Thursday, August 31, 2017

52 New Recipes: Week 35 - Mounds Layer Cake

Last week was Pastor Appreciation Day at my church.  Our pastor loves coconut so when I was debating on what cake to make this one topped the list.  The original recipe is actually an Almond Joy Layer Cake.  We have some people with nut allergies so I omitted the almonds.  Is anyone else singing the jingle?

I expected this cake to be extremely rich.  Surprisingly it was not that sweet.  The coconut icing is sweet, but I just ate it with bites of the chocolate cake to balance everything out.  Not all of the cake was eaten so W took the leftovers to work.  His co-workers have asked for an entire cake all of their own.  Once again Lindsay's cake recipe did not disappoint.

I wanted to do something cute for the table centerpieces.  Our pastor is also a big college football fan.  I was on a tight budget.  I found an idea for growing a wheat grass centerpiece on Pinterest.  I bought foil loaf pans and burlap ribbon from Dollar Tree.  I already had wheat grass seed.  I borrowed some footballs from the Operation Christmas Child Shoebox stuff.

I would have trimmed the wheat grass, but I wanted to give it to the chickens and rabbits after the dinner.  I had $7 in twelve centerpieces/tasty farm animal treats.  I kept the foil pans and am using them to grow more wheat grass for the animals.  I plan to do some sort of Easter centerpiece using the same idea.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: Start Where You Are Note Cards

I love sending hand written letters.  Fortunately for me I have friends that love to receive them.  The set of Start Where You Are Note Cards by Meera Lee Patel are absolutely beautiful.  The art is delightful and is accompanied by a quote.

Each of the 12 note cards is different.  The insides are blank making them perfect for a letter or the note of your choice.  The envelopes are decorated as well.

The note cards and envelopes are in a sturdy reusable box.  I will be saving the box to store items in or even as a gift box.  This set would be perfect for yourself or for someone who enjoys writing personal letters.

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

Weekly Goals Update: Week 35

1.  Completely Finish the New House & Update Property
The humidity finally broke here so I worked in the yard.  I spent time cleaning up the garden area and organizing the new storage shed.  We had two storms come through which meant more cleanup.  I have several other things going on this week that will limit my free time.  I am not making any plans and will just see what happens.

2. Plan Ahead for Birthday & Holiday Gifts
I found a gift for the wedding shower.  I have not ordered supplies for the handmade gifts yet.  I did put some extra money into the gift fund.

3.  Use the Garden to Be More Self-Sufficient
The two good rains helped the garden this week.  I hope to pick peppers and put them in the freezer.  I am also going to dehydrate some basil.  I cleaned out two raised beds in preparation for planting the fall garden.

4. Take One Class a Month
Hmmm...those macarons.  I admit that part of the reason I have not made them is fear.  I wish everyone would stop saying how hard they are.  The main reason they did not get done is that we had too many sweets in the house already.  I made oatmeal cookies for a committee meeting and had leftovers.  I had extra chocolate sauce so W requested ice cream to go with that.  Then I made cookies from a cookbook I am reviewing.  I just need to shake off the fear and make the macarons.

5.  Pack Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes on a Budget
I feel like I hit the jackpot this past week.  Dollar General had a summer clearance.  Some items were 50% off and some were discounted an additional 50%.  I found cups, bowls, balls, hair items, puzzles, stickers, etc.  I do not need all of it for this year so I have a great start on fillers for next year.  I was blessed by some very helpful employees.  I always like to mention that I am shopping for OCC if I am at a store or even a yard sale.  People generally get excited and what to help.

6.  Boost Savings
No word on the mower yet.  At least there were no more surprise expenses this past week.  I came in under budget on groceries so I set the extra aside for another week.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Weekend Book Reviews

Grave Errors by Carol J Perry is book five in the Witch City Mystery series.  Lee and the other residents of Salem, Massachusetts, are gearing up for Halloween.  She and the students in her television production class decide to extend the fun by adding on a Dia de Los Muertos celebration.  One of Lee's students gets the class investigating the death of her sister.  Lee's psychic visions and the investigation leads everyone to realize all is not well in Salem.  I had read a previous book although this one stands on its own.  O'Ryan the cat and Aunt Ibby are my favorite characters.  I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the Day of the Dead celebration.  All of the talk of sugar skull cookies convinced me to order my own set of cookie cutters.    The mystery is full of twists and turns up until the end!

Karen Sue Walker's Murder in Crimson Velvet is the second book in the Bridal Shop Mysteries series.  I had read the first book prior to reading this one.  While it is not necessary, I think it helped me connect to the characters better.   I enjoyed this book even more than the first.  Bridal consultant Max and co-worker Keiko get roped into the finishing the costumes for the community theater's production of Romeo and Juliet.  When the actress playing Juliet reveals that a psychic says she is going to die, Max thinks she is being dramatic until the actress turns up dead.  The characters and story line flow better in this book.  The ending created a nice segue for the next book.

Book three in the Cora Crafts Mystery series by Mollie Cox Bryan, Macrame Murders, finds Cora,  at a craft retreat on Sea Glass Island.  Her friends (Jane, Ruby, and Cashel) and boyfriend Adrian are along for the trip.  The retreat takes a dark turn when first one body and then another turn up at the resort.  Things go from bad to worse when Adrian is named the primary suspect.  Cora's plans for a relaxing retreat take a back seat as she works to find the real killer.  It was nice to see the characters in a new setting.  The mystery features plenty of twists and turn.  The crafts discussed in the book were interesting.  Macrame took center stage, and it piqued my interest in the craft.  I am always happy to find a book that not only is enjoyable to read but also inspires me to try something new!

disclosure:  I received these e-books from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for these reviews.  All opinions are my own!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Weekend Book Reviews

Oh, Fudge! by Nancy Coco is the fifth book in the Candy-coated Mystery series.  Allie and her cousin Tori have not spoken since Allie inherited the McMurphy Hotel and the fudge shop.  Tori arrives in town to plan a fundraiser for the Butterfly House.  When Allie finds Tori standing over a dead body, she decides to find the real killer and get back in Tori's good graces.  Even though I guessed the killer early on, I enjoyed this book.  The fudge shop and the supporting characters, including the furry ones, made the book interesting.  I have read previous books in this series, but it is not necessary.  I found the cliffhanger in Allie's personal life makes me look forward to the next book.

Book two in the Tangeled Web Mystery series by Sadie Hartwell is A Knit Before Dying.  Josie, owner of Miss Marple Knits, is happy that her store is doing well.  She is even happier to have rented out the adjoining storefront to two antique dealers, Lyndon and Harry.  Lyndon, who arrives early to set up the store, seems like the perfect renter.  Sadly her first meeting with Harry is when he is found by Josie standing over Lyndon's dead body.  I read the previous book, but this one stands well on its own.  The mystery is well written with a few twists and turns.  While I am not a knitter, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The characters feel like dear friends, and I can hardly wait to visit them again.

disclosure:  I received these e-books from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for these reviews.  All opinions are my own!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

52 New Recipes: Weeks 33 & 34

Even though I was under the weather I did feel well enough by the end of the week to make two desserts for a family dinner.  I did not get a picture of the first as it went too fast.  I chose something easy for the first in case I woke up feeling less than fabulous.  I made Chocolate Chip Cookie Cheesecake Bars.  If my week had gone differently I would have use homemade cookie dough.  Obviously no one complained about the use of store bought dough though.  I loved that it was so easy to put together.  Honestly I might keep some store cookie dough in the freezer so it is on hand for making these.  Cutting these into 16 pieces made them a nice size.  I will add this to my recipe book as I know it will be making these often.

I did get a picture of the second recipe:  Creme Brulee Cupcakes.

I love every since recipe I have tried from Lindsay at Life, Love and Sugar.  She has made me hate boxed cake mixes.  I can just taste all of the preservatives in those boxed mixes now.  Lindsay's cake/cupcake recipes mix up easily and are so moist.  Okay back to these cupcakes...

I made the pastry cream the day before.  This recipe does have several steps, but they came together easily.  The cake portion was moist.  I loved the caramel icing.  An uncle came in while I was mixing it up and tasted it three times.  Torching the tops gave it an extra caramel flavor.  This were popular with my family too.  I could see myself doing these as mini cupcakes.  They would be delicious as bite sized treats.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Two New Kittens

About two months ago two kittens showed up in our yard.  They were so young that I needed to feed them softened food.  They have grown and stayed around so we officially adopted them.  I named them Tucker and Libby.  Tucker is completely tame and most of the time prefers getting petted to eating.  Libby is still unsure.  She gets close to me and purrs but is not ready for pets just yet.

Libby is happy to have her picture taken and poses nicely.


Tucker on the other hand has a hard time being still long enough.

I did manage to get one good shot of him.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Weekly Goals Update Week 34

I am sorry for skipping any posts other than the pre-scheduled book reviews last week.  I was sick last week could only muster the energy to do the absolute necessary things.  Respiratory problems and high Southern humidity are not a good mix.  I am feeling back to normal now and am ready to tackle a new week.

1.  Completely Finish the New House & Update Property
Over the past two weeks nothing much was accomplished.  We spent most of the time dealing with downed pecan limbs.  We lost three large ones during that time span.  Each one meant a mess to clean up.


This is what was left from one that right at the back deck just missing W's kayak.  The top picture is what remained of the main branch after W limbed it out.  He cut that up into fire wood for my parents.  The bottom is one of two piles of limbs.  

This week we have some plans for smaller projects.  I hope to finish scraping the shower tile joints and maybe do some painting.

2.  Plan Ahead for Holiday & Birthday Gifts
I need to start shopping for a wedding gift.  I also have an idea for handmade holiday gifts for friends.  I just need to order the supplies and get started on them.

3.  Use the Garden to Be More Self-Sufficient
At this point in the summer I am simply trying to keep the garden plants alive.  It has turned hot and dry.  If I can get everything through the next 3-4 weeks, I can focus on getting a second harvest of peppers and maybe tomatoes.  I am also getting ready to plant the fall crops in the empty raised beds.

4.  Take One Class a Month
I should have more time this week and be able to make the macarons.  Something always seems to come up to prevent that so I am hoping this is THE week.

5.  Pack Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes on a Budget
I have 23 wash cloths to go.  My aunt also found some discounted flip flops for me.  I ordered coloring books and lip whistles from Oriental Trading.  I need to finish those wash cloths and pick up some socks.  Then I should be done and ready to pack!

6.  Boost Savings
Hmm...this is going well but not well at the same time.  We needed to purchase a small chainsaw due to all of the fallen pecan limbs.  I lost count of how many.  This past week our lawn mower started having engine problems so it is in the shop.  I am hoping for a best case (minor work) versus a new engine ($1500).  It is a necessary item though.  For right now the fencing is on hold.  I have been putting some extra money into the emergency fund instead.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Weekend Book Review: The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn

The Ghost Ship of Brooklyn by Robert P Watson deals with a little known part of the American Revolution.  A run down ship, HMS Jersey, was used by the British (along with other ships) to house thousands of war prisoners.  These men were packed into the depths of the ships with little food or water while disease after disease tore through the crowded quarters.  This is not an easy book to read, but I am glad that I read it.  It brings to life the sacrifices that were made for the freedoms we enjoy today.  It also makes me even more embarrassed by how those in Washington are currently behaving.

Mr. Watson did an excellent job in researching the book and telling the stories of these forgotten men.  He shares information about America's beginning and the Revolutionary War.  An important part of history is now brought to the forefront through this book.  I also learned about the Prison Ships Martyrs Memorial in New York state.  I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in history as well as those who want to know more about the cost of freedom.

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

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Weekend Book Review: Ghost of the Innocent Man

Ghost of the Innocent Man by Benjamin Rachlin is one of the best books I have read this year.  In 1988 Willie Grimes, a man with no violent record, is convicted of raping a 69 year old woman and sentenced to life in prison.  This happened despite the fact several witnesses gave him an alibi for the time of the crime.  During the time he was in prison, the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission (NCIIC) was formed.  This book tells the story of both.  Mr. Rachlin did an excellent job of switching between the two and then combining them into the final resolution of Mr. Grimes' story.
Even though this book saddened and at times frightened me, it is well worth reading.  I was touched my Mr. Grimes' continued push for justice.  I was also hopeful due to the continued work by the NCIIC to seek the truth.  Having a person wrongly imprisoned puts a black spot on the justice system of the United States.  The story was handled with great care to all involved.  I cannot recommend it enough.

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

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Weekend Book Reviews

Dumpling Cats by Sarah Sloyer is a collection of 25 cats to crochet.  The patterns are slightly advanced for my current crocheting skill level.  I loved the descriptions of each cat.  The patterns were well written and featured pictures throughout.  Bonus patterns for food bowls, cat bed, and even a cardboard box are included.  I am adding this to my wish list so I can make these adorable cats when I am a more confident crocheter.  I suspect I will give them a try sooner rather than later as the cats are too cute!

Baby Bunco by Julie B Cosgrove is the second book in the Bunco Biddies Mystery series.  I enjoyed the first book so much that I was excited to review the second.  It is helpful to have read the first one but not absolutely necessary.  Janie and her Bunco friends are shocked when an abandoned baby is found in one of the empty homes in their retirement community.  Convinced it is part of a bigger mystery, Janie sets out on another investigation.  At first I thought the mystery would be lacking, but I quickly found out that was wrong.  This book is full of action and twists up until the end.  I love the fact that this book was just as clean as the first with a subtle Christian message.  Now I am waiting for book number three!

disclosure:  I received these e-books from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for these reviews.  All opinions are my own!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

52 New Recipes: Tuna Casserole

I have been searching for a good tuna casserole recipe for years.  The Old Fashioned Tuna Noodle Casserole from Sweet Little Bluebird might not be the healthiest, but it is delicious.  The mayonnaise and sour cream made it extra creamy.  I used elbow macaroni rather than noodles as that is what I had on hand.  I also used homemade bread crumbs rather than potato chips for the same reason.  I added some fresh sliced mushrooms.

I neglected to take a picture.  The leftovers were just as good the following day.   It was easy to put together.  This will be my go to tuna casserole recipe from now on.  I served it with side salads and garlic bread.  Yum!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Garden Update: Fall Seedlings

Here is an updated picture of the fall seedlings.

Most of the seeds started sprouting the day after I planted them.  Clockwise from the top left are artichokes, red cabbage, cauliflower, and savoy cabbage.  The leek seeds are just starting to sprout so nothing to show there yet.

My uncle has talked me into growing brussels sprouts so I need to order those seed later this week.  I am not a fan of them, but he assures me they are better if picked young.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Weekly Goals Update Week 32

1.  Completely Finish the New House & Update Property
Last week W worked to finish up the cabinet doors.  All of the kitchen cabinets were completed before we moved it.  However W built a second cabinet for his bathroom and had made the built in around the aquarium in the living room.

This unit still needs to be painted, and I ordered cabinet magnets to keep the bottom doors closed.  Otherwise the cat keeps opening them.

These match the sink cabinet in the front bathroom.

This is the access panel below the tub.  It is attached with just two screws for easy access.  We have quite a bit of painting left.  W wanted to install everything to make sure it fit properly before I did any painting.

We have also done some work to the second half of this goal, but I will share that next week.  While building the doors, W cut his finger with the router.  He has been out of commission for the past week on any major projects.

2.  Plan Ahead for Birthday & Holiday Gifts
The focus here is still on saving.  I am thinking of going with books for the younger children and money for the two older ones.

3.  Use the Garden to be More Self-Sufficient
I picked more jalapeno peppers from the garden and made poppers for the freezer.  We have been eating herbs, yellow pear and cherry tomatoes, and lunchbox peppers.  My fall garden seeds are off to a good start.

4.  Take One Class a Month
The tartlets were a hit with everyone except W who hates lemon desserts.  I ended up being too busy to make the macarons.  I had planned that as a project for yesterday, but W had other plans.  We ended up working on the second half of goal #1.

5. Pack Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes on a Budget
I think socks are the last item on my list to purchase.  A friend sent a huge box packed with items to use as fillers.  It is always a blessing as what she sends fills specific needs as I pack.  I have no idea what fillers I need and neither does she.  It just always works out perfectly.  Hmmm....I am still working on wash cloths - 26 to go.  I think next year that will be a purchase item.

6.  Boost Savings
Planning ahead for purchases allowed me to put some money into savings this past week.  W also found a place where we can get the fencing at a lower price.  It will save us at least $500.  I am excited to start setting aside money for that project!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Weekend Book Reviews

Peppers of the Americas by Maricel E. Presilla is packed full of information on peppers.  The first part of the book is a thorough history of peppers and covers how they were used and changed over the years.  The second part of the book is a description of the types of peppers.  I was thrilled to see one of my favorites, the fish pepper, included.  The final section is recipes featuring many different varieties of peppers.  The pictures are absolutely gorgeous.  My favorite part of the book is the section focusing on the peppers.  It is a bit dangerous as now I have a list of peppers to add to my garden next year.  If you are a fan of peppers, I recommend checking out this book.

Sarah Schmidt's See What I Have Done is a debut novel that gives a fictional account of Lizzie Borden.  The book focuses mainly on the time immediately before and after the murders of her father and stepmother.  While the subject matter is interesting, I found the book to be lacking a bit.  It dragged at points.  Lizzie, her father, and her stepmother are imagined as a mixture of horrible and mentally unstable.  The only likable characters are Emma Borden and the maid, Bridget.  A final character is Benjamin, who has been hired by Lizzie and Emma's uncle to take care of how the sisters are being treated by their father.  The book does not tackle the mystery of who actually committed the murders.  Still for anyone interested in alternate ideas of the story and life inside the Borden house, this is worth reading.

Cat About Town by Cate Conte is the first book in the Cat Cafe Mystery series.  I loved this book, and I am so happy I was able to start this series at the beginning.  Maddie owns a successful business in California but has returned to Daybreak Island for her grandmother's funeral.  She stays to help her grandfather adjust to life without his spouse.  She discovers that her grandfather is being harassed into selling the family home.  This situation gets more complicated when the harasser turns up dead, and her grandfather is the main suspect.  I loved the setting, the writing style, and the orange cat named JJ (who reminds me of the JJ I used to have).  I look forward to the next book in this series!

disclosure:  I received these e-books from NetGalley but was not otherwise compensated for these reviews.  All opinions are my own!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Frugal Friday

I started this post and kept adding to it, but I never got around to actually scheduling it to post.  This covers about three weeks.

I finally got around to mending some clothing.  Three items needed buttons which I had in my sewing supplies.  Two items needed to be resown at the seams.  I had thread close enough to match both and did this repair using my sewing machine.  Even though I am not a good seamstress, these were all easy repairs.

W and I had bought some fish from a local pet store that did not survive more than a few days.  We returned them within the refund policy time and were able to get some new fish.

We ate at home and ate up all of the leftovers.

I mowed our yard myself twice over two weeks saving at least $200.  Our mower has long ago paid for itself.  Mowing season here lasts from March to October.  The lawn needs mowing at least every two weeks.  This year will all of the rain I have mowed every week.

I had ingredients on hand to make food to give to the neighbor's who lost a family member last month.  It does pay to have a well stocked pantry since we live so far out in the country.

We went out to a local restaurant for my birthday.  I set aside money each year for birthday dinners out.  We rarely eat out so this is a nice treat.  I also got a free piece of cake for my birthday.

I cleaned out the refrigerator and made a big batch of marinara sauce with vegetables.  I use a large can of crushed tomatoes from Sam's ($3.28) as the base.  I added in mushrooms ($1.89) and onions and garlic ($1).  I ended up with 7 containers of sauce for $6.17.  It is packed full of peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and herbs from my garden which were free. 

I used paint that we already had for a project.  W also reused a few more things from the old house on the same project.

The rabbits enjoyed some cucumbers from the garden as well as some vegetable scraps from my mom.  It is always nice to give them a free treat.  Between them and the chickens very little food is every wasted.

I stayed home for the most part except for once a week trips for groceries.  I have also limited my online shopping which saves too.

I used recycled plastic containers for starting my seeds.  I packed W's lunch stuff in reusable containers.  I hung laundry out to dry.  I cleaned my own house rather than hiring it out.  We ate the majority of our meals at home.  Some weeks it is the little things that add up.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

52 New Recipes Weeks 30 & 31

I am behind on posting, but I have been trying out some new recipes.  Week 30 I made barbacoa tacos.  Other than using venison rather than beef I followed the recipe exactly.  I should have added the extra adobo sauce, but otherwise it was very good.  We ate it with cheese and other toppings on flour tortillas.  I put the leftovers in the freezer for future meals.  Some of the comments mentioned that it was very sour, but I did not find that to be the case.  I will definitely be making this in the future.

For Week 31 I made lemon meringue tartlets from my Miniature French Desserts class on Craftsy.  I opted not to use the Italian meringue for two reasons.  One candy thermometers and I are not friends.  Second I prefer a baked meringue rather than just a torched one.  I decided to try Swiss meringue.  This was the first time I had ever made meringue for a pie.

I only made three tartlets since W does not like lemon desserts.  He decided to take a bite and immediately declared it the worst thing he had ever tasted.  Thankfully my parents, who ate the other two tartlets, disagreed with him.  It was really quite good.  I will make this meringue to top pies again in the future.  It was easy and very good.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Weekly Garden Update: Planning for the Fall Garden

Even though summer is in full swing, now is the time to plan for the fall garden.  In my area many spring garden crops are best grown in the fall/winter.  My parents and I split up the fall garden.  They are growing regular cabbage, collards, rutabaga, and broccoli.  I have started seeds for leeks, red cabbage, savoy cabbage, cauliflower, and artichokes.

The leeks are a new crop for me.  I have never grown or even eaten a leek.  The seed package said they started best in cooler temperatures so I am leaving these inside.

I put the remaining seeds in a cage on the front porch.  The cage is to protect them from the free range chickens.  Being on the porch will allow them to get plenty of morning light but protect them from getting drowned when it rains.

I tried growing artichokes before but have learned in my area they are a fall/winter crop.  Hopefully I will have better luck this time, but I expect to need to make adjustments.  Here the peppers and tomatoes will last until our first hard freeze which is normally in January but possibly earlier.  It is not uncommon to be eating fresh tomatoes at Christmas.  I will also direct sow some seeds at the end of September.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Galaxy Crafts

Last month my church held Vacation Bible School with a galaxy theme.  I signed up to do crafts.  I have children ranging from about two years old to 15 years old.  The toddlers usually do just one craft while the older children/youth do three to four crafts.

The toddlers plus the next two older groups made glow in the dark star art.  I painted basic canvases black and added a Bible verse using a silver marker.  To make my life easier I added glue dots to the back of plastic glow in the dark stars in advance.  You can see the original instructions here.


All of the groups except for the two youngest made galaxy bottles.  I did make the bottles for those two groups.  I used bottles that came with safety caps and glued them on as an added pre-caution.  I think my glitter was too large as ours never separated into three levels, but everyone including the teens liked them.  Here is the link to the instructions.

Everyone except for the teens made glow in the dark ornaments.  We used q-tips as the paintbrushes.  I showed them how to make dots but then just let them do whatever they wanted.  I got the idea here, but I changed it a bit to make it easier for a large group.

One of the simplest but most popular crafts was paper rockets.  The printable and instructions can be found here.  I did pre-cut the rockets due to limited time and little hands.

The three older groups made washer necklaces.  I found the instructions here.  The washers and cording were inexpensive, but the alcohol ink was on the pricier side.  It all balanced out.  I had plenty of ink left over and plan to do a bunch of these to include in next year's Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  I was happy to see some of the teens wearing their creations the following day.