Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Happy Hump Day Shopping - Flowers and Plants

I can't help it, this beautiful sun-shiney weather here in Chicago-land today has me dreaming of summer gardening, and all that I want to do and plant this year. So I thought I would share those dreams and also just keep a list for myself of what I want to do.

First and most importantly, I need to fill in my new flower bed with, well, flowers. I thought I would be easy on myself this first time out so I ordered a pre-planned garden from Spring Hill Nursery. It includes Bellflowers, Daisys, Climbing Clematis and Dragon's Blood Sedum and I absolutely can't wait for these plants to arrive so I can plant them and watch them grow.

I was crusing some gardening blogs and came across some really helpful ones. Over at In the Garden Online, I saw a link to the Michigan Bulb Co. My intention was just to compare prices, but I find myself today trying to talk myself out of buying some Blue Moon Hydrangea plants as well as some Everbearing Strawberries. Both are so nice though, and I am so determined to develop a green thumb. . .and for $20 can I really go wrong anyway?!

That will probably be all for my in-ground planting this year, but stay tuned, I am planning a container veggie garden that I will write about in the coming days. . .

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My New Flower Bed

It was a wonderful weekend. My DD and DH created our first ever flower bed. We have decided, finally, to landscape our yard. We have only lived in our house now for 8 years, but better late than never. It also helps that DD has taken some landscaping lessons from school due to a project she was working on for student government.

Have a look at the picture of my new flower bed, complete with a light for night enjoyment! For a 16-year old, she did darn good (and thanks for the help dad)! I can't wait to fill this new space with flowers for the summer.

We have a ways to go, but this is such a nice start, perhaps I can become the gardener I have always wanted to be.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Cafe Thursday - Hobo Dinners

My family and I call these packets, but my mom first started me on these, calling them Hobo Dinners. When we used to camp in the summers when my brothers and I were young one of the things we looked forward to the most were making these Hobo Dinners. These simple dinners are basically meat and any veggies you want, wrapped in tinfoil, and baked till the meat is cooked through and the veggies are soft.

Now that I have a family of my own, I realize how very difficult it is to feed several people who all have their own likes and dislikes. That is where the true goodness of these Hobo Dinners lies. Each one of us can create our own ideal dinner of meat and veggies. The hardest part of this recipe is the chopping of the veggies, but I recommend you include everyone and really have fun with this.

Take one large piece of tinfoil. Coat it with plenty of Olive Oil. Add the meat of your choice, raw (chicken, fish and groundbeef are the best we have tried). Pile on all the veggies you like (potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, peppers, and zucchini are all delicious). Add the seasonings of your choice, depends mostly on your meat choice (we like steak seasoning best and salt and pepper) Fold in tinfoil so that no heat escapes your pile (DS makes a hershey kiss sort of shape, I usually make more of a big square packet). Bake on a baking sheet at 450 for about 35 minutes, but test for doneness after 30 minutes.

Let cool a bit. CAREFULLY open your packets, the steam will be HOT. Add steak sauce or katsup and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Our Earth Day - Solidarity and Tech Free Week

It is Earth Day, and while we probably should have planned to plant a tree or a garden or something, my family has decided to focus on other areas of our lives that are out of whack.

First, we have decided to join with our sisters and brothers at Willow Creek Church and take the Five-Day Solidarity Challenge. This means that for 5 days this week we are eating either oatmeal or rice and beans for our meals. The purpose of this challenge is "to stand alongside our brothers and sisters living in poverty across the world, [and eat] what they eat,” said Willow Creek’s Compassion and Justice Director Heather Larson.

Believe it or not, my kids are actually the ones that are pushing us to do this challenge. It is a great thing, and something I am anxious to do to. I have become increasingly aware over the past few weeks that I spend entirely too much time thinking and planning what I am going to eat. If I took just half that and made it more productive I would gain hours of time. Perhaps I could even be more organized.

Would you like to do your part in getting more rice into the hands of needy people? Go on over to and play a vocabulary game while you donate bowls of rice to those who need it. Find yourself with some extra cash? Why not be a sponsor? It doesnt' take much to help feed those who are less fortunate.

In addition to our menu challenge for the week, my husband further challeneged our family to give up technology for the week as well. We are trying to live like the other half of the world does, and already it is hard. Of course, since I can't give up technology at work (a network admin can't easily do that), I am takign this lunch break to blog our progress. Tonight I am hoping to spend some time chatting with the kids, then suggesting a game of tennis or cards and then a long soak in the tub! I may just get used to this yet.

Book Review - The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I have had this book on my "to-read" list for over a year now. I first saw the hardcover in the bookstore and thought it sounded interesting. Being a book lover, mystery fan, and a historical fiction fan, I thought I would really enjoy this book, but I am not sure that I did. I will compare this book to others that are like this one to explain why I liked them more.

The first author that came to mind as I was reading The Thirteenth Tale was P.D. James. Most likely it was the setting that brought one of my favorites to mind, but I believe it was the tone also that had me thinking of books like The Murder Room and Cover Her Face. The main difference here is that with a James book I have to make sure I have several hours to spend, as I can't put her books down. I did not have this problem with The Thirteenth Tale. It was not until the very last couple of chapters that I found myself wanting to keep reading, and that was really to be done and able to move on to my next book.

Another book that came to mind was The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, which I really enjoyed. I read a review that said the reviewer hadn't liked a book so well since Zafon's, and I realized that indeed, I liked the latter much better. While the general tone of both books is very similar, I did not guess the ending in The Shadow of the Wind, and I found interesting diversions throughout. That is not to say that The Thirteenth Tale doesn't have its own interesting twists and turns, but most of them can be seen coming.

Finally, another reviewer I read compared this book to The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I would agree that the tones are similar, but Kostova has a genuine purpose for the dark undertones in her book; she is writing about vampires. Both heroines have a strange family life with only a father present, and yet Kostova's book seems to have so much more light and hope. Not to mention the fact that there is true horror in The Historian while in Setterfield's book there is only the suggestion of horror which does not pan out in the end.

In short, I found the book The Thirteenth Tale to be an adaquate diversion. I was not enthralled in the storytelling, the mystery was a bit predictable, and the overall depressed feeling of this book made it drag on for me just a bit. Having said that, if this author does write another book it is very likely that I will read it, as I have a feeling that she will improve greatly in time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

All Natural Diet Favorites

My DD and I have been dieting/fasting for over three weeks now, and I have to say that we are having a bit of fun. It turns out that we actually like the health food store, and we both like the challenge of finding the healthiest, most naturally made foods. It is especially exciting when they taste great. So I thought I would share with you today some favorite staples from the last few weeks.

1. For me has to be veggie chips. My favorite brand so far is EatSmart Veggie Crisps, but I also really enjoy the Good Health Veggie Chips. I have many more brands to try, but these are great, eaten in moderation of course.

2. My brother turned us on to another natural snack that is fantastic, but you have to try different brands to find the one you like best. Blue corn nacho chips are super good and can be made even better with some homemade guacamole. The brand we liked the best was the Meijer Organic Blue Corn Chips with Sesame Seeds.

3. Our local health food store has a smoothie bar and bakery in it, and they make some delicious little date ball things that are very good and great for the sweet tooth. You could make these yourself by taking some ground nuts, dates and raisins, smushed bananna and rolling them into a ball and then dropping them in coconut.

4. Fresh fruit. I can't say it enough, I love fruit. After being on the Atkins Diet on and off for over 7 years, it is such a joy to pick up an apple, orange, bananna or grapefruit and dig in.

5. Fresh vegetable stir fry. To me, it matters not what seasonings you use, stir frying fresh veggies with some oil and spices is pretty close to heaven. Add these veggies to a plate of brown rice and one could really feast quite happily.

Have any great fresh or all natural food favorites? I would love to hear them, we are trying to make this a healthy lifestyle change and need all the ideas and tips we can get.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Finally Friday Fun - Vacation Planning

I have started saving for a vacation. I am planning to go sometime next spring I think and will be taking DH, DD, DS and a DB. Now that I have put my savings plan in place, we need to decide on a location and go about getting passports.

I originally thought that Paris, France was at the top of our list, but it changes for me from moment to moment. I read one article yesterday on the top 10 cities to visit and I think that after considering Paris, I have decided on some where in Italy in Tuscany. I think we are going to rent a house for a week, one with a pool close to a little village.

This of course will all cost a small fortune, but it is a once in a lifetime trip for my husband and kids that I want to take before they fly off and are on their own. I also wonder if this is a bit slow and too low key for DS and think he may want more of an adventure, in which case I will have to consider another option I heard about this morning.

There is a place in sunny Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where you can swim with dolphins, go whale watching, or even do a canopy tour. I think DH and DS would actually like this option much better, but I am gonna go for Italy first.

Of course, I will probably be out-voted and we will end up in Florida, again, but I will get to Europe. and Mexico . . .eventually.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What Is Your Favorite Candy?

I occasionally read the blog Inside Mo's Mind, as there are often book reviews that I enjoy posted there. Yesterday, she had posted her response to Beccagirl's Give Me Five Monday meme which was "Give Me Five favorite candies, of all time or currently." Well, it didn't take me long to start drooling over memories of candies enjoyed in the past. What fun. So, here is my list of five favorites, with one honorable mention because I just had to:

1. Kit Kat Bars - I used to just LOVE these. I think it is because it always felt like I was having two snacks, a cookie and chocolate bar.

2. 100 Grand Bar - I used to love rice krispy treats, and carmel is one of my favorites too, so this was always a real treat to have. They used to give these out when we would go trick-or-treating.

3. Bit-O-Honey - Another favorite from my days trick-or-treating as a kid. They used to give out the big bars. I tried eating one of these recently and had to stop, I think my teeth are too old for this golden oldie.

4. Boston Baked Beans - We used to get these before going to the movies or to the drive in. They also sold them in my high school cafateria. . .back then, I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight.

5. Sugar Babies - Another movie favorite and one that actually still shows up in my kids trick-or-treating bag. I guess I really had a thing for those "stick to your teeth" candies, it explains much actually.

Honorable Mention: Vanilla Bullseyes - My DD now shares my passion for these little goodies. They make them fresh at a candy store just down the block from work, a fact I try to forget.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Cafe Thursday - Home Cooked French Fries

If you are a regular reader of my blog then you know that I am currently smack dab in the middle of a 3 week fast that has me eating only fruits, veggies, beans and oats. So how can I possibly post a decent recipe you may ask? Well, the truth is, I have actually been more creative in the kitchen in the past week and a half than I have been in a good long while.

Now, my brother thinks that this little recipe is cheating, but I think that since the ingredients are allowed, it is fair game! So here is the recipe for the only meal I have really enjoyed since being on this fast: Home Cooked French Fries.


2 - 4 medium sized potatoes, quartered and then cut into strips

4-6 cups of Canola Oil

Dash of Emeril's Essence


Put oil in a sauce pan or deep fryer and heat. Add potatoes to pan until they are golden brown (took about 15 minutes for mine). Remove potatoes from the pan and place them on a plate covered with paper towel and sprinkle with Essence.