Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Few Good Book Club Picks

I've been meeting with my face to face book club for two years and every month I look forward to meeting with the ladies to discuss the book we've picked for the month. We've had some great discussions and some mediocre discussions over the years, but it's always fun to see what the others thought of the book we read together as a group. Oddly enough, the books that I read with my book club are the ones that I'm least likely to write about here. I'm not really sure why that is, but I thought I'd share a few that we've read this past year.

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
Pages: 352 Published: 2012
Genre: Fiction

In Short: Tom and Isabel live a sheltered life as lighthouse keepers off the coast of Australia. Several years into their quiet marriage, a boat washes on shore with a baby and her dead father.

Why it's a good book club pick: The Light Between Oceans is sure to spark moral debates in your group and there's no easy solution or resolution. With sympathetic characters who are easy to love and relate to, this book is a crowd-pleaser that will provide much to discuss in terms of relationships and ethics.

Title: The Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Pages: 273 Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

In Short: In her youth, during the Great Depression, Vivian was sent to the midwest on an train full of orphans in hopes of finding a new adoptive home. She recounts her experiences to a troubled teen Molly who is coming to terms with her own life in foster care.

Why it's a good book club pick: Did you know about the trains that took thousands of orphans west? I bet many members of your book group didn't either. The Orphan Train is a heartbreaking and heartwarming story of life and love lost and found.

Title: The Other Typist
Author: Suzanne Rindell
Pages: 354 Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

In Short: Set in the 1920s, quiet Rose Baker works at a NYC police department as a typist. As if her job recording the sordid details of criminal acts isn't exciting enough for her, a new typist Odalie catches her eye and sweeps Rose up into a world she only could have before imagined.

Why it's a good book club pick: Ambiguity and lots of it! While many in our group did not love The Other Typist, we had plenty to debate and postulate. Your group will have fun discussing different theories about what really happened throughout the book.

Title: Labor Day
Author: Joyce Maynard
Pages: 260 Published: 2009
Genre: Fiction

In Short: At the start of Labor Day weekend, the reclusive mom and son duo (Adele and Henry) bring home an injured stranger, Frank, who they learn is hiding from the law.

Why it's a good book club pick: While the plot of the book might seem a little cheesy or contrived, your group will have plenty to discuss in terms of Adele's  personal and parental choices, Henry's coming of age moments, and the outcome of this unlikely love story. If all else fails, you can just discuss the virtues of Josh Brolin who plays Frank in the recent movie.

Have you (or your book group) read any of these books? What do you think makes a good book club pick? 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thoughts I Have While Running

Last Saturday my mom, sister, and I ran the Color Run in Dallas. I have been slowly working my way through Couch to 5K over the past several weeks in preparation but I usually run with Evie and the running stroller. On Thursday my mom offered to watch the babe for me while I went for a run to see just how far I could make it (I am only on week 5.1 of Couch to 5K). I ended up running nearly 3 miles (not including my warm-up and cool-down distance). It was tough and I wanted to give up more times than I want to admit, but I did it.

These are the thoughts that were running through my head while I was running my legs:

Such a gorgeous day! Ok, at the next street I'm going to start running.

I better keep warming up just a little more. Next street I'll start running.

Ok, ok, get those legs pumping.

Holy cow my legs feel like lead.

Why is this so hard? Why do I feel like I'm going so slow?

Pound. Pound. Pound.

Oh I love this song! Wonder if anyone could hear me if I sing out loud?

Better not sing out loud. Need to save my breath.

Maybe just a few fist pumps in the air? A little dance?

Dancing and running = bad idea. Just a fist pump.

I wonder how far I've gone? A mile! Oh man. Two more miles to go.

Dude! I can actually feel my ab muscles forming while I run.

Oh wait. That's a cramp. Cramp. Cramp. Cramp.

What am I supposed to do when I have a cramp? Raise my arm in the air?

How long do I need to keep my arm up? OMG is my arm going to fall off? I think my arm is going to fall off.

Stop being silly. Your arm is not going to fall off. Oh good, my cramp is gone.

Gonna pass this lady. Gonna pass. I wonder if she can hear my music. Better turn the song down a little.

Pass. Ok, music back up. Hmmm. I wonder which runner I look like on those posters (this is what I feel like, this is what I really look like). Maybe I shouldn't swing my arms quite so hard.

Wow, this is really going well! I feel like I've really got some momentum working.

Oh, so that's what going downhill feels like. HILL. Pump! Pump! Pump! You can do it, you can do it. You are stronger than you think you are, you are stronger than you think you are. You can do it.

Whew. I did it! I did it!

Ok, can't stop now. You can make it to the end of the street.

To that fire hydrant.  Ok, to that tree.

Of course. Hill at the end. Pump!!

To the stop sign.

Stop sign. Stop sign. Stop sign.

Holy crow I did it! Let's run another mile! Or I'll just sit down on the couch for a few minutes...

What thoughts go through your head when you're running? Are you able to completely zone out? See more fellow Readers' Workouts at Joy's Book Blog.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

10 Life Lessons from The Princess Bride

For as long as I can remember, The Princess Bride has been one of my very favorite movies. I would participate in imaginary duels in the kitchen (this is also when I learned that "bastard" is a bad word), I jumped behind the couch and hid when the ROUSes came on screen, and I had a tiny bit of a crush on Fred Savages character.  And if you're wondering, no, I haven't read the book. I know, I know, but the movie is so ingrained within me that I'm afraid of my reception to the written story.

The Princess Bride really is the perfect movie and I can't wait until my girls are old enough to enjoy it with me. This post has been rattling around in my brain for years and it just dawned on me that GIFs are the best way to really get the point of these life lessons across.

10 Life Lessons from The Princess Bride

1. While men in masks can be trusted, six fingered men cannot.

2. The best way to defeat a giant? Jump on his back!

3. ROUSes are only scary when you don't know they're really men in rat suits.

4. Mostly dead is definitely the not same as completely dead. Just ask our new fish who was almost flushed.

5. Chocolate makes everything go down easier (ok, totally cheating with the Lucy GIF).

6. Life is so much more interesting when you live in a locale surrounded by a Fire Swamp, Cliffs on Insanity, Depths of Despair, and Thieves' Forest.

7. Sometimes it takes tumbling down a hill to realize your true love.

8. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

9. "As you wish" is all it takes to make a girl happy.

10. The kissing parts in life aren't so bad as long as there's a great adventure to go along with it.

Are you a fan of The Princess Bride? What Princess Bride Life Lessons do you have to add to the list?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finally Bloomed - Wordless Wednesday

{playing around with my new lens - Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. This is my Easter orchid from last year}

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

TitleThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Published: 2014;  Pages: 258
Genre: Fiction
Rating: A Booklover's Delight

In Short: A.J. Fikry, owner of the independent bookstore Island Books, is headed on a downward path when everything in his life seems to be going wrong. All this changes when he receives an unexpected package in his bookstore that will change his world.

Why I Read It: I received a copy from Algonquin Books and read it sooner than anticipated for its bookish storyline.

Thoughts in General: As a book lover, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is the coziest type of book I could possibly imagine. Really, what is better than curling up with a book and reading about other people who love books? Fikry, the owner of Island Books, has been through quite a lot and he's a bit callous and rough around the corners. Amelia, the sales rep for a small publishing company, is quirky and fun loving. While the two people couldn't be more different from one another, books brings them together--as Fikry brings so many people together--into lasting friendships. I wouldn't call The Storied Life a deep character study, but I did enjoy the small cast of characters and what they meant to one another.

Part of the joy of The Storied Life is experiencing the story unravel so I don't want to tell you too much but I will tell you that the book is clever, charming, delightful, quirky, heartwarming. Book lovers will adore the references to their favorite books and the casual reader will surely close the book with a list of books that must be read. The writing is simple and even though the dialog sometimes felt a little contrived, everything about this book still felt perfect. Even the short length, something that would normally bother me a bit, was just right for the story that needed to be told.

While I could keep going on, I don't think I need to gush any more.

Quotes I Adore:

"The had only ever discussed books but what, in this life, is more personal than books?" (18).

"The things we respond to at twenty are not necessarily the same things we will respond to at forty and vice versa. This is true in books and also in life" (41).

"People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question, 'What is your favorite book?'" (87).

Bottom Line: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was written for book lovers and I recommend it to anyone who has ever gotten lost in a story. It's a short little book that will creep its way into your heart. I dogeared pages, I laughed, I cried, and when I was finished I wanted to hug all of my books. Heartily recommended.

What's the last book you read that really renewed your love of reading?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Favorite Book - Sunday Salon 82

Good morning y'all! It's a cold and rainy day in North Texas and I'm grateful for every bit of moisture we are getting. Poor Elle was quite scared last week when we had a nasty spring storm complete with hail and tornado sirens. I keep telling her that those rain showers will bring us green grass and flowers! And hopefully next week I'll be able to plant some tomatoes! It's a good day for reading and I'd love to get back to East of Eden, but we'll see how the day (and naps) roll out.

What does our favorite book say about us?

I'm just finished reading a book for book lovers--you've probably heard the buzz surrounding The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by now, and it's such an enjoyable book. I've dogeared several passages, smiled more times than I can count, I quietly cried, and when I put it down I had an urge to run to my bookshelves and hug some books.

Over and over in the book, the characters discussed their favorite books--or asked the question of other people. Fikry, the oddball main character, said that you can know a lot about people by what they claim is their favorite book. I was a bit struck by this statement as I don't know that I have one favorite book. And I have a feeling that amongst book lovers there are more of us who do not have just one favorite book.

There are books that I love so deeply that I get a bit swoony just thinking about them. I remember the ache I felt in my heart as I finished The History of Love with Elle sleeping in my arms. I remember laughing until I had tears while reading The Diary of Bridget Jones. The books that had me at the edge of my seat, the books that kept me up until 3 in the morning. I still think about Henry from The Time Traveler's Wife and that cruel Briony from Atonement. I wonder if the trio from The Bone People lived happily ever after. Oh and sweet sweet Oskar and his heavy boots. Don't even get me started on Heathcliff and Cathy (trust me, you don't want me to go there again).

To name just one favorite book seems like robbing some of the other choices of my love--though I do love them all just a little differently. So if our favorite book says something about us as a person, what does the fact that I have so many favorites say about me?

Am I fickle or non-committed? Maybe a bit of a floozy (though I am in good company with you all). Indecisive? Or am I simply full of too much love?

Or should I rather look at the books I call my favorites as a whole? They're all a bit dark around the edges and sometimes a little melancholy. Oh goodness gracious! My favorite books tend to be deeply emotional and I do consider myself to be a deeply emotional individual. And perhaps just a little too introspective.

Do you think people's favorite books can say a lot about the person? 

What is your favorite book and what does it say about you?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Seven Month Update [3.31.2014]

Hmmm. Going to have to try the picture again with some help from Scott...but this pretty much sums up the month! Feel free to just skip on down to the pictures. ;)

Sleep - I'm starting to wonder. Was Evie ever really a good napper? Or do I just remember a handful of times when she napped well and forgot the rest? The past month has been really tough and if you've wondered why I haven't been more present on your blogs or even here, that's why. 30-40 minutes is the make or break point--if she sleeps past that then I know she'll have a good nap. If not then it's usually grump-town until the next nap (or bedtime). I keep trying to tell myself that it'll get better and that Elle went through this, too, but boy does it make for a tough day!

In better news, Evie is still going to bed earlier and sleeping through the night. She goes down between 7:30-8:30 (depending on what's going on that day) and sometimes wakes between 5-6, sometimes later, sometimes I wake her up, every once in a while she'll sleep all the way through. It's been really nice having the evenings back again to unwind a bit. Even if it does mean we've been staying up way to late watching Lost.

Eating - The fun part! We started solids at the beginning of March and while it was a slow start, Evie is now eating more and more each day. She refused purees for the first couple of weeks but would eat chunks of food off my finger (banana, avocado, softened apple, sweet potato, peas, broccoli, prunes). She's now eating a bit more of the puree (carrots, sweet potato, both with chicken, apple sauce) and even some oatmeal in the mornings. She's happy to just gnaw on a carrot or apple slice and I think we'll just continue with the chunky foods with some spooned puree. So far smashed peas and applesauce seem to be her favorite. I'm making her food as I did for Elle and I'm partial to the carrots and sweet potatoes. ;)

Routine - Our routine is pretty much the same as it has been although I feel much more confident about the night-time routine. I usually nurse her while Scott is getting Elle ready for bed. He reads Elle a story (yes, I do miss this), I put Evie to bed, then I go sing Elle some songs and tuck her in. It'll be nice when we can read stories to both girls at once but Evie won't sit for them now. If Scott happens to be gone in the evening, I usually just let Evie play on the floor in Elle's bedroom while I read the story.

Development/Personality - I think development is to thank for naptime mayhem. Evie isn't crawling on hands and knees but she is army crawling everywhere. Shortly after she started rolling to her side into the swimsuit pose, and shortly after that she started balancing herself into sitting position. It still surprises me when I turn around and see her sitting up playing with a toy. Though, when it comes for naptime (when she's clearly clearly tired) when I put her down she sits right up. And she pulls up onto her knees. And rolls around. And talk talk talk. Ha!

Two bottom teeth came about two-three weeks ago (a week apart) and there was definite fussiness associated. Luckily this is done now and we just wait for the top two to do it all over again. I've thought on a number of occasions that it might just be better if all the teeth came in at once. Sure, hell for a week but then done! She loves to put things into her mouth--her favorite (other than everything she isn't supposed to have) is a little taggies dolly that Elle had no interest in. We are waiting another few months to introduce her lovey (a purple blanket Elle picked out).

Evie is still a sweet and happy girl but I think she's going to be our little daredevil! We didn't really babyproof with Elle but I think we'll need to with Evie as I'm guessing she's not going to wait until 14 months to walk like her sister did. She strong and loves to climb. I was afraid if we didn't lower the crib that she would try to climb right out of it! Diaper changes are oh so much fun and there's rarely a day when I dress her that there aren't tears because she doesn't want to sit still. She is busy busy but she's also content most of the time to just hang around on the floor and explore all that is around her. It's hilarious to watch her grab a toy, discover another toy and crawl to it, see another to move to, etc.

Just a few more things. When she gets excited the pants. She "sings" when there is music playing in the car (um, especially if someone else wants to listen to Frozen). She is starting to get that stranger anxiety when other people hold her--even my family members. Sad! She loves her daddy but is still a mommy's girl. Sometimes when Scott is holding her she'll just glare at me and then start crying until I hold her again. Ha! And boy does Elle love her sister. She tells me all the time how much she loves Evie and my heart just explodes.

I bet month eight will be a wild one!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ten Gateway Audiobooks

This week The Broke and the Bookish asks us about "Gateway" books/authors. I'll be really curious to see how some of the particpants interpret this week's prompt as the gals left it fairly open. I chose to select ten books that are amazingly awesome for getting into audiobooks. I wrote this post for new listeners in mind but seasoned listeners are sure to enjoy these audiobooks as well.

1. Before I Go to Sleep - S. J. Watson (narrated by Orlagh Cassidy)
This thriller about a woman who has lost her short-term memory will keep you on the edge of your seat! You'll look for excuses everywhere to listen to just a few more minutes. (more thoughts here)

2. Ready Player One - Ernest Cline (narrated by Wil Wheaton)
80s lovers and geeks take note! While this sci-fi action adventure might not seem up your alley, I bet you'll have a blast listening to Wil Wheaton's fantastic narration. (more thoughts here)

3. The Help - Kathryn Stockett (narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell)
Even if you've already read The Help the multiple narration makes it worth listening to. These ladies will make you laugh and cry and feel all the feels. (more thoughts here)

4. Bossypants - Tina Fey (narrated by Tina Fey)
Ah, the celebrity memoir at its funniest. Who doesn't love Tina Fey? (more thoughts here)

5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot (narrated by Cassandra Campbell)
I had to sneak in this non-fiction title about the woman behind the famed He-La cells that have changed the face of cell research. Campbell's narration breathes so much life into this story. (more thoughts here)

6. Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher (narrated by Debra Wiseman and Joel Johnstone)
The obvious YA choice would be Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, but Thirteen Reasons Why is a powerful book and the audiobook version really brings Hannah's story of suicide to life. (more thoughts here)

7. The Tao of Pooh - Benjamin Hoff (narrated by Simon Vance)
This short little audio is only about three hours long and it's so incredibly delightful and insightful. Plus, Simon Vance. You cannot go wrong with any Simon Vance audio. (more thoughts here)

8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman (narrated by Neil Gaiman)
The only thing better than Neil Gaiman's storytelling is his narrating his own storytelling. Try to listen to this book and not fall in love--I dare you!

9. The Sex Lives of Cannibals - J. Maarten Troost (narrated by Simon Vance)
Another non-fiction (I love listening to non-fiction). Troost will remind you of Bill Bryson (who is also great on audio). Quirky and interesting...and Simon Vance. Again.

10. It - Stephen King (narrated by Steven Weber)
The longest title on the list, 45 hours is quite a commitment but IT is hands-down the most engaging audiobook I have listened to. As long as you have someone to hold your hands through the scary parts, you will not regret listening to IT. Though listen to the first nine to work yourself up to this one...  (more thoughts here)

What are the audiobooks that got you into listening? What would you recommend to newer listeners or those in a listening rut?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Right Now I Am... [3.30.14]

Is April really in two days? Sheesh!!! The nap gods have not been good to me the past few weeks and now this month has passed in a blur. Though I am loving the bits of rain and warmer weather March brought.

Listening To: I've mentioned how much I miss listening to audiobooks, right? I've been trying to listen to Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones but it's been slow going. Other than that I'm still listening to the Frozen soundtrack. I totally admit that I listen to it even when I'm not with Elle.

Reading: After reading many many books last month, I've only finished one this month. Even though it was my plan to only read East of Eden, I'm only about halfway through. I did finish The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman for book club.

Watching: Lost. After months without any TV watching, Scott and I are absolutely hooked onto Lost. We just finished up Season Two and we're both enjoying it. It's just the right amount of weird and suspense for both of us (although Scott says he has the show figured out and I think I accidentally read a spoiler...don't say anything!)

Eating: Right now I'm at Starbucks escaping naptime. I'm not eating anything but I am enjoying a delicious Caramel Frapp (1/2 caff). What's your favorite Starbucks beverage?

Making: Scott's quilt!!! GUYS! I have one more step to Scott's quilt and then I am DONE. I'll be so freaking glad to mark this thing off my to-do list. The last step is to finish the binding by hand. The plan is to do this during naptime while listening to Howl's Moving Castle.

Planning: I need to start planning Elle's birthday. I can't believe she's going to be three. We also have another camping trip planned in May and a trip to Yellowstone planned for June! I'm also working on planning a trip to Toronto in August.

Feeling: Tired and worn down. I suspect some of this is because of my junky diet. I really need to cut the sugar out of my diet (I'm looking at you double stuf golden oreos...).

Loving: Springtime. This gorgeous flowering tree behind my house. Any ideas what it might be?

Wanting: Evie to start taking reliable naps. The past several weeks have been absolutely frustrating when it comes to naptime and I feel like I'm doing it all wrong. It's exhausting. For both of us.

Thinking: About the state of this blog. I love blogging, I really do, but more often than not I have no idea what to post about. If I did a call for ideas would y'all give me any suggestions for things you'd like to hear about?

Looking Forward To: The next time my girls smile. That seems like a funny thing, doesn't it? Both of them melt my heart ten million ways all at once. Sometimes I just can't stand it--I adore them so much. And I know they're not smiling in the picture below--it's no small feat just getting them to both look at the general direction of the camera!

Would love to hear what YOU are listening to, reading, watching, eating, making, planning, feeling, loving, wanting, thinking, and looking forward to.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bookish Bucket List (Top Ten)

I should probably finish a book so that I can post a bookish review. I'm halfway through East of Eden, but I had to put it down this week because of book club. So now I'm a third of the way through The Light Between Oceans. But really, these posts are more fun than book reviews. I think you agree...  

This week The Broke and the Bookish asks us what's on our Bookish Bucket List. This was tough for me and I admit to googling Bookish Bucket Lists for inspiration. On these lists folks had stuff like 1000+ blog followers. Eh. I'm just not that ambitious. I do have a bucket list of sorts, but I only have one bookish item on it.

Bookish Bucket List

1. Read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Totally arbitrary choice. Because it's long and Russians intimidate me.

2. See a Shakespeare play performed live 
Any suggestions? I've seen recorded stage productions of Taming of the Shrew and I love it!

3. Read the Harry Potter books to/with my children
Really all my childhood favorites. Even though I read Harry Potter as an adult. You know what I mean.

4. Read every book I own

5. Visit the Library of Congress

6. Read a book in another language. Children's book totally counts
Because I do not speak another language. Although in French class (in college) we read parts of The Little Prince.

7. Read 500 of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (any edition)
I have spreadsheets for v1-2. Apparently there are 3 more versions? How can anyone keep up?!

8. Volunteer at library to be an English as Second Language tutor

9. Visit all of the Presidential Libraries in Texas (Eisenhower, Bush, Bush)
I still get flack from Scott for not visiting the Bush library in College Station when I lived there. And the Bush library in Dallas is just a hop skip and a jump away.

10. Work at a bookstore.
Because wouldn't that be the best job ever? It would be cooler to own one, but I bet that is way stressful these days.

What's on your bookish bucket list?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Defining TBR - Sunday Salon 81

Good Morning!! It's Sunday!  It's a bit of a dreary day in North Dallas but the week looks promising and I'm loving the signs of spring around town. I love that the nights are longer, even if we do have to explain to Elle every night that YES it is time for her to go to bed. I've been slowly reading East of Eden and mostly working on Scott's quilt. I have no idea where the past 22 days of this month have gone. Do you?

Elle just walked up and said "That's Mr. Sun right there" - pointing to the Sunday Salon button above. Me: "That's right!" Her: "He looks like he's going nigh night."  I don't think I've mentioned yet how much I love this talking stage. Well, except the defiant "No, I don't!" Though I wonder what makes her think the sun is setting, not rising. Anyway.

Let's talk about TBR. TBR means To Be Read in readerese. Ask any serious reader and she will tell you that of course she has a TBR list or pile. Books that are on the horizon, books that are currently unread but hopefuls for the future.

Recently, though, I realized that how TBR is defined differs a little from reader to reader. This past week Book Riot surveyed its readers about their TBR. They asked the following questions:  Do you keep a list of books you want to read? Where do you keep your TBR list? How many titles are currently on your TBR list? How many books do you own that you haven't read yet?

When I think about TBR I think about the books that I own but haven't read yet. I ended up not taking the survey because even though I have a personal TBR I do not keep a list of the books I want to read but that aren't part of my library. Every once in a while I'll add a book to my wishlist on Amazon but most of the time these books sit forgotten and then I forget why I added them in the first place. I don't keep track of books on Goodreads. I'm afraid I'm probably the only book person who just can't be bothered with this. I do, however, keep an excel list of all the books I own.

How many titles are on my TBR? Without counting I would have said about 300. So I consulted good ole excel and the tally for paper books is about 370. About another 30 for ebooks. And another 40 audiobooks. Oh boy. 440? Give or take? Excuse me while I go panic over that whole "too many books, too little time" thing. This is why I do not keep closer track.

If I included all of the books that I want to read but do not own, I would be adding another several hundred books. I can't keep track! Not to mention changing tastes, new discoveries, and new releases. There will always be more books that I would like to read and I'll continue adding new books to my library. But to keep myself sane, my To Be Read will continue to mean owned but unread books.

So I'm curious. How do you define TBR? Do you keep track of a TBR list? And dare to confess how many unread TBR books/ebooks/audiobooks you have?

And now that I've sent you all into a similar "too many books, not enough time" panic, I hope you have a lovely Sunday!

Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Freezer Friendly Spaghetti Meat Sauce

Every once in a while recipe magic happens. And by recipe magic I mean your entire family absolutely loves what you've put in front of them for dinner. By entire family I mean Scott and Elle. Honestly, I'll eat anything, especially if I cook it.

The recipe magic in this case is for a meaty spaghetti sauce that produces enough to feed an army. If you were here for my Operation Crock Pot or 10 Things in my Freezer posts then you've heard me mention our love for this spaghetti sauce. The original recipe is from Betty Crocker. The original is very good but I've made some changes over the dozen or so times I've made it.

Before you continue, note that this makes a TON of sauce. Depending on how much we eat the first night of cooking, I usually have enough leftover for FOUR 24 oz jars. 24 oz jar is comparable to a regular store-bought jar of sauce.

Freezer Friendly Spaghetti Meat Sauce

2 lb ground beef (I like 93/7%)
12 oz ground Italian sausage*
1 onion, chopped (usually just a medium one)
6 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 fresh tomato, chopped**
3 cans (15 oz each) tomato sauce
2 cans (6 oz) tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves***
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1. In the biggest skillet you have (seriously), brown the meat with the onions, garlic, and mushrooms. I use a little bit of olive oil and saute up the onion and garlic first, but proceed how you normally like. Drain thoroughly.

2. Add meat mixture to Slow Cooker and add remaining ingredients.*** Stir to combine.

3. Cook on low setting for 8-9 hours.

*We use mild Italian sausage for Elle but I prefer spicier. Usually I'll add a bit more spice when reheating the sauce after I've already dished up Elle's portion.

**Or you could add half a can or diced tomatoes. Or a whole can. I found if I added an entire 15 oz can of diced tomatoes in addition to the 28 oz can the sauce was too liquidy for our taste. Sometimes I'll drain the can and just add the tomato chunks if I don't have anything fresh on hand. Tomayto Tomahto.

***And sometimes a few shakes of the Italian herbs bottle. You can always add more seasoning next time you reheat the sauce.

To Freeze the Sauce:
1. Cool the sauce and refrigerate overnight.
2. Ladle into freezable containers (I use Ball Pint and a Half jars with plastic storage caps) but you could also do gallon size bags and freeze the bags flat to stack them). I use a large mouth funnel for pouring.
3. Tap out/smooth out as many of the air bubbles as possible
4. Freeze!

There is nothing better than being able to pull out a jar of sauce from the freezer, defrost it, and have homemade dinner on the table with only having to cook noodles and heat up the sauce. This meal is requested so frequently at our house that I have to be careful how quickly my stock dwindles!

What's your favorite thing to make in bulk and freeze?

Every weekend, Beth Fish Reads hosts Weekend Cooking.  "Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs."  Hope you'll join the fun!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Great Craft Room Reorg

Remember when I told you as part of my 2014 Things that I would pick a room each month and organize it? And then I wrote that post about The Great Declutter with a plan of attack? Last month I had enough of the chaos in my craft room and got to work. Folks will try to tell you that it's OK for a craft room to be cluttered and chaotic but it was putting a major damper on my creativity.

Could you work in these conditions?! Feel free to click the pictures to enlarge--excuse the blurriness, though, as my camera lens is cracked (I have a new one on its way to me).

And really I think that the mess is even more overwhelming in person. Bins full of junk. Quilting fabric everywhere. Boxes of pictures and memorabilia. Plastic organizational thingies full of...I don't even know what. Project Life. This and That. Ugh!

The problem I always have with any big project like this is where to start. The process was incredibly overwhelming and for weeks the mess looked worse than the start. I chipped away at a tiny bit every day, working on one little pile at a time. 

First I laid out three bins to separate my hobbies. One for sewing, one for scrapbooking, and one for miscellany. Everything that did not currently have a designated spot went into these bins for sorting later. 

Next went the three organizational trays on the floor. These contained mostly scrapbooking stuff and I tossed a lot. I hold on to everything and I was never going to scrapbook that New Years Eve 6 years ago so the memorabilia went in the trash. 

Then came the storage pieces (some of which I already had). Thanks IKEA for the many hours of fun browsing.  I picked up some paper trays, Kvissle, to store all of my scrapbooking paper. Why do I have so much?! The beige flowered bins are Garnityr, and the canvas boxes are variations of Kvarnvik. I'm dying to know what those Swedish words mean! 

And I can't forget about the half shelves that I built. Using a tutorial from All Things G&D, I added shelves to the third row down. Twice the storage!! Plus I got to play around with a drill (nevermind that Scott cut the shelves for me as he didn't trust me to not cut off my arm).

I bought another bookcase for the playroom to store anything that is for the kiddos, including the storybooks that I've been hoarding since my childhood. I tossed all of my grad school notes. If I regret this later on, so be it. I did save my papers and plan to eventually scan those. All of the doodads went into jars for easy access. Like crap was placed with like crap and labeled if possible. Most of the non-labeled totes contain fabric. I shredded hundreds of pictures and negatives from my youth and tossed a couple hundred that were printed from digital copies. 

Yes there is still entirely too much stuff. And I still plan to go through my pictures again and the pile of Elle's artwork sitting on my desk. I need something on the wall above my cutting board/sewing machine (any suggestions?), but the desks are not permanent and I'm proud that I've left them empty. And the best part is I can come into the room and think. I'm not overwhelmed (other than too many projects, not enough time).

And some details. Why do I have so much ribbon?!

A close-up of the half-shelves. Also, why do I have so much fabric?!

And cloth covered bulletin boards. Ikea bulletin boards, Jo-Ann fabric, and a staple gun.

So what have I been doing in my nicely organized craft room? Sewing Scott's quilt! I just finished machine quilting it yesterday and only have the binding left. Wahoo!

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