Sunday, January 31, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Dearly Departed

Dearly Departed by Hy Conrad is book two in the Amy's Travel Mystery series.  I had not read the first book prior to this one.  I was a bit put off by the numerous references to book one, but it was not enough to make me dislike this book.  Amy is the co-owner of a New York City travel agency.  She teams up with another travel agency to fulfill the last wishes of MacGregor, a surprisingly rich maid who wishes to send her rich former employers on a trip around the world.  One death along the way is compounded by an "accident" later on leaves Amy with no choice but to solve the mystery rather than let her travel agency get a bad reputation.

While Amy was likeable enough, I was more impressed with the secondary characters Fanny and Marcus.  Fanny (Amy's mother) and Marcus (Amy's boyfriend) are the true standouts of this book.  Their attempts to investigate while back home in New York are entertaining and add to the story.

This might not be my favorite cozy mystery series, but it is definitely worth checking out.  The book features several sub-plots that will keep readers guessing until the end.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Louisiana Saves the Library

I have been looking for something other than just cozy mysteries to read and stumbled onto Louisiana Saves the Library by Emily Beck Cogburn.  I would best describe it as women's fiction.  The main character, Louisiana (aka Louise), is a single mom who moved from Minnesota to Louisiana for job that ends unexpectedly.  She takes the only job she can find at a small public library in Alligator Bayou Parish.  The author does a good job of depicting small town life.

Louise and her friend, Sylvia, soon turn things at the floundering library upside down in an attempt to bring life back to it.  Add in a library director who is resistant to change and Louise's critical ex-husband and new wife moving to the area and life is anything buy simple for Louise.

I do have a couple of problems with the book.  First, the characters could have been developed a bit more.  Several of the characters seemed one-dimensional and lacked depth.  My second issue is that the ending was rushed.  Many things were wrapped up with an "after the fact" description.  The story was good, and it was a nice change from my usual books.  I am looking forward to more from Emily Beck Cogburn.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Furry & Feathered Friday: Thea and the Rooster

Many people question having several types of animals living together.  Cats and chickens are one I get asked about often.  Thea lives primarily in the chicken house (with access to a better shelter if she chooses).  As a result she has gotten used to being around the chickens, and they have gotten used to her.  She does like to run through a group of chickens every now and then but has never tried to catch one.

Her food bowl is at the back of the chicken house.  I kept wondering who was helping her eat the cat food.  I thought it might have been her friend, Barney, who is my parents' cat.  Then I started noticing that some of the chickens were hanging around her bowl.

That was nothing compared to finding Thea and the bantam rooster eating together with both of their heads in the bowl at the same time.  A good paw swat from Thea would send him running, but she seems content to share.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

How to Soften a Rock Hard Bag of White Sugar

Normally I store granulated sugar in a large tote in my pantry.  That tote got overfilled with vacuumed sealed packs of tea.  I put a few bags of sugar on top of the tote, and they promptly became hard as cement blocks.

I searched online for ways to soften it.  One suggestion was to treat it like brown sugar and use a slice of bread.  I put it in a container with three slices of bread and sealed it up with no luck.

Another suggestion was to microwave the sugar.  I set the timer for 30 seconds and was really surprised at how well it worked.  I was able to get half of the block of sugar shaved down with a large spoon.  Another 30 seconds and the entire four pound (remember when sugar was in 5 pound bags?) was soft enough to put into the canister.

 I have another bag that is just as hard and am glad that I have an easy way to soften it.  Throwing it away is not an option, but I like to having a less stressful way to make it useful again.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Gift Idea: Creative Way to Gift Money

I decided to share a gift idea on the 25th of each month.  These can be birthday or Christmas gifts.  Some may require a bit of skill, but most will be simple.

I gave this at Christmas to my oldest nephew and niece.  The candy boxes were once full of candy purchased on sale/clearance.  I made the sacrifice of eating the candy.

You need to decide the total money amount that you plan to give.  The hardest part was figuring out how to divide it out among the sections.  Once we had all of the money in, we wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap.  This kept the coins in their designated place.  It all went back into the candy box and was wrapped.  My niece was down to the candy box before she realized that it did not sound like a box of chocolates.

Weekly Savings

Last week was a bit crazy here as we finally got back to work on the house.  I was also a bit under the weather and did not do a great job at keeping up with my savings.  I am going to hit just a few high points.

I did avoid going to the doctor (so far) and have been treating myself at home with some natural remedies and rest.  I never reached the point that I would need antibiotics and am not a fan of taking them willy nilly.

I rarely keep canned chicken noodle soup on hand.  Instead I have bags of small noodles and chicken broth/base to make my own soup as needed.

I stuck to a slightly higher but still thrifty grocery budget.  That included some items for freezer meals.  We also focused on eating up leftovers.

Some family friends brought by oranges from their trees.  They have been delicious and were a free fruit for W's lunch.

I used the heater in the greenhouse to keep the plants alive while we had some extra cold weather.  I also put a heater into the goldfish pond.  Both of these will only cause a slight increase in our electric bill.  I have many plants packed into the greenhouse that would be expensive to replace.

I made some envelopes using copy paper and glue sticks.  I like that I can have fun colored envelopes for a fraction of the cost of purchasing them premade.

My children's class at church sends birthday and anniversary cards to church members as a mission project.  I was able to get some discounted cards from Current Catalog at a great price.  It keeps the children involved and everyone seems to appreciate getting a card in the mail.

What did you do to save money this past week?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Weekend Book Review: No Cats Allowed

No Cats Allowed by Miranda James is one of my favorite cozy mysteries that I have read recently.  I was introduced to Maine Coon Diesel and his owner Charlie Harris.  The story opens with a new library directory who seems to be more interested in making enemies than friends.  When he ends up murdered, the suspect list is endless.

Each chapter was like a mini-cliffhanger.  I simply could not put the book down.  I wanted to read just one more chapter to see what would happen next.  That only led me to need to read "just one more" until I finished the book.

While this is book seven in the Cat in the Stacks series, it easily stands on its own.  This book alone makes me want to read the rest of the series featuring Diesel and Charlie.  I would give it more than five stars if I could!  No Cats Allowed is due to be released next month.  If you are a cozy mystery fan, it should definitely be on your reading list.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Flying Friday

I kept trying to figure out the best way to title this post since our newest "pets" are not feathered or furry.  They are something we have been wanting to add to our hobby farm for years.  We have honeybees!

They currently live in a starter hive in our greenhouse.

I do have some blooming plants (flowers and the citrus trees), but we are supplementing that with a jar of sugar water.

I have gotten used to going into the greenhouse when they are flying all around.  I am really looking forward to being able to let them into the yard and garden when spring arrives!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Debt Free Choice - Gifts

As we look to decrease our debt, W and I discussed gift giving.  For Christmas the plan is to make gifts to give to everyone.  I have some ideas lined up for gifts and will work on those throughout the year.  We made the choice for birthdays to give only birthday wishes.  I know this is probably not a popular way to save money.  If anyone in our family needed anything, I might feel differently.  All of the children already have too much stuff.   This choice is not meant to be selfish or cruel.  Getting out of debt requires making choices that are not always fun or easy.

How do you handle gift giving on a tight budget?  What are some of your best handmade gift ideas or are you totally against handmade gifts?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Freezer Cooking: Twice Baked Potatoes

Most of the deals I find on potatoes are for the 10 pound bags.  This is only a good deal if I make the effort to use up the potatoes before they go bad.  One of my favorite things to do with them is twice baked potatoes.  I typically make a large batch and freeze the extras.

The first step is to bake your potatoes.  There is no set number.  Choose the ones that would make a good individual serving size.  You want them to be cooked until very soft.

Next you want to cut a small section off the top of the potato.

Bonus:  Do not toss those small sections you removed.  Scoop out the potato part and save the rest for potato skins!

Next scoop out most of the potato leaving a good shell.

All of the potato goes into a large bowl with butter, salt, pepper, sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt), cheese, chives and whatever else you like.  Mash everything together well.

Then put the mixture back into the potato shells.  If you wish to serve them right away, bake them at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or so until they are heated through.  If you want to freeze them for later, put them on a baking sheet and cover them.  Once they are frozen, you can put them all in a freezer bag.  To serve, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then bake as normal.

I actually ended up with a bit too much filling so I put it into custard cups to be baked.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Testing, Testing: Pecan-Almond Butter

I found the recipe for Pecan-Almond Butter in an issue of Eating Well magazine.  It is a simple recipe and perfect to get me back into trying out some recipes.  The recipe is on the frugal side but still a special treat.  I used almonds purchased in bulk and pecans from our trees.  The remaining ingredients are pantry staples.

It starts with roasting the nuts and then putting everything into a food processor.  I have a 15+ year old Black and Decker food processor and had no problem making the butter.  I did stop it every couple of minutes and scrape down the sides.  After about 7 minutes, I had a smooth butter spread.

We ate it on sandwiches.  W decided since we rarely ate peanut butter sandwiches anymore that he would rather have this instead.  I loved the idea as I have never been a huge fan of peanut butter.  I like the small amount and am certain we can eat it up within the one month time frame.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Weekly Savings

I skipped grocery shopping this past week.  We had plenty of food on hand so I saved money and time by not going into town.

I cleaned out the rabbit house.  This was free exercise and gave me a good amount of fertilizer to add to the compost pile.

I talked myself out of a $5 magazine subscription.  It was not a favorite magazine, and I was happier keeping the $5 in my wallet.

I have been making my own herbal tea bags using bulk purchased herbs and disposable filter bags.  It is easy to prefill the bags with whatever herbs I want.

I got more free exercise when I picked up the fallen branches from our pecan trees.  Those went into a pile to be chipped into mulch later.

I did my best to make good use of our leftovers.  I had a couple of extra baked pork chops.  One was saved with other items for a meal for me while W was at work.  I sliced the remaining one thin to top big salads for lunch.  I also baked a lemon ricotta pound cake to use up some ricotta.

A couple of the tomato plants in the greenhouse were "bitten" by cold before W hooked up the heater.  Since only the leaves were affected and not the stems, I cut off two of the suckers and brought them in the house.  They went into a small jar of water in the kitchen window.  I am hoping that they will root and put on new growth.  If not I am only out a bit of my time.

I used the apple juice from boiling the apple peels and cores from last week to make four half-pints of apple jelly.  

I packed W's lunch as usual  This takes a few minutes of prep time but saves hundreds of dollars each year.  I also make sure to use reusable containers so we are not spending money on disposable bags.  W also takes a thermos with tea so he is not tempted to purchase sodas.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Weekend Book Review: Spark Joy

I first saw something about the KonMari method of decluttering while browsing on Pinterest one night.  A little more research led me to Amazon and the books written by Marie Kondo.  Since I will soon (later this year) be moving into a new house, I was intrigued by this method of "tidying up".  I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to review her latest book, Spark Joy:  An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.

I kept a close eye out for the UPS truck the day the book was to be delivered.  I started reading it as soon as I opened the box.  The compact book is easy to read.  I devoured it in just two days.  The "illustrated" portion of the title is a bit misleading.  The book only contains a few basic illustrations.  I found the information to be invaluable.  I can already look at my current home and see where the problems are.  Before reading this book I would never have considered folding the majority of my clothes and storing them in drawers.  Now I am planning my new closet around that concept.

KonMari covers every area of your home that needs tidying.  Clothes to komono (miscellaneous items) to sentimental items are discussed with guidelines provided for each.  The basic idea is to keep only the items that spark joy for you.  I was a bit concerned when I first read that the author tossed her hammer and used a frying pan to pound nails.  I had to remind myself that my toolbox including my pink hammer sparks joy for me.  Everyone is different, and the book contains no set rules for what should be kept and what should be discarded.

I am inspired to start tidying up now.  One does not need to planning a move for this book to be helpful.  However, I am planning the organization of my new house based on some of the tips in this book.  While there were a few things I was not in agreement on (such as the idea that objects have feelings), I was not disappointed with this book at all.  This book definitely sparks joy for me.

disclosure:  I received this book from Blogging for Books but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book Review: Murder Most Finicky

Murder Most Finicky by Liz Mugavero is Book 4 in the Pawsitively Organic Mystery.  This book easily stands on its own so readers do not have to be familiar with books 1-3 to enjoy it.  After reading this one, I am on the lookout for the other books though.  The main character Stan (Kristan) has attracted the attention of a celebrity chef with her pet pastry shop.  The weekend getaway for her and other chefs does not go as anyone planned.  The book combines murder, a healthy dose of family drama, and gourmet pet food recipes to keep readers' attention.  A nice side of pet rescue was a winner with me.  I have my eye out for the previous books in this series.  If they are anything like Murder Most Finicky, I cannot go wrong!

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Furry Friday: Leo

A quick Friday post of Leo and one of his favorite things. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Debt is a Four Letter Word

W and I have been debt free for around 10 years.  I took for granted how nice it was to only have to answer to ourselves.  We got used to not having a third party involved in our life.  Now that we are building a new home, we find ourselves taking on some debt.  If you have followed along with our new house journey, you know that we are doing much of the work ourselves to save money.  We are expecting to only borrow one-fourth to one-third of the value of the house.

I realize that the bank has an interest in our home.  At the same time I am annoyed at dealing with this third party.  The one thing it has done is made me even more serious about saving money.  At this point every penny I save is a penny less I have to get from the bank.  Once the house is completed every penny I save puts me closer to our house being truly ours.  Each time I want to purchase something, I picture that goal - being truly debt free again.

The next few years will be a bit of sacrifice, but it will be so worth it in the end.  Free is also a four letter word, but it is the basis of freedom.  Freedom is a great thing.  I will be sharing some of our hard choices (that are not really sacrifices in the grand scheme of things). We already have all of our true needs met.  We are simply focusing on what we want - things that are temporary or freedom.

Have you made some hard choices along the path to getting out of or staying out of debt?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Weekly Savings

I made an attempt to keep up with my savings each day of the week rather than try to remember them all at the end.

I juiced the remaining lemons and ended up with 3 cups of lemon juice.  I divided it into three jars and froze it for future use.

I rented "Jurassic World" for free from Amazon using a coupon code and credit from choosing No Rush Shipping.

I made two homemade pizzas.  One was served for supper, and the other went into the freezer for a future meal.

I picked peppers from the garden in case the cold ended up as a hard frost.  Part of those peppers went onto the pizza.  Others were used in fajitas.  I still have a bag full in the refrigerator.

I used some apples to make a yummy fresh apple cake.  The peels and cores were cooked down in some water.  I plan to use the apple juice to make apple jelly.

I have been using more yarn scraps to crochet hair bows.  It is a really nice way to use up pieces that are not enough for a big project.

I bought Leo two collars at the Dollar Tree.  He plays hard with one of my parents' dogs and either loses or breaks his collar.  We have tried the more expensive ones, but it is honestly easier to lose a $1 collar.

With the mild weather one of the raised beds is full of clover.  I have been pulling it up to give to the rabbits, ducks, and chickens.  It has been a nice, free treat for all of them.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book Review: The Mexican Slow Cooker

I will start this by saying technically this book does not count toward the agreement to try not to buy any more cookbooks. First I had requested it prior to my agreement.  Second I did not actually buy it.  (Those are valid arguments, right?)  Onto the book....

The Mexican Slow Cooker by Deborah Schneider caught my eye as it combines two things I adore - Mexican food and the slow cooker.  The recipes do require more hands on work/time than a normal slow cooker recipe.  This might hinder someone who needs to throw everything in before heading out for work.  Since I am home most of the time, I am okay with that.

My favorite section has to be the "Basics, Rice, Beans, and Other Sides".  These items are the building blocks for many other recipes in the book.  They can also easily be used as the base of your own creations.  The Mexican Slow Cooker also covers street foods, soups, and even desserts.

Some of the recipes use ingredients with which I am not 100% familiar.  My style of cooking leans toward make do with what I have so this also is not a major hindrance for me.  A few of the items -  poblano peppers and Mexican oregano - are staples in my garden.  If you are a cook who needs to follow a recipe precisely, this might not be the cookbook for you.

While this might not be my favorite cookbook, it does have enough redeeming qualities that I would keep it.  I will definitely use the recipes in the "Basics...." section.  That alone will earn it a permanent home on my bookshelf.

disclosure:  I received this book from Blogging for Books but was not otherwise compensated for this review. All opinions are my own!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Book Review: Death Crashes the Party

Death Crashes the Party by Vicki Fee is Book 1 in the Liv and Di in Dixie Mystery Series.  Liv McKay is a party planner in the very southern town of Dixie, Tennessee.  While with her high maintenance clients, two bodies turn up.  As any small town southerner knows, life is rarely as calm and quiet as it appears on the outside.  Liv and her friend, Di, are caught up in a murder mystery that also includes drug smugglers and a variety of colorful southern characters.

The plot was fast paced with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.  I enjoyed the characters as well as the setting for the book.  At the end, readers are given tips for hosting their own Moonshine and Magnolias party.  The preview of the next book in the series left me wanting more of Liv and Di.

disclosure:  I received this e-book from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for this review.  All opinions are my own!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

This Year's Goals

I went back and forth on planning any goals for 2016.  The last part of 2015 was unorganized chaos, and I realized I could not survive a year of that.  I decided on two main goals with some sub-goals for each.

Goal 1 - Finish Building and Move Into the New House without Losing It:  I do not handle chaos very well, and building your own home is the very definition of chaos.  I have a couple of mini goals that fall into this category along with the main one.

  • Spend Less Money Than the Bank Gave Us - I will be keeping a close watch on our regular budget as well as the new home budget.  The less of the bank's money we use the happier I will be.  
  • Declutter - I will be using up what I can before we move (even though it is just across the yard).  I am also planning a big yard sale once we are in the new house.

Goal 2 - Take Care of Myself:  This goes along with the not "losing it" part of goal one.  I tend to let myself get run down and crash.  Since I know the coming year will be stressful, I am planning ahead to avoid the crashing.

  • Be Healthier - This is a broad goal, but I am going to work along with the book 52 Small Changes:  One Year to a Happier, Healthier You.  It leads readers to make one change each week building over the course of a year.  I hope posting here will give me the push to stick with it.
  • Be Organized - For this one I am going to give myself a daily to do list.  I found this free printable daily planner.  It is cute and has limited spaces so that I cannot make an impossible to do list.  I write out my top six the night before so I am not left making a list in my head while trying to fall asleep.
  • Have Fun - I plan to spend some time each week doing something fun - reading, working on a craft project, etc.  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Weekly Savings

I was late posting last week's savings so this is a short list.

W picked some lemons from a neighbor's trees.  I actually think these are a cross between a lemon and maybe a grapefruit as they have an unusual look.  I had to wait for some to ripen further.  The ones that were ripe got zested prior to being juiced.  I put the juice in a bottle in the fridge and the zest I dried on a piece of waxed paper.

I did some freezer cooking.  I made a big pot of Brunswick Stew and divided it up into meal sized portions.  I also made whole wheat tortillas.  Having some quick meal options on hand is a time and a money saver.

We had snacks after a sing at church.  I used items on hand to make hot dog slices in a pineapple barbecue sauce, banana chocolate chip cookies, and strawberry lemonade.

I made my Swagbucks goal every day for the month of December.  The gift cards earned will go toward a faucet for the new house.

I crocheted some hairbows for the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes using yarn scraps.

I picked a tomato from the greenhouse.

I was gifted some beeswax which just needed to be processed.

I ate three meals of homemade frozen dinners.  Breakfast was pancakes.  Dinner was rice and gravy, roast, and peas.  Supper was nachos using a bit of frozen taco meat.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Furry Friday: Leo

Leo got in on the Christmas celebration.  He has a stocking at his Mimi's and Papa's house (W's parents).  He got a rope toy this year and loved it.  We have a rule that if he does not want to share a toy with my parents' dogs it has to stay at our house.  The rope toy has not left our backyard.

Happy New Year!!