, but I had yet to venture into sewing. I'm so glad I know how to use it! Jason was so patient and answered all of my questions. I made these receiving blankets for our expected addition:

I'm aware these blankets are somewhat blue, but I promise - we have
no idea if it's a boy or girl, nor are we going to find out until the child comes!
But the prints, to me, are a little bit feminine, and that's why I chose these fabrics.
I'm now working on burp cloths and nursing pads. After that, I'm going to a sew a sweet little sensory toy. Sewing machines are so practical - I'm grateful we have one. We've made countless items using it, including flannel pajama pants, toys for children, handbags, curtains, etc.

With the new addition on his/her way, we've started the process of converting our second bedroom which was an office/crafting room into our child's room.

We made great progress but still have a long way to go. We sold many of our items on - items we had been wanting to sell/donate for awhile and just had not got around to it. Many of those items came from the closet. Then, items we had in the actual room were put into the closet. Our child won't have use of his/her closet, but s/he has a very nice dresser and an organizational system for toys, books and odds and ends. That should be sufficient for now {plus we're going to encourage our child not to be a hoarder... if there's not room for the item, s/he can either choose to donate an item s/he already has or s/he cannot keep the item}.

We really made it a point in September to have a lot of family time - we went to two football games, a festival in town, dinner out a few times, visited family, etc. We haven't been doing as much cooking or baking as we would like, but going into October, we're making this a huge focus. We hope to have some In the Kitchen with Jason posts ready for you soon!

I didn't coupon very much over the summer but am slowly working my way back into it. We picked up two bottles of Suave shampoo for 19 cents each at Walmart near the end of the month, and we made a killing at Meijer with no coupons but really great sales. We saved 45% off our bill at Meijer, and every item we purchased was on sale. We don't always shop there, but the store had wonderful stores on everything we were out of at home!

Happy October! We hope this new month is wonderful for everyone.