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!