A Year in Review

This is the time of the year when magazines and TV shows do the "Year in Review" to give us their take on who was most influential, most popular, most 'whatever'. I've read several magazines lately that gave me their take on the Year in Review and I've had some thoughts.

The Royal Wedding was a Really Big Deal. Not only did this bring the world together for a few hours to watch the same thing, it helped our collective soul. In the midst of financial and political unease and distress I think the world needed a fairy tale to believe in, complete with the Happily Ever After.

The publishing industry doesn't know what's going to happen next and authors are willing to figure it out on their own in the meantime. Self-publishing doesn't mean what it used to thanks to the internet. Anyone, for good and for bad, can publish their own book. First, of course, you have to write it, edit it, and upload it to a channel by which readers can find it. And readers are finding new books by self-published authors. They are also finding books that authors are re-publishing themselves - and doing so really well. In the absence of establishment publishers figuring out how to harness the power of the internet to publish their own books, authors are going to do it for themselves. This is entrepreneurism at its best.

Politics as usual is over. Everywhere. I'm gonna have to learn a whole new list of names of despots. Or maybe not. Amazing.

If you are a sports team in Russia, take the bus. Really. You'll live longer. And speaking of living longer as an athlete, don't play professional football. Okay, this is not a scientific study by any means. This is just my reading of the Sports Illustrated Obituary section for this year but the football players are either really old, meaning they played football in non-serious helmets or before huge players and heavy hits, or they were fairly young, meaning they played in my lifetime. I don't think this bodes well for the average NFL player.

I've never been one to follow fashion or even to notice it much but I'm glad to say I love that color is 'in' again. It makes it much easier to find items I like when I get a chance to go shopping. I don't, however, get the deal with sea salt caramel, but that's because I detest caramel. For those of you that love caramel, I expect you to eat it all up so that chocolate can come back into fashion!!

And as part of my own, personal Year in Review I joined the millions of people around the world who have a smartphone. I Love Apple. I think we'll miss Steve Jobs more with each passing year, for what he could pull out of thin air, or push people to create out of nothing, or imagine could happen. That's entrepreneurism and brilliance wrapped into one.

I've only scratched the surface, but the kidlets are ready for more festivities. I'd love to hear what you think makes a good Year in Review or what you're looking forward to in the New Year.

Totally Together in time for the Holidays

Here is another item you are going to want to get for yourself and probably another for a friend and another for your daughter or your mom/ cousin/ neighbor/ teacher, etc. Really. Pop on over to Amazon, B&N, or your favorite bookstore of choice and take care of your purchase. I'll wait. .... Okay.

I'd heard about the Totally Together Journal before I ever saw one because I followed Stephanie O'Dea's A Year of Slowcooking.  Then I signed up for the Totally Together emails that followed the next year in which I got a daily email that reminded me to do seasonal things, PROM the kids toys or pile of mail, or to remember to take care of myself. The Totally Together Journal is geared more toward women with families but I don't think women without kids would feel excluded. Heck, we all still have to take out the trash, plan our meals, and do seasonal cleaning around the house no matter what our family situation is.

One of the things I truly appreciate about Stephanie's writing, both on her blogs and in the Totally Together Journal, is that she does a phenomenal job of pulling together a lot of information in one place in order to help us with our daily lives. It might be cooking. It might be cleaning. It might be just remembering to enjoy life. No matter what it is, she writes with clarity and sense of balance. It's not about doing things right - in the way that a woman in white gloves, pillbox hat, and a disapproving scowl is going to come into your house and 'tsk, tsk' when she finds that that you aren't following it precisely. And might I say, Thank Goodness! We all live our own lives and our homes reflect our individuality and our needs. Totally Together Journal respects that, too, and understands that you are going to use it as it fits in with your own life.

I can tell you that I've worked this journal hard in the last few weeks. Not only have we been preparing for the holidays, but I've just gone back to work. This is the first time since both of my kids were born that I've worked outside of the house. Thankfully I have lots of extra hands to help out but it's still been an adjustment. It's still going to take us time to get our feet fully underneath us and thankfully, I have the Totally Together Journal at hand to help keep me on track. And for that I am very, very grateful.

I was provided with a Totally Together Journal for this review. The review and the ideas for the review are my own.  You cannot have this journal, it's mine.

If I had talent I could be....

Once upon a time, these words came out of my mouth and they were followed by the name of a moderately famous singer. It just happens that I do not sing well so perhaps you get the point. If I had talent I could be 'moderately good'.

So, If I Had Talent... I could be a quarterback and I'm pretty sure I could play for the Redskins. Of course, I might not be able to see over the guys in front of me as I'm only 5'8". Wait, look at Joey Rodriguez at VCU. He's only 5'10" in a game where the guys can be nearly a foot taller. Yeah, I get what you're going to say. He already has talent.

So, If I Had Talent...I'm could be a coach for the Redskins. Of course, these jobs are hard to get. Sometimes coaches stay in a position for more than two years even.

Personally, I'd like it if they weren't run out of town before they had time to rebuild the team. That's what I'd do. Maybe that's subterfuge. I call it winning. And I don't think  you should get to keep the money if you get fired. That's just a bad deal and not very smart, but no one ever said you had to have talent to own a football team.

A Summer in Europe by Marilyn Brant

If you've been to my Examiner page you've seen my review of this book.
I do not, however, assume that I am the kind of writer that has a 'following' wherever I happen to pop up. So, I'm posting my thoughts about this book here because it is a truly extraordinary book.

In fact, it is so extraordinary that you should plan to buy it even before you know anything about it. Really. It's just that good. But, on the off chance, that you are more careful with your time and money or you'd like to find out what the book's about anyway

This is a story about Gwendolyn Reese. She's from a small, midwestern town and she's lived a carefully controlled life. Her Aunt Bea is exuberant and vivacious and and when Bea's mah-jong and sudoku group has extra tickets for their European tour Bea buys them for herself and Gwen. After sustaining a relationship disappointment and seeing her summer stretching into oblivion Gwen agrees to go along.

Gwen sets about touring Europe the same way she lived her life in Iowa - by a timetable and checklist until a couple of things happen. Gwen really begins to look around and notice the true wonder of Italy, their first stop, and realize, with her aunt's help, that there's no way she could ever see or appreciate everything there is in the few days they have on their tour. And their group of senior citizen puzzlers is joined by their 'sister group' from the UK and it turns out that this group is not full of octogenarians at all. In fact, there are two brothers, both in their 30's and full of life, who are very dramatic, very competitive, and one of whom is very taken with Gwen.

This isn't lost on Gwen but does pose some difficulty, in that Gwen is in a committed, allbeit, unfulfilled, relationship. I'll let you know now that Gwen chooses the high road and you'd be very proud of her! She and Emerson remain friends through the tour and it is in this blossoming friendship that Gwen and Emerson learn so much about their own selves.

But you could probably have learned this from reading the jacket cover.What I can also tell you is that this is a book full of incredibly rich language and beautiful layers of story. It's a story about relationships and families of many types and people who have chosen, or had chosen for them, different kinds of families. It's about epiphanies and those moments where we find ideas laying just ahead of us around the corner. It's about learning about life from the people around us and seeing the world through their eyes and knowing that you're understanding is richer for it. It's about life and aging and questions of death. It's about food and travel and coming to terms with the 'shoulds' in our lives and making new plans for ourselves when we don't like the ones we've made. It's Gwen's journey but it's the journey of everyone in this story in some way and I think you'll find that it's your journey, too.

Are you ready to head off for A Summer in Europe? I just bet you are. I know. It's not out yet. [It's available Nov. 29, 2011] Do a pre-order and you'll get it soon and then you, too, will find that you can't put it down. In the meantime, Marilyn Brant has a couple of ebooks that I mentioned recently before I even knew about this book - seriously. Hope on over to that page and take a look.

The Awesome Cookie?

Have you tried Kroger's Truly Awesome Chocolate Chip Cookies? Well, we've been through a couple of boxes, thanks to Bzzagent, so I can pass along my thoughts.

First of all, I love chocolate chip cookies. Really. I think they are one of life's perfect foods. Along with pizza and macaroni and cheese. Yes, I still eat like a toddler. Not that I let my kids eat like this, you understand. I make them eat vegetables. But as an adult, I'm allowed to eat like this. It's the perk that comes with age.

That said, I'm a bit picky about my chocolate chip cookies. In a perfect world they'd either have to fit in my milk glass to be dunked or they would be soft enough to not need milk. Sadly, this cookie doesn't fall into either category. It is a hard, crunchy cookie that is almost the size of my fist. Actually, it would be good if you were going to make your own ice cream cookie sandwiches. It's that size.

Second, the bag is not resealable. This is a basic convenience but most cookie packages are resealable now. Also, I tried the serving suggestion to 'put it in microwave for a few seconds' to achieve a homemade taste. Well, it took 30 seconds to even get it warm and then it didn't taste anything like homemade.

So, here's my take on Kroger's Truly Awesome Chocolate Chip Cookies. If you like crunchy cookies or you are making ice cream cookie sandwiches - these are the cookies for you. If you are a 'dunker' or you like softer cookies, then you should probably look elsewhere or wait until Kroger makes a soft version of this cookie.

Bzzagent provided me with product to test and coupons to make available to others. I have not benefited monetarily. Reviews were my own and not influenced by these offers.

My New Meal Planning Toy

Yep, It's been a couple of weeks, maybe a month, my friends and I've pretty consistently been planning our meals. I know. Quelle Surprise. Believe me, it was a necessity, not a choice. Once again I found the kidlets home from school in the afternoons surrounded by the 20 minutes of homework that they get and yet in that limited time they can go from fully functional to ready to eat a small mastodon. 

This meant there was no time to stare into the fridge and think, "I wonder what I can cook today." I was more like, "I wonder what I can put in their mouths RIGHT NOW." This is especially the case when Joy gets a particular idea in her head. Then that thought becomes a one word litany. "Juice. Juice. Juice. Juice. Juice." Sometimes she stops to breathe. Sometimes she acknowledges that you are speaking to her and letting her know that there is a) juice on it's way or b) there will in fact not be juice for some reason. Sometimes it's just best to make sure that food appears at regular intervals so that this doesn't happen in the first place.

Recently, I've taken and rolled all of my ideas up and I'm using everything I've got. We have a chicken night, a pasta night, a breakfast-for-dinner night, and a crockpot night. There's also usually a 'shopping at Costco night' or leftover night in the rotation each week depended on which week of the month it is. That's the basic structure and I grabbed hold of this with both hands when I saw this outlined in Erin Chase's $5 Dollar Dinner cookbook!

Once I have a structure then I just fill in the blanks with meals. I can usually get about a third of the way done without breaking a sweat. It's the rest that really makes me work. I know that this is probably not a hard thing for most people but trying to find meals that my kids with like and eat one any given day seems to actually cause me stress.

But now my stressful work comes with a shiny new package. I'm talking about Pinterest. If you haven't been over to Pinterest then let me entice you to the land of many pretty and shiny things. It's an Internet corkboard so that as you travel through the blogosphere you can put a 'pin in it' and type a description and it goes on the board. Other people can follow you, you can follow other people, or you can travel Pinterest in solitude. Mostly I've used it to gather ideas for meals to make.

Today I made the luscious garlic knots for fellowship at Church. These have been pinned for quite a while and they turned out exactly as they looked online. I'm not sure this has ever EVER happened to me, especially when I was cooking with the girls. Yep, they helped me make the second batch and they looked exactly the same as the first batch. Delicious, too.

And for dinner tonight we made the one pot macaroni and cheese. It did take a bit longer than expected but that was probably due to the fact that I used rotini and not elbow macaroni. Lesson learned. I can say that Joy was humming while she ate and this is a sign of supreme contentment and enjoyment.

I have several more recipes pulled from Pinterest already and I'll let you know how they turn out. I had definitely recommend Pinterest for brainstorming but if you only have a few minutes at your disposal don't go there. It's full of beautiful, shiny things and you'll never EVER want to leave. I promise.

Declutter the Plastic

It's declutter/ Fall Cleaning time at my house and along with that I'm Purging the Plastic! This has been an on-going mission of ours to remove the plastic and BPAs from our home.

First, we got rid of the kiddie plates and started using the small plates in our IKEA dishware set. They're just the right size and, like most IKEA dishes, practically indestructible. Then, over the summer, I made sure all of our water bottles for camp were either stainless steel or BPA-free plastic. The kidlets had new BPA-free plastic bottles for their adventures since they wanted cute colors and something a bit lighter. I already had BPA-free bottles.

Now, the food container drawer is getting the purge. It needed decluttering anyway. I think those plastic tops get up to some funny business when the drawers are closed! So, no more plastic. It's all gone.

We have one set of glass Snapware and I've added another. The new set [THANKFULLY] has been upgraded so that it can go from oven to fridge/ freezer to microwave and it's dishwasher safe. The previous set could not be put in the over. Ridiculous, I know. 

The next cabinet to get the plastic purge was the kids cups. Oh my, the leaning tower of kids cups!! We had a couple of colorful stacks of plastic IKEA kids cups. Yes, it was time to move on. I'd been checking out the Duralex Bistro glasses after seeing a post on someone's blog. I wish I could remember where I saw it because it was a fantastic post about these really fantastic glasses. Well, I priced them on Amazon and thought, sure - they're unlikely to chip or ding and the small glasses are light and are perfect for a kids hand. Let's get them! Then I saw them at Costco and for the price of the 6 Tumblers on Amazon I actually got a set of 18. So, the 12 larger glasses are still in the box in my basement until we need them and the kidlets are doing great with the bistro glasses!!

Not only do I now have three cabinets/ drawers that have less plastic in them but the glass is less cluttery which just helps me feel better. It'll also help us feel better in the long run, too, and that's such a Cool Idea!

Cleaning Up the Crockpot

Well, my crockpot has been on overdrive lately. First, there was the bushel of apples I got from our CSA. At least a third of which became applesauce or apple butter.

Then, I 'funcycled' [which is a contraction of 'fun' and 'recycled'] crayons. I went through the kidlet's crayon bucket and took every single broken crayon out of and striped the paper and put the various colors into my muffin molds in the crockpot. I'm not creative enough to have thought of this myself. Hop on over A Year of Slow Cooking and read how it should be done.

I did it in my silicone mini muffin cups and this was a slightly flawed idea. I think it would work well in good quality silicone but mine weren't. They worked okay but I had one rip in each batch. The cute part is that the crayons are a nice size for my kids little hands.

After a month of hard work my white porcelain crockpot was stained. I got the soap and scrubbed but nothing worked until I thought about how I clean my sink. I use Barkeeper's Friend.  Ah, this worked wonders. It removed the build up of sugar from the cooked apples and the spilled wax from the crayon projects. The only sad part was that I hadn't thought of this years earlier!! So, save yourself some time and elbow grease and just get some Barkeeper's Friend. It's amazing stuff. In fact, I'm not sure there's anything it can't do.

Last Minute Purchases

We're very lucky for the most part that our kids don't ask for snacks and toys in the checkout aisle. Well, not in earnest. They are at an age now that they notice these items and they will mention them to me but since we've never started the habit of buying them they don't expect me to do anything about it.

The exception is the Farmer's Market. I let the girls help pick out our purchases during the CSA season at the Market and I see no reason to change now that the season is over. Well, except that it's real money so I have to be prepared with actual currency before we go shopping.

The good news is that these impulse purchases are for things like eggplant and raspberries. Isn't that amazing! My kids are begging me - yes, begging me for eggplant. Mind you, they haven't begged me to eat it yet:) but they know what it looks like and they wanted to take it home. I figure that's the best first step to getting them excited about eating it and there's something tremendously cool about that.

Local Honey

Each year we buy our honey at the Virginia State Fair because it gives us the opportunity to taste different varieties and support local apiaries. We've done this for almost a decade now and we've learned which flowers we like our honey to come from and which we don't. This year we decided to try something a little different. After we picked the varietal we wanted we decided to make sure it came from an apiary in a zip code local to us.

Why? Our family suffers from season allergies in varying degrees and our doctors have mentioned that taking a teaspoon of local honey a day can help build immunity to our local pollens - which in central Virginia are many.  We've only just started this but I've already seen an improvement in Comfort's seasonal allergy issues and for that I am very grateful.

There are other medicinal uses for honey, of course. When I was little I got honey for a sore throat. For some reason Moms stopped doing that when 'better' medicine came out. It turns out that honey is just as good - so say the new docs. And article in last month's Parenting Magazine included this dosage information:

Honey can also help relieve coughing. A study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that honey at bedtime was more effective at quieting coughs than honey-tasting cough medicine (flavored so the kids wouldn't know which they were getting). The AAP recommends half a teaspoon for children 2 to 5 years old, a teaspoon for ages 6-11, and two teaspoons 12 and up. (The brand of honey "doesn't make any difference", says Dr. Fisher, but make sure your child has fluids or brushes her teeth afterwards to avoid letting the honey sit on their teeth). Never give honey to babies less than 1 year old.

So, honey - it's a lovely, tasty treat that has many uses. If you can try to buy local honey so you can explore the flavors from the land around you and take advantage of extra health benefits 'cause I just happen to think this is a super Cool Idea!

Pinecone Research Open!

Pinecone Research is a great survey company and they are open again and looking for new people!! 

I've done several different survey companies but this is one I stick with because, even though it only pays $3 per survey, it pays it directly to my PayPal account with a day or two. Also, if there is an email in your account you know that the survey applies to you so it's not a waste of your time. These are things I appreciate. I've also gotten some neat products to test.

There is some fine print, just like other survey companies - you can only have one person per address signed up with Pinecone or it negates everyone at that address. So, don't try to cheat the system. Really.

Back to School

I almost typed "Happy New Year!" because it is that time of the year again. It's September and it feels like the beginning of a new beginning.

In fact, Comfort starts First Grade tomorrow. We've set out her outfit. Her lunch is ready. Backpack is cleaned out and a new name sticker has been affixed.

It's a new year. Enjoy.

Come on Irene!

Yeah, the hurricane came and she did some real work on us here in Virginia. We were lucky that we only lost power for 24 hours and our street didn't lose any trees. However, the streets behind and beside us still have huge 85 yrs old oak trees blocking the road. And since much of the city, as well as others up the East Coast, is still without power I thought I'd post my thoughts about what to do with the stuff in your fridge that is about to go bad.

First of all, this will be much easier if you or someone in your neighborhood has a gas stove. Really. Then you just start cooking or buddy up and begin bartering with your neighbors. If you don't know them already this will give you a great way to get up to speed really quickly, especially if you bring coffee or wine or bacon.

Speaking of bacon you'll need to cook that first because it's not going to last. Neither are your eggs. Your cheese is going to stay good for a while but if you're going to cook the bacon and eggs you might as well make an omelet:) Double check your fridge for anything else that is raw or a leftover that needs to be eaten and put it into the early rotation.  We were lucky and this was the sum total of the raw ingredients in the fridge. If you have more eggs than can be eaten right away [like us, I'd just bought 2 dozen for some birthday baking] some can be hard-boiled and they'll keep better and be easier to eat that way.

This is a good time for the kidlets to remember it's not the time to get picky about meals. They want a certain item [for example] with their crackers and fruit. Tough. It doesn't exist. Milk might exist in the first day when it has to get drunk by all before it goes bad but after that it's gone. Comfort doesn't like peanut butter but I tell ya, if the power outage had lasted much longer she might've reconsidered as there is tons of it in this house and she saw everyone else begin to enjoy it so much while she ate plain crackers.

I know there are many more lessons that others can relate. Mostly we were lucky. We cooked dinner on our camping stove, cleaned up, put the kidlets to bed and then the power came back on. If we'd gone on another day we'd have done the same until the propane ran out and the stuff would've stayed cold in our cooler for a day or two. We do what we need to do and we hope it won't last long before our normal lives return. For everyone whose lives have been impacted by the storm, I hope it will return to normal for you shortly. In the meantime, have some virtual bacon and eggs with me. I'll be thinking of you.

Catching up

http://www.poptartsworld.com/nycSo, remember how long it took me to get used to the beginning of the school year. It's taken me nearly that long to get used to the end of the year too. Here are just a few things that have been going on in our lives.

Meal Planning - This lasted longer than I expected. In fact, I think it lasted about 5 weeks. Then I hit the wall. I was tired of figuring what the girls would actually eat. Seasonal food wasn't really keeping up yet and I was just tired. I'll give this another shot soon because this was by far the best option for me.

Summer travel - we're in the midst of all going in different directions and it's hard. Thank goodness for Nana who handled the days when dh and I were both going in different directions and the kidlets got some wonderful inter-generational time.

And speaking of my travels, on my way back from NY I was in Union Station in DC waiting for my train and I saw a brochure for Pop Tart World in NY. I thought - well, I can't repeat it here but it was along the lines of "You have got to be kidding. I was just there!" I didn't have much time outside the conference but I'd have made time to see Pop Tart World!! Today I remembered to look online and it seems that it's no longer open. Whew. I'm sad that it's closed but happy not to have missed on such a wonderful experience. Personally, I think Times Square definitely needs Pop Tart World back it would round out the experience:)

Dead Alarm Clock

I wasn't emotionally attached to this alarm clock but I'm having a hard time replacing it. Apparently it's hard to find perfection.

I want it all. I want atomic accuracy. I want dual alarms. I want projection. I want....yeah, I've been reading the reviews on Amazon for days and I still don't have a clock.

So I decided to look at the classic alarm clock that I had when I was in high school and college. This was just enough then. It got me up for school and I never overslept unless I knocked the alarm clock off the foot of the bed:)
Braun Travel Alarm Clock Black
Surprisingly enough this clock was about $8 the first time I owned one. I think I had at least three over a decade or more. Now it's $32. If I weren't so cheap I might buy it again but now the idea of a $32 alarm clock that does nothing but tell time and wake up seems ridiculous - even if it was designed by Dieter Ram.

If you have an alarm clock that does everything you need - or more - let me know. I don't need it to sing "Rock and Roll Chicken" but there are a few things I'd like [see above].

Too Bad for the Good Guys

Fox Network has canceled Chicago Code. Yep, apparently a television show with a good moral center just doesn't work on that network. What a surprise. Go check out the episodes on Hulu and then make sure to watch the remaining episodes in this season. Yes, there is a moderately annoying voice over at the beginning of each episode but it goes away. I promise. I also promise that this is a fantastic show that you won't want to miss.

Once Again ... With Feeling

It's time to try meal planning again.

You're not surprised are you? I usually post something like this every four or five months and my efforts last a few weeks at best. I know this, too. I recognize the pattern.

So, what's different about this attempt? Well - it's a multi-prong focus using tips from Erin Chase's The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook: 200 Recipes for Quick, Delicious, and Nourishing Meals That Are Easy on the Budget and a Snap to Prepare and then populated with recipes from said cookbook, some family favorites, and other internet sites.

What exactly is this two-prong attack? I'll tell you but remember that it sounded better when I called it a 'two-prong focus' or whatever I just wrote. Erin, the $5 Dollar Dinner mom, talks about starting out with each night of the week already dedicated to a specific type of meal. We used this concept for a while when we had Taco Tuesdays, but now I'm expanding it so that my plan looks something like this:

Monday: Pizza
Tuesday: Breakfast for Dinner or Trip to Costco
Wednesday: Crockpot
Thursday: Pasta
Friday: Chicken
Saturday: Leftovers

I took out my blank template, wrote in the theme for the night and then began deciding what to make. I'm taking into consideration seasonal offerings especially since this is the first week of our CSA for the year. I also need to be realistic about what everyone will eat. I'm not about making more than one meal for the family so there needs to be enough available to everyone so that they can each be satisfied.

So far I have two weeks planned out and my hope is that I'll be able to stay a week ahead. I'm also hoping that this will make the remaining few weeks of school easier to handle because life sure isn't going to get simpler on it's own.

There's my plan. We'll see how it goes. If you don't hear anything that might be good news - or it might mean there's a need for another plan. If you have your own meal planning system and have something that really works for you, let me know. I have no trouble incorporating additional aspects into my new plan!

Spring Cleaning the Pantry

We've been spring cleaning the pantry by eating our way through items that we might have passed up for more sexy items. I admit it was not an intentional choice. It's because our Kroger is undergoing remodeling and I'm tired of the stuff moving around.

Well, that was true at first. Things moved and aisles were over-crowded. Now things seemed to have settled down but in truth the placement of items doesn't seem to make any sense. For instance, the canning jars [an item that might be needed by 2.4 people in my neighborhood maybe twice a year] has prime real estate opposite the nifty canned soup rack. I'm guessing this will not be the final resting place for these items and that makes me not want to get too invested in the store's intermediate setup.

And that's why we're eating our stockpile of pasta and canned fruit and frozen meats. It's actually been a good practice - not only for our budget, for stock rotation, but for space reclamation. No matter why it's definitely a Cool Idea!

Truly Kid-Loving Treat!

I have a feeling that some of my friends might be a bit tired of hearing me talk about new ways to use the crockpot - this is why I'm releasing this into the blogosphere for y'all. The might be some of the best news since I learned [and made several times] to make chocolate pots de creme in the crockpot. However, I'm not feeding that to my kids. This isn't an 'everyday' treat either but it is one of dh's favorites and it's one that I'm absolutely horrible at making.

Here it is.... Rice Krispie Treats!!! Yes, you can make these in the crockpot. No more standing at the stove and constant stirring. Just pop it all in the crockpot, stir when you walk through the kitchen and when it's ready dump into your pan. It's amazing. It's wonderful. I ate most of this by myself while I was stirring but no one needs to know:)

And just in case you want to know more incredible things you can do with your crockpot you really should sign up for the emails. They aren't as frequent anymore but if I didn't get them I wouldn't have known this was in the archives. This is definitely a Cool Idea!

Packing for Vacation

What does a toddler think is important to pack for a short vacation:

Joy's Backpack has...
A comic book
A blanket
A toy
A box of macaroni and cheese

Comfort's has...
Scribble Doodle Book
Entire Jar of Vitamins
Pirate Hat

'nuff said

It's Tax Time!

Kinda sounds like the alarm clock going off in Groundhog Day. Okay, maybe not, but now that I'm done with Turbo Tax [thank you very much!] I've rejoined the land of those who can pay attention to the rest of the world.

And it turns out that there are people out there with some very clever tax accountants. If I ever doubted that I shoulda been an accountant here's the kicker - GE got a $3.2 Billion refund last year on profits of $28B.

First of all, this kind of money is staggering. I don't have that many fingers and I've shut down my spreadsheets but I know that's a LOT of zeroes. I know that GE is gonna say - but we pay our share and we're good corporate citizens. Um, yeah. I'm a good citizen, too, but there isn't $3.2B in my checking account. Might be because I only voted once in the last election. That part always messes me up.

So, here's to the end of another tax season. To my friends who are in the profession - god love ya. Hugs! To those of you who get a refund - congratulations. To those of you who owe - I'm sorry. Hugs to you but maybe GE will be willing to share.

Why I Like Pop-Tarts

Pop-Tarts, Frosted Chocolate Fudge, 16-Count Tarts (Pack of 8)Yeah, I know they're not good for me and they're loaded with sugar and other cardboard like substances but I love them. I have since I was a child. Hmmm, maybe that's why I like them so much:)

Yep, I'm a child of the 1970s and never got to eat Pop-Tars unless we were traveling to see my grandparents. My mom used these treats to keep me quiet on the airplane. Of course, in those days they weren't made with High Fructose Corn Syrup and they only came in the 6-pack box. I ate the crust first then at the rest, savoring each bite, drawing out the pleasuring as long as I could because once those six Pop-Tarts were gone they were gone until the next time I saw an airplane. It was a long couple of years between chocolatey goodness.

Then I got a job in high school and started making my own money and I decided to buy my own breakfast occasionally. Pop-Tarts were still just as magical and they're just as magical even now that they're loaded with stuff made in the lab. But to me the flavor is layered in pleasure and still takes me back to those trips to see my grandparents. Sure, I rationalize that there are essential vitamins and iron --there used to me 9 and now there are only 7 - not sure what happened to the other 2?

I realize Pop-Tarts aren't like rainbows and unicorns but they help get me going some mornings. Maybe I need to grow up and find an adult breakfast alternative but until I turn 50 I'm sticking with Pop-Tarts!

Good Government

I've mentioned before that until recently I haven't watched much television that wasn't animated or with furry monsters. That's what comes from having no time and small kids. Recently, however, we decided to ditch our premium cable channels and subscribe to Netflix. I cannot tell you want a different this has made. I've revisited old TV shows, caught up on movies I love, seen some I never had time to see in the first place, and I'm watching my way through some great documentaries.

Then Amazon decided to join the playing field when they added free instant viewing of TV and movies to the Prime Membership. Of course, there's some overlap with Netflix and Hulu but since I'm already paying for Prime I gave it a spin.

The first TV series that I've watched all the way through on Amazon was a season of Inspector Lewis including the episode Dark Matter. I was a huge fan of the Inspector Morse series and to know that Lewis gets his own chance now is great. Plus, it's fun to watch him be the master and pass along the wisdom he received from his mentor.

But as much as I loved Lewis I took a break because we found a great new show on network television. Yeah, it was a surprise to me, too.  If you're not watching Chicago Code then you're missing some seriously good television. I will say that if you're looking for a gritty cop drama about Chicago days of old then this isn't for you. This is a show about the way life could be - or maybe a better way to put it is that it's a show about the people who want their city cleaned up and what they have to do to get it that way. Oh, there's lots of good old Chicagoland politics along the way but this is a story about how life could be better and the challenges that everyone faces along the way.

I have no illusions that each episode of Chicago Code is going to end wrapped in a pretty ribbon but I do know that these are people who are trying very hard. Just like the characters in The State Within. This is a BBC production filmed almost entirely in DC and Florida it seems, with the main characters being the British ambassador to the US [Jason Isaacs] and the US Secretary of Defense [Sharon Gless]. It's only seven hours of drama and the poor British Ambassador has at least five people close to him [either in proximity or relation] die, he brokers peace talks, he tries to keep a man from lethal injection, he tries to tackle political corruption, and he tries to stop an international conflict. The first episode is hard to watch as it starts out with a plane exploding in DC due to a terrorist bomb but it's okay, the Ambassador is there to help. No, really, he is.

And while these shows couldn't be more different in some ways they are both similar in that the main characters believe that government and the people that work for those governments are supposed to be doing their best for the people and the slimy, corrupt people are the bad guys. It's still a good story with some good twists and turns and neither series has a pollyana attitude. So, give them a try. These are definitely good stories about people trying to make our world a better place..

Spring Cleaning

Yep, it's that time of the year again and no matter how much I dislike it Spring Cleaning really does serve a purpose.

Last week we started by going through the toys. This was not an overly popular task but the girls helped and it really did go easier this year. While I put away the toys that got a reprieve for another year,  I sorted through the shoe cabinet and pulled out shoes that no longer fit. I hadn't gotten around to this last year so I actually had a full sack to pass along.

Today, while the girls played and watched cartoons - it's pouring rain right now - I went through my emails and deleted the random ones that had drifted along in my Inbox for months and months. I do this a few times a year and still I end up trashing a few hundred emails each time.

Why is this important? For me, it's partly peace of mind. I like to know where things are. Yes, I maximize the filing system that Yahoo allows and at most times I utilize all the folders allowed. The other reason it's good to go through your emails is that you might get a surprise - just like finding money in an old purse or pair of pants. And that's exactly what happened.

I'd done some online shopping a couple of years ago using Bing and gotten a series of cash back advantages. Last summer, they discontinued the Bing program but my account had trouble and it took a while to get it taken care of. In the meantime, I'd totally forgotten about it. The reason this is important is that all cashback requests from the Bing Cash Back program must be requested by July of 2011.

Sometimes spring cleaning really is beneficial to us. My cash back money wasn't a lot but it's now safely tucked away in my paypal account. Just in case you used the bing cash back program and haven't requested your payout - hop on over and take care of that before you lose your money.

So, how is your Spring Cleaning going? Have you found anything surprising along the way?

Baby Bargain Monday

Every Monday Amazon has super-duper bargains on baby items. You can find savings on car seats, strollers, baby monitors, diapers, wipes, etc. And don't forget to join Amazon Mom and get 30% off diapers and wipes when you use subscribe and save. 

Dr. Seuss Day

This is one of my favorite holidays - after Christmas, Easter and my birthday. Dr. Seuss's Birthday is celebration of reading and a good reminder of things we learned as kids.

There are lots of great activites on the NEA Read Across America's website. I know that schools like to incorporate the event into the day, too. I used to volunteer at several school and always went to read to classes on Dr. Seuss Day. At Comfort and Joy's schools they'll be having Green Eggs and Ham during breakfast.

Another way we use the Dr. Seuss books at our house is by reminding the kidlets to try new things. Reminders to not be a 'Sam I Am' often get them to try new foods. So, take a moment to wish Dr. Seuss a Happy Birthday today and read a book to someone in celebration. As a bonus, try a food that you might not normally eat. These are all Cool Ideas!

Um, Kroger... Can I ask what you were thinking?

Like many people who have a Kroger loyalty card I got my 'exclusive coupon' booklet in the mail this week. Maybe you already looked through yours. It took me a few days to get to mine. It's been that kind of week. Personally, I actually like the articles and I noticed the "Take Steps to Shape History - Black History Month" logo on the front and I read the article on school lunches because this is a BIG deal for me.

Then I got to the coupons and -- I kid you not -- the first coupon is for Aunt Jemima frozen waffles or french toast.

Now, personally I love waffles and french toast. I eat them whenever I can but I make them for myself or someone else makes them for me, in the case of french toast because I've never figured out how to keep the structural integrity of the bread and still get enough eggy flavor.

But this is a secondary issue. The theme on the front is "Black History Month" and the lead coupon is Aunt Jemima. Really? I'm just going to stop here because I don't think there's anything more to say. Let's just reflect on this anachronism and move on to our own personal celebration of Black History Month.

And if you have a tried and true french toast recipe, please feel free to send it to me.

So You Think You Have An Idea For A Book

Uh-huh. And then you sat down and tried to write. How did that work out for you. Some days I get writing done and some days my butt just goes numb.

Somedays I just have to push through even if the kidlets are home sick from school. It's not easy and it usually means I can't get the heavy-lifting kind of writing done because someone says "I need juice" every two minutes.

These are times when I can stretch my creativity and let it out to play untamed for a bit. Sometimes I have a subplot I can noodle. When this happens I'm often surprised at the twists and turns - sometimes in a good way:)

Sometimes I need a prompt for this creativity exercise. That's when I head over to The StoryWonk Story Generator. It randomly generates a Hero, a Heroine, and a Situation of Action. Here's the one I just got:

He's a disillusioned pirate; she's a dishonest stripper. Together, they must survive in the wilderness and save the world.
Voila! How Cool is That. Or, if you want a different prompt, just click and try another one. But really, the best part of using the story generator as a creativity prompt is taking whatever if gives you and just working with it.  Usually it wakes up something in my head that I can actually use because that's the way the brain works.

So, hop on over to The StoryWonk Story Generator and give it a spin. Not only is it a great kick in the  creativity pants but it's just plain fun and that is definitely a Cool Idea!

Awesome News From Cellfire

Shoppers at Kroger and the Kroger-family of stores need to head over to Cellfire today because they are running a promotion from 6am ET to 9pm ET. Just log in at some point during the day to find out the amount of the coupon that you've won. You'll find the coupon in with the regular coupons.

So, hop on over to Cellfire today and see what they have for you!!

Redeeming The Fruit of Work

It's been some time since I've had time to work on surveys. It took a long time to get set after school started and then there was NaNoWriMo. Now, I'm working on the surveys again and I'm beginning to reap some of the fruits of my time.

Most recently I just received a $20 iTunes card from MyOpinionNow. Last week I got a $5 check from Opinion Outpost and I've almost accumulated enough surveys to cash out another $5. Also, I've just put in a request for a payout from Mindfield Online for $18 to my PayPal account. And while I was updating this post I decided to check out Survey Savvy and found I had enough to get a $5 check.

Sure, it's not a lot from one place right now but it'll all add up in bits and pieces and it'll certainly pay for a night at The Byrd and that's a pretty Cool Idea.

Have you seen TED?

Yes, I have been living under a rock. Well, maybe not under a rock but I have been living in the work of Nick, Jr and Sesame Street so I don't get to watch much TV aimed at adults. Most of the television I see is brought to me by 'The Letter R' and the 'spokesmonsters' have lured colors of fur. Maybe this is your world - maybe it's not:)

But now we have Netflix and I just adore the streaming feature. This might be the best use of Wii since the Fit!! I sit down to feed the baby I take care of during the day, make sure the controller is close to hand and now I have thousands of movies, shows, and documentaries close to hand in case he falls asleep and I'm trapped under an adorable baby and can't get up. I know, it's only a little bit of an excuse. We all know not to wake sleeping babies and it's been a VERY cold winter here in Virginia so I've been keeping the little guy close by for warmth. It works for both of us actually.

Netflix streaming has let me catch up on some shows that I never saw in the first place - like Buffy - and rewatch favorite old movies - I just love Desk Set. And the other night dh and I sat up and watched The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED. This was fantastic. It was full of great conversations in real English and everyone had a time limit and kept to that time limit out of respect for their peers. And some of those peers included Al Gore and some were community activists who I'd never heard of before.

So, I'm going back to the TED site to watch more of the talks and this is now part of my goal setting for the year. Here's one that I'm particularly fond of: 

Here are a lot of takeaways there but the one I'm starting with is "I am enough" because that is definitely a Cool Idea.

Kroger MEGA Event

In case you missed last week's Mega event at Kroger it's held over for another week. Just buy 10 items from the list and you get $5 off your bill. While I'll admit that most of the items aren't on my usual shopping list this did allow me to take a break from my baking schedule and buy some snacks for the kidlet's school lunches. In fact, I think I have enough snack now to make it to Spring Break. I'll hit the store again this week because I had the great fortune to get two $1/3 Catalina's for Quaker Rice Quakes which get me two-thirds of the way through another mega-deal.

If you're thinking about what you might need to buy for Super Bowl snacks here are some things on the list:
Philadelphia Cream Cheese
Goldfish Crackers - great for school lunch, too:)
Hormel Chili
Hebrew National Beef Franks
Pepsi Brand Soft Drinks

And well, there are just so many more on the list. I stocked back up on hot dogs the first week since we'd gone through the last from the freezer over Winter Break. I also got deli meat for school lunches. Anyway, it was one of those shopping trips where it might not have made a great many meals but it was a great week to restock and sometimes that's a Cool Idea.

Happy New Year 2011!

So, I guess it's time to make resolutions. Yeah, that work so well for me. I know it's tradition and I've tried to do it for a couple of years now. You can hit the button and see how well I've done. My goal was to set resolutions and check-in each month on how well I was doing on my resolutions. I think I made it to July last year. I'm not sure I made it that far the year before.

This year I have a new plan. No resolutions, instead I'm going to set actual goals. Real, big picture goals. This is better than a Cool Idea this is about making a real change.